Google Analytics

Amazon Contextual Product Ads

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

EDITORIAL 04.05.10

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

 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

Month may 04, edition 000498, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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

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

 

THE PIONEER

  1. POLITICAL PERVERSION
  2. BOMB IN TIMES SQUARE
  3. LET JPC PROBE IPL AFFAIRS - A SURYA PRAKASH
  4. SRI LANKA TAMILS REMAIN ALIENATED - PRIYADARSI DUTTA
  5. POLITICAL PERVERSION
  6. BOMB IN TIMES SQUARE

MAIL TODAY

  1. BACK GILL'S EFFORTS TO CLEAN UP SPORTING BODIES
  2. TERROR SHADOW ON US AGAIN
  3. INVITING TRAGEDY
  4. AND NOW THEY WANTA CASTE CENSUS - BY DIPANKAR GUPTA
  5. PATNA DURBAR - GIRIDHAR JHA

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. SHOWN THE RED CARD
  2. JUSTICE DELIVERED
  3. A NEW SINOLOGY -
  4. A STEP IN THE WRONG DIRECTION
  5. A REASONABLE MOVE -
  6. FROM PAA TO PAAJI -

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. RAT-AND-GROUSE GAME
  2. OUR TAKE - BEAT THEM AT THEIR GAME
  3. A POLICY? RUBBISH - RAVI AGARWAL
  4. BIGOTGATE: WHEN GORDON MET DUFFY

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. ON A DEADLINE
  2. SHIFTING LINES
  3. REALTY BITES
  4. WHY KASAB MATTERS - K. SUBRAHMANYAM
  5. MAY DAY MAYDAY - YUBARAJ GHIMIRE
  6. 'IPL WILL GO ON. IT WILL GET BIGGER AND IT WILL GET BETTER'

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. BID FOR TRANSPARENCY
  2. MAYAWATI'S PARTNERSHIPS
  3. HOW TO BUILD FIRST CLASS REGULATORS - AJAY SHAH
  4. WHY NBFCS MAY NOT WANT TO BE BANKS - ANIL MENON
  5. TRAI ON A TIGHT ROPE - AANANDITA SINGH MANKOTIA

THE HINDU

  1. HONOURABLE VERDICT
  2. DEFEAT OF THE LUNATIC FRINGE
  3. INDIA CLOSES RANKS WITH HAMID KARZAI - M.K. BHADRAKUMAR
  4. NO WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE HERE - P. SAINATH
  5. FROM MAURITIUS: ISSUES NOT IN THE ELECTION - PRANAY GUPTE
  6. ONE MILLION IPADS SOLD

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. A FAIR VERDICT, AND A MESSAGE TO PAK
  2. BE ALIVE IN THE HERE AND NOW
  3. IMF'S STRANGE RECESSION CURE
  4. TERROR FROM WASTE

 DNA

  1. GUILTY ALL RIGHT
  2. FREEING SPORT
  3. MOBILE CHEQUE-BOOK - RAJEEV SRINIVASAN
  4. CONGRESS'S B(JP) TEAM SANS IDEOLOGICAL FIG-LEAF - PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR

THE TRIBUNE

  1. KASAB'S CONVICTION
  2. SPORTS & POLITICS
  3. THWARTING TERROR
  4. CUT MOTIONS, PRIVACY, CORRUPTION - BY B.G. VERGHESE
  5. DELHI-CIOUS! - BY RAJBIR DESWAL
  6. LIMITED EDUCATION - BY SATYA PRAKASH
  7. GREECE: COLLAPSE OR SALVATION?
  8. DELHI DURBAR - FAROOQ SHOWS OFF HIS PUNJABI

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. A GREEK TRAGEDY
  2. THE DRAGON PREENS
  3. TAX SOPS - THEIR COST AND EFFICACY - M GOVINDA RAO
  4. PAKISTAN ARMY - AAL IS NOT WELL - AJAI SHUKLA
  5. CHASING THE PESTS - SURINDER SUD
  6. OFFENSIVE IN EGYPT
  7. THE ARABIAN NIGHTS - NILANJANA S ROY

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
  2. KASAB, THE PAWN
  3. ESSAR'S IPO SUCCESS HAS A NEGATIVE MACRO DIMENSION
  4. SPORTING CHANCE: TERMS OF ENTRENCHMENT
  5. ENCOURAGE WHISTLEBLOWERS - KIRAN KARNIK
  6. A VERY SIMPLE CREATION STORY - MUKUL SHARMA
  7. IN POLE POSITION TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF INDIA GROWTH - AMIT SHARMA
  8. 'PROMOTERS' MONEY WILL BE USED FUND CAPEX TO REDUCE DEBT' - NISHA PODDAR

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. A FAIR VERDICT, AND A MESSAGE TO PAK
  2. TERROR FROM WASTE - BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY
  3. AGE OF IRRATIONALITY - BY MELANIE PHILLIPS
  4. BE ALIVE IN THE HERE AND NOW - BY THICH NHAT HAHN
  5. IMF'S STRANGE RECESSION CURE - BY JAYATI GHOSH

THE STATESMAN

  1. PREDICTABLE RUPTURE
  2. UNZIP THE TRUTH
  3. NORIEGA EXTRADITED
  4. LEARNING FROM AFAR - RUDRASHIS DATTA
  5. INDIAN NAMED FOR PEACE-KEEPING JOB
  6. SHORT AND LONG OF IT - SUDHA PALIT

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. SURVIVAL INSTINCT
  2. BACK TO BASICS
  3. THE PROPHET OF DOOM - ASHOK V. DESAI
  4. CHANGE IS IN THE AIR - MALVIKA SINGH
  5. A STRANGE JOURNEY ACROSS EUROPE IN A MINIVAN

DECCAN HERALD

  1. HAUL UP HALAPPA
  2. ON EXPECTED LINES
  3. NEED FOR SAFEGUARDS - BY B G VERGHESE
  4. POPULAR RAGE ERUPTING IN EUROPE
  5. IGNACIO RAMONET
  6. THE CRUEL TWIST - GAYATHRI NIRANJAN

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. PEACE PRODUCTS - BY HASAN ABU-LIBDEH
  2. OUR WORLD: CONVENIENT MORAL BLINDNESS - BY CAROLINE GLICK
  3. NO HOLDS BARRED: RELIGION'S SUMMER OF DISCONTENT - BY SHMULEY BOTEACH
  4. BORDERLINE VIEWS: THE RIGHT TO VOTE ABROAD - BY DAVID NEWMAN
  5. THOSE FEW GOOD MEN
  6. FREE-MARKET JUDAISM

HAARETZ

  1. HULDAI'S TRUTH
  2. FIVE COMMENTS ON THE SITUATION - BY YOEL MARCUS
  3. ASTONISHING IRRESPONSIBILITY - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
  4. LET'S STOP PRETENDING - BY MOSHE ARENS
  5. WHO WILL ALLOW NETANYAHU TO GIVE? - BY AMIR OREN

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. WHAT'S IN A NAME?
  2. THE WAY OUT
  3. LUCK AND VIGILANCE
  4. THE LIMITS OF POLICY - BY DAVID BROOKS
  5. ENHANCING THE PLACEBO - BY OLIVIA JUDSON
  6. THE TERRORIST NEXT DOOR - BY MICHAEL A. SHEEHAN

USA TODAY

  1. OUR VIEW ON GULF COAST CRISIS: WHY CAN'T OIL COMPANIES CLEAN UP AFTER THEMSELVES?
  2. OPPOSING VIEW ON GULF COAST CRISIS: UNPRECEDENTED RESPONSE - BY JACK GERARD
  3. THE CAR BOMB ON BROADWAY
  4. LET'S KEEP OIL SPILL IN PERSPECTIVE - BY JONAH GOLDBERG
  5. CRIST'S PARTY CHANGE COULD TEST GOP - BY DEWAYNE WICKHAM

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. YOU MAKE BIG CHOICES TODAY
  2. JACKSON'S WORDS OF WISDOM
  3. THE CAR BOMB THAT DIDN'T EXPLODE!
  4. MRS. DOROTHY BRAMMER
  5. LOTS OF RECENT RAIN!

TEHRAN TIMES

  1. THE NEXT 9/11 -- MADE IN ISRAEL? - BY MAIDHC Ó CATHAIL
  2. A TALE OF TWO VIDEOS - BY GUL JAMMAS HUSSAIN

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - BITTERSWEET JOY ON PRESS FREEDOM DAY
  2. THINKING A LA TURCA (1)
  3. CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER
  4. THE ROLE OF THE STATE IN ENERGY SECTOR - BARÇIN YİNANÇ
  5. BLAMING FOREIGNERS IS IRRATIONAL - ERDOĞAN ALKİN
  6. ISRAEL REMAINS KEY TO SUCCESS OF NPT SUMMIT - SEMİH İDİZ
  7. PEACEMAKING'S ADDED ANGLE - LAURENCE SNIDER
  8. STOP THESE UNFORTUNATE COMPARISONS - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  9. CYPRUS TALKS TO RESUME MAY 26 - YUSUF KANLI
  10. 'WHAT DOES THE PKK WANT TO DO?' - RUŞEN ÇAKIR

I.THE NEWS

  1. SO LONG, OGRA
  2. THE RESURRECTION
  3. WOMEN AS WELL
  4. OPAQUE AND UNACCOUNTABLE COUNTER-TERROR - MOSHARRAF ZAIDI
  5. ACHIEVING ECONOMIC STABILITY - DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
  6. FROM PROTESTS TO MOVEMENT - RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI
  7. UK ELECTION - LUBNA JERAR NAQVI
  8. GOOD-GOVERNANCE AS BUZZWORD - MIR JAMILUR RAHMAN
  9. AVOIDING A SLIPPERY SLOPE - DR MALEEHA LODHI

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. SWAT LAVA MAY ERUPT AGAIN
  2. CONSTRUCTION OF KISHANGANGA BY INDIA
  3. A FAILED WHITEWASH IS HOGWASH & SWILL! —I - HUMAYUN GAUHAR
  4. FALSE FLAG OPERATION IN THE OFFING? - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
  5. PAKISTAN ARMY'S NEW RESOLVE - YOUSAF ALAMGIRIAN
  6. TRUE CRISIS IN PAKISTAN - SHAIMA SUMAYA
  7. US, RUSSIA TO PROPOSE BAN ON WMD IN ME - JULIAN BORGER

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. ILLEGAL STRUCTURES
  2. THE NEPALI CRISIS
  3. HANG KASAB..!
  4. WORLD BANK'S CONCERN OVER ACC LAWS - DR M S HAQ
  5. BANGLADESH'S BIODIVERSITY - NURUDDIN AZAM

 

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. THE REALLY HARD WORK ON TAX REFORM STARTS NOW
  2. MERIT-BASED SYSTEMS LIFT QUALITY
  3. HOW TO TAKE A GRAND VISION AND SMOTHER IT
  4. 100 REASONS TO MAKE THE GRADE
  5. MEASURE CHILDREN'S PROGRESS RATHER THAN THEIR RAW PERFORMANCE
  6. VOTERS TURN OFF KEVIN BUT NOT TO TONY
  7. RUDD VISION LIMITED BY OVERRIDING POLITICAL IMPERATIVE

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. TURNBULL NEEDED, AS A TEAM PLAYER
  2. ABBOTT OFF TARGET WITH HENRY ...
  3. … BUT ON IT WITH POPULATION
  4. TAXING QUESTIONS FOR BOTH SIDES OF POLITICS

THE GUARDIAN

  1. CONSERVATIVE MANIFESTO: CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS
  2. US OIL DISASTER: BP – BEYOND PRINCIPLE
  3. IN PRAISE OF … NORTHAMPTON

DAILY EXPRESS

  1. MIXED-SEX WARDS HAVE NO PLACE IN MODERN BRITAIN
  2. TRUTH ABOUT THE LIB DEMS

THE GAZETTE

  1. OLD MYTHS ABOUT ANGLOS DIE HARD IN QUEBEC
  2. LESSONS FROM THE GULF: MAKE AND ENFORCE RULES

THE KOREA TIMES

  1. MAKE CHILDREN HAPPY 
  2. COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF
  3. $145 BILLION LIFELINE FOR GREECE - BY DALE MCFEATTERS
  4. LET'S LOVE OUR CHILDREN - BY AGUS SUSANTO
  5. GOLDMAN SACHS AND FINANCIAL GANGS - BY ARTHUR I. CYR

 THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. HOPES FOR NPT REVIEW MEETING
  2. RURAL AFRICA PLANTING SEEDS FOR BIGGER PAYOFFS - BY WILLIAM A. MASTERS
  3. JAPAN MUST TAKE INTIATIVE TOWARD NUCLEAR-FREE WORLD - BY AKIRA TASHIRO

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. WEIGHING THE BALANCE
  2. WE NEED A SUNSET POLICY FOR TAX OFFICE STAFF - B. NICODEMUS
  3. ARE WE READY FOR A NATIONAL SOCIAL SECURITY SYSTEM? - DINNA WISNU
  4. BUBBLES TRAVEL, A NEW PHENOMENON - MAGDA SAFRINA

THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. NOT MUCH VICTORY ON VICTORY DAY - BY ALEXEI BAYER
  2. LUKASHENKO IN A SWEAT ABOUT BAKIYEV'S OUSTER - BY VLADIMIR FROLOV
  3. TURNING THE LOAN SPIGOT ON - BY KIM ISKYAN

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. GROWING DEPENDENCE
  2. CHILDREN'S DAY
  3. BENEATH OUR FRIENDLY CUSTOMER SERVICE - KIM SEONG-KON
  4. IS AUSTERITY PROGRAM A GREEK MYTH? - DAVID IGNATIUS
  5. A CAN-DO PRESIDENT VS. A DO-NOTHING MOOD
  6. LIFE HAS NEVER BEEN SO GOOD FOR OUR SPECIES
  7. POSTURING FOR GENERAL ELECTION IN MYANMAR
  8. CRITICS OF CHECHEN LEADER MET WITH FOUL PLAY

CHINA DAILY

  1. WARY ABOUT OUR DONATIONS
  2. TURN OFF THE CREDIT TAP
  3. DARK DAYS FOR LABORERS
  4. LAW REVISION FALLS SHORT
  5. DEBATE: MENTALLY ILL PATIENTS
  6. EVERYONE, IT'S OK TO RENT - BY SHUJIE YAO (CHINA DAILY)

DAILY MIRROR

  1. STATE VERSUS HAWKERS
  2. SHORT TERM ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT URGENT - BY MANEL ABHAYARATNA
  3. DEADLINE FOR DEVOLUTION - I
  4. ACCOUNTABILITY OF POLITICIANS AND BUREAUCRATS - BY. SQN. LDR. . T. REX FERNANDO (RETD)

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

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

THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

POLITICAL PERVERSION

DOES CBI NOW EQUAL CONGRESS (I)?


Whether it is in the case of Telecom Minister A Raja or former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and his successor, the conduct of the Central Bureau of Investigation has evoked disquiet. India's premier investigative agency has repeatedly been called upon to suspend or even reverse its professional judgement. What seemed to be open-and-shut cases against politicians or even bureaucrats — one of Mr Raja's aides has been accused of giving away public land in a prime location in Mumbai to the construction mafia and the bribery trail has been well documented — have not been pursued. Of particular concern is the fact that the supervisory matrix and the system of oversight devised for the CBI seems to have gone to sleep. The superintendence of CBI on matters of investigation lies with the Central Vigilance Commission. On administrative issues it reports to the Department of Personnel and Training in the Ministry of Personnel, Pension and Grievances. The DoPT is under the charge of the Prime Minister's Office. As such, the CBI is given political instructions from the highest office of the land, not from any ordinary Minister. This is what makes the whole business of the CBI's manipulation and political misuse all the more intriguing. Mr Manmohan Singh is no common politician. His much-vaunted integrity is his badge of honour. Even his staunchest critics would hesitate before accusing him of wrong-doing. Why then is he allowing the CBI, the political guardian of which he is, to be so thoroughly misused? It can be argued that the Congress needed the support of BSP, RJD and SP MPs to defeat the recent cut motion in Parliament and hence struck a deal. It can similarly be contended Mr Raja and the DMK are blackmailing the leading party of the UPA — as they had done in the coalition's previous term, 2004-09. Yet, there are limits that no Government and no party can cross without seriously harming their dignity and sense of pride. The Raja episode constitutes one such test.


There remains the broader point about the CBI. Mr Singh has spoken of administrative reforms, institutional integrity and the need to safeguard and sequester civil servants from political interference. How then can he tolerate the mastication of the CBI's processes and morale? Is it not time to call the bluff of difficult allies and mealy-mouthed Ministers? The autonomy of the CBI and the attempt to locate it within the protective ambit of the CVC were issues discussed and thrashed out in excruciating circumstances in the past decade, particularly after a spate of political scandals and financial swindles in the 1990s. It would be tragic if Mr Singh's Government — with an honest Prime Minister at the helm — becomes responsible for mutilating this whole arrangement and, once more, making the CBI a handmaiden of party factionalism and political vendetta. Already, the CBI's politicised mandate is becoming controversial in Gujarat — where it is dragging on the Sohrabuddin encounter case and using strategically timed leaks and 'revelations' to attempt to embarrass the State Government. In Bihar, the Nitish Kumar Government's mission against corruption and exposing the misrule of the Lalu Prasad Yadav years is being systematically undermined by the CBI. All this is expedient for the Congress and the UPA Government and is giving them short-term advantage. Yet, the precedents being set are downright dangerous. They will haunt Mr Singh's legacy.

 

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


THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

BOMB IN TIMES SQUARE

NO SECURITY IS ENTIRELY FOOL PROOF!


The improvised car bomb that was found and defused by the local police at Times Square in New York on Saturday once again highlights the daunting challenge that the international community faces in terms of tackling terrorism. An SUV was found loaded with explosive propane canisters attached to a timer in the middle of Times Square popular among New Yorkers and tourists. It was discovered when a local T-shirt vendor saw smoke coming out of the vents of the car and alerted a policeman on duty. The entire area was evacuated and the bomb squad called in to defuse the car bomb. Reports suggest that the bomb was powerful enough to blow up a building — had it gone off it would have surely resulted in a significant number of casualties. It would have also been the first terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. Although it is yet to be ascertained as to who was responsible for this attempted terror attack — the obvious aim here was to create panic and mayhem — it is interesting to note that an Islamist website has put up a statement allegedly by the Pakistani Taliban, claiming responsibility for the failed bombing. The statement says that the terror plot was in response to the killing of two Islamist 'martyrs' — former Al Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu Hamza al-Muhajir and the head of the Islamic state of Iraq Abu Omar al-Baghdadi — who were killed last month in a security operation in Iraq. If this is indeed true, it would mean that the global jihadi network has found a way to get past the stringent security systems that were put in place post-9/11. Those systems have done their job so far. But terror groups are constantly innovating and pushing the boundaries. There is no telling how many terror sleeper cells exist in any country battling jihadi terrorism. These cells are cultivated over long periods of time and there is no easy way of identifying them — the case of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba operative David Coleman Headley is a perfect example of how profiling of terrorists might not work.


Today we live in a dangerous world and exceptional circumstances need extraordinary responses. Our security agencies need to constantly keep up with the advances and techniques of terrorist organisations. Plus, it would not be wrong to say that the people are also expected to do their bit by giving up certain conveniences. For example, going through full-body scans at airports should be seen as a small price to pay if it means avoiding a major catastrophe. Similarly, maintaining a DNA database of a country's population should not be seen as a Big Brother policy. If we are to win the war against terror, personal sacrifices need to be made.

 

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

 


THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

LET JPC PROBE IPL AFFAIRS

A SURYA PRAKASH


Whether or not Mr Lalit Modi carries out his threat of exposing his erstwhile colleagues in the cricket board, the Indian Premier League that he launched in 2008 has thrown up enough muck for Parliament and the Government to step in and clean up the mess. Ever since the Shashi Tharoor-Kochi franchise affair hit the headlines, it is obvious that not all is well with Indian cricket in general and with IPL in particular.


Among the allegations that are being bandied about are that relatives and friends of Mr Lalit Modi have proxy stakes in some IPL teams; that IPL money has come through several shell companies located in tax havens in Europe and America; that crucial documents pertaining to the bids are missing; that the auction for two new teams held earlier this year were 'fixed'; that a 'facilitation fee' of Rs 425 crore was allegedly paid by a media company to another located in Mauritius while renegotiating television rights last year; and, finally, that some politicians are linked to companies doing business with IPL and a few of the IPL franchises as well.


These are serious allegations and that is why several political parties have been pressing for an investigation by a Joint Parliamentary Committee. The Government, however, has stonewalled the demand, saying that a parliamentary probe is unwarranted because IPL is basically a private sector affair and public funds are not involved. In its view a multi-agency probe by departments like Income Tax and Enforcement Directorate is already on and this is enough to unearth the truth. Given the craze for cricket in India and the fact that at least 600 million people, if not more, are hooked onto the game and that BCCI and IPL collect hundreds of crores of rupees every year as gate money, these arguments do not wash.


Given the enormity of the scandal, public interest will not be served by a mere departmental investigation. Since there are allegations that some Ministers belonging to the Nationalist Congress Party have proxy holdings or interests in IPL franchises, such an in-house investigation is hardly convincing. The Government is resisting a JPC inquiry for obvious reasons. Even though a JPC is usually headed by a senior parliamentarian from the Government side, it knows that it cannot control the course of events within the committee. Those who oppose a

JPC probe also point to the failure of this mechanism in the past.


It is true that our experience with JPCs has not been satisfactory, but the truth is that there is no better forum to probe a major scam. Also, a couple of JPCs in the past have 'failed' simply because their recommendations were not implemented by Government. A JPC comprises MPs from both the Treasury and Opposition benches, with all major parties being represented on it. It is, therefore, like a national panchayat, except that representation in a JPC is proportional to a party's strength in Parliament, thus giving the ruling party or coalition an edge. However, despite this infirmity, many joint committees are able to do good work because of the power of parliamentary committees to summon officials and documents. Members of these committees manage to procure enough ammunition to place the facts before the people.


In recent years, two JPCs were constituted to look into the securities scam and the stock markets scam in 1992 and 2001. These two JPCs did a fairly good job of unravelling the shenanigans of bank staff and stock brokers. The first JPC submitted its report in December, 1993. It said there had been "a deliberate and criminal misuse of public funds through various types of securities transactions with the aim of illegally siphoning of funds of banks and PSUs to select brokers for speculative returns". The scam revolved around misuse of public funds by unscrupulous brokers who colluded with bank officials and manipulated securities transactions of banks and financial institutions. The amount of money involved in these fraudulent transactions was estimated at between Rs 3,650 crore and Rs 8,380 crore. The manipulations led to the liquidation of some small banks and losses to lakhs of depositors. The committee found evidence of insider trading and manipulation of stock markets by brokers who were directors of stock exchanges.


The JPC on the stock markets scam, which submitted its report in December, 2002, was shocked to note that a fresh scam now gripped the stock markets simply because the Government had failed to implement the findings of the earlier JPC. It collected substantial evidence to indict the Government, the Reserve Bank of India and other regulatory agencies, banks and stock exchanges. The committee found that nine years after the first scam came to light, 66 of the 72 cases were yet to be adjudicated. "Unless the regulators are alert and the punishment is swift and adequately deterrent, scamsters will continue to indulge in financial misconduct," it said.


I am quoting from these reports only to show that a JPC still remains an excellent forum to undertake an exhaustive and meaningful investigation into a mega scam like the one concerning IPL at the moment. The argument advanced by the Government against a JPC, saying that this is basically a private sector affair, does not carry much weight. The alleged financial violations by IPL shows the complete failure of Government agencies to monitor the cricketing body. The stock market scams that were probed by earlier JPCs were also largely private sector scandals revolving around manipulation of the stock markets. There, too, what emerged was the complete failure of regulatory agencies. However, if these parliamentary probes did not lead to the punishment of scamsters, it is because the executive is not wholly accountable to parliament.


All this only goes to show the scant respect the Government has even for probes conducted by Parliament. If that be so, how is anyone to believe an in-house probe by the Ministry of Finance, that too in the era of coalitions? Therefore, given cricket's hold over the national psyche, anything short of a JPC will not serve public interest. If the Government continues to resist the idea, it can only mean that it has something to hide, or worse, that it fears investigations may throw up evidence that it will be compelled to hide!


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


THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

SRI LANKA TAMILS REMAIN ALIENATED

PRIYADARSI DUTTA


The Tamil national struggle is not taking place in some Himalayan stratosphere; it is taking place on the ground and in the context of power balances in the Indian region…We often say amongst ourselves that we are not only Tamils but we are also Indians. We are Tamils, we are also Indians and we seek to live in equality and in freedom with our brothers and sisters of India". This was how advocate Nadesan Satyendra, representing Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation, described the position of Tamils in Sri Lanka at Thimpu in July 1985.

Twenty-five years after those failed talks, the struggle for Tamil Eelam stands defeated. The SAARC heads of states who recently congregated in the Bhutanese capital now have an altered sub-continent to look at. But Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, during his meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the margins of the summit, conveyed two important decisions regarding the Tamils of his country. First, a panel comprising eminent individuals is to be set up to examine all aspects of the Tamil issue. Second, Mr Rajapaksa plans to establish an upper House for the Sri Lankan Parliament that would ensure greater representation to all communities.

The Jaffna peninsula — the Sri Lankan Tamil heartland — witnessed a meagre 10 per cent voting in the recent parliamentary election. This is a clear indication that Tamil alienation in Sri Lanka continues to be a reality. The Tamils had boycotted the first election in what was then Ceylon in 1931 when it was still under British rule. But the community knew that its fate would be sealed under universal adult franchise as recommended by the Donoughmore Commission. Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan — the great Tamil philosopher — died a broken man after realising that his life-long vision of composite Ceylonese nationalism had failed.


An upper House of Parliament may assuage the political deprivation of Sri Lankan Tamils. But there has never been any cultural software to bind the Tamils and the Sinhalese. This is why Swami Vivekananda had received a rousing welcome from the Tamils of Ceylon whereas his visit was a non-event for the Sinhalese.


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


THE PIONEER

OPED

POLITICAL PERVERSION

DOES CBI NOW EQUAL CONGRESS (I)?


Whether it is in the case of Telecom Minister A Raja or former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and his successor, the conduct of the Central Bureau of Investigation has evoked disquiet. India's premier investigative agency has repeatedly been called upon to suspend or even reverse its professional judgement. What seemed to be open-and-shut cases against politicians or even bureaucrats — one of Mr Raja's aides has been accused of giving away public land in a prime location in Mumbai to the construction mafia and the bribery trail has been well documented — have not been pursued. Of particular concern is the fact that the supervisory matrix and the system of oversight devised for the CBI seems to have gone to sleep. The superintendence of CBI on matters of investigation lies with the Central Vigilance Commission. On administrative issues it reports to the Department of Personnel and Training in the Ministry of Personnel, Pension and Grievances. The DoPT is under the charge of the Prime Minister's Office. As such, the CBI is given political instructions from the highest office of the land, not from any ordinary Minister. This is what makes the whole business of the CBI's manipulation and political misuse all the more intriguing. Mr Manmohan Singh is no common politician. His much-vaunted integrity is his badge of honour. Even his staunchest critics would hesitate before accusing him of wrong-doing. Why then is he allowing the CBI, the political guardian of which he is, to be so thoroughly misused? It can be argued that the Congress needed the support of BSP, RJD and SP MPs to defeat the recent cut motion in Parliament and hence struck a deal. It can similarly be contended Mr Raja and the DMK are blackmailing the leading party of the UPA — as they had done in the coalition's previous term, 2004-09. Yet, there are limits that no Government and no party can cross without seriously harming their dignity and sense of pride. The Raja episode constitutes one such test.


There remains the broader point about the CBI. Mr Singh has spoken of administrative reforms, institutional integrity and the need to safeguard and sequester civil servants from political interference. How then can he tolerate the mastication of the CBI's processes and morale? Is it not time to call the bluff of difficult allies and mealy-mouthed Ministers? The autonomy of the CBI and the attempt to locate it within the protective ambit of the CVC were issues discussed and thrashed out in excruciating circumstances in the past decade, particularly after a spate of political scandals and financial swindles in the 1990s. It would be tragic if Mr Singh's Government — with an honest Prime Minister at the helm — becomes responsible for mutilating this whole arrangement and, once more, making the CBI a handmaiden of party factionalism and political vendetta. Already, the CBI's politicised mandate is becoming controversial in Gujarat — where it is dragging on the Sohrabuddin encounter case and using strategically timed leaks and 'revelations' to attempt to embarrass the State Government. In Bihar, the Nitish Kumar Government's mission against corruption and exposing the misrule of the Lalu Prasad Yadav years is being systematically undermined by the CBI. All this is expedient for the Congress and the UPA Government and is giving them short-term advantage. Yet, the precedents being set are downright dangerous. They will haunt Mr Singh's legacy.

 

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


THE PIONEER

OPED

BOMB IN TIMES SQUARE

NO SECURITY IS ENTIRELY FOOL PROOF!


The improvised car bomb that was found and defused by the local police at Times Square in New York on Saturday once again highlights the daunting challenge that the international community faces in terms of tackling terrorism. An SUV was found loaded with explosive propane canisters attached to a timer in the middle of Times Square popular among New Yorkers and tourists. It was discovered when a local T-shirt vendor saw smoke coming out of the vents of the car and alerted a policeman on duty. The entire area was evacuated and the bomb squad called in to defuse the car bomb. Reports suggest that the bomb was powerful enough to blow up a building — had it gone off it would have surely resulted in a significant number of casualties. It would have also been the first terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. Although it is yet to be ascertained as to who was responsible for this attempted terror attack — the obvious aim here was to create panic and mayhem — it is interesting to note that an Islamist website has put up a statement allegedly by the Pakistani Taliban, claiming responsibility for the failed bombing. The statement says that the terror plot was in response to the killing of two Islamist 'martyrs' — former Al Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu Hamza al-Muhajir and the head of the Islamic state of Iraq Abu Omar al-Baghdadi — who were killed last month in a security operation in Iraq. If this is indeed true, it would mean that the global jihadi network has found a way to get past the stringent security systems that were put in place post-9/11. Those systems have done their job so far. But terror groups are constantly innovating and pushing the boundaries. There is no telling how many terror sleeper cells exist in any country battling jihadi terrorism. These cells are cultivated over long periods of time and there is no easy way of identifying them — the case of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba operative David Coleman Headley is a perfect example of how profiling of terrorists might not work.


Today we live in a dangerous world and exceptional circumstances need extraordinary responses. Our security agencies need to constantly keep up with the advances and techniques of terrorist organisations. Plus, it would not be wrong to say that the people are also expected to do their bit by giving up certain conveniences. For example, going through full-body scans at airports should be seen as a small price to pay if it means avoiding a major catastrophe. Similarly, maintaining a DNA database of a country's population should not be seen as a Big Brother policy. If we are to win the war against terror, personal sacrifices need to be made.

 

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


THE PIONEER

OPED

LET JPC PROBE IPL AFFAIRS

AA SURYA PRAKASH


Whether or not Mr Lalit Modi carries out his threat of exposing his erstwhile colleagues in the cricket board, the Indian Premier League that he launched in 2008 has thrown up enough muck for Parliament and the Government to step in and clean up the mess. Ever since the Shashi Tharoor-Kochi franchise affair hit the headlines, it is obvious that not all is well with Indian cricket in general and with IPL in particular.

Among the allegations that are being bandied about are that relatives and friends of Mr Lalit Modi have proxy stakes in some IPL teams; that IPL money has come through several shell companies located in tax havens in Europe and America; that crucial documents pertaining to the bids are missing; that the auction for two new teams held earlier this year were 'fixed'; that a 'facilitation fee' of Rs 425 crore was allegedly paid by a media company to another located in Mauritius while renegotiating television rights last year; and, finally, that some politicians are linked to companies doing business with IPL and a few of the IPL franchises as well.


These are serious allegations and that is why several political parties have been pressing for an investigation by a Joint Parliamentary Committee. The Government, however, has stonewalled the demand, saying that a parliamentary probe is unwarranted because IPL is basically a private sector affair and public funds are not involved. In its view a multi-agency probe by departments like Income Tax and Enforcement Directorate is already on and this is enough to unearth the truth. Given the craze for cricket in India and the fact that at least 600 million people, if not more, are hooked onto the game and that BCCI and IPL collect hundreds of crores of rupees every year as gate money, these arguments do not wash.


Given the enormity of the scandal, public interest will not be served by a mere departmental investigation. Since there are allegations that some Ministers belonging to the Nationalist Congress Party have proxy holdings or interests in IPL franchises, such an in-house investigation is hardly convincing. The Government is resisting a JPC inquiry for obvious reasons. Even though a JPC is usually headed by a senior parliamentarian from the Government side, it knows that it cannot control the course of events within the committee. Those who oppose a JPC probe also point to the failure of this mechanism in the past.


It is true that our experience with JPCs has not been satisfactory, but the truth is that there is no better forum to probe a major scam. Also, a couple of JPCs in the past have 'failed' simply because their recommendations were not implemented by Government. A JPC comprises MPs from both the Treasury and Opposition benches, with all major parties being represented on it. It is, therefore, like a national panchayat, except that representation in a JPC is proportional to a party's strength in Parliament, thus giving the ruling party or coalition an edge. However, despite this infirmity, many joint committees are able to do good work because of the power of parliamentary committees to summon officials and documents. Members of these committees manage to procure enough ammunition to place the facts before the people.


In recent years, two JPCs were constituted to look into the securities scam and the stock markets scam in 1992 and 2001. These two JPCs did a fairly good job of unravelling the shenanigans of bank staff and stock brokers. The first JPC submitted its report in December, 1993. It said there had been "a deliberate and criminal misuse of public funds through various types of securities transactions with the aim of illegally siphoning of funds of banks and PSUs to select brokers for speculative returns". The scam revolved around misuse of public funds by unscrupulous brokers who colluded with bank officials and manipulated securities transactions of banks and financial institutions. The amount of money involved in these fraudulent transactions was estimated at between Rs 3,650 crore and Rs 8,380 crore. The manipulations led to the liquidation of some small banks and losses to lakhs of depositors. The committee found evidence of insider trading and manipulation of stock markets by brokers who were directors of stock exchanges.


The JPC on the stock markets scam, which submitted its report in December, 2002, was shocked to note that a fresh scam now gripped the stock markets simply because the Government had failed to implement the findings of the earlier JPC. It collected substantial evidence to indict the Government, the Reserve Bank of India and other regulatory agencies, banks and stock exchanges. The committee found that nine years after the first scam came to light, 66 of the 72 cases were yet to be adjudicated. "Unless the regulators are alert and the punishment is swift and adequately deterrent, scamsters will continue to indulge in financial misconduct," it said.

I am quoting from these reports only to show that a JPC still remains an excellent forum to undertake an exhaustive and meaningful investigation into a mega scam like the one concerning IPL at the moment. The argument advanced by the Government against a JPC, saying that this is basically a private sector affair, does not carry much weight. The alleged financial violations by IPL shows the complete failure of Government agencies to monitor the cricketing body. The stock market scams that were probed by earlier JPCs were also largely private sector scandals revolving around manipulation of the stock markets. There, too, what emerged was the complete failure of regulatory agencies. However, if these parliamentary probes did not lead to the punishment of scamsters, it is because the executive is not wholly accountable to parliament.


All this only goes to show the scant respect the Government has even for probes conducted by Parliament. If that be so, how is anyone to believe an in-house probe by the Ministry of Finance, that too in the era of coalitions? Therefore, given cricket's hold over the national psyche, anything short of a JPC will not serve public interest. If the Government continues to resist the idea, it can only mean that it has something to hide, or worse, that it fears investigations may throw up evidence that it will be compelled to hide!

 

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


THE PIONEER

OPED

SRI LANKA TAMILS REMAIN ALIENATED

PRIYADARSI DUTTA


The Tamil national struggle is not taking place in some Himalayan stratosphere; it is taking place on the ground and in the context of power balances in the Indian region…We often say amongst ourselves that we are not only Tamils but we are also Indians. We are Tamils, we are also Indians and we seek to live in equality and in freedom with our brothers and sisters of India". This was how advocate Nadesan Satyendra, representing Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation, described the position of Tamils in Sri Lanka at Thimpu in July 1985.

Twenty-five years after those failed talks, the struggle for Tamil Eelam stands defeated. The SAARC heads of states who recently congregated in the Bhutanese capital now have an altered sub-continent to look at. But Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, during his meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the margins of the summit, conveyed two important decisions regarding the Tamils of his country. First, a panel comprising eminent individuals is to be set up to examine all aspects of the Tamil issue. Second, Mr Rajapaksa plans to establish an upper House for the Sri Lankan Parliament that would ensure greater representation to all communities.

The Jaffna peninsula — the Sri Lankan Tamil heartland — witnessed a meagre 10 per cent voting in the recent parliamentary election. This is a clear indication that Tamil alienation in Sri Lanka continues to be a reality. The Tamils had boycotted the first election in what was then Ceylon in 1931 when it was still under British rule. But the community knew that its fate would be sealed under universal adult franchise as recommended by the Donoughmore Commission. Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan — the great Tamil philosopher — died a broken man after realising that his life-long vision of composite Ceylonese nationalism had failed.


An upper House of Parliament may assuage the political deprivation of Sri Lankan Tamils. But there has never been any cultural software to bind the Tamils and the Sinhalese. This is why Swami Vivekananda had received a rousing welcome from the Tamils of Ceylon whereas his visit was a non-event for the Sinhalese.

 

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


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

MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

BACK GILL'S EFFORTS TO CLEAN UP SPORTING BODIES

 

UNION Sports Minister M S Gill deserves unqualified praise for setting a limit to the tenures of office- bearers of national sports federations ( NSFs), which are critically dependent on the Union government for funds. Mr Gill may have merely reactivated a government order of 1975 that introduced such restrictions, but considering the fact that it had been flouted all these years and was repealed by the NDA government in 2002, his move speaks of courage, common- sense and an intent to clean up our sporting establishments.

 

A good many NSFs have been headed for donkey's years by politicians, whose stranglehold over them has done a lot more than just damage our sporting prospects. The politicians — from both sides of the political divide — have run these bodies as their fiefdom, with little accountability as far as the spending of their funds, selection of teams or other vital decisions are concerned. Often NSFs have ended up being just a means for them to maintain their relevance.

 

Not a few people have wondered as to what business politicians have to poke their nose in the running of sporting bodies in India, especially since their presence has been marked by a singular lack of achievement in the sport of their choice.

 

The recent moves of Mr Gill asking NSFs to account for their expenditure and bringing them under the ambit of the Right to Information Act gives rise to hope of a change in the prevailing state of affairs. But since many of the people he is taking on wield considerable power, he will need the firm backing of the prime minister and the UPA chairperson if he is to be successful in removing the baleful influence of politicians from our sporting bodies.

 

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


MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

INVITING TRAGEDY

 

ONE OF the tragedies of modern urban life is that road accidents can happen, often for the most bizarre reasons. The four persons who died in a ghastly car accident early on Sunday morning near Ansal Plaza in South Delhi, may have met their fate due to something more than just speeding.

 

The family of the dead say that there was dug up soil and unattended sewer pipes along the road they were travelling on, and this may have contributed to the car losing control and turning turtle several times before coming to a halt in a mangled heap.

 

Only an investigation will tell whether the driver was indeed driving too fast. But the truth remains that all the construction work that is going on around the city has been undertaken without any respect for even routine safety precautions. So, you may have unattended sewer pipes at Ansal Plaza, or blocks of concrete littering dug up roads in the city.

 

These are death hazards. If the civic administration is serious about reducing road accidents, then it should, along with the agencies involved in the massive construction effort in the Capital, begin by forcing the respective construction agencies to clean up the mess.

 

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


MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

TERROR SHADOW ON US AGAIN

 

THE failed attempt to detonate a bomb in New York may not have taken lives, but it has certainly shaken up the United States.

 

The effort was clearly amateur since the bomb was made with fireworks, three propane tanks, two containers with nearly 40 litres of petrol, and two clocks with batteries.

 

The effect would have been mainly incendiary, but it could have led to the deaths and maiming of people.

 

Qari Husain Mehmood, the Pakistani Taliban's top bomb maker, has claimed credit for the event and simultaneously, two videos made in April have surfaced in which the supposedly dead Pakistani Taliban chief— Hakeemullah Mehsud— has threatened to launch attacks in the US. In September 2009, US authorities arrested Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan national holding a green card who they said had planned attacks on the New York subway system. On Christmas Day, a Nigerian national attempted to ignite a bomb concealed on his person on a flight to the US. The Americans have managed to construct a strong fort to keep out the jihadi terrorists, but the jihadi assaults have a relentless quality to them.

 

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

 


MAIL TODAY

     COLUMN

AND NOW THEY WANTA CASTE CENSUS

BY DIPANKAR GUPTA

 

IT WAS only M AIL T ODAY of December 3, 2009 that did a full frontal on a sensational Supreme Court judgment delivered the previous day.

 

On December 2, 2009, the highest court of our land reminded us that no government can be constitutionally forced to Reserve seats for any category of the population, whether Scheduled Castes ( SCs), Scheduled Tribes ( STs) or Other Backward Classes ( OBCs). Therefore, if the Haryana Government let Maharishi Dayanand University, Rohtak, do away with Reservations in its post graduate medical courses, it had not cheated on the Constitution.

 

By any standard, this news was headline material and should have caused a major tremor in all national dailies. But apart from M AIL T ODAY , it barely registered on the Richter scale. This is why most people do not know that caste based reservation is not a right, and it has never been. It is only a policy, and a government, at any time, may consider other options with equal constitutional merit.

 

Constitution

 

This apex court bench also acknowledged the fact that there " cannot be any mandamus compelling the State to provide reservation for a particular class of persons." This was in line with the majority view in the Indra Sawhney case which maintained that it was only " in very exceptional situations— and not for all and sundry reasons— that any further reservations, of whatever kind, should be provided…." Exceptional situations? Why, we had always believed that as Reservation abhors a vacuum it has to be everywhere.

 

The correct constitutional point, however, is that when Reservations are recommended " the State has to satisfy, if called upon that making such a provision ( Reservations) was necessary in public interest to redress a specific situation." So if a Reservation Policy for Dummies is ever written, it must underline the fact that caste based quotas is one among many contending policies for uplifting weaker sections. Therefore, before Reservations are recommended in any sphere of public life, the issue must be determined case by case, and these things take time. Policy makers may want to sleep at the switch and short circuit policy, but they will have to muffle Article 335 first. This section of our Constitution clearly states that the claims of the SCs and STs ( now add OBCs) must be " consistent with the maintenance of efficiency of administration…."

 

But what the Constitution enables, politics quickly disables.

 

The Reservation system has become so fat that there is barely room for any other policy considerations. All alternatives to it, even the skinniest one, are squeezed out by politicians. What we tend to overlook is that Article 15 ( 4) of the Constitution merely enables the government to contemplate measures to help the weaker sections of the population. It does not say that it has to be Reservations and Reservations only.

 

There are other possibilities. One could be quality education across the class divides; the other could be vouchers and an open school market; we could also think of public- private partnership in primary education; or, boldly still, video and internet education. At any rate, there are options, but the way politics is played out it gives the impression that Reservation is a matter of right and nobody can mess with it.

 

Census

 

Instead of taking a long hard look at the way caste has been politicised, primarily through the medium of Reservations, our politicians, and some intellectuals, want more of it heaped on our plates. It is the same recipe no matter what the occasion.

 

Politicians like Lalu Yadav, and some academics too, are now demanding that the next Census list out the numbers of every jati in complete and obsessive detail.

 

Why should the Census engage in such a task unless some policy is on the anvil that will use this information? The Census does not record facts because they are there, or to satisfy idle curiosity. The Census is the work arm of policy making. It does the tedious job of adding numbers but only on matters that are going to become, or are already, aspects of state policy.

 

If academics want to know the caste break- up of a certain village or region, they should go out and gather this information themselves. The Census is not a substitute for scholarly field research. Yet many professors want the Census enumerators to do the work for them: all in the name of getting information. Should academics interested in obesity demand that the Census gives a break- up of fat people and thin people and the thin people waiting to come out of fat people? This would obviously not make sense because no state level programme is going to flow out of this information. Nor is the Census interested to know how many migrants continue to watch movies from their own region away from home.

 

Likewise, should the government concern itself with the number of vegetarians or meat eaters? Or the percentage of bald people in the major Indian cities? Of course not! What policy could make use of such facts? Why then do we need an elaborate picture of the population break- up of the many castes or jatis in India? It is not simply because we are curious, but rather because there is political mischief afoot.

 

Yes, we want to know the number of SCs and STs, because the Constitution is against untouchability and recommends measures ( not necessarily Reservations) to uplift these communities. Therefore, if the Census is gathering figures on such matters it is in keeping with its Constitutional obligations. That much is clear.

 

What is not is why the Census should slice thin the country's caste profile unless there are interested people who want to use it to political advantage?

 

Colonialism


The Census is a useful tool for policy purposes, never because somebody, not even a potentate, is simply curious. When the British colonials in India started the Caste census it was clear that this was to aid their policy of divide and rule. The British, for all their rational inheritance, never outlawed untouchability. They wanted differences to prevail; indeed, they added several more, to make their imperial objectives easily attainable.

The 1931 Census delighted in the fact that there were different kinds of Brahmans and that Indians were very conscious of status mobility. For example, 227,000 Ambattars fell quite magically to 10,000 between the different Census periods.

 

Also new castes such as the Navithan, Nai Brahmins, Pariyari and Navutiya surfaced, apparently from nowhere. This was more than good news for the British because colonialism becomes comfort doctrine when the subject population is internally quarrelsome.

 

If left to certain politicians and academics we will have a recreation of what happened in colonial times. Caste will fight caste along every social cleavage and ditch, leaving the idea of India in tatters.

 

Politicians of a certain brand may relish this stuff, but should the census of a free, sovereign and democratic country assist them by magnifying social differences?

 

The writer is a senior fellow at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library

 

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


MAIL TODAY

     COLUMN

PATNA DURBAR

GIRIDHAR JHA

 

CM TAKES A HEADSTART IN RACE FOR PUBLIC VOTE

BIHAR Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is back to doing what he knows best: establishing a direct rapport with the people. Though the assembly elections are six months away, the Chief Minister is already in election mode.

 

Nitish kicked off his Vishwas Yatra last week to thank people who had reposed faith in him by voting him to power in the last assembly polls and win their confidence again for a second term.

 

During his latest yatra through the countryside, Nitish has been interacting with people in remote villages to take stock of the numerous welfare schemes initiated by his government in the last four- and- a- half years.

 

In the past five years, he has undertaken a number of yatras like Nyay yatra ( march for justice), Vikas Yatra ( development march), Dhanyawad Yatra ( thanksgiving tour) and Pravas Yatra ( village sojourn). He apparently believes that there is no better recipe for electoral success than to win over the people by spending time in their midst.

 

It is not without reason as five years ago, the voters in Bihar had rejected Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad for the first time in 15 years, after Nitish undertook a yatra across the state. Last year, he went on to spending some nights in villages during another yatra before the parliamentary elections. Nitish had ostensibly undertaken the tour to get feedback from the people on the performance of his government but his real purpose was to establish direct contact with the people ahead of the polls.

 

He is the first Chief Minister in the state to have spent nights in distant villages, shared meals with the people in their houses and tried to sort out their problems on the spot. Nitish says that the idea behind such yatras was to take governance to the people's doorstep. This paid him rich dividends as the National Democratic Alliance ( NDA) won 32 of the state's 40 Lok Sabha seats.

 

His latest yatra underlines the same belief. In the first few days of his tour, he visited public distribution shops ( PDS) to detect irregularities, spent time in the classrooms of government schools to assess what the children are learning and met the poorest of the poor to know whether they had benefited from schemes like the Indira Awas Yojna, etc.

 

He has also made it a point to visit the house of any worker of his party in the district for dinner.

 

All this has apparently endeared him to the people and made him the common man's chief minister. But he has not forgotten his nitty- gritty of politics in the dusty lanes of Bihar's countryside. I N HIS addresses at the rallies during the yatra, the Chief Minister lists the development work being carried out by his government but he also makes it a point to take on the union government, accusing it of working against the interest of the state. But this time, Nitish has not restricted himself to his village expeditions alone. In between his hectic schedule he does not forget to post his views on his blog to address the large number of Biharis who are living outside the state. His bilingual blog has elicited great response from the expatriate Biharis who have lauded his development efforts in the state.

 

While traversing the countryside, Nitish also tries to be in touch with the Bihari diaspora.

 

He knows that there is no better way to hold political fort in Bihar than to connect with the people, without the trappings of a chief minister.

 

LALU PRASAD PROVIDES THE HEALING TOUCH

LALU PRASAD does much more than just fire salvos at the government. Of late, he has been visiting people whom he thinks have been " victimised" by the state. He consoles their families and reassures them of his unstinting support. Last Sunday, Lalu met a family whose members, including girls, were assaulted at midnight by the Patna police on the charge of theft. Lalu demanded the arrest of the erring policemen. Lalu has also sought action against the police officer who had allegedly beaten up a nonresident Indian for overtaking his vehicle. Though Lalu has several issues against the government, he singles out the action of ' unbridled' Bihar police, accusing them of tormenting innocent people In recent times, he has met almost every ' victim' of police ' atrocities', expressing solidarity with them and applying his political salve on their wounds.

 

ONE PARTY NINE VOICES

THE RULING Janata Dal- United recently appointed nine spokespersons in Bihar but it has turned out to be a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. It created confusion over who would spell out the party's stand in the media. Now, the state leadership of the party has decided to allocate separate days to different spokespersons to put an end to the problem, once and for all. While the seven party spokespersons will speak on different days of the week, the two others have been assigned the responsibility to speak on matters related to the party headquarters and the minorities respectively. A spokesperson a day will certainly keep the confusion away!

 

A POLITICIAN ONLY IN REEL LIFE

BOLLYWOOD ACTOR Manoj Bajpai may be playing an inveterate politician in Prakash Jha's next film, Rajneeti but he has no intention to join politics in real life, at the moment. Bajpai says that he is only interested in working for the development of his home state Bihar and its people. There were speculations in Patna that the actor would take a plunge into politics like fellow Biharis in the tinsel world, Prakash Jha and Shatrughan Sinha. During his recent visit to Bihar, Bajpai called on Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in Patna and, like a true blue politician, submitted a 10- point charter of demands to him. The actor wanted the government to set up a film city in the state capital. He said that a film city in Bihar would cater to the needs of the Bhojpuri film industry and the local producers would not have to go elsewhere for shooting their films. But most of Bajpai's demands were related to his home district West Champaran like protection of the rich musical traditions of the local Tharu tribe.

 

But Manoj insisted that it had nothing to do with any rajneeti ( politics).

giridhar.jha@mailtoday. in

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


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

THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

SHOWN THE RED CARD

 

The government has taken a step that will be cheered by every sport lover. The Union sports ministry has passed an order putting a limit on the number of terms that sports administrators can serve. For presidents of the Indian Olympic Association and national sports federations, the tenure has been fixed at 12 years, while for secretaries and treasurers it has been set at two successive terms of four years each. This is likely to put an end to the reigns of administrators, including several politicians, who have cornered sports bodies for years on end but have done precious little for Indian sport. In addition, sports bodies have been opaque in their functioning, attempting to thwart greater transparency under the guise of autonomy. The sports ministry took its decision based on practices followed by sports bodies elsewhere. Significantly, the order comes ahead of a hearing in the Delhi high court on a PIL on the issue. In an earlier hearing, the court had criticised the government for its inaction.

The government order, however, might not have the immediate effect of cleaning up sports bodies. Some politician-administrators have warned that they will move the Supreme Court. Besides, there are ways of getting around the order by ensuring that a relative or a close aide is elected to the president or secretary's post. We, however, hope that in the long run the government move will rejuvenate Indian sport. Federations cannot be run as fiefdoms by administrators who have little interest in sport. People who have expertise in management and a passion for sport must run them. As of now this is clearly lacking in our administrators, which has resulted in Indian sport remaining comatose.

 

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


THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

JUSTICE DELIVERED

 

Seventeen months after the tragedy of 26/11, the first significant milestone in achieving justice for its victims has been reached. The verdict finding Ajmal Amir Kasab guilty of all 86 charges comes as no surprise — the wealth of evidence in the form of eyewitnesses, security camera footage and forensic proof made anything else all but impossible — but it must still be lauded on several counts. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that this is not the culmination of the process of justice; it is only the beginning.


Perhaps the biggest positive to emerge from the trial is simply that it was held in the manner that it was. That the due process of law was followed as it was, respecting the rights of a man as manifestly guilty as Kasab — given the barbarity of the attack and the volatile atmosphere at the time — is a telling statement. It throws the dehumanising effect of the jihadist ideology that drove Kasab and his compatriots into stark relief. Procedurally as well, despite early, misguided attempts to prevent a number of lawyers from representing Kasab, the trial was a success. It was both transparent and comprehensive. There have been complaints from various quarters about its length, but given the mountain of evidence and the need to investigate and place Kasab in the larger picture, it was perhaps inevitable.


The latter point is crucial. Kasab and the nine others who came ashore in Mumbai were merely foot soldiers; the lowest rung of the hierarchy that planned and executed the attack. The men truly responsible for it — who conceived 26/11, set the process in motion, trained the 10 Pakistani nationals and pulled the trigger via radio during the fighting — are still unpunished. The verdict has done a good job of bringing that fact front and centre. Now, it is up to New Delhi to ensure that the work done by the special court and by the investigators, both Indian and foreign, is not wasted. It must continue to exert pressure on Islamabad to move ahead with bringing Hafiz Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman among others to book.


This verdict is unlikely to be the end of the matter. The prosecutor has already stated that the acquittal of Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Shaikh, co-accused as conspirators, will be challenged, while Kasab's lawyer may well do the same with regard to his conviction. But the crucial first step has been taken. Now, the judiciary must ensure that the rest of the process, whatever it may be, is executed

 

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


THE TIMES OF INDIA

 EDITORIAL

A NEW SINOLOGY

 

 

China's power and influence are growing. But its future course remains uncertain. To understand what role China will play in shaping the world order, we need to understand China more deeply and engage China more frankly.

Australia has a long tradition of thinkers and writers on China, such as the first ever permanent China correspondent for The Times, George E Morrison. These thinkers have always been aware that a knowledge of China has to be grounded in an understanding of the histories, literature and philosophies of its past. It is a radition of passionate, sympathetic but nonetheless clear-eyed analysis.


To analyse China's future, we need to better understand China's extraordinary history, including its long evolution of reform and foreign engagement. That is a complex task. In China itself there are many competing views about China's history, its present and its future. That is why we are establishing the Australian Centre on China in the World at the Australian National University. The centre will be an international institution that will seek to enhance understanding of China, and promote dialogue with China. It will focus specifically on China's role "in the world". The centre will be founded in the midst of remarkable change in China, generating great interest in what role China sees for its future.


There is a hardline view that regards China's rise as a threat to the existing global order. There is a contrary view that a new "Beijing consensus" should replace the "Washington consensus". There are many views in-between. The truth is that there are many conflicting views about China and its future — and those differing views are held by Chinese as much as they are held by others.


China has benefited remarkably from its policies of domestic economic reform and global economic engagement. But there is still an ongoing debate in China itself about that reform. There is also an international discussion about China's future. There are questions about the handling of human rights in China, and about the development of a truly transparent and independent legal system. And China's friends also want to see China's economic system develop in a way that brings China and the Chinese people fully into a globalised world economy.

A growing China will pursue its interests globally: that is natural. And i believe that China recognises its own fundamental interest in working with — not against — the international system that has served China so well in recent decades. We see this in China's role in the G20, where it has partnered with the other major economies in responding to the global economic crisis. China is also working with the international community to meet the challenges of climate change, although it needs to take on a greater leadership role on this critical problem.

China has also engaged deeply with the nations of the Asia-Pacific, and encouragingly shares Australia's goal of building the right regional architecture for dealing with future challenges. I shall continue to advocate the development of regional architecture that has the right membership and mandate to address the full spectrum of challenges confronting the region — economic, political and security. That membership must, of course, include China, just as it must include the United States, ASEAN at its core and other key nations of the region — Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and Russia.


China's contribution to the world order is undeniable. But there is much more to be done. China can — and should — do more to support international efforts on global security challenges such as Afghanistan and Iran. China engaging across the board as a major stakeholder in the maintenance and strengthening of a stable, rules-based order is good for China, and good for the world.


To understand what role China will, can and must play in shaping the world order, we need to understand China more deeply and engage it more frankly at all levels. I believe that it is time for a new Sinology. This must go beyond old Cold War concepts of fan-Hua or qin-Hua — that is, of either being anti-China or pro-China. The realities are more complex than this old binary opposition suggests. We should be able to express to China views based on our values and beliefs without our core friendship towards China, or China's towards Australia, being called into question. We need a more sophisticated dialogue; a new way forward for a rising great power.


I would like to see this dialogue based on the principle of zhengyou. A zhengyou is a candid friend, a partner who sees beyond immediate benefit, and who speaks the truth as the basis for a profound and sincere friendship. In Australia's case, this means being able to speak to China in a frank manner when our interests are engaged, and to expect the same from China: a dialogue based on respect, understanding and a mutual recognition of values. This new principle for engagement and understanding is as important for China as it is for Australia and the collective West.


This is an extract of the 70th George E Morrison Lecture delivered by prime minister of Australia.

 

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


THE TIMES OF INDIA

A STEP IN THE WRONG DIRECTION

 

The lower House of the Belgian parliament has overwhelmingly voted for a Bill that seeks to ban the burqa or the naqab on streets, parks, sports grounds and buildings meant for public use or to provide services. The French are also contemplating a similar move. Supporters of the ban raise two issues. One, it is a symbol of oppression of Muslim women and so is a violation of their human rights. Two, the naqab covers the face of the person and conceals her identity. This poses a risk to public security. The arguments are fallacious. The ban is likely to polarise relations between Muslims and non-Muslims not just in Europe but elsewhere also.

 

We need to make a difference between the voluntary use of burqa and its imposition by the clergy or community elders. The individual must have the choice to decide what she wants to wear. Not to allow her that choice is a violation of her freedom. Equally, the law must provide her recourse to resist any imposition of burqa. But a state-sponsored ban on the burqa would only reinforce the view that Muslims in Europe are being targeted for looking different from the dominant majority.


Religious and social markers are adopted by sections of minority communities to carve out a separate identity for themselves. The burqa is one such marker. This could be due to the social insecurity resulting from being a minority and a fear of being subsumed by the culture of the majority. These communities need to be engaged. But the terms of engagement can't be unilateral. It is impossible to achieve social integration by legislating public policies that are likely to reinforce the insecurities of being a minority. As for public safety, a person with a naqab could always be asked to show her face to a proper authority if and when necessary.

 

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


THE TIMES OF INDIA

A REASONABLE MOVE

 

Belgian lawmakers have approved a ban on the burqa in public places. This is wrongly viewed by some as an expression of state intolerance of cultural differences. Societies like France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands aren't repressive, yet there's widespread popular opposition in these countries to a dress that hides a woman's body and face. A European Parliament member has called for a ban across Europe, a continent with some of the world's most liberal nations. When free societies take a stand against a custom, surely they have good reasons.


Democracies guarantee women's rights. The plea for religious freedom can't be used to sanction gender discrimination. Many women, it's contended, choose to wear the burqa. But there's no way of knowing if that's true or they're forced by conservative menfolk to cover themselves. Again, multiculturalism isn't an excuse for social groups to resist integration in the free societies of which they're a part. Belonging to a nation means respecting its laws and sharing its defining values. Republican France, for instance, gives primacy to the citizen over all other identity markers, and rightly so.


Finally, given the scourge of global terrorism, the security angle is paramount. Belgium's ban is about public security, not faith. Given that it's meant to conceal, the burqa can be misused by terrorists. In the age of 9/11-style suicide attacks, how can anyone seriously object to identification of people by law enforcers, airport personnel and other authorities? Governments are duty-bound to protect human life against criminal attacks. All other concerns must be secondary to the state's obligation to ensure people can go about their daily lives without fear.

 

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


THE TIMES OF INDIA

FROM PAA TO PAAJI

 

What is it with Indian cricketers that the 'paa'-word crops up so frequently in conversations? The latest instance is the interview with Rohit Sharma published in this newspaper where he referred to "Yuvi paa" as his cricketing guru. Sharma was of course talking of Yuvraj Singh. Besides the disconcerting fact that any young cricketer — especially someone like Sharma who seems to have lost his way somewhat despite oodles of talent — would regard Yuvraj Singh as his role model, why the incongruous use of 'paa' after referring to Yuvraj by his nickname? Sharma did not stop at that. He went on to refer to Sachin Tendulkar as Sachin paaji, an honorific that might have left Tendulkar bemused.


What is the origin of the word 'paa' or 'paaji'? As some of us are probably aware, paaji loosely means 'elder brother' in Punjab; it could also be used to address a friend or a neighbour. One must point out here that paaji in my native tongue has a completely different meaning — it is used to describe someone who is wicked or naughty, but in a somewhat endearing manner (There are some who might think Yuvraj eminently qualifies as a paaji in the Bengali sense too.).


But when did the word enter the cricketing lexicon? Though there have been several iconic cricketers from Punjab such as Lala Amarnath or Bishan Singh Bedi, it was Kapil Dev who inevitably had paaji tailing him. And it wasn't just north Indian cricketers who referred to Kapil as paaji. One recalls Mohammad Azharuddin, a Hyderabadi far removed from the world of paajis and balle-balles, regularly referring to Kapil as paaji.


It is very appropriate that Kapil was associated with this blurring of boundaries since he himself used to regularly communicate in what for want of a better term is sometimes called Kaplish. I remember listening to Kapil (paaji if you will) at a function in Kolkata sometime in the 1980s where he said he was not at all in favour of playing "tuk tuk" cricket, but preferred to smash the ball whenever possible. Who else would have taken such liberties with the English language? But we digress.


Paaji is not the only regional phrase that has entered cricket's vocabulary. Another one that immediately springs to mind is 'dada'. Most Bengali men living in north India would have at sometime or the other been addressed as dada by someone. But in Indian cricket there is only one person who can lay claim to being Dada. And we all know who that is. Of course dada might have become as ubiquitous as paaji if there were more cricketers from the east making it to the Indian team. But that doesn't fully explain why Nagpur-born Rohit Sharma who plays his cricket for Mumbai would regard everybody as his paaji. It perhaps has something to do with the Punjabification of the entire country. From big fat weddings to bhangra to butter chicken, Punjab is symbolic of the new, brash India.


The use of paaji also represents in some ways the hierarchies in Indian cricket. It has traditionally been a no-no for junior cricketers to call their seniors by name. Retired cricketers or selectors are usually referred to with a 'sir' next to their name. So it's always Gavaskar sir or Srikkanth sir. This habit is not restricted to cricketers. Even in corporate offices you will find people referring to their seniors as sir, something that would be completely out of place in more egalitarian societies. Young cricketers are likely to live the high life these days but at the same time maintain a facade of being deferential to seniors and tradition. Hence possibly the liberal use of paaji by Rohit Sharma. The only saving grace was that as a batsman he didn't have to mention the person who really belongs to the land of paajis: Harbhajan Singh. What would Sharma have called him — Pau Bhaji perhaps?

 

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


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

HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

RAT-AND-GROUSE GAME

 

Our very own 'town of Hamelin', the state of Bihar, needs a piper in mottled gear. With Chief Minister Nitish Kumar continuing to do a commendable job, we don't use this image of the pied piper metaphorically. It turns out that Mr Kumar, during his ongoing campaign tours in the state before the assembly elections, was bitten by a rat on Saturday evening. Again, we don't mean a metaphorical rodent with hirsute ears but a very real rat from Real India.

The act of violence against the chief minister reportedly took place when Mr Kumar was retiring after a strenuous day — that saw an irate mob pelt his cavalcade with stones — at a circuit house in the state's Sitamarhi district. A doctor was called to tend to the wound and provide the necessary anti-tetanus shot, along with a painkiller and antibiotics.

But even as Mr Kumar went on his way the next day to Muzaffarpur wearing a noticeable bandage on his finger, an anti-State rat was still out there waiting to take on more of India's body politic.

Bihar, over the years, has tried — rather successfully — to shake off the pestilence of the past. It's yet to regain its
status as a leading state in the comity of the nation, but since developmental schemes have been shunted out of the quagmire of caste politics, at least the dubious tag of being the frontrunner in the 'Bimaru' stakes is eroding. The rat attack on the head of Bihar's government, in this context, is a painful reminder of the state's recent past and the job that still needs to be done. As for the political roadblocks that are made to come in the way of Mr Kumar and his attempts to bring prosperity to Bihar, we smell a rat. And we mean that metaphorically, not literally at all.

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


HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE - BEAT THEM AT THEIR GAME

 THE VERDICT ON AJMAL AMIR KASAB WILL MAKE INDIA ONLY MORALLY STRONGER AGAINST TERROR

 

Few eyebrows will be raised at he various guilty verdicts passed down to Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone survivor of the 10-man Lashkar-e- Tayyeba (LeT) assault team that caused mayhem in Mumbai in 2008. If there was anything unique about this terrorist trial, it was the overwhelming evidence against Kasab. Combined with the fact he has been found guilty of charges that include seven murders and waging war against the Indian State, it is hard to see Kasab receiving anything less than the maximum possible punishment. The verdict provides the country an opportunity to reflect on the state of its counter-terrorism strategy since the attack.


Pakistan's decision to keep a lower profile after 26/11 and New Delhi's success in preempting plots by homegrown Islamicists contributed to a remarkably pacific 2009. The recent terror alert in New Delhi and the Pune bomb blast remind us that India should not expect a similar respite every year. It remains unclear how much the country's defences against Kasab and his ilk are more secure today than it was two years ago.

 

The best method against terrorism is preemption, to interdict plots and their planners well before they come to fruition. The State has a reasonable record when it comes to local groups like the Indian Mujahideen. It shows little such capability outside the country's borders and depends, in effect, on the kindness of strangers. New Delhi is spending prodigiously on internal security technology and equipment.


The experience of other countries shows that a holistic defence against external terrorism requires a complicated private-public partnership. This, in turn, requires govern- ment to understand that it lacks the domain knowledge to game and prepare for the sort of tactical surprise that 26/11 represented. India has yet to achieve that mindset. While an expanded National Security Guard network is welcome, the police remain unsettlingly unreformed. As for prosecution, it is noteworthy that two alleged accomplices of Kasab were acquitted -- and the court pointedly blamed the police for making such a poor case of it.

The court, in its judgement, endorsed the argument that 26/11 had its origins in Pakistan and was perpetrated by the heads of the L-e-T. The truth, however, is that the court's writ will matter little to Islamabad and that much of India's counter-terrorism strategising is really a reflection of its lack of leverage over its western neighbour.

 

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


HINDUSTAN TIMES

A POLICY? RUBBISH

RAVI AGARWAL

 

The Cobalt-60 radiation tragedy at Mayapuri in Delhi has unearthed many skeletons, which some seem to be desperate to hide. There is already a life lost, and maybe others irrevocably damaged, while everyone is busy hurling accusations at each other. This is a typical response. Instead, we need to examine the systemic problems that this incident has indicated. While those who were negligent must be punished, there are many questions that need to be answered. These relate to why this radioactive waste source was not on the regulatory radar. It is no secret that the nuclear establishment works in a garb of secrecy, and information is very restricted.

However, where public health is concerned, more assurance is needed. It has also become evident that our ports are porous to all kinds of waste, and there are no scanners to detect what comes in, nuclear or otherwise. Alongside, there seems to be no mechanism to track the illegal movement of radioactive materials through our transport systems. The dealers at the scrapyards have little information on how to detect such waste, or what to do in case of an accident. At the very least this incident calls for re-evaluating the tracking and monitoring of such disused radioactive materials and improving public communication.

Moreover, it is important to understand the larger issue of hazardous waste. It is well-known that we are one of the largest waste-importing economies in the world. All types of wastes are imported into India, in the garb of cheap raw materials, including hazardous, toxic wastes. Waste recyclers abroad take pride in sending used plastics and electronics to India, believing they are doing us a favour. Data released by the Customs department reveal imports of even prohibited wastes like clinical waste, incineration ash, municipal waste and e-waste, all of which exceed 50 lakh tonnes annually. This is common knowledge in the recycling markets of Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai. The government, however, says it has no idea about this. On the contrary, environment ministry officials have publicly stated that they wish to make India the waste recycling capital of the world. Real concerns about the inherent toxicity in the waste contaminating our water and land, or the disastrous implications of becoming a 'waste economy,' are not being addressed.

The manufacturing sector in India is growing at over 8 per cent annually, making India one of the largest hubs of chemical, petrochemical and textile industries in the world. However, the government's manpower or budgets to track and monitor the disposal of waste from over 36,000 authorised industrial units and over 3 million small scale units, have not increased over the years. Look at the estimates of waste generation. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General's (CAG) report and other sources, over 7 million tonnes of industrial hazardous waste, 4 lakh tonnes of electronic waste, 1.5 million tonnes of plastic waste, 1.7 lakh tonnes of medical waste, 48 million tonnes of municipal waste laced with mercury lamps, batteries and pesticides are generated in the country annually, in addition to the imports. These are conservative figures and growing. However, there is no official data on this, simply because there has never been any attempt to collect it.

The impact is there for all to see. The Central Pollution Control Board has identified over 88 critically polluted industrial zones, most of which are clustered in the most-industrialised states like Gujarat and Maharashtra. Several of them are beyond repair. All of our 14 river systems are polluted. Groundwater in many places contains toxins like the deadly hexavalent chromium and heavy metals, and studies have shown contamination of crops through industrial effluents. Again there is no data or any study ever commissioned to identify the scale of such impact.

The states have notified a set of hazardous waste laws over the past 10 years and built 25-odd hazardous waste disposal facilities after the Supreme Court directed them to do so. However, the CAG report lays bare the real ground situation. It found that over 75 per cent of state bodies were not implementing these laws. In fact, there is no single responsible person anywhere in the government who is routinely monitoring the situation. Unfortunately, there is more attention given towards granting authorisations and licences for imports and clearances, rather than to develop a system of monitoring and accountability.

Implementation is said to be India's Achilles heel. Is it really so? Implementation is left to the vagaries of the system, rather than any efforts made to enable it. For example, none of our waste laws demand implementation targets, or maintain a database about progress made, or have any accompanying plans about how the required infrastructure will be built. Public information about levels of compliance is also not available.

With all this missing, lamenting the lack of implementation becomes merely a way of passing the buck. In hindsight, the Cobalt-60 incident may have been no accident, it may only have been waiting to happen.

Ravi Agarwal is Director, Toxics Link

The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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


HINDUSTAN TIMES

BIGOTGATE: WHEN GORDON MET DUFFY

 

Nobody should be allowed to get away with calling someone a bigot just because that person has asked what to them are perfectly legitimate questions about immigration.

 

And when Gordon Brown described 66-year-old widowed grandmother Gillian Duffy as "a sort of bigoted woman" after a brush on the campaign trail last week, it wasn't just the prime minister who later had his head in his hands – most Labour supporters reacted with a similar sense of despair.

 

Here's an excerpt from the infamous exchange at Rochdale, a working-class town in northwest England:

 

Duffy (who had stepped out to buy a loaf of bread but then ran into Brown): All these eastern Europeans what are coming in — where are they flocking from?

 

Brown: A million people have come from Europe, but a million British people have gone into Europe. You do know that there's a lot of British people staying in Europe as well…

 

Duffy: And what are you going to do about students who are coming in then, all this that you have to pay [tuition fees]? You've scrapped that Gordon.

 

So who are "these eastern Europeans what are coming in?"

 

On the streets of London today, you don't have to look very hard to find them. They are everywhere — receptionists, waiters, guards, cleaners, shop assistants working hard for not very high wages. Away from the high street, they are the electrician, gardener and plumber servicing homes.

 

Indeed, Britain is now home to some 1mn eastern European. No matter what Mrs Duffy says, under European Union rules, there is nothing that Britain or any other member-country can do to stop each other's civilians from coming in and working.

 

But she did highlight legitimate questions about the provision of public services, overcrowding and joblessness in wealthy but recession-hit economies.

 

More than half of east European immigrants in Britain are from Poland — the sixth largest economy in Europe.

 

And, equipped with a sense of entrepreneurship not unlike that of Indians, they are changing the landscape right across multicultural Britain.

 

Earlier this year, the first Polish grocery shop opened on a high street close to my home. Niku's Polski Sklep is probably named after store-owner Miklos's son Nicholas.

 

An electrician by training, Miklos offers mainly eastern European shoppers products from 'back home' — ranging from milk (yes, milk – it tastes better, claims Miklos) to delicatessen, and sausages and other meats.

 

So what does Miklos make of Gillian Duffy? "The only problem is with a small number of people who do not have work and don't pay taxes."

 

The preferred destination of Poles is actually Germany, he said — then Scandinavian countries, and only then Britain."

 

Whom will he vote for? "I won't vote. To me politics is like black magic — I stay away. Politicians are the same everywhere."

 

The store was getting busy on the May bank holiday. "We are here for good," Miklos said as his wife Violetta handed out a Polish sausage to a shopper and Nicholas, 5, pressed his nose against the shop window.

 

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

 

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

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

ON A DEADLINE

 

The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists, whose indefinite nationwide strike has crippled Nepal, did not fail to notice the "change" in the government's tone immediately after Prime Minister Madhav Nepal returned from the SAARC summit in Thimphu. UCPN-M chief Prachanda raised his anti-India pitch, hinting at what might have transpired in Thimphu to bolster the confidence of the "puppet government". Nepal had left Kathmandu a besieged man. But on his return, his resolve to not step down in compliance with Maoist demands appeared strengthened. Not only was the Nepal army put on alert, but fissures within the coalition government and his own Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist couldn't prevent Nepal securing the support of 22 of the 25 parliamentary parties. Meanwhile, the Maoists are out in the streets, protesting and asking for the installation of their government, with Prachanda — and no one but Prachanda — as prime minister.

 

At the heart of the simmering is the May 28 deadline for the constituent assembly, which must be extended. But for that, a two-thirds majority — and thereby having the Maoists on board — is necessary. This is an unwinnable battle, as both the ruling coalition and the Maoists stand to lose significantly if the deadline is not extended and the president acquires immense powers. Without a proper and complete drafting of the mandated new constitution, there will be little or no guarantee of lasting peace in the new republic. The constitution is meant to sort out and define government type, division of powers, and so on. The problem of the Maoist cadres, whose proposed integration with the army and then-PM Prachanda's move against the army chief had precipitated the crisis that ended in Prachanda's resignation exactly a year ago, must also be solved. Fissures exist within the Maoist camp too — fissures which Prachanda may try to airbrush with having Baburam Bhattarai (who had voiced his own prime ministerial ambitions earlier and who is more acceptable to other parties) at his side — and efforts must be made at a flexibility on leadership from the Maoists. If the UCPN-M budges a little, the Nepal government may also be willing to compromise.

 

At the moment, the worry remains that the street agitations may spiral out of control and pull the country into the vortex of fresh, disruptive violence or worse. New Delhi's regional diplomacy is therefore being put to the test, to convey to all stakeholders in Nepal that India's interests are constructive, namely that the peace process does not crumble. Knowing what is at stake, containing and ending the crisis must be simultaneous efforts.

 

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


INDIAN EXPRESS

 

SHIFTING LINES

 

Chief Justice of India-designate S.H. Kapadia has said judicial activism, taken to its limits, might go against the rule of law. His views, stated at a public function on May 2, are part of a long running debate integral to any robust democracy: what are the fine lines that separate the powers of the legislature, executive and judiciary? Coming on the eve of his taking over as head of the world's most powerful court, his public pronouncements are significant.

 

Ever since the '70s, the higher judiciary has expanded its own powers in four ways. The first is by holding that judicial review is part of the basic structure — that is, every executive or legislative action can be questioned in court. The second innovation is a wide interpretation to fundamental rights, with words like "right to life" taken to mean, say, that encroaching slum dwellers must be rehabilitated. The third power is allowing well-meaning citizens to file PILs in the "public interest", flooding the courts with a variety of requests. The final change was the Supreme Court's decision to select their own. Equipped with these powers, their lordships have pronounced on a number of areas, even those which Parliament or the government would claim fell squarely within their domain. In January 2008, then-Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee went so far as to call judicial activism undemocratic. The recent spate of judicial controversies — from opaque selection to difficult impeachment — has only added fuel to the debate.

 

Drawing a line for judges is always a tall order, especially given the many benefits of an engaged and active higher judiciary. Offering one balancing act, former Chief Justice J.S. Verma argued in these pages that while it is legitimate for the judiciary to demand performance from a state authority, to take over its function might cross the line. He also argued that in complex matters involving political, legal and administrative questions, the court must isolate the legal quibble, judging only that. Drawing these boundaries is a work in progress. And the CJI-designate's views indicate that progress could be robust.

 

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

 


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

REALTY BITES

 

India's acceptance of big, hyper-extended government is evident in the physical space it is allowed to take up. The lumbering leviathan has made itself comfortable in all of Lutyen's Delhi and contiguous neighbourhoods, even as the rest of the city bursts at the seams trying to accommodate its own exploding population and the new demands of industry and commerce. An imperial vestige, central Delhi is a space where the powerful float free of the real city. This green space nestling in the middle of Delhi functions as the city's lungs, its boulevards lined with splendid old neem and ashoka trees, keeping it always a few degrees cooler than the periphery. While plans to demolish this area and replace it with blocky high-rise buildings seems like wanton destruction of an elegant thing, it is certainly about time the state ceded some space to the rest of us, and made more efficient use of the space it has.

 

And so, the Standing Committee on Urban Development, led by JD(U)'s Sharad Yadav, has announced that no new offices of the Central or state governments should be allowed to come up in Delhi now. What's more, offices that don't serve any ministerial or protocol function will also be asked to look for new digs in surrounding areas, as part of the effort to de-clutter Delhi and ease pressure on infrastructure.

 

Delhi, the committee noted, is being put under stress by a concentration of trade, services and industries. And yet, ridiculous zoning habits result in these patterns where PSUs and government departments, commissions and authorities squat in the best parts of the city, hog acres of space, and block attempts to redevelop them. In a mega-city like Delhi, we can't afford this wastefulness, this skew in priorities — we need vibrant mixed use patterns, we need density and diversity in neighbourhoods, and we need to make room for the real Delhi.

 

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

 


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WHY KASAB MATTERS

K. SUBRAHMANYAM

 

Unlike in the 9/11 case, where no perpetrator of the crime survived or was captured, in the 26/11 case of the Lashkar-e-Toiba operating from Pakistani soil, one terrorist named Ajmal Amir Kasab was captured alive and lived to tell the tale. The only survivor among the 10 assailants sent on the mission, he was put on trial and that was completed in little over 18 months. While there are many conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attack and the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, in the case of the 26/11 attack attempts to attribute it to locals initially tried by Pakistan collapsed in the light of Kasab's production in the court and the detailed judicial confession he offered.

 

This left Pakistani officials no room to dodge and they had to accept that the terrorist conspiracy was hatched on Pakistani soil by their nationals belonging to the LeT. This was also a unique case in which the conversations between the terrorist handlers in Pakistan and the terrorists in action in the streets of Mumbai were recorded by more than one country through the monitoring of mobile telephone conversations in real time. That clinched the evidence against the LeT operating from Pakistan. Since the casualties included a number of Americans and Israelis, and the monitored conversations disclosed the virulent anti-Jewish and anti-US hatred of the Pakistani terrorist handlers, the US was compelled to change the earlier attitude of treating the LeT as a terrorist organisation relevant for anti-Kashmiri operations only. The American double agent David Coleman Headley's confession completed the picture in respect of the role and scope of the LeT. No doubt the Americans considered it sufficiently dangerous from 2002 to have attempted to use Headley to penetrate the organisation. Presumably the Mumbai attack compelled them to categorise it as one of the five organisations which had to be disrupted, dismantled and defeated.

 

Unlike the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed plotter of 9/11 who had to be subjected to water-boarding torture to extract information, Kasab, a man of limited education, confessed voluntarily initially, though he tried to go back on it with some very fanciful tale of a double being used. Kasab's capture and confession established that the façade of a civilian government in Pakistan did not in any way affect the autonomy of the army and the Inter Services Intelligence to function as sponsors of terrorism. This has been further confirmed by the UN panel's report on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

 

The public trial and provision of legal defence for Kasab enhanced the reputation and credibility of the Indian judicial system and further disclosed to our eternal pride that there were victims and bereaved who were prepared to forgive him. But the overwhelming popular indignation and feeling of revenge is quite understandable, and is to be expected. It is also an unacknow-ledged tribute to the Indian system that Pakistanis want Indian judicial officials to give evidence in the in-camera Pakistani trial of the LeT handlers for the Mumbai attack. The contrast between the mature Indian democracy and the incipient Pakistani system could not have been better brought out, with the open trial in India and the closed trial in Pakistan.

 

The Mumbai attack showed the crucial importance of communication intelligence as a tool of intelligence and even of criminal investigation. The recent common alert issued by India, the US, the UK, Canada and Australia on an impending attack on Delhi was made possible by the same technology. That capability needs to be expanded several-fold if Indian security is to be adequately strengthened. The deployment of this capability should be somewhat of a deterrent to terrorists, money launderers, organised crime bosses, arms and drug smugglers and their political and bureaucratic patrons.

 

HBO had a broadcast on the Mumbai attack, especially the conversations between the handlers and the terrorists; it needs wider publicity. There will be questions about a death penalty for Kasab and its execution. There will be people who will argue that execution is not punishment commensurate with his crime and he should be made to live with the horror of what he had done every day for years to come. While he showed some remorse at one stage of his trial, of late he has gone back on his earlier

 

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


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

MAY DAY MAYDAY

YUBARAJ GHIMIRE

 

Andolan season is back in Nepal. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) that spent weeks giving physical training to able-bodied villagers and to its cadre, has paraded its supporters in the capital for what it calls a "decisive battle". But will it be decisive enough — in the Maoists' favour?

 

During a mammoth May Day rally in the capital, UCPN-M chief Prachanda announced that the victory is going to be theirs during this round of battle. People who had come from different parts of the country stayed put in the capital to hasten the promised victory. But their hope and determination has apparently dissipated faster this time. Apart from Kathmandu's fluctuating climate, with intermittent rain in the past 48 hours driving away street protestors, the locals have refused to participate in the "decisive battle". More important, the government and 22 out of 25 political parties represented in the constituent assembly have firmly stood by Prime Minister Madhav Nepal — the man Maoists want out, and replaced by Prachanda — sending a tough signal to the Maoists for the first time in four years that the politics of "surrender" before the former insurgents is over.

 

Another thing that goes totally against the Maoists is the changed behaviour of the international community, mainly UN agencies like the United Nations Mission to Nepal (UNMIN), the European Union and some Scandinavian countries. They have now warned the Maoists that any violence during the indefinite political strike that began on May 2 will not only imperil the peace and the constitution-writing process, but will also discredit the Maoists thoroughly in the eyes of the international community.

 

India's tough stance is, of course, well known, and with hostility on the rise at home and abroad, Maoists have to bank solely on the terror that the Young Communist Leagues (YCL) can create on the street. But that will also require determination on the part of the Maoists to face a government that for once issued stern warnings that it would not hesitate to deploy the police, the paramilitary as well as the army (which remains confined within its barracks, as per the peace agreement).

 

Worse for the Maoists, divisions within the party have come to the fore as never before. At the rally, two prominent leaders — Baburam Bhattarai and Narayankaji Shrestha Prakash, both vice-presidents — were not allowed to address the crowd. Both leaders have been sidelined following their public statements that the party could offer somebody other than Prachanda as PM for a national unity government should Madhav Nepal resign.

 

Madhav Nepal made a categorical statement that he is willing to quit as soon as the parties agree on his substitute and an agenda to take the constitution-making process forward. The Maoists, however, insist that the government leadership should first be handed over to Prachanda and the rest should follow. That is clever tactics on their part, as it is very clear now that the constitution cannot be delivered within the May 28 deadline, and that the constituent assembly's life, if not extended, will expire. Securing government leadership now or around May 28 would give the Maoists an opportunity to rule without having to follow accountability to a House that will cease to exist. The Maoists are not a party that believes in the purity of means in acquiring power.

 

In fact, the Maoists made every effort to create a favourable situation for the power capture move. On May 1, Prachanda spoke publicly in praise of the Nepal army, saying that it and other nationalist institutions must "work together" with the Maoists. There was also a call that the army must defy any order from the present government that lacked "legitimacy as well as the people's mandate".

 

In the past few months, as the Maoists and pro-democracy forces have been pitted against each other, Prachanda apparently had a series of meetings with retired generals of the Nepal army who still wield enough clout in the institution — besides political sympathisers and supporters of former King Gyanendra, and perhaps his close relatives. But the Maoists' power or strength to bargain, as well as their credibility, has clearly nosedived.

 

That clearly leaves them with two options: either to ask for a face-saving solution from the government so that they can continue with political negotiation, or let their restive cadre go on a rampage and create a law and order problem — thereby inviting all the consequences it might induce from the state. Either way, the losers this time round will be the Maoists.

 

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


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

'IPL WILL GO ON. IT WILL GET BIGGER AND IT WILL GET BETTER'

 

Nita Ambani, wife of RIL chief Mukesh Ambani and co-owner of Mumbai Indians, has been the driving force behind the team, right from picking up young talent from Ranji teams to travelling and celebrating with the boys. In this Walk the Talk with The Indian Express Editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta, she talks about the young players in her team, her ambitious projects, and why IPL will survive after Lalit Modi

 

Shekhar Gupta: I'm at Mumbai's Brabourne Stadium and my guest this week is not a cricketer but one of India's most prominent and most loved cricket enthusiasts--Nita Ambani. I believe you are as cricket crazed as the rest of us now.

 

Nita Ambani: Absolutely. My family doesn't know what to do with an obsessed mother who watches only cricket channels on TV, whether it is Ranji Trophy or Deodhar Trophy, even County cricket in England. I just love the game.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Even when India plays Bangladesh?

 

Nita Ambani: I watched that too. I must tell you this story. We were in Kenya for a holiday and there was rain and thunderstorm and we were stuck in our tents. And all that I tried to do was to get an Internet connection so that I could watch the India Vs Bangladesh series and I did watch that one.

 

Shekhar Gupta: We know how committed you are to your team and how hard you have worked and how far the team came. How did you take the disappointment?

 

Nita Ambani: I had said in my interview just before the finals that may the best team win. And in sports, I think, it's not just about taking wins but also about handling losses. And that's what I have learnt living with these boys for the last several weeks. But I must tell you, it has been a dream run. It has been a journey that has been unforgettable for me. And it's not just about lifting the title. Surely I was disappointed, but it is what you have gained in your journey of life that matters. And for me, cricket has been a big learning experience.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But T20 is also a bit of a lottery. A single match can go this way or that.

 

Nita Ambani: It could. I mean, people say it can be luck, it can be lottery, but we did very well in all our League matches. If you see, we were the table toppers and I betted on my youngsters, really. When I came back from South Africa, all that I did was scout around for young talent who could add to the team and I think they made me proud.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Just that, on that day, things did not quite work out.

 

Nita Ambani: Yes. I think it was one bad day in the six weeks of cricket that we had.

 

Shekhar Gupta: In fact, I heard Dhoni say this morning in one of his press interactions before going to the World Cup that in this format, a weak team can always defeat a much stronger team in one match.

 

Nita Ambani: Yes and everybody can have a good day or a bad day and I think it was our bad day.

 

Shekhar Gupta: I think Dhoni did acknowledge it to you.

 

Nita Ambani: I didn't watch the television interview but yes, he did. And I think Dhoni is a person who has gone through so much as a captain, so he really knows. With Sachin and Harbhajan and Zaheer leading our youngsters and mentoring them, it has been a journey that I have enjoyed so far.

 

Shekhar Gupta: You said you really learnt a lot from them.

 

Nita Ambani: Yes. I think sports is the greatest unifier and leveller. You look at the humility that Sachin has, in

spite of achieving so much, and how dedicated he is to this game. Every time I would talk to the team before we went on the field, all I would say was give it your best and enjoy yourself and cherish every moment on the field because that's what Sachin does. At 37, he has the energy of a 20-year-old. It's amazing. He would be practising at the nets for three hours in the morning.

 

Shekhar Gupta: I believe you really wanted to win this one.

 

Nita Ambani: Yes, I wanted to. We all wanted to. But then, you may want some things but you have to be

happy that you have achieved so much. We were the table toppers all through.

 

Shekhar Gupta: You have some very young people in your team.

 

Nita Ambani: Yes. There are amazing stories to tell about each one of them. Saurabh Tiwary comes from Jharkhand and they call him the left-handed Dhoni--he is a hard-hitter. When we celebrated Sachin's birthday one day before the finals, everyone had something to say to Sachin. So, Saurabh goes up and says: "Paaji, main aapke liye kya bolun? Aapne jitney saal cricket ko diyein hain, I'm not even that old. I am only 20 years old." I thought that was heartwarming. Then we have Aditya Thare who is a fisherman's son from Palghar. He is a wicket-keeper and he played for Mumbai Indians against Rajasthan Royals. He took 23 runs out of those 13 balls. His father used to ferry him to Bombay in a boat so that he could learn cricket. And Aditya is so confident. He is a wordsmith--he weaves poetry with words, in English. He writes beautifully. And he is just 20.

 

Shekhar Gupta: What about the fast bowler Pawan Suyal?

 

Nita Ambani: Pawan is from Uttaranchal. He is 20 too. And he clocked 140 km when he played against

Chennai. We lost that match. I think these are very promising youngsters we have brought into the team. We also have people like Ambati Rayudu who played for ICL.

 

Shekhar Gupta: He was lost completely.

 

Nita Ambani: Yes, he was completely lost and he is one of the most promising cricketers of the future and we brought him back and look at him now. He is doing so well in wicket-keeping and batting so well under pressure.

 

Shekhar Gupta: He was lost completely.

 

Nita Ambani: Yes. And he is one of the most promising cricketers of the future and we brought him back and look at him now. He is doing so well in wicket-keeping and he is batting so well under pressure.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Where do you find these unknown youngsters?

 

Nita Ambani: I travelled to Baroda, I travelled to Chandigarh, I watched all these little domestic matches in the last eight or nine months and I have enjoyed it scouting for talent this way. Aditya Thare plays for the Mumbai Ranji team, Pawan plays for the Delhi Ranji team. I picked them up, we had trials.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Who were you consulting?

 

Nita Ambani: We had a core team of Sachin, Bhajji, Zaheer, T.A. Sekhar and Robin. We took the decisions together. We watched them live. I travelled with them.

 

Shekhar Gupta: You have almost two generations of cricketers in your team. Even the older ones, on the field, are like boys. How do they deal with you? Are they in awe of you?

 

Nita Ambani: No. I'm one of the team mates now. Initially, when I went to South Africa, when we were losing

last year, they used to stand up when I walked into the room. Now, I think, they think I'm one of them. They tell

me things and respect my opinion. So, I think we are a very close unit and a happy unit. Irrespective of whether we win or lose, we gather in the dressing room after a match. It is very important to have a positive atmosphere. Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard can bring the dressing room down with laughter.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And the galleries…

 

Nita Ambani: Pollard can start hitting sixes and bring down the galleries. And we would do a little celebration and they used to go 'Master, master' for Sachin. And all of them would put their hands up for me and go 'Bhabhi, bhabhi'.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Is that what you are called?

 

Nita Ambani: I'm called 'Bhabhi'. But Bravo has another take on this. We had this celebration before we played the semis, and everybody had to give a little speech. So, Bravo says, "I thank Master, and I thank Mrs Boss for all the opportunities that she has given us and the trust she has in us. And I have to thank Mrs Boss's husband." I don't think Mukesh has ever been called that: Mrs Boss's husband! The whole team was in splits. They didn't know how Mukesh would react to that. But he was thrilled.

 

Shekhar Gupta: I would also like to hear about the speech Bhajji would have made.

 

Nita Ambani: Well, Bhajji being Bhajji, when we entered the semi-finals, he carried me in the spur of the moment. We were euphoric, Bhajji has been a big contributor in the last 10 months.

 

Shekhar Gupta: That is the image of the IPL this year.

 

Nita Ambani: And after that in the dressing room, he came in and told me, "Bhabhi, if we win the finals, main aapko aur Sir ko uthakar pure stadium mein ghumne wala hun." But that is Bhajji, I think.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Another interesting thing you did with your team was the name you chose--Mumbai Indians. It is such a genuine Mumbaikar thing to do because what you have done is you have built support for your team in many other parts of the country, which may not have their own teams.

 

Nita Ambani: I must credit this to Mukesh, really. When we won the bid for this IPL team, I was not a very great cricket enthusiast. I really didn't know too much of cricket except that I could differentiate between a four and a six. I didn't even know what an LBW was, frankly. And when Mukesh won the bid, he sat down with me and the kids and said, I think we should name it Mumbai Indians. He explained how it represents Mumbai and also represents the whole of India. At that time, we got a lot of criticism for it--people said it was not a very imaginative name compared to the other teams. We just had a very simple name.

 

Shekhar Gupta: You also got hit by some political criticism.

 

Nita Ambani: Yes, we did. But I think now, because we felt the right thing, did the right thing, it is a name that

has stayed on. I think what it generated at that time was a lot of passion, whether negative or positive. Sachin was very clear that he loved the name. Mukesh was very clear that he liked the name. I got support from my children saying: "Hey mom, go for it. It's a good name." And I think that's what mattered.

 

Shekhar Gupta: You were never worried about this?

 

Nita Ambani: No, we were worried only about cricket at that time.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Going back to the biddings of the IPL, how do you feel about the fact that nobody bid for the Pakistanis?

 

Nita Ambani: I'm not quite too sure about what happened to the Pakistanis. I remember that I had met Dwayne Bravo before the bidding and I had dinner with him in London just after the World Cup last year, and he told me (he calls me Nita, he doesn't call me Bhabi) that there is one player I want you to go for, and that is Pollard. I had then watched him play and followed him and we went it. And we wanted J.P. Duminy. So, I think we were very decided on this that these were the two players whom we wanted anyway. None of the Pakistani players were actually needed in our team at that time. I think the game should be open for everyone. Cricket is a great unifier and the greatest binder.

 

Shekhar Gupta: It created a lot of negative buzz in Pakistan and also amongst many of us in India. How can someone bid for Damien Martin but not for Shahid Afridi?

 

Nita Ambani: I guess these are the larger questions that need to be answered. For my team, I knew what I was going for and as I said, if cricket is a great unifier, let it be a game. In my classroom at the school, when two children compete against each other, they can also be best friends in the classroom. But on the field, when they are competing, I tell them to give their best.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Your school was the first dream you set out to realise. I believe you also have children of several cricketers playing in your school.

 

Nita Ambani: Yes. I have Sachin's Arjun. And I have a little story to tell. I went to South Africa, not knowing too much about cricket, and Arjun was sitting next to me and trying to explain the game to me—this was the game against Kolkata Knight Riders. He was just eight years old. He knows cricket pretty well. It runs in his blood. He said, "Dada is going to bowl to baba." I had no idea who dada or baba was. He explained, "Dada is Sourav Ganguly and baba is my father. My father is going to hit a cover drive. Just watch." And that's what Sachin did.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Arjun, too, plays cricket seriously.

 

Nita Ambani: He does. His insight into cricket for a young child is tremendous and he plays for three and a half

hours every day. But Sachin had said clearly that he didn't want to push him into the game.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Does he like to play like Sachin?

 

Nita Ambani: He tries to lift and loft and Sachin says, stay on the ground, and he hates it.

 

Shekhar Gupta: You have been part of the IPL from the second edition onwards. How do you see it evolving and where do you see it going?

 

Nita Ambani: I think it's a great property. Look at the chance the youngsters are getting to display their talent. It

can only go further but I think there should be right systems and processes in place. I personally think that what it has achieved in the last three years to become one of the foremost leagues not only in the country but also in the world is something amazing. And India has done this. We need to be proud. You have someone like Saurabh Tiwary playing with Sachin Tendulkar, which he couldn't have even dreamt of in his life.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Do you worry about it a little bit? About the controversies.

 

Nita Ambani: I got into it because of the pure love of cricket. And I still think that it is cricket that will survive in IPL. And that is the way it should be.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And cheerleaders can come and go?

 

Nita Ambani: I don't care much.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But do you worry now? The brand has got tainted.

 

Nita Ambani: I think, everything that is good goes on. And I think IPL is a great property. It will go on. It will

get bigger and it will get better.

 

Shekhar Gupta: You have been through an auction. Did you see anything that's being talked about? Fixed auctions… Did you find the auctions to be professional?

 

Nita Ambani: I found the auctions to be very well-conducted. In IPL 2, when we went to Goa, they were so well-conducted and very professional. And I came back home telling Mukesh, full of appreciation, that these auctions were really well-conducted.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So, you think, there could be some exaggeration to the stories that came out?

 

Nita Ambani: Everything good, bad, coming out of IPL--we should just stick to saying that cricket is like a

religion in India. It is the only secular religion in India, cuts across all other religions. In fact, at the dressing room, you must once experience it because we have boys from every nation and every religion. But nobody talks about that. We only talk cricket, passionately. We talk about every ball that was bowled, how did they hit it, what happened. And I think that is what cricket is all about.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And you never get the sense that anything was fixed?

 

Nita Ambani: I don't think so. Maybe I have just come into it late. I have enjoyed it thoroughly. I am too much of a cricket enthusiast. And I think positively.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But there is loose talk about cricket. It doesn't do cricket much good.

 

Nita Ambani: It has always been there. It's not as if it has started now. There has been such talk in the past also. But cricket has survived. And it should survive.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Give us some views about Lalit Modi.

 

Nita Ambani: What amazes me about Lalit is this constant energy that he had. I would be thinking about my

travelling schedule from Bombay to Mohali and then from Mohali to Chennai, and wondering which side of the bed should I get up in the morning. And Lalit would be travelling to every place, constantly on the move and constantly wanting to have something done. I used to wonder, how on earth is he doing this?

 

Shekhar Gupta: But does that invite too much attention?

 

Nita Ambani: Well, all cricket invites attention.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Could he have handled it differently?

 

Nita Ambani: Everybody has their own personalities, and in retrospect, many people may say this or that, but I

think everybody's personality is different and who am I to enforce any personality on anybody else? But I must say that I have enjoyed my two years thoroughly with IPL.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Did you ever have any argument with him over something?

 

Nita Ambani: No. I was just a little disappointed that I was not allowed to sit in the dug-out with my team. It came after two weeks and I'm too much of a team member to be separated from them.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And what did he say?

 

Nita Ambani: He said it was the corruption rules.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Can IPL survive his departure?

 

Nita Ambani: You know what I tell my school all the time? It should be beyond me. It is a timeless institution.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Has IPL become that?

 

Nita Ambani: Time will tell. I think Lalit did tremendously for IPL but it should continue. Anything good should continue.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Do you feel sorry for him?

 

Nita Ambani: Yes, I do.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Why?

 

Nita Ambani: He has brought IPL and made it one of the most watched leagues in the world and I think you need to give him credit for that.

 

Shekhar Gupta: It needed a certain entrepreneurial energy. It has risen in size, in dimension, in popularity. Infact, I described him as India's Jerry Maguire, and Hugh Hefner. I think, the Hefner side became a problem.

 

Nita Ambani: But each to their own. As I said, IPL will go on.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Tell us about your educational initiative. I know that's a big one.

 

Nita Ambani: I started my career as a school teacher years ago after I got married.

 

Shekhar Gupta: If I read correctly, for Rs 800 per month as a school teacher.

 

Nita Ambani: As a Rs 800 school teacher. I applied for this job, came back and told Mukesh that I've applied

and I have been asked for an interview and I think I'll go through. I was very nervous at that time. I was a young bride of 21 and married to this large family. Everybody knew Dhirubhai Ambani and Mukesh Ambani, and I wondered how Mukesh would react to my working as a teacher for Rs 800 a month. Everybody as in Anil, papa, mummy, Deepti and Tina, all of us. It was an extended family.

 

Shekhar Gupta: It had already become almost the first family of Indian business by then.

 

Nita Ambani: Yes. And there was also the extended family. The Meswanis and the other eldest kaka. I was the first daughter-in-law of the family. I said I want to work and I must say that I was touched by Mukesh's progressive attitude. He said, "Of course you must do this. And I'm going to talk to papa about this. You must work if that's what your heart wants to do." And I think that is one of my life-changing moments where from the first year of my marriage I was working as an ordinary person.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Tell us about the university you are building.

 

Nita Ambani: After the school, I always dreamt of doing a university which would bring liberal arts to India. We have many universities and colleges that would get engineers, management and now law too. But what about economists, what about schools of journalism? And also, I think Indian culture is dying. If I can revive this... We had the greatest universities, like Nalanda, and if I can bring back these things... I am an Indian dancer and I feel sad that an art which has been practised for so many years is now dying. Like Bharatanatyam, you don't have many takers for that art form. So, if I can get Indian culture within this university where someone can study economics and also be a dancer.

 

Shekhar Gupta: I believe it's going to be a mega-project, a very big one.

 

Nita Ambani: Yes. We are looking at 300 acres near Mumbai and I'm very excited about this.

 

Shekhar Gupta: That's the new baby, now?

 

Nita Ambani: No, the hospital is the new baby. December 2011, I think my hospital will be ready. It's a 600-bed multi-speciality hospital.

 

Shekhar Gupta: You know, we talked about the Dhirubhai way, we talked about your coming into the

household as the first daughter-in-law, and I acknowledge the fact that corporate issues are corporate issues, but at home, how have they affected you? The family split, the controversies… How have you handled it?

 

Nita Ambani: Well, you are a human being and you have to, kind of, be affected. You have to emote. Emotions are a part of a human being. But at times in life, you can't control everything. And it is important how you deal with it and how you go on with life and how you deal with ups and downs in your life and not become bitter. I have not become a bitter person.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But you do regret the fact that this happened?

 

Nita Ambani: Well, at this moment of my life, I think I have moved ahead. I don't even think about it.

 

Shekhar Gupta: I attended a business awards function. I think it was the Businessman of the Year function and the award was given to Mukesh and Anil jointly. I forget who the chief guest was. It was many years ago. And he said that the amazing thing is that you can start a conversation with one brother and continue seamlessly with the other the next morning. So from that to this…

 

Nita Ambani: As I said, you are human beings. You can't take away feelings from human beings. But if life has decided to take a certain turn, you take it in your stride. You don't become bitter about it. You sometimes wish it away but it cannot.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And you have to take sides because there are sides.

 

Nita Ambani: I was very traumatised at that time but I think I have moved on.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Whatever has led to the current situation, you have given us a great school, a great team, arguably the best team in this tournament, and Jamnagar and now we have the hospital and then the university coming up.

 

Nita Ambani: The ecological change in Jamnagar we achieved 15 years ago--my father-in-law was the driving force behind that. He said, you must have a mango orchard that would be the largest in Asia. I credit everything I did there to papa and his vision.

 

Shekhar Gupta: I think a lot of people want to know what you have done to yourself. Your diet, your exercise... You are a whiff of yourself. It's amazing.

 

Nita Ambani: It feels good to hear that. After my twins were born, and after my little one was born, from 47 kilos when I got married, I went up to 90 kilos. And I didn't care too much. I was so busy setting up the school, setting up Jamnagar, doing different things for Mukesh and then three years ago realisation struck. I have my youngest son who is fighting obesity and I can be very honest with that. And I thought the only way he will lose weight is if I do it with him. So we went on this diet and we went for exercise regimes where mother and son did everything together.

 

Shekhar Gupta: You are a Gujarati. You can't throw away your dhoklas, khandvi.

 

Nita Ambani: Well, I have thrown away dhokla, khandvi, theplas, khakhras.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But what you have done is quite remarkable. And I think one of the people who should be grateful is Harbhajan Singh because if he has to lift you year after year, he would rather have this weight.

 

Nita Ambani: I hope we have that many victories.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So congratulations again. And you are a fine brand ambassador, not just for Mumbai Indians but for Indian cricket, I would say, and the Indian corporate world.

 

Nita Ambani: I've enjoyed everything that I have done and given it my best. Whether it was setting up the school or setting up the hospital or getting involved in cricket, it has enriched my life and I have memories that I'll cherish for a lifetime.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Thank you very much and wishing you more great memories, more victories and great cricket.

 

Nita Ambani: Thank you.

 

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


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

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BID FOR TRANSPARENCY

 

By now, we have gotten used to telecom minister, A Raja, being in the thick of storms. It is somehow unsurprising that he has also become part of the phone-tapping row unravelling these days, with Income Tax reportedly intercepting conversations between him and Nira Radia of the PR firm, Vaishnavi. Of course, it doesn't require evidence in the form of phone taps to confirm A Raja's shenanigans. The 2G licences were inexplicably doled out at a pittance in 2008 by any standards—the success of the 3G auctions just highlights the 2G fiasco. But two larger issues also emerge from Raja's actions. The first concerns the role of lobbyists in the Indian polity and the second involves methods by which the Indian government puts scarce resources on the market. While lobbyists are an important part and parcel of the policymaking infrastructure in both India and abroad, the issue at hand is whether their functioning is transparent or not. Given that the Indian government treasures the pretence that it works without middlemen, such transparency obviously takes a backstage here. This is in marked contrast to the US, for example, where lobbyist linkages can be identified to the nth detail. Information about how much Goldman Sachs is spending on lobbying for favourable provisions in the financial industry legislation currently being negotiated will soon become easily accessible in the public domain. We already know what it spent on lobbying in the first quarter of the year—$1.15 million, which is 70% more than the expenditure in the same period last year. Tata Sons has publicly acknowledged—saying it hired Vaishnavi to seek 'a level playing field'—what usually remains hidden in grey zones. But it shouldn't.

 

The other main lesson also concerns transparency. The ongoing 3G-spectrum auction is expected to fill the government coffers with an amount in excess of Rs 50,000 crore, which would substantially exceed the budgeted provision of Rs 35,000 crore. As an added advantage, telecom majors like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Essar, Idea Cellular and BSNL are all backing the auction methodology with force. There is no reason why the clock auction model that is proving out to be full of pluses in one instance cannot be deployed in other sectors as well. Why, for instance, shouldn't the government do away with an antiquated system of allocating mines? Why shouldn't coal, natural gas, liquor licences and land contracts be auctioned as well? The auction structure reduces gratuitous rent-seeking possibilities, and supports 'a level playing field'.

 

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


THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

 MAYAWATI'S PARTNERSHIPS

 

The Uttar Pradesh government is poised to script a new chapter in the history of public private participation (PPP) projects by transferring the operations of four district hospitals, eight community centres, 23 primary health centres and 210 sub-centres in the four districts of Allahabad, Ferozabad, Basti and Kanpur Nagar to the private sector. The enthusiastic response by as many as a dozen leading private healthcare providers and the shortlisting of four for the final bids makes us optimistic that there may yet be a radical overhaul in the delivery of public services that will encourage other states to follow. The project envisages that successful bidders will set up a special purpose company, which would be given the mandate to upgrade facilities to the prescribed standards and to manage and operate them for a period of 33 years. In lieu of the transfer of assets to the company, the government is to receive an 11% stake and the private operator will have to bring to the table its experience and management skills in all clinical and non-clinical functions. The state also proposes to legislate and set up a regulatory body to provide a mechanism to address all grievances of the private investors. Though the private investors will have to offer current services, either at government rates or for free, as is the prevalent practice, they will have the option of offering all other new services at market prices. The government will also provide a viability gap funding or annuity according to the terms of the bid. And this is only the first part of the government's plans for PPP projects that will then be extended to cover multi-specialty hospitals, emergency medical transport services and regional diagnostic centres. This will revolutionise healthcare in UP.

 

The UP government has, in fact, made impressive use of the PPP route—projects now stretch across important sectors like highways (Yamuna Expressway, Ganga Expressway, Expressway from Greater Noida to Muzaffarnagar and nine state highways), power generation (at Bara, Karchana, Eta, Sohabhadra and Lalitpur) and power distribution (Kanpur and Agra). The government has also received bids from developers for five new townships at Gautam Budh Nagar, Meerut, Kanpur and Lucknow. Another PPP being rolled out in the urban sector is the solid waste management projects in nine towns. And the PPP route is also being followed for setting up international airports at Meerut and at Kushinagar, with the government already shortlisting four bidders for the latter. Other PPP projects in the social sector are mainly in education and include projects for setting up six medical colleges, two paramedical colleges, eight polytechnics and six ITIs. The BSP government seems to, at last, be focusing on getting governance right. That is a good thing for India's largest state.

 

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


THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

HOW TO BUILD FIRST CLASS REGULATORS

AJAY SHAH

 

One of the most important challenges that India faces today is that of building effective state agencies. All of us have watched PFRDA, Sebi, Irda and RBI. What is the recipe for building high quality agencies in economic governance?

 

Why has Sebi worked well in some respects? Three ingredients have helped. The first is clarity of purpose. Sebi is a relatively young agency, created after the reforms of 1991. It was the first agency in India that saw itself as regulating a market while having no view about what the market outcome should be. Sebi is a pure regulator—it does not own or operate market infrastructure. For a comparison, RBI owns a bond exchange and depository—which gives RBI a DoT-style attitude towards competition. More importantly, RBI is a player on these markets. It is hard for an agency that is manipulating the market to have an ethos of enforcing against market manipulation. Similarly, the ministry of agriculture has controlled the Forward Markets Commission and it wants to have a say in the price of cotton and sugar. Modern economic thinking, of having a well-functioning market that discovers the price, and then respecting that price, makes the ministry of agriculture uncomfortable.

 

The second good ingredient in Sebi was that it was a brand new agency that carried no historical baggage. It did not have an entrenched socialist organisational culture that had to be unlearned, unlike RBI or FMC that have struggled to catch up with the new India, a market economy. It was able to do new things on the key issues of human resource policies, which has helped create high staff quality.

 

The third ingredient that has worked out right at Sebi is the emphasis on the rule of law. Sebi was lucky to deal with a primarily private industry, where clubby methods of addressing problems within the government were not used. So Sebi has to act against private financial firms in writing, through orders that are posted on the Web site. At its best, Sebi orders are reasoned orders, arguing from scratch what is the wrongdoing and how the law gives Sebi the power to impose a certain penalty.

 

The firms at the receiving end repeatedly choose to appeal at the Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT), which has emerged as a high-quality specialised court for finance. SAT has delivered results on the three critical dimensions of speed, knowledge of finance and willingness to disagree with Sebi. Sebi does not sulk when a financial firm appeals at SAT. This is now seen as an everyday process.

 

Vigorous checks and balances have prevented the arbitrary exercise of power. It has helped foster an internal meritocracy within the organisation where mistakes by Sebi staff are likely to generate a painful result at SAT.

 

Why has RBI worked well in some respects? The first is the remarkable accomplishment of building a largely corruption-free organisation. This has been assisted by the fact that most of the financial system that RBI deals with involves PSUs, who are unlikely to offer bribes. Even then, given the extent of discretionary power (lack of rule of law) in the hands of junior RBI staff, the fact that significant corruption has not arisen is remarkable.

 

The second thing that has worked out right at RBI is outstanding leadership. With governors like Rangarajan and Jalan, RBI brought an intellectual capability that was an order of magnitude ahead of mainstream India. These governors created a positive public image for RBI and helped push the agency towards sensible decisions on many questions, carrying RBI into reforms even though the old guard of the agency had socialist leanings.

 

Why has Irda worked out badly in many respects? One key ingredient that went wrong is the location in Hyderabad. Once that decision was taken, the talent pool that Irda could access dropped sharply. In contrast, Sebi, RBI, FMC and PFRDA are able to recruit from all across India, as prospective employees are generally willing to move to Mumbai or Delhi.

 

A location in Mumbai is particularly useful because of the marvellous finance-related web of human capital in the city. Each employee of Sebi is surrounded by friends and family who work in the financial system. This helps bring a great deal of awareness and knowledge by osmosis into the organisation. This process was blocked off for Irda in Hyderabad, where there is no financial industry.

 

So what lessons can we draw from these? Financial regulation and supervision agencies should be (a) placed in Mumbai, (b) free of conflicts of interest, (c) innovate on HR practices so as to build up outstanding post-socialist people, (d) have supremely high-quality leadership, (e) have a great focus on legal process and the rule of law, and (f) work hard on control of corruption at the points of interface with private financial firms.

 

The author is an economist with interests in finance, pensions and macroeconomics

 

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


THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WHY NBFCS MAY NOT WANT TO BE BANKS

ANIL MENON

 

In the last Union Budget, the FM had announced that RBI is considering giving additional banking licences to private sector players, including NBFCs. This was ostensibly to further financial inclusion and also to improve the size and sophistication of the Indian banking system. The announcement set the financial markets on fire with a lot of conjecturing as to who would be the lucky few. The access to low-cost current account and savings accounts and the ability to offer all financial products under one roof were cited as major attractions for NBFCs to rush to seek banking licences. It was also expected that RBI would give new licences to private players very soon. But, an analysis reveals a different picture. Neither is RBI in a hurry to issue fresh licences nor are many NBFCs keen to get into commercial banking.

 

The reasons for this are manifold. RBI rules are stringent for commercial banks as they are the visible face of the Indian financial system and commercial banks are primarily the custodians of public money. RBI places restrictions on commercial banks in their lending operations. Out of Rs 100 taken in as deposits, approximately Rs 30 has to be set apart as statutory requirements towards CRR and SLR. This leaves the banks with Rs 70 to lend. Out of this, 40% has to be statutorily lent towards the priority sector as defined by RBI. This leaves banks with approximately Rs 42 to lend at their own discretion. Many NBFCs would definitely find this as restrictive to say the least.

 

As per the guidelines of 2001, NBFCs seeking a banking licence should have a minimum paid-up capital of Rs 200 crore, which must be increased to Rs 300 crore within 3 years of conversion into a bank. Further, banks have to invest large funds in fixed assets and information technology primarily to facilitate financial inclusion, risk management, anti money laundering, etc. These huge capital expenditures increase the payback period for the investments made. Also, banking-as-a-business model is far more people-, process- and product-driven than a simple NBFC model. For example, in order to adopt universal banking, the staff needs to be multi-skilled in banking functions. So, the operating expenses will be substantially higher, which, in turn, would reduce the profitability of operations. Also, there are restrictions on ownership and voting rights. Current stipulations cap voting rights at 10%; higher rights require the specific approval of RBI.

 

In light of all these restrictions, it is clear that commercial banking is a very regulated and complicated business model and explains the lukewarm response of many NBFCs. At the same time, it is clear that RBI is in no hurry to issue new licences. In a media interaction after outlining the latest April 20 credit policy, D Subbarao refused to give a time frame. "I am unable and unwilling to put a time frame on this (issue of new bank licences). It will take several months because there are some significant issues that we have to consider. We gave the last licence in 2004 when Bimal Jalan was the governor. Since then, India has changed a lot, the world has changed a lot and the worldview on banks has changed a lot. We will have to take into account all that."

 

It is true that RBI has not issued a new licence in the last six years. The reasons are clear when one goes by past experience. In 1994, RBI had issued licences to nine players. Post 2001, RBI gave banking licences to Kotak Mahindra and Yes Bank. Of these 11 banks, four have not survived. GTB merged with OBC; Times Bank was merged with HDFC Bank; Bank of Punjab with Centurion Bank, which itself has been merged with HDFC Bank. Thus, of 11 new banks, only seven survive today (a failure ratio of above 35%).

 

A key lesson of the recent financial crisis is that each time a bank fails it erodes faith in the system and might eventually lead to a systemic collapse. This explains RBI's reluctance in handing out licences liberally. In particular, the comment on the current worldview of the banks is telling—private banks, in particular, are viewed with suspicion due to their ownership. The last thing that RBI would want is private banking failures to undermine the stability of our financial system.

 

It is, thus, clear that only serious NBFCs with deep pockets and those having a different operating model would seek banking licences. Additionally, RBI would issue licences only after conducting a complete due diligence. The governor's famous words that he used to explain his credit policy are worth reiterating, "Moving in baby steps is better for the economy." The same approach can be expected from RBI on the subject of the issuance of new banking licences.

 

The author teaches finance at the SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, Mumbai

 

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


THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

TRAI ON A TIGHT ROPE

AANANDITA SINGH MANKOTIA

 

As the government cheers its windfall gains from the 3G-spectrum auction so far and operators keep calculating the burden on their balance sheets, it is Trai that must be losing sleep. The regulator—giving finishing touches to its set of recommendations over the allotment of the 2G spectrum to operators beyond 4.4 Mhz—is bound to draw criticism if it does not suggest auctions.

 

What the 3G-spectrum auction has done is discover for the first time the market price of the spectrum, which the government until now has been allocating—as in the case of 2G spectrum—to the telecom operators on the basis of achieving a predetermined subscriber base. The regulator is now left with no choice but to recommend auctions even for future allotments of the 2G spectrum and this is where the problem lies. At one end, there are the recommendations of the DoT committee, which rightly recommended that spectrum be auctioned for any future allocation beyond the bundled 4.4 Mhz for the new licensees who were awarded licences in 2008. The committee has also recommended the delinking of spectrum from licences in the future.

 

As reported by this newspaper on Monday, the success of the 3G-spectrum auction has indeed made other departments in the government seriously consider this as a method to sell scarce resources within their purview. Such resources range across minerals and land and even extend to liquor licences.

 

If the regulator goes with the flow and recommends auction of all spectrum beyond 4.4 Mhz, the new operators will cry foul as they entered the telecom sector and paid for their licences under the impression that they too would be given additional spectrum on the basis of a subscriber-linked criterion, at least up to 6.2 Mhz, like their predecessors. Hence, while recommending auctions for 2G spectrum, the regulator will have to keep in mind the issue of a level playing field. This will be a tightrope walk indeed.

 

anandita.mankotia@expressindia.com

 

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


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

THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

HONOURABLE VERDICT

 

 

Seventeen months after Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab marched through Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus train station, delivering death to those unfortunate enough to be there on that night of unprecedented terror, justice has been delivered to his victims. Judge M.L. Tahilayani deserves credit for completing proceedings in a complex and high profile case in this short time-span — no small achievement in a system where procedural delays and obstructive legal tactics often derail criminal proceedings. Prosecutors had produced an enormous mass of evidence, ranging from intercepted communications to DNA samples and eyewitness accounts: no fewer than 1,015 objects and 1,691 documents are reported to have been filed in support of their case. For their part, lawyers for the accused had fiercely contested this body of evidence. Kasab, who will be sentenced for his crime in a separate hearing, had come up with three irreconcilable accounts in his defence. Monday's judgment will not, of course, grant closure to the surviving victims, nor to the families of those who lost their lives. This is because the key conspirators, helped by a half-hearted investigation in Pakistan, are yet to face a court of law. Investigators and diplomats must now work together to ensure that those who guided Kasab's gun are also brought to justice.

 

Judge Tahilayani also deserves credit for the courage he has shown in acquitting two men who were charged with crimes they had not committed. Long before news of Pakistani-American jihadist David Headley's role in helping plan the outrage emerged, this newspaper had repeatedly pointed out that the evidence against Fahim Arshad Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmad was, at best, thin. Held months before the Mumbai carnage on charges that included preparations for an attack on the Bombay Stock Exchange, Mr. Ansari was alleged to have produced maps and sketches of the city for the Lashkar-e-Taiba's assault team. However, no material evidence was produced to support this claim, except for a hand-drawn map. Nor was the case against Mr. Ahmad persuasive. Held in Uttar Pradesh two years ago for his alleged role in a murderous attack on a Central Reserve Police Force camp in Rampur as well as in the December 2005 attack on the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, Mr. Ahmad was alleged to have passed on Mr. Ansari's intelligence output to the Lashkar's leadership in Pakistan. No corroborative evidence was ever produced. Monday's verdict thus is a tribute to the independence of the Indian judicial system and its ability to deliver justice dispassionately. It also offers a lesson for India in these troubled times: even the most horrific of crimes can be addressed within the four walls of our criminal justice system, without recourse to special counter-terrorism laws or emergency measures.

 

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


THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

DEFEAT OF THE LUNATIC FRINGE

 

The Austrian President, Heinz Fischer, formerly of the Social Democrat Party (SVÖ) and now an independent, has trounced two far-Right candidates to win a second six-year term. In the election on April 25, Mr. Fischer won 78.9 per cent of the vote, while Barbara Rosenkranz of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) took 15.6 per cent and Rudolf Gehring of the newly formed Christian Party got 5.4 per cent. The Green Party helped Mr. Fischer by withdrawing in his favour, after grilling him for his views on various issues. The 49.2 per cent turnout was far below the 70 per cent figure in the 2004 presidential election, and the proportion of spoilt papers was unusually high at 7.3 per cent. The low turnout may be partly explained by the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) candidate Erwin Pröll's decision not to contest, but to endorse the incumbent instead, which left many ÖVP supporters stranded. Secondly, the Austrian presidency is largely ceremonial. Thirdly, an election tends to be keenly fought when an incumbent has used the two terms allowed and new faces appear. During the run-up to this election, the Right was also damaged by chaos over nominations.

 

The campaign saw right-wing candidates vie with each other to stretch the boundaries of political extremism. Ms Rosenkranz, who has lobbied for changes to Austria's anti-Nazi legislation, went on record doubting the existence of gas chambers in Nazi concentration camps. Declaring that as President she would be "a horror show," the editor of the influential daily, Österreich, withdrew the paper's support. The FPÖ campaign was hostile to Islam, to immigration, to women's rights, and to the European Union. As for Mr. Gehring, he opposes feminism and gay rights and favours salaries to make housewives stay at home and thereby prevent the "brain damage" he claims young children suffer in kindergartens. He is even accused of saying the government would soon implant chips into Austrians' brains. The Freedom Party's failure to win 25 per cent of the vote is a substantial blow to its prospects in regional elections scheduled for the autumn. That is significant in view of the Right's strong showing in the 2008 general elections, which may have prompted observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor an Austrian election for the first time since World War II. The presidency may not command any real powers but the Austrian people have sent a clear and welcome message as to what they do not want.

 

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

 

THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

INDIA CLOSES RANKS WITH HAMID KARZAI

THE TALKS IN DELHI HAVE MADE IT QUITE CLEAR THAT INDIA WILL REMAIN AN EFFECTIVE PARTNER FOR THE AFGHAN GOVERNMENT IN THE DIFFICULT PERIOD AHEAD, NO MATTER THE VICISSITUDES OF THE UNITED STATES' AFPAK DIPLOMACY.

M.K. BHADRAKUMAR

 

The Afghan President Hamid Karzai's two-day visit to New Delhi last week took place at a defining moment in the Afghan civil war. Mr. Karzai is about to embark on a crucial peace and reconciliation project. He just completed talks in three important regional capitals — Islamabad, Tehran and Beijing — explaining his strategy, for the success of which he needs the understanding from the regional powers. Tehran and Beijing were forthcoming in their support of the Afghan government whereas Islamabad views him as a rival claimant to piloting the peace process.

 

Secondly, "Afghanisation" is set to surge to the centre stage. The foreign minister-level meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) held in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, on April 23 officially set in motion a process to roll back the alliance's operations in Afghanistan. While this would be a natural process and not a "run for the exit," as NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen put it, the political reality is that the western allies have reached agreement on basic guidelines for commencing the hand-over of responsibility for security to the Afghan forces on a case-by-case basis within this year. The international conference, slated to be held in Kabul in June, will further "tweak" the NATO's approach. Mr. Karzai formally invited India to take part in the conference.

 

The talks in Delhi have made it quite clear that India will remain an effective partner for the Afghan government in the difficult period ahead no matter the vicissitudes of the United States' AfPak diplomacy; the worsening security situation inside Afghanistan; the Pakistani military's undisguised power projection for "strategic depth"; and, least of all, the physical threat from Pakistani agents to the Indian presence in Afghanistan.

 

Dr. Singh summed up that his discussions with Mr. Karzai were "extremely productive." Delhi underlined their strategic character by including Defence Minister A.K. Antony in the Indian delegation at the talks. Dr. Singh pointedly articulated India's "deep admiration" for Mr. Karzai's "courageous leadership in difficult times," probably administering a word of advice to the Barack Obama administration to have a sense of proportions in judging the highly complex Afghan political situation. Broadly speaking, the Indian viewpoint has been consistently that there is an organic linkage between creating an enabling security environment and setting high yardsticks about an expansion of the footprint of the Afghan government or its accelerated progress on governance issues.

 

Interestingly, a lowering of the anti-Karzai rhetoric and grandstanding is of late visible in certain quarters within the Obama administration. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conspicuously voiced a rethink recently. The big question, however, is how far down the ladder Ms Clinton's fair-minded estimation trickles down. Delhi would very much hope that her helpful words translate as U.S. policies on the ground in the aftermath of Mr. Karzai's visit to Washington on May 10-14 — although a systematic Pakistani attempt to queer the pitch of the visit is already afoot.

 

Two topics dominated Mr. Karzai's talks in Delhi — placing India's development and strategic partnership with Afghanistan within the "Afghanisation" process and, secondly, India's perspectives on the "reintegration" and reconciliation of the Taliban. Dr. Singh said, "India is ready to augment its assistance for capacity building and for its skills and human resource development to help strengthen public institutions in Afghanistan."

 

India's assistance for Afghanistan already touches a massive figure of $1.3 billion. India can train Afghan specialists in various fields, provide training and equipment to the Afghan army and cooperate in a range of counter-terrorism and counter-narcotic activities. However, Delhi would be aware that any military deployment in Afghanistan is bound to be a potentially exhausting military mission and needs to be avoided. The Indian stance is strikingly similar to that of Russia or China, which also refuse to get militarily involved in Afghanistan. The challenge facing Indian diplomacy will be to figure out how economic expansion can be the key element of India's security strategy in Afghanistan. Arguably, emulating China's model, which places emphasis on making investments in resource-based projects will be a step forward for India. This could be done in collaboration with Afghan partners.

 

Without doubt, Mr. Karzai's visit helped to further refine the Indian thinking apropos the contours of an Afghan settlement. The Indian thinking rests on the following assessments. One, India regards the forthcoming jirga (tribal assembly) in May in Kabul and the Afghan parliamentary elections in September to be "important milestones." Delhi agrees with Mr. Karzai's stance that in order for these processes to be legitimate and enduring, they should be Afghan-led. Two, these political processes can be optimal only if they go hand in hand with the international community's long term commitment to stability, peace and development in Afghanistan.

 

Three, the deterioration in the security situation is a hard reality and it needs to be firmly tackled on a priority basis within Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan, where the syndicate of terrorist organisations and other extremist groups operating in the region enjoy support and sustenance. Towards this end, apart from the NATO's surge, the Afghan security forces should be enlarged and developed in a professional manner and provided with adequate resources, combat equipment and enablers and training.

 

It would appear that Mr. Karzai allayed the Indian apprehensions regarding the strategy of "reintegration" of the Taliban. Delhi takes a cautious view of the process since in its view the Taliban may exploit the political space to capture power with Pakistani support, creating a fait accompli for the region, which was how the ISI implemented a phase-by-phase agenda of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan during 1994-97. Therefore, Delhi would expect the reintegration process to be "tackled with prudence, the benefit of hindsight, foresight and caution." Also, Delhi stresses that any integration process should be "inclusive and transparent," which is predicated on the assessment that Afghanistan is a plural society and the majority opinion is not only vehemently against the Taliban's extremist ideology but also staunchly opposes any role for the outsiders to covertly dictate peace.

 

Mr. Karzai shared his thinking apropos the upcoming jirga with Dr. Singh and it appears that there are no serious contradictions between the two sides. Significantly, Mr. Karzai made it a point to underline "our common struggle against terrorism and extremism." The joint statement also underlined the two countries' "determination…to combat the forces of terrorism which pose a particular threat to the region."

 

There has been a latent sense of uneasiness among sections of the Indian strategic community that Mr. Karzai appeared to be in a mood to "compromise" or "appease" the Taliban in a self-seeking manner in anticipation of a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Much of this misperception stemmed from the western propaganda — often pre-cooked in the ISI's kitchen — intended to dissimulate or to create an impression that Mr. Karzai is raring to go to accommodate the Taliban leadership and if anything at all is holding him back, it is only Mr. Obama's scepticism about the reconciliation strategy.

 

Delhi seems to understand well enough that what is unfolding is rather a grim struggle for the control of the Afghan peace process itself. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Karzai insists on his prerogative as the elected head of state to lead his country's peace process. On the contrary, Pakistani military would like to cast Mr. Karzai as merely one of the Afghan protagonists. Ostensibly, the Pakistani military wishes to work exclusively with the U.S. to reconcile the Taliban but in reality it wishes to seize control of the peace process or to dominate it, while extracting concessions from Washington in the form of military and economic aid. The Pakistani military banks on exploiting Mr.Obama's haste to effect a drawdown of the U.S. combat troops by mid-2011.

 

The ISI has not only shed its "strategic ambiguity" regarding its nexus with the Taliban but of late openly

flaunts its influence with the hardline "Quetta Shura" and the Haqqani network, making it clear that Rawalpindi is capable of torpedoing any peace process which is left to the Afghans. Ironically, this nexus with elements expressly banned by the United Nations (at the instance of the George W. Bush administration) ought to make Pakistan a rogue state but the U.S. has been pragmatic about it and instead chooses to solicit the Pakistani military's help. An added factor is that influential figures within Mr. Obama's AfPak team who are vestiges of the Afghan jihad, enjoy old links with the Pakistani security establishment and willingly subserve the ISI's agenda pitting Mr. Karzai as the "problem" in any national reconciliation process.

 

Curiously, this political theatre is unfolding against a backdrop where "almost all Afghans, including Karzai's Pashtun supporters, the non-Pashtun Northern Alliance and even the Taliban oppose any major role for the ISI," to quote Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani commentator, in a recent article in the Washington Post. Quite obviously, the Pakistani military's control of the foreign and security policies is at a high level in Islamabad. Delhi will do well to figure out that Mr. Karzai deserves all the support he needs at this juncture.

 

( The writer is a former diplomat.)

 

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


THE HINDU

NO WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE HERE

MANY PROJECTS FOR SUPPLYING WATER IN VIDARBHA REMAIN ON PAPER, THOUGH THE MONEY ALLOTTED IS VERY REAL.

P. SAINATH

 

Sarada Badre and her daughters have stopped their bi-weekly 20-km walking trips. That was their routine for a while. "The orange trees have withered and there's no water anyway," says Saradabai at her home in Sirasgaon village in Amravati district.

 

In theory, watering their 214 orange trees shouldn't be too hard. Though the nearby canal has dried up, their new water source is 300 metres away. Next door by rural standards. "But that's 214 pots of water." Back and forth, that is 428 trips, half of them with a full pot of water on their heads. Or over 40 km for each of the three women — in short trips. They cover "half the trees on Mondays and the other half on Thursdays". That is apart from working in the fields all the other days with temperatures in Amravati well past 45°C in April itself. But now even that source is turning dry.

 

Water in Vidarbha can be a mirage — and not just in summer. Many of its "projects" in this sector remain on paper, though the money tied to them can be very real. Nearly Rs.3,000 crores of tenders have been floated for the Lower Penganga project — for which no land has been acquired other than 325 hectares for the dam site. "16,000 hectares required, 325 acquired," scoffs a senior official. "Of those tenders floated, Rs.2,400 crore worth appear to have been allotted and some Rs.600 crores worth are under consideration or up for approval." The region's landscape is dotted with "projects" for which work orders have been issued but no work ever done.

 

In Yavatmal, over 1,000 very angry people attended a " pani parishad" (Water Council) organised by the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS). The parishad declared it was fed up with "the total failure of government to address these problems". So rasta rokos and other protests against the severe water shortages are in the offing. That will turn up the political heat as well. In many places protests have also broken out over load-shedding running to 14 hours or worse — with little information given to the public. MSEB engineers have been roughed up by farmers in some places.

 

Vidarbha's water crisis has half-crippled the Chandrapur Super Power Thermal Station which shut down the fifth of its seven units last week. The station now generates just 15 per cent of its capacity of 2340 MW. Such experiences have not deterred the state from proposing another 43 thermal power plants in the region. Around 19 of these have already been approved. "We live like there is no tomorrow," says one official.

 

Panderkauda town in Yavatmal certainly lives that way. "They are pumping out 20 lakh litres of water a day from every known source and many new ones they've drilled into," says Kishor Tiwari of the VJAS. "Their bores now run very deep. Anyone but the municipal parishad can see this coming to a sudden dead-end with no chance of recharge or recovery. Water is being sought, bought, sold, even stolen. This is a quick route to disaster."

 

In Jarur village, Yavatmal, activists fought a politically-connected farmer selling water to poor people at high prices. That from a well which belongs to the village but with records fudged to show it as his property. He was selling ten litres for Rs.5. (Almost 150 per cent costlier than tanker water.) "He was earning Rs.1,000 a day from this," says one activist. While they managed to halt this, the well itself is nearly empty.

 

Dismal performance

 

And there is very little work when lots of people need it badly. Like in much of Maharashtra, Vidarbha's performance in terms of MREGS work remains dismal. In the entire Amravati division, where 10 million humans reside in five districts, there are just about 16,000 covered by the rural employment guarantee scheme. Of these, around 13,500 — 84 per cent — are in Amravati district alone. Within Amravati, around 80 per cent of these workers are concentrated in just Melghat.

 

Current attendance is worse in the other districts of the division, as official figures show. Yavatmal has some 950 workers on the MREGS. Washim around 680, Buldhana 480 and Akola a mere 440. Neighbouring Wardha, the sixth of the "crisis" districts covered by the Prime Minister's and Chief Minister's "packages", has around 650. So there is very little work to be had here. "When Bhandara district reached nearly 1,200 workers," mocks Mr. Tiwari, "that was presented as a success story." There is much hair-splitting over the factors behind this abysmal failure. "Lack of demand", is a common official claim, one activists challenge. Whichever way you cut it, Maharashtra's overall performance in MREGS lags far behind many other states — and gets worse.

 

One result is a rise in out-migrations. "As soon as the agricultural season is over," says Sunita Nagulkar in Wadiraithad village of Washim, "we go to wherever the contractors call us. That could be Nagpur, Pune, Mumbai or other places. Though my husband and his two brothers own three acres jointly, it was never enough." In the places they went to, they faced harsh conditions but earned more than the maximum of Rs.105 each could possibly get if they were on the MREGS. All that came to an end this week. Her husband Chandraban had suffered an electric shock in the field that had damaged his arm. Depressed by that and their poor crop, he took his own life leaving Sunita to look after their three young daughters. But other "migrations are on and gaining in force", says Prakash Rathor, teacher and farm activist in Washim.

 

In Sirasgaon, Akola, Saradabai shows little interest in the now stunted orange trees. In her, they evoke only the worst of memories. Her son Shekar took his life less than a week ago as their farm headed for its third straight year of failure. "I don't care about it," she says, "if the trees die." What she did care about, already did.

 

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


THE HINDU

FROM MAURITIUS: ISSUES NOT IN THE ELECTION

ATHE FOREIGN MONEY BEING ROUTED THROUGH THE ISLAND NATION AND CHINA'S GROWING PRESENCE HERE HAVE PUT MAURITIUS ON INDIA'S RADAR.

PRANAY GUPTE

 

Navin Ramgoolam of Mauritius, who is leading a three-party coalition in the national parliamentary election that is scheduled for May 5, is determined to win a second consecutive term as this island-nation's Prime Minister.

 

Anecdotal observation suggests that he is likely to win and that, in his next term, the 1.3 million people of Mauritius expect him to lead a government that will heal the growing rifts between the country's majority Hindus — who are divided along their own internecine provincial lines — Christians, Muslims, Creoles, and Europeans of French descent, known here as Francos. The 63-year-old Prime Minister — who is a trained physician, a lawyer, and the son of the country's venerated founding father, the late Prime Minister Seewoosagur Ramgoolam — has created a salutary slogan for the campaign: "Unity, Equality, Modernity".

 

That slogan should be viewed in the context of the communal rifts that underscore social and political complexities that belie the bucolic environment of this land of vast sugarcane plantations, dainty streams, flawless beaches, and craggy mountains. But while healing the ethnic wounds may be a prime election issue for Mr. Ramgoolam's campaign, there is a huge issue that has not quite made its appearance on the hustings.

 

It concerns India, and it involves China.

 

Biggest FDI provider

 

India, of course, is widely regarded as the mother country of Mauritius, since a lot of Hindus, and many Muslims, too, can trace their ancestry to indentured labourers who were brought to this Indian Ocean paradise by its former British rulers.

 

Mauritius, in fact, has become the biggest provider of foreign direct investment (FDI) for India — more than $11 billion annually, or more than half of the overall amount that typically comes into India from foreign sources.

 

Of the total $81 billion foreign direct investment that has come into India since April 2000, $35.18 billion was routed through Mauritius, according to figures available with India's Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion.

 

Though India has a "Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement" with some 65 countries such as the United States, Britain, Japan, France, and Germany, Mauritius is the most preferred route for FDI inflows, according to a recent report in the Delhi-based newspaper, Mint. Indeed, the money routed to India from here is nearly quadruple that of the next biggest provider of FDI, the United States, whose FDI was around $8 billion since 2000; followed by Britain, with $7.72 billion, and Germany, at $2.14 billion.

 

It is not that the investors who route their money through this country to India are necessarily based in Mauritius. But because of a bilateral agreement between Mauritius and India that does not penalise FDI with taxes, many investors — including non-resident Indians who form the 22-million-strong global Indian Diaspora — prefer to use the facilities offered by Mauritius.

 

This situation has become a bone of contention between India and Mauritius, which imposes corporate taxes of less than three per cent and therefore is a tax-haven of preference for many multinational companies. When Home Minister P. Chidambaram was the Finance Minister, he was determined to alter the terms of the bilateral agreement so that foreign investors would pay around 20 per cent in taxes.

 

It took personal discussions between Mr. Ramgoolam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to essentially put the issue on hold. But it rankles many Mauritians that in times gone by when India desperately sought FDI, it offered all sorts of incentives — such as no-taxes — for those who channelled FDI into India. But now that India's foreign-exchange reserves are touching $300 billion, exports are increasing, and FDI — as well as foreign money for domestic equities — is pouring in, India seems bent on imposing taxes.

 

Dubious sources

 

The subtext to this issue is not just the FDI routing; rather, it is the source of the cash. The BJP and Communist Party of India (Marxist) have claimed that $1.5 trillion has been stashed outside the country by Indians, and that this black money is being conveniently channelled back into India for legitimate use as FDI through a legitimate path. Of course, not much has been offered by way of proof — not an uncommon occurrence in the political cauldron of India.

 

The other large issue that looms over the Mauritius election but has not found expression in the campaign rhetoric is the growing presence of China here, and China's incipient economic and political ambitions in Africa. These ambitions would pit the world's biggest country against its largest democracy, India. Mauritius's strategic location makes it a geopolitical prize, which would explain why officials at India's Ministry of External Affairs are more and more concerned about the fact that China is building large industrial re-export complexes here and in a dozen other African countries.

 

But that will be a topic for another column.

 

(Pranay Gupte is a veteran international journalist and author. His next book is on India and the Middle East.)

 

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


THE HINDU

ONE MILLION IPADS SOLD

 

Apple said on Monday it sold one million of its freshly launched iPad tablet computers in just 28 days.

 

The millionth iPad was sold on Friday, the Cupertino, California, based firm said. "One million iPads in 28 days — that's less than half of the 74 days it took to achieve this milestone with (the) iPhone," Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in a statement.

 

The level of demand in the U.S. alone, where the iPad launched on April 3, forced Apple to announce it would delay the tablet's international release by a month, until late May.

 

A second version of the iPad, featuring both Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity, went on sale in the United States on Friday. The much—heralded tablet allows users to watch video, listen to music, play games, surf the Web or read electronic books.

 

— AFP

 

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


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

THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

A FAIR VERDICT, AND A MESSAGE TO PAK

 

The verdict in the Ajmal Kasab trial, which Special Judge M.L. Tahaliyani delivered in Mumbai on Monday, has two key features. It underlines the sturdy independence of our judiciary in an uncommonly sensitive and complex criminal case and testifies to the scrupulousness of judicial conduct of the trial judge. Two, coming only four days after the Thimphu meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani, held at India's initiative in a non-reciprocal spirit in order to generate "mutual trust", the verdict places an inordinate burden on Indian diplomacy to push Pakistan to speed up the trial of those who plotted and executed 26/11 and rescue the judicial process in Pakistan from becoming a complete farce.


The trial judge has exonerated Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Sheikh, regarded widely as the Indian subordinates of the Pakistanis who planned and executed 26/11, saying the evidence presented by the prosecution was "unconvincing". This points to below-par investigation by the police as the overall circumstances do seem to suggest that the duo were not disinterested bystanders. Given the nature of the case, a less finicky judge might have been psychologically pressured into accepting the merits of even shoddy evidence, but Mr Tahaliyani quite rightly chose to abide by the strictest judicial norms. The way the Mumbai police fought the terrorists on 26/11 with inferior weapons speaks of the valour of the force. But quality investigation is another matter, and must at all times be painstaking.


So pristine was the evidence — including CCTV footage, ballistics, forensics and witness accounts — that the judge probably had less difficulty dealing with the case of prime accused Kasab, the lone Pakistani gunman apprehended on 26/11. The young killer has been found guilty on all 86 charges against him — with the chargesheet running into nearly 13,000 pages — which included waging war against India, murder, attempt to murder, under the Arms Act, Explosives Act and many others of an extremely serious nature, it seems hard to believe the mass murderer will not be sentenced to death. The quantum of the sentence is expected to be announced in a day or two. If Kasab does not swing, he will be sentenced for life. That would appear light to most, the case having no extenuating circumstances whatever. It appears the cold-blooded assassin personally killed seven people on that horrible day, among them several police officers, including the highly-regarded Hemant Karkare. There is nothing in these dark circumstances to help reduce the severity of the sentence, not even the 21-year-old terrorist's age. The young man had, after all, undergone prolonged training in warfare and destruction directed against civilians, and been a Lashkar-e-Tayyaba/ISI groupie. Like his other terrorist colleagues who set out in a meticulously planned fashion for Mumbai from Karachi with the object of killing or dying, Kasab appears to deserve little consideration. It needs to be stressed that he received an open and fair trial in full glare of the media. Judicial evenhandedness is not in question here, and the sentence cannot but be consistent with the gravity of the crimes that he was tried for.


In going through all the material on record in the Kasab case, the special judge had no hesitation in pronouncing that the Mumbai attacks were carefully plotted under a conspiracy that involved Lashkar founder Hafiz Saeed as well as Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. Indeed, the Pakistani signature is all over the place in the 26/11 attacks. This places the onus firmly on Islamabad to clean up its act on terrorism against India. It can be said without exaggeration that after the Kasab trial, and the Headley trial in the United States, Pakistan has no leeway whatever.

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


THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

BE ALIVE IN THE HERE AND NOW

 

The Kingdom of God is ready, is available. Sometimes, in our state of forgetfulness, we are not ready and, therefore, mindful breathing brings us back to the here and the now, uniting body and mind. We only need one step to enter the Kingdom of God: "I have arrived, I have arrived". Arrived where? At the Kingdom of God, at the Pure Land of the Buddha in the here and the now. Life available in the here and the now, and when you breathe out you say, "I am home".


Many of us have been searching for our home, for our true home, but we have not found it. The Buddha told us our home is in the here and the now. If you want to get in touch with your ancestors, if you want to get in touch with the Buddha, with the Kingdom of God, then go back to the here and the now, and mindfully enough, concentrated enough, you will be able to touch everything you look for in the here and the now. To me, the Kingdom of God is now or never. The Pure Land is now or never. The practice is clear. When you practice, "I have arrived, I am home", you stop running. Our ancestors have been running and in our turn we continue to run. The Dharma says, "Stop! Be alive! Be in the here and the now".


In the here and the now, I am solid, I am free. If you know how to stop, to arrive, to enjoy each step you make, the element of solidity and the element of freedom becomes a reality; this is not auto suggestion. You have made a few steps in mindfulness and concentration if you are able to arrive in the here and the now. There, solidity and freedom will become a reality, and that will make your joy, your happiness grow. Solidity and freedom are the two characteristic of Nirvana. The Buddha said, "You can touch Nirvana in the here and the now even with your body". The body can touch Nirvana by touching solidity and freedom.  Every step you make helps to cultivate your solidity and your freedom because no happiness can be possible without some solidity and freedom. All of us know that.


In the ultimate I dwell. There are two dimensions to reality: The historical dimension and the ultimate dimension. We have historical concerns — we are concerned with our health, with our success and the well-being of our family, our society, yes. That is called historical concern. But deep in us there is an ultimate concern. We want to touch the absolute, we want to realise our true home, and in the teaching of the Buddha the two dimensions are not separate from each other. If you know how to touch the historical dimension deeply, with mindfulness and concentration, you can touch at the same time the ultimate dimension. Therefore, with solidity and freedom you can very well touch the ultimate — your nature of no birth and no death, the nature of such-ness.

— Thich Nhat Hanh  is one of the most respected Zen masters in the world today. He is also a poet and peace and human rights activist. For information in India about Thich Nhat Hanh's Mindfulness
Meditation email
ahimsa.trust@gmail.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or visit www.ahimsatrust.org


Thich Nhat Hahn

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


THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

IMF'S STRANGE RECESSION CURE

 

When the Group of Twenty (G20) meeting in the midst of global economic crisis led to a substantially expanded role for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), there were many heads shaking in response. After all, the IMF was not exactly celebrated for either its ability to warn of impending crisis or its effective response to crisis. From the early 1990s, its ham-handed and heavily pro-cyclical approach to economic adjustment in developing countries had generally failed in achieving adjustment or recovery. In the few countries where the balance of payments had improved with the IMF programme, it was usually associated with deep cuts in incomes and living standards.


This was one of the reasons why, before the global crisis, the IMF was not just pilloried by its critics but became increasingly irrelevant as developing countries in the midst of a liquidity crisis sought all other possible options before approaching it. It had been a net recipient of funds from the developing world for at least five years; it was no longer consulted on a regular basis by major developing countries; its annual publications had an uncanny knack of following policies and economic trends rather than anticipating them. This lack of prescience would have caused mortification in any less thick-skinned institution: for example, the IMF declared the banking system of Iceland to be sound and with good future prospects just months before its spectacular and inevitable collapse.


But the G20 in its wisdom decided to make the IMF the main channel for the disbursement of emergency financial relief to countries affected by the global crisis. In return, the IMF promised to become more flexible and counter-cyclical in its approach, and to avoid asking countries to make public spending cuts that would affect living standards and damage future growth prospects.


According to its own assessment, the IMF has succeeded in learning from the past, and changing its conditionalities and attitudes to policy adjustment. Its internal review of its own post-crisis lending, in late September 2009, points to more flexibility and congratulates itself on allowing developing countries to weather this crisis effectively. Several features are said to mark the new IMF approach: large and timely financing to affected economies; fewer and more focused conditionalities associated with the loans; accommodative fiscal policy; monetary policies designed to avoid abrupt monetary tightening; and commitments to sustain or expand social safety nets. If these are all indeed true, then the IMF has been reconstructed, and countries need no longer fear having to approach it for relief in the face of intense payment problems.


But if this seems too good to be true, you could be forgiven for being sceptical. As it happens, genuinely independent assessments of recent and current IMF lending are far less complimentary about the IMF's lending practices and its imposition of undesirable policies on economies in distress.


Thus, a review by the Centre for Economic and Policy Research in Washington found that (contrary to the Fund's own perception) of the 41 countries that currently have agreements with the IMF, 31 have had to implement pro-cyclical fiscal and monetary policies that would be expected to exacerbate the economic downturn. In fact, in many cases, even the "automatic stabilisers" (the full spending increases that would have occurred in the downturn, such as unemployment benefits or social protection measures already instituted) were not allowed to operate fully, because of "underlying concerns about debt sustainability and weak structural fiscal positions".


Now, an excellent new study conducted by United Nations International Children's Fund  ("Prioritising Expenditures for a Recovery with a Human Face: Results from a Rapid Desk Review of 86 Recent IMF Country Reports" by Isabel Ortiz, Gabriel Venggara and Jinqin Chai, Social and Economic Policy Working Brief, Unicef) has provided even more damning evidence of the lack of real change in the IMF's approach to adjustment and to desirable macroeconomic policies during a recession.


This study examines the fiscal trends in 2010-11 compared to 2008-09, summarises the IMF's advice to governments on the appropriate expenditure stance in the midst of crisis and analyses the IMF's recommendations on social spending, based on a rapid desk review of the latest IMF country reports dated between March 3, 2009 and March 16, 2010, which include 86 countries (28 low income, 37 lower-to-middle income, and 21 upper-to-middle income).


The authors find that fiscal tightening is planned or already under way in nearly 40 per cent of the countries. This reflects several factors, such as the fact that fiscal balances anyway worsened during the recession as tax revenues declined, the measures to deal with high oil and food prices in 2007-08, and so on. This actual or planned cutback in fiscal stance is worrying given that the global economic recovery is fragile at best, and may even reverse in the near future.


But what is more telling is that for more than two-thirds of the countries the IMF is advising or supporting the curtailment of public expenditures in 2010. Indeed, for 2011 and beyond, such reduction is advised for almost all countries! Officially, the IMF's position is that public expenditure should be reduced while "pro-poor" social spending should be maintained or even increased. However, it turns out that in most of the 86 countries, governments are being advised by the IMF to remove fuel or food subsidies, cap or even cut wages, and rationalise or reform social services. These are policies that will directly affect aggregate demand (and thereby add to the recessionary influences on the economy) and affect the poor and vulnerable groups. Furthermore, in most countries a large part of the government wage bill consists of salaries for education and health personnel and support staff, and cuts here are bound to affect these important social services.


It is only in a small minority of countries that the IMF supports expanding subsidies, social services, wages and investments in agriculture, and even these are to be carried out in an overall context of deflationary fiscal stance. This combination — early withdrawal of fiscal stimulus, cutbacks in public spending, and so on — is all too familiar. It is tragic that once again, the IMF is being encouraged to promote the very policies that have already caused so much damage and material hardship in the developing world.

Jayati Ghosh

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


THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

TERROR FROM WASTE

 

 

Deepak Jain, said to be the owner of two scrap metal shops in the Mayapuri area of West Delhi, was transferred to the Army Research and Referral Hospital, New Delhi, under directions from the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). He was suffering from burns caused by radiation from a Cobalt 60 pin he was reported to be carrying in his hip pocket! Deepak Jain fell victim to hazardous waste material (Hazmat) that is illegally imported into the country and unsafely disposed of thereafter.


It would appear utterly farcical to link anything so utterly drab as scrap metal and waste disposal to questions of national security, but in the context of the recent cases of exposure to Cobalt 60 radiation emanating from a junkyard in Mayapuri, which affected seven people, even the most apparently ridiculous questions demand answers.


Cobalt 60 is one of the radioactive isotopes utilised in a wide spectrum of civilian applications, all carried under strictly controlled, calibrated and protected conditions. At the near range of the spectrum Cobalt 60 is used in nuclear medicine for a variety of medical therapies, besides food preservation. But at the far end, Cobalt 60 can also create the Cobalt bomb — a nightmare scenario out of H.G. Wells of the ultimate nuclear weapon — a "super-dirty bomb" reportedly capable of terminating all life on earth, never produced till now, but theoretically studied and certified as feasible.


Hazmat disposal exists in a private subterranean universe, until something like the Mayapuri incident surfaces in the public domain, as the Government of India stumblingly admitted in the Lok Sabha. Safe disposal of radiological Hazmat should obviously be a matter of extreme national urgency, but in India, Hazmat, including radioactive material and medical garbage from hospitals, is routinely disposed off without regulation or least concern for public safety.


The Mayapuri incident is a prime example of this. Scrap containing Hazmat is auctioned off by the chemistry department of the Delhi University with breathtaking casualness indicative of general laxity that pervades the Indian work culture and allows the gravest breaches of even the most serious matters to be overlooked or condoned as matter of routine.


Public memory is proverbially short but Mayapuri is not the first incident of its kind in the country. Media reports indicate that there have been 67 cases of radiation leakages from Cobalt 60 sources, one even involving elevators in Paris! In this case, the elevator buttons were manufactured from recycled scrap metal which contained traces of Cobalt 60 and were apparently sourced from India. It is a good example of the criminal negligence that has been almost systemised in the Indian work culture. One result is a permanent state of nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological (NBCR) hazard in the country where disasters of reckonable magnitude are avoided only by happenstance and the grace of God.


According to various sources, India annually imports approximately 3.5 million metric tonnes of scrap metal worth Rs 5,500 crores, entering the country at an average of 500 container loads daily. It is unloaded at any of the major and minor ports along the coast and transported to Inland Container Depots throughout the country from where they enter a flourishing grey market.


In fact, India has achieved the dubious reputation of being an almost totally unregulated market for scrap from almost any source, domestic or foreign, many of which, primarily in West Asia and Africa, are war zones in active conflicts and offer large quantities of unserviceable war material as scrap. These often include substantial quantities of Unexploded Ordnance by way of bombs, shells and rockets, as well as Depleted Uranium from ammunition.


Though Indian intelligence agencies have reportedly denied any involvement of foreign covert agencies in the Mayapuri radiation leak, Hazmat terrorism can become a new hybrid with NBCR terrorists targeting communities with Hazmat radiation emitters. Such an eventuality will not appear too far fetched when viewed in the context of other non-traditional proxy war offensives on the country ranging from economic assault by massive induction of counterfeit currency, to cyber attacks on high-security computer networks.
Hazmat terrorism has both external and internal dimensions and first lines of defence have to begin at the country's borders, in this case ports of entry where scrap containers are unloaded. The government admitted (shamefacedly, one hopes!) that X-ray scanning of incoming cargo containers was possible only at Nhava Sheva port, while radiological scanning does not exist. Internal security against Hazmat demands stricter controls and overwatch on disposal of all types of waste within the country.


The recent Nuclear Security Summit at Washington, chaired by US President Barack Obama and attended by 47 heads of state, had focused on nuclear terrorism and the requirement for a concerted international effort to keep nuclear weapons and materials out of the hands of radical terrorist groups and to prevent illegal proliferation of nuclear technology and materials. There is a convergence here, howsoever incongruous, between the rarefied heights of Washington DC and the "nuclear scrapyard" in the slums of Mayapuri.


Nuclear terrorism proper, whether by illegally-acquired nuclear devices or highly enriched material, represents the high end of the terror spectrum, but requiring a degree of sophistication difficult to achieve without a substantial degree of governmental connivance, a misadventure very few recognised governments will risk. Pakistan however is a "broken arrow" in this respect as its track record of illegal proliferation through the Prof A.Q. Khan nuclear Walmart goes to show.


However, Hazmat terrorism with NBCR waste materials is in the low-end category, almost custom-made for use in indifferently regulated environments like India. With a certain level of basic technical knowledge obtained from open sources, including Internet, Hazmat can be used to fabricate very basic "radiation IEDs" with high psychological and panic value impact, whatever be its actual destructive capabilities.
The Mayapuri incident should ring perimeter alarms about the potential threat to the country from Hazmat terrorism and infuse a greater sense of urgency in both Central and state governments to strictly control waste disposal.

Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament

Shankar Roychowdhury

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


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

DNA

EDITORIAL

GUILTY ALL RIGHT

 

Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Amir Kasab has been pronounced guilty by the trial court of judge Madan Tahaliyani for his role in the terror attacks on Mumbai in November, 2008.

 

Given the volume of the evidence against Kasab, the lone terrorist who was caught alive, any other verdict would have been surprising. His conviction assured, sentencing will be pronounced in the next few days.

 

Kasab has been found guilty on almost all the 86 charges and is being held responsible for the deaths of seven of the 166 victims of the attacks.

 

Hundreds of witnesses were questioned and their evidence recorded. The biggest message here is for Pakistan and its support for anti-India activities.

 

India has followed its system of justice meticulously and a Pakistani has been found responsible for the 26/11 attacks. For the international community, this is a reminder that Pakistan is the hub of the global terror network.

 

However, though justice has been done and Kasab found guilty, the verdict also raises some serious questions for the Mumbai police, which had been found wanting during the attacks, notwithstanding the deaths of a few brave men.

 

The judge found the evidence against two co-accused, Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed, weak. They have been acquitted. Ansari and Ahmed were supposed to have been the Indian support group for the attackers.

 

However, they were already in custody when the attacks happened and the evidence against them was found to be circumstantial and the judge attacked it on all counts.

 

It is time for the Mumbai police to do some serious thinking about its investigative methods because the courts very often do not seem to be impressed with their work.

 

While Ismail has been held responsible for the death of Ashok Kamte, it is not clear whose bullet killed the other two police officers, Hemant Karkare and Vijay Salaskar. This could reopen conspiracy theories, though it seems unlikely there was one. But the police spadework could surely have been better even here.

 

This has been a very difficult trial, not least because of the enormity of the attack. We can now wait for the sentencing. Whatever that may be — death or life — it can only be hoped that the process of appeal is not as long-drawn-out as usual.

 

Once more, though, the Indian judiciary has shown its strength and more than Kasab, it is Pakistan which stands indicted.

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


DNA

EDITORIAL

FREEING SPORT

 

Union minister of state for sports MS Gill may not walk away with the laurels for restricting the terms of office-bearers of sports bodies in the country.

 

There was a writ petition in the Delhi high court and the court has given directions. The government did not act on its own.

 

Gill, however, does get the credit for taking the final call. This becomes crucial because these bodies are headed by politicians from all the parties and, like true politicians, they refuse to make way for others.

 

The obvious guilty men are of course Congress' Suresh Kalmadi, head of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) for the last 14 years, which is the organiser of the Commonwealth Games due this October in New Delhi, and BJP's VK Malhotra, who has been the chief of the archery association for 30 years. These are but the conspicuous examples. There are many others.

 

What the petitioner sought, what the court directed and what the minister ordered should have been the norm anyway. Politicians as well as the sports bodies they led should have followed the rules without governmental intervention.

 

It is unfortunate that in this country rules are followed after so much delay and so much special effort that it appears that mountains were literally moved. The change will be all for the good because new faces will infuse new ideas and fresh energy.

 

This should not, however, be seen as something that will, at one stroke, solve all the problems that Indian sports face.

 

It is futile to argue whether politicians and bureaucrats should be allowed to administer sports. In a country like India where many things need government help, it may be rather useful to have politicians at the helm to get things done.

 

This certainly seems to be the reason why politicians are allowed in the first place to hold the reins.

 

Professional managers can be of help if funding for sports comes from the private sector, which is not a big prospect at the moment.

 

Players themselves may not be able to manage things and they will need help from others. But on key issues like how to improve sporting standards and provide facilities for training, it is sportspersons who should have the larger say.

 

This should indeed be part of a commonsensical approach and should not require either deliberation or legislation. The rule should be: Let the players decide and let others help the players implement those decisions.

 

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


DNA

MOBILE CHEQUE-BOOK

RAJEEV SRINIVASAN

 

Mobile telephony has been nothing short of revolutionary in India. Within 12 years, tele-density has gone from 1% to 40%.

 

That is, apparently 40% of India's 1.1 billion have acquired phone — usually cellular — connections. But this is only the beginning: the next step may be for mobiles to become the payment mechanism of choice.

 

When a phone SIM card is used as an electronic wallet, many transactions may become easier and cheaper — for instance, old-age pensions for the poor, or even buying groceries from the corner shop.

 

Cellular telephony is available to far more people than banking services are. In several African countries, mobile payment is now commonplace.

 

But is there money to be made in this business? India is the fastest-growing market, and some call rates are the cheapest in the world, as low as 30 paise per minute.

 

There is a price war; however, the carriers are not hurting. The current auction for 3G spectrum is vigorously contested, and billions of dollars are being bid on the right to offer 3G services.

 

Clearly the companies bidding expect to make money. There are several ways in which mobile telephony can be profitable. One is to simply grab the wireless spectrum, through means fair and foul, and sit on it.

 

The second is to make process improvements to squeeze maximum productivity out of the system. The third is to create radical new business models that change the rules of the game.

 

The spectrum-grab has been highly successful in many countries, as wireless frequencies are a scarce resource whose value increases dramatically through network effects.

 

As more and more customers sign up, the value of the 'raw material' goes up exponentially. In the US, fortunes were made through capturing the spectrum, much as 19th-century railroad 'robber barons' made fortunes through land-grab wherever the new rail lines were built.

 

In India, of course, there is a twist to this: there are persistent allegations that the older generation (2G) spectrum was parcelled out in sweetheart deals by rent-seeking politicians and bureaucrats.

 

Indeed, strange things did happen — the deadline for submitting a bid was suddenly shortened by a week during the bidding process a few years ago. The winning bids, surprise, surprise, were at rock-bottom prices.

 

New and incriminating information, it is alleged, has come out recently. Be that as it may, some of the winning bidders had no prior or later experience in mobile telephony. They simply turned around and sold the spectrum to actual mobile players at hugely inflated prices, thus pocketing a healthy profit.

 

The second mechanism is process improvement. India's carriers are now seen as models for process innovation. Airtel, for instance, has outsourced its entire network to switch manufacturers who are paid for a certain number of calls completed; its IT operations are handled by a major IT firm; Airtel is in essence a telephony marketing company. This has enabled Airtel to be profitable despite the very low calling rates.

 

This model of process innovation is admirable. The late management guru CK Prahalad has pointed out how a number of Indian service entities are indulging in frugal engineering in the way they do business — for instance, the medical services organisations Aravind Eye Hospital and Narayana Hrudayalya. By radically rethinking their operations, they have been able to squeeze profits out of low-priced offerings.

 

The third mechanism, of changing the business model, is currently making waves. It is data transmission, including Internet access, that is key (and it is clear that data, including SMS text messages, appeal to even customers in poorer countries).

 

Companies like Apple have disrupted the status quo through incremental innovation. Smart-phones like the iPhone have created a new paradigm — touchscreens and ease of use are making them the primary Internet access devices.

 

Moreover, there is a new distribution mechanism for applications: application stores create a new ecosystem wherein software developers can reach customers relatively easily. This has led to an explosion in creativity, and the focus of computing is shifting to ubiquitous mobile phones. The recent entry of HP into the fray by buying Palm shows how the worlds of computing and cellular telephony are converging.

 

Some rich countries are already rolling out the next generation (4G at 100+ mb/sec), which promises much faster data connections. Indeed, critics suggest that India has missed an opportunity to leapfrog onto 4G because of unnecessary delays in the 3G deployment.

 

Despite the possible shenanigans, cellular telephony has created vast improvements for the public. Macroeconomists estimate that it has added as much as 0.8% to the GDP growth rate. Profiteering by a few clever people may then perhaps be seen as teleologically acceptable — the greatest good for the largest number.

 

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

DNA

CONGRESS'S B(JP) TEAM SANS IDEOLOGICAL FIG-LEAF

PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR

 

The Bharatiya Janata Party's Jharkhand fumble — where the party wanted to break its ruling alliance with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) because its leader, Shibu Soren, voted against the cut motion of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the Lok Sabha on April 26 — has revealed what has been suspected all along, that the main opposition party is acting more like its national rival, the Congress, in the manner of unthinking responses and shabby afterthoughts.

 

Perhaps the Congress would have executed the coup de grace with a little more panache than what the BJP could muster. This is not to say along with many of the BJP's sincere middle-class admirers — spread across the caste and religion spectrum — who believed the party to be different and who are bitterly disappointed that the BJP is no different from the other bad political parties.

 

It is true that the NDA had issued a whip which obligated all the partners to vote for the motion. If someone had violated the whip as in the case of Soren, then the NDA convenor, Sharad Yadav, should have convened a meeting and followed the procedure to take disciplinary action against the errant member, including that of expulsion.

 

Instead, the BJP's top brass in Parliament decided to withdraw support to the JMM government in Ranchi. It was a clumsy thing to do because what had happened in the Lok Sabha should not have been used to bring down the state government because there was no local crisis.

 

The BJP leaders did something worse. They dithered and let the JMM-led coalition government continue, for the moment.

 

Though the BJP takes shelter behind the fig leaf of the Hindutva ideology — which it interprets as cultural nationalism and its detractors call Hindu communalism — what it really does is pursue pragmatic politics which will enable the party to come to power and implement policies that are needed to win elections.

 

That is why the BJP's Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh implementing populist welfare measures like Rs3 for a kg of rice is difficult to be differentiated from the Congress's the late Rajasekhara Reddy in Andhra Pradesh.

 

Similarly, the developmental rhetoric of Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan and the market swagger of Gujarat's Narendra Modi are not very different from that of Congress chief ministers in Haryana, Delhi, and Assam.

 

It can be said with some justification that in these post-ideological times, when political right and political left do not make sense, it should not come as a surprise that the BJP does what needs to be done in terms of practical governance without bothering too much about ideology. The argument is plausible but not in full measure. It overlooks the real thinking of BJP.

 

The party has been in opposition for most of the time, but it has always wanted to be the party in power instead. Its six years in power from 1998 to 2004 had given rise to the hope that it has transited from one position to the other. It proved to be short-lived.

 

Atal Bihari Vajpayee had a clear notion that what matters in politics is to be in power. If ideology is needed to achieve power, then let there be ideology. If on the other hand, ideology becomes a liability, then push it to the backburner. The other leaders in the party accepted this implicit Vajpayee line.

 

Interestingly, this is also the Congress line, and hence the convergence. It is not surprising then that starting with Vajpayee, the political icon for BJP leaders is Indira Gandhi more than Shyama Prasad Mookerjee. But the BJP does not have the Congress's bench strength of power brokers and trouble-shooters. While in Gujarat, the Congress is the 'B' team of the BJP, in the country at large the BJP remains the 'B' team of the Congress.

 

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

 


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

THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

KASAB'S CONVICTION

PAKISTAN MUST EXTRADITE 20 OTHERS FOR TRIAL

 

MONDAY'S conviction of Mohammed Ajmal Kasab by Mumbai Special Court Judge M.H. Tahiliani for his role in the audacious terrorist attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008, does not come as a surprise. He has been found guilty of killing policemen Hemant Karkare, Vijay Salaskar and Tukaram Obale and waging a war against India. Significantly, Kasab, the lone Pakistani terrorist captured in the attack that claimed 266 lives and injured 300, has been found guilty of all the 86 charges framed against him. Kasab's quantum of punishment will be pronounced in a day or two. While the penalty for most charges is either life imprisonment or death, a dreaded and trained terrorist like him deserves no mercy. The Mumbai Police did well to speed up the historic trial despite several hurdles. During the trial, the prosecution examined as many as 653 witnesses and filed a record 675-page written submission.

 

While Kasab has been finally brought to book, the acquittal of two Indian nationals — Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed — points to the prosecution's failure to nail them down. The two were accused of being members of the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and conducting reconnaissance in Mumbai before the attack. Both were claimed to have prepared the maps of the terror targets and handed those over to the Lashkar-e-Taiba for execution of their plans. This is a setback for the investigators, who had claimed to have a watertight case against the two. Having given them the benefit of doubt, Judge Tahiliani has said that the evidence produced by the prosecution could not be relied upon. The prosecution has decided to challenge their acquittal.

 

Significantly, Judge Tahiliani has accepted the prosecution's thesis that the plot was hatched in Pakistan. According to Ujjwal Nikam, the Public Prosecutor, not only from Kasab's evidence but also from other circumstantial evidence one can draw "irrefutable inference" that some Pakistani Army persons too were involved in the conspiracy. David Headley has also admitted this, he says. The judge has ruled that 20 of the 25 accused, including Pakistan's Hafiz Saeed, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Abu Hamza were involved in the conspiracy. The ends of justice will be met only if all of them are brought to justice. But the question remains: will Pakistan extradite the 20 accused to India? Going by Pakistan's uncooperative attitude so far, there is little chance of this coming about.

 

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

THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

SPORTS & POLITICS

FIXING TENURES ALONE IS NOT GOING TO WORK

 

The Union Sports Ministry's decision to revive a 35-year-old fiat imposing a 12-year cap on the tenure of people heading National Sports Federations is a small step in the right direction. However, critics are certain to question the wisdom of placing a ceiling on sports bodies and not on other democratic institutions like Parliament. Some will point out that the International Olympic Committee, most international sports federations and even the Board of Control for Cricket in India have similar caps in place. But it cannot be denied that politicians, industrialists and businessmen have been heading sports bodies for far too long for comfort. Their stranglehold not only indicates their failure to develop a professional body of managers but their long tenures also prompt the suspicion that promotion of sports may not be the only motive of these busybodies. The move to clip their wings is unlikely to go unchallenged though. While the Delhi High Court did hold in the matter of the Indian Hockey Federation that Government guidelines governing the NSFs were valid, binding and enforceable, sports bodies are unlikely to give in without a fight.

 

It is indeed hard to dismiss lightly the allegation that the ministry is playing to the gallery. The tenure of office-bearers, after all, is the least of the afflictions ailing the sports bodies. Mismanagement, bad governance, misuse of funds, wastage and cronyism by these bodies have come in the way of promoting infrastructure and a healthy sports culture in the country. It is the sports ministry which failed to crack the whip. It always had the power to enforce transparency and accountability, besides calling for more judicious and optimum use of grants. But more often than not the ministry failed to exercise its authority, and not because of the tenure of office bearers in the sports federations.

 

It is easy to see why sports bodies find it attractive to have politicians at the helm. Dealing with the bureaucracy, red-tape and the system is easier with them around. But if the ministry is serious about cleansing the system, promoting a healthy culture and helping sports bodies become more vibrant, it will have to do much more than just disburse grants and impose ceilings on the tenure of office-bearers.

 

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

 


THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

THWARTING TERROR

INDIA NEEDS TO LEARN FROM THE US

 

Terrorists are known for their ability to spring a surprise, but in the US all attempts made by the forces of destruction so far after 9/11 have ended in a fiasco. Their latest bid in New York City's famous Times Square on Sunday was foiled after a foot patrol officer noticed a parked car with a box inside with smoke coming out of it. Soon the New York police went into action and defused the "amateurish" bomb, which could have led to a "very deadly event". A major combing operation is on to arrest the culprits. Going by the US record, those behind the heinous act may be taken into custody soon. The incident may lead to greater pressure on the Obama administration to be even tougher while dealing with terrorism.

 

Interestingly, the car bomb was spotted in the Times Square area soon after the US administration issued an advisory to the American citizens visiting Delhi to be extremely careful about their safety owing to intelligence inputs that terrorists might attack some busy area in the Indian capital. Security has been tightened in Delhi, but that is not enough. The police in Delhi and elsewhere in India need to be as vigilant and efficient as the police in the US has been. The US security agencies, including the police, have proved that terrorists may try any trick but they are unlikely to succeed in the country which remains on top of their hit list.

 

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has claimed responsibility for the unsuccessful car bomb attack by which it had planned to avenge the killing of what it calls "Muslim martyrs". This may, however, be a gimmick to show that the extremist movement is capable of harming American interests on the US landmass. Who is behind the condemnable act will be known soon with the conclusion of the investigation launched by the New York authorities. The Americans have proved that they leave nothing to chance when it comes to handling security matters. They may appear to be harsh at times, but that is how they have been successful in proving smarter than terrorists. India needs to learn a lot from the US to foil the designs of terrorists.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

CUT MOTIONS, PRIVACY, CORRUPTION

OPPOSITION AS ENEMY OF ACCOUNTABILITY

BY B.G. VERGHESE

 

Contrary to breathless news reports, cut motions in Parliament are not unique but commonplace though unsuccessful in bringing down governments. However, the Left Front-BJP 13-party cut motions on a budgeted increase in fuel prices, supported by all state governments, was lost by 88 votes, destroying the rosy calculations of an unprincipled Opposition and leaving the Left and BJP red-faced, not for the first time, and desperately searching for other straws to clutch, such as the irresponsible Bharat Bandh that followed.

 

The idea of bringing the government down was not altogether absent. However, several factors weighed. Had the government fallen, there was no credible alternative. The UPA would have remained a caretaker pending fresh polls that would have been unpopular and probably seen an opportunistic Opposition alliance fall apart and likely to lose further ground. The RJD, the SP and the BSP too were not ready for a fresh poll and bought peace. In the result, the abstentions and crossovers were predictable and Shibu Soren's crude somersaults in keeping with his past. The Congress too made its deals. But when you win in politics, much is forgiven and forgotten.

 

Rising prices are worrying. But ignoring the global recession and severe drought and demanding more pro-poor expenditure without corresponding fiscal prudence and measures to restore growth was unconvincing. Meanwhile, the repeated blocking of the House on issues the government was willing to discuss, such as phone-tapping and the IPL controversy, was downright objectionable and undemocratic. In the result, many of the budget grants, as usual, had to be guillotined. An Opposition that seeks accountability has become an enemy of accountability through such unparliamentary antics.

 

Reports of sleaze in the IPL are still unfolding. Tax and other investigations are in progress. But the way this was hyped, reduced to titillation and innuendo and grabbed the headlines was astonishing. IPL "culture" is no longer cricket, whatever the branding. Notwithstanding its merits and appeal, it has become a manipulative combination of greed money, film stars, politicians, businessmen, the underworld, advertising, sales promotion, entertainment and, allegedly, match fixing and betting. The current inquiries into financial and other misdemeanours must be pursued and the process cleaned up and subject to transparent regulations, minus politicians.

 

Other matters of moment, concerning security and corruption, intruded thick and fast. Outlook magazine broke a story regarding "phone-tapping" of Sharad Pawar, Digvijay Singh, Prakash Karat and Nitish Kumar a couple of years ago in the course of technical intelligence surveillance operations by the National Technical Research Organisation. This body was established after Kargil to strengthen the nation's defences against subversive and terrorist elements. It operates mobile devices equipped to monitor electronic communications in ether rather than by physically tapping phones.

 

It appears that the conversations referred to could have been innocently and passively trawled in an electronic sweep by off-the-air GSM/CDMA monitoring devices and subsequently leaked by disgruntled NTRO employees.

 

The charge of political spying is exaggerated and any suggestion of deliberate abuse on government orders was strongly refuted by the Home Minister, who promised to make a statement in Parliament after due inquiry. The Opposition and sections of the media cried foul with some insisting on a Joint Parliamentary Committee to look into the matter. This was justifiably dismissed by the Prime Minister as excessive and the motion of privilege sought to be moved against him for making this "policy" statement outside Parliament another bit of theatre.

 

What the episode tells us is that there is scope for abuse or even innocent misuse in such gadgetry and that safeguards need to be inbuilt in procurement and operating procedures, now that these devices have been obtained by several police and intelligence agencies and perhaps by private parties. Privacy is an (inferred) fundamental right and must be protected against an intrusive or vindictive state. Whistleblowers too must be legally protected.

 

But perilous times, with unscrupulous state and non-state actors on the prowl, also call for stout defences against catastrophic mischief. People cannot demand that the government should do everything possible to prevent terror attacks, economic sabotage and other subversive acts and cry foul the moment something is done to prevent dire hazards. Intelligence must be accountable and appropriate checks and balances built into the system and reviewed from time to time. Hopefully, this is now being done.

 

With regard to the Madhuri Gupta spy case too, one should best await the result of investigations without jumping to extreme conclusions flavoured by party-political bias. Not everything should be treated in a partisan manner at the cost of national interest. What the enemy cannot do is often achieved by warring "nationalists" out to prove their patriotism and discredit the other. This must stop.

 

When it comes to corruption, the nation must band together to fight a growing menace pervading politics, commerce and institutional life. The sordid story of the Medical Council of India president, Dr Ketan Desai, found selling certification to sub-standard medical colleges for gratification is particularly disgraceful. Likewise, the appointment by the new Meghalaya Chief Minister, Mukul Sangma, of 17 legislators as parliamentary secretaries with the rank of ministers of state, in order to prevent this rabble turning against his ministry, is not merely absurd but open bribery.

 

The conduct of the ministerial Reddy brothers, Karnataka's iron ore kings, and the Union Telecom Minister, D Raja, in defying the Prime Minister in setting questionable 3-G spectrum auction is shameful. Such actions should be promptly investigated and coalition partners told that there can be no connivance or coalition in crime.

 

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

THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

DELHI-CIOUS!
BY RAJBIR DESWAL

 

News has reached us claiming that Delhi is the most popular city among foreign tourists. Contrast this claim with the Economist Intelligence Unit's survey done some years back which dubbed Delhi as the 'third worst city' for foreigners and one is bound to get confused.

 

The impression given historically may be that "Delhi is the capital of the losing streak. It is the metropolis of the crossed wire, the missed appointment, the puncture, the wrong number..." but when it comes to the aspects of health and safety; culture and environment; and infrastructure, Delhi is the third worst city in the world to live in, for foreigners, after Port Moresby in Papua Guinea and Karachi in Pakistan.

 

I have no reason to differ with the survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit as also FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) but going by the accounts of the travellers and chroniclers, it is a mixed bag of impressions but largely in favour of the Indian capital, and yes a bit, against Karachi.

 

John Foster Fraser, in his Round the World on a Wheel, (1899) describes Delhi as "the most uncertain minded of cities in the world. It is like a fidgety girl who will first sit here and there, then somewhere else, and 50 square miles of ground and 20,000 ruins tell where it has rested. The modern Delhi is like the capricious girl grown up—charming and imperial. But also, like so many grown up and charming ladies, Delhi is a city with a past."

 

Through a letter written to her family on February 18, 1916, Gertrude Bell, having enjoyed the hospitality of the Viceroy conveyed her impressions of Delhi as: "Though I knew the plans and drawings I didn't realise how gigantic it was till I walked over it. They have blasted away hills and filled up valleys, but the great town itself is as yet little more than foundations. The roads are laid out that lead from it to the four corners of India, and down each vista you see the ruins of some older imperial Delhi. A landscape made up of empires is something to conjure with."

 

Our own VS Naipaul, in An Area of Darkness (1964) strikes a satirical note when he says about Delhi that "The streets were wide and grand, the roundabouts endless: a city built for giants, built for its vistas, for its symmetry: a city which remained its plan, unquickened and unhumanised, built for people who would be protected from its openness, from the whiteness of its light, to whom the trees were like the trees on an architect's drawing, decorations, not intended to give shade: a city built like a monument."

 

In 1874, Edward Lear in a letter to Lord Carling Ford exhibited interesting wordplay — "Delhi, where I stayed 10 days making Delhineations of the Delhicate architecture as is all impressed on my mind as in Delhi by as the Delhiterious quality of the water of that city."

 

As for Karachi, George Woodcock, in his Asia's, Gods and Cities exclaimed, "It rises from a barren desert." Care for the other impression about the city? Well, it goes like this—Karachi, the Americans say, "is half the size of Chicago cemetery and twice as dead."

 

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

THE TRIBUNE

OPED

LIMITED EDUCATION

FOREIGN UNIVERSITIES COMING HERE FOR PROFIT

BY SATYA PRAKASH

 

The opening and operation of foreign universities in India is an important issue. There may be a heavy rush of students in theses institutions as they will get the degree of a foreign university. At the end, it is not sure whether these students would find a lucrative job, if training given to these students is non-competitive.

 

On the contrary, foreign governments may not allow to open Indian universities on their land and even if it is so, there will not be students to take admission in these universities for obvious reasons and hence it will not be an economically viable proposal.

 

Therefore, the opening of foreign universities on Indian land will not be on equal academic and economic footings. To avoid any kind of exploitation on either side, all the collaborative programmes of creative and dispersive higher education should be designed to the benefit of the Indian population which needs a definite development in the global and national context. The best way to achieve this is that foreign activities in higher education in India should be regularised through the Indian education system, either governed by the Government or semi-government organisations.

 

Higher education has two ingredients: (1) creation of knowledge through research in the basic principles to understand complexities of the phenomenon and to use this knowledge for the development of new technologies for the comprehensive growth of all living beings and (2) teaching of graduate and professional courses with information of the latest developments in the disciplines concerned.

 

However, it is further emphasised that the creation of new knowledge through research is very basic for the quality teaching of graduate and professional courses. A foreign institution of higher education without first-rate research programmes cannot justify the quality teaching to graduate and professional course students in India.

 

In the modern concept "knowledge is the property". Every country protects its research knowledge to keep up the pride and priority. Patents are registered for economic gains in the process of global industrialisation. Mostly, in the foreign collaborative research programmes, Indian researchers work in foreign laboratories. However, the outcome of this research programmes remains the property and patent of the host nation. Although Indian researchers do get experience to work back at home. The above academic and economic imbalance has to be addressed in collaborative higher education programmes.

 

There are very few occasions, mostly in arts and culture education where researchers from abroad work in India for a substantial time and research output are shared by both countries.

 

Foreign universities are keen on soft knowledge expansion i.e. teaching programmes for graduate and professional courses pertinent to the market forces. However, the following facts should also be kept in view.

 

The Indian young population is growing at a faster rate as compared to the developed countries. In the present situation, it is assumed that India does not have the desired infrastructure to provide the required education to the young students.

 

Due to economic progress of the country, the income of the middle class population has increased. Their family size is small and parents are in a position to spend any amount of money for their child's education for a degree which helps in searching a financially lucrative job anywhere in the world.

 

Indian psychology still persists that a degree of any foreign university is superior to an equivalent degree of Indian universities, although it is not at all true except a few leading universities in Europe and the US, specially in science subjects.

 

In view of these facts, developed countries are keen to collaborate in the knowledge dispersive (teaching of graduate and professional courses) part of higher education for well-defined economic gains.

 

In my opinion, as we are aware of problems of regional and national developments, India should strongly interact and adopt the experience of foreign universities, but keeping in view the geography, culture, historical background and other regional and national interests. It is very likely that due to geographical and cultural attitude differences foreign education may be of limited use to us and vice versa.

 

In conclusion, we should have all the collaborative programmes for national and regional developments through Indian educational institutions with all modifications and modulations in the context of Indian circumstances.

 

The writer is a UGC Emeritus Fellow and Professor of Physics, Panjab University, Chandigarh

 

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


THE TRIBUNE

OPED

GREECE: COLLAPSE OR SALVATION?

 

A choice "between collapse and salvation". Such were the words with which Greece's finance minister hailed the bailout agreed on Sunday between Athens, Brussels and the IMF, which will enable Greece to access €110bn over the next three years. Unless the German parliament baulks at offering a sizeable contribution towards this huge rescue package, in which case all bets are off, phase one of the drama is over in the sense that Greece will not default on May 19, the deadline by which it has to make a large debt repayment to its creditors.

 

What happens then depends partly on whether Greece's fractured and mistrustful society can put up with the austerity measures to which the Prime Minister, George Papandreou, has agreed in order to obtain the bailout money. Another unknown is the degree to which enforced belt-tightening will push Greece's economy further into negative growth. The deeper the recession the less likely it is that Greece will ever repay anything. The temptation to default will then return. A final decision on whether Greece belongs in the single currency zone, therefore, has only been deferred.

 

Several of Greece's regional neighbours, meanwhile, will be cursing its profligacy for having damaged their own European Union membership prospects. Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia among others are all sitting in the EU waiting room, reflecting on the extent to which events to the south have hardened the phenomenon known in the EU as "enlargement fatigue" into something more like outright enlargement hostility. All have jumped through numerous hoops to harmonise their standards to those of the EU. All manage their finances far more responsibly than does Greece, yet their membership prospects have suffered nevertheless because without German support they can get nowhere – and Germany is not enlargement-friendly right now.

 

The hope must be that Greece bends but does not break over the next few years, and that the reforms which the EU and IMF insist on do not impoverish Greeks but ultimately create a more open and entrepreneurial society. At the same time, Greece's neighbours should not be held hostage to a positive ending to the Greek drama. It would be ridiculous if the noble idea of EU enlargement were to perish altogether, as a consequence of what is going on in Athens. Several countries outside the EU, looking in, remain desperate to give the EU their best shot. It would be a pity if their chances to do so were blighted forever on account of their neighbour's behaviour.

 

The bailout plan is more concrete and vastly more expensive than previous, vaguer European bailout pledges which have failed to quell a concerted market assault on Greece – and the euro – in recent weeks.

 

In return, the Greek government has agreed to slash its spending deficit from nearly 14 per cent down to 8.1 per cent this year by imposing even steeper cuts in public sector wages than previously introduced, lower pensions, and an additional two percentage-point rise in VAT to 23 per cent.

 

A depressed-looking Greek Prime Minister, George Papandreou, told a televised cabinet meeting in Athens: "It is an unprecedented support package for an unprecedented effort by the Greek people. These sacrifices will give us breathing space and the time we need to make great changes. I want to tell Greeks very honestly that we have a big trial ahead of us."

 

Many Greeks – and some economists in other countries – warn that the medicine is so strong that it could kill the patient and plunge Greece into a deep economic depression. Stathis Anestis, a spokesman for the private-sector union, the GSEE, said: "These measures are tough and unfair. They will lead workers into misery and the country deeper into recession."

 

The success of Sunday's package will no longer be measured on whether the financial markets continue to bully Greece. EU governments are also desperately hoping that banks and hedge funds will realise that, ultimately, they are on to a loser if they bet on the default of any Eurozone country.

 

 By arrangement with The Independent

 

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


THE TRIBUNE

OPED

DELHI DURBAR

FAROOQ SHOWS OFF HIS PUNJABI

 

New and Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah does not lack wit and humour and he was at his best in the Lok Sabha the other day. But at the end of the day he realised his wit could carry him only this far with Speaker Meira Kumar. Replying to queries from Congress MP from Punjab Pratap Singh Bajwa, who put a long query of 10 sentences during zero hour on Friday, the minister decided to reply in Punjabi.

 

Barely managing a sentence right (earlier he sought the indulgence of Samajwadis for his ignorance of Hindi), Abdullah persisted with his replies in Punjabi – a language even more foreign to him than Hindi. And to cap it all, he looked around for appreciation of his feat expecting a "well-done" from members.

 

Instead came the gentle rap from the Chair that he had violated a rule. "Honourable Minister, as you know, members are allowed to speak in the House either in English or Hindi. If you want to speak in any other language in future, please give a notice so we can arrange an interpreter. Others must understand what you are saying," the Speaker told him. An unsuspecting Abdullah was humbled.

 

Harsimrat flies plane

BJP leader Arun Jaitley has always been immensely popular with journalists. They flock to his durbar, whether in the Central Hall or in his huge Parliament room. His repertoire is full of long forgotten anecdotes and stories of fellow politicians and older journalists. His USP is a general irreverence for some of the senior politicians even those from the Sangh, without sounding too impolite. Rarely is he overawed by any of his fellow travellers.

 

But Prakash Singh Badal's daughter-in-law and Sukhbir Badal's wife Harsimrat Kaur falls in a different category. She has impressed Jaitley not just because she is good looking and at ease with the English language but also because she is rich. She flies her own plane on the weekends to her constituency Bathinda and is highly religious and a complete vegetarian. She is also trying to turn hubby Sukhbir into a vegetarian and teetotaler.

 

A surprise for Hooda

Rahul Gandhi's visit to Mirchipur in Hisar, Haryana, to condole the death of the Dalit victims of caste violence there last week came as an unpleasant surprise for the local administration. But as a senior Congress leader pointed out when Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda was happily ignorant of Rahul's plans, why blame the poor district administration. Rahul's visit to Mirchipur accompanied by Union minister Prithvi Raj Chauhan, was the best kept secret ostensibly because the Congress did not want this sombre occasion to be turned into a circus by party workers.

 

Perhaps the party also wanted it to be a surprise for Hooda. Normally the state administration is given a prior notice since Rahul Gandhi is protected by the SPG. It naturally reflected badly on Hooda's credibility in Congress circles in the Capital. That is also because sections within the Congress have started noticing that the Chief Minister spends more time in the corridors of Parliament than his own state.

 

Contributed by Aditi Tandon, Faraz Ahmad and Vibha Sharma

 

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

 


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

EDITORIAL

A GREEK TRAGEDY

THE BAILOUT DOES NOT END EUROPE'S TROUBLES

Beware, the Trojans were warned, of Greeks bearing gifts. One has to be just as careful these days of Greeks bearing bonds. The euro 110 billion ($147 billion) bailout package announced jointly by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the eurozone countries raises more questions than it answers and, like so many of the policy responses of western governments in the past two years, may well be too little too late. The crisis in Greece was essentially fiscal, but its implications for Greece and the eurozone countries go well beyond the purely economic. The very existence of the eurozone has come under question and the political future of the European Union (EU) is under threat. Germany's dithering, for domestic political reasons, has cast a long shadow and it remains to be seen how, if not "if", the EU will survive this crisis. The Greek debt crisis shows clearly that if the eurozone is to come out of this crisis relatively unscathed, it needs a full-time fiscal-monitoring and crisis-resolution mechanism. Apart from better fiscal and trade policy coordination, the eurozone needs institutions that can facilitate policy coordination, rescue and bailout programmes at the region-wide level.

With the Mediterranean economy's government finances on the brink of collapse, Greece's sovereign bonds were notched down last week to junk-grade by rating agency Standard and Poor's. The difference between the yields on German government bonds and Greek bonds (remember they are both part of the eurozone) is a stupendous six-and-a-half percentage points. Greece is a relatively small economy (about 3 per cent of the eurozone) but European banks have large holdings of Greek sovereign bonds on their balance sheets. Besides, by virtue of its membership of the eurozone, it is considered an "advanced" economy. Thus, if the government had reneged on its obligation, the markets may have seen it as the first of its kind by an advanced economy. In short, a default by Greece would have been a big deal.

 The bailout of Greece by the EU and the IMF does not end the ongoing saga in Europe. Portugal and Spain are now on the radar. Both have seen downgrades in their credit ratings last week. If the UK has a messy election result, it too could come under a cloud. It remains to be seen how far Europe's politicians can stretch the "too big to fail" principle and convince the public in solvent economies like Germany to reach into their pockets each time a bankrupt economy passes its hat around.

Fundamentally, the fate of Greece and the other troubled Southern European economies highlights the costs and follies of using massive fiscal stimulus to pump-prime collapsing economies. Since economies across the world followed a similar strategy to battle recession, this episode is likely to raise some uncomfortable questions about the future of the global recovery itself. This is likely to lead to enhanced risk aversion and a search for safe havens. In the panic that came in the wake of Lehman's collapse, the US government bond market and gold emerged as these safe havens. Investors fled all "risky" asset markets, including the Indian markets, setting off a slide in the stock market and a spike in external borrowing costs for Indian borrowers. The impact on India of the "Greek crisis" depends critically on whether Asia is considered to be the third safe haven this time around. It is possible to argue that the rebound in economies such as China, India and Indonesia in 2009, when the rest of the world was floundering, actually makes a strong case for safe haven status.

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


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THE DRAGON PREENS

BUT, WILL CHINA GET SHANGHAI-ED BY THE EXPO?

 

The spectacular opening ceremony for the Shanghai World Expo on April 30 would have surprised no one. As the 2008 Beijing Olympics demonstrated, China favours the "shock and awe" philosophy when it puts itself on international display. Still, even by its own ultra-competitive standards, China may well find the Shanghai Expo extravaganza a case of overkill and, maybe, hubris. Consider, first, the numbers. At a stunning $46 billion — more than the cost of cleaning up Beijing ahead of the Olympics — the Shanghai Expo is the most expensive industrial fair in the history of world fairs; it is also the world's largest expo site, covering almost 6 sq km, and is expected to attract the highest number of visitors at 70 to 100 million over its six-month duration. To Indian industrialists struggling for years together to acquire land for projects, it may be a point of envy to note that the city administration was able to shift 18,000 families and 270 factories to make way for the expo ground along either side of the Huangpu river. The purpose of all this: to brand Shanghai as the great "world city" of the 21st century.

 

This is not a unique ambition, of course. Ever since the landmark "Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations" in the UK in 1851 — at the height of the industrial revolution — expos have been held to demonstrate the industrial power of nations and China is well within its rights to do so as the world's third-largest economy. What exactly are the spin-off advantages from this high-cost spectacle? The immediate and obvious benefits are visible in the better civic amenities that a city acquires in readiness for the expo (as Delhiites discovered during the Asian Games and now the Commonwealth Games). As for the hard-nosed commercial benefits, the jury is still out on that one. It is worth noting that ever since the Hannover Expo in 2000, which attracted considerable attention because of the high spends on national pavilions, some governments have become sceptical about the cost-benefit equation attached to such fairs. Even assuming that the Chinese government is eyeing the expo as nothing but a mega-brand-building exercise, it is still worth wondering whether it makes sense to spend an eye-popping 1 per cent of gross domestic product to trumpet a triumphalist message that the world already pretty much acknowledges. Indeed, the city's administration has already created a spectacular urban landscape that attracts global admiration and investment — the Pudong reclamation, the metro, the bullet train connections are all monuments to Shanghai's emergence from the ennui of the communist era. Now, reports suggest that the government has raised huge amounts of debt that it might struggle to repay going forward. This is not such an unlikely situation either: like the rest of the world, Shanghai is suffering a real estate glut, visible in swathes of empty skyscrapers around the city. Real estate values are likely to fall further once more stock is freed up from the expo and comes on the market after November which will certainly constrict the city government's revenue options. All of which could mean that visitors to the Shanghai Expo will — inevitably — be overwhelmed, but the country may be paying the price of this pomp and circumstance for several years to come.

 

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


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

TAX SOPS - THEIR COST AND EFFICACY

THE REVENUE FOREGONE DUE TO TAX INCENTIVES IN 2009-10 IS ESTIMATED AT RS 5,40,269 CRORE

M GOVINDA RAO

 

A bane of the Indian tax system is that it is extremely complicated and this is due to burdening the tax policy with several objectives. Although many countries' tax policy is used as an instrument to accelerate investment, encourage savings, increase exports and pursue some other objectives, Indian's obsession is perhaps unique. In addition to the above, India's tax policy is loaded with objectives such as industrialisation of backward regions, encouraging infrastructure ventures, promotion of small scale industries, generation of employment, encouragement to charitable activities and scientific research, and promotion of enclave-type development through Special Economic Zones (SEZs). These objectives are pursued through various exemptions, differentiation in rates and preferences which enormously complicate the tax structure and open up avenues for evasion and avoidance of tax and create rent-seeking opportunities.

Ironically, various types of tax incentives continue to persist in spite of a number of studies questioning their effectiveness and highlighting their enormous costs. Many studies have shown that such incentives are redundant and, in many cases, ineffective. They not only cause enormous loss of revenue but also introduce severe distortions in resource allocation, often without achieving the intended objectives. Even when they achieve the objectives, there are better and lower cost methods of achieving them. As stated by Richard Bird and Eric Zolt ("Introduction to Tax Policy Design and Development", World Bank, 2003), factors such as stable governance system, sound macroeconomic policy and good infrastructure are more important in business location decisions than tax benefits. In any case, tax incentives cannot compensate for the absence of these critical factors.

 

A good tax policy is the one which minimises the three costs associated with it, namely, cost to the exchequer, the compliance cost and the cost of economic distortions. The cost to the exchequer increases with tax preferences due to higher cost of administering them and even more due to the cost of revenue foregone. Tax preferences are equivalent to subsidy payments. The problem, however, is that these are non-transparent and unlike cash transfers to the desired sectors, they are poorly targeted. Widespread tax preferences also create additional compliance costs to the businesses. Even more important is the unintended impact on resource allocation created by these incentives. The relative price distortions created by tax incentives impact on resource allocation across sectors as well as regions.

 

Since 2006-07, the Central government's Budget presents a detailed statement of the revenue foregone on account of various tax incentives and in 2009-10, it is estimated at Rs 5,40,269 crore. If the export credit, which in any case should be given to relieve the domestic taxes on exports, is excluded, the amount works out to Rs 5,02,299 crore or about 80 per cent of the estimated tax collections in the year. Overwhelming proportions of this are due to concessions in customs and excise duties, but concessions in corporate income taxes too are significant. Total tax expenditure due to corporate income tax is estimated at Rs 79,554 crore and of this, the amount due to accelerated depreciation was Rs 25,180 crore or 31.7 per cent. Incentives provided to infrastructure sectors — including power, mineral oil, SEZ and industrial parks and companies involved in cold chain and post-harvest technology — constituted 22.6 per cent (Rs 17,978 crore). Area-based incentives resulted in the loss of revenue amounting to Rs 5,463 crore, or about 6.9 per cent.

 

While these estimates look staggering, it is important to note that these are only indicative because the estimation is not done in a scientific manner. First, the estimate assumes that the behaviour of taxed entities is identical with or without tax concessions. In the case of customs and excises, for example, the revenue foregone is estimated by simply multiplying the difference between the tariff rate of duty and effective rate of duty on the tax base. A more appropriate method is to estimate the impact of the tax concession on the tax base itself. Second, taking the tariff rate of duty as the normal rate overestimates the revenue loss. In the case of custom duties, often, tariff rates of duty are kept high for protective reasons. The objective is not to provide concession, but simply to enable increasing the rate when needed for protective reasons. Relieving domestic taxes on exports is a practice followed in every country for reasons of competitiveness and, therefore, these cannot be called concessions. There are some exemptions which do not enter into the value of the tax base at all and they are simply ignored in the way tax expenditures are estimated. The small scale industry exemption in the case of excise duty is a case in point. Surely, presenting the estimate tax expenditures as a part of the Budget is a welcome initiative, but it is necessary to improve the methodology to get more robust estimates. The Department of Revenue could do well to collaborate with specialised research institutions in improving the methodology or provide access to data to such agencies by blocking out the names of individual firms to improve the quality of the estimate.

 

The most undesirable consequence of tax incentives is the unintended distortions in resource allocation they create. Although the Statement of Revenue Foregone in the 2010-11 Budget states, "…the basic issue is not one of tax policy but of efficiency and transparency", severe distortions caused by tax concessions bring down the overall growth of the economy. Attempts to promote the small scale sector only result in the splitting of firms to operate at less than optimal levels, and there is no evidence that the modern small scale sector is labour-intensive. Area-based exemptions drive out industries from areas with comparative advantage. The proliferation of tax concessions erodes the tax base necessitating higher nominal tax rate which causes greater distortions. The lower tax rates to recover the same amount of revenue in the absence of tax preferences would contribute to better and less distorted structure of incentives.

 

Rationalising tax exemptions and preferences is a priority area of reform. In order to minimise the influence of special interest groups in proliferating incentives, it is important to educate the public and the policy-makers and present least-cost reform options, and this can be done only when scientific analyses of tax incentives and robust estimates of tax expenditures are presented.

 

The author is director, NIPFP. The views expressed are personal

 

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


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

PAKISTAN ARMY - AAL IS NOT WELL

PAKISTAN TODAY IS WHERE THE MOST HAWKISH INDIAN ANALYSTS WOULD WANT IT: DIMINISHED ON INDIAN BORDER AND LOCKED IN BLOODY COMBAT ON ITS WESTERN REACHES

AJAI SHUKLA

India's evident climbdown at Thimphu, and Islamabad's barely-concealed glee at resuming a dialogue process that was never going anywhere, should not obscure the big picture. From the strategic perspective, Pakistan today remains exactly where the most hawkish Indian analysts would want it: diminished on the Indian border and locked in bloody combat on its western reaches.

It is difficult to miss the irony: on the subcontinent's northwestern frontier — the gateway to India for Alexander, Timur, Ghor, Ghazni and Babar — an alphabet soup of radical militants who ultimately threaten India are being held back by the Pakistan Army.

 This stems not from any new love for India but from a long-delayed realisation amongst the generals, primarily Army Chief Ashfaq Kiyani, that the most immediate target in the militants' cross hairs is the Pakistan Army, not India. The game has changed dramatically in the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) was renamed last month. Rawalpindi's traditional modus operandi since 2006 — rattling a few sabres while negotiating a truce with the militants — is no longer an option. The Pakistan Army is now in a serious fight.

During earlier years, while Islamabad played faint-hearted footsie in the tribal areas with jehadi groups like the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the world was carefully excluded from the tribal areas. With less to hide now, the Pakistan government has even dared to conduct a posse of Indian journalists through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where 150,000 Pakistani regulars beef up as many paramilitary scouts in manning 821 posts on the border with Afghanistan.

Given these circumstances, it is astonishing that anyone is buying into the ludicrous argument that things are going Pakistan's way in Afghanistan and the tribal areas. The argument, which a beleaguered Pakistan Army is doing all it can to buttress, goes broadly as follows: with Obama looking to thin out forces substantially from Afghanistan before facing American voters in late 2012, the job of policing the AfPak badlands will fall into Islamabad's lap. With a free hand to run the place, Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) will carry the Taliban to power in Kabul and then douse the flames in its tribal areas by reorganising it into a terror factory from where it can direct jehad towards India and the West.

This monochromatic argument fails on many counts. Even if handing over Afghanistan to the Taliban were as simple as loading the Quetta Shoora into trucks and driving it to Kabul, Islamabad no longer desires an unfettered Taliban in total control of Afghanistan; when the Taliban ruled from 1996-2001, Islamabad's relations with that prickly animal were far from smooth. Pakistan now sees greater benefit in a splintered Afghanistan where power is delicately distributed: a beholden Taliban in charge in the south; and a weakened Hamid Karzai in Kabul, dependent on Islamabad for key elements of power. Islamabad's wooing of Karzai has been under way for months and is yielding dividends. In March, on a visit to Pakistan, the Afghan president termed Pakistan a "twin brother" without whom peace could not be restored to Afghanistan. It was not a mere diplomatic flourish.

But even with the Taliban and Karzai willing to play ball, Islamabad realises that calibrating and maintaining a balance of power in Afghanistan will not be easy. Calling all the shots in Kabul is clearly unachievable; Pakistan's more limited aims are to keep India out of Afghanistan, and to keep the lid on the Pashtunistan issue.

If Islamabad faces a tightrope walk in shaping Afghanistan's political power structure, manipulating militancy presents an even thornier problem. Pakistan's skill at organising purpose-built jehadi structures has resulted in chaos as the boundaries between militant groups effectively dissolve. Increasingly, a plethora of groups, including the Pakistani Taliban; Afghan Taliban factions like the Haqqani group; foreign groups from Uzbekistan, Arabia and Chechnya; sectarian militias like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi; and the erstwhile India-centric groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Toiba; all train, plan and even operate in coordination.

The Pakistan Army's and the ISI's growing isolation from these groups is evident from a series of fidayeen and suicide attacks on army targets, including the General Headquarters in October 2009. Two months later, militants stormed a Pakistan Army mosque killing dozens, including the young son of Lt Gen Mohammad Masood Aslam, the corps commander who oversaw operations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Militant groups are increasingly attacking the ISI; coordinated attacks have been launched on ISI offices in three cities.

Long-standing linkages still remain between the Pakistan Army and the jehadis it midwifed. And, where both sides find a convergence of interests, they can still work together. But only in India does the belief still run strong that the Pakistani establishment controls and directs the jehadis in a meaningful way. In fact, so much blood has already flowed that the "ISI's terror factory" thesis is simplistic and outdated.

Despite the Pakistan Army's unenviable plight, it inexplicably believes its upbeat rhetoric about victory (is) just ahead. But just as the J&K insurgency roiled on through years of upbeat Indian Army assessments, the Pakistan Army too will find itself embroiled in prolonged operations on its west. The Indian Army is large enough to contain multiple insurgencies while still retaining a formidable warfighting capability. That is not the case with Pakistan.

ajaishukla.blogspot.com 

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


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

CHASING THE PESTS

NCIPM'S AWARENESS-CUM-SURVEILLANCE PROJECT HELPED REDUCE THE PEST-INFECTED AREA IN MAHARASHTRA BY 67%

SURINDER SUD

Maharashtra, especially the Vidarbha region, is infamous for farmers' suicides due to frequent crop failures as a result of adverse weather and pest attack. In the last kharif season, too, the weather was unfavourable due to drought, and pest build-up was fairly menacing. But for a change, instead of losing their crops, most farmers bagged relatively bigger harvests of cotton and soyabean, the two predominant crops of the region.

 This transformation was the result of meticulous monitoring of the proliferation of pests and crop situation, followed by timely technical advice to the farmers on how to combat the emerging threat. The use of information technology for quicker communication of advisories to the farmers helped them take timely action to check pest attacks and also mitigate the impact of deficient rainfall on crops.

A path-breaking programme of surveillance and awareness creation was launched for this purpose by the New Delhi-based National Centre for Integrated Pest Management (NCIPM) in 28 districts of Maharashtra where soyabean and cotton crops are predominantly grown. This centre, along with three other research institutes of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and three agricultural universities, provided the technical guidance and arranged for training of the personnel of the state agricultural department in integrated pest management (IPM) technology. The state department carried out the field activities with the help of selected volunteer farmers. Over 270 situation-specific technical advisories were disseminated through SMSs to five elite farmers in each of about 30,000 villages to spread the messages to nearly 2 lakh farmers.

According to NCIPM director O M Bambawale, this massive project succeeded in achieving its objective because of the wholehearted support of the state agriculture department. Technology to cope with the pests and other adverse conditions is available; but the technical advice based on this technology normally does not reach the farmers in time. This programme removed that hurdle.

Faced with repeated crop failures due to the attack of pests like American bollworms (Helicoverpa armigera), tobacco caterpillar (Spodoptera litura), semiloopers, beetles and others, a large number of farmers in Maharashtra, particularly in Vidarbha, had replaced cotton with soyabean in recent years. Consequently, soyabean now occupies almost the same acreage (3 million hectares) as does cotton.

In 2008-09, the Vidarbha region witnessed an epidemic of these pests, causing massive damage to soyabean in an area of about 7.5 lakh hectares. The aggregate monetary loss to the farmers was assessed at over Rs 1,000 crore. The government's compensation package of about Rs 401 crore could only partially offset the farmers' actual losses.

However, this adversity spurred the state agriculture department to gear itself up for averting a repeat of this by involving the research institutes in preparing and implementing suitable crop- and pest-management strategies in 2009-10 kharif season. The awareness-cum-surveillance project, prepared by the NCIPM, involved regular monitoring of pest build-up in the fields by the trained personnel to identify hotspots of pest infestation and prompt adoption of the remedial management strategies. The available pesticide supplies were diverted to the heavily pest-infested spots.

The net result was a significant 67 per cent decrease in area reporting pest population in excess of the economic threshold limit (ETL) in 2009-10 as compared to 2008-09. Even the areas where the pest population crossed the threshold level, the pests were managed effectively to keep the economic losses to the minimum.

This is claimed to have led to a productivity increase of nearly 19 per cent over the previous year despite a prolonged dry spell of 27 days, between July 24 and August 19, 2009, which affected the flowering and pod formation in the soyabean crop. The monetary gains to the growers are reckoned by the NCIPM at over Rs 1,047 crore.

Encouraged by the outcome of this project, the Maharashtra government, as also the Centre, now wants this model of surveillance-cum-technical advice to be replicated elsewhere as well. While Maharashtra wants the programme to continue on a regular basis, the Centre is going to launch a similar programme in states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and south-western Uttar Pradesh for the two main pulse crops, chick pea (chana) and pigeon pea (tur or arhar).

However, to achieve success, the agriculture departments of the states would have to galvanise their otherwise lethargic field staff for implementing this programme as sincerely as was done in Maharashtra. Otherwise, even this well-conceived scientific strategy would meet its Waterloo.

surinder.sud@gmail.com  

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


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

OFFENSIVE IN EGYPT - THE ARABIAN NIGHTS

NILANJANA S ROY

This is a story about a 19th century wanderer and anthropologist, a book that took shape between the 9th and the 11th centuries, and a bunch of 21st century lawyers and clerics who share their beliefs with the most rigid of the 19th century Victorians.

The book we know as the One Thousand and One Nights took shape through accretion, and had many authors over many centuries. Even those who haven't read the full version of the Kitab Alf Layla wa-Layla, or the Arabian Nights, know many of its stories: the tale of "Sinbad the Sailor", the tale of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves", and many Indians will recognise the animal stories, familiar to us from the Jatakas.

 

It should be the poster child for "multicultural literature": it draws from medieval Egyptian history, from Indian-influenced Persian folk tales, from Baghdad's collected history of storytelling, and a variety of other sources. Even today, to read the One Thousand and One Nights is to hear the voices of a hundred storytellers from across the centuries whisper in your year.

Recently, a group of Egyptian lawyers who rejoice in the name of Lawyers Without Restrictions asked for a ban on the 1,001 Nights under the recently introduced "hesba laws". The hesba laws have increasingly been misused, and news reports cite hundreds of cases filed under these laws against writers, film-makers and artists for "promoting apostasy", "contempt for religion" and, as in the case of the demand for a ban on 1,001 Nights, "publishing obscene material". The irony of the name of the group is inescapable, but one of the features that distinguishes the censorious is that they lack all humour.

It's not that calls for a ban on the 1,001 Nights are rare or uncommon. School texts and popular retellings of the tales still endorse the bowdlerisation that was common among the Victorians, until Richard Burton offered his exhaustive, cheerfully licentious and faithful translation of the Nights. Aside from several countries in the Arab world, the distribution of the Nights was banned in the US for several decades under the infamous Comstock Laws, which made it illegal to send any "obscene, lewd or lascivious" material through the mails.

But in effect, what Lawyers Without Restrictions have asked for is that one of the world's greatest and most profoundly influential story-cycles be banned in one of the countries that nurtured and gave birth to these stories. This is, in essence, a repudiation of Egypt's own history, enacted by a group of people who're passing through a phase of conservatism and rigid thinking. The similarity between today's clerics and lawyers, and the repressive, fear-driven morality of the Victorians who condemned the Nights as Oriental turpitude is stark.

In his introduction to what remains the best-known translation of the 1,001 Nights, Richard Burton considers the "turpiloquium" of the manuscript. He defends both the "simple, naïve and childlike indecency" that "treats in an unconventionally free and naked manner of subjects and matters which are usually, by common consent, left undescribed", and the "absolute obscenity, sometimes, but not always, tempered by wit, humour and drollery" of the book.

To this Victorian anthropologist and explorer, translating the 1,001 Nights served two purposes. Burton had done the Haj and criss-crossed Africa by the time he attempted the translation, but saw himself as someone who was "not a success", and at the same time, "had no cause to be ashamed of his failure". Reading and translating the Nights during what he called his "official banishment" to Western Africa "proved itself a charm, a talisman against ennui and despondency". A modern psychiatrist might say that he found in the Nights a cure for depression, but that would be only part of the story.

In his introdution, and often in the hundreds of footnotes that form a kind of running conversation with the reader of the Burton translation, he makes his passionate engagement with the "Oriental", Eastern or Islamic world very apparent. These volumes were, for him, "a cargo of Moslem learning", and previous translators had done the Nights a great disservice by watering them down. Burton proposed to provide nothing less than "a full, complete, unvarnished, uncastrated copy of the great original". This was one means of "dispelling England's ignorance concerning the Eastern races", of revealing the full glories and complexity of the "medieval Moslem mind".

But perhaps the most ironical of Burton's statements was a passing observation: "What is offensive in England is not so in Egypt." By asking for a ban on the 1,001 Nights, Egypt's hardliners could have given no better indication of how far they have departed from their country's history of inclusiveness, tolerance and openness.

nilanjanasroy@gmail.com  

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

 


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

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THROUGH THE THIRD EYE

 

So how did that historic Nitin Gadkari-Shibu Soren dinner go, minutes after Guruji's memorable cross-voting ? The Gadkari camp asserts it was a clear case of untimely celebration when Guruji arrived in the national capital only to cook the goose of the saffron party in the cut motions voting.


Yet, the talk in the party circles is that Guruji, the tasteful guest that he is, had carried a choice bouquet while driving down to the residence of his host and Gadkari accepted it graciously before they sat down for the dinner.


Now the buzz in the saffron party is that the bouquet that Guruji gave to the BJP chief was actually handed over to the JMM chief in the dark corridors of Parliament by a Congress manager as a subtle thanksgiving gesture for the 'ballot-service' .While the Congress camp remains gleefully silent, the Gadkari camp sees in this an in-house attempt to add insult to injury.


CBI tales

For all their joint mobilisation of forces for the cut-motion fiasco, the Left, particularly the CPI-M , is not enthused to join the BJP chorus about 'the Centre using the CBI to arm-twist' many parties. Not that the Marxists have an ideological position against dragging the CBI into political shadow-boxing .


In the past, the CPI-M had alleged 'the CBI hand' many times. So why this conspicuous restraint this time? Well, it might just be a coincidence that a fortnight ago the same CBI had given a sort of reprieve (though not the final act) for Kerala CPI-M boss Pinarayi Vijayan in the Lavlin case.


So while the BJP argued that the CBI at the behest of "its political master arm-twisted or cuts deals with vulnerable political rivals" , the People's Democracy's post-voting analysis limited to just blaming "the Congress expertise" in managing numbers while notably sparing the CBI thecustomary thrashing.

 

Batting rivals

Lalu Prasad Yadav may have reasons to feel bad about his cricketer son Tejaswi Prasad Yadav not making it to the playing eleven of the Delhi Daredevils. But another influential Yadav son is trying his skills and luck in Delhi's club-level cricket these days under the wings of a very encouraging father.


If Lalu Yadav has betrayed his anger about Tejaswi's career map not expanding after his stint in the India Under-19 team, on the other side JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav's teenager son has already padded up for Delhi's club cricket circuit. And a little bird says Sharad Yadav is playing quite the doting father and is taking keen interest in his son's activities in the nets. The fathers battle it out in Madhepura, will the sons be rivals on the pitch?

Twin-trouble
Haryana chief minister B S Hooda is in a piquant situation. On one hand, the high command has turned the heat on him for his inaction vis-a-vis the khap panchayats as well as his deafening silence on the Hissar Dalit killings. On the other, the CM has found his biggest ally in the AICC headquarters — general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi — in equal political mess when he rushed to meet him.

Both Hooda and Dwivedi held a closed-door meeting at 24, Akbar Road last week when the CM came to Delhi after getting the 10 Janpath lashing. Ever since Hooda cultivated Dwivedi when the latter was in-charge of Haryana, both have been allies in times of troubles. But this time Hooda is feeling left alone as Dwivedi him- self is under the scanner following some leaders' complaints that undermining colleagues has become second nature for him. But then, is that so unusual in the Congress?

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

KASAB, THE PAWN

 

The pawn has been taken. But his king remains unchecked and his queen dictates policy to the US. The real question is not what happens to Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist to be caught of those who attacked Mumbai on 26 November, 2008, but what can be done to prevent future attacks.


Kasab has been tried and found guilty. Two Indian nationals accused of collaborating in the attack have been let off. The Indian legal system works well, for all the world to see.


So far, so good. Kasab will be sentenced, he will appeal the verdict, the case will drag through the glutinous layers of the judicial system and finally, his fate will hang on the advice the government gives the President on Kasab's mercy plea.


The sedate pace at which this predictable morality play will unfold has its own lesson: the due process of the law is not about revenge but about maintaining social order. But what do we do about Pakistan, which refuses to act against the terror outfits that plot violent attacks on India ?


Is India wasting its time or, worse, signalling weakness , by agreeing to talk to Pakistan's leaders who are incapable of keeping their word or controlling what other parts of its schizophrenic power structure are up to?

Some sections fault PM Manmohan Singh's readiness to engage Islamabad. This is as meaningless as pretending that Kashmir, the so-called core issue, is the only problem between India and Pakistan.


The real challenge is the ideology of hatred embodied in the two-nation theory that led to India's partition and still serves as the glue that holds quarrelling Pathans, Sindhis and Punjabis together as one country. The same ideology comes in handy for using terror as a means of increasing Islamabad's strategic reach.


India can be at peace with Pakistan only when this false ideology is defeated, when Indians, as much as Pakistanis, are convinced that Hindu-majority India is a place where non-Hindus can live and prosper in harmony and with dignity.

 

That is a long journey. For India to not talk to Pakistan helps only those who place hurdles down this path. We must talk, be vigilant, protect ourselves, catch and punish Kasabs but resolutely walk down the road to sustained peace.

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

ESSAR'S IPO SUCCESS HAS A NEGATIVE MACRO DIMENSION

 

What is good for General Motors is good for America' , declared Charlie Wilson, the head of General Motors, back in 1955. On the same analogy, when the Ruia-owned Essar Energy raises $1.9 billion, in the biggest IPO to hit the London Stock Exchange since 2007, it is tempting to conclude what is good for Essar is good for India.

Except that as with Charlie Wilson's statement, it is not quite true. No doubt the success of the IPO, albeit at a lower price of £4.20 a share as against the first touted price of £4.50-5 .50 a share, is a feather in the cap of the Ruias.

At a time when all of Europe is in turmoil over the crisis in Greece and the final line has not yet been drawn under it, it is a signal that there is considerable appetite for Indian paper. And in a sector that has more than its share of problems, never mind our huge energy deficiency . It is a vote of confidence in the Indian economy and is therefore welcome.


But there is a catch. What is good for an individual enterprises may not collectively be good for the country. The response to the IPO suggests huge pent up demand for Indian paper, which could lead to serious problems for macroeconomic management if and when overseas funds in search of investment opportunities flood in.


The RBI could once again find itself battling to hold the exchange rate of the rupee within a band that does not harm Indian producers — too strong a rupee hurts not just exports but all produce displaced by artificially cheap imports. Intervention to prevent rupee appreciation could increase money supply and feed inflation.


The rupee has already appreciated 18% over the year to March 2010, as measured by the RBI's six-currency , trade-weighted , real effective exchange rate index, the biggest yearly appreciation since we moved to marketdriven exchange rates in March 1993.


Further appreciation of the rupee could see the current account deficit, already large, widen further, increasing the economy's vulnerability to volatile capital flows. In short, success such as Essar's increases the policy burden on the RBI.

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SPORTING CHANCE: TERMS OF ENTRENCHMENT

 

Fitness has never been a concern of politicians, no matter what office they hold. The idea of sticking to guidelines, whether on age, dimensions or other parameters is alien to our politicos.


In this telegenic era wherein politicians in other countries are banking on their appearance to give them some extra brownie points, our politicians are resolutely unswayed by such superficial attributes.


So their surprise and consternation at being manoeuvred out of Indian sports federations on the grounds of age and too many years at the helm by an order from the union ministry of sports, is understandable. Since when has either reason been found strong enough to diddle a political stalwart out of office or a pocket borough?


How can 12 years (three terms of four years each) and age 70 be deemed to be the tenure and age limit for leading sports federations when the current oldest MP in the lower house, Ram Sundar Das of the Janata Dal (United) is a venerable 88 years of age, and heavyweights such as the late Indrajit Gupta, AB Vajpayee, the late PM Sayeed, Somnath Chatterjee and George Fernandes were elected between nine and 11 times to the Lok Sabha? Consecutive elections to Parliament and assemblies are usually regarded as an encomium , so politicians' repeat performances in sports bodies can hardly be regarded differently.


Well-entrenched politicians could probably be edged out with less brouhaha if firmer reasons were put forth — such as non-proficiency in the sport they have championed for decades.


Few political honchos heading sports bodies can replicate with bats, balls or racquets, as the case may be, former airline pilot and Rajya Sabha MP Satish Sharma's familiarity with the core pursuits of the Aero Club of India which he heads. Some may be more than familiar with rackets; that, however, should not make them a shoo-in for sports posts.

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

ENCOURAGE WHISTLEBLOWERS

KIRAN KARNIK

 

Following the Satyam episode , the biggest fraud in India's corporate history, there has been a flurry of activity on corporate governance within government , industry associations and company boardrooms.


Some view this as bolting the stable doors after the horses have fled; however, the fact is that — to stretch the metaphor — there are many horses yet left. The numerous reports on corporate governance are, therefore , welcome and necessary. Corporate governance should be, first and foremost, about ethics and values.


This is both, the first and last line of defence. However, it is not necessarily the best, since the real world includes many 'pragmatists' , whose pliable ethics facilitates actions that benefit them, personally , or their company.

It is for this reason that good corporate governance requires a system of checks and balances. This must include, amongst other things strong and active independent directors; thorough and competent statutory auditors; rigorous internal audit; appropriate metrics to diagonise the health of the company; transparency and disclosures; and active shareholders. These checks need to be backed up by appropriate laws and strong enforcement by an independent regulator.


Yet, the fact is that many large corporate frauds have come to light only through an insider speaking out or a confession, and not through an audit report or a regulatory investigation.


In the case of Satyam, the fraud was brought to light by Raju's confession, and not by the auditor, who certified the accounts and the system, year after year. Similarly , the investigation into Galleon in the US is the consequence of a tipoff from an individual.


The IPL can of worms — a favourite of media — was opened and exposed , not by the auditors or the governing body, but by the key insider.


Given these and many other experiences , it is clear that depending solely on auditors or the board is not sufficient . This needs to be supplemented by steps that encourage those in the know, the knowledgeable insider, to speak up — and to do so with no fear or hesitation.


A well-defined 'whistle blower' policy is, therefore, a vital element of good corporate governance, and must include three main elements: first, transparency and easy access to all nonconfidential information about the organisation ; second, guarantees that the whistleblower will be protected and will not be persecuted, pressurised, or otherwise discriminated against; and, finally, that the whistleblower can have direct access to one or more non-executive directors of the board.


Of course, it is also necessary to have some mechanism of sifting out frivolous or mala fide complaints, and this is no easy task.


Whistleblowers are such an important check against fraud and malpractice that it is questionable as to whether appropriate policies in this regard should depend merely on voluntarism or should be mandated by law. It may well be desirable to require that a whistleblower policy be a part of every organisation's own policies, at least.


The focus, post Satyam — but also dating back to Enron — has been on corporate governance. However, many aspects can usefully be abstracted to the broader level of national governance. As in a company , so also with government, it is necessary to have mechanisms to check frauds or misuse of power. In this, Parliament could play a role akin to that of the board of directors.


Already, the Right to Information Act has brought about transparency and facilitated 'whistleblowing' and one hopes that there are no amendments — as is being talked about — to limit its scope. There have been cases where whistleblowers have been persecuted — even killed, in a few instances.


The state has clearly failed in its duty to protect such individuals. In many cases, following exposure of misuse of power or frauds as revealed through RTI petitions, action has been slow or negligible. This is part of the overall problem of lack of accountability and lethargic action by the authorities in cases of corruption and misuse of power.


Maybe there is a need to consider mandatory action, within a specified time frame, in such cases. Special courts for economic offences — including corruption and fraud in both the government and corporate sectors — may help to ensure quick justice.


In many countries, shareholder activism keeps company managements and boards on their toes. It is desirable to see how this can be initiated in India. At the macro level, there is a vital role for civil society organisations.

Whereas individual whistleblowers may be hesitant — even fearful, given recent incidents — organisations are far better placed to take on powerful vested interests and arbitrary use of state power, of which there is now a growing reassertion.


This worldwide phenomenon is a reversal of what was expected after the adoption of the liberalisation-privatisation-globalisation (LPG) mantra, which — along with internet and other technologies (the ICT revolution) —was expected to vastly reduce the power of the state. Some, in fact, had forecast the early demise of the nation-state itself.


The resurrection of the nation-state is primarily due to concerns about terrorism and security. Unfortunately, in many cases, genuine concern transforms into paranoia and 'security' becomes a cover for arbitrary action by the government.

Mobile phones are, doubtless, used by terrorists, but banning them in a state or stopping text (sms) messages is akin to banning the use of cars because they are used by terrorists and explosions are sometimes caused by car bombs. The antidote to such misuse of power is the whistleblowing civil society organisation.
Such watchdogs and conscience-keepers are essential parts of a plural polity. Harassing and arresting those who are seen as 'sympathisers' of extreme groups is antithetical to the democratic requirement to protect and foster all shades of opinion. Afarsighted government must, therefore, encourage and empower civil society organisations , just as it would corporate whistleblowers. In this, the corporate world too has a role: even as it evolves policies to encourage and protect whistleblowers , it must also support those who play that role in the wider societal context.

(The author is an independent strategy and policy analyst)

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

A VERY SIMPLE CREATION STORY

MUKUL SHARMA

 

Scientists rubbish the creationists' argument about the origin of life, and human beings in particular, along two fronts: the practical and the theoretical. The first refers to the paleontological evidence and the second to the theory of evolution.


While the practical refutation is pretty watertight with fossil and other geologic records abounding, the case for evolution can sometimes be perceived as resting on shakier ground with creationists constantly trying to pick holes in some still not fully understood aspects of evolution.


But now it seems science has finally managed to win on that front too. It's because of an ongoing experiment called Avida, developed at the Digital Evolution Laboratory at Michigan State University in the US.


Avida is an artificial life software platform which is designed to study the evolutionary biology of self-replicating and evolving computer programs or digital organisms that starts with the representation of a simple life form and then applies Darwin's laws to it.


The program allows these life forms to mutate with the inferior mutations dying out and the superior ones surviving. Over the years, Avida has shown that the mechanics of evolution can by itself provide a race of creatures with an ever-improving gene pool that slowly improves a species to a very high level. And this happens not by divine intervention, but by simple chance as a blind response to a hostile environment.


As Robert Pennock, a philosopher at Michigan State puts it: "Avida is not a simulation of evolution; it is an instance of it. All the core parts of the Darwinian process are there. These things replicate , they mutate, they are competing with one another. The very process of natural selection is happening there."


So it appears evolution is a powerful and validated mechanism. But consider this scenario. What if an Avida like experiment was allowed to continue till it produced an artificial life form that became sentient in the end like us? If such entities could think, it's not improbable that they too might one day ascribe their development to evolution and not to some designer working behind the scenes.


They would be right of course yet they would also be wrong. For we know don't we that they actually arose from the minds of a bunch of scientists in a university lab during the course of a long-term experiment . Just another argument.

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

IN POLE POSITION TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF INDIA GROWTH

AMIT SHARMA

 

Whirlpool India is one of the few multinational companies from the West that has managed to carve out a space in the Indian household appliances market. It is a recognized brand in home appliances with a market share of over 25%. The company owns three state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities at Faridabad, Pondicherry and Pune, facilities that are now an important part of its global organization. In an interview with ET , Shahzad Akhtar , VP & GM, India Operations, Whirlpool, discussed the company's 12 year journey in one of its fastest growing markets and the route it plans to take in the future. Excerpts:


While Whirlpool has been a success in India, it's still seen playing a smaller role in the durables space. Where is the brand headed in India?


With an estimated growth rate of 7-9% in the coming years, the consumer durables industry in India is going to see rapid growth through penetration as well as replacement. Whirlpool is at the pole position to take full advantage of this growth.


The poor penetration of consumer durables in India means that our industry is about penetration, consumption and up-gradation. So, there is a lot of growth potential. There is going to be a multiplying effect. We are probably the only Western company to be successful in the home appliances segment here. The other companies are either Asian or Indian.


Home appliances require higher capital expenditure than other durables or FMCG. Margins are low because players are aggressive on pricing and entry barriers are high. Asian organizations are adept at managing low cost operations and they often mimic the innovations of the developed market. We have managed low-cost innovations well and have introduced them in the market. So even though our scale is small, we do not have lower cost disadvantage. We have consumer insight, which we deploy regularly.


Apart from a lot of companies that are now waking up to the market opportunity here, the space is dominated by Korean and Indian brands. How does it play out in terms of competition?

Everyone is now interested in India because of the size of the market. So while looking for growth globally, they see that the India market is rapidly expanding and so does the scale of opportunity. We have a headstart because we have been successful over the years on a small scale. Now, we can only get stronger whenever the market gets bigger. We were able to deliver an operating structure at a cost level. So, we can be more competitive than others who will start at a small scale.


The Japanese companies may bring in technology, but we too have that technological depth. We can leverage the R&D that Whirlpool has in the US and Europe. So, we can match any global player in innovation. And then we have the cost base ready in India. That is how we are at an advantage in this market.


There is no denying that India is an attractive destination. In refrigerators, it's the single door, small capacity ones that sell most. In washing machines, twin tub, semi automatic ones are popular. To be able to come into this country, if you don't have a strong footing in the mass segment, any capital investment is very hard to recover. Although there is a market for luxurious goods, over the years, this understanding of delivering value at low cost to the consumer is not so easy to replicate.


Has India presence helped Whirlpool globally?

India is our largest market in Asia. In the global context, we have a very North America-centric business but India is among the top five priority markets for us. It is also one of the fastest growing ones. We were virtually on our own for the last ten years. We are investing in a regional support organisation, and two of its legs are in India. We have a global technology resource base building in India where we have over 300 people. The second leg is the global design team, a part of which is in India. Then we have an emerging sourcing hub in India. We source components and parts for Whirlpool globally from India and that has been growing rapidly. So we are getting much more depth as an organisation here.


Whirlpool is one of the few companies having advertisements focusing on housewives. How has that worked for the brand?

We have been very good in understanding the consumer, communicating to them well and serving their needs, even if it has meant that we have had to slice the market into twenty different segments. When we do that, we do not have to spend a lot of money on communication. People get the message easily. We are not focused on driving volumes for the sake of it. So, every time we have innovated, we have pushed that harder, we have learnt our lessons quickly and evolved faster.

 

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


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'PROMOTERS' MONEY WILL BE USED FUND CAPEX TO REDUCE DEBT'

NISHA PODDAR

 

JSW Steel posted better-than-expected results on the back of robust demand in the domestic market. The company's joint MD and group CFO, bold">Seshagiri Rao spoke exclusively to ET NOW on the financial performance and the fund infusion by the promoters. JSW Steel is also steadily going ahead with it's backward integration and has bought coking coal mining assets.


JSW Steel's net profit has substantially increased in the fourth quarter of FY10, what were the factors?

This quarter, volume growth is 66% and for the year, we have a 61% growth. Our inventories have also come down. It is 300,000 tonnes of inventories, so whatever we are able to produce, not only we sold them, but also reduced inventories. Our interest cost is another important aspect, we were able to bring it down. Weighted average cost of interest has come down to 8.02%.


How will higher cost of raw material affect your EBITDA margins this fiscal?

This year, cost pressures are very high and steel prices will also harden in the same quantum. At the same time, realisations are also going up. So both together, we will at least be able to preserve our margins .


How are you going to utilise the cash infused through the preferential allotment of up to 9.36% shares to the promoters? Is it for repayment of debt?

The equity, which will come into the company, particularly from preferential allotment to the promoters, worth around Rs 2,100 crore, will be used to reduce the leverage and to meet the capital expenditure programme of the company.

Is promoter's stake buy linked to the stake sale to Japan's JFE through fresh equity infusion? Will the promoters have to increase their stake once JFE deal takes place?

There is no relation at all between the two transactions. The company is having a large capex programme and the leverage is high, so we want to bring down the leverage and at the same time, we would like to accelerate our growth plans.


How much money have you paid to buy the US coking coal assets? When will they start production?

We have bought mines with 123 MT reserves at close to $100 million. One of the mines is operational, balance will become operational over a period of 24 months and in the first year, we will produce 1 MT, which will increase to 3 MT in the third year of operation, so we will bring that coal into India. We expect to start it by September-October.

 

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


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

                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

A FAIR VERDICT, AND A MESSAGE TO PAK

The verdict in the Ajmal Kasab trial, which Special Judge M.L. Tahaliyani delivered in Mumbai on Monday, has two key features. It underlines the sturdy independence of our judiciary in an uncommonly sensitive and complex criminal case and testifies to the scrupulousness of judicial conduct of the trial judge. Two, coming only four days after the Thimpu meeting between the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and his Pakistani counterpart Mr Yousaf Raza Gilani, held at India's initiative in a non-reciprocal spirit in order to generate "mutual trust", the verdict places an inordinate burden on Indian diplomacy to push Pakistan to speed up the trial of those who plotted and executed 26/11 and rescue the judicial process in Pakistan from becoming a complete farce. The trial judge has exonerated Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Sheikh, regarded widely as the Indian subordinates of the Pakistanis who planned and executed 26/11, saying the evidence presented by the prosecution was "unconvincing". This points to below-par investigation by the police as the overall circumstances do seem to suggest that the duo were not disinterested bystanders. Given the nature of the case, a less finicky judge might have been psychologically pressured into accepting the merits of even shoddy evidence, but Mr Tahaliyani quite rightly chose to abide by the strictest judicial norms. The way the Mumbai police fought the terrorists on 26/11 with inferior weapons speaks of the valour of the force. But quality investigation is another matter, and must at all times be painstaking. So pristine was the evidence — including CCTV footage, ballistics, forensics and witness accounts — that the judge probably had less difficulty dealing with the case of prime accused Kasab, the lone Pakistani gunman apprehended on 26/11. The young killer has been found guilty on all 86 charges against him — with the chargesheet running into nearly 13,000 pages — which included waging war against India, murder, attempt to murder, under the Arms Act, Explosives Act and many others of an extremely serious nature, it seems hard to believe the mass murderer will not be sentenced to death. The quantum of the sentence is expected to be announced in a day or two. If Kasab does not swing, he will be sentenced for life. That would appear light to most, the case having no extenuating circumstances whatever. It appears the cold-blooded assassin personally killed seven people on that horrible day, among them several police officers, including the highly-regarded Hemant Karkare. There is nothing in these dark circumstances to help reduce the severity of the sentence, not even the 21-year-old terrorist's age. The young man had, after all, undergone prolonged training in warfare and destruction directed against civilians, and been a Lashkar-e-Tayyaba/ISI groupie. Like his other terrorist colleagues who set out in a meticulously planned fashion for Mumbai from Karachi with the object of killing or dying, Kasab appears to deserve little consideration. It needs to be stressed that he received an open and fair trial in full glare of the media. Judicial evenhandedness is not in question here, and the sentence cannot but be consistent with the gravity of the crimes that he was tried for.

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


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

A FAIR VERDICT, AND A MESSAGE TO PAK

 

The verdict in the Ajmal Kasab trial, which Special Judge M.L. Tahaliyani delivered in Mumbai on Monday, has two key features. It underlines the sturdy independence of our judiciary in an uncommonly sensitive and complex criminal case and testifies to the scrupulousness of judicial conduct of the trial judge. Two, coming only four days after the Thimpu meeting between the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and his Pakistani counterpart Mr Yousaf Raza Gilani, held at India's initiative in a non-reciprocal spirit in order to generate "mutual trust", the verdict places an inordinate burden on Indian diplomacy to push Pakistan to speed up the trial of those who plotted and executed 26/11 and rescue the judicial process in Pakistan from becoming a complete farce. The trial judge has exonerated Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Sheikh, regarded widely as the Indian subordinates of the Pakistanis who planned and executed 26/11, saying the evidence presented by the prosecution was "unconvincing". This points to below-par investigation by the police as the overall circumstances do seem to suggest that the duo were not disinterested bystanders. Given the nature of the case, a less finicky judge might have been psychologically pressured into accepting the merits of even shoddy evidence, but Mr Tahaliyani quite rightly chose to abide by the strictest judicial norms. The way the Mumbai police fought the terrorists on 26/11 with inferior weapons speaks of the valour of the force. But quality investigation is another matter, and must at all times be painstaking. So pristine was the evidence — including CCTV footage, ballistics, forensics and witness accounts — that the judge probably had less difficulty dealing with the case of prime accused Kasab, the lone Pakistani gunman apprehended on 26/11. The young killer has been found guilty on all 86 charges against him — with the chargesheet running into nearly 13,000 pages — which included waging war against India, murder, attempt to murder, under the Arms Act, Explosives Act and many others of an extremely serious nature, it seems hard to believe the mass murderer will not be sentenced to death. The quantum of the sentence is expected to be announced in a day or two. If Kasab does not swing, he will be sentenced for life. That would appear light to most, the case having no extenuating circumstances whatever. It appears the cold-blooded assassin personally killed seven people on that horrible day, among them several police officers, including the highly-regarded Hemant Karkare. There is nothing in these dark circumstances to help reduce the severity of the sentence, not even the 21-year-old terrorist's age. The young man had, after all, undergone prolonged training in warfare and destruction directed against civilians, and been a Lashkar-e-Tayyaba/ISI groupie. Like his other terrorist colleagues who set out in a meticulously planned fashion for Mumbai from Karachi with the object of killing or dying, Kasab appears to deserve little consideration. It needs to be stressed that he received an open and fair trial in full glare of the media. Judicial evenhandedness is not in question here, and the sentence cannot but be consistent with the gravity of the crimes that he was tried for.

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


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

TERROR FROM WASTE

BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY

Deepak Jain, said to be the owner of two scrap metal shops in the Mayapuri area of West Delhi, was transferred to the Army Research and Referral Hospital, New Delhi, under directions from the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). He was suffering from burns caused by radiation from a Cobalt 60 pin he was reported to be carrying in his hip pocket! Deepak Jain fell victim to hazardous waste material (Hazmat) that is illegally imported into the country and unsafely disposed of thereafter.

It would appear utterly farcical to link anything so utterly drab as scrap metal and waste disposal to questions of national security, but in the context of the recent cases of exposure to Cobalt 60 radiation emanating from a junkyard in Mayapuri, which affected seven people, even the most apparently ridiculous questions demand answers.

Cobalt 60 is one of the radioactive isotopes utilised in a wide spectrum of civilian applications, all carried under strictly controlled, calibrated and protected conditions. At the near range of the spectrum Cobalt 60 is used in nuclear medicine for a variety of medical therapies, besides food preservation. But at the far end, Cobalt 60 can also create the Cobalt bomb — a nightmare scenario out of H.G. Wells of the ultimate nuclear weapon — a "super-dirty bomb" reportedly capable of terminating all life on earth, never produced till now, but theoretically studied and certified as feasible.

Hazmat disposal exists in a private subterranean universe, until something like the Mayapuri incident surfaces in the public domain, as the Government of India stumblingly admitted in the Lok Sabha. Safe disposal of radiological Hazmat should obviously be a matter of extreme national urgency, but in India, Hazmat, including radioactive material and medical garbage from hospitals, is routinely disposed off without regulation or least concern for public safety.

The Mayapuri incident is a prime example of this. Scrap containing Hazmat is auctioned off by the chemistry department of the Delhi University with breathtaking casualness indicative of general laxity that pervades the Indian work culture and allows the gravest breaches of even the most serious matters to be overlooked or condoned as matter of routine.

Public memory is proverbially short but Mayapuri is not the first incident of its kind in the country. Media reports indicate that there have been 67 cases of radiation leakages from Cobalt 60 sources, one even involving elevators in Paris! In this case, the elevator buttons were manufactured from recycled scrap metal which contained traces of Cobalt 60 and were apparently sourced from India. It is a good example of the criminal negligence that has been almost systemised in the Indian work culture. One result is a permanent state of nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological (NBCR) hazard in the country where disasters of reckonable magnitude are avoided only by happenstance and the grace of God.

According to various sources, India annually imports approximately 3.5 million metric tonnes of scrap metal worth Rs 5,500 crores, entering the country at an average of 500 container loads daily. It is unloaded at any of the major and minor ports along the coast and transported to Inland Container Depots throughout the country from where they enter a flourishing grey market.

In fact, India has achieved the dubious reputation of being an almost totally unregulated market for scrap from almost any source, domestic or foreign, many of which, primarily in West Asia and Africa, are war zones in active conflicts and offer large quantities of unserviceable war material as scrap. These often include substantial quantities of Unexploded Ordnance by way of bombs, shells and rockets, as well as Depleted Uranium from ammunition.

Though Indian intelligence agencies have reportedly denied any involvement of foreign covert agencies in the Mayapuri radiation leak, Hazmat terrorism can become a new hybrid with NBCR terrorists targeting communities with Hazmat radiation emitters. Such an eventuality will not appear too far fetched when viewed in the context of other non-traditional proxy war offensives on the country ranging from economic assault by massive induction of counterfeit currency, to cyber attacks on high-security computer networks.

Hazmat terrorism has both external and internal dimensions and first lines of defence have to begin at the country's borders, in this case ports of entry where scrap containers are unloaded. The government admitted (shamefacedly, one hopes!) that X-ray scanning of incoming cargo containers was possible only at Nhava Sheva port, while radiological scanning does not exist. Internal security against Hazmat demands stricter controls and overwatch on disposal of all types of waste within the country.

The recent Nuclear Security Summit at Washington, chaired by US President Barack Obama and attended by 47 heads of state, had focused on nuclear terrorism and the requirement for a concerted international effort to keep nuclear weapons and materials out of the hands of radical terrorist groups and to prevent illegal proliferation of nuclear technology and materials. There is a convergence here, howsoever incongruous, between the rarefied heights of Washington DC and the "nuclear scrapyard" in the slums of Mayapuri.

Nuclear terrorism proper, whether by illegally-acquired nuclear devices or highly enriched material, represents the high end of the terror spectrum, but requiring a degree of sophistication difficult to achieve without a substantial degree of governmental connivance, a misadventure very few recognised governments will risk. Pakistan however is a "broken arrow" in this respect as its track record of illegal proliferation through the Prof A.Q. Khan nuclear Walmart goes to show.

However, Hazmat terrorism with NBCR waste materials is in the low-end category, almost custom-made for use in indifferently regulated environments like India. With a certain level of basic technical knowledge obtained from open sources, including Internet, Hazmat can be used to fabricate very basic "radiation IEDs" with high psychological and panic value impact, whatever be its actual destructive capabilities.

The Mayapuri incident should ring perimeter alarms about the potential threat to the country from Hazmat terrorism and infuse a greater sense of urgency in both Central and state governments to strictly control waste disposal.

- Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament

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


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

AGE OF IRRATIONALITY

BY MELANIE PHILLIPS

It is a truth universally acknowledged that reason and religion are mortal foes. Reason deals a death blow to religion; religion is clearly irrationality on stilts. If only religion didn't exist, reason would rule the world and there would be no more wars, tyrannies or murderous hatreds. It follows therefore that religious people are either stupid or unbalanced and are inimical to progress, modernity and happiness.

Well, this universal truth isn't true at all. In fact, reason is underpinned by religion — at least the Biblical variety. Without Genesis there would have been no Western science, no equality and human rights and no liberal belief in progress.

What about the Enlightenment, you cry. That's what gave rise to Western science and the opening of the Western mind, precisely because it ushered in an age of reason that knocked religious obscurantism out of the park.

Ah yes, the open Western mind. But if you look around you — with a mind that is truly open — you will see much evidence that the Western mind is currently snapping tightly shut. Indeed, the paradox is that some of our most noisy advocates of reason say a lot of things which are demonstrably absurd. Take those scientists who promote not science but scientism — the belief that science can deal with every aspect of existence. The scorn and vituperation they heap upon religious believers is fathomless. And yet their materialism leads them to say things which are just... well, nutty.

For example, Professor Richard Dawkins told me he was "not necessarily averse" to the idea that life on earth had been created by a governing intelligence — provided that such an intelligence had arrived from another planet. How can it be that our pre-eminent apostle of reason appears to find little green men more plausible as an explanation for the origin of life than God? The answer is that in certain areas science has overreached itself by trying to play God, and as a result has turned into an ideology. Contrary to popular myth, Western science was not created by Enlightenment secularism. It grew out of the revolutionary claim in the Bible that the universe was the product of a rational Creator, who endowed man with reason so that he could ask questions about the natural world. With the rise of secularism, the striking thing is that people didn't lose the drive to believe. They stopped having religious faith — but that drive was diverted instead into the creation of a wide variety of secular religions, otherwise known as ideologies. But these are the true enemies of truth and reason.

Just look at environmentalism. This defines the modern "progressive" — and yet it is fundamentally irrational, illiberal and pre-modern. Based on a spiritual belief in the innate, organic harmony of the universe, it grew out of pagan and animistic ideas which not only defied reason but, in elevating emotion and subjectivity as well as downgrading mankind, were to feed directly into such regressive thinking as eugenics and fascism. Indeed, all the ideologies so prevalent today in "progressive" circles — scientism, environmentalism, anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism, moral and cultural relativism, egalitarianism, multiculturalism — are deeply reactionary, illiberal and coercive.

This is because ideology, by wrenching evidence to fit a prior idea, is inimical to reason and sacrifices truth to power. That's why environmentalism's most famous offspring, manmade global warming theory, is totalitarian gobbledegook. There is no evidence to support it, plenty of evidence against it and even more evidence that much of the "science" on which it is based is fraudulent.

But like other ideologies, it appears immune to challenge, however compelling the case against it. And that's because these are not propositions to be debated in a rational way, but rather self-evident truths which have the infallibility of religious dogma — and which are equipped with secular inquisitions against heretics. They represent not a point of view but virtue itself. All opposition must therefore be stamped out. So reason is replaced by bullying, intimidation and the suppression of debate.

Thus scientists sceptical of manmade global warming are subjected to funding famine, character assassination or professional ostracism. Or Christians asserting the need for a child to be brought up by a mother and father find themselves forced off adoption panels and vilified as "homophobic" bigots. In Manichean fashion, the left divides the world into rival camps of good and evil. Anyone who is not on the Left is "the Right" and thus beyond the moral pale. But much that is demonised in this way as "Right-wing" is simply an attempt to uphold truth, reality and liberty against the distortions, fabrications and bullying of ideology.

What's really odd is this. Just like the persecution of medieval heretics, these secular inquisitions are driven at root by fear — the terror that a challenge to the Received Truth might actually succeed. Scientific triumphalists may realise that what they are saying about the origin of the universe is ludicrous. Yet they persist because of their fear of the alternative explanation — God. As the Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin has candidly explained, such scientists "take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs" because they "cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door".

So what is it about the possibility of even a Divine toenail over the threshold that terrifies these men of reason into becoming so irrational? Or to put it another way, if they are going to believe in 10 impossible things, then why not believe in the one impossible thing which happens to have an infrastructure of critical thought, thousands of years of history and their own civilisation attached to it?

It can't be that religion has committed terrible atrocities, because atheism has committed terrible atrocities too. Maybe it's the fear that Biblical morality fetters the freedom to be footloose and fancy-free. After all, if genes are selfish why should they alone have all the fun?

- Melanie Phillips has written The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle over God, Truth and Power

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


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

BE ALIVE IN THE HERE AND NOW

BY THICH NHAT HAHN

The Kingdom of God is ready, is available. Sometimes, in our state of forgetfulness, we are not ready and, therefore, mindful breathing brings us back to the here and the now, uniting body and mind. We only need one step to enter the Kingdom of God: "I have arrived, I have arrived". Arrived where? At the Kingdom of God, at the Pure Land of the Buddha in the here and the now. Life available in the here and the now, and when you breathe out you say, "I am home".

Many of us have been searching for our home, for our true home, but we have not found it. The Buddha told us our home is in the here and the now. If you want to get in touch with your ancestors, if you want to get in touch with the Buddha, with the Kingdom of God, then go back to the here and the now, and mindfully enough, concentrated enough, you will be able to touch everything you look for in the here and the now. To me, the Kingdom of God is now or never. The Pure Land is now or never. The practice is clear. When you practice, "I have arrived, I am home", you stop running. Our ancestors have been running and in our turn we continue to run. The Dharma says, "Stop! Be alive! Be in the here and the now". In the here and the now, I am solid, I am free. If you know how to stop, to arrive, to enjoy each step you make, the element of solidity and the element of freedom becomes a reality; this is not auto suggestion. You have made a few steps in mindfulness and concentration if you are able to arrive in the here and the now. There, solidity and freedom will become a reality, and that will make your joy, your happiness grow. Solidity and freedom are the two characteristic of Nirvana. The Buddha said, "You can touch Nirvana in the here and the now even with your body". The body can touch Nirvana by touching solidity and freedom. Every step you make helps to cultivate your solidity and your freedom because no happiness can be possible without some solidity and freedom. All of us know that.

- Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most respected Zen masters in the world today. He is also a poet and peace and human rights activist. For information in India about Thich Nhat Hanh's Mindfulness
Meditation email ahimsa.trust@gmail.com [1] orvisit www.ahimsatrust.org [2]

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


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

IMF'S STRANGE RECESSION CURE

BY JAYATI GHOSH

When the Group of Twenty (G20) meeting in the midst of global economic crisis led to a substantially expanded role for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), there were many heads shaking in response. After all, the IMF was not exactly celebrated for either its ability to warn of impending crisis or its effective response to crisis. From the early 1990s, its ham-handed and heavily pro-cyclical approach to economic adjustment in developing countries had generally failed in achieving adjustment or recovery. In the few countries where the balance of payments had improved with the IMF programme, it was usually associated with deep cuts in incomes and living standards.

This was one of the reasons why, before the global crisis, the IMF was not just pilloried by its critics but became increasingly irrelevant as developing countries in the midst of a liquidity crisis sought all other possible options before approaching it. It had been a net recipient of funds from the developing world for at least five years; it was no longer consulted on a regular basis by major developing countries; its annual publications had an uncanny knack of following policies and economic trends rather than anticipating them. This lack of prescience would have caused mortification in any less thick-skinned institution: for example, the IMF declared the banking system of Iceland to be sound and with good future prospects just months before its spectacular and inevitable collapse.

But the G20 in its wisdom decided to make the IMF the main channel for the disbursement of emergency financial relief to countries affected by the global crisis. In return, the IMF promised to become more flexible and counter-cyclical in its approach, and to avoid asking countries to make public spending cuts that would affect living standards and damage future growth prospects.

According to its own assessment, the IMF has succeeded in learning from the past, and changing its conditionalities and attitudes to policy adjustment. Its internal review of its own post-crisis lending, in late September 2009, points to more flexibility and congratulates itself on allowing developing countries to weather this crisis effectively. Several features are said to mark the new IMF approach: large and timely financing to affected economies; fewer and more focused conditionalities associated with the loans; accommodative fiscal policy; monetary policies designed to avoid abrupt monetary tightening; and commitments to sustain or expand social safety nets. If these are all indeed true, then the IMF has been reconstructed, and countries need no longer fear having to approach it for relief in the face of intense payment problems.

But if this seems too good to be true, you could be forgiven for being sceptical. As it happens, genuinely independent assessments of recent and current IMF lending are far less complimentary about the IMF's lending practices and its imposition of undesirable policies on economies in distress.

Thus, a review by the Centre for Economic and Policy Research in Washington found that (contrary to the Fund's own perception) of the 41 countries that currently have agreements with the IMF, 31 have had to implement pro-cyclical fiscal and monetary policies that would be expected to exacerbate the economic downturn. In fact, in many cases, even the "automatic stabilisers" (the full spending increases that would have occurred in the downturn, such as unemployment benefits or social protection measures already instituted) were not allowed to operate fully, because of "underlying concerns about debt sustainability and weak structural fiscal positions".

Now, an excellent new study conducted by United Nations International Children's Fund ("Prioritising Expenditures for a Recovery with a Human Face: Results from a Rapid Desk Review of 86 Recent IMF Country Reports" by Isabel Ortiz, Gabriel Venggara and Jinqin Chai, Social and Economic Policy Working Brief, Unicef) has provided even more damning evidence of the lack of real change in the IMF's approach to adjustment and to desirable macroeconomic policies during a recession.

This study examines the fiscal trends in 2010-11 compared to 2008-09, summarises the IMF's advice to governments on the appropriate expenditure stance in the midst of crisis and analyses the IMF's recommendations on social spending, based on a rapid desk review of the latest IMF country reports dated between March 3, 2009 and March 16, 2010, which include 86 countries (28 low income, 37 lower-to-middle income, and 21 upper-to-middle income).

The authors find that fiscal tightening is planned or already under way in nearly 40 per cent of the countries. This reflects several factors, such as the fact that fiscal balances anyway worsened during the recession as tax revenues declined, the measures to deal with high oil and food prices in 2007-08, and so on. This actual or planned cutback in fiscal stance is worrying given that the global economic recovery is fragile at best, and may even reverse in the near future.

But what is more telling is that for more than two-thirds of the countries the IMF is advising or supporting the curtailment of public expenditures in 2010. Indeed, for 2011 and beyond, such reduction is advised for almost all countries! Officially, the IMF's position is that public expenditure should be reduced while "pro-poor" social spending should be maintained or even increased. However, it turns out that in most of the 86 countries, governments are being advised by the IMF to remove fuel or food subsidies, cap or even cut wages, and rationalise or reform social services. These are policies that will directly affect aggregate demand (and thereby add to the recessionary influences on the economy) and affect the poor and vulnerable groups. Furthermore, in most countries a large part of the government wage bill consists of salaries for education and health personnel and support staff, and cuts here are bound to affect these important social services.

It is only in a small minority of countries that the IMF supports expanding subsidies, social services, wages and investments in agriculture, and even these are to be carried out in an overall context of deflationary fiscal stance. This combination — early withdrawal of fiscal stimulus, cutbacks in public spending, and so on — is all too familiar. It is tragic that once again, the IMF is being encouraged to promote the very policies that have already caused so much damage and material hardship in the developing world.

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

 


 

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

THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

PREDICTABLE RUPTURE

NEW SIGNALS FROM THE HIGH COMMAND 

 

However much AICC leaders claim that the high command does not interfere in local elections, it was a different story for the Kolkata municipal election. PCC leaders had made it clear they were in no position to move an inch on Trinamul's unilateral offer without appropriate signals from Delhi and that orchestrated protests from within would have been of no avail had New Delhi given clear orders to fall in line. The AICC had to weigh the options of the collapse in the arrangement that has never been smooth mainly to ensure that a three-cornered contest (with "no friendly fights'' as Mamata Banerjee has declared) would have no impact on the UPA. When the high command had taken a conscious decision to play second fiddle by agreeing to accept 14 seats for the parliamentary poll and to withdraw its candidates from two assembly by-elections in Kolkata, the compulsions were different. Mamata Banerjee's party had then been a vital ally when the Left had deserted the UPA and parties like the RJD and Samajwadi were far from reliable. In the new scenario, the Trinamul chief has been gifted the prize portfolio that she had demanded to push her political agenda. Given the string of railway projects she has announced, it will be suicidal to go beyond ritual outbursts against "agents of the CPI-M''. This time she may have overestimated her bargaining position and, in the process, left the contest wide open when there were clear pointers on the electorate's mood.


After the reassuring vote on the cut motions, the Congress is in a better position ~ more so, after Mamata's dissenting notes on the Women's Reservation Bill (in the company of Lalu and Mulayam), the Land Acquisition Bill that remains stalled and the service tax on railway freight. Rather than regard her as the last word on the anti-Left campaign, the AICC may have signalled that she is as obliged as her partner to keep the alliance alive. The Congress has no illusions that the municipal poll would be a means of creeping back to power as an equal partner. On the contrary, West Bengal has long been discarded as a priority state for the party. It has nothing to lose either at the Centre or in Bengal by contesting alone and concentrating on confirmed bases like Malda and Murshidabad. Given the final outcome, the door would still be open to re-negotiation both for post-poll arrangements in forming municipal boards and for the assembly elections. That is why the CPI-M has no reason to rejoice; it has only got a breather.

 

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


THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

UNZIP THE TRUTH

COPS AREN'T CANNON-FODDER 

 

NOTHING is really "shocking" any more. Admittedly it may be over-stretching speculation to link the just-revealed scandal pertaining to the purchase of bullet-proof jackets to the slaughter of 76 little-protected CRPF men in Dantewada, or the dubious quality of the body-armour used by the 26/11 heroes of Mumbai, but the skimpy official information released on the arrest of a home ministry official for favouring of one particular manufacturer (who was subsequently arrested too) raises more queries than it answers. Was the bribery only in exchange for technical information to facilitate a bid to supply 59,000 jackets for the central police forces, or was there also some fudging of standards? Has that particular producer supplied jackets and related equipment previously, did it meet prescribed specifications? Will any audit be conducted on the quality of body-armour already issued? And what has the home ministry done to arrange alternative procurement all these several months since the dirt in the deal was detected and the order put on hold? Very disturbing is the revelation that there is a shortage of  87,000 protective-jackets in the central police organisations alone, including what are projected as "crack" units. Conditions could probably be even worse in the state forces, which the home minister rightly insists must man the frontline in the battle against insurgencies of all kinds. Both an explanation and a remedy are imperative.


Whether even lengthy jail sentences will be adequate punishment for those whose misdeeds have put so many cops at risk is open to argument; that such cases take so long to process reduces the deterrent-value of the ultimate judicial action. Even as there is every reason to roundly condemn the corrupt official, his skullduggery cannot be seen in isolation from the reality that police forces are ever low on sarkari priority lists ~ be it equipment, training or personnel welfare. Not to enter into the realm of the "independence" of their functioning. The frustrations revealed in down-to-earth stories emerging from CRPF men in Dantewada will be amplified once the men get to know that a home ministry official lined his pockets giving a damn for their safety. Yet the tormenting tale does not end there, what about the supervisory role of senior officials and the minister who makes so much of leading from the front? Their "commitment" doesn't trickle down very far the jacket-scandal would suggest.

 

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

 


THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

NORIEGA EXTRADITED

THE CLOUD OVER INTERNATIONAL LAW 

 

America has banished the Panamanian dictator, Manuel Noriega, after a 20-year imprisonment in Florida. The Obama administration may be only too anxious to forget a legacy of George Bush, Sr. Yet there is an astonishing feature of  the 76-year-old former dictator's extradition to France to answer to the charges of money-laundering, in effect to face a fresh trial. There is no precedent in world history for a former Head of State, who has served 20 years in prison abroad, to be extradited to face similar charges in another country. Ergo, by inking the "surrender warrant", so-called, Hillary Rodham Clinton may have added a new sub-chapter to international law. This is not to overlook the trans-continental crimes and dictatorial past of the once-feared strongman of Central America, now a frail shadow of his former self. The extradition may well be shrouded in controversy even after the trial in France begins in June. A few questions survive: Has it been illegal, politically motivated and intended to avoid a potentially embarrassing return to Panama? For all three countries ~ the USA, Panama and France ~ the man and the charges are much too sensitive for the air to be cleared just yet. The irony couldn't have been more bitter for a man who had planned to live out his retirement in the three luxury apartments in Paris that he had bought in the 1980s, allegedly with money from the Medellin cocaine cartel in Colombia. 


Noriega was toppled in the US invasion of Panama in 1989. That exercise in international policing has itself been a subject of conjecture and condemnation. He had fallen out with the West and the USA as Panama was being used openly as a  trade centre for cocaine shipments. Twenty years later and in the context of international jurisprudence he may yet have a point when he asserts: "As a prisoner of war, I have a right to everything guaranteed by the Geneva convention, including the right to go home when my captivity is over."  That sensitive issue has not been addressed in the "surrender warrant" that the US Secretary of State signed. The stakes go beyond the charges against "Pineapple Face"; they involve the tenets of international law. As Noriega fights age and illness, America has closed one chapter; France opens another.

 

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


THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

LEARNING FROM AFAR

PITFALLS OF THE DISTANCE EDUCATION SYSTEM

RUDRASHIS DATTA

 

Distance education is an important medium for the spread of learning, especially higher education. The system was introduced in 1991 with the setting up of the Distance Education Council (DEC) under the auspices of the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). In a vast country like India, plagued by the gross mismatch between the number of higher educational institutions offering direct, face-to-face education and the population eligible to receive higher education, distance education institutions are a necessity.


Several open and distance learning institutions have been set up over the past decade. They offer degrees through correspondence. In a way, these institutions have taken higher education virtually to the doorsteps of the learners. However, the failure to adapt to the changing higher education scenario has exposed the distance education system to certain critical loopholes. Some of  the discrepancies are fairly obvious. 


Money spinners

THE indiscriminate and unequal expansion of distance learning institutions has failed to cater to a large section of the students in the far-flung  areas. Since most of these centres are located in cities or towns, the penetration of distance education in the rural areas has been poor. Also, many parent universities consider distance education as money spinners. In many cases, the high fees are a deterrent to enrolment.


To a large section of the educated urban population, this system of learning has become an easy method to add degrees to one's name. As such, the enrolment figures in any distance education course can be dangerously deceptive in gauging its spread among the population as a whole.


Most distance education learners are ignorant of the existence of the Distance Education Council and its statutory authority in recognising and maintaining the quality of the courses across the country. Very often they end up paying for a course not recognised by the DEC for the year of enrolment and passing out.
Many open universities function in a casual manner with regard to commencement and conclusion of courses. Very often, a two-year post-graduate course may stretch to over three years because of delayed examinations and publication of results, and other avoidable factors.


The syllabi and pattern of questions set in the examinations in many open universities are stereotyped and fairly predictable. The assignments are also based on questions which have not been revised for years together. This has resulted in a virtual "recycling" of answers to assignments from one year to the next, among learners of a particular course. In some cases readymade answers to oft-repeated assignment questions are available in the internet. This reduces the courses to merely a formality to get a certificate rather than a serious exercise in education in the proper sense of the term.


A perusal of the study materials of many post-graduate courses of open universities reveal that most of them are badly planned, and written in a hurried and perfunctory manner. The contents are sketchy at best and erroneous at worst. Errors in spelling and presentation of ideas are common.


Contact programmes, arranged to clarify doubts and queries of the learners, are largely infrequent, leaving the learners at the sole mercy of the sub-standard study material. Learners attending contact programmes generally have to sit in overcrowded classrooms with a couple of resource persons struggling with numerous queries from learners and failing to do justice to most of them because of the time constraint. The net result is learning by rote and an insufficient grasp over the subject. 

 

Shoddy evaluation

Since most distance learning institutes depend on the faculty of regular colleges and universities for evaluation and other academic and examination-related work, the students are often at the mercy of such faculty. The evaluation is shoddy and casual in many cases, the common complaint being that the grain is never separated from the chaff. Average marking appears to be the norm.


The scope of most of the open universities is limited. They cater to the population within a particular state or region.  There is no pan-India presence. The study material is written in only the regional language. This often stands in the way of  effective monitoring at the national level and greater enrolment of learners across the country.


The Distance Education Council lacks an effective public interface whereby complaints can be filed and addressed. In most cases, open and distance learning institutions are far from disciplined and standardised in any way, despite complaints from the students who suffer. One suspects the DEC lacks both the will and the resources to be proactive and take effective quality control measures. The absence of categorical directives from the DEC results in varied  admission norms, the nature and acceptability of courses, and the syllabi in distance learning institutions. This places the students at a serious disadvantage in the employment scenario vis-a-vis those under the regular education stream.


These problems have combined to pose a challenge to the efficacy and popularity of distance learning universities. The Distance Education Council should be more assertive and ensure quality before this system of learning gets devalued and relegated to the status of a degree-churning mechanism. The system needs to be taken seriously enough to make it widely acceptable. 

 

The writer is Assistant Professor of English, Raiganj BEd College in West Bengal

 

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


THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

INDIAN NAMED FOR PEACE-KEEPING JOB

 

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed Atul Khare of India as Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, according to a statement issued by his spokesman in New York. Mr Khare, a former Special Representative for Timor-Leste and head of the UN Integrated Mission there will replace Edmond Mulet of Guatemala, who was named as the Special Representative for Haiti for one year.
Mr Ban said Mr Khare served the UN with distinction in Timor-Leste from December 2006 to December 2009, the statement said. He had worked in the country as the Chief of Staff and later as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General with the UN Mission of Support in East Timor. He served in the Indian Foreign Service and worked in missions in France, Mauritius, Senegal, Thailand and UK and in the Permanent Mission of India to the UN.


Kuwait: The UN commission on the damage claims in connection with Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait has paid $590 million to nine successful claimants, a UN spokesman told reporters in New York. According to a press release, the total amount of compensation disbursed by the UN Compensation Commission to individuals, corporations, governments and international organisations is $29.5 billion. The bulk of funds for compensation payments have come from the sale of Iraqi petroleum under the Oil-for-Food programme, which ended in 2003 and later the arrangements made under the Security Council resolutions.


UNCC was established in 1991 as a subsidiary organ of the Security Council. It has received three million claims in six different categories: four categories are for individuals' claims, one for corporations and one for governments and international organisations, which also includes claims for environmental damage.
Foot-and-mouth: The Food and Agriculture Organisation issued a call to increase global surveillance after three incursions of foot-and-mouth disease in Japan and South Korea which were officially free of such outbreaks. The foot-and-mouth disease is a highly contagious disease of cloven-hoofed animals, including cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, which causes high fever and characteristic lesions in animals' mouths and feet. Humans are not affected, FAO indicated. It noted that in last nine years, incursions into officially FMD-free countries like Japan and South Korea have been extremely rare.


The estimated losses from the 2001 outbreak to agriculture, livestock trade and tourism were over $12 billion in the UK alone. The agency said that over six million sheep and cattle in the UK were slaughtered to prevent the disease from spreading.


Child medicines: WHO and Unicef released a new online guide on where to procure essential medicines formulated for children. "Improved availability and access to safe child-specific medicines is still far from reality for many children in poor countries", said Hans Hogerzeil, Director of Essential Medicines and Pharmaceutical Policies at WHO. He added that the "one-of-its-kind publication will be useful for organisations and personnel involved in procurement to identify where medicines may be found and what they cost".


Maoist commander: A UN political mission in Nepal called for an investigation and appropriate disciplinary action after a Maoist army platoon commander was discovered to be travelling on public transport with a hand grenade. "Holding and carrying arms in violation of the law is legally punishable and a breach of the Agreement on the Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies", the mission said in a statement issued by UN spokesman in New York.


The mission stated that under that an agreement, the Maoist army has committed itself to confining its combatants within cantonments and registering all its weapons and ammunition at the seven main cantonment sites under 24-hour UN monitoring except those weapons kept for perimeter security and leadership security purposes.


 The mission is responsible for monitoring the management of arms and armed personnel of both the Maoists and the Nepal Army, as well as in assisting in monitoring ceasefire arrangements.


The commander, Santosh Rai from Main Cantonment 2 in Sinduli, was discovered in possession the hand grenade while travelling on 27 April, the UN mission noted.


Tensions in Lebanon: The UN special envoy for the Implementation of Security Council resolution 1559, Terje Roed-Larsen, said that there is need to tackle unresolved issues such as the presence of armed militias related to the Lebanon sovereignty and stability, which is adding recent tensions in Lebanon and the region. "As long as these unresolved issues are there, there will always be tensions", he told reporters in New York after closed-door meeting of the Security Council.


The council has adopted resolution 1559 six years ago after concern over high tensions within Lebanon. It called for free and fair elections, an end to foreign interference and the disbanding of all militias. Mr. Roed-Larsen said that among the unresolved issues is the "heavily armed militias" operating inside and outside Lebanon, as he presented the Secretary-General's latest report on resolution 1559 to the Council.
Workplace hazards: The head of the international labour agency has issued a call to prevent the emerging risks in the workplace as he marked World Day for Safety and Health at Work. Juan Somavia, Director-General of the ILO said in a message that days lost, medical treatment required and cash benefits paid out due to workplace accidents or related injuries account for four per cent of global gross domestic product. He emphasised that this exceeds the total value of stimulus packages rolled out during the economic crisis.


"We are still dealing with the consequences of workplace hazards of the past", Mr Somavia noted with 2.3 million people die from work-related injuries or diseases every year. "At the same time we are confronted with new occupational safety and health challenges in a world of work undergoing rapid transformation". An ageing workforce, as well as rising numbers of female, migrant and informal workers, has implications for occupational safety and health strategies, he added.


Meanwhile, ILO released a new report which stated that the global downturn has shed light on the need for Cambodian garment factories to both expand and diversify their markets in Asia to reduce reliance on US and the EU.


Some 90 per cent of the 66 factory managers surveyed reported having been adversely affected by the economic crisis. It listed falling export orders, heightened pressure to reduce prices and the increased cost of inputs as the three main pressures they are facing, ILO reported. The report said the recession has exposed the need to look into boosting domestic demand for Cambodian garments.


The industry is entirely owned by foreigners and is export-oriented, and factories hire on an average 700 workers and specialise in one of the following areas: T-shirts, jeans, pants, sportswear, underwear and pyjamas, the agency noted.


Anjali Sharma

 

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


THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

SHORT AND LONG OF IT

SUDHA PALIT


Through my school years, way back in the 1940s, I was decorously clad in the prescribed school uniform, like all my contemporaries. Getting into college bestowed a bit of freedom on all of us ~ garbwise, that is. But no one raised an eyebrow, for even saris and blouses (they were not called "cholis" then) and salwar kameezes for those who wore them, were designed to form a decorous cover for the female anatomy. In fact, some of us looked pretty dowdy in these get-ups.


Over the years, the fashion scene changed. Sleeveless cholis came into vogue and slowly started creeping up from the waistline to the bustline. So much so, that the owners of some shops that sold dress material by the metre started complaining about losing money by having to sell just small strips of cloth for cholis. And just as the cholis started creeping up from the waistline, the saris started creeping down till they came below the navel.
With teenage girls stepping into college, with their developing busts and shapely hips, and wearing garments that showed these off to full advantage, eve-teasing cases began to increase. It was now time to instill some sense of sartorial decency into these fashion conscious teenagers. The first state to clamp down on this "shameless" trend was a state in east India where the college authorities forbade the wearing of salwar kameezes on the college campus. Saris had to be worn by the female students, as the sari was an age-old accepted female attire and was regarded as suitable for women of all ages. The cholis that were worn with these saris had to cover the midriff and part of the arms.


But the salwar kameez was such a convenient garment (much more so than the cumbersome sari) that gradually the dress code was relaxed to allow those who were used to salwar kameezes to wear these. An adjoining state went a step further by deciding that there should be a "uniform" for college-going girls. Whether it was a sari or a salwar kameez, it should be designed to a pattern (no doubt something "tent-like" and in a drab colour). By and by, this order too was relaxed.


But talking of dress codes, going back a few decades when the fervour for Indian independence from British rule was at its height, many Indian men and women took to wearing "khadi". If enough khadi material was not available the men wore kurtas and pyjamas tailored from machine-made cloth, and the women wore drab saris, either khadi or mill-made. For patriotic Indians the Western look was completely out. But for one class of people of North Indian descent who usually worked as truck drivers, the halfpant (or shorts) had become a convenient attire for their kind of lifestyle, and they continued to wear these irrespective of the changing times.
One day, my husband and a friend of his, both teenage college students on the eve of independence, were walking down a Kolkata street, dressed in trousers and shirts, when they were accosted by one of these truck drivers who told them that they should be ashamed of wearing a Western outfit when so many Indians were dying for the cause of freedom. When the two youngsters pointed out that he too was wearing a Western attire, namely a half-pant, he brushed off their objection by saying, "Happant allowed ji, happant allowed".
He gave no reason why he should be exempted from the dress code that applied to the rest of his countrymen. Nor did he seem to realise that he had actually used an English word to emphasise his point.

 

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


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

THE TELEGRAPH

SURVIVAL INSTINCT

 

Self-preservation is a basic instinct as much for a political party as for any species. It is natural for the Congress, therefore, to want to survive even in Bengal where it has long been an endangered party. If the party's attempts at self-preservation in Bengal had not been very successful all these years, it had much to do with the party's history, especially the relationship between the state unit and the Congress high command. Since pre-Independence days, the Congress's Central leadership has treated the party's unit in Bengal with little sympathy and often utter disdain. Although Bidhan Chandra Roy enjoyed the Central leaders' respect, it did not alter their attitude to the state party leaders in general. The only other Bengal Congress leader who enjoyed the Central leaders' trust for a brief spell was Siddhartha Shankar Ray. The state unit leaders, as a rule, had little choice but to succumb to the diktat of the high command. The Bengal leaders' war of attrition with the bosses in New Delhi over the Calcutta civic polls is thus quite a departure from party history. That the high command finally saw the logic in the Bengal party's argument is a positive trend that was long overdue.

 

That logic is simple and irrefutable. For any political party, the primary aim in any election has to be an improvement of its present position. If a party happens to be as weak and dispirited as the Congress in Bengal, the importance of this aim should get precedence over any other objective. If the strengthening of the Congress's position comes with the weakening of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), that is a collateral advantage. An alliance with another party is meaningful only if it helps the Congress survive and improve its position. The problem for the Congress-Trinamul Congress alliance seems to be that the two parties have conflicting aims. While the Congress's primary aim in Bengal is to survive and possibly get strong, the TMC is focused on not just defeating the CPI(M) but also on taking over the entire anti-Left political space in the state. But the TMC's efforts at self-improvement militate against the Congress's aim of self-preservation. Mamata Banerjee's threat to reduce the Congress in Bengal to a "signboard" is a wake-up call for the party. Even if the Congress does not do well in these polls, it can rebuild itself in Bengal on the state unit's new will to fight and be fit to survive.

 

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

 

THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

BACK TO BASICS

 

The decision of Mahindra and Mahindra to disband its football team will dismay its supporters, and please competitors. The men who made the team will not fade away. They will find new teams, and have a chance to shine there. But this is the end of M&M's ambitions in football, at least for now. Or perhaps it is their fulfilment: M&M decided perhaps that the team has done as well as it could — it has been champion 15 times since its creation in 1971 — and cannot go any further. These are tough times for engineering firms. Sport is not a part of M&M's business. It was somewhere between a promoters' hobby and a socially responsible activity. Either way, it is bound to have low priority, and to be amongst the first activities to be pruned when the times require it. That is how many businesses must be thinking; if they are, the question arises whether business is the best sponsor for sport. Industries will have their ups and downs. Within industries, firms will do better or worse. Amongst their promoters, fathers will hand over to sons, and preferences will change. So business is a fair-weather friend for sports. Some will say that fair-weather friends are better than no friends. Certainly, football has gone further after companies began to sponsor it; sponsorship has not been bad for it.

 

But it has not been good enough. After 40 years of corporate interest, Indian football languishes at the global bottom. Indian teams cannot compare even to the middling teams of Europe. The question is, what is the best way of improving their game? M&M came up with the answer: by the time Indians turn to professional football, they are too old to improve. If they are to become world-class players, they must get into the game much earlier — in their teens. This is what M&M now aims to do. It will still face the problem of how to keep the best infant kickers interested in football when they grow up. For unless football offers them a good career, Indians will continue to prefer software and hospitality. The answer to this problem also lies with companies; traditionally, they have employed sportsmen for the sport. This has been more common with public enterprises; it is to be hoped that private companies like M&M will go more for sponsorship — not of teams, but of good sportsmen.

 

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


THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

THE PROPHET OF DOOM

MAULANA ABUL KALAM AZAD SAW THE FUTURE WITH BRUTAL CLARITY

WRITING ON THE WALL - ASHOK V. DESAI

 

In April 1946, the Cabinet Mission was holding consultations with Indian leaders about the possible shape of independence. Jinnah was insistent on Partition; Gandhi wanted to pay any price to prevent Partition, but the other Congress leaders, who would have to run the government, balked at the price Jinnah was asking for staying within India. At that time, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad gave an interview to an Urdu magazine of (then Indian) Lahore, Chattan. It was soon overtaken by events and forgotten. But it is remarkable for its prescience.

 

When asked whether he did not think Pakistan had become inevitable, Azad replied that the creation of Pakistan would solve no problem. The cherished goal of a Muslim was to spread Islam; if Muslims had from the outset divided the world between Muslim and non-Muslim territories, Islam would never have spread. If Muslim politicians had not used offensive language, if they had not collaborated with the British to widen the breach between Hindus and Muslims, the number of Muslims would have grown more. "Under British influence, we turned Islam into a confined system, and following in the footsteps of other communities like Jews, Parsis and Hindus we transformed ourselves into a hereditary community. The Indian Muslims have frozen Islam and its message and divided themselves into many sects. Some sects were clearly born at the instance of colonial power. Consequently, these sects became devoid of all movement and dynamism and lost faith in Islamic values." Ulema (the priesthood) would play a bigger role in Pakistan, but Islam would lose its sheen.

 

When the interviewer pointed out that the Ulema were with Jinnah, Azad said that those who invented a new religion for Akbar were also Ulema. The number of Ulema who find an honourable mention in history could be counted on the fingers of one hand — Imam Hanbal, Ibn Taimiyya, and, in India, Shah Waliullah and his family. Alf Sani was a brave Alim, but those who got him imprisoned were also Ulema.

 

The interviewer asked what was wrong if Pakistan came into being; after all, it would protect the unity of Muslims. Azad said that all Hindus would have to leave Pakistan. All Muslims could not be accommodated in Pakistan; some 30 million would have to stay back in India. They would face three choices: they might migrate to Pakistan, they would become victims of riots until the generation that had to experience Partition passed away, or they would convert to Hinduism. Pakistan would be controlled by outside powers; India would have no problem with that because it would keep Pak hostility in check. East Pakistan would secede once Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan passed away; that would leave West Pakistan open to regional conflicts and balkanization. Muslim businessmen wanted Pakistan because they feared competition.

 

The interviewer said that in Pakistan, Muslims would be able to keep their communal identity intact and be good Muslim citizens. Azad said that they had been able to do so under British rule: why should they fear they would not be able to do so in a democratic India in which they would have a voice? India's border states (Bengal, Punjab, Sind, the North-Western Frontier Province, Baluchistan) had Muslim majorities and shared borders with Muslim countries; there was no way Muslims could be eliminated. Jinnah himself was an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. Till 1937 he had opposed Partition. Then the Congress formed governments in seven states and excluded the Muslim League. In 1940, Jinnah adopted the demand for Pakistan in an effort to check Muslim political decline.

 

The interviewer asked why Muslims had become so impervious to reason. Azad said that the Muslims' was the misplaced enthusiasm of a mob; when people lose confidence and self-respect, they are engulfed by imaginary doubts and dangers and they fail to make a distinction between right and wrong. The true meaning of life is realized, not through numerical strength, but through firm faith and righteous action. If Muslims' lives are in danger, Partition would not remove the danger; it would haunt their borders, and expose them to armed conflict in which many more lives would be lost.

 

The interviewer said that Hindus and Muslims were two different nations with different inclinations; how could they ever be united? Azad said that freedom was a blessing, a right of every citizen; it could not be divided on the basis of religion. Muslims were divided amongst many well-entrenched sects. There were Wahhabis, Sunnis and Shias, and many more sects owing allegiance to various saints and divines. For them, allegiance to Islam meant allegiance to their own sect. Even small issues like raising the hand while praying and saying 'Amen' loudly had created insoluble disputes. The Ulema dealt with disputes by using taqfeer (branding people as infidels). Once they used to take Islam to disbelievers; now they took away Islam from believers. Muslims had come to prefer politics to religion and to pursue worldly ambitions as commands of religion.

 

Finally, the interviewer asked Azad why he had closed down his magazine, Al-Hilal — whether he had felt as if he was proclaiming azan (call to prayer) in a barren desert. Azad said that on the contrary, editing Al-Hilal had enriched his life; he felt like one of Prophet Mohammed's companions. "My own voice entranced me and I burnt out like a phoenix." But he came to the conclusion that the freedom of Asia and Africa depended on the freedom of India, and that Hindu-Muslim unity was the key to India's freedom. Even before World War I he realized that India was bound to get its freedom and that no power on earth could deny it. "I ardently wished that Muslims would learn to walk together with their countrymen and not give an opportunity to history to say that when Indians were fighting for their independence, Muslims were looking on as spectators. Let nobody say that instead of fighting the waves they were standing on the banks and showing mirth on the drowning of boats carrying the freedom fighters."

 

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad failed in his endeavour to make Muslims a part of independent India's mainstream. Jinnah walked away with Pakistan. But its later history followed Azad's predictions with brutal accuracy. He was right about India too, except in one respect: he did not anticipate that Muslims would become a poor, backward community in India. The Muslims that stayed back were poorer than those who migrated; but that is not the only reason why they have fallen behind. There is also informal discrimination. True, India gives a Sania Mirza or Azim Premji the chance to rise and shine. But it also is home to much Hindutwit prejudice. A united India would not have removed the prejudice. But discrimination would perhaps have worked differently; it would have led to ghettos. The Congress is quite at home with the discrimination. It has never thought of banning it; its answer has always been State-ordained discrimination in the form of reservations. After 60 years of Independence, they are now spreading to Muslims. I would like to think that we were lucky to get rid of Pakistan; but I am no longer sure.

 

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


THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

CHANGE IS IN THE AIR

MALVIKA SINGH

 

The hulla gulla, which has become the sole business of the Indian Parliament, has begun to pall and suffocate Indians across the country. The careless and futile waste of many working hours has discredited the political class to such an extent that unexpected 'surprises' are likely in the next general elections. The 'surprises' will shatter all those meticulously crafted and closed-door academic surveys that have been getting hugely disconnected from the mobile changes happening under the surface. The endless analyses, which liberally use caste and other such parameters in their superficial surveys, are missing the underlying changes happening in India and Bharat.

 

At this point in contemporary history, a new and modern generation is genuinely disgusted with this breed of bombastic, uncaring, gas-bag-type politicians, who are vocal about irrelevancies, defend limited personal agendas and are completely inept when it comes to finding radical solutions to sensitive problems that are undermining growth and development. These men and women, carrying unacceptable political baggage and equally untenable formulas for change, need to step back and reflect on the reality. The people of India have been victims of faulty, exclusive and opaque governance, and have experienced grand betrayals. But today, for the first time in decades, there is a real choice ahead of them. Another generation with another methodology, attempting a clean delivery system, will draw the voter regardless of class, caste and faith.

 

New promise

 

At the cost of losing the first round, the Congress needs to break away from its status-quo position and start anew. India is desperate for dignity and appropriate political operations in the public domain. Patterns of administration and governance have, over the last few decades, insulted the ordinary, law-abiding citizens and turned them into frustrated individuals. Indians living below the poverty line have been neglected and exploited by the State, and lured by militant politics as a last resort to have their voices and demands heard and addressed. Their numbers have snowballed, and the issue has become the single most critical and volatile reality that UPA II is confronted with.

 

Will this government take the bull by its horns or continue to look the other way, hoping that the problem will get buried in the sands of time? Being in perpetual denial, unable to be proactive and creative in the delivery of justice and transparent administration, government servants and politicians alike have mismanaged the 'system'. However, there comes a time in the life of every nation when an active, aspiring generation of young leaders refuses to be manipulated by a few at the 'top' of the vast 'pile'. This is that time.

 

There is a great deal of reorganizing and planning happening at the base. The work is being done silently and with determination. The 'new' leaders are not enticed by the false sparkle of upward social mobility. The phase of political leaders attempting to become 'socialites' is starting to wane. It is only the political 'lightweights' who are now being seen regularly in the glitzy party circus that has overtaken the once gracious and stylish Delhi.The fresh minds in active politics will lose some and gain some as they move towards consolidating the changing ethic. Older leaders will dissuade those at the helm from supporting the change, realizing that their days are numbered. The alphabet and language of politics are being re-established. The priorities are shifting. The new demands are infused with vitality and energy. The goals are straightforward and clear. Mechanisms of delivery have to evolve and that in itself will reorder India.

 

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


THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

A STRANGE JOURNEY ACROSS EUROPE IN A MINIVAN

 

Stranded in Italy after the eruption of a volcano in Iceland, Supriya Chaudhuri recounts the many ordeals and adventures she faced while trying to catch a flight back home

 

A fortnight ago, I was lecturing in Naples, at the L'Orientale university. In the shadow of the Vesuvius, with Pompeii only 15 miles away, an Icelandic volcano seemed very distant. The newspapers that morning carried stunning photographs of the eruption on Eyjafjallajökull, but the name — even if we could have pronounced it — did not come up in conversation. Instead, once the academic side of things was over, the talk naturally turned to the all-important Roma-Lazio game that Sunday. Inter had already beaten Juve, and my host Francesco Sferra, a noted Sanskrit scholar and Roma fan, finding me well up in the details of Serie A, took me along to the Bar Nilo for coffee. The famous Maradona shrine is no longer displayed on the wall outside, but is prominent at one end of the bar. It holds a lock of Maradona's hair, a fading newspaper cutting with a photograph of the greatest player ever to wear the sky-blue colours of Napoli and to lead them to their only two triumphs in Serie A, and a tiny glass vial containing the lacrime di Napoli, the tears of Naples after he left. As a good Bengali born in the Pele era who put her Brazil loyalty on hold during the Maradona years, I paid my formal respects at the shrine. This turned out to be a good thing. In the days that followed, I needed some intervention from the Hand of God.

 

My flight from Naples to Berlin was booked for next morning, and I was to return from there to India a few days later. I set off for the airport in the pre-dawn chill; when I arrived at Capodichino, I was told that easyJet's morning flight had been cancelled. They re-booked me for that evening, and I settled down to wait. As the day progressed, more flights were cancelled; it seemed as though most European airports were shutting down. A German couple stuck there from the previous night told me that no rail tickets were available. This seemed so incredible that by lunchtime, I had decided to ask for a refund on my easyJet ticket and try the trains. After an hour in the flight cancellations queue, I was told that I could only apply for a refund online, so I went off with my luggage to the railway station to try my luck. More queues. After two hours, I got to the counter and was told that there were no train tickets to northern Europe. I said I was prepared to travel to any point in northern Italy — Milan, Turin, Genoa — just so that I might cross the border into Austria. Surely there were some ordinary trains, regional trains that didn't require bookings? Nothing is available, madam, said the man at the counter.

 

I returned to the airport, since I still had a ticket for the evening flight. By the time I got there it was cancelled too. I stood in line to book the next available flight. This turned out to be three days later from Rome Ciampino. All European airports were closing for two days. But easyJet would book me into a hotel if I waited until the bus came. At 11 pm the bus brought us miles down the Bay of Naples to the Holiday Inn at Castel Volturno, an idyllic retreat where old-age pensioners play golf. By this time, I would have been happy to have been an old-age pensioner. Instead, I was part of a strictly segregated multinational and multilingual party called the 'easyJet Group', fed in a separate dining-room while exchanging volcano news and ways of escape by land or sea. The atmosphere of enforced idleness was strongly reminiscent of Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain. Mealtime plans were all of hiring a bus if 50 people could be found for a single destination like London or Paris. A walk by the sea confirmed that we were trapped — the nearest railway station was miles off, and there appeared to be no local buses.

 

My niece in Germany had downloaded some programme on her computer that showed her all air activity in Northern Europe. By that night she was urging me to fly to Austria, which was re-opening its airspace. Restrictions on German airspace were still in force, though Lufthansa and KLM had conducted a number of test flights to prove that there was nothing wrong with the air. Experts disputed risk indices and the nature of volcanic ash on late-night news bulletins. Dramatic maps showed the extent of the ash layer and its composition. Financial analysts computed the airlines' losses. The EU was meeting to decide whether airports could be opened or not, but some countries were opening them anyway. So I took the hotel shuttle to Naples airport early next morning and stood in a new queue with all the current cancellations for two hours, with no luck. There were no flights available to Austria, not even if I bought a new ticket. My Rome-Berlin flight the following morning was still on, though doubtful. My best bet was obviously to go to Rome.

 

Since I was booked to fly back to India from Berlin, the sensible thing was to cut my losses and ask Emirates to re-book me from Rome to Calcutta. As I sat on the train from Naples to Rome, I told myself many times that this was what I must do. Indeed I had fully intended to get off the train, find a hotel, and ring a friend. Instead I found myself magnetically drawn to the seemingly-endless line in front of the international rail booking counter. This was a more frenetic and lively queue than my earlier ones. We exchanged hold-up news and conferred on routes while touts buzzed around us like flies, offering taxis to northern European destinations at 2,600 euros, divided among six passengers. A particularly smooth operator called Toni gave me his phone number, saying that he was trying to get me companions to Munich. I told him there was no possibility of my paying 450 euros. He shrugged sympathetically.

 

Three and a half hours later, I had reached the counter. The girl said that the computer system was down, but she could work out a route for me that would involve my changing trains five times and paying 250 euros to leave Rome next morning and reach Munich late next night. I borrowed a phone and rang my niece. My easyJet flight next morning had been cancelled. I turned back to the booking counter. The computer system was still down. And down it remained, for the whole station and perhaps the whole of Italy, until that counter closed at 9 pm. There was a mini-riot outside. The carabinieri came in and looked important. There were emergency conferences. With an acquaintance from the queue, a young man in an orange T-shirt who was going to Munich, I went off to talk to the taxis directly. Since he spoke no Italian and little English, I negotiated. We went right round Roma Termini, but the lowest price we could get was 2,400 euros. I said that I would pay no more than 250, and returned to the crowd in front of the general rail counters. It appeared that the computer system was up again. The crowd moved very slowly. I continued to wait. Orange T-shirt appeared from time to time, shouting encouragement and advice to a friend of his called Karim ahead of me in the queue.

 

Just as I had reached the booking office, Orange T-shirt (his name was Amer) came to call me, indicating that he had found a taxi. Your price, he said triumphantly. I dragged my luggage out of the queue and followed him. Someone had fainted, an ambulance had arrived and he was being stretchered off. Outside, I found Amer's companions: young Karim, three men in business suits and two in full Arab dress. It transpired they were Egyptians bound for the Munich trade fair. None could speak Italian. Their bookings from Cairo had been diverted to Rome because of the volcano. With the exception of Amer and Karim, possibly translators, no one spoke much English. One spoke German. The agent started explaining the deal to me in Italian: one minivan, Rome to Munich, 2,000 euros, eight persons plus driver. Half as advance, half in Munich. I was to say it was our friend's van. I translated. It was 10.30 pm. We waited. No van. The agent made calls on his cellphone. The Egyptians plied me with orange juice and sweet cakes. Those in Arab dress settled down on the ground. I borrowed a cellphone and rang my niece to say I was coming.

 

The van arrived at midnight. We followed our agent to it with our luggage. The driver spoke only Italian. I sat next to him with Amer, discussing the autostrada route all night. The others dozed off at the back, Amer dozed off in front. The German-speaker had friends driving down to pick him up; I had to negotiate a meeting at Verona. At dawn we crossed the Dolomites near Brennero. The mountains were covered with snow. The sunrise was breathtakingly beautiful. The Egyptians had never been in Europe before. They kept asking me about the border and about checkposts. I explained that there were no checkposts in the new Europe. It did cross my mind — it must have crossed theirs — that a vanload of Middle Eastern men and one Indian woman travelling across Europe at night might look suspicious. But no one stopped us as we crossed into Austria and then into Germany. My Egyptian friends called my niece on their cellphone and insisted I talk to her. At 10 am we were at the Munich railway-station, where my enterprising niece had sent her fiancé to meet me. I thanked the driver, we paid up, and I explained to my companions that a baksheesh was in order. They smiled delightedly at my grasp of this Arabic word and we all paid up a little more. I said goodbye and went off to catch the train to Berlin.

 

The Hand of God? Clearly he struck down the railway booking system just as I was about to buy a ticket involving five changes on Italian railways, and he sent Amer to collect me just as I was trying to buy that ticket again. I don't think he was the van-driver.

 

The author is professor of English, Jadavpur University, Calcutta

 

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

 

 


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

EDITORIAL

HAUL UP HALAPPA

'THE MINISTER HAS TO FACE CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS.'

 

 

The shocking incident of Karnataka food and civil supplies minister Hartal Halappa's alleged sexual misconduct and his resignation soon after the incident came to light, exposes the low moral quotient of the Yeddyurappa government. That the alleged incident — which the victim has termed as rape — had been suppressed for over five months and the reports that the minister used his muscle power to threaten and silence the victim and her family for so long, makes it all the more reprehensible. Whether there was any political conspiracy behind the expose as alleged by the minister remains to be investigated, but the BJP leadership, which must have been in the know of such a grave charge, did not act until it came out in the open, remains equally culpable of moral chicanery and disdain for the rule of law.


Chief Minister Yeddyurappa did the right thing in asking Halappa to resign from the cabinet the moment the stink hit the ceiling, but his continued defence of the minister as a 'satwik' person, defies any logic. The victim and her husband, apparently close acquaintances of the minister, in their detailed complaint to the Director General of Police, have narrated how the minister abused their trust and after the incident, how he tried all the means to harass and keep their mouths shut. The veracity of their claims and how the alleged incident came to be videographed need a thorough investigation. But prima facie, Halappa's protestations of innocence lack credibility. There have been a couple of instances of ministers in the Devaraj Urs cabinet, notably Devendra Ghalappa and R D Kittur being forced to resign in the past for their alleged involvement in sex scandals, but the charges that Halappa faces are extremely grave.


The alacrity with which Halappa's resignation was sought, obtained and accepted had more to do with the BJP government being worried about its impact on the gram panchayat elections less than a week away, rather than its conviction that the minister's conduct was  unacceptable. Halappa's resignation from public office does not in any way absolve him of his alleged crime. If it is true, the government has no option but to initiate criminal action against him as per law. The recent supreme court observation that in such cases even the woman's oral submission should be sufficient to initiate prosecution should spur the government into action, irrespective of the 'status' of the perpetrator of the alleged crime.

 

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


DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

ON EXPECTED LINES

''INDIA SHOULD CONFRONT PAK WITH COURT FINDINGS.''

 

The conviction of Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist accused in the Mumbai terrorist attack case of Nov 2008, was not unexpected. It would have been a surprise if he had not been found guilty of the charges against him. It was an open-and-shut case in which there was no doubt about the identity of the perpetrator of the crime nor any paucity of evidence against him. It is not just the killing of 166 innocent people, some of whom died at his hands, that he and others in his murderous gang have been found guilty of. They waged war against the country and acted in full knowledge of the consequences of their action. The quantum of sentence is yet to be pronounced but there is no doubt that the maximum possible punishment will be demanded for him.


While the prosecution succeeded in proving the charges against Kasab, it suffered a serious setback when the court acquitted his alleged Indian accomplices Fahim Ansari and Sabauddin Shaikh of all charges. Their exoneration and the judge's comment that evidence against them might have been planted amount to a serious indictment of the Mumbai crime branch which investigated the case. The investigating agency has much to answer for this. Thousands of pages of evidence and hundreds of witnesses were examined before the court came to the conclusion that Kasab and other accused persons in Pakistan were guilty. Kasab himself had confessed his guilt though he shifted his position off and on, probably in response to the legal advice he received. He cannot complain that his case went by default, as legal defence, to which he was entitled, was available for him. The fairness of the judicial proceedings was clear to the nation and the international community.

The court's finding that 20 of the 35 accused, who are in Pakistan, are guilty of conspiracy and collusion with Kasab shifts attention to the trial going on in Pakistan of the Lashkar-e-Toiba leaders and members who were behind the attack. They include Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafeez Saeed against whom, according to the Pakistan government, there is no evidence. India should confront Pakistan with the Mumbai court's findings against these accused, and try to ensure that the trial which is languishing now leads to their conviction, as in the case of Kasab.

 

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


DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

NEED FOR SAFEGUARDS

BY B G VERGHESE


There is scope for abuse of the gadgets and the safeguards need to be inbuilt in procurement and operating procedures.

 

Contrary to breathless news reports, cut motions in parliament are not unique but commonplace though unsuccessful in bringing down governments. However, the Left Front-BJP 13 party cut motions on a budgeted increase in fuel prices, was lost by 88 votes, destroying the rosy calculations of an unprincipled opposition and leaving the Left and the BJP red-faced.


The idea of bringing the government down was not altogether absent. However, several factors weighed. Had the government fallen, there was no credible alternative. The UPA would have remained a caretaker pending fresh polls that would have been unpopular and probably seen an opportunistic opposition alliance fall apart and likely to lose further ground.


The RJD, SP and BSP too were not ready for a fresh poll and bought peace. In the result, the abstentions and crossovers were predictable and Shibu Soren's crude somersaults in keeping with his past. The Congress too made its deals. But when you win in politics, much is forgiven and forgotten.


Rising prices are worrying. But ignoring the global recession and severe drought and demanding more pro-poor expenditure without corresponding fiscal prudence and measures to restore growth was unconvincing. Meanwhile, the repeated blocking of the House on issues the government was willing to discuss, such as phone-tapping and the IPL controversy, was downright objectionable and undemocratic. In the result, many of the budget grants, as usual, had to be guillotined. An opposition that seeks accountability has become an enemy of accountability through such unparliamentary antics.


Reports of sleaze in the IPL are still unfolding. Tax and other investigations are in progress. But the way it was hyped, reduced to titillation and innuendo and grabbed the headlines was astonishing. IPL 'culture' is no longer cricket, whatever the branding. Notwithstanding its merits and appeal, it has become a manipulative combination of greed money, film stars, politicians, businessmen, the underworld, advertising, sales promotion, entertainment and, allegedly, match fixing and betting. The current inquiries into financial and other misdemeanours must be pursued and the process cleaned up and subject to transparent regulations.


Other matters of the moment, concerning security and corruption, intruded thick and fast. 'Outlook' magazine broke a story regarding 'phone-tapping' of Sharad Pawar, Digvijay Singh, Prakash Karat and Nitesh Kumar by the National Technical Research Organisation. This body was established after Kargil to strengthen the nation's defences against subversive and terrorist elements.


Political spying

The charge of political spying is exaggerated and any suggestion of deliberate abuse on government orders was strongly refuted by the home minister who  promised to make a statement in parliament after due inquiry. The opposition and sections of the media cried foul with some insisting on a Joint Parliamentary Committee to look into the matter. This was justifiably dismissed by the prime minister as excessive and the motion of privilege sought to be moved against him for making this 'policy' statement outside parliament another bit of theatre.

What the episode tells us is that there is scope for abuse or even innocent misuse in such gadgetry and that safeguards need to be inbuilt in procurement and operating procedures, now that these devices have been obtained by several police and intelligence agencies and perhaps by private parties.


Privacy is an (inferred) fundamental right and must be protected against an intrusive or vindictive state. Whistleblowers too must be legally protected. But perilous times, with unscrupulous state and non-state actors on the prowl, also call for stout defences against catastrophic mischief.


People cannot demand that the government do everything possible to prevent terror attacks, economic sabotage and other subversive acts and cry foul the moment something is done to prevent dire hazards. Intelligence must be accountable and appropriate checks and balances built into the system and reviewed from time to time. Hopefully, this is now being done.


With regard to the Madhuri Gupta spy case too, one should best await the result of investigations without jumping to extreme conclusions flavoured by party-political bias. Not everything should be treated in a partisan manner at the cost of national interest. What the enemy cannot do is often achieved by warring 'nationalists' out to prove their patriotism and discredit the other. This must stop. 

 

When it comes to corruption, the nation must band together to fight a growing menace pervading politics, commerce and institutional life. The sordid story of the Medical Council of India president, Dr Ketan Desai, found selling certification to sub-standard medical colleges for gratification is particularly disgraceful.


Likewise the appointment by the new Meghalaya chief minister, Mukul Sangma, of 17 legislators as parliamentary secretaries with the rank of ministers of state, in order to prevent this rabble turning against his ministry, is not merely absurd but open bribery.


The conduct of  the ministerial Reddy brothers, Karnataka's iron ore kings, and the Union telecom minister, D Raja, in defying the prime minister in setting questionable 2-G spectrum auction is shameful. Such actions should be promptly investigated and coalition partners told that there can be no connivance or coalition in crime.

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


DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

POPULAR RAGE ERUPTING IN EUROPE

IGNACIO RAMONET


With massive unemployment, looking for a job is no longer just a rough uncertain period.

 

With the motto 'Stop the misery,' the European Union (EU) has declared 2010 'The year for combating poverty and social exclusion.' In the 27 countries of the EU, there are some 85 million poor (a) One in six Europeans lives in poverty. (b) And the situation is getting worse as the effects of the global economic crisis spread.


Popular rage has erupted over the austerity plans in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, etc. Strikes and violent protests are multiplying. Many citizens are also rejecting the political system (abstaining from voting or casting white ballots) or joining extreme factions (the far right and xenophobes). Poverty and social desperation are reating a crisis in the democratic system itself.


In Spain, 20 per cent of the population live below the poverty line. There are particularly extreme cases, like that of the children of non-EU immigrants (more than half of whom live in poverty) and the homeless, who number 30,000 (about half a million in total EU). Hundreds die of cold each winter.


Exploitation

Who are today's poor? Peasant farmers exploited by major agro-firms, isolated pensioners, single mothers, youth with low paying jobs, couples with children living on a single salary, and of course the giant number of people who just lost their jobs in the crisis. Never have figures like these been seen in the EU: 23 million poor (5 million more than a year ago). The worst part is that the violence of unemployment effects most intensely those under 25. In Spain youth unemployment stands at a catastrophic 44.5 per cent, more than double the European average of 20 per cent.


If the social question has become such a pressing issue these days it is because it coincides with the crisis of the European welfare state. Since the 1970s, with the peak of economic globalisation, we moved from industrial capitalism to savage capitalism, the fundamental dynamic of which is desocialisation and the shredding of the social contract. This is why there is so little respect for the concepts of solidarity and social justice.
The greatest transformation took place in the organisation of labour. The professional status of salary workers has eroded. In an environment of massive unemployment, looking for a job is no longer just a rough uncertain period; it has become a permanent state. This is what French sociologist Robert Castel labels 'precariousness', a new condition now found throughout Europe.


In Portugal one out of every five salary workers has what is called a 'green receipt,' or freelance, contract: though one may have worked for years in the same office or plant with fixed hours, his employer is simply a client he invoices for his services and who can, without any penalty, break the contract from one day to the next.

Such degradation of the status of salary workers aggravates inequality by excluding an ever increasing number of people (youth above all) from the protections of the state welfare system, isolating, marginalising, and crippling them.


Abandoned to themselves, in the fierce competition of all against all, individuals live in a sort of jungle, which is disturbing to many unions, once powerful and now tempted to collaborate with the employers.

Economic efficiency has become the central focus of businesses, which shift their obligations of solidarity to the state. The state, in turn, shifts its obligations to non-governmental organisations or private humanitarian organisations. In this way the economic sphere and the social sphere are drifting further and permanently apart. And the contrast between the two grows more and more scandalous.


From the beginning of the crisis in the fall of 2008, central banks made massive loans at minimum interest rates to private banks, which lent this cheap money at higher interest rates to families, businesses, and even their own governments. This is how they made their billions. Now sovereign debt is reaching shocking levels in numerous countries whose governments have had to impose drastic austerity plans on their citizens to be able to meet the needs of the financial actors — which caused the crisis in the first place.


The rich get richer while the number of the unemployed and in-danger rises, their purchasing power shrinks, work conditions worsen, and physical and symbolic violence spreads through a society that is falling apart as social relations grow increasingly brutal. How far will social disgust and anger grow? The International Monetary Fund warned on March 17 that if the financial system isn't reformed, "there will be social uprisings."
IPS

.

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


DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE CRUEL TWIST

GAYATHRI NIRANJAN


I wish he could come back, just this once and go happily, like so many others do.

 

Lajpatnagar, New Delhi was what I googled for. A flood of memories came rushing in on my mind. He was the most loving father one could ever have had. At least, that's what I thought then, as a girl of about 13 or 14. A slight fever and he was there by my side, checking my pulse every evening. It made me feel better almost immediately. Much later, even as a college going girl of 20, he held my hand as we crossed the busy streets of Mysore. Nothing could touch me when he was around.


He retired as station director of All India Radio and was well revered by his superiors and colleagues, as a man of great intellect, sincerity and devotion to his career. Some well known names in the field of literature were his friends and we were witness to some really animated and marathon sessions of literary discussions in our humble middle-class home in Mysore. Having a transferable job, he took us around to many places like Goa, Bombay, etc while we studied at a new school every two years. He was my idol as I grew up. Life was good and full of promise.


Time passed and he retired from service. It took us to the city of Bangalore and his life got reduced to routine walks in the evening and some reading of his favourite authors. Money matters bothered him and our marriages were working on his mind. It made him irritable. And the downslide began.


Inexplicably, he began making hurting comments and acts of violence against the woman he was married to for so many years and who knew nothing else, but serving him unconditionally, all her life. I got married and got busy with my bank job and a lovely, active son who demanded my time. I didn't notice the change. It was all very subtle and passive.


Then the final blow was when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. The torturing of the innocent woman, who bore everything without a murmur, perturbed me. Unkind words, coming from a man who showed such love while growing up, were hard to believe. The pain and the relief I saw in his eyes, the day we tracked him down at a stranger's house, when he lost his way back home, is something I will never forget.


What was it that bothered him those last few months? I will never know. But I wish he could come back, just this once and go happily, like so many others do and give me my answer, though I know not all of life's questions have answers. Just this once, Anna, please.

 

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


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

THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

PEACE PRODUCTS

BY HASAN ABU-LIBDEH

 

The Palestinian campaign against settlement products represents a practical commitment to peace, writes the PA minister of national economy.

 

The issue of settlements and their illegality under international law should dominate debate surrounding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and a return to negotiations. Israel's refusal to adhere to international law or its previous commitments, particularly its obligation to freeze all settlement construction as stipulated under the 2003 road map, has led to a low point in relations with Washington. Israel's policy of building settlements on occupied Palestinian land undermines prospects for peace, and continues at the expense of all Palestinians. That is why the Palestinian government, private sector, civil society groups and organizations are taking practical action to oppose illegal settlements.


Recently, the Palestinian Authority launched a "call to action" campaign focused on raising public awareness of the political and economic implications of settlement businesses and their products, in particular how they help sustain the illegal settlements. The campaign also aims at helping Palestinian consumers know their rights, and distinguish between illegal settlement products and legal Israeli products imported under the existing Paris Economic Protocols. Consumers today are being given the tools to make conscientious decisions to replace settlement products in their homes with other products, while giving priority to Palestinian ones in support of economic nation-building.


The PA is serious about building for a future state living side by side with Israel. By definition, this includes building a viable economy, free from economic dependence on Israel – a dependency Israel has actively cultivated and exploited for the past four decades.


ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS produce a wide range of products that reach a large number of countries. Their first stop is the captive Palestinian market under occupation. Israel literally floods this market with its goods, including settlement products, while maintaining policies that hinder Palestine's productive capacity and economic growth, including severe restrictions on freedom of movement for people and goods.

The impact of settlement products on the economic viability of a Palestinian state extends further than the share they represent of the Palestinian market. Settlements are built on stolen land – land Palestinians are subsequently prevented from developing for residential, industrial or commercial use. Settlements benefit from the exploitation of our natural resources, particularly water, while Israel continues to deny us access to those resources. How is the PA to build the foundations of a decent economy given the status quo?


Palestinians have the most to lose if a just and lasting peace remains elusive, just as they are paying the real price for Israel's intransigence. That is why we are taking it upon ourselves to assert our rights, especially when others fail to protect them. It is this that fuels the campaign against settlement products.


OURS IS not a campaign against Israel, nor does it target products made in Israel. To portray it as such is not only wrong, it obscures the real issues, namely the illegality of settlement activity, its impact on Palestinians and the enormous threat it poses to the viability of a two-state solution. This initiative should reassure all who are serious about saving the two-state solution. The PA is still committed to all previous agreements, including the Paris Protocol. And Palestinians are committed to the political process proposed by the international community. Peace with settlements and settlement products is an obvious illusion.


The status quo undermines current attempts to restore credibility to the peace process as well as hope among those who believe in peace founded on justice. Time is a luxury we can no longer afford, while today's international consensus on the two-state solution is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.


Israel's commitment and seriousness about peace hangs in the balance.


The writer is the Palestinian Authority Minister of National Economy

 

 

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


THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

OUR WORLD: CONVENIENT MORAL BLINDNESS

BY CAROLINE GLICK

 

The fact of the matter is that defending Israel against its enemies – on campuses, in the media – isn't a freedom of speech issue.

 

 

 

Moral blindness in the face of evil is depravity. But in the upside-down moral universe of our world, moral blindness has become a badge of honor. If you refuse to call evil by its name, then you are a moderate. And if you stand up to evil, you are an extremist.



The embrace of moral blindness as an emblem of sophistication is nowhere more apparent than among American Jews. Take recent events on US college campuses. This week the Washington Times reported that a large and vocal group of Brandeis University students are organizing to protest the university's decision to invite Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to give this year's commencement address.


In a Facebook initiative led by a student named Jonathan Sussman, several hundred students have joined the demand to disinvite Oren. Sussman claims that by inviting him, Brandeis is siding with "a rogue state apologist, a defender of (among other things) the war crimes and human rights abuses of the war on Gaza."


Sussman gained notoriety earlier this year when he sought to organize students to disrupt former UN ambassador Dore Gold in a debate the university hosted between him and Richard Goldstone. Sussman, a self-proclaimed communist, is a member of the anti-American Students for Democratic Society.


For their part, pro-Israel students have defended the administration's decision to invite Oren on technical grounds. In a dedicated Facebook page, Brandeis student Nathan Mizrachi wrote that protesting Oren is a "waste of time."


While allowing that Oren is controversial, Mizrachi argued against protesting his speech by claiming, "anyone who is consistently contributing to our worldview in a dignified, widely respected manner – instead of idiots like Michael Moore or Fox News – is someone who merits our attention."


Mizrachi couldn't bring himself to argue that Brandeis was right to invite Oren. He couldn't be bothered to note that everything Sussman wrote is a lie. The most ringing endorsement of Oren's appearance that Mizrachi could muster in response to Sussman's latest attack was to say that it was a waste of time to protest his appearance and that it "would truly be a disgrace to our university" if protesters were to shout Oren down at commencement.

No offense to Mizrachi, but his Facebook counteroffensive is not exactly what most people would call a particularly heroic defense of Oren, Brandeis or Israel.


UNFORTUNATELY, THIS is more often than not what passes as a pro-Israel message in the US Jewish circles these days. Following the example communicated by the US Jewish leadership, supporters of Israel often act as if shouting down Israel advocates is wrong only because doing so is an assault on freedom of speech. It isn't that Israel is in the right and the Palestinians are in the wrong. It isn't that Israel is a just and moral society. It isn't that the IDF fights justly and morally and only in self-defense. It isn't that the Palestinians have taken all the lands Israel has given them and transformed them into terrorist enclaves or that they democratically elected Hamas – a genocidal terrorist organization – to lead them. It isn't that there is not now and never was a Palestinian leadership willing to accept Israel's right to exist.


It's just that it isn't right to silence Israel advocates. It's against the First Amendment. Zionists have a right to express themselves too. But then, not all Zionists. And not too many of them.


Take The Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh for example. Abu Toameh was scheduled to speak at Tufts University last month. His talk, sponsored by Honest Reporting and CAMERA, was supposed to be held under the auspices of Tufts Friends of Israel. At the last minute, Friends of Israel cancelled his lecture.


Abu Toameh was informed that the pro-Israel student group cancelled his talk as a preemptive move to avoid criticism from campus Arab groups. Tufts Hillel director Rabbi Jeffrey Summit later wrote him claiming that the talk was cancelled due to an overabundance of pro-Israel speakers on campus.


The situation at Tufts and Brandeis, where pro-Israel students can't figure out why Israel should be defended and don't want to overload themselves with too many speakers defending Israel is downright wonderful in comparison to the situation at Berkeley. There Jewish students and faculty were galvanizing forces behind the divestment from Israel drive that passed overwhelmingly in the Berkeley student senate in March.


The divestment initiative, which called on the university administration to divest from General Electric and United Technologies for their joint projects with the IDF, was vetoed by the senate president. His veto was narrowly sustained in a later vote last week. In the meantime, the divestment drive has expanded to the University of California at San Diego.


In an article published last month on the American Thinker Web site, UC Santa Cruz and UCLA professors Tammi Rossman-Benjamin and Leila Beckwith wrote that the divestment campaigns and the overwhelmingly anti-Israel atmosphere on campuses has made life extremely difficult and often frightening for Jewish students.

AND YET, there has been no divestment of major Jewish donors from these institutions. There has been no demand that Hillel replace ineffective or anti-Israel administrators. There has been no demand that campuses fire professors like Berkeley Hebrew Prof. Ruth Adler or Talmud Prof. Daniel Boyarin, who force their students to undergo anti-Zionist indoctrination in their classrooms.


Again and again, the official Jewish community's and pro-Israel students' response to anti-Israel campaigns and often violent onslaughts is to mumble out a protest against their infringement on the freedom of expression. For many US Jewish leaders and Jewish campus activists, the biggest problem with the red-green alliance of leftists and Muslims is that it denies pro-Israel students and speakers the right to express themselves.


The mendacity of the red-green alliance's claims against Israel, the bigotry of its increasingly open calls for Israel's destruction, its denial of the Jewish people's right to self-determination or even our right to define ourselves as a people all go unopposed.


This is not a sustainable line of defense. This is not even the beginning of a defense – of Israel or of the rights of American Jews. But this state of affairs does explain very well why according to recent polling data, half of American Jews under 35 would be okay with a world without Israel.


Some argue that what happens on the campuses is not important. What really matters is what happens in the grown-up world. Unfortunately, we see that the depraved moral blindness of the classroom has brought about a situation where political leaders cannot recognize the moral depravity of the international community. And sophisticated grown-ups – particularly American Jewish grown-ups – cannot or will not make their leaders pay a price for their depraved support for evil.


TAKE IRANIAN President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's decision to travel to New York this week to participate in the UN's Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference. It is clear that Ahmadinejad's purpose is to ensure that the conference is a circus. Ahmadinejad means to make certain that to the extent a distinction is made between Iran's nuclear weapons program and Israel's purported nuclear arsenal, the distinction will claim that whereas Israel's alleged nuclear arsenal needs to be destroyed, Iran's interest in nuclear weapons is a justified response to Israeli badness.


Apparently anticipating his move, according to The Wall Street Journal US President Barack Obama has been discussing Israel's alleged nuclear arsenal with Egypt. According to the newspaper's account, the US is discussing Egypt's demand that the Middle East become a nuclear-free zone. A senior US official claimed, "We've made a proposal to them [Egypt] that goes beyond what the US has been willing to do before." Some US Jewish groups have called for a protest of Ahmadinejad outside the UN building. Others have called on state delegations to stage a mass walkout during his speech.


But none have attacked the administration for agreeing to the false moral equivalence between Iran's nuclear program and Israel's nuclear program. None have condemned Obama for discussing Israel's purported nuclear program at a time when Iran, which has declared its intention to destroy Israel, is racing toward the nuclear finish line.


Then too, the American Jewish community is silent as Obama strong-arms Israel into indirect, administration-mediated talks with the Palestinians. It is silent even as it is widely reported that Obama has threatened Israel that if it builds homes for Jews in Jerusalem or refuses to accept a Palestinian state by next year, he will impose his own "peace plan."


The American Jewish community is all but mute as Obama does to Israel what Berkeley is doing to Israel.

The fact of the matter is that defending Israel against its enemies isn't a freedom of speech issue. It is an issue of right vs. wrong. Israel is the state of the Jewish people. It is a great ally of the US. Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem were legally allocated to the Jewish people by the League of Nations Mandate in 1922 and that allocation has never been cancelled or superseded. Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and neighborhoods in united Jerusalem are not illegal. The IDF did not commit war crimes in Gaza or anywhere else. Arabs are full citizens in Israel. When Israel fights, it fights to defend itself from aggression.


The aggression launched against Israel is conducted by societies and states that refuse to recognize its right to exist. It is launched by societies and states that ignore the laws of war, that refuse to respect even the most basic human rights of their own citizens, let alone of Israelis. The Palestinians have yet to find even one leader who is willing to accept Israel's right to exist or the Jewish people's right to self-determination in our land.


This is the truth. This is where the defense of Israel begins. And it is the absence of this truth and this defense from the lexicon of Jewish American students and community leaders in recent years that has brought about a situation where the only reason not to attack Israel is because it is "a waste of time."


It is the absence of this truth and this defense that has enabled a situation where the president of the United States can maintain the support of the American Jewish community while allowing others to equate Israel's alleged nuclear arsenal with Iran's nuclear program, and while treating Israel as if it were the root of all the pathologies of the Arab world.


And if the truth about Israel continues to be ignored by American Jews, not only will it be imperiled. The sustainability of their own community, which has embraced moral blindness in the name of moderation and sophistication, will be called into question

 

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


THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

NO HOLDS BARRED: RELIGION'S SUMMER OF DISCONTENT

BY SHMULEY BOTEACH

 

Humankind's most powerful impulse, to approach the divine, is being undermined by the lack of direction of today's great faiths.

 

 

 

Word on the street is that the bomb placed in Times Square, near the headquarters of Viacom, which owns Comedy Central, may have been in response to a South Park episode that portrayed the prophet Muhammad in a bear costume. If some fanatical Muslims believe people ought to die because of a couple of jokes on a TV show, then it's another nail in the coffin of the public's respect for religion.


Indeed, this is religion's summer of discontent. Humankind's most powerful impulse, to approach the divine, is being undermined by the lack of direction of today's great faiths. From ongoing murder in the name of Islam, which is the most serious of all modern religious sins, to priestly pedophilia, to the evangelical fixation on gay marriage, to Judaism's inability to purge materialism from its communities, mainstream religion is becoming increasingly irrelevant to modern men and women.


THE MAIN reason for the deterioration of modern faith is not its sins of commission, but its sins of omission. People can forgive scandal in religion so long as religion guides and inspires them. But secular people today see religion's main goal as self-perpetuation, as being more concerned with its institutions than with the pressing needs of its flock.


Last week I met with Pope Benedict in Rome, arranged by Gary Krupp of the Pave the Way Foundation. The meeting received significant media play because I pressed the pontiff to join in creating a global family-dinner night – something we have already begun with our "Turn Friday Night Into Family Night" initiative.


I presented the pope with a dual-time Phillip Stein watch, and told him it was set to the time zones of Rome and Jerusalem, signifying my desire to have him focus on Israel and the threat the Jewish people face from Iran, which openly seeks to wipe Israel off the map. And second, the dual clock face was symbolic of my request that he take the lead in our global campaign by calling on all the world's parents to give their children two uninterrupted hours every Friday night, invite two guests and discuss two important subjects with their children.

He nodded his assent and repeated twice, "We will work together."


When the papal meeting was over, we met with Cardinal Walter Casper, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. I continued speaking of the importance of an international family-dinner night. The cardinal, a close friend of Pope Benedict for more than 40 years, strongly endorsed the idea and related his memories of family dinners with his own parents.


I made the case to the cardinal that the pedophile priest scandal had significantly undermined the Church's standing as a champion of the family. Many influential American commentators are now skewering the Church for being an all-boys club, run by men who do not marry and who had, in the imagination of some, been prepared to sacrifice the welfare of children to protect the reputation of the Church. What better way to reverse this perception than to use the full power and reputation of the Church to address children's core needs, namely, receiving the love and attention of parents.Would this not be a new and positive narrative of the Catholic Church as a champion of family, giving productive and useful advice as to how to reinvigorate the parent-child bond?

THERE ARE two kinds of children: one who receives time and love from his/her parent as a gift, and the other who receives it, if at all, as something that must be earned. The former grows up steady and sturdy as a cedar, fortified by the ongoing validation given to him by doting parents. The other becomes a crowd-pleaser, riddled with insecurities, convinced that there is nothing especially worthy about him and that he needs to perform and produce to become special. I asked the cardinal to help us populate the world with the first kind of child.


Within the Vatican hierarchy, I encountered priests who were all too eager to discuss the current controversies facing the Church, and who understood the need to reemerge as a global champion of family. With the Church operating the world's largest network of schools, hospitals and orphanages, it is crucial that it also reach everyday mothers and fathers who are struggling to raise purposeful children.


For many people, religion offers ritual but no wisdom, dogma but no self-help. All the splendors of the Vatican will not save the Church from being merely a wonderful tourist destination if it doesn't help teach people to master life.


The irrelevance of modern religion is something being felt worldwide. Europeans especially have no time for it. Secular Israelis feel the same. Religion for them is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, forever concerned with meaningless minutiae while life's larger issues remain unaddressed.


In Israel, the strictly religious are viewed as parasites, living off the hard work of the secular people who built the state. Religion is the yeshiva which teaches apparently meaningless texts while  encouraging refusal to serve in the army.

 

BUT IF religion is destined for extinction, why are highly educated people turning in their tens of millions to the Dalai Lama? It remains a striking phenomenon that people who work on Wall Street or go to Harvard believe in a man who believes he is the reincarnation of earlier spiritual teachers. The reason: The Dalai Lama addresses modernity's greatest problem. We're sinking in a morass of materialism that is suffocating our spirit, and he shows us a way out.


The pope has the largest microphone, and with it the greatest opportunity to heal marriages which are floundering and children who are in pain over lovelessness and neglect. An international family-dinner night would be a huge step toward helping religion become vital again, and toward the Catholic Church being seen in its true light as a faith focused on protecting children and cherishing family.


The writer is founder of This World: The Values Network. On May 14 he will publish Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life

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


THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

BORDERLINE VIEWS: THE RIGHT TO VOTE ABROAD

BY DAVID NEWMAN

 

There are clearly cases where it should be allowed, but this should be the exception rather than the rule.

 

 

 

The British elections will take place on Thursday. I have the right to vote in the UK but will not be exercising that right. Not because I don't have a strong interest in the country of my birth, or because I don't visit often, but simply because it is not my home. I chose almost 30 years ago to live in Israel, and this is the country where I work, pay taxes, send my children to school, national service, army and university. Despite my affection for the UK, Britain is not where I should be trying to influence the composition of the next government.


The phrase "no taxation without representation" was coined by Reverend Jonathan Mayhew in a 1750 Boston sermon to depict the situation in which Britain controlled the American colonies but did not allow the local citizens to take part in elections. Not that the situation was much better at the time in Britain itself, where those eligible to vote were but a small minority of aristocrats and landowners.


Over time, the taxation principle, the growth of the working class and the eventual inclusion of women brought about the universal franchise – the right of every citizen over a certain age to participate in the vote – and this is practiced in all Western democracies.


But just as there should be no taxation without representation, there should also be no representation without taxation, especially for those who no longer reside in the country.


The situation is different for those who have spent their working life in one country and then emigrated to warmer climates or greener pastures after they retire. The same is true for many Diaspora Jews who have come to live here once they have reached pensionable age. They have spent their working life contributing to their country of residence and, in most cases, continue to receive a pension from that country.


There are also many residents of Israel who continue to manage companies in their countries of origin, or continue to pay taxes on their investments in foreign banks, or – as with many ex-Americans – continue to fill in their annual IRS forms and pay taxes as appropriate. In all of these cases, there is every reason why a person should be allowed to vote in more than one country – if that is their desire and if they feel their vote can actually influence the outcome of the election. But just because they were born in another country and then emigrated elsewhere before they made any meaningful contribution to that society does not justify the right to vote in more than one place.


THE GOVERNMENT is, once again, debating whether citizens living abroad should be allowed to vote in this country's elections. It has traditionally been right-wing politicians who have supported this move, given the fact that it is estimated that the majority of Israelis residing abroad would vote for right-wing parties – the irony being that Diaspora communities (not only from Israel) tend to adopt harder and more "patriotic" positions concerning the situation "back home," especially when there is a conflict involved.


While the taxation principle is an important one, there are additional factors at play. Many who choose to reside elsewhere have undertaken their military or alternative national service before emigrating. In some senses, this is the ultimate form of taxation paid to the state and, once undertaken, must never be disregarded. One would assume that they have no less right to vote than do immigrants who have only come here when they retired.
Given the 20-year tax-free status of new immigrants, most of them end up not having to pay tax, either in their country of origin or in their new country of residence. If they have the right to vote (and I am not suggesting they should be denied this right), then surely Israelis who have served in the army and now reside elsewhere should be allowed to, although it may be questionable as to just how long.


Unlike Israelis abroad, however, my ability to influence the result of the British election, even if I were to participate, is almost zero, given the "first past the post" electoral system with single member constituencies (electoral districts). Most of Britain's relatively small Jewish community reside within three or four constituencies in north and northwest London and Manchester – in none of them do they constitute a majority of the voters, while these few constituencies are no more than a fraction of the 650 up for the grabs throughout the country.

BY CONTRAST, Israelis living abroad can greatly influence the outcome of elections given the nonconstituency, proportional electoral system which is used here. If the majority of 100,000 potential voters living abroad were to vote for a specific party, this could be translated into between one and three seats, which in a tight race between two or three major parties could result in one of them gaining the seats necessary to become the largest party and enable it to form the new government.


There is also the problem of the manipulation of the Law of Return by many Diaspora Jews, who could opt to take up their automatic right to citizenship, but choose to reside outside the country. Imagine for a moment if 100,00 members of the Chabad movement, known for its extremist right-wing views on issues relating to the Israel-Palestine conflict, were to take up their citizenship rights as olim, immediately return to the US or elsewhere, but insist on voting in the elections. Thus people who have no intention of living in the country could seriously sway the election result.


Voting while living abroad is not a black-and-white issue. There are clearly cases where it should be allowed, but this should be the exception rather than the rule. The British will manage their election quite happily without my vote, or that of about 30,000 other ex-Brits who live here today (10 percent of the entire Anglo-Jewish community). Equally, we in Israel can quite happily manage our own elections without the votes of those who have chosen to live and work elsewhere.


One man/woman, one vote, one country is quite sufficient.


The writer is professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics.

 

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


THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

THOSE FEW GOOD MEN

STATISTICS SHOW THAT IN OUR WAR-WEARY COUNTRY, ONLY 100,000 SOLDIERS DO RESERVE DUTY FOR MORE THAN 10 DAYS A YEAR.

 

 

 

For the past decade or so, Reserve Duty Day, which coincides with Lag Ba'omer, has been marked as a salute to those relatively few good men who every year leave their jobs, their families and their civilian lives, for days and sometimes weeks, to help protect our nation. Lag Ba'omer may have been chosen because of its connection to the bravery of the Jewish soldiers who staged the Bar Kochba revolt against the Roman conquerors of Israel in the second century.


On Sunday, as part of Reserve Duty Day celebrations, Brig.-Gen. Shuki Ben-Anat, the IDF's chief reserve forces officer, presented some figures to the cabinet. These showed that in our war-weary country, only 100,000 soldiers do reserve duty for more than 10 days a year.


These are men under 40 (or under 45 if they are officers) who did not delay the draft indefinitely to devote themselves to the learning of Torah; who did not excuse themselves from service for real or fabricated mental or physical illnesses; who did not leave Israel to live abroad; who did not commit a crime. The vast majority serve in combat units or in units that provide support to combat forces. They represent just a fraction of the total male population under the age of 45, a truly elite group of citizens worthy of praise.


And yet, Ben-Anat told the ministers, instead of taking public pride in their contribution to the defense of the state, these men are sometimes forced to hide the fact of their service. When applying for jobs, many senior reserve officers, men who end up serving the longest stints in reserve duty, omit their military obligations from their CVs. They are concerned, for good reason, that they will not be hired by employers unwilling to suffer long absences from work.


Ben-Anat told of how one private business, chosen by the Defense Ministry for a special prize, was disqualified at the last minute after it emerged that the company had fired a worker for performing too much reserve duty.


For years, doomsayers have warned of the imminent breakdown of the IDF as a "people's army." In the new post-Zionist reality, they argue, individuals are more interested in their own personal advancement than in serving their country. It is no longer worthwhile, from the perspective of narrow self-interests, to risk one's life in a combat unit or to serve in the reserves.


TRUE, NON-SERVICE rates are on the rise. In 1980, 12.1% of the total draft did not serve. In 1990 that number rose to 16.6%, and hit 23.9% in 2002. In 2008, 72% of young men and 54% of young women enlisted in the IDF. And of those who ended up being drafted, about 18% received an early discharge.



However, a closer look at the numbers reveals that the rise in non-service is due primarily to the astounding growth in the haredi and Arab populations. If in 1980 haredim made up just a third of those who did not serve, today they make up nearly half of the 25% who do not serve.


Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv, the supposed bastion of post-Zionism, the draft rate for boys and girls out of high school is about 70% – about the same, if not higher, than the national average. And motivation to serve in combat units or become an officer has actually been on the rise.

Overall, the core group of draftees (not including the haredim) has not shrunk significantly over the past three decades. This is remarkable considering a variety of factors, in addition to all the talk about post-Zionism.


Among them: the fact that more army duty is being done in Judea and Samaria, where many Israelis have ideological difficulties; the negative impact from reports of the IDF command's incompetence during the Second Lebanon War and the fallout from the 2005 disengagement, which forced religious and right-wing soldiers to help dismantle Jewish settlements they supported.


That encouraging evidence of ongoing motivation, of the IDF's ongoing status at the heart of Israel, however, is dented by the reports of IDF reservists having to hide the fact of their service. Private businesses and other segments of society should support, not punish, these few good men. Providing wide social support is a key element of our people's army.

 

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


THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

FREE-MARKET JUDAISM

WHO IS A JEW? THERE'S MORE THAN ONE ANSWER.

Talkbacks (9)

 

 

 

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.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 


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

HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

HULDAI'S TRUTH

TEL AVIV MAYOR RON HULDAI TENDS TO SPEAK BLUNTLY, WITHOUT CONSIDERING THE PUBLIC DAMAGE HE MIGHT INCUR. BUT THIS TRAIT SOMETIMES INDICATES GENUINE CONCERN AND CARING.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai tends to speak bluntly, without considering the public damage he might incur. But this trait, which is accompanied by a blithe disregard for the rules of political correctness, sometimes indicates genuine concern and caring.

That is what happened on Sunday at the "Educational Core" conference at the Seminar Hakibbutzim Teachers College, Tel Aviv, where Huldai said that "the State of Israel is funding and nurturing entire communities of separationists and ignoramuses," and that "private education is financed by the public, but there is no supervision over its content."

He even urged the silent majority to rebel against this situation, in order "to restore Israeli democracy's right to intervene in and decide on issues that are vital to it, like education."

Huldai indeed minced no words. But the Shas leaders who hastened to respond were both mistaken and misleading when they said this constituted unbridled incitement. Huldai was expressing the anguish of that sizable public that pays the bulk of our taxes, yet whose children, who study in state schools, have in recent years received less education and fewer classroom hours.

Particularly outrageous was the response of Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni ‏(United Torah Judaism‏), who claimed that it is actually the ultra-Orthodox who fund the secular public. Gafni knows very well that not only does the Education Ministry fund ultra-Orthodox schools, but so do the social affairs and religious services ministries, as well as the local authorities within whose jurisdiction these schools are located. Nor can he deny that supervision over these schools ranges from lax to nonexistent.

The education minister did recently say that his ministry would curtail funding to private schools that are not officially recognized by the state. But most of the schools affected by this decision are non-Orthodox institutions; funding for the ultra-Orthodox schools continues to flow from all the usual sources. These schools do not teach the core curriculum, and every education minister who has tried to force them to do so has failed utterly.

Due to this abdication, graduates of this school system − like those of the Islamic Movement and certain schools in the Zionist ultra-Orthodox community − learn a separatist, alienated view of democracy, and they lack the necessary tools to integrate into society and the economy.

Huldai spoke the truth: Education is vital for democracy, and he justly fears for its welfare. Israel must stop this dangerous socioeconomic erosion immediately.

 

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


HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

FIVE COMMENTS ON THE SITUATION

ON EXECUTIVE SECRETARIES, THE SETTLEMENT FREEZE AND TERROR ATTACK DRILLS.

BY YOEL MARCUS

1. Apropos the unbearable ease with hich Shula Zaken was arrested at the airport after a 17-hour flight, while the main suspect, her ex-boss Ehud Olmert, is free as a bird − Channel 2 broadcast a report about executive secretaries on Saturday night. The viewer was shown veteran and novice secretaries, secretaries who fulfill key roles with various bosses, loyal secretaries like Perry Mason's Della Street, and bosses who spend more time with their secretaries than with their wives. There were also secretaries who enjoy their power more than an affair with their boss, though there is no shortage of those who like it the other way around.

During my work I have met some of the toughest secretaries working for various ministers. When Ariel Sharon was prime minister, his official secretary could be bypassed by means of his loyal party secretary. On the other hand, some rigid secretaries wouldn't pass you on to the boss without demanding, "What does this concern?" Very soon I found a way of defeating those arrogant secretaries. "Do you really want to know? Well, your boss and I have a mutual friend and she's now pregnant. I want to talk to him about who's going to pay." Very quickly I'd have the minister on the line.

2. Next month the Bar-Ilan speech will be a year old, and neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his cabinet have lifted a finger to carry out the promise of two states for two peoples. Meanwhile, the Palestinian leaders are threatening to declare an independent state within temporary borders. Not a bad idea. Israel, too, is an independent state within temporary borders.


On September 26, the 10-month construction freeze that Bibi said would "not last one day longer" is coming to an end. But in secret talks it has been agreed that Israel will appear to resume construction in Jerusalem, but not actually do it. Complicated? Not really. This is why they chose "proximity talks." To agree not to do what they are doing, and vice versa. The conclusion is, the faster they start direct negotiations, the better the chances of success. Talks about talks are bound to fail.

3. I was one of the tens of thousands stuck two weeks ago in a three-hour traffic jam in the heart of Tel Aviv. During the clog we learned it was a police drill simulating a situation in which a bunch of terrorists takes over a shopping mall or two. My summary of the story is that if a pre-arranged drill caused such a brouhaha, a real event would be disastrous. Ambulances would not be able to pass and the police themselves would be stuck. It reminds me of the joke about the Polish police − while reenacting the murder of a woman on the street, 10 Polish police officers were killed.

4. Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi's statement that "Israel's existence is not self-evident and we must keep protecting it from every enemy while maintaining a democratic society," explains why Defense Minister Ehud Barak hastened to announce the end of the chief of staff's term. The popular Ashkenazi, who is worshipped by his soldiers, is hinting that he is heading for politics.

5. When Charles de Gaulle was elected to his last term as French president, some observers asked whether at his advanced age there wasn't a risk his mind might betray him. De Gaulle, as was his custom, addressed "his people" in a television broadcast, promising they had nothing to worry about as far as his age was concerned. As soon as he felt that his mind was betraying him he would resign, he said. The satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine immediately provided doctors' opinions to the effect that if the president became demented he would not know what was happening and would not remember his promise to resign.

Why was I reminded of this? Not because our president is acting like the head of state, interfering in politics, warning us not to underestimate the Iranians and warning Iran not to underestimate our capability and the like. It's because he crossed the line when for an entire day he turned the President's Residence into a stage for comedian Eil Yatzpan's show, which was broadcast on television.

Yatzpan embarrassed the president's guests − who included the Swiss ambassador and the governor of the Bank of Israel − by talking gibberish to them. Yatzpan, who was made up to look like Shimon Peres, talked to the real Peres, and made a mockery of the Israel Defense Forces parade and our defense officials. In the old days, when he was called "Shimon publicity," Peres argued that there was no good publicity or bad publicity − only publicity. The elderly Peres has not yet kicked that habit.

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


HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

ASTONISHING IRRESPONSIBILITY

IF ISRAEL HAD A SERIOUS FINANCE MINISTER AND A COURAGEOUS PRIME MINISTER, THEY WOULD CONVENE THE CABINET THIS VERY DAY AND PRESENT A NEW ECONOMIC PLAN IN LIGHT OF THE UNFOLDING GREEK TRAGEDY.

BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

If Israel had a serious finance minister and a courageous prime minister, they would convene the cabinet this very day and present a new economic plan in light of the unfolding Greek tragedy.

Yes, our situation is better than Greece's and our budget deficit is smaller, but that doesn't mean we're out of the woods yet, that trouble might not be brewing on the horizon. There are many dangers ahead, some of which even Greece hasn't known.

The story in Greece began years ago, as reckless governments drafted irresponsible budgets characterized by a remarkable aptitude for increasing spending. Each government strove to outdo its predecessor over who would grant workers bonuses equal to two months' pay, or who would let them retire at 55. Since tax collection was lower than it should have been, government deficits ballooned, the public sector swelled to monstrous proportions and the private sector buckled under the load.

Take, for example, Greece's current prime minister, George Papandreou, who won last year's national election on a populist platform, promising bigger budgets, higher salaries and more generous unemployment benefits − all during the most serious economic crisis the world has seen in 80 years.

As the global economy caved, Greece entered a recession and tax revenues dropped. The deficit rose to 14 percent of GDP, and the national debt soared to a frightening 120 percent of GDP, or 300 million euros.

Then came the moment of truth, when no international creditor would lend Greece any more money, for fear that the country simply wouldn't be able to return it. Imagine a family whose income was NIS 10,000 a month, but behaved as if it were making NIS 12,000. At first the bank might lend it the difference, but as its debt kept growing, one day the banker would cut it off. The family would, of course, find itself in a financial crisis, have to cut spending, simplify its lifestyle and start living in reality rather than fantasy.

The scene is sadder still in Greece, because a country's economy functions differently than a household's budget. The moment spending is cut, the recession will deepen, tax revenues will drop further and the budget deficit will increase even more. More cuts will then be required, deepening the recession further in an increasingly vicious cycle.

Worse, given that it is part of the euro zone, Greece has no monetary policy tools at its disposal − it can neither reduce interest rates nor increase the money supply, both tools to spur the economy, because these are the realm of the European Central Bank.
The primary conclusion from Greece's experience is that we in Israel must not let ourselves fall victim to a similar catastrophe. Israel is vulnerable to all manner of regional crises − another intifada could paralyze the economy and reduce tax revenues, while war with Syria or Iran would demand that the security budget be significantly bolstered.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must take preventative steps and slice the public debt. They must convene the cabinet and explain to the ministers that the global situation has changed, that the danger of a domestic crisis has risen. They must explain that Israel's debt − 80 percent of GDP − is too large. Portugal, for example, has a debt of 85 percent and is in poor shape. They must make clear that government spending cannot rise by 2.6 percent next year as planned, and that an annual deficit of 3 to 4 percent of GDP is too much. The budget must grow by no more than 1 percent annually, and the deficit must be zero. All of this requires an entirely new economic plan.

Naturally, this will not be popular. Social-welfare organizations will cry foul, as will certain Knesset members. We will not be able to siphon off NIS 1 billion to Shas or raise public-sector salaries, and ministry budgets including that of the Defense Ministry will have to be decreased.

These cuts may hurt a little, but no more than an inoculation does. Even Steinitz and Netanyahu have to admit that it's better to experience a slight, passing sting than a life-threatening illness a la Greece.

                                                                                                                             

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


HAARETZ

EDITORIA

LET'S STOP PRETENDING

THE ADMINISTRATION IN WASHINGTON IS TRYING TO FORCE ON ISRAEL A PEACE SETTLEMENT WITH THE PALESTINIANS.

BY MOSHE ARENS

It is almost a year now that a certain ritual has marked the public discourse between Washington and Jerusalem. Israel gets a good slap in the face and a few days later someone in Washington announces that the U.S.-Israeli relationship is rock-solid. The Israeli prime minister is demeaned in Washington and a day later he declares that the U.S.-Israeli relationship is firm as ever.

Anybody who has been involved in fostering the U.S.-Israeli relationship over the years, so important to both countries, knows that things are not as they have been for the past 50 years. The relationship, which on occasion is being described in Washington as "unshakable and unbreakable," has for the past year been shaken up quite a bit. The administration in Washington is trying to force on Israel a peace settlement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a settlement that would involve Israel withdrawing to the 1949 armistice lines that were established after it repelled the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, which were attempting to destroy the newborn state.

They want to set the clock back, seemingly oblivious of the many wars and acts of terror that were launched against Israel in the years since then, the serious threats that are being directed against Israel at present, the dramatic changes that have taken place in the past 61 years, and the Jewish people's internationally recognized rights to their ancient homeland. This bitter medicine needs to be taken by the people of Israel, it is argued, because it serves the interests of the United States, and in addition, the administration in Washington believes that it is also good for Israel.

For many years the differences between the United States and Israel were discussed in intimate forums and not taken public, in the common realization that venting in public the inevitable differences even among the best of friends would only harm the interests of both countries and give comfort and encouragement to their common enemies. Not since Dwight Eisenhower demanded that David Ben-Gurion withdraw the Israel Defense Forces from the Sinai and the Gaza Strip in 1957 has the White House openly challenged Israel. Now, the administration in Washington has no compunction about publicly airing its displeasure with Israel.

The recent visit of the U.S. vice president and the routine approval during his stay by a local planning body of construction plans in a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem was turned into an "insult to the United States." It was followed by an angry telephone call by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and a subsequent attack on Israel in Clinton's appearance on U.S. television.

In the interim, soothing words were heard from Washington until Netanyahu's visit to the White House, where he was duly humiliated. Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist close to the White House, reminded Israel in a recent interview of the generosity of the United States in granting Israel $3 billion annually for military assistance while America contends with a severe economic crisis. What for years was seen in Washington and Jerusalem as assistance that served the interests of both countries is now being depicted as largesse for which Israel needs to express its gratitude by accepting American demands.

The Netanyahu government has chosen to act as if nothing has changed, and that the occasional signs of displeasure coming from Washington can be appeased by minor or temporary Israeli concessions. The result seems to be the opposite. The Israeli government is seen in Washington as disingenuous and attempting to outsmart the White House.

The time has come to stop pretending. Whatever chance that may exist to conduct productive negotiations with Abbas is being hampered by the demands being made on Israel by Washington. They only provide excuses for Abbas to refuse to enter serious negotiations until these demands are met. He cannot be expected to be less of a Palestinian than U.S. President Barack Obama. While objective difficulties exist in any case because of Hamas' control of Gaza and Abbas' tenuous position in Judea and Samaria, outside pressure only makes things more difficult. Peace cannot be imposed. There is little doubt that the administration in Washington will learn this lesson sooner or later.

 

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


HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

WHO WILL ALLOW NETANYAHU TO GIVE?

WHAT'S MORE IMPORTANT, DOLLARS OR JERUSALEM? THE UNEQUIVOCAL ANSWER OF DAVID BEN-GURION, WHO KNEW HOW TO ANSWER WITHOUT BEING ASKED, WOULD NOT MAKE LIKUD'S LOUDMOUTHS HAPPY.

BY AMIR OREN

What's more important, dollars or Jerusalem? Depends on whom you ask, and this time it's not about the criminal suspicions against Ehud Olmert. The unequivocal answer of David Ben-Gurion, who knew how to answer without being asked, would not make Likud's loudmouths happy.

Before Independence Day, the transcript of the first meeting of the cabinet, 11 days after the state was declared, was distributed. Ben-Gurion said the following to his ministers, who numbered less than half of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet:
"If we have the chance to purchase aircraft and heavy equipment after other governments have recognized us, the dollar problem will be very acute. Although the matter of Jerusalem is very severe, and it has been decided that Golda Meyerson will deal with Jerusalem, I have concluded that the dollar question is so urgent that she should leave for America right away. She has acted very successfully, no one has achieved what she has achieved ... rifles, machine guns and heavy machinery that have led to the recent turnaround. She will tell them that we are under attack and we need aircraft and tanks. I am sure that in a week she will obtain the $10 million to $15 million we need."

The phrase "no one has achieved what she has achieved" is perhaps the origin of the popular saying that Golda was "the only man in the cabinet." Either way, Ben-Gurion went on to warn that the situation at the front was grave; gains on the Jerusalem front would not help the general war effort if the army lacked defensive and offensive weapons, which depended on funds − in other words, foreign aid. With all due respect for fine words about the heart of the nation, it would not survive if the rest of the body collapsed.

Netanyahu is shoving aside this insight of Ben-Gurion's, which is true today as well. His government is evading all the tough decisions. The "proximity" in the talks that it is about to hold without deciding on the substance actually reflects a distancing of American support.

Netanyahu's line lacks logic, and not only diplomatic insight. Since he has accepted, in the wake of the U.S. administration, the principle of a territorial swap with the Palestinians, he is already giving up areas of sovereign Israel without any special majority in the Knesset, and without a fundamental examination of whether it's worthwhile to give up a strip of land in the Negev in exchange for a settlement in Samaria. Netanyahu assumes that no one will demonstrate against such a concession, unlike settlers in a similar situation. They will be in favor of letting Netanyahu give.

No center force exists in Israel that would be ready to demand peace without the settlement blocs. Ehud Barak and the Labor Party are partners in the coalition in which Netanyahu is serving under Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. There is a vacuum in the center that calls for new parties to be established or people who will find places in the leaderships of existing parties. But no such reserves have emerged, apart from one adversary that Netanyahu and Barak have created: Gabi Ashkenazi.

The chief of staff, who has been offended by the way they have treated him, can choose when to retire. If he cuts his remaining time by four months, he will be out of uniform in October, and the three-year cooling-off period of staying out of politics will be over on the eve of the next scheduled elections. Until then he can print calling cards saying something like: Gets things done silently, without noisily doing nothing, with a program comprising a settlement with Syria in exchange for the Golan Heights, a generous compromise in the territories with the law being enforced until then, and national service for all Israelis.

Ashkenazi has his flaws and they would be pointed out during an election campaign. The dearth of other candidates reflects the emptiness of our leadership reservoir. But everything's relative, and the Netanyau-Lieberman-Barak trinity is unbearable.

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


 

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

EDITORIAL

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

 

We are skeptical that merging with Continental Airlines can solve the perennial woes of United Airlines, which has reported billions of dollars in losses and spent three of the last 10 years in bankruptcy proceedings. Continental also reported losses during most of the last decade. Leaving aside any business rationale, what worries us about the proposed merger is what it could mean for harried travelers.

 

A merger would leave the nation with only four large airlines. Continental and United's routes do not overlap much, but it would mean less competition on some, notably New York City to Chicago.

 

Airline mergers are not typically about looking for ways to improve service. They are about corporate "synergy" — cutting costs or raising new revenues. Evidence from the last megamerger, Delta Air Lines and Northwest in 2008, suggests that these enormous combinations do little to enhance consumer welfare.

 

Facing relentless competition from low-cost airlines cherry-picking the most lucrative routes, the traditional carriers have devoted much of their creativity to finding ways to squeeze out more cash, mainly by charging for services that used to be free — like luggage, meals or making a reservation by phone.

 

We don't know a lot of happy fliers on any airline. But last year, United came up last in the American Customer Satisfaction Index run by the National Quality Research Center at the University of Michigan. Maybe that's why United decided to close the call center that fielded complaints. It urged customers to send an e-mail message or a letter instead.

 

Meanwhile, the United States Department of Transportation, received 1.34 complaints per 100,000 passengers taking a trip on United. The only airline that registered more complaints — 1.96 — was the postmerger Delta.

 

How did Continental do? It came in third in the Michigan survey. The Transportation Department received 1 complaint per 100,000 for Continental. That may not be great but still is better than United.

 

If regulators approve this merger, the new airline will be called United, but the Continental chief executive will take over and the colors and logo on the planes will be Continental's. United says its service track record is getting better; its punctuality has indeed improved. Last year, it was the sixth most punctual airline, in terms of flights arriving on time, ahead of Continental in 10th place. We hope both strive to do better. That shouldn't be too much for the traveling public to ask from a multibillion-dollar merger.

 

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


THE NEW YORK TIMES

THE WAY OUT

 

President Obama made a convincing case last December for sending an additional 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan. Most of those new forces, plus 58,000 already in country, would fight the Taliban. A smaller number would mold Afghan recruits into an indigenous Army and National Police force that could in time assume responsibility for protecting their country so the Americans and NATO allies could go home.

 

That handoff, so central to Mr. Obama's strategy, has little chance of succeeding unless NATO gets more military trainers on the ground. Of the 5,200 trainers the United States and its NATO allies in January agreed were needed, about only 2,700 are there. All but 300 or so are Americans.

 

Illiteracy, corruption and other problems are not unexpected in a country as poor and undeveloped as Afghanistan. But a disturbing Pentagon report to Congress last week acknowledged that one of the "most significant challenges" to fielding qualified Afghan security forces is a shortage of "institutional trainers."

 

The training effort — like everything else about Afghanistan — was shortchanged for years under President George W. Bush. It has received more attention and resources under President Obama. In November, the United States and NATO opened a new integrated training mission. Its leader, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, who previously led leadership schools and training programs at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., was a West Point classmate of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American and allied commander in Afghanistan.

 

General Caldwell has brought a new coherence and purpose to the mission by revamping the Afghan Army leadership program and standardizing police instruction, among other innovations. And he has managed to double his number of trainers from 1,300 when he started to roughly 2,700 today. But he — more to the point, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General McChrystal — is having a very hard time getting the rest of NATO to deliver on commitments.

 

NATO agreed that non-American members would provide half of the 5,200 trainers. Since December, those capitals have pledged to send only 1,000 trainers, and they have been very slow to deliver. Mr. Gates is now expected to send Americans to cover 600 of these slots for 90 days.

 

While the Americans are close to complement, General Caldwell also had to fight hard to secure enough troops to fill the American slots as well as management positions on his staff. For all of the talk about new missions and new thinking, there are still a lot of brass — and those who want to become brass — who don't consider training a warrior's job or a path to promotion. That culture needs to change.

 

American and NATO officials also need to look seriously at creating a standing corps of combat advisers who are trained and equipped to develop indigenous national security forces in overseas conflict zones.

 

The hurdles in training even a minimally effective Afghan force are daunting. There has been some progress. New initiatives like pay raises and mandatory literacy training should begin to improve professionalism and competency. None of these efforts have a chance if there are not enough NATO trainers to teach the Afghans how to defend their country.

 

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


THE NEW YORK TIMES

LUCK AND VIGILANCE

 

New York City was lucky this time. The bomb-laden vehicle that pulled into Times Square Saturday night smoldered but didn't ignite. Two nearby vendors warned a policeman. Officers quickly cleared the area and alerted bomb-squad specialists and investigators.

 

We don't yet know if this was the work of a disturbed person, a solitary extremist or the agent of a large terrorist organization. But the goal was clear: to inspire fear, create havoc, take innocent lives. We are very fortunate that that didn't happened.

 

A car bomb in Times Square, even a malfunctioning one, is another reminder that New York remains a tempting target for terrorists. It should be a reminder to Congress and the White House of why New York deserves more support for its antiterrorism measures.

 

Last year, the Obama administration tried to eliminate financing for a "Securing the Cities" program designed in part to help New York City create links with law enforcement agencies nearby to prevent an attack. The administration said the city was not spending its funds quickly enough. Officials here insisted they were moving ahead but also wanted to reserve some of the money to help build up security systems inside the city.

 

Congress restored some $20 million in financing. And after Saturday's incident, Senator Charles Schumer and Representative Peter King are now asking for at least $30 million more. That money should allow Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Chief Raymond Kelly to accelerate their work on two security "rings" — an idea adapted from London's "Ring of Steel" — that deploy cameras and other surveillance equipment around the city. The first ring would guard the World Trade Center site. The second would be aimed at protecting Times Square.

 

In Lower Manhattan, the Police Department is moving ahead on a command center — the first step in getting the ring in place. Little has been done to create the ring in Times Square, although the area is already dotted with 82 law enforcement cameras and many more in private businesses.

 

The city and its residents owe thanks to Duane Jackson and Lance Orton, the two street vendors who did exactly what the police posters and television ads have urged. When they saw something, they said something.

 

New Yorkers, and all Americans, want to know who was behind this near disaster and see him, her or them arrested and tried for this crime. The public needs to be fully informed of the investigation. Officials in New York and Washington also need to take a hard look at what, if anything, might have been done to head off this earlier. Luck is a good thing. In some cases, it may be the only thing standing between us and a disaster. But no one wants to bet their security on it.

 

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


THE NEW YORK TIMES

THE LIMITS OF POLICY

BY DAVID BROOKS

 

Roughly a century ago, many Swedes immigrated to America. They've done very well here. Only about 6.7 percent of Swedish-Americans live in poverty. Also a century ago, many Swedes decided to remain in Sweden. They've done well there, too. When two economists calculated Swedish poverty rates according to the American standard, they found that 6.7 percent of the Swedes in Sweden were living in poverty.

 

In other words, you had two groups with similar historical backgrounds living in entirely different political systems, and the poverty outcomes were the same.

 

A similar pattern applies to health care. In 1950, Swedes lived an average of 2.6 years longer than Americans. Over the next half-century, Sweden and the U.S. diverged politically. Sweden built a large welfare state with a national health service, while the U.S. did not. The result? There was basically no change in the life expectancy gap. Swedes now live 2.7 years longer.

 

Again, huge policy differences. Not huge outcome differences.

 

This is not to say that policy choices are meaningless. But we should be realistic about them. The influence of politics and policy is usually swamped by the influence of culture, ethnicity, psychology and a dozen other factors.

 

You can observe the same phenomenon when looking within the U.S. Last week, the American Human Development Project came out with its "A Century Apart" survey of life in the United States. As you'd expect, ethnicity correlates to huge differences in how people live. Nationally, 50 percent of Asian-American adults have a college degree, compared with 31 percent of whites, 17 percent of African-Americans and 13 percent of Hispanics.

 

Asian-Americans have a life expectancy of 87 years compared with 79 years for whites and 73 years for African-Americans.

 

Even in struggling parts of the country, Asian-Americans do well. In Michigan, for example, the Asian-American life expectancy is 90, while for the average white person it's 79 and for the average African-American it's 73. Income and education levels are also much higher.

 

The region you live in also makes a gigantic difference in how you will live. There are certain high-trust regions where highly educated people congregate, producing positive feedback loops of good culture and good human capital programs. This mostly happens in the northeastern states like New Jersey and Connecticut. There are other regions with low social trust, low education levels and negative feedback loops. This mostly happens in southern states like Arkansas and West Virginia.

 

If you combine the influence of ethnicity and region, you get astounding lifestyle gaps. The average Asian-American in New Jersey lives an amazing 26 years longer and is 11 times more likely to have a graduate degree than the average American Indian in South Dakota.

 

When you try to account for life outcome differences this gigantic, you find yourself beyond narrow economic incentives and in the murky world of social capital. What matters are historical experiences, cultural attitudes, child-rearing practices, family formation patterns, expectations about the future, work ethics and the quality of social bonds.

 

Researchers have tried to disaggregate the influence of these soft factors and have found it nearly impossible. All we can say for sure is that different psychological, cultural and social factors combine in myriad ways to produce different viewpoints. As a result of these different viewpoints, the average behavior is different between different ethnic and geographic groups, leading to different life outcomes.

 

It is very hard for policy makers to use money to directly alter these viewpoints. In her book, "What Money Can't Buy," Susan E. Mayer of the University of Chicago calculated what would happen if you could double the income of the poorest Americans. The results would be disappointingly small. Doubling parental income would barely reduce dropout rates of the children. It would have a small effect on reducing teen pregnancy. It would barely improve child outcomes overall.

 

So when we're arguing about politics, we should be aware of how policy fits into the larger scheme of cultural and social influences. Bad policy can decimate the social fabric, but good policy can only modestly improve it.

 

Therefore, the first rule of policy-making should be, don't promulgate a policy that will destroy social bonds. If you take tribes of people, exile them from their homelands and ship them to strange, arid lands, you're going to produce bad outcomes for generations. Second, try to establish basic security. If the government can establish a basic level of economic and physical security, people may create a culture of achievement — if you're lucky. Third, try to use policy to strengthen relationships. The best policies, like good preschool and military service, fortify emotional bonds.

 

Finally, we should all probably calm down about politics. Most of the proposals we argue about so ferociously will have only marginal effects on how we live, especially compared with the ethnic, regional and social differences that we so studiously ignore.

 

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

 

 

 


THE NEW YORK TIMES

ENHANCING THE PLACEBO

BY OLIVIA JUDSON

 

The placebo effect is, potentially, one of the most powerful forces in medicine. The challenge is to harness that power in a reliable and systematic way.

 

First, what is the placebo effect?

 

It's the improvement in health that some patients experience because of the feeling that they are receiving medical care. A classic example comes from drug trials. Suppose patients are randomly divided into three groups: those who get no treatment, those who get the drug that's being tested, and those who get the placebo treatment — typically a pill that looks and tastes like the drug, but doesn't contain it, or any other active ingredient.

 

The idea is that the "no treatment" group shows how many people would have gotten better by themselves; the "placebo" group shows any effect of participating in medical rituals (like taking pills); the "drug" group shows any effect of the drug over and above the effect of medical rituals. Simple.

 

Or not. Different studies of the placebo effect report wildly different results. One survey of 117 trials of two ulcer drugs found that, depending on the trial, patients in the placebo group had anywhere from zero to a 100 percent recovery rate.

 

The drugs also varied in their effectiveness from one trial to the next; sometimes patients on the placebo did better than those on the drug. Intriguingly, the results varied from country to country, with Brazilians showing no placebo effect and Germans having a strong one. Why? No one knows, but it doesn't appear to be because of anything inherently German: trials of drugs for hypertension found a weaker placebo effect in Germany than in other countries.

 

The problem is that humans are not machines, and emotions are not abstractions. Hope and expectation, anxiety and fear, trust and suspicion — these cause physiological changes in the brain that can interact with drugs, changing their effects.

 

This is even true for a drug like morphine. Yes, it's a powerful painkiller. But it's far more powerful if a doctor marches in, tells you he's going to give you morphine, and injects you, than it is if it is administered secretly by a hidden machine.

 

Differences in hopes and fears, and the resulting physiological changes, may explain why the placebo effect varies so much: individual experiences matter. Some people are more anxious than others, or may find the thought of a particular disease especially alarming. Moreover, in different cultures, similar diseases may be treated with different degrees of gravity.

 

Expectations around medical rituals may also explain why placebos tend to be more powerful if the pills are expensive or you take them several times a day; why injections and exotic machines are more powerful than pills; and why surgery is more powerful than injections. (In placebo surgery, the patient is anaesthetized, cut, and sewn back up again, but no manipulation is done. For obvious reasons, there have been few tests of this. But when it has been done, it has often produced good results for the patients.)

 

However, the most reliable source of a strong placebo effect appears to be: the doctor.

Placebo treatments are more powerful if your doctor believes in them. They are also more powerful if the doctor tells you so. In one study, for example, patients who had just come out of surgery were given a saline infusion, and — whenever they asked for it — the pain killer buprenorphine. However, some patients were told the saline infusion was a powerful painkiller, others that it might be one, while a third group wasn't told anything. Over the course of three days, those in the "know-nothing" group asked for more buprenorphine than those in the "maybe" group, who in turn asked for more than those told they were getting a real drug.

 

Which highlights a problem. Since deception of patients is unethical, some argue that the placebo has no place in the actual practice of medicine.

 

But the matter is more nuanced. As the morphine example shows, the placebo effect also enhances "real" treatments. So the key is to figure out how to maximize that enhancement without lying. One idea would be to deliberately increase the element of formal ritual in medicine. Studies of "alternative" therapies show that strong placebo effects can be induced by ritual. Indeed, in mainstream medicine, surgery is the treatment most surrounded by ritual; perhaps this is one reason it appears to be the most powerful placebo.

 

To be sure, many questions still need to be answered. But one thing is clear. It's time we stopped treating the placebo effect as a nuisance — something that rational humans shouldn't have. Instead, we must learn to purposefully enhance its power.

 

(For details on sources, please see the notes attached to the online version of this column.)

 

Olivia Judson, a columnist for nytimes.com, is a research fellow in biology at Imperial College London.
Bob Herbert is off today.

 

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

 


THE NEW YORK TIMES

THE TERRORIST NEXT DOOR

BY MICHAEL A. SHEEHAN

 

WHILE it's possible that this weekend's failed car-bomb incident in Times Square was part of a complicated international terrorist plot, the unsophisticated nature of the device has given rise to a much-needed discussion about the threat of "home grown" and "lone wolf" violence in the United States.

 

The subject leads many to throw up their hands: how, short of creating a police state, can we prevent a lone deranged person from making a crude bomb and parking it somewhere?

 

The truth, though, is that we are not helpless: standard police vigilance and public alertness can play a role, but the real key to minimizing the damage such people can accomplish is to keep these disaffected individuals from making connections with larger networks.

 

"Home grown" terrorists are natives or longtime residents who belong to groups that espouse a particular agenda or radical ideology. "Lone wolf" terrorists, on the other hand, usually operate by themselves and are not formally associated with a movement. In either case, they are people who live and move among us every day, secretly working in their basements or garages devising bombs or more dangerous weapons.

 

Lone wolves can be very hard to find. The Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, lived in a shack in the mountains of Montana during the 17 years he sent 16 package bombs that killed three people and wounded 23 others. Eric Rudolph, who set off bombs at the Olympics in Atlanta, a gay bar and several abortion clinics, was a fugitive in the Appalachians for more than five years before his arrest by a North Carolina policeman in 2003. Timothy McVeigh, with a very small cell of two or three people, was able to build the powerful truck bomb that killed 168 people in Oklahoma City in 1995.

 

Fortunately, these men, in terms of determination and ability, were the exceptions. Most lone wolves are as incompetent as they are disturbed, and their attacks, like that on Saturday, tend to fizzle out. Even if a lone wolf terrorist is successful, the attack is a calamity for the victims and their families, but without connection to a larger organization, it will not represent a strategic threat to the United States.

 

So law enforcement has to focus on preventing sophisticated terrorist organizations from establishing a presence within the United States. The good news is that we know how to do this. The bad news is we aren't doing it enough. No other American city even attempts to do what New York has accomplished. The New York Police Department's intelligence and counterterrorism units, working both with the F.B.I. and independently, manage a network of informant and undercover operatives around the area. It was no accident that last year when a Denver man who was planning to bomb the New York subway system arrived in the city, the F.B.I. was aware of his travels, and a radical cleric he met with was already a police informant.

 

Of course, other American cities don't have a police force with the manpower and experience of ours, but they can still do more. Small cities can act independently or work with the F.B.I.'s 50 or so joint terrorism task forces to set up investigative teams — just a handful of officers in most cities — to identify violent cells within their jurisdictions. They know how to do it: the techniques and legal authorities to run informants and undercover agents and to install wiretaps on phones and computers are the same as police departments have long used to infiltrate the mob and drug trafficking organizations.

 

So why have so few cities done what New York has, even on a smaller scale? Two reasons: money and political risk. Despite great gains across the country in recent years, cities are still under pressure to reduce street crime and are thus reluctant to put their best officers on terrorist investigations that may well come to naught. Many think that counterterrorism is the job, and financial responsibility, of the federal government alone.

 

In addition, some are wary of the political risk involved in running intelligence investigations against citizens and legal residents who may be involved only in legitimate political dissonance — a cherished right of all Americans.

 

But if we are going to prevent the next domestic terrorist attack, we will need to get beyond these concerns. For society as a whole, paying for a handful of detectives at the local level is far more efficient than spending billions inside the Beltway on bloated bureaucracies and large-scale defensive measures that will most likely have little practical effect. And while issues of civil liberties are important, they can be managed with close legal oversight of terrorism investigations.

 

As the New York case reminds us, there are people out there with the intent to kill. The job of law enforcement is to catch them before they are successful, and if that is not possible, to prevent them from becoming a real strategic threat rather than a small but deadly menace to our society. While we hope we can find lone wolves before they attack, we also need to reduce the threat they pose by identifying, infiltrating and crushing any terrorist organization before it can mount a sophisticated operation, or before it provides deadly technical support and training to the next Times Square bomber.

 

Michael A. Sheehan, a former deputy commissioner for counterterrorism with the New York Police

Department, is a security consultant and the director of the Madison Policy Forum, a national security policy group.

 

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


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

USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OUR VIEW ON GULF COAST CRISIS: WHY CAN'T OIL COMPANIES CLEAN UP AFTER THEMSELVES?

 

For two weeks, the combined resources of British oil giant BP and the U.S. government haven't been enough to contain the growing oil slick from a damaged well 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. That — and BP's inability to cap the out-of-control well — make a mockery of the company's glib, pre-drilling assurances that it could handle any accident, which it deemed highly unlikely.

 

Because the well would be 48 miles from shore and because BP had "the capability to respond ... to a worst-case discharge," the company said when it applied for approval to drill, "no significant adverse impacts are expected."

 

Tell that to people in Louisiana who are already seeing dead marine life wash ashore and coping with the shutdown of some of the nation's most productive fishing grounds. If something doesn't begin to go right soon, this could become one of the worst ecological disasters in U.S. history.

 

It's still unclear why the BP exploratory well blew out the night of April 20, and where the primary blame should fall. BP's safety record doesn't buy it much benefit of the doubt. Federal investigators said the company's cost-cutting was at least partially responsible for a disastrous explosion that killed 15 at a BP refinery in Texas City in 2005 and two large oil spills in Alaska in 2006.

 

BP insists that it has turned a corner and points a finger at rig owner and operator Transocean. Months of investigation will give a clearer picture of who might have done what to prevent this.

 

But some things are already apparent.

 

One is that this was a tragedy for the 11 men who died in the platform explosion and for their families.

 

Another is that BP wasn't ready for an accident in deep water. BP officials should probably quit comparing the job of trying to fix the broken blowout preventer to "doing open-heart surgery at 5,000 feet ... in the dark." That prompts the question of whether it's safe to drill that deep in the first place.

 

It's also clear that the oil industry wasn't ready for a spill this big, even though the resulting political fallout might kill the expanded offshore drilling President Obama recently promised, and which the industry had been seeking for years.

In 2009, the top five petroleum companies earned $100 billion on revenue of $1.8 trillion. That's nearly as much as the $2.1 trillion the U.S. treasury collected last year. It's mind-boggling that an industry this flush didn't anticipate a crisis this serious or spend enough to prepare for it. The industry consortium assisting BP in the cleanup has been overmatched. As a result, the much-disparaged Big Government has had to help come to the rescue.

 

This is the first major drilling-related accident in U.S. waters since the Santa Barbara spill in 1969. Viewed against that record, the BP disaster is a freak occurrence that shouldn't set drilling policy for the next 41 years. But epic accidents like this one — the Exxon Valdez in 1989 or Three Mile Island in 1979 — have a way of changing energy policy for decades. If BP and the rest of the oil companies hope to win back the public's trust, they'll have to do a far better job of cleaning up the mess they've made.

 

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


USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OPPOSING VIEW ON GULF COAST CRISIS: UNPRECEDENTED RESPONSE

BY JACK GERARD

 

This was a tragic accident; our thoughts and prayers go out to the workers and their families. The best minds in industry and government are working to stop the spill, contain the oil and clean up the environment. The accident is unprecedented, and so, too, is our response. We recognize our commitment to our neighbors along the Gulf Coast: the people whose communities are at risk.

 

Although an incident like this hasn't occurred in the United States in more than 40 years, it is clear we need to find out what happened and quickly fix any problems. Our industry recognizes that obligation. Our goal is zero incidents, zero injuries and zero fatalities. We owe it to the nation that has placed its trust in us to responsibly develop the oil and natural gas off our coasts.

 

The industry is expeditiously forming two task forces to review technologies and procedures to improve safety. They will continue the industry's longstanding efforts to improve offshore safety through technology, management practices, training, industry standards and regulatory oversight.

 

Developing our offshore oil and natural gas resources made sense many decades ago when the first well was drilled in the Gulf of Mexico. And, despite this accident, it still makes sense. Producing our own oil and natural gas, both onshore and offshore, means more U.S. jobs, greater energy security and many billions of dollars in revenue to government.

 

The nation needs to rely on all of its energy resources to keep its economy strong and growing. We'll consume 14% more energy in 25 years, according to estimates, and that means more energy of every type: fossil fuels and renewables. Oil and natural gas will continue to be an important part of that energy mix for decades to come. We need to rely on American sources of oil and natural gas, and that means developing our offshore resources, safely and responsibly.

 

The accident in the Gulf is a powerful call for our industry to redouble its commitment to safety and environmental stewardship. Improve we must and will, employing all of the innovation, planning and hard work that is necessary.

 

Jack Gerard is the president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute. (BP declined to provide an opposing view.)

 

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


USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

THE CAR BOMB ON BROADWAY

 

One of the odder aspects of Saturday's failed Broadway bombing is the Taliban's attempt to claim responsibility. Given the incompetence involved, denial would seem more appropriate. But in many ways, incompetence is becoming the terrorists' hallmark — a striking contrast to the precision execution of the complex 9/11 plot with its simultaneous hijackings.

 

Most Americans would probably be surprised to learn that since 9/11, terrorists have allegedly tried to attack the U.S. at a rate of once every five months. Saturday's incident was the eighth plot against New York alone. Wall Street, the Brooklyn Bridge, the city's subways and train tunnels, and now the theater district have all been targets. So have Los Angeles; Columbus, Ohio; and Springfield, Ill. Yet the only attack to have succeeded was the independent act of workplace violence by an Army psychologist and al-Qaeda sympathizer at Fort Hood, Texas.

 

Airline passengers stopped two terrorists — "shoe bomber" Richard Reid in 2001 and "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab last Christmas. Law enforcement broke up the other plots, mostly early on.

 

To be sure, that string of successes is part of a grimmer global picture. Attacks in London in 2005 and Madrid a year earlier killed and injured hundreds of people. The United States, meanwhile, has been more than alittle bit lucky. The Abdulmutallab case exposed failings in the counterterrorism network frighteningly familiar to those that preceded Sept. 11, 2001. If not for the heroism on board, Abdulmutallab could have blown up his Detroit-bound plane, and Americans would have a different view of their safety today, just as they might had not a fuse fizzled on 45th Street on Saturday night.

 

What to make of all this?

 

First, the nation has become more vigilant, and that is good. Two street vendors who spotted smoke coming from the bomber's car Saturday quickly alerted a mounted policeman. Help was summoned, the threat was extinguished, and for all appearances, local and federal authorities quickly fell into sync, an enormous change from years ago.

 

Second, al-Qaeda's capability has been degraded both by closer scrutiny at home and by relentless attacks

abroad.

 

Finally, the terrorist threat remains as constant as it seemed in the harrowing days after 9/11, even if it no longer feels as vivid. If the Taliban turns out to be involved in the latest attempt, it means one more enemy has entered the game at home.

 

Sooner or later, in an open society like the USA, another attack will succeed. That reality should not unnerve us. But it is a reminder to maintain a sense of urgency about the threat, no matter how inept the plotters seem.

 

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


USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

LET'S KEEP OIL SPILL IN PERSPECTIVE

BY JONAH GOLDBERG

 

By the end of last week, the pundits found their angle. The Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico could be President Obama's Hurricane Katrina. The New York Times: "Shadow of Hurricane Katrina Hangs Over Obama After Spill." As if for balance, Rush Limbaugh perhaps sarcastically raised the specter that foul play (Ecoterrorism? Insider-sabotage?) might be behind the explosion, which eerily coincided with both Earth Day and the debate over cap-and-trade legislation. Left-wing bloggers mocked him as mercilessly as right-wingers mocked Spike Lee and others for suggesting that the federal government deliberately flooded a black neighborhood in New Orleans by blowing up its levees.

 

Meanwhile, the White House spared no effort in trying to cap the gusher of Katrina comparisons. Three Cabinet secretaries were dispatched to the Gulf to help direct the recovery. One can only wonder whether having three worried politicians at the scene is at all helpful to the engineers, scientists and Coast Guard personnel already working tirelessly on the problem.

 

Regardless, the Katrina comparison is almost surely unfair. Obama's reaction to the explosion has been entirely defensible. Could Obama have done more? Of course, but only with the benefit of hindsight. American offshore oil drilling has had an exemplary safety record over the past 40 years(though this accident does raise new questions about the more recent innovation of very deepwater drilling). As someone who has reported from the Gulf of Mexico, including from rigs like the Deepwater Horizon, I can attest that safety and environmental stewardship are near-obsessions of both industry professionals and their regulators. It's hardly as if BP wanted this massive environmental and financial disaster.

 

Katrina falsehoods

 

But in one area the Katrina parallel works: the news media. This was anything but the press' finest hour. Many outlets reported that rape gangs were rampant in New Orleans, that snipers were keeping the feds at bay, that the Superdome was littered with rotting bodies, that poor black people were left to die in disproportionate numbers. None of that was true, as several newspapers admirably reported after the frenzy dissipated. Meanwhile, most outlets either missed or downplayed the efforts by the federal government, particularly the Coast Guard, which conducted heroic air and sea operations soon after the storm passed. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's efforts were certainly lacking, but the focus on Michael Brown's "heckuva job" — in the infamous words of President Bush— often had more to do with editorializing than the facts on the ground.

 

Once again, many people are eager to turn a Gulf Coast catastrophe into something more apocalyptic, this time not to tear down a president but to discredit offshore drilling. It most certainly is a horrific disaster, but the "worse than Valdez" theme, hyped on the Drudge Report and cable news, hasn't been validated. Estimates of how much oil has been spilled have varied wildly, in part because satellite imaging is great at capturing the "sheen" from a spill but not so good at measuring its thickness.

 

Even if the higher estimates turn out to be true, the spill so far is relatively minor in size compared with others in history. (For instance, the Exxon Valdez spill— though certainly disastrous — isn't anywhere near the Top 10 spills of all time). Obviously, that's hardly reassuring given the sensitive location of the spill and the fact that it could continue indefinitely if not contained. But it's worth remembering that the damage from previous, and much larger, spills wasn't nearly so lasting as people had feared. For example, if the Deepwater spill is releasing 5,000 barrels a day, as the government estimates, it would take several years to spill the 252 million to 336 million gallons Saddam Hussein released into the Persian Gulf during the 1991 Iraq war.

 

Changes of heart

 

The point here isn't to minimize what is a true disaster. But already, politicians are reversing their support for drilling based on little more than what they see on the TV. It's funny how everyone's against setting policy in a climate of fear — unless the fear produces his preferred policy. The Three Mile Island nuclear mishap in 1979 caused America to stop building reactors for a generation because we let media hype set the policy. It would be a tragedy if we let the same thing happen with domestic oil drilling. Indeed, one irony is that America could stop drilling tomorrow and that would likely increase the number of spills worldwide, given that more environmentally lax countries wouldn't stop their efforts and we'd get more oil via tankers, which are more likely to spill than oil rigs, and the less oil we produce, the more we have to import by ship.

 

Regardless, now's not the time to debate the policy. Now's the time to deal with this disaster.

 

Jonah Goldberg, a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors, is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

 

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


USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

CRIST'S PARTY CHANGE COULD TEST GOP

BY DEWAYNE WICKHAM

 

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Charlie Crist returned to his hometown to launch a political campaign that will test whether a popular, moderate Republican can successfully lead an insurgency against the right-wing forces that now control the GOP. Theodore Roosevelt tried to do that a century ago — and failed.

 

"My decision to run for the United States Senate as a candidate without party affiliation in many ways says more about our nation and our state than it does about me. ... For me it's never been about doing what's easy. It's about doing what is right for the people first," said Crist, a political moderate elected governor of the Sunshine State in 2006.

 

In announcing that he was dropping out of the Republican primary, where polls showed him trailing badly behind former Florida House speaker Marco Rubio, a darling of the "Tea Party" movement, Crist said his decision to run as an independent is the right thing to do for his state, the nation and "for people." Critics say it's a selfish act of survival because in a three-man race, Crist leads Rubio and Kendrick Meek, the likely Democratic nominee. The truth is probably somewhere in between.

 

The more important question raised by Crist's political rebellion is whether he can succeed where Roosevelt failed when he bolted the GOP in 1912 to mount a third-party campaign for the White House. The former president wanted to blunt his party's shift to the right, a move he signaled in a speech two years earlier, endorsing what he termed the "New Nationalism."

 

"The New Nationalism puts the national need before sectional or personal advantage," Roosevelt said. "It is impatient of the utter confusion that results from local legislatures attempting to treat national issues as local issues. It is still more impatient of the impotence which springs from over-division of governmental powers, the impotence which makes it possible for local selfishness or for legal cunning, hired by wealthy special interests, to bring national activities to a deadlock."

 

Crist sounded a similar tone when he announced his decision. People have "had enough of political fighting," he said. "They're tired of the games and the name-calling and the politics of destruction. ... I know they want progress and not gridlock." Though ostensibly directed at both political parties, Crist's words were meant to explain his break with the GOP, which seems determined to clear its ranks of anyone to the left of Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell.

 

The Republican Party seeks to revive itself not by broadening its ideological base, but by constricting it. Having long ago chased liberals and most moderate officeholders from its ranks, the GOP is now going after politicians who are thought to be not conservative enough.

 

Rubio's challenge to Crist is the most important of these bloodlettings, coming as it does in the political bellwether state of Florida. By choosing to run as an independent, Crist has launched a counterattack that puts the GOP on the defensive and threatens to irreparably rupture the Grand Old Party.

 

Already, tampabay.com reported, his move has won the backing of California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, another moderate Republican who has fallen into disfavor with his GOP base. And it's a good bet it is being closely watched by other Republican moderates such as Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.

 

If Crist wins, conservative control of the GOP could fracture. If he loses, the Republican Party will slip deeper into a political bog that eventually will devour it.

 

DeWayne Wickham writes on Tuesdays for USA TODAY.

 

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


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

TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

YOU MAKE BIG CHOICES TODAY

Hamilton County's registered voters will make some very important primary election decisions today.

Voters may choose to vote in either the Republican Party primary or the Democratic Party primary — but not both. The primary election winners will be on the ballots in the August general election for final choices.

We commend the citizens who have offered their services as candidates.

After considering their qualifications, philosophies, policies and proposals, the Free Press recommends in the REPUBLICAN PRIMARY ELECTION:

County Mayor Claude Ramsey for re-nomination.

 

County Commissioner Fred Skillern for re-nomination in District 1.

 

County Commissioner Richard Casavant for re-nomination in District 2.

 

County Commissioner Jim Coppinger for re-nomination in District 3.

 

Joe Graham for nomination in District 6.

 

County Commissioner Larry L. Henry for re-nomination in District 7.

 

Tim Boyd for nomination in District 8.

 

Chester Bankston for nomination in District 9.

 

County Trustee Carl E. Levi for re-nomination.

 

Sheriff Jim Hammond for re-nomination.

 

Register of Deeds Pam Hurst for re-nomination.

 

In the DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY ELECTION the Free Press recommends:

 

County Commissioner Warren Mackey for re-nomination in District 4.

 

County Commissioner Greg Beck for re-nomination in District 5.

 

County Commissioner John Allen Brooks for re-nomination in District 6.

 

Kenny Smith for nomination in District 8.

 

Circuit Court Clerk Paula Thompson for re-nomination.

 

Criminal Court Clerk Gwen Tidwell for re-nomination.

 

Juvenile Court Clerk Ron Swafford for re-nomination.

 

County Clerk W.F. (Bill) Knowles for re-nomination.

 

We urge all registered voters to consider the qualifications of the candidates and vote today in the primary each voter prefers.

 

Recipes from chefs for Mother's Day brunch

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


TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

JACKSON'S WORDS OF WISDOM

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a stalwart in the nation's long fight for racial, social and economic equality, was in Chattanooga last week to continue that work. His message to that end at a meeting of AT&T officials and stockholders here is worth heeding. Vital as that message might be, his talk to a student assembly at Howard High School is equally important.

Mr. Jackson, in a meeting of The Times Free Press editorial board, candidly acknowledged the problems in attendance, academic success and graduation rates at Howard. He knows they are improving, he said, but he offered six rules that he believes can help enhance the pace of that progress.

The rules:

* Take your child to school.

* Meet your child's teachers.

* Exchange phone numbers with your child's teachers.

* Turn off the TV.

* Get a copy of your child's report card.

n Take your child to church.

At first glance, the rules might seem overly simple, but that's the beauty of them. They are workable, uncomplicated and need no major infrastructure to make them viable. All that is needed is parental interest and a will to improve a child's performance in school.

Mr. Jackson correctly says the only way to make sure that a child gets to school on time every day is to take that child yourself. Sure, in some single-parent homes, the breadwinner has a work schedule that might conflict with a school's start time, but that is an excuse not a reason for failing to personally escort your child to school, Mr. Jackson says.

If a parent can't take the child, then the parent should arrange for a relative, a neighbor or someone else trustworthy to do so. It's worth the effort. The correlation between regular school attendance and success in the classroom is undeniable.

It's not enough to bring a child to the school's door, Mr. Jackson adds. A parent should meet the teacher and then exchange phone numbers or e-mail addressees with a classroom or homeroom teacher. "It's well known," he says, "that a teacher teaches kids better when he or she knows the parent." If that's the case, it stands to reason that occasional or even regular conversations between a child's teacher or teachers and parent or caregiver would do the same.

Exchanging phone numbers or e-mail addresses, especially if school-based numbers and addresses are available, is an easy way to accomplish that goal.

The admonition to turn off the TV is well-taken. Many kids, studies show, spend hours a day in front of a TV and/or playing computer games or similar activity. Clearly, a student can't do homework or pursue study of any kind if he or she is watching TV or playing screen-based games. There is, Mr. Jackson says, a way to balance modest TV watching and game playing with school work. Parents should find that balance and, if they can't do it alone, ask for help from teachers or other school officials.

The rule that parents obtain a copy of a child's report card makes sense. Some students fail or refuse to take them home, and some parents and some parents do not know when to expect them. A report card is a window on a child's performance and progress in school. Viewing a report card and acting on it when necessary could help break the chain of poor attendance and poor grades that lead to academic failure and high dropout rates.

Mr. Jackson's last suggestion -- to take a child to church regularly -- might seem self-serving coming from a clergyman,, but it is not. He's not advocating a specific church or belief system, he's simply making the point that those who attend worship regularly tend to have a structure to their lives that can help make them better citizens and students.

Lest one think that Mr. Jackson, who discussed his six rules with the student body at Howard High tailored his speech to that group, it is clear he did not. The rules, he says, transcend race, income, social status and other factors that play a role in academic performance. He's right.

All schools, students and parents could benefit from their application. Some of the Rev. Mr. Jackson's campaigns and themes are, by nature, ones that have little change of immediate success. It will take time, for example, for his call to AT&T to expand minority hiring to bear fruit.

Equitable application of his six rules for students, on the other hand, can and should bring a significant return for individuals and to U.S. society as a whole without substantial expenditures of time or money. That's a worthy goal.

 

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


TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

THE CAR BOMB THAT DIDN'T EXPLODE!

There is no way to know how many innocent people might have been murdered if a terrorist car bomb parked in busy New York City had gone off Saturday as the perpetrator or perpetrators intended. But most fortunately, the bomb fizzled.

One of many surveillance cameras placed among the streets of New York City made a picture of a white man in his 40s, taking off his shirt, with another shirt of a different color underneath, and looking back in the direction of a parked sports utility vehicle -- that was smoking!

Was he the perpetrator? Can he be identified and caught?

The car bomb was made of three ordinary grill propane tanks, two 5-gallon cans of gasoline, fireworks, alarm clocks, lots of wires and 100 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer -- but not of a grade that could explode.

The timing and location indicated a bomber intended to kill many people and create terror in a busy theater and restaurant area of New York.

How could anyone entertain such potential evil?

Was it just some deranged would-be killer -- or was it an effort by a Pakistan Taliban terrorist individual or group as was suggested by an unidentified voice speaking Urdu that was posted on an Internet recording? Or ...?

The militant message suggested the intended explosion was devised as revenge for the deaths of some specifically named terrorists killed in Iraq and a Pakistani scientist who was convicted in the United States for trying to kill American military service personnel in Afghanistan.

It is shocking to consider that the war in Iraq and Afghanistan might have been extended to Manhattan -- with only the faulty construction of a terrorist bomb having saved the lives of many American civilians.

Subscribe Here! ***************************************


TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

MRS. DOROTHY BRAMMER

 

Mrs. Dorothy Brammer, who died Saturday in a local nursing home, was a fine Christian lady who was Hamilton County's longest-serving register in history. But she also found time for many other constructive activities.

Mrs. Brammer was widowed as a young mother with three children under 10 when her prominent attorney husband and civic leader Shelby Brammer died at an early age.

She ran for the office of county register in 1954 -- and was elected to eight four-year terms, in which she performed with distinction.

It is the practice of the register's office to finance itself with legally prescribed fees for its services -- with any excess money to be turned over to the county general fund, thus easing the local tax burden. Mrs. Brammer operated under budget 31 years, enabling her to send $4 million to the county's general fund.

A dedicated patriot, Mrs. Brammer also was very active as a leader in Chattanooga's fine annual Armed Forces Week programs from 1955 through 1986. While many civilian chairmen of the observations were in the spotlight, Mrs. Brammer quietly and efficiently performed extensive, detailed duties as a volunteer. She helped manage the complex arrangements each year in bringing outstanding military and political figures to speak at the annual Armed Forces Day luncheons. She helped organize the many military and civilian elements of the Armed Forces Day parades, that won national honors.

She was a volunteer member of many community boards and civic organizations. She was recognized with the Sertoma Freedom Award, and was a Sweetheart of Sigma Chi fraternity, among many other recognitions for her varied service.

Mrs. Brammer was a devoted Christian, and served in Brained Baptist, Westminster Presbyterian and Asbury United Methodist churches.

She also found much time to serve as a Red Cross volunteer at Parkridge Hospital and was active in Freedoms Foundation.

Mrs. Brammer made many constructive contributions to the Chattanooga community, which she loved and in which she served admirably and honorably in many ways.

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


TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

LOTS OF RECENT RAIN!

Well, the sun has come out again, as it always does. It was particularly welcome this week throughout much of Tennessee because it followed a period of record rain.

Some of our rivers, from the Mississippi to the Cumberland to the Tennessee, had lots of added water as many inches of rain fell across the state.

There were some saddening weather-related deaths, some property damage and much inconvenience for many people as some of our streams overflowed.

At least 11 weather-related deaths were reported as storms moved across the Volunteer State, generating lots of rain in many areas.

Our state is generally blessed with mild temperatures and enough but not too much rain. But a number of scattered tornadoes, other storms and extensive precipitation have ushered welcome spring into Tennessee this year with too many weather excesses.

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


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

TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE NEXT 9/11 -- MADE IN ISRAEL?

BY MAIDHC Ó CATHAIL

 

Citing the possibility of a terrorist organization getting hold of a nuclear weapon as the greatest threat to U.S. security, Barack Obama persuaded 46 other countries at the recent Nuclear Security Summit to agree to secure the world's loose nuclear material. Those leaders who came to Washington might have done more to avert a nuclear attack, however, if they had asked the U.S. president to account for America's own loose nukes.

 

Of course, President Obama may not even be aware of the egregious failure of the United States to secure its nuclear materials and know-how from the predation of its alleged "closest ally." But since Obama is unwilling to even "speculate" about which country in the Middle East has nuclear weapons, he could hardly be expected to acknowledge how it got them.


In a recent Antiwar.com article aptly titled "America's Loose Nukes in Israel," Grant F. Smith, director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy (Irmep) and author of Spy Trade: How Israel's Lobby Undermines America's Economy, shows how "the U.S is a sieve for Israeli nuclear espionage."

The massive arms smuggling network set up by David Ben-Gurion in the United States in the 1940s had acquired a nuclear branch within a decade, according to Smith. The 1955 purchase of the Apollo Steel Company plant in Pennsylvania was financed by David Lowenthal, a close friend of Israel's first prime minister and a former member of the Haganah, the precursor to the Israeli army. The following year, Dr. Zalman Shapiro, head of a local Zionist Organization of America chapter, incorporated the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC) at Apollo. Before long, NUMEC was receiving large quantities of highly enriched uranium and plutonium from Westinghouse and the U.S. Navy for nuclear reprocessing.


By the 1960s, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) became suspicious of security lapses at NUMEC, and even considered suspending its "classified weapons work." A 1965 AEC audit discovered that 220 pounds of highly enriched uranium were unaccounted for. The following year, the FBI launched its own investigation, codenamed Project Divert, to monitor NUMEC's management and its frequent Israeli visitors. Nevertheless, the diversion of nuclear material to Israel continued unabated. After a September 10, 1968 visit by four Israelis, including Mossad agent Rafi Eitan, a further 587 pounds of highly enriched uranium went missing.


Israel's nuclear espionage against the United States didn't end with its accession to the nuclear club in the late 1960s, however. As former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds revealed, its smuggling network received crucial assistance from three high-ranking officials in the George W. Bush administration. All three have close ties to Israel's military-industrial complex.


According to the FBI whistleblower, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith provided Marc Grossman, the third highest-ranking official in the State Department, with a list of Department of Defense employees with access to sensitive data, including nuclear technology. The list also included highly sensitive personal details, such as sexual preference, problems with gambling or alcoholism, and how much they owed on their mortgages. Grossman then passed on the information to Israeli… agents, who used it to "hook" those Pentagon officials. In addition, as Edmonds testified in an Ohio court case, the foreign operatives had recruited people "on almost every major nuclear facility in the United States."


After Israel… took what they wanted from the pilfered secrets, their agents offered what was left to the highest bidder. As Edmonds has told the Sunday Times, American Conservative and Military.com, nuclear information was sold on the black market, where anyone -- even Al-Qaeda -- could buy it.


So then, it would seem that those who shout loudest about the threat of terrorists -- namely, neoconservatives like Perle, Feith and Grossman and their Israeli counterparts -- are the very ones who are aiding them, at least indirectly, to acquire those much touted weapons of mass destruction.


But why, one might reasonably ask, would Israeli agents help their supposed enemies get hold of the bomb?


Well, what would be the likely outcome if Obama's worst fears of a nuclear attack on the United States -- or one of its allies -- are realized?


Regardless of the facts, some Islamic country… would be blamed for aiding the terrorists. And it doesn't require an advanced degree in game theory to predict what America's reaction would be. The retaliation would be so swift and devastating that the designated evildoers might envy the fate of post-invasion Iraqis -- also victims of an Israeli misdirection.


If, as Benjamin Netanyahu admitted, 9/11 was "very good" for Israel, a nuclear 9/11 might be even better. As the spellbinding effects of that traumatic event nine years ago have begun to wear off, and with Americans increasingly questioning the costs of a one-sided alliance, it may even be considered necessary.

 

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


TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

A TALE OF TWO VIDEOS

BY GUL JAMMAS HUSSAIN

 

Some very contradictory reports have been issued about the recent New York City car bomb plot.

The U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks activities of terrorist groups on the Internet, claimed on Sunday it had discovered a video posted by a group linked with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on video-sharing website Youtube that showed Taliban militants taking responsibility for the failed New York City car bomb plot, saying it would have been retribution for the death of former Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.


The Pakistani Taliban, who mostly come from illiterate Pashtun tribes and are based in the most underprivileged and underdeveloped area of the country, actually do not have the capacity to carry out terrorist attacks in the heart of New York.


The Pashtun in Pakistan's North and South Waziristan tribal areas, near the border with Afghanistan, live according a tribal code that is thousands of years old and are mostly cut off from the modern way of life. They can place bombs here and there, particularly in cities near their stronghold, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but they don't have the knowledge and technology necessary to conduct sophisticated terrorist attacks in U.S. cities.

On Monday, the Pakistani Taliban also said they were not aware of a video attributed to them claiming responsibility for the attempted car bombing in New York late on Saturday.


"We don't know about this video. As far as I know, none of our people have posted it. We have no information about it," TTP chief spokesman Azam Tariq said on Monday.


If the Taliban is not behind this failed terrorist plot in New York, then who is?


The New York surveillance video, made public late on Sunday, shows an unidentified white man, apparently in his 40s, slipping down Shubert Alley and taking off his shirt, revealing another underneath. In the same clip, he's seen looking back in the direction of the smoking vehicle and surreptitiously putting the first shirt in a bag.

On Monday, the hunt was on for this man. Authorities also wanted to talk to the owner of the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder that was used in the attempted attack.


New York Police Department officials called it the most serious car bomb plot in the city since the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, in which six people were killed and more than 1,000 injured, The Associated Press reported.


So, why are so many media outlets focusing on the video allegedly made by the Taliban, which most people believe is fake, and not focusing on the video of the white man, which is definitely not fake? Could it be that the Western media outlets do not want to say that the main suspect is an ethnic European? Is there some racism involved? Do the executives of these Western media outlets want to blame a person of color?


Or could it be that the New York City car bomb plot was a false flag operation meant to implicate Muslims, which was inconveniently exposed by a surveillance camera video?

 

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


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

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - BITTERSWEET JOY ON PRESS FREEDOM DAY

 

It was thanks to the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government that Turkey's press freedom records could be brought to the attention of the international community, especially after world-record tax levies were issued against the Doğan Media Group last year.

 

We have no intention to revisit the same discussions but as the entire world and Turkey celebrated the World Press Freedom day yesterday we wanted to look into the situation in Turkey once again.

 

Let's see how the state of the press freedom worsened in Turkey in just a year's time: According to Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers, or RSF (Reporters Without Borders), Turkey ranks 122 among 175 countries with respect to the level of freedom granted to the press. In 2008, the same list placed Turkey in the 102, showing how the country retreated 20 ranks only in two years time. That should not be a good record for a country that aspires to join the European Union, the world's leading democracy and human rights union.

 

A number of newspapers were banned, hundreds of journalists are being prosecuted and nearly 40 journalists are imprisoned, according to the Journalists' Union of Turkey, or TGS.

 

That's why the TGS has called on the government to make necessary legal amendments to protect journalists from being prosecuted just because of their journalistic work.

 

The same evaluation has come from the Freedom House, a U.S.-based independent watchdog organization. "Freedom of the press still has a ways to go in Turkey particularly when it comes to domestic media outlets," read its worldwide freedom of the press report that was extensively covered by the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review last week. The report also rated Turkey "partly free" in terms of press freedom based on developments over the past year.

 

In the today's contemporary world, the level of freedom of expression indicates the level of democratization in each country. Unfortunately, the mentioned findings about the Turkish media do not give much hope for the country's future.

 

It's high time for the government, the media and the related civil society organizations to ponder ways to secure the freedom of press in Turkey. The government should remove all legal barriers in front of the media's freedom, the media should focus on how it could increase its content quality and the civil society should stand as a back-up force in these efforts.

 

This picture of press freedom is not fit for an EU applicant country that seeks to become among the leading countries in the world. As a member of the G-20 and a member of all sorts of European organizations except the EU itself, Turkey should for sure do better in this respect

 

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


HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

THINKING A LA TURCA (1)

CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER

 

Cultures have different systems of producing thoughts and opinion. In the Eastern culture we belong to production of thought generally based on faith even if we have unbelievers. In the West, however, in Anglo-Saxon culture in particular, thoughts are based on information and facts.

 

Therefore, opinions are advocated by information and concrete realities in the West.

 

In our country, one whose thoughts rely on faith believes that simply addressing opinions is sufficient to defend them. Information and reasoning are not of much importance. As his/her opinion is criticized, the one is offended as though his/her faith is questioned.

 

Today and tomorrow, I will try to explain what I mean by that.

 

I am giving an example from Radikal daily's Cengiz Çandar today.

 

Çandar preferred not to answer to the claims of Professor Dani Rodrik in relation to the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) Operation (see the interview by Devrim Sevimay of Milliyet daily, dated April 19 and 20, 2010). But he loves to express opinions against Gareth Jenkins.

 

Çandar wrote the following in his article dated April 20:

 

"... Three members of the Independent Turkey Commission known as 'Wise Men' met with the Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Deniz Baykal for a short while ago… Primarily with the Nobel Peace Prize Winner former Finnish President Marti Ahtisaari who is beyond argument a guru in international affairs… During the meeting, they talked about the Ergenekon crime gang issue as well. Baykal passes Jenkins' report to the Independent Turkey Commission… Ahtisaari reading the text summarizes it in two words: ''whitewashing military.'