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Thursday, May 6, 2010

EDITORIAL 06.05.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



Month may 06, edition 000500, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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




























































  7. UK ELECTIONS 2010

































The Supreme Court ruling declaring the use of narco-analysis, brain mapping and polygraph tests — unless consent is secured from the person being subjected to them — as 'illegal' and 'un-constitutional' comes as a big blow to investigative agencies. The apex court has determined that the use of these scientific techniques is in contravention of Article 20(3) of the Constitution which says that no person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself or herself. This newspaper believes the Supreme Court has, in this instance, erred in its narrow interpretation of a constitutional provision and in the application of moral principles of an individual's right to privacy. India is not a police state and narco-analysis, brain mapping or polygraph tests are not conducted at random on anybody and everybody, or to browbeat critics and opponents of the Government into submission. There are proper procedures in place to ensure that these techniques are not misused. Besides, narco-analysis, brain mapping and polygraph tests are resorted to by the police when they hit a wall while investigating serious crimes such as murder, financial fraud and terrorism to achieve a breakthrough that can, in turn, be used for gathering corroborative evidence. The results of these tests by themselves do not constitute evidence. In other words, they are useful for investigators in cases where hard or circumstantial evidence is virtually impossible to come by despite best efforts. For example, a person suspected to have plotted or aided a terrorist attack may have covered up his tracks. Or a fraudster may have taken care not to leave a paper trail. Or, as in the infamous murder of Arushi, the killer may have destroyed all evidence. In such cases, investigators do require means like narco-analysis, brain mapping and polygraph tests for a vital clue or to simply determine if the person suspected to have committed the crime is, in reality, innocent. We live in troubled times and in an imperfect world. Utopian values rooted in constitutionalism are desirable, but for that we must wait for a while. In any event, busting crime is a messy affair around the world; there is nothing unique about India.

Rights activists opposed to narco-analysis, brain mapping and polygraph tests absurdly claim that these scientific investigative techniques amount to obtaining confession through torture. This is absolutely untrue. Putting a suspect through what is commonly referred to as a 'lie detection' test is not the same as water boarding and similar methods that are used for extracting confession under duress. Custodial torture is abhorrent and has no place in a civilised, democratic country. But surely supervised, benign scientific lie detection tests do not qualify as custodial torture? As for an individual's right not to give evidence against himself or herself is concerned, taken to an extreme it could lead to a situation where men — and women — could disown paternity and paternal responsibility through the expedient means of refusing to undergo a DNA test. Would that be in order? More importantly, would the courts uphold the right of an individual to refuse to undergo a DNA test? Absolutism does not necessarily contribute to a better society.







The Trinamool Congress's days of dependence on political aristocrats like the Congress is nearing an end, signalling the confidence of Ms Mamata Banerjee on pulling off a spectacular victory in the coming elections to 81 municipalities, including the crucial Kolkata Municipal Corporation. By effectively breaking off the partnership with the Congress, by refusing to submit to its request for more seats in Kolkata, declaring that she would convert it into a 'signboard' and so outraging members of the 125-year-old institution, Ms Banerjee is making it known that she expects to emerge as an independent regional power in West Bengal ahead of the 2011 State Assembly election. Even if Ms Banerjee's ambitious solo flight appears fanciful to her critics, given that both the Congress and the CPI(M) have become rivals, if not bitter foes, albeit separately, as the about to emerge Queen Bee, the capacity to attract drones like the mercurial Subrata Mukherjee, who has crossed and re-crossed the floor, is a confirmation of the Trinamool Congress's status as the only alternative. To test her power is a temptation that Ms Banerjee has clearly succumbed to; failure will not destroy either her or the Trinamool Congress, but will certainly injure her pride and the prospects of the party in 2011.

For, the Trinamool Congress has come of age. It is no longer a breakaway group from the Congress. It is no longer a subordinate of any larger alliance that it may choose to be a part of in order to become a stakeholder in any Government at the Centre. It is a full-fledged regional party with its own history, quirks and successes. Between 2006 and now, Ms Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress have travelled an incredible distance. By clambering on to the various anti-land acquisition, resistance against police atrocities platforms in Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh, stubbornly denying the legitimacy of the anti-Maoist policy and operations to the point of denying that there are Maoists operating in West Bengal, by driving out the Nano manufacturing facility and then setting up an auto logistics hub under the Railway Ministry, Ms Banerjee has proved that she can turn cartwheels, somersault and get away with more than any other political party in the State without losing her popularity. During this last vertiginous ride, Ms Banerjee has acquired dubious associates and has unabashedly wooed minority voters that has provoked the CPI(M) into branding her a Maoist stooge and made the Congress wrinkle its nose in disapproval. Therefore, what appears as recklessness to others is probably a carefully calculated risk that Ms Banerjee has taken keeping in mind the need to ensure that there are no free-loaders when the 2011 election comes around. By Ms Banerjee's reckoning, the Congress has hitched a ride while the Trinamool Congress has done all the hard work. Now and in the future, it appears, Ms Banerjee wants to reap what she alone has sown.







When a Pakistani official lauds an Indian Prime Minister (in this case Mr Manmohan Singh) for his "vision" and welcomes the "legacy" he wants to leave behind, it is cause for grave worry. Ahead of the meeting between Mr Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani in Thimpu last week, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the Indian Prime Minister is "a well-meaning individual, he has a vision, he wants to leave a legacy behind". Surely, a vision that pleases a visibly and audibly intransigent Pakistan cannot be one that will particularly benefit India. Nevertheless, Mr Singh seems to be acquiring quite a fan-club across the border.

Apart from calling India's dossiers of evidence against the 26/11 terror perpetrators pieces of fiction and refusing to display any meaningful action against terrorism emanating from its soil, Pakistan now says India's linkage of talks and action against terror has "dragged too long" and that "nobody is buying that anymore". Mr Qureshi is right. Apart from the Pakistanis themselves, now the Americans are not buying it. Hence the eminently avoidable Prime Ministerial-level meet in Thimpu.

One is perhaps unable to understand the logic underlying the current exchange between India and Pakistan but the subcontinent's history says Pakistan's intentions are not exactly well-meaning. Therefore, when senior Indian officials talk about a certain "chemistry" between Mr Singh and Mr Gilani or speak of how the latter "batted" for Mr Singh after the ignominious Sharm el-Sheikh meeting last July, citizens of this country need to know whether all that bonhomie is not actually compromising our national interest and security. Are all those virtues in our Prime Minister, so suddenly visible to the Pakistanis, or the mere chemistry between two individuals, on which Indian officials are pinning all their hopes, really geared to address India's genuine concerns vis-à-vis Pakistan? Perhaps, Mr Singh is indeed on his way to creating a legacy: That of India's abject surrender to those who bleed and terrorise its innocent civilians. Little else explains the Manmohan Singh Government's inexplicable moves to keep the veneer of diplomacy with Pakistan on despite the latter emerging more recalcitrant after each dialogue initiative.

From the arrest of a Pakistani-origin man in the Times Square bombing attempt to a Pakistani who will be sentenced — hopefully, to death — in Mumbai today for the 26/11 attack, Pakistan's footprints indeed span from Mumbai to Manhattan. While the United States may have its own set of reasons to humour such a Pakistan, there is no rationale whatsoever for India to repeatedly expose itself to Pakistani bluster. Incidentally, only two days after the Times Square incident, seven people are arrested in Pakistan; nearly two years after Mumbai, we are still sending across dossiers. From Yekaterinburg and Sharm el-Sheikh to New Delhi and now Thimpu, India is desperately trying to open a channel of dialogue with Pakistan that remains invisible to the other side. In fact, each attempt has seen the emergence of a more arrogant Pakistan. In theory, India's approach cannot be faulted. It is seeking to adopt a step-by-step approach to get Pakistan to first deliver on the more specific cases relating to the Mumbai terror attack and then move on to the larger question of that country eliminating all terror camps operating from its soil. Fair enough. Had this approach borne even the minutest of results, one had reason to hope and be patient.

However, after officially stating that India has resumed dialogue only under intense American pressure, Pakistan has made it annoyingly clear after each interaction since 26/11 that the talks are a part of the composite dialogue process, that the two sides have decided to discuss Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and water-sharing, issues that "concern both Pakistan and India". After each official interaction, the Pakistanis have made their irritation with India's repeated "harping" on Mumbai quite apparent. This, even as India continues to flood Pakistan with 26/11 dossiers; it now intends to send across a copy of Ajmal Kasab's judgement along with fresh sets of evidence against the 20 others implicated, including masterminds Hafiz Saeed and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, and seek their extradition — all a pointless exercise. While New Delhi has everything neatly figured out on paper, it is unable to read the complexities of the minds working in Islamabad. Miles away from worries of extradition, therefore, Saeed and Lakhvi brazenly continue their anti-India operations under the very nose — and active patronage — of Pakistani authorities.

What could possibly explain Pakistan's continuing defiance, including its repeated posturing on the dialogue issue, its insistence that India, more than Pakistan, was desperate to resume talks, a charge New Delhi has sought to ignore rather than forcefully counter? Why is India remaining a mute spectator to the changing goalposts of its engagement with Pakistan that are being unilaterally shifted by the latter, particularly the recent clamour about India's "water terrorism" that could become a "nuclear flashpoint", a subject that has been appended to the Kashmir issue at various international fora by Pakistan in recent months? Is there even an iota of shift in Pakistan's position, on Mumbai specifically and on terror in general, since Yekaterinburg last June which propels the hope that eventually Islamabad will fall in line?

Clearly, Pakistan's nuisance value is what is fetching it international attention: It is a nuclear power that could press the button under the least of provocations from India. In the aftermath of 26/11 world capitals went into a spin, anticipating a military reply from India that could critically shift Pakistan's focus from Afghanistan, apart from increasing the chances of a nuclear war. Given Mr Singh's disposition no one need have worried. However, the spectre itself was enough to get the hotlines between Washington and New Delhi working. Talk to Pakistan, was the suggestion, even if the terms of engagement bring little benefit to India. Not one to displease, Mr Singh obliged, alternately shaking hands with the Pakistani President and Prime Minister in various corners of the world, Kodak moments that have suitably reassured US President Barack Obama.

Engagement is a sound principle in diplomacy and international strategy. However, such an exercise must visibly augment a country's strategic worth and clout, particularly so in India's case as it seeks its rightful place on the global stage. Unfortunately, this ongoing engagement with Pakistan, apart from exposing the Manmohan Singh Government's helplessness against a petty neighbour, has also led to legitimate questions on whether, on its way to becoming a major world power, India has woefully surrendered to the American game in South Asia instead.






While there are opinions galore regarding the Government's proposal to introduce a three-and-a-half year medical course christened as Bachelor of Rural Healthcare in order to cater to the healthcare needs of those living in rural areas, the basic question is: Why has such a need arisen after 62 years of independence? Why are 80 per cent of doctors still treating only 20 per cent of our population?

The answer lies in our poor rural medical infrastructure. On the contrary, there is no dearth of quality medical facilities in our cities — particularly in the private sector. Therefore, the question arises: Why is there such a huge gap in our rural and urban medical infrastructure? There are two main reasons for this: First, the Government's apathy towards rural healthcare, and second, the reluctance of our medical professionals to serve in rural areas.

There is no denying that the Union Government has given a great impetus to rural development by making a higher budgetary allocation of Rs 66,137.86 crore for 2010-11 as compared to Rs 62,201.40 crore for 2009-10. But the big question is: Will the amount suffice to meet the huge expenses for development of the most underdeveloped villages throughout the country? This is because rural infrastructure development includes a plethora of subjects such as construction of roads and bridges, electrification, minor and medium irrigation facilities, soil conservation, watershed management, reclamation of waterlogged areas, drainage, forest development, primary education, healthcare, drinking water management, etc. Attention needs to be given to all of these to entice urban doctors to open up practices in rural areas. But most of the time such desirable holistic development is missing.

The primary healthcare system in rural India needs qualified and dedicated doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc, in the extant Sub-Centres, Primary Health Centres and the Community Health Centres. But this will not happen unless there is holistic rural development. The Government must re-focus its energies to achieve this objective.







A US citizen of Pakistani origin, who still retains his Pakistani citizenship after having acquired American citizenship, was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the John F Kennedy Airport in New York on Monday in connection with their investigation into the attempted incendiary attack at Times Square on the evening of May 1. He had boarded a Dubai-bound flight of the Emirate Airlines after having passed through security and immigration controls. The doors of the aircraft had been closed and it had started moving away from the departure gates when the FBI ordered it to come back to the departure gates and took him into custody. He was to be produced before a local court on May 4.

The FBI has taken over the responsibility for the investigation of the case from the New York Police, thereby indicating that the authorities suspected that the attempted incendiary attack could have links with international terrorism. The name of the arrested suspect has been given by sections of the US media as Shahzad Faisal, but Mr Eric Holder, the US Attorney-General, gave his name as Faisal Shahzad.

He is stated to be 30 years old and has been described by some reports as an information technology expert. It is not known whether he is a Pashtun, but some reports say he is married to a woman from Peshawar, the capital of the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, who had studied in the United Kingdom before migrating to the US. It is not known when Faisal Shahzad migrated to the US, but he was naturalised as a US citizen on April 17, 2009. He travelled to Dubai in June 2009, and returned to Connecticut, his city of residence, in April 2010. During this period, he is believed to have spent about five months in Pakistan. It is not known where he spent the remaining period.

The breakthrough in the investigation came after the police established that the Nissan Pathfinder vehicle which was used for the failed incendiary attack had been bought by a Hispanic or Middle-Eastern looking man from a woman of Connecticut three weeks ago for $ 1800 paid in cash. The police had established her as the original owner of the car with the help of the identification number. The suspect had erased the number from the dashboard, but not from the engine. She had advertised for the sale of the car in one of the Internet sites for the sale/purchase of used cars.

She did not recall the name of the purchaser, but identified Faisal as the buyer from his picture shown to her by the FBI. It is not clear how the FBI zeroed in on him. There are two possibilities: Either he was already under watch by the FBI or he was one of the Pakistani-origin residents of Connecticut who had recently returned after a longish visit to Pakistan and hence appeared in the database of the FBI which keeps track of residents of Pakistani origin spending a long period in Pakistan.

It is not clear why the FBI immediately did not flash his name to the airport security in all airports. The fact that he was able to pass through the security and immigration controls at the JFK Airport and board the aircraft shows that at the time he passed through the controls they had no adverse information about him. Luckily, after he had boarded the aircraft, the authorities realised he was on board the aircraft and brought it back to arrest him.

The investigating authorities do not know as yet whether he was a lone wolf terrorist or whether he had accomplices. They seem to be conducting their investigation on the presumption that there could be accomplices. The FBI has till now identified him only as the person who had purchased the Nissan Pathfinder vehicle and not as the person who drove the vehicle to the Times Square and left it there with the timed incendiary device inside. They are enquiring whether it was he who left the vehicle or someone else.

The claim made by Qari Hussain Mehsud of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan regarding responsibility for the attempt is now being taken a little more seriously by the FBI because the message making the claim had been recorded before the incident. The FBI is also taking seriously a separate message of Hakimullah Mehsud, the Amir of the TTP, warning of reprisal strikes in the US, which had also been recorded before May 1.

Both the TTP and the Islamic Jihad Union have been angry against the US over its Drone strikes in North and South Waziristan. The TTP has been angry because of the death of Baitullah Mehsud, its then Amir, following a Drone strike in August last, and the subsequent injury to Hakimullah in another strike in January, 2010. The IJU is angry because of the alleged death of its leader Najmiddin Jalolov in a Drone strike.

According to some speculation, the Nissan vehicle was parked near the offices of Viacom Inc that owns the theatre Comedy Central. The theatre reportedly recently staged an episode of the animated show South Park, which was strongly criticised by a group called the Muslim Revolution for allegedly insulting Prophet Mohammad. Was this also a possible motive? It is not yet clear.

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








Serious as the charge is against Union Minister Sisir Adhikari of the Trinamool Congress for financing a paltry Rs 1.2 lakh to buy arms from a Bangladeshi dealer, Parliament cannot waste its very expensive time, Rs 14 lakh an hour, to pursue this. There are other subjects involving high-value scams such as IPL and the auction of 2G spectrum that require greater attention.

While the Adhikari affair is grist for the CPI(M) and the BJP, it is nevertheless a minor matter and will not serve to cause a disintegration of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance. Neither the Trinamool Congress nor the Congress are in a hurry to end the relationship because separately they are weaker than the CPI(M) while together they stand a good chance of bringing the uninterrupted reign to an end.

Being called offensive names in West Bengal by Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee does not seem to affect the Congress's self-esteem, perhaps because taking cognisance of insults is injurious to its health in the long term. This does raise questions about what the Congress and the Trinamool Congress intend to do with power once they succeed in ousting the CPI(M).

The forthcoming municipal election in West Bengal concerns issues of civic services and urban infrastructure. Even if the Trinamool Congress is not answerable, the Congress certainly is accountable for how it proposes to tackle the enormously complex and complicated task of planning and managing the breakneck speed with which India is urbanising. Since the two parties have as of now parted company, albeit only for the municipal elections, each must have a vision for what it hopes to do after winning in one or many or most or all of the 81 urban bodies where the contest is on.

Kolkata, unlike Pujali municipality, is a teeming metropolis and the pressure for services makes managing its infrastructure as complex as running a city State or a metropolitan Government. Other cities like Howrah, Durgapur, Haldia, Burdwan and Siliguri require just as much managing because there is a serious mismatch between the infrastructure that exists and the infrastructure that is required in 20 years to meet the needs of a rapidly urbanising India.

Soon after winning the Lok Sabha election, Ms Banerjee had declared that she could transform Kolkata almost overnight making it the equivalent of London, just as she had promised to make Darjeeling, a hill town, into Switzerland, a country. Having raised expectations that Kolkata, the poorest among the three mega cities of India, can be changed into London, the Trinamool Congress now needs to do more than merely nominate 141 candidates to win a majority in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.

Whereas the Congress has a great deal of information on what is required in terms of urban services and infrastructure as well as the strategies required to finance and implement these needs, the Trinamool Congress is on an entirely different plane. The party operates on manipulating sentiment. With a slogan like "Maa, Mati, Manush" it could compel the closure of the Tata Motors venture in Singur linking the factory to forcible acquisition of land. With the same slogan how can it hope to deliver urban services and build infrastructure?

One answer would be that the Trinamool Congress would follow the lead of Railway Minister Banerjee. In every municipality, town and city, including Kolkata, it would announce a slew of initiatives for improvement of services. In the same way it would set up a flagship facility such as the auto logistic hub at Shalimar in Howrah district and then go slow on following it up with other more complicated and expensive infrastructure development projects.

That however would be a disaster for West Bengal and a nuisance for India. Urbanisation has to be a planned, controlled and strongly monitored process because it requires massive funding and massive construction. The old style haphazard construction of housing, roads and infrastructure can no longer work because now the process of urbanisation is not being driven by policy-makers but is part of the economic transformation under liberalisation.

Providing infrastructure for Kolkata of the same quality and efficiency as London will require from the Trinamool Congress a strong leadership. Oddly enough, Ms Banerjee has fought shy of naming any of the 116 she nominated in the first round as a possible Mayor. Without a leader and without a blueprint that would set the priorities and agenda of a Trinamool Congress-led Kolkata Municipal Corporation, Ms Banerjee is living dangerously.

The CPI(M) inspired furore in Parliament over the possible misdeeds of Mr Adhikari may, therefore, be a welcome diversion for the anti-CPI(M) pro-Trinamool Congress voter who may otherwise recall Ms Banerjee's promises of making Kolkata a clone of London, once the capital of an Empire that continues to strike a chord in the Bengali imagination.






The ACRO-PET resembles a pen and can detect TATP, a peroxide bomb detonator used in many major terror attacks worldwide.

It's a white crystalline powder with a distinctive acrid odour. TATP is a peroxide bomb detonator and an explosive of choice for airport bombers. If it had been detected at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, the underwear bomber en route to Detroit several months ago would have been foiled much sooner.

Would-be bombers have managed to smuggle TATP on board before. In 2001, Richard Reid of Al Qaeda targeted American Airlines Flight 63 with a TATP trigger for a bomb concealed in his shoe. But underwear and shoe bombers beware: A technology developed by Israelis and Americans is now your nightmare.

Collaboration between an American researcher and Prof Ehud Keinan of the Technion —Israel Institute of Technology has culminated in a new way to foil terrorists carrying TATP-based explosives. Resembling a pen —although you can't write with it — the device is a new weapon in the arsenal shared by airport security personnel, police and environmentalists. Prof Keinan and Prof Philip Dawson from the Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California, recently developed and commercialised the ACRO-PET (Peroxide Explosives Tester) — a simple and cost-effective device for detecting TATP.

Operated by touch, the sensitivity of the device is quite high, as it can identify as little as five microgrammes of TATP, an amount that can't be seen by the human eye. An operator touches the tip of the device to the surface of the suspicious material. The tip is then removed and the operator replaces it on the 'pen' and presses three levers, each of which releases 300 micro litres of solution. A colour change indicates the presence of TATP. If it's there, that's the time to make arrests.

"It's a next generation tool," says Mr Keinan, "most airports are not equipped with any devices (like this)."

Pinpointing terrorists before it's too lateAt a cost of about $ 25 per unit, the explosives tester is being sold through Acro Security Technologies. Founded and based in Israel, Acro Security sells the ACRO-PET and other products to pinpoint terrorists before it's too late.

The pen-like device is a disposable item that can be used by non-experts, like US troops in West Asia, customs police, regular police and even environmentalists.

"Sometimes we face environmental hazards that use peroxide-based chemicals," Mr Keinan relates. "But it's especially useful at airports for reducing false positives any time peroxides or suspected peroxide materials are found. The main thing is the war against terror.

"Some major airlines equip every plane with these detectors. If, for example, the December 25 Nigerian guy — if they knew using this device what material they had on board, they could have reported the material before landing. Knowing beforehand is important to know how dangerous a material is and how it should be handled, whether it's real or fake," Mr Keinan explains.

Mr Keinan hopes that the ACRO-PET device will be made available on all flights, giving airline hosts a quick and accurate way to test suspicious materials they may discover. This will help ground authorities to prepare better and respond more rapidly if a suspected terrorist manages to make his or her way on board.

Hard to detect, until now

TATP is extremely lethal and has played a role in major terrorist attacks for the past three decades, relates Mr Keinan: "There are several reasons for the popularity of TATP among terror groups all over the world. It's easy to prepare from inexpensive raw materials, and was difficult to detect (until now)."

Previous research on the science behind the device was reported in the journal Crystal Growth and Design. And lucky for Mr Keinan, he retained royalty rights after the Technion showed no interest in helping him to commercialise the research.

Mr Keinan and Mr Dawson's research was funded by organisations like the Binational Science Foundation, an Israel-US initiative that funds science research between the two countries to meet common goals.

"We invented the chemistry," says Mr Keinan. "It's based on enzyme catalysis, a colorimetric system sensitive to hydrogen peroxide. We developed the methodology, and hold the American patent, which is the basis of the product. It's been commercialised for about one and a half years and it's picking up momentum."

Mr Dawson's lab has developed new protein engineering tools that enable synthetic organic chemistry to be applied directly to proteins. These tools are being used to address fundamental questions in protein folding, stability and enzymatic catalysis.

Ten years of science

Working on the science behind it for about 10 years, it took several years for the researchers to find the right investors to take their idea to the commercial phase. The Israeli contribution escorted the product through development, and through the first, second and third prototypes. The final product is now in use around the world in South Africa, Australia and China, and also in the US where the company is now focussing its marketing efforts.

Aside from his work on ACRO-PET, Mr Keinan is still working on research at the Technion and is an associate professor at Scripps. He would gladly tells about his latest project, but "it's security-related and highly classified," he admits.






On Tuesday April 27, the Parliaments of Russia and Ukraine ratified an agreement extending by 25 years Russia's lease of the base in Sevastopol, where it's Black Sea Fleet is stationed. This agreement is the clearest sign yet of the two countries' rapprochement. Russia's relationship with Belarus, on the other hand, is veering off course.

In fact, this 'Slavic triangle' has never been isosceles. Until recently, Russian-Ukrainian relations were essentially frozen. The tension was only punctuated with periods of downright hostility. Moscow's alliance with Belarus seemed stable in comparison; the two countries even established the Union State with its own joint governing bodies.

Ukraine and Belarus have unexpectedly reversed roles. Russia's relations with Ukraine are improving with each passing day, while its Union State partner — who should be more than a mere ally — is making unfriendly statements about Moscow with ever greater frequency. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told Reuters in February that Russia is displaying the same imperial ambitions in its foreign policy as the United States. That is a breathtaking accusation.

Condemning Russia's "imperial ambitions" was a favourite pastime of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. Unsurprisingly, Russian-Ukrainian relations were strained during his tenure. Now that he has been replaced by Mr Viktor Yanukovych, bilateral relations are on the upswing. As for Belarus, the Government has not changed hands there for a long time. Mr Lukashenko has been running the country since 1994. During those 16 years, he seemingly failed to notice Russia's "imperial ambitions". What changed his mind? Why is it that Russia's long-time partner and faithful ally, as Mr Lukashenko once positioned himself, has changed his rhetoric so abruptly?

Mr Lukashenko's rhetoric continues to grow more and more aggressive. On April 25, the Belarusian leader said, "the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces seems to have forgotten that there are two Russian bases in Belarus: One near Baranovichi and the other near Vileika. Let me remind him that unlike for Sevastopol, Russia doesn't pay us a single ruble or kopeck in rent for these bases." Were it not for the long-standing alliance between Russia and Belarus, this "reminder" might have sounded an awful lot like blackmail. But Mr Lukashenko did not stop there. "Russia has no friends in the West except for the Belarusian army," he added.

Mr Lukashenko made this statement right after Russia and Ukraine signed the agreement on the Sevastopol base. Russia will be able to keep its Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine, but at a price of several billion dollars. True, if the lease had not been extended, the cost of relocating the fleet to a new base in Novorossiysk would have been much greater. But this would have been Russia's problem, not Ukraine's.

Could it be that Mr Lukashenko's grudge is rooted in the fact that Belarus makes no profit from Russian military bases? This is not even the first time he raised the issue of money. "Russia will have to pay hard currency for something it is used to get free of charge," Mr Lukashenko said in February. He also claims that Belarus has lost a total of $ 5 billion since January 1, when Moscow introduced export customs duties on refined oil products and petrochemicals supplied to Belarus. This dispute has been taken up by the CIS Economic Court. In any case, it's strange to see two members of a Union State squabbling over money.

Was it a coincidence that the dispute escalated just as Russian-Ukrainian relations finally began to improve? Hardly. Mr Lukashenko is an experienced and shrewd politician. He has always been adept at exploiting Belarus's role as Russia's only friend in a hostile environment and its geographical position as Russia's gateway to Europe. Mr Lukashenko was not troubled by the New Year's gas wars between Moscow and Ukraine. Instead he saw an opening to pressure Moscow for even more generous subsidies.

Now the situation has reversed. Mr Lukashenko has lost his unique role now that Moscow has settled its gas dispute with Ukraine and signed a range of agreements, including the extension of the lease on the Sevastopol base and a gas supply agreement with an enormous 30 per cent discount for Ukraine. Perhaps this is why Mr Lukashenko recently launched a broadside against Russia's policy toward Kyrgyzstan.

The writer is a Moscow-based commentator on current affairs.








What is being counted as the 31st attempt after 9/11 to stage a terrorist strike in the US may turn out to be one of the most important ones yet. Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistan-born American citizen who attempted to explode a car bomb in Times Square, the figurative heart of New York, may have been incompetent but the significance of what he tried to do is no less for it. His ineptitude - coupled with highly effective work by US security personnel - has enabled his capture, shedding light on the changing pattern of terrorist strikes. And it further emphasises - after David Coleman Headley, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the men responsible for the 2005 London metro bombings and those who had planned a similar attack on the New York metro system ^ that extremism is no longer just an external threat in the US and Europe, but an internal one as well.

Given that the Shahzad investigation is just beginning, it is difficult to say anything with certitude, but his confession so far underscores the common denominator in many of these cases - the badlands along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. With the leadership of the Afghan Taliban as well as the Pakistani Taliban - the latter having claimed credit for the Times Square attempt - now based in north Waziristan, it is perhaps the epicentre of global terrorism.

The links between this new breed of terrorists - men like Headley and Shahzad, not driven to extremism by poverty and a lack of options but members of elites who have spent a great deal of their lives in the western societies they turn on - lead directly from the US to this region. It is where they go to be trained and taught how to carry out terrorist strikes.

So far, the attempts may have been amateurish. In addition, the US's internal security mechanisms, thoroughly revamped after 9/11, have been effective, blips notwithstanding. But all it would take for a major propaganda victory for the extremists would be one strike. Preventive measures within US borders are well and good, but they are the last line of defence at the end of the terror trail. Without severe abrogation of civil rights - and perhaps not even then - they cannot be made foolproof. It is at the source that the problem must be tackled. All roads lead to north Waziristan, and the sooner Washington and Islamabad realise this, the better.







What is being counted as the 31st attempt after 9/11 to stage a terrorist strike in the US may turn out to be one of the most important ones yet. Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistan-born American citizen who attempted to explode a car bomb in Times Square, the figurative heart of New York, may have been incompetent but the significance of what he tried to do is no less for it. His ineptitude - coupled with highly effective work by US security personnel - has enabled his capture, shedding light on the changing pattern of terrorist strikes. And it further emphasises - after David Coleman Headley, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the men responsible for the 2005 London metro bombings and those who had planned a similar attack on the New York metro system ^ that extremism is no longer just an external threat in the US and Europe, but an internal one as well.

Given that the Shahzad investigation is just beginning, it is difficult to say anything with certitude, but his confession so far underscores the common denominator in many of these cases - the badlands along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. With the leadership of the Afghan Taliban as well as the Pakistani Taliban - the latter having claimed credit for the Times Square attempt - now based in north Waziristan, it is perhaps the epicentre of global terrorism.

The links between this new breed of terrorists - men like Headley and Shahzad, not driven to extremism by poverty and a lack of options but members of elites who have spent a great deal of their lives in the western societies they turn on - lead directly from the US to this region. It is where they go to be trained and taught how to carry out terrorist strikes.

So far, the attempts may have been amateurish. In addition, the US's internal security mechanisms, thoroughly revamped after 9/11, have been effective, blips notwithstanding. But all it would take for a major propaganda victory for the extremists would be one strike. Preventive measures within US borders are well and good, but they are the last line of defence at the end of the terror trail. Without severe abrogation of civil rights - and perhaps not even then - they cannot be made foolproof. It is at the source that the problem must be tackled. All roads lead to north Waziristan, and the sooner Washington and Islamabad realise this, the better.







The point about today's British general election is we missed it. It barely figured on India's collective radar. If anything, it was like the cow's waning "audience-appeal" so entertainingly described by P G Wodehouse in his Blandings series on that fluffy-minded, pig-loving peer, Lord Emsworth. "It was a fine cow, as cows go, but, like so many cows, it lacked sustained dramatic interest." That was Wodehouse's The Custody of the Pumpkin, published 1924.

So too the British general election. It was a fine election, as elections go, but like so many elections, it lacked dramatic interest (for India). It says a great deal about 21st-century Britain that Wodehouse remains a good fit nearly a hundred years after The Custody of the Pumpkin appeared to celebrate a country where passions run high in the vegetable beds.

A century after Wodehouse employed the plummy phraseology of pre-war English upper-class society to convey a certain idea of England, he is still held to capture the faded, cabbage roses and cribbage essence of Englishness. A A Gill, the satirical, strenuously politically incorrect Anglo-Indian food critic so beloved of those who read The Sunday Times, London, is right to describe Britain as a country replete with "the hand-me-down vanity of tradition, the authority of history, the sonorous tic of convention".

Is this what makes India fluffy-minded about British politics 2010? Do we regard Britain as a too-tiny, too-traditional, former imperial power, hemmed in by Europe, the Great Recession and its own inconsequentialism? Admittedly, a British election has little direct effect on the wider world. When roughly 45 million Britons decide whether or not to eject the Labour party and its dour leader Gordon Brown from 13 years in office, whether or not to give the Conservatives led by the very Wodehousian David Cameron a viable chance to govern, or accord the shiny faced Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats a stab at playing kingmaker, they are not playing midwife to a cataclysmic birth. Britons don't get to elect "the most powerful man in the world"; that's still for the Americans to do. Britons don't choose the men whose investment, purchase and manufacturing decisions can sicken or strengthen economies around the world; that's for the Chinese to suffer.

The point about India's apparent indifference to the British election 2010 and British politics in general is as comforting as it is dispiriting. It is a compound of profound trust and extreme presumption. Both India and Britain trust their relationship and presume upon it. It is noteworthy that if India virtually ignored the British election, Britain repaid the compliment in full measure a year ago. The Delhi correspondent of a leading British daily recently recounted the lack of interest from his London newsdesk about the Indian general election and contrasted this with the screaming attention given to the Pakistani polls. It was a backhanded compliment to Indian political stability.

For India, a new government in London will not - and cannot - fundamentally alter the dynamics of the bilateral relationship, which is too well entrenched to be casually nudged off-course. A brand new British prime minister will not - and cannot - unilaterally rejig relations to plumb new depths. In 2010, India and Britain are arguably at the best point in a 63-year fox-trot that has required much nimble footwork, careful steering and an attentive ear for the rhythm of the bilateral mood music, be it Kashmir, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, shoals of illegal Indian immigrants to the UK or unfair treatment of UK-based Indian doctors. Today, the equation is solidly based on the stuff the Sensex is made of, the case for more mergers and acquisitions and stronger foreign direct investment flows in both directions.

Cameron, who may wind up as the next British prime minister if numerous opinion polls are correct, recently argued for a new, formalised "special relationship" between India and Britain. In 2006, he notably chose India for his first overseas trip as Conservative Party leader. He now argues that the case for a special relationship "just gets stronger and stronger. India is the second largest investor in Britain, there are 600 Indian companies based here and trade between the two countries is 13 billion pounds a year".

He was not saying anything startlingly new or pithy. No British politician could disagree. Therein lies the strength ^ and the reason ^ for profound bilateral trust, presumption and, it has to be said, indifference to changes of government.

Even so, most countries are like women and inordinately partial to compliments, moonshine and appropriate attentiveness. It is in India's interest to know more about 21st-century Britain than half-remembered passages from Wodehouse, the opinions and travails of the 1.8 million Indians settled in the UK and rude one-liners on how Continental people have sex lives but the English have hot-water bottles.


After all, Britain remains one of the world's largest economies; London is the world's financial capital and a centre of excellence for the liberal arts from music to cinema; Britain is a permanent member of UN Security Council, has nuclear weapons and a lingering sense of guilt about Empire. It is in our interest to capitalise and build on this. A good start may be getting the name of the next British prime minister right.







Environment minister Jairam Ramesh has got this one right. He has said that his ministry has no intention to ban tourism in tiger reserves, as demanded by some sections of the environment department. Those in favour of the ban have argued that an increased number of tourists and tourism-related construction was proving to be disastrous for tigers and their habitat, resulting in dwindling numbers. This is a flawed argument. Indeed, the only way to save the tiger is to ensure that the economic value of a live tiger is much higher than the profit to be made from killing it for body parts. This can be done primarily by making tigers and tiger reserves a tourist draw.

The worrying fall in the number of tigers in India - which stands at around 1,400 - has little to do with tourists. This has happened because of poaching and encroachment of the tiger habitat. These are the real issues that need to be tackled. Our ill-equipped and poorly paid forest guards are fighting an uphill battle against poachers. Besides, forest conservation laws are regularly flouted.

All over the world tourists flock to see animals in their natural habitat without any adverse impact. Indeed, the money from tourism is funnelled back to protecting the animals. In India, some of the most-visited national parks such as Corbett or Bandhavgarh also have the highest number of tigers. However, no one is arguing that tourism in national parks should be unregulated. Tourists in tiger reserves must always be accompanied by trained guides. More importantly, tourism-related infrastructure should not be allowed inside the core areas of national parks and activities in wildlife resorts must be strictly regulated.

The Indian tiger is in dire straits. The only way to save it is to highlight how precious it is for our country and the world at large. Encouraging more tourists to tiger reserves will only help this cause.






So, the lid's been put on the tiger tourism fracas. Official talk about turning ecologically sensitive tiger reserves into no-go zones irked the tourism lobby. That lobby's won this round. None of this alters the fact unregulated wildlife tourism is a migraine for conservationists the world over. Yes, we love to look at untamed animals; if we can be billed for it, it's a business to boost like any other. Only, right now, there's a bigger priority: staving off tiger extinction. Just about 1,400 remain in natural habitats. Who knows how many will go the Sariska and Panna way?

Tiger tourism, some say, can be micro-managed. But if it's been a near-disaster till now, what's the chance we'll change stripes? We all know the scandal of hotels and lodges being built on tiger corridors, damaging grasslands and causing loss of precious habitat. We all know unsupervised tourists turned picnickers and wedding guests harass the big cats and disperse their prey. As for tourism as a tool against poaching, law enforcers must net poachers anyway. If anything, serious issues like poaching and encroachment risk getting obscured in the wildlife tourism spat.

It's argued that tiger protection needs money, and foreign tourists especially bring top dollars. That's sophistry drawing on economic reductionism to give animals their due. It's like saying non-human species have a 'right' to exist only if bred for food or fur, hunted for sport or shackled in zoos and amusement parks. Without 'value' extraction, who'd care for crocs or dolphins? Here's the counter-argument. Species need conserving for their intrinsic worth. They have a life, a subjectivity and a purpose that are irreducible and inalienable. So, their 'value' doesn't depend on how many of us will pay to exploit them.







Mumbai's torrid tango with Ajmal Amir Kasab is over. From the moment  we saw that first eerie photograph, we had been  obsessed by this baby-faced monster. We never stopped being sickened, outraged, infuriated, frustrated -- even daily inconvenienced  by the detour-forcing barricades on Arthur Road where he sat secure in his multi-crore, bullet-proof and bomb-proof facility. Even the mountain of the court came to this Mahomet. 


Now the verdict has been delivered. The quantum of punishment will be announced today. One way or the other, it's a death foretold. Appeals, the bleeding hearts, the bring-the-big-fish-to book-first  brigade --all these can wait. The moment of truth has already come. We can exhale again. For me now the focus of fascination has shifted. From that consummate player in the dock to the man in the hotter seat. From the terrorist to the judge. Since Monday, I have been thinking about what  it takes to be Madan Laxmandas Tahaliyani. The cerebral prerequisites, yes, but even more, the psyche. The first must be completely engaged, the second must be completely detached. 


The painstaking 1,522-page judgment symbolized the herculean deliberation which has hall-marked this trial, arguably among the topmost in our threatened times. If  'due process' and 'rule of law' became the most hosanna-ed  triumphs of this week, then  Judge Tahaliyani was the totem of that victory. His unmoved acquittals bore this out as resoundingly as his undiluted verdict of 'guilty'.  The transparency, the punctilious fair play put us in the league of extraordinarily civilized nations. The trial was conducted with speed,  but the justice wasn't summary. In the eyes of the world, it separated us from kangaroo courts and banana republics. Most of all, it took our own breath away. 


But think about it. There's a lot in common between judges and terrorists, most notably, their temperament and their training. Both have to be unflinching in their mission, undistracted by the extraneous consideration, whether it appears as a negotiator's subtle ploy or the media's raucous cries for blood. Both must remain unmoved by the imploring tears, those of  the hostage or those of the accused. Both have to be coldly clinical, like a neurosurgeon  or Zen master, disciplined to respond, not react. 


The subterranean interplay of  Kasab and Judge Tahaliyani  is even more riveting. Extreme hierarchies create strange  relationships. Remember  the Stockholm Syndrome and the disturbing 1974 poster of a machine-gun-toting Patty Hearst against the flag of the Symbionese Liberation Army  which had earlier kidnapped this American  newspaper heiress for ransom? It's admittedly not  quite the same, but consider the power equation between the luckless sole-surviving terrorist and the man whom the world looked upon as the earthly emissary of divine justice. Or simply think about the hoopla  and hysteria over this trial, and the mental celibacy it must demand not to succumb to its seductions, the more subterranean, the more subversive. 


When the judge-prisoner interactions are so close, prolonged and concentrated on just one man, not a diffuse army of rioters or absconding bomb conspirators, and when it all takes place in the surreal confines of a courtroom deep within the bulletproof gut of a jail, then the biggest danger is intimacy; the first casualty, detachment. Through those 271 working days of the court, the 1,611 questions put to him, the 3,192 pages of evidence, virtually eating, drinking, sleeping, breathing the case (with no Diwali break), mere mortals would find it impossible not to get emotionally meshed to  Kasab with a Velcro strip's myriad hooks. But he peeled it away as ruthlessly as a  terrorist  -- that's  the awed verdict on  Judge Tahaliyani.  








As a nation, we certainly have a penchant for the divisive rather than the inclusive. So, the latest brouhaha over the demand for a caste-based census comes as no surprise. Leading the charge are heavyweights like Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Law Minister Veerappa Moily, Minister for Overseas Affairs Vayalar Ravi and others while Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Commerce Minister Anand Sharma oppose it. The sultans of caste politics Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad are naturally for it, as also the BJP and the Left. The suggestion that a separate agency handle the caste enumeration makes little sense. After all, the empirical data gathered will be the same, irrespective of who collects it. The question is whether such information, if available to political formations, could be misused. The answer is yes, but then again the lack of credible data is equally open to exploitation as we have seen in the past.

The argument that caste data is necessary to ensure that affirmative schemes are appropriately targeted is specious since the most deprived castes have in the past been overlooked despite a fair amount of information available. The last caste-based census was in 1931. The 79 years without data collection have neither eliminated caste distinctions nor have they ended caste inequality. However, caste is a reality, an often ugly one, in India. It has long been argued that caste cannot be a criterion for according State benefits, rather the basis should be economic. We have seen that there is tremendous resistance to this with the so-called creamy layer oppressing the weaker castes. The collection of caste data as proposed will, if the intention is to bolster affirmative action, face a major hurdle in the fact that caste is very fluid across the country. A lower caste in one state is not necessarily so in another. So, it would be difficult to find a median to determine which is a needy caste and which is not.

The government's argument that the census ball is already rolling and a new criterion cannot be added now is valid. It would be far better to debate the merits and demerits of a caste-based census in a rational manner, if that is possible, before introducing it. The prime minister has been a staunch advocate of meritocracy. It is a different matter that ground realities mitigate against this in many instances. That should be the holy grail that we should move towards. So, for the moment, it might be best to put this idea of a caste-based census on the backburner and examine other options to ensure a level-playing field for all citizens of the country.





Peaceniks have a genuine problem, they suffer from congenital agitation when they spot a trouble zone. Take for example the Scandinavians, the do-gooders-in-chief of the world. The moment they spot a troubled mass of humanity, they dart across and offer their services (and funds) as mediators. Whether you like them or not, never underestimate Scandinavian mediators: these good, doughty souls are even okay with taking couple of blows from both sides for the sake of an 'accord'. So we were not surprised to hear Finnish Foreign Minister, Alexander Stubb, advocate third party mediation in Kashmir. He did not exactly say that the Finns want the job, but we did detect a certain undertone of 'don't hesitate to drop us a line if the backyard's heating up a bit too much' in his words.

Why are the Scandinavians such indefatigable do-gooders? While we, in less fortunate parts of the world, are busy fighting our own battles, they seem to have no problems at all. Look at their line-up: the Norwegians in West Asia and Sri Lanka, the Danes in the biggest of the world crises, climate change and now, the Finns expressing their interest in India. Um, could it be the sunny beaches of Lanka, the diversity of India or the adrenaline-pumping politics of Pakistan?

But like in all jobs, we will need to do some background checks. And what do we have? The Oslo Accord didn't go down too well with the Norwegians being called "Israel's helpful errand boy". In Lanka, all mediation was put to rest with the president mowing down the LTTE. The climate change summit hardly managed to cool down the world. A Kashmir solution no doubt will look good on Finland's CV, but we've no vacancies. Not a Finn-Finn situation at present.






'Namaskar, I am Raman Kumar from Kanker, Chhattisgarh. Last week, the local administration held a public hearing on land acquisition in our village. The meeting was a farce." I have never met Kumar — I heard the 'news bite' by just dialling 080-66932500 from my workstation in New Delhi, 1,300 kilometres from Kanker.

In urban mediaspeak, Kumar is a 'citizen journalist'. But unlike his urban counterparts, who are encouraged to tweet or blog on issues that are important to them, Kumar, a digital have-not, never had any dedicated space to discuss issues that were crucial to him. Interestingly, it's technology, which created the divide in the first place, has come to his aid by lowering the barrier for sharing information. All he now needs is a mobile phone.

Raipur-based communication professional Shubhranshu Choudhary has been working for sometime on alternative media and how to bridge the gap that exists between mainstream media and people like Kumar. He started a website, — a platform for news and information about Chhattisgarh some time ago. But since internet penetration in India is low, Choudhary wanted a more popular and broadbased technology to increase the scope of information exchange.

Around the same time, S. Amarasinghe of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his team were scouting for an opportunity to deploy their newly-developed AudioWiki platform, a repository of spoken content that could be "accessed and modified via a low-cost telephone". His former student, Bill Thies, who now works with Microsoft Research in Bangalore, identified as a candidate for the platform.

And CGnet swara was born in February, 2010.

This is how it works: if a citizen journalist like Kumar wants to share some 'news' or listen to 'news' from other parts of the state, all he has to do is dial 080-66932500. Once he connects, an IVR system (the same technology that guides you when you call bank or airline helplines) takes over and prompts him to choose his options: record or listen to news. Microsoft's Bangalore office hosts the IVR technology in its server. A 'citizen journalist' can then record the news in any language/dialect. The information is then verified/translated by moderators and disseminated via SMSes and Or you could dial 080-66932500 to hear it.

There's a growing feeling in many parts of the country that the urban media, especially the English media, is focusing less and less on the views/issues of marginalised communities. Initiatives like these provide a platform for those voices.

Recently in Goa, Video Volunteers launched IndiaUnheard, a nation-wide community-based news agency 'dedicated' to help the most-marginalised communities tell their own news. It is a network of more than 30 Community Correspondents representing 24 states of India.

It's too early to foresee how all this will pan out, whether we will get a new tribe of rural citizen journalists or urban journalists will pick up the untold stories. But for now, it has given a voice and platform to people who feel that they have been "left out" of the media boom or have access to only the sanitised news coverage of the government-run All India Radio.

But more importantly, as one of the users said, there's happiness in just 'being heard'.

In 2002, the World Bank asked 60,000 people living on less than a dollar a day to identify the single greatest hurdle to their advancement. Above even food, shelter or education, the number one need identified was to have a 'voice' of their own.

Eight years later and with a million mutinies brewing, that need has not diminished one bit. In fact, it is growing.






The Supreme Court's decision declaring forced narco-analysis and lie-detector (or brain mapping) tests unconstitutional is impeccable, not only in law, but also in terms of investigative probity and the integrity of policing. Some critics have described the judgement as a "blow" to investigative agencies. But this is nothing but a blow against shoddy, unscientific investigations and a pervasive psyche that seeks to substitute shortcuts for proper and modern methods of evidence-gathering and evaluation. It is significant that, in recent years, there had been increasing and often unproductive recourse to coercive narco and brain-mapping tests in a number of high-profile cases.

Constitutionally, an accused cannot be "compelled to be a witness against himself", and the court has now clearly held that forcing a person to submit to these tests constitutes just such a compulsion. This settles the law on a subject that has produced divergent judgements in lower courts, with several cases in which the use of narco-analysis and lie-detector tests was upheld. This does not, of course, mean that there is no scope for such tests. It is only their coercive use that has been disallowed by the court. Where suspects are willing to submit voluntarily in an effort to 'clear their name' of particular allegations, judicious use of these tools remains possible, within the natural reservations that must arise from the imperfection of these methods.

Of course, an argument from expediency may arise: the threats of terrorism, proxy war and mass political violence in India have become so great that the 'public interest' demands the use of such methods. This, however, is a slippery slope that will end up with the justification of torture and other 'shortcuts' we have become habituated to. Crucially, however, such arguments are entirely defeated by an objective evaluation of the efficacy of these methods, and the deleterious impact they have on professional integrity and competence within the police.

'Evidence' yielded through either of these methods is, of course, not admissible in court. Advocates, however, argue that these can offer useful aids to investigation, leading to recoveries and substantive admissible evidence. The reality is, narco-analysis and lie detector tests are essentially in the realm of pseudo-science. They are far from reliable and, on the occasions that they may, in fact, yield acceptable results, are enormously dependent on the skills and sincerity of those who use these tools.

Narco-analysis reduces the subject to a deeply suggestible state and, like torture, in the hands of the wrong interrogators, can yield precisely the 'confessions' that are sought — whether or not these have any basis in fact. Given the broader conditions of the Indian investigative apparatus, it must be recognised that, to the extent that the use of such methods becomes widespread, these may well lead to the planting or concoction of 'corroborative' evidence and testimonies. Moreover, both narco-analysis and lie detector tests produce wildly divergent outcomes from interrogator to interrogator and from subject to subject. Individuals react very differently to these tests. Such testing not only produces unreliable data, but hardened criminals may well be able to, or be trained to, produce deceptive outcomes, effectively misdirecting or terminating productive investigations.

The crucial argument against such tests, however, arises from its general impact on the character and capacity for scientific investigation and professional policing. Increasing reliance on these tools is essentially an unreliable shortcut that obstructs the development of effective capabilities for scientific investigation and the creation of adequate forensic capacities within the law enforcement establishment.

There are a number of cases in the recent past — the Aarushi case prominent among these — where repeated and unproductive narco-tests have been sought to be substituted for utterly botched investigations and what, prima facie, appears to be the deliberate destruction of crucial evidence. There has been a veritable slew of recent cases — including the trial and acquittal of the two co-accused, Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin, in the 26/11 Ajmal Kasab trial — where extremely shoddy investigative work has been manifest. Increasing reliance on shortcuts such as narco-analysis and brain mapping (and including torture) will only deepen the culture of investigative incompetence that is currently pervasive across the country.

The conditions of Indian policing in general, and the investigative apparatus in particular, are a disgrace to any modern nation, certainly to one that aspires to be a 'great power' in the conceivable future. This has been the result of decades of neglect by successive regimes, both at the Centre and in states. Instead of addressing the colossal cumulative deficit in capacities for policing, investigation and forensics, policymakers and the police leadership have been resorting to a range of slapdash methods that have undermined faith in enforcement agencies, even as they have largely failed to produce the desired results in terms of effective law-and-order management and prosecution of crime.

None of this is going to create the apparatus we need to fight the rising threats to internal security, though they may produce an occasional flash-in-the-pan 'success'. In every sphere — the investigation of crimes, including terrorist crimes, is no exception — it must now be realised, there is no substitute for professionalism and efficiency, and for the creation of capacities for modern and scientific police work, and a competent and modern apparatus for internal security management.

Ajai Sahni is Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management and South Asia Terrorism Portal

The views expressed by the author are personal







An epidemic of outrage appears to have convulsed Parliament, with chunks of the closing days of the Budget Session lost to adjournments. Just when closure was won on the deadlock over Mani Shankar Aiyar's comment on Arun Jaitley and Sudip Bandopadhyay's words to Basudeb Acharia (Aiyar expressed regrets and Acharia was pacified by the Lok Sabha speaker's reprimand to Bandopadhyay), on Wednesday the BJP's Ananth Kumar invited the indignation of the RJD's Lalu Prasad. Their disagreement came in the course of a discussion in Lok Sabha on the Census questionnaire.


The surprise is not that affront is so often caused, and offence so easily taken — our legislatures rightly remain alert to unparliamentary comments, and the chair is habitually prompt in expunging them. What remains startling, however, about these three incidents is how slow MPs and their party leaderships have been in moving on. Passage of time tends to give figures of the past greater stature, and the danger is that lazy comparisons can be made between today's parliamentarians and their predecessors. But it is certainly the case that Parliament is today less invested in protecting its debates and discussions from disruptiveness. Pressure groups simply do not exist to get offender and offended to participate in the motions of civility that are needed for the smooth functioning of the House.


Numerous tools have been used to get around this. As Lok Sabha speaker, Somnath Chatterjee went to considerable trouble to make a success of the Lok Sabha TV channel, in the hope that not only would proceedings in the House be accessed by the public, but that live telecast would give MPs an incentive to be more and engagingly articulate. Vice President Hamid Ansari, as chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, has weighed in with suggestions for Question Hour and for moderating the anti-defection law. But rules and transparency can only achieve so much. Like democracy itself, parliamentary debate and discussion depend so critically on the imagination of those who participate.






Some may say Union Minister for Railways Mamata Banerjee has been playing truant. Some may call her plain irresponsible. Given the utter predictability of her conduct, it's perhaps best to leave the distinction to the domain of semantics and ask Banerjee how long she intends to make her ministry, the Union cabinet, even parliamentary proceedings, to say nothing of stranded commuters who every now and then suffer the whims of railway staff, orbit her arithmetic and agenda for the West Bengal assembly elections scheduled next year. As a cabinet minister with a key portfolio, she has no excuse for her absence and negligence. Why then was Banerjee so elusive on Tuesday when the opposition cornered the government over the Mumbai suburban railways motormen's strike that paralysed India's commercial capital? Did Banerjee, as Union railway minister, not have a responsibility towards the 7 million commuters held to ransom for the length of a day by railway employees whose conduct her office is ultimately accountable for?


Well, the minister, busy with her electoral arithmetic for the Kolkata municipal polls, chose not to make any comment, even as the strike saw the Union government moving the Bombay high court for getting the motormen back to work as well as the Maharashtra chief minister intervening. While the cabinet is indeed collectively responsible, Banerjee's style of functioning is the hallmark of the worst form of rent-seeking and hostage-holding that coalition partners often subject the Union government to. In fact, the Trinamool chief seems to be competing with the DMK at the moment on which ally can most embarrass the Congress. (Thus, in Banerjee, there's a lesson for the Congress too.)


Whether it be train accidents, an abysmal attendance at cabinet meetings, or land acquisition, Banerjee has demonstrated that her ministry was not her priority, that she — though not the first or only minister to do so — wanted to use this national leverage for unambiguously regional, narrow political ends. There has been even a gentle rap from the prime minister late last year. It is time Mamata Banerjee was given a clear choice between the two jobs.








The Supreme Court has declared that narco-analysis, brain-mapping, and polygraph tests — the whole gamut of "truth technologies" intended to loosen the tongue and get suspects to spill during interrogation — are illegal without the subject's explicit consent. Unless a person voluntarily submits to them, these methods violate the right against self-incrimination provided in Article 20(3) and the right to privacy.


The narco-analysis test is conducted by injecting three grams of sodium pentothal dissolved in water, designed to push the suspect towards a hypnotic twilight state where they are questioned several times over to tease out ambiguities. Brain-mapping and lie-detection also measure physiological responses to stimuli as indication of psychological states. Lie detectors have been around in various versions since the '20s, when they were called "the soul machines" or "machines for the cure of liars". Meanwhile, "truth serums", used on World War II spy suspects in the US, had been struck down as unconstitutional, as far back as 1963.


Either way, confessions sweated out through these methods are not admissible as evidence in court. But they were often used to find and chase up on leads — they have been notably administered on Ajmal Kasab and in the Nithari murder case. Now, those options are less easily available to investigating agencies — which might detract from their efficiency somewhat, but is undoubtedly a reminder that no matter how exigent the circumstances, dodgy science should not be put to the service of an elusive justice. Many studies have shown that persons who have been administered these chemicals can often repeat the interrogators' words and cues or freely fantasise.


Like drunken unburdenings — which also involve a loss of inhibition, but may not necessarily lay out the truth — these revelations are too addled for any straight reading. As Lindsey vs United States, a 1956 federal appeals court decision, found: "The intravenous injection of a drug by a physician in a hospital may appear more scientific than the drinking of large amounts of bourbon in a tavern, but the end result displayed in the subject's speech may be no more reliable." No matter how much more sophisticated the technology used now, it is still a coercive and manipulable investigation tactic, and one that has been rightly regulated by our courts.









Britain's economy went through six consecutive quarters (one and a half years) of negative growth between March 2008 and September 2009, its deepest recession since the '30s. Its quarter of recovery between October and December registered a measly 0.1 per cent growth. In such dire economic circumstances, it is difficult to imagine that the incumbent government would have even a whiff of a chance to retain power in the general election today.


Remarkably enough, the Labour Party, although trailing in the opinion polls, still has a reasonable shot at retaining power. In fact, if it wasn't for their hopelessly unpopular, uncharismatic and gaffe-prone leader and incumbent prime minister, they may well have been a shoo-in for a fourth consecutive term in office.


The Liberal Democrats, Britain's third political party for a long time, would blame the first-past-the-post electoral system for giving Labour even under Gordon Brown a whiff of a chance. Like in India, the overall percentage of vote matters little unless it converts into seats in Parliament. This is precisely the reason why electoral reform has periodically surfaced as a major issue in the course of this election campaign.


But the nature of the electoral system can only be accorded so much blame. It doesn't explain why all the three major parties are still running relatively close to each other in opinion polls. The electoral system cannot explain why public opinion hasn't overwhelmingly moved one way or the other.


To understand that one needs to dig deeper than just the immediacy of the recent recession.


Britain has always been at the cusp of America and Western Europe in more ways than one, with greater cultural and intellectual affinity to the former and closer physical and therefore economic proximity to the latter. The US and Britain made a decisive break from the post-war Western consensus (and indeed the rest of Western Europe) on economic policy in the '80s courtesy Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher. The Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism emphasised a greater role for free markets and a much smaller role for the state.


In Britain, however, the Thatcherite revolution, while promoting efficiency and productivity also created a deep structural flaw that was finally exposed by the financial crisis: marginalisation of manufacturing and over-dependence on the services sector, particularly financial services centred round London. Curiously enough, many forecasts some years ago suggested this was the way to go. Britain, by these forecasts, would overtake France and Germany in terms of GDP by 2020 simply on the back of growth of the financial sector. But now that the future of global finance is uncertain — regulations could put a break on the rate of growth — the UK economy has few alternatives to power growth.


The only remnants of strong British manufacturing today are in aerospace (Rolls Royce is a leader in aircraft engines) and pharmaceuticals (GlaxoSmithKline). But while both are high-tech industries, they have uncertain trajectories — aerospace can be cyclical and heavily dependent on government support; pharma hasn't had a major breakthrough for a number of years. American manufacturing on the other hand survived the Reagan revolution, and the boom in Silicon Valley through the '80s and '90s gave the US a new forum for economic leadership.


Some of Britain's dismal manufacturing performance can also be attributed to the strength of the pound, which has got a good price for the country's North Sea Oil since the '80s, but has dissuaded exports and encouraged imports. Since exports were always going to be uncompetitive with a strong pound, even foreign investors did not find it worth their while to manufacture there. Again this is different from the way things turned out in the US where Japanese and Korean manufacturers, for example, set up base.


This lack of diversification in the UK economy has had other consequences too, particularly on regional inequality. Statistics from the UK's Office of National Statistics show that while the country's per capital gross value added (per capita income) was GBP 21,000 in 2008, 10 out of 12 regions had per capita incomes lower than the national average. Wales and the northeast of England registered per capita incomes of GBP 15,000 only, less than half of London's GBP 34,000. Interestingly, that trend has remained the same in the last 10 years: London and the surrounding areas have prospered from financial services while the rest of the country has been depressed because of lack of diversification.


The focus of the three main political parties in this campaign has been on the immediate after effects of the recession. Far too little attention has been given to these longer term problems. New Labour may yet have come closest to addressing some of these issues. Tony Blair devolved considerable political and policy authority to some regions: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Most recently, Business Secretary Peter Mandelson floated interesting, even if controversial, ideas of using state intervention to revive British manufacturing.


The other problem which is long-term and on which few convincing solutions have been put forward is in the provision of public services. Here public opinion has leant more towards the European (rather than American) view on the extensive (and free) provision of public services. The National Health Service (NHS) to this day provides free (that is, government funded) healthcare services to all residents of the UK — the kind of universal healthcare that the US is far from achieving. However, unlike in most other Western European countries, the state of health services in particular (but also schools) is far from satisfactory — long waiting periods, often costing people their lives, have been the most potent symbol of NHS failure over the years. The Labour government has pumped a lot of money into NHS over the last 13 years. But outcomes simply haven't matched the input of resources.


Again, New Labour under Tony Blair, more than the Tories or LibDems, had the right ideas about mixing state funding with some market-based discipline. But he failed to convince his own party, particularly Gordon Brown, on the need for radical reform.


Voters may not be inclined to give Labour's ideas, even the good ones, a fourth successive mandate, not while the uninspiring Brown is in charge. On the other hand, the more attractive and comforting personality of David Cameron, rather than the somewhat confused, inconsistent and often illiberal (and behind the times) ideas of the party he leads, may be enough to see the Tories home after 13 long years.


The writer is a senior editor with 'The Financial Express'








Three grams of sodium pentothal, three litres of distilled water and dextrose. That's all it took to get Abdul Karim Telgi talking. Telgi, accused in the Rs 3,000-crore stamp paper scam, was administered a "truth serum" in 2003. So have others in high-profile cases such as Aarushi Talwar's murder or the 2008 Malegaon bomb blasts. Their drug-induced bare-alls have called into question a powerful new tool in criminal investigations. Yesterday, in Selvi vs State of Karnataka, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court provided an answer. The court held that lie detectors (polygraph tests), brain-mapping (P300) and truth serums (narco-analysis) are not compulsory. Suspects have a right to say no.


The key word here is "compulsory" because the judgment does not ban tests to which the suspect acquiesces. Besides, narco-analysis is inadmissible in court (though some high courts have held otherwise). Therefore convicting a suspect on the basis of a doped confession was not the SC's primary worry. But can the police drug a suspect to aid their investigations, even without his permission?


The court said no, and in doing so, relied on two constitutional rights we all enjoy against the state. These are the right against self-incrimination and the right to a fair trial guaranteed under Articles 20(3) and 21 of the Constitution. The court held that truth serums are not merely physical tests like medical examinations that are routinely performed on suspects; they are "testimony" that suspects have a right not to give. The court went on to hold that such invasive tests violated the suspect's right to privacy, amounted to "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" and might expose suspects to "non-penal consequences" such as beatings and torture. Besides, the dodgy science behind such tests made it too unreliable to ensure a "fair" trial.


It is difficult to argue with such a judgment, especially given how truth serums, taken to be instruments to gain the absolute truth, are insidiously used to taint. In September 2009, tapes of narcotic tests done on the two priests and nun accused of murdering Sister Abhaya in Kottayam were broadcast by a Kerala news channel. The video showed these three confessing, in drug-induced stupor, to their dark deeds. A magistrate soon ordered the channel to stop airing the video, but the damage had been done. What could not be admitted in a court of law was used to convince in the court of public opinion.


The SC verdict is also in line with liberal democracies elsewhere. Canada and the UK outlaw non-voluntary confessions induced through truth serums. In 1963, the US Supreme Court held that confessions induced through "truth serums" were inadmissible in court, and questioned their effectiveness. In the landmark 1966 case of Ernesto Miranda vs Arizona, the US Supreme Court emphasised the voluntary nature of pre-trial investigation. The famous Miranda warning — "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law" — is etched in the memory of every Hollywood fan. This case was, in turn, referred to by the Indian Supreme Court in 1978. In Nandini Satpathy vs P.L. Dani, the court held that Article 20(3) protected suspects during the investigation stage itself. This week's SC decision relies heavily on the Nandini Satpathy case.


The world might have come to outlaw truth serums, but India has something that these countries don't: a pathetically low conviction rate. That's the single biggest problem in our criminal justice system (if you don't count years and years of delay, that is). This means that investigative agencies need every tool that aids them. As former Karnataka Director General of Police R. Srikumar says, "A criminal knows the crime more than anybody else, and tools that help us make him speak are always useful." He should know. Srikumar was the investigating officer in the Telgi case. Srikumar agrees that these tests are not yet scientifically certain. "But as investigators we are always looking for new tools to get to the bottom of the crime."


In his book Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification (Harvard University Press, 2001), criminologist Simon A. Cole chronicles how long it took for fingerprinting classification systems, pioneered by the Argentinean and colonial Bengal police forces in the mid-1890s, to spread; it is now a ubiquitous tool in police investigations. Perhaps that is why we must draw limited inferences from the Supreme Court's judgment. The judgment does not ban truth serums, polygraph tests and brain-mapping altogether. It merely forbids force and coercion, and holds these tests to have limited value. The science of crime detection is a work in progress, and a Luddite fear of technology must not prejudice us against new and improved tools.








For the past few months, Sharmila Abdulpurkar, a Bangalore-based mother of two, is hooked on to the online social game Farmville. Abdulpurkar is a level 41 farmer, indicating that she is a serious addict. She watches the trees on her virtual farm bear fruit, exchanges the milk from her cows for currency, and has friends and family as neighbours around her. "I am a complete addict," confesses Abdulpurkar, adding, "It is the next best thing to managing a real farm".


Not far from where Abdulpurkar actually lives, amidst the chaos of the city's upcoming metro rail network in downtown Bangalore, is the Indian unit of Zynga, Farmville's creator. Zynga is the world's biggest social gaming firm. Try this for size — 1.8 million people play Zynga's popular Farmville, Mafia Wars and other games before they eat their breakfast each morning. More tractors sell on Farmville in a day than in the United States and Canada in an entire year.


So what is Zynga doing in Bangalore? Currently, 235 million people worldwide play Zynga's social games at least once every month. The online gaming firm wants to make that 1.4 billion, a number close to India's population. To make that a realistic goal, Zynga chose Bangalore to set up its first development centre outside the United States.


Social gaming companies are growing on a massive scale and require top technical talent. Bangalore and India were natural choices says Zynga Game Network Country Manager Shan Kadavil who launched the office a couple of months ago. "Outside the San Francisco area, where else but here could you hire a 100 computer scientists within a year?" he asks.


The India unit currently has 30 employees, high-end computer professional hired off techie congregations such as Code Jams, BarCamps and Hackathons. The other element of hiring, studio talent to develop the beautifully-crafted animation for the games, is proving much more difficult in India. Zynga is now going after Bollywood talent, and hopes to have a full-fledged formal studio running in the next quarter.


Talent is not the only reason Zynga is in India. India is a potentially huge market for social gaming firms. Though it has only 36 million Internet users, by 2013 between 60 and 80 million Indians are expected to be online. But what makes the market mouth-watering is the fast-paced growth in its mobile subscriber base.


India is predicted to be the third largest online market in the next three years, says Kadavil. Zynga's Farmville game already has Indian elements — auto rickshaws, gulmohar trees, chaat stands and elephants. In its Café World game where users compete to set up restaurants, Lavish Lamb Curry and Grand Chicken Kebabs are key elements.


Social gaming is only a couple of years old, so a relatively new phenomenon on the Internet. Yet Zynga alone accounts for a daily data transfer of a petabyte, that is one followed by 15 zeros. Indian users adapt to social gaming very quickly because the entry barrier is non-existent. Kadavil, a level 34 farmer, says the concept of a group game, of helping each other, of getting together with friends to complete a task, has big appeal in India.


The janitor at Zynga's Bangalore unit, who is neither English nor computer literate, is a level 45 farmer on Farmville. But Kadavil was surprised when the paanwalla around the corner from his office responded to a Farmville T-shirt by declaring that he is a fanatic of the online game. "Unlike traditional gaming companies where freaky teenagers with twitchy fingers formed the bulk of users, social gaming has universal appeal," he says. What's not to like about helping a friend clear the pests from her fields or asking another to give you a hand with your new chicken coop?








When Anatoly Dobrynin, unquestionably one of the most outstanding diplomats of the 20th century, died recently in Moscow at age 90, the Indian media took no notice of it. Nobody need blame the media for the simple reason that his arena of brisk activity was the United States where he was Soviet ambassador for a record period of over 24 years. He dealt with six presidents and nine secretaries of state. As the envoy of one superpower to the only other, his main task was to see to it that their tense relationship did not spin out of control. In this he succeeded eminently. According to Alistair Horne, a British war historian and biographer — among others, of Henry Kissinger with whom Dobrynin had a very friendly working relationship — if the Cold War did not turn into a hot one, much of the credit must go to Dobrynin. Kissinger's take is that in relaxing tensions and avoiding "inadvertent deadlocks" Dobrynin's contribution was "central".


Incidentally, Kissinger and Dobrynin addressed each other by their first names and bantered frequently without either of them giving up their countries' basic position. Some observers claim that conversations between the two were "like gossipy chats between two college roommates". This was not all. Since long before the Nixon-Kissinger duo moved into the White House, the US had conferred on Dobrynin the unique privilege of entering the state department through the garage and gate at Foggy Bottom reserved only for the secretary of state and other top American officials. During the Reagan presidency when Alexander Haig briefly became secretary of state, he withdrew the Soviet ambassador's privilege but was made to restore it almost immediately.


Son of a plumber and having no fewer than 12 siblings, Dobrynin was the first member of his family to go to university where he qualified as an aeronautical engineer. He did not particularly want to be transferred to diplomacy but obeyed the party's directive when he found that his technical training was of advantage to him. For instance, he felt that he understood missilery much better than even Kissinger, leave alone other interlocutors. He had first arrived in Washington in 1962 when he was only 42, and plunged straight into the Cuban Missile Crisis. According to a plethora of detailed accounts of that period he played a constructive role in ending the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation.


During Dobrynin's extraordinarily long tenure as Soviet ambassador in Washington, India was bound to figure in the exchanges between the two superpowers, and it did, literally with a bang during the Bangladesh crisis that began in March 1971 and led to the war for the liberation of Bangladesh in December that year. Kissinger records that he first discussed the "India-Pakistan crisis" with Dobrynin on July 19, "shortly after my secret trip to Pakistan. Dobrynin, oozing conciliation, asked for my views. I replied that we favoured a peaceful political evolution because a war could not be localised. Dobrynin said this was also the Soviet view; Moscow supported India's political goals but was strongly discouraging military adventures". The second discussion between the two on the same subject took place on August 17 after the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty had been signed. "Dobrynin gave me the same interpretation as (L.K.) Jha (Indian ambassador) had previously, insisting that the treaty had been in preparation for a long time. No more than Jha did he explain why premeditation should assuage our concern".


The most crucial meetings on the crisis and the looming war — throughout which America "tilted" towards the side morally in the wrong and militarily doomed to defeat — took place on September 29 (at the level of President Nixon and Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko at which Kissinger, Dobrynin and some others were present) and on October 9 between the "two friends, Kissinger and Dobrynin". Luckily, at both these meetings, held well after Indira Gandhi's visit to Moscow, Yuli Vorontsov, Dobrynin's devoted and able deputy, was also present. In the late '70s and early '80s he was ambassador to India. He gave me a detailed account of both these discussions. When Nixon personally pressed the Soviet side to join the US in "discouraging India from war", Gromyko responded that avoiding war was "indeed desirable" but it was his considered judgment that the risk of war "resided, above all, in Pakistani provocations".


"During the October 9 meeting", according to Vorontsov, Dobrynin "very smoothly made short work of concerns voiced by Kissinger to the effect that Moscow had decided to use its veto in case India was brought before the UN Security Council; and further if Pakistan or China attacked India, the Soviet Union would respond with an airlift of military hardware". (Incidentally, at this meeting, as an aside, Kissinger taunted Vorontsov that he was a warmonger. His reply: "My name is War Not Sov. You are the warmonger".)


Purely by chance I had occasion to shake hands with Dobrynin when he arrived at the Indian embassy in Washington to call on Ambassador K. R. Narayanan (later the republic's President). After he had gone, Narayanan told me that he offered Smirnoff vodka. Dobrynin drank it dutifully but his disapproval of the drink showed. An hour later, the Soviet ambassador sent to his Indian colleague a case of Stolichnaya.


In 1993, Vorontsov was Russian ambassador to the US. On one occasion I said to him I was sure his American hosts considered him a worthy successor to his famous boss. "No, Inder", he replied, "no one can take his place".


The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator








The boy is from one caste, the girl from another. They fall in love. They wish to marry. The boy's family, in particular, objects to the match. The young couple is determined to wed. Eventually, the boy's family relents and a grand engagement party is held . In front of both families and guests, the boy's grandmother asks the girl to dance, which she does with great reluctance. She is mistaken for a nautch girl by a guest. Her family is speechless with mortification. Then, the grandmother insists that the girl allow herself to be examined in front of the entire gathering to see if there is a mole on her back which could be inauspicious for the boy's family. The girl's family is stunned, the boy's family enjoys the insult to the girl and her family.


This is the story so far on Yeh Pyar Na Hoga Kam (Colors). But it could be a scene from everyday life. What's frightening is not that serials such as this one, are increasingly imitating reality but that they can become accomplices to crimes perpetrated in the name of caste, class or other biases (like the colour of your skin in the old Zee serial Saat Phere, or your looks as in Laagi Tujhse Lagan, Colors ). Where reality TV shows, talent shows have been democratic, aspirational and inclusive, allowing thousands who think they can sing or dance to audition — watch Indian Idol on Sony to find out more . TV serials reinforce barriers, prejudices and the "narrow domestic walls" they should be breaking down.


In all soaps, the most important entity is the Family, the most critical event, the Wedding, the central theme Marriage. The promos for a new soap, To Baat Hamari Pakki, coming soon to Sony, picture a young girl decked up in jewellery and clothes almost as heavy as her ornaments, before she is thrust before the boy's family with a tea tray for a "show". In Behenein (Star Plus), the family is preparing for a wedding: "Shaadi, shaadi, shaadi" — that's all you ever hear on these serials.


If weddings are the plot, family honour is the underlying driving force, always linked to the idea of a suitable girl or boy for marriage into the family. Together they propel everything towards conflicts in which the girl is usually humiliated and the boy is either helpless before his family or suffers as much as the girl. In Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo (Zee), Shekhar, the upper caste boy is exiled from his home because he is with the wrong girl, Laali.


Finally, there is that elusive thing called "love". It casts a shadow across the families, the arranged marriages planned by the families, and in almost all cases will lead to untold misery. Anyone who watches these serials regularly will conclude that romantic love is bad, that it disgraces and dishonours the family and therefore cannot triumph. Indulge in it only at your own peril.


TV serials justify the continuance of ignorant, harmful old ways of thinking and discourage, nay, punish anyone who dares to flout them. The khap panchayat diktats on same gotra marriages, the "honour" killings we read about and which has perhaps seen a mother kill her own daughter in the Nirupama Pathak case, are very much a part of the world in our TV serials.


And what can one say about the atrocities being committed on Emotional Atyachar (Bindass) where lovers find their partners cheating on them as soon as temptation — in the form of an irresistible member of the opposite sex — drapes him or herself all over them? Doesn't this promote the belief that "love" is a mockery, that young people should stay away from it as far as possible and let's quickly lock them into arranged marriages?


By the way, last week Rahul Mahajan was on Emotional Atyachar. He was seen enjoying the company of women, while his wife watched with a heart beating just a little too fast. The entire show was predicated on his being unfaithful and so of course he wasn't. At the last moment when the temptation was overwhelming , he drew back.








Cut motion


The editorials in the latest issue of the RSS mouthpiece Organiser titled "Is there any hope if Congress is to win like this always" focuses on the "vulnerability" of the UPA government. "In an unedifying spectre of political chicanery the Congress was able to undercut the Opposition unity on cut motions by cutting deals across the board. This has exposed many things — the foremost being the vulnerability of UPA-II in Parliament after claiming that it got a convincing mandate in the May 2009 elections. This was the first real trial of strength for the Manmohan Singh government. And in every sense the Congress managers repeated the tricks and low political tactics that they displayed in the last phase of UPA-I at the time of voting on the nuclear deal after the Left Front withdrew support," says the RSS organ. It goes on to add: "the manner in which the Congress has now perpetuated the sin of devaluing the CBI, Enforcement Directorate and the tax department for its political ends has permanently damaged the reputation of these important Central institutions, whose image of impartiality and independence is cardinal to the credibility of Indian democracy".


The RSS organ talks about the "U-turn" taken by the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. "He (Mulayam Singh Yadav) and his family members are also being haunted by the CBI in corruption and disproportionate assets cases. He too gets repeatedly humiliated. But he had to break the opposition ranks along with Lalu for fear of CBI action at Congress' bidding... The most shameful of all is the U-turn of UP Chief Minister Mayawati in a blatant admission of self interest, supporting the Congress within a few hours of the CBI giving some temporary reprieve in the Taj corridor and disproportionate assets probes," says the editorial in the RSS mouthpiece. In its editorial titled "Avsarvaadi rajniti ko dhikkar" (Down with opportunistic politics), the RSS organ in Hindi Panchajanya too charges that the "Congress misuses CBI for its political ends, during its rule".


Price rise rally


In a write-up titled "The precious treasure of BJP", V. Shanmuganathan, a BJP functionary, writes that with its recent anti-price rally in the capital, the new BJP president has brought focus onto the karyakarta. "This huge rally was really a challenge to our hard work. Parking arrangement for thousands of buses and other vehicles was the first important task... We distributed 30 lakh water pouches to the people in their places of stay, Ramlila Maidan and Parliament Street. (Former MP from Arunachal Pradesh) Tapir Gao was happy about the participation of 151 youths from his state. Many people came from Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura and the North East. The biggest number of delegates, numbering 97,000, participated from the whole of Uttar Pradesh".


The recent issues of BJP mouthpiece Kamal Sandesh, too, has written an editorial on the recent anti-price stir in the capital. The English version of Kamal Sandesh has an editorial titled "Massive rally against prices in Delhi shows Aam Aadmi is with BJP", while the editorial in the Hindi edition of Kamal Sandesh, too, has a similar heading. "The ultimate outcome and result of the struggle on the road for the cause of the people has its own reward. It may come sooner or later, but it does come in the long run," says the BJP mouthpiece in English.








With power utility companies in various states unable to increase tariffs, their staggering losses have now become a cause of worry for the government. As reported in FE on Wednesday, the Planning Commission has raised an alarm that the combined losses of public sector discoms, which were to the tune of Rs 40,000 crore in 2009-10, could swell up to Rs 68,000 crore in the current financial year. In fact, if the state governments do not allow the discoms to raise consumer tariffs, they could go bankrupt and then seek a bailout by the Centre. Such a situation is unwarranted. The cost of electricity has now touched Rs 3 per unit and the discoms, on average, charge around Rs 2.50 per unit from consumers—the difference is putting a strain on their finances. Interestingly, states that have privatised power distribution (Delhi, Orissa and some parts of Maharashtra) have done well in reducing their biggest losses in the form of transmission and distribution losses (T&D). There has been a gradual improvement in metering, billing and collection efficiency. In fact, the utilities in Orissa have improved their book profit from Rs 308 crore in 2006-07 to Rs 755 crore in 2007-08. In Maharashtra, the unbundled utilities together have aggregated a book profit of Rs 675 crore in 2007-08 in comparison to Rs 269 crore in 2006-07. But nationwide, T&D losses still remain substantially high at 33% as compared to the global benchmark of 5%.


Over the years the government has realised the importance of private sector participation in the power sector, both in generation and distribution. But currently, the private sector generates merely 15% of total power, and only 13% of the power distribution in the country is carried out by the private sector. With mounting T&D losses, state governments must now look at handing over the power distribution to private sector. The Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh, after a year-long delay, has made a small beginning by handing over power distribution and bill collection to Torrent Power in Agra; the name of a private discom for Kanpur is likely to be decided by the end of this month. The move comes at a time when Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited's (UPPCL) accumulated losses mounted to over Rs 37,000 crore by the end of March 2009 and the state government has indicated that it will hand over power distribution in nine other cities to...







The EU and IMF may have agreed to provide a 110-billion euro bailout to Greece, but the ability of Greece to meet its end of the bargain is in serious question. The Greek government had promised a second set of wage cuts for public sector workers, a three-year freeze on pensions and an increase in sales tax as just some of the many measures to practise austerity. However, public sector unions together with their counterparts in the private sector virtually shut the country down on Wednesday. Those on general strike included air traffic controllers, transport workers, gas station owners and even shopkeepers. Greece's socialist government has a majority in Parliament to press through with the expenditure cuts and tax increases but its ability to manage such widespread protests and strike is still untested. Yet, the government has no choice but to press ahead with austerity after many years of living beyond its means.


Greece may have had other choices if it wasn't a part of the Eurozone. For one, it could have devalued its currency, giving a boost to manufacturing, exports and growth. It would also have had the freedom to print more money and therefore lean on domestic sources to help the debt burden. But that is not an option. However, Greece and indeed other vulnerable countries in Europe, including Spain and Portugal, need to undertake deeper structural reform beyond the immediate austerity measures now required. Much of Europe still has far too many rigidities in both product and labour markets (particularly the latter), which makes adjustment during a downturn very hard. Greece et al could do with a dose of deregulation very soon. There is also a strong case to cut down on the bloated public sector, which is a big burden on the government's fiscal bill. Unlike the US, most parts of Europe also have a problem of an ageing population—too few working people have to support too may pensioners. Again, some parts of Europe need to be more liberal with immigration to overcome this problem. There are already proposals to raise retirement ages to reduce the pension burden. The financial crisis has simply exposed Europe's most vulnerable economies to problems they were living with in any case. Now is the perfect time for these countries to undertake fundamental structural reform that will increase growth and lower the burden of debt over the next decade and longer.








On May 3, Euro-region ministers agreed to a 110-billion euro rescue package for Greece to prevent a default and stop the worst crisis in the currency's 11-year history from spreading through the rest of the Euro bloc. Something had to be done because Greece's next bond payback date is May 19 and a possible failure to pay would have, at the very least, routed other European sovereign bond markets and sent stock markets tumbling in the region. Last week's market sellout of Portuguese and Spanish bonds on speculation that a bailout package may not come through, was enough indication for policy makers to agree to the unprecedented bailout. The 16-nation bloc will pitch in 80 billion euros and the IMF will contribute the rest 30 billion euros. Greece agreed to a series of fiscal measures that would help repay this borrowing. At stake is the future of the euro, 11 years after its creators left control of fiscal policy in national capitals.


On the face of it, it seems like the EU has been generous with Greece in lending money to a country that has overspent itself in the past. The dole-out isn't as much because of a new found love of their neighbour, but because by helping Greece they are, at least in part, bailing their banks out of immediate trouble. Sure, Euro politicians may sell it to their citizens that they are helping out Greece to look like a US of Europe but in actuality, their compulsion comes from preventing any adverse stress to their own banking institutions. Unlike the Japanese government that borrows money from its own citizens, Greek domestic savings aren't anywhere close to those levels. More than 80% of the bonds issued by the Hellenic Republic are held by European banks in other European countries. If the Greek government had chosen to default because of being left with no other choice, then the major losers would not have been its own citizens but the other European banks that are holding those bonds. Sure, it would have blotted Greece's credit history irreparably, but it wouldn't have been politically unpalatable.


So, effectively what you are seeing is its neighbours helping Greece remain solvent and being able to pay back the money it had borrowed in the past.


The financial lifeline lasts three years. The 110-billion euro fund will be disbursed in tranches with quarterly assessments and a permanent IMF team monitoring its progress on a monthly basis. This deal will lend Greece sufficient money so that it doesn't have to borrow for at least three years from the financial markets (other banks who hold the bonds). Policy makers are hoping that three to four years is enough time for Greece to put its fiscal house in order and become financially sound. To get to that position, the Greek government needs to demonstrate that it can find its way back to supportable levels of debt, which the EU specifies as less than 60% of GDP. Greece's debt-to-GDP ratio is currently 140% and exceeds the EU specifications by 80%. The bailout forces Greece to cut its budget deficit—i.e. the shortfall of revenues over spending to less than 3% of GDP by the end of 2014. The shortfall was 13.6% last year. It needs to show that it can not only service the interest on this borrowing but can also retire debt worth 80% of GDP in three to four years. Meanwhile, it has to get its economy into a position where it can realistically be expected to grow healthily.


Will Greece implement these fiscal measures well enough and does it have the political will to do so? Greece no longer makes anything that anyone outside Greece wants to buy at the price Greeks demand. It has one of the lowest labour productivity per person employed. It seems overly optimistic to think that all of a sudden Greek workers are going to chuck their unproductive habits and start to work a lot more efficiently just because the government has agreed to a series of measures. This seems more unlikely because wages are slated to come down in the future from current levels.


The magnitude of the fiscal measures is quite onerous and it may choke Greece's economic growth to the detriment of its citizens and the lenders. These measures may help Greece service the debt short-term; however, this will hurt long-term GDP growth needed to get the country back to economic health. Unlike the current generation in India is reaping the benefits of economic growth, a generation in Greece may have to bear the pain of past profligacy. This bailout is, at best, a short-term fix and doesn't mean the end of woes for either Greece or its lenders.


This is not the last time that Greece is coming hat in hand to the rest of the world.


The author, formerly with JPMorganChase, is CEO, Quantum Phinance








There is widespread popular sentiment against the alleged indiscretions of Goldman Sachs in structuring and selling a complex mortgage-based derivative security, Abacus 2007-AC1. It will take a while to determine whether there was a deliberate attempt to deceive on the part of the investment banking giant or whether this was the result of the individual actions of a rogue trader (named in the US SEC civil suit) or of a small group operating around him. We emphasise that the article does not seek to justify, or even explain, specific transactions at Goldman Sachs, but to lay out the operating environment in which banks, particularly investment banks, structure complex securities. It is a coincidence that this comes barely a couple of days after no less an august person than Warren Buffet, the oracle of Omaha, chose to defend the transaction.


The vaunted investment bank's reputation has unquestionably been dented. First came the bad press on account of the structuring in 2002 of an unusual, if perfectly legal, currency swap transaction that allowed Greece to shove back into the future part of its then current borrowing requirements. Close on its heels came the unexpected news of the SEC suit. The antagonism to the Abacus transaction is remarkable, given the academic and professional interest, even envy, that Goldman and a handful of other banks had generated in the early days of the unfolding financial crisis following news accounts of their standout success in recognising the risks of the looming crisis and the subsequent alacrity in hedging their balance sheets.


While it is easy to be critical of the Abacus deal, particularly after the leaked e-mails of the risible commentaries of its chief architect, there are larger issues—regulation, governance, accounting and disclosure—whose regulatory implementation will be influenced by the outcome of these investigations. We highlight two of these issues here. One, who bears the larger responsibility for appropriate due diligence of financial products designed for investors? And two, how should banks manage their enterprise risk, balancing the investment needs of their diverse set of stakeholders?


The short answer to the first issue is: both seller and buyer. The crux of the argument for the seller in the Abacus deal will be this: the counterparties were large sophisticated institutional investors. In the case of the Abacus transaction, the largest investors in the transaction were IKG (a large German specialist bank for corporate lending) and ACA Capital Partners (an independent securities selection agency). We cannot do better than quote from a defence document submitted by Goldman Sachs to the SEC (now available on the Internet), commenting on the principle of the deal: "The bottom line is that no amount of disclosure would change that the very sophisticated investors already knew that some entity or entities by necessity had to take a short position—regardless of who selected them, the offering documents for each of the reference securities disclosed detailed information on their underlying assets, as required by Regulation AB. It is this concrete information on the assets—not the economic interest of the entity that selected them—that investors could analyse and use to inform their decisions." In addition, a significant function of large banks is as 'market makers', giving both buy and sell quotes to match demand and supply of complex securities.


As to the second issue, banks cater to the financial needs of diverse classes of investors and clients, ranging from the retail investor looking for a safe haven to park her savings to high net-worth families who are savvier about their investment options; from sophisticated corporations to even more alert institutional investors, including hedge funds. They have vastly different risk appetites, investment horizons and financial targets.


In structuring products to meet these multiple aspirations, banks are often confronted with potentially conflicting decisions. It is a legal, moral and ethical axiom that the primary responsibility of banks is their fiduciary responsibility to depositors, to ensure that their savings remain safe. This is the task of the risk managers and CFO, and this de-risking is what Goldman and some other banks actually achieved, progressively into the run-up to the crisis. However, banks are also accountable to their shareholders, who expect a reasonable return on their risk equity capital. Higher returns can only come about with higher levels of risk. This is the core trade-off that banks continually have to manage.


However strong the risk control systems in banks, occasional mis-sells will invariably fall through the cracks; these might not be indicative of systemic negligence. The best regulatory antidote to these potential conflicts of interest are stringent, albeit appropriate, disclosures and associated standardised accounting norms.


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








From the time of the nation's founding, immigration has not only been crucial to the US's growth but also a periodic source of conflict. In the hierarchy of immigration issues, H-1B visas and outsourcing come in second only to illegal immigrants. To allay its citizens' fears, the number of H-1B visas issued to aspiring workers from India, for example, was cut to a third—from 1,95,000 to 65,000 in 2007—and has stayed at that number. With the dust of the ghosts of the financial crisis beginning to settle, the rampant paranoia about immigrants taking away jobs that rightfully belonged to Americans is subsiding—albeit temporarily—giving the US government a chance to rethink its position vis-à-vis foreign workers.


The Senate is in the midst of attempting to amend its 'high skilled immigration system' to draw the brightest minds from across the world to its soil. To ease their entry into the US, Democrat Senators are proposing immediate green cards for foreigners pursuing advanced degrees from American universities in the fields of mathematics, science, engineering and technology with job offers in a related field. This is being done with the aim to permanently retain talent in the country. Newspapers in the US have commented that since India is one of the largest exporters of talent in these fields of study, it is expected to benefit the most from this policy. But who really benefits?


The infinitely easier access to green cards will be a huge impetus for young professionals to pursue higher education in the US, an exercise that already costs India over $10 billion annually in forex reserves. Students, who would earlier have returned to India to build their careers, will now be presented with green cards. Yes, India's forex reserves will increase in the way of remittances. But what India needs most is to move towards innovation. For this shift, we need our talented young minds to return to the country by encouraging original thought and nurturing creativity. Instead of worrying too much about the nature of the US visa regime, we need to focus on being able to nurture and harness talent locally.








Like Banquo's ghost, the scare of amendments to the Right to Information Act has made a habit of rearing its head every so often. In a recent letter to an RTI activist, the Department of Personnel and Training has confirmed the central government's intention to overhaul the 2005 Act — of course, with the now-familiar caveat that the process would include consultations with the stakeholders. No less than Sonia Gandhi argued against the amendments, to little avail, it seems. So what chance do the other stakeholders stand? In the time-tested manner of governments and bureaucracies, the department is upfront about some of the amendments while deliberately obfuscating the nature of some others. The door is to be shown to applications deemed to be "frivolous or vexatious." Section 8 of the Act, which prescribes exemptions to the Act, could be amended to "take care of the sensitivity of the office of the Chief Justice of India" as well as to "slightly modify the provision about disclosure of cabinet papers." What this means, shorn of officialese, is this: The office of the CJI will enjoy full immunity. Cabinet papers currently being processed are already exempted from scrutiny under Section 8. However, the bar abates once a Cabinet decision has been taken. Undoubtedly, therefore, the "slight" modification hinted at in the letter is aimed at making Cabinet decisions permanently inaccessible and opaque. Another amendment under consideration could disallow single-commissioner Information Commission benches. If that happens, the disposal of cases could slow down, rendering the Act ineffective.


Then there is the matter of "frivolous or vexatious" applications. Who is to decide what is vexatious and what is not? Any government department will naturally be vexed by an application that seeks to expose misconduct or corruption. A recent Union Home Ministry communication advised an RTI applicant not to disclose the names of men and women considered for the Padma awards. The anxiety clearly emanates from the arbitrary manner of deciding the awards. Under a future version of the Act, all queries relating to the awards could be deemed "vexatious." It is true that the RTI is not always approached in the public interest; for example, there may be a disproportionate use of the Act by insiders, those within officialdom, to pursue their narrow career interests or even personal agendas. But this cannot be an excuse to dilute or degrade an Act that is recognised as being among the best in the world. At a workshop held recently to assess the RTI environment in South Asia, India was held up as model. It would be a great pity if the government was allowed to get away with the retrogressive amendments it has in mind.







Capital market regulator SEBI has issued new guidelines for credit rating agencies that seek to make the rating process more transparent. The guidelines flow from the report of a government-appointed high-level committee. As in the case of practically all aspects of the capital market impinging on investor protection, SEBI has relied heavily on the disclosure mechanism in formulating these guidelines. Henceforth, credit rating agencies have to make mandatory, comprehensive disclosures twice a year. They will have to place in public domain the factors behind their ratings and provide a synopsis of the discussions they had with the merchant bankers, bankers, and auditors concerned. They will have to disclose details of voting at the rating committee meetings and also of any dissent note. Credit rating agencies will have to look for and report defaults on the basis of certain well-established criteria, such as non-payment of interest on the due date, and also publish information about the historical default rates in various rating categories. It should not be difficult for the leading agencies to follow these guidelines. However, two questions are relevant here. One, will the additional information available really help the majority of investors? Second, will compliance with the guidelines help the agencies improve their image that has been tarnished recently?


Credit rating agencies provide valuable inputs to investors to make an informed decision when they want to place their money in debt instruments. More recently in India, new equity share offerings were also rated. In developed markets, they attracted a lot of negative publicity for their conduct during the recent financial crisis. Many complex financial instruments with high investment grade ratings fell by the wayside, dragging down the financial institutions and several other investors. The charge against them is that they misled investors by awarding satisfactory ratings to instruments whose risks they did not comprehend. In the late 1990s, during the Asian currency crisis too, they were seen in poor light. In India, the rating agencies are rapidly expanding their activities, even if the lack of depth in some segments of the debt markets might be restricting their scope. They will do well to adhere to these guidelines, if they are keen to improve their credibility in the eyes of investors. Notably, in every credit rating agency, there must be a Chinese wall between the analysts involved in the rating exercise and those responsible for the marketing and other business-related functions.










The Sheikh Hasina government has opened what could turn out to be a new chapter in Bangladesh's history, setting in motion a process that was long overdue: the trial of those involved in what should be considered crimes against humanity during the 1971 liberation war against Pakistan. On March 25, 2010, the government announced the formation of a tribunal, an investigation agency and a prosecution team under a law enacted as early as in 1973.


Horrendous crimes were committed during the war: some three million people were killed, nearly half a million women were raped and over 10 million people were forced to flee to India to escape military persecution. Justice has not yet caught up with the perpetrators. This has had a profound effect on Bangladesh over the decades since.


The trial is not just a fulfilment of the current government's political commitment, but a step towards meeting a national obligation to the judicial process. It is an important step to meet the nation's commitment to restoring the rule of law.


In the general elections of December 2009 in which the Awami League-led grand alliance won a resounding mandate, the issue of a war crimes trial played a role. An overwhelming majority of the people, especially those from the new generation of voters, evidently marked their unequivocal support for the demand.


The Sheikh Hasina government has recently seen the judiciary meting out punishment to the assassins of the country's founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The historic trial was held after 34 years of the bloody changeover that forced the new-born nation to detract from its secular 'pro-liberation' line. And by starting the war crimes trial three and half decades after the war, the government has shown both courage and conviction to accomplish an unfinished national task.


The investigators have identified and are pursuing the perpetrators, and the trial has popular support. But the process is facing resistance from the government's political opponents, particularly from the fundamentalist and right-wing parties. Understandably, such resistance comes mainly from the Jamaat-e-Islami that took a stand against the country breaking free from Pakistan. But the Jamaat got a boost when it mustered tactical support from its political ally, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by Khaleda Zia.


The trial is meant to bring to justice those collaborators of the Pakistan Army who perpetrated genocide, mass rape, arson and looting. It is also a rejuvenation of the 'Spirit of 1971' on the basis of which the former East Pakistan became Bangladesh. The trial makes a moral point: that the rule of law must prevail and justice must be dispensed to those who committed the crimes.


The irony is that while the trial process that was initiated soon after independence got frustrated following the assassination of Sheikh Mujib in 1975. In the light of the Simla Agreement signed between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan on July 3, 1972, and the tripartite agreement signed on April 9, 1974 in New Delhi, 195 Pakistani war criminals were allowed to go back to their country along with over 90,000 Prisoners of War who had surrendered to the India-Bangladesh Joint Command in Dhaka on December 16, 1971. However, those agreements have no relevance for the trial of Bangladeshi citizens who committed offences such as killing, looting, arson and repression of women.


There is some criticism with regard to the formation of the tribunal, the investigating agency and the prosecution team. Many people hold the view that some of them are not manned by competent people. Even Dr. Alauddin Ahmed, an adviser to the Prime Minister, questioned the integrity of the chief investigator, who, according to him, was an activist of the Jamaat. (Following this the government on May 3 ordered a probe into the credentials of Abdul Matin.) Such criticism apart, the trial, if it goes smoothly, will expose the sheer magnitude of one of the worst instances of massacre and mass rape in history, of which not many people are aware outside of Bangladesh.


As the unofficially compiled lists show, most of the suspected war criminals belong to the Jamaat-e-Islami which took up arms to defend Pakistan as collaborators of the Pakistan Army. The BNP and some Islamist groups also have leaders against whom charges of war crimes have been levelled. But the tribunal will prosecute only those against whom sufficient evidence is available.


Just after independence, an effort was on to put in place a process of accountability. The post-liberation

government promulgated the Bangladesh Collaborators (Special Tribunals) Order in 1972. In July 1973, Parliament passed the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act to allow the prosecution of individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.


Around 37,000 people were jailed. An estimated 26,000 people were released when in November 1973 the government announced clemency for all except those charged with heinous crimes. Around 700 persons were convicted. But, in December 1975, following the assassination of Sheikh Mujib, all convicts and under-trial prisoners were released by the military ruler, Ziaur Rahman, who also annulled the Collaborators Act. Since then the issue had lain dormant. It resurfaced only when the Awami League, which led the Liberation War, first came to power in 1996.


In 1992, a national campaign was launched under the leadership of Jahanara Imam, writer and the mother of a liberation war martyr. This culminated in a mock public trial of war criminals in Dhaka. And as Ms. Khaleda Zia formally inducted Jamaat-e-Islami leaders into her Cabinet in 2001 and key Jamaat leaders dubbed the 1971 liberation war as a 'civil war' just to undermine national independence, the issue got national attention. The Sector Commanders' Forum, led by the front commanders of the war, and the Nirmul Committee, a secular platform to try war criminals, as well as other 'pro-liberation' organisations, spearheaded a campaign.


Although the trial has a strong moral rationale, it is no easy task. Politicians and lawyers supporting the BNP and the Jamaat have challenged the law under which the trial is on. But legal experts have rejected their pleas, saying that the law is broadly compatible with international standards.


This is no ordinary trial, but one that answers the inner-most urges of an aggrieved nation and addresses the travails of countless bereaved families, widows and orphans, those who were wounded and immobilised. The woman victims of atrocities have been conferred the honour of war heroine ('Beerangana'). Therefore, the trial is a solemn unfinished task to remove a national stigma.


The trial will have obvious political implications. The irony is that those who committed the crimes as henchmen of the Pakistan Army in 1971 are now established political leaders, well-entrenched businessmen or highly connected Islamists, all of whom have their own agenda.


The Sheikh Hasina government will have to face up to a hard reality. The war criminals of 1971, many of whom left the country at the dawn of Independence but returned and were rehabilitated thanks to the military rulers, are now organised and powerful. They have strong political backers in the BNP.


The government understands the implications and the risks. The Prime Minister has urged the people to remain 'alert and united' so that the process is not disrupted by 'conspiracies'. She knows that the move will get meaningful support from the majority of the people. A confident Sheikh Hasina said: "We're not afraid of any plot by the defeated forces. Inshallah, we will complete the trial and free the nation from the stigma."


As the trial process advances, the Jamaat has called upon its members to prepare for the ultimate sacrifice. Ali Ahsan Muhammad Mojaheed, its secretary general, claimed that India was instigating the government to go after the Jamaat. "India apprehends that only the military and the Jamaat can prevent Bangladesh from becoming a proxy for India."


But Sheikh Hasina has remained brave, and has said her government would hold the long-overdue trial no matter what the Jamaat does. "It has been our national commitment, and we shall do it," she asserted. Bangladesh, which recently ratified the Rome Statute that calls on countries to bring their own laws in line with international standards for the prosecution of individuals who commit crimes against humanity, has assured the world community that the trial process would go on and that it would conform to the highest standards.


It has been the considered view of the secular school of thought that if the trial process is withdrawn, or kept incomplete halfway through, under any compulsion or pretext, Bangladesh's 'pro-liberation' politics will suffer a blow. Those who had opposed the country's independence and perpetrated the worst crimes against humanity on religious grounds, will be able to further consolidate themselves if the trial remains incomplete.


( The writer, based in Dhaka, is a Bangladesh liberation fighter himself.)








Seeking authenticity for his letter to the Prime Minister and the President, Ramachandra Raut composed it with care on Rs.100 non-judicial stamp paper. Then he added a few more addressees, including his village sarpanch and the police, in the hope that it got home someplace. Then he killed himself. A mere digit in the nearly 250 farm suicides that hit Vidarbha in four months; but a villager desperate to be heard on the reasons for his action: "The two successive years of crop failure is the reason." Yet, "bank employees came twice to my home to recover my loans". (Despite a government order to go slow on recovery in a region hit by crisis, crop failure and more recently, drought).


Raut's suicide being the third in a month in Dhotragoan in Washim district, the village wants to see it spreads no further. "We try and meet every evening for an hour, all of us, anyone who will come," says Nandkishore Shankar Raut from Dhotragaon. "The idea is to keep people's morale up." So Dhotragaon counsels itself. Ramachandra Raut's letter was also an appeal not to be misunderstood. "Don't trouble anyone in my home," it tells the police. "I am fully responsible for my action." The stamp paper suicide note carries the seal of the deputy treasury officer of Mangrulpir tehsil dated March 29, and that of the stamp vendor who issued it to Raut on April 7. Raut filled it in and took his life the same day.


The family owes the banks Rs.1.5 lakh. His village pooled money to observe his 13th day ritual, sparing Raut's indebted family further expense.




Vidarbha's farm suicides have been unique in one respect. Some of those taking their lives have addressed suicide notes to the Prime Minister, the Chief Minister or the Finance Minister. In August 2006 Rameshwar Lonkar of Wardha complained, in his note, to Dr. Manmohan Singh, just a month after the Prime Minister went to his region. "After the Prime Minister's visit and reports of a fresh crop loan, I thought I could live again," Lonkar wrote. But he found himself rebuffed at every stage while seeking that loan. Sahebrao Adhao's last testament in Amravati the same year painted a picture of usury, debt and land grab.


In November 2006, cotton grower Rameshwar Kuchankar addressed the then Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh in his note. He scribbled it down moments before taking his life in Yavatmal. "We are fed up with the delay in procurement and crashing prices ... Mr. Chief Minister, give us the price." He also warned State Home Minister R.R. Patil that if the price did not improve at once, suicides would soar. They did.


"These notes are the last cry of despair of people trying to tell their government the reasons for agrarian distress," says Kishor Tiwari. Mr. Tiwari heads the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, a body fighting for farmers' rights. "We set up expert committees to tell us why farmers commit suicide when they are themselves telling us the reasons with such clarity in their suicide notes." The notes often speak of debt, soaring cultivation costs, high cost of living and volatile prices. Some of them trash regressive policies and a credit crunch that have destroyed thousands of farmers here in the past decade. Crop failure and drought coming atop these, ruin fragile lives.


Raut's suicide note, addressed to the President and the Prime Minister, composed on a Rs.100 non-judicial stamp paper.

Two years of crop failure in a single crop district can mean 34 months with no income. Vidarbha gained little from the 2008 Farm Loan Waiver which addressed only bank debt. The waiver excluded those farmers holding more than five acres, and made no distinction between dry and irrigated holdings. In Western Vidarbha, farmers take more loans from moneylenders than from banks. And, the average land holding is around seven acres in this mostly unirrigated region.


Of the five states that account for two-thirds of all of India's farm suicides, Maharashtra is by far the worst. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) the State logged 41,404 farm suicides between 1997 and 2008. That is, more than a fifth of the national total of nearly 200,000 in that same period. Of those 12 years, NCRB data show, the years 2006-08 have been the very worst. Within the State, Vidarbha has been the focal point of the tragedy.


Back to square one


However, the situation here seems like a throwback to that of 2005-06, before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit. Hit by a spate of suicides at the time, the State government spoke in many voices. In mid-2005, it gave out a figure of just 141 distress suicides across the whole State since 2001. Challenged in court, it revised this to 524. When the National Commission of Farmers team led by Dr. M.S. Swaminathan visited later the same year, it conceded there had been over 300 in the single district of Yavatmal. The final figure for the whole State that year, put out by the NCRB, was actually 3,926 suicides.


"For a while," says Mr. Tiwari of the VJAS, "the State revealed real numbers on the website of the Vasantrao Naik Farmers' Self-Reliance Mission. That was because of Dr. Singh's visit and a lashing from the courts." In fact, those figures were far higher than anything even the VJAS had recorded. This year, however, the website's columns for 2010 are so far blank. The Agriculture Ministry's reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, based on State claims, says just 23 farm suicides occurred between January and April 8. This, even as other arms of government (and the Leader of the Opposition) put out figures ten times as high. The Vasantrao Naik Mission has itself given out signed data confirming there were 62 such deaths in January alone. (Though it has not put this up on its website.)


The numbers are routinely lowered by tagging hundreds of suicides as "non-genuine". That is, "ineligible for compensation". Aimed at curbing the amounts the State has to fork out to bereaved families, this move has caused much damage. "We are deluding ourselves," says a senior official. "No wonder Ramachandra Raut felt the need to address his letter on stamp paper to the Prime Minister and President as well. He knew nothing would be taken seriously here in Maharashtra."









When I covered politics for The New York Times a very long ago in the United States and in other countries that allowed for adult franchise, a wise old Editor would often caution against making projections, particularly on election day. Of course, those times were before smart pollsters brought their sophisticated techniques to gauge exit polls and voter sentiments, and well before television stations flashed informal results before candidacies were declared successful.


The TV stations here in Mauritius do no such thing; there are few, if any, reliable polls; votes are hand counted; and as this island-nation's 880,000 registered voters cast their ballots on Wednesday, it was not even clear just how many Mauritians showed up at the booths set up in schools and public institutions. Radio stations broadcast differing percentile figures throughout the day. Although Wednesday had been declared a national holiday to encourage voters to trek to the polls, it was clear that enough of them chose leisure over the obligations of citizenship.


So clear, in fact, that Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam — who is leading a three-party alliance that he hopes will give him a second successive five-year term — took to the radio waves himself and appealed to his fellow countrymen to overcome their ennui. In the afternoon, he walked from door to door in his constituency urging people to cast their ballot.


It was not something that Prime Ministers are wont to do, but the 63-year-old Mr. Ramgoolam is that rare breed of politician who actually knows many of his constituents by name, and makes it a point to stay in personal contact even when election season is over. So visiting constituents' homes was generally perceived as something less than political opportunism.


He shares that characteristic with his political nemesis, Paul Berenger, the former Prime Minister who leads the left-win Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM). In an interview with The Hindu, Mr. Berenger said he was energised by his tour through his constituency and those of 19 others; these constituencies, plus one in the neighbouring island of Rodriguez, send 60 victors to the national parliament.


But Mr. Berenger acknowledged that Mr. Ramgoolam's alliance had "far more money, many more cars, and lots more party workers".


Still, he said, he was confident that the MMM would win. Asked about the general perception that his French ancestry made him tilt in favour of the economic and other interests of European nations such as France and Britain, Mr. Berenger seemed unperturbed. He sensed the subtext of my question.


"Look," Mr. Berenger said, "India need not worry if I became Prime Minister. I have always said that the relationship between our two countries is umbilical. It cannot be broken, it can only be strengthened."


One way of interpreting his remark is that even under a leftist government led by a representative of a minority

Franco community in an island-nation of 1.3 million that is dominated by Hindus — with Creoles, Muslims, Chinese, and Christians added to the mix — Mauritius would find it disadvantageous to strain its relationship with India. After all, Mauritius channels nearly $12 billion in foreign direct investment to India annually, making it the latter's biggest supplier of FDI. Rest assured that much of this money is not indigenous: it comes from somewhere else, and Mauritius surely gets a percentage of the take. Would Mr. Berenger really want to re-shape that reality?


"My reality is good governance," Mr. Berenger said, in his deep French-coated voice. "My concern is electoral and political reforms that would bring more justice in our system."


I was tempted to ask why such reforms were not undertaken when Mr. Berenger served as Prime Minister from 2003 to 2005. But I anticipated his answer: Not sufficient time. Besides, it would have been unkind to pose such a question, even to a veteran politician, on a day that he was so earnestly trying to drum out votes for his party.


I put a different sort of question to Nita Deerpalsing, a parliamentarian and spokeswoman for Mr. Ramgoolam's Mauritius Labour Party. Was she satisfied with voter turnout?


"Very satisfied," Ms Deerpalsing said.


Did she plan to speak to the Prime Minister about her hunches concerning election results?


"I'm concentrating all my energies in my constituencies," she said, somewhat sharply.


Will the three-party alliance win when the election results are formally announced by midday on Thursday?


"Of course."


That seemed as good a thought with which to gracefully exit the conversation.


To put it another way, as my wise old Editor would say, never project, never predict, never prognosticate. Tomorrow is, after all, another day — and a single day can be an entire lifetime in the politics of clangorous multiparty democracies, even if they are tiny island states whose main claim to global fame was the fact that the long extinct dodo bird was spotted nowhere else in the world but here, by Dutch settlers more than three centuries ago.


The dodo bird may have been long gone, but Mauritian politics has taken full flight. Stay tuned.


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








For a glimpse of the fate that might await Britain's Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg in Washington were he to become U.K. Prime Minister, one need only look at the trials and tribulations of Yukio Hatoyama, Japan's inexperienced leader who took office last year.


Like Mr. Clegg, Mr. Hatoyama proposed a more equal, less subservient bilateral relationship. He wanted to explore alternative alliances, including closer ties with China. He even suggested closing a U.S. military base. Now he is paying the price of his effrontery.


Attending last month's nuclear summit in Washington, Mr. Hatoyama's officials lobbied hard for a one-on-one meeting between their man and President Barack Obama. The request was brusquely rebuffed. Instead, the Japanese Prime Minister had to settle for a rushed 10 minutes sitting next to Mr, Obama at dinner, making his points while his host consulted the menu. In Tokyo, his treatment was described as humiliating.


Rude reception


More extraordinary still, according to U.S. press accounts, Mr. Obama bluntly informed Mr. Hatoyama that he was "running out of time" to settle the dispute over relocation of a U.S. Marine Corps base at Futenma, on Okinawa, and asked him to his face whether he could be trusted. Visiting Okinawa on Tuesday, Mr. Hatoyama seemed to be preparing the ground for a climbdown, suggesting some base facilities would remain.


Japanese officials were reportedly so affronted by Mr. Obama's rudeness that they did not distribute the usual written record of the exchanges. It got worse.


Mr. Hatoyama's presumption in appearing to challenge U.S. security interests, and Mr. Obama's rough handling of him, led Washington Post gossip columnist Al Kamen to label him the summit's "biggest loser". Mr. Kamen said Mr. Obama administration officials had ridiculed the Japanese leader as "increasingly loopy". This in turn provoked media frenzy in Japan, as translators tried to establish exactly how insulting "loopy" really was.


A top aide to Mr. Hatoyama criticised the term as "somewhat impolite". But then, to everyone's amazement, Mr. Hatoyama went to the Diet (parliament) and suggested, self-deprecatingly, that the description might be accurate. "As the Washington Post says, I may certainly be a foolish Prime Minister," he said, before going on to admit that he could have handled the Futenma base issue sooner and better.


Mr. Hatoyama's Democratic party won in a landslide last August, ending 50 years of almost unbroken rule by the conservative Liberal Democrats who by and large submitted unquestioningly to Washington's will. His ideas about giving Japan a more independent voice in the world, of loosening the American harness, were actually quite modest and mostly unlikely to be implemented. But far from respecting the voters' verdict, the U.S. responded with bullying, name-calling, and exaggerated warnings about the consequences for Japan and the Asia-Pacific region, culminating in the banquet snub. Now Mr. Hatoyama's self-criticism suggests he may not last much longer.


Given his relatively more provocative views on nuclear disarmament, closer British ties with a united Europe, and the importance of upholding human rights, even in "war on terror" conflict zones, "prime minister" Clegg could be assured of a yet rougher reception in Washington — though even brasher Americans might hesitate to suggest the elected leader of their closest military ally was off his nut.


Mr. Clegg might also wonder, in such circumstances, how long he might be able to hold on to power. Mr. Hatoyama must certainly be wondering himself. The growing perception among Japanese voters that he is weakly bowing to U.S. demands on Futenma has greatly undermined him. A majority believes he should resign if he loses the Futenma fight or misses his self-imposed deadline of the end of May for settling it.


Thwarted change-maker


In the latest poll his approval rating is down to 21 per cent. As President, Mr. Obama has gained a reputation, fairly or unfairly, for appeasing upstart dictators while dissin' old allies. Mr. Hatoyama's crusade against Japan's "old politics" looks like being one casualty.


If he were to take office Mr. Clegg would also encounter formidable U.S. hostility to some of his ideas. He might do well to consult Tokyo's thwarted change-maker before venturing across the Atlantic.


 © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








Their collective wisdom is incalculable — and so is the collective burden they carry when families are torn apart by AIDS.


Africa's newest special interest group is that of grandmothers. They will attend their first special conference this week to share experiences and call for international recognition of their uniquely difficult circumstances.


A summit of grandparents in the West might prompt jokes about bingo and dentures, but the inaugural African Grandmothers' Gathering, starting in Swaziland on Thursday, is a gravely serious affair.


More than 450 grandmothers from 12 African countries will meet to discuss the impact of losing adult children to AIDS, becoming the head of a household and raising grief-stricken grandchildren as their own.


These forgotten victims hope to build a "solidarity movement" across Africa to make the case that grandmothers need targeted support from international donors.


A lost voice


"It's a lost group, a lost voice," said Philile Mlotshwa of Swapol (Swaziland Positive Living), which is organising the event in partnership with the Canadian-based Stephen Lewis Foundation . "They are the heroes yet no one has gone to them to say we recognise your efforts." The organisers say it is time to heed the "indomitable and indefatigable" grandmothers who step forward to care for children, sometimes as many as 10 to 15 in one household. "They are holding together the social fabric of communities across the continent." Ms Mlotshwa continued: "Grandparents have always played an important role in solving disputes and as a source of knowledge. But now the younger generation is not there: people aged 29 to 49 are dying from HIV-AIDS ... Grandmothers are at the frontline of the HIV-AIDS impact. They have to pick up the pieces and move on. They don't have time to grieve because the children need to be looked after. They are doing this without any income.


In spite of challenges


"They are sick with diabetes and high blood pressure. We are seeing women who are carrying on in spite of the challenges and the fear of what will happen to these grandchildren if they die." Ms Mlotshwa said she hoped the gathering would raise awareness of grandmothers' needs. "Various responses to HIV-AIDS have been designed but not yet targeted at them." The grandmothers are likely to seek international support for grief counselling, access to healthcare for themselves and children in their care, safe and adequate housing, economic security, safety from gender-based violence, raising community awareness and breaking stigma, support in raising grief-stricken grandchildren and access to education for children.


Grandmothers from Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe will be represented.


Stephen Lewis, chair of the foundation, said: "Grandmothers [are] the unsung heroes of Africa. These magnificently courageous women bury their own children and then look after their orphaned grandchildren, calling on astonishing reserves of love and emotional resilience."


— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010









 Two recent developments tend to confirm India's fears that jihadi outfits in Pakistan, Afghanistan or elsewhere, can be mobilised to launch attacks outside their indigenous area of operation, whether or not they are labelled Al Qaeda adjuncts. At any rate, their ideological moorings prepare them for such a task. In Indian understanding the jihadist groups in the subcontinent are intermeshing entities subserving the same broad aims, and are often created by the same pool of actors, among which Pakistan's intelligence community is the most prominent.
Take the case of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsood, who was presumed killed by the United States and Pakistan after an American missile strike in Waziristan last January, but has clearly recovered from his injuries and is now alive and well. But that's the least of it. In two recent videos Hakimullah has threatened to take on the Americans — not in Pakistan or Afghanistan, but in the American homeland. It is too early to say if the US will dismiss this as bluster or adopt the more reasonable (and sensible) course of adjusting its perspectives on the meaning of jihadism — and the terrorism flowing from it — in many Muslim lands, including the ones that America has invaded. Since the Al Qaeda phenomenon came to notice after September 11, 2001, the established wisdom in the US and the West more generally — and this appeared to "infect" other Europeans, notably the Russians (who presumably still have a lot of stake in what eventually happens in Afghanistan and the neighbouring tribal areas of Pakistan) — has been that the West need be watchful only against Al Qaeda and not the home-grown terror outfits espousing jihad in various societies which have surfaced in response to so-called local grievances. It is for this reason that the US does not treat the Afghan Taliban or the TTP on the same footing as Al Qaeda, though its forces battle the former when they have to, or when Western troops believe the local guerrilla groups have provided active assistance to Al Qaeda against Western military forces. As for the Pakistan Punjab-based Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, which focuses primarily on terrorist assaults against India, the US forces leave it alone, although Lashkar frequently teams up with the TTP and the Afghan Taliban to mount operations. It can only be hoped that the resurfacing of Hakimullah and the anti-US warnings he has sounded will become a factor leading to course correction in US thinking. Not so long ago, the Pakistan military — under Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani — had counted the TTP as a "patriotic" Pakistani outfit that could be an "asset" to be used against India. This country had protested, but Washington merely heard the exchange and kept its counsel.

The related point of recent interest is the attempted car bombing in New York's Times Square by Faisal Shahzad, an American citizen of Pakistani origin. It appears this terrorist had trained with the TTP for five months and returned to his adopted country to carry out the task assigned to him. Mr Shahzad comes from a Pakistani military family of privilege. There must be countless others like him in the US and in Europe. That enhances the pool of talent that outfits like the TTP (or indeed Lashkar, as the case of David Headley demonstrates) can draw upon. To checkmate security threats from a new source such as this, Washington will need to shed its ideological blinkers. It cannot afford to proceed on a case-by-case basis. If the sources of terrorism have to be wiped out in Pakistan, the Pakistani authorities will need to wield a long broom. It would not do to fight the Afghan Taliban but leave TTP and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba alone. The time for self-serving selectivity is over.







The massacre of 76 CRPF personnel at Dantewada sent shock waves through India, just as the Pakistan-launched terrorist attack on Mumbai on 26/11 had done. The latter led to a change of guard in the home ministry. Home minister P. Chidambaram injected dynamism into a somnolent ministry. One appreciated his earnestness and the various measures he initiated. For several years, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been saying that Maoist terrorism is the biggest threat to the nation, but little has been done to deal with it. Dantewada has highlighted gaping weaknesses. When the nation faces a grave threat to its survival, it is imperative to put up a united front. During the Kargil War, it was distressing that the then Opposition had put up an inflated rubber bus turned upside down to ridicule the then Prime Minister's attempt at bus diplomacy. It is gratifying that after Dantewada the Opposition closed ranks in support of the home minister. This is as it should be.

For the first few days, the media said 1,000 Maoists had attacked the CRPF at Dantewada. Then this number came down to 300. Initially, there was no report of any Maoist being killed, but it was later said that eight of them were slain, showing that the CRPF company did put up a fight. Only one newspaper reported that Satyavan Singh Yadav, the deputy commandant, was wounded, yet he killed a few Maoists before being hacked to death. Such confusion does not do us any credit.

Several hundred police and paramilitary personnel have been killed on account of poor leadership and poor training. In Chhattisgarh, 30 armed policemen inside a building were killed. At a CRPF post, men watching an India-Pakistan cricket match on TV were killed. At Sildah, West Bengal, 24 armed men of the Eastern Frontier Rifles were killed without offering any opposition and 36 Greyhound commandos of the Andhra police travelling relaxed in a motor launch on a lake, without taking elementary precautions, were gunned down. Such instances, in broad daylight at district HQ, without meeting resistance, shows complete collapse of administration.

Having gone through arduous jungle training like all other Army personnel inducted into Burma from 1943 onwards, I can vouch for the great importance of vigorous jungle training for all personnel operating against the Maoists. The Army has a jungle warfare school at Vairangte, Mizoram. The CRPF company at Dantewada had no jungle training. Fields of fire are limited in jungles and open spaces can be death traps. At Dantewada, the CRPF company walked blindly into such a killing ground. The support of the tribals in the jungles should also be mobilised. The British had raised Lushai, Kachin and Naga levies. These gave invaluable support for operations in the jungles. We can do the same against the Maoists. This will also assist economic development by providing employment in the region.

The glaring deficiencies of the paramilitary in leadership at both field and supervisory levels must be made up. The regular police officer looking after police stations and other police functioning is as unsuited for such operations as a normal Army officer for running the police administration. In 1973, I recall, we had put up a scheme for lateral induction of officers and men from combat arms into the paramilitary after a certain number of years. This would solve the problem of a full career for the soldier while maintaining the Army's youthful profile, and at the same time provide military expertise and experience to the paramilitary. This would have also meant the exchequer saving hundreds of crores in the '70s due to reduced expenditure on pensions and training costs. Today this would run into thousands of crores. After nearly 40 years, the Sixth Pay Commission has made the same recommendation. Would the bureaucrats in Delhi and the paramilitary top brass, zealously guarding their turf, allow this to be implemented?

Law and order is a state subject and it is legitimate for states to guard their autonomy. But Maoist terrorism is a war unleashed against the nation. It does not respect inter-state boundaries. The Centre making paramilitary forces available to the states, and expecting them to fight this war with the buck stopping at the chief minister, is not enough. During the Second World War, the Allies, without asserting their individual sovereignty, allowed overall strategic direction of the war to be given by the Big Three — Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. At the theatre level unified commands under supreme commanders in command of all services, cutting across nationalities and international boundaries, were set up. Similarly, we need a supreme body with the Union home minister and chief ministers of affected states to formulate overall policy. Under this apex body there should be zones worked out on the basis of geographical and other considerations, ignoring inter-state boundaries. In each zone there should be a unified command under a suitable police officer or an Army officer on deputation. All agencies within the zone — police, paramilitary and intelligence — should report to him/her. At the zonal level, there should be a committee of chief ministers of the zone for giving policy directions to the zonal commanders. In World War II, neither the sovereignty of the Allied nations nor international boundaries came in the way of the conduct of the war. Similarly, neither the autonomy of states nor inter-state boundaries should impinge upon the war against the Maoists.

The CRPF at Dantewada was ambushed while on a three-day jungle dominating patrol. Such patrols serve little purpose. They are like a sword striking the water: fruitless. What we need are impregnable redoubts of minimum company strength with suitable defences. There will then be no question of any Maoist attack succeeding. These can become bases for sending out small patrols to gather intelligence, which can be supplemented by other inputs. On that basis, surgical strikes should be carried out. These redoubts can also be bases from which development works in the region can be organised. In 1968, I was commanding a brigade of nine battalions in the jungles of Manipur. I had 42 such air-maintained posts to dominate the jungle. None of these were ever attacked by the Nagas. My flanking formation in Nagaland also worked on the same strategy. We captured the gang of 300 Nagas led by Mowu Angami, the commander-in-chief of the Naga army returning from Yunan (in China) after training and with modern weapons.

The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.

S.K. Sinha






The sports ministry's guidelines should be accepted by the National Sports Federation (NSF) chiefs without malice. They should welcome such a decision which is in the interest of the sportspersons and a way to make the working of all the NSFs both accountable and professional.

This directive will encourage youngsters with new ideas to come to the fore and take command of the sports scene. These youngsters can be management graduates, sportspersons or even academicians. In any case they will bring new ways to root out financial irregularities, nepotism, regionalism and corruption present in the sports bodies.

I am nearing 80 and participated in three consecutive Olympics from 1956 onwards and have seen the condition of sports since then. Having won a few Olympic medals in some select sports does not give a clear picture about the actual growth of India as a sporting nation.

We are way behind in athletics, swimming, football, basketball, gymnastics etc. and even our national sport, hockey, needs much improvement. We failed to win a single game in the recently-held Hockey World Cup except the one against arch-rivals Pakistan.

The tournament which was a test event for the Commonwealth Games (CWG) shows that we need not just good athletes but also good administrators and better sports infrastructure.

We were bestowed the licence of holding the CWG eight years ago but we are still clueless on how to improve our medal count in various disciplines. I fear if we will get even one medal in athletics in the event that's scheduled in October.

The contentious order about tenures was passed in 1975 but these administrators, under the garb of Olympic Charter, refused to accept it. When an IAS and IPS officer seek home ministry's permission to contest elections, so why don't these political leaders go through the same process. The question of re-election only comes when a member has done something concrete for the growth and benefit of the sport. But these babus like to stick to their seats come what may, as if it's their personal fief. They get huge grants from the government to organise national and international championships, however, when the ministry seeks details of their expenditure they have a problem.

The NSFs need to know that those sums of money come from the pockets of the public, the tax-bearers. They need to divulge details. It's good that the ministry brought them under the RTI Act or they would have continued to misuse public money.

As a former athlete I know that our bodies can sustain the pressures of international competitions and remain agile till a particular age — then why make a hue and cry over the new guidelines restricting the age of office-bearers of NSFs to 70 years.

(As told to Rohit

— Milkha Singh, who has represented India at the Olympics, is a legendary athlete

Why single us out for fixed tenures?

This is not a new ruling that the government has come up with. They have always tried to dictate terms to sports administrators. In fact, the government had passed a law curtailing the tenures of various National Sports Federations (NSFs) chiefs during Emergency, in 1975. Obviously, there was military rule at that time, so everyone had to follow it. 

But reissuing that directive now seems ridiculous. I have served the Archery Association of India as president for the last 32 years, after I was first elected in 1978. It is not that I take this position as my property. It's the other members of the federation who want me to keep this post. Our constitution does not prevent anyone from participating in the elections — whoever thinks s/he can manage the sport better can come forward. Our elections are free and fair and this is beyond doubt as we also have a government-nominee overlooking it.
I recall that after being elected for the third successive term in 1986, the government issued a notice that I cannot remain president for so long. I then went to court, which, after investigating our election process, gave the verdict in my favour and asked the government to frame laws regarding sports bodies. But the government was helpless as in the Indian Constitution sports is in the state list and not the concurrent list. So their attempts to amend the rules failed.

Also, when there is no limit on how many times one gets elected to the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha, or for that matter to any political position in any country, then how can this rule apply to us? Atal Behari Vajpayee and Babu Jagjivan Ram were elected to Parliament for at least five terms.

The ministry's setting of the retirement age at 70 also baffles me as our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit are above that age. For that matter, even sports minister M.S. Gill is above that mark.

The government says that this guideline will benefit the sportsmen, but how? They say they will not issue us grants, that we will get no income tax, customs or excise exemptions — but won't this create problems for the sportspeople who have to import various equipments from abroad. The Sports Authority of India, whose job it is to import equipments on behalf of the NSFs, has not done its job well since the last five years or so. As far as archery is concerned, the grants that we get for organising junior, sub-junior and national championships are respectively two, four and six lakhs — this is pretty less compared to other countries.
There are no provisions in the Registration of Societies Act or in the International Olympic Charter that support the government's directive. So the government should let the NSFs function smoothly, for better organisation of the Commonwealth Games which is just round the corner.


Vijay Kumar Malhotra, BJP leader and Archery Association of India president

The Age Debate







By making the use of narco-analysis, polygraph, and brain-mapping tests illegal, the Supreme Court has not just underlined the importance of personal liberty and privacy, but also put the onus of better investigation on the police.


Though the results of such tests are not admissible as evidence, police forces across the country have been using them as a short-cut to information and to bolster their cases. This is despite the fact that none of these tests has total scientific sanction or agreement on their reliability.


The apex court has, of course, stood up for personal liberty in its role as guardian of the Constitution. A bench headed by chief justice KG Balakrishnan said: "We are of the considered opinion that no individual can be forced and subjected to such techniques involuntarily, and by doing so it amounts to an unwarranted intrusion of personal liberty."


All too often, the police in India, in its hurry to get through with an investigation and file a charge sheet, trample on the rights of the accused. This is not a bleeding-hearts liberal argument: the fact is that guilt and culpability have to be proved in a court of law.


Being a suspect is not enough to make a person a criminal. The number of people who are let off by the courts in India shows how shoddy and ad hoc our policing can be. The presumption of innocence is one of human civilisation's highest principles and the apex court has, obliquely, re-emphasised it.


The other issue is of forensic evidence. Contemporary science has made life simpler for the police in its fight against crime. But we seem to have opted for the most dubious of these scientific offerings — polygraph, brain-mapping, and narco-analysis tests — which don't stand up to scrutiny. They can be manipulated by both intelligent suspects and crooked police officers. The margin of error is too high for them to be legally or socially acceptable.


Along with the various investments being made in equipment and training for the police, we perhaps need more forensic laboratories and scientists to become an integral part of any investigation.


As we saw in high-profile cases like the Jessica Lal murder or the as-yet-unsolved Arushi Talwar case, our bumbling Keystone Kops completely desecrated the crime scene, compromising the evidence. By denying them the fig-leaf of narco-testing, the Supreme Court is forcing the police to do its job better — with better tools.







Inter-state river disputes are the norm rather than the exception. Examples vary from the Krishna water dispute between Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, and the Kaveri (Cauvery) one between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.


This is why it is heartening to note the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed by Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and Union water resources minister Pawan Bansal on Tuesday in New Delhi.


The MoU is a very preliminary step for preparing detailed project reports for linking up some of the rivers in the two states, including Damanganga-Pinjal, on the one hand, the Par-Tapi-Narmada, on the other.


The first project will feed water to the city of Mumbai, and the second will bring water for irrigation to the scorched areas of Saurashtra. Prime minister Manmohan Singh is keen on the development and he was happy that the two states had opted to cooperate.


It is indeed commendable that neighbouring states should be able to work together in utilising riparian resources. This is one aspect that has not received enough emphasis in our federal structure — what the states can do together instead of pressing for their special interests.


The potential of states forging common economic links across sectors and boundaries could be of immense benefit to people living in these states, especially in the border areas. It would be a great boost if there were to be a convergence of the industrial and entrepreneurial energies of Maharashtra and Gujarat.


It could become a great hub in the western part of the country. A similar convergence could emerge among the southern states or in the north-east. If this were to happen among more states, then the role of the central government either as a patron or arbitrator between clashing states could be reduced.


There is, however, a need for caution with regard to the linking of rivers. Politicians and bureaucrats rarely pause to think of the long-term implications of developmental projects.


There is blinkered faith, bordering on infantilism, with regard to big projects that promise prosperity. Linking of rivers and shifting excess waters from one system to another might be an engineer's dream and delight but it could have disastrous effects on the people and the lands over the years.


So, due diligence is required on the part of decision-makers in Mumbai and Gandhinagar with regard to the adverse effects, along with the positive aspects, of this cooperation.







The bossman of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, M Karunanidhi, went to Delhi the other day and announced that controversial telecom minister A Raja, widely seen as the man at the centre of the spectrum scandal, would not be sacked.


Karunanidhi had the gall to add that Raja was being targeted because he was a Dalit.


The coded message to Manmohan Singh is simple: You have no jurisdiction over my ministers. My party's minister is accountable to me, not the nation.


Similar tales can be told about the UPA's other major coalition partners — the NCP, and the Trinamool Congress, among them — and it all leads to one depressing conclusion: governance is going to be very, very tough when ministers are going to be accountable to their state party bosses rather than the prime minister.


Collective responsibility is dead.


Anybody who thought that the last general election had strengthened the Congress' position within the UPA must be completely disillusioned by now. Not only has the party managed to tie itself in knots over issues (Women's Bill, et al), with every passing day it is losing steam.


Worse, there is increasing evidence that instability at the Centre is now moving down to the states. In fact, the big change over the last 15 years is not that we have had unstable coalitions at the Centre, but this phenomenon has got entrenched in most states as well. In fact, barring a few exceptions — Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Himachal, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat — almost every other state in the country has seen coalitions emerging as the norm.
Consider Tamil Nadu, once seen as a straight choice between the two Dravidian parties.


It slid into coalition rule in the last assembly elections and the main party no longer calls the shots. For the first time in decades, the DMK returned to power without its own majority, and now needs the Congress to prop it up from the outside. It is highly unlikely that the AIADMK, if it comes to power the next time, will manage a majority on its own.


In Andhra Pradesh, the next election is likely to see a coalition. In last year's election, YSR scraped through with a majority primarily because Chiranjeevi's Praja Rajyam ate into Telugu Desam's anti-incumbency harvest. The next time, the Congress is unlikely to be so lucky, and may have to settle for a coalition.


Uttar Pradesh seems to be currently under one-party rule, but this is ephemeral. Mayawati's BSP is a coalition of Dalits, Brahmins and peripheral Muslims, but as Rahul Gandhi builds his party in the state, this internal coalition may not hold. After the next election, UP may be ripe for another coalition.


As for the rest of the states, Kashmir already has a coalition, and so does Punjab. Haryana has seen one in the past (INLD + BJP), and may see them again in the future. Bihar has a coalition, and Lalu Prasad cannot hope to win the next election without a partner in tow.


Nor can current incumbent Nitish Kumar manage on his own, though he has the option of switching partners (Congress for BJP). Maharashtra has been ruled by a coalition since 1995, and Karnataka had one before the BJP won two years ago with the help of turncoats and moneybags.


Kerala and West Bengal have always had multi-party governments, and Orissa had a coalition till the 2009 election. Jharkhand has the worst of all worlds — a coalition that keeps changing with every election, and in between too.


In the north-east, Assam and Meghalaya, the biggest states, are now well into coalition politics, with negative consequences for stability and good governance. This leaves only the tiny states and Goa with single party governments — and they are unstable inherently.


The reason why I have elaborated at length on the spread of coalitions across the length and breadth of India is simple: till recently it seemed as if the central coalitions reflected the power of state-level bosses from various parties.


But this reality is about to change as the states themselves become repositories of shaky, multi-party coalitions. One shudders to think what will happen if every coalition partner in every state starts exerting pressure on the Centre for narrow political purposes.


Signs of this are already visible. Sharad Pawar's NCP, a coalition partner in Maharashtra and at the Centre, is not only able to rock the Centre on issues pertaining to Maharashtra, but is able to withstand pressure for any kind of accountability to the prime minister.


When the wheat import scandal hit the headlines, the centre could do nothing to Sharad Pawar. When Pawar was asked about rising prices, he could pass the buck and say it was the collective responsibility of the cabinet. His colleague Praful Patel can run Air India into the ground, but he cannot be removed.


As the Chinese say, we are in for more interesting times. If state-level coalitions fail to evolve an internal governance ethic, we have much to worry about.







A new study suggests that to get the same work done, men often expend 70% more energy than women. So tell us — the exasperated wives, infuriated women colleagues, impatient female friends, irritated sisters — what we didn't know already.


A study of mushroom gatherers by the National Autonomous University of Mexico, to be published in Evolution and Human Behaviour, shows how men spread out far and wide, tackling difficult terrain, vigorously sweating it out to collect the same amount of mushroom as the women did, pottering about effortlessly on easy ground.


Apparently men went looking for mushroom-dense patches, never mind how far or how difficult to reach, whereas women quietly collected mushrooms from patches which could be sparser but easier to access and more frequently found. At the end of the day, the men and women had the same amount of mushrooms.


It's all because of our hunter-gatherer past. Men, the primary hunters, are good at chasing a distant target, while women, primarily nurturers and gatherers, make the best of what they have closer at hand. This fits in very well with the study published in the British Journal of Psychology last year showing how men were better at focusing on objects at a distance while women were better at focusing on areas closer at hand.


With or without mushrooms, most women could vouch for the authenticity of this conclusion. We encounter the end-product of thousands of years of energetic hunting every day. You know how every little task that you would fit into your odd-jobs schedule without even thinking twice becomes a big, stand-alone project for him? It would have to be just perfect, he would research and investigate and finally get from several miles away what you would normally pick up on your way back home, with the fruit and vegetables and the milk.


Or when he decides to cook. How every few minutes he (or for more privileged hunter-gatherers, someone else) would have to rush off to the neighbourhood grocer or vegetable seller to get that one particular ingredient that is so essential to the dish, how every possible utensil would be used and tossed into the kitchen sink overflowing with discarded bowls and plates and sundry cooking implements, how every kitchen gadget would be used with scientific precision and enormous concentration for jobs that a lowly knife does rather well, how everything has to be just so.


Besides, the hunters are not particularly good with found objects. They like the thrill of the chase. Unlike us gatherers, who happily gather from the refrigerator bits and pieces of leftovers and make a quick new dish out of them. Not for us the rather unnecessary spirited adventures of the hunter that would deplete our energies further. Our adventures are for fun, not survival.


But not all women would admit to this. Because it hints at a certain — dare I say it — efficiency. Expending almost three times your energy to get the same result isn't astoundingly efficient. But the gatherers wouldn't want their hunters to know that. We are so much more comfortable allowing the hunters to believe that they are far more competent in every way.


Oh no, of course not, the smarter gatherers would say within the hunter's earshot, he's so much more efficient than I could ever be! They would say this in an honest and grateful way, with a straight face and an inner wink that only women can detect.


I look forward to more studies on hunter gatherers. They would unravel the curious mysteries of needlessly adventurous office colleagues. More importantly, they would promote greater understanding in our domestic lives.










THE Supreme Court judgement on Wednesday banning Narco analysis, brain-mapping and polygraph tests on the accused is a big blow to agencies like the CBI which have been using such techniques as important tools in investigation. In a landmark ruling, a three-member Bench consisting of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice R.V. Raveendran and Justice Dalveer Bhandari has said that if an individual is forced to undergo these tests, it would amount to "unwarranted intrusion of his personal liberty" and a flagrant violation of his fundamental right under Article 20 (3) of the Constitution which prohibits self-incrimination. The Bench made it clear that these tests will not be admissible as evidence in the courts as the law prohibits an accused from giving evidence against himself. As for polygraphy tests, it observed that the investigating agencies will have to follow strictly the guidelines of the National Human Rights Commission.


Significantly, the investigating agencies have conducted these tests in a number of high profile cases such as the fake stamp paper kingpin Abdul Karim Telgi case, Nithari killings accused Surinder Koli's case and on Abu Salem in the Gulshan Kumar murder case. In the Arushi murder case, her parents underwent the lie detector test but no Narco test was conducted on them. Narco test involves psychotherapy and the patient is deeply sedated with medication. Though it is believed that inhibitions are reduced and the subject cannot manipulate answers during this test, opinion is sharply divided over its efficacy. While the issue as such has been a subject of national debate, many senior advocates believe that Narco analysis is "imperfect, uncertain and hazardous" often leading to "wrong results". Not surprisingly, it was not conducted on Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, found guilty in the Mumbai terror attack.


Now that the Supreme Court has banned these tests, the authorities will have to evolve new methods of investigation. The police ought to change its colonial mindset and to show greater respect for human rights. It is common knowledge how the accused are tortured these days, sometimes resulting in custodial deaths. The apex court ruling may help ensure a fair trial for any individual, but agencies like the CBI ought to deploy more humane methods of investigation to ferret out the truth and bring the guilty to book.








Populism is being rolled back in bits and pieces in Punjab. The latest facing the axe is the free water supply to the urban poor, who may also have to pay nominal sewerage charges if Local Bodies Minister Manoranjan Kalia's proposal goes through. Incidentally, the minister belongs to the BJP, which considers the urbanites its vote bank. He had also co-scripted the government's fund-raising plan with Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal under which farmers were asked to pay for electricity and water and claim reimbursement of power bills. The Kalia-Sukhbir report has put some cash in the almost depleted coffers of the state.


Though a gradual shift in political thinking about reforms is welcome, the leadership actually has no alternative. Saddled with an ever-growing debt, which is to reach Rs 71,000 crore by the end of this fiscal, the government has to raise resources from every available source to save the state from a financial catastrophe. After the withdrawal of octroi, the municipal corporations in the state are starved of cash. The visible deterioration in the civic amenities is a pointer to that. The urban chaos is becoming unmanageable with the city dwellers being deprived of regular supply of power and clean drinking water.


Central funds are available for urban uplift under the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission and the Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme. The state can also have an access to easy funds from the 13th Finance Commission if it meets the prescribed conditions like the levy of user-charges for services and the imposition of house tax in the cities. People must pay if the essential services are to be provided and maintained. If the poor are being asked to make sacrifices in these days of high food inflation, the state leadership too must avoid extravagant expenditure, axe political deadwood and shed administrative flab. 









THIS time British parliamentary elections have evoked more than usual interest worldwide. Besides Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour Party and the Conservatives led by David Cameron, the Liberal Democrats headed by Nick Clegg are no pushover either. Most pollsters have predicted a hung parliament unless some voters change their mind at the eleventh hour and swing the pendulum towards the Conservatives, who believe in "old politics" and carrying on "business as usual".


The Nick Clegg factor, it seems, is working strongly in favour of a drastic change in British politics. The Liberal Democrats' tremendous appeal particularly among the youngsters is likely to upset the calculations of those who stand for the status quo. The emergence of the third major political force has led to a serious demand for switching over to proportional representation as the prevalent first-past-the-post system does not allow the formation of a government representing the majority of the electorate. A party which manages to have more than 50 per cent of the MPs on its side forms the government, though they may not represent the majority of the electorate. In the system of proportional representation, the number of seats that a party gets is more or less in proportion to the votes cast.


In the event of a hung parliament, there is the strong possibility of the ruling Labour and the Liberal Democrats coming together to keep the Conservatives at bay. Even if the Conservatives win more seats than the other two parties, the convention in Britain says that first the incumbent Prime Minister will be asked to try to form a government. Thus, there are greater chances of Britain getting a non-Conservative government again. This means the likelihood of proportional representation replacing the first-past-the-post system, as the Liberal Democrats have been openly demanding such a change and the Labour leadership stands for holding a referendum for the purpose. Politics in Britain is truly at crossroads today.

















AS representatives from the nearly 190 countries, party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), gather this month for four weeks to take stock of the accord that lies at the heart of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime, the entire regime is under tremendous strain and it is no longer evident if it can be salvaged unblemished. The strains had come into sharp focus ever since India and Pakistan tested their nuclear devices in 1998, thereby challenging the extant global nuclear order. But the US-led international community found that challenge manageable.


Despite its mixed results, the nuclear non-proliferation regime is widely recognised as one of the most successful arms-control arrangements made ever. And the NPT has been the mainstay of the nuclear non-proliferation regime and the key international standard-setting document for conduct in the nuclear era.


It has been argued that the non-proliferation treaty has had considerable success in persuading nations to forgo nuclear weapons as evidenced by the termination of nuclear weapon-related programmes in Argentina and Brazil, the elimination of South Africa's nuclear arsenal, the transfer of former Soviet nuclear weapons to Russia, and the detection and freeze of North Korea's nuclear facilities.


When the NPT came up for extension in 1995, widespread opinion among policymakers and experts was that the NPT needed to be extended as it had worked very well. This was premised on the belief that an extension of the NPT for unlimited duration would not only preserve all the gains made by the nuclear proliferation regime as a whole but would also make sure that future progress gathered momentum. The significance of the NPT for the nuclear non-proliferation regime remained in it being the sole global instrument through which non-nuclear-weapon states could make a legal commitment not to acquire the ultimate weapon.


The NPT got an indefinite extension in 1995, leading some to make a claim that it had been the most successful arms control treaty ever negotiated despite some problems primarily associated with a lack of movement towards nuclear disarmament by the nuclear powers. Even after the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in 1998, scholars remained upbeat about the non-proliferation regime. It was argued that India and Pakistan were exceptions to the rule and the non-proliferation regime had succeeded beyond the expectations of its founders. No one has, however, thought it fit to examine the "failures" of the non-proliferation regime closely so as to discern as to why, after all, this regime has not worked in the regions where it was most urgently required.


Today, new challenges have arisen from all sides and the same US-led international community seems to have no idea about how to respond. North Korea is a nuclear-weapon state while Iran seems to be moving steadfastly in the same direction. Moreover, the increasing complicity between the so-called "rogue" states is creating a second-tier of nuclear states who refuse to play the nuclear norms set by the West during the hey days of the Cold War. There is evidence that Iran has provided North Korea with data from its missile tests to enable Pyongyang to make improvements in its own missile systems. On the other hand, North Korea may be supplying Iran with engineering suggestions for further testing. North Korea may also be trying to raise hard currency by peddling its nuclear missile technology in the global black market. While it is accepted now that the A.Q. Khan network sold uranium enrichment technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya, international inspectors are fretting over the fact that the Khan network may have even sold blueprints for a sophisticated and compact nuclear weapon. It's not clear who received these blueprints. Most damaging has been the role of China — a nuclear-weapon state that has single-handedly wrecked the NPT by not abiding by its commitments of not spreading nuclear weapons technology.


There is a real danger that if nothing is done with regard to Iran and North Korea, other states like Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Taiwan, Japan and Brazil may be tempted to go nuclear. Moreover, with nations willing to trade their nuclear and missile technologies in the global black market, there is a real danger of these technologies falling into the hands of terrorists.


It should be clear to even the lay observer that the NPT has been a mute spectator of these recent developments. In fact, Iran has used its right as a member of the NPT to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes to move towards nuclear weapons. And North Korea casually walked out of the NPT when it realised that the treaty was becoming an impediment to its acquisition of nuclear weapons. The world has also taken note of the fact that India and Pakistan have become members of the global nuclear order without ever bowing to the pressures of the NPT.


The NPT was always a flawed document in many ways and various countries, including India, had pointed to its flaws over the years. Recent global developments make it amply clear that unless a thorough review is undertaken of the NPT, it would soon become a paper tiger, if it is not so already. Given the horrors of September 11, 2001, the danger of nuclear terrorism and the prospect of numerous Irans and North Koreas just a screwdriver-turn away from nuclear weapons, it is time for the international community to promote a bolder nuclear arrangement than the NPT.


India has always been dissatisfied with the global non-proliferation and arms control regime because it constrained its autonomy to make foreign policy decisions as dictated by national interests. India had argued that an inequitable regime that gave only a few countries the permanent right to have nuclear weapons and denied others this right was inherently unstable. There are reasons for India to feel vindicated by its long-held stance on these issues. Today, as the global nuclear non-proliferation regime crumbles under the weight of its own contradictions and India gains acceptance as a de facto nuclear-weapon state, India can rightfully claim that it was one of the first states to draw the attention of the world community to these challenges.


A radically new global security architecture is needed to tackle the problem of proliferation and terrorism. The old security architecture has failed and it is time this got recognised if the world hoped to tackle the emerging challenges. India along with the older nuclear powers should rise to the occasion and offer ideas on a new framework for international security suitable for the 21st century. Typically, world powers not only challenge the status quo that is inimical to their interests but also provide responsible alternatives to manage the challenges facing the globe. It is time for India to respond to its rising global profile.








A painting should reflect how the artist perceives the subject, and you appreciate it for the effect it has on you, the viewer. During my younger days, I did not have many definite ideas about art and artists, for the simple reason that I did not know enough, though I did appreciate art. Looking at Rodin's Thinker was an experience that touched the soul; the impressionists left an impact of a painting that far transcended realism. The fundamentals of art are universal, and people are ready to pay maximum dollars to possess paintings by masters.


A painting by Pablo Picasso has just been sold in New York for $106.5 million - a new world record. The 1932 painting, Nu au Plateau de Sculpteur (Nude, Green Leaves and Bust), has Marie-Therese Walter, the artist's mistress, in a reclining position and also in a bust. Picasso included his own profile in the blue background.


Picasso was a painter about whom I had strong views. When I was young, Picasso's work left me totally unmoved and impressed, though, to be fair, I had graduated from an earlier stage when I felt that Picasso was a bit like me, someone who couldn't paint and thus odd shapes like triangles for the nose!


I lived in ignorance for decades. I remained somewhat suspicious of the person whose full name was Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso.


Although he dominated the 20th-century art scene, he left me unmoved. By the end of the century, I had seen the world, but not Picasso's place in the world of art. It was the dawn of the 21st century that enabled me to finally shed this bit of ignorance, and my prejudice towards Picasso. The trigger was a colleague who had just visited an exhibition of the works of the great artist mounted at the National Museum, New Delhi. The Government of France had sponsored the "Picasso: Metamorphoses, 1900-1972, From the French Collections, from December 2001 to February 2002".


Gaurav had seen the exhibition and was bubbling with enthusiasm, talking constantly about it to my colleagues and me. His account of how great the exhibition was, and how it aided his understanding of the artist enthused me enough to drive down to Delhi one Sunday morning, straight to the museum.


Having started early, I found myself there by the opening time and went in. Here were 122 works — graphics, drawings, collages, assemblages and sculpture. What an array divided into various sections that profiled the panoramic sweep of Picasso's prolific career. Blue Period paintings, early turn-of-century, brooding contemplative works, the brilliant sculptures, his portraits, which were thoughtfully placed along with photographs of the subjects... Picasso's greatness finally sunk into.


I realised, not for the first or the last time, what a fool I had been, in not getting rid of the negativity of ill-formed opinions based on prejudice. Thank God, providence and prodding had enabled me to discover the greatness of an artist.


I went out for lunch and came back to the museum. I bought some prints and generally spent as much as I could afford before driving back to Chandigarh that evening. I had thought of meeting friends, as I always do when I am in Delhi, but that didn't happen. I needed to be alone to absorb what I had experienced during the day.







BRITISH political leaders campaigned around the clock in a final push for votes before a parliamentary election that opinion polls suggest could redraw the political map. Prime Minister Gordon Brown hinted that he could step aside if his Labour Party fails to win a fourth consecutive election on Thursday, as most polls suggest.


Recent surveys have indicated that David Cameron, hoping to end his Conservative Party's 13 years in opposition, would either win a slim majority in parliament or fall just short of it.


But a new poll showed the race tightening again. The YouGov survey for the Sun newspaper showed Labour cutting the Conservatives' lead to five points while the Liberal Democrats slipped back. That outcome would make Labour the largest party in parliament, though without a majority.


"I have never known so many undecided voters as we have seen in this election," Brown told a rally in Manchester.


Cameron planned to campaign overnight, with events scheduled in northern England early Wednesday as he seeks support from the third of voters said to still be wavering.


The rise of the LibDems has added to the unpredictability and turned the contest into a three-way fight. The LibDems could hold the balance of power in an inconclusive election and will use that to push for a proportional voting system.


Brown, finance minister for a decade until 2007, indicated earlier he could step aside if Labour flops at the polls. "I will take full responsibility if anything happens," Brown told GMTV. "But I still think there are thousands of people who have still to make up their minds."


Cameron accused Brown of lying about alleged Conservative plans to cut benefits, saying he had conducted the most negative campaign in modern British political history. "It's been the most disgraceful campaign," he told a rally in Scotland.


Brown's campaign was undermined by one of his candidates who described him in a local newspaper interview as "the worst prime minister ever." Manish Sood, standing for election in Norfolk, eastern England, told Reuters he stood by his comments. — Reuters


Gordon: Torment will be over soon


Gordon Brown is finished. He is gone even in the scenario whereby the Tories fall so far short of a majority that there appears a stronger mandate for a Lib-Lab coalition than a minority Cameron administration. It's hard to imagine anyone other than Mr Clegg leading such a coalition, since even Labour isn't daft enough to try to impose another leader yet to put himself before the electorate. But whoever such a PM might be, it cannot now be Gordon. He is that dead man walking.


The prospect of his going fills me with neither glee nor a sense of imminent regret. After all, though he will effectively be driven out of Downing Street in Mr Clegg's big yellow taxi, this is hardly a case of not knowing what you got till it's gone. With Gordon, in fact, we knew what we were getting before he arrived in No 10, even if dunces like me hoped that achieving his great ambition might affect him like waking up on Christmas Day did Ebenezer Scrooge. Alas, alas, and thrice alas, in the real world even ghosts lack transformative power.


Yet being an appalling PM doesn't make Gordon a small one. Far from it, this is the largest politician we've known since Mrs Thatcher – a man who'd have stood tall in any age but stands out as a Titan in this one. The fact that his role model is Prometheus, with his liver devoured daily, highlights his extraordinary talents both for provoking sadistic attack and for futile regeneration after it.


His resilience has been wondrous to behold these recent weeks, and if it doesn't make you warm to him, it must instill ungrudging respect. For him to be coming down this final furlong like an express train now, albeit from 40 lengths off the pace, bankrupts belief. Even at his debating worst, when the rictus drowned out an effective closing speech, he was visibly a Gulliver among Lilliputians.


Matthew Norman/The Independent







THIS election campaign has felt almost like a liberation. The prison walls – the stultifying, spirit-crushing assumptions of the long era of two-party politics – have crumbled. The surge in support for the Liberal Democrats has unlocked something precious: a feeling among the public that, for the first time in a generation, a radical overhaul of our political settlement could be possible.


That feeling – combined with the enduring uncertainty over the result of the election – is a tonic for democracy. The public sense that their vote matters. When one considers that this campaign began against a backdrop of rampant cynicism and apathy, stirred up by MPs' abuse of their expenses, this transformation looks all the more remarkable. And welcome.


But while this is a moment of hope and freedom, it is also a moment of danger for the popular movement for change that has been set free in recent weeks. Nick Clegg's party has made an astonishing breakthrough. But though the mould of British politics is fractured, it is not yet broken. And the vested interest of the "old politics" could still preserve it. Despite the drama of recent weeks, there remains a considerable risk that Britain could wake up on Friday morning to discover we are in for four or five more years of "business as usual" politics under a Conservative government.


Labour Party


Labour seeks public support on the basis of its record in power. Gordon Brown is due immense credit for the manner in which he handled the 2008 financial crisis. And Labour can point to some worthy and lasting achievements, from political accord in Northern Ireland, to the introductions of civil partnerships and the minimum wage.


But the blind support for the disastrous US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the dishonest way in which the case for that intervention was made drained the party of moral authority. And while Labour's efforts to reform our public services and cut national carbon emissions have been a disappointment, its record on civil liberties has been a disgrace. This feels like an exhausted administration.


Labour's decision to pick up the banner of electoral reform has all the moral conviction of a sinner recanting on his deathbed. And the electoral reform it has floated – the alternative vote – is a non-proportional sham. And yet Labour's position on this key matter, its commitment to hold a referendum on moving to a new voting system, is a thousand times better than the Conservatives' flat rejection of the case for any change. For this reason alone, Labour, not the Conservative Party, would make a better coalition partner for the Liberal Democrats in the event of a hung parliament.


Conservative Party


The conservative Party talks of the need for change in Britain and its leader, David Cameron, likes to emphasise the manner in which the party has renewed itself. The Conservatives are no longer the reactionary rabble that fought the 2005 election. Their focus on improving the state education system and the National Health Service does them credit. So does their plan to encourage the voluntary sector to play a greater role in delivering public services. But in a host of other areas – from criminal justice, to their hostility to the European Union, to their attitude to immigration – the shift has been superficial at best.


Worse, the Conservatives have set their face resolutely against the fundamental change that would breathe new life into our body politic: electoral reform. If the Conservatives win the highest number of seats this week – an outcome that the opinion polls suggest is increasingly possible – they would be a formidable roadblock to the overhaul of the voting system that the public want and deserve. The lid could yet be slammed firmly down on all those hopes for a new way of doing politics. — The Independent







Whatever the eventual outcome of this election, the voters have spoken already. The political landscape changed suddenly after the first televised leaders' debate, when support for the Liberal Democrats soared in a way that was without precedent in the middle of a campaign. "Cleggmania" was the equivalent of a loud cathartic scream from a bemused, frightened and angry electorate.


The noisy eruption was more shapeless than it might have seemed at first. I doubt if many of those turning towards Nick Clegg knew too much about what was in the Liberal Democrats' manifesto. Probably their disillusionment with the traditionally bigger two parties had little to do with what either Labour or the Conservatives were proposing at the election. But voters saw in Clegg a figure who could perhaps guide them away from stifling political orthodoxy as represented by the old duopoly. This recognition, however vaguely formed, had in its origins a refreshing clarity. A majority of voters yearn for a new way of conducting politics.


Cleggmania was not really a new phenomenon. But the context made it fundamentally different. The backdrop to the election campaign is both an economic crisis of apocalyptic proportions and a parliamentary scandal. The near collapse of the banks and the reckless greed that brought it about should be enough to shake up politics on its own. When the MPs' expenses scandal is added to the brew we have a combustible combination.


The sudden increase in support for a third party once the election was underway has been one consequence of changes that are taking place in front of our eyes. Who would have though that the government would own several banks? Who would have thought we would be accumulating an intimidating debt to stay afloat? Political change is partly a response to wild events elsewhere. There is another factor in the hunger for political reform. In trying too hard to please as many voters as possible, Labour and the Conservative parties have blurred their identities to a point where few have any sense of what they represent.


If Cameron had truly modernised his party Clegg would not have had any space by the time of the debates. Instead, Clegg espouses a politics that might have been Cameron's if he had seriously changed his party. Clegg is pragmatically pro-European, a constitutional reformer, an advocate of sweeping redistribution through the tax system.


Steve Richards/The Independent








The media cell of the Art of Living guru, Ravi Shankar's headquarters here, keeps up a steady stream of press statements containing Sri Sri's comments on various topical events. The globe-trotting guru, who has never been in a sex scandal himself, has issued a press statement against Nityananda, who is at the centre of a sleaze drama.


Ravi Shankar criticised Nityananda, first citing UNAIDS guidelines and then the tantric tradition. According to him, sexual experiments belonging to the tantric tradition can be attempted by householders only.


The guru with a benign smile had also issued statements on the IPL controversy and on artist Husain's citizenship issue. Ravi Shankar seems to have fallen out with Vijay Mallya, owner of the Bangalore team in the IPL, who used to proclaim himself a follower of Ravi Shankar. Ravi Shankar's statement on IPL criticises businessmen getting involved in sports.


Phone directory these days!


BSNL, Bangalore, has surprised everyone by deciding to bring out a tele- phone directory in print. A phone directory in book form has become obsolete with people doing their search for phone numbers on the internet. Besides, agencies such as Justdial are available to give you phone numbers of services available in the neighbourhood.


BSNL had last published a directory three years back. Without having any demand for it as such, BSNL will again bring out a new directory and three lakh CDs of the print edition. BSNL officials here say that old habits die hard and the sale of the print edition will not be a problem.


IISc graduate course


Gadadhar Mishra, G. Rangarajan and Tirthankar Bhattacharya, faculty members at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) here, are all quite excited about the proposed starting of undergraduate courses in IISc, ranked number one in the country among scientific and engineering research institutions.


Work on building up infrastructure for the new programme (building hostels, etc) is in progress, they said, and added that next year would see the IISc opening its doors to the undergraduate students. The four years integrated course will primarily provide science and engineering education with a dash of humanities. After passing out, the students are expected to take up R&D jobs, fill teachers vacancies in NITs and so on.







The British novelist, Alan Sillitoe (b 1928) who died on April 25, was invited to India with his wife, the poet Ruth Fainlight, more than 20 years ago by the British Council. Some years before that, again courtesy the British Council there was a festival of films based on the "Angry" novels of the '50s. Both Sillitoe and Fainlight read from their work to students in St Xavier's, and elsewhere. Postreading questions tend to focus on work rather than on personal lives which is the way it should be. So students came away charmed, but unaware that Sillitoe came from a background of the most horrendous poverty.

 Sillitoe's authorised biographer, Richard Bradford describes the kind of working-class background in Nottingham from which Sillitoe came. His father was illiterate, almost always out of work, could not hold a job for more than a month, beat his wife and children. Sometimes the mother had to prostitute herself to feed the children. They moved constantly from one unspeakable dwelling to another, dragging their stuff behind them in a handcart. The entire family, like other families in the same condition occupied one room, which invariably smelt of "leaking gas, stale fat and layers of mouldering wallpaper." One of his most vivid memories is of his mother begging his father not to beat him on the head.

Amazingly, a publisher's reader denounced one of Sillitoe's early working-class novels as "fraudulent, clearly an attempt by a writer with no experience of proletarian existence to make money by inciting contempt for decent working men." Sillitoe himself said that he wanted to "create works which leave the reader, and therefore the author, in favour of life by the end of the book rather than in a state of despair about all the vile things that go on in the world."

 It is said that his mother tore up one of his early manuscripts because she felt it made the family look disreputable. This fact, and some of the novels which use this material, show that Sillitoe had no interest in being sentimental about the poor, of asserting they were automatically more "authentic" as human beings, merely by virtue of their poverty. He himself moved economically into the middle class, but was never interested in labels or boxes. His interest was writing.

 It was unusual in the novels and plays pre-1950 to hear working-class voices. Sillitoe was living in Majorca at the time, on a military pension. (He had to leave the RAF because of TB). Robert Graves, who also lived on the island told him he should write about the things he knew best. So he began to write about Nottingham, not as part of any conscious attempt to be one of the "Angry Young Men," (he says he didn't really know any of them), but simply because he agreed that he should write about what he knew. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958) about promiscuous, heavy-drinking Arthur Seaton whose girlfriend has to have a back-street abortion provoked protests about immorality. But Sillitoe said he was merely writing about things as they were.

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner (1959) is a long short story, the title of a collection. A boy in a juvenile prison, on whom the prison authorities pin their hopes in a competition, decides to lose the race to spite the governors of the school and all the other establishment figures he despises. Both this story and the earlier novel were made into very successful films.

Sillitoe wrote more than 25 novels. He also wrote poetry and published at least one book with his wife Ruth Fainlight, and his friend Ted Hughes. He wrote an autobiography, Life Without Armour in 1995, and he wrote for children.



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Now that the heads of the country's topmost sports federations, including the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) which has the power to recognise/derecognise these associations, have come out against Sports Minister M S Gill's decision to restrict their tenure, the issue is truly joined, and it remains to be seen who comes up trumps. As widely reported, several politicians have been in charge of sports bodies for decades — Congress' Suresh Kalmadi has headed the IOA for 15 years, BJP's Vijay Kumar Malhotra has headed the archery association for 31 years, Akali Dal's S S Dhindsa has headed the cycling federation for 14 years, and so on. Apart from the fact that this violates the law which specifies a maximum tenure of eight years and that no one can head two federations at the same time (if N Srinivasan owning the Chennai Super Kings while being BCCI secretary is not bad enough, he is also the president of the chess federation), there are a host of other problems. Most of these associations are captured by cliques and there is a cosy relationship with the IOA — while the IOA recognises these associations, they get to vote for the IOA's top leadership. If the IOA is unhappy with any association, it can derecognise it, as it did with the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) headed by K P S Gill, and replace it with an ad hoc committee comprising its own officials. India's track record in international events like the Olympics makes it clear that these federations aren't doing too much for the game. At least in the case of BCCI, which is currently in the eye of the storm, it has to be said that Indian cricket has done very well at most global contests.


As a former chief election commissioner, the sports minister knows that he must insist on a fair election process, with voters lists updated and made public, with a secret ballot and an independent returning officer. In the case of Hockey India, that the IOA set up as an ad hoc body once K P S Gill's IHF was derecognised, M S Gill pointed out that the returning officer was a vice president of the IOA! While M S Gill will fight his battle to have his way — it helps that his action last week was in response to a court order asking the ministry to file an affidavit on the extraordinary tenures of sports federation chiefs — there are some other options that need to be considered as well. Declaring such federations as "offices of profit", which they indeed seem to be, will ensure that sitting MPs cannot aspire to head them. Putting them under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act is another. If the idea of a sports regulator is not acceptable, each federation must have an acceptable dispute-settlement mechanism. In the case of IPL, to cite a current example, the move to allow the existing eight teams to retain seven of their top players is clearly against the interest of the new franchises like Kochi and Pune — an appellate process within the BCCI set-up, or outside it, would allow Kochi/Pune to challenge this. If politicians and/or sports administrators are not to play games with the sport, the rules have to be clearly defined and the referees, including third umpires, need to be put in place.








There was a time when the price of almost every commodity was controlled. It was during the Second World War. When India's post-Independence growth outpaced domestic supply of goods in the 1950s, free India's policymakers drew on the experience of the war years to introduce rationing and price-controls. For half a century after that, price and distribution controls became, on the one hand, the symbol of Indian socialism and, on the other, the weaponry of a corrupt "licence-permit Raj". Then came the plea for a "bonfire of controls" and in that early dawn of liberalisation, price controls on commodities like steel and cement disappeared. Few in today's India can even imagine the control and permit Raj that defined cement sales and pricing barely a generation ago. The only really "non-essential" commodity to survive the era of liberalisation is sugar. Powerful political interests entrenched in state-level politics in states like Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh have managed to prevent full decontrol of sugar prices. For a long time even government economists believed the system of partial decontrol served the needs of both farmers and poorer consumers.


Almost everyone ignored the wisdom of a distinguished economic policy-maker, Dr S R Sen, who chaired the famous Sugar Enquiry Commission, 1965, and recommended decontrol with a government-funded buffer stock. Sen took the view that "to enable the industry to pay the minimum price of cane to farmers, it is necessary to prevent sugar prices from falling below a certain level, just as to protect the interests of the consumers, they must be prevented from piercing a ceiling". He saw a buffer stock as the appropriate mechanism through which the government would influence price trends in the market, rather than fix the final selling price. Such a buffer can easily be funded by the industry itself. This year, when output is expected to sharply increase, is a good time to fund and stock such a buffer. Politicians are also wrong to assume that millers do not have the interests of the growers at heart. Most successful sugar mills have long-term supply contracts that have helped both growers and millers. Normal market solutions must be found for a simple item of daily consumption like sugar. Apart from decontrolling sugar price, the government must also ensure cane farmers pay for the water they use. Uneconomic water pricing has encouraged cane cultivation, leading to the diversion of water away from food crops and to excessive tapping of groundwater. In a country confronted with a diabetes epidemic, there is no economic, ecological or epidemiological justification for sale of subsidised sugar to any section of the population.









With the momentum of the past few years, India's potential for growth is enormous, despite the chaotic loose linkages. In sectors like power and telecommunications, this translates to demand far outstripping capacity. Some contend that domestic inability to build capacity — i.e., being able to actually pull it off, as against the perpetual potential — will conscribe not only these sectors, but also limit overall growth. So the argument goes, e.g., let China build India's power plants, because we need the power and don't have capacity/they do it cheaper.


Comparative advantage notwithstanding, this reasoning is fallacious given the realities of national interests and self-interest. To understand why, consider the naïveté of the underlying assumptions — about "rational man", that capitalism is fair, capital is immobile, surplus value accrues to countries and not to companies, or that the pursuit of self-interest maximises societal benefits.*


Our quandary is aggravated by our inability so far to orchestrate supportive policies for even a level playing field. Ironically, one need only consider India's approach to IT and IT-enabled services (ITeS) in the initial growth years to realise this. India's policies in IT and ITeS, while far from perfect — in fact, sneaked through by stealth, as in the preferential 64 kbps communications lifeline, and the tax breaks for software service exporters — provided the foundations for transforming IT and then ITeS/BPO/KPO (Business Process and Knowledge Process Outsourcing).


These sectors also benefited from a controlled exchange rate, as the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) managed a steady depreciation during those years. But they did not have another vital ingredient of coordinated policies as did the Asian tigers: low borrowing rates (see diagram).


This is one reason why, for instance, India's machine tool manufacturers or shipbuilders have not matched the growth of knowledge-based services. The former need inexpensive, long-term capital for production and marketing, as well as for continuous innovation, upgrade and scale.**


Why labour arbitrage and not productsThis is also one reason why we lack product orientation, because product design, development and marketing require the support of easy access to cheap capital for a long period. Labour arbitrage needs little capital. Therefore, we have been better mercenaries than producers of products, compared with the chaebols (Samsung, Hyundai) or keiretsu (Mitsubishi, Dai-Ichi/Mizuho). There are, of course, many additional reasons: their education, training, work practices, our policies against large corporations, etc.


With growth in domestic markets across a broad range — telecom equipment, engineering goods, power — there are domestic manufacturing initiatives, such as L&T and Bharat Forge in power generation joining Bhel, or Tejas Networks in optical switching. But for the transformational changes we have witnessed in IT, we need coordinated industrial policies that support domestic manufacturing, because that's the competition. Unthinking acceptance of "open markets" without heed to how others — including developed economies — cosseted and built their manufacturing capacity will ensure that India stays a raw materials and commodities exporter, while importing trains, aircraft, machine tools, and equipment for power generation, telecommunications and defence.


Integrated policies work

Ideally, supportive policies comprise a coordinated range, such as state and central taxes, favoured locations with good infrastructure — energy, transport and communications, subsidised land, favourable exchange and interest rates, preferred access to domestic markets, and barriers to unfair competition, like import tariffs not below the WTO floor, and safeguard duties. Without this orchestration, the victors are companies and countries that have understood these principles, and have these systems in place. (This applies equally to farm products.)

Many are apprehensive that what works elsewhere will not work in India because of malpractices, as seen in recurring scams. There is every need for systems with integrity, and for enforcement with penalties. But just as corruption in government or civil society does not do away with the need for either, misuse does not negate the need for incentives. It would be self-damaging to lose the opportunity to try and get our act together simply because of apprehensions of corruption and/or incompetence. That would be like not subsidising food for the poor; it's a different matter that we need better methods to prevent gross misappropriation.


The consequence of heedless, ad hoc muddling through instead of orchestrated strategies is that manufactured imports will dominate our markets, while domestic manufacturing is fragmented, hamstrung or absent. Having said that, consider India's needs in electricity or communications — telecom, Internet and broadcasting — and it is apparent that crafting policies is not simple. So many conflicting images, some based on facts, others, mere impressions, which are often more important than facts. What should policy-makers do for our needs on such a massive scale with growing shortfalls?


Emulate China

The short answer: learn from China. In the power sector, Chinese suppliers have the following advantages:


Low-cost access to capital.


An exchange rate advantage (10-30 per cent).


No sales tax and octroi, aggregating to about 11 per cent.


Zero customs duty on equipment for large plants (China imposes a 30 per cent import duty).


Corrective action discussed for years has not resulted in concrete steps. The power ministry, citing supposed user benefits, opposes the planning commission's recommendation of a safeguard duty. This is as shortsighted as "free electricity" that undercuts investments in power.


In telecommunications, consider Huawei, with revenues of over $20 billion, nurtured for 20 years with the People's Liberation Army (PLA) as an R&D partner and guaranteed customer, vis-à-vis, say, Tejas Networks from Bangalore, with no government support.


Our policies need to focus on our long-term interests with strategic intent and execution, as in other countries, balancing costs with the benefits of domestic capabilities. These sectors need government procurement support, not criteria that disqualify Indian companies in strategic sectors like power and communications. They also need interim methods for Chinese companies to contribute while upgrading our skills and processes. Our aim needs to be a level playing field.









For the last few years, every MBA placement season sees a flurry of releases from various business schools on the highest and average salaries offered to their newly minted MBA graduates. Each year, the numbers show a rising trend, and if these numbers are to be taken at face value, India must be facing an incredible crunch of entry-level managerial talent since such compensation levels are aspirational even for mid-career professionals in other functions, such as manufacturing, or professional service providers, such as doctors and chartered accountants. Sometime later in the year, it would be the "ranking" season when leading business magazines come out with cover stories carrying their rankings of leading business schools in India, adding further glamour to the MBA degree.


 Largely unstated are the less-than-stellar overall placement records for most MBA institutes in India, including some that have made it to even the top-10 rankings. While it may be true that finally most MBAs from the top-10 or even the top-25 ranked institutes find some job and hence they are technically "placed", it is also true that increasingly, many of them are forced to take up jobs that could be easily managed by someone with a basic graduation degree itself. The plight of those who do not come from the top-25 institutions is probably worse. Indeed, if the glamour and the clamour for an MBA degree continue to grow as it has in the last few years, and with both public and private institutions creating capacity at the same pace as they have been doing recently, it may be an exaggeration, but just barely, that we will see legions of MBAs in the field sales force of pharmaceutical or FMCG companies, on the shop floor of retail outlets, and in different types of BPOs and KPOs.


Hard data supports the onset of this glut of MBAs. In 2000, there were about 600 colleges in India offering about 70,000 MBA seats. By the end of 2009, the number had increased to 1,400 colleges offering about 120,000 MBA seats! The intake of the top-20 institutes alone has increased from 1,500 in 2000 to over 5,000 in 2009, and is poised to increase further in the next five years as more IIMs come into operation while the current top-ranked ones (IIMs and others) further expand capacity or add new campuses and programmes. By comparison, the US (whose economy is over 10 times bigger than that of India) has about 1,000 colleges offering about 150,000 MBA seats to both US citizens and to a growing pool of international applicants. In the entire European Union (EU), whose economy is also over 10 times that of India and which has much more diversity in terms of number of countries and businesses, there are just about 550 colleges offering about 100,000 MBA seats. Major EU economies such as Germany, France and the UK individually offer between 8,600 and 27,000 MBA seats despite each being significantly larger and more global than India is at this time.


Making it worse is the highly flawed selection criterion of almost all Indian MBA colleges, including the IIMs. The 2010 incoming batch, for instance, has just 6 per cent women, about 94 per cent are engineers with just an isolated representative from arts stream, 33 per cent have no work experience at all and 41 per cent have less than two years of experience. There is very high probability that even this experience profile will largely have applicants who have worked in the IT sector post-engineering and wish to make a transition out of the IT sector itself. Harvard's class of 2010 has 38 per cent women, just 32 per cent are engineers, and over 84 per cent have experience of more than two years. ESADE (Barcelona, Spain) has 48 nationalities represented in its class of 180 students with an average work experience of seven years.


Hence, we not only have an oversupply of MBAs already, but have MBAs whose academic and experience profile actually makes them another "brick in the wall". There are no easy solutions except that MBA colleges have to reinvent themselves and their programmes immediately before they add more capacity, and all new aspirants for an MBA programme should keep in mind that an MBA degree from even a high-ranking institute may not translate into a dream job in the near future!









Two years after a devastating cyclone battered Myanmar's Irrawaddy delta in May 2008, leaving 138,000 dead and over 2.4 million homeless, people in the affected areas say they're still troubled by ghosts at night — ghosts of fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, or children killed by the cyclone — and every night after dusk, village guards clang iron bars as they go on their rounds to assuage people's fears.


Time has yet to heal the many scars left by Cyclone Nargis on the delta's poor farming and fishing population. Whipped by 200-km-per-hour winds and 12-ft-high tidal surges, people had no way of saving their homes or fields or stores. At least 200,000 head of cattle were killed, more than 780,000 hectares of paddy fields were ravaged, and some 707,500 metric tonnes of stored paddy and milled rice were destroyed. The government has done little to put the hapless villagers back on their feet while international aid agencies, trying to help, have faced all kinds of impediments.


 Some 500,000 people still lack shelter or work. Food is scarce, drinking water is insufficient, and a fierce summer has dried off water bodies that could have served as alternative water sources. Embankments damaged by Nargis remain mostly unrepaired or ill-repaired. Dispossessed of land and with little credit available, survivors live by scrounging whatever they can lay their hands on. On days that officials are on visit, they can't even beg openly on the streets and are arrested if they do.


Yet, the Irrawaddy delta is Myanmar's rice bowl. This is where the main expansion of the country's rice area has taken place. Anything that happens to it, therefore, is bound to affect the country's agriculture and, consequently, its exports. If, as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) suggests, Myanmar's net annual agricultural growth has been sliding for years, periodic droughts and floods aren't the only ones to blame. The government has utterly failed to take adequate protective measures in the very region where they matter most.


Coastal embankments, built mostly in the 1970s, encompass only some 162,500 hectares of delta cropland (against the country's total rice area of 6 million hectares), but even these are in a very poor state and need urgent rehabilitation. Large tracts of cropland still remain prone to flooding during the monsoon. What's more alarming, most of the mangrove forests along the coast have been allowed to be lost to shrimp farming. Researchers say that almost 85 per cent of mangroves in the Irrawaddy delta were destroyed between 1924 and 1999, and the damage continues.


Lessons could have been learnt from neighbouring Bangladesh, where losses of lives and crops have been significantly reduced through effective protective measures. Between the Bhola super-cyclone of 1970 that killed 500,000 people and destroyed 400,000 homes and the Sidr in 2007 that left 3,000 dead (notice the difference), Bangladesh has developed a dependable system of warning sirens, evacuation routes, and elevated shelters that has helped keep casualties down. There are polders stretching up to 100 km inland and nearly 10,000 km of embankments along the coastal belt. Many embankment slopes have been reforested, and, under a Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme, whose first phase has just been completed, policies aimed at risk reduction are now better focused, agencies are better coordinated, and workers at the union level are better trained to handle emergencies.


A basic protection system is thus in place, which might have been a reason why the toll from May 2009's Cyclone Aila was a meagre 200, a seemingly unbelievable figure in Bangladesh's context. Of course, things could still go wrong and future disasters might inflict severer damages in terms of life and property. But if they do, it would be easier now to pinpoint causes and order remedies. It's true, a year after Aila, 200,000 of the victims are still waiting for shelter and safe drinking water. But that's more a case of administrative tardiness than of systemic failure.


That's not the case with Myanmar, where dictatorship is an obstacle and relief can't be demanded. Nevertheless, certain things can be achieved even in a dictatorship, if only a credible, authoritative third party, like ADB, takes up the task. To my mind, especially as the dangers of a global climate change become increasingly imminent, there's a strong case for launching a regional cooperation initiative for deltaic Asia, where problems are similar and solutions could be, too.


A regional initiative would allow experiences to be exchanged at various levels, basic protective measures and procedures to be standardised, and technologies innovated by institutions like the International Rice Research Institute to be put to best possible use to minimise immediate losses of lives and property and strengthen post-disaster recovery. NGOs are simply not fit for such a task as the issues involved are broad, multi-dimensional, and complex, and have implications for policy making.








Can you trust India Meteorological Department's (IMD's) forecast that the country will get a rainfall of 98 per cent of the long-period average (LPA) during the monsoon season this year? Considering the poor accuracy record of IMD's long-term forecasts in the past, the answer to this question cannot be wholly in the affirmative. IMD has erred in its projections far more often than it has managed to get them right.


 Besides, the credibility of IMD's monsoon predictions has been eroded because these forecasts have repeatedly failed to warn against droughts. This happened in the case of all the three droughts in recent years — in 2002, 2004 and 2009.


This year again, IMD has used the same model for predicting monsoon rainfall (five-parameter statistical ensemble forecasting system), which had failed miserably to foresee the severe drought last year.


Indeed, last year's fiasco stands out as a classic case of IMD's inability to precisely assess the rainfall expected during the monsoon season. IMD went wrong not only in the first stage of the forecast that was issued in April 2009, but also in the "forecast update" issued in June, well after the onset of the monsoon — nor could it foresee the situation accurately even in an unprecedented third attempt to fine-tune its forecast in August when the monsoon had already run through more than half its course. Its first forecast put the rainfall at 96 per cent, the second one at 93 per cent and the third one at 87 per cent, whereas the actual rainfall turned out to be a mere 77 per cent of the normal, resulting in drought in a large part of the country.


Moreover, the record of IMD's long-range monsoon predictions has not been satisfactory enough to inspire any confidence in the reliability of this year's prediction. Its projections have been way off the mark ever since the monsoon prediction model developed by a team of scientists led by the then secretary of the Department of Science and Technology, V R Gowariker, lost its relevance after 1993.


This is evident in the numbers presented in the graph:


IMD's forecast proved correct only for four of the past 16 years (taking the stipulated model error of ±5 per cent as the yardstick for determining accuracy). In other words, on 12 of the 16 occasions, IMD predictions went awry.


The accuracy rate of long-range rainfall predictions works out to a mere 25 per cent. Thus, the failure rate is as high as 75 per cent, which makes the projections unreliable.


In seven of the 12 anomalous forecasts, the difference between the predicted rainfall and the actual one was over 10 per cent, which is way off the mark. In the drought years of 2002 and 2009, this difference was as high as 20 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively.


IMD has erred not only in forecasting droughts or rainfall deficiency, it has been unable to foresee even excess or above-normal rainfall accurately. IMD has forecast rains of over 100 per cent of the normal on only two occasions. Both times, the difference between its predicted and actual rainfall was over 10 per cent. One of these occasions was in 2004, when the IMD forecast put the likely rainfall at 101 per cent of the normal, but the actual was only 81 per cent, causing a severe drought.


Indeed, a reliable prediction of rainfall is vital not only for agriculture but also for various other purposes, including irrigation, reservoir management, flood control, navigation, power generation and the like. What is actually needed is not an idea of the total quantum of rainfall in the whole country during the four-month monsoon season (June-September) but also its distribution in terms of space and time. The advance knowledge about excessive rainfall and heavy downpours is as necessary as it is to know about long breaks in the monsoon activity. IMD, unfortunately, has not been able to meet such demands which are important to different stakeholders. Though it has been issuing forecasts for the country's four broad regions (north-west, north-east, central India and peninsula) as well as for the agriculturally crucial month of July since 2003, these predictions, too, have yet to establish their credibility.


In 2009, for instance, IMD's forecasts for three of the four regions proved erroneous. For the country's key agricultural belt in the north-west, the projected rainfall was 81 per cent (with a stipulated model error as large as ±8 per cent) but the actual rainfall turned out to be only 64 per cent, far beyond the error range. Similarly, in the north-east, the actual rainfall was 73 per cent, against the projection of 92 per cent; and in central India, the rainfall was 80 per cent, against the prediction of 99 per cent. Only the forecast for the peninsula held true with the actual rainfall being 96 per cent, against the projection of 93 per cent.


Indeed, the truth is that IMD's monsoon prediction capability has not improved in several decades despite gradual introduction of new technologies, such as Doppler Weather Radars, meteorological satellites and high-speed data communication and computing systems. Substantial additional investments went into augmenting the data collection, communication and processing of infrastructure, especially after the 2002 drought.


The 2004 drought prompted the government to further revamp and strengthen the forecasting capabilities of IMD through measures like creation of a fairly dense network of satellite-based automatic rain gauge stations for online monitoring; augmentation of the network of upper air observations; boosting infrastructure of S-band Doppler radars for complete coverage of coastal areas; and installation of more C-band storm detection radars, besides, of course, introduction of better super-computing facilities for faster data processing.


The only brief period when IMD generated reliable monsoon forecasts in successive years was between 1988 and 1993. This was the time when the 16-parameter power regression model (commonly called Gowariker model) performed well. Subsequently, even this model began yielding wavering forecasts and ultimately had to be given up after its total failure to visualise the drought in 2002.


It was believed that some of the 16 regional and global parameters related to land, ocean and atmosphere had lost their relevance for the Indian monsoon and needed to be changed. Consequently, IMD changed the models in 2003 and once again in 2007, using a mix of old and some new parameters, but without much success in moving closer to achieving a reasonable degree of perfection in long-range monsoon rainfall prediction.









The government's move to make education loans cheap and extend their repayment period is welcome . This is a key component of education reform to greatly expand the base of higher education. A National Education Finance Corporation to refinance banks for giving education loans below prime lending rates is also a workable idea. The feasibility of the government lending directly to students through educational institutions , as in the US, needs to be examined.

Human capital is the primary driver of economic growth in this country of young people all of whom need to study, and study longer than they used to. Sure, banks cannot carry the burden of a social objective. The onus is on the government to bear the extra burden of providing cheap loans. Securitisation of student loans and extending sovereign guarantee to the resulting securities would lower the cost of financing. The government can consider subsidising the loans as well.

There is a strong case for extending government funding of education both to students, as interest subsidy and liberal scholarships, and to educational institutions. Students would vie to get enrolled in the best institutions and institutions would vie to enrol students and thus get funds. Such competition is likely to help raise standards.

The cost of education would go up when private, including foreign universities increasingly fill the gap between demand for education and the state-funded supply . So, student loans should be cheap, plentiful and easily available. The requirement of physical collateral for loans above Rs 4 lakh should go. The real collateral is the earning potential of the student being funded. With information technology, especially the unique identity programme, banks can track any borrower and realise loan repayments.

The government can enter into agreements with foreign governments to take cognisance of the student loan repayment obligation of guest workers. Private companies should also expand their endowments and scholarships to build a rich talent pool. Lack of finance should not stop a young Indian from realising her desire to study and enhance her creative potential.







The change of guard at the Supreme Court that takes place a week from now comes at a time when the judiciary is in the news more than ever before; and not always in the best light either! Starting from the battle over disclosure of judges' assets under the Right to Information Act that saw the apex court try to put itself above the very law of which it is a custodian to the ongoing fracas over Justice P D Dinakaran (the former chief justice of the Karnataka High Court who is under a cloud on allegations of corruption) to the steady increase in the number of cases pending before courts, there is much that needs to be set right with our judicial system.

We have some of the best laws in the world but unfortunately , most exist only on paper as far as the ordinary citizen is concerned.

This must change. A democracy that is not able to deliver speedy justice to its citizens is a democracy only in name. Despite efforts to reduce the backlog through alternate dispute resolution systems, cases still drag on for decades and the apex court is often dragged into what can best be called frivolous litigation. Hopefully the Constitution bench to be set up by the new chief justice to examine whether the apex court should limit itself to constitutional cases and matters of public importance will come up with an answer. And fast!

The problem is that as with labour, the legal sector remains one of the last bastions to be tackled in the ongoing reform process. Yet there are few areas more critical to a country that aspires to be a global economic power than a well-functioning legal system. The good thing is that the judiciary is now under media scrutiny as never before. Tuesday, the Supreme Court directed trebling of the salaries of trial court judges. One major reason for the pile up of cases — more than 30 million at last count — is the large number of vacancies, thanks in part to paltry salaries, in the lower judiciary.

Further, the Thirteenth Finance Commission's grants for court infrastructure should address that deficit. For more than five decades, talk of an All India Judicial Services has remained just talk. The new CJI has his hands full.







To think that if a rule installed in 1799 by a curmudgeonly police chief of Paris had really been enforced, the late Yves St Laurent would not have become the saviour and inventor of the new woman. His essentials for timeless chic, after all, comprised the trouser suit and safari and le smoking jacket. Juxtaposed to the current controversy in France over the burqa and headscarf, and even as Paris is in the midst of a major YSL retrospective, it emerges that an arcane rule decrees that any Parisienne who wants to "dress like a man" must seek permission from the authorities.

Whether there is any law that also enjoins men to get clearance before dressing like women is not clear; it would certainly have helped Paris keep tabs on any lurking Scottish supporters of Jacobite claimants to the British throne in the early 1800s!

Though the French constitution now ensures that women and men are regarded as equal — which presumably extends to their sartorial preferences — every single woman in Paris togged out in 'le pantsuit' is still on the wrong side of the law, as indeed are the city's policewomen who are mandated to wear trousers as part of their niforms. For, in 211 years, the rule has been amended just twice.

Once in 1892 it exempted women trouser-wearers as long as they were "holding the reins of a horse" ; in 1909 that courtesy was extended to those on bicycles "or holding it by the handlebars" . That makes the French capital just a shade less oppressive than Khartoum today — where women are routinely rounded up and punished for 'unseemly' behaviour that also includes wearing trousers.

No wonder some French MPs have finally submitted a draft bill to repeal the law, perhaps spurred by the YSL retrospective's mission to canonise the designer as the messiah of the legion of women who now take wearing trousers for granted.







Trading began on an extremely nervous note on Wednesday. A meltdown in global markets due to rising concerns in PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain) had the rub-off effect on Indian markets too. Nifty May futures moved into a premium of around six points towards close.

Volumes in futures and options (F&O) surged to Rs 96,186 crore from Rs 76,512 crore on the day. Andhra Bank, Uco Bank, Indian Bank, Patni Computer and Sesa Goa were the top gainers while JP Associates, Jindal Steel, Videocon Industries, Pantaloon and Sterlite were the top losers.

Long build-up of positions was observed in stocks like Patni, Uco Bank, Indian Bank and Sesa Goa. Short build-up was seen in JP Associates, Jindal Steel, Sterlite and GAIL. Major action was seen in Nifty 5000, 4900 and 4800 strike puts, which were seen adding 10.37 lakh, 31.8 lakh and 11.27 lakh shares to open interest.


Nifty 5100 calls were seen adding 16.89 lakh shares to open interest. This suggests that players are looking at 5000 level as a strong support for Nifty in the immediate near term. Increased activity of put-writing in lower strikes (an addition of around 43 lakh shares in 4900 and 4800 strikes) is in line with the same trend.

Nifty futures also saw a build-up of some long positions, adding about 23 lakh shares to OI. If this continues on Thursday, the market may stage a comeback after three days of profit-booking. Nifty's annual volatility is around 24% and is on the lower side, suggesting recovery in near term.

Mayank Shah, CEO, Anagram Capital







HONK KONG: Essar Steel Holdings postponed a sale of dollar-denominated bonds amid rising investor concern over contagion from Europe's debt crisis. Essar "decided to postpone their planned financing," company spokesman Manish Kedia said in a statement. "Investors are nervous and don't want to be taking many risks," Tim Condon, chief Asia economist at ING Groep in Singapore, said by phone. "This doesn't look as serious as it was during the Lehman panic in the fourth quarter of 2008 but it will become more costly for weaker credits to come to market."

Bond risk jumped in Asia after $1.1 trillion was wiped from the value of global stocks on Tuesday on concern a rescue package for Greece will be extended to Spain and Portugal.

The extra yield investors demand to own company debt instead of Treasuries rose 4 basis points to 153, the biggest one-day increase since March 30, 2009, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch's Global Broad Market Corporate Index. Essar Steel said April 12 it planned to sell senior notes due 2017 to refinance debt and for potential acquisitions. It hired Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Standard Chartered and UBS to help it raise at least $750 million, a person familiar with the matter said at the time.

"The company believes that it will be much better placed to achieve their desired result in the debt capital markets following the near to medium term ramp up of its production facilities," Mr Kedia said.

Moody's Investors Service gave a provisional B2 rating to the proposed dollar bonds, the fifth-highest speculative-grade ranking. It graded the company one notch higher at B1. "The ratings will be under pressure if the bond issuance fails to proceed in view of Essar Steel's weak liquidity and high refinancing risk," Moody's said.

Essar Group, the parent company of Essar Steel, has the equivalent of $1.9 billion in bonds outstanding, with $1 billion maturing next year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Essar Energy, a unit of Essar Group, tumbled 7.3% to 389.5 pence in its first day of trading in London on Tuesday after an initial public offering last week.

Essar Steel is at least the fourth Indian company to stall a bond sale since February. Union Bank of India pulled a dollar-denominated sale April 14 after Bank of India and Bank of Baroda canceled issues in February citing credit-market swings. Bank of Baroda and Bank of India returned a month later, selling $350 million of 5 1/2-year bonds and $500 million of similar-maturity notes respectively.








Zen Flesh, Zen Bonestells the story of a blind man living by a temple. Being unable to see their faces, the beggar learns a person's character from the tone of his voice: "When I hear someone congratulate another , I hear an underlying envy and jealousy in their voice. When one commiserates with another's miseries, beneath the words of condolence I hear a secret joy and exultation. "In all my experience, only Zen Master Bankei's voice rings of sincerity," he adds. "When Bankei speaks to express joy, I hear joy and when he expresses sorrow, I hear sorrow."

The Zen Master's sincerity springs from truth, and emotional authenticity, the two vital ingredients of good communication . That explains why so many seem to live on an island pulsing with existential loneliness , despite being surrounded by an ocean of family and friends. Daniel Goleman shows in Vital Lies, Simple Truths that the entire fabric of human life rests on denial, deception, and lies which we believe are essential to our psychological well-being .

The mind's perceptual filter, well fortified by ego defense mechanisms, allows us to see, not reality, but an artificial version — essentially a personal weltanschauung or world-view . Thus, we live in discrete emotional universes, briefly and superficially connecting, whenever we hear a version of our truth.

To understand another person's truth, we need to first step out of our own. Before we speak, we need to not just ascertain the question, but also the nature of the questioner. Hence, all good efforts at connection require precise direction to focused target groups and their edition of the truth.

Without empathy there is absence of a connection , and a complete failure of communication . The saint is able to communicate perfectly with all. He prattles with children, jokes with the young and is sober with the elderly. The wise and the foolish, the devotee and the criminal, man and beast, all bond with the saint. Those who encounter a saint, experience not just consummate rapport, but also receive the divine grace that flows through those who are empty of petty ego and self.

"All beings rest on Me; as pearls strung upon a thread," says Sri Krishna in the Gita. To discover the divine thread which connects us is to realise love. Want of love is at the root of all human unhappiness, and it is the inability to communicate that underlies it.







There has recently been much debate around the business model of rating agencies, specifically the conflicts of interest in the issuer-pays model. It has been suggested that this model — in which the entity issuing the debt pays for the rating — compromises the quality of analysis of rating agencies. A variety of alternative models are possible. Common proposals feature payment by investors, or by some external agency, which could be the government, regulators or stock exchanges. The efficacy of a model can be measured by how well it addresses two goals: ensuring high-quality and accurate ratings, and the widespread availability of ratings to all market participants.

The biggest advantage of the issuer-pays model is that it makes all ratings and rating changes available to the entire market — including retail investors — free of charge. An investor can compare the ratings of a wide array of instruments before making an investment decision, and can continuously evaluate the relative creditworthiness of a wide range of issuers and borrowers. Other benefits of the model include giving rating agencies access to high-quality information that enhances the quality of analysis, and keeping the cost to the system low — currently, the cost of ratings is the smallest component of fund-raising costs.

There are, of course, conflicts in this model, as in any other, and they need to be managed: it is critical to ensure that rating fees are not linked to the rating level, that analytics are firewalled from marketing and fee negotiation activities, and that the rating process is designed to be free of bias by incorporating multiple perspectives and views.

Would a model of investors paying for ratings work better? Ratings would then be available only to investors who could pay for them — the biggest disadvantage of this system would be to take ratings out of the public domain. Smaller investors stand to lose the most, since they cannot afford to commission a ratings exercise. The investor-pays model creates an inherent bias towards credit rating agencies giving lower-than-warranted ratings, so that investors would get a higher yield. And pressures from investors to avoid rating downgrades would increase considerably, since downgrades result in mark-to-market losses on rated securities.

What about a government- or regulator-pays model? This model would avoid bias, but at the cost of moral hazard: rating opinions paid for with public money may be seen as endorsed by government or regulators. Moreover, since empanelled credit rating agencies would be guaranteed business, the model could lead to complacency and compromise analytical rigour and excellence. Similar questions arise with another suggested solution, that of exchanges sponsoring ratings.

Clearly, each model has its pros and cons; the key lies in how well conflicts are managed. In India the issuer-pays model has worked well, aided by a strong regulatory framework in place since 1999. This framework has helped manage the conflicts of interest in the model, leading to ratings that have hugely benefited the market as a whole.


The debate over who should pay for the credit rating of financial instruments intensified after the US subprime mortgage crisis where rating agencies seemingly underestimated credit risk and failed to proactively adjust the ratings.

The issuer-pays model clearly has shortcomings. When the credit rating agency is paid by the issuers, the issuers can 'shop around' for better rating with different rating agencies and, so, may have some leverage over the final rating. The rating agencies, on their part, could have a conflict of interest and may alter their ratings in favour of the issuers in order to keep the relationship. Given this, a section of financial market observes that this model fundamentally compromises the objectivity of the rating process that will be solved by making a transition to the user-pays model. This change, although dramatic, would not be unprecedented. However, even the user-pays model has similar 'conflict of interest' limitations, since investors who are paying for the rating could prefer lower ratings (and thus higher yields) for newly-issued bonds.

Further, the user-pays model is difficult to implement. Investors in markets like India are unlikely to be willing to pay the rating subscription fees necessary to generate a comparable revenue stream. As a result, this could probably culminate into substantially fewer offerings getting rated. This would be detrimental to smaller issuers. It would also marginalise small investors who may not be able to afford to pay the rating fees upfront, which will not be the case in the issuer-pays model.

An advantage of the issuer-pays model is the rapid dissemination of ratings to the market, which is useful in reducing information asymmetry and facilitating better price discovery of corporate bonds. In case of user-pays model, there may be a substantial lag in such dissemination.

Having said that, there may be a need to explore a hybrid solution whereby an issuer would pay the rating agency for the first rating and, subsequently, if an investor wants to have a second opinion from another rating agency, she will pay for it. Another arrangement that may be explored is the feasibility of having a hybrid rating agency that would be owned and supervised by a consortium of institutional investors. The exchange-pays model can also be considered whereby the exchanges will pay for the ratings and recover the cost through an additional trading fee.

It is indeed difficult and complex to arrive at a consensus on which model to use. However, one thing is clear: there is a need for greater transparency and accountability and improving disclosure standards uniformly across rating agencies. There is also a need to increase the degree of competition in the industry and develop adequate safeguards to avoid conflicts of interest.

On balance, we can probably continue with the current issuer-pays model, particularly in light of the new Sebi regulation that comprehensively addresses the above-mentioned issues of transparency, disclosures and conflict management, and fosters best practices.







The debate over who should pay for the credit rating of financial instruments intensified after the US subprime mortgage crisis where rating agencies seemingly underestimated credit risk and failed to proactively adjust the ratings.

The issuer-pays model clearly has shortcomings. When the credit rating agency is paid by the issuers, the issuers can 'shop around' for better rating with different rating agencies and, so, may have some leverage over the final rating. The rating agencies, on their part, could have a conflict of interest and may alter their ratings in favour of the issuers in order to keep the relationship.

Given this, a section of financial market observes that this model fundamentally compromises the objectivity of the rating process that will be solved by making a transition to the user-pays model. This change, although dramatic, would not be unprecedented. However, even the user-pays model has similar 'conflict of interest' limitations, since investors who are paying for the rating could prefer lower ratings (and thus higher yields) for newly-issued bonds.

Further, the user-pays model is difficult to implement. Investors in markets like India are unlikely to be willing to pay the rating subscription fees necessary to generate a comparable revenue stream. As a result, this could probably culminate into substantially fewer offerings getting rated. This would be detrimental to smaller issuers. It would also marginalise small investors who may not be able to afford to pay the rating fees upfront, which will not be the case in the issuer-pays model.

An advantage of the issuer-pays model is the rapid dissemination of ratings to the market, which is useful in reducing information asymmetry and facilitating better price discovery of corporate bonds. In case of user-pays model, there may be a substantial lag in such dissemination.

Having said that, there may be a need to explore a hybrid solution whereby an issuer would pay the rating agency for the first rating and, subsequently, if an investor wants to have a second opinion from another rating agency, she will pay for it. Another arrangement that may be explored is the feasibility of having a hybrid rating agency that would be owned and supervised by a consortium of institutional investors. The exchange-pays model can also be considered whereby the exchanges will pay for the ratings and recover the cost through an additional trading fee.


there is a need for greater transparency and accountability and improving disclosure standards uniformly across rating agencies. There is also a need to increase the degree of competition in the industry and develop adequate safeguards to avoid conflicts of interest.

On balance, we can probably continue with the current issuer-pays model, particularly in light of the new Sebi regulation that comprehensively addresses the above-mentioned issues of transparency, disclosures and conflict management, and fosters best practices.







There has recently been much debate around the business model of rating agencies, specifically the conflicts of interest in the issuer-pays model. It has been suggested that this model — in which the entity issuing the debt pays for the rating — compromises the quality of analysis of rating agencies. A variety of alternative models are possible. Common proposals feature payment by investors, or by some external agency, which could be the government, regulators or stock exchanges. The efficacy of a model can be measured by how well it addresses two goals: ensuring high-quality and accurate ratings, and the widespread availability of ratings to all market participants.

The biggest advantage of the issuer-pays model is that it makes all ratings and rating changes available to the entire market — including retail investors — free of charge. An investor can compare the ratings of a wide array of instruments before making an investment decision, and can continuously evaluate the relative creditworthiness of a wide range of issuers and borrowers. Other benefits of the model include giving rating agencies access to high-quality information that enhances the quality of analysis, and keeping the cost to the system low — currently, the cost of ratings is the smallest component of fund-raising costs.

There are, of course, conflicts in this model, as in any other, and they need to be managed: it is critical to ensure that rating fees are not linked to the rating level, that analytics are firewalled from marketing and fee negotiation activities, and that the rating process is designed to be free of bias by incorporating multiple perspectives and views.

Would a model of investors paying for ratings work better? Ratings would then be available only to investors who could pay for them — the biggest disadvantage of this system would be to take ratings out of the public domain. Smaller investors stand to lose the most, since they cannot afford to commission a ratings exercise. The investor-pays model creates an inherent bias towards credit rating agencies giving lower-than-warranted ratings, so that investors would get a higher yield. And pressures from investors to avoid rating downgrades would increase considerably, since downgrades result in mark-to-market losses on rated securities.

What about a government- or regulator-pays model? This model would avoid bias, but at the cost of moral hazard: rating opinions paid for with public money may be seen as endorsed by government or regulators. Moreover, since empanelled credit rating agencies would be guaranteed business, the model could lead to complacency and compromise analytical rigour and excellence. Similar questions arise with another suggested solution, that of exchanges sponsoring ratings.

Clearly, each model has its pros and cons; the key lies in how well conflicts are managed. In India the issuer-pays model has worked well, aided by a strong regulatory framework in place since 1999. This framework has helped manage the conflicts of interest in the model, leading to ratings that have hugely benefited the market as a whole.







NO : Will Brand IPL suffer serious devaluation? I ask myself what a silly question is this considering that we are a cricket-crazy nation; we not only enjoy watching our team perform but also participate and hotly debate every activity around cricket from team selection to shot selection, from asking about pitch conditions to mastering asking rates and so on. The only thing we are unforgiving about is when the Indian team loses, which leads us to collective depression.

It may be inopportune to mention this but one should recall the early exit of the Indian team at the 2007 World Cup in West Indies. While there was general hysteria when we lost to Bangladesh, advertisers and agencies such as ours suffered a double whammy as viewership ratings dropped dramatically and we did not get returns for the advertising investments made. Ever since, whenever we buy advertising on cricket there is always a lurking doubt on the performance of the Indian team as we have to commit high ad rates and outlays considering the high acquisition costs for cricket today.

Herein lies the beauty of IPL, which ring fences advertisers and agencies. IPL takes away the pressure from viewers to ask for an Indian victory. We have our own team favourites (it is a different matter that we may protect our psyche from damage by making a list of 3 or 4 favourites) but in the end we are willing to celebrate the winner. This was evident in the recently concluded IPL when at picturesque Dharamsala, the home crowd was supporting Kings 11 but as it dawned that Dhoni was taking the game away, there was much jubilation every time he hit a six.

How can the current controversy take away from what happened on the field, the wonderful sixes Yusuf Pathan hit, the brilliant fielding of David Warner, the economical spin bowling of Pragyan Ojha and so on. The results speak for themselves – IPL 1,2 and 3 have delivered viewership ratings of 4plus irrespective of who the winner is. Reach of audiences have surpassed any soap opera in recent times. Stadiums have been full all thru, marketing and finance people love such consistent performance – How can valuations drop?

Shashi Sinha, CEO, Lodestar UM







YES : Optimism needs no logic. A few weeks before markets crashed in 2008, experts were talking about the index touching 25,000-mark. Satyam won a slew of awards for corporate governance months before the scandal broke.

Valuations reached ridiculous figures before the dotcom euphoria evaporated. Confidence in a brand or enterprise follows the curve of past experience and makes it difficult for us to anticipate an imminent and drastic fall.

In a sane world, we would be very worried about the future of the IPL. While consumer interest continues to hold firm, the business end is shrouded by uncertainties of many kinds. The entire system is under investigation, not just for tax irregularities but for match-fixing as well. The bidding process is under a cloud as is the ownership structure. Nobody is making any money of a significant kind and the entire model is extremely expensive. Television ratings are good, but not growing dramatically while advertising costs are. The addition of two new teams will stretch the tournament to a point where sustaining interest will begin to become a challenge. Add to this the perpetual fear of a black swan event, a terrorist attack or a pullout by foreign players over security fears and you have a picture that is far from re-assuring.

While the IPL consumer brand is unlikely to get dented in a hurry, valuations which are based on expectations about the future are driven much more by sentiment. Valuations exaggerate both optimism and anxiety and there is more than enough reason to be very very nervous. The immunity enjoyed by the IPL so far comes from the fact the reasons to want to be a part of the show had as much to do with making money as with being on TV all the time and hobnobbing with celebrities. Under the new dispensation, that side of the IPL is likely to be toned down. Not good news for valuations.

Santosh Desai, Managing director, Future Brands








Politics runs the risk of being reduced to the art of the passable — it has to be approved by the legislature, by the omniscient television anchors, by sulking editorial writers forced to cede ground to the TV anchors, and, most crucially , by Sonia Gandhi. The food security Bill was drafted for Ms Gandhi's favour and has been shafted by her displeasure.

Food security, hostage, in any case, to the attention deficit of our minister for food and sugar and cricket and Maharashtra politicking, is now all gummed up in a wrangle over how many people should be covered, how many should be left out and how many times the empowered group of ministers should defer their meeting on the subject.

What all this bustle over the bill misses out is the simple fact that food security is not achieved primarily by distribution of food. The rural employment guarantee scheme is about food security — it offers 100 days of employment so that people do not go hungry in those spells when regular work, primarily related to raising crops, is not available. The entire Bharat Nirman programme, the rural roads programme, the urban renewal mission, the skills mission , the grand national highway building schemes, all generate jobs and incomes and thus enhance food security.

Does this mean that there is no need to focus specifically on access to food, that official energy should be expended on growth? Not quite. In a country like India where millions of people live on the margins of subsistence , guaranteed access to food is vital. However, any programme to do this must not assume it to be its solitary burden to feed the poor of the land, it must take into account the many government programmes that concurrently work for the same goal.

Let's take, say, Kumti Majhi, a Kondh tribal, who leads a precarious existence collecting forest produce. He can afford food if his income is supplemented, say, through an employment guarantee scheme. Equally , he can afford food if the food itself is made available at a subsidised price. Should he be given both an income supplement and subsidised food?

Or should that extra money going to him be used to build an all-weather road from his hamlet to the nearest road? Suppose a bauxite mining project comes along and takes away the land off which Kumti lives, and the colour of his water source turns an angry red, the shade of the sores that now erupt on his body. Where will he turn for food security?

The point is that food security does not, cannot exist in isolation. It is a function of a person's location in the
overall economic and political structure of society. Unless that environment turns benign, piecemeal efforts at easing the pressure on some part of the life of the poor will fail to particularly benefit the poor. Turning that environment benign is a function of politics, not of any particular law.

Enhancing incomes of the rural poor and cheapening the supply of food come together in raising farm output, essential to meet the rising demand for food across the world, not just for conversion into fuel but also to feed the changed food preference of people with improving living standards.

Increasing farm output is a huge challenge that will call for enormous resources, both financial and policy. Paucity of political will to forge and implement reasonable compensation/rehabilitation policies for people displaced by projects has, in combination with steady scaling back of outlays on major irrigation, created a looming water crisis, with groundwater near exhaustion in most places. For farm output to go up, there has to be sizeable investment in surface water management, meaning dams, reservoirs, canals and displacement.

The YSR government of Andhra Pradesh was effective because it stepped up irrigation investment significantly. Raising food output will call for not only augmented water supply but also better know-how , embodied in hybrid or genetically modified plant varieties and high-tech inputs, and in improved crop husbandry practices.

These cannot be absorbed by the current scattered structure of farming in India : farmers would need to pool their resources to form farmer companies or cooperatives to secure the organisational form required to carry out modern agriculture . Modern farming is capital intensive . And would not be able to accommodate large-scale underemployment as traditional farming does. A lot of the surplus labour would be absorbed by fastgrowing urbanisation.

If the rest are not to become polarised into a handful of rich peasants whose landholdings steadily grow and a disgruntled landless, jobless mass, a great deal of organisational innovation is called for. That too is part of food security. In fact, of internal security. The only way to overcome the bureaucrat's tendency to compartmentalise, and hold on to the holistic picture, is for politics to always be in command. Will someone please approve?








Now that there is relative stability following the global financial crisis of 2008, the mavens have been thinking loud and analysing what exactly went wrong. The Institute for New Economic Thinking held its inaugural conference last month at the University of Cambridge, where during the Great Depression of the 1930s, Keynes had advised loose fiscal policy (read stepped up government spending) to prevent a general collapse of nominal demand.

Of late, Keynesian policy has, once again, helped stabilise the global economy. But as a paper by Adair Turner, Chair of the Financial Services Authority in the UK, mentions, the key lesson of the financial crisis is that public policy ought not to be constrained by 'an over-simplified version of one strain in economic thinking'. Namely, the hypothesis that capital markets are inherently efficient and self-correcting, and the idea or doctrine rather that market completion via financial innovation — including dodgy mortgage-backed securities in the US — was delivering both economic efficiency and stability.

The paper begins by reiterating that in the pre-crisis years, experts did express misgivings about structured finance products — Prof Raghuram Rajan used the phrase 'cataclysmic meltdown' in a 2005 paper — but the dominant conventional wisdom was used to dismiss the concerns. It emphasises that economics, as a discipline, has not been monolithic.

It has, for instance, explored real world complexities like information asymmetry, transaction costs and the fact that markets can settle far from an efficient equilibrium. And further that there can be multiple, fragile equilibria, with market players much prone to behavioural proclivities and other irrational tendencies. But despite such realistic modelling and other developments, the paper opines that policymakers, regulators and whole governments can and do tend to 'gravitate to simplified versions of the dominant beliefs of economists'.

As an illustration, the paper quotes from the IMF's Global Financial Stability Review of April 2006 — only 18 months before the crisis broke — 'There is a growing recognition that the dispersion of credit risks to a broader and more diverse group of investors... has helped make the banking and wider financial system more resilient'! It adds that risk managers in banks applied the techniques of probability theory to notions of 'value at risk', never mind that samples of recent past events may not carry strong inferences for the probability distribution of future events. Note that the large-scale issue of securities — linked to mortgage payments — was a rather recent phenomenon in the US, that really took off in the 2000s. Also, as house prices generally fell there, for the first time in decades, it led to huge mortgage defaults given the practice of 'non-recourse' funding or liability limited to the property per se.

The paper elucidates that regulation and intervention, including information disclosure requirements to overcome asymmetries of information between businesses and consumers, would increase market transparency. But the fact remains that the belief system of market regulators and financial policymakers in most 'financially-advanced centres' tended to preclude the possibility that market participants might indulge in 'rent extraction and financial instability', bereft of social and economic benefit. In the apparent triumph of the notions of financial deregulation and market completion, both vested interests and ideology did play a game-changing role. What then is the way ahead?

What's averred is that while 'good economics can help address specific problems and avoid specific risks', the 'apparently certain, simple and complete answers' proffered in the pre-crisis years will no longer do. What's called for is 'discretionary through-the-cycle' tools and policies to offset the risks of self-reinforcing credit and asset price cycles. Also, note that credit default swap spreads — which indicate likelihood of payment default — of major banks actually fell and touched historic lows in the run up to the crisis. So, market price information may not be reliable, nor speculation always beneficial. It suggests scope for financial transaction taxes and short-term controls on capital flows, concludes the paper.

(Economics, conventional wisdom and public policy, INET paper, King's College, Cambridge)








LONDON: Xavier Rolet, CEO of the London Stock Exchange, isn't your usual kind of banker. He's journeyed to the South Pole, driven in gruelling rallies, is a defence and geopolitical expert, keeps bees, and speaks with as much authority about Africa as he does about financial regulation.

But then, these are not ordinary times for the London Stock Exchange (LSE). Mr Rolet took over from Dame Clara Furse in 2009. While Dame Clara's tenure was marked by repeated takeover bids for the premier exchange, Frenchman Xavier has a much more basic job —bringing nervous issuers and investors back to the exchange. "Running an exchange, unfortunately, leaves little time for other activities," he says, a bit regretfully.

Considering that his previous jobs included heading Lehman Brothers Europe, and he's worked his way up from a poor inner city childhood to go through half a dozen global investment banks, that says a lot about his current job. Just after Essar Energy managed the largest flotation on the LSE since 2007, Mr Rolet is on his first trip to India — "not personally, but as LSE CEO" — to meet not only regulators and policy-makers, but also Indian corporates he wants to lure to the London Stock Exchange.

The London Stock Exchange had in total £82.5 billion in capital raised, mostly rights and restructuring, and has some 25 Indian companies in its main market and its junior market, AIMS. "Europe has significant pools of capital with ageing populations. It has low growth, and plenty of capital. India has lots of growth and needs capital. It's a perfect match," he says.

At the same time, he's more than aware of the rising power of Asian exchanges like in Hong Kong. "If you want capital on any terms, there are capital bubbles available. If you're looking for expertise, sophisticated investors plus a possible supply for future rounds of raising capital, then the LSE is the best place. Especially when you've got a successful business model, a large internal presence and you want to take your business model overseas," he says. He's also quick to point out that for strategic businesses like utilities, LSE investors aren't bringing in a foreign government's money — given that a bulk of Hong Kong's investors are from China. "London is totally commercial," he says.

What about LSE's own business model? Mr Rolet believes that in future, when regulatory frameworks permit, a "small number of exchanges can go international, with distribution across the US, Europe, Asia and Africa connecting international financial centres and providing a global trading platform".

Before all that though, the major global job is that of overhauling the regulatory framework of the global financial system. "Regulators all over the world are discussing the shape of things to come, they're comparing notes," he adds. Mr Rolet's verdict is that it may be a long, slow process, but he believes that Indian regulators are closely monitoring the process. And it will lead to an opening up of the financial sector in India. "If that's too optimistic, it's okay, I've been accused of optimism before," he says.








Commodities guru Jim Rogers turns Oracle of Doom as he predicts more turmoil in global financial markets. In an exclusive interview with ET NOW's Andy Mukherjee, Mr Rogers predicts currency crises, more national bankruptcies — and he's shorting emerging markets.

You have been warning us for quite sometime about the currency crisis. Is that what is finally upon us?
The currency crisis has been going on for a while. It did not start this week. It started maybe with Iceland or many other countries that have been having problems. The currency crisis is going to get worse. Over the next year or two, we are going to see more, so prepare yourself.

Do you think the Eurozone is going to shrink because of what we are witnessing in Portugal, Greece and Spain?
Eventually the euro, unfortunately, is going to break up because it keeps weakening itself from within. If they would let Greece go bankrupt, for instance, it would strengthen the euro, it would strengthen the Eurozone because then people would know you have to maintain a sound economy. You have to maintain a sound currency and everybody would jump in and buy the euro, I would also buy more if that would be the case. Weakening from within and continuing to lend money and paper over problems is not a solution for a sound currency. I do own the euro, but I do not think this is the proper approach.

We are also seeing the impact of the crisis on most commodity markets. Do you think that this is just temporary and commodity is still the place for investors to be?

Yes, gold is making all-time highs in some currencies. So some currencies are doing well. But if the world economy gets better, then obviously commodities are going to do better because the world will use more and there are shortages developing. But let's assume the worst. Let's assume world economies do not get better, then I would rather be in commodities in most things because governments are going to print even more money, and whenever you have printed money throughout history, it has led to higher prices for real goods whether it is silver or natural gas. So, I would rather own commodities than most things in the world in the next two or three years.

Looking at the Rogers International Commodities Index, I find that rubber has done exceptionally well this year and so has lumber. What kind of commodities do you like at the moment for the long term?
I prefer agriculture just because it has not moved up as much. Metals have boomed in the past 15-18 months, energy is up a lot in the last 15 or 18 months. Agriculture for the most part is still very depressed. Yes, you are right, rubber has done well, some things have done well but for the most part, agricultural products are still very depressed including sugar. Sugar went up a lot in the past couple of years but it is still very depressed compared to its all-time high.

It is a known fact that global markets are really swayed by movements across the globe. Do you expect to see any cataclysmic events in 2010 or do you think it is going to be a largely benign kind of year ?
I have no idea. There will be more currency crises, more currency turmoil over the next year or two or three. We have huge imbalances. All the credit to nations in the world or in Asia and all the debt — you know who the debtors are and you know where they are. Those imbalances have not been sorted out yet. Throughout history, most imbalances like this have been sorted out in the currency markets or once upon a time when we were on the gold exchange through the gold markets and so we have more problems coming.

You may well see some more countries going bankrupt in this period of time because these imbalances still exist. I would be careful if I were you. I have started selling short in the last month or so. I have had virtually no shorts. In fact, I have had no shorts since the fall of 2008 but in the last month or so, I started adding to my short positions for the first time in 18 months.

What are you shorting?

I am shorting a stock market index in the US, I am shorting an emerging market index and I am shorting one of the large western international financial institutions. It is an emerging market index; it is not a specific country. It is an index of many emerging markets and that is mainly because the emerging markets have grown the most during the past few months of this big recovery. So that is where some of the excesses are developing. As for the large western bank, it is a bank which people think is extremely sound. If I am right, there are going to be more currency problems and more turmoil in the markets, it will have to come down.

Are you bearish on all Asian equity markets or are there any pockets of value that you like?
I am not buying any stock markets anywhere in the world. I have not bought any stock markets for the past 18 months. I have been playing the world economy through the commodity markets for those 18 months and the currency markets. And as I said, now I am starting to sell short but I have nothing to do with any Asian market. I have not bought any market anywhere because I have been leery of this big rally in the stock market. It has been caused by a lot of money being pumped into the world economy. If the world economy gets better, commodities will do well and they have. If the world economy does not get better, commodity is going to be a better place to be than stocks, all over the world, not just Asia.

You said you are shorting western financial institutions. Now if I am not wrong, you were doing the same thing in the second half of 2008 and we saw what happened back then. Are you concerned or worried that something like that is going to happen again? Do you think another financial crisis is going to be upon us when investors are just going to get scared about banks?

Well, I was short on major western financial institutions in 2008, I am delighted and surprised you remember but I was. Then there were great excesses in the western financial community. We do not have that kind of excess now. We have excesses but nothing like we did then. I am just shorting this major western financial institution because it's very highly priced and if the markets are going to consolidate, it will be one of the first to get hit because as there will be consolidation because of currency turmoil and financial market turmoil. I do not see a bubble in finance like we had two or three years ago. I only see two bubbles in the world, one is the Chinese urban to real estate and the other is the United States' government bond market.

The latest data indicates that EPFR funds have been pulling out of the emerging markets. But if China does slow down over the next six months and Europe comes out relatively unharmed, what do you think will happen to fund flows to emerging markets over the next six months?

Well, I am not quite sure that you would see emerging markets slowing down if Europe did. If Europe and America slow down, that will affect markets everywhere. Europe and America, for instance, are over 10 times as big as the Chinese market. People talk about China, people talk about India, but these are very small markets or economies compared to the major economies in the West and in Japan, so if the West slows down, of course, it is going to affect everybody.


I do not see the emerging markets slowing down and the West reviving because the West is so very big and it needs most emerging markets. Most emerging markets are commodity-based economies and if the world economy does well, the commodities are going to do okay, so I do not see the emerging markets slowing down if the West continues to revive. I started selling short in emerging market index but that's just because the emerging markets were the ones which went up the most in the past few months.







Distribution-led growth, new variants and aggressive advertising have kept Nestle India's iconic brand, Maggi, dominate the instant noodle market with more than 90% share. But now Maggi is bracing for its toughest challenge in 25 years with rivals GlaxoSmithKline, Hindustan Unilever and ITC entering the field by extending Horlicks, Knorr and Sunfeast brands to instant noodles category. While Horlicks Smoodles and Knorr Soupy Noodles are already in market, ITC is widely speculated to be entering the field with Sunfeast. Nestle India's general manager (foods), Shivani Hegde, however, feels competition will only benefit Maggi as they will help the market grow. In an interview with Ratna Bhushan, she talks about the potential at the bottom-of-the-pyramid market and building further on the brand's DNA. Excerpts:

Nestle's culinary division has only one brand–Maggi–though the umbrella has separate categories under it. Isn't that overdependence on one brand?

Generations have grown up with Maggi and it has established a connect with consumers. The brand not only uses Nestle's global R&D and expertise, it keeps innovating and renovating to provide taste and health. This is the basic DNA of Maggi. The brand is the natural umbrella for all products that carry its DNA. We are happy to build further on that.

Maggi noodles is facing its first big threat in India with a slew of competitors—Hindustan Unilever, GlaxoSmithKline and ITC. How are you dealing with the competition?

We are going to watch this with interest. Maggi has worked hard to create and grow the market in the past 25 years, and what it has achieved is not easy. It's a tough job. The connect with the consumer is a very strong asset that is not easy to replicate. It is natural that newer brands will want to enter the market now. Our objective is to bake a bigger cake and we are fine if this market activity helps in doing that. We have our own strategies to build consumer trust further.

There is a speculation that Maggi has doubled ad spends to protect its market shares. Is it true?

This is very interesting speculation! If we have managed to give the impression of doubling of ad spends, it should indicate that our ad campaigns have been impactful. For example, the 'me and meri Maggi' campaign made the consumer the hero of our advertising. Good advertising translates the relationship between the product and consumer into something the consumer connects with. We did this with the noodles campaign. Now we are doing it with sauces as we complete 25 years of the product.

What has the response been to the bottom-of-pyramid brands you introduced some months back? And what are you doing to tap potential in the rural markets?

Growth will come from both urban and rural markets. It's a question of developing the right products and be willing to take them where they are needed. In December/January, we launched two fortified concepts – rasile chow and masala-ae-magic. These will be useful across kitchens, especially so for the lower income families who are unable to afford meals that can give them balanced nutrition. The initial feedback is good.

Any variants of Maggi that didn't work? What about seasonings and the rice-based variants?

The size of the segments differ and, therefore, it would be wrong to compare them. However, virtually every product in the portfolio is a dominant player in its segment. Even when you talk of products that did not work, it is a relative comparison. If we have withdrawn a product, it is because the volumes were not up to our expectation, even though that volume may have been a good achievement. We prefer to channelise our resources where they are most effective.

What changes is Nestle making to comply with the new food law?

We comply with all food laws and believe in responsible advertising. We will naturally continue to do so in the future as well.







                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Two recent developments tend to confirm India's fears that jihadi outfits in Pakistan, Afghanistan or elsewhere, can be mobilised to launch attacks outside their indigenous area of operation, whether or not they are labelled al Qaeda adjuncts. At any rate, their ideological moorings prepare them for such a task. In Indian understanding the jihadist groups in the subcontinent are intermeshing entities subserving the same broad aims, and are often created by the same pool of actors, among which Pakistan's intelligence community is the most prominent. Take the case of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsood, who was presumed killed by the United States and Pakistan after an American missile strike in Waziristan last January, but has clearly recovered from his injuries and is now alive and well. But that's the least of it. In two recent videos Hakimullah has threatened to take on the Americans — not in Pakistan or Afghanistan, but in the American homeland. It is too early to say if the US will dismiss this as bluster or adopt the more reasonable (and sensible) course of adjusting its perspectives on the meaning of jihadism — and the terrorism flowing from it — in many Muslim lands, including the ones that America has invaded. Since the al Qaeda phenomenon came to notice after September 11, 2001, the established wisdom in the US and the West more generally — and this appeared to "infect" other Europeans, notably the Russians (who presumably still have a lot of stake in what eventually happens in Afghanistan and the neighbouring tribal areas of Pakistan) — has been that the West need be watchful only against al Qaeda and not the home-grown terror outfits espousing jihad in various societies which have surfaced in response to so-called local grievances. It is for this reason that the US does not treat the Afghan Taliban or the TTP on the same footing as al Qaeda, though its forces battle the former when they have to, or when Western troops believe the local guerrilla groups have provided active assistance to al Qaeda against Western military forces. As for the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, which focuses primarily on terrorist assaults against India, the US forces leave it alone, although Lashkar frequently teams up with the TTP and the Afghan Taliban to mount operations. It can only be hoped that the resurfacing of Hakimullah and the anti-US warnings he has sounded will become a factor leading to course correction in US thinking. Not so long ago, the Pakistan military — under Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani — had counted the TTP as a "patriotic" Pakistani outfit that could be an "asset" to be used against India. This country had protested, but Washington merely heard the exchange and kept its counsel. The related point of recent interest is the attempted car bombing in New York's Times Square by Faisal Shahzad, an American citizen of Pakistani origin. It appears this terrorist had trained with the TTP for five months and returned to his adopted country to carry out the task assigned to him. Mr Shahzad comes from a Pakistani military family of privilege. There must be countless others like him in the US and in Europe. That enhances the pool of talent that outfits like the TTP (or indeed Lashkar, as the case of David Headley demonstrates) can draw upon.








The massacre of 76 CRPF personnel at Dantewada sent shock waves through India, just as the Pakistan-launched terrorist attack on Mumbai on 26/11 had done. The latter led to a change of guard in the home ministry. The home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, injected dynamism into a somnolent ministry. One appreciated his earnestness and the various measures he initiated. For several years, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, has been saying that Maoist terrorism is the biggest threat to the nation, but little has been done to deal with it. Dantewada has highlighted gaping weaknesses. When the nation faces a grave threat to its survival, it is imperative to put up a united front. During the Kargil War, it was distressing that the then Opposition had put up an inflated rubber bus turned upside down to ridicule the then Prime Minister's attempt at bus diplomacy. It is gratifying that after Dantewada the Opposition closed ranks in support of the home minister. This is as it should be.


For the first few days, the media said 1,000 Maoists had attacked the CRPF at Dantewada. Then this number came down to 300. Initially, there was no report of any Maoist being killed, but it was later said that eight of them were slain, showing that the CRPF company did put up a fight. Only one newspaper reported that Satyavan Singh Yadav, the deputy commandant, was wounded, yet he killed a few Maoists before being hacked to death. Such confusion does not do us any credit.


Several hundred police and paramilitary personnel have been killed on account of poor leadership and poor training. In Chhattisgarh, 30 armed policemen inside a building were killed. At a CRPF post, men watching an India-Pakistan cricket match on TV were killed. At Sildah, West Bengal, 24 armed men of the Eastern Frontier Rifles were killed without offering any opposition and 36 Greyhound commandos of the Andhra police travelling relaxed in a motor launch on a lake, without taking elementary precautions, were gunned down. Such instances, in broad daylight at district HQ, without meeting resistance, shows complete collapse of administration.


Having gone through arduous jungle training like all other Army personnel inducted into Burma from 1943 onwards, I can vouch for the great importance of vigorous jungle training for all personnel operating against the Maoists. The Army has a jungle warfare school at Vairangte, Mizoram. The CRPF company at Dantewada had no jungle training. Fields of fire are limited in jungles and open spaces can be death traps. At Dantewada, the CRPF company walked blindly into such a killing ground. The support of the tribals in the jungles should also be mobilised. The British had raised Lushai, Kachin and Naga levies. These gave invaluable support for operations in the jungles. We can do the same against the Maoists. This will also assist economic development by providing employment in the region.


The glaring deficiencies of the paramilitary in leadership at both field and supervisory levels must be made up. The regular police officer looking after police stations and other police functioning is as unsuited for such operations as a normal Army officer for running the police administration. In 1973, I recall, we had put up a scheme for lateral induction of officers and men from combat arms into the paramilitary after a certain number of years. This would solve the problem of a full career for the soldier while maintaining the Army's youthful profile, and at the same time provide military expertise and experience to the paramilitary. This would have also meant the exchequer saving hundreds of crores in the '70s due to reduced expenditure on pensions and training costs. Today this would run into thousands of crores. After nearly 40 years, the Sixth Pay Commission has made the same recommendation. Would the bureaucrats in Delhi and the paramilitary top brass, zealously guarding their turf, allow this to be implemented?


Law and order is a state subject and it is legitimate for states to guard their autonomy. But Maoist terrorism is a war unleashed against the nation. It does not respect inter-state boundaries. The Centre making paramilitary forces available to the states, and expecting them to fight this war with the buck stopping at the chief minister, is not enough. During the Second World War, the Allies, without asserting their individual sovereignty, allowed overall strategic direction of the war to be given by the Big Three — Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. At the theatre level unified commands under supreme commanders in command of all services, cutting across nationalities and international boundaries, were set up. Similarly, we need a supreme body with the Union home minister and chief ministers of affected states to formulate overall policy. Under this apex body there should be zones worked out on the basis of geographical and other considerations, ignoring inter-state boundaries. In each zone there should be a unified command under a suitable police officer or an Army officer on deputation. All agencies within the zone — police, paramilitary and intelligence — should report to him/her. At the zonal level, there should be a committee of chief ministers of the zone for giving policy directions to the zonal commanders. In World War II, neither the sovereignty of the Allied nations nor international boundaries came in the way of the conduct of the war. Similarly, neither the autonomy of states nor inter-state boundaries should impinge upon the war against the Maoists.


The CRPF at Dantewada was ambushed while on a three-day jungle dominating patrol. Such patrols serve little purpose. They are like a sword striking the water: fruitless. What we need are impregnable redoubts of minimum company strength with suitable defences. There will then be no question of any Maoist attack succeeding. These can become bases for sending out small patrols to gather intelligence, which can be supplemented by other inputs. On that basis, surgical strikes should be carried out. These redoubts can also be bases from which development works in the region can be organised. In 1968, I was commanding a brigade of nine battalions in the jungles of Manipur. I had 42 such air-maintained posts to dominate the jungle. None of these were ever attacked by the Nagas. My flanking formation in Nagaland also worked on the same strategy. We captured the gang of 300 Nagas led by Mowu Angami, the commander-in-chief of the Naga army returning from Yunan (in China) after training and with modern weapons.


- The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam








There is only one meaningful response to the horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and that is for America to stop messing around when it comes to designing its energy and environmental future. The only meaningful response to this man-made disaster is a man-made energy bill that would finally put in place an American clean-energy infrastructure that would set our country on a real, long-term path to ending our addiction to oil.


That is so obviously the right thing for our environment, the right thing for our national security, the right thing for our economic security and the right thing to promote innovation. But it means that we have to stop messing around with idiotic "drill, baby, drill" nostrums, feel-good Earth Day concerts and the paralysing notion that the American people are not prepared to do anything serious to change our energy mix.


This oil spill is to the environment what the subprime mortgage mess was to the markets — both a wake-up call and an opportunity to galvanise a constituency for radical change that overcomes the powerful lobbies and vested interests that want to keep us addicted to oil.


If the US President, Mr Barack Obama, wants to seize this moment, it is there for the taking. We have one of the worst environmental disasters in American history on our hands. We have a public deeply troubled by what they've seen already — and they've probably seen only the first reel of this gulf horror show. And we have a bipartisan climate/energy/jobs bill ready to be introduced in the Senate — produced by Senators John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham — that would set a price on carbon and begin to shift us to a system of cleaner fuels, greater energy efficiency and unlock an avalanche of private capital to the clean energy market.


American industry is ready to act and is basically saying to Washington: "Every major country in the world, starting with China, is putting in clear, long-term market rules to stimulate clean energy — except America. Just give us some clear rules, and we'll do the rest".


The Kerry-Lieberman-Graham Bill is an important step in that direction. It is far from perfect. It includes support for more off-shore drilling, nuclear power and concessions to coal companies. In light of the spill, we need to make this bill better. At a minimum, we need much tighter safeguards on offshore drilling. There is going to be a lot of pressure to go even further, but we need to remember that even if we halted all offshore drilling, all we would be doing is moving the production to other areas outside the US, probably with even weaker environmental laws.


Somehow a compromise has to be found to move forward on this bill — or one like it. But even before the gulf oil spill, this bill was in limbo because the White House and Senate Democrats broke a promise to Senator Graham, the lone Republican supporting this effort, not to introduce a controversial immigration bill before energy. At the same time, President Obama has kept his support low-key, fearing that if he loudly endorses a price on carbon, Republicans will be screaming "carbon tax" and "gasoline tax" in the 2010 midterm elections.


Bottom line: This bill has no chance to pass unless President Obama gets behind it with all his power, mobilises the public and rounds up the votes. He has to lead from the front, not the rear. Responding to this oil spill could well become the most important leadership test of the Obama presidency. The President has always had the right instincts on energy, but he is going to have to decide just how much he wants to rise to this occasion — whether to generate just an emergency response that over months ends the spill or a systemic response that over time ends our addiction. Needless to say, it would be a lot easier for the President to lead if more than one Republican in the Senate was ready to lift a finger to help him.


Our dependence on crude oil is not just a national-security or climate problem. Some 40 per cent of America's fish catch comes out of the gulf, whose states also depend heavily on coastal tourism. In addition, the Chandeleur Islands off the Louisiana coast are part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge. It was created by Teddy Roosevelt and is one of our richest cornucopias of biodiversity.


As the energy consultant David Rothkopf likes to say, sometimes a problem reaches a point of acuity where there are just two choices left: bold action or permanent crisis. This is such a moment for our energy system and environment. If we settle for just an incremental response to this crisis — a "Hey, that's our democracy. What more can you expect?" — we'll be sorry. You can't fool Mother Nature. She knows when we're just messing around. Mother Nature operates by her own iron laws. And if we violate them, there is no lobby or big donor to get us off the hook. No, what's gone will be gone.








The sports ministry's guidelines should be accepted by the National Sports Federation (NSF) chiefs without malice. They should welcome such a decision which is in the interest of the sportspersons and a way to make the working of all the NSFs both accountable and professional.


This directive will encourage youngsters with new ideas to come to the fore and take command of the sports scene. These youngsters can be management graduates, sportspersons or even academicians. In any case they will bring new ways to root out financial irregularities, nepotism, regionalism and corruption present in the sports bodies.


I am nearing 80 and participated in three consecutive Olympics from 1956 onwards and have seen the condition of sports since then. Having won a few Olympic medals in some select sports does not give a clear picture about the actual growth of India as a sporting nation.


We are way behind in athletics, swimming, football, basketball, gymnastics etc. and even our national sport, hockey, needs much improvement. We failed to win a single game in the recently-held Hockey World Cup except the one against arch-rivals Pakistan.


The tournament which was a test event for the Commonwealth Games (CWG) shows that we need not just good athletes but also good administrators and better sports infrastructure.


We were bestowed the licence of holding the CWG eight years ago but we are still clueless on how to improve our medal count in various disciplines. I fear if we will get even one medal in athletics in the event that's scheduled in October.


The contentious order about tenures was passed in 1975 but these administrators, under the garb of Olympic Charter, refused to accept it. When an IAS and IPS officer seek home ministry's permission to contest elections, so why don't these political leaders go through the same process. The question of re-election only comes when a member has done something concrete for the growth and benefit of the sport. But these babus like to stick to their seats come what may, as if it's their personal fief. They get huge grants from the government to organise national and international championships, however, when the ministry seeks details of their expenditure they have a problem.


The NSFs need to know that those sums of money come from the pockets of the public, the tax-bearers. They need to divulge details. It's good that the ministry brought them under the RTI Act or they would have continued to misuse public money.


As a former athlete I know that our bodies can sustain the pressures of international competitions and remain agile till a particular age — then why make a hue and cry over the new guidelines restricting the age of office-bearers of NSFs to 70 years.


(As told to Rohit Bhardwaj)


— Milkha Singh, who has represented India at the Olympics, is a legendary athlete


Why single us out for fixed tenures?


Vijay Kumar Malhotra


This is not a new ruling that the government has come up with. They have always tried to dictate terms to sports administrators. In fact, the government had passed a law curtailing the tenures of various National Sports Federations (NSFs) chiefs during Emergency, in 1975. Obviously, there was military rule at that time, so everyone had to follow it.


But reissuing that directive now seems ridiculous. I have served the Archery Association of India as president for the last 32 years, after I was first elected in 1978. It is not that I take this position as my property. It's the other members of the federation who want me to keep this post. Our constitution does not prevent anyone from participating in the elections — whoever thinks s/he can manage the sport better can come forward. Our elections are free and fair and this is beyond doubt as we also have a government-nominee overlooking it.


I recall that after being elected for the third successive term in 1986, the government issued a notice that I cannot remain president for so long. I then went to court, which, after investigating our election process, gave the verdict in my favour and asked the government to frame laws regarding sports bodies. But the government was helpless as in the Indian Constitution sports is in the state list and not the concurrent list. So their attempts to amend the rules failed.


Also, when there is no limit on how many times one gets elected to the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha, or for that matter to any political position in any country, how can this rule apply to us? Atal Behari Vajpayee and Babu Jagjivan Ram were elected to Parliament for at least five terms.


The ministry's setting of the retirement age at 70 also baffles me as our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit are above that age. For that matter, even sports minister M.S. Gill is above that mark.


The government says that this guideline will benefit the sportsmen, but how? They say they will not issue us grants, that we will get no income tax, customs or excise exemptions — but won't this create problems for the sportspeople who have to import various equipments from abroad. The Sports Authority of India, whose job it is to import equipments on behalf of the NSFs, has not done its job well since the last five years or so.


As far as archery is concerned, the grants that we get for organising junior, sub-junior and national championships are respectively two, four and six lakhs — this is pretty less compared to other countries.


There are no provisions in the Registration of Societies Act or in the International Olympic Charter that support the government's directive. So the government should let the NSFs function smoothly, for better organisation of the Commonwealth Games which is just round the corner.


— Vijay Kumar Malhotra, BJP leader and Archery Association of India president








Roughly a century ago, many Swedes immigrated to America. They've done very well here. Only about 6.7 per cent 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 per cent 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 healthcare. In 1950, Swedes lived an average of 2.6 years longer than Americans. Over the next half-century, Sweden and the US diverged politically. Sweden built a large welfare state with a national health service, while the US 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.


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 per cent of Asian-American adults have a college degree, compared with 31 per cent of whites, 17 per cent of African-Americans and 13 per cent of Hispanics.


Asian-Americans have a life expectancy of 87 years compared with 79 years for whites and 73 years for African-Americans.


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 behaviour is different between different ethnic and geographic groups, leading to different life outcomes.


It is very hard for policymakers 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 pre-school 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.







Spirituality today has become a buzzword. There has been a mass exodus towards the spiritual sciences. No, this is not indicative of evolution. This is a direct result of commercialising spirituality and selling these sciences as a panacea to all of world's problems. Ironically, the very science of detachment has been tied with attachments of money and fame, feeding on the misery of helpless people who have no other alternative to look up to. Shamelessly, these business propositions have been disguised and packaged as yoga.


The effect of maya is powerful. The present age, kalyug, was predicted to witness the downfall of dharma. Today, with the adulteration of the pious sciences and the propagators, looking for Brahma, the Supreme Consciousness, is the same as looking for a needle in the haystack. However, the only path to evolution in this kalyug is to keep on moving, undeterred by attractions, holding the hand of Guru. With constant tapa and sadhana, a seeker develops so much magnetism that the needle gets attracted to him on its own, no matter how much the hay.


For a yogi, the entire Creation unfolds as drama. The ultimate purpose is to realise the drama and not get affected by its scenes and acts. The need is to rise above karma. Lord Krishna emphasised on the same through his leela, not getting affected or attached with the play. This is called nishkama karma or karma free of attachment, that is, free of pain and pleasure. This is the underlying message of Gita.


Only when a being has attained a certain level of detachment can he/she access the subtler forces of Creation through specific practices prescribed in Yog and Tantra. One such technique is the Agnihotra.


Agnihotra is performed at the time of sunrise and sunset, the prime chant being "idam na mam" (all this is not mine, indicating detachment). To perform this havan one requires a level of detachment from the aspects of maya that intoxicates the five senses. A person who performs this havan has to be in vairagya, the samidha and samagri should be of the highest levels of purity and all those sitting should have a high level of purity in their achar and vichar. Exactly at the time of sunset and sunrise, a specific shade of the sun's prana is awaited and as it appears the havan starts. The entire havan is normally completed in a minute or two.


This gyan has been passed on to us by the Vedic rishis. They lived in hermitages and taught as per the guru-shishya parampara. They were the masters of all aspects of creation, arts, commerce, politics, sciences and warfare, yet they were not businessmen or politicians or performers. They were not allowed collection — aparigraha being one of the principal yamas. Charity and service was their mainstay and that is why they could attract the needle and in turn bless us with their wisdom.


— Yogi Ashwini is an authority on yoga, tantra and the Vedic sciences. He is the guiding light of Dhyan Foundation. He has recently written a book, Sanatan Kriya: 51 Miracles... And a Haunting.


Contact him at [1]









THE railway motormen's strike in Mumbai, which happily has been called off, illustrated minister Mamata Banerjee's retreat to masterly inactivity. There are at least three aspects of the extensive dislocation ~ mercifully only over two days ~ that has made the agitation unusual. One, this is the first time perhaps that an issue under the ambit of the Centre was settled by Maharashtra's Home minister. The railway administration appeared to be in suspended animation. Second, a statement on the overwhelming inconvenience that virtually crippled Mumbai had to be made by the Prime Minister in both Houses of Parliament as the Railway minister's overriding interest was the increasingly chaotic civic election in Bengal. The motormen had served sufficient notice of their intention; Miss Banerjee's absence must therefore be seen as calculated. Certainly, her apparent indifference only made things worse and without a nod from on high, even the zonal railway authorities appeared to be inert and inactive. The third aspect is the demand itself, indeed salaries far higher than the generally undeserving bounty advanced by the Sixth Pay Commission. The clamour, that was thoroughly unjustified, ought to have been turned down at the threshold by the Railway Board. In the manner of her party, has Miss Banerjee also reduced the board to a one-person show ~ to be assisted not by professionals but by cronies in Kolkata's cultural circuit? The minister must consider herself lucky that the crisis resolved itself by Tuesday evening.

So galling indeed appeared the indifference to Parliament that the saffronites, Shiv Sena and the BJP, went hand in hand with the Left in condemning the attitude. As galling as Sudip Bandopadhyay's chutzpah to use foul language against the protesting MPs. In the event, the Trinamul Congress and its leader have given a short shrift to Parliament. This is the larger issue, no less crucial than the motormen's strike, that the party must now reflect upon. Being the second largest contingent within the UPA must translate beyond merely a proud boast. It is time the Trinamul and its leader realised that a party staking claim to governance cannot behave as if it were in Opposition.








WERE it not for suspicions that a personal agenda was being pursued there would be reason to endorse the sports minister's attempt to clean up the federations, though not the arbitrary, hamhanded way he (characteristically?) went about it. Inevitably MS Gill has incurred the wrath of most federations, many headed by strongmen, and the International Olympic Committee and its Asian wing will not accept interference in their affiliated units. So precisely how this will play out is difficult to immediately predict. A key problem is that several federations are headed by political figures with little grassroots support. The origin of the malaise (like so much else) can be traced to the Congress party and its using the 1982 Asian Games to "launch" Rajiv Gandhi: the politician-sport nexus was established. Mistakenly believing that netas could get things done the federations invited them in, only to discover that they ~ to use Rajiv's term ~ would prove "limpets". The experts at manipulating parliamentary polls found federation-elections child's play. Unfortunately the Gill-remedy will also exorcise non-political personalities who have retained office only because of their commitment to an often cash-strapped discipline. In fact funds alone are what give the minister/ministry clout, and that diminishes in direct correspondence to the federation's bank balance. Ideally the government's role should be limited to sports promotion at the lower level and infrastructure development, the federations must finance themselves. Note how the BCCI declines to twirl mantriji's whiskers.

Gill did himself no honour in falling back on a directive that originated in the Emergency when legal sanction was irrelevant, and he clearly cashed-in on the post-IPL scandal public mood. Sinister. His "explanation" that the directive will take effect only when present tenures expire is no alibi: only those with obsolete mindsets would welcome sarkari meddling. And the Sports Authority of India (directly under his control) ought to have been the first stop on the clean-up trail. Had the intentions been noble there would have been consultations, efforts at a consensus-formulated "model" constitution for the federations. The authoritarian manner in which Gill has functioned invites ridicule ~ if MPs can have several terms why not a federation chief? The minister has cloaked his move in the garb of injecting fresh young blood into sports administration. Since his age is in excess of what his directive dictates, he should set an example and step aside. Well begun is half-done!









BY arresting and handing Ranjan Daimary, chairman of the anti-talk National Democratic Front of Boroland, over to India, Dhaka has given proof of its sincerity to improve ties with this country. Daimary disappeared from the scene after signing a truce in 2005. Prompted by his long absence, NDFB general secretary Govinda Basumatary ousted him and, by dropping the demand for sovereignty, started talks with the Centre to settle demands within the constitutional framework. Daimary allegedly masterminded the 30 October 2008 serial blasts in Guwahati, Kokrajhar, Barpeta and Bongaigaon that left 87 dead. Earlier that month in the Bodo-Muslim migrant clashes in Udalgiri and Darang district, 51 people were killed in what amounted to a major ethnic riot after the Bodos achieved their territorial council under the Sixth Schedule in 2003.

The NDFB (formerly the Bodo Security Force, it was renamed in 1994) is the oldest militant outfit in the region. The Centre allegedly used it as a foil against the All Bodo Students' Union and Bodo People's Action Committee that spearheaded the movement for a separate state. The Centre's delay in meeting Dispur's request for a ban on it confirmed this. On the face of it, by virtue of the NDFB being the oldest and most potent, the Centre should have initiated talks with it but its leaders were camping in Bhutan along with the Ulfa when the NDA government initiated talks with the little known Bodo Liberation Tigers Force led by Hagrama Mohilary, who is now the chief executive of the Bodo Territorial Council.

Now with Daimary's arrest only two top leaders ~ Ulfa self-styled commander-in-chief Paresh Barua and National Liberation Front of Tripura chief Jamatia Nayabashi, who also disappeared after signing the ceasefire in 2004 ~ remain outside the security dragnet. Given that other militant leaders' coming overground in Assam and North Cachar Hills have not helped restore any sense of security yet, it is too early to speculate that Daimary's arrest will restore peace in the region. Clinging to its dream of liberating the Indo-Myanmarese region from "colonial rule" in collaboration with other militant outfits, it is still a threat.








IN Thimphu a few days ago, Saarc completed 25 years of existence. That it continues to function has brought satisfaction to those who favour the organisation but has not put a stop to questions by its detractors. From the start, Saarc has faced skepticism about its purpose, and there are those who continue to ask what it has achieved and whether it has made any real difference. Fortunately, such disbelief is not shared by the South Asian leaders, who continue to congregate every year and find value in their annual meetings. 

It was Rajiv Gandhi at the first Saarc meeting in Dhaka who insisted on the summit being an annual affair, to be attended by Heads alone, not by alternates. If all the Heads cannot attend, the summit does not take place, which is why there have been only 16 meetings over the quarter century of Saarc's existence. Rajiv was far-sighted in pushing for this idea, for the summit is the most important aspect of Saarc activity. Binding agreements between members may be few and limited in scope, but yet the talks between the Heads are now an important part of the South Asian calendar. The personal links they foster are essential for identifying common ground and promoting joint action. Saarc is not and was never intended to be a forum for solving bilateral problems. Its task is to try to advance common interests within South Asia and also to strengthen the region's collective voice in international fora.  

Sideline meetings

While much has been done on the ground and many useful concepts for cooperation have been adopted, lack of political consensus on some major issues has held back progress. The main, though not the only, problems are those between India and Pakistan, which have resulted in slow advance towards key objectives like expanding regional trade and connectivity, and acting collectively against terrorism. These are long standing matters and the Thimphu summit did not signal any breakthrough in dealing with them. Yet despite the obstacles, one should not ignore the progress that has been achieved, or the advances in intra-regional economic activity. 
Not all of this has been directly under the aegis of Saarc, but yet it is part of the common regional cause. Nor should one ignore the role of non-official bodies with the Saarc label, which are many and are less inhibited than the official ones, and have done much to promote contact among the people of South Asia. 
It is often the case that the summit's thunder is stolen by meetings on the sidelines. India-Pakistan meetings are the usual attention-grabbing events, but not the only ones ~ for instance, it was in Bangalore in 1986 that the leaders of India and Sri Lanka began to shape what became the Rajiv Gandhi-JR Jayawardene accord on joint action on Sri Lanka's minority issue. Ten years later in Male, Mr IK Gujral and Mr Nawaz Sharif re-started the stalled talks between India and Pakistan, culminating in what came to be called the composite dialogue, which is till today the accepted framework for Indo-Pak bilateral discussions. Such outcomes are not just incidental to the annual meetings, for they show how useful Saarc has become for diplomatic activity in South Asia.
At Thimphu, it was India and Pakistan, once again, whose separate talks overshadowed the summit. Though the scope of the group discussions was expanded to bring in important new areas of concern like climate change, the spotlight remained firmly on Dr Manmohan Singh and Mr Gilani. Their last significant meeting had taken place in Sharm el Sheikh on the sidelines of the NAM summit, where they agreed to re-start the bilateral dialogue suspended after the attacks on Mumbai. Public dismay at this decision forced a pause and there could be no early resumption, but at Thimphu the leaders were able to pick up the threads once more. They agreed that the two foreign secretaries should meet, with the task of assessing where matters stood today and perhaps also to see what could come next. The two foreign ministers are to meet subsequently. With this decision, the uncertain course of Indo-Pak dialogue is set to be resumed. 

Some commentators on both sides have questioned the value of dialogue and would prefer to remain disengaged, for fear that resumed contact could be seen as some sort of concession to the other side. But the Prime Ministers took a broader view and indicated that apart from dialogue there was no other means of addressing the many difficult problems to be faced. 

Timely initiative

TO return to the summit, a fresh initiative on climate change was taken up, with Bhutan urging it on. Appropriately so, for that country is certainly the most environmentally conscious in the region and has done more to preserve its natural heritage than any other. The Saarc region is among the most threatened parts of the world by the impact of climate change. As is well known, rising sea levels threaten the very existence of one of the member-states, Maldives, and could make life impossible in large parts of one of the others, Bangladesh. Melting Himalayan glaciers threaten the means of sustenance of vast populations in the plains of India. Already public opinion in Pakistan is greatly exercised over the shortages of water in its rivers, and blames India for its difficulties, without any just cause. The impact of climate change is thus no distant phenomenon for South Asia to contemplate but something that is already a disturbing element in the region. Saarc's initiative was thus timely, should encourage expanded regional cooperation, and will be part of the currently strengthened international activity on this crucial matter.

The Thimphu meeting was the first held there at this level. There have been earlier occasions when it was Bhutan's turn to play host to the Saarc summit but it felt unprepared and preferred to leave it to another member. In the meanwhile, it built up the facilities needed for such a major occasion, conference chambers, hotels, and the like, as well as the skilled and trained personnel required. A few smaller conferences over the past few years served as training exercises. When the occasion finally came, Bhutan was ready. From all accounts the Thimphu meeting was meticulously organised in every detail. The local population was enthused and all the arrangements went according to plan. It is only a short while ago that Bhutan adopted its new constitution and converted itself into a constitutional monarchy. Earlier it was Bhutan's King who met with his peers at Saarc gatherings. But in Thimphu it was the democratically elected Prime Minister who was in visible command. The summit was thus a coming out party for the new Bhutan.

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary








IT is a problem that encompasses at least 40 per cent of Indian women; those in the realms of the dispossessed. Extend it to their similarly placed sisters in all of Southeast Asia and it may involve some 100 million women. Their state of abject "inconvenience" – for want of a more socially acceptable term – would mean that they have been bypassed by managed sanitation programmes in the region, forced to address their cyclical bleeding in the darkness of night with devices that are, at best, unhygienic and, at worst, fatal.

Clearly the concept of sanitation, its very definition, falls way short of its requirements, which is hardly surprising, according to Dr Dhrubajyoti Ghosh, because the science of sanitation has been dominated by a "male" perspective. Dr Ghosh, a UN Global 500 Laureate renowned for his phenomenal work around the east Kolkata wetlands, was bewildered when he first encountered this curse afflicting women in Bengal villages. "This was a problem that everyone knew about, a critical health-related issue that existed in every home, yet it was ignored by administrators, sanitation engineers and even development workers."

For the women themselves, it had to be treated as a matter of shame, a disease to be washed away when no one was looking; the reused fabric often dried in some dingy corner — an open invitation to cervical cancer so rampant in Indian women placed in such conditions. Dr Ghosh — who had to quit as chief environment officer under the West Bengal government's environment department — came across this problem when asked to identify the lacuna in the state's health service by health minister Surya Kanta Misra. An intensive tour of the Bengal countryside and close conversations with the womenfolk opened a can of worms.

It was in a village that an elderly woman told him about the agony of a girl, caught in the vortex of poverty, ignorance and societal indifference, forced to give gender hygiene the go by and conceal her shame. This was the essence of the horrifying revelations made to this former engineer of the state government who was working as a senior fellow at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, who shared some of his findings around making a breakthrough in this interview with The Statesman. Excerpts:

Can you talk about some aspects of this shameful failure around gender hygiene

The exploration of health issues in the Bengal countryside provided a major indictment of our word as managers of a civilised society but nothing could be more humiliating than the village women who are forced to manage their menstrual cycle using a piece of discarded fabric that is repeatedly washed in unclean water and sometimes used even without drying. The appalling hygiene does not have to be spelt out; village women suffer from protozoan infection, bacterial infection, urinary tract infection and a host of other diseases – that infect the men as well. Without doubt this is the worst oversight in health care designs for people in general and disadvantaged women in particular.

Has this problem never been addressed by India's many family welfare programmes?

To my mind, family welfare is too focused on attaining demographic targets and has been conspicuously ignoring the recurring distress and the chain of diseases resulting from an improper management of the menstrual cycle. In fact, there was an evident taboo around discussing this affliction, which is why it took months of exploration before someone opened up. Even the thought of using disposable napkins never seemed to have occurred to them, and not only because of cost factors. This was a never-to-be-discussed issue. Period. Clearly, there is the deep-seated apathy of "rural women beyond 30" towards anything around their healthcare.

What was this gender hygiene programme that you initiated?

Having understood the sheer size of the problem, we had to find a solution. I knew that the solution would have to come from the village and guided by us. I also knew that it had to be an affordable solution and the only thing that pointed itself out was to get women to organise themselves in Self-Help Groups and manufacture the napkins themselves.

What were the main problem areas?

First, we had to learn how to make the napkins because no one would share the knowledge with us. It was left for us to figure out what the components should be, where they could be accessed from and then establish a process to manufacture it hygienically. It took us several months to sort this out, using very simple technology. We also had to form Self-Help Groups that would understand the need for this drastic change in their personal hygiene management.

How about energising the Self-Help Groups?

Where we erred was in the formation of the initial Self-Help Groups that seem to have come forward in expectation of financial gains and, after an abortive phase, we have now achieved a more reliable set of groups of women, making and selling packs of nine napkins at Rs 15 each that is definitely superior to the closest branded product and costs less. In fact, the current crop of Self-Help Groups makes it for around Rs 11 a packet and keeps a margin of four rupees. We named the product Paushi (after the village where it was first made) and today we have a modest outreach over five Bengal districts.

Where do you see the programme going from here?

The road map will include promotion and popularisation of the Gender Hygiene Programme by way of initiating behavioural reform in the menstrual hygiene practice of disadvantaged women and developing an institutional framework and mechanism for mainstreaming the programme. This will need extensive campaigning, strengthening the SHGs through appropriate training, including the basics of organisational management, continuous and systematic monitoring of the programme in general and the performance of the incumbent SHGs in particular and enlarging the multisectoral support base for the programme.

What is your take home from this experience?

We need to treat the Gender Hygiene Programme not just as a health intervention agenda but a women's empowerment programme through SHGs that earn by producing and selling napkins. It involves no costly machinery nor big capital. Its is a low-cost, labour-intensive process protocol that needs only an hour of training. Evidently, village women are endowed with a natural aptitude to quickly adapt to these kinds of skills. Essentially, GHP is founded upon a completely different rationale that links the producer and a user. For those women who are served by the retail market dispensations, the producer-user relationship is like "You (manufacturers) make it and we use it", whereas for all those women covered by the GHP, the relationship is, "We make it and we use it". This brand campaign theme emerges from within the programme itself.

Do you expect a big bang impact?

 No sweeping change will take place automatically; the role of the government, healthcare agencies at the local, regional and global levels, philanthropic centres, donors, socially initiated groups/individuals come to the fore. The task is twofold: to dismiss the age-old taboo that grips the "lesser" gender and show them the road to emancipation that they can create for themselves.

 Alongside the "soft" agenda is the "hard" agenda around creating a reliable and accessible database on the present state of Menstrual Cycle Distress and the long run impact of GHP in lowering the extent of gynaecological morbidity. Parallel examples can be drawn from the worldwide programme on HIV/Aids, where constant monitoring of sensitive population is one of the major components of the total agenda. For GHP, such a monitoring programme will be relatively simpler; indeed, GHP has a clear chance of becoming one of the most widely spread, least expensive health initiatives in South Asia.

The interviewer is a former Assistant Editor, The Statesman







The cafe was almost empty. Some faded flowers were decked in the corner. Now and then a tired looking old man came in for a glass of beer or someone only half awake for a cup of coffee. This seemed to be a special cafe in downtown Masan, a favourite with the aged as against the many I had been to Seoul which catered for the young.

Situated on the road-end, the cafe symbolised the vintage point of the market littered with small shops and eating places. Perhaps there was a factory in the vicinity where workmen were seen coming and going. With a map of the town in one hand and a brief case in the other, I entered the cafe hesitatingly with my rudimentary knowledge of the area. I was told that in the last 40 years the town had faced many challenges to sustain its style as well as its sensibility I occupied a seat in the corner from where I could also have an outside view.
Hardly had I adjusted my recently acquired spectacles from Seoul when a wrinkled but warm voice asked me: "You from India, Sir".

I nodded. It appeared he did not see my nod. So he repeated the question: "You from India, Sir". This time he was more warm.

"Absolutely". Saying this, I nodded again. This time a firmer nod and a smile.

"Ah, what is absolute? Only an Indian can tell me". The gentleman came nearer and occupied the empty chair sharing the table. Without asking me he ordered two hot coffees.

"Yes, what is absolute?" he repeated his question, now at greater ease. Summoning all the humility of India's history, I took courage in both hands and said: "It is inexpressible. You can't say what it is. You can only say what it is not".

The man gave me a quizzical look and mumbled: "What does that mean?"

"It is not a person, not a thing, not a cause", I said emboldened by the man's informality, and added: "It transcends permanence and change. It is nowhere and yet it is everywhere. It lacks nothing, it needs nothing. It is nowhere and yet it is everywhere. It lacks nothing, it needs nothing. It possesses nothing and nothing possesses it ...".

"Sum it up ...", he stopped me.


I looked at his bony frame, his deep blue eyes, his artistic hands, his face absorbed in some faraway object. I put my hands on his shoulders and said as if concluding a question of complicated arithmatics: "It is freedom".
"Ah...", he said immensely pleased, so much pleased that it seemed pain. But he reacted slowly: and said: "More than 60 years ago I read a poem by your poet, Rabindranath Tagore that the lamp of learning would be next lit in Korea. This poem was prescribed in my village school. As I see my country today I recall that poem ... a great poem. You come from a country with a lamp of learning...".

Saying this, he got up, gave me a lingering look, finished his coffee and left.

At Seoul airport I learnt that the plane for Hong Kong was delayed. I picked up a magazine. My eye fell on an article on the world literacy scene. It gave figures of India's illiterate population and the projections at the dawn of 21st century. It is the 10th year of the new century and one-fourth of India's children are still out of school while South Korea's rate of literacy is 100 per cent.







The way to an all-powerful State is often paved with good intentions. A recent example of this is the sports ministry's decision to limit the tenure of those who head the various bodies under the National Sports Federation. On the face of it, this seems to be a good idea since many politicians, bureaucrats and other individuals continue to remain at the helm of various sports bodies for an indefinite period of time and some of them even behave as if the posts were their sinecure. One example of how long a person has actually been holding a post is that of Suresh Kalmadi, who has been the chief of the Indian Olympic Association since 1996. Limiting the tenure of the head, the argument runs, will help in better governance and greater transparency. A mere alteration in regulations may not, of course, result in a change of attitudes and the prevailing modes of running the various sports bodies. What the sports bodies need is professional management committed to introducing and conducting best practices. What India has today is sports bodies run by people more interested in the loaves and fishes of office than in the improvement of the sport concerned.


There is, in fact, a deeper problem. This is suggested by the very decision of the sports ministry to limit the tenure of the chiefs of sports bodies. Why should the State get itself involved in this matter? The sports bodies should be left within their own autonomous domains to determine the norms and regulations that will govern the terms of office of the chief. It should cause no surprise that the original regulation that capped the tenure of office-holders in sports bodies goes back to 1975, the high noon of Indira Gandhi's maximalist State. India is now under a different kind of dispensation. In the age of liberalization, the State should gradually withdraw its frontiers and stop interfering in matters that are of no consequence to it. The interference in the internal affairs of sports bodies is an example of how the State continues to flex its muscles in various domains. That heads of sports bodies should have timebound tenures is a valid position, but the State should not ram it down on the bodies. The latter should be left to take their own decisions. It is not sporting of the State to be involved in sports. Indeed, the more fundamental question to be posed in this context is: is there any need for a sports ministry?








The low value accorded to domestic work in India is best illustrated by polite society's peculiar callousness towards the rights of women who work in households for payment. But, however late, something is being done about it. Campaigns for the rights of domestic workers, led chiefly by non-governmental organizations and activists in different parts of the country, contributed much to the inclusion of the domestic workers' category in the Unorganized Workers' Social Security Act. Following upon its general recommendations, the Centre is evolving a policy with the help of a task force that focuses on the specific needs of domestic workers. The list of recommendations of the draft policy, welcome as it is, also reveals the total lack of rights under which domestic workers suffer. Beginning from something as basic as a weekly day off, minimum wages and fixed working hours, the policy would include employment contracts, conditions for termination of employment, health and insurance benefits, conditions of retirement and so on. Some other issues to be considered are conditions in case of pregnancy and illness. If implemented, the government will need to ensure that domestic workers are first registered at the state, district and panchayat levels, and the machinery for monitoring their work conditions is put in motion. Equally important, the policy has asked for the registration and monitoring of all placement agencies. That would greatly aid the efforts to check trafficking and stop child labour.


What the policy is really asking for is a change of mindset. It is only too easy to exploit poor women, who labour both at home and in other people's houses, and are deprived of rights as women, as workers, and as human beings. Middle- and upper-middle-class society has not only lived on this labour for years, but also has thought nothing of ignoring the workers' needs — let alone rights — as human beings. It is heartening that the government is taking notice at last, but there is yet no suggestion of penalties for employers who refuse to comply. Given the breadth and depth of India's poverty, supply is always greater than demand. But once the machinery for registration and monitoring is put in place, violations may perhaps be dealt with. The awareness of the domestic workers itself could become a deterrent. Now there is at least reason for hope.









As you read this, voters in Britain will be going to the polls to decide the next government. For the past weeks, I've been following the campaign in places as different as post-industrial Scotland and the blossomy lanes of Somerset. In all these places, a strange silence has persisted among the candidates. None of them has been prepared to specify or even make a guess at where the cuts will fall when Britain eventually but inevitably tackles its massive public deficit.


Even with tax increases (another great unmentionable) the cuts in public spending will be big — bigger, even the government has admitted, than what the great axe-woman, Mrs Thatcher, inflicted. But what will be cut? The budget for the military, for education and transport, for the arts, for social welfare? All of them? Nobody wants to say. "Why not put your cock on the block and tell us," one man shouted at one public meeting, but all he got in return were the usual opacities about "bureaucratic waste" and "efficiency savings". It wouldn't be completely accurate to say that no differences among the three main parties exist, but those differences are minute compared to the size of the British problem. To keep its creditworthiness among lenders in the international money markets, the next government will need to cut £100 billion a year from its budget. As the Bank of England's governor has said, the next prime minister will have won a contest to be the most hated man in Britain.


My own bet is that David Cameron's Tory party will win with a small majority — maybe a dozen seats — but Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters are hoping for a hung parliament, in which no party has an overall majority. A minority government, probably Tory, could then be formed and last until it was voted down by the Opposition. Or two parties, probably Labour and the Lib Dems, could make an alliance and rule until one fell out with the other. The Lib Dem price for joining such an alliance would be a commitment to replace the first-past-the-post voting system, horribly unfair to the smaller parties, by one form or other of proportional representation. The Lib Dems have had a good election — their personable leader, Nick Clegg, proved a star turn in the TV debates — but it would be astonishing if they won more than a sixth of the seats and a miracle if they agreed to serve in a coalition headed by Gordon Brown. If (more probably, when) Labour loses, Brown won't last as Labour leader beyond summer. He may come to see that as a blessing.




For six days last month, very few aircraft flew across the skies of northern Europe. More than 100,000 flights were cancelled; airlines are thought to have lost around £1.1 billion. An Icelandic volcano with the hard-to-pronounce name of Eyjafjallajökull had erupted, sending tons of volcanic ash into the atmosphere, where northerly winds blew it south into European airspace. Airports closed, thousands of holidaymakers were stranded. The government sent the Royal Navy to evacuate British citizens who'd made their way overland from further south in Europe to ports in Spain and France. This was a crisis, and in crises Britain likes to evoke what's known as 'the Dunkirk spirit', referring to the weeks in 1940 when flotillas of pleasure boats and merchant ships managed to rescue most of the British army from the Dunkirk beaches at the end of the army's humiliating retreat through France. Thanks to skilful propaganda and speeches by Winston Churchill, Dunkirk came to be seen as a kind of spiritual victory rather than a military defeat. It showed us as brave and resilient under the bombs and shells of the superior German forces, even though (as we now know) it was mistaken German strategy that let Britain off the hook.


So how brave and resilient were we this time, faced with the inconvenience of a few extra nights in a hotel rather than dive-bombers and machine guns? It's hard to tell. To judge from the television reports, not very. Families spoke bitterly about having to rent cars and drive across Europe; the Liverpool football side, forced to take the train to a game in Madrid, complained that travelling for a whole day had left them rather tired; crowds at a Spanish airport felt that Gordon Brown's government had somehow let them down. Evidence of English stoicism was hard to come by, but that's not to say it didn't exist. Television and newspapers love a good moaner. "It's been absolute hell, I blame the government" is for some reason a more interesting — though also a far more unreasonable — sentiment than "A volcano blew up, so we'll just need to be patient."


Those of us at home felt rather smug. When the wind's in the right direction, which from our point of view is the wrong direction, planes heading into two of London's airports whine far above our house. On an especially still day you can hear the wing-flaps being adjusted and the undercarriage going down — a high-up scrape and rumble, as though god was shifting a wardrobe across the floor of his celestial house. For almost a week, there were no noises from the sky. People elsewhere in the country remarked that traditional sounds were being heard properly for the first time in a generation: lawnmowers buzzing across lawns, blackbirds singing, the electric hum of distant trains. The poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, wrote a quick poem about it. In London all that happened was that cars, buses and pneumatic drills had no interruption from above. Everywhere, however, we were reminded that Britain is an island; cheap air travel and a railway under the Channel have made this easy to forget.


Because there were no flights, I went last month to Ireland by train and ship. My destination was Galway on the Atlantic coast, where I was to speak at a literary festival. It took 16 hours rather than a flight's 90 minutes, but the compensations included a magical view of Liverpool shining across the dark Mersey as we moved downriver, and I was warmed by the sentimental feeling that this was how so many great Irishmen had travelled (though it was Polish lorry drivers rather than George Bernard Shaw who leant over the rail).


The Galway festival was a great success. The Irish are famously and quite rightly known for their informality and hospitality, and inside the cocoon of a literary festival (sympathetic audiences, friendly questions, wine) it's easy to ignore the condition of the country just outside the door. That condition isn't good. Three or four years ago, Ireland thought of itself as the 'Celtic Tiger', its old reputation as one of the poorest and most religious countries in Europe obliterated under a tsunami of cash. House prices in Dublin soared even beyond London levels. Irish entrepreneurs bought up English agricultural land and Mediterranean holiday villas. In rural Ireland, speculative housing estates covered the most unpromising stretches of country and BMWs and Range Rovers became the mark of quite ordinary levels of prosperity. Undermined by materialism and tarred with all kinds scandal — from non-celibate bishops to child abuse — the Catholic church shrank in reputation and influence.


And then Ireland went bust. Today it has the highest levels of public debt in Europe. Housing estates lie empty, unemployment is rising, workers in the public sector face harsh pay cuts. Everyone I meet confesses, "We were living in a dream". Among other Euro countries, Greece is of course even worse off and Portugal and Spain no better, but in Ireland the economic crisis accompanies a real sense of social and cultural loss. When Ireland fell head over heels for money — or debt, as it turned out to be — it also dumped practical ways of thinking and living that had grown from centuries of hardship.The financial crisis facing Britain isn't exactly the same. It has had centuries of prosperity compared with Ireland's 10 years and its political institutions are probably stronger. But the solutions to its own debt mountain will be much the same as Ireland's: higher taxes, unemployment, cuts, cuts, cuts. Everyone knows this. Tonight the votes will be counted. Soon after tomorrow the pain will begin. A quick glass of Dunkirk spirit, anyone?








Cobalt-60 is one of the most dangerous radioactive menaces that the world has known. Its radioactivity is natural and man, as such, has no control over it. It just goes on radiating gamma rays, some kind of special X-rays, let's say. The highly intense gamma rays cause minor to major damage to human cells. If unprotected, this may lead, in extreme cases, to death, as it indeed happened in Delhi.


It being naturally radioactive, man finds easy access to Cobalt-60 and goes on to use it for a whole range of activities, from radiation therapy for cancerous cells to biology to defect studies in material to even radiation damage to materials.


Cobalt-60 looses half its strength (half life in technical terms) in 5.6 years. Assuming all the cobalt in Delhi University was installed more than 20 years ago, the original strength must have been quite huge to last at this level of radiation after such a long time.


The Delhi incident is not unique. Radiation hazard from Cobalt-60 has been surfacing off and on over the years. In the late 1980s, in the scrap market (again) of Calcutta, an even more intense cobalt source was found. Fortunately, awareness has been heightened over the years — the public is at last sensitive to some extent.


The irony is that most people are not aware of the hazards of radioactivity in practical terms. Usually, the source is housed in a box, made of thick lead to shield the radiation. From outside, all one sees is a nice little lead box. Those who sell the box in the scrap market usually sell it for the price of lead, not for the source. They are least bothered about the source once the material reaches 'scrap level'.


They ignore regulations for two reasons. Our own Atomic Energy Regulatory Board cannot regulate the whole of India unless the source persons alert them. Second, the AERB does not have the jurisdiction on all and every body.


Dumping ground


The scrap dealers are interested in the lead and not concerned about radioactivity. So when they tear apart the lead box for sale, radiation from the source has a field day. The gamma rays, now let loose, do their job nicely, causing avoidable radiation-induced hazards.


To my mind, the great tragedy of the cobalt menace lies in the area of cancer therapy. The radiation from cobalt is not especially focused. When it is used to radiate out the cancerous cells, the radiation, at the same time, burns the good cells of the body, obviously not a very good scenario. I have been advocating the scraping of cobalt units for the electron linear accelerator or Linac. I have had a difficult time installing Linac in one of the cancer centres I have been associated with. I am sorry to say that even the much-flaunted Bhabhatron of the department of atomic energy still uses the cobalt unit.


Electron Linac, for this purpose, is relatively easy to build and can be switched off whenever one likes. An Electron Linac produces radiation from the accelerating electrons and the electrons are accelerated in the Linac in a linear direction.


Indian industry can easily take up the challenge of manufacturing both the low-powered Linac, doing all the jobs that a Delhi-type cobalt unit does and even more, as well as a slightly high-powered Linac for cancer therapy. No amount of legislation can do away with the cobalt menace. It has to be scrapped altogether and replaced with Linac . It may be difficult in the beginning, as it was with lead-free fuel for transport. But then the idea will take root, as with lead-free fuel, now recognized as environment friendly despite the initial hue and cry.


Over the years, India has become the dumping ground of cobalt from the rest of the world. That is precisely the reason for easy access and low cost. The West has gone the linear way a long time ago. India should not receive scrap from the West in the form of cobalt units, but follow the linear path.








In recent months, Pakistan's politicians have been ratcheting up the rhetoric on water scarcity under the Indus Water Treaty. Is war for water a possibility between India and Pakistan? Unlikely. For one, Pakistan's buffer stock of water will last for just 30 days. Water disputes, the world over, have more often been settled through negotiations. Pakistan's federal minister for environment, Hameed Ullah Jan Afridi, has said that cooperation is the most logical response to trans-boundary water management issues. The Indus Water Treaty is, in fact, one of the best examples of this. India has not disturbed the flow of water to Pakistan even during wars, acts of terrorism and other such conflicts that have bedevilled relations between the two neighbours.


Although the Indus treaty has stood the test of time, water conflict could, in all probability, move into centre stage along with the Jammu and Kashmir issue and further complicate bilateral relations. This is because Pakistan is likely to face serious water shortage in the coming years. The Indus water issue is very much a part of the Kashmir question. Headwaters of the Indus and its tributaries, the Jhelum and the Chenab — the western rivers over which Pakistan has full rights under the treaty — are in Kashmir.


Pakistan's persistent contention is that India is taking advantage of its position as the upper riparian and storing and diverting water that belongs to it. Since its public opposition to India's 450-megawatt capacity in the first stage Baglihar dam in 2005, Pakistan has been using various pressure tactic to get the Indus Water Treaty renegotiated. "Renegotiating the Treaty would in ways mean rewarding Pakistan for its failure to conserve it scarce water resources over the past many decades," say Indian observers.


Analysts further add that Pakistan's complaints are aimed at diverting attention from the long-drawn, but now critical, internal water row among Sindh and Baluchistan on the hand and Punjab on the other. Punjab is the main beneficiary of the Indus's waters.


The Indus Water Treaty, which was accepted as equitable by the two countries, gave unrestricted use of the three eastern rivers — Ravi, Beas and Sutlej — to India, with a mean flow of 33 million acre-feet (one acre-foot equals 43,560 cubic feet of water), one-fourth of the 136 mac that Pakistan got from the Indus river system. However, from the western river, India is also allowed 3.6 mac of water for storage, flood control and hydro-power generation. India is also permitted irrigation for 1.34 million acres, but is currently irrigating only 0.792 million acres.


Similarly, projects on the ground amount to one-sixth of the total potential to generate 18,653 mw from western rivers. If India used its full entitlement for hydropower, it would amount to only 3 per cent of their mean flow. While rumours of India building "hundreds of dams" on Pakistan's rivers is doing the rounds in that country, in reality, India has 33 projects, informed India's high commissioner to Pakistan, Sharat Sabharwal, at the Karachi Council on Foreign Relations. Out of these, 14 are in operation, 13 are under construction while the rest are in various stages of completion or have been scrapped. Twenty of these projects have capacities of 10 mw or less. Twenty-two more projects are in the offing, he said.


Pakistan has raised multiple objections that have delayed various projects, but it is chiefly opposed to the Baglihar project on Chenab, the Kishenganga project and the Tulbul navigation project, both of which are on the Jhelum. In all these projects, Pakistan has brought in, additionally, a new security dimension to the dispute. It fears India may exercise a strategic advantage by regulating the dammed waters of the Chenab and the Jhelum during war.


Pakistan, which got 80 per cent of the Indus river system and 65 per cent of the river basin area, invested in just three dams and eight barrages. Today, the nationwide power deficit has impacted industrial growth and resulted in violent public protests. By 2014, Pakistan is expected to build 32 small and medium dams for irrigation that will be spread over Sindh, Punjab, the North West Frontier Province and arid Baluchistan.


Irrational water resource management, burgeoning populations, unplanned urban and industrial growth, a chemical-fuelled Green Revolution that has run its course and left soil moisture depleted as well as unclear climate change patterns have brought Pakistan and India face to face with a looming water crisis.


Pakistan is moving from a water- scarce nation to a water-starved one. In 50 years, per capita water availability has dropped from 5,600 to 1,038 cubic metres. The figure is expected to fall to 809 cubic metres by 2025, says Pakistan's Water and Power Development Authority.


The country's population is growing at a high 2.3 per cent compared to India's 1.3 per cent. Its sole dependence on the Indus — 70 per cent of its people live in the Indus basin — exacerbates its critical water position.


Inadequate investment in water conservation and the injudicious management of available water resources have resulted in Pakistan's water crisis, says a World Bank report. Up to 40 per cent of the water is being lost because of canals that remain unlined and porous. Pakistan has 61,000 kilometres of main and 1.6 million km of secondary water courses, the world's largest contiguous irrigation system. Already 20 million tonnes of salt sit in the water system, says the World Bank. Pakistan uses 93 per cent of its water resources for agriculture against the global average of 65 per cent. Indiscriminate withdrawal of groundwater has resulted in seawater seeping into and ruining natural aquifers. Over the last 20 years, sea intrusion has wasted two million acres of arable land in Sindh.


Blessed with rivers, India's water management is a little better.However, major water conservation issues such as river-linking and big dams versus small dams remain unresolved. Watersheds and rainwater harvesting are nominal. Both countries are also ages away from scientific agricultural practices. Forward-looking policies are not in place even though the need for them is staring in the face. The two nations refuse to acknowledge that the age of easy water availability is over, and that from now on there can be no food security and even sub-national security without water security.


What the Green Revolution gave India and Pakistan — an abundance to export water hungry crops — has now become unfeasible. Even in the most arid areas, farmers have no alternative but to irrigate their fields by flooding them. Few have adopted the much more efficient drip irrigation system, which governments urgently need to subsidize. Climate change compounds the water problem. Experts say that climate change could alter the timing and rate of snow melt, with an initial increase in annual run-off, followed by a steep decrease as glaciers recede, severely impacting river flows.


Over the next 40 years, the global demand for food is expected to double, and that implies that the amount of water used to achieve global food security would also have to double.


The author was invited to interact with the media and experts in Pakistan on the cross-border water issue. The meeting was organized by LEAD Pakistan in Islamabad, March 2010








Peace will elude Darjeeling unless the GJM leaders stick to their promises


The Darjeeling hills have been quiet for some time now. The next round of tripartite talks is slated for May 14. Perhaps the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha is right now busy preparing itself for that meeting and sees no reason why it should disturb the peace, particularly as the tourist season is about to begin. Tourist trade cannot be the only reason why the GJM is treading cautiously, especially since in the past it had not allowed such considerations to interfere with its agitation. But today, it has a serious cause for concern. And that is — will an acceptance of the autonomy formula go down well with the people? Is it not possible that in the course of time, some others will emerge to brand Bimal Gurung and Roshan Giri as the betrayers, very much in the same way as they have branded Subash Ghisingh?


This thought and the realization that there is not much the GJM can do right now are enough to send shivers down the spine. The GJM, of course, is asserting that it will accept autonomy only as a stepping stone to statehood, but the hills have heard that before. They heard it when Ghisingh accepted the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council and then saw how the once-fire-eating leader forgot his past promises to fend for himself. To a people with a long history of deprivation and forgotten promises, the Gurungs and Giris may well appear to be following the same course.


And there would not be any shortage of politicians to provoke such thought. The Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League and the Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists are very much present on the scene. Madan Tamang, president of the ABGL, for instance, has already stated that nothing short of statehood will satisfy the hill people. Any insistence by the GJM that if there is a lull in the agitation, it is only to strengthen the ground for a separate state, may well be interpreted as a post-dated cheque which cannot be trusted.


There is little that the Morcha can do about this. Nothing really has gone its way. It had hoped that the Bharatiya Janata Party would return to power and act on its promise to sympathetically consider the GJM's demand. That did not happen. What was worse was that Jaswant Singh, whom the Morcha helped to win from Darjeeling, got thrown out of the party. It had hoped that the Greater Coochbehar and Kamtapur movements will gain momentum and create a wide area of unrest, but that also has not happened. It had hoped that the adivasis of the Dooars will make common cause with it, but the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad has made it clear that it has an agenda of its own. To cap it all, after the initial promise, New Delhi has gone silent on the Telangana issue. So with no external factor coming to its aid, the GJM is today faced with the alternatives of either accepting autonomy on a larger scale than that enjoyed by the the DGHC or to allow the stalemate to continue. It has realized that a separate state will remain as elusive as a clear view of the Kanchenjungha during summer and autumn. But the problem is, how to admit that?Talks to find a solution to a stalemate imply a compromise. The GJM would like the world to believe that this compromise will only be for tactical reasons. But as its leaders get enmeshed in running the local administration, they are more likely than not to move away from the goal they had promised. But the dream they had, like others had before them, cannot be expected to fade away. And as long as that does not happen, the hills will not really be quiet. Hopes of any permanent peace should not be cherished even if the talks in May or later end in handshakes all around.




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






The sports ministry's decision imposing a limit on the terms of office-bearers of National Sports Federations (NSF) and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has stirred a hornet's nest with the sports bodies forging a united front to fight it out. The IOA and its constituents have received a boost in their battle with the International Olympic Committee stating that the ministry's order violated the Olympic Charter and would invite punishment from the apex body.

The communication, no doubt, must be seen as concerted action of a powerful international caucus of sporting czars who have protected each other's interests for long. The sports associations in the country have been the playground of politicians and bureaucrats who have carried on for years as if the final whistle did not apply to them. Many of them have been holding on to the chairs for decades only because of the power and perks that come with it. Accountability has been largely unheard of in their ranks, with many treating the associations as their personal fiefdoms. The ministry's decision was intended to curtail their stay and infuse much-needed fresh blood into sports bodies, but it may not happen without a prolonged fight.

The NSFs and the IOA, their parent body, have staunchly resisted every move in the past to rein them in, using the autonomy clause provided to them under the Olympic Charter as a protective shield. Sports Minister M S Gill, ever since he took over two years ego, has been a thorn in their flesh, his attempts to make them accountable causing severe heartburns. Bringing the NSFs under the Right To Information Act and introducing an annual recognition procedure were the first steps, forcing the IOA to say no to any financial assistance from the government. The latest move, intended to bring in "transparent and professional management of Indian sports," has hurt them even more, sending them scurrying towards the Olympic Charter once again.

The IOC communication may have cast a safety net over the sports bosses for the time being, but Gill has decided to take up the issue with the IOC, citing ground realities in India. If the Olympic Charter is meant to promote sport rather than the self-interests of some bigoted individuals, the IOC will definitely see reason in India's action. As things stand now, NSFs and IOA may have the upper hand but the game, certainly, is far from over.







Two alert vendors in New York's Times Square who noticed smoke and firecracker sounds coming out of a parked car have saved the city from another major terrorist attack.  They alerted police who quickly swung into action. Faizal Shahzad, an American citizen of Pakistani origin, who is believed to have packed the car with explosives, has been taken into custody. Meanwhile, Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Teherik-e-Taliban Pakistan, who was believed to have been killed earlier, has claimed responsibility in a video for the aborted attack in New York. The failed attack in Times Square is the latest in a series of attempted assaults on US soil that involve American citizens. It does seem that the US is having to contend with a problem similar to the one Britain has confronted since the July 2005 attacks on the London underground, which is of radicalisation of a section of its citizens. As in Britain, those who have been arrested in the US in recent months in connection with alleged terror plots are homegrown terrorists, and not from some isolated madrassas in distant countries.

In at least two other alleged terror plots involving naturalised American citizens, a Pakistani link has been found. The Times Square plot, which has drawn attention yet again to a Pakistani link, has prompted calls for racial profiling. Not only is such an approach morally reprehensible but also, it is based on the flawed logic that terrorists fit a stereotype. Racial profiling will only end up victimising thousands of innocent people, who have no links to terror.

Rather than engaging in racial profiling, the US government must correct its current flawed approach of putting pressure on Pakistan to act against only those terrorists it believes undermine its own security interests, even as it turns a blind eye towards those who target countries like India. India has been saying for a long time now that the entire terror network in Pakistan needs to be dismantled. It has been underscoring the need to break the ties that Pakistan's military has with various terror outfits. Unfortunately, the US has not taken India's counsel seriously. People like Shahzad are able to attempt attacks because of training they receive from Pakistan. This support base must be shattered to make the world safe from terrorism.







Much will hinge on who the Liberal Democrats decide to get into bed with, but, to date, they haven't been saying anything.


The UK general election takes place today. The campaign has been a three-horse race between the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. For the first time ever, the party leaders have appeared head-to-head in a series of TV debates, which set the campaign alight.


After the scandals surrounding MPs' abuses of the expenses system, many pundits felt that interest in the election would be low. Not so. These presidential style leaders' debates caught the public's imagination and propelled Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, into the limelight.

If David Cameron, the Conservative leader, represented youthfulness and a new start from the worn out looking and unpopular Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg stole Cameron's clothes by looking even more youthful and exciting. It was a case of 'Nick who?' prior to the televised debates, but since the debates Clegg and his party have secured second place, ahead of Labour, in the opinion polls.

Until recently, David Cameron may have thought he was about to waltz into Downing Street as the next PM, but Clegg and his party's emergence have upset the applecart, and all indicators have been suggesting that perhaps no single party will have an overall majority to govern. This 'hung' parliament scenario has dominated the media recently.

Many perceive Labour to be rather washed up after 13 years in power but also feel there may be little substance behind Cameron or his policies. For Clegg and the Lib Dems, it's a different matter. While it is also debatable if the public really positively endorse the policies of the Lib Dems, apart from propping up the Labour government in 1974, the Liberals have not been in power since the early part of the last century and have traditionally been the third party in British politics.

Given the boost received by the TV debates, the party now appears to represent real change in the eyes of some voters and a chance to break the traditional two party system.

Britain's electoral system could mean the Lib Dems coming second, ahead of Labour, but with substantially less seats in parliament. Any deal done with Labour or the Conservatives after the election to support a minority government may be conditional on reforming the system and bringing in proportional representation, whereby in future elections the Lib Dems will secure an amount of seats proportionate to votes received. This could indeed change the face of British politics by loosening the stranglehold of the two main parties.

If the Conservatives fail to secure enough seats to govern on their own, we could be in for a degree of horse trading in the coming days. Much of it will hinge on who the Lib Dems decide to get into bed with, and, to date, they haven't been saying.


New Labour's unpopularity stems from various factors. To many, it has abandoned its traditional core working class voters. The financial crisis and the abuse of the expenses system occurred on its watch. Add to this a number of policy blunders and the fact that the regime took the country into two unpopular wars, and you have a party that is in trouble.


Cameron's Conservative party are still mistrusted because sections of the electorate feel that, despite the happy smiling facade, beneath the surface lurks the ugly face of Thatcherism. This brings back memories of the strife of the 1980s and the party's ideological obsession with privatisation and deregulation, which lies at the core of today's economic crisis.

The fact that the Tories have been out of power for so long and are inexperienced and that their policies seem rather vague doesn't help either.

When Tony Blair came to power in 1997, people wanted change and positively embraced him. This is not the case now. People want change, but Cameron and Clegg are somewhat unknown quantities and lack the 'Blair factor' required to attract voters in their droves.

Finally, it is worth noting that non-voters may outnumber those who vote for the winning party. Some people have no faith in the political system and opt not to vote, believing the whole process to be a sham. Indeed, a telling feature of last few weeks was a campaign dominated by three bureaucratic media savvy party machines with no great ideological differences.

For many, it was disappointing that the campaign deliberately sidelined key issues. Getting out of Afghanistan, for instance, or breaking with the free market policies that caused the financial crisis in the first place was hardly, if at all, mentioned. But with all three parties now acting as de facto arms of the business community, and the mainstream media a compliant partner, none of this came as a surprise.

I happen to believe that any Labour government, no matter how terrible, is better than a Conservative one. But whoever gets into power could find themselves being the most unpopular government in British electoral history, given that the economy is in dire straits and the scale of cuts being proposed.

Perhaps a coalition would be the best option, particularly as many people have had enough of confrontational party politics. What the British public don't want after the election is squabbling politicians and parties, followed by another election in six months time in order to secure a majority government.








Accountability means holding individuals and organisations responsible for their promised actions.


Government departments and organisations registered under the Company Law are expected to be quite alert and responsive to consumers' grievances. It is their statutory responsibility to offer best services as committed implicitly or explicitly so that no consumer is compelled to approach the court of law against such organisations.

But the system with which the departments and companies work is itself defective, careless and callous as is periodically disclosed when the matters are heard by consumer courts and their decisions stressing the propriety of consumers' grievances as also relief offered to them.

Insurance companies are service organisations. People pay them premiums with expectation that they will be useful in unforeseen calamities, like severe illness or accidents and that too without any hassles and technical excuses. In a case heard by the Kolhapur consumer forum, The New India Assurance Company denied claim of compensation for two persons relying on some technical grounds.

Shruti Kulkarni is the only heir of her father Gajanan Kulkarni who died in an accident along with three others — Chintaman and Abhiji Kulkarni and Shreya Abhijit Kulkarni — while Rekha Rajopadhye was seriously wounded. They were travelling in the Maruti car owned by Gajanan Kulkarni, who had taken comprehensive insurance policy from the NIAC.

Technical grounds

But the company accepted claims of Chintaman Kulkarni and Shreya Kulkarni but rejected claims of car owner Gajajan Kulkarni and Abhijit Kulkarni who was driving the car. The technical grounds for rejection cited by the NIAC are car owner Gajajan Kulkarni had no driving license and Abhihit Kulkarni was a driver and hence not eligible for compensation.

While arguing on behalf of Shruti Kulkarni before the forum, advocate Vivek Shukla pointed out that Gajanana Kulkarni was taking the all comprehensive policy from the NIAC since 1996 and if driving licence was needed for car owner that should have been verified by the company while issuing the policy. Abhijit Kulkarni, who was driving the car, was a member of the family — having driving licence — and not paid driver and hence his claim need not be denied.

While deciding the case, the forum president M D Deshmukh and members Pratibha Karmarkar and Varsha Shinde accepted the plea submitted on behalf of the complainant Shruti Kulkarni. It was pointed out by the forum that the NIAC has not produced any rule whether driving licence is mandatory for a car owner. Abhijit Kulkarni who was driving the car had a licence and he was a family member and not an employed driver. Hence denying claim for the two is a serious deficiency in service.

In this case a reference to a supreme court judgement is cited as a basic principle of accountability. It stresses the point that the need of accountability is the soul of good governance and absence of it is the sign of bad governance.

Accountability means holding individuals and organisations responsible for performance measured as objectively as possible. It is obligation of persons in power to be citizen friendly, just, fair and responsive.

In view of this principle and facts of the case, the forum has ordered that the NIAC should pay claim of Rs 2 lakh for Gajanan Kullkarni and Rs 50,000 for Abhijit Kulkarni and Rs 5,000 for mental torture and cost of Rs 1,000 to the complainant Shruti Kulkarni.

In another case, the deficiency of service in the regional transport office (RTO) is disclosed. The complainant Appasaheb Tambe had demanded a specific number for his Indigo car. He paid Rs 10,000 as per the rate for a specific number.  This was duly recorded in the concerned record which is known as RC book. When the car owner sold his car to another person it was disclosed that the same number is given to another two wheeler owner and it was not therefore transferred along with the transfer of records to the purchaser of the car.

Accepting amount and giving a specific number to a car owner and then giving the same number to another person is gross negligence and deficiency of service as pointed out by advocate P J Atigre who argued before the Kolhapur consumer forum which accepted the plea and ordered that the RTO should pay Rs 25,000 for mental torture to complainant Tambe.

The fund available with the RTO is public money and hence for the deficiency in service by the concerned official Rs 25,000 should be paid from his salary and not from public fund asserts the forum. While deciding the case, the forum has pointed out that the government's officials and employees are public servants. They are expected to work as per rules and regulations and power entrusted to them should be used properly. They are also duty bound to provide the best possible service to citizens who have every right to complain if such services are not provided. 









As Mitchell heads back to the Mideast, beware of the verbal flak.

With George Mitchell back in the Middle East this week to launch indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians, he can expect to run into considerable turbulence created by malicious rumors, trial balloons, taunts and a lot of hot air.

The verbal flak is coming from all directions as self-anointed insiders and experts try to shape public perceptions of the new talks before they even begin – in reality revealing little more than their own agendas. It's not just the usual talking heads and printed pundits – everyone knows who they are – but the anonymous experts, officials, observers, insiders and assorted "reliable sources" whose identity we don't know and whose authenticity we are unable to judge.

So here's an easy guide: If you don't know who said it, take it with a block of salt.

ONE ISRAELI paper this week headlined a story declaring: "Obama promised Abbas a Palestinian state within two years." And the source: "An Egyptian official told the Arabic language daily Al-Hayat." How convincing is that? The White House hotly denied it.

You may have seen stories with headlines like: "Obama to call world summit if Mideast peace talks fail" or "Abbas: Obama won't allow provocations from either Palestinians or Israel."

Here's another reading hint: Who benefits from this story? Whose interest is served? Do those blind sources who purport to know Barack Obama's true intentions have an agenda they – or the reporters – are not telling you? Are they portraying the American president as a crusader for peace, a Palestinian agent aiming to destroy the Jewish state or a tool of the Zionist lobby out to block Palestinian statehood? If you don't know the author's sources or agenda, you can't really answer those questions.

Keep in mind that right now the two sides and their American interlocutors are all jockeying for position. A few stories in the past week confidently told us Obama has promised to recognize a Palestinian state if Israel doesn't agree by a certain date, that the US will support a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction, that Palestinians have no real interest in negotiations but intend to unilaterally declare statehood, that Obama intends to call an international conference this fall to ram a peace agreement down Israel's throat. There's something for every paranoid prognosticator. And maybe a grain of truth here and there.

Take the story about a supposed letter from Obama to Abbas promising to support a UN vote to condemn settlements. Washington historically vetoes anti-Israel resolutions (not always: the Reagan administration even sponsored the one condemning Israel's attack on Saddam Hussein's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981). What's behind the Obama letter story? Here's three versions:

• The Palestinians were spreading it to justify returning to negotiations in the absence of the settlement freeze they'd demanded.

• The story was intended to rattle the Israelis.

• It's an attempt by the Israeli Right to show Obama sides with the Palestinians.

The New York Times's Roger Cohen wrote that Obama told Abbas he wouldn't block a UN resolution condemning Israel if it "seriously undermines trust between the two parties." Not so. The White House firmly denied that version, but not a report that a Mitchell aide, David Hale, told Abbas that if Israel goes ahead with construction of the controversial 1,600 homes for haredim in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of east Jerusalem, it would abstain (not vote yes or no). That's the project whose announcement scuttled Vice President Joe Biden's initial effort to launch the proximity talks in March.

The moral of this story: Hold your fire. The news stories will be flying at you from all directions, each declaring it has the inside scoop. Everyone is going to have his or her sources and leaks. Saeb Erekat, the chief PA negotiator, gives his briefings on and off the record, unabashedly contradicting himself and issuing all kinds of dire warnings, from Palestinian plans to unilaterally declare statehood to flat denials.

When Erekat threatens, "If Israel builds one house in the West Bank, Palestinians will immediately stop the negotiations," he doesn't scare Binyamin Netanyahu, but he does encourage Israeli rejectionists to send out a construction crew. One has to ask whether Erekat is really looking for an excuse to walk out and blame the Israelis.

On the Israeli side, beware the "senior official."

That can mean any cabinet minister, deputy, assistant or his driver – each considering himself or herself a senior official and the one who really should be running the country. It can also mean insiders in the Prime Minister's Office acting – probably under instructions – to plant misinformation meant to affect policymakers in Washington.

Everyone has an agenda. Every reader, like every good reporter, should consult multiple sources, analyze what the source meant as well as what he or she said, and then make an independent and skeptical judgment. Do that, and chances are you could be half right.

A final hint. Listen most to what the delegations themselves are saying. The more kvetching, the more problems; the less they have to say, the more work they are getting done.








On the eve of the anticipated start of so-called proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians, there is a discernible lack of enthusiasm.

The fanfare that usually accompanies the relaunch of Middle East negotiations has been replaced by an atmosphere of apathy, as it seems clear to just about everyone – outside the White House, that is – that little will come of the impending round.

Speaking to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday, Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz, head of IDF Intelligence's Research Division, said that even before the talks commence, the Palestinians are "already preparing the ground for the failure" of the process.

And dovish Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor was no less gloomy, telling The Jerusalem Post yesterday that the talks "won't yield results" because the Palestinians are not willing to take "tough decisions."

Indeed, it says a lot about the state of the peace process that the only tangible outcome certain to emerge is an inevitable boost in US envoy George Mitchell's frequent-flyer account. This, of course, is entirely the fault of the Palestinians, who have repeatedly rejected the various gestures made by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over the past 12 months.

Basking in the glow of unprecedented American pressure on the Jewish state, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is in no rush to make progress in difficult bargaining with Israel. He has every reason to wait, knowing full well that when the negotiations stall, the weight of international pressure will come down hard on the decision-makers in Jerusalem and not Ramallah.

But Washington too shares a great deal of the blame. By choreographing this farce of indirect talks doomed from the start, the Obama administration is playing directly into Palestinian hands, thereby further diminishing the already dismal chances of making peace. Through its naiveté, Washington is unwittingly setting the stage for an explosion of frustration and violence when the talks come screeching to a halt, which is hardly in anyone's interest.

The conceptual error underlying the policy of the Obama administration is stark and simple: It still seems to think that the Oslo process has a chance in hell of succeeding.

In this respect, it is well worth recalling an important if largely dubious anniversary in Middle East diplomacy that slipped by this week.

IT WAS 16 years ago on Tuesday, on May 4, 1994, that prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat ascended a stage in Cairo and signed the Gaza-Jericho Agreement, paving the way for the first transfer of Israeli territory to Palestinian control.

At the ceremony, then-foreign minister Shimon Peres assured those present that a new day was at hand. "Today," he said, beaming, "we declare that the conflict is over. Today we have agreed to promise mothers and children, Arab and Jewish, that no finger will pull a trigger to endanger the lives or to affect the dignity or happiness of their children."

Within a few weeks of the signing, Arafat returned triumphantly to Gaza, as the IDF retreated and the xperiment begun in the September 1993 Oslo Accords was put into place on the ground.

We all know how well that turned out. Despite Peres' optimism, the conflict remains far from over. Instead, the Oslo process bequeathed us years of suicide bombings, hundreds of civilian deaths, diminished deterrence and the loss of territory, as well as the rise of Hamas.

Logic, then, would dictate that rather than trying to keep this failed process going, Washington would do better to reexamine its approach and acknowledge its mistakes. A good place to start would be to recognize once and for all that there is no serious partner on the Palestinian side with the courage, authority or conviction to negotiate terms with Israel. Like it or not, the chances of forging an agreement with the current cast of characters in Gaza City and Ramallah are close to nil.

Moreover, President Barack Obama's enthusiasm for the land-for-peace paradigm and the two-state solution has proven to be entirely misplaced. Israel's past abandonment of territory, whether unilaterally or through agreements, has only brought disaster in its wake. The fact is that "peace for peace" was and remains the only viable and acceptable basis for a just end to the conflict.


Nonetheless, Washington stubbornly refuses to accept what is obvious to all, and insists on plunging ahead down a well-worn path clearly marked "Dead End."

The result will likely be catastrophic.

In diplomacy, Henry Kissinger once noted: "If you don't know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere."

And that, it seems, is precisely where Obama is about to take us.







In Tel Aviv, prices are up by 30% since a year ago, and 5% since three months ago.


Last fall, Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias (Shas) ceremoniously informed the nation of a new reform he was launching that would, in no time at all, significantly lower spiraling real estate prices by inundating the marketplace with cheap land.

This was to be a facet of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's crusade against obstructive red tape, which, he has consistently argued, strangles development projects and inordinately inflates housing costs.

In theory, this all sounded compelling. And the theory's ramifications extend beyond putting the lid on prices. Presumably the more convoluted and drawn-out the route to winning planning approvals and construction permits, and the more expensive the land, the greater the temptation to find shortcuts. It becomes inviting to simplify things via graft and favoritism. And thus, were efficient red-tape-cuts instituted into the system, the thinking goes, this in itself would constitute a potent disincentive for corruption.

The problem, of course, is that the reverse logic is as cogent. Where less control is imposed, the opportunity for mischief is all the greater.

In his reformist offensive, Attias announced large-scale sales of Israel Lands Authority plots sufficient for the construction of thousands of housing units. This, he promised, would radically cool the feverish market. Land, after all, is the costliest component of real estate prices. If the market were swamped with inexpensive lots, prices were bound to tumble. Attias predicted that by the beginning of 2010, housing price-rises would be halted, and that they would dramatically drop by year's end.

UNFORTUNATELY, THIS rosy forecast has not panned out. In fact, the very opposite has occurred. Housing prices are going through the roof.

Official government statistics released Tuesday indicate that the prices of four-room apartments (Israel's most popular size) rose by a national average of nearly 17 percent in the first quarter of 2010, compared to the first quarter of 2009, and by over 4% from the final quarter of 2009. The figures are based on data from 14 cities countrywide. In Tel Aviv, prices are up by 30% since a year ago, and 5% since three months ago.

Exuding never-say-die determination, Attias, also on Tuesday, published tenders for the sale of land sufficient for 3,000 housing units, in a bid to push prices down nevertheless. He insists he is on the right course, but that the reform process is slow and needs to be given a chance. In the past eight months, Attias has put on the market plots for 21,600 units.

Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer acknowledged to the Knesset Finance Committee on Wednesday that "a problem does exist," though he isn't yet calling it a bubble. "We must avoid complacency," Fischer stressed. "There is a relatively rapid price rise, which means that we might have to take steps… I can't precisely define when a bubble forms, but we are examining the issue of interest rates in dealing with this problem."

As Fischer was intimating, low interest rates entice buyers to take out sizable mortgages and increase demand, consequently hiking prices. Interest rates, however, are not lightly tampered with, especially as raising them would artificially strengthen the anyway-overvalued shekel at a time of dangerous global volatility (i.e., the Greek/Euro-zone crisis), thereby hurting exports and possibly increasing unemployment.

ANOTHER REASON the Attias land sales failed to achieve their objective was that most of the land the minister found to advance his reforms lay outside high-demand areas. In real life, families in search of flats in metropolitan Tel Aviv are quite unlikely to opt for Yeruham instead.


Attias has now begun to partially correct this inherent flaw, but the fact is there isn't a great deal of public land available in lucrative areas.

The question, therefore, should be how to bring Yeruham closer to Tel Aviv's opportunities, and thus make more remote (but affordable) residence more viable and less forbidding.

And the answer lies in other, seemingly mundane solutions like belatedly pulling Israel's rail links out of the late 19th century and bringing them into the 21st. Improvement in public conveyances of all sorts would shrink the distances and demolish the psychological barriers to dwelling that little bit further away from the country's economic and cultural hubs.







I wish that the energy the government and its supporters had put into discrediting the report had been invested in working with our mission. Excerpts from a statement by Judge Richard Goldstone for the meeting with South African Jewish community leaders on Monday.

Let me say that I have taken no pleasure in seeing people around the world criticize the South African Jewish community, and I commend the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and all responsible for bringing an end to the unfortunate public issues that had arisen relating to my grandson's bar mitzva. My family and I are delighted that I was able to attend the bar mitzva on Saturday, and that it was such a joyous and meaningful occasion. I am deeply grateful to Rabbi Suchard, the members of the committee and the congregation at Sandton Synagogue for having made this possible.

Without more, allow me to turn to the Gaza report that has caused so much anger in this and other Jewish communities. It is well-known that initially I refused to become involved with what I considered to be a mandate that was unfair to Israel by concentrating only on war crimes alleged to have been committed by the IDF. When I was offered an even-handed mandate that included war crimes alleged to have been committed against Israel by Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza, my position changed.

I have spent much of my professional life in the cause of international criminal justice. It would have been hypocritical for me to continue to speak out against violations of international law and impunity for war crimes around the world but remain silent when it came to Israel simply because I am Jewish.

The State of Israel was established in 1948 by the United Nations acting on the principles of international law. It should not be surprising that Israel has always committed itself to being bound by the norms and practices of international law. I have always assumed that Israel would wish to be judged by the highest standards of international law. One of the cardinal norms, accepted by Israel, is that of "distinction" – the requirement that there be proportionality between a military goal and civilian casualties caused in achieving that goal.

THIS WAS the first occasion in which the UN Human Rights Council was prepared to consider military operations between Israel and the militant organizations from all perspectives and offer Israel the opportunity of telling its story to a United Nations inquiry. I also anticipated that this might herald the start of a new approach by the Human Rights Council in which all similar human rights valuations around the world receive equal attention.

But sadly for everyone, the Israeli government squandered that opportunity. That did not prevent the mission from finding that serious war crimes appeared to have been committed by Hamas and other militant groups operating from Gaza. That finding was also accepted by the UN General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and the European Parliament. The right of Israel to act in self-defense was also not questioned by the report.

The letters that passed between me and both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Israeli ambassador to Geneva are attached to the Gaza report and tell the story, most openly, of my desire for Israeli cooperation and the concerns of Israel with regard to cooperating with our mission. That Israel refused to cooperate meant we had to do the best we could with the information we were able to gather. I only wish that the energy the government of Israel and its supporters had put into discrediting the report had been invested in cooperating with our mission.

It is obvious but must be stated: Had Israel provided us with credible information to respond to the allegations we received, it would have been given appropriate consideration and could potentially have influenced our findings. That was unfortunately not forthcoming. We cannot undo the past.


In conclusion, I would state that it is regrettable that the majority of the Israeli government decided against accepting the first and primary recommendation of the Gaza mission, namely to launch its own open and credible investigation into the findings contained in the report. That is still a course open to it and, if adopted and implemented in good faith, would effectively put an end to calls for international criminal investigations.








As a member of the community, we ask Judge Goldstone to understand our reactions to what he has done.


Excerpts from the opening statement of Avrom Krengel, chairman of the SAZF, delivered in a meeting Monday between the federation and Judge Richard Goldstone.

Sixty-five years after the liberation of Auschwitz and 62 years since Israel's independence, Jews throughout the world live lives of unprecedented freedom, dignity and security, attributable to the existence of the State of Israel; but it is only its citizens that make the ultimate sacrifice to ensure its continued existence.

In my capacity as chairman of the SAZF, I address you today to express our deep disappointment and dissatisfaction with your involvement, as a South African Jew, in leading the UN fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict.

The UN Human Rights Council is notorious for its bias against Israel. Since its creation in 2006, the UNHRC has devoted 27 of its 33 censures to resolutions criticizing Israel but not one against Sri Lanka after it killed an estimated 20,000 civilians, or against Sudan for the Darfur atrocities.

The enabling resolution of the UNHRC, upon which your mission was established, stated that the designated purpose of your mission was "to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying power, Israel, against the Palestinian people throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, due to the current aggression."

Your mission of enquiry into the Gaza conflict, where approximately 1,000 civilians were killed, is unprecedented. Never before has the UNHRC, nor any other organ of the United Nations, conducted an investigation of human rights violations into conflicts which do not involve massacres, genocide or crimes against humanity.

Certain aspects of the contents of the report are highly prejudicial to Israel, while being extremely favorable toward Hamas. The report never misses an opportunity to mention that Israel refused to cooperate with the mission. The underlying message is clear: Israel is to blame for any harsh findings.

THE APPROACH to Hamas, however, is entirely different. You state that during your visits to the Gaza Strip, the mission met with senior members of the Gaza authorities who cooperated fully . Clearly you wish the reader to believe that Hamas cooperated fully, and therefore no adverse findings against it can be made.

Later on in your report, however, a different picture emerges. You state that the Gaza authorities said they had nothing to do with the Al-Kassam brigades or other armed groups, and also had "no information on the activities of the Palestinian armed groups, or about the storage of weapons in mosques and buildings."

The report also noted that those interviewed in Gaza appeared reluctant to speak about the presence or conduct of hostilities by the Palestinian armed groups.

In other words, based on the mission's own version, absolutely no one in Gaza cooperated in describing the way Hamas and others conducted their armed operations. You state that if the Gaza authorities failed to prevent Palestinian armed groups from endangering the civilian population, they would bear responsibility for the damage done.

What you omitted, as you have done whenever describing Israeli atrocities, was that the refusal of the Gaza authorities to cooperate with the mission forces it to conclude that Hamas did bear responsibility for the damage done to Gazan civilians.

Your report provided a complete context for the reasons for the conflict in Gaza. Over 100 pages detail every actual and alleged human-rights violation Israel has committed in what you term "the occupied Palestinian territories" since 1967, designed no doubt to allow readers to understand why Hamas and the "other Palestinian armed groups" resorted to rocket fire into southern Israel and the capture of Gilad Schalit.

In respect of Israel, however, no such contextualization of its actions is provided. Nowhere do you feel it is of value "for contextual purposes" to mention that Hamas's founding charter calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, or that the reason for Israel's and Egypt's blockade of Gaza, and the US and EU sanctions imposed on Hamas is a direct result of Hamas's refusal to abandon its primary aim of destroying Israel. You fail to mention that Hamas is an implacable enemy of any two-state solution, that at the height of the Oslo Peace Accords, Hamas waged a merciless terror campaign against Israel, resulting in 150 Israeli civilian deaths, and killed over 500 Israeli civilians in suicide bombings between 2000 and 2009.

You also fail to disclose that Hamas is armed, supported and supplied by Iran, a country whose president has frequently stated a desire to destroy the State of Israel, and which is suspected of developing nuclear weapons perhaps for this very purpose.

IT NOW appears that the world has two sets of international law; one to be applied to Israel, the other to everyone else. Only Israeli soldiers, generals and politicians will face the prospect of war-crimes trials at The Hague, while those of Russia, United States, NATO and Sri Lanka – collectively responsible for the death of over 320,000 civilians during the past 15 years of armed conflicts – will continue to act with impunity and immunity.

This situation is not international justice but simply a travesty of justice, a reintroduction of discriminatory laws and practices against the Jewish people.


As a fellow Jew, we admonish you for spending 14 days in the Gaza Strip, listening to the testimony of hundreds of Gazan residents while failing to reach out to Gilad Schalit who has languished for four years in a hellhole.

We think it would have been only appropriate to demand the unconditional release of Schalit or failing that, at least to visit him and hear his story of suffering and isolation.

As a member of the Jewish community, we ask you to understand our pain and anger at what you have done, and to work with us in ensuring that Israel is not treated differently than any other nation.

The writer is chairman of the South African Zionist Federation.







To what extent are governors conscious of the hatred resulting from those Israeli academics that promote boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel? This coming week will see the start of the annual meetings of the boards of governors of a number of Israeli universities, with members arriving from all over the world.

As contributors to their respective universities, one wonders if the governors are aware that many students feel threatened by the language of some professors? Language that condemns the Jewish state, calling it a "colonial power whose indigenous population, the Palestinians, has been kicked out by the Israelis."
These students are being educated to see Israel as a pariah state.

Those students who are shocked by these pronouncements are frequently too afraid to speak out against the views being projected. They worry that to openly disagree is to pave the way for a poor mark. (Prof, Amnon Rubinstein referred to this in a November op-ed in The Jerusalem Post in which he spoke of the rights of the students.)

To what extent are governors conscious of the hatred resulting from those Israeli academics that promote BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israel? Is it not strange that they are able to travel abroad calling for the boycott of the very universities from which they receive their livelihood?

Do governors recognize the devastating effect of this Israel-bashing on students in their respective countries? For example, a number of Israeli academics spearheaded the recent "Israel Apartheid Week" (now in its sixth year) aimed to show the country as an apartheid state like South Africa was. London was the scene of major anti-Israel activity during this "Apartheid Week," led by an associate professor from Tel Aviv University. The prime objective was to isolate, delegitimize and dehumanize the one Jewish state. This is particularly disturbing when seen in conjunction with Jewish students who feel unable to stand up to the increasingly virulent anti-Israel bombardment on campus.

WHILE WE pride ourselves on being a democratic country where free speech is a given right, every society places a limit on free speech. Surely it is unacceptable that there are those employed by Israeli universities who educate their students to see the country as a colonial and pariah state as well as travelling abroad to call for BDS.

Today, it is quite clear that there is a turning away from Israel – sadly also among Jews – the result of both an effective anti-Israel media campaign together with an Israel whose leadership has long dismissed the relevance of hasbara. The student on campus is at the forefront of the battle for Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. The question is, are Jewish students receiving the necessary support to confront the ever-growing hostility?

As a former chair of the Hillel Foundation in the UK, I can say that some 12 years ago Jewish students spoke up for Israel with pride and eloquence. Today, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find student activists willing and capable of standing up and being counted. While it is incumbent on communities worldwide to support the Jewish students by ensuring they are armed with the facts, it would seem that we now have to address a second challenge, that of those who educate toward the demise of Israel.

It is from universities that tomorrow's leaders will emerge. This applies to the political leadership in each country as well as leadership for the respective Jewish communities. Surely it is incumbent on all of us, but especially on those who have connections with universities here, to do all we can to ensure that our students are not educated to turn away from Israel. It is of vital importance to our Jewish future that our students are made aware of our people's right to its historic homeland, and to feel pride in all that this little state has achieved since its rebirth in 1948.

The writer is co-chair of Europeans for Israel and public-relations chair of World WIZO











Benjamin Netanyahu is entering the proximity talks with a hump of many years' standing on his back, a hump inherited from his predecessors, especially Ehud Barak. This hump will almost certainly prove to be a primary cause of the expected failure of a process that has been forced on both sides.


This week marks the 10th anniversary of Barak's panicked and humiliating flight from south Lebanon. Ever since then, Hezbollah, the Palestinians and, in fact, the entire Arab world have viewed Israel as a country that, because of the deaths of about 20 soldiers a year, lost its will to fight - the will that enables the country to exist as a Jewish state amid the hundreds of millions of hostile Muslims in the region.


Barak's inability to distinguish the important from the trivial was again on display during the war of terror that Yasser Arafat launched in response to Barak's strategic mistake of fleeing Lebanon unilaterally. For many long months, this terror exacted its deadly toll on us, yet Barak lacked the guts to respond. This failure to respond caused Israelis to lose faith in their country, their army and their future in this region.


This weakness also encouraged terrorist organizations to intensify the slaughter, while nations that used to admire Israel for its courage began to adopt pro-Palestinian policies, despite the vicious Palestinian terror attacks. And now Barak, the man responsible for these egregious strategic mistakes, is the cabinet's chief supporter of the proximity talks.


Netanyahu is also saddled with the hump he inherited from the disengagement. This move, which was theoretically supposed to give Israel more room to maneuver, was viewed by the Palestinians and their supporters as further proof of Israel's waning strength and stamina. For the disengagement entailed not only flight, but also a despair that lasted for three years, until Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. (Similarly, Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank was launched only after a year and a half of terror, and after Barak had been replaced by Ariel Sharon. )


Our inferior diplomatic position is thus the rotten fruit of strategic mistakes and military weakness: The Palestinians are convinced that a combination of diplomatic maneuvering (like the evasive maneuvers they have engaged in ever since Barack Obama became president of the United States ), cries of distress from Jordan and Egypt, threats of war from both the east and the north, and the international pressure spearheaded by Obama will finally defeat Israel.


In this psychological and diplomatic situation - in which the prime minister bears an intolerable burden, and it is doubtful that he will have the strength to withstand the combined Palestinian, American and European pressure - it is vital to forge a nonpartisan domestic front to strengthen Netanyahu and enable him to withstand this enormous pressure. Only thus will it be possible to prevent a diplomatic defeat for Israel in the proximity talks (which involve neither truth nor reconciliation, but are solely a trap for Israel ).


This supportive front must be joined by every Zionist actor in both Israel and the Diaspora. And it must certainly be joined by all of Netanyahu's coalition partners, some of whom miss no opportunity to publicly assail him, in the process weakening the state in which they serve as ministers and Knesset members.


But it is those who truly believe that withdrawals, including in Jerusalem, will give Israel a brighter future, those who truly are convinced that the Palestinians want peace and accept the formula of two states for two peoples, who bear a special obligation to support their prime minister now.


For we have long since learned that a weak prime minister and a weak Israeli government bolster Palestinian hopes of defeating Israel, causing them to withdraw from agreements already reached and make demands that even a government under brutal American pressure could never accept. And in consequence, the peace for which they yearn will only recede still further.









The settlers of Pisgat Ze'ev, the intruders of Sheikh Jarrah, the people who covet Silwan, the infiltrators into the Muslim Quarter and you, the mayor of the nationalist city, Nir Barkat, can stop worrying: (All of ) Jerusalem is yours, forever. Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel met at the White House with his friend, Barack Obama, on a mission from his other friend, Benjamin Netanyahu, and when he came out he said he had the impression that Obama respected his advice to postpone discussions on Jerusalem.


With friends like that, Israel doesn't need enemies. Sixty-two years after declaring its sovereignty, Israel still needs Jewish influence peddlers - one time it's Wiesel and one time it's Ron Lauder - to appeal to the nobleman. Forty-three years since the occupation started and these people are only working to perpetuate it.


There are not many Jews like Wiesel, to whom the White House door is open and the president lends an ear. And what does Wiesel do with this golden opportunity? He talks to Obama about postponing discussions on Jerusalem. Not about the need for an end to the occupation, not about the opportunity to establish a just peace (and a just Israel ), not about the outrageous injustice to the Palestinians. Only perpetuating the occupation.


Instead of a figure considered so moral taking advantage of a presidential meal to urge his host to end Israel's endless foot-dragging, Wiesel haggled for wholesale postponement. He did this ostensibly for the good of a country whose prime minister, just one year ago, gave his two-state speech, but has not lifted a finger to implement it. A country with which Syria is almost begging to make peace and against which the Palestinians have long stopped using terror. But it continues in its refusal to make peace. In light of all this, what does the friend recommend? To postpone. Postpone and postpone, like Netanyahu, who sent him, asked him to do.


The man the Nobel Prize committee said is "a messenger to mankind; his message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity," is doing just the opposite. Not peace, not atonement and not human dignity, certainly not for the Palestinians. After the ridiculous ad campaign in the American press, based on the fact that Jerusalem is mentioned in the Bible ("more than 600 times" ) and not once in the Koran, perhaps, heaven forbid, the American president of change will listen to the bad advice of his friend, the Holocaust survivor, and decimate any chance for peace.


Wiesel will make arrangements and Obama will postpone. Around a quarter of a million Palestinians will continue to live another generation under Israeli occupation. A quarter of a million? Three and a half million, because to Obama, Wiesel and in fact everyone, it's clear that without dividing Jerusalem there will be no peace.


And what if Obama postpones discussions on Jerusalem as his friend requested? Postpone until when? For another 43 years? Maybe another 430 years? And what will happen in the meantime? Another 100,000 settlers? A Hamas government in the West Bank, too? And why? Because Jerusalem isn't mentioned in the Koran, its Palestinian residents don't have a right to self-determination?


And what about the sanctity of Jerusalem as the third holiest city in Islam after Mecca and Medina? What does sanctity have to do with sovereignty, anyhow? What will happen if once again the discussion is postponed and they talk about water, as Netanyahu wants? These are all questions the friend was not asked.


How depressing to think that these are currently the Jewish people's greatest role models. It's as if they think that automatic and blind support of Israel and its caprices means true friendship - that perpetuating the occupation serves Israel's goals rather than endangers its future. It's as if they let their conscience speak out about the world's injustices, but when it comes to Israel's injustices they have a veil over their eyes and their voice falls silent.


If I were Elie Wiesel, such a famous Holocaust survivor, a Nobel Prize laureate whose voice is heard in high places, I would ask my friend in the White House, for the sake of peace, Israel's future and world peace: Please, Mr. President, be forceful. Israel depends on you as never before. Isolated as never before, it's as good as dead without American support. Therefore, Mr. President, I would say to Obama over the kosher meal that was served, be a true friend of Israel and extricate it from its misfortune.









You don't have to be a political genius to know who's going to win the next election in Israel. The winner will be the person who comes up with a practical proposal for Zionist renewal - someone who takes a courageous stand against the post-Zionism of the ultra-Orthodox, the chauvinists and the left. The winner will be someone who attracts the sane but beleaguered Zionist center, someone who inspires the silent Israeli majority that loves its country and is seeing it disintegrate before its eyes. The winner will be the one whose personality, past and talents embody another Israel: vigorous, enlightened and prosperous.


Benjamin Netanyahu? He was supposed to be the perfect renewer of Zionism: secular, educated and a man of quality who lives Theodor Herzl's vision and is capable of achieving it. Netanyahu, however, insists on being Netanyahu. He behaves like a disciple not of Ze'ev Jabotinsky but of some small-time synagogue official. He believes in the free market but doesn't defend the free society. He believes in economic progress but doesn't foster cultural progress. In the way Ehud Olmert handed Jerusalem to the ultra-Orthodox, Netanyahu is handing them the country. He stands and watches while the Jewish state is becoming the opposite of the state that Herzl dreamed of.


Ehud Barak? Barak, too, could have been a worthy renewer of Zionism. With all his faults, Barak is an outstanding person of remarkable talents. If he took the trouble to behave like a civilian leader, he would be able to set up a promising coalition of high-quality Israelis. But Barak has vanished into his handsome office in the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. He functions today as both defense minister and foreign minister, and as a supreme military chief of staff and the prime minister's Siamese twin. He doesn't seem to have enough energy left to kick-start a Zionist renewal.


Tzipi Livni? Netanyahu and Barak are working overtime on Livni's behalf. They are giving her great slam-dunk passes, but she fumbles them all. She made a great mistake when she didn't take Kadima into the government. But Livni's chances are still not too bad. If she finds a good message and puts together a good team, she could be the next prime minister. But so far, she has not responded to the deep yearning of most Israelis for profound change.


A Nick Clegg? With the national leadership fossilizing, the chances are good that some Nick Clegg will appear and reshuffle the deck. The chances are good that someone who has not been standing at the front of the stage will steal the show. Someone who offers the public what it has not yet been offered could collect all the winnings and fundamentally alter the political landscape. In the current situation, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi is the leading candidate. Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar is the alternative candidate. But media personality Yair Lapid also wants it, as does Ariel Sharon's son Gilad. This week, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai also tossed his hat into the ring.


Beware: Israel can ill-afford another disastrous political adventure. We've had Dash, Shinui and Kadima. Three times the Israeli center has tried to offer something new and has failed - good Israelis trying to save the country but disappointing their supporters. A fourth failure would be one too many, a fatal disappointment. It is therefore necessary for all the candidates of the next generation to show great responsibility, do their homework, test their abilities, display maturity and show that they are really out to serve the nation, not themselves.

To get itself out of trouble, Israel urgently needs people like Shlomo Yanai, Shlomo Dovrat, Shlomo Nehama, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Ruth Gavison and Uriel Reichman. These people will not go into politics unless it is brought to them. So the first test facing each Israeli Nick Clegg is to put together an exemplary team. They have to prove themselves not by promoting themselves but by promoting a new serving elite. Only if a potential Clegg puts together a leadership for the coming generation will the star of that generation become a worthy Zionist leader.







The proximity talks are not a call-in program taking listener requests. The time has passed for the Palestinian Authority, and even the U.S. government, to dance to the tune of the Israeli piper.


After an exhausting odyssey, it seems that the Obama administration has finally managed to get the peace process going again. Although the dispute over the construction freeze in East Jerusalem has precluded direct bilateral talks, the proximity talks will break the ice that has been clogging up the Israeli-Palestinian track for over a year. Regrettably, the good news was received in Jerusalem with a demonstrative chill and a lowering of the already modest expectations that the talks will bring peace any closer.


On Monday, Barak Ravid reported in this paper that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would initially seek to focus the talks on security arrangements in the West Bank and water issues. Nobel laureate author Elie Wiesel said he got the feeling that U.S. President Barack Obama understands and respects his advice to hold off on discussions about the future of Jerusalem until a later stage.


It's no wonder that - as the head of the Military Intelligence research division, Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz, has said - the Palestinians interested in negotiations do not believe that Netanyahu and his government intend to make progress toward a final-status agreement.


The sourness with which the government is anticipating the talks was expressed in the decision to present to the cabinet (and the public ) a Palestinian "incitement index," of all things. A senior official reported that with the opening of the indirect negotiations Israel would demand that the Palestinians act to stop anti-Israel incitement and promote education toward peace. Now that acts of violence have almost entirely disappeared, the (justified ) criticism of incitement has taken the lead in the diversionary war that some senior ministers are waging against the peace process.


If the government genuinely wants to put an end to the conflict it will have to find a way to speed up negotiations and restore the Palestinian neighbors' confidence in it. If Netanyahu really believes in what he said in his Bar-Ilan speech, he must honor the commitment made by his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, at the Annapolis conference, and continue with a practical discussion of all core issues, mainly permanent borders, Jerusalem and the refugees.


The proximity talks are not a call-in program taking listener requests. The time has passed for the Palestinian Authority, and even the U.S. government, to dance to the tune of the Israeli piper. The hour has come for the decision makers to realize that time is working against the world's only Jewish democratic state. Netanyahu and his advisers would do well to drop their stalling tactics and direct their energy toward advancing the solution of two states for two peoples.









High among Israeli children's 10 commandments is the edict "Don't talk to strangers." This is understandable - we live in a threatening world and want to protect our children from perverts hiding behind Internet bushes and from strangers in playgrounds.


It seems that this fear goes back to the legendary Pied Piper of Hamelin, who captivated children with his magical playing. But beyond the basic rules of behavior, is the dread of strangers that we plant in our children really justified?


On the face of it, the National Council for the Child's figures show children face the greatest danger outside the home. In 2008, 6,337 files were opened for offenses committed against children outside the family, compared to 2,405 cases for domestic offenses.


But you have to know how to read these figures. International research shows the number of reported cases of domestic child abuse constitutes an extremely low percentage of actual cases. In other words, most childhood sexual abuse occurrences are perpetrated by a family member at home or by someone close to the family. In cases of chronic (non-sexual ) abuse the perpetrator is almost always someone close to the child rather than a stranger.


Professional literature also shows that ongoing sexual abuse in the family or close circle is incredibly damaging. Its results include severe psychological disorders leading to a disposition to drug addiction, crime and prostitution.


These harsh consequences are directly associated with the low reporting rate of the dark family secret. A child exposed to chronic abuse by a close person - an authority figure - experiences total helplessness. This stems in part from the inability to stop the abuse due to the extreme imbalance of physical as well as mental strength.


It is also evident that when a girl is abused by a person who is supposed to take care of her, her ability to develop basic trust in others is severely impaired.


So if the real danger to children is at home, why are we putting such an emphasis on the fear of strangers? Perhaps because the mantra "don't talk to strangers" distracts us from the fact that we're not protecting our children from the real danger.


The Social Affairs Ministry unit in charge of investigating children's cases is acutely understaffed. The ministry has 57 positions for children's investigators and special investigators. The shortage of people trained to deal with child abuse forces those brave or desperate children who dare to complain and yearn for help to wait for months before they receive any assistance.


Training investigators and adding positions costs money, but additional funds alone will not solve the problem. It is also necessary to change the individual approach to child abuse cases. It is important to teach children how to be extra careful with complete strangers.


But as adults in the community - parents, teachers and citizens - we must not be led astray by the pied piper fantasy. We must know that it is our responsibility to open our eyes, listen and report the condition of children in our community so that we can better protect them from ourselves.




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




Last year's $100 billion education stimulus plan insulated the public schools from the worst of the recession and saved an estimated 300,000 jobs. With the economy still lagging and states forced to slash their budgets, Congress must act again to prevent a wave of teacher layoffs that could damage the fragile recovery and hobble the school reform effort for years to come.


In March, Representative George Miller, a Democrat of California, introduced a jobs bill that included a $23 billion school rescue plan. Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat of Iowa, has since introduced a similar plan fashioned as an emergency spending bill. The House version is the better of the two.


The need for a second school stimulus plan was underscored on Monday by a new analysis from the American Association of School Administrators, which reported that cash-strapped districts were prepared to cut as many 275,000 jobs in the 2010-2011 school year.


The loss of that many paychecks — and the resulting decline in consumer spending — could kill off still more jobs in the communities where teachers and other school employees live.


Assuming that both houses pass their respective bills, House leaders should insist on two important changes.


First, they should discard ambiguous language in both bills that could allow that states to use the money for expenditures other than education. Second, they should remove a provision of the Senate version that exempts the states from adhering to important reform requirements laid out the original stimulus bill.


Under those conditions, states are barred from cutting school funds and using the new federal dollars to fill the gap. They are also required to create data driven systems for monitoring student progress and evaluating teachers — and to ensure that low-income and minority children are no longer disproportionately taught by unqualified teachers.


Despite arguments to the contrary, the school rescue plan can, in fact, do double duty.


It could both prevent layoffs and advance the cause of reform.






There are many important and urgent questions about the man accused of trying to set off a car bomb in Times Square.


Officials say Faisal Shahzad admitted to the attempt and said he learned bomb-making at a camp in Pakistan. Is Mr. Shahzad indeed connected to the Pakistani Taliban, which American officials now say seems likely? Was he working with others in this country who may be at large? How did Mr. Shahzad, a naturalized citizen whose family includes a senior Pakistani military officer, end up trying to murder countless people?


There are questions, too, about how the F.B.I. lost track of Mr. Shahzad for a time and why he was allowed to board an international flight despite a special alert issued by United States authorities.


The answers to such questions directly affect the security of Americans, and law enforcement officials are beginning to get them. That hasn't stopped a familiar group of politicians from cynically trying to use this incident as yet another excuse to weaken the rule of law and this country's barely recovering reputation.


Lawmakers like Senators John McCain of Arizona and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Representative Peter King of New York were immediately outraged that Mr. Shahzad — a United States citizen accused of an attempted attack on civilians in an American city — was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and eventually read his Miranda rights.


They are demanding that Mr. Shahzad be declared an illegal enemy combatant, stripped of any rights and brought before a military tribunal. They have opened another round of sneering at "the law enforcement approach" to terrorism. That is contemptuous, first of all, of the police officers whose quick actions may have saved untold numbers and the other people who identified and tracked Mr. Shahzad with amazing speed.


It also ignores reality. According to all reports, Mr. Shahzad started talking even before he was read his rights ("the law enforcement approach" allows investigators to question suspects immediately if there is an imminent threat to the public). When he was read his rights, Mr. Shahzad seems to have kept talking. The Times reported on Wednesday that he waived his right to a speedy arraignment — to go on talking.


To get around the inconvenient fact that Mr. Shahzad is a citizen, Mr. Lieberman is even calling for a law allowing Americans accused (not convicted) of unspecified crimes to be stripped of their citizenship and retroactively deprived of due process under the law.


This is not Mr. Lieberman's first foray into this dark territory. He is co-author with Mr. McCain of a bill that would require that anyone arrested on any terrorism-related charge, including American citizens, be declared an enemy combatant and tried in a military court.


Let's be clear about what works and what doesn't.


There is no evidence that vital intelligence has been lost, or a terrorist attack allowed to happen, because a suspect was questioned lawfully. The men who interrogated top-ranking terrorist suspects following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks said the prisoners gave up their valuable knowledge before being subjected to waterboarding and other illegal acts.


Federal courts have convicted hundreds of people on terrorism-related charges since 2001. The tribunals have obtained one guilty plea from a prisoner who may not have done anything and was subsequently released.


Senators McCain and Lieberman say military trials will show strength. Abandoning democratic institutions in the face of terrorism is an act of surrender. It will not make this country safer. It will make it more vulnerable.







There are countless parents who will not allow their children to play violent video games, in which players are able to kill, maim, dismember or sexually assault human images in depraved ways. The video game industry rates them, and some stores use that rating to decide whether to sell a particular game to a minor.


But California went too far in 2005 when it made it illegal to sell violent video games to minors. Retailers challenged the law, and a federal appeals court rightly ruled that it violates the First Amendment. Last week, the Supreme Court said that it would review that decision. We hope it agrees that the law is unconstitutional.


California's law imposes fines of up to $1,000 on retailers that sell violent video games to anyone under 18. To qualify, a game must, as a whole, lack serious literary artistic, political or scientific value for minors.


But video games are a form of free expression. Many have elaborate plots and characters, often drawn from fiction or history. The California law is a content-based restriction, something that is presumed invalid under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has made it clear that minors have First Amendment rights.


California has tried to lower the constitutional standard for upholding the law by comparing it to "variable obscenity," a First Amendment principle that allows banning the sale of some sexually explicit materials to minors that cannot be banned for adults. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, like other federal courts, rightly refused to extend that doctrine to violent games.


Under traditional First Amendment analysis, content-based speech restrictions can survive only if they are narrowly tailored to promote a compelling government interest. California says its interest is in preventing psychological or neurological damage to young people. The appeals court concluded that the evidence connecting violent video games to this sort of damage is too weak to make restricting the games a compelling government interest.


Even if the interest were legitimate, the state could have used less restrictive methods. The video game industry, like the movie business, has a voluntary rating system that provides buyers and sellers with information on the content of specific games, including age-specific ratings, ranging from "early childhood" to "adults only." The government could do more to promote the use of voluntary ratings by retailers and parents.


California lawmakers may have been right when they decided that video games in which players kill and maim are not the most socially beneficial form of expression. The Constitution, however, does not require speech to be ideal for it to be protected.






Sometimes politicians accidentally tell a very big truth. That's what happened at a New York State Democratic conference in Niagara Falls last week. Malcolm Smith, the State Senate president, was talking to party members about the redistricting that has to take place before the 2012 elections. If Democrats keep control of the State Senate next year, he vowed, "we are going to draw the lines so that Republicans will be in oblivion in the state of New York for the next 20 years."


We have long known that Albany's venal crowd — both parties — see political mapmaking as the best way to guarantee themselves lifetime employment. You just don't expect to hear them admit it in public.


The current system is gerrymandering, pure and cynical. It is hugely unfair to voters who deserve real elections with real choices rather than these old mapmaking scams that are the foundation of Albany's dysfunction and inertia.


If you don't believe us, just listen to Mr. Smith. He has made the case for why New York desperately needs a

new, fair, nonpartisan system for drawing Congressional and legislative districts. The answer is an independent, redistricting commission now being championed by Assemblyman Michael Gianaris and Senator David Valesky, both Democrats. Leaders of both houses should assure that this bill makes it to the floor for a vote in the next few weeks.


Voters should also put their representatives on notice right now: Support the creation of an honest redistricting commission or we'll vote you out in November. They must also insist that all candidates for governor take an airtight pledge that they will support the Gianaris-Valesky proposal — and, if elected, will veto any gerrymandered maps brought to the governor's desk.


Mr. Smith scoffs at such reforms. He says that Democrats can draw maps fairly. Republicans also promise that they could do it right if they were just back in control. Voters, don't you believe it.










Davidsonville, Md.

ALL eyes are on Faisal Shahzad, the man charged with the attempted bombing in Times Square on Saturday.


But perhaps we ought to be concerned a bit less with Mr. Shahzad, a failed terrorist now in custody, and significantly more with Sharif Mobley — a New Jersey native, a former high school wrestler and, until shortly before he moved to Yemen to allegedly join Al Qaeda, a maintenance worker at five nuclear power plants along the East Coast.


Since his arrest by Yemeni security forces in March, American law enforcement officials have taken pains to emphasize that Mr. Mobley's low security clearance makes it unlikely that he passed crucial details about American nuclear-plant security to Al Qaeda.


But it doesn't take top-level clearance to know how to set off a nuclear meltdown. All it takes is information on perimeter security — information Mr. Mobley possesses about every plant where he worked.


A nuclear power plant is very different from a coal- or gas-burning plant. If something goes wrong at such a plant, boilers can be quickly shut down, averting disaster.


But there's no way to quickly shut off a reactor: the heat that builds up inside it is so intense that even if something goes wrong, cooling water must continue to circulate through its systems for days before it is safe.


If the cooling system malfunctions, even if the rest of the plant is operating safely, the heat will literally melt the reactor and its concrete containment shell, releasing radioactive gas into the atmosphere — in other words, a partial nuclear meltdown like that at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979.


And it turns out that damaging a reactor's cooling system is a lot easier than getting to the core. You don't have to obtain access to the nuclear fuel, get into the control room or penetrate the containment shell. Most of the critical components of the cooling system, including pumps and water intake pipes, sit unprotected outside. If you can get a car bomb or a team with demolition charges near these components, you can shut off the cooling water to the reactor, and physics will take care of the rest.


Even low-level employees at a nuclear plant would have the information necessary to pull off such an attack, like the number of guards, their weapons and procedures at entry gates — even someone as low-level as Sharif Mobley.


We don't yet know what kind of plant-security information, if any, Mr. Mobley passed on to Al Qaeda. But we do know that the organization has been interested in attacking American nuclear plants for years; it even considered including a plant on its Sept. 11 target list.


For now, we have no choice but to assume that Mr. Mobley did in fact pass on details about plant security, and we need to take immediate steps to head off any possible terrorist attack. Defensive schemes at the plants where Mr. Mobley worked need to be significantly changed so that his information is no longer of value to any potential attacker. Guard procedures, for example, must be altered. Where such changes cannot adequately compensate for the potential risk Mr. Mobley presents, then defenses need to be strengthened. Security perimeters need to be widened. And more barriers must be put in place against car bombs.


Once we have dealt with the plants where Mr. Mobley worked, we need to institute similar procedures at the remainder of the nuclear plants in the United States, because the unfortunate truth is that the defensive schemes at these sites are essentially all alike.


For too long we've assumed that a nuclear plant is safe as long as its reactor is protected. Sharif Mobley knew better. Now, chances are, so does Al Qaeda.


Charles Faddis, a former officer at the Central Intelligence Agency, is the author of "Willful Neglect: The Dangerous Illusion of Homeland Security."








Katmandu, Nepal

IN her 1967 travelogue, the Irish writer Dervla Murphy described my homeland, Nepal, as a country that had just emerged from centuries of isolation, and was baffled about how to be part of the modern world. Most of what the Nepalese — and she — did was to wait for something to happen.


"We waited endlessly for everything," Ms. Murphy wrote. "For glasses of tea to be carried on trays from the bazaar, for a policeman's bunch of keys to be fetched from his home down the road, for an adjustable rubber stamp which would not adjust to be dissected (and finally abandoned in favor of a pen), for a passport officer to track down Ireland (whose existence he seriously questioned) in a dog-eared atlas from which the relevant pages had long since been torn, and for the chief customs officer, who was afflicted by a virulent form of dysentery, to withdraw to a nearby field between inspecting each piece of luggage."


The main wait in Nepal, at present, is for an end to the nationwide general strike that began on Sunday. The Maoists, who led our Constituent Assembly until losing their coalition partners last year, have trucked tens of thousands of party cadres into Katmandu to enforce the strike. They are trying to stage what they call a "people's movement" to form an all-party government — with the Maoists in control.


Katmandu has come to a halt as bands of Maoists brandishing sticks march through the streets ensuring that government offices and businesses stay shuttered. Schools are closed, households are running out of food, and even money is in short supply, since all the banks are closed. Tempers are flaring. It would not take much for people's discontent with the strike to tip into civil unrest.


Even before the strike, the country had entered an advanced state of entropy. Unable to meet demand, the Nepal Electricity Authority rations power. Most neighborhoods get only about 12 hours of electricity, mostly after 10 p.m. People must seek out alternative sources of energy, or conduct much of their work outside of normal hours. Electric kettles, ovens, freezers — even lights — are a luxury that most forgo. People carry flashlights at night and read by candlelight.


The other utilities are similarly overstretched. Katmandu's mains fill with water only once every six days, for about three hours — often at two in the morning. Homeowners must scramble to fill their tanks then, or else truck in water from expensive private companies. The telephone networks are always busy. Calls do not go through or are reduced to gibberish: "I can't hear you. Can you hear me?" The city's air is rank with dust and exhaust; its rivers are open sewers that pedestrians scurry by, noses covered.


There are too many vehicles for the few tortuous roads. In the place of public transport, fleets of private vans career from stop to stop with their hapless, nauseated passengers. The existing health care facilities do not meet the needs of the three million residents. There are few jobs. To add to the insecurity, an earthquake — a big one — is long overdue. "Unsustainable" is the word that springs to mind when one thinks of the future of Katmandu.


Bad as this is, it is not the worst of Nepal's woes. Since long before the strike, we have been waiting to discover what kind of country this is to become. Nepal was promised a new constitution in 2006, when the decade-long Maoist insurgency ended with an agreement between the insurgents and the democratic political parties to make a new Nepal, a federal democratic republic that would replace the autocracies, monarchies and struggling democracies of the past.


This Assembly has, since then, set 11 thematic committees to work drafting legislation. Unfortunately, some of these committees have drafted parallel (and irreconcilable) laws, leaving key issues unresolved. Should the new Nepal be an Indian-style parliamentary democracy or a Chinese-style party dictatorship? Should the Supreme Court be independent, or subject to parliamentary review? What should be the boundaries of the federal states, and how should these states share power with each other and the center? Should executive power reside with the president or the prime minister?


All this — and more — is undecided. A final draft of the constitution is supposed to be submitted by May 28. The deadline will obviously be missed.


And so, instead of waiting for something as constructive and exalted as a constitution, the Nepalese are waiting for more mundane things like for the strike to end, for electricity and water to return.


This is surely not the future Nepal was hoping for when Dervla Murphy came here 40 years ago. We Nepalese are still baffled about how to be part of the modern world. For this we are still, and seemingly forever, waiting.


Manjushree Thapa is the author, most recently, of the novel "Seasons of Flight."







There seems to be a strong sentiment in Congress that the only constitutional right suspected terrorists have is the right to bear arms.


"I think you're going too far here," said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday. He was speaking in opposition to a bill that would keep people on the F.B.I. terrorist watch list from buying guns and explosives.


Say what?


Yes, if you are on the terrorist watch list, the authorities can keep you from getting on a plane but not from purchasing an AK-47. This makes sense to Congress because, as Graham accurately pointed out, "when the founders sat down and wrote the Constitution, they didn't consider flying."


The subject of guns turns Congress into a twilight zone. People who are perfectly happy to let the government wiretap phones go nuts when the government wants to keep track of weapons permits. A guy who stands up in the House and defends the torture of terror suspects will nearly faint with horror at the prospect of depriving someone on the watch list of the right to purchase a pistol.


"We make it so easy for dangerous people to get guns. If it's the Second Amendment, it doesn't matter if they're Osama bin Laden," said Paul Helmke, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.


Graham wanted to make it clear that just because he doesn't want to stop gun purchases by possible terrorists, that doesn't mean he's not tough on terror.


"I am all into national security. ... I want to stop reading these guys their Miranda rights," he said.


The Obama administration has been criticized by many Republicans for having followed the rules about how long you can question a terror suspect before you read him his rights. These objections have been particularly loud since the arrest of Faisal Shahzad in the attempted Times Square bombing. No one seems moved by the fact that Shahzad, after being told that he had the right to remain silent, continued talking incessantly.


"Nobody in their right mind would expect a Marine to read someone caught on the battlefield their rights," Graham said.


Terror threats make politicians behave somewhat irrationally. But the subject of guns makes them act like a paranoid mother ferret protecting her litter. The National Rifle Association, the fiercest lobby in Washington, grades every member of Congress on how well they toe the N.R.A. line. Lawmakers with heavily rural districts would rather vote to legalize carrying concealed weapons in kindergarten than risk getting less than 100 percent.


The Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on "Terrorists and Guns: The Nature of the Threat and Proposed Reforms," concerned a modest bill sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. It would allow the government to stop gun sales to people on the F.B.I. terror watch list the same way it does people who have felony convictions. Because Congress has repeatedly rejected this idea, 1,119 people on the watch list have been able to purchase weapons over the last six years. One of them bought 50 pounds of military grade explosives.


Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City and his police commissioner, Ray Kelly, dutifully trekked down to Washington to plead for the bill on behalf of the nation's cities. The only thing they got for their trouble was praise for getting the city through the Times Square incident in one piece. And almost everyone had a good word for the T-shirt vendor who first noticed the suspicious car and raised an alert. Really, if someone had introduced a bill calling for additional T-shirt vendors, it would have sailed through in a heartbeat.


Gun legislation, not so popular.


Lautenberg's bill has been moldering in committee, and that is not going to change.


"Let me emphasize that none of us wants a terrorist to be able to purchase a gun," said Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who nevertheless went on to argue against allowing the government to use the terrorist watch list to keep anyone from being able to purchase, um, a gun.


"Some of the people pushing this idea are also pushing the idea of banning handguns," said Graham, darkly. "I don't think banning handguns makes me safer."


The terrorist watch list is huge, and some of the names on it are undoubtedly there in error. The bill would allow anyone denied the right to purchase a firearm an appeal process, but that would deprive the would-be purchaser some precious gun-owning time. Before we subject innocent Americans "to having to go into court and pay the cost of going to court to get their gun rights back, I want to slow down and think about this," said Graham.


Slow is going to be very slow, and the thinking could go on for decades.







The President's Cancer Panel is the Mount Everest of the medical mainstream, so it is astonishing to learn that it is poised to join ranks with the organic food movement and declare: chemicals threaten our bodies.


The cancer panel is releasing a landmark 200-page report on Thursday, warning that our lackadaisical approach to regulation may have far-reaching consequences for our health.


I've read an advance copy of the report, and it's an extraordinary document. It calls on America to rethink the way we confront cancer, including much more rigorous regulation of chemicals.


Traditionally, we reduce cancer risks through regular doctor visits, self-examinations and screenings such as mammograms. The President's Cancer Panel suggests other eye-opening steps as well, such as giving preference to organic food, checking radon levels in the home and microwaving food in glass containers rather than plastic.


In particular, the report warns about exposures to chemicals during pregnancy, when risk of damage seems to be greatest. Noting that 300 contaminants have been detected in umbilical cord blood of newborn babies, the study warns that: "to a disturbing extent, babies are born 'pre-polluted.' "


It's striking that this report emerges not from the fringe but from the mission control of mainstream scientific and medical thinking, the President's Cancer Panel. Established in 1971, this is a group of three distinguished experts who review America's cancer program and report directly to the president.


One of the seats is now vacant, but the panel members who joined in this report are Dr. LaSalle Leffall Jr., an oncologist and professor of surgery at Howard University, and Dr. Margaret Kripke, an immunologist at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Both were originally appointed to the panel by former President George W. Bush.


"We wanted to let people know that we're concerned, and that they should be concerned," Professor Leffall told me.


The report blames weak laws, lax enforcement and fragmented authority, as well as the existing regulatory presumption that chemicals are safe unless strong evidence emerges to the contrary.


"Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety," the report says. It adds: "Many known or suspected carcinogens are completely unregulated."


Industry may howl. The food industry has already been fighting legislation in the Senate backed by Dianne Feinstein of California that would ban bisphenol-A, commonly found in plastics and better known as BPA, from food and beverage containers.


Studies of BPA have raised alarm bells for decades, and the evidence is still complex and open to debate. That's life: In the real world, regulatory decisions usually must be made with ambiguous and conflicting data. The panel's point is that we should be prudent in such situations, rather than recklessly approving chemicals of uncertain effect.


The President's Cancer Panel report will give a boost to Senator Feinstein's efforts. It may also help the prospects of the Safe Chemicals Act, backed by Senator Frank Lautenberg and several colleagues, to improve the safety of chemicals on the market.


Some 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and they include Democrats and Republicans alike. Protecting ourselves and our children from toxins should be an effort that both parties can get behind — if enough members of Congress are willing to put the public interest ahead of corporate interests.


One reason for concern is that some cancers are becoming more common, particularly in children. We don't know why that is, but the proliferation of chemicals in water, foods, air and household products is widely suspected as a factor. I'm hoping the President's Cancer Panel report will shine a stronger spotlight on environmental causes of health problems — not only cancer, but perhaps also diabetes, obesity and autism.


This is not to say that chemicals are evil, and in many cases the evidence against a particular substance is balanced by other studies that are exonerating. To help people manage the uncertainty prudently, the report has a section of recommendations for individuals:


¶Particularly when pregnant and when children are small, choose foods, toys and garden products with fewer endocrine disruptors or other toxins. (Information about products is at or


¶For those whose jobs may expose them to chemicals, remove shoes when entering the house and wash work clothes separately from the rest of the laundry.


¶Filter drinking water.


¶Store water in glass or stainless steel containers, or in plastics that don't contain BPA or phthalates (chemicals used to soften plastics). Microwave food in ceramic or glass containers.


¶Give preference to food grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers and growth hormones. Avoid meats that are cooked well-done.


¶Check radon levels in your home. Radon is a natural source of radiation linked to cancer.








For many years, U.S. lawmakers have been able to see the coming train wreck of excessive federal borrowing and have chosen to do nothing. Now the sovereign debt crises sweeping through Europe are sounding alarms loud enough that even Congress should be able to hear them. If not, the ugly scenes in Europe could, as the saying goes, be coming to a theater near you.

The situation is particularly acute in Greece, where massive debts have forced the government to propose

widely unpopular cuts in salaries, bonuses and pensions coupled with significant tax hikes. Interest rates have soared, and deadly riots have broken out in Athens.


To be sure, there are huge differences between Greece and the United States. Here, the federal government represents about 20% of the U.S. economy, whereas the Greek government is about 40% of its economy. Washington's big spending is on benefit programs such as Medicare and Social Security, rather than on compensation for a massive and militant cadre of public employees. And, perhaps most important, the USA doesn't share a currency with other countries, giving the nation more flexibility to print money if needed.


Before Americans get too smug, however, they should note the obvious: Debt is debt. If too much Greek borrowing can send world financial markets into turmoil like that of the past couple of days, imagine the damage a U.S. debt crisis would inflict.


Washington's public debt is nearly $8.5 trillion, which comes to about 58% of the U.S. economy, compared with ratios exceeding 100% in places like Greece. But the U.S. debt is rising fast, and its true size is masked by the surplus run by the Social Security trust fund. Factoring that in, the total national debt is about $13 trillion, or 90% of the economy. Including unfunded liabilities for such programs as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the federal government is looking at a long-term shortfall of about $62 trillion, or about $200,000 for every American, according to thePeter G. Peterson Foundation, a group devoted to promoting awareness about public borrowing.


These numbers should come as a shock. But in Washington, there appear to be two acceptable responses — denial and finger-pointing.


Nothing illustrates this more than Congress' failure in January to create a bipartisan commission just to propose ways of reducing the debt, forcing President Obama to create such a commission with an executive order.


Many Democrats cling to the fatuous and deceitful argument that commission members should keep their hands off Medicare and Social Security, which is tantamount to saying they should do nothing. Those two programs alone consume one-third of federal spending and constitute the vast bulk of the long-term debt problem.


At the same time, many Republicans— including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who had previously championed the commission approach— voted against the panel because they fear it will propose tax increases as a necessary piece of any solution.


Unless this type of petty behavior ends soon, and there are few indications that it will, the economic tragedy in Athens will simply be an out-of-town tryout for the show headed for Washington.







Ryan Avent,The Economist: In the scheme of things, a Greek default is not a big deal. Greece is a small country, and exposure to Greek debt is relatively limited. A Portuguese default would be a little worse than a Greek default, and real trouble in Spain and Italy would be very bad indeed. It makes little sense to fret over the sacrifices Greek citizens can or cannot make to achieve the necessary fiscal adjustment. The first, second and third priority have to be containing the crisis. European leaders seem depressingly slow to grasp this.


Nouriel Roubini,The Christian Science Monitor: While the markets these days are worrying about Greece, it is only the tip of the iceberg, or the canary in the coal mine of a much broader range of fiscal crises. Today it is Greece. Tomorrow it will be Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Iceland. Sooner or later Japan and the U.S. will be at the core of the problem, shaking the global economy. ...


In Europe, where tax rates are already very high, the right adjustment is cutting spending instead of raising taxes further. In the U.S., the average tax burden as a share of GDP is much lower than in other advanced economies. The right adjustment for the U.S. would be to phase in revenue increases gradually over time so that you don't kill the recovery while controlling the growth of government spending. ...


In Greece (with yields higher than 12% on two-year bonds) or Spain or Portugal, the bond markets are forcing an adjustment. In spite of the recession, the markets are telling them to either straighten out their problems or go bankrupt. Unfortunately, there is no such adjustment being forced upon Washington. ... As a result, the political system is going to resist fiscal consolidation. This means the risk of something serious happening in the U.S. in the next two or three years is significant.


Hamish McRae, The Independent: Governments will be strapped for cash, year in, year out, for a generation. Demography will see to that. A shrinking workforce paying, through taxation, for a rising number of retirees, will redefine concepts of fairness and equality. Is it "fair" to tax hardworking young people to pay the pensions of people who have not been self-disciplined enough to save for their own retirement? Or pay for the health care of people who have undermined their health by smoking and not taking any exercise? You can see the anger of the young in Greece, an anger that will be replicated elsewhere as young workers realize what the Baby Boomers have done.







Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist. Bob Beckel is a liberal Democratic strategist. But as longtime friends, they can often find common ground on issues that lawmakers in Washington cannot. View the video version of this column at USA TODAY's YouTube channel at


Today: Cutting government.


Cal: With all the hand-wringing about the swelling U.S. deficit, you'd think Washington would get the message. If you're spending more than you're "earning," — or rather, taxing — you need to start cutting. Americans who have to balance their checkbooks get this.


Bob: You just said it, though: have to balance. If you have unlimited funds, as Congress seems to think it does, then it's a financial free-for-all.


Cal: Well, now that the president's deficit commission has been seated, let's send them down the right path: Cut first. And since we're talking about trillions in red ink as far as the eye can see, that means these cuts will almost certainly have to hurt someone.


Bob: Indeed, but it's better that we do it now rather than when — like Greece— a gun's being held to our head.


Cal: OK, so let's get going. Where to cut? I'd begin with a question: Can state and local governments and private industry more efficiently and at less expense accomplish the goals of a Cabinet department or a federal agency? If they can, let them.


Bob: No disagreement there.


1 Department of Education


Cal: New Jersey's new governor, Chris Christie, is trying to reduce the size and cost of state government. If he succeeds — and I believe the mood in that state is for revolutionary reform — New Jersey could be a model for the rest of the country, including Washington. These include, but are not limited to, removing tenure for incompetent teachers and cutting their bloated pensions, which were a gift to the unions in exchange for votes for Democrats. So No. 1, let's start with cuts at the Department of Education.


Bob: I am one liberal who believes this department spends too much money on national programs like No Child Left Behind that are best addressed at the state level. I could easily support cutting that department in half, with the savings going to the states — ideally starting with higher salaries for teachers.


Cal: So perhaps the great Ronald Reagan was right, after all, when he talked of eliminating the department.


Bob: Let's not get carried away!


2 Department of Agriculture


Cal: Ideally, I wish it were possible for the federal government to perform only those tasks specified in the Constitution and leave all the rest to the states, as specified in the 10th Amendment. But I realize that won't happen, so next up: the Department of Agriculture, which has roughly one employee for every 15 farmers. You think we could find some fat there?


Bob: Absolutely. Between 1996 and 2002, federal subsides to farmers have grown to $121 billion. In recent years, 72% of those subsidies went to huge corporate agribusinesses and the largest privately owned farms. So you have a symbiotic relationship between government and big farmers, but the American people are left holding the bill.


3 Faith-based initiatives


Cal: The government should not be collecting money to fund religious groups. Let's leave that to the churches. As such, I'd do away with any federal money going to religious organizations. This brainchild of President Bush, while noble in its intention, is an unnecessary intrusion by the government into something that ought to be the exclusive preserve of "religious" people whose allegiance is less to Washington than to a higher authority.


Bob: Right on. In 2004, the White House "faith czar" under Bush announced that $40 billion in federal funds were then available to religious groups. President Obama has embraced this concept, even as he has tried to put his own mark on it. For many reasons — fiscal, religious and otherwise — this program needs to end.


4 Future bailouts


Cal: I was opposed to all the bailouts — from banks to GM and Chrysler— which were begun in the Bush administration and continued in the Obama administration. The threat of failure with no bailout is the best insurance that people will make better decisions and take fewer risks. As long as the prospects for a federal bailout exist (under the "too big to fail" scenario) corporations will take risks they otherwise might not take.


Bob: I didn't like bailouts either, but the reality was that the domestic auto industry, long a mainstay of American manufacturing, would have been left with only one company (Ford), not to mention the loss of hundreds of thousands of auto manufacturing jobs. AIG particularly irked me, but had it gone under as the largest insurance company, the world may well have been thrown into a depression. I agree on bailouts of the big banks. Goldman Sachs received billions in 2008 from taxpayers and announced record profits last year. Outrageous.


Cal: Well, let's agree on this — no more bailouts. Let's make sure businesses large and small realize once again that if you risk it all, you can lose it all. The government should be there to protect the people, not to redirect the people's money.


Bob: Close enough, though I'd say no more bailouts unless it's an absolute national emergency. And even then, only as a last resort.


5 Defense Department


Bob: I know that Republicans always harp on Democrats for cutting defense spending, but when you're talking about a piece of the budget pie this large, it has to be on the table when you're talking about cuts.


Cal: I'll buy that.

Bob: The Defense Department will receive $534 billion in this fiscal year. And billions are wasted each year on unnecessary defense programs — see the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet — which are not reasonable in a post-Cold War era.


Cal: I completely agree. A balance must be found between necessary weapons systems for our strong defense and pork for members of Congress interested in defending their seats.


Bob: The key in selling defense cuts is letting the American people know that less is sometimes more. Losing the next whiz-bang fighter jet won't make us less safe.


6 Entitlement programs


Cal: I've saved the best for last: If we have any real hopes of getting our spending under control, we have to — have to! — cut entitlement spending.


Bob: As the Obama administration has suggested, billions of dollars are lost each year simply to waste and fraud in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. These can and should be cut. As for the granddaddy of entitlements, Social Security, the time has come to increase the age for payments to 70. When the program was launched, the intention was not to dole out 30 years of benefits. But as we live longer, that's often the case. We should also means-test so that wealthier retirees get less.


Cal: Reagan, with the help of Democrats, had the courage to tackle Social Security reform in the 1980s. But where are the courageous politicians today when it comes to such meaningful reforms and substantial cuts in government?








WASHINGTON — As the retirement of veteran Democrat Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin points out, the 2010 elections are debunking any notion that this is politics as usual.


Three overarching factors are creating the atmosphere:


First, former House speaker Tip O'Neill's axiom that all politics is local is inoperable. Both sides are nationalizing the congressional elections of 2010. The national winds are a gale against incumbents, and more of them are Democrats.


Second, the choices are so stark that you can also set aside the old saw that there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans. Campaigns will be ideological and nasty, and some veterans, like Obey, are going out on their own terms.


And third, this election is as much about 2012 as it is about right now. More on that point will come later.


Before George W. Bush in 2002, the sitting president's party dating back to Dwight Eisenhower lost an average of 19 House seats and one Senate seat in his first midterm election. In an angry anti-incumbent environment, Democrats would consider losses of that scale a victory.


Every election in the second year of a president's first term in office is a de facto referendum on his performance. If a president's party controls Congress, as Obama's does, it is also a measure of that party's popularity versus the public's natural urge to have checks and balances.


More than any year since 1994, both factors are in play for President Obama and for the biggest Democratic majority in Congress since then. This is a dramatically different midterm than 2002, when the country had yet to come unraveled from its post-9/11 unity. Bush's Republicans gained eight House and four Senate seats in that environment.


By contrast, Obama and the Democratic Congress have done or aspire to big things that have divided the country, including health care reform and massive government stimulus spending.


Republicans and Democrats can't even agree on the message of the shocking Massachusetts Senate race in January, when Republican Scott Brown took the seat held for nearly four decades by Democrat Edward Kennedy, who died of brain cancer.


Democratic national Chairman Tim Kaine called Massachusetts "the ghost of Christmas future," an early warning for Democrats that he says will not be repeated.


Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who is in charge of recruiting and helping GOP Senate candidates, said Massachusetts was "the tip of the iceberg." As in, more unforeseen damage is ahead for Democrats.


In recent breakfasts with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Kaine and Cornyn laid out their respective parties' 2010 bottom lines.


Even though Obama is not on the ballot, Democrats would like the elections to be about him. The Democratic National Committee will spend $50 million trying to get 15 million "first-time" Obama voters from 2008 — primarily single women, blacks and Hispanics — to vote in elections that they usually ignore.


They will do it by arguing that "now is not the time to stop, now that we are climbing up the ladder," Kaine said.


"You see economic recovery, you see health care reform," he said. "I think the president's key approach to these voters is, 'You voted for me for a reason. You wanted to see change, and I delivered it.' "


Republicans also want this to be an Obama Change election.


"There is a raging debate about the size and scope of the federal government and the direction the American people think (the country) should be going," Cornyn said.


"I am actually fine with that ... because, when I look at the results delivered by the Democrat majority and this administration, I see out-of-control spending, high unemployment, tax increases, half trillion-dollar cuts in Medicare, cuts in missile defense, Mirandizing terrorists, failure to secure our border, $2 trillion in new debt, and more government control and more intrusion in our daily lives," Cornyn said. "And so I think there will be a referendum on those results, and a clear choice between a government in which one party has complete control ... and the kinds of checks and balances that Americans, I think, instinctually prefer."


Kaine defines success as Democrats holding onto majorities for Obama.


If Democrats do not do that, or even if they come out of November with narrower majorities in the House and Senate, the second two years of Obama's term could be contentious and unproductive. Unless, that is, Obama decides that to get re-elected, it will be necessary to replicate Bill Clinton in 1995 and cut deals with Republicans and centrist Democrats on deficit reduction, taxes, energy, the environment and immigration reform.


If the Democrats expect to hold Congress long term, they must hold the line this year, especially in the Senate. As analyst Charlie Cook points out, the terms of 65 U.S. senators end in either 2012 or 2014. Democrats hold 43 of those seats.


Chuck Raasch writes from Washington for Gannett, publisher of USA TODAY. Contact him at, follow him at or join in the conversation at









The dreadfully low turnout on Tuesday for Hamilton County's Democratic and Republican primary elections was foreseeable, but dispiriting nonetheless. Fewer than 18,000 voters, or a bit more than 8 percent of the county's 207,858 registered voters, cast an early ballot or went to the polls on Election Day. Even so, the vote -- by a disheartening minority of voters -- heralded significant changes in the composition of the County Commission and a change in leadership in one of the county's major elective offices.


Bill Hullander easily outpolled incumbent Carl Levi in the Republican primary in the Hamilton County trustee's race. Mr. Hullander is effectively guaranteed office. He will not face opposition in the August general election . Mr. Hullander, who gave up his District 9 commission seat to challenge Mr. Levi, campaigned vigorously, telling voters that he could run the trustee's office more efficiently, more economically and in a more citizen-friendly manner than Mr. Levi. Voters obviously took that message to heart.


Keep promises, broaden view


Mr. Hullander's task when he assumes office will be to keep promises made in the election campaign become fact. He'll also have to broaden his outlook. As commissioner, he represented both district residents and the county as a whole, though the bulk of his attention was directed to the sometimes parochial interests of the district. The trustee's office requires a more open-minded outlook.


In the other countywide race, incumbent Mayor Claude Ramsey coasted to victory over Republican opponents Basil Marceaux Sr. and Richard Rankin. The primary triumph does not guarantee Mr. Ramsey another term. He still must defeat Richard D. Ford, an independent, in the Aug. 5 general election.


Mr. Hullander's departure from the commission created a wide open Republican primary among equally conservative candidates to succeed him. Chester Bankston, currently a member of the Hamilton County School Board, won a clear majority of votes, defeating Gary W. Neil, Richard Tornquist and John C. Turner for the nomination. The nomination is tantamount to election. Mr. Bankston faces no opposition in August.


Successor to Adams

In District 9, the other commission race without an incumbent, Tim Boyd defeated Jack M. Martin in the Republican primary. Mr. Boyd, a staunch conservative, will face Kenny Smith, a current member of the Hamilton County Board of Education, who had no opposition in the Democratic primary as well as James E. (Jim) Winters and William T. (Terry) Turner, both independents, in August. The winner of what promises to be a heated contest will succeed Curtis Adams on the commission.


One other incumbent -- Richard Casavant of District 2 -- will not return to the County Commission, though that decision was made by voters rather than the officeholder. Mr. Casavant, whose experience and broad view of county issues will be missed, was defeated in the Republican primary by Jim Fields, an energetic political newcomer and strict conservative whose triumph has to be regarded as a surprise. Mr. Fields still has one hurdle to overcome before taking office. He will face independent David W. Cantrell in August.


Incumbents rule

There was less drama in other races for County Commission seats. Incumbents generally ruled on Election Day.


In District 1, Fred Skillern easily turned back challenger Laura M. Oakley in the Republican primary. He'll keep his seat. He has no opposition in the August election. Jim Coppinger of District 3 will return to office, too. He had no opposition in Tuesday's Republican primary and has no opponent in the general election.


In both District 4 and District 5, incumbent Democrats easily won primary races and are assured of retaining their posts. Neither Warren Mackey in District 4 nor Greg Beck in District 5 face general election opposition. Mr. Mackey easily defeated Debbie Gaines, whose name appeared on the ballot though she had withdrawn her candidacy. Mr. Beck outpolled the the Rev. Bernie Miller, a repeat challenger who once sought the same post as a Republican.


In District 6, neither John Allen Brooks, the incumbent and a Democrat, nor Joe Graham, a Republican, had primary opposition. They'll face off in the August election. In District 7, incumbent Larry Henry beat Gordon L. Anderson in the Republican primary. He has no opposition in the August election.


Experienced panel


The August election will determine the final makeup and political outlook of the incoming County Commission, but with Mr. Skillern, Mr. Coppinger, Mr. Mackey, Mr. Beck and Mr. Henry certain to return and the addition of Mr. Bankston, the prospects for an experienced, albeit conservative, commission are good. Given the positive momentum in county affairs and the prospects for a bright future, it is imperative that voters take far greater interest in the August elections than they did in the just concluded primary. Perhaps they will.


An expanded ballot that includes county races not contested Tuesday, a high-profile congressional race and campaigns for governor should attract attention. If it does not, those important elections, like those Tuesday, likely will be determined by a minority of voters.







For the 59th time in as many years, the United States will observe the National Day of Prayer today.


This tradition began in 1952, when President Harry S Truman signed the annual observance into law.


Many Americans today will offer up prayers of thanksgiving for the blessings of life and liberty that we enjoy as a people. Many will also ask God to protect our country and to turn our hearts back to Him in this time of terrorist threats as well as economic turmoil, when many do not have jobs.


The theme of this year's observance is "Prayer -- for such a time as this." Organizers are reminding participants of God's promises toward those who place their faith in Him. The verse associated with today's event is Nahum 1:7: "The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him."


The only negative surrounding this year's observance is that a federal judge in Wisconsin recently declared the federal declaration of the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. That is an absurd ruling because the Constitution forbids the official establishment of a state religion, not the free exercise of religious liberties, which is exactly what the National Day of Prayer encourages.


Prayer is worthwhile and good every day of the year, but there is nothing wrong with setting aside a day when Americans unite to praise God and to seek His blessings, pardon and protection.







The big "upset" result in Tuesday's Hamilton County Republican primary election was the victory of Bill Hullander over incumbent Hamilton County Trustee Carl Levi.


Mr. Hullander was well known as a county commissioner. Mr. Levi was well known as county trustee and before that as Chattanooga city treasurer. Both are good men.


Since there was no candidate for trustee in the Democratic primary, Mr. Hullander apparently will have an easy run in the August general election, assuring changes in the trustee's office


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Democrat and Republican voters chose their party nominees Tuesday for the nine important Hamilton County Commission seats that will be finally decided by voters in the August general election.


Here are the primary results:


District 1 -- Commissioner Fred Skillern was the winner over Laura Oakley in the Republican primary. There was no Democrat primary candidate.


District 2 -- James Fields defeated incumbent Commissioner Richard Casavant in the Republican primary. There was no Democrat candidate. Mr. Fields faces independent David Cantrell in August.


District 3 -- Commissioner Jim Coppinger was the unopposed Republican primary winner. There was no Democrat candidate.


District 4 -- Commissioner Warren Mackey won Democrat re-nomination over Debbie Gaines. There was no Republican candidate.


District 5 -- Commissioner Greg Beck won Democrat re-nomination over Bernie Miller. There was no Republican candidate.


District 6 -- Joe Graham won the Republican nomination with no opposition, while Democrat Commissioner John Allen Brooks won re-nomination with no opposition.


District 7 -- Commissioner Larry Henry won Republican re-nomination over Gordon Anderson. There was no Democrat candidate.


District 8 -- Tim Boyd won the Republican nomination over Jack Martin, while Kenny Smith won the Democrat nomination with no opposition. Independents Terry Turner and Jim Winters will also be in the August election.


District 9 -- Chester Bankston won the Republican nomination over Gary Neil and Richard Tornquist. There was no Democrat candidate.


With six commission seats settled, there will be interesting contests in August for the three others.







There were several winners in Tuesday's Republican and Democrat primary elections who comfortably will have no opponents in the August general election. But some will have opponents in August.


Able County Mayor Claude Ramsey deservedly had large re-election victory margins over his two opponents in Tuesday's Republican Party primary. There is no Democrat running to oppose Mayor Ramsey in August, but he will face independent Richard Ford in August.


Republican Sheriff Jim Hammond was unopposed in the Republican primary. He will be opposed in the August general election by Democrat Lloyd Clendenen, who had no opponent in his primary.


Democrat County Clerk Bill Knowles, unopposed in his primary, will be challenged in August by R. Chester Heathington Jr., who was unopposed for nomination in the Republican primary.


Republican County Register of Deeds Pam Hurst, unopposed in her primary, will face Democrat Jeff Brown in August. He was unopposed in his primary.


Democrat Juvenile Court Clerk Ron Swafford, unopposed in his primary, will be opposed in the August election by Republican Gary Behler, who had no primary opponent.


Two fine officials who comfortably were unopposed in winning their Democrat primary election re-nominations and have no Republican opponents in August are Circuit Court Clerk Paula Thompson and Criminal Court Clerk Gwen Tidwell.







It is no coincidence that Democrats in Congress want to give both Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico voting membership in Congress. They know that a proposed House member for Washington and a proposal that could lead to statehood for Puerto Rico would guarantee more Democrats in Congress.


Fortunately, the plan to give the District of Columbia a voting member in the House has been blocked -- for now.


But some are pushing to make Puerto Rico the 51st state. Though the U.S. Senate has yet to act, the House has approved a bill to have Puerto Ricans vote on whether they like their current "commonwealth" status with the United States. If most say they are not satisfied, they would then vote on outright independence, U.S. statehood or something in between.


But since 1967, they have voted in three referendums against U.S. statehood -- for good reason: They now don't have to pay U.S. income taxes.


Unfortunately, the process is rigged by Congress in favor of a pro-statehood vote by Puerto Rico sooner or later. While most Puerto Ricans oppose statehood, a big minority favors it. So by insisting on one referendum after another, Democrats in Congress hope that eventually they will get a narrow pro-statehood vote.


While Congress would still have to approve statehood for Puerto Rico, Democrats would push for it furiously so they could hand the island two U.S. senators and up to six seats in the House of Representatives -- most or all of them Democrats.


The United States has a mutually beneficial relationship with Puerto Rico. There is no economic, military or other reason why Puerto Rico should become the 51st state.

This blatant power grab should be defeated in the Senate.