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Saturday, May 8, 2010

EDITORIAL 08.05.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



Month may 08, edition 000502, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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





































  2. VICTORY IN EUROPE -- 1945!





























As Britain is saddled with a hung Parliament — the first since 1974 — a cloud of uncertainty has descended over forming the new Government. Although the Tories are the clear winners in this poll, the Conservative Party has stopped short of the magical number. Labour, of course, is the clear loser. Both parties have fallen short of the magic 326 figure in the 650-seat Parliament, with the Conservatives coming closest. Labour is a poor second with 258 seats — not unexpected and a testimony to the British voters' anger towards the incumbent Government for not doing enough to shore up a flagging economy — while the Liberal Democrats, the much-hyped third political force that had supposedly turned the traditional two-horse race into a three-cornered fight, notched up only 57 seats — far below expected. Since conventions in British politics play a crucial role, it is expected that the present political imbroglio will lead to a tussle over who would have the first try at cobbling together a workable Government. According to some, the party in power — which would be Labour in this case — has the traditional right to try and form a Government first. This is what happened in 1974 after Edward Heath's Conservative Party — the incumbent — narrowly lost to Harold Wilson's Labour. It was only when the former was unable to form a Government with the support of the Liberals that Labour was able to step in. Nonetheless, there is another group which says it is the party with the maximum number of seats that has the moral right to see if it can form a viable Government — which at present would be the Conservative Party. Incumbent Prime Minister and Labour leader Gordon Brown too seems to be of this view and has publicly said so. Subsequently, Conservative leader David Cameron has already initiated talks with the Liberal Democrats and their leader Nick Clegg for the latter's support.

However, none of this means that the UK is close to a stable Government. Analysts believe that there could be days of political wrangling and even horse-trading ahead. In that sense, Mr Brown's move to let the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have a go at Government formation first might not be a bad one. There is still a good chance that the two might not see eye to eye. For, it is quite certain that the Liberal Democrats will settle for nothing short of significant measures aimed at overhauling the British electoral system — which is generally characterised by the peculiar phenomenon of a huge difference between votes polled and seats won — in exchange for their support. Though the Conservatives might be open to this bargain, it is not clear if they will be willing to go the whole hog and bring in a system of proportional representation. On the other hand, if the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives fail to hammer together a Government, there is reason to believe that public opinion might swing in Labour's favour. Then the latter would indeed have the ammunition to fill the vacuum and call for early election to strengthen its position. But for the sake of the British public, it would be best if the political parties put aside their differences and work together. For, the longer the political stalemate lasts, the harder it will be to mend the severely wounded British economy







The capacity to endure injustice, death, destruction and deprivation is founded on a core belief in fate. There is no certainty when inflation will decline to the point where the poor can afford to eat the sort of food that India's nutrition-based poverty index deems adequate. The price index has gone back up and there is a grim signal in the curious up-tick in food prices even though overall inflation has come down to just over 16 per cent, which means the poor are no better off now than they were in December. Bubble-wrapped in faith, the Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's response has been a formal reassurance that prices will come down some time soon and the only emergency measure that the Government has thought necessary is the decision to sell additional quantities of wheat and rice through ration shops as a solution to reaching food to people living below the poverty line. That will not deliver the sort of emergency care needed to protect the tens of thousands of infants and children — India's demographic dividend — whose future may well have been ravaged by hunger and the inability of their families to buy emergency health care. The promise that the poor armed with the guarantee of 100 days of employment would not suffer from hunger has proved empty, because for over 18 months inflation has raged out of control.

Pursuing a policy that despite its aam admi rhetoric is just the same old and useless trickle down development model that has not worked even when the Indian economy galloped along is part of the fatalism that pervades public policy and governance. Raising the bar on the number of people living below the poverty line to 37.2 per cent, up from 27.5 per cent, only implies that there are millions added to the already shameful numbers of hungry, that is, 43 per cent of all males and 48 per cent females. Pontificating on the advantages and disadvantages of food stamps versus universal rationing versus targeted rationing for BPL families, weighing the pros and cons of giving 25 kg per family per week against 35 kg, estimating the expense of selling the entitlement at Rs 2 a kg versus Rs 3 a kg are obvious symptoms of fatalism. More angst is displayed discussing cricket than inflation and its appalling consequences. Linking inflation to availability of food is a dodge that has been used for too long by the political class. Inflation needs to be brought down because it affects not just the poor but also economic growth and development. Food security has to be guaranteed as an entitlement because that is good economics, good politics and good governance.







A report by Mark Mazetti and Scott Shane in The New York Times of May 5, 2010, stated that according to some officials, there was as yet no "smoking gun" pointing to the involvement of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan or the Pakistani Taliban in the attempted car bombing in New York's Times Square on May 1. It, however, stated that others pointed out that there was strong evidence that the TTP was involved and that Faisal Shahzad, arrested in connection with the case, knew some members of the organisation which had a hand in training and directing him.

The truth will doubtless come out as investigations proceed. Meanwhile, it is important to note a paragraph in the report which stated: "American officials said it had become increasingly difficult to separate the operations of the militant groups in Pakistan's tribal areas. The region, they said, has become a stew of like-minded organisations plotting attacks in Pakistani cities, across the border into Afghanistan, and on targets in Western Europe and the United States."

This is hardly surprising. Various terrorist organisations like the TTP, the group led by Sirajuddin Haqqani operating from North Waziristan, the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, all draw their leaders and rank-and-file from Pakistan's terrorist-manufacturing madarsas. These outfits had played a key role in providing shelter and support to Al Qaeda and the Taliban leaders who fled Afghanistan following the US-led invasion of that country in October-December 2001.

While ploughing their separate furrows, they have always come to one another's assistance in the face of common enemies. Thus, the TTP and the Afghan Taliban, decided to act together as it became clear, following US President Barack Obama's ascent to office, that the number of American troops in Afghanistan would increase substantially. A report by Carlotta Gall in The New York Times of March 26, 2008, stated: "After agreeing to bury their differences and unite forces, Taliban leaders based in Pakistan have closed ranks with their Afghan comrades to ready a new offensive in Afghanistan as the United States prepares to send 17,000 more troops there this year."

Significantly, Ms Gall added in her report, "At the same time, American officials told The New York Times this week that Pakistan's military intelligence agency continued to offer money, supplies and guidance to the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan as a proxy to help shape a friendly Government there once American forces leave."

There have been continuing indications that Pakistan's military intelligence agency, the Directorate-General of Inter-Services Intelligence and sections of the Pakistani military have been aiding the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The fact that Faisal Shahzad comes from a family with a military background — his father is a retired Air Vice-Marshal and his uncle a retired Major General — is significant. Even if his father and other relatives had opposed his becoming a jihadi, the atmosphere in cantonment towns at a time of growing Islamisation of the Pakistani military initiated by General-turned-President Zia-ul Haq, could not have been without an influence on him.

This strengthens the question mark against the role of the Pakistani military on which the Obama Administration relies so heavily for success in the war in Afghanistan. The Pakistani Army has been obliging it only as far as it wants to. As late as December 2009, Pakistan rebuffed American pressure to act against the Afghan Taliban, holed up in North Waziristan. According to a report by Jane Perlez in The New York Times of December 14, 2009, Pakistani Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's response, as indicated by two officials familiar with it, was that Pakistan had its hands full fighting the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan and other places, and it was beyond its capacity to open another front against the Afghan Taliban. She then added that implicit in General Kayani's reply was the fact that the homegrown Pakistani Taliban represented the real threat to Pakistan. They were the ones carrying out attacks against security installations and civilian markets in Pakistan's cities and must be the Army's top priority.

On the other hand, Afghan Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani fought in Afghanistan and was considered more of an asset than a threat by Pakistan. At the core of this approach, Ms Perlez suggests, lay scant faith in President Obama's troop surge and the belief that Haqqani's support would be vital to Islamabad in the jostling for influence in that country that will pit Pakistan, India, Russia, China and Iran against one another after America's exit from the scene.

As late as January 2010, while US Defence Secretary Robert M Gates was visiting Pakistan, the Pakistani Army's chief spokesman, Maj-Gen Athar Abbas, told reporters at the Army's headquarters in Rawalpindi, that the military had no immediate plans to launch an offensive against extremists in the tribal region of North Waziristan, as American officials have repeatedly urged. Rather, the Pakistani military establishment has been harping that there is no way that the US could win in Afghanistan and the only way out is a settlement that includes the 'moderate' Taliban.

The 'moderate' Taliban is, of course, a myth. Mr Ahmed Rashid wrote in Descent Into Chaos, "The most elusive chimera that the CIA pursued, with the encouragement of the ISI, was that 'moderate' Taliban Pashtuns would rise to denounce Mullah Omar, hand over Osama bin Laden to the Americans, and join a new coalition Government in Kabul." He added, "Where the ISI succeeded was in manipulating the US media, particularly The New York Times and The Washington Post, convincing them that it was earnestly trying to create moderates among the Taliban." The reality was that the ISI Director-General (1999-2001), Lt-Gen Mehood Ahmad, "was not promoting moderates but trying to ferret them out so they could be exposed and betrayed to Mullah Omar once again. The threat of death hung over any Taliban leaders if they (sic) betrayed Mullah Omar or the ISI. It was a masterful double game that the ISI was to play with even greater dexterity after 9/11".


One hopes that credible indications of the TTP's involvement in the attempted bombing in Times Square will finally bury the myth of the 'moderate' Taliban. To be safe from terrorism, the US must crush all sections of the Taliban, even if that requires applying some very harsh measures against Pakistan.






Once upon a time, a traveller, while crossing a desert, was confronted by dacoits. The dacoits overpowered him and searched his belongings. They were surprised to find that he had only a penny with him. They wondered why he had fought so much for a single penny. The traveller remarked that he attached a great value to money. For him it was money that mattered and not the amount. Hence, it was a question of values, of attachment to money.

It is the values we cherish that give a direction to our inclinations, thoughts and actions. We become interested in things because we value them. A change of values brings about a change in the direction of our interests and inclinations. This also applies to vratas and avratas. As a matter of fact, there is no difference between a vrata and an avrata. It is our areas of interest that make them appear to be different from each other. If we value the soul as opposed to the outer world, our interest in it becomes a vrata. If, on the other hand, we value the world outside as against the soul, our interest in it becomes an avrata. In plain language, vrata means orientation towards the self. We orientate ourselves towards the outer world through our sense organs.

Consciousness in its pristine purity has no interest outside itself, but it is encircled by kasaya or passions. Besides passions, it is also encircled by our inclinations and dispositions. The former is called the kasaya circle and the latter is called the yoga circle. Light emanating from the soul, when it tries to break through the kasaya circle, loses its original lustre, which is pure knowledge, and becomes alloyed with passions. This then takes the form of samvedana or feeling. It becomes empirical knowledge. Pure knowledge is not alloyed with passions. Samvedana is dependent on the sense organs and the mind. Sense experiences produce attachments and aversions.

As a matter of fact, we live in the world of sensations and most of our activities are only reactions caused by sensations. But free thinking and free actions are only possible with reference to knowledge and not with reference to sensations and feelings. Hence, we need to give preference to spir Be spiritual to think free

Once upon a time, a traveller, while crossing a desert, was confronted by dacoits. The dacoits overpowered him and searched his belongings. They were surprised to find that he had only a penny with him. They wondered why he had fought so much for a single penny. The traveller remarked that he attached a great value to money. For him it was money that mattered and not the amount. Hence, it was a question of values, of attachment to money.

It is the values we cherish that give a direction to our inclinations, thoughts and actions. We become interested in things because we value them. A change of values brings about a change in the direction of our interests and inclinations. This also applies to vratas and avratas. As a matter of fact, there is no difference between a vrata and an avrata. It is our areas of interest that make them appear to be different from each other. If we value the soul as opposed to the outer world, our interest in it becomes a vrata. If, on the other hand, we value the world outside as against the soul, our interest in it becomes an avrata. In plain language, vrata means orientation towards the self. We orientate ourselves towards the outer world through our sense organs.

Consciousness in its pristine purity has no interest outside itself, but it is encircled by kasaya or passions. Besides passions, it is also encircled by our inclinations and dispositions. The former is called the kasaya circle and the latter is called the yoga circle. Light emanating from the soul, when it tries to break through the kasaya circle, loses its original lustre, which is pure knowledge, and becomes alloyed with passions. This then takes the form of samvedana or feeling. It becomes empirical knowledge. Pure knowledge is not alloyed with passions. Samvedana is dependent on the sense organs and the mind. Sense experiences produce attachments and aversions.

As a matter of fact, we live in the world of sensations and most of our activities are only reactions caused by sensations. But free thinking and free actions are only possible with reference to knowledge and not with reference to sensations and feelings. Hence, we need to give preference to spirituality over material pleasures.







There was a time when the Bengalis were envied for holding up the 'perfect' coalition government before the rest of India. Then, at long last when they found out that they'd been governed badly, the Bengalis began looking for the 'perfect' anti-Left coalition. Frustrated with a fragmented opposition which only cut into each other's vote shares and ended up perpetuating the hold of the CPI(M)-led Left Front, they found solace in the dream of 'mahajot' — grand alliance. When even that proved illusory, they found a well-working model in the second-best option. An alliance of the big two: the Trinamool Congress and the Congress.

The 2009 Lok Sabha election saw the fruition of that dream when the Left was crushed in 26 of the 42 parliamentary seats in the State, which roughly translated into 203 of the 292 Assembly segments. The people looked forward to 2011 and parivartan (change) began to look like a certainty. The smooth merging of the Trinamool Congress into the Congress-led UPA in Delhi, matched by the willing diminutiveness of the Congress to the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, assured the Bengalis that another 'perfect' coalition was about to dominate the political milieu of their State.

But now, it's back to square one. The CPI(M) and its allies would be contesting elections the upcoming election to 81 municipalities against a divided Opposition. Save the inconsequential district of Coochbehar, the Communists would be pitted against three big powers — the two UPA partners and BJP. But that is for visitors from Planet Mars. The real fight is between the Trinamool Congress and the Congress. Having drunk the heady brew of 'victory' two years before the 2011 Assembly election, the erstwhile (and elsewhere) allies are already fighting over the spoils.

This kind of logic-defying, unprincipled politics is only possible in Bengal, where self-destruction has been a way of life for decades. When this writer contacted a senior Bengal Congress leader a fortnight back to speak on the 'chemistry' between his party and Trinamool, the Congressman said with frank criticism: "You think the Congress needs an enemy when it has a friend like Trinamool?" That statement was made even before the open parting of ways this week in Kolkata when the two parties announced their respective 'lists' without a by-your-leave from their allies.

Things have only deteriorated after that. Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee struck a major body blow later in the week by engineering a split in the Congress by snatching away heavyweight politician Subroto Mukherjee. This is expected to have a genuine impact not only on the civic polls campaign but may continue over the rest of the interregnum between now and the all-important 2011 event, knocking as many nails into the coalition's coffin as imaginable.

Apart from the 'exigencies of settling personal scores it will be in the interest of the Trinamool Congress to minimise its dependence on the Congress in next year's all-important event. That, of course, is a very tall order considering the impossible-to-detract-from gains made by Trinamool by preventing the split of the anti-Left vote in 2009. The Trinamool Congress' vote share increased by 10.2 per cent while the Left's was hit by 7.5 per cent. This could only be ascribed to a Congress contribution — made in the form of playing the diminutive.

That was 2009, when the Congress was in no position to take a stand. It was dragged into the 'jot' (it couldn't be called a 'Mahajot' because the BJP was not on board) even as a major section, the North Bengal gang of Adhir Chowdhury-Dipa Dasmunsi did its best to scuttle the gunshot wedding. But, after a year of getting used to power, the Congress has begun to act like the worm that turned. Additionally, it was aware that surrendering further space to Trinamool would mean reducing itself to a cipher.

Mamata Banerjee was aware of the changing mood in the Congress camp. So, in inimical style she went for the jugular of the Grand Old Party. She made such a ridiculous offer, just 25 seats (15 of them unwinnable) out of 141 in Kolkata, that it was impossible for the Congress to even consider it. Result: a parting of ways. But now, Mamata would have to smell the coffee. She might not be the big-and-only magnet of the anti-Left vote that she has come to imagine herself as post-2009.

In real terms, the biggest point of strength for the Left Front through the past decades had been the disunity in the Opposition. The 2009 'Jot' afforded the Trinamool an additional 8-9 Lok Sabha seats where the Congress votes made the difference. Along with this it has instilled a huge confidence (to dissent) among the section of 7-8 per cent floating vote that traditionally went for the Left — only to buy peace. The formation of a strong, winnable alliance perhaps gave this section of voters the confidence that 'change' was in the air. So they deserted the Marxist boat in hordes. The series of wins for the TMC in elections to cooperative societies and school committees further solidified the notion. The Congress gleefully rode on the top tier of the juggernaut, contributing little except money and a few tidbits which the Trinamool believed it could manage without.

Now it remains to be seen who was under a delusion —the Congress, the Trinamool or even the Marxists. The Marxists are also guilty of overstressing the point that nothing other than the 'Jot' caused their downfall.

For the past 10 months its leaders have been going around claiming that 2009 was no deluge, merely the wrong side of arithmetic. So, instead of trying to improve its image as a provider of good governance, it has relied on hoping for the tender foundation of the 'Jot' to collapse.

Meanwhile, the Congress' own house is not in order. It is learnt that the Congress has already lost a good 15 per cent of its 13-14 per cent vote base to Trinamool through defection in the post-June 2009 period. If this is true, it translates into a 2 per cent vote gain for Mamata through defections only. Add this to the 8 per cent floating vote and the Congress looks at a washout. The only way the Congress can save itself is by hoping for a Trinamool defeat and therefore recapture its lost bargaining position. If Mamata's dream of hogging the anti-Left vote space holds good, then it is curtains for the GOP in West Bengal.

The writer is The Pioneer's Kolkata correspondent






In the Bengali year of 1347, roughly a year before his death, Rabindranath Tagore gave an interview to Shanibarer Chithi ("Saturday Post"), the famous literary magazine which was once his fiercest critic but one he had embraced out of respect for the culture of criticism. In it he attacked the Bengalis in general terms for their indolence and passion for self-destruction. But he reserved the harshest terms for the politicians of the state who already, before the first decade of guided democracy under the 1935 Act was out, had made a poor impression for their chicanery and corruption.

The top leaders quarrel like low-class women, and busy themselves with divisive actions in the name of high politics.

This week, as West Bengal, whose elite is the arguable custodian of everything Rabindric, prepares to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of the great philosopher-poet, one important aspect about the man is likely to be suppressed — the political Tagore. The politics of a province or a nation is not played out in a vacuum. The nature of a place's politics is defined by the persona of the people who live in it. To elite Bengalis this is an unpalatable truth. They propose that the evil of Bengal Communism is not part of the Bengali whole. And as for Mamata Banerjee brand Stree Shakti, the latest manifestation of which was seen this week in a suicide mission to destroy the fabric of anti-Communist unity — that's for downstairs people.

Selective worship of Tagore will not do. Bengal's politics is violent, self-abusive and shorn of long-term vision because all these are features of the Bengali character. Tagore admitted as much in the Shonibarer Chithi interview:

They are adept at wrecking up things. Their minds work to an absurd battle plan, where the warriors want to fight without the slightest concern for discipline. They don't know how to appreciate anything great, large or admirable. Instead, there was is this mad rush to sling mud at each other. This mindset is not going to bring them any good.

Rabindranath was no outsider to politics, but he shunned partisan formations. He contributed to the "Bangabhanga Andolan" (anti-1905 partition of Bengal) with poetry, prose, essays and a self-help movement to instill pride in the rural economy. Yet, later in life he shunned nationalism for its own sake. In her Social Thought of Rabindranath Tagore — a Historical Analysis (New Delhi, 1993), Tapati Dasgupta laid bare the essential core of Tagorean nationalism — harmony in society leading to a progressive civilisation:Hetha ekdin birambiheen maha onkardhani
Hriday tantrey eker mantrey uthechilo ranarani
Tapasya bale eker anala bahurey ahuti diya
Bibhed bulia jaagayey tulio ekti birat hiya
Shei sadhanar shey aradhanar jagyasalar khola aji dwar

It is historically accurate that Tagore's village economy strengthening experiments formed the basic inspiration for Mahatma Gandhi's "Gram Swaraj" mission. At Shantiniketan, the poet set up the first cottage industries by incorporating artistic traditions from all over Asia. Batik printing, for instance, was his import from Indonesia. He propounded what historian Sumit Sarkar described as "constructive Swadeshi.' When Gandhi went to Calcutta in 1921, he called on the poet to enlist his support for his non-cooperation movement. As they talked, a commotion arose outside. "Come and look Gandhiji", Tagore told the Mahatma. "Your non-violent followers have stolen English cloth from the shops and have made a bonfire. Is that your non-violence? Can you keep these emotions under a strict control? You know you can't."

Gandhi countered: "If you can do nothing else for me you can at least lead the nation and spin handspun yarn".

Tagore laughed it away.

"Poems I can spin, songs I can spin, but what a mess I would make, Gandhiji, with your precious cotton."

Rabindranath wanted the Bengalis to be a physically strong. On a trip to Japan he was so impressed by the physical fitness of the Japanese people that he got a famous wrestler called Tagagaki to return with him to Shantiniketan to teach gymnastics. Today's feminists would be inflamed to know that building anything, especially nations, is an act of male endurance. In his Shanibarer Chithi interview he regretted that Bengalis had the nagging habit of women…they always complain that others had deprived them of what they couldn't earn for themselves. Now, proceeding to the lot the Bengalis have found themselves in after 62 years of Independence, eminent writer Praful Bidwai states ("Reading the Verdict" in Frontline, June 6-19, 2009):

West Bengal has the lowest rate of generating work under the NREGS. Worse, according to National Sample Survey (61st Round), the percentage of rural households not getting enough food every day in some months of the year is highest in West Bengal (10.6 per cent), worse than in Orissa (4.8 per cent). An alarming indicator is school dropouts in the 6-14 age group. At 9.61 lakh in West Bengal, this is even higher than Bihar's 6.96 lakh. Of India's 24 districts, which have more than 50,000 out-of-school children, nine are in West Bengal.

To bring the ongoing political tamasha of West Bengal into this may appear to be trivialisation, but its continuum with a very old tradition is unmistakeable. The formation of the Congres-Trinamool Congress alliance ahead of the 2009 election was in itself the worst case of unprincipled politics. I had written as much in these columns (Saturday Special, March 7, 2009), anticipating many of the problems which devil the relationship today. It would have served Bengal better if the Trinamool had struck a lonesome path in that election and strived to build itself as the sole repository of the anti-Communist vote.

Unprincipled politics is at the heart of election victories. There is every possibility of Mamata returning to the Congress' dubious embrace in the post-municipal election (see Lookback and The Other Voice). She randomly quotes Rabindranath to prove her intellectual abilities, but is perhaps not aware that the poet considered amorality based on short-term gains, evil western importation to India. In Sabhayatar Shankat (1941), he wrote:

I have reached my 80 years today and I can visualise the fact with regret how the mental outlook of Indians has fallen apart. It is true that the British will have to leave India one day, but they will leave behind a wretched, desolate India.

Eventually, Tagore signed off on a note of hope. "Let us hope for the day when a great soul will come and show us the destination to the new dawn of civilisation. We will all welcome him on that auspicious day —
Oi Mahamanabo asheDike Dike romancha jage-- The writer is Senior Editor, The Pioneer and author of Bengal's Night Without End, New Delhi 2006








The failure of the Congress and the Trinamool Congress to strike an alliance in the municipal elections has left the 'pro-change' electorate dispirited. People are raising questions on the future of the 'Jot' which was painstakingly set up by the leaders of the two parties ahead of the 2009 parliamentary election.

The CPI(M) was dispatched to the ICU in that election. A big final push could bring down the hollow Red edifice this year. It was at this juncture that the alliance was broken, affording the CPI(M) the oxygen they were desperately gasping for. This unfortunate development will give the morale of their cadre a big boost and give them a chance to turn around.

Some people in the TMC have sought to blame the Congress for the failure of the alliance. I strongly refute their charge. To break a thriving alliance is one thing and trying to preserve your own identity is quite another. As an independent outfit, the Congress was well within its right to seek a dignified alliance; an alliance that would in the final run not jeopardise or undermine its existence so to say.

In Kolkata Municipal Corporation election where the alliance was to fight for 141 seats, the Congress asked for only 51 seats which was later scaled down to 40 seats, but was offered 25. Our contention was based on a simple formula. We wanted to retain all those 21 seats which we won last time. In addition we wanted some more seats where we had come second. But we were denied even that.

There are instances of the Congress sacrificing its demands to preserve the Mahajot not only in the Assembly by-elections but also during the Lok Sabha elections when we were virtually restricted to north Bengal. Down south we were given no seat within a 300 km radius of Kolkata. We sustained the pains and worked diligently. The result was a thumping victory in favour of the 'Jot'.

We expected some kind of reciprocation in the municipal elections. But we were contemptuously ignored. We were meted out the same treatment in the districts also. Hooghly and North 24 Parganas are two glaring examples. Our party was not even consulted before the Trinamool Congress published its list of candidates. Their leaders continued to make disparaging remarks against our senior leaders including women MPs publicly —without being reprimanded by their leadership.

Nonetheless, we bore with the humiliation as we wanted to see the back of the CPI(M) in Bengal. Even after the failure of the alliance in the municipal elections we left 53 seats for the Trinamool Congress whereas they were unwilling to concede. But then came the defection drama when our senior leader Subroto Mukherjee was lured away by them.

The Congress considers the current spell of misunderstanding as a temporary phase and hopes it will blow over. Though a lot of politics is involved in the municipal elections they are essentially related to local affairs pertaining to providing civic amenities. I am of the opinion that after the elections, a state of equilibrium would be reached and an atmosphere conducive to creating a grand alliance will reemerge.

The Congress does not rule out the possibility of a post-electoral understanding while forming of boards to begin with.

Questions have often been raised as to whether a fresh alliance could take place after the animosity likely to be generated during the election season this year. My view is that there is no final word in politics. We do not create friendships but form alliances depending on the need of the hour. The only thing we have to bear in mind is that those alliances should not defy the basic principles or ideology of the party.

Some political soothsayers are hitting town with a 'valuable prediction' that the twain shall never meet after the elections. They also claim that the Congress and Trinamool would work to sabotage each other's chances to increase their bargaining capability. I can vouch for the Congress that it has no such designs. As an all-India party it understands its responsibilities.

In other words, the 'Jot' was not only the product of a political will of the two biggest opposition outfits but it was also the result of an immense pressure from below. The people wanted it and so it happened. No leaders either from Trinamool or from Congress could ignore this pressure.

There are these test cases from the Bishnupur and Bowbazaar Assembly by-elections to show that whenever the Congress had supported Trinamool without the cover of an official official alliance, the people voted the Trinamool candidate. We are a mature party and decided not to contest because we did not want to let down the aspirations of the common people who are thirsting for change.

It is an open secret that CPI(M) won successive elections by adopting unscrupulous and dishonest means. Lack of opposition unity in the State only facilitated the Left Front's three-decade-long rule. But now the people would not allow the opposition to remain disunited. They may never forgive the opposition parties if they fail to unite before the Assembly election. Whoever spoils the alliance would be rejected by the electorate. Hence it is not only in the interest of the people of Bengal but also for the survival of the anti-Left political forces that the twain would need to meet after the municipal election.


The author is Acting president, West Bengal Pradesh Congress








No bread? Eat cake. So supposedly said a French queen everybody loved to behead. Now that a Picasso painting is going...going...gone at Christie's for a cool $106.5 million, that philosophy's back with a mega (bucks) bang. Only, some worthies want to apply it in reverse. Can't buy a Picasso called Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932)? Buy the $24.95 million Los Angeles pad whose walls it graced! Clearly, there's something about Marie, from aristocratic Marie Antoinette to Marie-Therese, Picasso's muse and collector's trophy. The art frat's animal spirits are fired because creative genius inspires recession-immune fat cats. Lean times? Go get oiled on canvas.

Trust Picasso, long departed but arguably the modern world's most well-known painter, to cause an art attack in the post-Lehman world as he did early on in the last century. Didn't he, along with his painter pals, ram Cubism down indignant throats and triumph? Who but they wrecked conventional perspectives, with three-dimensional objects flattened, splintered and recreated with a uni-dimensional angularity? With this later cubism-marries-surrealism work breaking records for price tags on auctioned art, Picasso's once again trained his palette-gun on rivals.

Some ask where's the sense in useful money chasing what Oscar Wilde deified as "useless" art. More so, when art escapes rather than mirrors reality. Well, in an uncertain universe incubating and staging the 20th century's great wars, Picasso had said: "The world doesn't make sense. Why should i paint pictures that do?" And so he delighted in confounding his avant-garde competitors and art cognoscenti. His tremor-inducing canvas, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, exhibited in 1916, was to crown him modern art's spearhead. And who can forget his hostile, totemic women, open to view and critics' attack! from all sides, darkly funny parodies of the eternal feminine sentimentalised in art till then?

Not that the shock-and-ugh prize can go to Picasso today. Visit art marts and his trailblazing fare will resemble grandma's doodles. After all, he didn't put Marie-Therese and other muses in formaldehyde the way a certain installation artist pickles sharks and dead animals. He didn't patent an anatomist-turned-sculptor's idea of 'plastinating' human bodies into spliced-up statues. He didn't dress nudes with raw meat, or have a particular artist-turned-alchemist's brainwave to tin and sell bodily wastes at the price of 18-carat gold. Nor did he, like a certain visionary self-promoter, make a dummy of his head, fill it with his own blood and freeze it for art's greater gory!

Reality's con-tortionists have long trounced the Great Master. But Picasso wasn't fond of raging bulls for nothing. The prizefighter still posthumously ensures art patrons laugh all the way to the bank. Surely he can chest-thump on enduring power? Hear hear, say the tanked up sharks that contemporary artist Damien Hirst periodically trusses up against inevitable decay. Ironically, the title for Hirst's iconic if time-eaten fish is: The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. Well, if Picasso's proved anything, it's the impossibility of death in the minds and pockets of art-benefactors living.







One of the objectives of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has been to benefit the world with nuclear energy. In countries allied to superpowers or their trustworthy followers, the nuclear generation capacity did grow to fill in the available space. As a result, the share of nuclear power worldwide rose to around 17 per cent rather quickly.

Proliferation concerns, however, persisted in spite of the NPT. This led to moves by the US towards abandoning the closed nuclear fuel cycle since it involved separation of weapon usable fissile materials. This meant an order of magnitude reduction in the energy potential from nuclear resources. Countries like France, Russia and Japan, however, continued to pursue the policy of closed nuclear fuel cycle on considerations of their long-term energy security.

NPT countries not belonging to either of the two blocs could not benefit from nuclear energy to any significant extent in spite of being members of the treaty. The IAEA's programme on small and medium nuclear power reactors did not produce any tangible result in spite of its existence for decades. On the other hand, comprehensive and self-reliant development of nuclear power technology in India, based on the closed nuclear fuel cycle, has made the country well poised for large-scale development of nuclear power on its own. Indian nuclear technological capability, in addition to other factors, has contributed to the change in the world's attitude towards India in spite of it not being a part of the NPT.

Climate change concerns necessitate a large-scale deployment of nuclear power as an important means of meeting global energy needs in near carbon emission-free mode. The old mindset of shunning the closed nuclear fuel recycle is thus slowly transforming to a realisation of the importance of nuclear recycle. Since recycle technologies involve large amounts of separated weapon usable fissile materials, there are added proliferation and now even security concerns. The situation is similar to the one that existed around the time the NPT was created. New modalities that allow expanded use of nuclear energy and also address security and proliferation concerns are thus becoming necessary.

The strong desire for additional controls on enrichment and reprocessing over and above the NPT commitments is likely to lead to new frameworks that would further divide the world. Signs are already visible in discussion on issues like enrichment and reprocessing transfers, multinational management of nuclear fuel cycle and nuclear security.

For us this is both a challenge and an opportunity. We would be a credible player in reprocessing and enrichment certainly for ourselves but, if the situation so warrants, for other countries as well. In the area of reactors including advanced systems like fast reactors and thorium reactors, we have specific technological advantage. We are now getting integrated with international commerce in nuclear technology. That India is a state with nuclear weapons is now a recognised fact. We should therefore logically be a part in the emerging nuclear framework with proper recognition.

We are not a part of the NPT that would continue to be an integral part of any new emerging order. NPT and related issues would remain a major irritant in our engagement with the international community on various nuclear and related matters. We have to remain vigilant in this regard. The political dimensions of the problem of India's further integration in the world nuclear order and the question of equitable access to nuclear energy in all countries are much more difficult to resolve and much would depend on the statesmanship of world leaders. The process is inevitably dependent on the evolving global/regional dynamics, is long drawn and inherently unpredictable. We should simply carry on with our nuclear development in accordance with our predetermined programme and following our time tested policies. The world would need India as much as we need the world; hopefully a situation would emerge when we get further integrated in the emerging nuclear order in a manner consistent with our policies.

India can perhaps do a few things that help. In addition to pursuing the rapid deployment of three-stage nuclear development within the country, we should continue to build strong cooperative links with key countries in advanced nuclear technology areas. This mutually beneficial exercise should create an interdependence that would position us better and protect our interest in the emerging order. Our 220 MWe pressurised heavy water reactor systems are the smallest and yet most competitive nuclear power plants in the world. We should aggressively market Indian systems abroad and create a constituency in our favour.

Finally, we could demonstrate to the world our potential to contribute to a safe and secure global nuclear power development. This can be very effectively done through the low enriched uranium-thorium fuelled advanced heavy water reactor (AHWR-LEU) that has been developed by us and is now ready for deployment. AHWR-LEU is a simple reactor that enables a very high level of safety and is immune to malevolent acts even of an insider. Its fuel cycle is proliferation-resistant. The reactor system can be deployed without any significant safety, security and proliferation risk. Without recourse to such technological solutions, a legal framework no matter how elaborate would simply not be successful, given the complexity of this problem and the ground realities. Our synergistic pursuits on both political and technological fronts can maximise our advantage.

( The writer is former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.)







With summer starting to kick into high gear, Hollywood blockbuster season is fast approaching. This year, as it has every year for decades, the major studios will line up their biggest commercial releases, those expected to bring in the most money at the box office. But in one crucial way, 2010 could mark an epochal shift in film-making. The common denominator in the success of some of the biggest movies of the past few months Avatar, Clash of the Titans, Alice in Wonderland has been 3-D. And with many more films on the roster of upcoming releases being 3-D as well, this year we could well see the coming of age of the format.

Given the improving quality of home entertainment movie makers need to innovate to keep people coming to the movie theatres, and 3-D is their best bet. From an economic perspective, it is difficult to see studios taking a step back after the current blitz of 3-D movies. With major studios having already backed the format it would be financially illogical for them not to press ahead with it and recoup costs. And with Hollywood powerhouses like James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Jeffrey Katzenberg all backing 3-D films, it makes the innovation that much more marketable.

As for complaints about 3-D films lacking in aesthetic appeal, let us not forget that the technology is still in its infancy in many ways. Already, there is marked improvement over the previous wave of 3-D movies. This will only get better. After all, when sound and colour the other comparable innovations were introduced in cinema, they were hardly free of problems. Now, try to imagine what would have happened if film-makers at the time had been scared off by teething problems a movie industry whose products were monochrome and silent.





A handful of successful 3-D films may not herald a revolution. Avatar's success was exceptional, but that doesn't establish a case to believe that cinema is about to see a paradigm shift. Remember, 3-D films were made in the 1980s. Except a few most of those films bombed at the box office and production houses returned to the safe confines of the regular, two-dimensional films.

Why must we be sceptical about 3-D films? These films need massive budgets as they depend on expensive, technologically advanced equipment. Special cameras and screens are essential for the 3-D experience. To recover the cost, these films have to be monster hits. Every film can't be an Avatar. Avatar's success was not because of the 3-D effects. The film had a powerful storyline and the story was well told. It weaved in critiques of US foreign policy and modern lifestyles to exploit a public sentiment shaped by the debates on Iraq war and global warming. The gimmicks in the form of 3-D effects only helped generate a buzz around the film.

The success of a film is rarely on account of gimmicks; it's to do with aesthetics. Take Charlie Chaplin's silent films. They are not only milestones in the history of cinema, but continue to be popular. The introduction of sound and colour films has not reduced their aesthetic appeal. Art has its own ways to reinvent itself. Special effects have a low priority in the artistic scheme. A revolution in art has to do with the way a story is told, a frame conceived, a character constructed. If an artist creates a rupture in any of these aspects as practised until then, we could call that a revolutionary practice. Judge the rest as passing fads.






How and why the Left movement in India is in a state of terminal atrophy is exposed to broad daylight in a privately published book released in Delhi earlier this week. Friends, admirers and close relatives of Mohit Sen, a communist of rare vintage, along with P C Joshi, pay tribute to his uncommon gifts of head and heart. The book also includes Sen's correspondence with some of the 20th century's leading minds whom he had met first while he studied at King's College in Cambridge in the 1940s and later when he was a full-time worker of the Communist Party of India.

These reminiscences serve to emphasise yet again that India's communists, much like the Bourbons, will learn nothing and forget nothing. They drew no lessons from Nikita Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin's brutal regime at the 20th congress of the CPSU in 1956. The dictator had murdered innocent people on a scale that wasn't rivalled even by Hitler's evil pogroms. He had sent millions suspected of defying the Party to the Gulag where most of them perished. But the Indian communists, like most of their comrades elsewhere in the world, remained tight-lipped.

Nor did they raise a little finger to denounce Moscow's suppression of the revolt in Hungary in 1956 or the Prague Spring in 1968. Attempts made by some west European parties in the period that followed to strike a balance between social equality, economic growth and democratic freedoms did not impress them the least bit. Tito's efforts to find a middle way between the market economy and socialism in Yugoslavia generated derision, insult and ostracism.

The Indian communists did not care to candidly acknowledge the reasons for the implosion of the Soviet empire. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear the reasons were all too obvious: state control had atrophied the economy, lack of freedom of thought and expression had asphyxiated creativity in most fields, fear of the secret police stalked every nook and cranny of the Socialist Paradise.

But none of this was of any consequence to the Indian communists. All they did was to tom-tom the achievements of the Socialist Fatherland: full employment, social welfare that took care of the needs of every citizen from the cradle to the grave, a hundred per cent literacy rate and so on. And they missed no opportunity to flaunt Moscow's anti-fascist, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist bona fides. This, in their view, exonerated the regime's 'aberrations'.

Even after the collapse of the Soviet empire the Indian communists chose to remain cloistered in their dogma. They continued to extol two regimes which swore by the eternal verities of Marxism-Leninism: Cuba and North Korea. And they cried victory whenever any party anywhere in the world railed against US 'imperialism'. That included populist parties in Latin America and the radical Islamic republic of Iran, not to mention Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Equally galling has been the mindless and misleading enthusiasm of the Indian comrades for China. They spoke not a word about the depredations resulting from Mao Zedong's policies including the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Nor is there a squeak from them about the post-Mao policies. China's unbridled capitalism, its crass exploitation of raw materials and energy resources in many developing nations and its increasingly cosy relationship with the American 'imperialists' are, in their eyes, of trivial importance.

In the wake of the Soviet empire's implosion several communist parties began to address the flaws in the ideology that sustained it: neglecting or underestimating the strength of nationalism, the significance of ethnic, religious and caste loyalties, the potential of technology and entrepreneurship to inject dynamism in the economy and, not least, the huge benefits of a democratic system. The Indian communists showed little sign of engaging in such an exercise.

Mohit Sen, a man who for long years had justified communist tyranny, was nevertheless open to fresh ideas. He was eager to bring together all forces that were opposed to communalism and iniquitous growth, fiercely committed to patriotism and democracy and tried to breach the walls of communist dogma. The party he had served with exemplary devotion chose to do what came naturally to it: it expelled him without ceremony.








Three questions arise from Friday's Supreme Court verdict on the dispute between the Brothers Ambani over a gas supply contract.

Let's take them in an ascending order of importance. One, the court has asked Mukesh and Anil Ambani to renegotiate the gas supply agreement they had reached in 2005 as part of a division of the family business. Since the court has laid down that the price of gas stands as determined subsequently by the government, it is counter-intuitive how the disputing parties can find common ground if they cannot haggle over the price.

Two, the verdict throws open to debate the issue of who owns the country's natural resources. If the government has, through production-sharing arrangements, overriding powers to determine who these should be sold to and at what price, private participation in prospecting will remain a pipedream. As it is, exploration for gas in India — after years of prospecting by the State — has drawn a cold response from . Gas offers India its easiest route out of energy insecurity and home-grown private capital has delivered one of India's largest finds. The government, as directed by the apex court in line with the established tradition of not interfering in executive policy, will have to work out a mechanism that does not weigh in against the private prospector. Particularly, if the government chooses to remain both player and umpire at the same time. Energy is but one area where the country desperately needs sophisticated exploration, the gas concession policy will be a benchmark for an entire gamut of minerals.

Three, the sanctity of contracts. Granted governance is in continuum and any agreement among individuals has to comply with the extant legal framework, even retrospectively. Yet the message from this ruling is clear: individual freedom must yield to the current orthodoxy of the collective good. This cannot be faulted on paper, but foreigners may need to be convinced of doing business in such a framework. Had the losing side in this dispute been a foreign  oil company, the legal battle would very likely have moved to international fora where the rights of an individual are accorded greater dignity. The points of law apart, the verdict will significantly alter the business plans of the world's wealthiest brothers. Anil Ambani may have to retool his power capacity plans while Mukesh may be able to concentrate more on hydrocarbon exploration. India needs both to find success in their respective paths in order to lessen its debilitating shortage of energy.





It's so ironic that news of Ajmal Kasab's death sentence for the butchery in Mumbai was crowded off the world's front pages by Faisal Shahzad's damp squibs in a smoking SUV in New York City. The Mumbai attack was planned with military precision and revealed exactly what we are up against. The attempted bombing of Times Square was conceived by an amateur and executed by a hopeless optimist.

Shahzad's bomb, a hodge-podge of gasoline cans, propane tanks, firecrackers, a pressure cooker and alarm clocks, is like a B-grade mad scientist's IED. No, actually, it reminds me of the cartoons of Heath Robinson (1872-1944) in Britain and Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) in the US, who depicted absurdly complicated machines for executing the simplest tasks, such as brushing your teeth or wiping a diner's chin with a napkin. Components of a typical Goldberg machine included levers, pulleys, spoons, pails, cannonballs, see-saws, rockets and lighters to set them off, and birds and birdfeed too. They had a few odds and ends in common with Shahzad's failed bomb.

Robinson and Goldberg's implausible devices made an indelible mark on popular culture. The women who manned the famous Bletchley Park cryptographic operation to break German codes during World War II lovingly named their most complicated-looking device 'Heath Robinson'. The ungainly machine was a direct ancestor of Colossus, the world's first programmable digital computer. And Rube Goldberg's memory lives on through Goldberg Machine contests in the US. The biggest is a national contest hosted by Purdue University. The challenge for 2010 is to build a machine which dispenses precisely the right amount of hand sanitiser into a human hand by using at least 20 absurdly useless processes.

Shahzad would probably have had more fun competing at Purdue than in failing to bomb New Yorkers trying to catch a new show. And I am amazed by Qari Hussain Mehsud, the maximum bomber of the Pakistani Taliban, who has had the temerity to claim responsibility for this fizzle-out. It is like a surgeon audaciously taking responsibility for a botched operation in which he left his stethoscope and car keys inside a patient.

Talking of cars, couldn't someone have told Shahzad how to acquire one for a bombing operation? You don't buy it, and you don't give your phone number and email address to the seller. Even a two-bit thug from Moradabad knows that you have to steal it or rent the services of a car thief. Yes, you have to do things unbecoming of a soldier of the just war and the son of an air vice-marshal. And then you can't just file the vehicle identification number off the dashboard and change the plates. You have to scrape that damned number off every bit of the body, engine and chassis where it may be lurking. Any two-bit mechanic from Aligarh could tell you that.

President Obama is redundantly confident that Americans will not be "cowering in fear" after Shahzad's botched attempt. They have no reason to do so, just as they have no reason to congratulate themselves on arresting Shahzad. He was so inept that he asked the police: what kept you? He is a travesty of the real thing — Ajmal Kasab, whom we have just sent to the gallows.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine

The views expressed by the author are personal





Anil Ambani. Murli Deora. Mukesh Ambani. Three men, who have hogged the headlines over the past five years were on Friday respectively crestfallen, satisfied and invisible. As the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by the Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan passed its judgement over the biggest corporate battle in India's history, it could have been the end — The End — of a long-drawn and rather tiring family saga. It isn't — the last chapter remains.

By passing a judgement over the three critical components of this fight — the price of gas, the ownership issue of that gas and the validity of a family MoU — the court has pretty much handed down a verdict that Mukesh should be celebrating. Mukesh is silent, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) has merely welcomed the judgement and its share price has risen 2.3 per cent. Anil's visible disappointment as he left the judgement behind him on Tilak Marg was amplified by Dalal Street that saw the share price of Reliance Natural Resources Ltd (RNRL), the company that was to buy the gas from RIL, after crashing almost 27 per cent, closing the day down 23 per cent.

Ruling that the government will decide the price at which Mukesh will sell gas from India's largest basin, the KG-D6, to Anil, the apex court has effectively fixed it at $4.20 (Rs 190) per unit, about 80 per cent higher than what Anil wanted ($2.34). The 268-page judgement has also noted that the government is the owner of the gas and RIL only its contractor, ruling out any private agreement on the gas between Mukesh and Anil.  Finally, by ruling that the family MoU had nothing to do with the contract, the court delivered a body blow to Anil — this has been the pivot of Anil's argument that he won in the June 15, 2009 Bombay High Court judgement.

"RNRL looks forward to an expeditious and successful renegotiations with RIL within the stipulated period of six weeks to secure gas supply for the (ADAG) group's power plants in line with the SC order," Anil told reporters in a conference call. (The last time he did that, following the Bombay High Court order, Mukesh moved the cheese to the SC.) But what is to be negotiated and how? In a post-judgement press conference, even Mukesh's lawyer Harish Salve couldn't quite figure out. The MoU says that Mukesh will sell 28 mmscmd of gas to Anil for a period of 17 years at $2.34 per unit. But with the court handing the price and quantity fixation to the government and the MoU out of the picture, just what is to be discussed is hazy as of now.

Enough on the Ambanis.

What we need to be concerned about are three things. The first is how global investors will respond to Indian tenders and agreements when the government is seen to be changing the terms and conditions. The question is: how can the government change the terms of a contract after it has given it to a private party in an open auction? I spoke to two former petroleum secretaries and got two opposing perspectives. "It will have an impact on foreign investment in the sector," the first one said. The other implied that there was no change: "Going back is illegal. The Production Sharing Contract (PSC) is sacrosanct." We need greater clarity.

The other area of concern is how comfortable we are getting with enacting new legislation. "Before we part with the case, we consider it appropriate to observe and remind the GoI that it is high time it frames a comprehensive policy/suitable legislation with regard to energy security of India and supply of natural gas under production sharing contracts," the judgement said. This suggests that the actions of the government as the competent authority on executing tenders is in doubt and that a new law is needed. Question: who will execute that policy or act? This observation is in tune with wanting to set up a regulatory agency at the drop of a hat, many of which end up becoming sinecures for senior bureaucrats and nothing else.

Finally, this case questions the way private investment is being invited to exploit India's natural resources. The short history of gas production can be divided into pre- and post-1990s. In the former case, all investment and production was done by the government through state-owned companies. The mid-1990s saw the entry of private investment into the sector. Today, the need for private investment into this sector is critical to India's energy security. With the government on a fiscal backfoot, the vacuum can only be filled by private investment. This money, apart from bringing in efficiencies as it invests in risk, needs a different approach. It needs security of capital — not through risk-reduction, but by contractual-enforcement mechanisms.

Surely there were weaknesses in the manner in which the KG-D6 fields were overseen that allowed two brothers to hijack the mindspace of the nation for five years as they fought their private battle. Following allegations by Anil that petroleum minister Deora was helping Mukesh, the government's credibility took a knock. It took Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to come out and say that the government was one on this issue and Deora was not acting on his own before matters settled down. All of this could have been avoided had the rules and policies been clearer, more transparent and less flexible to opinions.

But then, we would have missed a great fight.







The report that investments in important infrastructure areas are trailing targets in the first three years of the Eleventh Plan is of major concern. The Plan had made ambitious projections for raising infrastructure investment from 5% of GDP to 9% over the period to boost growth. But numbers from the national accounts estimates show that the share of infrastructure investments has remained well below the 6% level in the first two years of the Plan. And the most recent figures until 2009-10, the third year, show that the overall gap between targets and actual funding has risen sharply. The highest disparity has been in the ports segment, where the shortfall has gone up to 61%. This points to the slow infusion of private sector and central government funds that were supposed to finance about two-thirds and one-third of the port projects during the Plan. The slowdown may also have hit the viability of at least some of the large projects. In the case of railways, the second major laggard, where the investments have fallen short of targets by more than a quarter, the Eleventh Plan had envisaged that three quarters of funding would come from the central government and that the private sector would contribute about a fifth. So, the shortfall here can be attributed to the high deficits of the central government that restrained central allocations and to the slow opening up of PPP projects in the railways that hit private investments.


The fall in spending in the road sector, on the other hand, can be largely attributed to the inadequate number of private players and the stringent bid norms that have remained important roadblocks for many years. This has now been further complicated by the problems related to the acquisition of land. But with the government keenly pursuing its targets of laying down 20 km of road each day, it is likely that the planned targets will be achieved as the programmes pick up steam. The shortfall of around 10% in the irrigation and power sector has to be looked at from a very different angle. With over 90% of the irrigation funds projected to come from the states, the marginal shortfall in the first three years is not very surprising. And in the case of power sector, a 10% fall in spending target should be considered a huge improvement, given that the total spending in the Tenth Plan was just about two-thirds of the targets. To sum up, the target of raising the infrastructure sector investments to 9% of GDP in the Plan can only be met if the government accelerates reform and tackles hurdles on a real time basis, as and when they crop up.







In the case of Selvi vs State of Karnataka, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court has held that polygraph tests, brain-mapping and narco-analysis are illegal without the subject's explicit consent. While some high courts have held otherwise, confessions obtained through such procedures have been inadmissible as evidence in any case. But various investigating agencies have used these—with increasing visibility in many high-profile cases—to spring leads and build stronger cases. What the apex court has clarified is where such procedures stand vis-à-vis Article 20 (3) of the Constitution, whereby "no person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself" and every person's choice between speaking and remaining silent is protected. With respect to such protections, the Bench has clarified that "subjecting a person to the impugned techniques in an involuntary manner violates the prescribed boundaries of privacy." While the criminal justice system can still use polygraph tests, brain-mapping and narco-analysis, it can only do so with the consent of the accused. In making this crystal clear, the apex court has upheld constitutional provisions, whatever the demands of populist politics may be. This is not only in keeping with how other liberal democracies like Canada and the UK proceed today. It is also the right thing for India.


There have been some protests from across the investigating community—cops, forensic scientists, lawyers et al. It is argued that many important convictions were built on the now impugned techniques. Abdul Karim Telgi's conviction in the fake stamp paper case and Surinder Koli's in the infamous Nithari case of rape, murder and cannibalism spring to mind. This brings us to the imperative for procedures like narco-analysis in ongoing investigations like those being pursued against Ramalinga Raju and V Srinivasan in the Satyam scam case or against those accused in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case. In both these instances, the accused have been resisting narco-analysis. Such an argument has a powerful populist appeal as has the one that 'scientific' techniques can help reduce the incidence of third-degree methods. Both have been substantially countered by the apex court. It has judged, "If we were to permit forcible administration of these techniques, it could be the first step on a very slippery slope as far as the standards of police behaviour are concerned." It has cautioned against circular lines of reasoning where one form of improper conduct (third-degree methods) is sought to be replaced by another. Personal liberty has correctly been held as a higher imperative.







Consumer goods marketing strategists often slice the sources of retail demand into rural and urban segments. Further, rural demand is sub-divided by states and urban India by town-size classes, which ostensibly helps understand the demand for a consumer brand.

So, for example, we understand the demand for a consumer good in rural Maharashtra or in the metropolis of Mumbai, or in the other larger cities and then the smaller towns. Essentially, this is a rural-urban divide of the market with further granularity of the urban demand by classes of towns based on their size.


This binary divide of rural-urban is far too simplistic to yield optimal strategies in the emerging consumer markets. Consider two districts of Maharashtra—Pune and Gadchiroli. Rural Pune is starkly different from rural Gadchiroli. The former is prosperous. Its farms are supported by good irrigation infrastructure, modern farming practices and integrated agro-processing industries. Gadchiroli, on the other hand, is largely forestland with poor infrastructure and is inhabited by a poor and illiterate populace. The average estimate of the market size for rural Maharashtra does no justice to Pune or Gadchiroli.


There is a different problem when we discuss towns by size-classes. Towns of the same size-class can be starkly different. Consider three cities of very similar size in Maharashtra again—Ulhasnagar, Kolhapur and Amravati. Besides their size these cities have nothing in common. Statistics that seek to characterise the town-size class of these cities do no justice to any of them.


Rural areas are spread all over Maharashtra and the similar-sized cities mentioned above are also strewn all over the state. A strategy that seeks to slice the markets to focus attention on the areas that are expected to yield better results than the others need to do better than rely on the simplistic rural-urban divide. In large states, this over-simplified division leads to tremendous diffusion of attention.


The rural-urban divide has been flogged far beyond its utility. There is no rural-urban divide now that can be exploited meaningfully in India as the basis for a marketing strategy. Rather, there is a continuum from the urban centres to its suburbs, then its outgrowth and the smaller satellite towns on the outskirts. The rapid pace of real estate development has extended the boundaries of cities and has connected smaller satellite towns with the main city. The rural landscape in between is rapidly merging into the urban agglomeration.


There was always some integration of the activities of a town with its neighbourhood. For example, Indore hosts an important soya market because the neighbouring regions cultivate the crop. With considerable improvement in transport facilities in recent years, local mobility of labour has also increased substantially. This, in turn, has led to mobility of income in the form of local transfers. Thus, if the crops in the districts surrounding a city do well, households in the city are the immediate beneficiaries. Similarly, if the demand for labour in the city increases, folks in the neighbouring rural regions benefit the most.


This osmosis has increased in recent years because of better telecommunication and road infrastructure. It makes sense for a marketing or distribution strategy to exploit this effective integration of the economic fortunes of neighbouring regions. This begs the next question: what are the geographical limits of the neighbourhood effects?


It is apparent that it makes more sense to talk of the neighbouring cities of Amravati, Nagpur and Akola together, along with their neighbouring rural region (which is common) than to club Amravati with far-off Kolhapur or Ulhasnagar. But, should we include Bhusawal or Aurangabad that are further to the west with Amravati, Nagpur and Akola? Should we go even further to Jalgaon or limit ourselves to only Nagpur and Amravati? The answer is in seeking continuous homogeneous regions. There are 10 homogeneous regions in Maharashtra.


Research at CMIE has led to the development of 100 homogeneous regions in India. These are neighbourhoods formed by clustering districts of similar socio-economic characteristics. Each homogeneous region has a population of approximately 10 million as of the 2001 Census; it has uniform agro-climatic conditions, urbanisation and female literacy. These three characteristics separate one region from another. It distinguishes the coastal belt of Maharashtra (consisting of Ratnagiri, Raigad and Sindhudurg), for example, from the neighbouring sugar belt of Kolhapur and Solapur on the plateau. And, the two are distinct from the Vidarbha region in the east and the industrial Pune and Thane in the north.


CMIE came up with the concept of a homogeneous region in 2007. Since then it has implemented a large-scale household survey that yields various estimates of the Indian retail markets at the level of the homogeneous region. Here we find that in 2009, rural per capita income in Maharashtra was between one-third and one-half of the per capita income in urban Maharashtra. However, rural incomes are higher in those homogeneous regions that have high per capita income in the urban areas. Thus, the relatively well-off regions are also relatively uniformly well off in the rural and urban areas and vice versa. It makes more sense to see rural and urban regions of Thane and Pune together, rather than split them into rural and urban areas and then into town-size classes.


The examples cited above for Maharashtra can be seen in other large states quite easily. While the problem of the loss of focus of strategy magnifies as the size of the state increases, there are gains in exploiting the geography of economics even in smaller states. We see such gains even in Punjab and Kerala, for example. There is advantage in slicing the markets. And, homogeneous regions seems to be the way forward.


The author heads the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy








A Raja's defence on the giving away of valuable 2G mobile licences in 2008 at 2001 prices, claiming he followed established policy and regulator's advice demonstrates the frivolousness of decision-making in the telecom sector.


As minister for communications and information technology, A Raja is duty bound to change, not follow, an obviously flawed policy. He is required to seek advice from Trai but need not accept it. DoT, under his leadership and that of his predecessors, has a history of brazenly illogical and damaging decisions.


In the case of 2G auctions, the government exchequer lost an estimated Rs 60,000 crore. But Raja's principal sin is not that he led to the loss of exchequer money. It is not clear how many new 2G licences could have been justified, given the shortage of spectrum. Indeed, it can be argued that the entry of new players has so exacerbated the 2G spectrum crunch that operators are willing to pay far more for 3G.


Like many similar decisions of DoT, those related to 2G spectrum have also raised credible allegations of favouritism. The process adopted for licensing faced several legal challenges. The Delhi High Court has ruled against DoT. In a related decision on allowing CDMA players to acquire 2G spectrum, the TDSAT supported the DoT, arguably on technicalities.


Raja's and DoT's fault lies in playing favourites in a sector where it is widely accepted that consumer interest is best served when all technologies and operators can compete robustly. Governments and regulators must focus on creating an environment where barriers to entry are few and markets can function without distortion to deliver optimal results. Seen from this perspective, decisions on 2G licences and the use of dual technology for CDMA players may seem market friendly, as Raja and several promoters have frequently asserted. However, the frivolous process—secrecy, weekend press releases and telecom executives pushing and shoving at DoT windows to pay crores in fees—adopted by the agencies under Raja's control raise doubts about his motives.


Thanks to Raja, the sector faces many new challenges rather prematurely. Since wireless is key to India's goals of delivering nationwide voice and data services, access to spectrum is critical. Since it is a critical and finite resource, rational rules for allocation and pricing are the key. As a direct consequence of recent decisions, Trai is facing several conflicting and, what may have been, avoidable pressures. When there is not enough spectrum available, how does Trai reconcile claims of existing players with those of new players that have given them rights to acquire spectrum. It is unclear whose claims should prevail—hardly a problem in other markets that are not as crowded.


Most experts believe that the more than dozen players per service area, a consequence of Raja's decisions, cannot expect to survive in the long run. Imminent consolidation of the market place is expected. Indeed, it is likely that high 3G prices will close the options for those who fail to acquire the spectrum. With new funding requirements about to roll out, such players may find it difficult to hold on to higher paying customers and make their exit a self-fulfilling prophecy. Such a bloodbath would not have taken place without Raja.


Raja's decision has had positive effects, too. Cheap local calls have helped several low-income users to get on to the networks and to exploit the many social and economic advantages that come from using phones. It is also quite likely that the crash in the price of voice calls will force operators to develop 3G/BWA broadband services that they have largely ignored. India is emerging as an important innovator in business models that allow companies to start offering services without owning much of their own infrastructure. Much good came from savvy telecom players as they responded to the unorthodox decisions taken by Raja and his bureaucrats.


This must not detract from the government's many arbitrary decisions that have plagued the sector on a regular basis. The telecom sector is capital-intensive. It will be difficult to attract investments for marginal areas if business impacting rules can change as whimsically as Raja has demonstrated. Sectors like governance, banking and health require a quality telecom infrastructure, especially in rural areas. Without investors' support, this will be difficult.


Raja may be disappointed that he is accused of causing losses to the exchequer when his actions have created the huge scarcity for spectrum that promises the government a windfall from future spectrum sales. 3G spectrum proceeds exceed most estimates. A more transparent and objective functioning of his ministry could have given Raja a far more credible defence than he has at the moment.


The author is a telecom consultant







A little over a year and a half ago when Ratan Tata announced that the Nano project would head to Gujarat, the country heaved a sigh of relief—the overwhelming financial loss involved or the company missing its deadline didn't matter, as long as Tata stuck to his promise of producing the cheapest car in the world. Overnight, Nano became India's answer to China's frugal engineering capabilities and Tata symbolised the growing clout of India Inc. The doors were now open for other major global auto giants to chase the market. In no time, Renault announced its alliance with Bajaj Auto to produce a car in Nano's price band—a little over Rs 1 lakh. However, a question that was lost in the mass hysteria surrounding Nano's launch was whether the premise of an ultra low-cost car holds water in the long run.


Would two-wheeler riders willingly switch to the Nano just because it's a car? The lukewarm response to the Nano since its launch in March 2009 has forced several car pundits to look for cover. Try asking an avid biker who loves the rush of blood through his head while riding his 150cc bike if he'd junk it for a Nano and you will get your answer. Even the bulk of the motorcyclists, who prefer bikes because of their economic viability, are shying away from the car realising that despite its low price, issues of maintenance and fuel costs will eventually burn a big hole in their pockets.


Sensing the shortfall, Rajiv Bajaj, vice-chairman & managing director of Bajaj Auto, downplayed the price factor for the ultra low-cost car that it is developing. He said that for a consumer, price is just one of the three determining factors. The Renault-Bajaj alliance is now aiming to sell high mileage to its customers—25-30 kmpl. With the Indian car market set to triple to a whopping 6 million cars annually in the next 10 years, the battle lines are drawn between auto majors from across the world. The rising purchasing power of the consumer and an abysmally low car penetration provides the perfect pie for every auto company. But for the Indian customer, an ultra low-cost car may initially hold a lot of promise. But if it has to sell, it must address the basic everyday issues.








Britain's 2010 general election has given the country its first hung Parliament in more than three decades. An electorate distrustful of politicians, angry about the economic crash and the illegal invasion of Iraq, and anxious about the future, has voted, as Lord Mandelson, a senior member of the Labour government, put it, to "turn the page in the political book" without deciding "which chapter to open." The last time there was an indecisive outcome was in 1974 when the Conservative government of Edward Heath was reduced to a minority, leading to political instability and fresh elections eight months later. Will history repeat itself? This is the question being asked as both the Conservative and Labour parties scramble to find allies to form a government. The former has emerged as the largest party by some distance. But it is unenviably short of a majority in the 650-member House of Commons; and together, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are closer to the halfway mark. Labour's hopes of leading a coalition government seemed to suffer a blow when Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, whose party fared worse than expected but has emerged as kingmaker, declared that it was the Conservative Party with "more votes and more seats" that "should seek to govern in the national interest." But he stopped short of committing support to any party — leaving the door open for some tough negotiations, especially around his main demand for radical electoral reform. This could be a tactic to get a better deal from Labour, whose leader has skilfully played the ball back into Mr. Clegg's court. Regional players such as the Scottish National Party, the Unionist parties of Northern Ireland and the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru will have an unaccustomed role in determining the shape of the next government.


In a comparable situation in India, the single largest party would have been more or less assured of the first turn at government formation. Under the British constitutional arrangement, however, the incumbent Prime Minister has the right to remain in office until he or she chooses to resign or is defeated on the floor of the House. In 1974, Mr. Heath, who was in the same situation that Gordon Brown is today, hung on for several days before conceding defeat when an attempted deal with the Liberal Party failed. Labour leader Harold Wilson then formed a minority government, which lasted only a few months. Britain has had five hung parliaments since the beginning of the 20th century — 1974 was the last — and on each occasion, fresh elections followed within months. There are fears that whoever gets to form the new government, the United Kingdom is headed for a period of political and economic instability.






The recent handing over of Ranjan Daimary to India by the authorities in Bangladesh is one more signal to insurgents in the North-East that they can no longer look to that country to provide them sanctuary. The Bodo militant, who leads a faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, is alleged to have masterminded the October 30, 2008 serial bomb attacks in Assam that killed more than 80 people. Just five months ago, in December 2009, Bangladesh similarly delivered the leader of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom, Arabinda Rajkhowa, along with one of his deputies, Raju Barua, to the Indian authorities, and a month earlier, two other top-rung leaders of ULFA were handed over. That leaves only ULFA's military chief Paresh Barua on the loose, while Anup Chetia, another top leader of the group, is in jail in Bangladesh. The issue of the North-East insurgent groups setting up cross-border bases was a major factor behind the difficult relationship India has had with its eastern neighbour through most of this decade. The turnaround can be credited directly to the willingness of the Sheikh Hasina government, elected in December 2008, to accommodate New Delhi's concerns on this matter and to formalise security cooperation. Prime Minister Hasina's visit to New Delhi earlier this year saw the two countries sign agreements on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, mutual transfer of convicted prisoners, and cooperation in the fight against international terrorism, organised crime, and illegal drug trafficking. New Delhi and Dhaka are now also discussing an extradition treaty.


The government should lose no time in putting to use the advantage it has secured with the arrests of these five high-profile North-East militants representing two of the most dogged and violent insurgencies in the region. It has provided an unprecedented opportunity to find lasting peace in Assam. With Mr. Daimary's arrest, the main obstacle to the dialogue that New Delhi has already initiated with a pro-talks faction of the NDFB is out of the way. The process should be able to go ahead without fear of disruption. With ULFA too, the government has a clear upper hand. That Mr. Paresh Baruah still remains outside presents a complication but the government can make him irrelevant by setting in motion a carefully thought out peace process with those of the group's leaders who genuinely want to talk and are clear that the issue of sovereignty is not up for negotiation










In Haryana today, rapid capitalist transformation is accompanied by a regressive feudal consciousness. As education and political awareness spread among Dalits, women and backward sections, alongside there is a massive consolidation of caste ( khap) panchayats in defence of the status quo. The number of cases in which the totally unconstitutional caste panchayats have openly defied the law of the land by issuing illegal diktats has increased manifold. Attacks on young couples, Dalits and progressive-minded people have become frequent.


A recent landmark judgment by the Additional Sessions Court at Karnal in the Manoj-Babli "honour" killing case, in which five accused were given the death sentence, sent shock waves among caste panchayat leaders, as it reminded them that they were not above the Constitution. The court took serious note of the fact that the policemen deployed for the security of Manoj and Babli actually facilitated the accused in perpetrating the crime.


Though geographically small, Haryana is socially and culturally heterogeneous. For example, in some areas and among certain castes, marriages within the village and even intra- gotra marriages are not uncommon. At the same time, such marriages are treated as incest in certain other areas, and among other castes. Even the caste or khap panchayat is not a feature prevalent throughout the State, as many believe, but is confined to a particular region. Thus, a section of people of one particular caste proclaims itself as the cultural representative of Haryana, refusing to acknowledge the customs and traditions practised by others in their own neighbourhood.


A look at the demography of the State and its development statistics would help to contextualise the problem. The State that stood second in per capita income in the country has one of the lowest sex ratios (821 in the 0-6 age group). Female foeticide is rampant, and the situation is so bad that wives are being brought from far off States. Not once have these panchayats called a maha-panchayat to pass a resolution against female foeticide or dowry or even in connection with the crisis in agriculture — problems staring the people of Haryana in the face.


After the judgment in the Manoj-Babli case, however, a congregation of caste panchayats representing the Jat neighbourhoods from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan was called at Kurukshetra on April 13. It was decided that panchayats would now fight for legal status to legitimately maintain the "social order." One of the main agendas of this sarv-khap panchayat was to push for amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 that would ban marriages within the same gotra (clan within which men and women are considered siblings and hence cannot marry). Under this Act, marriages between certain lineages from the paternal and maternal sides are already barred.


Most of the khap panchayat diktats are against couples who are not from the same gotra. In fact, not more than one case of honour killing has been of a couple within the same gotra. By creating the false impression that all marriages of choice between young couples are incestuous, what the khaps are actually opposing is the right to choose a marriage partner. Among the several instances of khaps issuing fatwas in Jaundhi, Asanda, Dharana, Singhwal, Hadaudi, Maham-kheri, Ludana and other villages, not a single one was an intra- gotra marriage, yet the married couples were declared siblings, and families made to suffer boycotts and excommunication from their villages.


A sad example of the gotra row is that of Ved Pal Moan, brutally beaten to death last year when he tried to secure his wife who was confined by her parents at Singhwal village in Jind district. He was escorted by a police party and a warrant officer of the High Court. Ved Pal had married neither within his gotra nor within the same village. In this case, another absurd code was invoked by the khap: that the couple violated the custom of not marrying in the neighbouring village as it forms part of bhaichara (brotherhood). A khap congregation held in March 2009 publicly pronounced the death sentence for Ved Pal, and it succeeded in executing it in June. As couples are selectively targeted, it is clear the real motive is to control women's sexuality to ensure that property remains within the patriarchal caste domain (mainly Jats in Haryana).


The sarv khap panchayat also called for social boycott of individuals who raised their voice against the caste panchayats. A former police chief of Haryana, himself a self-styled caste leader, went on record threatening khap-critics. How can a former DGP publicly threaten law-abiding citizens, and yet continue to enjoy the hefty perks and pension out of the public exchequer?


The caste panchayat leaders have decided to stifle any voice of assertion from the backward sections. On April 21 more than 20 houses of Dalits were burnt down at Mirchpur village, in the presence of a police force, allegedly by thugs belonging to a dominant caste, resulting in the death of an 18-year-old handicapped girl and her ailing father. A panchayat of khaps convened at Mirchpur three days after the carnage not only declared all arrested persons innocent but also issued an ultimatum to the government for their release! This was exactly the pattern adopted by caste panchayats in the Gohana (2005) and Duleena (2002) incidents, where brutal attacks on Dalits took place.


Even elders from socially and economically weaker families are not spared. At Khedi Meham in December 2009, the father of a newly wed groom was forced to hold a shoe in his mouth in front of the whole village by the panchayatis. Ordinary citizens are caught in the contradiction between two sets of values — the blind consumerism of the neo-liberal dispensation, and the outdated feudal values represented by the khaps. The first is no replacement for the second, and indeed, pseudo-modernism only strengthens the forces of revivalism. The alternative to both types of distortions lies in the spread of healthy and progressive values that can be unleashed through only a new social reform movement in the entire Hindi belt.


Limited but crucial role


The judiciary does have a crucial role to play but has its limitations too. On June 23, 2008 Justice K.S. Ahluwalia of the Punjab and Haryana High Court made a revealing observation while simultaneously hearing 10 cases pertaining to marriages between young couples aged 18 - 21: "The High Court is flooded with petitions where … judges of this Court have to answer for the right of life and liberty to married couples. The State is a mute spectator. When shall the State awake from its slumber [and] for how long can Courts provide solace and balm by disposing of such cases?" A legislature with little political will and a pliant executive will have to be made responsive under pressure of a mass movement.


The voices of dissent are also getting consolidated under the umbrella of organisations like the AIDWA and other democratic forces. The younger generation must stand forth as responsible social activists and lead the struggle for change in an otherwise feudal society that lives by the dictum " Jiski lathi uski bhains" (the powerful call the shots). In Haryana each passing day is costing the lives of innocent women and men.


( The author is Director, Women's Study Centre, Maharishi Dayanand University, Rohtak, and State President of AIDWA, Haryana.)








On Sunday Russia will mark the 65th anniversary of victory in World War Two with an unprecedented military parade that will see western troops march for the first time in Red Square.


Military units from WWII allies of Russia — the U.S., Britain and France — have been invited to join Russian troops for the V-Day parade on May 9. Servicemen from nine former Soviet republics will also take part.


Altogether the one-hour parade will see more than 10,000 troops from 20 countries march past the Kremlin and feature several types of defence equipment for the first time, including the Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile. A total of 161 tanks and missiles will roll through the Red Square.


The highlight of the parade is a flyover of 127 planes and helicopters, including Tu-160 Blackjacks and Tu-95 Bear nuclear-capable strategic bombers, the world's biggest transport plane, An-124, mid-air refuelling tankers, as well Sukhoi and Mikoyan fighters.


Rehearsals for the parade have been going on for the past week, shutting down traffic in downtown Moscow for several hours every day. Military parades will also be held in 70 other Russian cities, involving a total of about 100,000 troops.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and Chinese President Hu Jintao are among 25 foreign leaders set to attend. Many other countries are sending in delegations to Moscow. However, India will be conspicuously absent from the Moscow celebrations in contrast with the 60th V-Day anniversary, attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It is true that in 2005 Mr. Singh came at a special invitation of then President Vladimir Putin, whereas this year President Dmitry Medvedev sent out personal invitations only to the leaders of the former Soviet states. However, all other countries were also invited to attend.


The Indian Embassy in Moscow could not say why New Delhi decided not to send any delegation. All that an embassy spokesperson would say was that "the Government of India will not be represented", in the Moscow festivities.


It may be argued that India was not directly involved in the world's most destructive war. But then, Vietnam was not involved either and Israel did not even exist at the time. Yet, both states will be represented in Moscow. Besides, "several thousand Indian troops also laid down their lives" in WWII, as Mr. Singh recalled on departure to Moscow for the 60th V-Day anniversary five years ago.


In his statement for the press on the occasion, Mr. Singh made it clear that he was going to Russia, not only to commemorate "the immense sacrifices made by Russia and other allied countries in defeating the forces Fascism and Nazism", but also because "we attach the highest importance to our relations with Russia, which has been a tried and tested friend, and has stood by us in times of need".


There is no evidence to suggest that New Delhi has since revised either its assessment of Russia's contribution to WWII victory or its view of bilateral relations with Russia. India is still the most trusted strategic partner of Russia, whose arms played a no small role in defending India's independence over the past decades.


Yet, no India official will be present in Red Square on Sunday to mark Russia's most sacred holiday, for which its people paid a horrendous price of almost 27 million lives.









Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Rashid Beebeejaun says that Mauritius wants greater participation by Indian companies in developing the infrastructure of this island-nation.


"Our bilateral relations have always been excellent, but we feel that there's much more room for collaboration," Mr. Beebeejaun said in an interview with The Hindu on Friday at his modest office in the capital city of Port Louis. "We expect more interest from our friends in India in setting up enterprises here."


Besides strengthening the infrastructure of this Indian Ocean country of 1.3 million people, Mr. Beebeejaun said Indian companies could assist in such fields as renewable energy, shipping, electricity generation, and sewage-treatment.


"I can personally assure you that Indian companies will be welcome in Mauritius," the 75-year-old Deputy Prime Minister said. "But they should be more present, and more forceful. Certainly, all Indians who come here are made to feel at home. But that's only the first step. The second step is that we want them to assist us in our sustainable economic development efforts, and deliver. But hardly any Indian firms are showing much interest so far."


Mr. Beebeejaun suggested that foreign direct investment from Mauritius into India "could possibly increase". The current FDI figure of nearly $12 million annually is the highest of any country in India, and more than three times that of the next biggest FDI provider, the United States.


On trade


The FDI from Mauritius is not necessarily indigenous money but funds routed from other sources that take advantage of this country's liberal tax regulations. India, however, does not figure high on the list of countries from where Mauritius imports consumer and other products. India annually sends about $200 million worth of such goods, including cotton, to Mauritius — barely 10 per cent of this country's total imports. Imports from China exceed $500 million, and more and more Chinese tourists have also been coming here in recent years.


Mr. Beebeejaun spoke a day after winning a tough race in the election for the 60-member Parliament. The three-party alliance led by Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam obtained 41 seats, while 18 went to the leftist Mouvement Militant Mauricien, and one was wrested by an Islamist candidate.


The Deputy Prime Minister looked fit and surprisingly relaxed for a man who had just completed a brutal political campaign. In that campaign, he was maligned by Muslim opponents as not being a faithful Muslim.


Mr. Beebeejaun said he was not bothered by "false and malicious" accusations.


"Some Muslims resented the fact that I did not say that I was a Muslim first and foremost," he said. "I am first and foremost a Mauritian. I am a man of deep personal faith. I practise my religion. But I believe in sharing universal values. I believe in nation building. I participate in all national functions. I attend Chinese festivals, I attend Hindu festivals, I attend mass at churches. I feel enriched by such exposure to my country's diversity and religions."

"Mauritius is one place where we celebrate our differences," Mr. Beebeejaun said. "As in India, Hindus and Muslims and Christians and others live together under the banner of one nation. Those who seek divide us pollute minds and create groundwork for an undesirable legacy."


He was alluding to the communalism that has long characterised certain sectors of Mauritian society, where nearly 50 per cent of the population is Hindu, followed by other communities such as Creoles, Christians, Muslims and whites of French descent known as Francos.


"We seek to build in Mauritius a nation where every component of society feels part of the national spirit," Mr. Beebeejaun said. "I belong to a government that represents all our people, and not any one single community."


Indeed, Mr. Beebeejaun added, Mauritius could point proudly to the fact that, as a nation, it had acquired a reputation for being non-ideological and nonpartisan. Noting the many friendships of his friend and boss, Prime Minister Ramgoolam, with world leaders of different political persuasions, Mr. Beebeejaun said the non-partisanship of Mauritius in world affairs offered it "independence and flexibility".


On the international scene


There are reports that these elements may be utilised by Mauritius to amplify its voice on the international scene, perhaps through the establishment of a centre for the global south. Such a centre could consist of a think tank on strategic communications and public diplomacy, and also focus on promoting cross-cultural understanding.


While Mauritius has maintained non-partisanship sine its independence from the British 42 years ago, it has also sought to strengthen economic links with other developing nations, particularly in Africa, West Asia, and Asia.


In recent years, Asian giants such as China and India have figured large on the Mauritian radar. China is building an industrial city here to assemble consumer and other goods for re-export to Africa and Europe. Indian leaders visit Mauritius frequently, and Prime Ministers Ramgoolam and Manmohan Singh are known for their warm rapport.


Asked how concerned he was that the growing Chinese economic presence in Mauritius is reportedly irritating India, Mr. Beebeejaun said: "Our relationship with China is not at the expense of India. We believe in friendship and cooperation with all countries who demonstrate good will toward Mauritius."







In a move that is being billed as a historic achievement for one of the world's leading languages, web addresses will now be available in Arabic as part of a wider move to open up cyberspace to domain names in multiple, non-Latin scripts.


Egypt, the most populous of Arab countries, announced on Thursday that it had begun registering names under the .misr domain. "Misr" is the Arabic name for Egypt. The first three companies to use it are TE Data, Vodafone Data and Link Registrar, said the country's Communications Minister, Tarek Kamel, hailing "a milestone in internet history".


Instead of using the old .eg domain name, organisations in Egypt can use ".misr", written from right to left in Arabic script as the default country code for domestic websites. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are also introducing the new codes, respectively ".Al-Saudiah" and ".Emarat".


One of the first of these "internationalised domain names" leads to the Egyptian Communications Ministry. If a browser has the correct fonts installed, the user should see an Arabic name. When you mouse-over or click on the link, what you see will depend on the browser. "Confusing for us, a relief for the Arab world," commented the specialist IT site


The move comes six months after the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, Icann, approved the use of non-Latin domain names.


The innovation is a significant moment for the internationalisation of the world wide web — half of whose users do not use a Latin script as their primary language.


Arabic accounts for one per cent of all web content — though its estimated 280 million speakers constitute five per cent of the global population — but until now it has had to be hosted under Latin addresses.


 © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








The British general election has not thrown up stirring moments for anyone as the principal parties struggle to cobble together a stable government. For the first time in 36 years the country has thrown up a hung Parliament. How badly the House of Commons is hung is evident from the fact that no party is certain to form the next government, although the Conservatives have clearly won the most votes and the most seats.
After 13 years of Labour rule this is the best the Tories could do. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, generally portrayed as dour and uninspiring, Labour does appear to have held up reasonably well. A year ago, opinion polls showed the Conservatives 26 points ahead, but this lead has been whittled down to seven per cent. Support for both Tory and Labour has come from all parts of the country, suggesting that the incumbent of three terms fought hard in an effort to pull off a fourth consecutive win, although it fell short trying. Perhaps Mr Brown's husbanding of the recession economy in the past 18 months, and his stand on Iraq and Afghanistan, has something to do with this. The Labour leader, who has pulled troops out of Iraq and pushed for a reconciliation with the top Taliban leadership, might have been able to convey the impression of dependability in the end. And yet, it is hard not to discern an undercurrent for change, mild though it is. While it did not cross the halfway mark in terms of seats, the Conservative Party has picked up 36 per cent of the popular vote. This is one per cent higher than what Labour had in the last general election, although even with that number the latter had won a majority in the House, given the vagaries of the first-past-the-post system.
Conservative leader David Cameron should ordinarily have the first crack at government-making. But in the British system, the incumbent Prime Minister is traditionally permitted first shot at producing a "stable" government if elections produce a hung Parliament. This leaves Labour with a sliver of hope. However, everything really depends on Liberal-Democratic leader Nick Clegg, who left a huge impression during the campaign but fell way short in the end. Nevertheless, he has the numbers to possibly allow Mr Brown to hold on to power, although this would call for some wheeling and dealing that might involve other smaller parties. On the other hand, if the Lib-Dems decide to go with the Tories right away, Mr Cameron can become Prime Minister straightaway. The likely price would be agreeing to the Lib-Dems' long-standing demand for a switch to the proportional representation system, not to mention countenancing its views on proximity with Europe. If the Tory leader turns squeamish on these, as he might well be, Mr Brown might still have a chance. But that possibility appeared remote Friday evening. Till the time of going to press, it appeared that Mr Cameron would try to form a government with Lib-Dem support, but hard negotiations are still on and other possibilities cannot be ruled out.

The international markets, nervous on account of signs of a collapse in Greece, will undoubtedly be hoping for a stable government being formed quickly in London, particularly given the City's leading position in the global financial system. That apart, turns in British politics do not matter a great deal for the rest of the world any more. For India, Conservative governments have usually been less difficult than Labour on sensitive issues like Kashmir. In Afghanistan, the Tories might be expected to sail closer to the American wind than Labour has with its upfront stance on reconciling with the Taliban.







 It was a really exciting election night — probably better than watching the FA cup, or even T20. But having stayed up till the early hours of Friday following the fortunes of the three main parties, I can barely keep my eyes open as I write this.

So David Cameron, leader of the Conservatives, has got the most number of seats — even though the incumbent Gordon Brown went back to 10 Downing Street stating that he would try to cobble together a government! Power is always very difficult to give up. There is no denying that we have expected a hung Parliament for a while, and no doubt there will be much horse-trading going on behind closed doors.
There will also be a lot of grumbling about the victory of spin over substance. But the daily pre-election polls had already prepared us for an unprecedented result — and what should have been a cakewalk for Cameron became a hard fight. So much so that he campaigned through the night on election eve, collaring whatever voters he could find, fishermen, factory workers, firemen or shop-workers, hopping off and on his campaign bus, a bunch of exhausted media men and women trailing behind. Even schoolchildren, early in the morning were not spared, as he chatted them up with a near-manic zeal. And ultimately perhaps it was this determination and energy which perhaps impressed the electorate the most.

Our night began at  the Al Jazeera TV studio with David Frost, who remains the grand old man of television. As soon as the polls closed and the exit poll results were announced, the squabbling between bemused members of various parties had begun, with everyone denying the exit poll result. As the possibility of a sea of blue swept through the UK — an audible hush swept through the studio. When (and if) Gordon Brown shifts out of 10 Downing Street, and David Cameron moves in, the changeover will be complete, but the country is  absolutely primed for a change. The exhaustion from the 13 years of Labour was so extreme that even the Labour loyalist newspaper, the Guardian had switched allegiance to the Liberal Democrats. And though the Labour government has had a good record for social welfare — the weight of the Gordon Brown government had obviously become unbearable.
Now of course, the knives will come out: but few will deny that if Mr Brown had given way to a younger leader such as David Miliband , the foreign secretary , Labour would have had a better chance against the two younger challengers. This is perhaps a lesson the Indian Opposition must learn from the UK. They will sleepwalk into another defeat unless they quickly find a leader from Generation Next. People are looking for young and fresh messages, wrapped in a kinder, compassionate package. Whichever party offers that — is likely to win.
This has been a very closely fought election — with the kind of nail-biting tension that saw tempers fraying and allegations flying all over the place. To edge a well-established party out of power is very difficult. India has faced the same problem. The incumbent has too many tentacles going into too many areas — and it will obviously be difficult to kick a party out.

Because it was predicted to be such a close fight, one of the mistakes Labour has made is to run a negative campaign. The Labour government, instead of playing up on its myriad achievements, decided to bash the Conservatives and scare the electorate. From every platform, the message was reiterated, "Beware the Tories, this is the Nasty Party". Even I received , at my home , a barrage of leaflets from the Labour Party warning me that the Tories would make my family unsafe. Unsafe? David Cameron may be many things but he doesn't quite seem to be the kind who will batter down the door and steal the silver. The effort by the Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters to somehow persuade the British people to go in for a hung Parliament stitch up was also one of the most annoying parts of the campaign. Does scaring the people work? Isn't it patronising to tell people what to do?

Of course to some extent it is true that we are very susceptible to half-baked suggestions, which if repeated frequently enough begin to sound like fact. And so — a negative campaign can be very successful, and this time too it has worked to a certain extent. In fact, one of the highlights of the TV debate was when Mr Cameron turned on Mr Brown and accused him of printing falsehoods in the Labour campaign material about the Tories. Mr Brown was forced to say that he was not aware of the alleged fabrications.

Those of us who have experienced a hung Parliament in India know that it is a messy business. We have seen coalition governments that are both expensive, and even corrupt. And often, the most important decisions, such as the Women's Reservation Bill, are quietly pushed under the carpet so that deals can be struck on other issues.
However, the UK election also saw the highest turnout ever. More than 60 per cent of the country's 44 million registered voters, turned out to vote. It was a lovely crisp spring day, with warm sunshine teased into cooling swirls by a brisk wind. Walking down to the school, where the polling booth was situated, I remembered going to vote in India, and standing in a long queue, coming back with a blue stained finger. However, there is no such problem here. There were barely three people in the booth, we did not have to carry ID cards — and nor did I have to sacrifice my hand to inky spottiness.

What, of course, amazes me is in this so-called modern country, there are no electronic voting machines. I am a bit puzzled — what could be the reason? It's not as though India is a technological powerhouse! The physical counting does mean that the results do not appear with the same speed as they do in India.
But, on the other hand, the biggest lesson India can take from the UK elections is to actually introduce TV debates between the party leaders. This is something the Opposition in India has been asking for a while, and it may not be a bad idea. Even though I do object to the fact that the debates led to a redoubling of emphasis on spin and style, rather than on real issues or ideology — their huge impact was to engage people in the elections. The game show format meant that ordinary voters, in the comfort of their sitting rooms, were able to connect, and vote for the "winner". It definitely engaged them, and for a while even gave a boost to the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, who was immediately crowned a "kingmaker". At a time when the country has become cynical about politics and many voters were unable to decide between the three main parties, the debates injected — amongst the jaded middle classes — a new sense of power over their political masters. And they certainly proved it, by turning out in huge numbers.

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


Kishwar Desai






"Kasab ko latka do…" Done. Kasab has been sentenced. He is to hang. Will he? That's a million dollar question. Even if Kasab leapfrogs over 50 other prisoners on death row, whose mercy pleas are on hold  with the President of India, he could be left cooling his heels in the clink for the next 10 years. This 22-year-old "menace to society", will then be a decade older — that is , if no one gets to him before that. The general feeling, at least in Mumbai, is that "latkana hai to jaldi latka do". Forget the monumental expense of keeping this guy alive and well-fed in our midst, the trickier part is to keep him — period. It is not his safety alone that is at grave risk, it is the safety of the city, and more importantly of the country. Kasab by himself is a complete nobody. His minders would have preferred him to die during the 26/11 terror attacks. It is his misfortune and ours that he survived. Despite the stupendous job done by the Mumbai cops (in particular, by Rakesh Maria who headed the investigation), the Kasab story remains incomplete and on many levels, entirely unconvincing. This was exactly what the masterminds in Pakistan had hoped for — unleash violence, create an atmosphere of insecurity, mislead the people of India... and then watch the fun.

There is not a single destination left on the planet that is "terrorist proof". The world was witness to what happened last week in the heart of New York. And to think, that audacious attempt was engineered pretty effortlessly in a country that prides itself on all the deterrents that kicked in post 9/11. Once again, the watching world looked on in disbelief and horror, as a crude bomb nearly went off in New York's Times Square, engineered by Faisal Shahzad, who was on the verge of nonchalantly escaping to Dubai from  JFK terminal before being picked up. There may be hundreds where he came from. Just as there may be half a dozen home-grown Kasabs waiting in the wings to strike at the first opportunity. Opportunity? Ha… There is one in India every second minute. Somehow, our mindset is against the sort of security measures that prevail across the globe. We resent the very people whose job it is to ensure our safety. Since I travel constantly, I can tell you, our airports remain our weakest links. Why? Because security efforts are a bit of a joke, and we ourselves treat them lightly. Last week, while returning from a short trip to Goa, I was silly enough to carry a doggy bag with my favourite fish curry in my hand luggage. There is no way one can pack curry into a suitcase, right? Yup. Absolutely right. But… think about it… here's a person (me!), who knows the rules, is perfectly aware that liquids cannot be taken on board (if over a 100ml). Did that simple thought even cross my mind as I happily set forth with 500ml of curry to enjoy back home? Nope. So… what happened at  the security check? A lady cop giggled, shrugged and pointed to her senior (a burly guy), who came up to ask what it was that I had in a plastic container. I brightly said, "Fish curry". He licked his chops before mildly scolding me, "But madam… you cannot take it on the plane". My disappointment must have been obvious, because his face softened as he came up with a solution. "Madam, you can eat it here… no problem".   That would have been a first for me. An unappetising first. Seeing my tepid response, he made another suggestion, "Why not empty out half the curry and take the rest?" Oh heavens… I admit I was desperate, but not that desperate! By then five more cops had gathered around  the plastic container to offer assorted advice. Some had abandoned their posts to participate in the curry debate. Other passengers were being waved through casually, their belongings checked in a cursory way. One of them could have been the new Kasab/Faisal. Ten minutes later, the burly senior cop strolled away with a smirk on his face. That was clearly the signal the juniors were waiting for. The lady cop all but winked at me before stamping the security tag on my handbag and whispering, "Theek hai, theek hai madam… drama kar raha tha". I mean… Seriously. Come on! Rules ought to be rules, no matter who or what! That blessed curry was giving me indigestion… a severe belly ache by now. And I said to myself, "This is so dumb". Equally, it was so dangerous. Technically speaking, I could have held up the plane with that fish curry. I could have temporarily blinded the unsuspecting crew, forced myself into the cockpit and flung some more of the chilly heavy gravy into the captain's face. It would have rated as the first plane hijack in the world accomplished by a woman wielding nothing more lethal than delicious Goan fish curry.

I cite this comical, farcical almost surrealistic incident only to highlight the sorry state of our basic security measures at airports… and our own ludicrous attitude to them. We regard checks as somehow being of high nuisance value. The same desis who wordlessly and passively strip down to their underwear at American airports, look deeply insulted and act seriously affronted when much milder procedures are enforced back home. I have witnessed countless "How dare you?" moments, and wondered at the miracle that has so far saved us from a gigantic calamity. Five-star hotels, malls and multiplexes generally employ desperate youth, incapable of holding down any other job. Their "training" is a joke as is evident when you watch them go through the motions in a robotic fashion. What happened at the German Bakery in Pune, is but one example of our own absurd attitude to safety.

Do Indians have a death wish? Sometimes, I feel hapless enough to believe we do!

— Readers can send feedback to







 "If wishes were horses,

You'd get saddled with stabling bills".

From The Dattey Raho

Protocol by Bachchoo

Before I knew what "USSR" stood for or indeed where it was, I was given a misleading and derisory description of Communism by a teacher and taken with the rest of my class to the school gates to join a throng of the hoi polloi and wave to the passing Nikita Khrushchev who was a guest of the Indian government of the time and had done our town the honour of passing through it.

Very many of the crowd that lined the pavement waiting for the cavalcade held little red flags with sickles and hammers to wave at the impossibly luxurious-looking black cars followed by grey Ambassadors that the touring dignitaries and their escorts were using. Following the crowd, though discouraged by our Christian teachers who expressed their disapproval of Communist atheism, egalitarian doctrines of Mr K himself and of the Indian government for not being British, we joined in the chant of "Hindi-Russia bhai bhai!" which we could hear approaching as a wave of sound from further down the route as the cars approached.
Mr K and other burly people in black suits waved from the cars beyond the lines of police stationed to keep the eager citizens from overflowing into the street.

The visit did stimulate a lot of debate about the suitability of Communism to a country such as ours and some newspapers gave voice to dissenting opinions about the evils of the Soviet system.
I don't remember waving at Chou En Lai (these were the days before the Chinese decided to conflate the last two syllables of their names, turning Tse Tung into the surname Zedong) but I was aware that his state visit had produced the imaginative slogan "Hindi-Chini bhai bhai!" which Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru took to heart. The Chinese military assault on India — that was how we saw it in 1962 — must have made him wonder about the persuasiveness of the slogan his propagandists had popularised. Yes, brothers we were — but then so were Cain and Abel.

There were dissident opinions in the Indian press at the time. India did not uniformly welcome the visits of Mr K or Chou. There were a few publications which voiced their dissent on the grounds of the domestic reputations of either of these leaders or the autocracies they led, but there was no Nehruvian police force to knock at dawn at the doors of the editors of such opinion and carry them away to the gulags of Orissa or wherever. The Indian populace was free to wave its paper flags, scream its fraternal identity with Russians and Chinese and return to its round of scrambling for a living. In some international charade being played out by our leaders the visits had significance.

And today in Britain the present Pope Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Ratzinger, has been invited by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to a tour of Britain. The Vatican has accepted and the visit is scheduled for September.

The foreign office of Britain, having very little on its hands with the global financial crisis and its massive deficit, with the war in Afghanistan, the withdrawal from Iraq, the threat of nuclear armament by Iran and of the acquisition of dirty bombs by local terrorists, the surfacing of Al Qaeda bases in Yemen and Somalia and other such trivia, turned its corporate attention to the visit of the Pope. A small team within the foreign office was asked for its views on what activities the Pope should engage in during his state visit. It was a question seeking serious answers. The one penned or computed by one Steven Mulvain of the team, set its heart on satire.
Mulvain's memo said that the Pope should "launch a range of Benedict Condoms, be invited to inaugurate an abortion clinic and sing a duet with the Queen to raise money for the victims of AIDS in Africa".
Very many people in Britain believe, as I do, that the Pope's advice or infallible transmission of God's word to the faithful is, on the points of contraception, abortion, safe sex, homosexual relations and several other matters, mistaken or wrong-minded. That's as may be. The Pope is reputed to allow people like myself to hold these contrary, foolish and perhaps even Satanic opinions. Sticks and stones will break his bones — after all the apostolic successor of St. Peter is avowedly human and words shouldn't hurt him. And they wouldn't and won't, but the words should not, for the shame of Britain, have emanated from an official of the foreign office who was asked for his judgment on the agenda of a state visit.

The memo, written by Mr Mulvain and allegedly passed by his superior who happens to be a person of Pakistani extraction, was circulated in official circles and even, it is said, reached Downing Street as, at worst, a satirical offering.

As British citizens both these geezers are perfectly entitled to their opinions about the Pope and his stand on contraception, gay people and abortion. I have opinions about his opinions too and only a Stalinist style police, set up by the next government of Britain, can stun me into not expressing these opinions whenever and wherever I feel is appropriate, whether it be at a gala gathering of the Irish Catholic Hooligans Club or in the saloon bar of the Sock and Sadist where I spend my spare hours. But then I don't work for the foreign office and any memos I send to 10 Downing Street would probably have me arrested and deported.
The point being that Mr Mulvain is obviously a booby with a deficient sense of humour who should take extended sick leave from the foreign office for his bad jokes. The point is not that paparazzi will be unduly offended. I am sure the rock on which the church is built has weathered many tides and will not take either Mr Mulvain's memo or the subsequent apology from foreign secretary David Miliband as more than droppings from passing seagulls. The damage is to the mehmaan nawazi of her Maj's kingdom.

Please note that I do not recommend a hanging and quartering of Mr Mulvain. But, to digress, I am very glad that a preacher who publicly spread derision if not hatred against gay people is to be prosecuted and perhaps sent to the Tower or equivalent. This voicing of opinions also has its limits.

Farrukh Dhondy






Much as politics is vital to keepdemocracy running, it is perhaps not necessary to politicise everything that we undertake as a nation. The current brouhaha over including caste in the census is a case in point. The census is a mathematical and statistical exercise: it is a chronicle and a record of a population and its changes. It is about social demographics and, mainly, it is about numbers.


The question arises — and it appears to be a reasonable one — about why caste is kept out of the census. After all, this is a massive enterprise which aims to track and record over one billion people. It might then make sense to seek as much information as possible — the next chance will come 10 years from now.


The main argument against caste seems to have been that the caste system belongs to a discriminatory past which we are trying to leave behind. There is, therefore, no need to include caste in the census and acknowledge its presence. This argument would be perfectly acceptable if we did not already have caste-based reservations in government jobs, educational institutions and so on.


Caste may be distasteful but it is a reality — and a reality which has been accepted by the political system. The

ideal may well be a caste-free society but the way there, according to the accepted wisdom, is giving those who are discriminated against a bit of help. Reservations may be unpopular with some sections of society and may have a limited success rate, but they exist and no political party is willing to dump them summarily.


Unfortunately, the tone and the depth of our political debate is all too often at the lowest level and this does not

allow for reasonable conclusions. The logic to include caste within the census is fairly strong, after all —the census is an ideal opportunity to find out as much information as possible. The Yadav leaders — who are at the forefront of the pro-caste movement — are looking at this only for their possible political gain rather than as a way of getting an effective headcount.


But their political games cannot take away from the practical benefits of the census. It may be possible to include an optional section to the census questions. This will allow those who do not want to be identified either by their caste or by their religion to specify that. Those who feel that caste ought not to be relevant any more will get their answer from the number of people who disassociate themselves from their caste. And for those who think that the census may benefit them politically, this effective exercise will give them their answer as well. For any government, the numbers give them a base on which to formulate their social and human developmental policies.


Either way, the nation has a right to know who it is made up of and the direction in which it is going, without politicians jumping in and manipulating the process.








Liberal international relations theorists claim that commerce brings about peace because countries that trade together have more incentives to cooperate and avoid conflict. But China and India may be exceptions to that rule, reasons Belgian security analyst and research fellow at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies Jonathan Holslag. In an interview with DNA, the author of China and India: Prospects for Peace, explains why the concept of 'Chindia' is a myth and why for all their growing economic interdependence, China and India won't grow without conflict.


Why can't China and India get along?

Three assumptions underlie the positive expectations of China-India relations. First, that their economic aspirations will lead to a mutually beneficial economic cooperation based on a Ricardian division of labour: China as a manufacturing power, India as a services economy. Second, it's assumed that growing bilateral trade will alter perceptions of each other. And third, it's believed that interdependence mitigates the traditional security atmosphere.


All three assumptions are flawed. First, the Ricardian formula is infirm. If India is to find jobs for its millions, it will have to hasten its industrialisation directed at exports, which will pit it against China's manufacturing strengths. Simultaneously, China is making strides in areas where India is strong, like IT and commercial services.


Second, despite both countries' efforts to get closer, there's been no positive evolution in terms of public perceptions of each other; in fact, they've gotten worse. Although bilateral trade has grown, it's distorted: India exports only raw materials, whereas China exports manufactured goods. That imbalance is unsustainable. And Indian companies want barriers against Chinese 'dumping'.


Third, there's been no progress on the border issue or in the military posturing. Efforts to demilitarise the border zone have in recent years given way to a remilitarisation.


In short, despite the levels of interaction, there's been no fundamental improvement in the China-India relationship. These are two rapidly developing countries with domestic expectations often outpacing the governments' ability to fulfil them. This will create uncertainty and frictions.


Do you mean they'll go to war?

At this level, it's not outright war. It's not even at the stage of fierce trade disputes. But it all depends on how both the countries manage their economic ambitions.


If the border dispute is resolved, will it overcome the distrust?

I don't think the border issue will be settled anytime soon. Even if it is, it won't remove all the other layers of competition.


Is the concept of 'Chindia' dead?

My book was originally titled The Myth of Chindia. It refutes the notion of Chindia, for the reason that the economic division of labour — based on perceptions of complementarity — will not materialise, and there will be more competition between them at a time when a lot of their export markets are saturated.


Can't the two build on the cooperation they showed at the Copenhagen climate change summit?
There's a lot of convergence between India and China on matters of international governance; within the UN framework, they work together on a number of issues. But these joint interests are not strong or important enough to neutralise their bilateral security dilemmas and frictions.


Can't they overcome the mutual distrust, as happened in 1988 after Rajiv Gandhi's visit to China, and in 2003 after AB Vajpayee's visit?

There are domestic political limitations in both countries. Both governments face growing tensions at home and will have less scope to make concessions abroad. Nationalism will be an important tool to step up domestic legitimacy, and this can cramp the space to develop bilateral relations. Take the border issue: whenever an Indian government takes an initiative to break the deadlock, it will face fire at home. In China too, pragmatists are facing pressure from nationalist hardliners to stand strong on international disputes.


There's another factor that will shape China-India relations: US role in the region. Stability in Asia will depend greatly on how the US balances the security interests of the different regional powers. Too much cooperation with India — or too much 'pragmatism' vis-a-vis China — will cause disquiet with the other.


Isn't China's support for Pakistan also an irritant?

Certainly. As long as China persists with that, India will have difficulty in accepting China as a potential strategic partner. Two factors play a role in China's policy towards Pakistan. First, being uncertain of India's long-term intentions as a regional power, China supports Pakistan politically, economically and militarily. But China also wants to reap economic gains in Pakistan. For China, building nuclear power plants in Pakistan is as much about commerce as it is about strategic balancing.


Is China muscling into India's sphere in South Asia and the Indian Ocean?

China is developing relations with Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Mauritius, but I don't believe it can draw them into its orbit, however much aid or diplomatic and political support it may give them. These smaller states are more likely to hedge between different regional powers, and between China and India. In that sense, China is not building an exclusive sphere of influence, but it does imply that for India, it will be less easy to protect its own influence in its neighbourhood. India should not worry about China becoming too dominant in South Asia, but it should worry that India itself will not be able to become the leading power in this region.


Is the lack of depth in people-to-people interactions a factor in the strains?

Track 2 dialogues can help create mutual understanding, but they can't fundamentally alter distrust in bilateral relations. The architecture of informal dialogue between China and India has in fact intensified. Indian think-tanks interact with Chinese counterparts; so also universities. But there are fundamental differences in interests and ambitions. Public diplomacy is no cure for distrust and friction in diplomatic relations.


With some other countries too, China has gone on a charm offensive, but if that isn't backed up with initiatives to tackle awkward issues at the official level, it could face a serious backlash.







I have always been very curious to know how a place can change with time. Will it change for better or for worse? One always hopes that changes are for the better. But sometimes we are disappointed with what we expect and what we get. I could not fully satisfy my curiosity when I visited Jharkhand and Bihar recently as my visit was limited to my birthplace, Daltonganj, a small town in Jharkhand and Patna, Bihar's capital.


I was very curious to visit Daltonganj as I was going there after almost seven years. I wished that time would fly and I would reach there as soon as possible, but it was not to be so. Thanks to our ever unreliable railways, my train departed hours later than its scheduled time. Oh well! Atleast I was on my way, was the only consolation that I could offer myself.


I had requested the railway attendant to let me know when to get down. After two days of comfortable travel in an AC coach, the attendant told me to get down as my station had arrived. I was eager to get going as my train was nearly 10 hours late in reaching its destination.


It was afternoon and I suddenly realised that I had got down at a station called Medininagar. Oh no! I was supposed to get down at Daltonganj. Cursing the foolish attendant, I was almost ready to start running after the departing train when a kind soul nearby, understanding my confusion, told me that Daltonganj had been renamed Medininagar.


Hmm! So my town has been renamed Medininagar, I mused to myself. Now I was even more curious to know what else had changed in the past seven years. Outside the station I saw some shared rickshaws and the old manual ones too. The shared rickshaws had been modified so that they could accommodate nine people in one auto with their all luggage. But I was more enthusiastic to travel in the old manual rickshaw and relive some of my old memories.


After a long, hot and dusty ride I reached my uncle's house. All I now wanted was chilled water to quench my thirst and to cool off. In happy anticipation I asked for cold water only to be told that there was no electricity and so no cold water. After living in Mumbai for the past several years I had started taking electricity for granted.


The reality of Indian towns now hit me with full force. I tried to get over my disappointment by telling myself that I still had my friends with whom I can enjoy swimming in the Koel river and climbing trees as I had done when I was young.


But another rude shock was waiting for me. I found out that all my friends had left our native place in search of greener pastures.
I had three more days to go and nothing to do. In fact the town of my childhood dreams was a major disappointment for me. Daily power cuts, water scarcity (as the main source of water supply, the Koel river, had dried up), and deteriorating infrastructure were the new realities.


There were no job opportunities, which is why most of my friends had left. In fact, Daltonganj was a much better place to live a decade ago. I just wanted to get out of there. And I did just that. I left for Patna. After my shock at the changes in Daltonganj, I had no expectations from Patna.


Imagine my shock when I saw Patna. But this time it was a pleasant shock. I had to pinch myself to make sure that I was not dreaming. Patna was as different from Daltonganj as a bustling river is from a small, still pond.


Much to my amazement I found squeaky clean, broad, cemented roads and good infrastructure. Major MNCs, call centres, foreign brands, retail shops, private banking, you name it, and Patna had it. And to my delight I found that several of my friends from Daltonganj were working in Patna.


My visit made me realise that the reality will never match one's perceptions and expectations. But I still treasure my childhood memories.









Is the demand for caste-based census at all fair and reasonable? Whatever opinion one may hold on the issue, there is a clear division over the demand — in the Union Cabinet, Parliament and among political parties. At its recent meeting, the Union Cabinet was split over the issue. The sharp divisions appeared as ministers from the OBC lobby pressed for caste-based census. Parliament too appears divided over the issue. While the protagonists of caste-based census believe that caste is a reality which the census process cannot ignore, the antagonists oppose it on the ground that it is a throwback to the medieval times and that the census should be looking at the future and not back to the past. Significantly, the Union Home Ministry is strongly opposed to caste-based census. In a note circulated to the Union Cabinet, it maintained that inclusion of caste could threaten the integrity of the general census.


True, caste-based census may help authorities determine the degree of socio-economic progress and development achieved by various castes over the years. However, are our enumerators, most of whom are primary school teachers with hardly a three-day training in census enumeration, capable of collecting accurate and scientific data? Logistical constraints apart, one should consider the sheer size and scope of the project on demand. While the Government of India has an officially recognised list of 6,000 castes and sub-castes, the Centre and the states have their own separate lists of castes. Moreover, anthropological surveys have listed as many as 65,000 castes. Inclusion of questions on say, the OBCs, at this stage in the elaborate questionnaire prepared for 27 lakh enumerators would be to deviate from the original purpose of the ongoing census operations.


The grounds on which India's first Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had scrapped caste-based census after the one in 1931 hold good today. The Centre has been maintaining that enumeration of thousands of castes and sub-castes in the country is not only "undesirable" but also "impossible". It also explained to the Supreme Court that the voluminous data collected scientifically by the National Sample Survey Organisation, the National Family Health Survey, the Mandal Commission and others are enough as of now. But political parties are bent on playing caste politics for narrow partisan ends. Clearly, we need to look beyond castes, quotas and vote banks.







The issue of the revival of the Punjab Legislative Council has come alive again in the wake of a similar move for Tamil Nadu, which was passed by the Rajya Sabha. The Legislative Council of Punjab was abolished on January 1, 1970, and since then various attempts have been made to revive it. However, only a handful of states have them. They include Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. Now Tamil Nadu is all set to join the group. Significantly, both Congress and Akali Dal Chief Ministers have, at some time or the other, asked for the revival of the Vidhan Parishad, and Mr Parkash Singh Badal said he would have it revived soon after he became Chief Minister.


The Punjab State Legislature became bicameral for the first time in April 1952. With the merger of Patiala and East Punjab States Union (PEPSU) in 1956, the strength of the Legislative Council increased by six seats to 46, which further went up to 51 a year later, a number which was to fall to 40 after the creation of Haryana in 1966. Many meaningful debates took place in both the Houses of the legislature, and the deliberations helped shape the agenda for development in Punjab during that period.


These days, the falling level of discourse in state legislatures as well as the two Houses of Parliament, is a mater of concern. More often than not, the number of days during which business is conducted, is abysmally low, as is the attendance of the members. As a result, important legislation passes through without proper debate and deliberation. The state should tread carefully; and perhaps have a public debate on the matter, especially since the entire expenditure on the infrastructural arrangements for the Council would have to be borne by cash-strapped Punjab.









Each year the results of nation's most prestigious examination, the civil services, bring much cheer and joy to the successful candidates. But the news of this year's topper Shah Faisal, a doctor from Jammu and Kashmir, has gladdened the hearts of all those who believe success is not a matter of chance but a product of hard work and determination. That he fought against many odds (even lost his father to militancy) makes his success story truly inspiring and is likely to motivate more youth from Kashmir to crack the All India Civil Services Examination. Equally encouraging is the achievement of Sandeep Kaur, a peon's daughter, who cleared the examination securing 138th rank.


It is often believed and rightly so that education in India and the doors it opens is exclusively reserved for the well-heeled. Yet, every now and then there are heartening examples of young men and women who beat the system to emerge triumphant. While Dr Faisal has become the first Kashmiri to top the UPSC examination, earlier Dr Shahid Iqbal Chaudhary became the first Gujjar from Jammu and Kashmir to make it to the IAS. And these are no flash-in-the-pan exceptions. There have been other instances too. Last year Varinder Kumar Sharma overcame his polio affliction to secure the fourth position in the UPSC examination. What was more commendable was that he took the examination in his mother tongue Punjabi and not in English, the language considered to be the gateway to success. Yet another girl student Kiran Kaushal, who used Hindi, had achieved a high rank. In a nation where women have been denied many opportunities, their success too is indicative of the positive changes in society. Girls have been doing exceedingly well and last year they bagged the top three positions in civil services examinations.


No doubt, behind all these individual tales of success lie a great deal of resolve and grit. Yet, in a social system that is otherwise marked by inequities, their individual achievements reinforce one's faith in India and the fairness of civil services examination system. A level-playing field for all those who come from disadvantaged classes may not be there as yet. But for those who dare follow their dream, sky can be the limit.

















While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh exhorts officials to think out of the box, when it comes to talking with Pakistan, he seems to follow the well-trodden path of his predecessors. Since Jawaharlal Nehru, every Prime Minister of India has tried talking to Pakistan, in the vain hope of peace with that country, but every such endeavour has backfired on account of the rigid stances of the Pakistani Army.


The reason: while our approach is emotional, Pakistan's agenda is unwavering, which is to force India to give concessions after concessions while Pakistan denies of all its adverse acts.


We have had plenty of what is called Track II diplomacy besides the talks and dialogues at Track I level. I was part of one Track II level initiative, when I accompanied an all-party parliamentarian delegation that spent four days in Pakistan in 2003. My impression at that time was that while there was an attitudinal change amongst the people of the two countries, the Pakistani Army was not ready to come to terms. They wanted only their formulations to prevail.


Approximately seven years down the road, I see no change in that attitude.


Though there is an elected government in Pakistan, it will be naive to think that they are the decision-makers. This honour continues to remain with the Pakistani Army, who has the last word on decisions on security, nuclear and foreign policy affairs. This has not changed despite the recent constitutional amendment bestowing powers earlier held by the President on the elected prime minister.


Let me place the issue in the correct perspective by recapitulating the events of the last dozen years or so. Prime Minister Vajpayee's famous bus ride to Lahore came a cropper when Kargil erupted, thanks to the Pakistani Army. Two years later, as a follow up of two unilateral ceasefires in Jammu and Kashmir in 2001, Musharraf was invited to Agra for talks, which again was a fiasco. Six months down the line saw our Parliament being attacked, followed by the full-scale mobilisation of the militaries of the two countries and a year later a pullback after achieving zilch!


Then it was the turn of Manmohan Singh, who in his first avatar as the Prime Minister, recommenced the India-Pakistan dialogue, which neither reduced infiltration of terrorists in Kashmir nor brought security elsewhere in the country. Instead, city after city was attacked by Pakistani terrorists, culminating in the Mumbai carnage of November 2008, which shook the whole country and indeed the world, except perhaps our placid leadership. The three political heads that rolled have already been reinstated after a sabbatical and it is business as usual!


In his second avatar as Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh burnt his fingers in his parleys at Shram-el-Shaikh, but after lying low for some months on account of adverse reactions, he was back again with the same linear thinking, when he re-commenced official level talks in February 2010. Pakistan promptly trumpeted it as a victory and added yet another "problem", that of river waters, to the litany of its grievances. This confirmed once again the propensity of the Indian leadership to continue bending and giving Pakistan another opening for India-bashing.


The Prime Minister has once again accepted to resume talks both at the official and ministerial levels. Ostensibly, it is a prelude or is in effect the resumption of the formal composite dialogue. The reason stated is that the Pakistani Prime Minister has promised to take legal action against those responsible for the Mumbai massacre! Do we seriously believe such homilies from a nation that is perpetually in a denial mode? How many times have the Pakistani leadership made such promises and not delivered?


Unless Pakistan walks the talk, we will again embark on a futile exercise. Unless we factor in the stances of the Pakistani Army, which is truly the centre of gravity and has the over-arching influence and control over all security issues, no talks with Pakistan are likely to succeed.


The Pakistani Army wields power on account of only one shibboleth, which is that India is out to gobble up Pakistan and it is only the Pakistani Army that is preventing it. This is such an oft-repeated statement that most Pakistanis, if not all, believe it to be true. The day India and Pakistan succeed in bringing about a rapprochement and agreeing to live in peace as friendly neighbours, will be the start of the Pakistani Army losing its pre-eminent position in the power structure of Pakistan. Obviously, no one in the Pakistani Army would like to relinquish such a premier position, which abounds with power and pelf.


That being so, where is the question of peace between India and Pakistan? Consequently, it is not peace dialogues and formal talks but the whittling down of the Pakistani Army's predominant position as the sole policy formulating organisation that will bring eventual peace between the two countries. Policy makers in India need to turn the thinking of the Pakistani polity, instead of engaging in futile dialogues and discussions.


Pakistan is anxious to re-start the broken peace dialogue, not for any altruistic reasons, but to soften its image of being the epicentre of terrorism. Its second aim is to keep the Kashmir pot simmering and bring it to a boil off and on, to keep India and especially the Indian Army committed in costly, time-consuming and futile counter- terrorist operations, with the twin aim of slowing down the economic growth of India and reducing the war waging capabilities of the Indian Army.


A third important aim is to get military concessions from India, which it has not been able to get militarily, i.e. Siachin. Now, Pakistan is seeking to add the issue of sharing of river waters, although the real problem is internal mismanagement of this resource within Pakistan. There are also pressures from other countries, like the US and China, who for their own national interests, are keen that a dialogue restarts.


Sadly, India has been unable to generate counter-strategies to put Pakistan on the defensive. For our strategic thinking is abysmally poor. Our undue reliance on 'soft power' propels us to opt for the soft options. And our political leadership has been unable to correctly gauge the true feelings of our citizens towards Pakistan.


Soft power is, no doubt, important but it is not a substitute for hard power. Both have to be wielded in tandem, varying the mix in accordance with the prevailing situation. The perceptions of the national polity are also important. The common man in India, although wedded to non-violence, strongly believes that Pakistan cannot be trusted. Till now, Pakistan has taken no concrete action to change this perception, but continues to nurture and use the Jihadi card.


Before we embark on a resumption of the composite dialogue, our leadership would do well to carry out a deeper analysis of what we would gain as no substantive changes in the policies and stances of Pakistan can be discerned.


The writer is a former Vice-Chief of the Indian Army








THE infamous PPSC recruitment episode is known to all having even a semblance of concern with the public service or those who are not "allergic" to the regional and/national newspapers. Aparticular fallout of the episode was the dispensing with of the services of appointees to the judicial offices during the relevant period. The essential premise of the ouster was that quite a large number of them had obtained entry for extraneous consideration and it not being possible to distinguish the "tainted" from the rest of the lot, all had to be compulsively packed off home.


On further consideration of the matter and perhaps for mitigating the hardship caused by the en-bloc ouster decision to those having either no or at least no proved taint, it was decided to give the applicants of all batches another chance to prove their mettle. The chance was available to not only those selected but to all those who had appeared at the examinations.


A three-member committee (of Judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court) was appointed to oversee the conduct of the one-time opportunity examination. The committee was to be assisted by me.


In the course of the process of scrutiny, a particular candidate could not resist asking me if there would be restoration of his seniority. The query, besides being audacious, was also premature inasmuch as the examination was yet to be held and the result could not, obviously, be envisioned.


Initially, I told him that the query was presumptuous and addressed to quarters not competent to respond. The love of Urdu language overtook me in the meantime and I blurted out the following Urdu couplet to him:


"Ghar sajane ka tassavur

Bahut baad ka hai

Pehle yeh taiy ho

Ki is ghar ko

Bachayein kaise"


The narration had to be compulsively followed by a translation in vernacular as the bewildered eyes of the candidate addressed left no manner of doubt that he was blank in Urdu language. The translation satisfied him to realise the premature character of the query.








Inaugurating a conference to celebrate the National Panchayati Raj Day on April 24, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh remarked that the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments "have made decentralisation of power possible up to the grass root level. This has empowered the common man and the poor, and has brought about changes in the power equation, particularly in rural India." He visualised that even the ongoing Maoist menace can be tackled by empowering the rural poor and the marginalised sections through the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs).


Ever since the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments, the Central Finance Commissions (CFCs) have started recommending the transfer of financial resources to the PRIs and ULBs (Urban Local Bodies). In order to incentivise the states to move rapidly in the direction of transferring powers to local bodies, the CFCs have incorporated certain criteria to determine the inter-state allocation of grants-in-aid (over and above the general share of the states). For example, the 11th Finance Commission (2000-05) assigned 20 per cent weightage to the decentralisation index and 10 per to the revenue efforts made by the local bodies. The 12th Finance Commission (2005-10) increased the weightage of revenue efforts to 20 per cent but dropped the decentralisation index assuming that the necessary legislation regarding 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments has been enacted by all the states.


The 13th Finance Commission has adopted the index of devolution, derived from the non-plan revenue grants transferred to PRIs and ULBs by the states (net of 12th Finance Commission grants) during 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08, to determine the inter-se share and assigned a weightage of 15 per cent. Another five per cent weightage is given to the actual utilisation of grants given to local bodies. For the first time, total grants have been divided into two categories – basic grants (Rs 56,335 crore) and performance grants (Rs 29,826 crore) – as an incentive to make states move faster towards decentralisation. The total amount of grants would be substantially higher than Rs 25,000 crore recommended by the 12th Finance Commission. Yet, there are riders on states to be eligible for getting performance grants.


Punjab has been allocated a substantial increase in state-specific-needs grants from the 13th Finance Commission which has recommended Rs 27,945 crore as grants for states' specific needs compared to Rs 7,100 crore recommended by the preceding Finance Commission. However, Punjab's share would jump from just Rs 96 crore to Rs 1,480 crore as recommended by the 12th and 13th Finance Commission respectively.


In other words, while the 13th Finance Commission has recommended a nearly four-time increase in state-specific need grants for the country as a whole, there would be more than 15-times increase in the case of Punjab. As the Finance Panel's recommendation, Punjab will get grants worth Rs 250 crore for taking 'measures to improve adverse sex ratio', Rs 250 crore each for the development of 'Kandi Areas' and 'Border Areas', Rs. 200 crore each for upgrading 'the irrigation infrastructures' and 'to address the problems in water logged areas', Rs 200 crore for 'upgrading training facilities for police personnel' and Rs 100 crore for the 'protection and maintenance of historical monuments and archeological sites.' Punjab will get Rs 30 crore for 'research capacity building and establishment costs' for the support of Empowered Committee of the state finance ministers. The Punjab government has also just received a grant of Rs 800 crore as compensation for providing electricity to the agricultural sector at extra cost thereby ensuring the rice supply for the central pool in spite of the widespread drought in the country.


On the performance front, Punjab has drawn a blank from the 13th Finance Commission. It is therefore crucial for the Punjab government to immediately initiate necessary measures to make the state eligible for performance grants to local bodies, which would start flowing from the fiscal year 2010-11.Strengthening of local bodies is otherwise in the interest of Punjab because handling of functions such as primary education, basic health, social security, safe drinking water and sewerage at the local level can yield better results and make the growth trajectory more inclusive.


But past experience shows that Punjab fails to reap the full benefits from such central schemes. Even for such national flagship programmes as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewable Mission and the National Rural Health Mission, Punjab's poor performance is widely known. Although the Punjab government has created a special cell to monitor the good use of central funds available through various schemes, little is known what has since happened to that cell. Until and unless each and every government department is held responsible for the shortcomings in the utilisation of central assistance, such aids would be of no avail to uplift the state's economy.


(The writer is a former professor of Economics and UGC Emeritus Fellow, Punjabi University, Patiala)








Wilhelm von Humboldt, the Enlightenment scholar, is of the view that the university is 'nothing other than the spiritual life of those human beings who are moved by external leisure or internal pressures toward learning and research.' Recent years have seen a radical shift in some pockets of the academia towards activism within and outside the university. Complacency has been to a certain degree cured by a culture of independent thinking. However, much still needs to be desired


The slip-up lies not so much in the establishment, but in the individual academic who does not labour enough to counter social ailments. Academics out of their own free choice do not opt for more far-reaching projects like 'counter-insurgency research' or research dealing with weapons of mass destruction. We hardly see the introduction of more radical ventures in departments of Political Science, English, History or Sociology. Chomsky enquires why projects concerning the confrontation of 'poorly armed guerrillas' with a powerful military force or 'problems of mass politics or revolutionary development in the third-world countries' are not taken up in our departments.


The reason obviously lies in the ideological controls exercised by the universities. 'Universities are probably the most free and open institutions in society' and it is understandable that an 'attack against them is launched largely because they are also the weakest, and the most easily attacked precisely because they are relatively free and open.' In such a scenario, argues Chomsky, all reform has to come from the 'general intellectual and moral commitments of very substantial segments of the faculty themselves.' Principles of academic freedom and imagination of opening up new courses or options so as to build connections between the university and the larger community are the sine qua non of a dynamic educational system. It is a commitment to a 'free marketplace of ideas.' Real reform is possible not by putting any restrictions, but 'by constructing alternative programmes inside the university which can succeed in gathering towards them the better, the more creative students, and better faculty members.' Alternative programmes of study and action, of teaching and research are certainly 'very compelling on intellectual and moral grounds', and will have a greater impact on the students and the faculty that help to initiate such innovations.


These courses have led to the intensifying of activism in the university. Added to this must be the essential practice of making students aware of the consequences of their study and research especially with respect to the lives of the people around them. Their work must be underpinned with a sense of responsibility. Anyone choosing a career of an engineer must study the history of the cold war and genocide. 'It is predictable' argues Chomsky, 'that there will be free and compassionate and independent minds to challenge prevailing orthodoxies and search for ways to translate a perception of social injustice to some form of action.' Challenging orthodoxies in science is considered creative while in the case of humanities it is often argued that such radicality might prove to be destructive.


Thus academic freedom and the freedom of expression are at the base of creative development of knowledge. Chomsky's argument was notable in his defence of Robert Faurisson, a professor of French Literature at University of Lyons, who denied the existence of the gas chambers used to exterminate the Jews. In no way was he supporting Faurisson's thesis, but he did stand up in defence of his right to research and freedom of speech.


For instance, let us take the case of a nation's foreign policy, about the intricacies of the international order and informing the public about it. In this context the university has a vital duty to make these issues as subjects of daily debate and awareness. In an imperfect world of international affairs and sovereign states, the relevance of morality is as vital as it is to social life. For an intelligent appreciation of world affairs we need a valid theoretical understanding which has the possibility of developing in the university. The academic has the tools and the critical framework and training to reason and analyse without any fear. The academic thus could impregnate society with a creative and imaginative temperament that would show the way towards a more critically aware culture. A movement of the left, Chomsky maintains, 'condemns itself to failure and irrelevance if it does not create an intellectual culture that becomes dominant by virtue of its excellence and that is meaningful to the masses of people who, in an advanced industrial society, can participate in creating and deepening it.' Their intellectual skills and a commitment to reflection and honesty would then permit a political involvement, urging them to use their minds for opposing war or poverty or for seeking 'possibilities for alternative forms of social organization, and a reasoned analysis of how social change can come about.'


But sadly, 'the academic has fallen prey to the narrowness of his specialisation lacking the long range of historical perspective so important to the understanding of international affairs. He is involved with his daily concerns, a kind of journalistic attitude lacking the theoretical and historical perspective of a Gibbon or a Thucydides or a Tocqueville.' Shifting critical material from one place to another occupies the contemporary academic whose activity is more that of a clerk than an intellectual. The university thus must develop in the field of humanities and social sciences an 'educational process that would aid in raising the level of understanding of society as a whole.' We live in a world where the academic culture can help us to tear away the illusions in our world and reach out more robustly towards respecting each others point of view.













Most incidents of terrorism today are invariably linked to Pakistan. That is why, according to newspaper reports, thinking people in Pakistan are worried that if the situation remains unchanged "Pakistanis" and "terrorists" will soon become synonymous. The country is unable to extricate itself from the morass of terrorism owing to its own negative policies. A few days before Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab was to be awarded death sentence for the September 26, 2008, Mumbai massacre came the news of Faisal Shahzad, a US national of Pakistani origin, arrested for an unsuccessful car-bomb attack at the Times Square, New York. While Kasab, described as a killing machine, has a poor village background, Shahzad is a well-educated young man belonging to a prosperous family. The two cases falsify the theory that terrorist outfits easily find recruits for their destructive projects because of widespread poverty and illiteracy in various parts of Pakistan, particularly the tribal areas.


This is how The News, in an editorial on May 5, referred to this theory while commenting on the fate of Kasab: "Young Kasab, a school dropout, walked away from his job as a labourer into the hands of a militant organisation that offered him training and a gun. This was, for obvious reasons, more attractive to a boy then still in his teens than the prospect of a life in poverty that offered little hope for change. The lack of opportunity for young people, as a factor driving on militancy, needs to be addressed…."


In another editorial on May 6 after Shahzad's arrest the paper admitted, "Perhaps our thesis that it is essentially the poor who are exploited by the militants is somewhat flawed. Perhaps we need to do more to stop the slow poisoning of minds. A process of brainwashing has continued for years. It needs to be reversed. The strategy for this must be worked out. Psychologists, educators, media people, clerics and others with social influence need to be involved." Dawn exposed the lack of seriousness on the part of the Pakistani authorities when it said: "It has been nearly 10 years since 9/11 and still the infrastructure of jihad in urban Pakistan, which is likely to be the first port of call for those travelling from foreign lands in search of jihad, has not been uprooted."



There is speculation that the PPP-led government in Islamabad may not complete its full term because of various factors working against it. While there are groups within the PPP working at cross-purposes, the government is heading for an open confrontation with the judiciary. The Pakistan Supreme Court, according to a Daily Times report, ruled on Thursday that the government was bound to implement the NRO verdict in letter and spirit and open the cases relating to President Asif Zardari's Swiss bank accounts. But the government said that there was no need for correspondence with the Swiss authorities, as the graft cases "cannot be reopened".

The situation may take a turn for the worse for the Pakistan government with PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif being no longer interested in playing the role of a "friendly opposition". After the latest constitution amendment, opening the door to him to become Prime Minister again, he has started speaking strongly against the various policies of the government. According to The Nation, Mr Sharif, addressing an organisational meeting of his party in Lahore on Wednesday, "threatened to lead a long march on the lines taken out during the judicial crisis in case the central government failed to solve the common man's problems." Perhaps, he is ready with a strategy to create a condition for mid-term elections when his party can emerge victorious.









This is Mumbai University, whose top chair of Vice Chancellor is currently vacant. (Actually there is an acting VC, but the search for a VC is still incomplete). Can any large organisation be run without a head? Can important decisions and initiatives be taken without the executive authority in place?

 For how long? If VC chair being vacant does not matter, what does that say about the entire university? It is not as if the vacancy happened unexpectedly. We knew five years in advance that a new VC has to be chosen (since the term for any VC is fixed).

The process by which to select a VC is also well defined and documented. It is a part of Maharashtra Universities Act of 1994 which relates to the running and administration of all non-technological and non-agricultural universities in the state. Why then is the VC post of one of India's eminent University vacant    for almost one year? We    have recently given all Indians a right to education. But what about giving education? The social cost of an absent head is immense. This cannot be measured simply in terms of reforms missed, decisions postponed, applications pending. Many important initiatives will lie in limbo, since the man (or woman) in charge is not yet in place.

Mumbai University's status as centre for excellence, entitles it to receive substantial funding from the University Grants Commission. But with an absent VC those funds cannot be accessed. They may very well lapse. The MU is anyway gasping for funds, since all salaries and expenses come from the state government.

Even pensions of retired faculty come from the government. Since the state is reeling under a huge debt, it has drastically cut funding to MU. Not just the VC, but many posts in the University lie vacant due to budget constraints. Courses are taught by "contracted" temporary faculty who are hired at very low wages. Teaching quality suffers.


Imagine the social cost borne by inadequately trained students, year after year. The centre's willingness to provide funding is not matched by any action from the recipient, since nobody's in charge. Yet.
It's not really because of lack of funds that the VC chair lies vacant.

The process of appointing a VC is fraught with intrigue, suspense, drama and of course politics. If this is the case with one of India's top universities, how might it be in lesser ones?

 Harvard found Nohria in quick time, but Mumbai has been searching for a VC for a year with no end in sight.



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In March this year, Spain had a AA+ foreign credit rating from Standard and Poor's (S&P), signalling "very strong capacity" to meet its financial obligations. Portugal and Italy were at A+ ("strong capacity" to meet financial commitments). A year ago, Greece was there too. Southern Europe's "Pigs" countries, as they are called, have a different story to tell today. Greece has been pushed down rapidly to junk bond status. The other three Pigs have also been downgraded, though they are still in investment grade (better than "speculative grade").

 But Spain, which has the best rating of the four, has a 19 per cent unemployment rate (the highest in Europe), and an 11.5 per cent fiscal deficit, while its economy shrank 4.9 per cent in 2009. The others have similar profiles: high unemployment, shrinking output, large budget deficit, big public debt overhang. For good measure, they also seem to have limited wiggle room.

Yet all of them have a better sovereign rating than India, which at BBB- just about makes it to investment grade. To be sure, India's fiscal deficit and public debt are high, but an economy growing at 8 per cent can cope with these infinitely better than one that is shrinking. Unlike the Pigs, India's current account deficit is more than matched by capital inflows, and foreign exchange reserves are more than foreign debt, while total government debt at 82 per cent of GDP is lower than two of the four Pigs countries (Italy and Greece are at 115 per cent of GDP), and the same as for Portugal. Yet S&P thinks that India deserves a lower rating than the Pigs.

Why, in early 2009, China and Greece actually were in the same ballpark rating bracket (A), while Spain was AAA! Even as recently as in March, S&P was "affirming" Greece's BBB+ status (which, please note, was better than India's). Only to reduce Greece to junk bond status a few short weeks later, when it was close to default. China, meanwhile, is still only at A+, although its vital statistics are better than the average for all AAA economies, be it economic growth, current account surplus, fiscal deficit, or the debt-GDP ratio. Not just China, the Bric countries on average have a lower debt-GDP ratio than many advanced economies, and lower fiscal deficits too. But does any of this reflect in the ratings? Not a chance.

Ratings are important because they influence the cost of the international capital that a country accesses. Typically, a BBB country has to pay about 1 percentage point more interest than a AAA country for five-year money. The gap shrinks dramatically if you are A and not BBB, but three of the Bric economies are BBB. If the ratings were accurate, the risk premium on insuring against default would be higher for countries with lower ratings. But China commands a much lower premium than any of the Pigs — which gives the lie to the ratings. Indeed, some Indian banks access money abroad at rates that they should not be getting, since India is BBB-. Perhaps India should be A.

The rating agencies argue that emerging markets have a higher political risk. Well, tell that to the Greeks, who are rioting in the streets of Athens! And Britain may well have to go to the IMF for a bailout, given a hung Parliament, and a debt-cum-deficit profile that mirrors the Pigs. Yet Britain is rated AAA. So, is this another case of mispricing risk (which after all caused the western financial crisis, with the rating agencies central to the problem) or systemic bias against emerging markets?







The recent announcement by Sports Minister M S Gill on the tenure of sports administrators has generated a controversy. The facts do not justify the reaction. The reality is as follows: the terms of sports administrators have been reduced to a maximum of 12 years. Since sports organisations are not part of the government — indeed, we all want the government to stay out of other people's business — what right does the government have in stipulating how many terms an elected sports official can serve? She should be able to serve as long as she wants, and even bequeath it to her daughter if need be. If politicians can do that, why not mere administrators? What arrogance on the part of the government to control lifetime tenures.

 That would be a hasty judgment — and incorrect. For reasons, let us follow the trail of the money. First question: why does everybody assume that with sports administrators some hera-pheri is involved. I mean, how much corruption can there be in a cycling federation of India? In France, perhaps; in India, not possible. If no corruption, then it is most likely the case that the sports administrator is there, serving his term for a pittance of a salary. And why? Because he really really loves the sport.

This would be plausible if ex-sportsmen headed sport organisations; obviously, after they retire. But such a person does not exist. Instead, sports organisations are headed primarily by politicians, and in some cases, by bureaucrats. Why? For an ex-bureaucrat it does make some sense, because after a lifetime of employment, she is out of job; but for a politician, especially one serving the people and otherwise very busy doing so, why this passion for heading a mere sports organisation?

Maybe it has something to do with the tax status of sports organisations (hereafter, SOs). These SOs are granted tax exemption by the Government of India, and indeed, in most parts of the world, this is the case. This tax exemption is granted because sports is considered a "public good". The tax exemption does not mean that anybody working in these SOs is not taxed; all wage and salary employees are taxed on their income, as they should be. But if income received by an organisation (from government donations, advertising revenue, tournament sponsorships, etc. — just think about the revenue that BCCI makes from such activity and you will have a good idea) exceeds its wage expenses, coaching expenses, scholarships to athletes, upkeep of the buildings, renovation of the stadiums etc., then this income is not taxed. All the SO has to show is that such excess income is earmarked for expenses related to the sport and the income can be held in a bank account, underneath the mattress or wherever, until the expense takes place. All it has to do (remember, its head is a bureaucrat or a politician) is to convince the tax authorities that the SO honestly intends to spend the money on the sport at some future date.

This background can help explain several "surprises" in the way sports organisations are administered in India. Every rupee spent on the athlete's well-being is that much less for the organisation; every rupee spent on hiring an expensive coach is that much less; every rupee spent on renovating a stadium is less excess money for future deployment. It also helps explain why there are no sportsmen heading such bodies — they are at the end of a long queue of people who desperately want the extra "job".

In this context, it is a bit "rich" for evergreen sports administrators to cite the case of the International Olympic Committee's (IOC's) ex-chairman, Samaranch, as a father figure model for the children to follow. He did stay on the job forever, but he also contributed to the "Olympic" movement. He made the Olympics profitable; very few of our SOs can claim profitability for their domain. The Internet is replete with allegations of corruption in the hallowed (hollow?) halls of Samaranch's IOC. And a rule was passed in the late 1990s prohibiting a Samaranch-like repeat — no president of the IOC can serve for more than eight years.

Thus, there is virtually no case for the Congress party or the prime minister to not implement Mr Gill's recommendations with immediate effect. The ruse of the Commonwealth Games not being held in Delhi because the Commonwealth Games organisers will be upset is both hugely funny, and even more insulting. The example cited is that of Kuwait, a country of 2.7 million people. Think about it — would China allow such grotesque interference in the appointment of its officials? The Commonwealth Games allegedly will not be held in Delhi because the Commonwealth committee feels that its nobility and trueness and independence in appointing administrators are being questioned? And that after the Indian allowance, due to some excessive liberalness on Mr Gill's part, is 12 years of ownership rather than eight? If the Commonwealth committee feels so upset, why doesn't the Indian government tell it to go fly a kite in their kite organisation. If the government does not do so, then a legitimate question will be asked: why is the emerging power so intimidated by a mere sports organisation? What will it do when it has to take a stand on some real issues of international power and diplomacy? Will the real paper tiger please stand up — India or the Commonwealth Federation, or whatever it is called.

The author is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm. Please visit for an archive of articles etc.; comments welcome at  








Much like the passage of the four seasons, the south-west monsoon arrives with unfailing regularity. But the amount of rainfall and its spread over time and geographical space rarely conform to the predictions of the weatherman. The prospect that this year's rains will be normal is music to the ears of the UPA government that is worried stiff over double-digit food inflation. Also, with foodgrain arrivals picking up in the mandis of wheat-producing states, the government expects a seasonal decline in food prices to set in.

The easing of food inflation by a percentage point to 16.67 per cent during the week ending April 17 is considered a "visible" sign that prices are softening: "The outlook is further brightened by the fact that a normal monsoon is predicted this year.... Indications of a softening of food inflation are clearly visible.... It is expected that this decline will continue in the coming months uninterruptedly," Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee stated a tad optimistically, while initiating the discussion on the Finance Bill.

 So, the monsoon does matter, although the contribution of agriculture to gross domestic product (GDP) has steadily been declining over the years and stands at 15.9 per cent at present. This has led some economists to even argue that Indian economy's booming growth prospects may be feasible without an arithmetical contribution from agriculture! After all, GDP growth of 7.2 per cent in 2009-10 is expected despite negative 0.2 per cent agricultural growth! Similarly, GDP growth of 7.5 per cent was registered despite zero agricultural growth in 2004-05!

But this cannot happen year after year without triggering a cyclical downturn in industry. The population that lives off the land constitutes an important market for Indian industry. Agriculture also provides raw material for traditional industries like cotton textiles, tobacco, sugar and wood products etc. So long as agricultural growth remains sluggish, with no signs of public investment picking up significantly and with crisis-like conditions persisting, the demand for industrial goods will be affected with a lag of a year or so.

If the rainfall is deficient this year (as it was in 2009) the spectre of drought and distress will again stalk the countryside. Successive years of drought will devastate the farm economy. Farmer suicides are on the rise in even prosperous states like Punjab and Maharashtra due to indebtedness arising from crop losses. A bad monsoon spells distress especially for small farmers and agricultural labourers subsisting largely on rainfed agriculture. This, in turn, will trigger migration to towns and cities of neighbouring states.

On the other hand, plentiful rainfall is a good augury for higher grains production during the kharif or summer season (sown in June-July). Higher rural incomes will boost demand for fast-moving consumer goods, tractors etc and raise overall industrial and GDP growth. Good rains, thus, will reinforce the recovering growth momentum of the economy. The last financial year's GDP growth of 7.2 per cent surely marks a revival, after having slipped to 6.7 per cent in 2008- 09, following the global economic slowdown.

Of all the regions in the country, the bulk of peninsular India depends heavily on the monsoon. Sixty per cent of the 142 million hectares  of net cultivated area in the country, for instance, is dependent on rains and the rest is irrigated. To get higher kharif food grain production, it is necessary that the rainfall be evenly distributed over the season and over geographical space. Although shortfalls in any particular period can be made up in the remaining months, it is rainfall during July that is critical for sowing in the kharif season.

But the dynamics of the monsoon follows its own logic. In 2009, for instance, although the India Metereological Department (IMD) predicted near-normal rainfall, the country received 23 per cent less rains than the long-period average. Some regions got less rainfall while others got excess precipitation. For instance, the rain deficit for central India, north-east India, north-west India and the southern peninsula was 20 per cent, 27 per cent, 36 per cent, and 4 per cent, respectively, according to the Economic Survey.

As a result, kharif food grain production in 2009-10 touched 98.83 million tonnes, which is much lower than the target of 125.15 million tonnes. Area coverage during kharif 2009-10 under food grain showed a sharp decline of 46.18 lakh hectares from the area coverage during kharif 2008-09. For such reasons, good rains during the kharif season this year are necessary to ensure adequate supply of food grain and dampen the current inflationary expectations regarding essential agricultural commodities.

But, there is no assurance that the monsoon will obey the predictions of IMD this year any more than it did in 2009. If anything, it is perhaps shrinking over time. Work done by K V Ramesh and P Goswami of the Bengaluru-based Centre for Mathematical Modeling and Computer Simulation showed a sharp decrease in the monsoon's spatial coverage during 1951-2003. With a reduction of 30 per cent in spatial coverage, such regions, thus, become increasingly unviable for cultivating foodgrain during the kharif season.

Policy makers must, therefore, take into account the fact that hard rain may not fall this year, and thus work towards making Indian agriculture more and more monsoon-proof. For instance, the bulk of rabi (winter) production in the vanguard agrarian regions of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh is resilient to the monsoon's vagaries, thanks to canal-fed irrigation. The government must extend and invest in irrigation facilities elsewhere, especially vast parts of peninsular India, to make it less dependent on rainfall.

If the rain gods play truant this year, the much-awaited decline in food inflation may not come to pass. Inflationary expectations will flare up when there is a likelihood of drought. This scenario is also likely according to scientists from the Walker Institute at the University of Reading who have explained that heavy snowfall over the Himalayas in winter — as happened last year — and spring can lead to drought over India, especially in the early part of the summer monsoon. Instead of being content with the prospect of normal rainfall, policy makers would be better advised to prepare for a more wayward monsoon.

The author is professor of Economics and International Business at IILM Institute of Higher Learning







My computer assembler, Viresh, is a permanent resident of Almora. This doesn't mean he lives there. His parents do. He migrated as a teenager to Delhi in 1993, and 11 months in a year, he operates out of a cubbyhole in Nehru Place. He lives in a rented apartment in Kalkaji.

 His driving licence and passport are from Almora. It was easier to wangle paperwork since his folks own the "permanent residency". His election ID and PAN are from Delhi. He went through hoops for them. He needed local proof of residence to open a bank account, etc. He could easily get a second passport on the basis of those documents.

Viresh is not a terrorist trying to maintain dual identities. A convoluted bureaucracy makes it necessary for him to be resident in two places. Anybody who has ever transferred cities will sympathise. A shift means a whole rigmarole of organising local ID. Without that, you cannot open a bank account, own a phone, or Net connection, have insurance, PAN, etc.

The Unique ID Authority of India (UIDAI) is supposed to plug this gap in governance. By providing a single UID to all residents of India, it will eliminate the need for multiple verifications and duplication. UID will be high-tech with digital photos and biometric data like fingerprints. Post-UID, passports, licences, PANs, etc., will be linked to it.

There will be a central registrar, a single-window for basic data (photograph, parents' names, present address, permanent address, date of birth, biometrics, etc.). Partner-registrars such as the PDS system, regional passport offices, IT Department, etc., will add detail. UID would be assigned at birth and maintain a record of death as well.

UIDAI Chairman Nandan Nilekani is confident of meeting the rollout deadline in the last quarter of 2010-11. UID should empower hundreds of millions lacking in ID at the bottom of the pyramid. It should stop some leakages in PDS and NREGS and reach BPL targets who are not being reached.

In theory, UID should make it possible for itinerant day-labourers to open bank accounts. It should make life easier for everyone. The single-window should make it possible to get details (gender, marital status, residential address, etc.) amended quickly. More sophisticated uses such as credit card verification can easily be dreamt up.

UID dwarfs anything that's ever been attempted. It will generate and maintain a database of 1.2 billion-odd records while interfacing seamlessly with whatever authorities request, information, verification and validation.

There lies the rub. India has inadequate data-protection laws. Section 43 and 43A of the IT Act is the sum and substance. That legislation wasn't designed to cover UID and its linkages. It pertains only to electronic data. UID (plus partners) also involves physical document. Personal data has binary classification as sensitive or non-sensitive.There are no specified restrictions on usage of non-sensitive data.

Any post-UID legal framework must be both broader and more nuanced in treatment. You don't want a policeman checking out the credit card limit before he writes a challan for a traffic offence. Nor should the local PDS shop be able to ascertain who has made RTI applications.

Metaphorically speaking, marketers would kill for UID data and it is unclear now what can be shared, or sold. Even worse, electoral rolls have literally been used to kill by communal rioters in Rwanda, Gujarat and Delhi itself. UID could lend itself very easily to such misuse.

The linkages between government departments and databases could measurably improve governance. But it could immeasurably increase leverage for unscrupulous officials to feather their nests. It creates potential avenues for new governance disasters. By keeping to his deadline, Nilekani is setting one for legislators, and for civil society. India must review and amend its data protection laws and do it now!







If you have the money and the inclination, you can have homes in not one but several cities. But when it comes to calling a place home, can you share your loyalties between two cities? Can you partake of the joys, sorrows, pluses, minuses and eccentricities of both and claim dual citizenship? Even if you don't need to do that formally within the country, is there space under your skin for loyalty to two cities, for that's where the one you call your own lives?

I have been grappling with this issue ever since I knew that when I would be in no position to travel much, I would stay put in Kolkata. But till then there is no way I can bear to permanently turn my back to Bangalore. This has given rise to the thought — should we all, as a matter of policy, owe allegiance to two parts of the country? Will that not make us more demanding of the way both the places are run by benchmarking one against the other? Critically, will it also not make us better Indians? Imagine a leading Shiv Sena-type leader having a secret girlfriend tucked away somewhere in eastern India! Would that not make him as much of a Bharatiya Manab as a Marathi Manus?

 I first became conscious of the tug of the place where you have learnt to live and breathe when I came back from the West, giving up a chance to stay put there indefinitely, and slept again in the bed I had used ever since I had grown up. A walk to the nearby bus stand the next day brought forth greetings of recognition from the roadside cobbler and the paanwala who had not just known me as a kid but said salaam to the judge sahib, my father, when he was around. Then when on a visit from Bangalore I took around Kolkata our by then grownup son, he expressed surprise that I knew the lanes and bylanes so well. Of course I did, that's where I had grown up and I could move among them almost blindfolded. It requires somebody to point it out for you to realise how you know almost instinctively the place you have grown up in.

You can rationally pick the place you want to adopt up to a point but ultimately it is subjective, like falling in love at first sight. There is something I liked about Bangalore from the moment I set foot in it nearly a decade ago. It retained a bit of the old Kolkata that was now lost — cosmopolitan, easy in welcoming outsiders, a liking for some of the better things the British were known for and, of course, hearty lovers of non-vegetarian food.

That was not all. There were other pluses too. Nearly all neighbourhoods had a pleasant well-maintained park. There was also a large contingent of civil society types who knew what it was to be a good citizen and who had concerns and interests that you could relate to. I have come across this critical mass at gatherings of the fledgling Bangalore International Centre. Old friends and colleagues, Darryl and Praful from Mumbai, and TCA from Delhi, have come lecturing there, telling you that the right kind of Indians are all there, dispersed no doubt but easily networked and met in the age of affordable air travel. And firmly placing the city in the mainstream of India, its quality of life is declining as in all other urban spaces.

The contrasting sight, sound and smell of the two cities, Kolkata and Bangalore, hit me when I came back to the latter after an over two-month stay in the former. The landscaping around the new Bangalore airport is getting better as the plants and shrubs take root. And the taxi driver had a surprise for me. "Sir, why not try the newly done up road to the east of the city, turning left at the BSF station and joining the Outer Ring Road via Hennuru Road." It was a dream, newly done up, mostly dual carriageway and hardly any traffic. I know traffic will clog it in two years but it will be great till then.

My mind went back to Kolkata and the discoveries I had recently made near our new home. The doctor who had retired from a firm that sported an old British name now sat in a corner of a pharmacy and was pleased to check my blood pressure for Rs 10. The air-conditioned hair-cutting salon was staffed with pleasant people who did an expert job for Rs 30. The cheap journeys you could make, hopping from shared auto rickshaw to metro rail and back to shared auto rickshaw. What an affordable place, I thought. And some of the old openness still lives. So many of the taxi drivers spoke with a Bihari accent and seemed peacefully settled.

There should be a law. Everybody must learn to love a place other than the one of her birth. Not only will this raise demands for both to adopt the better practices of the other, it will cure the country of parochialism. Somebody please find cross-country girlfriends for the Shiv Sena types.  







Study the historian before you study the facts

E H Carr What is History?

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef's memoir, My Life with the Taliban (Columbia University Press, $29.95, Hachette India reprint, Rs 495) is the first book that goes to the heart of the Taliban's way of thinking and what they aspire for in the troubled region that has never been subdued in over 150 years of its turbulent history. Originally written in Pashto and translated into English by two German researchers based in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, the book traces the origins and growth of the movement under the leadership of Mullah Omar. Just why the memoir should be taken as the authentic voice of the Taliban and its various factions operating in Pakistan's north-west can be gauged from a quick rundown of Zaeef's career and his proximity to the Taliban leadership.

 Zaeef was orphaned when he was 11 years old when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979. He became a refugee in Pakistan and went to a madrassa where he was indoctrinated with Islamic ideology, which naturally led to his involvement with the Taliban. Zaeef was in the same room as Mullah Omar when the latter lost his eye in a Soviet air raid and it was he who proposed Omar's name for the leadership of the Taliban movement when it was officially launched in 1994. Mullah Omar agreed but on condition of total loyalty to him.

That oath is still in effect which is why no senior Taliban commander has ever betrayed the whereabouts of Omar. As the Taliban started to conquer large parts of Afghanistan, Zaeef was promoted from one job to another, ending up as the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan. It is his stint in Pakistan that provides the most interesting insights into the working of the Taliban, coinciding with the 9/11, the negotiations over handing over Osama bin Laden and the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas.

But much more importantly, it is his comments on Pakistan's relations with the Taliban, his negotiations with western diplomats and what the future holds for the region that should concern us. Quite early in the book, Zaeef describes his intense hatred for the ISI which deepened with his direct experiences when he was appointed ambassador to Pakistan.

"Pakistan is never an honest mediator and will control and manipulate any talk they mediate or participate in... ." He describes how "the ISI extended its roots deep into Pakistan like a cancer puts down roots in the human body" and how "every ruler of Afghanistan complained about it but none could get rid of it".

Zaeef continues his tirade. "Pakistan is so famous for  treachery that it is said that they can get milk from a bull… They have two tongues in one mouth, and two faces in one head, so they can speak everybody's language;  they use everybody, deceive everybody. They deceive the Arabs under the guise of Islamic nuclear power, they milk America and Europe in the alliance against terrorism, and they have been deceiving Pakistani and other Muslims around the world in the name of Kashmiri jihad."

There is a great deal of bitterness and one reason for this is the way he had been treated by Pakistan and handed over to the Americans in Peshawar who promptly packed him off to Guantanamo Bay. He was there for four years which led him to remark that Afghan and American jails were better than Pakistani jails!

In memoirs of this kind what is important is not just what is said but what remains unsaid or between the lines. It is here that there are three huge gaps in the story. First, the extent of the ISI's financial and material assistance without which the movement could not have become such a powerful force. Second, how Mullah Omar came so close to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and what is the degree of their collaboration. Third, not a word about the Taliban's repressive policies, especially towards women.

Lastly, the delegates from China, Japan and Sri Lanka descended upon his embassy with offers of financial and material assistance that would take out the pieces and reassemble them elsewhere but it cut no ice because the destruction was well within the ambit of the Sharia law. There is no real regret apart from saying that it was badly timed!

There is a great deal of diplomatic coming-and-going between the Taliban embassy and others but Zaeef is too imbued with the Taliban ideology to give any ground. Of course, he is convinced that the US will not succeed in Afghanistan and he reiterates there is no distinction between "the good Taliban" and the "bad Taliban". "They (America, Britain and Karzai) believe that the Taliban exist for money or power and, therefore, they can be destroyed with money and power. In reality, the Taliban movement is based on Islamic ideology... ." The division between "good" and "bad" is just wishful thinking.

That America will find it difficult to keep going will be because of historical and geographic factors: the British lost three wars between 1839 and 1919 and the Soviets in recent years, 1979-1989. In between no central authority has ever had any control outside of Kabul and a few other cities.

If you want to see the hole Americans have dug themselves into, go to: www.powerpoint+Afghanistan.








Bhutan is forever making history. It's latest achievement is to inspire Joseph Stiglitz's enthusiasm for the gross national happiness (GNH) concept that the fourth monarch, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, coined to indicate that the nation's highest goal is the people's satisfaction and well-being rather than just an increased gross domestic product (GDP).

"We have to think of human well-being in broader terms," says Jigmi Y Thinley, Bhutan's prime minister. "Material well-being is only one component. That doesn't ensure that you're at peace with your environment and in harmony with each other."

 Affluence — and Kuensel, Bhutan's oldest newspaper, claims that the per capita income of between $1,800 and $2,200 "is among the highest in the region" — must be consistent with traditional culture summed up in the phrase Driglam Namza. GNH also means reinforcing environmental protection.

Strung across the hall in Thimphu where I listened to Stiglitz championing an idea that is close to the mandate of the Sarkozy Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress that he chaired was a banner reading "Towards a Green and Happy South Asia". It's no empty slogan. The damage from last year's massive earthquake — 6.1 on the Richter scale — was minimal only because more than 60 per cent of the land is forested and efforts are being made to preserve this cover.

That's where GNH goes beyond Stiglitz. The Nobel laureate enfant terrible of world economics is an outspoken critic of the US, the WTO and of the market system. GDP can go up, he says, without contributing to individual welfare. The Doha round is not a development round any more since the poor are worse off. He blames Indian rural suicides on the price mechanism forced by the US.

But one can't help but feel Stiglitz has a longer list of don'ts than do's. His main contribution to global development lies in identifying the flaws in today's growth pattern rather than outlining alternative means to encourage skills, increase productivity, generate wealth and ensure its equitable distribution.

That's where Bhutan scores. One hears fewer complaints about, say, farm subsidies or what Stiglitz calls the IMF's "invisible hand." Bhutan lays greater emphasis on making full use of the market economy so far as its isolation and limited resources permit without losing the values that traditionally sustain Bhutanese society.

But repeating the GNH mantra doesn't achieve it. Transparency International reports that from being the 32nd least corrupt country out of 180 in 2006, Bhutan now occupies the 49th place. "Corruption is anti-GNH," says the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) but Bhutan Today, one of several papers to emerge in the last few years, calls the ACC itself "riddled by political corruption". It mentions favouritism followed by bribery and embezzlement. The scale is paltry by international standards but is nevertheless seen as blemishes on the ideal society that King Jigme Singye's son and successor, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, is trying to create.

The real challenge to GNH lies less in crime than in modernity and its concomitants. Stiglitz mentioned shopping malls as a symbol of the American materialism he deplores. "If everyone adopts the US parameters of consumerism, the world is doomed," he repeated in Thimphu.

Had he inquired about the construction work that is everywhere evident, he would have learnt that Bhutan's building boom is all about malls, not monasteries. No doubt it is possible to shop till you drop, as the slogan has it, without losing touch with the power of prayer, but brick and mortar often indicate priorities. Time was when the Bhutanese concentrated their creativity on raising massive monasteries and towering dzongs without using a single nail. But the latest architectural achievement is the cluster of decorative bungalows with all mod cons in Thimphu's SAARC Village for visiting leaders during the recent summit.

"What is GNH to an ordinary Bhutanese?" asks another local publication, The Journalist, and says it means patience, prayers and providence. GNH encompasses "education, healthcare, transport, telecommunications and information, justice and equity, culture and tradition, environment and economic development." Can these aims be achieved without also encouraging the consumerism Stiglitz condemns? The traditional sport of archery is as central to Driglam Namza as a man's knee-length gho. But every player in a recent contest was given a 180-litre refrigerator while the winner took home a 21-inch Samsung colour TV.

It's much easier to be traditional in poverty than in riches. But I am also sure the Druk genius which has triumphed over many odds will find a way round this challenge too.







Delhi's roads are capable of springing all sorts of surprises, I know. Even so, what we saw the other day was definitely in the realm of the unexpected. There we were, sailing down Africa Avenue, when ahead of us, a strange white thing on wheels braked before a red light. "Is it a toy elephant?" asked my daughter looking at its rotund backside. "Or a pig, maybe?" suggested my son, his eyes on its thin tail. "No!" they both cried in unison as we drew up alongside, "It's a white rat with Ganeshji riding it!" And so it was — a large rodent on wheels with a life-size statue of the elephant-headed god of good beginnings. The statue was garlanded with fresh flowers, spewing flower petals from its right hand, and holding a crazily spinning <I>chakra (wheel) </I>in the left.

As soon as we could, we hailed it down. When it stopped with much wheezing and rattling, we realised it was actually a refurbished autorickshaw. Standing by the rat's bejewelled and bedecked flanks, I was startled to find the driver crawl out from beneath. "We just had to flag you down to get a closer look at this magnificent vehicle," said I, "Hope you don't mind." The driver grinned: "I'm used to it, this happens all the time … you can't imagine how long it took me to get to Haridwar in this — people were making me stop all the time!"

 Kallu, for that was his name, obviously loved all the attention he and his rat-shaped autorickshaw received. "Let me show you how ingenious this is," said he, switching on the spotlights that fell on the godly statue like a halo. A battery in the boot powered the music system and mikes, as well as the rotating <I>chakra </I>and the little motor that threw out flower petals from the statue's palms. A large salver that was strategically screwed on at arm's distance was obviously meant for offerings. "We are just returning from a big puja in west Delhi," said he, adding, "All I'd to do was drive around the venue for an hour playing bhajans and entertaining the crowds!"

There was, he assured me, a great demand for such religious tableaux. "Whether it is an all-night <I>jaagaran, </I>a prayer meeting or a Navratra celebration, we add that extra bit of interest to it!" said he. "Earlier, such tableaux were made on trucks or tractors. But they were expensive to run. In comparison, this refurbished auto costs peanuts!" said Kallu. The returns, said he, were very good: "We could charge a daily rate of up to Rs 12,000 depending on the job," said he.

Kallu said he was the only driver experienced enough to drive this vehicle. "You see, in order to preserve the illusion that this is indeed the Lord riding his steed, this has been modified in such a way that the insides are completely invisible. So, the windscreen has been reduced to the size of a small window. And the single rear view mirror is tiny, and camouflaged by that pink swastika," he explained.

It couldn't be safe to drive, I commented. "Probably," he agreed, "but who'd dare crash into Lord Ganesha?" He had a point. Were there others like this vehicle, I asked. "If you hang around, you'll probably catch sight of Shiva, Krishna and <I>Maa </I>Durga," said he, "We were all on duty together on a one-hour job for which we charged Rs 24,000 — but got separated on the road!" The owner of these tableaux had at least 16 others, including Sai Baba and Guru Nanak. I waited for a while, but the gods eluded me…. Well, at least now I know that even they aren't immune to Delhi's traffic!








The Supreme Court judgement in the Ambani case is emphatic that natural resources belong to the people of this country, not to private entities or to the government . The government's control over them is in a fiduciary capacity, and the Constitution obliges it to use that control to advance popular welfare. It is on this basis that the Court has dismissed the Anil Ambani group's claim to a sizeable chunk of gas from the KG Basin at a price that is significantly lower than the price fixed by the government for sale to other consumers.

This ruling has implications not just for the row between the Ambani brothers, but also for all policy with regard to extraction and sale of natural resources — not just petroleum and gas but also mineral ores, coal and water — and contracts derived from such policy. Whether the manner in which iron ore, bauxite or coal is mined subserves the public interest is a moot question . The ridiculously low rates of royalty collected by mineral rich states on the wealth taken out by some individuals who have gathered enormous political clout besides wealth, are now open to legal challenge.

In the petroleum sector, future exploration and development contracts would have to explicitly cede the absolute authority of the government to determine price and utilisation of the crude and gas extracted.
The judgement vindicates the stand of Reliance Industries Ltd on a number of issues. However, the court has asked it to reach an agreement with RNRL within 14 weeks for gas supply on terms that respect government policy on price and utilisation and benefit the shareholders of both companies. RIL would have to sell gas to RNRL but at a price that other consumers pay.

This is not any disaster for RNRL or Reliance Power — all it means is that their power projects would make money from efficient conversion of fuel into electricity, as other projects do, and not from windfall profits arising from a combination of ultra cheap fuel and a fixed tariff (if the tariff varied to let the fuel cost pass through, windfall profits disappear ). But the folly of having included gas, a public asset, in a family division of assets has left the Anil Ambani group with a lower share than anticipated. That is a private dispute, to which the present ruling brings no closure.







With elections delivering a hung parliament in the United Kingdom, the only outcome one can be certain about is that calls for reforming the electoral system will grow louder. It is, in fact, due to the 'first past the post' system that the UK is witnessing an unprecedented period of political uncertainty. With the Conservatives (Tories) — projected to post a final tally of 306 sets at the time of writing — falling just short of the overall majority figure of 326, the Labour party at 256, and 56 seats for the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems), there is no clarity whatsoever as to who, or rather which coalition, will form the government.

By convention, given that Britain has an unwritten constitution, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, despite Labour not emerging as the largest party, has the right to stake a claim first in a hung parliament. And so far, he has given no indication of wanting to step down. But Nick Clegg of the Lib Dems, who despite suffering a setback in expectations has emerged as the 'kingmaker' , has indicated that the Tories have a right to form the government.

For his part, Tory leader David Cameron has said it was in the 'national interest' that his party does that. British politics rarely has witnessed the sort of horsetrading, speculations and deal-making that is underway.
Given the transformation of the British political scene after the emergence of New Labour, there is hardly any major ideological rupture between the three main parties. The issue more being the cuts the Tories are expected to make vis a vis the economy. Indeed, given the common ground between the parties politically, this election is opined to have been more based on personalities rather than policies.

The only ideological-political blip seems to be the solitary win of the Green party and the loss of the far-right , anti-immigrant British National Party's leader Nick Griffin. There is little doubt that the British electoral system must change. Already calls are being made to seize the opportunity to reform the system and implement proportional representation and reforms on party-funding . Despite the current state of total uncertainty, this election may change Britain for ever.








In the cloak and dagger world of international espionage , the usual players — the stuff of many a Hollywood hit/ best seller — have been Russian and English speakers, give or take a smattering of obscure East European languages.

However, sometimes, the term alien tongue takes an unusually literal turn. In a dramatic development, Russian President Dimitri Medvedev has been asked by a member of parliament to investigate: whether the President of the former Soviet Republic of Kalmykia, Mr Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, had passed on state secrets to yellow spacesuit-clad humanoid aliens who had dropped in at his Moscow apartment some years ago and had given him a guided tour of a spaceship. How such information was passed on to alien agents boggles the mind particularly since Mr Ilyumzhinov's comment was not very illuminating : "I am often asked which language I used to talk to them. Perhaps it was on a level of the exchange of ideas."

That last bit is what causes consternation, as so much about this close encounter is up in the air. Are there any established rules regarding the parameters of such bilateral exchanges? Did he come clean on the episode to Moscow ? Had the aliens approached him on matters other than Kalmykia-Russia relations? Such as the internal matters of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), perhaps, of which Mr Ilyumzhikov is also the head?

What blandishments could extra-terrestrials have offered him in lieu of information — a victory over Anatoly Karpov to continue as president of FIDE? And what sort of information would be regarded as classified anyway, when it comes to visitors from another galaxy? Without clarity on these matters, deciding his culpability in passing on official secrets would become very difficult. Unless, of course, extraterrestrial help is forthcoming!








In the cloak and dagger world of international espionage , the usual players — the stuff of many a Hollywood hit/ best seller — have been Russian and English speakers, give or take a smattering of obscure East European languages.

However, sometimes, the term alien tongue takes an unusually literal turn. In a dramatic development, Russian President Dimitri Medvedev has been asked by a member of parliament to investigate: whether the President of the former Soviet Republic of Kalmykia, Mr Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, had passed on state secrets to yellow spacesuit-clad humanoid aliens who had dropped in at his Moscow apartment some years ago and had given him a guided tour of a spaceship. How such information was passed on to alien agents boggles the mind particularly since Mr Ilyumzhinov's comment was not very illuminating : "I am often asked which language I used to talk to them. Perhaps it was on a level of the exchange of ideas."

That last bit is what causes consternation, as so much about this close encounter is up in the air. Are there any established rules regarding the parameters of such bilateral exchanges? Did he come clean on the episode to Moscow ? Had the aliens approached him on matters other than Kalmykia-Russia relations? Such as the internal matters of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), perhaps, of which Mr Ilyumzhikov is also the head?

What blandishments could extra-terrestrials have offered him in lieu of information — a victory over Anatoly Karpov to continue as president of FIDE? And what sort of information would be regarded as classified anyway, when it comes to visitors from another galaxy? Without clarity on these matters, deciding his culpability in passing on official secrets would become very difficult. Unless, of course, extraterrestrial help is forthcoming!








MUMBAI: Traders and analysts remain optimistic about the prospects of Reliance Industries (RIL) stock for the rest of May, but caution that gains may be limited from Friday's closing. Shares of Mukesh Ambani-controlled RIL rose on Friday after the Supreme Court ruled in its favour in a dispute with Anil Ambani's Reliance Natural Resources (RNRL) involving gas pricing. RNRL shares fell 23% to Rs 52.75 following the verdict.

"We recommend buying RIL stock futures with a short-term target of around Rs 1,120," said Siddarth Bhamre, head-derivatives, Angel Broking. On Friday, RIL shares hit a high of Rs 1,060 intra-day before closing at Rs 1,033.85, up 2.3% over Thursday, as traders trimmed their trading combinations in RIL options, which were created earlier to bet on the verdict. "The stock has good support at around Rs 1,000 as there are still huge short positions which will be covered if it falls," Mr Bhamre said.

While reiterating their oft-repeated bullish view on RIL in the long term, analysts, in private, admit they are uncomfortable about forecasting sharp upsides for the stock immediately because of the uncertainty about gross refining margins (GRM).

Some traders are betting that RIL could rise short term, as indices remain vulnerable to Europe crisis. Others see more scope to make money in shares of Anil Ambani Group, including RNRL and Reliance Infrastructure, which were battered after the ruling.

"There is no big opportunity in RIL hereon, but there is money to be made if RNRL is short-sold (bets of further downsides). We are also going vol (volatility) short on RNRL options," said Dharam Chand Sethia of Kolkata-based Kredent Brokerage. Vol short involves selling a combination of index or stock options, where the trader pockets the premium on expectations that there is unlikely to be any sharp movement in the stock soon. "RNRL options' vols... fell to 100% and are likely to fall to their average of 70-75%."

On the BSE, nearly 11 crore RNRL shares were traded, almost five times their two-week average daily volumes. "The verdict is hugely negative for RNRL; the company, without RIL gas, will be left with no meaningful business. Counting out any surprises during the re-negotiation phase, RNRL could decline 20-30% from current price levels. We are not expecting any impact of this verdict on other ADAG stocks," said DD Sharma, V-P research-retail, Anand Rathi Financial Services.

Shares of Reliance Infrastructure, another Anil Ambani Group company, fell 7% to Rs 979.70. But analysts, including Angel's Bhamre, recommend buying the stock at around Rs 970-980, as the impact of the court verdict on Friday is expected to be limited.








NEW YORK: US REGULATORS plan to examine whether securities professionals triggered Thursday's stock-market plunge or exploited the turmoil to profit illegally, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) aims to determine if market participants accidentally or maliciously entered orders that derailed normal trading, the people said, declining to be identified because the inquiry isn't public. The agency will also examine if controls to prevent the rout from snowballing weren't in place at exchanges and firms.

SEC officials, who haven't drawn conclusions, began preparing for inquiries in the hours after a US selloff triggered by Europe's debt crisis briefly erased more than $1 trillion in market value, beginning around 2:40 p.m. in New York. US stocks tumbled the most in a year as waves of computerised trading exacerbated the rout, sparking a slide in Asian shares.

The SEC and Commodity Futures Trading Commission said in a joint statement after US markets closed that they will examine "unusual trading" that contributed to the plunge. "We will make public the findings of our review along with recommendations for appropriate action," they said.

SEC spokesman John Nester declined to comment on the investigations. The regulator will also look at whether traders tried to take advantage of the chaos, such as by entering orders that drove some stocks to pennies, according to the two people.

Electronic Networks

NYSE Euronext spokesman Ray Pellecchia said sudden price moves in multiple stocks reached so-called liquidity replenishment points, prompting the exchange to slow trading in those shares as it tried to ensure an orderly market. Such incidences allow other exchanges to ignore NYSE price quotes.

Larry Leibowitz, chief operating officer of NYSE Euronext, said trades sent to electronic networks fuelled the drop. While the first half of the Dow Jones Industrial Average's 998.5-point plunge probably reflected normal trading, the decline snowballed as orders went to venues lacking liquidity to match them, he said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

"If you look at the charts you can see fairly clearly where the trades came in," he said from New York. "It's that V-shaped drop where it came down and snapped right back up. You had some very high-cap stocks trading down 50% or large percentages in a split instant because there really was no liquidity in electronic markets."

New York Stock Exchange spokesman Rich Adamonis said "there were a number of erroneous trades" during the slide. The Dow Jones index ended the session down 347.8 points, or 3.2%, to 10,520.32 at the close of trading.

90% Plunge

Accenture, Exelon Corp and Philip Morris International were among 27 US stocks with at least $50 million in market value that dropped more than 90% as US equities tumbled, before recovering by the close, according to Bloomberg data excluding exchange-traded funds.

Nasdaq OMX Group said 286 securities that rose or fell more than 60% during the stock-market's plunge will have trades cancelled. The exchange had no problems with its computer systems, spokesman Robert Madden said in a statement.

US Representative Paul Kanjorski, a Pennsylvania Democrat, set a May 11 hearing to examine what caused stocks to plunge. He also sent a letter to SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro seeking the agency's views on the incident, and asked what authority the SEC has to prevent futures crashes.








Indian top court's ruling in favour of Reliance Industries in a gas price dispute saved local markets from steep falls on Friday, but they still shed 1.3% leading to worst weekly fall in six months as world stocks tumbled on euro zone debt jitters.


The Supreme Court ruled in favour of billionaire Mukesh Ambani, who controls Reliance Industries (RIL), in the dispute, closing a chapter on a 5-year battle that now gives the government control over setting prices.

"Given that our target price of Rs 1,220 had factored in an unfavourable outcome for RIL, our fair value of the company would increase by Rs 35 on the back of this verdict," Ambit Capital said in a note. "More importantly, with uncertainty on the case outcome out of the way, we believe that company's fundamentals would be back in focus."

The 30-share BSE index closed 1.29% or 218.42 points lower at 16,769.11 points, its lowest close since February 26, with 25 of its components losing ground. It declined 4.5% this week.

Energy major Reliance Industries, which has the highest weight on the Sensex, rose 2.3%, its biggest percentage point gain in a month, to Rs 1,033.85. "Reliance saved our market today to an extent. But what next from here?" said Ambareesh Baliga, vice-president of Karvy Stock Broking.

"The euro zone problem is just like subprime. We knew long ago that there was more trouble brewing in there. But people like to ignore doubts and be optimistic," Baliga said. "There could be more skeletons hidden in the closet."

Baliga said though the bias from here was downwards, a steep downside was ruled out. The court verdict shaved off 22.8% from Anil Ambani-controlled Reliance Natural Resources shares. It fell as much as 26.8% in the day and closed at Rs 52.75, its lowest close in 13 months.

Reliance Natural Resources clocked the highest turnover on the BSE with a volume of 106.9 million shares, 21 times its average volume for 30 days. Other companies controlled by Anil Ambani also took a big hit. Reliance Infrastructure and Reliance Power shed 7% and nearly 9%, respectively. Reliance Communications and Reliance Capital declined 2.7% and 3.7%, respectively.








Petroleum minister Murli Deora may be a reluctant speaker, more after he was attacked by Anil Ambani for favouring brother Mukesh in this epic gas battle. But after the verdict, his body language gave it all away. The government's stand has been vindicated and the Supreme Court has upheld its stand of having the ultimate sovereign right over natural resources. ET caught up with the minister barely minutes after he walked back to his office from Parliament.

Has the SC decision vindicated the government's position on ownership of national assets?

We have always maintained that these (oil and natural gas) are sovereign assets. The gas belongs to the nation and people, not to any company or individual. The Supreme Court has upheld our stand.

Do you mean that rights and obligations of the contractors are determined by the PSC?


Yes, the PSC is supreme and all (oil and gas) contracts have to go in accordance with the PSC.

What will be its (court's verdict) implications on RIL and RNRL?

We have no comments on this. The government is only concerned about its national assets, gas price and its

proper utilisation as per government policy.

WIll the Ambani brothers too have to stick to the PSC terms?

As far as gas is concerned, it is a national asset and any negotiation must keep the court's decision in mind that the PSC is supreme.

The late Dhirubhai Ambani was your friend. What do you feel about his two sons?

Both are dear to me. But as the oil minister, my prime job is to protect the nation's interest.









RIL executive director PMS Prasad, a long-serving hand since the late 1980s, has been the company's public face all through the gas battle — whether at Court Room No 1 at the Supreme Court, or the corridors of Shastri Bhavan that houses the petroleum ministry. Prasad was present on Friday too as the drama was about to be capped in the Supreme Court. ET caught up with him immediately after the judgement

What is it that came to your mind when the judgement was announced?

Relief! That it's all over.


Who was the first to congratulate you after the judgement?

My boss Mukesh Ambani. He said it was a good job done and we need to get back to work. I also got a call from Mrs Ambani, who said we have to move on to the next generation of value creation.

How is Monday 9 am going to be different?

It's going to be a different day. We are relieved of the tension. We have to get down to business and begin negotiations with RNRL.

Is this the best judgement?

Under the given circumstances, one could not hope for a better judgement.

How do you plan to go about negotiating the agreement with RNRL?

We have to negotiate a fresh gas sale and purchase agreement, which has to be bound by the broad parameters laid down by the court. Any fresh gas sales purchase agreement will have to uphold the price approved by the government, honour the utilisation policy of the government and various empowered Group of Ministers' (eGoM) decisions with regard to utilisation.

What are the parameters that you will need to thrash out with RNRL?

The issues will include other parameters of GSPA like liability, penalty, alternative arrangements for fuel, the quantity of gas, quality of gas, etc. We have already concluded GSPA with several consumers and this GSPA will have to be similar to those.

Did the court mention the family MoU?

Yes. Although the court held the production-sharing contract was supreme, it directed RIL & RNRL to renegotiate in the context of the existing MoU; more like the MoU being a backgrounder under which we could renegotiate. But at all times, it is the supremacy of the PSC and the government decision that have to be kept in mind.

How long will you have to reach that agreement — do you have a timeframe?

We have to go back to the Mumbai HC within six weeks and then if we can mutually agree to a GSPA, it will need to be verified and approved by the government.

Are you saying RNRL & RIL can possibly be business partners where RIL is the gas seller and RNRL the buyer?

Yes! There is every possibility that we will work as partners and we will make a genuine effort to reach out and settle this GSPA in accordance with the court order and government law.

So, what is clear is that you are willing to provide gas at $4.2 mmBtu if the government approves the contract.
Yes, that is the price we will start negotiations at.

What are the key takeaways of today's verdict?

It is clear that we have to follow all government policies and eGoM decisions and the PSC is the basis for all contracts. Secondly, the court order has also made it clear that the government has the right to determine prices and allocate the gas as per national interests. It has in a way only reaffirmed what the government has been saying. Thirdly, by directing us to renegotiate, but referring to the family MoU, the court has asked both RIL and RNRL to initiate talks and take action within six weeks.

How do you think this order will be received by investors, particularly global oil majors?

We expect the government to come out with a clear policy, which will state all that the verdict has said so that investors have complete confidence in consistency of policies. If companies like Exxon, Chevron and Shell can go to countries like Nigeria or Venezuela where there is so much political uncertainty, there is no reason why investors should not come to India.

Any regrets?

Yes. Too much time was wasted. There is not a single decision that the government has taken in the last seven months. And institutions like the Director General of Hydrocarbons, the petroleum ministry and even the CAG have suffered a huge reputation damage. And as for the advertisements in the newspapers where it was said that the petroleum minister was in RIL pockets.(laughs) I constantly looked for him but didn't find him. We need to get back to business, value creation and positive thinking.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The British general election has not thrown up stirring moments for anyone as the principal parties struggle to cobble together a stable government. For the first time in 36 years the country has thrown up a hung Parliament. How badly the House of Commons is hung is evident from the fact that no party is certain to form the next government, although the Conservatives have clearly won the most votes and the most seats.
After 13 years of Labour rule this is the best the Tories could do. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, generally portrayed as dour and uninspiring, Labour does appear to have held up reasonably well. A year ago, opinion polls showed the Conservatives 26 points ahead, but this lead has been whittled down to seven per cent. Support for both Tory and Labour has come from all parts of the country, suggesting that the incumbent of three terms fought hard in an effort to pull off a fourth consecutive win, although it fell short trying. Perhaps Mr Brown's husbanding of the recession economy in the past 18 months, and his stand on Iraq and Afghanistan, has something to do with this. The Labour leader, who has pulled troops out of Iraq and pushed for a reconciliation with the top Taliban leadership, might have been able to convey the impression of dependability in the end. And yet, it is hard not to discern an undercurrent for change, mild though it is. While it did not cross the halfway mark in terms of seats, the Conservative Party has picked up 36 per cent of the popular vote. This is one per cent higher than what Labour had in the last general election, although even with that number the latter had won a majority in the House, given the vagaries of the first-past-the-post system.
Conservative leader David Cameron should ordinarily have the first crack at government-making. But in the British system, the incumbent Prime Minister is traditionally permitted first shot at producing a "stable" government if elections produce a hung Parliament. This leaves Labour with a sliver of hope. However, everything really depends on Liberal-Democratic leader Nick Clegg, who left a huge impression during the campaign but fell way short in the end. Nevertheless, he has the numbers to possibly allow Mr Brown to hold on to power, although this would call for some wheeling and dealing that might involve other smaller parties. On the other hand, if the Lib-Dems decide to go with the Tories right away, Mr Cameron can become Prime Minister straightaway. The likely price would be agreeing to the Lib-Dems' long-standing demand for a switch to the proportional representation system, not to mention countenancing its views on proximity with Europe. If the Tory leader turns squeamish on these, as he might well be, Mr Brown might still have a chance. But that possibility appeared remote Friday evening. Till the time of going to press, it appeared that Mr Cameron would try to form a government with Lib-Dem support, but hard negotiations are still on and other possibilities cannot be ruled out.







Actor Balakrishna seems to have learnt from his baavagaaru (brother-in-law), Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu, about publicity and managing the media. Not happy with his movie Simha's "above average" rating and wanting to go one up on Chiranjeevi's son Ram Charan Teja's Magadheera, he apparently app-roached the media to hype the film's success. He personally called up bosses of news channels and asked them to create "controversies" around the film to arouse people's curiosity and increase revenue. The channels obliged and started asking questions like why did the yellow flag, the colour of the TD, in the film have a picture of Balakrishna? Does he want to take over the TD? Does he want to be the CM? It remains to be seen if the ploy worked .



The Chief Minister, Mr K. Rosaiah, is getting very good at the game of keeping everyone happy, a trait which one has to acquire to succeed in politics. Recently on a two-day visit to Nellore, the Chief Minister gave a consummate performance on time management and how to keep differing factions happy. As in most parts on the state, Nellore has its share of warring factions within a political party. So on the first day of his tour he attended a breakfast organised by the former chief minister, Mr N. Janardhan Reddy, a lunch by the minister, Mr Anam Ramnarayana Reddy, and evening snacks organised by the former minister, Mr Adala Prabhakara Reddy. He then had tea with the Ongole MP, Mr Magunta Srinivasula Reddy, and dinner with Arya Vysya Sangham leaders. The next morning before leaving Nellore he attended a breakfast hosted by the Union minister of state, Ms Panabaka Lakshmi. At the end of the tour, every leader was happy that the Chief Minister had obliged them. But since politics within the party can't be forgotten, Ms Lakshmi did not attend Mr Janardhan Reddy's breakfast and vice versa. Mr Ramnarayana Reddy did not attend Mr Prabhakara Reddy's snacks programme who returned the compliment.



It's stress busting time in babudom. At least five senior IAS officers are gunning for out-of-the-limelight and tension-free posts in the animal husbandry department. Mr S.P. Tucker, Mr Chellappa, Mr Bhale Rao, Ms Chandana Khan and Mr C.R. Biswal are all vying for the post vacated by Mr Priyadarsi Das on superannuation. Interestingly, two of the officers are in the special chief secretary cadre and two others hold plum posts. Ms Janaki Kondepi, who has completed four years in the environment and forests department, is also interested in the job if the government is willing to move her out. Sources in the All India services inform that since animal husbandry is a big department, it carries a big budget. At the same time it hardly ever attracts media or government focus. Sources tell us that Mr Chellappa and Mr Bhale Rao are ahead in the race.








 "If wishes were horses,

You'd get saddled with stabling bills".

From The Dattey Raho

Protocol by Bachchoo


Before I knew what "USSR" stood for or indeed where it was, I was given a misleading and derisory description of Communism by a teacher and taken with the rest of my class to the school gates to join a throng of the hoi polloi and wave to the passing Nikita Khrushchev who was a guest of the Indian government of the time and had done our town the honour of passing through it.


Very many of the crowd that lined the pavement waiting for the cavalcade held little red flags with sickles and hammers to wave at the impossibly luxurious-looking black cars followed by grey Ambassadors that the touring dignitaries and their escorts were using. Following the crowd, though discouraged by our Christian teachers who expressed their disapproval of Communist atheism, egalitarian doctrines of Mr K himself and of the Indian government for not being British, we joined in the chant of "Hindi-Russia bhai bhai!" which we could hear approaching as a wave of sound from further down the route as the cars approached.


Mr K and other burly people in black suits waved from the cars beyond the lines of police stationed to keep the eager citizens from overflowing into the street.


The visit did stimulate a lot of debate about the suitability of Communism to a country such as ours and some newspapers gave voice to dissenting opinions about the evils of the Soviet system.


I don't remember waving at Chou En Lai (these were the days before the Chinese decided to conflate the last two syllables of their names, turning Tse Tung into the surname Zedong) but I was aware that his state visit had produced the imaginative slogan "Hindi-Chini bhai bhai!" which Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru took to heart. The Chinese military assault on India — that was how we saw it in 1962 — must have made him wonder about the persuasiveness of the slogan his propagandists had popularised. Yes, brothers we were — but then so were Cain and Abel.


There were dissident opinions in the Indian press at the time. India did not uniformly welcome the visits of Mr K or Chou. There were a few publications which voiced their dissent on the grounds of the domestic reputations of either of these leaders or the autocracies they led, but there was no Nehruvian police force to knock at dawn at the doors of the editors of such opinion and carry them away to the gulags of Orissa or wherever. The Indian populace was free to wave its paper flags, scream its fraternal identity with Russians and Chinese and return to its round of scrambling for a living. In some international charade being played out by our leaders the visits had significance.


And today in Britain the present Pope Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Ratzinger, has been invited by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to a tour of Britain. The Vatican has accepted and the visit is scheduled for September.


The foreign office of Britain, having very little on its hands with the global financial crisis and its massive deficit, with the war in Afghanistan, the withdrawal from Iraq, the threat of nuclear armament by Iran and of the acquisition of dirty bombs by local terrorists, the surfacing of Al Qaeda bases in Yemen and Somalia and other such trivia, turned its corporate attention to the visit of the Pope. A small team within the foreign office was asked for its views on what activities the Pope should engage in during his state visit. It was a question seeking serious answers. The one penned or computed by one Steven Mulvain of the team, set its heart on satire.


Mulvain's memo said that the Pope should "launch a range of Benedict Condoms, be invited to inaugurate an abortion clinic and sing a duet with the Queen to raise money for the victims of AIDS in Africa".


Very many people in Britain believe, as I do, that the Pope's advice or infallible transmission of God's word to the faithful is, on the points of contraception, abortion, safe sex, homosexual relations and several other matters, mistaken or wrong-minded. That's as may be. The Pope is reputed to allow people like myself to hold these contrary, foolish and perhaps even Satanic opinions. Sticks and stones will break his bones — after all the apostolic successor of St. Peter is avowedly human and words shouldn't hurt him. And they wouldn't and won't, but the words should not, for the shame of Britain, have emanated from an official of the foreign office who was asked for his judgment on the agenda of a state visit.


The memo, written by Mr Mulvain and allegedly passed by his superior who happens to be a person of Pakistani extraction, was circulated in official circles and even, it is said, reached Downing Street as, at worst, a satirical offering.


As British citizens both these geezers are perfectly entitled to their opinions about the Pope and his stand on

contraception, gay people and abortion. I have opinions about his opinions too and only a Stalinist style police, set up by the next government of Britain, can stun me into not expressing these opinions whenever and wherever I feel is appropriate, whether it be at a gala gathering of the Irish Catholic Hooligans Club or in the saloon bar of the Sock and Sadist where I spend my spare hours. But then I don't work for the foreign office and any memos I send to 10 Downing Street would probably have me arrested and deported.


The point being that Mr Mulvain is obviously a booby with a deficient sense of humour who should take extended sick leave from the foreign office for his bad jokes. The point is not that paparazzi will be unduly offended. I am sure the rock on which the church is built has weathered many tides and will not take either Mr Mulvain's memo or the subsequent apology from foreign secretary David Miliband as more than droppings from passing seagulls. The damage is to the mehmaan nawazi of her Maj's kingdom.


Please note that I do not recommend a hanging and quartering of Mr Mulvain. But, to digress, I am very glad that a preacher who publicly spread derision if not hatred against gay people is to be prosecuted and perhaps sent to the Tower or equivalent. This voicing of opinions also has its limits.








It was a really exciting election night — probably better than watching the FA cup, or even T20. But having stayed up till the early hours of Friday following the fortunes of the three main parties, I can barely keep my eyes open as I write this.


So David Cameron, leader of the Conservatives, has got the most number of seats — even though the incumbent Gordon Brown went back to 10 Downing Street stating that he would try to cobble together a government! Power is always very difficult to give up. There is no denying that we have expected a hung Parliament for a while, and no doubt there will be much horse-trading going on behind closed doors.


There will also be a lot of grumbling about the victory of spin over substance. But the daily pre-election polls had already prepared us for an unprecedented result — and what should have been a cakewalk for Cameron became a hard fight. So much so that he campaigned through the night on election eve, collaring whatever voters he could find, fishermen, factory workers, firemen or shop-workers, hopping off and on his campaign bus, a bunch of exhausted media men and women trailing behind.


As soon as the polls closed and the exit poll results were announced, the squabbling between bemused members of various parties had begun. When (and if) Gordon Brown shifts out of 10 Downing Street, and David Cameron moves in, the changeover will be complete, but the country is absolutely primed for a change. The exhaustion from the 13 years of Labour was so extreme that even the Labour loyalist newspaper, the Guardian had switched allegiance to the Liberal Democrats. Now of course, the knives will come out: but few will deny that if Mr Brown had given way to a younger leader such as David Miliband, the foreign secretary, Labour would have had a better chance against the two younger challengers. This is perhaps a lesson the Indian Opposition must learn from the UK. They will sleepwalk into another defeat unless they quickly find a leader from Generation Next. This has been a very closely fought election — with the kind of nail-biting tension that saw tempers fraying and allegations flying. To edge a well-established party out of power is very difficult. India has faced the same problem. Because it was predicted to be such a close fight, one of the mistakes Labour has made is to run a negative campaign. The Labour government, instead of playing up on its myriad achievements, decided to bash the Conservatives and scare the electorate.


The effort by the Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters to somehow persuade the British people to go in for a hung Parliament stitch up was also one of the most annoying parts of the campaign. Of course to some extent it is true that we are very susceptible to half-baked suggestions, which if repeated frequently enough begin to sound like fact. And so — a negative campaign can be very successful, and this time too it has worked to a certain extent.


- The writer can be contacted at [1]







 "Kasab ko latka do…" Done. Kasab has been sentenced. He is to hang. Will he? That's a million dollar question. Even if Kasab leapfrogs over 50 other prisoners on death row, whose mercy pleas are on hold with the President of India, he could be left cooling his heels in the clink for the next 10 years. This 22-year-old "menace to society", will then be a decade older — that is , if no one gets to him before that. The general feeling, at least in Mumbai, is that "latkana hai to jaldi latka do". Forget the monumental expense of keeping this guy alive and well-fed in our midst, the trickier part is to keep him — period. It is not his safety alone that is at grave risk, it is the safety of the city, and more importantly of the country. Kasab by himself is a complete nobody. His minders would have preferred him to die during the 26/11 terror attacks. It is his misfortune and ours that he survived. Despite the stupendous job done by the Mumbai cops (in particular, by Rakesh Maria who headed the investigation), the Kasab story remains incomplete and on many levels, entirely unconvincing. This was exactly what the masterminds in Pakistan had hoped for — unleash violence, create an atmosphere of insecurity, mislead the people of India... and then watch the fun.


There is not a single destination left on the planet that is "terrorist proof". The world was witness to what happened last week in the heart of New York. And to think, that audacious attempt was engineered pretty effortlessly in a country that prides itself on all the deterrents that kicked in post 9/11. Once again, the watching world looked on in disbelief and horror, as a crude bomb nearly went off in New York's Times Square, engineered by Faisal Shahzad, who was on the verge of nonchalantly escaping to Dubai from JFK terminal before being picked up. There may be hundreds where he came from. Just as there may be half a dozen home-grown Kasabs waiting in the wings to strike at the first opportunity. Opportunity? Ha… There is one in India every second minute. Somehow, our mindset is against the sort of security measures that prevail across the globe. We resent the very people whose job it is to ensure our safety. Since I travel constantly, I can tell you, our airports remain our weakest links. Why? Because security efforts are a bit of a joke, and we ourselves treat them lightly. Last week, while returning from a short trip to Goa, I was silly enough to carry a doggy bag with my favourite fish curry in my hand luggage. There is no way one can pack curry into a suitcase, right? Yup. Absolutely right. But… think about it… here's a person (me!), who knows the rules, is perfectly aware that liquids cannot be taken on board (if over a 100ml). Did that simple thought even cross my mind as I happily set forth with 500ml of curry to enjoy back home? Nope. So… what happened at the security check? A lady cop giggled, shrugged and pointed to her senior (a burly guy), who came up to ask what it was that I had in a plastic container. I brightly said, "Fish curry". He licked his chops before mildly scolding me, "But madam… you cannot take it on the plane". My disappointment must have been obvious, because his face softened as he came up with a solution. "Madam, you can eat it here… no problem". That would have been a first for me. An unappetising first. Seeing my tepid response, he made another suggestion, "Why not empty out half the curry and take the rest?" Oh heavens… I admit I was desperate, but not that desperate! By then five more cops had gathered around the plastic container to offer assorted advice. Some had abandoned their posts to participate in the curry debate. Other passengers were being waved through casually, their belongings checked in a cursory way. One of them could have been the new Kasab/Faisal. Ten minutes later, the burly senior cop strolled away with a smirk on his face. That was clearly the signal the juniors were waiting for. The lady cop all but winked at me before stamping the security tag on my handbag and whispering, "Theek hai, theek hai madam… drama kar raha tha". I mean… Seriously. Come on! Rules ought to be rules, no matter who or what! That blessed curry was giving me indigestion… a severe belly ache by now. And I said to myself, "This is so dumb". Equally, it was so dangerous. Technically speaking, I could have held up the plane with that fish curry. I could have temporarily blinded the unsuspecting crew, forced myself into the cockpit and flung some more of the chilly heavy gravy into the captain's face. It would have rated as the first plane hijack in the world accomplished by a woman wielding nothing more lethal than delicious Goan fish curry.


I cite this comical, farcical almost surrealistic incident only to highlight the sorry state of our basic security measures at airports… and our own ludicrous attitude to them. We regard checks as somehow being of high nuisance value. The same desis who wordlessly and passively strip down to their underwear at American airports, look deeply insulted and act seriously affronted when much milder procedures are enforced back home. I have witnessed countless "How dare you?" moments, and wondered at the miracle that has so far saved us from a gigantic calamity. Five-star hotels, malls and multiplexes generally employ desperate youth, incapable of holding down any other job. Their "training" is a joke as is evident when you watch them go through the motions in a robotic fashion. What happened at the German Bakery in Pune, is but one example of our own absurd attitude to safety.


Do Indians have a death wish? Sometimes, I feel hapless enough to believe we do!


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INEVITABLE was the maximum. Anything less would have astounded. There have seldom been more appropriate circumstances in which to apply the apex court's "rarest of the rare" benchmark. For not only was the crime most heinous, not a trace of remorse was evident in the terrorist, and that ruled out a mercy-influenced sentence. While the practice of capital punishment is, rightly, debated at several levels, as long as it is provided for in the statute book it has to be awarded in cases that merit the most severe punishment. Who can argue against a perpetrator of the carnage of 26/11 deserving the extreme? Not that it will really compensate for what Mumbai, and the people there suffered. 

Yet, philosophical debate apart (which is best conducted in the abstract, not in any specific context), and momentarily setting aside argument over whether capital punishment has deterrent effect, the death sentence might actually work to the advantage of those who plotted what Kasab, and others, so ruthlessly executed. They would ever fear that as the impact of extended, isolated, incarceration took its toll Kasab might someday reveal a great deal. The brave face and contemptuous air he has maintained thus far could "crack" and he furnish both leads and corroboration to the investigators (some signs of disturbed emotion were reportedly seen in court on Thursday). Remember that the trial just concluded in no way brings down the curtain on the outrage. Actually the verdict and what is recorded in the judgment must serve as the platform from which a revitalised campaign is mounted to pressure Pakistan, and secure US backing, to bring the masterminds to book. Activating the gallows could negate a potentially powerful "weapon". 

Disgracefully, the majesty of the law that was hailed in Kasab getting a fair trial in open court (the home minister put it perfectly when he observed that India had not cloned a Guantanamo) was severely tarnished by the vulgar display that followed the sentencing. The public prosecutor's waving a "V for Victory" and his unabashed gloating eroded the impression of a duly dignified judicial process. Sure he toiled effectively, but it really was an open-and-shut case. He went on as though he had won a prize-fight or beauty contest, or maybe an election: is that his goal? Wonder if the fireworks, placard-waving, distribution of sweets, dancing in the streets etc was spontaneous or TV-triggered, telecasting them has a negative cascading effect. The behaviour of TV crew near the court, fuelled by jingoistic anchors in the studios, invited comparison with a lynch-mob. And it is grossly irresponsible when judicial pronouncements, based on appreciation of evidence and application of the law, are subjected to "popularity polls." This was no IPL tamasha!







NO, it isn't confined to Greece. In its immediate aftermath, it could hit Portugal and Spain no less. Gradually the crisis has overwhelmed Europe, and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, sounded cynically realistic on Wednesday when she admitted that the future of the European Union is at stake. Indeed, the meltdown in one country has engendered a crisis that is feared to be the most critical in the EU's history. European stocks have been dumped along with the single currency; the value has plummeted immeasurably against the dollar. The petrol bomb and Molotov cocktail attack on a bank has been compared to the standard modes of aggression of Anarchists and Communists. If that is part of European history, Wednesday's arson of the Marfin Bank in Athens was an expression of public rage at the mishandling of the economic collapse. No less symbolic than the siege of parliament. Contemporary Europe has seldom witnessed a riot as the one that convulsed Athens on Wednesday. Spearheaded by 100,000 Greeks, it was a furious protest against the huge public spending cuts in parallel with the burgeoning taxes, both measures adopted at the behest of the Eurozone states and the International Monetary Fund. To summon the language of the metaphor, the EU's hopes of tackling the crisis have been torched by the protestors. An economic crisis deepens to a tragedy with the death of three persons in the bank fire. The cries of "thieves, thieves" just about underscores the enormity of the disaster. 
It would be less than fair to blame the Papandreou government for having lost control over Athens. So too has the EU. The collapse of the rule of law is only a manifestation of the economic malaise. Beyond the frontier, it is the EU that has not been able to come to grips with the Grecian tragedy. The bailout has failed. And it may be some time before Prime Minister Papandreou can "bring the economy into line". Misgivings expressed by the European Commission of Economic and Monetary Affairs that the "bushfire in Greece" might spread to a "forest fire" for the EU are not wholly unfounded. In the midst of the deepening blight, the similarities with the 2008 subprime crisis and the meltdown are painfully obvious. Greece must be saved. So too must the European Union.









Verily is Calcutta University at sixes and sevens over the admission procedure to post-graduate courses. The Vice-Chancellor uses the language of diplomatic understatement when he blames a "section of students" for the agitation against the entrance tests ~ the standard procedure in most universities and institutions of excellence. His cautious choice of words is merely a euphemism for the SFI whose agitation last Tuesday against tests has resulted in a virtual stalemate. That stalemate, Dr Suranjan Das ought to agree, is basically the university's creation. It had initially tended to view with a different prism the graduates from autonomous colleges, pre-eminently St Xavier's and the RKM College in Belur. Does CU have reservations over colleges becoming autonomous and going out of its ambit? For example, it is yet to spell out its stand on Presidency University. In an unacceptable attempt to evolve a different benchmark for such students, CU proposed what they call the "normalisation procedure". The brainwave ~ humiliating to any autonomous college ~ was struck down by Calcutta High Court on an appeal by a St Xavier's student, seeking admission to a CU post-graduate course. And in a resounding rebuff to College Street, the court had directed CU to treat students from autonomous colleges on a par with those of its affiliates. No one denies that there can be a variation of standards between CU and an autonomous college. Logically, therefore, only an entrance test can offer a level playing field, indeed a "suitable admission procedure" to quote the Vice-Chancellor. 

The SFI's spanner in the works exploits the CU's setback in court. It has lent its spin by opposing the rational option of an admission test. One could even argue that given current academic standards, the majority of the raucous agitators may not be equipped to take an entrance exam. The Vice-Chancellor sounds pretty much helpless when he pleads that finding an alternative will be "no easy task". The SFI simply can't dictate the admission procedure. The Oxford-trained historian will have to muster some boldness and end the stalemate even if it ruffles feathers in the party's education cell.








To believe in something and not to live it, is dishonest ~ Mahatma Gandhi.


IT must be galling for the Prime Minister to realise that, contrary to popular belief, it was two women ~ neither of them holding a Constitutional post ~ who decided policy in his Government until the other day. And if Dr Manmohan Singh subscribes to Gandhian values of integrity, it must be even more galling to realise that by the Mahatma's lights, he may actually be a dishonest man.

When Gandhi said that "non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good", he had sounded a note of caution for everyone in public life. As the head of a Congress-led government, Dr Singh is bound more by the Gandhian edict than others. And as a man who wears integrity on his sleeve the Prime Minister must by now be aware that he heads a government whose members ~ some of them at least ~ wallow in sleaze, subordinate national interest to commercial interests, and obtain private recompense for acts in the public domain.

By continuing to head this government, and to live with the corruption that is part of its basic structure, for nearly seven years now, Dr. Singh establishes one of two things ~ his complicity or his negligence. In either event, he cannot evade responsibility for the mess India finds itself in after the Nira Radia and IPL revelations, to name just two recent scandals.

Three aspects

There are at least three aspects to the Radia case, as disclosed in a section of the media and especially by the top secret report of the Director-General (Investigations) of the Income-Tax department reproduced in this newspaper that cause grave concern, especially when the report is read in light of facts that ought to be in the public domain.

First, that corporate India ~ the Tatas, the Ambanis, Unitech, Bharti Airtel ~ seems to be deeply involved in subverting public policy for private gain, possibly on a scale far bigger than in the past.

On 29 April, the Tata group issued a statement that said: "The Tata group has had a long and fruitful association with Vaishnavi Corporate Communications and its Chairperson Ms Nira Radia, which has added substantial value to the group's communications and public perception. All of Vaishnavi's interactions with the Government on behalf of the Tata group have been related to seeking a level playing field and equity in areas where vested interests have caused distortions or aberrations in policy. Further Vaishnavi's interactions with the Government on behalf of the Tata group, have, in keeping with Tata values, never involved payouts or seeking undue favors."

In sharp contrast, the report of the DGI describes phone conversations that cover areas as diverse as (i) construction of a building in Chennai in association with a member of Mr M Karunanidhi's family; (ii) a move to prevent the appointment of Mr. Dayanidhi Maran as Telecom minister; (iii) extension of a mining lease in Jharkhand through the Governor of the state, and (iv) "media and political environment management" for the Singur project in West Bengal. It is possible Ms Radia exceeded the brief given to her by the Tatas, but the investigation report clearly shows that she was not aiming to create either a "level playing field" or counter "distortions or aberrations in policy", as the Tata group would have us believe.

A curious aspect of the Tata-Radia connection in West Bengal is that in the process of creating a so-called level playing field, the lobbyist managed not just to establish contacts with senior CPI-M leaders such as Nirupam Sen and Prakash Karat, but also took on as clients the West Bengal government, the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (both active players in the Singur affair) and the Information Technology department of the state government.

But possible conflict of interest ~ as between WBIDC and Tata Motors over Singur ~ appears not to have bothered any of the players, and certainly not Ms Radia. The D-G's report highlights another conflict of interest that ought to be of interest to West Bengal.

The report describes Ms Radia's efforts to assist Reliance in its bid to acquire Haldia Petrochemicals and the need to "handle" Purnendu Chatterjee, the promoter of the company. What the report does not tell us is that while one of her companies ~ Neosis Strategic Consultant ~ has Reliance as a client, another of her companies, Vaishnavi Corporate Communications, lists Haldia Petrochemicals among its clients. Or that several of her clients at one time ~ Haldia Petrochemicals, Government of West Bengal and WBIDC ~ have been locked in a dispute before the Supreme Court!

On behalf of Reliance, Ms Radia is alleged to have (i) attempted to foist people favourable to the company on the pipeline regulatory agency; (ii) attempted to contain damage that may be caused by an inquiry involving Rs 53,000 crore and asset stripping; (iii) deflect an RBI circular involving alleged lapses by RIL; (iv) lobbied the Finance ministry to ensure a 7-year tax holiday for Reliance Gas; (v) organized an  NGO to file PILs against the Anil Ambani group, (vi) facilitated a special audit into rival Reliance Communications, and (vii) arranged control of a television channel, NewsX.

On behalf of Bharti, Ms Radia is alleged to have offered to help Mr Sunil Bharti Mittal to mend fences with the Telecom minister for a fee, using socialite, advertising man and occasional agony aunt, Suhel Seth, as a link.
On behalf of Unitech, Ms Radia is alleged to have managed policy changes to ensure a telecom licence to Unitech Wireless, handled and facilitated cross-border transfer of funds, arranged sale of equity in Unitech's telecom venture, worked with the promoter to convince Government that no windfall gains had accrued to Unitech, and arranged "accommodation entries" under the guise of purchasing computer software to take out cash and suppress income.

Role of the media

THE second aspect of the Radia investigation is the role of the media, and one that the report only touches on. It says Ms. Radia's "modus operandi also involve (sic) giving favours to journalists through giving expensive gifts such as cars, and holidays". Did this really happen? If so, who were the beneficiaries? Were they from newspapers or television, or both? Clearly, they must have been in positions of influence to merit gifts of cars. While the investigation report is silent, perhaps it is necessary for every senior journalist and editor to make public the extent of his or her connection with Ms Radia, to ensure that all of us aren't tarred with the brush of suspicion and innuendo. Let's make it a point to read all signed columns and watch all hosted shows carefully.
The role of the media is important because the DGI's report makes it clear that l'affaire Radia is not confined to telecom licences or to Mr A Raja. There are several other aspects to the matter ~ and they go to the core of corporate governance, of lobbying the Government, and of the manner in which news is reported. Readers and viewers would be entitled to ask if sections of the media aren't being selective in confining their attention to the telecom mess, and to ask why there isn't similar interest in the role played by big business in manipulating policy. Is it because these corporate entities are advertisers and because they are suspected to use their advertising budgets selectively?

A third ~ and critical ~ aspect of the Radia affair, indeed of all recent scandals, is that all of us ~ cutting across artificial divisions of party and ideology, profession and trade, persons public and private ~ seem to be touched by corruption, some by participating in it and others by acquiescing. When we gather on 15 August this year, at the Red Fort and elsewhere, let us mark the celebration of freedom by hanging our heads in shame. Let the Prime Minister be the first to do so. And when we do raise our heads, let it be with a resolve to be honest for at least that one day ~ and thus solve 1/365th of the problem. No doubt, we will be helped in our resolve by the fact that it is a public and government holiday!

The writer is Editor, The Statesman







Once a Maoist himself, Upendra Yadav split with the ultra-left ideology and founded the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) to work for Indian-origin Nepali citizens in the Himalayan country. His political party came into prominence after it held many strikes in the Terai region, the plains that lie in the southern part of Nepal, bordering India. Later, he worked out a compromise formula and went on to become foreign minister under Nepal's first Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal "Prachanda" . But the Maoist leader was toppled by a coalition and Mr Yadav lost his office. Worse, his party, which returned 53 MPs in the 2008 polls, split. The suave and soft-spoken Mr Yadav spoke to NIRENDRA DEV at his Kathmandu residence:

Given the complex political situation in Nepal these days, as a senior politician what is your assessment of the present impasse?

It is a very crucial time in Nepal's politics today. The present regime under Madhav Kumar Nepal has failed practically on all fronts. Some of us are not surprised though. The deadline to establish constitutional changes by 28 May is seemingly impossible. That's a major shortcoming and people are disturbed no doubt.

How do you assess the role of Indian-origin Madhesis? You have been a leader of the Madhesi community for long.

Look, there is more than one problem in Nepal. The monarchy failed but when democracy came, political parties also failed to provide a stable government and could not ensure governance for all. The Madhesis continue to be exploited. There has been racial discrimination in Nepal for ages. The Madhesis contribute more than 50 per cent of the total population. Yet there is discrimination. This discrimination has taken place even with Dalits and women. I must say the political system, patterns of representation, party structure and leadership have only reinforced the unitary system. In my opinion, this is the root cause for our ailments. These have fuelled the Maoist movement too.


You have been the foreign minister. Did things move during your regime under the leadership of Prachanda?
We were in the government for a brief period. Things cannot change overnight. Nepal continues to be governed by a centralised administration and authority. The Madhesi block covers more than 20 districts. This region bordering India makes nearly 70 per cent economic contribution and yet the government inputs into these areas is negligible at about 14-15 per cent.

The Madhesis as a community and my party, Madhesi Jan Andhikar Forum, have been raising the issue of a federal structure. We have just asked for a separate state in the region. This idea is being opposed mainly on the pretext that this demand is Madhesi friendly. That's an unfortunate part. In South Africa there was racial discrimination and the same phenomenon continues in Nepal. We Madhesis are dismissed as "dhoti wallahs" in this country.


You are people of Indian origin. How do you find the Indian government's approach towards the issue of Madhesis in particular and the problems of Nepal in general?

This is an interesting question. India has a crucial role to play for both the Madhesis and the people of Nepal in general. But there have been lapses, mistakes and probably willful blunders. As a result today, today neither are Indian-origin Madhesis happy with New Delhi nor are the indigenous Nepali hilly people.


But India has been pumping in huge amounts for the last four or five decades. Even lately it enhanced its contribution to Rs 5,600 crore in Nepali currency?

I don't deny that. In fact, India has been the most helpful and supportive country in undertaking development projects in Nepal. But there were limitations. I cannot run away from fact that people of Nepal strongly dislike the Indian authorities interfering in the internal politics of Nepal. As a minister during my visit to Delhi, I raised the issue with senior Indian leaders, including the then external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee. My appeal to Indian leaders has been, please leave Nepal's politics to the political class here. Do not allow your bureaucrats to interfere in politics here.


This is a serious matter you are raising?

I know. I am raising it with all sincerity. It could hurt your sentiments. India should learn a lesson from Sri Lanka. In that country, neither Sinhalese nor Tamils were with you at one point. You lost Rajiv Gandhi. Therefore, please do not repeat the same mistakes in Nepal. We Madhesis look towards New Delhi with great hope. Do not fail us. Even Nepali hill people are not against India. See, people may have complaints but that does not mean they are against you or hate India.


So what do you think has been the chief factor behind the "flawed" Indian strategy towards Nepal as you put it?
A: In my humble assessment, the government of India is often confused about its role and relations in Nepal. The political leadership is not clear on many issues while your bureaucrats are given a free hand and they keep on adding to the list of mistakes. Indian bureaucrats should not interfere in Nepal's politics.


You seem to have a grudge against Indian babus. Can you elaborate on that?

I am not being personal. Many in Nepal believe Madhav Kumar Nepal was made the Prime Minister with India's blessings. I cannot confirm this but there is definitely "ardh satya" (half truth) in this. India helped Madhav Kumar Nepal become prime minister as it was uncomfortable with the Prachanda regime for no rhyme or reason. I told Indian leaders, please don't do that. Madhav Kumar Nepal would fail utterly. My party split. See today, Madhav Kumar Nepal has failed and my words have come true.







Keeping Kasab alive would be a lingering danger to society ... The possibility of Kasab reforming is ruled out.
Special Court Judge ML Tahilyani.


We will get the verdict ratified by the High Court as early as possibe. We would want Kasab hanged at the earliest (possible opportunity).

Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan.


I will be given an opportunity to meet him (Kasab). Then, I will ask him and, then, it (whether to file an appeal) will be decided.

Ajmal Kasab's lawyer, KS Pawar.

The UPA is not the government of the Congress alone ... I shall not disturb the government as long as I can work for the people with honour.

Railway minister Mamata Banerjee.

People wanted the alliance. But the Congress went ahead to play ball with the CPI-M and sabotage the alliance. So, I gave up and decided to leave the Congress.

Subrata Mukherjee.


The ball is now in the court of the Central govenment and hope that GJM's territorial demand, including that of Terai and the Dooars, would be met. Unless our territorial demand is met, we will not enter into any agreement and will intensify the movement for Gorkhaland.

Gorkha Janakukti Morcha president Bimal Gurung


This government should not stay in power any longer. I've faith in Mamata Banerjee and she seems to be the only alternative to the Left Front.

Poet Joy Goswami at a press meet in Kolkata.


Since my childhood, I wanted to become an IAS officer and today I have achieved my goal. The credit for my success goes to my grandmother. She taught me since childhood and also helped me for my IAS exam preparation and made me believe that I could do it. And, of course, a part of the credit also goes to my mother, who raised me as a single parent.

Joyoshi Dasgupta, who bagged 42nd rank in the IAS.

I was heart-broken after Dantewada. I did not lose my nerve. I have no fear of Naxalites. One IG, two DIGs and an SP thoughtlessly without planning sent 76 troops for recce.

Union home minister P Chidambaram


The party has launched a drive to oust crimnal elements as a result of which 500 people having criminal antecedents have been exprelled from the party.

BSP chief Ms Mayawati






The puritanical middle classes redefined virtue as thrift, prudence, meekness, abstinence, chastity and industriousness and that is why some people prefer zombies and vampires, says Terry Eagleton
The Devil, so they say, has all the best tunes. Why is evil so irresistibly glamourous? Why is it that when I told my 12-year-old son that I was writing a book on evil he replied: "Wicked"? Virtue may be admirable, but it is vice we find sexy. Nobody would have an orange juice with Oliver Twist if they could have a beer with Fagin. As Oscar Wilde remarked, anyone who doesn't find the death of Dickens' saintly Little Nell uproariously funny must have a heart of stone. We all love to boo a villain, whether it's Colonel Gaddafi or Simon Cowell. Popular culture is obsessed with ghouls and vampires, zombies and monsters. Now cinema's archetypal evil guy, Freddy Krueger, returns in a remake of Nightmare on Elm Street. Nothing is more delightful than being scared to death.
When did evil start to look so alluring? One answer might be: when goodness began to look boring. We can blame this on the puritanical middle classes. It is they who redefined virtue as thrift, prudence, meekness, abstinence, chastity and industriousness. It's not hard to see why some people should prefer zombies and vampires. Goodness came to seem negative and restrictive. As the poet Auden wryly remarked, the Ten Commandments consist in observing human behaviour and then inserting a "not".

Yet goodness hadn't always been as dreary as this. For some ancient thinkers such as Aristotle, it was really a matter of knowing how to enjoy yourself. It meant learning how to flourish as a human being, developing your humanity to its fullest, finest extent. Being human on this view is something you have to get good at, like playing the tuba or tolerating bores at sherry parties. For Aristotle, it had an intimate link with happiness. Being virtuous for him was the quickest route to well-being. The good man or woman is one who excels at the precarious business of being human. Those who become really brilliant at being human – the saints – are the virtuosi of life, the Pavarottis and Wayne Rooneys of virtue. Goodness is a kind of joie de vivre, a source of energy and high spirits. As for the New Testament, it is about enjoying an abundance of life, not about paying your taxes and rolling in for work on time.

On this view, vicious people are those who have never got the hang of human existence, as someone might never get the hang of playing poker. They are lacking, deficient, incapable of being truly alive. The evil are not really there. They are unfinished sketches for real human beings. Like ghosts, they hover between life and death, trapped in some limbo that cuts them off from the human world. They may look human enough but, like aliens in a horror movie, this is just a phoney appearance.

So how do evil individuals try to persuade themselves that they are alive? The answer is simple and chilling: by tearing other people apart. The only thing about them that is not quite dead is the pleasure they reap from destruction. In this sense, the evil are basically sadists. Hitler's henchmen killed Jews because they saw them as a threat to their own purity of being. They represented an insidious form of non-being which threatened to undermine the Nazis' own identity. Yet Jews also symbolised a frightful negativity that lay at the heart of the Nazis themselves, which is another reason why they had to be exterminated. Beneath the rallies and racial fantasies, the bombast and the marching bands, the Nazis were pure nihilists, in love with death and annihilation. If they were crazed idealists, they were also utter cynics who delighted in smashing all human meaning and value to pieces.

This is why evil is also entirely pointless. Common-or-garden wickedness generally has a purpose. Stalin and Mao murdered countless millions of men and women, but they did not do so just for the hell of it. There was a political point to their atrocities. It is much harder to see the point of the Holocaust. Making a bogeyman of Jews helped to unite the German nation, but you do not need to slaughter six million of them to do that. The so-called Final Solution tied up equipment and military personnel that could have been useful in the German war effort. It also disposed of men and women whose skills the Nazis could have exploited.

One of the most grotesque aspects of the concentration camps is the way so much meticulous organisation was pressed into the service of such complete nihilism. Modern states are rational, utilitarian set-ups, which do nothing without a soberly calculated purpose. It is astonishing, then, to find a kind of monstrous act of public meaninglessness at the very heart of modern history. Destruction for destruction's sake is almost always confined to the private sphere, as with the Moors murderers.

If evil exists largely for its own sake, it has an unnerving affinity with good. The Devil, after all, was once an angel. God is portrayed by theologians as existing entirely for the sake of his own self-delight. He did not need to create the world, and nowadays, given its bloodstained history, he is no doubt bitterly regretting that he ever did anything so rash. Like God, goodness is its own reward. In fact, it had better be, because it isn't likely to get any other pay-off in this world.

The Independent







Great Britain, since it lost its empire, has been reduced to a minor power struggling to retain global prominence by clinging on to Washington's coat-tails. Yet it has a rich political tradition that has lessons and examples to offer many of its former colonies, especially the one that is proud of being the world's largest democracy. The British prime minister, Gordon Brown, went to the country on May 6. The results of the elections are of no immediate relevance to the people of India and their representatives in Parliament. But the process of electing the representatives of the people in Britain is not without some significance. The elections across Britain were held on the same day. Throughout the campaigning and on the day of the polls, there were no unseemly outbreaks of violence, no reports of coercion and no glaring instances of the violation of the code of conduct. In fact, the electoral commission in Britain had little or no role to play in disciplining political parties and their candidates. The displays of joy and sorrow as the results were announced have also been subdued.


All this is in sharp contrast to the manner in which elections are conducted in India. The Election Commission in India stands forth during the campaigning and the day(s) of polling and counting as the head prefect of the political class. The incidence of violence during elections is much reduced, thanks to the excellent work of the EC, but by no means has violence been totally eradicated. In fact, it cannot be said with any degree of certainty that violence has been scaled down because of a change of heart among politicians and a better understanding of the democratic process. On the contrary, there are reasons to fear that the disciplining role of the EC is critical in the reduction of violence and coercion. For some bizarre reason, elections in India are celebrated by many commentators as one huge carnival. There is no reason why this should be the case. A carnival is a carnival, an election is an election. The two are separate and should be so.


There can be no denying that there are crucial areas of difference between elections in Britain and India. The size and education levels of the electorate are two factors that come readily to mind. Yet the lower levels of education of large sections of Indian voters have not prevented them from displaying a measure of maturity when they exercise their political choice. Neither maturity nor awareness of rights is at issue here. Democracy in India has struck deep roots and through this process millions of people have become more assertive about their choice. These people need to be made more conscious of the conventions and unwritten norms that govern a democratic society. Their consciousness will force their representatives to follow those conventions. Indian democracy, despite the national adjective, cannot afford to lose all traces that link it to its originary model.










Book release functions tend to be about the living, the famous, and the soon-to-be-famous. Liquor flows freely. Many come not to listen, but to be seen, and hopefully to be photographed. But recently in Bangalore I attended a different kind of book release. For one thing, it was held in the morning. For another, it offered coffee and upma before the event, rather than whisky and chicken sandwiches afterwards. For a third, the author was dead. For a fourth, although the book was undoubtedly written by him, he had no intention of having it published.


This posthumous publication was the prison diary of a 19-year-old resident of Mysore who had been arrested for his role in the Quit India movement of 1942. The diarist was H.Y. Sharada Prasad, who was then a student leader in Maharaja's College, Mysore, but who in later life became the press adviser to, and speechwriter for, successive prime ministers. In his native Karnataka there has always been an ambivalence about the public career of Sharada Prasad. To be sure, Indira Gandhi's speeches were undoubtedly more literate — not to say literary — because of the work he put into them. The prime minister's office would also have been a more humane place for his presence — among the sycophants and intriguers, at least here was one honest, decent, upright and always patriotic man. Still, among his many friends in Bangalore and Mysore there persisted the feeling that he, and we, would have been better off had he written books and essays under his own name. After his retirement, he wrote a most readable column in The Asian Age. But by now he was too old to have the energy to write full-length books.


His prison diary, lovingly edited for publication by Sugata Srinivasaraju, offers glimpses of what Sharada Prasad could have contributed to the worlds of literature and scholarship had he not allowed himself to become a speechwriter for prime ministers. He writes here about being torn between communism and Gandhism, the contrasting poles that then, as now, competed for the attentions of the intelligent and sensitive young Indian. He says, in one revealing entry, that "I am departing more and more from the sloppish sentimentalism, shallowness and hypocrisy that form the bulk of the Congress's frame of mind". In another entry, written in February 1943 while Mahatma Gandhi was on a fast in prison in Pune, Sharada Prasad remarks that "Gandhi's life, sacred as it is, unique as it is, is not too great a price to be paid for the independence of our country and for the crumbling of an empire".


This was prophetic. Gandhi survived his fast in 1943, but five years later he was murdered by a religious fanatic. His death led to the cessation of Hindu-Muslim conflict and to a reconciliation between his two most important followers, Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel, then prime minister and home minister of India respectively. Thus Gandhi's life, sacred and unique though it was, was yet not too great a price to be paid for the restoration of communal peace and the building of a united and democratic India.


Also perceptive are Sharada Prasad's comments on the personality and ideas of Subhas Chandra Bose. He says, of a book of Bose's, that "the style just manages to keep above the ordinary and the commonplace. There is not much compactness nor an all pervading and relieving idealism. Rambling is the word for Bose… Carefully avoiding ethical and theoretical considerations, his writings remind one of the I[ndian] C[ivil] S[ervice] answer paper style". (Bose's style is indeed workaday at best, and dull at worst; unlike Gandhi and Nehru, whose prose was so very appealing, albeit in different ways.) Sharada Prasad then says, of Bose's political choices: "The most amazing part of it all is how on earth Subhas has joined the camp of the rapacious marauders — the Fascist Japanese whose aim is to annihilate China."


The 19-year-old diarist writes insightfully about politics and politicians, and about plain humanity. Consider this comparison of prison-mates with travelling companions: "Jail friends are like railway friends. The difference is one of degree; you meet them, know them for a while and part at odd times and scatter away. Rarely do you meet again. You retain a few impressions; and outside you recognize them with difficulty. In jail, you are almost equals. Outside, the difference is vast."


Sharada Prasad was studying for an honours degree in English literature at the time he was imprisoned. In his diary, he reflects on what life in jail would do for his appreciation of literature and language. While teaching poetry to a fellow prisoner named Venugopal, he "realized how soon I had forgotten my Honours learning. I am also getting to feel that my appreciation of poetry now will not be as 'aesthetic' or half as 'aesthetic' as a year ago. Those were days of Arcadian hedonism. But now the consciousness that life is not poetry or music but stomach, stomach and stomach, illiteracy, ignorance, egotism, prejudice, jealousy and envy come home to me."


Reading this extraordinary diary, one has to remind oneself again and again that the writer was not yet 20. Fortunately, while jail taught Sharada Prasad that there was more to life than literature, he returned in time to poetry and music, which had perhaps a less important place than economics or politics, but a place nonetheless. Moreover, while (as the young student understood) human behaviour is often characterized by ignorance, egotism, prejudice, jealously and envy, there are a few, very few, individuals who are themselves unmarked by these traits. One such individual was Sharada Prasad himself.


I had got to the end of the book when I realized that in these few months in jail, the teenager had been reading works in five languages — English, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, and Sanskrit. (There might also have been a sixth — his mother tongue, Telugu.) This was characteristic. By the time I came to know him, Sharada Prasad was in his seventies — and he still carried his learning very lightly.


Along with this love of languages went a very wide range of interests —in politics, literature, music, history, even sport. Sharada Prasad's father was a notable composer in the Carnatic style, and he himself counted, amongst his close friends the great vocalists, Mallikarjun Mansur and Gangubai Hangal. Also a friend, and perhaps a mentor, was the Kannada polymath Shivarama Karanth, whose autobiography and some of whose stories Sharada Prasad translated into English. For the rest, his extraordinary learning was subsumed within his official duties and, after retirement, in his newspaper columns. This posthumously published diary hints at the kinds of books that he might have written had he not strayed into other professions. It is good to have it in print — and good to know too that there may be more diaries and letters awaiting exhumation and publication. The speeches that Sharada Prasad wrote for Indira and Rajiv Gandhi were of the moment — whereas the words he wrote for himself were quite often for all time.



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





The Supreme Court has settled the long-standing debate on the advisability of the use of narco-analysis, brain mapping and polygraph tests in criminal investigation by holding them unconstitutional. It is a welcome judgement that upholds the personal liberty of an individual and protects the right of people not to incriminate themselves. These are cardinal principles of the Constitution and the legal system and they cannot be abridged by the state, working through investigating agencies which take the easy way out to solve cases. Agencies like the CBI have been resorting to these techniques too frequently. The court has made it clear that no individual can be subjected to these tests without consent as they are an unwarranted intrusion into personal freedom. They cannot be admitted as evidence because that would amount to making an accused a witness against himself.

A rule-based legal system rests on the principle that a person is not guilty until proved so. It is for the investigators to prove the guilt within the framework of the law. Science and technology have advanced so much that there are effective investigative methods and tools which can be employed without compromising individuals' rights. The effectiveness of narco-analysis, brain mapping and polygraph tests have also been disputed by many experts. Investigators have admitted that the results of these tests are sometimes misleading and even wrong. It has also not been conclusively proved that they will not have an adverse effect on the health of the people. It has been argued that they can be manipulated by clever suspects and police officers and even by those who hold the tests. At least in one case the CBI has said that the results were tampered with by the forensic laboratory authorities. If the choice is between solving a crime through dubious means and respecting the rights of people, it should be in favour of the latter in a democratic and constitutional system.

The power to coerce individuals into these tests can be misused by the police. The state  is always tempted to violate the rights of people, as seen in instances of phone-tapping and in even in the abuse of normal powers like those relating to arrest and detention. Investigating and law-enforcement agencies have only employ legally accepted methods in their work, respecting the constitutional and human rights of all citizens, whether they are accused, suspects or witnesses.  That might mean harder work, but there should not be shortcuts.








Growing air pollution and shrinking greenery have contributed to Bangalore emerging India's asthma capital. Studies show that around 25.6 per cent of children living in Bangalore suffer from asthma. This is a sharp increase from a little over 30 years ago, when 9 per cent of children were asthmatic. Asthma is often taken rather lightly. But this is an illness that not only causes acute discomfort to the patient but also, it can kill. Around a quarter million people die of asthma annually across the world, most of these deaths are in developing countries. Studies have revealed the role that genetics and environmental factors play in triggering asthma. Tobacco smoke and low air quality are known to cause it. Children who grow up in families with cigarette smokers are likely to have more frequent and severe attacks. Bangalore weather is often described as making people prone to asthma. The high pollen content of its atmosphere is known to trigger allergies which often culminate in an asthmatic attack. But it is not so much its weather as it is the pollution that triggers these attacks. Bangalore's air is highly polluted thanks to industrial and vehicle emission and little is being done by the government or the public to address this. More importantly, the city, once famous for its gardens, has little greenery to boast off today. In the absence of parks, fresh air and exercise are difficult, increasing vulnerability to asthma.

Children are most vulnerable to asthma. Yet few schools are equipped with facilities to treat students who have an attack in school. Last year, a student in one of India's most prestigious schools died of an asthma attack while in school as medical help did not reach her quickly enough. If this is the situation in an elite school, one can imagine how vulnerable asthmatic children in other schools are. Attacks are sometimes triggered by excessive physical exercise, especially in winter. Yet asthmatic children are sometimes forced to exercise in schools. Teachers need to be educated on this disease, its causes, symptoms and prevention. They must be taught to recognise symptoms of a major attack and to respond quickly in an emergency.

Asthma is a leading cause of school absenteeism and among the leading reasons for hospitalisation of children. Its growing incidence in Bangalore has not been taken seriously so far. Public awareness on asthma needs to be improved and steps taken to prevent it.








Politics and indiscretions outside marriage go back a long time in history. Groucho Marx even went to the extent of saying, "Behind every successful man is a woman, behind her is his wife." But this time-tested malady could not have struck the ruling BJP in Karnataka at a more inopportune time. With gram panchayat elections round the corner, the sex expose and exit of Hartalu Halappa, a former Congress leader whom Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa virtually hijacked to his own party and made a first time minister, has come as a real godsend to poll-scarred Congress.

The main opposition Congress' political hiatus has been marked by consistently poor performance in the many elections held subsequent to the BJP's May 2008 Assembly election victory. The party's newest hope is the upcoming gram panchayat election. For the record, this is a partyless election in the sense that political parties cannot use their election symbols. But for the ruling BJP, this is another chance to correct its traditional urban image and demonstrate its toe-hold in rural Karnataka.

As far as Congress is concerned, this could be state unit president R V Deshpande's last chance to prove his worth. He has also his eyes on the ensuing Rajya Sabha elections. Polls to 55 Rajya Sabha seats, including four in the state — two each held by the Congress and the BJP — are slated for June 17. Deshpande has been waiting in the wings to enter the Upper House of parliament, while sitting members Oscar Fernandes and B K Hari Prasad, whose terms ends on June 30, remain strong contenders. But the Congress, on its own, is capable of retaining only one seat this time round. For the second seat, it will have to enter into an electoral alliance with the JD(S).

The previous poll alliance between the two parties was during the Legislative Council election from local bodies in December 2009. Together they won 15 out of 25 seats. On its own, the Congress performance has gone from bad to worse since the May 2008 assembly elections.

The main opposition party had entertained hopes of doing well enough to win the elections to the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). But the BJP once again got the better of its opponents. For the Congress it was once again the same old story of electoral mismanagement. If many winning candidates were denied tickets, many who got did not win. The bungling is being blamed on some prominent city leaders who drew the final list of candidates without taking city president Alexander into confidence.

In shambles

Following that disastrous assembly polls, the Congress high command had taken nearly four months to put in place a new state leadership as Mallikarjun Kharge had to resign as the state party chief. The appointment of a senior leader like Deshpande, who was state youth Congress president four decades ago, and an aggressive younger leader like D K Shivakumar as the working president, it was hoped, would help the party's turnaround. The Brahmin-Vokkaliga caste combination that Deshpande and Shivakumar represent was again a calculated move intended to regain the party's social base.

After all that manoeuvring, the party's rejuvenation hasn't happened. At least there has not been any evidence of it in successive elections held since the duo took charge. Even the party unity has been in question. Former deputy chief minister Siddaramaiah, who was in the race for the party top job in the state, fired the first salvo using his supporters to express disappointment over the choice of Deshpande in no uncertain terms. The Congress office in Chitradurga was ransacked by his followers even though Siddaramaiah himself said he was not really unhappy.

The Deshpande-Shivkumar combination has not worked. The partnership has bombed. The Congress organisation is in shambles across Karnataka. The president being the face of the party, he is invited to all critical meetings convened by the Congress high command. The working president is just a figurehead and, hence, devalued in the eyes of the workers. The party has become rudderless in the state, what with no one person willing to own up responsibility for successive reverses.

The Congress' role as the main opposition in the Assembly is again nothing to write home about. Though Siddaramaiah was made Leader of the Opposition after much thought and consideration, the opposition role is actually being played by the JD(S). Former prime minister H D Deve Gowda has been far more vocal in confronting the ruling party. His two sons — former chief minister Kumaraswamy and Revanna — too have been proactive.

That brings us to the issue of course correction. The Congress needs a major surgery and that too urgently. But how soon would the high command go about performing the surgical operation is anybody's guess. The leadership in Delhi is not particularly known to taking timing action. But with the party organisational elections currently underway, the party chief Sonia Gandhi gets an opportunity to take advantage of the organizational polls to recast the state Congress.









More so as I often listened to his discourses on TV and wrote in his favour. What he said was entirely based on Hindu sacred scriptures without reference to any other religious texts. He has a phenomenal memory and quotes in 'shudh' Sanskrit.


He also believed in the efficacy of chanting "Radhey Radhey" as he dances. Many other religious sects eg: the Harey Krishna, Sufis and Oshoites do much the same. I also noticed some contradictions in his preachings and practice. He says he does not believe in teacher-disciple relationship: "na guru, na chela, Kripalu akela (I am no guru, I am not a follower, Kripalu treads a lonely path)".

Nevertheless, he was designated Jagadguru (world teacher) and has a large following in India and abroad. He has also been embroiled in a few controversies.

The idea is not to extol him, but to fix responsibility for the tragedy. The principal offenders in all stampede fatalities are the people themselves. Most of them take place at places of worship where people gather in hundreds of thousands as at Kumbh melas or festivals.

We, as a people, have yet to learn not to put ourselves first and wait for our turn in a queue. You can see that at every railway station in the country. Every time a train arrives, people try to get in and block the doors before those who want to disembark can get out.

This applies to the affluent and the educated as well who travel executive class as much as to those traveling in cheaper classes.

Whenever I travelled by rail and had to come down the stairs of a bridge as at New Delhi railway station, I made sure I had one hand on the banister to let people in a hurry go ahead without knocking me down. Who would you hold responsible if a stampede occurs over there: the station master, ticket collector, the railway police or the impatient people?

Lets get back to Kripaluji's ashram. The day the tragedy occurred was the death anniversary of his wife. As an annual event known to everyone around, he was giving in 'daan' (charity) utensils and laddoos to anyone who came.

He was not asking for 'guru-dakshina' (offering to the guru). As usual, a huge crowd was expected. If the police at the nearest station, Pratapgarh say they knew nothing about it or were not informed, they are lying. They should be taken to task. Managers of the ashram should also have organised volunteers to control the mob hungering for prasad.

In any event, Kripaluji has announced handsome compensation (one lakh for every family which lost a member, Rs 50,000 for the injured). The Prime Minister's and the Chief Minister's relief funds were announced later. While Rahul Gandhi and Digvijay Singh went out of their way to condole with the victims families, neither Chief Minister Mayawati nor any other leader of note bothered to do so.

Dreams never die

It will be my lasting regret that I had not read much by Ahmed Faraz when he was alive. We spent many evenings together in Islamabad and Delhi. I wasted them in gupshup in Punjabi.

If I had known more of his work, I would have asked him more about his work. I could also have regaled him by reciting those that I knew by heart. I never lose an opportunity to quote them when I have company.

The latest in my repertoire is entitled 'Khwaab Martey Nahin' (Dreams never die). By dreams, Faraz meant visions of a world cleansed of skulduggery preached by oppressive regimes and determination to get rid of them. This is my translation:

Dreams never die

Dreams are not like hearts, eyes or breath

Which shatter into pieces and scatter

When the body diesBut dreams never die.

Dreams are like light, songs and breezes

Which the blackest of

mountains can not block

Nor burn out in hells of


They are banners that flutter in song and wind;

They mount scaffolds with their heads held high.

Dreams Never Die

Dreams are words, Dreams are light

Like Socrates they drink cups of poison & like Mansoor they mount the gallows with a smile.

Acid test

Teacher: What is the difference between a problem and a challenge?

Student: 1 bed, 3 boys, 1 girl — problem; 1 bed, 3 girls, 1 boy — challenge

* Virginity in females is a sign of purity; in males, it is a lack of opportunity!

(Contributed by Amarinder Bajaj, Delhi)







Don't other organisms have the right to share the same planet with us?



I read about the experience of a social activist when she visited Nagapattinam to help the tsunami victims. The government authorities did not allow her group to put up a temporary hospital there and she was about to leave along with all the things that they had taken for distribution. Just then a girl, aged about 11, came running to them with tears in her eyes. She seemed to be from a middle-class family. She had lost her home and all her family members. She looked shocked and lost and sought a steel plate to collect the free food that was being distributed nearby.

Even now I cannot sleep when I think of that little girl and all the millions of children who get orphaned in natural calamities or wars. Children are the worst affected because they are not trained to face such extreme situations and they are not empowered too. They become vulnerable to exploitation of different kinds by cruel adults. Just imagine the shock that a child will get when he suddenly loses all security. There are many NGOs working for such children, though there is not enough to cover all of them.

I am overcome by the same feeling when I drive around Bangalore's roads and see hundreds of felled trees. Thousands of living organisms, made the threes their home. Just imagine the shock and despair that these innocent beings would have felt when they returned from their sojourn one evening to find the entire tree missing. They do not know how to cry for help. They too miss their little ones for whose sake they fly miles in search of proper abodes and make their little homes without disturbing any human being in any way.

A couple of eagles build their nest on a tree top in front of my house every year during summer. It is fun to watch them fetching sticks and twigs to build their nest. When the eggs are laid, the birds keep watch over the nest taking turns, keeping at bay the crows and squirrels. Similarly, some colourful parakeets build their nests inside the branches, by boring neat round holes. I was surprised to find one of them squeezing itself into the branch one day through that small hole. These birds do not disturb each other or the human beings down below. They go on with their lives religiously.

All their hard labour is ignored and the cruel and greedy man just brings down the trees destroying hundreds of such little homes. Do these helpless beings have no right to life? Don't they have the right to share the same planet with us? Nature has always helped man and yet man tries to trample over nature, thinking that he is the sole owner of this beautiful planet.




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




Gordon Brown has lost his long-odds bid to lead the Labour Party in Britain to its fourth straight parliamentary majority, but it is not yet clear which party has won.


That's not going to be a big problem for American foreign policy. Both Mr. Brown, and the Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, support President Obama's strategy in Afghanistan, where Britain is the second largest troop contributor. The inconclusive result could be bad news for Britain's ailing economy, which needs strong and coherent leadership.


The Conservatives now have the largest party in Parliament, but they are expected to be about 20 votes short of an outright majority. They cannot hope for more than a fragile minority government, or an uncomfortable coalition with the center-left Liberal Democrats, who do not share their positions on crucial issues like tax reform, financial regulation and the timing of needed spending cuts.


If the Tories cannot put together a new government, Labour might try to assemble its own coalition. After its poor faring at the polls, it would likely have even more trouble putting through a credible program demanding sacrifices — and even a Labour-Liberal Democratic coalition would not add up to a majority. It could take an interim government and another election to get a clear governing mandate.


Whoever leads the next government, the top priority must be reducing Britain's 11.5 percent budget deficit. That will require painful cuts. Public sector jobs, wages and contracts must all be on the table. Schools, job training and the National Health Service must not.


Labour suffered at the polls because, after 13 years in power, it had run out of ideas, energy and luck. The Conservatives fell short because many voters doubted the depth of the party's conversion from its harsh Thatcherite past. The Liberal Democratic leader, Nick Clegg, generated real excitement. In the end, most voters decided not to take a chance on an inexperienced party, lacking fleshed-out policy positions.


Something is surely wrong with an electoral system that translates Labour's 29 percent of the popular vote into more than 250 seats in Parliament and the Liberal Democrats 23 percent into more than 50 seats. Electoral reform is needed, and the Liberal Democrats will seek it as part of any coalition deal. Britain's first need is a government that can bring down the deficit without choking off economic growth or placing the heaviest burdens on those least able to bear them.






We don't often get a chance to congratulate athletes for truly being role models. But watching the Phoenix Suns' players wearing their "Los Suns" jerseys this week made us proud.


The Suns' managing partner, Robert Sarver, left no doubt about the message. He said that Arizona's harsh new illegal immigration law calls into question "our basic principles of equal rights and protection." And he warned that the state's "already struggling economy will suffer even further setbacks."


Mr. Sarver and his team weren't the only ones speaking out against the law that invites racial profiling by giving police broad power to stop people on vaporous suspicions of being in the country illegally.


The major league baseball players' union warned that "if the current law goes into effect," it "will consider additional steps necessary to protect the rights and interests of our members." The union flexed its considerable economic muscle, noting that hundreds of league players are foreign citizens and fully half of the 30 major league ball clubs use Arizona for spring training.


There are growing demands to move next year's All-Star Game from Arizona. Assorted cities and a coalition of 20 unions and civil rights groups have announced boycotts of the state's lifeblood convention industry.


While others protest, the Obama administration remains too much on the sidelines in the face of Arizona's foolishness. What's needed is swift action by the Department of Justice to challenge the law in court. In the meantime, federal immigration databases should be denied to police attempting to enforce a law that would usurp federal powers.


Before this goes any further, Arizona should check the scars of the early '90s when the state arrogantly rejected Martin Luther King's Birthday as a holiday and prompted cancellations of more than 100 lucrative conventions and events, including the Super Bowl. It's pathetic that Arizona's politicians would put the state through that once again. Arizona should repeal this law immediately.






For all the recent talk about recovery, the economy's vulnerability was on full — at times stomach-dropping — display this week.


Job growth was up sharply in April, but unemployment also rose, as the number of out-of-work job seekers overwhelmed the number of jobs on offer. The stock market, which had surged most of this year, gyrated and sold off steeply, driven down mainly by fears of contagion from the Greek debt crisis.


For several minutes on Thursday, the market went into a tailspin, apparently accelerated by computerized trading strategies. By the end of the day on Friday, it had suffered a 771-point drop over four days and was down 5.7 percent for the week, its worst weekly decline in more than a year.


Political leadership also was put to the test this week, with uninspiring results. European leaders finally agreed to a rescue package for Greece, but there are serious fears that it may be too little and too late to stop the crisis from spreading.


In the United States, senators began a series of votes on a bill to reform the financial system; more votes are to come and a strong bill could still emerge. But for now it's not clear if lawmakers will do all that is needed to protect the taxpayers from another meltdown or bow to the banks and their lobbyists.


Both Congress and the White House need to show strong leadership. Congress has yet to make good on its promise to pass broad legislation to boost employment. What is needed is bolstered aid to states and an extension of unemployment benefits through the end of the year, as well as programs targeted on small-business lending, infrastructure projects, green technology and summer youth jobs.


Without a concerted job creation effort, recovery cannot take hold. The economy added an impressive 290,000 jobs in April, but job losses from 2008 to 2010 were so deep that it would take more than four years of monthly growth of that magnitude just to fill the hole.


On the Greek debt crisis and the threat of spillover damage, Europeans must take the lead. But Washington must use its considerable influence, as well as the strength of its example.


Bailouts and stimulus are contentious here. Republicans are determined to play their faux deficit hawk role — despite the utter hypocrisy and destructiveness — through the November polls. Expansionary policy, and its corollary, higher inflation, are especially distressing to European powers given their dark history. The potential alternatives — renewed, deep recession and rifts in the euro-era — would be even worse.


Market regulators must also act quickly to monitor and rein in trading techniques that may provoke the kind of volatility seen on Thursday. So-called high-frequency trading, flash trading and dark pools all employ a combination of speed, privileged information and opacity — violating principles of market fairness, transparency and efficiency. That is unacceptable under any circumstances, but especially dangerous now, when nervous markets are prone to panic.


And, yes, all this must occur against the backdrop of debate on financial reform. The past week provided more evidence, if any more were needed, that the system is still in need of repair.






Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City said this week that fiscal woes could force him to lay off more than 6,000 teachers. We hope the number will not be that high, but there will have to be layoffs. The question is, how will they be done?


We would prefer to wholeheartedly endorse the mayor's proposal for laying off teachers based on performance instead of the current seniority rules. But the system that would allow the city to make fair and objective performance-based layoffs is clearly not yet in place, and we are skeptical that the city will be able to produce one in the next few weeks before the budget ax falls.


New York is one of 15 states that have laws requiring that the most recently hired teachers be laid off first.


Mr. Bloomberg has instead proposed a nonseniority system that would make layoff decisions based partly on student test scores for some teachers and give principals considerable latitude to decide whom on their staffs to let go and whom to keep.


The city has begun to use students' performance on standardized tests to evaluate teachers. But critics of the mayor's layoff proposal rightly point out that about only 11,500 of the city's 80,000 teachers have gone through such an evaluation. And a provision of the plan that would give principals greater discretion has raised suspicions about favoritism and unfairness.


Joel Klein, the schools chancellor, says the nonseniority system would allow the schools to keep promising young teachers instead of laying them off en masse. But a new analysis of city teacher performance data by The New York Times suggests that younger teachers would still be let go in large numbers. The Times's analysis suggests that young teachers need five years in the classroom before they can do their best work.


Mr. Bloomberg and his team are right to argue for a performance-based system. Seniority is a very blunt instrument. New York's students — who will already pay a high price for the layoffs — will suffer even more if good teachers are let go and bad ones kept on based solely on how many years a teacher has held a job.


City Hall should work with the union to implement a comprehensive, transparent and rigorous teacher-evaluation system. And it should start working now to persuade the State Legislature of the value of such a system. But barring some unforeseen developments, the city may have no choice but to conduct layoffs this time using traditional seniority rules.










A thousand years ago, popular birth control methods in the Western world included spitting into the mouth of a frog, eating bees and wearing the testicles of a weasel. In Córdoba, Spain, which was supposed to be on the scientific cutting edge, women were told to leap up and down vigorously after sex, and then jump backward nine times.


This is by way of saying that on Sunday we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the birth control pill. We live in troubled times. But let's give thanks that we avoided the era of the weasel testicles.


Like a great many of our anniversaries, this one is a movable feast. The Food and Drug Administration actually gave G.D. Searle the go-ahead to market the first oral contraceptive (not counting bees) on June 23, 1960. But the F.D.A. announced its intention to approve the pill on May 9, which also happens to be Mother's Day this year and, therefore, too good to resist.


This is a story about science, and obviously sex. But it's also a saga about getting information.


American women had been limiting the size of their families long before the pill came along. In the 19th century, the fertility rate was plummeting, and ads for everything from condoms to douching syringes helped keep urban newspapers solvent. My favorite factoid from this period is that a company called National Syringe offered a model with changeable nozzles so it could be used for both birth control and watering plants.


What women did not have was the ability to figure out what actually worked. The powers-that-be believed that the only appropriate form of birth control was celibacy. "Can they not use self control?" demanded Anthony Comstock, the powerful crusader for the Sexual Purity campaign. "Or must they sink to the level of the beasts?"


Comstock managed to get New York authorities to grant him the powers to both arrest and censor, and he bragged that he sent 4,000 people to jail for helping women understand, and use, birth control. He seemed to take particular pleasure in the fact that 15 of them had committed suicide.


One of his targets was Margaret Sanger, a nurse who wrote a sex education column, "What Every Girl Should Know," for a left-wing New York newspaper, The Call. When Comstock banned her column on venereal disease, the paper ran an empty space with the title: "What Every Girl Should Know: Nothing, by Order of the U.S. Post Office."


Sanger was the first person to publish an evaluation of all the available forms of birth control. As a reward, she got a criminal obscenity charge. She fled to Europe to avoid going to jail, and her husband was imprisoned for passing out one of her pamphlets. In the end, he got 30 days, and Anthony Comstock got a chill during the trial that led to a fatal case of pneumonia.


It was the courts that eventually gave women the right to not only have access to birth control, but also information that told them what was available and how to use it. (The first big victory had the memorable name of U.S. v. One Package of Japanese Pessaries.) Sanger, meanwhile, helped bring together the wealthy donors and brilliant researchers who would bring forth the first effective oral contraception.


"There's gonna be some changes made right here on Nursery Hill," sang Loretta Lynn. "You've set this chicken your last time 'cause now I've got the pill."

And we lived happily ever after. Except that over the last 20 years, protests from the social right have made politicians frightened of mentioning birth control and school boards frightened of including it in the curriculum.


Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, remembers getting a pretty thorough grounding in sex and the ways to prevent pregnancy when she was in school — back in the days when the raciest thing you saw on television was Rob and Laura Petrie waking up in twin beds on the opposite side of the room. "Kids growing up today watch 'Gossip Girl' and all these shows where every teenager is having sex every day — and now we don't teach sex education in school," she noted.


Even though 100 million women take the pill every day, to the great relief of 100 million or so of their partners, the terror of mentioning birth control is so great that the humongous new health care reform act has managed to avoid bringing it up at all. Advocates are hoping that when the regulations are finally written, they will require health insurance to cover birth control pills like any other drug. But nobody is sure.


"If the administration would announce tomorrow that all birth control would be free for every woman in America, I think the health care plan would gain 30 points in popularity overnight," said Richards.








Chapel Hill, N.C.

ON Thursday afternoon, the Dow plunged 1,000 points within a few minutes, followed by an equally sudden recovery. We don't know all the details about the drop, but it was almost certainly the result of computer or human error in a high-speed trading program.


Among the many arcane corners of the financial world highlighted by the Wall Street crisis, high-frequency trading — in which computers scan billions of bits of market data for trading opportunities that may exist for mere fractions of a second — has generated a surprising amount of discussion. Alongside the risk of expensive errors like what happened Thursday, critics say, these programs facilitate insider trading and overwhelm regulators' access to critical information.


These are fair criticisms. Fortunately, they can also be easily addressed without undermining the positive role that high-frequency trading plays in the market.


Let's start with the insider trading charge. Often, when an exchange operator receives an investor order and finds that another exchange has a better price, it will "flash" the order to a few select traders in its exchange a split second before sending it to market, giving those traders an opportunity to improve their price, too. When used properly, flashing ensures that investors trade at the best available prices.


But that hair's breadth of time also gives high-frequency traders an opportunity to make a tidy profit off what amounts to insider information. How? Rather than improve their price, the recipient of a flash can go to the other exchange, buy up all the assets at better prices, and force the original investor to trade with them at an inferior price.


We don't allow trading based on private knowledge of pending business deals or court rulings, and we shouldn't allow it in high-frequency trading, either. But that doesn't mean we should ban flashing all together. Instead, to deter abuse, anyone who gets a preview of a trade, whether by phone or flash, should be required to register with an exchange and keep records of every negotiation.


A trickier problem lies with the software that handles the trades. Heavy use of any software will magnify even the smallest flaw — and when it comes to high-frequency trading, a tiny flaw can put millions of dollars at risk before anyone notices.


One plausible explanation for Thursday's 16-minute crash and recovery, for example, is that computers programmed to sell when prices hit a certain level did so en masse, prompting yet other computers to do the same, until the prices of some stocks were pushed down to nearly zero. Then other computers, recognizing these as extraordinarily unreasonable prices, began buying them up with equal relish.


Indeed, the rapid development of automated-trading software and the maddening complexity of even the most simple systems make the introduction of technological errors inevitable. While it's true that electronic exchanges require trading software to be certified before it is used, there is no market-wide standard for testing the software and nothing to effectively stop a firm from trading with uncertified software.


Financial regulators should take a page from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board and develop quality standards for trading software, as well as investigatory procedures that would allow the industry to learn from episodes like Thursday's.


Finally, the Securities and Exchange Commission needs better access to the fire hose of data hitting the market each day. Because a great number of trades go through middlemen, regulators have no easy way of even knowing who the high-frequency traders are. With millions of trades made every day, this administrative hurdle means traders are essentially anonymous to regulators.


This opacity allows firms to reap benefits intended for nonprofessional investors. Many exchanges, for example, have rules that require them to fill orders from retail investors before those from pros. Anonymity allows professionals to masquerade as amateur investors and thus get their trades in faster.


But there's an easy solution here as well: the Securities and Exchange Commission should require that everyone who originates a trade be identified. The commission is reported to be working on just such a rule, and it can't come soon enough. Otherwise, it's akin to asking someone to officiate a football game wearing a blindfold.


Like the autopilots that control most airplanes nowadays, high-frequency trading is more beneficial than harmful. It automates the routine elements of a complicated and high-risk mission, reducing the likelihood of human error. But costly errors will still happen, and some traders will bend the rules beyond the breaking point. We need reforms that actually address the risks of high-frequency trading and facilitate the restoration of public confidence in the markets.


Michael Durbin, the author of the forthcoming "All About High-Frequency Trading," helped develop high-frequency trading systems for two investment firms.








Driving through some of this city's neighborhoods is like driving through an alternate, horrifying universe, a place where no one thinks it's safe to be a child.


You follow a map in which the coordinates are laid out in blood. Over there, in front of that convenience store, is where Fred Couch, 16, was shot to death last December. The Couch boy went to the same school, Christian Fenger Academy, as Derrion Albert, an honor student who was beaten with wooden planks and kicked to death three months earlier in a broad daylight attack that was recorded on a cellphone by an onlooker.


Right there, on South Manistee Avenue, is where a 7-year-old girl riding her scooter was shot in the head and critically injured a few weeks ago.


And here, on East 92nd Street, is where a toddler, just 20 months old, was shot in the head and killed in the back seat of her father's car.


During a meeting with about a dozen men and boys on Thursday, some of them violence outreach workers on the South Side, I asked for a show of hands. "How many of you have been shot?" I asked. Five raised their hands.


When I asked how many knew someone who had been shot and killed, they all raised their hands.


The crazed, almost apocalyptic violence that is destroying the lives of so many young men, women and children here and in other major cities across the country is a crisis crying out for national attention. But, so far, it's been met mostly with a shrug.


Dozens of children school-aged and younger are murdered in Chicago every year. More than 150 have been shot (but not all of them killed) during the current school year.


This is occurring in a city that, in terms of its murder rate, is not even near the top of the list of most violent American cities. (In 2008, for example, Orlando, Fla., home of Disney World, had more murders per capita than Chicago.)


That we tolerate this incredible carnage, that there is not even much of a national outcry against it, is a measure of how sick our society has become.


"It's so different now," said Ester Stroud, a hospital worker who lives in Northwest Chicago. "When I was young, if a child was murdered, it was a big deal. Now, I'm sorry to say, it's somewhat routine."


Mrs. Stroud's son, Isiah, a 16-year-old who dreamed of dancing professionally, was stabbed to death a few days before Christmas in 2008. He had just won a dance contest and was planning to use the prize money to buy presents. He never made it home from the contest.


I talked for a long time with Mrs. Stroud, 46, and her husband, Eugene, 51, in a room at the school that Isiah had attended, Prologue Early College High. Their grief, after nearly a year and a half, seemed still to be weighing on them like a cloak of lead that cannot be lifted.


Mr. Stroud, his eyes red, recalled playing chess with his son and teaching him to swim, and watching old "Godzilla" movies with him on television. "Thinking about that last day is so hard," he said. "He gave me the most beautiful smile that last moment that I saw him, when I dropped him off."


He fingered a picture of his son as he talked.


Mrs. Stroud said, "His classmates are graduating this year. Maybe this is just a mother talking, but I think the world is a little different without him."


It can be tough to acknowledge just how bizarrely violent some big-city neighborhoods have become. There are places in Chicago and many other cities where the norms of civilized behavior have been driven all but completely underground.


"I would characterize parts of this city as under siege," said the Rev. Autry Phillips, who is the point person for a number of local antiviolence efforts. "It's sad when people are afraid to come out of their homes to walk the dog or wash the car because they feel they might get shot.


"We've got young people pulling out guns at 12 o'clock in the afternoon and shooting all over the place, no matter who's around. So we've got to do something about that.








A billion dollars and counting. That's the current estimate for the cost of cleanup and repair in flood ravaged Nashville, where thousands of homes and businesses as well as some of the state capital's most important landmarks were damaged or destroyed by deadly storms and massive flooding last weekend. And while Nashville was the hardest hit, other sections of the state as well as parts of Arkansas, Mississippi and Kentucky were battered, too. Recovery costs elsewhere likely will be in the billions as well.


The waters are receding -- the Cumberland River is finally below flood stage -- and a bit of normalcy is returning to Nashville and the surrounding area. Electricity, for example, has been restored to most places where it was lost. Some businesses are re-opening and the number of workers returning to offices increases every day. Even so, it's there is evidence of the deluge and its aftermath everywhere.


The death toll continues to rise. At least 30 people, 20 in Tennessee, died in the storms. The toll could be higher. At this writing, authorities were still searching for at four more people missing in Tennessee and Kentucky. All are feared to have died in the storms. Additional damage and loss of life is possible, too. Officials in western Kentucky report continued flooding and water levels that are the highest in decades.


Comprehensive assessment


The receding waters in Nashville and other locales have allowed a more comprehensive assessment of damage. The ensuing reports, though incomplete, suggest massive destruction or impairment to transportation infrastructure. Hundreds of roads and bridges, for example, will need to be inspected. Many, experts say, likely will require repairs or need to be replaced. Even railroads were not immune to storm-related woes.


The main line between Nashville and Memphis is out for at least four weeks because two bridges washed away. A spokesman for the CSX Transportation said the line should be able to reroute most shipments until repairs are made. Still, the need to do so is testament to the power of the floodwaters.


Damage is also evident in thousands of homes and businesses in hundreds of neighborhoods in Nashville and elsewhere. By Friday, hundreds of homeowners were removing several inches of sludge and sewage from inside and, in some cases, under their property. Others were ripping up carpet and floors and removing soaked drywall and insulation. Many had gotten tetanus shots or made sure theirs were still effective. Almost all had bags of lime at the ready. It is, the homeowners have learned, just about the only thing that will dull the foul smell left behind after even the most thorough cleaning.


Many of Nashville's most highly visible institutions and attractions were inundated, as well. The County Music Hall of Fame, for example, sustained damage. LG Field, home of the Tennessee Titan's pro football team, took a hit, too, though officials reported that damage was not extensive.


That's not the case at the Grand Ole Opry House, legendary home of country music. The Opry stage was under two feet of water during the flood, according to a spokesman man for Gaylord Entertainment. That's forced the Opry to do something it rarely has done in its long history. It will move shows to other sites for an undetermined amount of time. Damage in the entertainment complex was not limited to the Opry House alone.


The Gaylord Opryland Resort, the hotel next to the Opry House, was struck by extensive flooding -- up to 10 feet in some places. Officials said the resort's first floor, its power plant and its technical hub were flooded. Substantial repairs will have to be made before the facility resumes normal operations.


The cost will be substantial. A company executive reported Friday that damage likely is so great that it will exceed Gaylord's $50 million insurance coverage. The company, a mainstay in Nashville's high-profile music and tourism industry, will be face additional losses, too. The resort won't be accepting bookings from now through October.


Agricultural losses


The state's farmers face the possibility of big losses, too. The water has ravaged spring planting in about two-thirds of the state and it is possible that an entire crop will be lost. The extent of the damage and concomitant losses to one of the state's largest economic drivers, won't be known for a while. Many of the fields still have water in them and farmers can't make the first-hand inspections necessary to accurately assess the condition of their land and the status of their crops. Such devastation and the losses attached to it are hardly surprising in the wake floods that prompted a surface water specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey to say stream flow following the storms was above the level of what some people call "the 500-year flood." Damage is so widespread, in fact, that 52 of Tennessee's 95 counties have been declared disaster areas following the record-shattering rains.


The more than 13 inches of rain that fell around Nashville during the first days of May obliterated previous day-by-day marks. Other areas reported as much as 20 inches of rainfall. In many places, the two or three-day totals easily pushed creeks and rivers to record heights and made the current month the wettest May on record.


It's hardly a wonder, then, that officials and residents in Nashville and other hard-hit areas struggling mightily to deal with the aftermath of storms that rank among the worst in the state's recorded weather history, now cast a wary eye to the sky when even a small chance of rain is mentioned by forecasters.







Time flies and, happily, new generations come on. But Americans and many others of a "certain age" remember May 8, 1945 -- as "Victory in Europe Day" in World War II.


Adolf Hitler's aggression began World War II in Europe when he sent his mechanized army into Poland in September 1939, and Britain and France declared war on Sept. 3. The United States joined World War II military action when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. As war raged in Europe, Africa and Asia, the United States determined to join Britain in giving first attention to Europe.


And so on June 6, 1944, U.S. and British forces invaded Europe, to free that continent from Nazi conquest.


The battles across France and Italy were vicious, bloody and costly. But finally, Nazi Germany surrendered at Rheims in France on May 7, 1945, and the defeat of Germany was ratified in Berlin on May 8, 1945, making it "V-E Day" -- victory in Europe!


There was realization that much bitter war still lay ahead before Japan would be defeated -- but V-E Day was a time of great celebration because victory and peace had come to Europe.







Looking back over the past three years or so, it is not hard to spot many harmful things our federal government has done in attempts to "fix" the troubled economy:


* There was the $700 billion bailout of banks, insurance companies and automakers, some of which had performed terribly. Propping them up protected them from the consequences of their actions and created an expectation that government will use taxpayer dollars again to rescue badly performing companies.


* Then there was the $862 billion "stimulus." It used borrowed money, which future taxpayers must repay with massive interest, for the supposed goal of "creating or saving" millions of private-sector jobs. In fact, it protected government positions while the private sector lost jobs by the millions.


* And last, but hardly least, there was ObamaCare, the trillion-dollar-plus socialized medicine plan, whose higher taxes and other negative effects are only just beginning.


Each of those acts by Congress represents the false belief that it is better for a small group of people in government somehow to "plan" the economy for us all than for hundreds of millions of Americans to guide the economy naturally through their voluntary, everyday decisions of what to buy, where to work and so forth.


But the repeated failure of government economic planning does not stop Washington from trying it again and again.


Recently, Democrats in Congress introduced a bill that would pay certain U.S. manufacturing and computer companies $10,000 a head for every foreign job that they bring back to the United States. The jobs would have to be relocated to areas of especially high unemployment.


And how would the bill pay for that hefty incentive? It would send the tab to U.S. taxpayers, stifling our economy by shuffling even more dollars out of our pockets and into big government.


They say that when you're in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. But Washington is digging vigorously. As each bit of economic "planning" fails and creates new problems, some new scheme is cooked up that supposedly will "jump-start" the economy. Then when that scheme fails, another "solution" is frantically devised, saddling our nation with still deeper debt and higher taxes.


The one thing Washington seems unwilling to try is the free-market system that made our nation prosper in the first place. Must our economy sink further before we realize Congress and the administration are actually worsening the problems they claim they want to alleviate?







You might not know it to listen to lots of pro-illegal-alien pressure groups, but most Americans are in favor of Arizona's new law to fight illegal immigration.


Far from "extremist," the law is very much in the mainstream of Americans' beliefs, judging from the results of just a few recent surveys:


* Fifty-one percent of Americans surveyed believe Arizona's law is "about right," according to a New York Times/CBS poll. So does that mean all the rest are against it? Not at all. An additional 9 percent say Arizona ought to have gone even further to fight illegal immigration. Only slightly more than a third of the people surveyed said the law went too far.


* In Arizona itself, 64 percent of voters approve of the state's new law, and not even one-third oppose it, a Rasmussen Reports poll noted.


* Sixty-two percent of voters in Florida, another state with a high number of illegal aliens, say they wish their state had a law like Arizona's, Rasmussen found.


What's frustrating to many U.S. citizens and legal immigrants in Arizona and around the country is that the federal government has failed horribly in its duty to protect our borders from invasion -- one of its most important constitutional functions. That is why lawmakers in Arizona -- which has nearly half a million illegal aliens -- finally had to act.


If our Democrat-run Congress and President Barack Obama do not want other states to follow suit, then they should insist on the enforcement of existing immigration laws -- and they should end all talk of granting amnesty to the estimated 11 million to 20 million illegal aliens within our borders today.







Americans sometimes don't pay a lot of close attention to politics in Britain. But this week, British voters denied the Labour Party a majority in the House of Commons for the first time since 2007. The Conservative Party won 306 seats in the 650-member House of Commons -- not a majority. Labour took 258 seats and Liberal Democrats won 57.


So in Britain's parliamentary system, there will be maneuvering as the Conservatives try to make some arrangements to have a coalition majority, to enable them to pick a new prime minister to replace Labour's Gordon Brown.


We think our American political system is often messy, but most of us surely would not like to adopt the often complex British system instead.


Five tips for growing knock-out roses







Do you remember when readers eagerly rushed to their mailboxes or newsstands each week to get their latest big Life magazine? Millions of readers were thrilled by the pictures and texts. Look magazine was also popular.


Remember when Time magazine was highly popular, with news, variety and entertainment, along with its major competitor, Newsweek?


Times have changed for magazines. There are 24-hour TV news and variety programs, along with varied radio stations. The "media" are feeling huge changes -- especially news magazines.

For example, Newsweek -- edited by former Chattanoogan Jon Meacham -- is "different" these days. It leads off with several opinion columns and doesn't seem to emphasize "new news" in depth anymore.

So Newsweek, 77 years old and owned by the Washington Post Co., is reported to be up for sale. It's a sign of changing times in the news and magazine world.









The British electorate has spoken but has choked on its words. Labour's glad confident morning of 1997 has clearly ended in defeat under Gordon Brown. David Cameron has rescued his Tory party from 18 years of decay but not convincingly, and not enough to give him a secure parliamentary majority.


The third party that promised so much, the Liberal Democrats, has failed to make a breakthrough, and yet it must decide which party to support in office -- and with a poor mandate for so important a decision. The first-past-the-post electoral system has met its Waterloo. Britain has not been given emphatic government just when that was most required. It has been given the parliamentary mess most feared by opponents of electoral reform -- or the negotiating base most desired by its advocates. British politics now departs the hustings and enters the old smoke-filled rooms of Westminster.

Since Cameron cannot yet be sure of the confidence of the House of Commons, the first move clearly lies with Brown as incumbent prime minister. He is down but not out. He has clearly been beaten by the Conservatives but is entitled to see if he can form an anti-Tory alliance with the Liberal Democrats and possibly the so-called Celtic fringe. It would have to defy the bald fact that the Tories are certain to be the largest party, and most disciplined in the whipping cauldron of a hung parliament.

The Tories will also ask the Liberal Democrats and nationalists their intentions, and with the added moral authority of being the party that has clearly been preferred by the electorate. The nation will simply have to wait while the minority parties make up their minds. That is what ""voting for a hung parliament"" means.

Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrats now have their moment of power, but it will be just a moment. They have failed to win enough votes to carry an overwhelming moral case for electoral reform, yet they have not supplanted Labour on the centre-left. They may pray for the Tory lead to be big enough to leave the decision in the hands of the nationalists, but that seems unlikely. Whatever they decide they may well split over it, and may have to defend at an early re-election. Their recent ecstasy will swiftly turn to agony.

(Source: The Guardian)








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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Source: The Hindu)

Photo: Demonstrators hold a sign during an anti-nuclear weapons protest rally and march in New York on May 2, 2010. (Reuters photo)









If Deniz Gezmiş were alive today, he would be 63. While "what if?" speculation is ultimately an empty exercise, it is still interesting to consider what might have been. Would he, like one contemporary, the radical American socialist Angela Davis, have gone on to become a university professor? Might he, like another contemporary, radical Daniel Cohn-Bendit who today sits as a member of the European Parliament, have become a politician?

The analogies that can be made between the three are many, including both their fascinations with the leftist ideologies that were the zeitgeist of the 1960s and their association with the threat of violence. Gezmiş robbed a bank and took four American soldiers hostage, later to release them. A comparison could yield the argument that Gezmiş carried the least criminal culpability of any of the three. Davis was acquitted of conspiracy to commit homicide, but she did buy the gun that killed a judge in a hostage-taking. Cohn-Bendit has escaped charges in a German terrorism investigation only because of the immunity provided by his parliamentary post.


But Gezmiş had the misfortune to be a citizen of the least democratic of the three radicals' countries. He was hanged on May 6, 1972, along with fellow prisoners Hüseyin İnan and Yusuf Aslan. The crime of which he was convicted was "seeking to overthrow the constitutional order." It is worth noting in retrospect that two late politicians opposed the sentence. İsmet İnönü, compared in recent days by the current prime minister to Adolf Hitler was one of them; the other was Bülent Ecevit. But the Parliament of the day approved the sentence; among those supporting the hanging was Süleyman Demirel who went on to become president and is today Turkey's most-respected elder statesman.


We mention this on the day we report elsewhere the events commemorating the death of Gezmiş and his friends only as a means to encourage a bit of reflection on how far Turkish democracy has come, and how far it yet must go. Much has been accomplished, notably including elimination of the death penalty. The state now broadcasts in Kurdish, this newspaper routinely prints things that would have caused its shuttering in Gezmiş' day.


But a critical ingredient of democracy eludes us. For more than a decade, opportunities to rewrite a junta-written Constitution have been squandered. Even as Parliament nears final approval of comprehensive reform, the process is tainted by an atmosphere of score-settling that will rob reform of legitimacy. Secret balloting in Parliament, as we report today, has been violated by internal witch hunts against deputies who may have strayed from the party line. And so much more.


Yes, Turkish democracy has progressed greatly since May 6, 1972. But we still have very far to go. Were he alive today, we are confident Gezmiş would agree.








Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will pay a two-day working visit to Greece next week along with nine ministers and an army of businessmen. It is important to have more, and more regular, visits between neighbors. To focus on work rather than cocktails is especially important.


The Turkish ministers for foreign affairs, EU affairs, economy, energy, environment, transportation, culture and tourism, interior and education will all attend the meetings.


Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Drutsas paid an official visit to Turkey at the beginning of April. The governments of both countries wish to have normal relations, to radically change the present "no war, no peace" state of affairs. Drutsas reminded that Greece wants to set a calendar for the solution of the continental shelf question, the apparent reason behind military sorties over the Aegean Sea. He also mentioned some confidence-building measures, including the reciprocal deployment of military units in each other's armed forces.


As soon as the Greek minister uttered a few words on the dangerous dance of war planes in the Aegean air corridor for incomprehensible reasons, he got a response. Who answered Drutsas? Of course not a government member but Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ. At the 60th commemoration ceremony of the late Gen. Fevzi Çakmak's death held in the General Staff headquarters, a reporter asked Başbuğ about the flights over the Aegean. The general responded that Turkish warplanes fly unloaded whereas the Greek planes are fully loaded with bombs. He added that both countries have their own rights and no one can rule over the other on international affairs.


"We, as Turkey, always express our goodwill and willingness for cooperation and coordination. For years, our planes have been flying over the Aegean Sea unarmed. Turkey will exercise and protect its international rights," Başbuğ said.


So instead of commenting about confidence-building measures regarding the exchange of military units as suggested by the Greek minister, the Turkish top commander preferred to issue a statement implying that military flights will continue as part of the continental shelf dispute, which is a purely political matter. The problem, indeed, is not whether flights are loaded or not. The problem is the flights themselves.


Mutual peace dividend


During the upcoming working visit, a "high-level strategic cooperation council" will be set up between the two countries. In addition to bilateral talks between the aforementioned ministries, the foundations will be laid for cooperation on the European Union, Balkans, Caucasus and global platforms. But more importantly, and hopefully, steps will be taken toward a durable peace and non-aggression treaty to slash the defense expenditures of both countries.


The advantages of transforming the Aegean Sea into a peaceful inner sea are endless. The Turkish Aegean region is gradually drifting apart from the rest of the country; it is like a sleeping beauty. So it will rediscover, in a way, its "hinterland," thanks to the effective reuse of the sea. You go ahead and consider what kind of new opportunities a Thessaloniki-İzmir ferry line could yield. But the real gain will be in mutual reduction of military expenditures.


In the world's rather poor peace literature, this is called a "peace dividend." Economically bankrupt Greece will continue to apply tight measures to reduce its budget deficit. In the eurozone, budget deficit should normally not surpass 3 percent of gross national product, according to European Union rules, but in Greece, the figure is around 14 percent of GNP. The most efficient way to lower the budget deficit by 2014 is to lower military expenditures. According to the figures given by Greek Defense Minister Venizelos, 6 billion euros in military spending are planned for this year, which corresponds to 4.8 percent of GNP, plus 2.3 billion euros for arms purchases and the rest for personnel and operation expenditures.


In line with this blossoming new understanding between Greece and Turkey, the biggest contribution we can provide to our neighbor is a permanent reduction in military expenditures. Don't think, however, that this will only help Greece. In the aftermath of the Cyprus intervention in 1975, Turkey created a fourth army, the Aegean Army. Owing to this new understanding, Turkey will not need the Aegean Army anymore. Dividends gathered from this will boost budgets for education, justice and health. As a bonus, the involvement of the Turkish Armed Forces in foreign policy, such as continental shelf issues, will be relegated to history.









The National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., the only museum in the world specializing in art by women, is hosting Turkish women artists for the first time ever.


Starting in February, 11 female artists from Turkey displayed their pieces in the exhibition titled, "Like a dream, but not as you dream." Finally, I have had the chance to visit it.


I say "finally" because traveling to Washington was impossible due to a snowstorm during the first days of the exhibition. And I couldn't see it on my second trip to Washington due to the Armenian "genocide bill" in April.


For my second trip, I was together with the members of the Turkish-American Business Council, or TAİK, under DEİK's roof. DEİK and Akbank are sponsoring the exhibition. But the bill was passed in the U.S. House's Foreign Relations Committee, as you remember. So, the TAİK meetings were postponed and the organization decided not to go to Washington.


Early this week, a group of TAİK members made a third attempt and it was a success!


More than 8,000 people have visited the exhibition "Like a dream, but not as you dream" since it opened. And I have finally had a chance to see it.


Dr. Jordana Pomeray, the chief curator, is accompanied by Esra Sarıgedik, a curator from Turkey. The artists contributing to the exhibition are Nevin Aladağ, Selda Asal, Merve Brill, İpek Duben, İnci Eviner, Leyla Gediz, Gülsün Karamustafa, Ceren Oykut, Canan Şenol, Canan Tolon and Ayça Telgeren.


Different from Ottoman art


Sarıgedik said they pay attention to the age of the artist, materials used and the variety of techniques.


Gülsün Karamustafa, for instance, used old photographs while İnci Eviner benefited from high-tech in her popular piece titled "Harem."


Canan Şenol concentrated on the drama of mothers of both sides in the ongoing fight in the southeastern Turkey and implied a family incest in another piece very courageously.


In her video art titled "Who is a Turk?" İpek Duben has made a piece looking for an answer to a question we all have in mind.


As Dr. Pomeroy points out, Americans have the tendency to index Turkish art only under Ottoman art.


A few years ago, there was an exhibition about Ottoman kaftans (robes) at the Smithsonian Museum. It's still being talked about... The Washington Post, for instance, ranked the Ottoman kaftans exhibition in its top 10 of the last decade.


Therefore "Like a dream, but not as you dream" is important because it helps Americans encounter contemporary art in Turkey. It also allows Americans to see Turkey through the eyes of Eviner, Şenol and Duben.


Following the "genocide" bill crisis, Turkish Ambassador Namık Tan was recalled to Ankara by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. But now he is back in office in Washington. We visited the exhibition along with Ambassador Tan and his wife, Fügen Tan. I am of the opinion that it was a successful attempt in terms of bilateral relations.


Two new exhibitions


TAİK must have thought the very same thing about the preparation of an exhibition on old Anatolian coins for TÜSİAD's general convention by former president Muharrem Tayhan.


Ambassador Tan, who previously served in Tel Aviv, is trying to materialize an important exhibition project.


After the "One minute" incident in Davos, the Jewish lobby in the U.S. stayed away from Turkey. So the project is for the Jewish lobby. Ambassador Tan wishes to have an exhibition in Washington on "Turkey's Synagogues," consisting of photos taken by İzzet Keribar.


The biggest supporter of this project is one of the leading names in the U.S. capital, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Esther Coopersmith.


Coopersmith is currently the UNESCO goodwill ambassador and is known in American diplomatic circles for her variety of hats.


As a member of the museum's board, Coopersmith made tremendous contributions to the exhibition "Like a dream, but not as you dream." She is now looking for a venue for "Turkey's Synagogues."


Winds have been blowing in different directions in Turkish-American relations for some time. It could be possible to change the direction of these winds with the help of exhibitions in Washington as well as the efforts of Turkish artists.








I had coffee the other day with a colleague who told me why he had recently declined a job offer from a French media company. In fact, he was initially quite interested. The salary looked pretty decent, and the city where he would have to live, Lyon, seemed appealing. He even found a few nice possible schools there for his 10-year-old son.


But then came the bad news from Lyon. "We would love to welcome your wife and child as well," the employers said. "But, sorry, you can't bring them for the initial 24 months."


This, they explained, was the result of a new "immigration law" the French Assembly had passed under the auspices of President Nicholas Sarkozy. After two years, they added, the benevolent French Republic would perhaps be kind enough allow the broken family to reunite. (Yes, not certainly, just perhaps.)


"This is insane," my friend wrote back to his would-be employers. And then he, quite wisely, declined to move to a country that seems to have little respect for the most quintessential human institution: the nuclear family.


Burqa matters


Yet this was only the second news I heard last week about the growing illiberalism in France. The other story even made the global headlines: the ban on the burqa, the all-covering Islamic veil, which the French Assembly will most probably pass next week.


Before that, though, let me note this: I am really not a fan of the burqa, which covers everything but the eyes of a woman. I wish no women ever wore that. As a Muslim, I also think it is not a requirement of Islam, but a medieval tradition that is quite burdensome on women. In fact, I am even willing to discuss whether the headscarf – which covers just the hair, not the face – is a requirement of Islam as well.


But all of these are my own opinions, and I don't think I have the right to impose them on others. Most French politicians, however, and the voters they represent, seem to believe they have that very right. Nadine Morano, the "family minister" of France, makes this all obvious by heralding that everyone who visits her country will soon "respect the law and uncover their faces."


What Ms. Morano probably doesn't realize is that her line sounds very much like that of the Taliban, who ask all female visitors to respect the law and cover their faces.


The "law," in both cases, is an illiberal one that dictates to individuals how they should walk around.


Another French politician who cheers for the burqa ban is Jean-François Copé, the majority leader in the French Assembly. His recent piece in the New York Times ("Tearing Away the Veil," May 4) is hilarious. He says the ban is necessary for "our republican principles" and public safety, and supports the latter by referring to "an armed robbery recently committed in the Paris suburbs by criminals dressed in burqas."

One really wonders if there was less crime in the Paris suburbs when the burqa was not around, or whether criminals will really have a hard time disguising themselves after the ban. Or will the all-encompassing French Assembly pass other laws that ban large sunglasses, trimmed hats and wigs?0


What is curiously lacking in Mr. Copé's piece is a consideration of the effects of the ban on the women who wear the burqa. Will they really take it off and join the open-faced majority? Or will they instead avoid going out and stay in their homes? The latter was the effect of the ban on the veil that another illiberal regime – that of Reza Shah of Iran – implemented in the '20s. It was also the beginning of a snowball-effect reaction that culminated in the Iranian Revolution of 1979.


France, of course, is a much better place than the Shah's dictatorial Iran, but it is still a persistent disappointment when compared to truly free countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. Such a ban would be unthinkable in those Anglo-Saxon states, no matter how hard their societies are pressed by the threat from militant Islamists.


The two Wests


Similarly, French laws that dictate a certain interpretation of history – such as requiring that the Armenian ethnic cleansing of 1915 has to be called "genocide" – would be unimaginable in Britain or America. Even Holocaust denial, as delusional and disturbing as it might be, is free in the English-speaking countries.


This difference, of course, is not just between the Anglo-Saxons and the French, but between the former and much of continental Europe. And the latter, I worry, is increasingly being dragged into what Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria wisely calls "illiberal democracy." The burqa ban was first implemented in Belgium a few weeks ago, and another unbelievable ban on minarets was legislated by democratic vote in Switzerland last December.


In all these countries, it seems that liberty is seen as a value valid only for the people who look, live and worship (or not worship at all) as the majority does.


As a non-Westerner, let me assure you that this attitude is not going to win hearts and minds in this part of the world. It will only deepen rifts and consolidate prejudices.







Imagine two different men leave their homes for work at the same time on a bright Monday morning to catch an early meeting with their clients. One lives in Germany and the other in Turkey.


Since we are imagining, let's push the boundaries a bit and say they both drink their coffees – prepared before leaving home – while they are driving. And guess what; they both spill coffee on their shirts after 10 minutes. Now they have to go back home.


After changing their shirts, the same journey starts, but comes to a stop within 15 minutes due to an accident. After these two incidents, both of the gents enter meeting rooms with red faces, but how they apologize differs greatly.


Let's start with our Turkish executive. Most probably he will enter the room really upset. He will start with a "you cannot imagine what happened to me" introduction and continue by explaining all the things that happened to him that morning and complaining about how the traffic in Istanbul is becoming worse with each passing day. Then he would conclude by apologizing to the people in the room for being late.


Our German fellow most probably will enter the room as upset as his Turkish counterpart in a parallel time zone, but will try not to show it. He will have his head down and apologize for being late. That's it! If asked why – which happens seldom – he will give an explanation of what happened.


The first approach is called high-context (diffuse) and the second is called low-context (specific) communication. Why such different approaches? There are three main reasons:


The first one is that these fellows are from different business cultures. Germany has a rules-oriented business culture, while Turkey has a predominantly relationship-oriented one. In a relationship-oriented culture, explaining the reasons in detail means showing respect to the other party. You can also think of these explanations as escape hatches (or scapegoats!) that keep the teller from losing face. In diffuse-oriented societies, relationships require such a high level of maintenance.


The second reason is that Germany belongs to the group of specific-oriented business cultures. That means things have different attributes in their own context, whereas in diffuse-oriented cultures, things influence each other. If you are late to a meeting, this can affect the beginning of your presentation in every culture, but in a specific-oriented one, getting over it and focusing on the benefit of the meeting is easier. People can specifically focus on the person, the presentation and the benefit.


In diffuse societies, however, the person, the presentation and the outcome are considered as one. Therefore, if you cannot provide good answers as to why you are late, it can harm your business.


The third reason is the one they teach us at school. Students in Turkey prepare their essays and presentations in the form of an introduction, body and conclusion. After almost 20 years of education, this influences the way you talk, even if you are an introverted personality. You first make a good start, explain what it is all about and then tell people what your intention is. The executive summary and body format is not being taught in the classical Turkish educational system.


For a couple of years, I was reporting to an American boss who was used to getting straight answers to his questions. He was naturally raised with executive summaries. I also had a Spanish colleague from exactly the same culture as mine, one with high-context communication and education methods focusing on giving an introduction, body and conclusion. The only difference was my years in Holland (a low-context culture) and experience in intercultural business relations. Each time our American boss asked us about growth rates, I would answer with the number, say 10 percent, and wait. The poor Spanish guy would start with the heavy rains and end with the economic situation before revealing the figure. I knew he was doing this out of respect to his boss, but without knowing it, he was driving him mad because our boss was considering all this introductory talk as bunch of excuses. It was a simple conflict of different business cultures.


One day my Spanish colleague came to me and said, "I do not know why, but he hates me for sure." I explained him what I have just written above. He was a very nice and open-minded person. I saw the change during our first meeting after that. When everyone was waiting for a long speech, he just gave the number and then kept quite. Then a funny thing happened. Being used to his explanations, our boss felt the difference and asked him to explain the reasons behind the number.


Next time, think about why beating-around-the-bush talks take so long before you start talking business in Turkey. Why do people take time explaining which route they took to get there? Why do your subordinates take time before they give you the numbers you have asked for? Think about the respect they are giving you, the face they are protecting along with the relationship they have with you. If you get used to a nice intro, you might even miss it if they stop providing it.


* Zafer Parlar is the founder of istventures (, which supports international companies in their market entries and development in Turkey, as well as Turkish companies in their local operations and expansion plans abroad.








Turkish newspapers have been tiptoeing around the strange marriage, divorce proceedings and countersuing engaged in by Mr. T. and Mrs. N.T., as this is a case that needs to be handled with kid gloves.


While the story is juicy, obscene and perverse, Mr. T. is also very powerful and known to be prone to vengeance. Erospolis, reluctant to be the subject of a court case but far too eager to dwell on the wrongdoings, not to mention perversity, of Mr. T., will use only initials.


Mr. T. is a businessman who claims to be at the height of his health and wealth at 71, an age that is considered the prime of life only by the prophetic Türkmenbaşı. In the case of Mr. T., both claims are open to discussion, particularly given that his fortune, acquired largely in the 1980s and 1990s in a rags-to-riches story, is under the claws of the state and the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund, or TMSF, keeps him on a very short leash indeed.


His financial troubles, however, did not prevent Mr. T. from seeking matrimony for the third time. He found his bride among the workers at his hotel in Sarıkamış: 17-year-old N.


Any intelligent parent would have chased the aging groom-to-be away from the under-aged N. with a stick but then, that would not have been Turkey, would it?


On the contrary, family and friends have put pressure on N. to marry the town mentor. "We are delighted that Mr. T. is marrying one of us," a jubilant townsman told the press. "That means he will continue to invest in Sarıkamış because it will be the town of his wife."


The impoverished family moved to Istanbul to orchestrate the wedding of their daughter to the man old enough to be her grandfather. The hotel manager who organized the match was probably promoted. Mr. T. gave an interview to the press saying that he, a father of 12 children by three different women, was "a remarkable specimen whose performance has simply not declined" and that he was as, er, virile, in his 70s as he had been in his 20s and his wife would not only be financially, but sexually happy.


"My wife is a beautiful woman. She should also be a proud one because I am such a prize," he told daily Hürriyet in an interview.


"My friends take young women by the dozen and go through them in a week. I have chosen to pick one and be married to her. I like married life," he added, after a long tribute on his performance that owes nothing to blue pills.


Picking up a Barbie


A few commentators remarked that it was essentially very wrong, and against the spirit of the law, that a wealthy man can pick up a child as if picking up a Barbie doll and everyone looks the other way because he is wealthy and influential.


Well, actually, not everyone has applauded the match: The daughters of Mr. T. filed a suit claiming that their father was mentally unbalanced and that N. should immediately be freed from the marriage and be placed at a child-care center.


The court case would have taken years, and probably have not gone anywhere, had it not been for trouble in paradise.


The troubles were first heard when N. tried to commit suicide by swallowing pills. In an interview after the attempt, N. told the press that she was "treated rather like the servant of the house, rather than its mistress" and was constantly humiliated and belittled in front of the personnel of the house. "My husband kept telling me that I had brought him ill luck and that the TMSF had confiscated his property because of me," she said.


The man is clearly superstitious, besides being totally megalomaniacal.


When the young bride went back to the house after her suicide attempt, she found she was no longer welcome, even to pick up a few clothes. "The servants were ordered not to let me in," she said.


Mr. T. rushed off to Cannes, N. returned to her mother's home and the clash of words continued, with N. saying she did everything she knew to make him happy – "I shaved him and even washed his feet," she said – but he wanted perverse intercourse. "There are things that I am too ashamed to put in the petition," she added.


Mr. T.'s lawyer has painted N. as a shameless gold-digger who feigned a suicide attempt to extract money from her husband. The young and seemingly artless N. also allegedly coerced her shrewd businessman husband into buying her gold and a car.


This is the current story of the lewd, the absurd and the obscene in Turkey, gentle reader. The end will probably be that N. will go back to oblivion, only a bit richer, and Mr. T. will continue to remain in polite company, possibly with another 17 year old on his arm. And that makes it even more obscene








Catching onto reality


It always gives us birds a pleasure to see politicians reading and adopting some of our bird-brained views. At least some humans are pondering our thoughts. In our last column we asked why humans believe in what self-appointed rating agencies say and suggested that they should be abolished since they are unreliable.


Immediately, the same question was raised by politicians after the rating agency Standard and Poor's (or "standardly" poor) downgraded Greece's credit to junk status, thus creating drops in the price of stocks and the euro. New calls came out for rating agencies to act responsibly. IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said their assessment reflected mainly investors' perception of a nation's financial health and should not be believed too much. The German foreign minister called for the creation of a European Credit Rating Agency and correctly said rating agencies must not develop, sell and rate financial products at the same time. His idea of creating a European Credit Rating Agency sounds good only if an EU still exists to be rated.


New EU rules that will come into effect in December will apply some regulations to already existing agencies that operate in Europe but will not affect those operating in the United States. And it is those that have created all the damage in Europe. Why? Most likely in order to reduce the euro to junk status for the benefit of the dollar. We wonder whether or not EU politicians have understood this…


A very nice thing happened in the U.S. on April 29. Thousands of demonstrators rallied in downtown New York to voice their anger on the roles that Wall Street and big banks played in America's economic crisis. Marching from City Hall to Wall Street, the protesters chanted "Good jobs for all" and held posters with slogans that included "Hold banks accountable," "Make Wall Street Pay" and "Reclaim America." The AFL-CIO organized the rally during which its President said, "How long will we allow the spirit of greed to continue to drive us into an economic hole?" Over 6,000 humans participated in the rally.


Although a little late, U.S. humans are beginning to awake. And this is a positive sign, since, for the first time, they have demonstrated against the disastrous role banks and Wall Street played in creating the global financial crisis that has left so many humans unemployed on a global basis. We hope that they will continue demonstrating and protesting even more against any measure that may infringe upon their economic and human rights.


Ponder our thoughts, dear humans, for your benefit.








The EU turns 60

On May 9, 1950, Robert Schuman, then French foreign minister, made a statement that would change the face of post-war Europe.


Barely five years after the end of the most horrendous intra-European conflict, he proposed nothing less to Germany and other European countries than to join forces to reconstruct Europe's devastated economy by pooling their coal and steel resources under a single authority.


In 1950, Europe's infrastructure was devastated, industry was in shambles and scarcity was felt in each and every household. Coal and steel were then the backbone of the industrial economy. They were crucial to Europe's rebirth.


Schuman's bold initiative was met with success and led to the conclusion in 1951 of the European Coal and Steel Community, the true ancestor of the European Community and later the European Union. A "High Authority," an ancestor to today's European Commission, was created to manage the two main industrial resources, in the common interest.


In 1957, the European Atomic Energy Community, or EURATOM, and the European Economic Community, or the Common Market, were created. Later on, the single market, the eurozone, a common foreign policy, and the enlargement policy formed some of the best known common endeavors of the EU member states.


Born out of the ashes of World War II, the European Union has since constructed a multi-faceted body of common policies, ranging from research and innovation to environment, from trade to agriculture, and from foreign policy to monetary union.


Its initial goal of creating strong bonds in order to avoid the recurrence of devastating wars has thus taken a very diversified shape, and the policies have evolved according to changing times.


One of the most striking features of the European Union of 2010 is indeed that its political and economic environment has changed radically since the May 1950 founding statement: the threat of intra-European wars has vanished; the "Soviet Bloc" has disappeared and the "Iron Curtain" with it; Central Europe has returned to democracy and the free market; trade and financial relations have been "globalized" to an unprecedented extent; and international terrorism and the large-scale trafficking of human beings have surfaced.


Such a drastic, almost permanent, change of context has obliged the European Union to adjust its policies and institutions on a continuous basis. This is why additional treaties have modified the Rome and Paris Treaties of the 1950s: the Treaties of Amsterdam, Maastricht, Nice and Lisbon, as well as many other decisions, have given the EU its current shape.


Today, with half a billion citizens, the EU is the largest organized grouping of democratic nations, the largest trading block and the first provider of development assistance.


Although the world has changed many times over since May 9, 1950, the "European project" keeps all its relevance, even though in different ways and with different means. The European values of peace, democracy, pluralism, rule of law and the respect for human rights remain at the centre of the entire set of European policies, while a social free market economy remains the hallmark of the EU's economic system.


The EU and Turkey


During each and every trip I have taken in the various provinces of Turkey since November 2006, I am asked the same two questions: Why do you think Turkey should become a member of the EU ? When do you think this will be achieved, if at all?


The "why" question has received its answer by the unanimous decision taken by the European Council of Heads of State and Government in December 2004 to open accession negotiations with Turkey, which was done on  Oct. 3, 2005. After Turkey was given the status of "candidate country" in 1999, this decision was taken after careful consideration of the mutual benefits. This institutional context has not changed.


The "when" question has an equally simple answer: Turkey must fulfill all the conditions for accession, i.e. both the political criteria and the "acquis communautaire" (i.e. the body of accumulated EU laws and regulations). Then, when it does, the result of the negotiations will be submitted to the member states national Parliaments, to the European Parliament and to the Turkish Grand National Assembly. Only when all these steps have been achieved successfully will Turkey be a member of the European Union.


Today, the "photography" of the accession process of Turkey shows that 12 out of 35 chapters to be negotiated have been successfully opened, while many required reforms are under way or under consideration by the Turkish government and Parliament.


Obstacles have arisen, either in the form of a blocking of some chapters by the EU because Turkey has not implemented the additional protocol, which extends the existing Association Agreement to the new Member States of the EU, or in the form of negative political statements about Turkey's accession in some member states.


On the side of Turkey, as in every other accession negotiation, things have become more complex as the talks moved into more difficult matters: when it comes to passing a new trade union law or adopting EU-type rules on public procurement, inevitably, a national consensus is more difficult to nurture. This leads to a slowing down of EU-linked reforms, but it also proves that the negotiations have entered core matters.


One thing must be clear to all: the driving force of the accession negotiation remains what it has always been, i.e. the alignment of Turkish legislation with EU standards. Therefore the first ingredient of progress in the negotiation is quite simply to pass the necessary legislative reforms.


In the meantime, Turkey's positioning vis-à-vis Europe has evolved very substantially, for three main reasons in my own view:


• Thanks in large part to the immensely successful Customs Union established in 1996, Turkey's economy has been fully integrated into Europe's: trade with the EU and investment from the EU have been increased in a spectacular manner, Turkish industrial sites are part and parcel of Europe's global competitiveness as exemplified by brands such as Mercedes, Renault, Fiat, Ford, Airbus, Siemens or Bosch.


• Thanks to a very active foreign policy and peace-keeping activities, Turkey has now engaged in a dense and successful dialogue with the EU in a number of key foreign policy areas (Western Balkans, Caucasus, Middle and Near East) and is working with or alongside EU forces in peace-keeping operations in the Balkans, Lebanon, Afghanistan or the Gulf of Aden. In addition, a strong dialogue takes place in the context of Turkey's membership of the "G20" and current membership of the United Nations' Security Council.


• Thanks to a very dynamic civil society, Turkish citizens are now openly discussing major subjects pertaining to their daily life in a remarkably open way, including in areas where some taboos prevailed not so long ago.


These developments have changed deeply Turkey's image with the EU's political and economic decision-makers, while strong tourism and cultural ties contribute to change Turkey's image with the EU citizens. However, we shall be in no doubt that, often, the image of Turkey in the minds of EU citizens is out of date. Ignorance and prejudice still exist.


Within Turkey, perceptions have also changed substantially as the accession negotiations and their "twin" – the EU pre-accession programs – are making progress.


From my travels all around Turkey, I can safely say that the "EU agenda" of 2005 has now become the Turkish citizens' agenda. From East to West, from the large cities to the small villages, Turkish citizens have understood what the EU accession process means: it means that Turkey is aligning itself with EU norms and standards in all conceivable fields of activity, it means a better society for all.


From food safety standards to the control of medicines, from air quality to road transportation safety, from children's and women's rights to freedom of association, from respect of human rights in the procedure of security forces to modern juvenile justice, every Turk has understood that the EU accession process means progress for them and for their children.


This is what is accomplished every day in the context of the pre-accession programs: currently more than 250 individual projects are underway for a combined value of some 2 billion euros.


In addition, the European Investment Bank contributes to the modernization of Turkey to the tune of some 2.0-2.5 billion euros lending every year.


Yet, all this progress does not mean that accession negotiations are an easy task. They never have been, with any acceding country. Popular feelings are hurt because this negotiation often seems "intrusive" or "unfair" and the enthusiasm of "Day 1" seems to have been lost. This pattern is not unique to Turkey: accession negotiations have gone exactly the same way in all the 21 countries that joined the original six.


From the Turkish citizen's standpoint, one of the most difficult factors to understand is certainly the existence, in the EU, of political statements adverse to Turkey's accession while the negotiations themselves were opened by unanimity, a decision that was never reversed. The only comment one can make is that the very existence of accession negotiations does not stop democratic expression in any of the 27 democratic states composing the EU.


The other factor explaining some of the hesitations amongst the EU's political circles is the complexity of Turkey's political reform process, which is partly based on EU requirements but also on national elements. This complexity sometimes blurs perceptions outside Turkey.


The EU has said time and again that constitutional reform is necessary for Turkey to join the European Union and that both the content and the methodology of this reform should reflect and preserve democratic pluralism. The EU does not impose one single model of constitution or one single model of constitutional court. It, itself, has several different ones. What the EU requests is to apply certain principles, those embodied in the political criteria.


In addition, the evolution of complex dossiers such as the direct talks on the island of Cyprus inevitably has a direct and indirect influence on the accession negotiations of Turkey.




The EU is now 60 years old and running solidly, facing the new challenges of its time.


The EU-Turkey negotiations are just four-and-a-half years old and they have accomplished about one-third of the objective. What is required to move them forward is well-known and follows a well-charted road map both on substance and on methodology.


The EU-Turkey relationship is undoubtedly influenced by geography, by history and by the political context of two democratic interlocutors. But many new areas of mutual interest developed in the recent past: energy, industry, foreign policy, peace keeping, to name a few.


In the final analysis, the overall context in which political authorities on both sides will have to gauge this relationship is a more strategic one than it was in 1999, when the status of candidate country was granted to Turkey.


*Ambassador Marc Pierini is the head of the delegation of the European Union to Turkey. This is an abridged version of an article published in the daily Hürriyet on May 8








While the United States as a whole has been dealing with environmental catastrophe, as thousands of gallons of oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico every day, New York endured another attempted terror attack last week.


The suspect in this latest bombing attempt is another Muslim, who seems to be an ordinary middle-class man with no prior criminal history. The young Pakistani terrorist has, without a doubt, made life much harder for hundred of thousands of other immigrants who have a very distinct accent or the appearance of being Muslim or Pakistani/Afghani/Bangladeshi.


Immigrants in America have been already feeling the heat following legislation passed in the state of Arizona a couple of weeks ago. The new legislation gives security forces the necessary authority to ask for the identification of anyone they suspect may be in the country illegally. According to experts, this latest legislation opens the doors to racial profiling.


The leaders of the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, arrived in Washington, D.C., for the opening of its Washington bureau, giving talks and holding meetings with U.S. State Department officials. The delegation included Mr. Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-president of the BDP; Mr. Ahmet Türk, a former deputy and past chairman of the now-closed Democratic Society Party or DTP; and Ms. Emine Ayna, the vice president of the BDP and a current member of the Turkish Parliament.


The delegation's visit came in the midst of the debate on constitutional reforms in Turkey. The timing of the visit, in that perspective, sent a clear message both to Turkey and Washington that the BDP does not have much hope about these new constitutional reform discussions in Ankara.


The members of the delegation had a chance to explain their biggest complaints about Turkish state policies, what their demands are and how the situation is from their standpoint, directly to the American audience as well as others.


Mr. Türk said at the Carnegie Endowment, where he and Mr. Demirtaş participated in a panel, that they have three basic demands from the Turkish government: 1) A constitution in Turkey that recognizes all sorts of differences among people; 2) Recognition of cultural rights for all; and 3) More participation in local administrations, especially cities in which 80 or 90 percent of the population has an ethnic Kurdish background.


As Mehmet Ali Birand wrote in his last article, Turkey, whether one likes the administration or not, has made a good amount of progress lately on all of the three demands listed above. The Kurdish identity is being recognized more than ever, a state-run channel is broadcasting in Kurdish and local municipalities go mostly to the BDP's candidates in general local elections. These changes are not perfect, nor complete, however they are steps in the right direction and need to be applauded in that sense.


At the reception for the opening of the BDP's representative bureau in Washington, the members of the delegation criticized the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, leadership loudly and I heard comparisons between the AKP leadership and the military rule in the 1980s.


I asked Mr. Demirtaş why his party did not at least participate in the parliamentary vote on Article 8, which aimed to make the closure of political parties more difficult. Both Türk and Demirtaş said the AKP had sought neither their consultation nor their support. On the contrary, Türk said, the AKP announced that it was not cooperating with the BDP on these changes and clearly avoided being associated with the party. Demirtaş said his party previously gave five symbolic votes to show its willingness to cooperate, but never received anything in return. I pressed him further, reminding him about Cengiz Candar's and Hasan Cemal's harsh columns slamming their absence for those votes. Mr. Demirtaş seemed puzzled, claiming that the writers should have known the reasons for their absence.


Mr. Demirtas had openly claimed a day before at the Carnegie Endowment that there is no organic or inorganic link between the BDP and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. But when asked why they cannot be a party that embraces all of Turkey, or, simply put, why the BDP cannot draw a line between it and the PKK, he said that even though the BDP doesn't have any direct or indirect links with PKK, most of the constituency it is addressing, the about 2.5 million voters in Turkey's east and Southeast, hold different views on the PKK than the BDP does. Therefore, he concluded, it is not realistic to expect the BDP to make a move to cut all ties and forget its voter base to seem nice to all of Turkey.


The BDP clearly is afraid such a move would cause the party to lose an important voter base without bringing in a new one.


From what I heard from Ms. Ayna at the reception, it was clear that the PKK question had been one of the important issues discussed at the delegation's meeting the State Department officials on the same day last week. It is also my observation that Ayna and others had some difficulty addressing the PKK question satisfactorily to the American officials.


U.S. officials have been more sensitive while discussing terrorism-related issues since they themselves have been dealing with terrorism attacks in many parts of the world. In November 2007, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had an understanding with then-President George W. Bush on working against the PKK, Bush described the PKK as "an enemy of Turkey, a free Iraq and the United States," and the U.S. and Turkey started a robust intelligence-sharing effort against this common enemy. Washington also has become closer to the AKP administration on the issues related to the Kurdish conundrum in Turkey since the AKP took some steps to start its much-discussed Kurdish opening.


That is one of the biggest reasons why the BDP had to open an office in Washington. The BDP senses that it is about time to take the Kurdish initiative back from the AKP. The BDP wants to remind the U.S. administration in Washington that it, not the AKP, is the real intermediary for addressing Turkey's Kurdish population.


Overall, as Henri Barkey, a Turkey expert at the Carnegie Endowment and the moderator of the panel where the members of the delegation spoke, said after the meetings, "messages given by the delegation were very moderate, in a very civilized manner and in a good environment" with reasonable questions and answers. If nothing else, this was a good week for better dialogue between the Turkish and Kurdish people.








Under current Turkish law there are two important terms: The age of maturity and the age of consent.


Everyone below 18 is considered to be a child and only after 18 a person is considered to be at the "age of maturity" who can undertake decisions on his/her own, who is responsible of the outcome of his/her decisions and who does not need to obtain the consent of his parents in making his/her undertakings. The age of maturity, therefore, is both the judicial competence age, the voting age and the marriage age; that is the age a child is considered a grown-up responsible of taking his/her own decisions.


The age of consent, on the other hand, is set by law at 15. That is, in between 15 and 18 a child may undertake actions or decisions that an adult can undertake provided his/her parents give their consent for her/him to engage in that action. For example, a girl at the age of over 15 can marry a man if her parents give their consent.


This clause of the Turkish Penal Code is often result with small girls being compelled to marry with men who indeed raped them and who indeed should be sentenced for a term in prison. Yet, if the parents agree to marry off the girl to the man who raped her, the family of the girl gives consent to the marriage [in exchange for some money or just with the pretext of saving the honor of the family], the rapist escape justice and the girl is condemned to lead a life as the wife of her rapist. Worst, sometimes such incidents result in the rapist ending up behind the prison or getting away all together with the crime he committed while the family of the girl saves "the honor of the family" by ordering someone to kill the girl – often a boy below the age of 18 from the family who would take a reduced penalty because of his age.


Often, particularly in rural Turkey, families "sort out" a rape case within themselves, don't report the matter to police, and as civil marriage of youngsters at that age would require court verified consent of the families, hastily arrange a religious marriage and save the honor of the family and condemn the girl to being the "wife" of her rapist, without the legal benefits of being a wife under civil law.


This was and is a bleeding problem of Turkish girls, particularly in rural Turkey, but sometimes also in the big cities which because of mass immigration have become big villages anyhow.


The laws of the country provide an effective and rather rigid protection for the girls below 15. If a girl below 15 has been sexually abused, the man or people responsible for the ignominious action cannot get away with the crime they committed by buying the consent of the family, because the law clearly underlines that kids below 15 cannot be considered to have grown up sufficiently to make such decisions and that their parents do not have the right to give consent to an action, as a girl might not comprehend the consequences.


That is, if a girl below 15 is raped, her parents cannot, under the current laws, "sort the issue" through some deals with the rapist or family of the rapist, but the case must go to a court and the rapist must receive the appropriate penalty.


For years, the ruling Justice an Development Party, or AKP, government has been floating around the idea of reducing the age of consent from the current 15 to 13 with the pretext of the "immense suffering" of families because of the high age of consent. Yet, thanks to strong opposition, particularly from women's groups, the AKP government has so far failed in this "big reform."


Many people would recall the mass rape of young girls at a boarding school, as well as the rape of a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old toddler [the 2-year-old was killed] in the eastern Anatolian province of Siirt. When the issue was splashed on the front pages of the national media and the nation learned that, to avoid a blood feud and because all people involved "knew each other well or members of same families," the ignominious crimes were covered up by local officials and the criminals got away with what they did. Nonetheless, because of the incident, the government was compelled to send a parliamentary investigation team to Siirt.


The outcome? Indeed terrifying… According to the report of that parliamentary commission, from 2008 to April 2010, a total of 76 kids below 18 have delivered babies. One of the young mothers was just 10 years old, while 15 were between 12 and 15.


If the pregnancy period was also considered, obviously it is plain clear that the girls were "married" while they might be still considered as small babies.


If under current laws even parents of these girls cannot give consent to their marriage at such small ages and it is the responsibility of the state to protect them from such ignominious practices, what did local officials do to prevent "kid-marriages"?


Since the report underlined that young girls continued delivering babies in the first four months of this year, is the answer not clear enough?








CHP sets-up a shadow cabinet


Following the constitutional amendment package voting in Parliament, Turkey will discuss critical issues in the upcoming weeks.


The main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, will hold a general convention on May 22-23 for an image change as party leader Deniz Baykal and the party council hold inner-party elections. The convention is extremely important because the party's image for the 2011 elections will be decided at this meeting, and the new staff will play a critical role in the CHP's future direction.


The question being asked in the hallways of politics and in the streets is this: Will Baykal be able to change and transform his party this time? It is difficult to directly answer this with a "yes" or "no." My impression is that Baykal will neither seek radical change nor close the door on change; ultimately, it seems there will be no noteworthy change in the "understanding," but it could be said that partial touch-ups will take place in the personnel in order to meet expectations.


The party's regulations were changed at the previous convention and the structure was transformed into a center-right party model, with a strong office for the general-secretary now history. The number of vice chairpersons was increased from four to 13 and each vice chairperson will be in charge of a specific area. Baykal, in a way, has thus set up a "shadow cabinet."


Waiting for a radical change in the Central Executive Committee or Party Assembly doesn't make any sense because Baykal is a leader who protects and defends his team. Unless the CHP leader wishes to do so, no one will be removed from the administration just to please others.


Baykal will reflect this to the new structure and keep most of his team members in the administration. Önder Sav will most likely be one of the vice chairmen. Due to his blunder on Dersim, Onur Öymen was heavily criticized, so if Sav becomes Öymen's replacement, this is unlikely to be a surprise.


Menwhile, key names such as Mustafa Özyürek and Yılmaz Ateş will remain in the administration, and if Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is moved from the administration to the seat of vice chairmanship, this would not be a surprise either. CHP Istanbul Provincial Head Gürsel Tekin is expected to be in the Party Assembly, but no one knows for sure if he will be involved in the core body.


But while these are the guard, there are also likely to be newcomers. Young textile businessman Umut Oran, who has challenged Baykal in the past, may be in the administration, while Professor Süheyl Batum, whose name is mentioned frequently in constitutional amendment package debates, may be a vice chairman as well.


The shining start in the CHP parliamentary group, Muharrem İnce, may also be in the administration. And it is highly probable that Murat Karayalçın might be a vice chairman too. At the same time, there are also a few names Baykal is keeping to himself for now.


It is also a matter of curiosity how many female and young politicians will be at the front. For now, however, nothing is being said on that matter. After CHP Women's Branch Chairwoman Güldal Okuducu was removed from office, her seat was not filled. On the other front, the CHP Youth Branch has shown that it is not strong enough. As such, these two seats will be the most difficult for Baykal to deal with… We'll see to what extent the CHP will meet demands of change at the convention…


Kuzu and Genç's flight adventure


Parliamentary Constitution Commission Chairman Burhan Kuzu and Independent Tunceli Deputy Kamer Genç are two figures who have been fighting since day one of the constitutional amendment package proposal. For over a month, they have had endless arguments in plenary sessions and in the commission.


Now, they have simply started trying to avoid each other. Coincidence, however, brought them together again: Kuzu and Genç took the same flight to Istanbul one day and sat next to each other on the plane. "Oh my God, what did I do wrong? We were at each other's throat all day long and now we're sitting together," said Kuzu as soon as he saw Genç in the next seat.


Genç, as usual, was quick to respond: "If you don't like it, have a seat at the back!"


Women deputies advised to have three kids


Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has suggested that every couple have at least three kids because, otherwise, the country will be predominantly elderly by 2025. He has also, as a matter of fact, suggested the exact same thing to the AKP's female deputies.


Justice and Development Partry, or AKP, Mardin Deputy Gönül Şahkulubey was hosting Erdoğan and other

ministers. During the meal, Erdoğan asked the female deputies, "We are busy with the work load. Do you have time to take care of the children?" Then he added, "Have at least three!"








Kids are meant to explore truths in the land's curves and rivers. Trees stand over our childhoods like mothers and fathers of the air we breathe. Lately, I've wanted to simply get lost in a forest, to be reclaimed by its unpredictable lines, to find another way to live. Maybe I just needed some fresh air. So I took my kids to find some.


Last week, after four months of demonstrating, villagers and environmentalists succeeded in pressuring a holding company to halt construction of a hydroelectric power plant in the Aegean town of Yuvarlakçay. Local activism arose there after the logging of hundreds of trees, some up to 400 years old, on a single night in December 2009.


With more watershed research and proper planning, the outcome of 1,600 recent approvals for hydroelectric plants in Turkey could set an example for alternative energy while bringing much-needed investment to the country's energy sector.


Without it, residents like those in the Çoruh River tributary in Erzurum will continue to lose their lands and livelihoods. Five years ago, the government designated the area as a protected natural habitat, recognizing its special biodiversity as one of only 305 such areas worldwide. Then the Environment Ministry did a pirouette by allowing construction of two hydro projects that have since poured tens of thousands of tons of construction debris into the river. Rare species such as the otter and the red-speckled trout have disappeared and the area's resources and biodiversity have been irreversibly destroyed.


Learning what to thank


I grew up in streams and trees in the American South. We whittled spears and pretended we could survive in the woods. When my husband was 8 years old in İzmir, he and his class traveled to a mountain to plant some trees. My class went to a dairy farm. Between urban sprawl and engineered food, kids need these field trips even more today to know what to thank for being able to breathe and eat.


Earlier this week, we were in rural Antalya with no TV or Internet, no traffic or air pollution. All the oxygen and rustling leaves seemed to soothe the crying out of both my 3-year-old and 6-month-old sons. I saw my baby's fingers explore the grass and my son's eyes fixed on a tree-climbing girl. Coming from the center of Istanbul, I thought, "Now this is play."


The area we visited was Adresan, where a leafy river untouched by energy plants runs across a Mediterranean beach unspoiled by developers. For now.


It's good that some precedents come in little courts. In February, the local court in the Black Sea province of Rize halted construction of a hydro plant, ruling that watershed planning is a requirement. The court's reasoning cited the constitutional right to live in a healthy and balanced environment. If reason has a chance, the decision could pave a renewable path for energy and for locals.


It's local governance where good policy often flourishes. Joining the large Istanbul district of Kadıköy, the Mediterranean town of Muratpaşa recently banned the use of plastic bags. The mayor of Dikili was acquitted in a criminal court last month for his stand against water privatization. He was tried for not charging households for water consumption below 10 tons.


Our son Max Ali turns three this Friday. It's the first birthday he's got a shot at remembering. We'll plant flowers in cups with his friends, then bang on instruments and imitate animals under silver lime trees in Yıldız Park. We'll give thanks, for breathing and eating. For being streams and trees to each other.









In the global competition environment, foreign direct investment increasingly gains importance. Of course, Turkey also wants to get a share of this market. Therefore, Turkey, in respect of investments held many institutional and legal arrangements. In this article, I would like to address investment incentive arrangements.


Which incentives are in place in Turkey?


Turkey provides various incentives and grants to investors for the purpose of facilitating larger investments and capital contributions by local and foreign investors and eliminating regional imbalances. There is no discrimination between local and foreign investors with respect to the application of incentives.


Incentives generally comprise a mix of tax and non-tax incentives. Investors may qualify for the following general incentives based on the location, scale and other qualifications of the investment:


· Exemptions from customs duties


· VAT exemption


· Support for interest payment


· Social security premium support


· Reduced corporate tax


· Investment location allowance


· Moving support


The application for incentive certificates is made to the undersecretariat of the Treasury by foreign investors. Obtaining an incentive certificate is an easy procedure. Without region discrimination, VAT and customs duty exemptions, support for interest payments is applicable for investments relating to R&D and environmental issues.


Exemptions from customs duties


Customs duty exemptions are provided to all investments that exceed the minimum investment amounts excluding investments made in industries that are not provided with incentives and the investments that do not satisfy the required conditions set out in the decision.


VAT exemption


In Decree No. 2009/15199 it is stated that VAT exemption is provided to the export and local delivery of machinery and equipment that are in the scope of the investment certificate and in line with the VAT code.


Support for interest payment


In order to benefit from interest payment support:


• Investments should regard research and development, environmental protection and regional support.


• Loans should be taken from banks.


• Loan maturity should be at least one year.


Social security premium support


The employer's portion of the social security premium limited with the premium amount calculated over the official minimum wage shall be borne by the Treasury for big investment projects and regional investments. Exemptions apply.


• In completely new investments this applies to employees that start working on that project.


• In others, subsequent to the completion of the investment, this applies to employees recruited by the company in addition to the average employee number calculated from the monthly submitted declarations of the company to the Social Security Institution within the six-month period before the commencement of the investment.


Reduced corporate tax


Both corporate taxpayers and income taxpayers can benefit from reduced tax rate incentives. Reduced tax rate incentives are applicable for big investment projects and regional investments.


Investment location allowance


Land shall be granted to big investment projects and regional support investments.


According to Law No. 5520, however, companies operating in finance and insurance, joint ventures, investments made under Law No. 4283 related to the build-operate model and the building and operating of electrical energy production facilities, and investments made under Law No. 3996 regarding the build-operate-transfer model are excluded.


For your questions:














Like a game of chess the government and the apex court have been moving swiftly on the chequered board of national politics. The latest move by the government, though, leaves even veteran spectators stunned. The government has, for all intents and purposes, told the court in no uncertain terms that it has no intention of implementing its orders on the NRO. Though the message to the five-member SC bench hearing the case as to the non-implementation of instructions on the NRO was conveyed by a rather flustered attorney-general who said the chapter of the Swiss cases was closed, it is apparent the gambit is one planned by the law minister. The law secretary, summoned by the court alongside the NAB chairman to answer questions pertaining to the matter, made it clear that he was simply putting forward the opinion of the government. It surprises us little that a day later, on Friday, he had to resign his post due to 'unstable health condition'. Does the government even realise how dangerous a game it is playing?

The law minister, in a brazen attempt to protect the president, is in effect putting the system at risk. His decision to defy the court's orders could cost us all heavily as institutions move closer to a resounding clash. If this scenario unfolds, all of us will suffer the consequences. The instability we are seeing on the political landscape has an economic impact. The investment we need to generate jobs and bolster the exchequer is not coming in. There is turmoil in other spheres too. Most citizens are deeply dissatisfied with the working of government and are desperate for some indication that things are working smoothly and the people they elected are capable of running the affairs of the state. So far they have seen, for the most part, ham-handed attempts to further personal interest, putting it before matters important to the nation and its people. The refusal to write letters to Swiss authorities is the latest example of this. The outcome of the dangerous move is still far from certain. It is possible that in the days ahead we may see ministers, or even the prime minister, in court to explain why its orders have not been enforced despite promises to the contrary. These disturbing developments could easily have been avoided by putting the collective interest of citizens ahead of any individual's. The fact that the government has chosen not to do so is nothing less than a tragedy.







The amputation of the hands of three men accused of theft by the Taliban in Orakzai Agency is the latest piece of evidence in a mosaic of cruelty that stretches out across the tribal territory. Public floggings, beheadings and other forms of outrageous violence have come before. The fact that the militants feel free to carry out such atrocities suggests that the victory over the Taliban that the authorities claim is still to be achieved; in more ways than one their reign of terror continues. This is a reign that has, over the past few years, gained strength. It is not the force of arms alone that is responsible for this. In many cases people have been brainwashed and persuaded that such punishments are somehow 'Islamic'. This is simply not the case. No religion, and especially not Islam, would advocate punishment without a fair trial. Our religion calls for humanity and the creation of a just society. Anyone who aims to prevent this from being created needs to be taken to task.

The happenings in Orakzai indicate a need to step up the effort to free people from the grip of the obscurantists. Indeed, this effort must go beyond regaining control over areas in terms of territory. Militancy needs also to be eradicated from minds. A strategy for this purpose is important. People have seen immense brutality; the very nature of society in many zones affected by militancy has changed. It is important to make some effort to restore life to what it once was, so that people can escape this chapter in their lives and all the horror it has brought with it.













Today, May 8, is International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement Day and will be quietly marked around the world. Founded in 1863 the Red Cross – and later the Red Crescent founded in 1877 – have become universal symbols for non-partisan humanitarian relief and aid. Worldwide, there are over 97 million volunteers that support the work that goes on in almost every country. The ICRC has been active in Pakistan since Partition when it was in the thick of the massive refugee crisis of 1947, the wars of 1948, 1965 and 1971 and virtually every other mass-casualty incident in our history. ICRC delegates monitor the condition of Pakistani nationals in Guantanamo Bay and Bagram in Afghanistan; and pass Red Cross messages between detainees and their families, often as the only form of communication they have. Today, the civilian population is at risk like it never was, and the various arms of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent have themselves become the subject of attack in Kohat and Quetta, yet they continue to serve the humanitarian imperative.

In the first three months of this year alone the Pakistan Red Cross and Red Crescent distributed food to 350,000 people in Bannu, Hangu, Khyber and Kohistan where they brought relief to avalanche victims. Support was given to our hospitals through the Ministry of Health and to basic health units across the entire area currently suffering conflict and upheaval. The ICRC has held awareness sessions for around 20,000 IDPs on the dangers posed by unexploded weapons/munitions and distributed food to IDPs living with host families in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The list of interventions made by the Red Cross and Crescent in Pakistan could fill pages of newsprint and still not do justice to the efforts they make on our behalf. We note the remarks of Donna Chanda, the ICRC's Movement Coordinator in Islamabad: "The partnership between the ICRC and the PRCS in Pakistan adds another dimension to what we can achieve on behalf of victims… by working together we are much stronger than the sum of the parts of the Movement. On this Movement day, know that we remain fully committed to our work in favour of the victims of the fighting in Pakistan." We have much to thank Cross and Crescent for and we look forward to their sustained support for years to come. They are an asset that we need to protect, perhaps a little better than we do currently.






Temperatures of over 40 degrees centigrade are a precursor to a long hot summer of discontent. The feel good factor--if there were a scientific method of measuring it--is at an all-time low. There is a pervasive sense of despondency and insecurity about the direction in which the country is heading.

In a hard-hitting speech in the National Assembly the other day, leader of the opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan lambasted the government on the poor law-and-order situation, the endemic load-shedding, and the price hike and unemployment. His boss Mian Nawaz Sharif has threatened that his followers will come out on the streets to protest against the bad state of affairs. President Zardai has made a desperate appeal to the Friends of Pakistan, particularly the US, to help bail out Pakistan's economy.

The plus factors which Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani so proudly highlights as achievements of the PPP government's two-year rule pale before the government's performance. The supremacy and sovereignty of parliament are not in doubt after the consensual passage of the 18th Amendment. Earlier, an agreed NFC Award between the provinces and the Balochistan Package are also feathers in the cap of the government, as well as of the opposition.

Interestingly, the UN report on Ms Benazir Bhutto's assassination has created more confusion than clearly pointing a finger at her real murderers. The three-member committee formed by the prime minister to investigate the hosing down of the site where Ms Bhutto was assassinated has absolved Musharraf's highly controversial MI chief Nadeem Ijaz, irking President Zardari.

The ruling party's so-called core group has again expressed the government's resolve to expose all elements involved in the conspiracy. The ham-handed manner in which the PPP-led government has handled the issue of the tragic assassination of their leader speaks volumes about its lax style of governance based more on cronyism and loyalty to the bosses than on merit. The stark truth is that, despite its professed eagerness to nab the real culprits in Benazir's gruesome murder, the government is stonewalling on the issue.

Bad governance has become the scourge of our democratic dispensation. The malaise is not confined to the federal government. Even the provincial governments, particularly Punjab, are afflicted by it. This is all the more worrisome as, with the Concurrent List gone under the 18th Amendment, the provinces will have to manage their own affairs, and perform rather than look towards the federal government for resources.

Despite a modest recovery from a near-collapse situation in 2008, the dismal state of the economy remains a major source of worry. State Bank governor Salim Raza has put a positive gloss on things by claiming that the economy has stabilised since then. But the plight of the common man and the basic economic indicators leave a lot to be desired. Raza has conceded that inflation has gone up to double digits since last November-- from 9 per cent to 13.5 per cent--and has predicted a GDP growth of no more than 3.5 percent in the current fiscal year.

A former World Bank mandarin who also briefly served as Pakistan's caretaker finance minister under Moeen Qureshi has claimed in an article published in a local English daily that Pakistan is South Asia's "sick man" today. Quoting form the World Bank Global Monitoring Report, 2010, he contends that all South Asian economies, with the exception of Pakistan and Afghanistan, have pulled themselves out of the partial slowdown caused by the global economic meltdown of 2008-9. This speaks volumes about the governance abilities of our leaders.

Our economic managers can justifiably put the blame for the sluggish growth rate, the high rate of inflation and the power shortages on domestic terrorism taking its toll and on the poor economic planning of the previous regime. However, on the flip side, had it not been for Pakistan's role in the war on terror, where would the country's economy be without the Western largesse?

Islamabad has a fresh team of economic czars in the form of Dr Hafeez Sheikh, the advisor on finance and freshly inducted deputy chairman of the Planning Commission Dr Nadeemul Haq. With their wide international exposure and experience in the World Bank and the IMF they can add value previously lacking. However, will they be able to get the enabling environment to work in a sea of cronyism, lack of transparency and political expediency?

Dr Sheikh's predecessor Shaukat Tarin did a salutary job stabilising the economy. But he could not do more owing to the firewalls built around him by the contending vested interests. As for the former deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali, he was merely keeping the seat warm.

Meanwhile, Punjab chief minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif, being portrayed in planted stories in the print media as an indefatigable administrator, has come up with a proposal for electricity generation by sugar mills instead of running after rental power plants. Mr Sharif, presiding over the Punjab Investment Conference, the first of its kind being held in Sindh under the aegis of his government, claimed that sugar mills could generate 3,000 megawatts of electricity.

Power from bagasse (crushed sugarcane) is not a new idea. Some sugar mills in Punjab, not those owned by the Sharif family, have already taken the route of co-generation of electricity. One of the largest sugar mills of the country has already got an approved tariff rate of 9.23 cents per unit from NEPRA to start producing electricity. However, the managements of some other sugar mills, including those of the Sharifs, insist that the tariff should be 11 cents per unit.

The question arises that if one sugar mill can make money at a lower tariff, why the rest cannot. And why a bonanza at the expense of the common man who will have to pay for the extra cents? Mr Shahbaz Sharif is not in favour of levying import duty on sugar. But how will the sugar mills be viable, producing both sugar and electricity, if imported sugar is cheaper than locally produced sugar, thanks to the high procurement price of sugarcane?

According to this newspaper's report, the Punjab government is on a spree of reemploying "cronies of the Sharif family" on contract basis. These include luminaries like discredited police officer Rana Maqbool, whose sole claim to fame was to torture Mr Asif Ali Zardari when he was in custody. The court-martialled former general Ziauddin Butt and former caretaker chief minister of the province Justice (r) Ijaz Nisar, are among many others in the list.

What is most surprising that all this is happening on the watch of a chief minister who prides himself on good governance and transparency and rarely spares the federal government for its failure to live up to these lofty objectives. Naturally, the bureaucracy in Punjab is demoralised when cronies are placed in cushy positions at salaries and perks they can only dream of.

Punjab, from being a surplus province is now in deficit and borrowing heavily from the State Bank to make ends meet. But it is being made to pay Rs25 million for the purchase of a special bullet-proof Mercedes Benz for Governor Salmaan Taseer. Much to the chagrin of the chief minister, a special supplementary grant has been created through relaxation of rules to make the funds available for the purchase.

It is obvious that most of our leaders are quite oblivious of the optics of their actions. In their air-conditioned cocooned environment they hardly seem to be aware of the hard times being faced by the populace at large. With little or no stake being created for the common man in the present system, it is a recipe for disaster for our democratic institutions.

The writer is a former newspaper editor. Email:







What came out 'loud and clear' at a recent Aman Ki Asha strategic seminar that I moderated in Lahore was that peace and cooperation between Pakistan and India is in the interest not only of both nations but the region as a whole. An important point in the joint declaration following the closed-door meeting was related to the common threat of extremism and terrorism, with participants urging the two governments to take steps to comprehensively defeat terrorism.

In the not too distant future the Aman Ki Asha Forum will devote a full seminar to address this issue. A public debate before the seminar, I feel, will raise the awareness of this issue and help the two nations to understand each other's perspective and examine what needs to change so that they can work together.

Since the very creation of Pakistan and India we have had an adversarial relationship. This was not how our founding fathers visualised the relationship. With so much in common we could have followed a different template. Unfortunately the way partition took place did not help. Since then we have fought three wars connected with our dispute over Kashmir. All this has deepened the mistrust. We continue to consider each other as the primary threat to our national security. However, of late terrorism seems to be changing this.

Statements produced at a number of summit meetings, including the most recent one between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan in Bhutan, have announced that "terrorism is a common threat for both our countries". There is even a Joint Anti-terrorist Mechanism in place to deal with this 'common threat'. Yet while we continue to fight terrorism in our respective countries, the element of working together is missing.

Indeed while Pakistan today faces the brunt of this threat in the form of Al Qaida, Taliban and narrow-minded religiosity, it would be naïve to turn a blind eye to the signs of this threat in India. Ajodhya, Gujarat, Mumbai and Kashmir represent the leading edge of this threat to India. While this cancer gnaws at our vitals, we remain in a state of denial and continue with the blame game and compulsive point scoring. At some point in time we have to move beyond our mistrust. And that time is now.

As a Pakistani, I believe that today the primary threat to my country's security is from terrorists. We are fighting for the control not only of our territory but also our soul. Alas, many people in Pakistan continue to be in a state of denial, focusing on 'differences' between one set of terrorist from another. For me, anyone who uses physical violence against innocent citizens, takes the law into his own hands and violates the constitution is a terrorist. This may be a flawed definition but that is just the point. Let the two governments constitute a joint team to agree on a common definition and understanding of terrorist or terrorism.

One has heard the expression, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter". If such a difference continues to exist between our two countries, we will not be able to develop a cooperative relationship. The first step to a cooperative relationship is for both countries to develop a clear understanding and definition of 'terrorism' and 'terrorist'. It is only when we are able to see a common enemy and define it as a common threat that we can begin to develop the strategy to fight this menace.

After we have agreed on a clear definition of terrorism the next step will be to deliberate on the level of cooperation. No, the concept of 'cold start' will not work here. It will be a slow start and a painful affair to overcome the mutual mistrust and establish a basic framework of cooperation. Here the meeting between the intelligence chiefs would be most useful. As we know from experience, simply setting up a Joint Anti-terrorism Mechanism in a 'trust vacuum' will take us nowhere.

Preliminary meetings between our intelligence chiefs and experts on counter-terrorism should be tasked by the political leadership to understand each other's perspective. So far the establishments of both the countries have turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to the other party's perspective. Only after we have understood each other's perspective with an open mind can we move to the next step of devising some kind of cooperation to fight terrorism.

As was recommended by participants of Aman ki Asha's strategic seminar in Lahore, both countries must sign an agreement to renounce the use of force, overt or covert in the pursuit of their national aims and objectives.

At this stage of our relationship it would be difficult to develop a unified strategy to fight terrorism. However, we can try to develop complementary strategies to tackle this menace. Never in our history has there been a greater need to bridge the gap which continues to divide us.

To reiterate, today, for the first time we face a common threat which, if not contained and rejected, will surely destroy us, piecemeal. It will destroy the secular credentials that our forefathers had enunciated for both our countries. Terrorism, religious bigotry, intolerance and a warped sense of nationalism are the numerous facets of this threat. I can assure you time is not on our side. We have to fight this threat jointly and move beyond the usual rhetorical statements and the blame game.

The writer is a former national security adviser. This article first appeared in The Times of India.







Recently in a renowned university of Lahore an essay competition on abortion and euthanasia was announced. The very next day those notices were ripped and burnt. When reposted, they suffered the same fate, with some students making comments like 'Yeh kiya vulgar topic hain!'

Why is this such a big deal, the reader may ask; no one got beaten up or killed, right? It is a cause for concern because it indicates a certain mindset. If some physical abuse had indeed taken place, the matter would have changed only in intensity, not in quality; the essence behind it would have remained the same. "In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now they are content with burning my books," says Sigmund Freud, noting very well that they were part of the same spectrum. The intolerance, the aversion to discourse: how did we end up like this?

To be fair, the Pakistani youth of today are far more tolerant than the youth of yesteryear, our present adult generation. A lot of them believe that if someone wants to go to hell, he may just do so. So it's not uncommon to see burqa-bearing and jeans-clad girls studying together side by side in the class, albeit silently judging each other.

We have moved from a state of intolerance-expressed to intolerance-concealed. Certainly quite far from the ideal of multi-cultural, pluralistic society that is the aim of our postmodern world, nevertheless it is progress. That said, comparison doesn't justify the prejudice that does exist, and secondly, apart from the majority, there is a significant minority of fanatic, narrow-minded students, our self-proclaimed moral police, who do believe that it is their business to set the world right and to prevent 'indecencies' from taking place. One of the student religious organisations is quite notorious for it, and declares on its website that it is 'trying to save the youths from going astray, delinquency and obscenity by showing them a path of righteousness and good deeds"; and if that involves banning music and attacking concerts and beating up westernised infidels, it's all justified as a means to the end.

Of course, talking about the youth of Pakistan in general can be tricky, because there is so much diversity! On one hand we have universities where banning of PDA is the hot topic of intolerance, while in the same city we have institutes where a guy may be punched-to-pulp for talking to a girl and students are still struggling to even have the right to express an opinion. But broadly speaking, let's see in what things our youth display a lack of tolerance.

The first and foremost amongst them is religion. There is little to no idea at all among people that they can co-exist with individuals of conflicting religious opinions. Thanks to exposure to western philosophical ideas, there are many New Age Secularists amongst us now. There is ample opportunity of conflict between them and the religious conservatives. Associated with this are the humanitarian issues, such as women's rights, the debate around biomedical ethics such as abortion and euthanasia, matters of politics such as secular constitution and matters of history such as the ideology of Pakistan. Many of the young people are simply in denial regarding these issues, and the conservatives do not want these matters to be openly discussed and analysed, in antagonism to the efforts of the liberals.

A culture of dialogue and discourse is very important for co-existence because it is the only way one side gets to understand the other side. Apart from this, any sort of social non-conformity can lead to intolerance: people who deviate from the mainstream in their tastes and lifestyles are often shunned, ridiculed and turned into outcasts. This aspect of social disapproval is often underestimated, but it is one of the strongest means and expressions of intolerance. It is also among the major reasons for lack of gender interaction in many institutes, because couples found dating are subjected to many social stigmas.

Tolerance is not just the act of tolerating something reluctantly. It is a belief in the freedom of thought, choice and behaviour; it is the willingness to recognise and respect the opinions of others; it is an attempt to empathise with the opposite side. It is not merely the absence of banning, threatening, abuse and killing. This view of tolerance may be too ideal, but this is what the youth of Pakistan should aim for.

The writer is a medical student. Email:







Calls to create more provinces in Pakistan have been intensified ever since NWFP was renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The people of district Hazara are out on the streets with their demand for Hazara province. A motion was moved in the Senate during the 18th Amendment session with the suggestion that district Bahawalpur be given a provincial status and pictures of students carrying placards of 'Seraiki province' have been featured in newspapers ever since.

While the renaming of NWFP is symbolic and the recent attention to this subject is motivated by ethno-lingual fervour, it is important to pay heed to these calls in view of Pakistan's past, vis-à-vis the events of 1971 and the recent notions mooted by the Baloch separatists. This comment is an attempt to draw attention to three questions in this regard.

The first question relates to the fundamental validity and justification for such calls. Contrary to popular belief, the demand for more provinces is not necessarily analogous to an anti-state or separatists' connivance. In fact, increasing the number of sub-national governments -- in other words provinces -- can strengthen a multilingual, multiethnic federation and can be a useful way of garnering support and ensuring that federating factions have a vested interest in strengthening the federation. Allowing people to own their identity makes them feel part of the mainstream, less dominated and therefore, not alienated. These attributes are vital to the viability of a federating system.

Observations from many other developing countries and economies in transition -- differences in geographic and population characteristics notwithstanding -- also provide a justification for increasing the number of provinces. It has frequently been cited that many countries in our immediate neighbourhood and others with a comparable population size have a far greater number of provinces. All of these countries are thriving federations, which goes to show that the number of sub-national governments does not appear to undermine the viability of a federating system.

Furthermore, Pakistan has an additional structural justification for revisiting and increasing the number of its provinces. One of its provinces is larger than the sum of all the others combined in terms of population size -- Punjab represents 58 per cent of the total population of the country. There are difficulties inherent to the functioning of a federation when that is the case. This is evident in the relationship of Punjab vis-à-vis the federal government and other provinces at the political and economic level.

Whilst dilating upon the justification, it must also be brought to bear that while the subject appears to be under the lens subsequent to renaming NWFP, this is by no means the first instance. Many recommendations and notions to this effect have been mooted previously. An unpublished viewpoint has called for the subdivision of each province into three parts, resulting in the creation of 12 provinces. Another publication in the public domain has made a case for adding more provinces on ethno-lingual basis, alluding to the possibility that Khowar, Kalasha, Kohistani, Seraiki, Potohari, etc. provinces can be created. Other less pragmatic ideas have also been flagged recommending that each district be granted a provincial status. Moreover, the creation of Gilgit-Baltistan province, though in a different context than the one under discussion, is nevertheless an indication that such drastic changes in the architecture of sub-national government are now acceptable.

The second question: will the creation of more provinces, per se, improve state governance and ensure that state mandated services -- law and order, justice, health, education -- are better served? The answer to this is clearly, no. Breaking the country into more provinces is not an end in itself. It can, however, be a means to a desirable outcome if creating more provinces is coupled with the grant of meaningful provincial autonomy in ways that incentivise performance enhancement and institutionalise overall checks and balances. This can have a knock-on effect on sub-national governance with benefits accruing to populations beyond the process outcome of redrawing provincial boundaries.

The third question relates to the feasibility and appropriateness of opening up this Pandora's box in the country at this point in time in view of the current circumstances. The timing is, unfortunately, not as well placed to make structural changes as is their justification. There are too many things currently in the pipeline, which can impact provincial governance -- things that haven't yet come to fruition.

Provinces are halfway in getting some control over their resources through the National Finance Commission Award. The 18th Amendment's stipulation with regard to the abolition of the Concurrent List has created a set of imperatives for transferring authority with a range of transformations in relation to a number of subjects previously under the Concurrent List. This has political, administrative and fiscal implications. An additional complexity relates to lack of clarity about the local government system, which impacts many attributes of local governance, from its working to the development of grass roots democracy, the functioning of judicial magistracy and citizen's empowerment.

With provincial mandates in a flux and the local government system undergoing a transition, opening another major chapter by calling for more provinces will add another level of complexity and doesn't appear prudent while the state is grappling with many internal security and macroeconomic challenges.

It must also be recognised that creating more provinces will have major fiscal implications. With the balance sheet in a perpetual dire strait, and the country in the International Monetary Fund's fold, plans for resource-intensive elective state restructuring are unlikely to have appeal for the factions that hold the purse strings. There are many competing priorities for investments, for example energy and targets set for cutting down establishment costs, which are additional reasons why support for this idea might not meet approval.

Even if that barrier is overcome, capacity constraints will have to be addressed. Federating units have to have the capacity and infrastructure to mobilise revenues, manage their own natural resources and trade in a very complex global environment in order to be effectively autonomous. Recent experiences with negotiating the NFC Award demonstrate weakness in the ability of existing provinces in many of these aspects. Carving out more provinces will entail the development of these capacities from scratch, which would be an extremely complicated task.

It may be feasible to use the one-year transition period stipulated under the 18th Amendment with regard to transfer of responsibilities to the provinces to develop a model of effective provincial and district functioning before putting the idea of 'more sub-national units' on the table. This process will require careful consensus-building at the national level. The time can also be used to think through the implications of more provinces on issues such as provincial representation in the Senate.

In sum, therefore, increasing the number of provinces can be justifiable on many grounds. The approach can also be in synergy with the ongoing efforts to grant provinces more autonomy. However, there are major constraints in embarking upon this highly charged political process with the country engaged on so many fronts and whilst evidence of the effectiveness of recent initiatives to grant provinces more autonomy is not available to inform the next steps.

The implications of whipping up ethno-lingual zeal in support of more sub-national units and the chain reaction that it can lead to must be clearly thought through. What is important is to be clear about the underlying motive. The latter should be to improve governance and improve service delivery and not to carve out agendas for political forces that operate on the periphery.

The writer is the founder and president of the NGO think-tank, Heartfile. Email: sania







The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.

We will never know for certain whether or not Maj Gen Nadeem Ijaz, the former head of Military Intelligence (MI), ordered that the crime scene be hosed down following Benazir Bhutto's assassination. The three-member fact-finding committee comprising senior civil and military officers has given him a clean chit of health. This was not unexpected. It would have been extraordinary if a committee established with the one-point agenda of deciphering the role of a serving general had actually indicted him. What, after all, was the need of forming this committee, other than to exclude the name of a serving khaki from an on-going investigation on emergency basis when there already is a Joint Investigation Committee in place to probe all aspects of the assassination?

Maj Gen Ijaz might not have ordered the hosing down of the crime scene. But few doubt that the DG MI–or the DG ISI, for that matter–had the power and ability (without any legal authority, at that) to influence the conduct and decisions of relevant law-enforcement agencies in the immediate aftermath of the assassination. Whether or not the incumbents at the time abused their position and influence, the fact that the DG ISI and DG MI have such influence, in the first place, highlights the problem of opacity and excessive influence that afflicts our intelligence infrastructure, coupled with their unaccountability. The scope and mandate of intelligence agencies in Pakistan is not defined by legislation. They are not subject to effective executive or parliamentary supervision, and their unbridled authority is prone to abuse. This is the systemic problem that needs to be addressed.

The UN Inquiry Commission Report in the Benazir Bhutto assassination case notes that, "no aspect of the Commission's inquiry was untouched by credible assertions of politicised and clandestine action by the intelligence services–the ISI, the MI and the IB. On virtually every issue the Commission addressed, intelligence agencies played a pervasive role." It concludes that "this pervasive involvement of intelligence agencies in diverse spheres, which is an open secret, has undermined the rule of law, distorted civil-military relations and weakened some political and law-enforcement institutions. At the same time, it has contributed to widespread public distrust in those institutions and fed a generalised political culture that thrives on competing conspiracy theories."

Do our intelligence agencies not flout rule of law and fundamental rights as a matter of practice? Articles 9 and 10 of the Constitution state that no person shall be deprived of life or liberty, except in accordance with law, and no person shall be arrested or detained without being produced before a magistrate within 24 hours of such arrest or detention. And yet, everyone knows that our spooks can pick citizens up and detain them in safe houses at will. The missing persons' case documents the sorry tale of how constitutional guarantees against arbitrary arrest mean absolutely nothing.

Despite years of effort, the Supreme Court has not been successful in accounting for all the missing citizens. And what is more disconcerting is that even our apex court seems hesitant in addressing the larger problem of wanton disregard of constitutional rights by these agencies.

The issue of wiretapping is another manifestation of illegal intelligence-gathering. The Constitution states that the dignity and privacy of a citizen are inviolable. Yet, our intelligence agencies can arbitrarily tap into and record conversations of any citizen without authorisation. There is no law permitting the practice of wiretapping or subjecting it to any scrutiny–executive or judicial. As a consequence not only do our intelligence networks engage in illegal eavesdropping but also expend significant resources to gather information for political purposes that has no link with their job of facilitating law enforcement and strengthening national security.

For example, during the chief justice restoration case, the Musharraf regime filed information before the Supreme Court that established that even the telephones of apex judges were being wiretapped, and the court had to pass explicit instructions that the homes and offices of judges be debugged. This issue of gathering information through impermissible means isn't simply academic. On the one hand, intelligence agencies generate information that is not generally admissible as evidence in trials and thus of limited utility in conviction of offenders and strengthening of our penal justice system. And, on the other, they gather personal information related to prominent politicians and officials, largely meant for blackmail, in order to influence institutional decisions as well as the political process.

Our current intelligence infrastructure and culture not only undermines rule of law and fundamental rights but also further tilts the civil-military imbalance in favour of the khakis. Intelligence officials informally admit that their agencies might have been used to promote political ends during the Musharraf regime. But they insist that, immediately upon taking over as army chief, Gen Kiyani not only instructed that the military, the ISI and the MI were to stay away from politics and the electoral process but also communicated to all concerned in clear terms that the elections were to be free and fair. And consequently, the elections of 2008 were as fair as any we have witnessed in our recent history.

Gen Kiyani certainly did the right thing in 2008. But the fact that he had the ability to facilitate free elections underscores the reality that an army chief–through his control of the ISI and MI–has the power to influence electoral outcomes. What if the general who replaces the incumbent is more adventurous and doesn't believe that such hands-off policy is in consonance with his perception of national interest?

The point is not that the ISI and the MI are evil incarnate, but that these agencies are tools that are susceptible to abuse. Whether or not they are abused depends largely on the disposition of the army chief. And such reliance on the principled exercise of unguided personal discretion by one man is neither desirable nor sustainable.

The response to the problem of our flawed intelligence infrastructure cannot come from the executive. The ISI's being subjected to the effective control of a civilian boss, as opposed to the army chief, will not make it any more accountable or less vulnerable to abuse. It is our legislature and our judicature that must step up and perform their due roles.

Parliament must introduce a legislative framework that defines the mandate of the intelligence agencies, identifies the limits of extraordinary powers that they are vested with (such as wire-tapping), specifies the processes they must follow to ensure that such power is not abused (such as prior approval by judicial officers), facilitates cooperation between intelligence agencies and civilian law-enforcement bodies, provides a mechanism for the civilian executive to give policy input, and for parliament to seek information and provide bipartisan oversight. And until that happens, the judiciary must not shirk its obligation to firmly clamp down on the excesses of the intelligence agencies.

In this regard, the apex court must no longer dither in adjudicating the Asghar Khan case. Lt Gen Asad Durrani, a former DG ISI, has stated in writing that the ISI distributed almost Rs140 million to create the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) and influence political events and the outcome of elections in the early 1990s. This case highlights the administrative and financial autonomy enjoyed by the intelligence outfits, and their funds' abuse, to engineer democratic processes and outcomes through coercion and financial corruption. The refusal of a highly proactive and independent Supreme Court to address such a mighty scandal of misappropriation of funds, corruption, and abuse of authority strengthens the cynical view that khakis remain untouchable and rule of law is for civilian consumption only.








AT a time when feeling was gaining grounds that the dreaded possibility of clash of institutions was over, the Government seems to be running madly towards a dead end. The position adopted by the executive before the Supreme Court on Thursday over the fate of the Swiss cases has sent shock waves among masses as it has revived fears that another phase of institutional clash was at the anvil. Contrary to the clear views of the apex court on the issue, the Attorney General maintained that the matter pertaining to Swiss cases has been closed and there was no need of communication with the Swiss authorities for reopening of cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

The latest stance of the Government is reflective of its overall approach and policy towards the judiciary, which is based on total defiance and lack of respect. It adopted untenable position on the issue of restoration of the deposed judges despite clear-cut commitments made earlier during dialogue with PML (N). It violated written agreements on the subject and even tried to cause a split among judiciary by applying different formulas and options. A time came when hints were dropped that the authorities concerned were willing to restore all judges minus Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Then ideas were floated for appointment of two Chief Justices and curtailing of powers and tenure of the CJP. The Government finally did restore all judges including Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry but only when it was left with no other option in the face of long march that was knocking at the gates of the Federal Capital. The matter did not end here as once again the Government was ill-advised on the issue of appointment of judges to the superior courts and recommendations of the CJP and Chief Justices of the High Courts were thrown to dust-bin. The misunderstanding and fears of a clash were at their peak when Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who is known for humble politics, paid a surprise visit to the Chief Justice by attending his dinner, which paved the way for a meeting that ultimately resolved the contentious issues. Now once again the position adopted by the Government in the Supreme Court is that of total defiance, which is unheard of in the civilized world where rule of law reigns supreme. Previously, the Government took refuge behind the excuse that the President enjoyed immunity but the court order regarding reopening of the Swiss cases is quite clear, which amount to a sort of verdict on the immunity issue itself. Now, the Government has taken a brazen stand that the cases are a closed chapter and no communication would be written to the Swiss authorities for their reopening. There are reports that the stumbling block is the Law Minister who is also creating obstacles in the extradition of Hamesh Khan from the United States to Pakistan in the infamous Punjab Bank scam because of his own vested interest. His apparently faulty advice may land the Government into serious trouble and as a consequence the entire system could derail. Therefore, we would urge the Government not to go for extreme position on the issue and implement judgment of the Supreme Court on the NRO issue in letter and in spirit. This is because the entire nation is at the back of the apex court on the issue and wants all those involved in corruption to be tried in courts of law. This is not the question of individuals or personalities but that of sanctioning corruption and corrupt practices and across the board application of law. Corruption is eating into the very fabric of the society and it is high time that corruption cases against all are brought to a logical end. Unfortunately, there is also an impression that the Government was deliberately creating crisis after crisis so as to divert attention of the masses from the real issues. It has miserably failed to address problems of the people and ensure good governance and people are getting fed up with its performance. The Government too seems to be mindful of this reality as is reflected by the directive of the President to the Prime Minister that a committee consisting of representatives of all political parties should be formed for consensus resolution of serious issues like energy and water, perhaps to share the blame. The diversionary tactics would not work and the authorities will have to take steps to deliver on vital fronts. As for corruption cases, why the Government is shy of facing the courts if there was nothing wrong?








INTERIOR Minister Rehman Malik has once again acted in a irresponsible manner by issuing uncalled-for statements on the sensitive issue of failed terrorist act in New York. His latest statement that it was unlikely Faisal Shahzad acted alone is reflective of the fact that the Minister is unable to comprehend the sensitive nature of the incident. Mr Malik is known for churning out statements without much considerations. In the past as well, he made similar remarks including the one about presence of Taliban in Southern Punjab and the need for operation in that area as well. As investigations are going on, there is no reason to doubt statement of Faisal Shahzad, who has categorically said he acted alone. This was confirmed by spokesman Azam Tariq of Pakistani Taliban, who denied links to the New York incident.

No doubt, Americans, immediately after the incident, started talking about his Pakistani connections but their allegations are quite understandable. Pakistan has acted firmly against terrorists and militants and the successful operation was contributing towards normalcy and restoration of peace. But Americans want Pakistani forces to do more and widen the scope of their operations in line with their regional objectives. There are, therefore, apprehensions that the New York drama was enacted by American intelligence agencies to force Pakistan to do more. There are also theories that India too could have a hand in the episode as efforts are being made to establish links of Faisal Shahzad with Jaish-e-Muhammad, a group fighting Indian occupation forces in Kashmir. The objective could be to malign Kashmiris and deprive them of the international support and sympathy for their just cause. There are others who believe that the incident has been engineered to create doubts between Pakistan and the United States, which were moving swiftly towards a closer relationship in different fields. In this backdrop, one is really sorry to hear from the Interior Minister that Faisal Shahzad did not act alone. This is all the more regrettable as the statement comes from an otherwise responsible person but without any investigations or concrete evidence. Mr Malik must shun this tendency.









Last month, at the heels of the SAARC Summit, Madhuri Gupta, a second secretary in Indian High Commission in Islamabad was called by Indian foreign office to discuss certain matters, and was arrested on charges of spying for Pakistan's spy agency ISI. She was accused of having visited the Sunderbani border area in Jammu and Kashmir and stayed with a doctor couple for two days on March 28 and 29 this year. One fails to understand that when Indian spy agency had the information one month ago, why it was kept as secret only to be released at the time of SAARC Summit. Though, Indian media had published reports of Madhuri Gupta's 'relations' with a Pakistani, Indian officials said they did not have exact information on the kind of relationship the diplomat had with the doctor couple. Meanwhile, she was remanded to police custody for questioning her in regard to passing sensitive information to Pakistan. However, there were contradictions in Indian government's statements.

On April 29, the government in statement said that the Indian woman diplomat arrested on charge of spying for Pakistan did not have access to highly classified material, and investigations in the matter are continuing. If she did not have any classified information then what information she could have passed on to Pakistan. In a section of the press, she was said to be working for the RAW, and even station commander of the RAW was suspected to be involved in this affair. There is a perception that the RAW has many weaklings, dubious characters and double-agents who can change their loyalties for pecuniary gains? There have been quite a few cases whereby RAW's officials have shown similar tendencies. Anyhow, it is just an allegation that Madhuri Gupta helped Pakistan's spy agency, whereas it could be the result of a row between RAW and IB which is not unusual, and now they might sit and get their favourites of the hook or released in exchange.

The problem is that India is hell-bent on exploiting each and every occasion to discredit Pakistan. Take the case of Mumbai terrorist attack, which has been used to further its anti-Pakistan designs instead of unearthing the facts and looking inward also with a view to averting such horrendous acts in future. There were too many holes in Indian version and the most striking was their silence about the local connection because no matter how sophistically the strike was planned, it could never have been carried out without local support. To cover its own security lapses and failures, India accused Pakistan of almost every act of terrorism in India. Meanwhile, Ajmal Kasab has been awarded death sentence and life imprisonment simultaneously, and India would again start talking about Hafiz Saeed who they consider mastermind of Mumbai attacks. Pakistan's court, however, had exonerated Hafiz Saeed because there was no evidence against him.

India should respect the decisions of Pakistani courts. If Indian court could award death sentence to one and release four other for lack of evidence, by the same token Pakistani court could also set Hafiz Saeed free. Despite the rhetoric of having good relations with Pakistan, India is keeping the focus entirely spotted on Pakistan to demonise it as a state, denigrate its agencies and its military, to project it as a state sponsoring terrorism globally and to isolate it internationally. But this path is fraught with dangers because the escalation of tensions and then war between the two nuclear states could be disastrous. It is therefore in the best interest of both India and Pakistan to resolve all outstanding issues and resume composite dialogue process, when it has been established that Pakistan as a state is not involved in Mumbai blasts. If Indian leadership does not stop inhuman treatment to its minorities then there would be reaction from the insurgents.

In an article carried in Indian press and NDTV website under the caption 'Mata Hari to Madhuri Gupta: The league of women spies' on April 27, 2010 wrote: "Madhuri Gupta may not be in the league of famous women spies Mata Hari and Virginia Hall, but the allegations that she was passing on sensitive information to ISI agents is a rude shock to the Indian establishment. India's external Intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), like any other snooping organisation of the world, has a history of agents who had switched their loyalties towards countries where they were working". Anyhow, the comparison of Madhuri Gupta with Mata Hari and Virgina Hall was irrelevant because they both gained 'prominence' during the World War I and World War II respectively, whereas allegations against Madhuri Gupta pale before the charges against the two.

In another report in 'Insider' website captioned 'Is Madhuri Gupta Christina Palmer', the author quoted comment of India Today: "The scurrilous report claimed the 178-strong first women contingent of the Border Security Force (BSF) had been inducted to meet the "natural needs" of male soldiers posted away from their families in Jammu and Kashmir (...) They even declared the BSF had borrowed the idea from Russians." This has brought ignominy to Indian army. Some of Christina Palmer's prominent work includes a report titled 'The most vulnerable naked nukes of India', which proved that India's most important nuclear installations are located in parts of the country where separatist insurgencies are the strongest. India had joined the chorus with the West that Pakistani nukes could land into the hands of terrorists. But this report has knocked the bottom out of Indian pretense establishing conclusively that Indian nukes are not safe.

The author had also referred to her 31st December 2009 report, titled 'Corruption scams generate acute row amongst Indian army top brass'. This was the first report published anywhere to reveal the internal power struggle within the Indian Army, which was confirmed a few weeks later when the Indian army chief had to leave office mired in scandal and replaced by a general whose power ambitions were first discussed in Ms Palmer's Daily Mail report. If Ms Gupta was writing under pseudo name of Christina Palmer, how she could get all the information about India's intelligence about China, Sri Lanka and other countries of the region. The only clue the author could find was that since the arrest of Ms Gupta, Daily Mail has not carried any story to upset the Indian government and its agencies. But that did not prove or disprove whether Madhuri Gupta and Christina Palmer were one and the same.

The report also had interesting part that revealed how Pakistani 'leading lights' in media and intellectuals are vying to curry favour with Indians for free trips to India with delegations of SAFMA or Amn ki Asha. The report stated: "At one point last year someone leaked to the Pakistani media a list of names of frequent Pakistani visitors to the Indian High Commission – including human rights activists, retired generals, former ambassadors and journalists – with some insight into what some of them have told their Indian hosts. No major Pakistani newspaper published the story but details of what these Pakistanis have said to their Indian hosts are scandalous, according to those who are familiar with the leak". He then raised the question: was Ms Gupta behind all this. The author only referred to his talk with Makhdoom Babaer Sultan, edit











The UN report on the late Benazir Bhutto's assassination has opened up a Pandora's Box once again. Some of the electronic media, in a bid to win the ratings race, have surpassed ethical limits and present the case the way they want it to fit. One of the reasons for this is the changing statements the near and dear ones of the late BB have given. Two people top the list; Asif Ali Zardari and Rehman Malik. Without going into the logic of their interests, I want to focus on three points; first, the cause of death; second, the target in the eyes of the West; and third, the Faith as a common link between the accused.

Regarding the cause of death; after listening to various eye witness accounts and watching TV footage, one thing is clear - she didn't die of the bomb blast. At the time of the blast she was in the vehicle with six others who all survived. We know that she died from a head injury she sustained. What caused the head injury is the intriguing question. Was it a blunt trauma or a bullet wound? The only credible evidence we have is the x-rays of the skull. Medically speaking, there are three types of skull fractures; linear; depressed; and compound.

Linear or hairline is a break in the skull bone resembling a thin line. There is no splintering, depression, or distortion of the bone. Depressed is a break in the bone where a portion of the skull is crushed causing its depression in towards the brain. Compound is a break in or loss of skin and splintering of the bone. Such fracture is always associated with external bleeding and the brain tissue may be seen oozing out. Looking at the X-ray; type one is eliminated straight away. We find that the upper wing of the fracture has gone into the brain making it a depressed fracture. A depressed fracture is caused by a blunt trauma. Some consider the metal lever of sunroof to be the cause when BB was pushed against it by the blast. But, if one looks closely at the upper part of the depressed wing of the bone, multiple tiny fragments appear on the x-ray indicating it is not a simple depressed fracture. The splintering of the bone suggests that the bone trauma could have other causes also such as a bullet. This leaves us with the strong possibility that the fracture is the third type or better still a combination of the two. So either she was hit by a bullet tangentially and/or its waves made her stunned and pushed her hard against the metal lever causing a fracture of the third type. According to the eye witnesses (one of them is the illustrious Dr Babar Awan), they saw BB's Dopata and hair flying upwards before she fell into the car. This could only be possible if she was either hit by a bullet or/and knocked by the strong waves around flying bullets. As there were no forensic medical personnel in the team and a post mortem was not held, we are left with speculations. Because strong acoustic waves played an important role in pushing BB against the lever; let us focus on the waves and their effects.

A wave is defined as the transfer of energy from one point to another. They are caused by phonons which are quantized sound waves and carry thermal energy. There are two large categories of waves: mechanical and non-mechanical. The former requires a medium for its transfer, such as water waves seen in a tsunami. The latter do not require a medium for transfer of energy and can travel through the vacuum of space. Within these two large categories, there are four principle types of waves. Transverse waves in which the particles vibrate at right angles to the direction of the wave's velocity as waves along a string. Longitudinal waves in which, the particles vibrate parallel to the direction of the wave's velocity as in sound waves. Elliptical waves which result when longitudinal and transverse behaviours are super positioned together as surface water waves. Torsional waves which twist about a central axis as waves in bridges. In the present case, we are talking of longitudinal waves known also as acoustic waves. It is known that acoustic waves can stun people. If BB was not hit by the bullet, it was powerful waves which not only stunned BB but also pushed her against the lever. But this does not explain the shattered pieces seen separately at the top end of the depressed bone. The only reason one could give is that possibly, the bullet brushed her skull taking skin along with it, leaving the bone shattered. Its waves stunned and then pushed her making her head hit the lever causing a depressed fracture.

Now, regarding the West and its friends within Pakistan; it is said that after seeing the public mood following the second modified martial law on November 2, 2007, BB made a U-turn on her commitments. That worried the power brokers. An interesting commonality can be seen between the press conference of Brig Cheema of interior ministry within 24 hours and a press briefing of CIA chief within 48 hours. Both blamed Baitullah Masood for the attack. They based their findings on an audio tape in which Baitullah Masood was heard congratulating his terrorist friend. Then, a few weeks later, the British Scotland Yard came up with identical findings. And two and a half years down the line, on the insistence of Asif Ali Zardari, the UN team revealed a report speaking in similar language. If BB was targeted by the terrorists because they hated her stand on certain core issues; or was eliminated by other interest groups because she rebelled against her commitments, then who is the target in the present UN Report? Is it Musharaf? Yes and no. Is it Zardari? Definitely, no.

Who else? This report, unambiguously, blames the agencies and, in between the lines, the Pak army. Let us not forget that the West has been after our nuclear assets. They know that they can manipulate or even buy a few corrupt politicians but they cannot play with the army and its binding force the ISI. Is the report trying to kill two birds with one stone?

Lastly, coming to the third point; there is a group of people belonging to certain Faith, which would like to see Pakistan denuclearised for their own reasons; some ethical, some emotional, some monitory and some religious. History tells us that bond pertaining to Faith is stronger than any other bond. In the mind of some, it is stronger than having loyalty to one's country. We have seen this phenomenon in a few committed American Jews who opted for Israeli interests. Similarly, a few British Muslims worked against their country's interests.

The media accused Saud Aziz of being constantly in touch with someone before and after hosing the crime site. People have been pointing fingers at Major General Nadeem Ejaz who was not only the chief of an important military establishment but also a close relative of Musharaf. Besides, he is known for his unscrupulous and brutal practices. But, is it possible that Saud Aziz was not getting instructions from him but from someone else who was equally close to Musharaf and shared something stronger with him. It is said that Tariq Aziz and Saud Aziz both follow the same Faith. Could this bond be relevant? And isn't it interesting to note that both share their Faith with Rehman Malik; another dicey character in the attack. What an interesting equation; Tariq Aziz of Musharaf group on one side, Rehman Malik of PPP on the other and Saud Aziz in the middle. No wonder, the backup Mercedes disappeared into thin air, leaving a great leader bleeding to death. As far as AAZ's position is concerned, we all know his weaknesses and leanings but his mysterious link with Rehman Malik is brows raiser which cannot be discarded.











Interaction with visiting students of Kabul and Heart universities was indeed a soul warming event. Over forty representatives of a generation which has seen nothing but war in their unfortunate country were beaming confidence and radiating determination. They appeared as true flag bearers of glorious traditions set by their elders of not letting any foreign power set their foothold in their country. These inheritors of the legacy of valiant Afghan icons were all set to replicate their fore-fathers' performance yet once again. While usurpers have the watches, these youngsters surely have time on their side.


Though they were keen to know as to how the unfortunate saga could be quickly brought to end, they were neither worried nor subdued by anxiety or fear. Student of QAU welcomed their brothers from Afghanistan with astounding enthusiasm. The delight, joy and jubilation indicated that the new generation certainly has its plans to strengthen the bond between their countries.

This wonderful opportunity was provided by Department of Defence & Strategic Studies (DSS), Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad, in collaboration with Konard- Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), Pakistan. Two days 'Bilateral Conference on Prospects and Challenges in Afghanistan-Pakistan Relations.' was a superbly structured and splendidly managed event, down to infinitesimal details. It brought together a galaxy of academics, diplomats, Ex- military men and strategists from the two countries for a brainstorming exercise to find ways and means to bolster the bilateral relations between these brotherly, yet estranged countries. The older generation participants, by and large, remained fixated to respective national standpoints, the younger ones floated fascinating idea balloons and were open to new options. Afghan delegation was lead by Professor Dr Abdul Rahman Ashraf, Presidential Advisor in the rank of a federal minister to the President of Afghanistan. This elderly educationist had the vision of a statesman; one could feel the genuine underlying pain he has for the unfortunate circumstances through which these two brotherly counties are passing through. This was so evident in the urgency he had for finding solutions to various problems. His prudence was best at work while bridging the intellectual gaps amongst diverse opinions.

German Ambassador to Pakistan HE Dr Michael Koch inaugurated the event. His thought provoking remarks indicated the deep concern that Germany has towards stabilizing this region in general and strengthening of Pak-Afghan relations in particular. Dr Babak Khalatbari, Regional Director KAS and Dr Rifaat Hussain Chairman DSS were indeed the moving spirits behind this amazing intellectual gala. Dr Azmat Hayat Khan, Vice Chancellor, University of Peshawar was indeed a living encyclopaedia on Pak-Afghan relations; he effectively represented Pakistan's point of view on various issues of interest.Conference came out with a number of practicable recommendations. Improving of people to people relationship as a back up to inter-government level bad patches emerged as a unanimous conclusion. The urgency to ease out procedural restrictions on transit of Afghan perishable items like fruits to India certainly merits attention by the government of Pakistan. Good news for the power sector of Pakistan was that CASA 1000 project aimed at bringing 1000 MW electricity from Central Asia to South Asia, via Afghanistan, is moving on a fast track, which would hopefully bring some relief in 3-5 years timeframe.

There was a consensus that the comity of nations has an obligation to rebuild and re-capacitate Afghanistan for assuming the functions of an independently sustainable state. Challenges are gigantic, warranting sustained committal of huge resources. Key to successful transition management lies in steadfastness, perseverance and strategic patience. First envisaged challenge was correction of ethnic imbalance in important institutions of Afghanistan. Over a period of time some ethnic minorities have acquired disproportionately high representation in the security forces and other decision making institutions of Afghanistan. This has created a sense of dissatisfaction amongst the Pushtun majority. This simmering disgruntlement was perceived as a potential flash point needing correction. It was suggested to a fix quota in public sector employment for all ethnic groups on the basis of their share in the national demographic composition.

Economy emerged as another aspect needing attention. Some of equity generating sources would dry out on departure of foreign forces. Hence, an international fund needs to be raised to ensure Afghanistan's economic continuity and viability. It was felt that an early setting up of ROZs is essential for economic revival and creation of adequate job opportunities. It was opined that effective control of free floating extremists in the region requires credible biometric and registration systems. In this context, countries adjoining Afghanistan also need to share this responsibility. Infrastructure building would be yet another mammoth task, warranting multi-national participation. Here Pakistan was seen as a source bank of blue and white collar human resource.

In the national security context some very pertinent suggestions came forth. It was felt that Afghanistan does not face an existential threat to its territorial integrity from outside or from within. Hence the structure of its future armed forces should be COIN focused. It would be worthwhile to formalize the neutral status of Afghanistan, say for 25 years, underwritten by UNSC. Stationing a UN peace keeping contingent for an interim period of 5 years also fascinated the participants. It was envisaged that this way, Afghanistan could focus towards economic revival and internal stability. In political domain, participative political process encompassing at least all significant segments of Afghan society emerged as consensus point. Format of intra-Afghan dialogue was proposed to be a multi-dimensional one, taking place at various tiers. Once intra-Afghan negotiations attain a fair degree of maturity, the process could then graduate to a higher plane and mesh into Pak-Afghan Jirga.

It was thought that a comprehensive de-radicalisation process must begin immediately in both the countries and continue with utmost vigour to prevent a relapse. There is a need to set up a purpose oriented education system in Afghanistan as well as in tribal and rural areas of Pakistan, whereby each student should master at least one job related skill, besides studying typical curricula. Hopes were pinned on organisations like UN and OIC etc to underwrite such capital intensive initiatives. Some very good proposals surfaced whereby Pakistan could make significant contribution towards rebuilding Afghanistan in various domains like infrastructure and human resource development, as well as institutional capacity and capability enhancement. It was felt that if the equity requirement of mega development projects are irrevocably underwritten by the comity of nations, talented human resource from Pakistan could transform Afghanistan within a period of 5-7 years, as it did in the case of various Middle East countries in the seventies and eighties. There was unanimity of thought that despite gigantic challenges, these could very well become defining moments for Afghanistan. It was vehemently articulated that th








Although Sino-Indian differences have always existed due to Indian presumption that peace-loving China is its adversary, yet the same has been intensified by the Indian new Army Chief General VK Singh who after taking over the charge on March 30 this year said in his first strategic statement, "Indian Army is well prepared to face any threat from China." Before him, on December 29, 2009, Indian former Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor openly revealed that Indian Army "is now revising its five-year-old doctrine" and is preparing for a "possible two-front war with China and Pakistan."

While India is no match to China in conventional and nuclear weapons, but the statements of its two army chiefs clearly shows that Indian rulers are ready to go even to the extent of war against Beijing. That is why India's war-mongering policy continues against China. Notably, in May 1998, when India detonated five nuclear tests, the then Defense Minister George Fernandes had declared publicly that "China is India's potential threat No. 1."India which successfully tested missile, Agni-111 in May 2007, has been extending its range to target all the big cities of China.

As regards Indian new military build up against China, on May 31 last year, after 43 years, New Delhi re-opened its Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) airbase in northern Ladakh, which overlooks the strategic Karakoram Pass and is only 8 km south of the Chinese border-Aksai Chin area. On April 20, 2008, The Times of India had written, "By having a full-fledged airstrip at DBO, India will be able to rush in troops and supplies to the region during emergencies." The paper quoted Western Air Command chief Air Marshal P K Barbora saying: "Yes, we have also plans to land our AN-32 transport aircraft at DBO. It is part of the Indian Air Force to improve air maintenance of the far-flung posts in the region".

India has also erected more than 10 new helipads and roads between the Sino-Indian border. In this connection, Defence Ministry planners are working on building additional airfields and increasing troops—raising two new mountain divisions to be deployed along the 4,057-kilometer Line of Actual Control (LAC). New Delhi has also announced to develop immediately 1,100 kms of strategic roads on the Indo-Tibetan border.

With the help of Israel and America, on 26 February 2008, India conducted its first test of a nuclear-capable missile from an under sea platform after completing its project in connection with air, land and sea ballistic systems. On May 10, 2009, Indian Navy Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta revealed that New Delhi "will soon float tenders to acquire six submarines". Mehta also accused Beijing and explained that the "Indian Navy would keep a close watch on the movements of Chinese submarines which are operating out of an underground base in the South China Sea" and "wish to enter the Indian Ocean".

However, under the pretension of Chinese threat, Washington, New Delhi and Israel are plotting to block the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean for their joint strategic goals. Besides, New Delhi has itself been planning to destablise, and even to disintegrate China. In this regard, on March 10, 2008 when anti-government violent protests by Buddhist monks erupted in Tibet's capital, Lhasa including nearby provinces, India, backed the same, though outwardly denied. Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet who has lived in exile in India along with his 120,000 followers since a failed revolt against Chinese rule in 1959 has been tacitly encouraged by New Delhi—enabling him to mobilize armed groups and international support to create instability in the neighboring provinces of China. For this purpose, India has clandestinely established secret camps where Dalai Lama's militants are being imparted armed training. In this respect, Indian RAW has sent a number of agents who have joined the ranks and files of the Tibetan insurgents of China, and they create unrest from time to time.

India shows that despite Sino-Indian border dispute, she does not favour an independence of Tibet. But Indian stand is indirectly expressed by its leaders and media. For example, the former foreign minister Yashwant Sinha had said, "We want good relations with China, but if we reach a point of conflict over Tibet, we should be repared for that eventuality."

The state-run China Daily, on July 27, 2006, denounced the Lama as a "splittist" and pointed out that he has "collaborated with the Indian military and American CIA to organise Indian Tibetan special border troops to fight their way back into Tibet."

It is notable that in order to conceal its covert activities, India has always blamed China for backing Maoist uprising. In this context, instead of addressing the root causes of the Maoist uprising, Indian government has recently intensified its blame game against China, alleging for supplying arms to these insurgents. In fact, Maoist movement which has been raging in West Bengal, has now expanded to Indian other regions including Maharashtra. At present, it is a popular insurgency by the downtrodden who have massive support of people for their ideology.

In this context, on October 31 last year, The New York Times wrote, "India's Maoist rebels are now present in 20 states and have killed more than 900 Indian security officers…India's rapid economic growth has made it an emerging global power but also deepened stark inequalities in society." Nevertheless, instead of paying attention on these ground realties, New Delhi has started a hot pursuit policy towards Beijing.

America which signed a nuclear deal with India in 2008, intends to make India a mini-super power of Asia by containing China and destablising Pakistan as well as Iran. Pakistan's province, Balochistan where China has invested billion of dollars to develop Gwadar seaport irritates both Washington and New Delhi.

However, Beijing and Islamabad cannot neglect their common defence when their adversaries are following a covert strategy. In this connection, Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari had decided to visit China after every three months to further cement ties between both the old friends. Both the countries have signed a number of agreements to enhance bilateral cooperation in diverse sectors. So Sino-Indian rift is also part of the greater cold war between the US and China. Besides, Indian reservations regarding China's infrastructural projects in Azad Kashmir are unjustified and discriminative. India which has openly signed a number of mutual agreements with China, calling the latter a strategic partner, has been playing a double game with Beijing by acting upon the war-mongering policy against China.









Things are calm in Tel Aviv. Menace is beyond the horizon. Nobody thinks twice about boarding a bus, hanging out. It was pleasant to sit and people watch, see the smiles and bear hugs. New York's West Village of a balmy Sunday. In walked a stocky guy in jeans and an open-neck shirt, olive-green eyes, a ready smile and a mop of dark hair flecked with gray. He was Col. Avi Gil of the Israel Defense Forces, and here's what he told me: "When I was in the Special Forces a few years back, I could not tell my wife everything and one day I was in Nablus and there was an incident.

I was a company commander and the operation went on from 5:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. and the soldier just to the left of me was injured and also another soldier beside me. Later in the day I went to see them in hospital in Petah Tikva and then I came home to Tel Aviv to get civilian clothes for my cousin's wedding and I'd almost died that day and I said nothing. I don't know what's better, Afghanistan for seven months or living like that. When you live in your homeland and that homeland is small, that is the situation."

Gil smiled. Life in Israel is many-layered, tranquility and anxiety always tussling for the upper hand, like argumentative siblings. What, I thought, was that Orwell line about sleeping safe at night because rough men stand ready? I couldn't summon it and, besides, Gil wanted to show me something. The yellow pages, yes, the yellow pages from the West Bank town of Kalkilya were in his hand, and he found them interesting because, in recent years, they had tripled in thickness, an indication of the expansion of business and decline in violence. After his Special Forces stint, Gil had gone on a two-year assignment to Washington (liaising with the U.S. Marine Corps), and had only returned to the West Bank in November 2009 as a senior officer. He'd found the transformation, as measured on his yellow-pages gauge, striking.

"It's in our interest to maintain the peaceful trend in the West Bank and I'm willing to take some chances," Gil said. "It's fragile, but the fact is nobody wants to fight." What sort of chances? Well, Gil meets regularly with his Palestinian Authority counterparts — "Today, I trust them," he said, underscoring the "today" — and he provides intelligence on militants. He's ceding ground. In December he went into Tulkarm 19 times, but only twice last month. Roadblocks are coming down — to 14 from 42. Gil admires the state-building of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, although he thinks Fayyad is "walking on the edge" because his pledge of nonviolence has not stopped stone-throwing and Molotov cocktails.

"When I go into Kalkilya," Gil told me, "I've stopped using body armor, but I do take my rifle." That, I think, is not a bad image of Israel today, prepared to relax slightly but mistrustful; feeling burned and misunderstood; seeing the outside world as hostile (including President Barack Obama); unconvinced of the possibility of peace but not prepared to dismiss it entirely; wanting at some level to think Fayyad can forge a reliable Palestine but also persuaded that Arabs are still bent on its destruction; led by a right-religious-Russian-settler coalition that reflects lasting rightward shifts in its society; enjoying the quiet but disturbed by what's over the horizon, not least Iran. An Israel that's shed its body armor for now but still carries a rifle. This is not an Israel that is ready to hurry to peace, not an Israel on Obama's timetable, or the Quartet's, or Fayyad's.

"Let's walk slowly to arrive as fast as we can," Gil said. That's about the Israeli mood. So tensions will flare anew as the world pushes for Palestinian statehood by the end of 2011 or early 2012, and Israel applies the brakes. Psychological barriers to peace remain huge. On the road into the West Bank capital of Ramallah, now as relaxed as Tel Aviv, a big sign says: "No entry for Israelis. Entry forbidden by Israeli law." That's a reflection of the violent world Gil knew a few years back, not of his yellow pages.

In one of his poems, Mahmoud Darwish, the late Palestinian poet, wrote, "Me or him/ That's how war starts. But it ends in an awkward silence/ Me and him." We are still waiting for the Holy Land's "me" and "him" to see each other in the mirror. What next, I asked Gil. "I have to be ready for three things: Maintain the current posture, leave, or go in." Which would he prefer? By way of answer, he looked to the blue sky, the kids playing and the whole cool scene. —The New York Times







Owners and workers of petrol pumps and tank-lorries seem determined to go on an indefinite strike from May 9 unless their 13-point demands are met by today. Their enforcement of a half-day strike earlier on March 14 at the petrol pumps and depots  across the country is indicative that this time they are bent on carrying out their threat. A half-day strike is one thing and an indefinite one is a completely different matter so far as the impact of the latter on the economy is concerned. If their claim of having sent 16 letters to the authorities in the past 13 months is not exaggerated, the authorities should have given a patient hearing to their grievances much earlier. In short, the issues raised by them should have been placed on the negotiating table for an amicable solution.
Now the bone of contention seems to be the percentage of commission they get on the sale of petroleum. Currently they get two per cent commission which they claim is too low to leave them any profit. So they demand that it be raised to seven per cent. Understandably, there is room for manoeuvre in any negotiation and the authorities do not necessarily have to concede to their demand. What is desirable is that the rate should be reasonable. It would be better if this is made comparable with the percentages of commission in the neighbouring countries.  Another of their demands concerns the setting up of testing laboratories at depots. This was a government decision that is yet to be implemented. The merit of yet another demand concerning the issuance of arms licenses may be debatable but given the increasing incidents of robbery and looting of cash from pump counters, at least arrangement of security is a must. As for raising the fare of tank-lorries and stopping harassment by the police on highways, the sooner an agreement is reached the better.







The sweeping scale of vulnerability to disasters indicates clearly the need for systemic changes in policy by governments. Education is badly needed to overcome the tendency to accept high disaster tolls as a matter of destiny. Now that the government is proposing to sign an agreement on regional integrated multi-hazard early warning system (RIMES) to get an early warning system on tsunami, earthquake and cyclone from regional countries, we can expect greater accountability, not only for our country, but also for other countries in the region.

To this end a regional meeting of the member countries of RIMES will be held in Korea from May 16 with a view to facilitating the establishment and maintenance of core regional observation and monitoring networks and ensuring availability of data for early warning purposes. During the meeting, the Bangladeshi delegation is likely to sign an agreement on the system. The RIMES cooperation is to enhance capacities of national systems to respond to early warning information of different lead-time at national, sub-national, local and at-risk community levels within each national early warning framework. RIMES cooperation would also provide portfolio of options for member states to avail themselves of any specific objective or objectives.
One may be tempted to ask why RIMES? That is easily explained because, despite the good points, in reality the whole operation of disaster management in Bangladesh is highly centralised and in case of emergencies local committees become dysfunctional. One reason is that local government institutions completely depend on the decision and resources of the central disaster management authority. Our people, accustomed as they are to disaster, can draw on past experience to see them through a disaster but, both Chittagong and Dhaka have only limited capacity to survive a quake disaster of any magnitude. Thus a regional arrangement for disaster management like RIMES does have significant advantages.











Whatever the despair of the night before, there's always hope in a new day isn't it? There's something about sunshine that brings you hope that today will turn out a lot better than how yesterday was.      

First a deathly stillness as the whole world waits with baited breath for that first bit of early dawn, then a lone impatient crow cries out, "Come on sunshine, we can't go on waiting for you!" It's voice rough and harsh like an overgrown schoolboy who's joined the school choir and is a misfit. But the other birds sleepily respond; a mother sparrow chirping to wake her little ones, "Wake up, wake up, let's be the early birds that catch the worms!" and the little sparrows reply, "Come on mom, go back to sleep!"

But suddenly every tree bursts into sound even as the first sunray touches the branches they perch on.
And then the other earthly sounds: A milkman's cycle hitting a bump and his cans jostling with each other giving out the promise of fresh milk. Then almost silent footsteps of men closing their doors and leaving for the early morning shift and then the slightly noisier footsteps of those returning from their graveyard shift, ready to hit bed and sleep the day through.

The watchman down below stretching out his arms and slowly waking up from his duty, knowing nobody has caught him sleeping, he kicks a stone lazily at a stray cat that meows in rage and wakes up the whole neighbourhood, even as the sun sends another ray and another and another.

Ah the welcome sun, rolling out like a ball of fire from the sea or hills or just from the periphery of the earth. "I've come, I've come again, a new day for you!"

Yes it's a new day!

Listen to the birds, the parrots, the pigeons greeting each other as if they have been away far longer than just a few hours, "It's a new day!"

"Yes it's a new day!"

Whatever the despair of the night before, there's always hope in a new day isn't it? There's something about sunshine that brings you hope that today will turn out a lot better than yesterday.

So take the day my friends, make it what you want it to be, turn it around and let it be a better day than you had yesterday. "It's a new day!" shout the birds.

"I'll make it my day!" I shout back, "A day which will not be one of despair, but one of hope and joy!"

"You can make the day what you want it to be!" shout the birds outside.

Yes dear reader you can make today what you want today to be. Greet the sunshine and the new day with this lovely thought..!








The annual report of Bangladesh Bank (BB) is an impressive document and contains pertinent information on the economy and the financial sector. As a financial analyst I looked into the income statement and balance sheet of the bank. I am taking some of the information from the report to make a few comments on the financial performance and corporate social responsibility of BB. First is the fact that there was drastic reduction in the income of the bank in 2009 compared with 2008.  It may be seen that income from foreign currency assets decreased by 60.1 per cent in 2009, whereas income from local currency assets increased by 6.7 per cent, resulting in a net decrease of 21.9 per cent.

Financial costs (interest expense) decreased by 47.3 per cent. One can raise a question about this wide discrepancy in interest income earned locally and the interest expense incurred in the year 2009. That is, BB did not lower its charges on local currency lending to banks proportionate to the decrease in interest expense while it had been urging member banks to charge lower rates to its borrowers.

It is true BB's loans to banks increased by about Tk.4 bn in 2009 over 2008. However, deposit from banks with BB increased by Tk. 113 bn in 2009 over 2008. That is, it paid much lower rate of interest on the huge deposits from banks.  Hence financial costs were lowered by 47.3 per cent. Had BB charged lower interest on its lending to banks its income from local currency assets would have been much lower as it has happened with its financial costs.

As a result BB's operating profit would have been lower by a greater percentage. Given the huge increase in foreign exchange revaluation loss the net loss in 2009 would have been much higher. The report mentioned that "revaluation loss arose due to movement of Taka against major currencies". It is not understood as Taka depreciated slightly against dollar during the year and that should not have caused such a huge amount of revaluation loss in 2009. Can a question be raised about the failure in management of foreign currency assets by BB in 2009? More important is the payment of dividend (surplus) to the GoB amounting to Tk.17.3 bn out of the operating profit when the net profit was minus Tk.5.67 bn in 2009 and net profit fell by 110.9 per cent compared with net profit earned in 2008. Normally such dividend payments should be made out of net profit. Overall equity of the bank decreased by Tk.9.5 bn which was due to its payment to the GoB and that made the BB weaker. It may be mentioned that the nation was run by a military-backed caretaker government and they had no difficulty in raising revenue from the public.

In fact, some agency of the government deposited Tk. 12.0 bn from some businessmen forcibly on some pretext or other. That money is still lying with BB in 2010. Why BB paid such a huge amount when it could do many things with the fund as mentioned below?  Interestingly administrative cost of the bank remained unchanged in 2009 and the report mentioned that 1932 positions of officers and staff remained vacant during the year and overall number of employees decreased from 4031 to 4020.

This is a matter that needs to be explained further. In a situation when the bank was expanding its functions in many new areas it should have added new manpower and train them to assume new functions such as checking money laundering, encouraging internet and mobile banking and faster CIB operation.

Also when educated unemployment is so high in the country BB could have recruited about 1000 new staff out of the unemployed youths and reduce the pains of 1000 families. Needless to mention their earnings would have contributed to increase GDP of the country.  The SME and agri sector needed lot more special credits that BB could help. The caretaker government terrorised investors and investment fell drastically during that period. BB could have done some thing special to increase investment instead of playing the same tune with the caretaker government. It could have granted additional support to the RMG sector that was facing fall in sales due to recession in the USA, the biggest market.

It is all a matter of attitude and vision of top management of a large organisation such as BB that can contribute directly and indirectly to the development of the nation. That is why it is essential that BB should be more independent as a central bank and pursue policies for the long run good of the economy. Making huge amount of profit from captive customers can not be a priority of the central bank of a country.


(The writer is Vice Chancellor, Northern University Bangladesh.) 








Greece is submerged in a debt of around 413 Billion Dollars. Years of spending beyond its means sank the Mediterranean country in such an overwhelming crisis. With increasingly expensive repayments and a persistently downgraded credit rating lowered to junk status; a risk level that may now put off many groups to stop investing in the country's bonds.

Greece is unable to repay its huge loans and there are now fears that its debt crisis will spread to other EU nations as a spill-over effect. The austerity measures adopted by the Government, a combination of severe cuts to public expenditure and increases in taxes, has angered the middle to low income group and met widespread public opposition. Latest outburst is burning of a bank in Athens and death of a number persons in subsequent police action.

Greece's debt rose to more than 13 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009; cheap lending and failure to implement financial reforms left Greece badly exposed when the global economic downturn struck. This lifted away a curtain of partly over publicised statistics to reveal debt levels and deficits that exceeded limits set by the eurozone.

Annual Budget deficit to the tune of billions of dollars occurred owing to over spending in a number of areas like benefit programmes, the public sector and government committees, as well as loss making utilities, such as Olympic Airways, the national flag carrier.

The Greek government was generous enough to allow civil servants to retire in their 40s and permitted their unmarried or divorced daughters to collect their pension after they had died, the latter at a cost of about $70
million annually by some estimates.

Greece  spent six per cent of GDP on defence in 2009 on the view of continuous bitter relations with Turkey, which is significantly more than most other EU member country's defence spending.

About 80 per cent of the budget is spent on administrative and staff payments. The costs of paying off this debt have spiralled since October 2009, when Greece revealed that its budget deficit was double the previous estimates. As credit rating downgrades, meaning that the  investors do not want to buy the government's bonds, making it harder for Greece to gain the finance needed to pay back debt and shore up the economy.
Measures taken by the Greek Government and EU have not yet reassured the investors to restore confidence in the country's finances. With a downgraded credit rating, Greece cannot secure the money it needs from the open market to pay its debt and thus has to go to the EU and IMF for bailout money.

Despite widespread public anger and opposition, Greece has undertaken a number of austerity measures to embark upon with its debt. In compliance with the measures, the civil servants' will not enjoy bonuses, those were given for speaking a foreign language and for festivals - to the tune of 12 and 30 per cent, saving about $2.25bn. Early retirement will be prohibited and retirement age will be raised.

Frozen state pension will save $600m. VAT to be raised to 21 per cent from the current rate of 19 per cent, raising $1.7bn and is to introduce a two per cent supplemental gas tax to bring in $600m. A one-off corporate tax will raise $1.3bn and a two per cent supplemental cigarette tax will create an extra $400m. There will also be a one-off tax on holiday homes and oversized properties, while the commercial activities of churches will also be taxed.

In order to limit losses, the government has said that it will merge some state firms and sell stakes in others. Defence spending is to be scaled back, with arms purchases limited to 0.7 per cent of GDP in 2010.
Despite the measures taken by the Government to trim down expenditure, economists and policy makers are not unanimous, as they have always been, about the appropriate austerity measures required to alleviate the crisis. Some are in favour of bailing out Greece in order to avoid the contagion and others have a different view of Greece living with the debt as Argentina did in the beginning of this century. The latter group believe the bailout will only provide Greece with a breathing space for one or two years and suggests growing the economy from within.

Unless eurozone countries acted swiftly to shore up the Greek economy and alleviate investor fears, problems could spread to other much bigger economies causing an "undesirable domino effect", two leading economists who favour the "bailout" have said. Eurozone countries have to chip in and sustain the Greek economy "whatever the sacrifice", veteran economist Karm Farrugia said.

"Although the Greeks have to undertake painful reforms it is in the long-term interest of all eurozone countries to see Greece does not fail," he said, insisting the bailout was necessary to maintain investor confidence in the euro.

Greece has a rather small economy when compared to the whole of the eurozone and it should not be allowed to drag down the rest of the countries with it, he maintained.

The euro dropped to a new one-year low on Wednesday after rating agency Standard & Poor's slashed Spain's credit status amid fears that problems in Greece would create a contagion effect.

Economist Joe Vella Bonnici said the situation hinged on the financial support Germany was ready to make available. As Europe's largest economy, Germany plays a crucial role in any rescue deal but Chancellor Angela Merkel has yet to convince an unsympathetic electorate opposed to a Greek bailout. "The Greek problem risks creating a domino effect on other eurozone economies and if taken to its extreme it could even lead to the collapse of the euro altogether. In 2008, the financial crisis started in the sub-mortgage market but eventually led to a global recession," Mr Vella Bonnici said.

The problem was complex, he added, and Germany had to keep a balance between bailing out Greece to avoid more problems and not being seen to support dishonest governments. The Greek economy ran to ground after years of fiscal mismanagement and government meddling with official figures that went unnoticed by the European Commission.

"It is in nobody's interest to see the euro with its back against the wall but we need urgent action by the eurozone's big economies. It is all a question of confidence," Mr Vella Bonnici said. Both economists agreed this was the euro's first real test since it became legal tender eight years ago.

Now the question is whether Europe is in a position to bail out Greece.  Total cost estimates swing wildly, from a low end roughly $160 billion (for Greece alone) to a staggering $500 billion... or even more. The real issue is contagion - not just the cost of bailing out Greece, but that of other troubled countries waiting in the wings.


Looming largest among them: Spain, possibility of Portugal and Italy to follow suit.

"We have seen this movie before," says U.S. Representative Mark Kirk, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee that oversees dispersion of IMF funds. Kirk had direct experience (via the World Bank) with the Mexican debt crisis in 1982. "Spain is five times as big as Greece," Kirk adds. "That would mean a package of 500 billion." And 500 billion isn't even the worst estimate. David Mackie, chief economist with JPMorgan London, envisions the need for a eurozone rescue package equating to 600 billion euros... or a whopping $794 billion at current exchange rates. Other investment bank analysts more or less agree with Mackie. "To fix the region's fiscal crisis," Bloomberg reports, "the EU may need a plan larger than the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program deployed by the U.S..."  The economic power house of Europe, Germany is in a roadblock to crisis resolution. A study suggests 86 per cent of Germans are dead set against bailing Greece out with German funds. A survey from German television channel NTV further found a stunning 92 per cent of Germans thought Greece should go bankrupt.

The Germans are apprehensive "if Greece gets a handout, more will come... on a much bigger scale".


It seems International Monetary Fund (IMF) is not in a position to solve the problem either, because it does not have enough money to stop the contamination in the first place.

It could have been a possibility had Greece been an isolated problem, the problem could be feasibly solved by an IMF cash injection. But Greece is not isolated, it is one "problem" of many and with IMF's track record no one really believes IMF money will help anything in the long run anyway.

It may be recalled that IMF efforts to bail out Argentina turned out to be a disaster. Argentina tried to implement the IMF's tough "austerity measures" - harsh fiscal conditions attached to the receipt of rescue funds - but cracked under the strain.

The existing creditors will be pushed to the back of the line if Greece takes money from IMF. Because, the IMF would demand preferential treatment as a lender of last resort (in terms of getting paid back first). That means an IMF rescue package could actually make Greek debt holders more nervous, not less. Standard & Poor's estimates that investors could lose as much as 200 billion euros, or $265 billion, in the event of a Greek debt default.

Finally, it may be concluded that the economic health of eurozone countries does not look good. The economic crisis may spill over to Portugal, Spain and Italy in the near future. Even Britain may face the same destiny within next two years as predicted by some economists.  Bangladesh has financial and social attachments in the European countries since long. If situation does not improve in Europe in coming months, our export volume intended for those countries may shrink in the coming years. Bangladeshis working in different European countries will suffer more than the locals with possibility of losing jobs.

Remittance coming from the countries will dry up soon with a negative impact on foreign exchange reserve of Bangladesh. It is time to be prepared for the potential crisis and Bangladesh Government should instruct our High Commissioners posted to those countries to remain vigilant and also to look for new avenues for our exportable commodities including human resources. 








Alongside Pahela Baishakh, 25th of this (Bangla) month occupies a special place among the Bengalis. This day has been bejeweled by the arrival of a great scholar who revolutionised Bengali literature and introduced its treasures to the world. Today is Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore's 149th birth anniversary. Every year the day is observed by Bengalis with much zeal.

Tagore was born into a distinguished family in Calcutta (now Kolkata), West Bengal. His father Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, was a well-known Hindu reformer and mystic and his mother was Srimati Sharada Devi. Tagore was home-schooled. He was taught in Bengali, with English lessons in the afternoon. He read the Bengali poets at an early age and began writing poetry himself by the age of eight. Tagore did have a brief spell at the St Xavier's Jesuit school, but found the conventional system of education uncongenial. His father wanted him to become a barrister and he was sent to England for higher studies. In England, Tagore was impressed and inspired by John Bright W.E. Gladstone's "large-hearted, radical liberalism." In 1879, he enrolled at University College, at London, but was called back by his father to return to India in 1880. Three years later he was married. Tagore's family chose his bride, an almost illiterate girl of ten, named Bhabatarini (renamed Mrinalini).
What Rabindranath did for literature, he tried to do the same for music as well. He respected the inviolable sanctity of both classical and folk music, and took from each that suited his purpose. Each season, each aspect of the Bengali landscape and every undulation of the human heart have found their voices in his songs. They are sung at religious gatherings and at concert halls. Patriots have walked to the gallows with his song on their lips; young lovers unable to express the depth of their feelings render his songs and feel the weight of their inadequate articulacy relieved.

Tagore once said, "Whatever fate may be in store for my poems, stories and plays, I know for certain that the Bengali race will need my songs, they will sing my songs at every Bengali home, in the fields and by the rivers... I feel as if music wells up from within some unconscious depth of my mind, that is why it has certain completeness." From 1890, Tagore had undertaken the management of his family estates. In 1901 he founded the famous Shantiniketan at Bolepur. This was designed to provide education that combined the traditional ashram and Western system. He began with 5 pupils and 5 teachers (three of whom were Christians). His ideals were simplicity of living and the cultivation of beauty.

In 1912, Tagore visited Britain again and his own English translation of Gitanjali was published under William Butler Yates' auspices. Lecture tours in Britain and USA followed. In 1913 he was awarded the famous Nobel Prize for Literature. The Committee stated, "Because of his profoundly sensitive fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, apart of the literature of the West." The prize money went to his school, Shantiniketan.  Tagore's role in the innovation of educational ideas has been eclipsed by his fame as a poet. He was a pioneer in the field of education. For the last forty years of his life he was content to run a school in a humble rural surrounding, even when he had achieved fame such as no Bengali had known before.

If Tagore had done nothing else, what he did at Shantiniketan and Sriniketan would be sufficient to rank him as one of the subcontinent's greatest nation-builders. The little school for children at Shantiniketan became a world-renowned institution. Visva-Bharati, is a centre for Bengali Culture, a seminary for Eastern Studies and a meeting-place of the East and West. The poet selected as its motto an ancient Sanskrit verse, "Yatra visvam bhavatieka nidam," which means, "Where the whole world meets in a single nest." In 1940 a year before he died, he put a letter in Gandhi's hand, "Visva-Bharati is like a vessel which is carrying the cargo of my life's best treasure, and I hope it may claim special care from my countrymen for its preservation."
Amar Shonar Bangla became the national anthem of Bangladesh. The song touches all and inspires us to unconditionally love and appreciate the motherland. "When one knows thee, then alien there is none, then no door is shut. Grant me my prayer that I may never lose touch with the one in the play of the many," -- Gitanjali.

(The writer is a faculty member at the National Hotel and Tourism Training Institute)








RIOTS in Greece, raw panic on Wall Street, voters blocked from the ballot in Britain and an extraordinary backlash against Kevin Rudd's new mining tax back home. It has been a sobering week in global and domestic politics, and Australians might be well advised to get used to it. This may or may not be global financial crisis Mark II, but one thing is certain - there is more pain ahead as the globe undergoes an immense structural readjustment around unsustainable levels of debt. This time, the focus is on the sclerotic economies of southern Europe, but one way or the other, the world, including the present powerhouse of China, will feel the repercussions eventually. The crisis unfolding in Europe is what the Reserve Bank meant in its monetary statement yesterday when it talked of "the challenge that rising public debt ratios in a number of advanced economies pose for the global economy". Underlining the uncertainty, Australian shares dropped 2 per cent yesterday off the back of Greece and Wall Street, and the dollar dropped to US88.8 cents, even as the RBA lifted its forecast for economic growth in the coming year. The central bank also warned of rising inflation in Asia, and the risk that this would lead countries, including China, to tighten policies and slow activity, thus reducing demand for our raw resources.

For the moment, the pain is in Europe, where the Greek crisis will almost certainly spread to Portugal, Spain and probably Ireland. The question then is how it will play out in Britain and what, if any, flow-on effect there could be to the US. Unlike China, which has used the exchange rate to fuel growth, Greece, having given up the drachma for the euro, cannot devalue the currency to give it a competitive edge. Instead, it has required a staggering $156 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union to rescue it from its severe debt.

The European outlook is dire, yet it has been obvious since the start of the sub-prime and debt crises that the social democracies of Europe would be more heavily hit than the US, where action from the government, combined with open markets, stabilised the situation.

The GFC revealed the US problem as being a failure of prudential regulation not, as our own Prime Minister suggested, a failure of free-market capitalism.

A similar prudential failure sits behind the problems in Britain, where the general election campaign has until now delayed the application of strict measures that will have to be administered to the economy. Gordon Brown's legacy to the British people may well turn out to be his mistaken belief, while he was chancellor of the exchequer in the Blair government for 10 years to 2007, that lasting national wealth could be built on derivatives rather than the real economy.

Yet it is the real economies as much as the financial and debt markets that face big readjustments as millions of people in China and India seek to move into the middle class and share in global wealth. In its own way, Mr Rudd's resources super-profits tax is part of that necessary economic realignment. The RSPT recognises that Australia's comparative advantage lies not in a bountiful and cheap supply of labour but in sought-after minerals that must fund Australia's future. Working out a way to support the mining sector yet capture a realistic value from finite resources is the challenge that the RSPT seeks to address.

That China will itself experience significant fallout from the debt crisis is inevitable. The world already has an example in Japan, which emerged rapidly from a post-war cinder to the "miracle economy" - the second-largest in the world in the space of decades after 1945. Post-war Japan was built on a low yen, export-led growth and government policies to encourage the Japanese people to save, not spend. By the 1980s, a failure to support reforms to build domestic demand, an appreciating yen and speculation led to an extraordinary property bubble in Tokyo. When the crash came in 1987, property in the capital collapsed by up to 90 per cent, banks were burdened with debt and the Japanese were forced on to the long road to recovery. They are still on it, more than 20 years later. Similarly, the powerhouse of China will not be able to escape global pressures. Even so, for Greek public servants and ordinary workers who will be scorched by the crisis there, it may be little comfort that the fortunes of some 1.3 billion Chinese are, sooner or later, tied to the rest of the globe

For Australians, who face a budget next week and a federal election within months, the savagery on Wall Street and the grim outlook for Europe, including Britain, is no cause for schadenfreude. As the RBA indicated yesterday, the economy is set for growth. Our banks are well-regulated and we are rich in minerals, but our fate is linked inextricably with the rest of the world, and a stable future will require careful stewardship.






IN the aftermath of the British election, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his likely usurper, Conservative leader David Cameron, agreed on one big issue. In the midst of the European debt crisis, both men called for "strong, stable government". Unfortunately, however, the outcome of the poll was a hung parliament, creating precisely the opposite - uncertainty and inertia.

After all-night counting, the Conservatives, who secured a bigger swing than Margaret Thatcher's in 1979, fell short of the 326 seats needed for an outright House of Commons majority. Labour was drubbed, losing about 100 seats. And despite Mr Brown's galling notion of clinging to power in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, Labour has lost its mandate to govern. For all the Cleggmania of the campaign, the Liberal Democrats went backwards and should not fancy themselves as kingmakers after advocating that the party with the biggest vote and most seats form government. As Liberal Democrat Lord McNally told BBC radio: "The electorate have left the Lib Dems standing at the altar. A lot was promised and it's very difficult to say this wasn't a very bad night for us." And very bad for Britain, which, as well as a hung parliament, scored the dubious milestone of electing its first Green MP to the Commons.

In the nation that gave the world the Westminster system and the "mother of parliaments" the conduct of the poll was shameful. Thousands of people were rightly furious at being denied the chance to cast their ballots, prompting calls for by-elections. Queues were so long at the close of polls that hundreds were turned away in parts of London, Manchester, Chester, Sheffield and Birmingham. A Liverpool polling station ran out of ballot papers. Caught off guard by a high turnout, British Electoral Commission head Jenny Watson offered the lame excuse that "our system is largely a hangover from the Victorian era when you had tiny numbers of people that had the vote."

In a hung parliament, Labour has the first right to attempt to form government. Much will depend on the final count - how close the Conservatives are to a majority, whether Labour and the Liberal Democrats could form a minority government or whether Mr Cameron could govern with the backing of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionists. Any such deal would come at a price, with the Unionists likely to demand that the province be quarantined from some of the spending cuts planned by the Conservatives.The parlous economy, with a public-sector net debt of 62 per cent of GDP and unemployment of 8 per cent and rising, needs urgent and extensive repair. This year, the British government will borrow another pound stg. 160 billion ($265bn), contributing to a total government debt that will soon pass pound stg. 1 trillion, largely as a result of Mr Brown's misapprehension that he had abolished boom and bust through borrowing and spending, even in the midst of a boom. The ensuing disaster is a sobering lesson for other economies, including Australia. The interest bill to service such a debt burden already exceeds the British defence budget. And with the major parties committed to cutting annual government borrowing in half within four years, whoever holds the Exchequer faces two herculean challenges. The first is to impose fiscal discipline by cuts and freezes in services and benefits, in excess of anything seen during the Thatcher years that caused such controversy. The second challenge is to create the best possible environment in which businesses can operate and grow the economy.Sensibly, the Conservatives have begun collecting a new war chest for another possible ballot within 12 months. But for now, whoever forms government must show inordinate political courage, refuse to be spooked by their tenuous grasp on power and get on with the job of leading the nation as though they had a working majority.