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Monday, May 10, 2010

EDITORIAL 10.05.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



Month may 10, edition 000503, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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



























  1. 2010, NOT 1984

























































The Prime Minister has done the right thing by over-ruling the peremptory order issued by Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh because of which construction work at the site of the Maheshwar Hydro Power Project in Madhya Pradesh had come to a halt. Mr Jairam Ramesh's order, unexpected and uncalled for, had threatened to derail the construction schedule, thus putting a question mark on the completion of the project and production of power by November this year. As Mr Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, pointed out to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he met the latter to seek his intervention, this would mean a loss of 7.2 lakh units of power per day, apart from spiking plans to augment water supply to Dewas and Indore. It made little sense to drag out an old issue from the files, which has already been settled and dealt with by the Madhya Pradesh Government, and halt the project after Rs 3,000 crore had been spent on it, apart from Rs 517 crore on creating the infrastructure to supply water to Dewas and Indore. If Mr Jairam Ramesh needed any clarifications on the rehabilitation of villagers displaced by the project, he could have easily sought them from the State Government. Instead, he chose to exercise his power in the most unbecoming manner.

As Minister for Environment and Forests, Mr Jairam Ramesh has no doubt taken some laudable decisions. It is nobody's case that this particular Ministry is still being run as a cash-and-carry counter as it was during the earlier UPA regime. Yet, nor can it be denied that Mr Jairam Ramesh's decision to halt work on the hydro-electric project on the most specious grounds is not entirely above board. Was the decision taken at the behest of certain leaders in the Congress who wish to harass BJP State Governments and have found 'green terrorism' an expedient means of achieving their despicable goal? Or did the Minister succumb to the pressure of jholawallahs who have no compunctions about resorting to the foulest means to spite and discredit BJP State Governments and hence enjoy a cosy relationship with Congress bosses? Whatever the reason, the fact remains that Mr Jairam Ramesh clearly went beyond his remit and, in the process, has had his knuckles rapped — some would say, it serves him right to see his obnoxious order scrapped by the Prime Minister's Office, obviously at the instruction of Mr Singh.

There are three lessons to be drawn from this particular episode of high-handedness indulged in by busybody Ministers. First, before taking precipitate action, Ministers, no matter how powerful or righteous they may perceive themselves to be, should explore all options to resolve what they may think are outstanding issues with State Governments. Second, the very idea of using environment protection laws to browbeat non-Congress Governments is as abhorrent as misusing agencies of the state to leverage political gains vis-a-vis the Opposition. Mr Jairam Ramesh stands indicted on both counts. The third lesson is perhaps the most important. If the Prime Minister wishes to exercise his authority, then he can not only initiate corrective action, as he did while scrapping Mr Jairam Ramesh's ill-conceived order, but also rein in wayward colleagues in the Union Council of Ministers. Mr Singh should stand up and be counted more often. Meanwhile, Mr Jairam Ramesh would do well to desist from acting in a manner that could undo the good work he has done.







It is fast becoming clear that Nepal's Maoists no longer have the clout they once had. That they have been marginalised, both politically and socially was evident when tens of thousands of ordinary Nepalis came out onto the streets of Kathmandu in defiance of the indefinite strike called by the Maoists. The strike had begun to cripple life, causing immense hardship to the people. Hence, on Friday, ordinary Nepalis decided to take matter into their own hands and gave the Maoists an ultimatum — they should either call off the strike or face popular wrath. This forced the Maoists to hurriedly call an emergency meeting wherein Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal — better known as 'Prachanda' — announced his party's decision to 'put off' the strike that was aimed at forcing a national consensus Government. Needless to say that this was a desperate attempt by the Maoists to come back to power. Having been pushed into political wilderness because of their own folly, the Maoists are trying every dirty trick in the book to grab power. But fortunately for Nepal, the people of the country have decided that enough is enough. They are no longer willing to buy the bogus Maoist ideology, recognising it for what it really is — a guise to capture power by any means. The people of Nepal, having witnessed more than a decade of Maoist insurgency, now want peace and development. And the Maoists, if they are allowed to have their way, will be a huge impediment to the progress of Nepal. It is now clear to every ordinary Nepali that the Maoists are only interested in their narrow political programme and couldn't care less for the welfare of the masses. It is this disillusionment that has been responsible for the Maoists' decline. And they richly deserve their marginalisation.

It is high time that Nepal's Maoists realise that they can no longer hold Nepalis over the barrel of a gun. If at all they want to remain a viable political force, they must abjure violence, disband the Young Communist League which is nothing but an organisation of thugs, and return to the dialogue table. On the other hand, if the Maoists continue with their strong-arm tactics, which seems likely, their relevance in Nepali life will continue to wane. For, the people of Nepal have made themselves quite clear — they will no longer bow down to Maoist terror. Hence, with each protest rally the Maoists organise, their public standing takes a huge beating. There is, of course, a lesson in this for Maoists in India: If they continue with their murderous ways, a time will soon come

when the very people they claim to represent will give them the boot.








The guilty verdict — followed by the death sentence — that was handed down to 26/11 terrorist Ajmal Amir Kasab coincided with the failed car bomb plot targeting New York's Times Square. By now we know much about Kasab — he came from a poor family, was indoctrinated to become a jihadi, and was sent to kill as many Indians as possible and sacrifice his life in the process. Had it not been for the courageous efforts of the officers of Mumbai Police, Kasab would never have been caught alive.

On the other hand, the would-be New York car bomber, Faisal Shahzad, is the son of a former Pakistani Air Force Vice-Air Marshal and the nephew of a former Pakistani Army Major-General. He was hardly poor. He received Islamic education in Pakistan and was able to migrate to the US with an H1-B visa. He worked for a well-known cosmetics company, was married to a Pakistani woman who was educated in the US, and had been in and out of Pakistan several times before he was caught by American investigators. The last time he went back to Pakistan he spent five months in that country, purportedly under the pretext of visiting his relatives. Last year, Shahzad was accorded American citizenship.

In the flow of information about the would-be car bomber, there was one report that was telling. The report quoted a Pakistani official as saying, "It is not that they (jihadis) don't speak English or aren't skilled. But in their hearts and in their minds they reject the West." The official further added, "They can't see a world where they live together; there is only one way, one right way."

Shahzad and countless others who are committed Islamists are essentially the products of a system that the military dictator Zia-ul Haq had introduced in the schools and madarsas of Pakistan. This indoctrination made the people who went through the system believe that there was only one path forward — the path of jihad to establish a global Islamic caliphate. It followed that those who did not subscribe to this path had to be either converted or eliminated. The sense of horror that ordinary people feel with respect to the killing of innocent civilians is completely absent in the case of jihadis. For, they believe that god has given them the mandate to maim and kill as many kafirs or non-believers as possible.

This Islamist attitude is not particular to Pakistani jihadis. Over the last few years, several radical Islamists have been arrested from Europe and the US who were plotting to attack passenger aircraft, scheming to plant bombs in passenger trains, and seeking to destroy various high-profile landmarks. Islamists have been active in countries ranging from Spain, England and Germany to Singapore, Indonesia and India.

Six months ago, the world was stunned by the discovery of a Nigerian youth who tried to blow up a passenger aircraft with a home-made bomb that was hidden in his underwear. He almost succeeded but for the vigilance of a co-passenger. Thus, today, Islamist organisations are spread far and wide, and operate under various covers. They are also constantly in touch with each other and provide their brethren with logistical and ideological support.

In our country, Muslim youth from Kerala have been the target of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba recruiters. Many of them have been inducted into the global jihadi network. There are other sources of recruitment as well. The case of Ms Madhuri Gupta, the Indian diplomat who has been caught supplying secrets to Pakistani intelligence while on her posting at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, is an example of how jihadis can recruit people from any background to their fold. Ms Gupta seems to have little remorse for betraying her country. For years she hid the fact that she had converted to Islam. Surely, this cover helped her carry out her treacherous activities.

The UK shoe bomber, who was caught before he could blow up an aircraft, was also a convert. Whereas the Nigerian underwear bomber came from a well-to-do family and was highly educated. There is a common thread running through these individuals. The only reason these people took to terrorism was religion.

Denouncing terrorism and seeing it as un-Islamic will not take us far as long as there is an increasing number of Muslims who believe that jihad is the only way forward. Will the leaders of Islam come forward to condemn

not only terrorism but also the mindset that fuels jihadis?

The mindset that pits the jihadi way against ours could, to an extent, be curbed if Muslim youth are allowed to mingle with their peers from other religious backgrounds, are allowed to have access to secular education, and given the freedom to participate in the festivals of non-Muslims. Madarsa education has been criticised in several countries, including Pakistan, for breeding die-hard extremists. In India, constant efforts have been made to promote 'secularism' by extending state aid to madarsas. Could there be a bigger contradiction?

Even after 26/11, have we really woken up to the basic cause of this terror regime that lures young Muslims? The 'secularists' believe that by mandating curricula in science and mathematics the mindset of exclusivity that is enforced in madarsas could be tackled. The fact that many of the apprehended terrorists have been found to be quite educated — several of them having received their education in the West — does not seem to cross the policymakers' minds.

Irrespective of the introduction of subjects such as science and technology or history and geography in madarsas, as long as the indoctrination of Muslim youth continues, things will remain the same. On the other hand, science and technology could prove to be useful tool for the jihadis in executing terror strikes. In fact, by introducing computer studies and other technical subjects in madarsas, we are only providing modern tools to a rabidly medieval mindset. We cannot hope to win the war against terror without understanding its anatomy.








The 13th Finance Commission headed by Mr Vijay Kelkar submitted its report to the Union Government in December last year. The Government presented the same in Parliament in the ensuing Budget session. The Finance Commission has recommended that the States should get 32 per cent share of the Union Government's total tax revenue. In addition, it has also made recommendations about grants in aid of different kinds. It has said that total transfers, including tax devolution and grants in aid, should not exceed 39.5 per cent. It has also suggested a formula through which share of each State could be determined.

The Constitution of India clearly provides for division of powers between the Union and the State Governments in terms of legislative, administrative, judicial and economic matters. The Union Government has ample sources of revenue while the resources of the State Governments are limited, with the latter having very little tax authority. But the latter have much larger responsibilities to fulfil, including law and order, public utilities, and development works among others. Hence, the Constitution lays down procedures and mechanisms for sustainable flow of finance from the Centre to the States. To ensure this the Central Finance Commission was created.

Under the provisions of Article 280 of the Constitution, the President is required to appoint a Finance Commission. The function of the commission is to make recommendations to the President in respect to the distribution of net proceeds of taxes to be shared between the Union and the State Governments. Being a constitutional institution, the Government considers the recommendations of the Finance Commission and the tax revenue is divided among the States accordingly. But if we take a look at the recommendations of the 13th Finance Commission, we find that there is a huge disparity in the finances allocated to the various States. Certain poor States such as Odisha, Jharkhand, etc, are not getting their due share while developed States like Maharashtra, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh are getting more than the lion's share. This disparity must end in the interest of equality.






The May 6 British general election has produced a hung Parliament for the first time in more than three decades. The Liberal Democrats, who hold the key to Government formation, are demanding a big price for their support: Sweeping electoral reforms. The Tories aren't game, but Labour has said it will pay the price for power, no matter what the cost!

The great unanswered question of British politics is: Why would anybody want to win an election in the United Kingdom this year? The national Budget is heading for a 12 per cent deficit. The country is staggering under a massive load of debt and the bond sharks are circling. The future for years to come will be a grim tale of unending tax rises and cuts to vital services like health and education.


Any party that forms a Government under these circumstances and does what is needed to save the economy will become massively unpopular, and will ultimately be rewarded with a long period in the electoral wilderness. But politicians just don't know how to walk away: It's not in their genes. So there is fierce competition for this poisoned chalice.

To make matters worse, the election on May 6 produced a result that tipped the major parties into a ruthless scramble for power. The Conservative Party ended up with 50 more members of Parliament than the Labour Party, but neither of the major parties got enough seats to form a majority Government. So both of them let the third-place Liberal Democratic Party know that they were open to a coalition.

In Germany or Israel or India, this would barely be cause for comment: That's how politics normally works in those bailiwicks. In Britain, where coalitions are seen as a nasty foreign habit, it has caused a virtual meltdown in the commentariat.

The Lib-Dems' price for agreeing to a coalition — with anybody — is wholesale reform of the voting system. They do have a point, for the old-fashioned, winner-takes-all system still used in Britain produces remarkably skewed results.

In the last election, in 2005, Labour got only 35 per cent of the votes cast, but 55 per cent of the seats. The second-place Conservatives got 32 per cent of the vote and only 30 per cent of the seats. The Liberal Democrats got 22 per cent of the vote and only 10 per cent of the seats.

Ever since the Lib-Dems (or rather their ancestors, the Liberals) ceased to be one of the two major parties and fell to third place a century ago, that has been their fate. It was almost impossible to escape from that fate because voters came to feel that a vote for the third-place party was a wasted vote — and that became a self-fulfilling policy. So the flagship Lib-Dem policy is electoral reform. They want proportional representation.

This is not a battle-cry that makes the heart pump faster even among the party faithful, and to the non-Lib-Dem masses it is quite meaningless. The only way it could ever happen is if the two major parties should both fall short of a majority and need a coalition with the Lib-Dems in order to govern. Like now.

Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg's price for entering into a coalition with either the Conservatives or Labour is an ironclad commitment from the prospective partner to act on electoral reform promptly. Whether that would involve just legislation or also a referendum remains to be seen, but probably both — and Mr Clegg would want it to happen fast, in case there is another election in the near future, as often happens with coalition Governments.

Mr Clegg is talking to Conservative leader David Cameron first, since his party got the largest number of seats and votes, but Mr Cameron's best offer is "an all-party committee of inquiry on political and electoral reform." He cannot offer more, because his own party won't let him.

This does not make a lot of sense politically, since Labour, not the Conservatives, is the greatest beneficiary of the current voting system. But there I go again, expecting rational self-interest to determine political choices. The real reason that the rank and file of the Conservative Party hate the idea of change — any kind of change — is because they are conservative.

So it may be that the Liberal Democratic leader will soon move on and start talking to Labour leader Gordon Brown (who remains Prime Minister until he resigns or Parliament meets again and votes him out). Mr Brown has already said that he would meet Mr Clegg's demands on electoral reform, and it is not inconceivable that there could be a Labour-Lib-Dem coalition in office before we are all much older.

Something of the sort had better happen before we are much older, because the markets will not wait. They will want to be reassured quite soon that the grown-ups are in charge in Britain, or it will get increasingly difficult and expensive for Britain to borrow money to service its debts. It is not in the same dire financial straits as Greece, or even Spain and Portugal, but the markets do not make fine distinctions when they panic.

A month ago it was assumed that the British Conservatives were cruising smoothly towards victory. It's still not clear what blew them so far off course, but they (and all the other British parties) are now in uncharted waters.

The writer is an independent journalist based in London.









If you are having trouble understanding the outcome of the UK general election, you are not alone: The people have chosen but we don't know what they wanted.

Many voters thought the election was presidential, because that is how the campaign went, with US-style televised debates among the party leaders.

In fact, we elect a Member of Parliament to each constituency and then the MP leading the biggest party becomes Prime Minister: The executive is part of the legislature. The Conservatives now have the biggest number of MPs but not a majority, so we face a coalition for only the second time since World War Second.

With a hung Parliament, the tired joke that all politicians should hang is very relevant: Voters in a high turnout effectively spurned all the parties, in disgust at widespread expenses scandals, waste, lack of ideas and incompetence (fittingly, the election itself was incompetently run, plus fraud from postal voting, introduced by Labour at the last election in 2005).

It may seem amazing that the ruling Labour Party did not suffer a rout (it lost a quarter of its seats, retaining about 254). Against a reviled Government that lied to get us into the Iraq war, with a Prime Minister (Mr Gordon Brown) appointed by his predecessor (Mr Tony Blair) without a general election, in a financial crisis aggravated by Mr Brown's long, long tenure as Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister), how could the Conservative opposition not win? The Tories did get a 50 per cent increase from 198 to about 298 but no majority.

Now the king-maker is the small Liberal-Democrat party, whose clean-cut leader Nick Clegg got grandiose headlines for a week or so during the TV debates. Despite losing seats, its 54-or-so MPs now hold the balance in the House of Commons.

Convention and credibility require that the Lib-Dems support the biggest party, the Conservatives, but they can now bargain over their dream of proportional representation. This complicated indirect voting (for a list or party, not a person) used in many European countries would give the Lib-Dems a lot more seats (because their voters are dispersed, with a small number in each constituency).

But convention and credibility are merely guidelines: Labour's own Macchiavelli, Mr Peter Mandelson, said, "it's not the party with the largest number of seats that has first go — it's the sitting Government."

The Conservatives got a big swing from Labour but their failure to win outright against such an unpopular Prime Minister is embarrassing for leader David Cameron. This young PR guru has never had a real job but he is not even great at PR, projecting the image of an off-duty-mortician with his uniform of black suit, white shirt and no tie.

As for policies, he offered only to do everything Labour does but better, with a few tweaks here and there. The Conservatives offered very few conservative ideas and no major reform of the massive state sector inflated by Labour.

That client-base is partly why Labour kept so many votes: More than 30 per cent of the population lives off the state and fears (mild) Conservative cuts. As private sector jobs fell by 1,440 a day last year, public sector jobs rose by 146 a day. As real workers got an average pay cut of 0.7 per cent, the public sector got a 4.1 per cent rise.

More than 20 per cent of all workers are employed by national or local Government, while welfare pays another 8.5 per cent (unemployed and sick) plus the uncounted number of private companies working exclusively for Government, from garbage collectors to architects.

Actually, forget the details: Public spending is 45.1 per cent of GDP — slightly worse than the US — and that says it all.

There will be horse-trading for a few days but the likely outcome is a Conservative-Lib-Dem coalition, with another election within a year (again, only a convention). Ideally, Mr Cameron is forced to resign as Conservative leader for failing to win (the party's fourth failure in a row, despite the 50 per cent gain); a person who has worked in the real world takes over (ideally former leader William Hague, very credible and very sensible but not at all televisual); that Prime Minister then becomes re-electable with a majority after a year's good performance.

Collaborating with the Conservatives should split the Lib-Dems between the libertarian free-market faction and the 'sandalists,' the social-democrat majority.

The Labour Party is already flat broke and another election would bankrupt it.

But predictions are always wrong, so watch this space. Or get a life.

The writer is a contributing editor of the quarterly conservative Salisbury Review, London








One of the most controversial issues about what happens if Iran gets nuclear weapons is whether the regime would give them to anyone else. Since this is such an important question involving the lives of so many people, I want to clarify it.

Would the Iranian Government hand nuclear weapons to a terrorist group or fire off nuclear-tipped missiles itself?

It is easy for many experts and 'experts' to answer this question with a "No." The reason would be that Iran has proven itself cautious historically and knows that it would be held responsible and punished for doing so. The responder might add that the Islamic regime has not been adventurous or crazy in its actual policy (as opposed to its words) during the last 30 years.

I'd agree with that response as far as it goes. But it misses some very key points that might end up getting a huge number of people killed.

First, Iran has not been adventurous or crazy in the manner that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was in 1979 and 1990, that is, Iran has not sent its military forces across the border to invade another country. Instead, Tehran has used subversion as its technique, backing and helping groups undermining other countries with terrorist attacks and a longer-term attempt to build a popular base in order to seize state power.

Thus, to say that Iran has not attacked a neighbour with conventional military forces is quite true, yet this may not tell us how Iran will behave regarding terrorist groups. Moreover, a nuclear-armed Iran may feel a little more confident than the pre-nuclear version.

Having said that I would correct the original response to be this: Iran will probably not give nuclear weapons to terrorist groups.

Probably means that the odds are higher — let's say far higher — than 50 per cent that they won't do so. The problem here is that even if there is a 10 or 20 per cent chance of that happening, that's not the kind of risk one wants to take.

But there are other, more likely, scenarios that are never discussed but are quite important. Here are the two I think most important:

'Private Donations': I don't think the 'Iranian Government' would ever give Hizbullah, Iraqi Shia groups, or Hamas nuclear weapons. That is, I don't think there will be a top-level meeting where such a decision would be made officially. I do think that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which will be responsible for both the weapons and for liaison with terrorist groups, or other officials might give them nuclear weapons. Iran is not a tightly disciplined bureaucracy and the security of these arms — especially if some hot factional dispute breaks out or the regime is in danger of falling — is not going to be so tight.

The chance of an Iranian Dr Strangelove pushing a button, a mad ideologist rather than a mad scientist, is higher than that for the weapons held by the United States, USSR/Russia, Britain, France, or Israel over many decades.

I have never seen someone from the complacent Conventional Wisdom containment-is-no-problem mainstream deal with any of the above issues.

"The Defensive Umbrella for Aggression": If groups like Hizbullah or others get their members to believe they have access to nuclear weapons, either through a transfer or a clear Iranian guarantee to use such weapons in their cause, wars could be set off by their over-confident calculations.


Iran's main purpose in getting nuclear weapons is probably not to fire them off but to use them to protect its indirect aggression, encourage appeasement, and persuade millions of Muslims to join pro-Tehran revolutionary Islamist groups.

But no matter what Iran did — for example, establish its primary influence in Iraq by bringing its Shia allies to full power; helping Hamas seize the West Bank; making Hizbullah and other forces the sole ruling group in Lebanon — nobody could or would do anything about it because they feared Iran's nuclear arsenal.

Consider, and this is not far-fetched, that Hizbullah concludes that if they attack Israel, Israel would be deterred from retaliation out of fear that Iran would launch nuclear missiles. From what Syrian leaders say, it seems they already believe this, which makes them far more daring in their hardline policies and encouragement for Hizbullah and Hamas.

A related scenario is that while the US promises might make Arabs feel a bit more secure, in practice that factor is meaningless. They would still be afraid to do anything Iran doesn't like, not only because they didn't have full trust in the Obama Administration but also because by the time the US kept its pledge and retaliated they would all be dead any way.

Consider also this true story told by Mr Haim Saban, the Power Rangers multimillionaire and donor to Democratic campaigns. In considering who he would support, Mr Saban met during the 2008 campaign separately with Ms Hillary Clinton and Mr Barack Obama. He asked each of them the same question: "If Iran nukes Israel, what would be your reaction?' Ms Clinton answered: "We will obliterate them." Mr Obama's response? "We will take appropriate action."

Since Mr Obama's reaction was off-the-record and before the election the response cannot be attributed to presidential caution. Mr Saban interpreted it as something along the lines of (my words, not his): I'll think about it. This reflects a state of mind and way of thinking.

That anecdote should be far more frightening to most Arab countries than it is to Israel, which has its own ability to respond to any such threat.







The Supreme Court has recognised the government's sovereign right in matters of gas pricing and allocation. Its verdict's immediate fallout in the RIL versus RNRL case is that the long-running legal feud between the Ambani brothers can now be resolved. Given time to frame a new contract, both parties would do well to bring closure to a protracted battle. As the SC has said, shareholders need to be protected. The dispute wasn't doing India's share-owning public any good. Nor was it serving the interests of an energy-hungry nation.

Ruling that KG basin gas should be sold at a government-approved price, the court has said natural resources belong to citizens. As the custodian of these resources, government has to ensure gas utilisation maximises general welfare. While this is unexceptionable, issues concerning service delivery remain. It's not clear if official interventions in pricing and/or allocation of natural resources have in all cases helped the public by serving economic logic. In gas, fertiliser and power producers are designated priority customers. Yet, so far as common people are concerned, we're still a long way from building a modern gas distribution infrastructure in the form of an efficiently run national gas grid. Nor have piped gas services been extended beyond its present limited reach. These areas need urgent attention.

That means pushing the natural gas sector's much-needed expansion through greater play of competitive forces. Will government hold over pricing and sale enthuse private players? The answer is that clarity, transparency and accountability must mark the way the system functions. Else, investors will be scared off. This seems to have happened to an extent already, with the NELP VIII auction sometime ago of oil and gas blocs attracting few global majors. Every effort must be made to remove public perceptions linking sarkari interventions with the possibility of corruption, favouritism and suboptimal decisions. As the Planning Commission suggested, the eventual aim must be to make gas pricing market-oriented.

Finally, the judgement can be read in the context of other natural resources, including minerals. On the positive side, it could help rectify cases of private miners getting away with paying paltry royalties to the government, where mining ventures appear more an avenue for loot than business. However, it will be unfortunate if politicians choose to ignore the court's emphasis on public welfare and merely seek to justify government stranglehold on crucial areas of economic activity. Change shouldn't be resisted in areas such as oil price decontrol, coal sector privatisation or mining policy reform. Enlightened policymaking is, therefore, a must.







The government has unfortunately given in to pressure from the OBC lobby to include caste as a category in the 2011 Census. The last such exercise was undertaken in 1931, making this the first time since independence that caste will be included in the census. There was good reason why caste wasn't included in the census since the idea was to move towards a casteless society. In that sense, the government's move is regressive it would result in the perpetuation of caste as a lynchpin of government policy. We have argued in these columns that people must move beyond restrictive categories such as religion or caste. While it is undeniable that Dalits, who have been oppressed for centuries, needed and have been empowered by affirmative action, the same cannot be said for the OBCs. There is good evidence to suggest that OBCs such as the Yadavs have become dominant groups in terms of political and economic clout.

There are other good reasons for not including caste in the census. The logistics of caste enumeration is daunting. When a similar proposal had come up earlier, the then census commissioner had warned that it would be too complex and could affect the integrity of the population count, which is the prime purpose of the exercise. Besides, with over 6,000 castes, sub-castes and groups, it would be a nightmare for census officials to get correct data and collate it. It is time that we gradually take out caste from the calculus of public policy and move towards affirmative action based on economic indicators. That would not only be a more equitable process, it would also deal a body blow to the politics of caste.






As was widely expected, Muhammed Ajmal Kasab has been sentenced to death by sessions judge M L Tahaliyani. The newspapers tell us that the sentencing was "celebrated" by Mumbai. Our sense of justice or is it vengeance has been fulfilled. This is the only way to deal with terrorists. Now the cry is to hang him quickly and not get bogged down in silly and needlessly delaying legal procedures which could keep him alive for months, even years. As to converting his sentence to a life term, no one will even consider that for a moment. Only hanging him will achieve a much-needed sense of closure.

But will it? Hardly. Closure is not merely emotional reconciliation or even legal retribution. The judiciary has gone by the evidence before it and pronounced its judgement. This is largely a clinical and coldly legal affair. If the evidence was found lacking in any way as in the case of the two alleged conspirators acquitted the judge would have had no hesitation in pronouncing Kasab innocent.

No one can fully reconcile to losing a loved one so brutally but, as a society and citizenry, we in Mumbai and Indians in general will feel that this chapter has been fully closed once and for all if and when those who helped create this situation in the first place are held fully accountable. By this one does not only mean the handlers in Pakistan or their shadowy bosses who pulled the strings and hatched the diabolical plan. The world knows well what is going on in that country and what kind of elements are running terror networks out to destabilise the world. Do not expect them to be caught and brought to justice so soon. No amount of bonhomie and photo-ops between the two governments will change that. Nor will the hanging of a mere pawn scare others from that terror network from trying again.

If we really want to feel something worthwhile has come out of that terrible tragedy we ought to begin at home and concentrate on the weak links in our own chain. And then raise questions and demand answers. Here are some questions. Was any credible intelligence about a terror attack ignored or not taken seriously by security agencies? Was there adequate preparedness and response to the attack once it happened? Were there people who gave local help and guidance to the attackers and have they been identified? Who gave the order to purchase faulty life jackets for the police? Has there been a comprehensive enquiry into the entire sequence of events and the aftermath and can we get to see that report? Have new systems been put in place to prevent something like this in the future and have the police and other forces been trained to respond to such attacks? Will this pave the way for police reforms so that the force can do its job rather than spend time on wasteful duties?

Stray answers have been available over the past few months. Yes, there was an inquiry report that, following a lot of pressure, the government placed in the house last December. What did it find? That the job of tackling the terrorists was way beyond the capabilities of the police and in any case they were poorly led by police commissioner Hasan Ghafoor. So Mumbai suffered and 166 people lost their lives because the top cop was inefficient. If this sounds implausible, consider the government's response to this remarkable conclusion: it shifted him out of the commissioner's job and put him in another post. For such dereliction of duty that cost lives and traumatised a nation, an officer would have been court-martialled or at the very least sacked. The chief minister of the state and the home minister at the Centre paid with their jobs, why not the police commissioner? So was it a case of finding a scapegoat?

Worse, consider the government's plan to set up a 66-member committee composed of politicians, bureaucrats, corporate types, journalists and prominent citizens to review the security situation periodically. The committee has hardly met and no one is any wiser what path-breaking new measures it has suggested. Contrast that with the 9/11 commission set up in the US. This body too was criticised for not being independent, but the key point is that all the top officials of the Bush administration (excluding the president and vice-president) testified before it. More than 1,200 people were interviewed and a comprehensive report was prepared.

The judiciary has done its job, now let the executive do its duty. If the state government wants to show it is serious about preventing another big terror attack, let it set up an open commission where every possible question is raised and answered. Call all the officials and politicians from that period to give testimony on everything from intelligence matters to the equipment buying methods of the Mumbai police. Let the government then tell us what it is doing to protect the security of the people of Maharashtra. Most important, let such a commission be held in the open rather than in-camera to make every citizen feel a part of it. That will be true catharsis, if not closure. Till then we can only live in the fear of more Kasabs to come.

The writer is a senior journalist.






It matters little that Reba Som is the director of Tagore Centre in Kolkata and has an album of Tagore songs. Of essence is her understanding of the Renaissance personality who penned our national anthem. As the country celebrates Tagore's 150th birth anniversary, Som speaks to Ratnottama Sengupta:

What insights did you gain by writing The Singer and His Song and directing a film on Gitanjali?

I was in the midst of the biography and the film when India International Centre in Delhi invited me to participate in the Tagore festival in 2008. This was an eye-opener for me, as it became clear how destiny took him to foreign shores when the West needed a spiritual message. Tagore is truly beyond frontiers. When i was in Italy, i found Italian artists doing paintings inspired by his lyrics, singers like Francesca singing Alan Danielou's translations, and so on. What made them take it on? The question led me to rediscovering him.

In his lifetime, Tagore was most renowned for his songwriting. But today, outside Bengal, his music is scarcely known. We forget that Gitanjali, which won the Nobel for literature, was a collection of songs! They gave Tagore the strength to tide over the greatest tragedies in his life. They expressed his frustration with political movements or his grief over deaths and suicide in the family and he felt they'd help others too. He said, "You can forget me but not my songs." He felt his countrymen didn't understand his greatest creations but will, someday. My biography, with music as its leitmotif, attempts just that.

A decade after the copyright lapsed, when people are jazzing him up, what's the appeal of his music?

Tagore songs have an ardhanarishwar aspect: music and lyrics. So far, because of the copyright restrictions one couldn't translate his songs. This was critical because his music cannot be understood without comprehending his lyrics, which in turn helps us understand his creative process.

His music has near-perfect balance between evocative lyrics, matching melody and rhythmic structure. And the incredible variety of his musical oeuvre touched every emotion of a human being. His songs suit every mood, in lucid Bengali, which people can relate to even today. Through translation they're available to France, Italy, Japan, Germany. Clemenceau, the then French prime minister, turned to Gitanjali when he heard that WWI had broken out. So there is something compelling about Tagore.

How has Tagore's internationalism held up to changing times?

Tagore was known to be anti-nationalistic. He believed no man-made divisions could keep people segregated. He was international. He didn't agree with the western concept of 'nation', but accepted the ideals of democracy, of gender equality, equality of humans. He also embraced Buddha's concepts of Impermanence seeing life through the prism of death and Tolerance, across religion, which shines through many of his works.

What's his relevance 150 years after his birth?

Tagore never ages. His message is universal. His works apply equally to our life today therapeutically, and his art remains contemporary. The many influences he absorbed ensured that he wasn't stereotypical, making him timeless. His writings are a religion to many who dip into his words or music for the sustenance they get in religious texts.





"You washed your clothes in a five-star hotel?!" Yes, during a recent conference, i washed my clothes and hung them to dry on the clothesline provided in the bathroom. My wife is appalled at this behaviour. How do i explain that old habits die hard? Flashback to 1975, Madras, India (i still can't call it Chennai). I am a 14-year-old with puberty in full flow. It is that liminal space where the pencil-line moustache and "you are taller than your dad" makes me all macho. The pimples and half-broken voice, however, make me feel like a gangly idiot. I grew up in a middle-class family, with a roof over our head and three meals. I am not sure why but i remember having only one set of my school uniform; brown trousers, white shirt, black shoes and white socks. Mondays were great because the uniform was washed and laundered. As the day wore on, the anxiety grew. I could not get a stain on my clothes. My friends would tease me and my enemies would tear me apart. And what would Shanti think?

Yes, Shanti, my first crush. With her twin ponytails, hazel eyes, the cutest nose and a dazzling smile, she was Rekha, Hema Malini and Audrey Hepburn all rolled into one. How could i look anything but clean and perfect in front of her? As life would have it, on a certain Tuesday afternoon, i was playing cricket during the sports period. Shanti was chatting with her friends. Sunil whacked the ball high over long on and the chase was on! With a dive, i caught the ball and crashed to the ground. I was waiting to hear Shanti say, "Wow, you are amazing!" All i heard was Sunil swearing at me. I stood up and surveyed my clothes. The shirt looked more brown than white. And there was one eye-popping stain on my trouser. What was i going to do? As soon as i reached home, i took a shower, washed my clothes and put them out to dry. This was Madras, hot and humid, and i was convinced that my clothes would dry overnight. Wrong. It rained for about 10 minutes; by the time i got my clothes in, they were all wet. No problem. I hung them out to dry in the bathroom, turned on the lights. I was convinced that the lights offered enough heat to get the clothes dry. Or maybe i was just willing my clothes to dry.

After a restless night, i woke up early and ran to the bathroom. The shirt was almost dry, but the trouser and the socks were still quite wet. I was sure that the brisk 30-minute ride on the bike to school would clearly do the trick. Friends remarked that i had a funny smell around me. I tried my best to avoid Shanti at all costs. I have a faint memory spending the day hanging out of my classroom window to catch some sunlight. After several rounds of ink stains and similar abrasions, i became adept at timing the ride back home, washing my clothes, hanging them out to dry, ironing them in the morning and riding back to school. Today, i have a few more clothes, but when i travel, i am still worried that i may not have clean and pressed clothes in the morning. So, whether i take just my carry-on or a whole suitcase of clothes, washing the clothes every night is a habit. Okay, maybe an obsession. True, it is entirely irrational, but it is this quirkiness that gives fodder to my wife's stories about me. And as for Shanti, she vanished into thin air after high school.








When the going gets tough, the disunited struggle to get going. The 16 nations that use the euro as their currency, the eurozone, have converted an accounting scandal in a minor economy into a continental financial crisis that threatens the global economy. What is worse, the eurozone governments still don't seem to understand how to restore confidence in the world's second reserve currency. The key euro countries, Germany and France, are blaming speculators and market forces. But the truth is that the euro-crisis is largely the creation of governments. From the fiscal fraudulence of successive Greek governments to a bailout that was delayed by petty German and French political concerns, it has been the State that has consistently been behind the curve.

The eurozone governments are also responsible for leaving enormous vulnerabilities in the common European economy. The euro was a great accomplishment of European unity. However, it was a job half-done. A common currency is only a single component of an economy. A unitary labour market, a common fiscal policy and, ultimately, a single political structure are also requisite. But Europe did nothing on those. Many southern European economies leveraged the strength of the euro to increase salaries and incomes instead of improving economic productivity. In effect, they lived on debt sold to other eurozone economies. The instability of this structure was revealed when the subprime financial crisis placed it under stress. What the eurozone governments should have understood was that their economic system was one in which the normal checks and balances of the market could not operate. So when it began to go off the rails, the only solution was governmental intervention. Instead, they dithered. Ultimately, they put together a bailout for Greece that has been adjudged 'too little, too late'. As a consequence, the original source of the crisis — the Greek government's inability to cover its debts over even the next two years — remains unresolved.

As European banks see their balance books erode, the rest of the world is reacting negatively. The eurozone's financial sector is closely interlinked to those in the US and Japan. The European Union, dominated by the eurozone, is the largest trading and investment partner for almost every major economy in the world. Indian companies are already finding it hard to raise capital overseas. A collapse of European demand would devastate the country's export sector. What is worse is that just when the world is getting over the subprime crisis, the unwillingness of the eurozone's political leadership to take decisive action to save their proudest economic creation may push the globe down another slippery slope.





For those of us who may, at one time, have taken the kitschy Abba song, 'Ring, ring, why don't you give me a call?' to heart, comes frightening news from an Israeli company. It has developed a computer programme that can not only predict the caller's emotional state but also diagnose a host of medical conditions.

This is alarming to many of us malingerers. Imagine ringing your boss one fine morn and telling him you have had an asthmatic attack and will have to stay in bed. The tyrannical so and so will discern from your voice that you're planning a day at the spa. The routine phone call to the spouse with the usual, 'honey, have got caught up at work' won't stand you in good stead or health when he or she discerns that you're whooping it up at the club with your buddies or, worse still, having a bit of fun on the side with some hunk/siren. Is nothing sacrosanct or private anymore? Now when you call an important personage only to be told he is in the bath, you could surprise the phone-answering lackey with a wealth of knowledge on the whereabouts of his boss. That should scare the pants of some of our perennially bathing netas.

The complications are endless. Now if you decide to tell some pesky caller, 'how nice to hear from you again' when you mean, 'why don't you migrate to the Galapagos Islands and never return', you could lose a lot of friends. But those who think that this technology, from the tight-lipped Israelis of all people, is a boon, do give us a call.






Yaad se teri dile dard aashna mamur hai/Jaise kaabe mein duaon se fiza mamur hai. (This aching heart is filled with your memories/Just as the kaaba overflows with prayers) — Iqbal, expressing his love for his mother after she passed away.

The world was proud to celebrate Mother's Day yesterday. And we were too keen and happy to recount mothers' contributions towards our health and happiness.

The status of a mother is so haloed that according to one Hadith, "Paradise lies beneath a mother's feet" and in Hinduism God is seen in the form of a caring mother.

A mother has a sublime status in all religions and in India, traditions hold that the mother's blessings are important for success in life. If one were to read about the lives of enlightened ones,one would find that their spiritual quest would not have been possible without the sacrifices of their mothers.

Shankaracharya was thinking that he would have to take his mother's permission to renounce the world. While he was bathing in the river Poorna, a crocodile caught his leg. When his mother came rushing to the bank, he told his mother that the crocodile would release him only if he took up sanyasa. The mother's sacrifice was important.

It was the same with the Sufi saint Shaikh Gilani when he set out to renounce the world to find the truth. He sought the permission of his mother to visit Baghdad and acquire knowledge and the company of the righteous. His mother wept and stitched his inheritance of 40 gold dinars in the lining of his coat and made him promise that he must ever commit himself to truth under all circumstances.

Even today, mothers would do any kind of sacrifice for the happiness of their children. One comes across numerous incidents where mothers donate their limbs and organs to replace the defective ones in a sick child. A mother is the first and the last refuge for any child. She alone has the innocence to see innocence in her child, in all circumstances.





The central government's worries have not ended with the budget session of Parliament. Instead of emerging stronger from the session, the UPA appears to have further weakened. The numbers by which the government defeated the cut motions in Lok Sabha are deceptive. They do not reflect the tug-of-war going on within the alliance and among its allies. The UPA is also the sole beneficiary of the BJP's weak leadership. In fact, the seemingly good position of the ruling alliance is on account of the failure of the Opposition to put forward a viable alternative.

During this session, the UPA has come under immense pressure from within on several issues. The inability of the government to assert itself in no uncertain terms came to the fore when it had to cobble together the numbers to prove on the floor of the House that it still commanded a comfortable majority during voting on the cut motion. Normally, no one would have thought that the government that came to power less than 11 months ago would have to take a majority test.

The Congress alone had 207 members (after the polls) and, together with its allies, the combination faced no threat whatsoever. However, the government has been through a lot of phases that it could have avoided while sending out a message that its writ was final. Unfortunately, shoddy political management and the failure to anticipate problems, along with internal dissensions, have created an image of dissonance.

The differences within the UPA and with its allies started soon after the Congress unilaterally decided to push the Women's Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha on March 8 this year. The intention behind the Bill may have been noble but its timing was wrong. No contentious bill should have been introduced before the passage of the Finance Bill. The result was that both the RJD, led by Lalu Prasad, and the SP, headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav, decided to oppose the UPA.

Invoking the Congress president's name, the government managed to get the Bill passed with the help of the Left parties and the BJP in the Rajya Sabha but ended up without some of its supporters. A situation arose in which the UPA had to take the support of its arch rival Mayawati to win the vote on the cut motions decisively.

But the supreme irony was that the Bill, which seemed to have divided the UPA/allies, was not taken up in the Lok Sabha during this session. Maybe the belated realisation that it could further divide the coalition or lead to differences within the party may have been behind the decision to put it off. In private, many Congress leaders are heaving a sigh of relief since they considered the Bill to be a 'virtual death warrant' of their political ambitions.

The session also saw the NCP boss, Sharad Pawar, facing flak for alleged wrongdoings within the Cricket Board, which he heads. The fall-out of the cricketgate scandal was that one minister, Shashi Tharoor, had to quit. Further repercussions of this affair are still not clear but cricketing relations have not helped in cementing political alliances. The spectrum scandal has also left its shadow on the integrity of the central government and attempts to clear Telecom Minister A. Raja's name have not succeeded so far. His party, the DMK, has conveyed to the prime minister that their minister cannot be touched.

In addition, Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress is unhappy with the Congress for letting it down in West Bengal. The party has now decided to contest the civic polls on its own when contesting them together would have sent a stronger message to the people of West Bengal ahead of the assembly polls.

The road ahead is rocky unless the top leadership takes some bold and firm decisions on its policies and programmes. The UPA is a coalition and in order to make it succeed, the Congress, which is the senior partner, must always follow the coalition dharma. Between us.






In large parts of secular India, Hindu widows, some of them no more than children, are constrained to wear white. Even if you've never been to Benaras where widows are reportedly dumped by the dozen in various ashrams, you have only to see Deepa Mehta's Water or any of the dozens of photo-features that routinely pop up in newsmagazines, to see these women dressed in stark white, unadorned by jewellery, many with shaved heads, begging for a few rupees, a handful of rice, a rotting banana.


know that they are widows by the talismans of their white saris. Just as you know that a woman in a burqa is Muslim. A community that believes it is under siege usually reacts by turning inward, clinging to its religious and cultural identities. Ban the burqa and you can be sure that more and more women will take to wearing the headscarf.


Male-dominated society has for too long controlled what women should and should not wear. In Rajasthani villages, custom dictates what colour a woman's dupatta should be if she is married, unmarried or a widow. In Kerala, lower-caste women fought for their right to cover their breasts. And in Punjab women routinely cover their heads as a sign of their modesty.


In 2005, an Islamic scholar issued a fatwa against Sania Mirza for wearing short skirts, un-Islamic according to him, while playing tennis. Sania refused to be drawn into the controversy, which in time blew over, with the venerable gentleman going back to the obscurity to which he belonged.


In urban India, even in the conservative north, many clothing taboos are breaking down. Where they wore saris a decade ago, they now wear salwar-kameez, where they wore salwar-kameez, they now wear pants, dresses, shorts even. Not everyone's pleased: the moral police huffs and puffs about the 'degradation' of Indian culture. Regardless, women — even if they are a minuscule minority in urban India — are asserting their right to dress as they please.


So, if we are to condemn the wearing of white by Hindu widows, how are we to react to the donning of a burqa by Muslim women, even when it is 'voluntary'?


Belgium, with its famed Flemish-French divide where legislators can rarely agree on anything, recently became the first European country to pass a bill in the lower house of Parliament to ban the wearing of the burqa — the garment that covers women from top to toe — in public. Once the ban is endorsed by the Senate, women spotted in public in a burqa could be fined €25 or spend a week in jail.


If Belgium leads, can other European countries be far behind? Italy and the Netherlands are mulling a ban. France, in 2004, banned ostentatious displays of religious symbols, including the headscarf worn by girls and turbans worn by Sikh boys in government-run schools. President Nicolas Sarkozy, who famously said that the burqa is 'not welcome in France', is now drafting a ban bill.


Reaction to Belgium's proposed legislation has been polarised. Muslim groups have condemned the proposed law. So has Amnesty International, which sees the ban as an 'attack on religious freedom'. Those who applaud the move have a variety of reasons: the burqa, some say, is a security threat; the garment could conceal weapons and how are security forces to ascertain the identity of a veil-covered person? And then there is the argument that the burqa is a garment of male oppression. Banning it is a step forward.


Look at the burqa debate in another way: is a ban to be considered discrimination against Muslims or is it a step to liberate women? The liberal view would be to protect minority rights. The feminist inclination is to say women must be free to wear the clothes they really want to.


But even the feminists have been silent. Belgium's move could have been applauded but for obvious give-aways. No more than an estimated 215 women in Belgium are fully veiled. In France only 1,900 women, or less than 0.0003 per cent of French Muslims, are estimated to wear the burqa. Behind the lofty claims of liberating women lies the lurking suspicion that the ban is nothing more than thinly veiled bigotry. If nothing else, the legislation signals a clear discomfort with visible symbols of Islam in Europe.


However you see it, the law is an ass. How do you claim to liberate women by fining them or packing them off to jail for wearing garments imposed on them either through direct force or through social pressure? Moreover, a community that believes it is under siege usually reacts by turning inward, clinging to its religious and cultural identities. Ban the burqa and you can be sure that more and more women will take to wearing the headscarf.


Then what? Ban the headscarf too?


Putting a woman behind a veil, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, or for that matter any effort at controlling the clothes she wears — white sari or burqa or skirts while playing tennis — is regressive. The burqa denies women individuality, placing them in a collective cousinhood of unthreatening neutrality.


But coercion — whether it is sought through legislation, a maulvi's fatwa or social pressure — seldom results in change. Banning the burqa is a step backward, not forward. And that is the sad reality that Belgium's legislators must face.


Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer


The views expressed by the author are personal 







When the furore over telephone conversations of politicians being "tapped" hit Parliament, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram clarified that the government had not authorised the tapping of any politician's telephone. But as this newspaper reported on April 27, the problem was not targetted tapping of a specific telephone number, something that needs explicit authorisation. The controversy centred on passive, or off-the-air, interception using a listening device to access randomly, chatter in a given area. The allegation was that in the course of technical intelligence operations, parts of conversations of some politicians had been tracked. While the Indian Telegraph Act regulates "target-centric" tapping of a specific phone number and the courts have order stringent protocols to be followed, the law is silent on passive intercepts. It is in this context that the home ministry's proposal to bring passive intercepts under a regulatory regime must be welcomed.


Apart from regulatation under the Telegraph Act, the Supreme Court has set up elaborate safeguards for "target-centric" phone-tapping, entrusting a high-level committee to review the tapping on a monthly basis. Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai says the government is proposing legislation to regulate the "purchase, deployment and monitoring" of passive interception technology. It also wants all "passive interceptors" in India to be identified. With regard to intelligence agencies, it would mean limiting the possibility of politically motivated tapping. With regard to private players — who should not have use of such technology in the first place — the home secretary suggests that a deadline be given to surrender the devices, after which "penal action will be taken". Since the listening devices, estimated to cost Rs 1-10 crore, are not prohibitively expensive, aggressive monitoring is crucial.


The tension between civil liberties and signal intercepts is an inevitable one in a liberal democracy, and privacy

safeguards must coexist with sophisticated intelligence-gathering. For instance, our ability to listen in on telephone chatter between the 26/11 killers and their Pakistani handlers was key to proving the Pakistan connection. Surveillance, including through telephone intercepts, is a security need. But there must be rigorous oversight of surveillance, the data carefully managed, and misuse penalised. It is hoped that the proposed legislation navigates these competing aims.






Rabindranath Tagore would have been pleased, without a trace of jingoism, to learn about the Unesco's choice of Bengali as the "sweetest language in the world", if there's any value at all to such an impossible judgment. The polymath whose 150th birth anniversary celebrations begin this year — he was born in 1861 — was a founding father of the modern, self-confident, post-colonial India. But Tagore, who didn't live to see India independent, was first and foremost a poet. Tagore the thinker/ philosopher came second. It was his original genius that makes the intellectual-cultural history of modern Bengal as much the life story of Tagore and the myriad uses he has been put to, not least in the Tagore industry.


Tagore's aesthetic-political legacy is in the fervent call upon sanity and human decency. His lifelong immersion in thinking about and raising India above indignity was routed through the breaching of every narrow domestic wall. That made him the arch internationalist he was, one who saw the uses of nationalism and saw beyond, to the need of rising above it. As India celebrates Tagore's 150th birth anniversary, when it's turning many a corner that cannot be revisited, this is what we should remember: the magnitude and reach of the mind without fear. It's not we who left Tagore behind; his poetry and prose, in thought and subject, appear to be still up ahead, where we are yet to reach.


From Santiniketan — the site of Tagore's experiment in holistic education and knowledge as its own end — there's news of a two-year-long festival, with publications, performances, nationwide and international promotions. The Union government plans, among other things, a commemorative coin. While all of that is in keeping with the occasion, it should be remembered how Tagore worship, especially in the two Bengals, has also done a disservice to the Nobel laureate who urged his compatriots to transcend all haloed notions of themselves and only then take their rightful place in the community of nations. He wouldn't admonish anyone for losing the token of his Nobel medallion, but we could have done without losing it. As for him, he didn't think twice about relinquishing his knighthood.








Animation is built on plagiarism!... You take away our right to steal ideas, where are they going to come from?" asks an irate producer in a highly meta courtroom wrangle in The Simpsons, over the ownership of the cartoon characters Itchy and Scratchy. Now, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, producer of last year's runaway success 3 Idiots, has sent a legal notice to director Biswaroop Roy Chowdhury, for daring to attempt 4th Idiot, an animated film supposedly sparked off by his own. Chowdhury shrugged off the charges, saying, "everything is inspired by something", and that creative works are not produced out of a vacuum.


Chopra and Chowdhury will perhaps battle it out. But away from their spat, it is worth remembering that artistry is inspired by art, a fact restrictive copyright regimes often refuse to accept. This is not to condone outright forgery, but to accept that making fiction is crucially a matter of borrowing and recombining influences. Did Shakespeare plagiarise Boccaccio? Were T.S. Eliot's allusive poetic fragments simply filching? In fact, the biggest copyright aggressor of our times, Walt Disney, is also the biggest plunderer of myth and fairytale. Also, imitation actually can magnify the aura of the original. Even J.K. Rowling and her publishers, after the initial recoil, came around to the recognition that Harry Potter-inspired fan fiction was flattering. However, how much of this "inspiration" is fair use? Rowling has also famously sued other derivative works.


While acknowledging the dues of authorship, as copyright is meant to, we need to remind ourselves that it should not end up constricting cultural exchange and expression.









This week, at Cannes, the world, actually a teeny-weeny part of the world, will get a second dekko at Gekko. Gordon Gekko, the protagonist/ bad guy of Oliver Stone's 1987 box office and critical success, Wall Street, reappears in the sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. The rest of us will see an older Michael Douglas interpret an older Gordon Gekko in September (the US theatre release date) or later.


That's a really late general release. But chatter and commentary on Stone's sequel aren't waiting for it. Indeed, they shouldn't, given what Stone aims at saying.


Parenthetically, and this is too delicious not to note, Cannes will also see the first screening of French auteur Jean-Luc Godard's latest film, Socialisme (Socialism). Stone on capitalism and Godard on socialism at the same festival — that's something.


Non-parenthetically, Godard's 1979 movie, a big one in his filmography, Sauve Qui Peut/ La Vie (English title: Everyman for Himself) has this memorable dialogue that feeds right into Stone's filmic attempts to critique Wall Street. In Godard's film, a pimp, while admonishing a prostitute who thinks of going independent, tells her, "Nobody is independent, not whores, not typists, not duchesses, not servants, not champion tennis players... only the banks are independent."


Well, the banks aren't independent, are they? Not after the financial crisis, with trillions of public money shoring them up. And there have been bank bailouts throughout financial history.


But stylishly leftwing Godard overestimated banks' omnipotence. Why? Because for stylishly leftwing (SLW, for shorthand) critics — Stone is at the top part of this list — of capitalism, especially capitalist finance, banks have their own mythology: moneymen, people who make money out of money, who are therefore up to no good and, worst of all, they own us.


At least the latest financial crisis should have demonstrated we, taxpayers, can own banks, too. And financial history demonstrates another simple lesson: banks seem omnipotent when they do fancy stuff and they do fancy stuff when the governments we elect set rules that engender fanciness.


American finance, the provocation for much of SLW critiques, was fairly plain vanilla for most of the period of America's sturdy post-war growth, when the country emerged as an undisputed economic superpower. Capitalist finance supporting robust capitalist economic performance doesn't require seemingly omnipotent banks.


Okay, question: why are we being dreadfully, economist-like prosaic when assessing artistic critiques? Because artistic critiques of capitalism would be no less stylish and much less woolly were they to leave aside the myths and the consequent easy but wrong hits. Godard could have easily left out banks from the pimp's dialogue and still made his point.


The reason why SLW critics should give economics a little more chance becomes clearer when we look at Stone's iconic one-liner contribution to SLW critique. In Stone's first Wall Street movie, Gekko famously said, "greed is good."


The apparent sheer effrontery, the vulgarity, the insensitivity of that mantra has been the ballast on which many SLW theses have floated. Post-financial crisis, even non-SLW types wondered whether bankers' avarice didn't really represent an awfully big morality deficit.


From what has been credibly reported on the story of Stone's second Wall Street movie, critique of the same morality deficit informs the plot. Indeed, Stone told Michael Lewis — the latter previewed Wall Street II for the Vanity Fair — that he's doing the sequel because the financial crisis for him was "the collapse of capitalism and collapse of our society". Phew! So, Gekkoist immorality — "greed is great" as the new signature Gekko one-liner? — probably looms even larger in post-crisis Wall Street.


But Stone, and other SLW critics didn't and don't get it. Greed, in the context of assessing capitalist finance troubles, isn't the big or the relevant thing at all. True, greed — wanting something more than one needs, especially wealth — is inseparable from capitalist ethos. But greed doesn't cause collapse. Ask yourself, up to what point should an increase in greediness be tolerated vis-à-vis the goal of stable finance. It's a meaningless question.


Greed is always there. Crises, which come only sometimes, are caused by stupidity, by overconfidence, by certain sets of finance rules and, as the Goldman case is making clear for this crisis, by fraud.


No one should empathise with capitalist financiers who have been stupid or overconfident. And fraud in capitalist finance is immoral, dreadfully so; bilking your client destroys a fundamental banking principle. Remember here how Gekko gets his comeuppance in the first Wall Street movie. He's jailed for insider trading — that means fraud, not greed, and that's fraud in part allowed by bad government rules and in part by overconfidence.


In his sequel, Stone apparently has two banks, one modelled on Bear Stearns and one on Goldman Sachs. Bear and Goldman are good exemplars of financial stupidity, overconfidence and possible fraud. So, what Stone has done is great, or would be great, if we knew for definite that he has strayed from the SLW critique. But hearing Stone, and hearing others well-informed about his sequel, it appears greed is the motif — Gekko, out of jail, wants to be back in, big time, and he, horror, uses his daughter's young financial analyst boyfriend to do it.


If Stone's film treatment of Wall Street is unreformed, it's disappointing. W, Stone's film on George Bush (another favourite SLW target), was actually fairly nuanced. There was some empathy (Stone's description; others called it sympathy) for the film's "bad guy". Many American SLW critics took issue with Stone for the film. So, Stone can critique the rightwing and avoid at least some of the easy and wrong hits.


Post-crisis Wall Street cries out for a caustic but non-woolly movie treatment. There's already a candidate for that yet-to-be-made movie's iconic bad guy one-liner. It comes from Stone. Speaking to Lewis, and recounting that he had read three books on Enron to comprehend the scandal, Stone says, "I couldn't understand a ****ing thing".Read the pre-crisis Goldman emails that US regulators have unearthed, where so-called financial whiz kids cheerfully admit their inability to comprehend what they have created. That's not greed, that's stupidity/ fraud/ overconfidence.


"I couldn't understand a ****ing thing" is exactly what the big moneyman should say as he receives his comeuppance in a better kind of Wall Street film.








The exhortation by HRD Minister Kapil Sibal that the education sector needs priority lending is very timely. Almost two decades ago one of India's private technical universities — later to become an IIT — was invited by a sheikhdom to set up an affiliate there. I was then in the Planning Commission, and I sponsored their case arguing that knowledge is a resource and should be a case for proactive financing. In this case it was for export, making it doubly good. It came through and I thought we had crossed a Rubicon. But I rejoiced too early. A later government, I was told, did not think that was a good idea since educational institutes are "charities" and the collateral from the very sound trust backing up the proposal was of no consequence. Those early pilgrims abroad were left high and dry.


Now of course there is urgency behind all this, reflected in the four education bills discussed in Parliament this week. We have built a much-desired legal structure for foreign universities to set up shop in India. I recently had an exchange with a policy-maker in which I asked him if we in India would get the same funding opportunities foreign universities do. He looked at me pityingly and said we are operating a level playing field: neither the foreigners nor locals get access to long-term lending as charities are not entitled to that. I asked him innocently if there was a level playing field when in the foreign university's country of origin it had access to long-term funding — because those countries believe that knowledge is wealth and therefore eligible for investment? He told me I was confusing things.


The mindset that universities are either publicly funded or are governed under the Trusts Act — which tries its level best to control the charitable instincts of corporates — is well ingrained in India. You can't blame us, for there have always been businessmen who used trusts as tax havens. But when new legal structures are created — as the HRD minister implies — you have to move with the times. When the early legislation for private universities was being discussed, I remember telling the chairman of the parliamentary standing committee that I was not sure it was a wise idea that a private university had to give to the state government a financial projection for 10 years, when as VC JNU I did not know my budget for the year in January.


Under the Trusts Act and the Societies Registration Act (of 1868) private educational institutions are allowed to borrow from banks but not from long-term funding institutions, since they are charities. In India the long-term lending system was for many years state-controlled; and so IDBI, IIFC and so on were out. Now, anyway, they are banks. But the infrastructure lending corporations now set up should be allowed to lend to educational institutions. Just as for any infrastructure project they would do their due diligence, as professional lending agencies. No further control is needed.


The minister can have his little educational parastatal in his ministry that he wants — if for no other reason then to let his senior bureaucracy wet its feet in matters financial — but the big thing is to change the rules to let universities, private, and I would also say public, creatively borrow like anybody else. They will soon learn to do balance sheet and profit and loss accounting, cash flows and internal rates of return, rather than their income and expenditure statements, which will be all to the good.


At one level good education is about values, but having ensured that, it is about professional teachers who, like anybody else, pay their income tax and don't beat their wives. It is also about buildings, libraries, wi-fi and research facilities and many other small things that need to be run efficiently. The late Rajiv Gandhi in designing his reform was always very concerned about the details of the organisation and financing of the new set-up. He knew that the existing system has a legal and financial back-up centuries old and the new one did not have a chance if not designed and established from the beginning. His design of Panchayati Raj endures. As the HRD minister said, it is never too late for education.


The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural management, Anand








Mumbai knows a spectacle when it sees one. Which is why it is no surprise that the financial capital is also the entertainment capital of this part of the world. But as several recent disturbing events have shown, Maximum City seems to be injecting an entertainment quotient into its daily discourse. And nothing seemed to reflect this more than the trial of the 26/11 terror attack on the city. The events of those three days in late November 2008 are still fresh in memory and the ghastliness of the outrage needs no reiteration.


The conclusion of the trial in 12 months and the speedy sentencing of Ajmal Kasab, as well as the acquittals of Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed, are being hailed as a victory of Indian democracy and its independent judicial system, which they are to an extent. But the euphoria of firecrackers being burst and sweets distributed in the city to celebrate Kasab's death sentence, not to mention the victory signs, grandstanding inside and outside court and cash awards being announced for the judge and the prosecutor, have misplaced the sense of sobriety that should have accompanied such an occasion and masked the warts that were so frequently thrown up during the course of the probe into the attack and the trial.


If the case were to be weighed on a scale for the Mumbai Police, the verdict is only half a victory as the prosecution won the easy part of getting Kasab convicted. The acquittals of Ahmed and Ansari were a cruel blow to the force as it showed the failure to build and prove a solid case, that is if there was one in the first place, that the two Indian men had indeed scouted the 26/11 targets and helped Lashkar bosses plan and execute the attack. Doubts had been expressed about the complicity of the two men from the time they were picked up as suspects and then charged for their alleged role. Their acquittal and the accompanying strong comments by the court have ended up underlining the shoddy attempt to prove an Indian hand in the carnage. Of course, Ansari and Ahmed also need to thank the emergence of a wild card in the form of David Headley which tilted the scales overwhelmingly in their favour midway through the trial.


A recap of the trial, however, shows that this sense of clarity and balance was not always evident and often one or the other party was allowed to play to the gallery from behind the fortified walls of Arthur Road Jail. In fact, the drama started even before the trial, with the selection of a woman lawyer to defend Kasab running into controversy and triggering protests because she was also the wife of a man who worked in the same Mumbai police which was so brutally targeted by Kasab. Her successor took his job so seriously that the judge felt that he was not co-operating with the court and was possibly trying to drag the trial and ended up sacking him four months before the trial concluded.


Bizarre stories often emerged from the trial about how Kasab wanted biryani instead of plain rice, wanted to celebrate Raksha Bandhan and tie rakhis, offered to sketch his Lashkar bosses and gave childish doodles, talked and laughed in the face of the court and made a mockery of the judicial process and sparking justifiable indignation in the light of the brutality he was accused of. Often, it seemed like Kasab was an alien exhibit on display, for the court, the prosecution and defence, and even the media reporting the trial. And the court was unusually indulgent of the media, allowing reporters to interrupt proceedings and even seek clarifications, something completely unheard of.


The shocker came when Kasab retracted his confession and guilty plea and went on to narrate how he had come to Mumbai to watch Bollywood movies and was picked up from a city beach and framed in the case because he was Pakistani. Surely his awareness and strategy to deal with the court had undergone a transformation even though he was in solitary confinement and had no contact with the outside world barring his low profile lawyer who seemed to be struggling to mount a strong defence. It was subsequently understood that Kasab was possibly being coached by his two Indian co-accused with whom he sat through the day in the court. Yet, no attempt was made to separate them and stop Kasab from wasting the time and energy of the court.


While the verdict seeks to throw a blanket on those blemishes and hopes to bring closure to yet another tragedy in Mumbai's contemporary history, it actually needs to serve as a wake-up call for much that is left undone on the security and legal fronts vis-à-vis the other terror strikes witnessed by the state. Two key developments in recent weeks went rather unnoticed in the superfast news cycles that have come to symbolise our times. First, the Maharashtra government — which had recreated a mini Republic Day-style parade to display its new security gadgets on the first anniversary of 26/11 — admitted in the state assembly last month that it had not been able to buy any new bullet-proof jackets for its policemen since the attack even though the quality of these vests were among the most widely debated controversies in the aftermath of 26/11.


Days later, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition that had challenged the use of the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) in the 2006 serial blasts on local trains which killed 188 people, the 2006 Malegaon blasts and the Aurangabad arms haul case. The real story here was not the court dismissing the petition but that it actually took the state more than two years to achieve this, during which the trial was suspended and the undertrials languished in jail. And this was less due to a hotly contested legal battle and more because the state did not display the urgency to push the legal system to vacate the stay. Some legal experts also feel that the state is on the backfoot in the 2008 Malegaon blast trial after the application of MCOCA was found invalid and planters of the bomb are yet to be found.


Which is why the Kasab trial and verdict is the exception to the norm. What will happen to Kasab's sentence and how soon he will be hanged if he runs out of all options to get it reversed is, for the moment, caught in a cacophony of politics and law. Bizarre comparisons being made between him and Saddam Hussein and Afzal Guru notwithstanding, the trajectory of his case will surely challenge the wits of the Centre even as it embarks on a fresh attempt to make peace with Pakistan. For Mumbai and Maharashtra, the spectacle of 26/11 is pretty much over. It is time to reboot the system and focus on the overloaded inbox, without forgetting the lessons of the tragedy.








Hours before May Day, a thousand suns exploded over Shanghai in a stunning display of fireworks, illuminating the Pudong skyline, its freeways and the Huangpu river that separates it from the other half in Puxi. Roars greeted every explosion — the city celebrating the end of an eight-year wait for Expo 2010.


All of Shanghai dressed up for the event, the most momentous in China since the 2008 Olympics — they expect some 70 million footfalls over 180 days of the expo. The roads looked squeaky clean, even in old Puxi on the west bank; the buses, the underground, the ferries and the two airports moved like well-oiled machines, unloading thousands streaming to the expo venue.


Mascot Haibao was everywhere — soft toys on the streets, cutouts in hotel lobbies, stickers on restaurant windows. China Eastern even had the Better City, Better Life theme line painted on its aircraft. Young volunteers, speaking English and armed with maps of the expo venue, guided visitors, aware that there were going to be no more rehearsals. This was the real thing.


Watching the spectacle unfold, a colleague mentioned the Commonwealth Games. India must be all ready and waiting, he said. I told him Delhi still had 150 days to go for the Games opener.


What I didn't tell him was that less than a year had separated the award of the bids to the two cities — entirely different events yet prestigious. Shanghai won the right to host the 2010 Expo in December 2002 — it beat Yeosu in South Korea at the 132nd meeting of the BIE (Bureau of International Exhibitions) in Monte Carlo. Delhi won the right to host the 2010 Games in November 2003 — it beat principal rival Hamilton (Canada) at a meeting of the Commonwealth Games Federation general assembly in Montego Bay in Jamaica.


But Shanghai had begun moving on the expo at least three years before it was awarded the event. In May 1999, the Shanghai municipal government began scouting for a theme study for the first expo in a developing country, declaring theme selection and presentation as a priority. Pudong had been developed with great care ever since Deng Xiaoping, the man behind the opening up of China, told Shanghai leaders that they needed to develop the land across the Huangpu. "Shanghai is our trump card."


In Shanghai Pudong Miracle: A case study of China's fast-track economy, Zhao Qizheng and Shao Yudong (Qizheng was Shanghai vice-mayor and the first governor of the Pudong New Area) recall "making a beautiful dress out of a piece of high quality material." "One has to carefully design it before cutting. If you are in too much of a rush, you might make a mistake. Then even if you sew several gold buttons on it, it will be of no help... That is what we bore in mind when we set out to develop Pudong. We sat down and mapped out the plan with great care."


But just Pudong alone wouldn't have worked for the expo. The pavilions were to be located on both banks of the Huangpu, spread over 5.28 sq km — 3.93 sq km in Pudong and 1.35 sq km in Puxi. The entire city infrastructure needed an upgrade.


So this is what they did:


From one runway and one terminal, the Hongqiao International Airport transformed into two runways and two terminals, equipped to handle 30 million passengers every year.


The Pudong International Airport second phase project went for two terminals and three runways with an annual capacity of 60 million passengers.


Three railways stations — Hongqiao, Shanghai, Shanghai South — formed a circular railway network.


Nine buildings of the International Passenger Transport Centre of Shanghai Port had their roofs sealed in 2007. The centre was completed in 2008, significantly raising the passenger capacity.


The north and south long-distance bus terminals were upgraded, the number of passageways jumping from six to nine, and lanes from 14 to 54.


Integration of the Yangtze river delta road network was promoted and linking of regional expressways accelerated. Ten expressways connected to the delta were to get 60 lanes.


The underground rail transit network was reworked to take pressure off ground transport with 11 transit lines, 280 stops and daily traffic of over 5 million commuters.


From 2005, Shanghai began building special bus lanes, targeting 300 km by 2010. There were a total of 41 expo lines — 17 for transport hubs, nine for hotels, nine for suburbs and six for university campuses.


Water transport lines were to absorb 10 per cent of the visitor flow. Within the site, three water gates — two in Pudong and one in Puxi — connected the banks of the Huangpu. Shuttles were to facilitate entry and exits of visitors.


Cross-river transport was planned with buses using tunnels, ferries and a dedicated expo metro line.


Elevated pedestrian walkways extended in all directions, providing a panoramic view of the expo site.


This transport upgrade, expo organisers maintained, was crucial not just for the success of the event but the future growth of Shanghai. The theme development, they pointed out, had begun with three questions: What kind of a city makes life better? What kind of life makes cities better? What kind of urban development makes the earth a better home?


Shanghai was trying to answer these. Perhaps Delhi and other cities in India could join in.








Globally, a majority of people including Indians are not aware that India has wild lions. The tiger, which replaced the lion as the national animal in the early 1970s, does hog the headlines and therefore has a much stronger link to India and an overwhelming presence in public conscience. The only surviving population of wild and free-ranging lions in Asia is found in and around the Gir forest in the Saurashtra peninsula of Gujarat.


The Asiatic Lion (Panthera leo persica) has been in the news recently. The result of the 2010 lion census was recently announced and the total number of wild lions in Saurashtra is 411 — a 14 per cent increase from the last official estimate of 359 lions in 2005. This is clearly good news. In fact the conservation history of the lions in and around Gir is a remarkable success story, and the challenge now is to sustain and build on these achievements to ensure the long-term survival of these wonderful wild cats.


Lions are unique in being the only social cats. The lions in Gir are special as they are mainly forest-dwelling and subsisting on deer unlike their African cousins. I spent more than four years studying the lions for my PhD, from December 1985 to March 1990, and since then have retained an abiding interest in the ecology and conservation of these lions.


The government of Gujarat and the citizens of the state, especially in Saurashtra deserve whole-hearted appreciation and support for their conservation efforts, which have led to a significant increase in the number of Asiatic lions. The scale of this achievement can be fully recognised only when we compare the current population of lions in Gir with estimates in the late 1800s and early 1900s which put the number as low as 20 to 50 lions. While we may quibble over the veracity of these estimates (including the current ones), what cannot be challenged is that the lions in Gir had a close brush with extinction due to their very low population, and with the increase in numbers their conservation status has improved.


Despite the conservation prospects vastly improving for the lions in Gir, this population constitutes the only remaining wild Asiatic lions. It is akin to having all your eggs in one basket. Lions, in the current situation, face the risk of extinction from a whole host of threats. If any of these threats were to actualise, it will have catastrophic consequences and result in the complete erosion of the conservation gains of more than a century. Science and prudence demand that at least one more free-ranging population of lions be established by translocating eight lions from Gir and reintroducing them in Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in western Madhya Pradesh.


I see the translocation and establishment of another free-ranging population of lions as buying insurance against extinction of wild and free-ranging lions in Asia. Irrespective of the size of the population of lions in Gir, the fact that Gir and its surroundings are the only place where wild lions occur in Asia, is enough justification for the translocation. It does not matter whether you have a dozen eggs or one hundred eggs in your basket. If the basket falls all the eggs are bound to break.


As I have already acknowledged, the proposed translocation is no reflection on the quality of care and management that the state government and the citizens have bestowed on the lions over the last several decades. We do not buy life insurance for ourselves and our family members expecting that we will all die shortly. Similarly why should we not take all precautions to guard against the conservation threats that a single population is inherently bound to face? The argument that no such event has occurred in the last century is to tempt fate.


There is a major problem in the thinking and policy making related to wildlife conservation in India. The focus is invariably on the fate of individual animals, when the inescapable reality is that all animals are born to die. It is the timing and the circumstances of death that should be of concern rather than the fact that animals have died. The focus of conservation action should be to ensure, (a) persistence of populations of wildlife, (b) quality, integrity and contiguity of wildlife habitats, and (c) mitigation of human-wildlife conflicts. I expect far more effective conservation if this line of thinking is properly understood and guides conservation planning in India.


The government of Gujarat and popular sentiment in the state have been opposing the idea of translocating lions outside the state. A whole host of objections have been voiced, including the state's response to a PIL in the Supreme Court. I do not want to use this space to refute these objections, not because they cannot be refuted, but because I think there is a need for us to fundamentally re-engage Gujarat in this dialogue. I strongly believe that almost all of their objections come from a flawed understanding of the objectives of the proposed translocation and an incomplete understanding of the scientific principles governing the management of endangered species. The Government of India and Government of Madhya Pradesh should proactively engage Gujarat in this conservation initiative.


By keeping the conservation of Asiatic lions as the focused objective, and adopting a generous and cooperative attitude, I am hopeful that the two state governments and the Centre can work out an innovative set of solutions to break the current logjam. I am confident that the lion's roar will soon resound through vast tracts of forests which were once part of its former distribution range in central India.


The writer is country director, Wildlife Conservation Society-India Programme







The meta-story behind the British election, the Greek meltdown and our own Tea Party is this: Our parents were "The Greatest Generation," and they earned that title by making enormous sacrifices and investments to build us a world of abundance. My generation, "The Baby Boomers," turned out to be what the writer Kurt Andersen called "The Grasshopper Generation." We've eaten through all that abundance like hungry locusts.


Now we and our kids together need to become "The Regeneration" — one that raises incomes anew but in a way that is financially and ecologically sustainable. It will take a big adjustment.


We baby boomers in America and Western Europe were raised to believe there really was a Tooth Fairy, whose magic would allow conservatives to cut taxes without cutting services and liberals to expand services without raising taxes. The Tooth Fairy did it by printing money, by bogus accounting and by deluding us into thinking that by borrowing from China or Germany, or against our rising home values, or by creating exotic financial instruments to trade with each other, we were actually creating wealth.


Greece, for instance, became the General Motors of countries. Like GM's management, Greek politicians used the easy money and subsidies that came with European Union membership not to make themselves more competitive in a flat world, but more corrupt, less willing to collect taxes and uncompetitive. Under Greek law, anyone in certain "hazardous" jobs could retire with full pension at 50 for women and 55 for men — including hairdressers who use a lot of chemical dyes and shampoos. In Britain, everyone over 60 gets an annual allowance to pay heating bills and can ride any local bus for free. That's really sweet — if you can afford it. But Britain, where 25 per cent of the government's budget is now borrowed, can't anymore.


Britain and Greece are today's poster children for the new post-Tooth Fairy politics, where baby boomers will have to accept deep cuts to their benefits and pensions today so their kids can have jobs and not be saddled with debts tomorrow. Otherwise, we're headed for intergenerational conflict throughout the West.


David Willetts, a British Conservative candidate told me that the Tories' most effective campaign ad was a poster showing a newborn baby under the headline: "Dad's eyes, Mum's nose, Gordon Brown's debt." Beneath was the caption: "Labour's debt crisis: Every child in Britain is born owing £17,000. They deserve better." What is most striking about the British election, said John Micklethwait, editor-in-chief of The Economist, was that it may be the first Western election "based on pain." All the leading candidates warned voters that "cuts are coming," but none were even close to honest about how deep.


Too bad no party won a majority mandate in the British elections to do this job. After 65 years in which politics in the West was, mostly, about giving things away to voters, it's now going to be, mostly, about taking things away. Goodbye Tooth Fairy politics, hello Root Canal politics. It's no fun. Just ask Greek parliamentarians, who, in the wake of announcing radical austerity measures, found their Parliament besieged by rioting anti-austerity protestors. My takeaway is that US and European politicians — please don't laugh — are going to have to get a lot smarter and more honest. To be the Regeneration, they'll have to figure out how to raise some taxes to increase revenues, while cutting other taxes to stimulate growth; they'll have to cut some services to save money, while investing in new infrastructure to grow economic capacity. We have got to use every dollar wisely now. Because we've eaten through our reserves, because the lords of discipline, the electronic herd of bond traders, are back with a vengeance — and because that Tooth Fairy, she be dead.








Growing fears of an unresolved Greek debt crisis, which might yet extend to other countries like Portugal, Spain and Ireland have spooked the Indian markets with the benchmark 30-share Sensex shedding around 600 points in the last five trading sessions and closing below the 17,000-mark for the first time in two months. The rupee, too, fell to a six-week low against the dollar, adding to the worries of the investors. The slide comes even as companies are reporting healthy top line and bottom line growth in their quarter-ended March results, and domestic factors like interest rates and liquidity conditions continue to remain favourable. Though some amount of caution is warranted given how the Indian markets in general have performed in the last one year—giving a return of 80%—the consensus is that the panic of 2008 is unlikely to be replicated. Given that the US economy is showing strong signs of a rebound, the markets are expected to remain range-bound in the near term. Other than the global sentiment and global liquidity, earnings growth will be the main factor that will drive the markets here. The period between July and September is going to be extremely crucial for India because of the monsoon, which will have a significant impact in terms of the rural economy and domestic demand.


Interestingly, the results for the quarter-ended March indicate that the IT sector is seeing a strong growth in volume and expansion of business in new verticals. Apart from IT, a host of companies across all sectors are adding new jobs, which will augur well for the economy. The real estate sector, which is a good indicator of the buoyancy in the economy, is seeing a pick-up in sales and prices are gradually firming up. Similarly, sales of cement and steel are growing on the back of high government spending on various infrastructure projects, such as roads. Even the growth in non-food credit, the amount that banks lend to companies and consumers, was up 17.48% year-on-year for the fortnight-ended April 23, indicating that companies are now borrowing more for their capital expansion plans rather than just meeting their working capital needs and consumers are leveraging themselves anticipating a rise in disposable income. Going ahead, the markets will surely factor in these strong domestic cues, but in the short-term global cues could move in the opposite direction.







The one lesson from the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which was supposed to be well learnt by now, is the importance of timely rescue to prevent a larger systemic crisis. Politics willed Lehman to fail and the global economy paid a heavy price. Now, politics is threatening to bring on another crisis, the epicentre of which is Greece. Of course, this time around we have a country in need of a bailout, not an investment bank. But the effect of letting a country go bankrupt could be equally devastating. For one, if Greece defaults, the contagion will spread to the other PIGS countries and perhaps even to the UK. The effect of such a contagion on the global financial system could be catastrophic. So, why is it taking so long to arrange a rescue for Greece? Political events in three separate countries could have an important bearing on where this crisis heads.


Greece continues to be plagued by strikes and protests that put a serious question mark on that country's ability to meet its commitments on carrying on sharp spending cuts and higher taxes. On the other side of the bailout fence, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who holds the key to any EU bailout plan for Greece, is in a spot of political bother. The people of Germany are not in favour of a bailout for profligate Greece and the Chancellor's party seems set to get a drubbing in a crucial provincial election on May 9. A defeat in North Rhine-Westphalia may dent Merkel's political weight. In a third country, the UK, voters have delivered a hung Parliament for the first time in 35 years. That has added to the uncertainty about UK's economy, which is also reeling under a big fiscal deficit. More importantly, the Conservative party, the largest party in the new Parliament, is opposed to a massive EU bailout plan for Greece and loan guarantees for other vulnerable countries. Should the Conservatives succeed in forming a government, their voice will be an important one in the EU headquarters in Brussels. They are likely to put a spanner in the EU's plan for an IMF-like stabilisation fund for stricken economies. This confluence of political events at a critical point in the European debt crisis has sent global markets into a tailspin. The EU's credibility is now at stake. One hopes that the goal of salvaging that credibility trumps narrower political considerations. The global economy cannot afford another high cost bankruptcy.








Britain is waiting for a new Prime Minister. It is an unusual feeling. Normally, as soon as the results are known the day after the polling, the old Prime Minister packs his bags and the new one arrives, and by the end of the day the government changes. But this time, with no party having a majority, there is a stalemate. Gordon Brown has to remain in office until it becomes clear who can command a majority. Then he goes to the Queen and advises her as to whom she should summon to form her next government.


The Conservatives got the highest share of the vote—36%, and the largest number of seats—306, yet 20 short of an absolute majority. Labour got 29% of the vote share and 258 seats, and Liberal Democrats got 23% of the vote share and 57 seats. Smaller parties have 29 seats. Negotiations have opened between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, who together can command a majority, which Labour and Liberal Democrats alone cannot. There is little common ground between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. So negotiations have continued and it is unlikely that a decision will be firm by Monday morning when the markets open.


The markets took a benign view of the UK debt situation early on Friday morning when they opened at 1 am, but the Sterling fell by two cents against the dollar on Friday. It also fell against the euro, which is strange, given the uncertainties surrounding the euro zone. After the convulsions on the Wall Street on Thursday, markets have a right to be nervous.


The EU finance ministers met yesterday to seal the deal, which has been made. While the large loan has been agreed, there are still major problems that remain. For one thing, the German government faces citizen anger about its decision to bail out Greece. There is a state election on Monday and the coalition partner Free Democrats may be punished for what they have signed up for. There is also going to be an appeal to the German Constitutional Court about the legality of the aid. Therefore, the package could come unravelled.


The Greek parliament has approved the cuts. But, it is doubtful if Greece can deliver the debt reduction programme. It may try to tackle the deficit, but all the time the debt will go on rising. Greece is technically a bankrupt country. If it had not been a member of EU, that is, had it been an Asian country, the International Monetary Fund would have advised restructuring. Creditors cannot hope to get their money back. But the IMF has a European person at its helm thanks to the existing unfair rules and Dominique Strauss-Kahn has ambitions to become the French President. So, he was unlikely to make himself unpopular by being hard on Greece.


All this would not matter but Greece has contagion effects. Not only Portugal, Spain and Ireland may suffer from the backlash but the UK itself could feel the cold wind. UK debt has a longer maturity and it has never failed to pay its debt. But with jittery markets, if there is no decision on Monday, which seems likely, there has to be some certainty by Tuesday when there is £2 billion tranche of debt to be financed. There will not be any panic but the market may demand higher yields. Then the clock would start ticking faster.


The delay is because there is a strong tradition of inner party democracy (so unlike India). The Liberal Democrats have already had one meeting with their newly elected MPs. But before they can agree, the coalition package needs to be voted by the MPs and the National


Executive of the party. The Conservatives have their own backbench meeting on Monday. David Cameron has not pleased everyone by falling short of absolute majority and now entering into a pact with Liberal Democrats. It is quite likely that both sides may find their members reject the pact.

If so, we are then in longer delay territory. Gordon Brown is desperate to hang on and will try and concoct some deal which may pass muster. He will not succeed in my view as he has lost all confidence of the nation but he will waste time. The final result will be that Conservatives will govern as a minority party with outside support from Liberal Democrats for about a year. New elections will be held soon and then this may settle the matters.


The outlook remains very uncertain. It may take days or a fortnight before we know where we are going. Sterling will have a long stay in rehab while the uncertainty lasts. Bond yields will rise before they fall back to sensible levels.


The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer








The Supreme Court verdict on the gas dispute concerning RIL and RNRL has expectedly attracted much interest. An actual copy of the judgement is yet unavailable to me but it is clear that there were two decisions, with the CJI concurring with the decision rendered by Justice Sathasivam. The consequences of this decision are being felt not only by the sudden surge in the trading price of certain scripts but it has also led to a lot of speculation on the next steps that may be adopted. One theory doing the rounds is that a review petition may be filed. While a distinct likelihood, more needs to be understood about the review process in the SC to evaluate its possibility in the overall litigation strategy.


Enshrined in Article 137 of the Constitution, the SC has the power to review any judgement pronounced by it. Subject to the provisions of any law made by the Parliament, the SC may make any rules for regulating its practice and procedure, including where it relates to the review of its judgement. Detailed in Part 8 Order 40 of The Supreme Court Rules, 1966, stipulated that an application for a review must be filed by way of a petition within a period of 30 days from the date of the judgement on which review is sought. It is expected that such a petition will clearly set out the grounds on which the review is sought and such ground must be in keeping with the grounds mentioned in Order 47 Rule 1 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. The Code provides for limited grounds either on account of discovery of new/important evidence that was not available at the time when the dispute was originally heard or on account of some mistake or 'error apparent' on the face of the record.


Adopting the above approach, the SC has time and again held that a party is not entitled to seek a review of a judgement merely for the purpose of a rehearing and to seek a fresh decision on a case. It is fairly well settled that "a judgement pronounced by the Court is final and departure from that principle is justified when circumstances of a substantial and compelling character make it necessary to do so".


It may be of interest to note that, unless otherwise ordered by the SC, applications for review are normally considered and disposed of by way of a circulation without any oral arguments being heard. However, the party seeking the review is at liberty to supplement its petition by additional written arguments. The SC may sometimes dismiss the review petition even without issuing notice to the other side. What may be of greater interest to note is that the Rules state that the review application shall 'as far as practicable' be circulated to the same Judge or Bench of Judges that delivered the initial judgement that is sought to be reviewed. In the event a review were to be filed against the judgement in the above stated gas dispute case, the absence of Chief Justice Balakrishnan, due to retire on May 11, may not necessarily close the door on the review petition. In such circumstances, the review would be considered by a third judge, whose role will be limited to consider if such a petition is filed in keeping with the grounds prescribed in the Code and will definitely not require a rehearing of the entire case.


In practice, applications are filed to seek clarifications on a judgement. The SC denounces such practice, especially when such applications are filed only to seek a hearing or to attempt to circumvent the in-chamber listing by way of circulation of review petitions. This begs the question on the remedies available once the SC dismisses a review petition. Analysing this issue, a constitution bench of the SC laid down a mechanism "to deal with the matters where the question of inherent lack of jurisdiction, violation of the principles of natural justice, manifest illegality or palpable injustice has been brought to the notice of the Court". The SC has held that to "prevent abuse of its process and to cure gross miscarriage of justice, it may reconsider its judgement in exercise of its inherent powers" and this process sometimes takes the form a "curative petition". But to ensure that the floodgates are not opened, the SC has laid down a strict mechanism for filing such curative petitions. The intention of doing so is obvious—to achieve finality of the judgement delivered by a court.


Considering the above highlighted limitations of a review petition, RNRL may be well be advised to pursue other alternatives. While the judgement needs to be studied before drawing any conclusion, it may be premature to term the same as a defeat for RNRL. On a preliminary understanding, the directions of the SC asking the parties to renegotiate within a stipulated period of six weeks and within the framework of the government policy may well be the breather to resolve the stalemate. It is in no one's interest to drag this matter further and it is best that all energies are expended to ensure that further negotiations are conducted with utmost good faith.


—The author is an advocate based in New Delhi. Views are personal








The SC on Thursday upheld the legal validity of the MPLADS. This announcement will undeniably have a bearing on all the MPs, irrespective of their party or caste. After an 11-year hiatus, the SC endorsed the scheme stating that it was for public good. The SC, however, pointed out that efforts to make the regime more robust should be undertaken.


MPLADS, the brainchild of the Narasimha Rao government, was introduced in 1993 when MPs raised concerns over the fact that areas represented by Opposition MPs remained underdeveloped due to the paucity of resources. Recognising the merit in this argument, the scheme was formulated to help MPs execute small development works up to Rs 2 crore to meet the urgent needs of their constituencies. In June 2009, a proposal was moved by MoSPI to increase the allocation to Rs 5 crore. Interestingly, it got the support of a parliamentary committee, which went a step further to recommend an increase to Rs 10 crore. The Planning Commission, however, rejected the proposal in April 2010.


Since its inception, the scheme has attracted a lot of criticism. It was first challenged in 1999 and came under judicial scrutiny in 2005 after a sting operation showed some of the prominent MPs demanding monies from contractors to award projects under the aegis of MPLADS. This led to the eviction of MPs from both the Houses. Post this exposé, there were requests to completely abandon the scheme.


Now, with the apex court defending the scheme and stating that it is intra vires the Constitution, the UPA government must at the very least ensure that all the lacunae are rectified at the earliest to ascertain the judicious use of this fund. Going forward, MPs should consider allocation of funds only after preparing the cost estimates and making public the relevant details of the work plan. They should consult with the local institutions and residents to list and prioritise the proposed projects to avoid lopsided development. This can also serve as an effective tool to summon an MP in case of underperformance. These changes will prevent the scheme from becoming a breeding ground for corruption.








The criminal justice system is founded on a slew of jurisprudential principles that protect the rights of suspects and accused. These include the right against self-incrimination, the right to remain silent, and the right against providing information under physical or mental pressure. Despite this, invasive procedures such as narcoanalysis, brain-mapping, and polygraph tests have been routinely used by the police — and, shockingly, with the approval of the courts. In holding that the forcible use of these tests is unconstitutional, the Supreme Court of India has drawn attention to the inherent violence in such investigative procedures, which constitute a gross abuse of human rights. The landmark 251-page judgment arrives at two broad legal conclusions. First, such coercive testing violates Article 20 (3) of the Constitution, which stipulates "no person accused of an offence shall stand witness against himself." Secondly, it is an infringement of the right to personal liberty as understood in the context of Article 21, in particular the right to privacy, the right to a free trial, and the right against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.


The court has made it clear that nobody can be compelled to undergo narcoanalysis, brain mapping, or lie detector tests and that any statements made during those procedures are not admissible as evidence. Such tests are permissible only when taken voluntarily. But even in such cases, they must be conducted in strict compliance with the National Human Rights Commission's Guidelines for the Administration of the Polygraph Test — which includes safeguards such as the mandatory recording of consent before a magistrate and the conduct of all tests by an independent agency. Proponents of the three tests, including those who concede that they sometimes produce false results, advance pragmatic arguments for their retention. They claim that the tests are a softer alternative to third degree methods of interrogation, which might become further entrenched in their absence. They also argue that these tests can serve the public interest in extraordinary situations: they can help uncover terror plots and prevent devastating attacks. Interestingly, the Supreme Court has not dismissed such arguments out of hand. Instead, it has taken the high ground to hold that as a court of law, it can only seek to preserve the balance between the competing interests of personal liberty and public safety, as they are reflected in the Constitution. The judgment must be acclaimed as a major blow for democratic and human rights in the face of invasive procedures that violate the mind.






There are many dimensions to the Supreme Court judgment in the case involving Anil Ambani's Reliance Natural Resources Ltd (RNRL) and Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), besides the obvious. The crux of the case relates to the price and distribution of gas the latter company produces in the Krishna-Godavari basin. A 2005 memorandum of understanding between the two Ambani brothers bound RIL to supply gas to RNRL at $2.34 an mmbtu (million metric British thermal unit), the price at which RIL had agreed to supply NTPC in a 2004 international tender. Yet in 2006 the government rejected RIL's request to supply RNRL at that price, and instead determined in 2007 a formula that linked the gas price to that of crude oil. With crude oil prices well above $60 a barrel, the price of natural gas was set at $4.20. RNRL insisted on RIL fulfilling its obligation anyway. The majority judgment of the Supreme Court effectively overturns the Bombay High Court verdict of last June which substantially favoured RNRL. Holding that the private agreement between the two brothers is not legally binding on the two companies, the Supreme Court has asked the two parties to renegotiate the contract. The decision has wide-ranging ramifications for the investors of the two companies. On Friday, the stock markets reacted almost instantaneously marking up the price of RIL's shares while lowering that of RNRL. The judgment will set precedents in diverse areas including contracts and company law.


The most significant message from the judgment is the emphasis on the public ownership of all natural assets including hydrocarbon resources. Private parties, such as RIL in this case, are appointed to exploit the natural resources for the common good. From this assertion, it follows that the production-sharing contracts, entered into by the government with the contractor overrides everything else. Under the contract, the government alone can decide who the contractor should sell the gas to and at what price. In no other comparable sector has the government appropriated, let alone exercised, so much power. Thus far the public policy on pricing and utilisation of natural gas has been ad hoc, opaque, and at times whimsical. Uncertainty over the government policies has dampened investor interest in the last couple of bidding rounds under the New Exploration and Licensing Policy. The user-industries, such as power and fertilizer, have suffered because of the ad hocism in the gas policy. The last couple of rounds under NELP attracted very few big oil companies. It is hoped that, with this welcome nudge from the Supreme Court, the government will act quickly to remove the shortcomings in its policy.









Ravi Varma's rise on the Indian art scene was meteoric. From the end of the 1870s until his death in 1906, at the age of 58, he was the best known and most sought after painter in India. But his fall from grace was as dramatic as his rise. At the time of his death, he was eulogised in obituaries as a singular genius, but less than a year later the swadesi nationalists were fulminating against him. Almost instantly he was reduced from being a national pride to a second-rate imitator of western academic art, the exemplar of a tendency that a nation striving to retrieve its cultural identity and self-esteem felt compelled to resist and reject. This negation only grew stronger as Indian art grew stridently modern in the years after Independence, and it continued to hold ground for nearly 90 years.


The first sign of a reconsideration of Ravi Varma's place in Indian art came in the form of a large exhibition curated by A. Ramachandran and Rupika Chawla at the National Museum, New Delhi in 1993. Although the exhibition drew sharp criticism from erstwhile modernists, it signalled a change in attitude. Following this, Ravi Varma became not only an art market success but also the subject of serious art historical studies. While the nationalists were exercised about the un-Indianness of his style and treatment and the modernists about its academicism and aesthetic mundanity, the new writers tend to look at the artist and his work against the larger social context and cultural practices of his time. Rupika Chawla's Raja Ravi Varma: Painter of Colonial India is the most recent, and an important, addition to this growing body of writing on the artist.


Chawla begins her book by locating Ravi Varma within his familial and social background governed by the complex kinship patterns, social hierarchies, and cultural practices of 19th century Kerala. From there she takes us on a tour through his career, following the same winding route Ravi Varma took across the country in search of patronage. Her narration is straight and simple; it is biographical and anecdotal rather than analytical and art historical. All the same, her book is better researched than many of the available books on the artist. It is rich in information and there are many insights awaiting the careful reader. Here are a few that most wouldn't miss.


Firstly, while being led chronologically through the different courts, cities, and towns Ravi Varma visited, we are introduced to the commissions he received and the paintings he did for patrons in each of these places. Thus for the first time, art scholars are provided with a dependable chronology of his work. That these works are also sumptuously reproduced alongside in full colour makes the book both pleasurable and useful.


Secondly, as we read along, it becomes clear that there was a pattern to his career and his pan-Indian fame was not fortuitous. While moving from court to court, and one colonial city to another — emulating the itinerant European artists who visited India during the 18th and early 19th centuries — Ravi Varma, took advantage of the communicational and social networking made possible by the railways and the colonial administrative system, and perfected them into tools for turning his career into a pan-Indian enterprise. He used his friendship with members of the British civil administration like Sir T. Madhava Rao and Sir Seshaiah Sastri to gain access to native courts and procure commissions as much as he used the railway to travel across India. After establishing himself in southern India, "chiefly by the influence of some of my good friends," he wrote to Sir Madhava Rao in 1881, "my ambition has like other things enlarged...and I have a mind now to undertake a tour to northern India provided I could place myself under your august patronage of which you held out some hope to me when I last had the honour."

Ravi Varma's professional success came not merely through responding to the growing taste for western naturalism among Indian elites but also through the creation of his own opportunities and a careful cultivation of his persona. Thus after successfully garnering pan-Indian elite patronage — of the native rulers and merchants, the colonial administrators and the early nationalists — in good measure, by oleographing his paintings for wider circulation, he ensured his hegemony over Indian middle class taste. Even more shrewdly, by taking the initiative for creating a public collection of his works at a time when the idea of individual museums was unknown, he also invested in the perpetuation of his fame.


As an architect of his own reputation, Ravi Varma worked more like a professional seeking to meet the expectations of his clients than as a modern artist committed to self-expression at all costs. One of the consequences of this was the absence of stylistic coherence in his work. Although early scholars had guessed as much, Chawla's researches now make this patently clear.


Thus we find Ravi Varma's portrait of the famed poet, Kerala Varma Valiya Koil Thampuran, painted in 1880 formal and decorously restrained but that of his spouse Maharani Lakshmi Bayi (also Ravi Varma's sister-in-law) painted in 1883 overwrought with a surfeit of costume and jewellery. Similarly while his 1904 double portrait of Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV and Rana Pratapkumari, done from an old photograph, is stiff and meticulously ornate like a Tanjore painting, his 1903 portrait of Sir Arthur Havelock, also done from a photograph, is lively and, with its grandiose posture, reminiscent of European colonial portraits designed to aggrandise the stature of the model.


His style changed from court to court and subject to subject: it could be hieratic or informal, impersonal or intimate, depending on the taste and station of his patron. Although this usually meant adjusting his skills to suit the taste of his patrons at Udaipur, where the taste for miniature still held sway, we find him agreeing to paint portraits after old miniatures. Such bending to patronage, Chawla shows, occasionally extended even to the way he conceived certain details of the mythologies he was commissioned to paint, but in a less intrusive way, and on the strength of the illustrations in this book it can be argued that it is to these that we should turn for gaining a better insight into his artistic and stylistic development.


Chawla makes another significant observation about what are broadly categorised as paintings based on mythologies or, following the western academic practice, are called history paintings. Quoting a letter Ravi Varma wrote to the secretary of the maharaja of Mysore in 1904, she proposes that he saw them as belonging to three different sub-groups, namely 'Puranic,' 'Religious,' and 'Scenes from Hindu Classical Drama'. Ravi Varma's subdivision seems to have been based on a consideration of both source and style. Chawla discerns that while 'puranic' paintings represent action packed moments that invoke other moments in the story, the 'religious' are more iconic and self-contained motifs, and ' scenes from Hindu classical dramas', based on contemporary textual or performatory interpretations, are self-contained and episodic. These last thus occupy a middle space between the narrative 'puranic' and iconic 'religious.'


Despite his independent approach to subject matter, Ravi Varma stuck to history painting and portraiture, the two genres which were considered hierarchically superior to landscape and representation of scenes from everyday life in the western academic tradition, and depended more on adoption and improvisation of studio conventions and less on observation. Although he preferred to paint his portraits from life, he was not averse to using photographs and borrowing postures from picture albums for his compositions.


As a professional painter he functioned more like the head of a studio and employed assistants, the chief among whom was his younger brother, C. Raja Raja Varma. An artist with a keen eye for nature and the everyday world, as his own landscapes attest, he seems to have been responsible for the naturalistic elements and breezy touches in the backgrounds of certain paintings of Ravi Varma. While Chawla underscores his contribution to certain specific paintings, the focus being on Ravi Varma, this painter with an individual sensibility remains, in this book as in life, a tantalising shadow figure behind that of his brother.


Chawla is perhaps right in suggesting that Raja Raja Varma was restrained by contemporary standards of propriety from recording his own contribution to the enterprise more fully even in the diary he kept, which incidentally is our most valuable source of information on Ravi Varma. This brings us once again to the thought that Ravi Varma was both an individual artist and an artistic enterprise. Chawla's book with its rich mix of images and information about studio practices, commissions, contemporary responses, payments sought and received, and about models chosen, pigments used and even framing preferences, backed with evidences culled from archival records, notebooks, personal diaries, letters, newspapers and even old labels behind paintings is a resourceful companion for knowing both.


* Rupika Chawla (2010), Raja Ravi Varma: Painter of Colonial India, Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd., 2010; 360 pages and 436 colour illustrations, price Rs. 3,950.









You thought the healthcare battle in the United States was fiercely fought? You think the White House and Congress are slugging it out over Wall Street reform? Well, you have not seen anything yet because the most wrenching battle, a fight for the very soul of American democracy, may be yet come. Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts.


Recently, President Barack Obama virtually chalked out the battle lines when he said: "What we are facing is no less than a potential corporate takeover of our elections … This should not be a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. This is an issue that goes to whether or not we will have a government that works for ordinary Americans — a government of, by, and for the people. That is why these reforms are so important and that is why I am going to fight to see them passed into law."


Growing rift


At the heart of the conflict coming to a boil, is a deep and growing rift between the U.S. political executive and judiciary over transparency around how powerful lobbies wield tremendous influence in Washington. As Mr. Obama put it, "Every time a major issue arises, we have come to expect that an army of lobbyists will descend on Capitol Hill in the hopes of tilting the laws in their favour … the voices of ordinary Americans were being drowned out by the clamour of a privileged few in Washington."


Matters came to a head in January this year when the Supreme Court passed judgement on the case Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission. The court voted five-to-four that political spending by corporations in candidate elections would be permitted, free of government restrictions.


While the justification for the ruling was the protection of the First Amendment's right to free speech, critics noted that "allowing corporate money to flood the political marketplace would corrupt democracy" and that this decision of the court "represented a sharp doctrinal shift, and it will have major political and practical consequences", including reshaping the way elections are conducted.


But that was only the beginning. At the State of the Union address shortly after the decision, Mr. Obama — a former professor of law — chided the Supreme Court for allowing special interests a backdoor entry into the policymaking arena.


During the address, Mr. Obama said: "Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities."


He went on to say that elections ought to be decided only by the American people, and that is why he was urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to "right this wrong".


Following Mr. Obama's comments, Democrats in the chamber, who were seated around the six Supreme Court Justices present, stood and applauded.


The Justices, in the front and second rows of the House chamber, sat motionless and expressionless. However, Justice Samuel Alito appeared to be mouthing "not true, not true", and shaking his head in disagreement.


Chief Justice John Roberts later recalled that moment, saying: "The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering, while the court according to the requirements of protocol, has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling."


Yet, in his address to the American public, Mr. Obama repeated his warning about the negative consequences that the Supreme Court ruling would have on democratic practice: "In the starkest terms, members [of Congress] will know — when pressured by lobbyists — that if they dare to oppose that lobbyist's client, they could face an onslaught of negative advertisements in the run up to their next election. And corporations will be allowed to run these ads without ever having to tell voters exactly who is paying for them."




He further set out some of the main reforms that he hopes Congress will pass to mitigate the effect of the Supreme Court decision. These include getting "shadowy" campaign committees to reveal their financial backers.


Additionally, corporations and special interests that take to the airwaves would have to reveal their source of funding and claim responsibility for it. "This will mean citizens can evaluate the claims in these ads with information about an organisation's real motives," Mr. Obama said.


Finally, foreign corporations and foreign nationals would, under the Obama proposals, be restricted from spending money to influence American elections — even via U.S. subsidiaries; and large contractors receiving taxpayer funds would no longer be able to interfere in elections.


In a sign of his determination to bring the fight to the lobbies' doorstep, Mr. Obama quoted President Theodore Roosevelt, saying that every special interest was entitled to justice but not one was entitled to a vote in Congress, a voice on the bench, or representation in any public office. Urging for more transparency in Washington's dealings, he added, "sunlight is the best disinfectant".







An astronaut is planning a unique test of Sir Isaac Newton's theory of gravity — by taking an original piece of the scientist's famous apple tree on a five-mile journey into space.

British-born Piers Sellers plans to release the 10-cm fragment in zero gravity during his 12-day mission to the International Space Station, as a tribute to Newton's discovery of gravity in 1666, when he watched an apple fall to the ground in his garden.


"I'll take it up and let it float around for a bit, which will confuse Isaac," said the 55-year-old NASA spaceman, a veteran of two previous shuttle missions and a graduate of the University of Edinburgh.


"While it's up there, it will be experiencing no gravity, so if it had an apple on it, the apple wouldn't fall.


"I'm pretty sure that Sir Isaac would have loved to see this, assuming he wasn't spacesick, as it would have proved his first law of motion to be correct."


The tree fragment, engraved with the scientist's name, is stowed aboard the shuttle Atlantis at Cape Canaveral, Florida, awaiting Friday's blast-off.


The stunt is part of the 350th anniversary celebrations of the Royal Society, of which Newton, who died in 1727, was a president.


The society hopes to display the fragment at its 10-day festival of science and arts at London's Southbank Centre next month, and later at its HQ in Carlton House Terrace, London, where it will join exhibits including Newton's first telescope and his death mask.


Several sections stripped from the tree, which still stands at Woolsthorpe Manor, the physicist's former home in Lincolnshire, are stored in the society's vaults as part of a huge collection of Newton memorabilia donated by the antiquarian Sir Charles Turner in the 1700s.


Mr. Sellers, who was born in Crowborough, Sussex, but assumed dual U.K.-U.S. nationality in 1991 to join NASA, invited the society to send an item to go into space. On a previous spaceflight, he took a commemorative medallion that the group presented to the physicist Stephen Hawking.


— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








The man who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square was a Pakistani. Why is this unsurprising? Answer: because when you hold a burning match to a gasoline tank, the laws of chemistry demand combustion. As anti-American lava spews from the fiery volcanoes of Pakistan's private television channels and newspapers, collective psychosis grips the country's youth. Murderous intent follows with the conviction that the United States is responsible for all ills, both in Pakistan and the world of Islam.


Faisal Shahzad, with designer sunglasses and an MBA degree from the University of Bridgeport, acquired that murderous intent. Living his formative years in Karachi, he typifies the young Pakistani who grew up in the shadow of Zia-ul-Haq's hate-based education curriculum. The son of a retired Air Vice-Marshal, life was easy as was getting U.S. citizenship subsequently. But at some point the toxic schooling and media tutoring must have kicked in. Guilt may have overpowered him as he saw pictures of Gaza's dead children and held U.S. support for Israel responsible. Then a little internet browsing, or perhaps the local mosque, steered him towards the idea of an Islamic caliphate. The solution to the world's problems would require, of course, the U.S. to be damaged and destroyed. Hence Shahzad's self-confessed trip to Waziristan.


Ideas considered extreme a decade ago are now mainstream. A private survey carried out by a European embassy based in Islamabad found that only four per cent of Pakistanis polled speak well of America, 96 per cent against. Although Pakistan and the U.S. are formal allies, in the public perception the U.S. has ousted India as Pakistan's number one enemy. Remarkably, anti-U.S. sentiment rises in proportion to aid received. Say one good word about the U.S., and you are automatically labelled as its agent. From what popular TV anchors had to say about it, Kerry-Lugar's $7.5 billion may well have been money that the U.S. wants to steal from Pakistan rather than give to it.


Pakistan is certainly not the world's only country where America is unpopular. In pursuit of its self-interest, wealth and security, the U.S. has waged illegal wars, bribed, bullied and overthrown governments, supported tyrants and military governments, and undermined movements for progressive change. But paradoxically the U.S. is disliked far more in Pakistan than in countries which have borne the direct brunt of American attacks — Cuba, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Why?


Drone strikes are a common but false explanation. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi implicitly justified the Times Square bombing as retaliation. But this simply does not bear up. Drone attacks have killed some innocents, but they have devastated militant operations in Waziristan while causing far less collateral damage than Pakistan Army operations. On the other hand, the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong were carpet-bombed by B-52 bombers and Vietnam's jungles were defoliated with Agent Orange, the effects of which persist even today. Yet, Vietnam never developed deep visceral feelings like those in Pakistan.


Finding truer reasons requires deeper digging. In part, Pakistan displays the resentment and self-loathing of a client state for its paymaster. U.S.-Pakistan relations are frankly transactional today, but the master-client relationship is older. Indeed, Pakistan chose this path because confronting India over Kashmir demanded heavy militarisation and big defence budgets. So, in the 1950's, Pakistan willingly entered into the SEATO and CENTO military pacts, and was proud to be called "America's most allied ally". The Pakistan Army became the most powerful, well-equipped and well-organised institution in the country. This also put Pakistan on the external dole, a price that Pakistan has paid for its Indo-centrism.


The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, even as it brought in windfall profits, deepened the dependence. Paid by the U.S. to create the anti-Soviet jihadist apparatus, Pakistan is now being paid again to fight that war's blowback. Pakistan then entered George W. Bush's war on terror to enhance America's security — a fact that further hurt self-esteem. It is a separate matter that Pakistan fights that very war for its own survival, and must call upon its army to protect the population from throat-slitting, hand-chopping, girl-whipping fanatics.


Passing the buck is equally fundamental to Pakistan's anti-Americanism. It is in human nature to blame others for one's own failures. Pakistan has long teetered between being a failed state and a failing state. The rich won't pay taxes? Little electricity? Sewage-contaminated drinking water? Population out of control? Kashmir unsolved? Just blame it on the Americans. This phenomenon exists elsewhere too. For example, one recently saw the amazing spectacle of Afghan President Hamid Karzai threatening to join the Taliban and lashing out against Americans because they (probably correctly) suggested he committed electoral fraud.


Tragically for Pakistan, anti-Americanism plays squarely into the hands of Islamist militants. They vigorously promote the notion of an Islam-West war when, in fact, they actually wage armed struggle to remake society. They will keep fighting this war even if America were to miraculously evaporate into space. Created by poverty, a war-culture, and the macabre manipulations of Pakistan's intelligence services, they seek a total transformation of society. This means eliminating music, art, entertainment, and all manifestations of modernity. Side goals include chasing away the few surviving native Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus.


At a time when the country needs clarity of thought to successfully fight extremism, simple bipolar explanations are inadequate. The moralistic question "Is America good or bad?" is futile. There is little doubt that the U.S. has committed acts of aggression as in Iraq, worsened the Palestine problem, and maintains the world's largest military machine. We also know that it will make a deal with the Taliban if perceived to be in America's self-interest, and it will do so even if that means abandoning Afghans to blood-thirsty fanatics.


Yet, it would be wrong to scorn the humanitarian impulse behind U.S. assistance in times of desperation. Shall we simply write off massive U.S. assistance to Pakistan at the time of the dreadful earthquake of 2005? Or to tsunami affected countries in 2004 and to Haiti in 2010? In truth, the U.S. is no more selfish or altruistic than any other country of the world. And it treats its Muslim citizens infinitely better than we treat non-Muslims in Pakistan.


Instead of pronouncing moral judgments on everything and anything, we Pakistanis need to reaffirm what is truly important for our people: peace, economic justice, good governance, rule of law, accountability of rulers, women's rights, and rationality in human affairs. Washington must be firmly resisted, but only when it seeks to drag Pakistan away from these goals. More frenzied anti-Americanism will only produce more Faisal Shahzads.


(The author teaches at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.)








Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan lays down office on May 11 after three years and four months at the helm of the nation's judiciary. He spoke to The Hindu on his achievements, failures and hope of having contributed to strengthening the foundation of the judiciary. Excerpts:


Are you satisfied with your overall performance? Do you feel much more could have been done?


Nearly three and a half years as Chief Justice of India. It is a tough job in a big country like India: handling judicial work and administrative work, appointment of judges, legal education, and communication with the various High Courts. I hope I have done reasonably well in improving the infrastructure in the judiciary, though it is an ongoing thing. I can say that the number of judges in the High Courts has increased, judicial officers were appointed in many states. For the first time, government has come out with Rs.5,000 crore for the development of infrastructure in the judiciary; it is not a small amount. Basics for improvement have been laid down. It is a big institution and it will take time to get results. 1,800 judges got judicial training from the National Judicial Academy, legal education has been streamlined. Over all, I feel I have achieved something in my tenure.


There is an allegation that you got a close relative appointed as Judge in the Kerala High Court.


I never suggested the name of Mr. Ravikumar for judgeship. The [then] Advocate-General of Kerala suggested his name to the then Chief Justice H.L. Dattu. I never knew about this. I have served in the High Courts of Kerala, Gujarat and Madras. In fact, many of the Chief Justices have asked me to suggest some names. But I have never recommended any name — relatives or friends — for judgeship in any of these courts. I have so many bio data with me. I feel it is not proper. Even in the case of Mr. Ravikumar, when his name came to the collegium, I told Justice B.N. Agrawal and Justice Arijit Pasayat that they can do whatever they want. They can reject the name or defer the consideration. Why should I stop somebody else's judgeship? Why should I say that he should not be considered?


Is there any proposal from the Law Ministry for change in the Memorandum of Procedure of appointments to give more say to the executive in judges' appointments?


The collegium method was evolved from two Supreme Court judgments of 1993 and 1998. We only follow the procedure from these judgments. If the Centre wants to change the system, it must seek review of the judgments, whether on its own or through some other method.


The collegium system is based on judicial decision, not on statute. How can it be changed? Many people criticise us, including those judges responsible for creating the system. We can't change everything. We understand there are drawbacks to the system. The Chief Justice of the High Court is asked to select four or five persons from 6,000 lawyers for judgeship. On what basis can the selection be made? We understand there are practical problems. If you want a better candidate you need a better system. We welcome any change but we can't violate the directions in the two judgments. I am leaving the government's proposal to my successor to deal with it.


Do you feel the need for creating four supreme courts of appeal in four regions and a constitutional court in the capital?


We have to look for some changes in the system, as judges are overburdened. This year, the number of cases filed in the Supreme Court is expected to touch 84,000. Though the disposal rate is correspondingly high, it cannot continue for a long time. The present system can continue for another 10 years, and, thereafter, we must look for some change in the system. Jurisdiction can be curtailed; people should have a different forum that can be done region wise or subject wise.


Honour killings are taking place in many parts of the country. Do you feel that a separate law is necessary to deal with such crimes?


We have got sufficient number of laws. Even if there is a law, if things are done clandestinely, what can be done? What will you do if persons are ostracised by society. What is required is that society must change. Anyway, it is for Parliament to decide whether to come out with legislation or not.


Has the controversy over Justice P.D. Dinakaran finally settled?


It is an unfortunate thing. But I never interfered either in the [initial] inquiry or any other thing. The matter [removal proceedings] is now before a committee. I don't want to say anything.


Can the Justice Sirpurkar committee [investigating the grounds for impeachment of Justice Mr. Dinakaran] be expedited? Enquiry into allegations against Calcutta High Court Judge Soumitra Sen is also pending.


These things can be decided expeditiously by the committees concerned. I don't interfere in these things.


During your tenure did you ever feel that corruption is a major issue in the judiciary.


By and large, at least in the Supreme Court there is no corruption. At the High Court level, we receive some complaints without any details;but if we want to probe, they will not come forward. Regarding lower judiciary, in some of the states it is a problem. We can't say corruption is not there at all; some may be susceptible. But these are only minor aberrations. In Kerala I can say it [lower judiciary] is corruption free. But I don't think corruption is a major threat to the judiciary.


You are being portrayed as anti-Right to Information Act.


I am in favour of giving information. Certain information about Chief Justices discussed in the collegium cannot be given to the press. Then they will start discussing unfounded allegations against Chief Justices. It is not a desirable thing for our country. I said I had some reservations only on a very limited area. I only said that the office of the CJI is not a public authority under the Act. In all major countries of the world — England, Australia, America — the judiciary is absolutely exempted from RTI.


During my visits abroad, people say the Indian judiciary is highly respected. They say: we see justice system is working in India, people come to courts in India in large numbers. The system is working so well; it is visible.

As a Dalit who occupied the highest post in the judiciary, what do you have to say about suppression of Dalits.

Some incidents still occur in many parts. This is a social problem. It is still there, may be due to lack of education … so many factors are there. In the last 60 years, some change has taken place. But still, of those below the poverty line, more than 30 per cent are Dalits. Awareness must be created. For this, school education should be improved.








The government's reported decision to incorporate caste in the ongoing national census is a significant one, and one that will have far-reaching and perhaps even unintended consequences. While it is not an entirely new factor in census enumeration, this is the first time that there will be an official count of the population of other backward castes. The OBCs, whose current number is estimated at anything between 35 to 40 per cent of the population, already enjoy a 27 per cent quota in government jobs and educational institutions, and if you add to this the long-standing 22.5 per cent reservation for Scheduled Castes and Tribes, there is a total quantum of reservation of 49.5 per cent. In the last detailed census in which caste-related data were included, in the heyday of the British Raj, it was discovered that 58 per cent of castes had a population of less than 1,000. Also, this count had a lot of inaccuracies as the British, for instance, lumped Marathas and kunbis together as Marathas in the 1884 Bombay Gazetteer, while in the Nasik Gazetteer they were shown separately. A later enumeration of castes in 1931 was also not done on a scientific basis.

While it cannot be denied that the government does need an accurate count of the number of OBCs and other castes in the country, in order that the funds earmarked for their upliftment are correctly allocated, it would be a huge mistake to conduct this caste census in a hurry. India is so ridden with the caste factor and the issue is so complex that the entire matter needs to be handled with a lot of care and sensitivity. Decentralisation in data collection is an absolute must. Even Christians and Muslims in India are nowadays demanding reservation on the basis of caste!

Political leaders who have built up their parties and risen to power in some states primarily on the basis of their caste identity bear a special responsibility. It is mainly at their urging that the government has decided to include caste in the census, something that had not been done since Independence, and they must therefore understand if they really want to ensure the uplift of OBCs and other "backward" groups, a meticulously-conducted count is imperative. Speed, in this instance, is not of the essence, but accuracy is. These leaders should be aware, more so than some of their brethren, of the multiplicity of sub-castes and sub-groups under the broad OBC umbrella, which in some cases stretch into the thousands, with none comprising even one per cent of the total. There are also substantial area-wise variations, and all these would have to be synchronised while compiling accurate data on a nationwide basis. It is easy for things to go haywire: for example, between 1971 and 1981, it was discovered that Maharashtra's Scheduled Tribe population had shot up disproportionately. It was eventually found that this was because the Halba tribe suddenly claimed it fell into the ST category. With no systematic data collection methods, it is easy for similar inaccuracies to creep in elsewhere.
For the forseeable future, there appears no alternative but for India to live with its caste-based divisions. But no government and no political party — and particularly those who espouse the cause of the "backwards" — should lose sight of their ultimate responsibility to ensure the speedy uplift of those at the bottom of the heap, so that at some future date the need for reservations will no longer exist. To this end, the Centre and state governments must ensure that data enumeration is decentralised to the grassroots level, so that policymakers in New Delhi and state capitals can have a better understanding of ground level realities.







Questioner: Is belief in God, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam a pre-condition for leading a meaningful and joyous life? In other words, can you lead such a life minus God?

Nay.10 : Sadhguru: Let's look at the world. All the believers, are they living ecstatic lives? No. There have been some devotees who have been ecstatic, but they are just a handful. Four hundred years ago there was one Mirabai and one Ramakrishna Paramahamsa who jumped around in ecstasy. Nowadays, we don't see them though almost 90 per cent of the world believes in some kind of God. If 90 per cent was really joyful, I would retire. Really, I would like to see a day like that.

When I was eight or nine years of age, I was so intrigued to see what happens to people who visit the temple to meet God. So I just went and stood in front of a famous temple, watching the devotees closely when they came out of the temple. All I found was that they were generally talking and gossiping about something or someone whom they saw in the temple. Like  what the people were wearing and what they were doing. Sometimes, in most of the temples in India, a devotee walks away with someone's shoes. Who knows maybe it was the God himself who wore the footwear and went. But when the person realises that his or her shoes have gone missing, they'll curse the Creation and the Creator.

I always seen that people who come out of restaurants seemed to have more happiness and smile on their faces than people who come out of the temples and churches. Somebody went and met the Divine and came out without any joy on their face. Somebody ingested a dosa or an idli and came out more joyful! Doesn't make sense, does it? A dosa and an idli can't compete with the Divine? That's not good!
This is because there is no experience of the Divine, there is only belief; and what you believe is just social and cultural. "But can I live better minus God?" I don't think there is such a possibility. What is it that you call as God? Whatever the source of creation is, that's what God is. Can you live without the source of Creation? Because there is a source of Creation, there is a Creation. So can you live well minus source of Creation? There is no such possibility. Can you live without the awareness of the source of Creation? You can but not too well. But if you are aware, conscious and in direct contact with the source of Creation, then you would live absolutely well.
Once our capabilities increase, we start wondering if God is really needed. Yes, God as they believe today is definitely not needed. He is causing problems everywhere in the world. And God's words are causing horrible situations for people, because everybody claims they heard God's words themselves, and they wrote down their own stuff. No two books agree with each other. Now there's constant conflict.

Well into 22nd century, a group of scientists decided to go and meet God. They went there and said, "Hey old man, you've done pretty well with the Creation. Thanks for that, but now we can do almost everything. We can do everything that you can do. We think it's time for you to retire". God said, "Is that so? What all can you do?" "Well, we can create life". "Let me see". So they picked up a little bit of soil and made a little baby out of it; it became alive. God said, "OK, that's impressive, but first get some soil of your own. Don't use my creation".
Whatever you do, it is only from the source that is already there. Minus that, how would you do anything? There is no minus that; you can either be in access or not in access to God. If you are in access, you will live in absolute ecstasy and capability. If you live without access, you may have some capability, but also great struggle. That's what is happening right now.

 Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a yogi, is a visionary, humanitarian and a prominent spiritual leader. An author, poet, and internationally-renowned speaker, Sadhguru's wit and piercing logic provoke and widen our perception of life. He can be contacted at








May.10 : The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh has been battling with misfortune for the past eight years and had desperately turned to Vaastu Shastra for revival. On the advice of Vaastu experts, the party leaders first got a massive Chilbil tree in the party office chopped off. The tree provided shade to visitors and had been there for as long one could remember. But this did not help and then Vaastu experts decided that the main entrance gate of the party office was wrongly positioned and warded off good luck. The party leaders promptly shut the main gate and opened a side gate on the northern end.
But this did not help either and after the party's debacle in the Lok Sabha elections, the old gates have been reopened. Maybe it is time the BJP learnt that it is not trees and gates that make a political party — but workers and leaders.


The Trinamul Congress leader, Mamata Banerjee, was stunned into disbelief when the Congress rejected her offer of 25 seats and decided to go it alone in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation elections.
Ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, she had in a similar unilateral manner allotted 14 out of 42 parliamentary seats in West Bengal to the Congress. The Congress leaders had to willy nilly toe her line.
In all subsequent Assembly bypolls, the seat-sharing deal was forged purely on Ms Banerjee's terms.
Even the pleas of central Congress leaders such as Ahmed Patel and K. Keshav Rao for some extra seats fell on deaf ears.

This time, however, the Congress president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi and the senior leader, Pranab Mukherjee, accepted the argument of the state leaders that taking the "crumbs" thrown by Ms Banerjee would be both humiliating and suicidal. So they decided to call her bluff.


Who said all the excitement is in Delhi? In the past few weeks in Karnataka, two public men have been caught in the act. And on camera. One is a self-proclaimed godman, appropriately self-christened Nithyananda. The other is a state minister, Halappa.

The swami took his disciples to bed after getting them to sign on a non-disclosure agreement. The minister, on the other hand, didn't turn out to be half as clever. He allegedly was caught in flagrante delicto with his best friend's wife. TV channels have run the sexcapades of both priest and politician over and over again, but now the videos are threatening to become a cottage industry. The SMS going around offers a good deal: Buy Nithyananda CD, get Halappa CD free!


After Shah Rukh Khan, it is Arshad Warsi's turn. While professionally things are going quite well for Arshad, he recently got the proverbial smack-on-the-arm for smoking in a public place.

Warsi, who was in Goa recently shooting for the third edition of the movie Golmaal, was clicked signing autographs for students in a college campus with a cigarette in hand.

As soon as the matter came to light, the National Organisation for Tobacco Eradication (NOTE) shot off a letter censuring him for smoking in public. "You are advised not to smoke because it will improve your health and it will prevent a number of young people from starting to smoke", the letter read.
Unfortunately, since Warsi was not available, the poor college principal had to pay the fine as per rules.


If you thought politicians and patrakars (journalists) are two separate tribes, you are wrong.
Ask the Orissa finance minister, Prafulla Chandra Ghadei, and he will explain you how they are the same.

"Many people criticise politicians and patrakars", the minister said this while addressing a gathering of scribes at Orissa Union of Journalists on the occasion of May Day. "Despite doing so much for the society, many people brand us corrupt and dishonest. But who reaches the people in distress first? We both do, not even caring about our lives. Others arrive much later".

The same minister had stirred a hornet's nest in the past by saying that many scribes were getting monthly "pocket money" from influential people. He perhaps wanted to utilise the occasion to mend for his "blunder".

 Power-deafening antics

Power makes people blind. But as journalists recently learnt in Jharkhand, the race for power too can turn some people deaf. Ever since the state's Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-led five-party coalition government headed by Shibu Soren tottered, following the tribal satrap's mysterious casting of a vote for the United Progressive Alliance in the Lok Sabha, most JMM and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, in back-to-back parleys behind closed doors and often in secret locations in Ranchi, have been avoiding journalists. While some simply refuse to answer journalists' phone calls, others have actually been feigning inability to hear journalists' questions clearly. The smart ones, of course, just keep their mobile phones switched off. Perhaps now that they are nearing a solutions, journalists will be briefed by rotation, by JMM and BJP.


Reporters' Diary







The Tamil Nadu Legislative Council Bill was enacted in Parliament during the last two days of the Budget Session and the debate on the Bill was not just reflective of party positions but also threw up some interesting questions of constitutional importance. While Article 168 of the Constitution provides generally for the state legislature, consisting of the governor and both Houses, if bicameral and one, where the Council has been abolished, Article 169 of our Constitution gives Parliament the right to enact law abolishing or creating the Legislative Council in any state provided the Legislative Assembly of the state passes a resolution to that effect with a majority of the total membership of the Assembly and by a majority of not less than two thirds of the members present and voting. Article 171 of the Constitution provides for the composition of the Legislative Councils.

At present, there are Legislative Councils only in six states in our country, namely Bihar, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir. Now Tamil Nadu has joined that list and will soon establish its Legislative Council while requests from Punjab and Assam are pending for consideration by Parliament.
The origin of bicameral legislatures is as old as the concept of democracy. It is said that the early Romans understood the tendency of the "Plebs" as the assemblage of free citizens who talked at great length while actually achieving or deciding little. Hence, they hit upon the notion of placing the actual business of governance in the hands of two consuls, who were assisted by a council of elders called the Senate, drawing from the root of the word "senex", meaning old man. The Second Chamber was born, although it was far different from the modern concept of the second chamber.

Abbe Sieyes, an early political commentator, remarked about bicameralism that: "If a second chamber disagrees from the first, it is mischievous, if it agrees, it is superfluous". Benjamin Franklin declared that bicameralism would be like a carriage drawn by one horse in front and another behind pulling it in opposite directions. However, other eminent commentators like Montesquieu argued in favour of checks and balances which would be introduced by a bicameral legislature and some who agreed with this school of thought mentioned the analogy of Washington pouring hot tea from his cup into the saucer to allow it to cool, illustrating the value of the American Senate as a body moderating the impulsive tendencies inherent in the House of Representatives.
In our own democracy, the arguments for and against second chambers were familiar to the members of the Constituent Assembly. Under the Government of India Act 1919, two chambers were provided for and the 1935 Act followed this line. In the Constituent Assembly, Gopalaswami Ayyangar argued that the need for second chambers has been felt practically all over the world wherever there are federations and second chambers would be useful "to hold dignified debate on important issues and delay legislation on which might be the outcome of the passions of the moment to act as guardians of democracy and popular will, but not to prove to be a hurdle either to legislation or administration. However, Dr B.R. Ambedkar did not agree and only accepted the concept of bicameralism as an experimental measure.

In modern India, there can be no doubt that a bicameral legislature is an indubitable necessity in our federal system. It is obvious from our experience of six decades of democracy that neither the Rajya Sabha nor the Councils in the states have ever been chambers that delay or hinder legislation as feared by earlier thinkers. On the contrary, eminent Indians have been members of the Upper Houses, including in Tamil Nadu, and have contributed tremendously through debate and discussion to the enactment of good legislation and the growth of our democracy. Examples being the first and only Governor-General of India, Rajaji, and also for a brief period Anna. The second chambers of legislature have proved to be sober and mature forums of discussion where the issues of the day are debated in an atmosphere of learning and calm reason. Of course, the fracas over the Women's Reservation Bill that recently became a permanent blot on the conduct of the Rajya Sabha are exceptions which are thankfully rare.

Even today the existence of the Rajya Sabha is not in any question and there is universal acceptance of its constitutional importance. The only debate is over the second chamber in the states, particularly in view of the fact that our Constitution has provided in the same Article 169 that allows the creation of the Upper House in the state and the power to also abolish the second chamber. This, it is argued, will give undue power to the state government of the day and bring about an anomalous situation where Legislative Councils may be created and abolished every time a new government is elected. Obviously, however, this cannot be a reason to throw the baby out along with the bathwater. It does not follow from this that second chambers are not desirable. Rather, it would emphasise the importance of evolving a national policy on uniformity regarding the existence of second chambers in the states and even if required, amending Article 169 to ensure that second chambers, once created, cannot be removed at the whim and fancy of a newly-elected government.

Today, there is a feeling of alienation among large sections of our population who believe that the business of legislation and governance are well beyond their reach. A second chamber which would have representatives from the Teachers or Graduate Constituencies, from the panchayati raj institutions, from doctors, lawyers, educationists and other eminent citizens would become a wonderful forum where these sections who do not necessarily want to enter the rough and tumble of party politics can make their valuable contribution to the running of our democracy. In this context it is clear that this noble purpose will not be served unless merit and eminence and quality distinguish those elected to the Councils since otherwise the atmosphere of the second chamber will become vitiated and fail to serve its purpose.

The arguments against bicameralism in the states on the grounds of additional expense are simply unimportant in the face of the very real advantages of inclusive and participatory democracy. The need for a second chamber in our states is as much a reality in modern India as it was when our founding fathers drafted Article 169 of the Constitution.

Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.

The views expressed in this column are her own.

Jayanthi Natarajan







The verdict of the Supreme Court constitutional bench last Friday settles some, but not all, of the issues concerning the post of governor. The court said a governor cannot be dismissed on grounds of not agreeing with the central government over ideology and other political issues. A governor should be allowed to complete his term and he or she can be removed only on proven grounds of misdemeanour. Courts also have the right to review the decision on the basis of a complaint. The present case arose as a result of a complaint made by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members on the removal of governors in 2004.


The governor's post has proven to be a vexatious one, especially in the context of Centre-state relations. It is basically a vestige of the 1935 India Act with its diarchy principle where the central government controlled the provinces through the governor. It was considered necessary by the British government not to let popular government have total control. In that system, many of the subjects were kept out of the purview of elected provincial governments and the governor could veto their decision as well.


The governor's post was unpopular then in the eyes of nationalists. After Independence, it remained unpopular as well. This became accentuated when different parties were in power at the Centre and states. In the uneasy equations that emerged, the governor was seen as an agent of an unfriendly central government.


Various parties at the Centre have used the office of governor in a shabby manner. It turned out to be a sinecure for politically superannuated individuals and when the need arose the governor had to do the act at the behest of the party in power at the Centre. What the Supreme Court verdict does is restore dignity to the office, and underlines its constitutional importance. Parties in power at the Centre cannot boot out governors just because they belong to a different party and subscribe to a different ideology.


This leaves out the important question of appointment of governors. The current mode of appointment is rather unsatisfactory. A more democratic option would be the one specified in the Jammu and Kashmir constitution, where the governor is elected by the state legislature. This deserves consideration on the part of constitutional experts and politicians.







The pundits were right. Britain's voters have brought in a hung parliament for the first time in 36 years. While the incumbent Labour party has effectively lost the general election, the Conservatives have not won it either. And the Liberal Democrats, in spite of a fine campaign and great success in televised debates, have also lost seats. Attempts are now on to cobble together a coalition, something that we in India are all too familiar with. The British system, incidentally, is not: they are used to one or the other of their two major parties winning emphatically, though they have experimented with a Liberal-supported Labour government (the so-called Lib-Lab pact) in the 1970s.


Many factors have contributed to this time's hung parliament: the electorate wanted change but, as often happens when large numbers turn out to vote, the result gets diluted, and the incumbent government usually suffers. Prime minister Gordon Brown, who many felt had effective policies to deal with the economic crisis in his country and in Europe, has perhaps been made to pay the price for the mistakes made by his predecessor Tony Blair and the 'New Labour" experiment. For many, Blair's decision to get into the Iraq war remains a sore point. The financial scandal, where MPs claimed their personal expenses from the exchequer, also hit Labour hard. Then there was the problem with Brown himself — not charismatic enough to many.


But the Conservatives under David Cameron and the Liberal Democrats under Nick Clegg have also faced the same problem in some sense. If this hadn't been the case, the Tories should have managed a decent margin of victory. Now they have to negotiate with the Liberal Democrats. Many feel that another general election is likely within two years.


What is also intriguing is how the British election commission failed to anticipate a motivated electorate. Many polling booths turned voters away because time had run out or they had run out of ballot papers. Perhaps, long used to an apathetic electorate, the bureaucrats were caught unawares. Clearly, they had misread the signs.


There are some pluses for Britain's large immigrant population — as the ultra right-wing British Nationalist Party leader was trumped and that the Asian quotient has gone up. For now, though, Britain has to learn to live with the rough and tumble of coalition politics.







This month is the beginning of a year-long celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, a towering figure in Indian intellectual and cultural life of the 20th century. My comments on Tagore are also occasioned by the discovery, among my papers, of a short unpublished note on the poet by my late mentor, the psychoanalyst and Harvard professor Erik Erikson, known in India as the author of Gandhi's Truth. I believe Erikson' insights, which form the basis of these observations, need to be shared with all who are interested in the nature of creative greatness.


Personally, I hesitate to comment on men and women the world rightly regards as 'great' (Tagore is certainly one of them) since many people only feel comfortable with hagiography. They believe, wrongly I think, that psychological insight undermines the magic of the image of a great man, as if 'greatness' and common humanity are opposed to each other. In fact, my impression is that the inner, psychological conflicts of great men are stronger than those of ordinary men but in their case the creative process itself very often restores a superior balance.


All creative work, the German philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche once remarked, is disguised autobiography. This is especially true of creative geniuses like Tagore where we find that there are certain themes that are repeated again and again, both in his life and in his literary work. In his observations, Erikson identified the theme of unity as the pre-eminent theme in Tagore's inner world and in his poetry. Here, I cannot go into all the data in support of this interpretation, but will only say that in identifying a dominant theme in a great man's inner life, all the available material needs to be carefully weighed to arrive at a conclusion. For instance, Tagore's claim that his mother's death did not make a conscious and immediate impression on the youngster does not tell us anything about the meaning of her death to him. Perhaps this poem does:I cannot remember my mother/only sometimes in the midst of my play/a tune seems to hover over my playthings/the tune of some song that she used to hum while/rocking my cradle.


I cannot remember my mother/but when in the early autumn morning/the smell of the siui flowers floats in the air/the scent of the morning service in the temple comes/to me as the scent of my mother.


But returning to the unity theme in Tagore's inner life, it is a search for bringing together what are normally regarded as opposites: human being-divine, male-female, home-world. Let me only take his gradual integration of the masculine and the feminine in himself, perhaps necessary for all poets, as an example. Some express this only in their poetry, some in their appearance as well. Erikson writes: "And Tagore's whole appearance, at the end, seemed to be above the sexes, even as in young years, he combined feminine shyness with a tall, masculine body. His beard was patriarchal but his robes veiled some mysteriously pregnant body. Ascetic Gandhi was tolerant of this flamboyant appearance: he understood that it marked Tagore's role in India and the world: for in a country, smitten by the necessity to stand up against a conqueror's idol (namely, the masculinity of the British beefeaters) and in a world about to surrender to a combination of technological superman and nationalist bullies, Tagore reasserted the traditional inclusion in the Indian identity of the feminine and the maternal, the sensual and the experiential, the receptive and the transcendental in human life."


The unity theme, with its two basic moods of melancholy, that is death before consummation, and rapture when the Oneness is consummated, is pervasive in Tagore's poetry. Indeed, both these moods are characteristic of Rabindra Sangeet, loved by most Bengalis and cherished as one of their greatest cultural treasures. In Tagore's life, the unity theme can be traced back to the 'geography' of his childhood. Here, "imprisoned on the fringe of the big house, the fringe where 'the people' — the servants, the sister-in-law Kadambari, the teachers — dwell, the child Rabindranath longs for the mysterious inner sanctum (his mother's quarters, her 'scent', an immersion in the maternal) as also for the great outer world — of the returning father, the inspiration of nature, the merger with the Great Spirit."


At least some of Tagore's genius may be understood as the playing out of a vital childhood theme, in complex and mature ways, in his poems and plays. What makes a person "great" is that while he is subconsciously working and reworking on the dominant theme that governs his life, he also succeeds through his genius to make it resonate in the lives of his readers, viewers or listeners. Tagore did that, marvellously.







On May 1, Maharashtra embarked on its 50th anniversary celebrations of statehood. Understandably, India's second largest state will recall not just the heroes of the Samyukta Maharashtra movement but also its icons in various fields, right down to the contemporary era.


Understanding Maharashtra and its people becomes easier when one looks at the 50 years preceding statehood and the 50 years since. If it was the great Parsi businessmen-philanthropists,followed by Gujaratis and Marwaris who laid the earliest foundations of Indian business in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was Maharashtrianssuch as the reformist-ruler Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur, Jyotiba Phule and Maharishi Dhondo Keshav Karve, who along with many Bengalis dominated reformist and progressive thought.


The Maharashtrian character has enriched the national fabric by being intrinsically progressive and reformist. It is, therefore, no wonder that Maharashtrians as a people never pursued wealth passionately, but went after thoughts and ideas. Even the tallest of their leaders, such as Lokmanya Tilak, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Veer Savarkar and Babasaheb Ambedkar, were writers and reformers even as they were great nationalists.


Ironically, a recall of the truly great icons of Maharashtra will show a stark contrast between the 50 years before and after statehood. The contrast is striking not in other fields as much as in politics where one finds dwarfs and pygmies, obsessed with their bottomless greed, running the show today as compared to the truly self-sacrificing titans who spent a lifetime in the nation's welfare.


When you think of contemporary icons such as Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar in sports; Bhimsen Joshi, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle in music; Vijay Tendulkar and Jabbar Patel in theatre and films; Baba Amte, Drs Abhay and Rani Bang, and Anna Hazare in social work, one is left searching for comparables in politics.


Maharashtra's decline as a state today — inspite of its industrial and corporate prosperity — can be directly attributed to the absence of truly inspiring political icons.


Ever since the accumulation of wealth became the key to political success across post-independent India, corruption has been the dominant trait of politicians within and outside Maharashtra.Indians have accepted this reality but what rankles the common man is the complete neglect of development. Pained with this single-minded greed among politicians, a newspaper letter-writer once pleaded with the words: Paise ghya pun kaam kara (Remain corrupt but at least bring development).


Over the last 50 years, Maharashtra's politicians have betrayed the state and its people. Regional development has remained lopsided with the most backward parts of Vidarbha and Marathwada looking hungrily at prosperous western Maharashtra.


The spate of farmer suicides in Vidarbha has been a symptom of decades of this political neglect.


With a highly politicised bureaucracy and a state debt of over Rs80,000 crore, Maharashtra's budget has been showing deteriorating revenue mobilisation and rising unproductive expenditure. Although poverty declined in Maharashtra from 36.86% in 1993-94 to 25.02% in 1999-2000 , the severity of rural poverty has been higher than all-India levels. Reduced public sector expenditure throughout the 1990s has adversely impacted the health and education sectors which show serious urban-rural and inter-regional disparities. The Planning Commission notes that the privatisation of professional and higher education has put it beyond the reach of the weaker sections in Maharashtra.

There is much in Maharashtra's past to be proud of; but the present does not inspire much confidence in the 50th anniversary of statehood.











The Supreme Court has aptly ruled that the Centre cannot remove the governors of states in a capricious manner with the change of political dispensation in New Delhi. The ruling is welcome because it restrains the Centre from taking any arbitrary action against a governor without a valid cause. A five-judge Constitution Bench consisting of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice R.V. Raveendran, Justice B. Sudershan Reddy and Justice P. Sathasivam has ruled that the court can interfere if the government fails to give "cogent reasons" for removing governors. It held that a governor can be replaced only due to "compelling" reasons for proven misconduct or other irregularities as stipulated in the Constitution, not otherwise. Significantly, the Bench has said that if an aggrieved governor could demonstrate prima facie that his removal was arbitrary, whimsical or mala fide, the court will ask the Centre to justify the action by revealing to it the material on which the President had taken the decision.


The landmark judgement comes after six years of a PIL filed by Mr B.P. Singhal, a former BJP MP. He had questioned the peremptory removal of four governors by the UPA government after the NDA lost the Lok Sabha elections in 2004. Appearing for him, Mr Soli J. Sorabjee had said that governors should not be made sacrificial goats at the altar of electoral politics and should be treated with the dignity they deserve. Unfortunately, this office has been politicised for decades, first by the Congress government and then by both the BJP-led NDA and the Congress-led UPA governments at the Centre.


The Bench having made it mandatory for the Centre to justify the grounds under which a governor has been dismissed is bound to act as a shield for him/her against the use of the political axe in the future. Ruling parties at the Centre appoint favoured politicians and bureaucrats to the Raj Bhavans to gain advantage during the formation of a state government (the governor decides which party to invite first in the case of a hung Assembly) and to keep the state government under pressure (the governor can recommend dismissal). The politicisation of this most important office can be checked only when the Centre, in tune with several recommendations of expert committees in the past, and the apex court's latest ruling, appoints apolitical persons of exceptional integrity, acumen and wisdom.








It will be a while before the full implication of the Supreme Court's judgment on the gas-price row between the Ambani brothers sinks in. The landmark ruling, which ended possibly the longest and certainly the bitterest corporate war in recent times, is bound to impact the government policy as well as business in future. The apex court has laid down a benchmark by ruling that national interest would always override private interest. The court has further ruled that natural resources are held in trust by the government on behalf of the people and, therefore, the government has the absolute power to determine its pricing and distribution. Even when the government delegates the responsibility of "exploration, extraction and exploitation" of natural resources to private players, the latter do not enjoy unfettered rights, the court added. Since these natural resources are national assets and belong to the people, corporate bodies exploiting them are subject to constitutional restrictions, maintained the Bench headed by outgoing Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan.


Another significant fallout is that part of the ruling which says that a private, family arrangement not approved by the shareholders is not legally binding. The agreement, thrashed out while distributing the assets between the two brohers, the court observed, was never really made public. The three million shareholders of the two groups never had any access to the agreement, which was revealed only in parts during the hearing in the court. The court observed that the Board of Directors was also not taken into confidence and, therefore, held that the agreement reached between the two brothers had no legal validity. It is pertinent to note that there was indeed an agreement and even Mukesh Ambani did not dispute that he had agreed to supply natural gas from the Krishna-Godavari basin to Anil Ambani's Reliance Power at a fixed price. While the younger brother had cried foul over the breach of agreement, the elder brother had pleaded helplessness in supplying gas at rates lower than what was fixed by the government, though admittedly at a later date. By declaring the private agreement illegal, the court knocked out the petition filed by the younger Ambani.


But would the ruling have been different if the agreement had been circulated to the shareholders or if the Board of Directors of Reliance Industries had endorsed it? Indeed, would that have made the agreement legally binding? There are no easy answers even as the only lesson for the government is to lose no more time in formulating a national policy on the exploitation of natural resources.









When the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) gave a call for a massive May Day rally and an indefinite strike to force the Madhav Kumar Nepal government to resign, no one expected any opposition to them. But Maoist leaders were surprised to find on the sixth day of their agitation that they could no longer continue to paralyse life in the strife-torn country. The Maoists met their match in the civil society members, who held a largely attended peace rally in Kathmandu. The peace-seekers issued an ultimatum to both the Maoists and the government to settle their disputes within 48 hours and allow people to lead a normal life, or else get ready to face the challenge. The message was clear as daylight: if the warring parties ignored the appeal of the civil society the streets of Kathmandu and other major cities would be filled with people to oppose both sides with full force. The result was the withdrawal of the strike by the Maoists immediately.


Of course, there was also considerable pressure from the international community, including the donor countries, not to add to the suffering of the people. But the resistance put up by the civil society members — doctors, engineers, national celebrities, lawyers, teachers, students, journalists, et al — who waved the national flag and held placards with messages like "stop the bandh" and "we want peace", was too powerful to be ignored. Had the Maoists not listened to the call for peace, they would have been held responsible for the large-scale violence that was bound to ensue.


The Maoists say they have changed their style of protest in deference to the wishes of the suffering people. This means they will continue to work against the government, but avoid taking any step that may cause violence. Only time will tell how they conduct themselves in the days to come. On Saturday they issued a two-day ultimatum to Prime Minister Madhavkumar Nepal to accept their demands, including resignation by the goverment. This is not the way to solve Nepal's complicated problems. Nothing should be done that can disrupt the drafting of the constitution within the stipulated timeframe. The Himalayan country requires the constitution as the first thing for establishing peace through democratic and non-violent means.

















Mastering technology and production of heavy water — the key material indispensable in operations of India's indigenous nuclear reactor system, pressurised heavy water reactor — is a complex scientific and engineering assignment not many countries can tackle. Yet India had to meet this challenge, for heavy water is the mainstay of the country's nuclear power programme, valuable also in areas of industrial build up. The results — a veritable miracle is unfolding.


In the early seventies, India was accused by the West of "stealing" heavy water from Canada. Those were the years when the US and its allies applied sanctions on India after the 1974 test of a nuclear device at Pokhran. When India was scurrying around the world for meagre quantities of heavy water, the West was in denial mode, and Canada violated terms of collaboration for setting up a heavy water plant in India.


In contrast, today India has emerged as the largest producer of high quality heavy water in the world. Heavy water from India is sought by many advanced countries because of its quality and price — South Korea, China, even US research bodies such as Spectra Gas and Cambridge Isotope Laboratories. The later are astounded over Indian achievements in the sanctified area of nuclear grade heavy water production, and want to dissect the Indian product.


To put the phenomenon in the words of the chairman and CEO of the Heavy Water Board, A.L.N. Rao: "India has emerged as the largest producer of high quality heavy water in the world, operating six heavy water plants, mastering the two leading technologies - bi-thermal hydrogen sulphide-water exchange and mono-thermal ammonia-hydrogen exchange. (In the process) we have also developed the water-ammonia exchange-based front-end process for ammonia-based heavy water plants, making them independent of fertiliser plants."


And he adds: "Dr Bhabha's dream of producing cheapest heavy water to not only meet our requirement but also export has been effectively realized by the Heavy Water Board. Consequently, we have successfully met the primary mandate given to the HWB with respect to the first phase of the Indian nuclear programme."


From the production of the first drop of heavy water at Nangal in 1962 to the first export of heavy water in 1998 has been an arduous journey --- a revolution of a sort. How has this been achieved?


Not attempting to overburden the story with scientific and technological aspects of this undertaking, some glimpses of this three-decade journey may nevertheless be worthwhile. The beginnings of India's heavy water endeavour were modest; it is dedication and mission mode application by a highly trained manpower with the goal of making India self-sufficient in nuclear-grade heavy water production that has brought about the big results.


Technology attainment has come the hard way, in which two distinct phases can be spelt out. With the start-up project for heavy water production with Candaian collaboration left in the dumps after the 1974 Pokhran test, the first generation heavy water plants had to rest on indigenous capability plus whatever was gained from the short-lived collaboration with Canada. Some first generation plants were based on bi-thermal hydrogen sulphide-water exchange technology. After initial experience, almost in parallel, plants began to be built with foreign assistance based on the mono thermal NH2-H2 exchange process.


The technical competence generated from design, construction and commissioning of these plants resulted in a sizeable quantum of industrial operation skills, and the urge for excellence paved the way for consolidation. In what might be described as a higher phase, the second generation plants were built with larger capacities, and construction was taken up using indigenous design and engineering capabilities.


The core of these experiences is summed up in a report of the HWB, "Odyssey of Excellence": "Development of heavy water technology in India has gone through a complex process of selection of materials, safety system design, process synthesis, operability studies, analytical science development, and overcoming early limitation of fabrication and infrastructure."


At present, the heavy water production capacity in India is over 500 tonnes, production being undertaken at six plants. These are situated at Baroda (Gujarat), Kota (Rajasthan), Manuguru (Andhra Pradesh), Hazira (Gujarat), Thal (Maharashtra) and Talcher (Orissa). Of late, the plant at Talcher has stopped production - mainly due to the stoppage of work at the associated fertilizer plant - and its infrastructure is being used for R&D and diversified work.


Dr A.L.N. Rao says: "On moving from concept to commissioning and then to consolidation, we have increased the production of heavy water more than the rated capacities. No less significant, we have reduced specific energy consumption considerably. (Thus), we have scaled new peaks in the areas of productivity, capacity utilisation, energy conservation, safety and environment protection."


Significantly, the HWB is advancing further to activities of diversification to meet the emerging needs of the second phase of the Indian nuclear programme. Among the latest achievements are commissioning of the Boron enrichment plants at Talcher and Manuguru, and the Elemental Boron Plant at Manuguru.


A bright vista has opened up pushing the HWB's creative work to a new high. "With the confidence gained in the solvent extraction process of rare metal recovery from wet phosphoric acid at bench scale, a Technology Demonstration Plant is being set up. This will also give additional confidence to the fertilizer industry that there will not be any change in the characteristics of phosphatic fertilizer, after the rare metal is recovered from phosphoric acid," says Dr Rao. The HWB has capped these achievements by entering into an MoU with external agencies for the transfer of Flue Gas Conditioning Technology patented by the HWB.








THROW a vegetarian into Korea and you are asking for non-stop entertainment — at the cost of the vegetarian, of course.


I had been forewarned that I must shed my vegetarian scruples while in Seoul or be prepared to eat dry food carried from home. My colleagues and I began our odyssey with ready-to-eat packs with some bravado. Not for long, however. The Indian preference for cooked food every day is difficult to shake off.


Our considerate and efficient hosts had tried to cater to our peculiar dietary preferences, or so they thought. Alas, we could not share their enthusiasm for grilled shrimp or the Sashimi Donburi decoded as 'diced halibut sea bass sashimi on salad' — both of which were marked prominently with a V for Vegetarian sign in the menu.


The broiled eel braised in soy sauce, the steamed mandoo (pork dumplings) and the Korean favourite, Bul-go-gi (sauteed strips of seasoned beef) were also vegetarian according to the head waiter. When we began our standard recitation of 'no fish, no chicken, no beef...', he shrugged his shoulders in helplessness. His ungrammatical but adequate response : 'Sorry, we no do.'


On one of our site visits, we saw a youth with golden corn and a bright paper takeaway bag in his hands. We decided that this seemed safe for vegetarians and requested the coach driver to wait for a few minutes to help us check out this important lead.


The prospect was tantalising to those who had not sampled freshly cooked food in days and were living off cereal in milk or bread and jam. A closer inspection, however, revealed that it was not that great an option. The smells wafting up in the air were distinctly non-vegetarian though the recent converts to vegetarianism in our group could not precisely identify the creature being 'grilled' there.


A dozen ears of corn simmered amidst spices on an aluminium griddle, along with round patties made of potato and other unidentifiable stuff. Hoping for bulk orders, the young woman at the counter waited patiently. When we asked her what the patty consisted of she replied, "Ojinguh". Chung, the young intern who accompanied us on our forays, translated it with a frown as "squid — very spicy and very crunchy, but not vegetarian."


A debate arose on what squids were really like. Our resident marine zoologist reminded us that they resembled octopuses and belonged to the mollusc family. "Oooh, octopus !" shrieked a particularly squeamish colleague as the others laughed in merriment.


The woman at the counter beamed at us and said encouragingly, "Squid, just like octopus, but more tasty, because he has two extra hands!'


 We trusted her judgement. But we had to regretfully request Chung to explain to her in a torrent of Korean that we would not be able to sample her wares. How Chung defined 'vegetarian' to her, we never knew, for by then, Kim, the driver, walked over to us with a bag of wholewheat biscuits and a big grin on his face, urging us back onto the bus. There is very little that tourist-friendly coach drivers have not seen and heard before, I guess!








More than five decades after it began its quest for self-reliance by establishing a series of government-owned defence research and production units, India has been unable to indigenously develop, produce and export any major weapon system. It remains overwhelmingly dependent on foreign vendors for about 70 per cent of its defence requirement, especially for critical military products and high-end defence technology. India's defence ministry officially admits to attaining only 30 to 35 per cent self-reliance capability for its defence requirement. But even this figure is suspect given that India's self-reliance mostly accrues from transfer of technology, license production and foreign consultancy despite considerable investment in time and money.


Although it would be unrealistic to expect any country to be cent percent self-reliant (even the most advanced countries are not), India has not been able to develop any core strength in defence technology to enable it to be placed on the world map, except arguably to a limited extent in missiles and warship design and production.


In contrast, the world's major and middle-rung military powers, which possess a strong and well-established defence industry and military-industrial complex, are largely self-sufficient in some, if not all, critical cutting edge military technologies. In addition to being major producers of defence technology, these countries are also major exporters of defence equipment, which, in turn, serve as a source of influence in their foreign policy. This is especially true of all five permanent members of the UN Security Council and also several advanced countries or middle-rung powers such as Israel, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands.


Even though China is a major importer of defence hardware – it is the second largest recipient (in US dollar value) and has signed the third highest number of transfer agreements of defence equipment among developing countries between 2000 and 2007 – yet at the same time it is self-sufficient in certain key military technologies and emerged as the fifth largest exporter of defence equipment to developing countries between 2000-2007.


In contrast, India's modest record of producing and exporting weapon systems is evident from the fact that India's defence annual exports averaged a meagre US$ 88 million between 2006-07 and 2008-09.


Imports have also meant infrastructure and product support problems for an Indian Air Force (IAF) fleet that comprises 26 different types of fighter, transport and trainer aircraft and helicopters sourced from at least six different countries. The same holds true for the IAF's air defence comprising surface-to-air missiles, radars and aerostats. The issue of sourcing equipment and its product support from different countries also holds true for the technology-intensive Navy. Its air wing comprises UK-supplied fighter aircraft; surveillance aircraft sourced from Russia, the US and Germany; and a wide range of helicopters sourced from Russia, UK, France and the US. The submarine fleet is sourced from Russia and Germany with France in the pipeline while aircraft carriers are sourced from the UK with a Russian-made aircraft carrier in the pipeline.


Similarly, all high-end technology equipment and even some low-end equipment in even the comparatively less technology intensive Army is similarly equipped with imported weapon systems and other equipment that ranges from tanks, artillery and air defence systems to even high altitude clothing including jackets, shoes and gloves.


India's over dependence on imports comes at a tremendous cost that includes re-negotiations, cost escalation, delay in delivery, problems in product support, denial of technology and technical glitches.

An adverse fall out of India's over-dependence on imports is the regular occurrence of either proven or alleged scams in procurement from foreign vendors which, on occasions, have led to cancellation of deals. This has ramifications for the armed forces which fear that their operational preparedness and modernisation will suffer.


For example, in 2005 alone, the CBI was investigating 47 cases of procurement. In the last five years alone, the defence ministry cancelled deals involving import of 400 anti-material rifles, 197 light helicopters and 400 pieces of 155 mm towed artillery guns after years of technical trials and negotiations. In addition it has temporarily suspended contracts worth US$ 279 million and even black listed four foreign and three Indian companies.


As such, India's over dependence on import is fraught with concerns for the armed forces in particular and the country's security in general. Since military technology is constantly changing and potential adversaries making new procurements, there is no weapon system that is likely to remain relevant for the future. A weapon system, such as for example, a submarine bought in the 1980s becomes inflexible to meet the technological challenges posed by an adversary's procurement of a sophisticated anti-submarine warfare technology some years later.


Although import of weapons 'supplies technology' it does not necessarily transfer technology. Neither do sellers transfer the ability to upgrade the technology when the need arises. Countries remain reluctant to part with critical and strategic technology both because it has power in it and because it has involved considerable monetary, technological and human resource investment. Further, the maintenance cost of weapon systems keeps increasing whereas its effectiveness remains constant at best and, at worst, keeps reducing vis-à-vis potential adversaries. In the absence of any serious indigenous capability, foreign suppliers become the reference point for the Services which usually want the most sophisticated (and therefore expensive) equipment.


In many cases, India's defence acquisitions have been plagued by both indecisions and by cumbersome decision-making and procurement process. The long procurement process has, in turn, been afflicted by protracted negotiations followed by long delivery schedules and problems of product support. The net result is that the Indian armed forces are affected by a combination of depleted and antiquated equipment, deficiencies in training and a questionable operational readiness.


A majority of the Army's artillery, air defence artillery, and armour dates back to three decades and more. Both the capital and technology-intensive Navy and IAF are suffering from either a depleting strength or ageing technology. The Navy's fleet fell to 129 warships in 2008 notwithstanding the Defence Acquisition Council's stipulation to maintain a minimum-must force-level of 140. Its fleet of submarines – a stealth platform critical for sea denial – has fallen from 22 to 16.


The IAF's fighter squadron strength has fallen to 32 from a sanctioned strength of 39.5, and as, currently envisaged, will still be two squadrons short of the authorised strength even at the end of the 12th five-year plan period (2012-2019). Besides, technical obsolescence has affected the trainer aircraft fleet and air defence radars, while the transport fleet is suffering from a perennial shortage of spares thus adversely affecting its serviceability. The situation hardly augurs well for a country that boasts of the world's third largest military located in a difficult and hostile neighbourhood and views its strategic interests as extending from the Strait of Malacca to the Strait of Hormuz.








The Pew Research Foundation survey last December found that for the first time the Internet had crossed newspapers as the main source of information. Seventy one per cent of those surveyed said they got national and international news from TV, 42 per cent from Internet and 33 per cent from newspapers.


While the government is seriously contemplating regulating the electronic media, it is oblivious to the fact that internet-enabled mobile may emerge as one of the most powerful source of information. Is there any method to regulate this global interaction process? The issue will become more serious when 3G and 4G technology is made functional. It will replace TV with mobile phones carrying visuals alongside data. The recent Google-Chinese Government controversy is a case in point to suggest transnational implications of any attempt at regulating the Internet and impracticability of such an endeavor by state actors.


Be it newspaper, television, Internet (through PC, Laptop, mobile handset or any other internet-enabled device like smart-phone, e-book or tablet PCs) or any future mode of communications, it is just a medium —a product of technological innovation that is changing at a breakneck speed and in an increasingly cost-effective way. Even the Tele-communication and IT industry is stunned by its speed. In 2009, India registered a four-fold increase in internet-enabled mobile users. Today India is home to 520 million mobile users. The ratio of PC to mobile is 1:6 with the latter growing at a much faster speed. With introduction of IMT–2000-certified 3G technology mobile industries have almost succeeded in replacing heavy and cumbersome PCs and Laptops by internet-enabled all-in-one mobile handset. Information vendors are faced with two problems. Nearly 70 per cent Internet users are in the 18-35 years age bracket. Nearly 35 per cent are college students and 33 per cent young adults. They have to see whether this new generation is interested in information and, if so, of what kind. Private players may try to work with missionary zeal to shift this segment to information, news and infotainment. But the fight is going to be tough in the face of all-out efforts by the entertainment industry to inject a heavy dose of entertainment – an addiction-inducing phenomenon. The threat is that these players would embark on a 'no-holds-barred' to shift the stationary TV viewers to their fold by giving even prurient and pornographic pictures in the name of news.


Second, whether the players are dynamic enough to foresee the fast expanding user segments in society. As cost-effective technology ensures downward expansion they will have to plan for not a decade but beyond if we have to stay in the market. Since 3G is almost a reality allowing usage of mobile TV and since 4G too is knocking at the door, any strategy should take care of both the problems in conjunction and not in isolation. Since airwaves are public property, TV news channels can be shackled into submission. But what about these future internet-enabled mobiles in which unscrupulous business houses can show anything to catch public attention. It must not be forgotten that while technology tends to spread downwards, the lower segment of society always seeks to move up the ladder. We have to identify that meeting point. Even this meeting point keeps changing because both factors mentioned above, i.e. the upwardly mobile new social segment and downwardly spreading technology-driven products are both variable. A youth from semi-urban area possesses a mobile phone but strives to get a job in a sunrise industry like software, IT etc. For him, information means a little different. For an NRI who is more interested in events in his hometown, information has a different meaning. Again, a young IT or MBA student or a candidate for the Civil Services examination needs and in-depth analysis that can update and improve his quality of knowledge and therefore his influence among those with whom he interacts.








Mayawati is the flavour of the season in the capital. This dalit leader had made a smart choice in choosing the party symbol an "Elephant". She actually walks the walk of an "Elephant" squashing what she does not like while not paying an iota of attention to the world. You may like or dislike her, but you cannot ignore her. After supporting the cut motion in Lok Sabha, she has squashed a lot of her detractors. Her dictatorial press announcement on it was a television treat.


Congressmen in Delhi, including the Uttar Pradesh General Secretary Incharge Digvijay Singh, are enforcedly in praise mode for this state chief minister. All of a sudden, Congress MPs from Uttar Pradesh are silent about their future role as opponents to the BSP government in the state. They have no idea how to respond.


On the other hand, Amar Singh seems to have discovered good virtues in Mayawati. Not only has been

admiring the way Mayawati apparently hates sycophancy, but he has been full of praise for Mayawati's secular credentials. Well, the stance of two politicians connected directly with Uttar Pradesh and the attitude of the state Congress MPs along with local Congress units has left the public confused.


On the other hand, Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati appeared for the Lucknow Development Authority (LDA) in a case at the request of the Mayawati government. Vahanvati has been appearing on behalf of the CBI in a case against Mayawati. The CBI is investigating a case against the BSP chief for amassing assets disproportionate to her known sources of income. Is this once again the same old game of politics of survival while scratching each other's back?


There are murmurs in the capital about Maya's popularity hitting a new high. Forget about demolishing her parks and statues, she may soon have her statue in a temple.



Now to another dalit leader of the South. Being a dalit, the tainted minister, A. Raja, during Karunanidhi's rare visit to Delhi, created a flutter. Karunanidhi and his huge family are a class apart. The allegation of corruption against A. Raja in the spectrum scandal was the reason behind his visit. But it is all in the family for the ruler of Tamil Nadu. Every person, whether it is Stalin in the state or Kanimozhi at the Centre, is a close relative. Kanimozhi, it is said in Delhi circles herself prevented Dayanidhi from getting the Telecom Department. Thanks to their opponent in Tamil Nadu, Jayalalita, this scandal about the liaisoning of the DMK is out in the open. Every other person in the capital seems to possess a script of the telephonic conversations which created an uproar in Parliament. But then the DMK is a precious ally of the UPA government. So A.Raja's head has been saved. The Congress has also been embarrassed by Karunanidhi's son MK Alagiri. This Union Fertilizer Minister has till date not attended a single Cabinet meeting. Nor is he present during Question Hour in Parliament. Once again the UPA partners with the Congress have managed to get away with all their scandals.









By moving against the permanent heads of Indian sport, M S Gill has revived a forgotten 2004 initiative by the late Sunil Dutt who as Sport Minister quietly tried and failed in a similar move. In the ongoing battle over Indian sport, there is a deeper question that needs to be asked: why are politicians or bureaucrats so attracted towards sport? Virtually every sporting body in India is controlled by a politician or a bureaucrat. Once entrenched, most manage to stay on for years, even decades, in a way that is uniquely Indian. So why are these strongmen - Vidya Stokes is one of the rare women politicians in Indian sport - virtually permanent in their power and why has it been impossible to dislodge them?

   At its core, sport in any society has always been about the nature of power in that society and the patterns of control by politicians have actually followed the dominant patterns of Indian politics. A quick glance at the Indian political firmament confirms that the longevity of strongmen/women and their cliques is a feature shared by virtually every political party in every state of the union. The Nehru-Gandhis have controlled Congress since independence, the firm of Advani and Vajpayee held sway over the BJP since the mid-1970s and Advani is still the pater familius, Farooq Abdullah's family has controlled the National Conference since its inception, the Badal clan has its fiefdom in the Akali Dal, the    Chautalas sway over Haryan's INLD    remains unchallenged, Mayawati's    iron-clad grip over the BSP is as solid as her mentor Kanshi Ram's,    Chandrababu Naidu continues to    define the TDP like his father-inlaw N T Rama Rao, Mamata Bannerjee's Trinamool Congress is inseparable from her persona, Karunanidhi has controlled the DMK since at least the 1960s and Jayalithaa has successfully carried on MGR's mantle in the AIADMK. Even the Left in West Bengal and Kerala has been defined as much by personality politics as other parties. Indian sport, in that sense, follows larger Indian political culture that mixes democratic processes with older forms of feudalism and organisation.

 Sport is only a mirror in which to see the deeper imprint of society. While India has undoubtedly grown more democratic with the empowerment of hitherto marginalised groups like OBCs and Dalits the structures of political power even within these new groupings remain bound in tightly controlled immutable hierarchies. To quote Ashis Nandy, Indian politics continues to have its "natural, substantially hereditary seats" which cannot be changed without a radical overhaul.


The continuance of feudal structures of power in most Indian political parties is due to the same deeper social factors driving the autocratic and closed political corridors of Indian sporting bodies. This, seen in consonance with the rules governing such bodies, augments the political authoritarianism of individuals who seize control. For one, all sporting bodies are supposed to hold regular elections. Like political parties, these elections are mostly not held, or when held, they are largely a sham orchestrated by those in power. Like the wider system, once entrenched in power at the top of a grouping, it is virtually impossible to engineer the throw-out of a political satrap.


Yet political parties are subject to fiveyearly performance reviews by the electorate which unleashes its own internal dynamics. There is no such mechanism to temper those who control sporting bodies. They operate in splendid isolation, as private bodies, answerable only to the rules and strictures of the global bodies they are affiliated with. The brandishing of the supposed IOC threat of Indian suspension now is a case in point.
   But change is not impossible. India today is a very different place from April 1974 when the then Ministry of Education issued its first circular to fix sporting tenures. The same appeals to Article 8 of the IOC Charter were made even then but that did not deter a determined Indira Gandhi from appointing Air Chief Marshall O P Mehra as IOA President during the emergency. The IOC archives in Lausanne are full of complaining letters equating the change with the dark authoritarianism of the Emergency but the status quo reverted only after the Janata government stormed into power.

If an isolated, weak India could not be suspended then by the IOC, can it really afford to take on the confident India of today?



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The Supreme Court verdict in the dispute between the Ambani brothers and their respective companies offers some comfort for all, with Anil Ambani faring the worst and the government faring the best. The younger Ambani has to renegotiate the memorandum of understanding (MoU) for gas with the older Ambani, though renegotiation is a bit of a misnomer since the price has already been fixed by the government. Even the eventual allocation of gas is now subject to government policy — any delay in permission to RNRL to set up a pipeline to its power plant, for instance, and such a permission for the Dadri plant has been pending for years — will ensure it won't get any gas, agreement or no agreement. The larger point that the court has emphasised is that the government, which represents the will of the people, is the custodian of natural resources, like gas in this case, and so its writ has to be final. This is both desirable and problematic.

Since gas, or electricity, or an airport franchise generally turns out to be a monopoly (unless there are several suppliers and there is genuine "open access" for customers), it is a good idea to retain price caps, otherwise suppliers will jack up prices to the maximum possible. But the problem here is that the current price of $4.2 per million metric British thermal units (mmBtu) that RIL wanted, in place of the $2.34 in the Mukesh-Anil MoU, was one that was cleared by the Empowered Group of Ministers after RIL called for a bid. The bid itself was controversial since the Anil camp had argued that the number of bidders was small and the bids were restricted to firms that were desperate for gas. That needn't detain us here, what is important is that if a political process is to ratify a price, the same political process can be used to come up with another price, say a $3.2 price, since it is obvious a higher gas price will lead to significantly higher electricity tariffs — while RIL has benefited from the government being on its side right now, such a decision would hurt it. Fair play, for both producers like RIL and buyers like RNRL, demands that an independent regulator be set up for deciding such tariffs along with an appellate or dispute settlement process. In telecom where, despite all its problems, the regulatory experience has been the best, cost data of incumbents have been successfully challenged by users.

 The other problematic issue is that the verdict could lead to a reversal of the process of removing the government's monopoly in critical resource sectors like oil, gas, coal and so on. One look at the success of companies like RIL and Cairn should make it clear that the opening-up has paid stunning dividends. If the marketing freedom given under the earlier Production Sharing Contracts, such as the one RIL signed, is now to be effectively removed, this will deter investments. Think of what will happen if, for instance, the essential ruling of the judgment is used by the government to decide on pricing of natural resources like coal or steel, who they should be sold to, and so on. Once again, a regulatory process will help. The court verdict is, above all, a victory for the government but the real lesson is to remove government from the process.








Most tend to focus on the emission intensity of Indian industry in order to see if India will be able to meet its voluntary commitment to reduce this by around a fifth by 2020. This, however, as a recent study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) points out, is probably the least of India's problems. CSE has done a study looking at the highest emitting industries — steel, aluminium, cement, fertilisers, paper and pulp, and power account for 60 per cent of India's current emissions — and found that most of them are pretty state-of-the-art when it comes to emissions. Since electricity is very expensive in India, it is easy to understand why they try to conserve as much of it as possible or, in the case of the power industry, extract the maximum out of coal — the study finds, for instance, that NTPC is the most efficient producer of power in the world, in terms of units of energy produced per unit of energy used in the form of coal. Similarly, the cement industry uses the best technologies; if Indian steel is more emission-intense than developed country steel, it is because India does not have the kind of access to steel scrap that western mills have and so has to use the coal-based sponge iron route which is energy-inefficient and polluting. As CSE puts it, achieving the 2020 goals is easy but once the low-hanging fruit have been plucked, further reductions require huge amounts of capital and, more important, technology and R&D, which are not even on the horizon right now. That's a big lesson as far as climate change negotiations are concerned since it points to the fact that India needs the West to provide it both capital and technology in the emission-fighting game.


A lot more problematic, however, is CSE's prognosis on land and water requirements. CSE estimates the total land used by industry today, including that for mining, and finds that this is around 7 lakh hectares right now. It then does an exercise on how much more will be required in the next two decades, based on the environment impact assessment reports that all projects have to submit — this works out to a stunning 10 lakh hectares more, around 3.3 lakh hectares of which will be for mining rights, most of which are in dense forest areas. Dantewada, where the Maoist violence took place and which accounts for nearly 70 per cent of Chhattisgarh's iron ore, has a forest cover of over 62 per cent and a tribal population of around 80 per cent. If one Singur was enough to unnerve both officialdom as well as industry, there are many more Singurs coming up ahead. When it comes to water, industry's needs will more than treble in this period — even its today's demand for water, keep in mind, equals that of the entire country. Such "business vs people" issues could come up repeatedly unless the political, administrative and business leadership get wiser and more farsighted.








In India this week, IMF's Strauss-Kahn will be heard for his views on Europe.

 When Dominique Strauss-Kahn called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2007 to seek India's support for the post of managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), he would have been pleasantly surprised at the ready endorsement he got. "French leadership at the Fund has been good for India," he was told, and India's support was assured.

Mr Strauss-Kahn was the beneficiary of Dr Singh's happy personal experience with another Frenchman, Michel Camdessus, who ran the IMF in 1991-92 when India was under a Fund programme. Perhaps Mr Strauss-Kahn did not expect such hearty endorsement partly because some thought India would support America's Stanley Fischer, whose name was doing the rounds, or because India's finance ministry was trying to secure a quid pro quo in the form of support for Finance Minister P Chidambaram as chairman of the International Monetary and Financial Committee, an influential policy-making body of the Fund, and Italy was seeking that job in return for support to Mr Strauss-Kahn.

Italy's Economic Minister Tomasso Padoa Schioppa got that post, with a little help from some African nations. Europe secured the Fund's leadership with both hands. Now that Europe weighs so heavily on the Fund's mind, it is time Mr Strauss-Kahn spent some time sharing his thinking with India about what Europe has been up to and where it is headed.

Mr Strauss-Kahn will have his usual words of praise for India's macroeconomic management and his usual words of advice on fiscal responsibility. Both would be well-intentioned and, indeed, even relevant given that India does need better economic and fiscal management. But a large part of what he says this week in New Delhi should be devoted to the Fund's reading of Europe and the consequences of the actions of European leaders, he may well be one of them in a few months, for the world economy and for developing economies in particular.

Speaking in New Delhi in February 2008, Mr Strauss-Kahn gave a very lucid and thoughtful account of the global economic situation at the time. He showed remarkable awareness of the gravity of the situation in the trans-Atlantic economies and of the impending financial crisis. Yet, after having drawn attention to all the problems that the United States and Europe were facing, he chose to devote the second half of his speech to advise emerging economies, on perfectly legitimate grounds, that the latter were indeed not delinked from the former.

The closing words of Mr Strauss-Kahn's 2008 speech were: "The world economy has entered a difficult phase, with the financial crisis spreading to the real economy. This has become a global problem that requires a global solution. Emerging markets need to join industrial countries in the macroeconomic and regulatory policy response. Such a collaborative approach offers the best hope for ensuring the stability of the global economy."

In the months that followed, it is not the so-called "emerging economies" that were in need of sound advice but the industrial countries. Today, it is not so much the "emerging markets" that "need to join" industrial countries in ensuring sound "macroeconomic and regulatory policy response", but the other way round. The world has lost confidence in European economic leadership. Can the IMF, an institution led by Europe, help restore global confidence in Europe?

What advice does Mr Strauss-Kahn have for industrial countries today? Till yesterday, the world worried about Iceland and Greece. Today, it worries about all of southern Europe. Hungary has a programme with the Fund. Tomorrow Britain could give the IMF sleepless nights. Macroeconomic leadership has been found wanting in almost every G-7 economy.

The G-20 countries have stood by the Fund and improved its finances. But the IMF cannot be re-empowered by money alone. It has to be re-legitimised by new ideas, and by its willingness to discipline the rich as much as it does the poor.

After Mr Strauss-Kahn speaks at a Ficci function in New Delhi, he will hear an Indian response to his views from two distinguished policy-makers — Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Dr Yaga Venugopal Reddy. Commentators have recommended both their names for Mr Strauss-Kahn's job, were he to return to a political career in France and were India to seek the job. Those who walk the global gossip corridors even speculate that the United States may offer to support Mr Ahluwalia while China may plump for Dr Y V Reddy (who has admirers in Beijing from his days there advising China's economic policy-makers).

While both would offer good leadership at the Fund, India should not get tempted to seek this job at this time. It must, however, support an Asian head at the Fund. Japan had its moment in 1995 when Toyo Gyohten of the Bank of Japan sought the job. Today, Japan cannot hope to inspire global confidence. The world also needs a stronger IMF that can command the respect of the United States, Europe, Japan and China.

A good Asian candidate for India to back would be Singapore's turnaround man, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam. An economist trained at the London School of Economics and Cambridge (UK) and Harvard Universities, Mr Shanmugaratnam was head of Singapore's Monetary Authority. As an Asian and a professional, he would enjoy the confidence of China, Japan and India, and should command the respect of the United States, Europe and the world.

More importantly, at a time when economic policy managers on both sides of the Atlantic have messed up their economies, neither an American nor a European will inspire confidence in global markets, nor indeed would China with its still non-transparent economic policies. A Singaporean like Mr Shanmugaratnam can fit the bill. Any takers?







Last week, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) jointly agreed with Greece over a ¤110 billion rescue package, extending over three years, to finance Greece's fiscal deficit. To recapitulate the sequence, the Greek Budget seemed in reasonable balance up to 2007. The global recession following the sub-prime crisis triggered a fiscal stimulus in Greece — as it did in many other countries. The difference was that Greece's sovereign debt levels were already high and there were attempts to "window dress" the true deficit and outstanding debt. A new government, which came into power last year, found, and disclosed, the true deficit to be as much as 13.6 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP)! The bond yields started moving up sharply as bond ratings were downgraded.

The result was that Greece found it increasingly difficult to sell its bonds in the market except at a very high cost. And, fresh issues were/are needed to finance the continuing deficits and refinance maturing debt. Greece thus got caught in a vicious circle.

 ·  Huge deficits and hence large borrowing requirements. 

·  Rating downgrades and higher yields in the market. 

·  A higher cost of borrowing further worsened the deficit, making it even more difficult to reduce it to the eurozone's mandatory 3 per cent level.

Many countries facing such a problem of unserviceable debt in the domestic currency have solved it by printing notes and generating inflation, which, in effect, "devalues" the existing debt and brings down the debt to nominal GDP ratio. But Greece is in a peculiar position — the euro is its domestic currency but its supply is controlled by a supranational central bank over which Greece has no control. And, this has also created another problem — a huge deficit on the current account, a point I will come back to.

Meanwhile, the ¤110 billion rescue package is priced at lower than market rates but does not fully take care of Greece's borrowing requirements for the next three years, estimated at ¤150 billion. It is hoped that Greece will be able to bridge the gap through market borrowings after 2011. The eurozone members will finance roughly two-thirds of the package, and IMF the rest. Even at the subsidised interest rates, it is expected that Greek sovereign debt as a percentage of GDP will keep growing to almost 150 per cent by 2013, before narrowing slightly in the next year, when the fiscal deficit is projected to come below 3 per cent.

Not surprisingly, the bailout package comes with tough conditions on increasing taxes and reducing expenditure. Public sector salaries are to be cut. And the unions are up in arms against the terms of the rescue package. (Interestingly, Korean officials have criticised the terms of the rescue package as being too soft as compared to the IMF's conditionality in the Asian crisis of 1997-98. Surely, Europe's voting power in IMF must have weighed.) Riots are taking place on the streets of Athens, and a few have died in police firing. Financial markets have not been very impressed; the euro and equity prices fell further after the announcement of the package, and worries about the contagion have been spreading to other fiscally vulnerable eurozone members.

One major problem is growth. GDP is expected to continue to fall for the next couple of years and the deflationary fiscal medicine will hardly help! In a recent column in the Times of India (May 2), Swaminathan Aiyar argued that India should oppose the IMF loan to Greece because "IMF was created to deal only with balance of payments problems" while this is a fiscal crisis. In many ways, however, it is a balance of payments problem, given that Greece has a deficit of 14 per cent of GDP on its current account, obviously not a sustainable level, and is hugely dependent on capital inflows to balance books. Even though the eurozone countries have the same currency, the fact is that over the years there has been a huge diversion in the "real" i.e. cost (inflation)-adjusted value of the currency. While the unit labour costs in Germany have fallen 15 per cent since the birth of the euro, those in Ireland, Spain and Greece have gone up, thus widening the competitiveness gap sharply. The result is that Germany and other countries of the north are recording large surpluses in the current account even as the south goes deeper in deficits and unemployment.

In some ways, the north-south equation in Europe is not too different than the US-China relationship. Thanks to an undervalued currency, China records large surpluses and lends the surplus dollars to the US by buying its treasury bonds. And, with a rock steady exchange rate, the China-US imbalance is little different from the north-south imbalance in the eurozone. The big question is whether the burden of adjustment in such cases should fall only on the deficit countries, or do the surplus countries also have a responsibility? In the meanwhile, one point is indisputable: The experience of the last 20 years evidences that, in an increasingly globalised economy, the biggest single threat to financial stability is an overvalued exchange rate.







That the Supreme Court verdict has been a huge blow for the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG) is obvious. Of the 35,000 Mw of power plants it is working on, around 10,000 Mw were to be based on the 28 mmscmd that Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) was supposed to supply it each year as per the MoU that Anil and Mukesh signed when the Dhirubhai empire was split. Given that the gas will no longer be available at $2.34 per mmBtu and will have to be bought at $4.2 per mmBtu, ADAG's profitability will take a big hit. The court didn't buy ADAG's argument that when the MoU was signed, RIL had the complete freedom to sell gas; or that the gas it was to give ADAG was from its share of the gas, not from the government's share.

It's difficult, however, to say that ADAG has lost completely. When ADAG first went to the Bombay High Court, it argued that when RIL signed the gas contract with ADAG firm Reliance Natural Resources Limited (RNRL), it had signed an unbankable contract. At that time, RIL controlled RNRL as well, so, in a sense, it signed the contract on behalf of both itself as well as RNRL! Of the three RNRL directors, two went with RIL at the time of the split and one (J P Chalasani) went with ADAG — Chalasani protested the agreement but was overruled in a board meeting that lasted all of five minutes. The exact details are cumbersome but instead of signing an agreement that said RIL would supply RNRL 28 mmscmd of gas every year for 17 years (the MoU amount), the contract had a complex formula which, according to ADAG, would have resulted in it getting between 6 and 25 mmscmd of gas per year; another formula which determined the tenure restricted this to a maximum of 5 years — ironically, the greater RIL's production, the horter the tenure.

 So, now that the court has said RIL and RNRL have to renegotiate within 14 weeks, "an arrangement (that) must be suitable for the interests of the shareholders of RNRL as reflected by the MoU" (subject to it being in keeping with the government policy on gas utilisation), that's a big step forward for ADAG. Whether mother Kokilaben will choose to intervene again, or whether Anil can invoke damages under the MoU since he has not got what was promised to him (getting gas at $4.2 instead of $2.34 means an additional cost of Rs 2,750 crore a year, for 17 years), remains an open question.

The other open question is the role of the government. For one, whatever agreement RIL and RNRL sign now, the gas can only flow if the government allows it to. The Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) which fixed the Gas Utilisation Policy was, for instance, clear that no gas could be given if firms didn't have a gas linkage — well, RNRL's Dadri plant, for which the gas was supposed to be used, still hasn't been able to get its gas linkage cleared. Nor, the EGoM said, could gas be allotted to a plant that is not ready — but how do you even get financial closure if you don't have a commitment of gas supply? Chicken and egg basically.

More important, from a public policy point of view, is the government's stance on the issues that ADAG raised.

# Under the Production Sharing Contract under which RIL operates the KG Basin, the government's share depends upon the investments RIL has incurred. If the capex rises, as it has, the government's share remains low. While RIL claims the capex rose because of greater production and rigs getting more costly, ADAG argued the capex was padded. While the head of the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons, V K Sibal, dismissed this saying CAG had done an audit of all RIL's costs, it turned out this was not true. While a CAG audit was then ordered, The Pioneer reported that RIL had purchased a flat in Mumbai for Sibal's daughter — the matter is under investigation and the two-year extension recommended for Sibal wasn't granted. Keeping an eye on capital costs is something the government needs to do, more so when the person in charge of approving these costs is under a cloud.

# When RIL called for bids from prospective buyers of its gas, ADAG alleged the bidding wasn't fair since just a handful of firms had been asked to participate in the bid; these firms were so desperate for fuel, they'd naturally bid higher prices; and so on. The matter was finally looked into by the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council headed by former RBI Governor C Rangarajan. It said, "Since there appear to be some doubt about the transparency of the bidding process adopted by M/s RIL, especially relating to placing restrictions on who was invited to bid, and the volume of total gas on offer, it may be appropriate to (i) Take immediate action to invite fresh bids in a transparent and well-publicised manner from all parties in a position to lift gas so as to discover the true arms length competitive price for the gas." Though the EGoM didn't pay too much attention to this, obviously the bidding process is something the government needs to look at closely in future.

# There is also the issue of marketing margins. Since the petroleum ministry is going to fix the price of the gas as per the Supreme Court order and, since gas is in short supply, it is also deciding who gets the gas, should RIL be allowed to charge a marketing margin, and how should this be calculated?

# While transport costs at $1.25 work out to a whopping 30 per cent of the gas cost of $4.2 per mmBtu, this may not be as much of a concern since there is an appellate body that those think the costs are too high can go to.

Essentially, while Anil Ambani has lost the major battle and the government and RIL have won, the government needs to keep in mind its watchdog role — the questions raised by Anil Ambani have not been rendered invalid by the Supreme Court verdict.







Much to our chagrin, we saw last month how a simple, harmless English summer sport, which began in the meadows of Kent and Sussex in the 18th century and was founded on the principles of "fair conduct and sportsmanship", got entangled in the lure of money, betting, gambling, amorous relationships, glamour, politics, TRPs et al. And as the events concerning the Indian Premier League (IPL) unfolded, a spate of issues and concerns have surfaced, which squarely fell into the domain of "corporate governance", reminding us of cases like Enron, Satyam and the like. This article is not about cricket, but it is about such issues and their deeper relationship with corporate governance, business ethics and the sustainability of a business enterprise. It is about those fundamental questions that the governing boards of any enterprise should be aware of and know the answers to. What are they?

An important question to ask is: How is the enterprise making its money? This question seems very simple, straightforward and even childish, and is usually not asked, especially when the enterprise is doing very well (remarkably well at times), because it is often assumed that everybody knows the answer to this question. Peter Baring, chairman of Barings Bank, did not think it necessary to ask this question when his Singapore office under Nick Leeson was making remarkable profits. The Enron board did not ask this question between 1995 and 2001, a period when the company seemed to perform brilliantly on Wall Street. Nor did the Satyam board ask this question. However complex the business of an enterprise may be, clear, transparent and fairly audited accounts should reveal the way it makes money. But it will not do so, if creative accounting is resorted to; if business expediency requires the creation of numerous shell investment companies or special purpose vehicles; or if there are a large number of layered and structured offshore entities in tax havens to route foreign funds and obfuscate the money trail and the ownership. All of this turns an enterprise into a "black box". Sustainable enterprises, on the other hand, are not black boxes. These black boxes may be money-making machines in the short run, and those responsible for running these may be hailed for their financial wizardry and business strategy, but corporate history is replete with examples of failures of such businesses.

 Every enterprise has a business model, which guides its business priorities. These models are not fortuitous, but are often chosen by design and the predilection of the person behind the enterprise. So the next important question to ask is: Who are the people behind the enterprise? There can be good business models run by good people; bad models run by bad people and good models run by bad people or vice versa. The quality of the model and the people running it are functions of the quality of governance and integrity and ethics of the executive managers. The background of the people behind the enterprise, especially of the person who has conceived the model and is running it, or the chief executive; their beliefs and lifestyles; their desire to grow rich and flaunt high connections are all important.

Their behavioural patterns are determined by greed, hope, uncertainty, fear and hubris, so well portrayed by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Aristotle. These traits shaped Ramalinga Raju's Satyam, Kenneth Lay's Enron, Robert Maxwell's Maxwell Communication Corporation, Mike Milliken's Drexel Burnham Lambert and Harshad Mehta's broking firm. Quite the contrary, we have examples of great and enduring business enterprises shaped by the visionaries who stewarded them.

Enterprises and their boards often have to deal with business transactions in which there are conflicts of interest between an executive's or a director's private interests and his/her duties to the enterprise or to the board. This can often impair the integrity, independence and quality of the decisions. If not managed in a transparent and legal manner, these conflicts lead to corrupt practices and can be a drain on the financial resources of a company. Only well-governed companies and institutions have ways and means to deal with such situations effectively. So here's another question: Is the board or the the audit committee aware of the conflicts of interests and the related party transactions that the board members or executives have entered into, and does the enterprise have well-established, transparent mechanisms to deal with them?

Brand value and goodwill accounting are areas in which things can go awfully wrong. It is useful to ask: How is the brand valued? Brand value is an intangible asset that represents the extra value ascribed to a company by virtue of its brand and reputation. One may arrive at a number by a mathematical formula based on free cash flow, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) and sales projections. But brand value is more than a number. Common sense dictates that trust and consistency, which are the basis of brand equity, cannot be built in a day or by glamour or glitter. But there is no dearth of financial engineers who bypass common sense and produce impressive make-believe numbers of brand value of a not-so-old enterprise on the basis of financial projections of next 10 years. This is what Jeff Skilling of Enron called "hypothetical future value accounting" and made Wall Street analysts believe in it. Attractive valuations, though illogical, lure investors, especially when alternative investment avenues are limited.

Leverage is necessary for businesses to grow. It is an enabler, but it is also a bar. So this brings us to the next question: How much leverage-dependent is the growth strategy? When people driving enterprises are in a tearing hurry to grow, demonstrate quick results and build empires, they choose to use leverage, grow inorganically and get into an acquisition spree. Initial successes with the inorganic growth strategy help win plaudits for their enterprises and for them too. The assumption behind the increasing leverage is unlimited availability of liquidity, and the ability of the acquired businesses to service the incremental increases in debt. But neither the business nor the people have any control over domestic or global macro-economic conditions. Once these conditions reverse, the impact will be felt on interest rates and liquidity. The enterprise will suffer. Denis Kozlowski of Tyco International followed an aggressive acquisition strategy between 1991 and 2001, acquiring more than 1,000 companies. Once the dot-com bubble burst, Tyco could no longer sustain the leverage and the increase of business complexities. It had to resort to an accounting fraud, which was discovered in 2002. The fervour accompanying instant success is like Marich in the Ramanayana — if caution is not exercised in time, the result may be the abduction of Sita.

One could, of course, enlarge the list, but these five questions hold the key to ethically running a business enterprise. Businesses have failed because the board, the shareholders and the analysts did not know the answers. When enterprises fail, the board members are known to take refuge under the pretext that "the matter was not brought before the board and so we did not know". The question to be asked at that point is: Did you ever ask and should you not have asked?

Views expressed are personal The author is a former executive director of Sebi and is currently associated with International Finance Corporation's Global Corporate Governance Forum and the World Bank  







2010, NOT 1984


Murderous Maoist violence must be put down. India must prevail over Maoism, as a democracy that counters and overcomes an anti-democratic force. This project would fail if the government turns authoritarian en route. In this light, the home ministry's press release issued last Thursday is alarming. Titled 'Government asks people to be vigilant of CPI (Maoist) propaganda' it basically is a warning to activists, rights groups, NGOs and the intelligentsia to toe the government's line on Maoists or be prepared for gaol. This simply is not acceptable.

The ministry's logic is that Maoists contact some intellectuals and NGOs to propagate their ideology, and thus they could be slapped with section 39 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967, which can mean a 10-year prison sentence. In effect, this is a direct assault on political discussion, debate, dissent and even freedom of the press.

The home ministry seems to have forgotten that democracy is as much about these things as it is about elections. There is a deliberate attempt to conflate opposition to or critique of the government's strategy and actual support for Maoists. Extreme left-wing political views exist, as do extremist-communal ones. Only when individuals or groups with such views deliberately aid, abet, or commit an illegal act can the law be invoked. But the home ministry has gone beyond even that debate.

With such a view of unlawful activities, not just being a critic of policy, but even possessing certain types of legal and available literature could be deemed illegal, as could even a journalist contacting a source. The Karnataka police is, for instance, threatening to use the UAPA against a local journalist unless he provides information on his source for a story on Naxalism. The other issue here is the common conflation between Maoists and Naxalites, who include political parties or trade unions working within the democratic framework, and are often targeted by Maoists. The government's anti-Maoist drive clamps down on them, too, eroding democracy further.






As asian markets continued to fall on Friday, the bigger fear is not that India's markets would go into secular decline — they may not — but rather that volatility will become the norm, rather than the exception, for a while to come. This would make it that much harder for private companies to raise money from the market or for the government to meet huge disinvestment targets. Further , macroeconomic management will become much more difficult.

The government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) may be able to put their heads together and come up with a plan of action to deal with sustained inflows or with sustained outflows. But dealing with wild swings in flows is much more problematic. For instance, during the period April-December 2009, forex reserves increased by $11 billion compared to a decline of $20 billion during the corresponding period a year ago, a swing of $31 billion. And that was before the Greek tragedy unfolded .

If, as is feared, the contagion spreads to other European economies like Spain, Portugal and Ireland, we could see a huge influx of funds seeking higher short-term returns, especially since global liquidity continues to be abundant. However, at the first sign of recovery or even if level of fear crosses an undefined threshold, we could

see an equally strong flow out of the country, either to other markets or the traditional safe haven, the US dollar.

Any policy that we frame must, therefore, contend with a much higher level of uncertainty on the external environment. The problem is globalisation gives us nowhere to hide. Surges of foreign capital, either way, impact not only the stock markets but also the exchange rate and depending on the policy response, domestic liquidity , prices, employment and inevitably growth.

After the record 54% export growth in March 2010, it might be tempting to think our exports have become impervious to exchange rate appreciation but that would be to ignore the fundamental laws of economics. And if there is one lesson the crisis has taught us, it is that we ignore fundamental lessons at our peril.







First, they took away the telephone connections. Next to go were cooking gas connections. These neoliberal and free market policies don't just produce global financial crises, they take away our democratic rights as well. Connections are what got us here in the first place, in this fine House of the People. With those in high places, of course. Unless we can demonstrate our viral linkages with the power structure to the ordinary people , why should they give us the time of the day, leave alone their votes?

Now, Kapil Sibal wanted to take away our quota of central school admissions, too. What is an MP worth, if he can't get his seven crore constituents even two seats in a Kendriya Vidyalaya? How can we get a needy student admission, if we don't have a quota? It might be true that if our nominee doesn't get admission, that seat won't go empty but would go to some other needy student. But then, an MP's needy student is obviously better than a plain needy student.

If you don't see the point, perhaps you should drop in at the next meeting of our privileges committee. We raised strong objections to Mr Sibal's attack on an MP's fundamental right to offer patronage, and we have prevailed. The quotas are back. Well, the minister has refused to take back his own quota of 1,200 students. Poor Sibal, he doesn't understand that renouncing a KV school quota, even one as large as 1,200 seats, doesn't cut a fraction of the ice renouncing the prime minister's job does. But does he actually not understand that when he tries to expand the number of good schools, he is actually hurting the value of the quota we have now finally got back?

The Supreme Court, luckily, perfectly comprehends an MP's need to dispense patronage. It recently upheld the constitutional validity of the MP's Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS). We suggest the scheme be modified to the MP's Local Area Development Initiative and Empowerment Scheme (MPLADIES), in view of the women's reservation Bill. One has to be gender sensitive , even with patronage.








After a brief lull due to elections, outsourcing contracts from the UK government are set to pick up again. Capita is UK's top business process outsourcing firm with amajority market share in the country. The firm has been described by analysts as one of the most acquisitive firms. It has made 12 acquisitions each in 2008 and 2009 spending £147.4 million and £177.5 million on them. Its acquisition of Prudential's captive arm and the assets of Axa Sun Life helped it boost its India staff strength.

Today at about 3,800 employees, India accounts for about 10% of its workforce. The BPO firm currently has contracts worth £3.7 billion in the pipeline. Capita COO Simon Pilling attributes one of the reasons for its success to its ability to offer both onshore and offshore services.

"We are a UK-footprinted company that now has a strong footprint in India. This suits a lot of customers who like to see some services provided from the UK and some from India. We are four times larger than our nearest competitor, which happens to be an Indian company." So, why have Indian players not made much headway in the UK outsourcing market? That is because a lot of Indian offshore players still want to do most of their delivery from India, says Mr Pilling.

"The vital thing that is missing for the Indian offshore players — and am not for a moment suggesting it is beyond them — is that they need a much bigger UK footprint so they can offer customers the choice of, say, running voice processes from UK and some of the lower level processes from India ." A lot of customers want the ability to flex UK and India footprints, notes Mr Pilling . And, because customers want that flexibility, many BPO providers that have traditionally delivered services from India need to move onshore. That apart, given the sensitivity around offshoring jobs today , having an onshore presence becomes more important.

The primary motivation for Capita to create delivery capabilities in India was the demand from customers for low-cost models . After moving into India, the Capita management was pleasantly surprised to find that the quality of services delivered was very good. "Some of the slightly more complex service processes are now being moved to our India service offering."

In many long-term contracts, customers are more open to moving work offshore after 2-3 years. So what is it that customers are seeking? They are not just looking for costsavings , but certainty in the cost savings over a long term as well as quality. In other words, service providers who can grow and change to suit the customer's future needs and demands. "It is about how you can help the customer become more successful."

For instance, when it comes to TV licence payments, it is not about how much cost is saved but about how more revenues can be achieved. Similarly, for Capita's customers in the life and pensions business, the company helps them with new products that can be launched. "We actually now have a set of people who can work in a well-structured way with the customer, and think what more can be done to make the customer more successful . That is the real proposition of where outsourcing goes now — giving customers confidence to give more to you to help them grow their business."

How has elections in the UK affected finalisation of government contracts? Expectedly , business has been slow since the country got into the election mood. "The build-up to the elections has slowed down decision-making . But with the issues that are in play now, in terms of budget deficits, we see quite a huge opportunity for us to engage."

Five to ten years ago, business from the central government accounted for 20% of Capita's revenues, today, it is around 10%. So Mr Pilling believes it can only go up from here. "I see 2011 as a particularly exciting time. While there will be a time lag — the procurement process can take 12-18 months — there are very, very exciting opportunities for us."

Fortunately, decision-making in other sectors are not affected by the elections. "We see opportunities in life and pensions where we are the clear leader — 35% of the market in life and pensions has been outsourced and we are 22% of that. There are other opportunities coming up in this segment that plays in particularly well with our India offshoring model."







NEW DELHI: The government will give a 5% discount to retail investors in the follow-on offer by Engineers India and stick to the conventional book-building process, having seen the strategy yield good results in the recently concluded stake sale offer in SJVNL.

The two-pronged strategy is aimed at making the offer more attractive to retail investors. "Our aim is to price the issue attractively. Following the share split, we expect the offer to be substantially lower than EIL's prevailing share price," a disinvestment department official said. Following the Cabinet decision to divest a 10% stake in EIL, the company's board last month approved the subdivision of its shares of Rs 10 into two shares of Rs 5 as well as the issue of bonus shares. On Friday, EIL closed at Rs 497.05 per share on the Bombay Stock Exchange, gaining 7.9% over the previous day close. The 30-share sensitive BSE Sensex fell 1.29% to close at 16,769.11 points.

The disinvestment department has also decided to continue with the conventional book-building process for the EIL issue. "Based on our own experience and the feedback from investors, we feel that the French auction route needs to be further fine-tuned," said another official. Market regulator Sebi is working on the French auction rules to improve it. One suggestion the regulator is considering is that institutional investors should be allowed to bid first.

The price for retail investors will then be fixed based on the cut-off price for institutional buyers, providing them with a better price discovery mechanism. The disinvestment department had earlier used the French auction method for the NTPC and REC issues, but only found partial success with retail investors. The 10% stake sale in EIL is part of the government's ambitious disinvestment programme for 2010-11.

The issue is expected to hit the market in July and will fetch Rs 1,000 crore. At present, the government holds a 90.4% stake in the company.

The government has already begun the process of appointing lead bankers for managing the issue. It is expected to announce a list of shortlisted banks on Monday. EIL provides engineering and consultancy services largely to oil and gas firms. It has cash reserves of Rs 1,320 crore as on March 31,2009. The company has recently announced a 1000% special dividend to its stakeholders.







MUMBAI: Stock market investors are anxiously eyeing economic readings worldwide in the week ahead for respite from the recent market turbulence caused by the debt crisis in select European economies.

That and the trend in index heavyweight Reliance Industries (RIL) will set the tone for the market this week. RIL shares gained 3% on Friday to close at Rs 1,040 after the positive court ruling. Brokers say that the stock is unlikely to rise sharply this week, but could stay firm as nervous investors switch money from mid-cap shares to large-caps like RIL. But for the strength in RIL, benchmark indices would have fallen more than 1.5% on Friday.

Analysts recommend buying shares of Anil Ambani group company Reliance Infrastructure, which fell 7% to Rs 979.70 on Friday after the Supreme Court verdict. "The stock is a buy at around Rs 970-980 as the impact of the gas case outcome on the company is expected to be limited," said Siddharth Bhamre, head-derivatives, Angel Broking.

Edelweiss Capital, too, is positive on the stock. "Reliance Infrastructure's sum-of-the-part (SOTP) based on this decision (Supreme Court) would be lower by Rs 210/share, at Rs 1,241. Considering the stock has already corrected by 8% to Rs 970/share, we recommend investors to use this as a buying opportunity," the broking firm said in a note to clients.

Brokers expect shares of Reliance Natural Resources to extend its losses this week, but advise retail investors to buy 'put' options rather than short-selling RNRL futures, which could be risky.

The overall undertone remains cautious, with benchmark indices falling about 5% last week. Yet, optimists are hoping that robust economic data could quash worries that debt problems there could turn into a bigger disaster for the world economy.

In India, March industrial production and inflation in April will be closely watched by investors. Industrial production, which will be released on Wednesday, is expected to increase 16.3% in March, recording its fourth straight month of growth. Wholesale inflation reading for April to be released on Friday is expected at 9.9%.

The US, Eurozone, the UK and China are also scheduled to announce their industrial production data this week. Though the US job data in April released last week showed the fastest growth in four years, stock markets took little notice of it, with American indices falling about 6% in value last week. On Friday, US indices fell 1-2%.









MUMBAI: The Chennai Petroleum Corporation (CPCL), an IOC group company, will shortly begin hedging on MCX, joining companies such as IOC, Tata Petrodyne and SpiceJet which hedge themselves partly against crude oil price risk and volatility by taking exposure to crude oil futures traded on the commodity bourse.

MCX is understood to be in talks with BPCL and HPCL, the other two state-owned refiners, and Air India to use its trading platform for hedging and thus adding to the liquidity of the crude contracts. "We are in the process of getting into the over-the-counter (OTC) market for hedging ourselves against volatility by buying crude oil and selling petroleum products forward," said NC Sridharan, director, finance, CPCL. "We have decided to test the market by enrolling with MCX.

By June-end, we would have done half a dozen transactions on the bourse. We propose to enter the offshore OTC market by July with IOC having vetted the agreements being signed between us and the counterparties, which are the ones that IOC does forward transactions with. We will use MCX to hedge our African and Gulf crude oil exposure and the OTC market to sell petroleum products forward."

State-owned firms as well as private refiners such as Essar use the more liquid over-the-counter (OTC) market to sell forward the spread or difference between products such as a barrel of diesel and a barrel of crude to banks and trading outfits of major oil companies operating out of Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, Tokyo and Sydney.

Metals and energy exchange MCX has been offering futures trading since late 2003 and its average daily volume of crude oil traded in the calendar year through April has been 13 million barrels. However, Indian commodity futures markets are yet to achieve the scale that will enable genuine users to increase their presence in the market.

This is because an important legislation (FCRA Act, 1952 Amendment) that will facilitate the entry of banks mutual funds into the market is pending passage by Parliament. "We have been hedging on MCX, albeit not in a big way, for the past two years.








WH Davies lamented, "What is this life if, full of care,/We have no time to stand and stare?". Centuries before, the Bible assured, "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalms:46, 10). Indeed, it is in this inward silence and stillness within , generated often by the art of letting go and not doing anything in particular for the needed time, that much creativity resides. It is in this that solutions and answers are to be found to many vexing situations and problems.

Confounded by the problem of determining genuineness of gold, Archimedes found the answer, not when he was feverishly searching for it, but when he was 'standing and staring' , as if, relaxed in his bath tub. The molecular structure of benzene flashed to Kekule in his dream, while, diverted from his work, he was fast asleep.

In spite of pointers to the need to 'let go' and unwind at least once in a while, the insatiable ambition of man goes berserk, obsessed with work, more work and more and more work. Taking things easy, even once in a while, is often termed as 'lotus eating' and sloth. It is often argued that human aspirations should be limitless and so should be the work and frenzy which, it is professed, should go with them!

True, aspirations and attendant strenuous work should mark any worthwhile life. However, moments snatched in between to 'stand and stare' , often lend fulfilment and direction to true creativity. Besides pre-empting physical and psychological burn out, these islets enable the creative mechanism within to correct , reorient and regroup itself.

Unknown to the person, much work goes on within, during this time, whereby at the appropriate time , the sought-after objectives and breakthrough are realised. 'Standing and staring' also finds expression through snatching moments of solitude or the ancient Indian prescription of not talking at all for a specified time (mouna vratha). Tamil saint Avvaiyar, when asked as to what was the sweetest experience, replied , 'Solitude' (Ekantam).

Reflection, retrospection, meditation — these too are similar cushioning, soothing and healing expressions. However , all these are only supplements to dynamic, hard and effective work. These should not be ends in themselves. Indulged in the right manner, time and quantity, depending upon the makeup of each individual personality, these indeed are indispensable!








Normally. I enjoy the rich, feisty and incisive circus that is the British media. This weekend, though, I've just dumped all my newspapers in the recycling bin. All this partisan political campaigning is more than enough, already. Please stop treating us readers like morons, or tell us who to vote for. And that is the message the British public has given to its ruling class and media class, by refusing to sheepishly follow a century of tradition, and put either Tweedledum or Tweedledee back in power at Westminster. The irrepressible Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, described the results as a 'withering rebuke to all politicians' . At times like these, I appreciate the much-maligned , dinosauric BBC. That TV tax I pay for 'em is worth every penny.

By the time you read this, chances are that Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron may have hammered out a Lib-Con deal. Or not. Unlike the rather bemused Brits, we're all perfectly aware that these things can take days, even weeks. Any amount of dire warnings that the sterling will curl up and die won't help in hobbling together strange companions in a three-legged race.

While I'm watching all the fun, one thing stands out — how, well, innocent British politicians are. We've got people shaking grey heads and lamenting how people have become disillusioned and disgusted by all politicians. Weren't they already? Where I come from, most voters would keel over and die of shock if we actually expected to believe our politicians' promises. But apparently , the Brits do, or did till now. More and more London cabbies — the only people I trust for real news and views — tell me 'they all sound the same now, they're all going to be equally bad, not like it used to be' . Ah, now I get why the Brits were so shocked when they found their MPs' diddling expense accounts for petty toys like bird baths and plasma TVs.

Now that horse-trading has started, most discussions are raging around things like morals, fair and unfair, democratic rights and reforms, national interest and so on. Sure, the deep, devious, hard stuff is obviously going on behind closed doors. I find it hard to believe that Britain's intensely-canny politicians aren't masters of realpolitik. But it's funny how politicians have to at least pretend in public that they're acting in the national interest, and can't openly tell TV cameras they want paisa-vala ministries.

Spare a thought for poor Mr Clegg. He's got much less votes than he hoped for. His party has its first shot at power. And still, he has to be seen to take 'principled' decisions, stick by his manifesto, defer to his party ideology, and voters' mandate. Whatever he does, he's likely damned. Lib Dem core supporters will hate him if he goes Tory, everyone else — including the markets — will hate him if he doesn't . He can't get a clear majority even with Labour, and if he does a deal with them, Tories will raise hell in the Commons and ensure another election soon, which he doesn't really have the money to fight. Imagine what a Mayawati or Mamata would have done.

There's also all this talk about reforming the voting system. I've never really thought about it before, or questioned it. Or considered that it's the system that creates all those cobbled governments, when an electorate is equally divided , or a true multi-party system emerges. Would it really be more representative , if, say, Congress could have the number of MPs in Parliament that reflects its total percentage share of votes? The theory is simple.

The number of seats in Parliament won does not necessarily reflect the absolute or comparative shares of total votes, nationally or regionally. A seat-majority system means voters have to vote 'tactically' , to make their votes count. This skews things in favour of big parties, because if you are a Lib Dem supporter in a Tory-Labour seat, you vote Labour or Tory, to keep whoever you hate most out. Winner takes all in first-past-the-post system, seconds and thirds don't count.

The argument is that a system that allows 'proportional representation' , something like an Olympic medal tally, would be generally fairer overall, both to voters and smaller parties. I have no idea how such an idea would pan out in India. I don't even want to think about the chaos if anyone suggested it. Besides , the numbers in India are very, very different.

One fascinating sideshow is how lines of voters were turned away, because it was 'too crowded' at various booths, or the turnout was too high. I don't have final figures at hand, but even at a high of 60%, that's a total of 20-30 million voters to deal with. Election arithmetic numbers, by our standards, are minuscule. A 'big' win is 20,000 votes, no candidate 'loses' her deposit, MPs can win with 90 or 100 votes. And they still grumble their votes don't count.

And by the way, yes, I did too vote. I actually put my pencil cross on that ballot paper — no, we don't have electronic machines yet — and no, they didn't stain my finger. They don't do that sort of thing. Now I'm wondering if other Indian innovations will also find their way here. Like booth capturing.








In the judgement in favour of Reliance Industries Ltd in the gas dispute with Reliance Natural Resources Ltd, the Supreme Court, it seems, has based its interpretation as per the letter of the law. The court has cited key clauses in the production sharing contract and in the Companies Act to negate the 'three themes that RNRL presses' (para 55). The court has duly clarified that government approvals (in terms of gas price, supply, etc) are very much required, that the MoU between the Ambani brothers is not legally binding for operationalising the contract by RIL, and that the 'maintainability' of the earlier company court order, which went in favour of RNRL, is erroneous.

But it is also notable that the ruling goes on to add (para 164) of the express need — the phrase used is 'high time' — for a comprehensive policy, including specific legislation, for the supply of natural gas under production sharing contracts (PSC). What's suggested is that there is at present a general absence of policy clarity, implying a lack of transparency, and which in turn has led to other unintended consequences. That being the position, it cannot be gainsaid that both the letter and spirit of the relevant clauses in the law are germane.

On the key issue of pricing, since the price of $2.34 per mmBtu — as pressed by RNRL — was not quite approved by the Centre, and further that $4.2 per unit was arrived at, lately, by an empowered group of ministers, the latter quote is to be taken as the more appropriate price albeit subject to renegotiation. It cites Article 21.6.3 of the contract which says that the formula or basis on which prices would be determined 'shall be approved' by the government prior to the sale of gas.

But to the extent that the contested price of $2.34/unit was discovered as per international competitive bidding by NTPC, the public sector power major, it could be argued that the price is as per the spirit of the law. Note that the clause does call for governmental nod for the price 'formula or basis,' but not necessarily whole-scale vetting and reformulation of the very methodology of valuation.

The point is that in calling for rigorous governmental purview in terms of pricing, the ruling seems to be going against the spirit of Article 21.6.1 in the PSC which does call for arm's length prices read market determined prices. Additionally, since the gas supply to various consuming sectors is to be as per 'prevailing policy' , and as roughly 80% of current gas output is earmarked for either fertiliser or power, denying broad sectoral marketing freedom may well mean back to the future and a panoply of perverse governmental controls in terms of pricing and supply .

In the days of autarky and pre-reform , there were indeed such mindless controls right across the board in hydrocarbons, but the whole idea of reforms is to better determine scarcity value and rev up supply with competitive, market-determined prices.

However, the judgement does mention (para 126) that the supply parameters between NTPC and RNRL are of a 'significantly different order.' The onerous 'take or pay' clause is a part of the NTPC contract, but not in the gas supply agreement with RNRL, it is stressed. As the ruling elaborates, there are other differences as well, including the fact that the NTPC gas contract — which has since been contested by RIL and is being heard in the Bombay High Court— is for a smaller quantum, and is not open-ended as that with RNRL.

The ruling states that as per the MoU, which is the starting point or basis for the gas deal, 40% of all future gas output likely to be produced by RIL is to go to RNRL, and which again is materially different from that for NTPC. Hence the invalidity of the wellhead price of $2.34/unit, it is opined.

The ruling goes on to add that following the price discovery by NTPC, when the MoU was executed a few years later, the prices of natural gas 'all over the world had risen considerably .' But given the rigidities in supply and evacuation, the rule of thumb in gas is that prices are regional and market-specific . More important, the economics of gas is that higher volumes, and for a longer period of delivery, implies a relatively lower price given the logistics. So the RNRL price, linked to the NTPC price, may well be efficient, as per the ground realities.

The point remains that gas supply for a long , secular period cannot really be seen as comparable with spot prices and the going rates abroad and much less so vis-a-vis those in mature gas markets like the US. Besides, the relevant clause in the PSC says that gas is to be valued on the 'basis of competitive arm's length sales in the region for similar sales under similar conditions.' And both the NTPC and RNRL contracts are for similar lengths of time and involve large volumes.

Unfortunately , there is much opacity in the gas policy , for instance when it comes to determining production costs. If competitive bid prices can be dismissed out of hand in favour of more administratively determined gas prices it would doubtless mean much scope for routine arbitrariness. We do need to go out of our way to avoid a high-cost gas economy.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The government's reported decision to incorporate caste in the ongoing national census is a significant one, and one that will have far-reaching and perhaps even unintended consequences. While it is not an entirely new factor in census enumeration, this is the first time that there will be an official count of the population of other backward castes.


The OBCs, whose current number is estimated at anything between 35 to 40 per cent of the population, already enjoy a 27 per cent quota in government jobs and educational institutions, and if you add to this the long-standing 22.5 per cent reservation for Scheduled Castes and Tribes, there is a total quantum of reservation of 49.5 per cent.


In the last detailed census in which caste-related data were included, in the heyday of the British Raj, it was discovered that 58 per cent of castes had a population of less than 1,000. Also, this count had a lot of inaccuracies as the British, for instance, lumped Marathas and kunbis together as Marathas in the 1884 Bombay Gazetteer, while in the Nasik Gazetteer they were shown separately.


A later enumeration of castes in 1931 was also not done on a scientific basis. While it cannot be denied that the government does need an accurate count of the number of OBCs and other castes in the country, in order that the funds earmarked for their uplift are correctly allocated, it would be a huge mistake to conduct this caste census in a hurry. India is so ridden with the caste factor and the issue is so complex that the entire matter needs to be handled with a lot of care and sensitivity.


Decentralisation in data collection is an absolute must. Even Christians and Muslims in India are nowadays demanding reservation on the basis of caste! Political leaders who have built up their parties and risen to power in some states primarily on the basis of their caste identity bear a special responsibility. It is mainly at their urging that the government has decided to include caste in the census, something that had not been done since Independence, and they must therefore understand if they really want to ensure the uplift of OBCs and other "backward" groups, a meticulously-conducted count is imperative.


Speed, in this instance, is not of the essence, but accuracy is. These leaders should be aware, more so than some of their brethren, of the multiplicity of sub-castes and sub-groups under the broad OBC umbrella, which in some cases stretch into the thousands, with none comprising even one per cent of the total. There are also substantial area-wise variations, and all these would have to be synchronised while compiling accurate data on a nationwide basis. It is easy for things to go haywire: for example, between 1971 and 1981, it was discovered that Maharashtra's Scheduled Tribe population had shot up disproportionately. It was eventually found that this was because the Halba tribe suddenly claimed it fell into the ST category. With no systematic data collection methods, it is easy for similar inaccuracies to creep in elsewhere. For the forseeable future, there appears no alternative but for India to live with its caste-based divisions. But no government and no political party — and particularly those who espouse the cause of the "backwards" — should lose sight of their ultimate responsibility to ensure the speedy uplift of those at the bottom of the heap, so that at some future date the need for reservations will no longer exist.








The Tamil Nadu Legislative Council Bill was enacted in Parliament during the last two days of the Budget Session and the debate on the Bill was not just reflective of party positions but also threw up some interesting questions of constitutional importance.


While Article 168 of the Constitution provides generally for the state legislature, consisting of the governor and both Houses, if bicameral and one, where the Council has been abolished, Article 169 of our Constitution gives Parliament the right to enact law abolishing or creating the Legislative Council in any state provided the Legislative Assembly of the state passes a resolution to that effect with a majority of the total membership of the Assembly and by a majority of not less than two thirds of the members present and voting. Article 171 of the Constitution provides for the composition of the Legislative Councils.


At present, there are Legislative Councils only in six states in our country, namely Bihar, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir. Now Tamil Nadu has joined that list and will soon establish its Legislative Council while requests from Punjab and Assam are pending for consideration by Parliament.


The origin of bicameral legislatures is as old as the concept of democracy. It is said that the early Romans understood the tendency of the "Plebs" as the assemblage of free citizens who talked at great length while actually achieving or deciding little. Hence, they hit upon the notion of placing the actual business of governance in the hands of two consuls, who were assisted by a council of elders called the Senate, drawing from the root of the word "senex", meaning old man. The Second Chamber was born, although it was far different from the modern concept of the second chamber.


Abbe Sieyes, an early political commentator, remarked about bicameralism that: "If a second chamber disagrees from the first, it is mischievous, if it agrees, it is superfluous". Benjamin Franklin declared that bicameralism would be like a carriage drawn by one horse in front and another behind pulling it in opposite directions. However, other eminent commentators like Montesquieu argued in favour of checks and balances which would be introduced by a bicameral legislature and some who agreed with this school of thought mentioned the analogy of Washington pouring hot tea from his cup into the saucer to allow it to cool, illustrating the value of the American Senate as a body moderating the impulsive tendencies inherent in the House of Representatives.


In our own democracy, the arguments for and against second chambers were familiar to the members of the Constituent Assembly. Under the Government of India Act 1919, two chambers were provided for and the 1935 Act followed this line. In the Constituent Assembly, Gopalaswami Ayyangar argued that the need for second chambers has been felt practically all over the world wherever there are federations and second chambers would be useful "to hold dignified debate on important issues and delay legislation on which might be the outcome of the passions of the moment to act as guardians of democracy and popular will, but not to prove to be a hurdle either to legislation or administration. However, Dr B.R. Ambedkar did not agree and only accepted the concept of bicameralism as an experimental measure.


In modern India, there can be no doubt that a bicameral legislature is an indubitable necessity in our federal system. It is obvious from our experience of six decades of democracy that neither the Rajya Sabha nor the Councils in the states have ever been chambers that delay or hinder legislation as feared by earlier thinkers. On the contrary, eminent Indians have been members of the Upper Houses, including in Tamil Nadu, and have contributed tremendously through debate and discussion to the enactment of good legislation and the growth of our democracy. Examples being the first and only Governor-General of India, Rajaji, and also for a brief period Anna. The second chambers of legislature have proved to be sober and mature forums of discussion where the issues of the day are debated in an atmosphere of learning and calm reason. Of course, the fracas over the Women's Reservation Bill that recently became a permanent blot on the conduct of the Rajya Sabha are exceptions which are thankfully rare.


Even today the existence of the Rajya Sabha is not in any question and there is universal acceptance of its constitutional importance. The only debate is over the second chamber in the states, particularly in view of the fact that our Constitution has provided in the same Article 169 that allows the creation of the Upper House in the state and the power to also abolish the second chamber. This, it is argued, will give undue power to the state government of the day and bring about an anomalous situation where Legislative Councils may be created and abolished every time a new government is elected. Obviously, however, this cannot be a reason to throw the baby out along with the bathwater. It does not follow from this that second chambers are not desirable. Rather, it would emphasise the importance of evolving a national policy on uniformity regarding the existence of second chambers in the states and even if required, amending Article 169 to ensure that second chambers, once created, cannot be removed at the whim and fancy of a newly-elected government.


Today, there is a feeling of alienation among large sections of our population who believe that the business of legislation and governance are well beyond their reach. A second chamber which would have representatives from the Teachers or Graduate Constituencies, from the panchayati raj institutions, from doctors, lawyers, educationists and other eminent citizens would become a wonderful forum where these sections who do not necessarily want to enter the rough and tumble of party politics can make their valuable contribution to the running of our democracy. In this context it is clear that this noble purpose will not be served unless merit and eminence and quality distinguish those elected to the Councils since otherwise the atmosphere of the second chamber will become vitiated and fail to serve its purpose.


The arguments against bicameralism in the states on the grounds of additional expense are simply unimportant in the face of the very real advantages of inclusive and participatory democracy. The need for a second chamber in our states is as much a reality in modern India as it was when our founding fathers drafted Article 169 of the Constitution.


* Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.
The views expressed in thiscolumn are her own.








DEATH NOTICE: The Tooth Fairy died last night of complications related to obesity. Born January 1, 1946, the Tooth Fairy is survived by 400 million children living largely in North America and Western Europe, known collectively as "The Baby Boomers". "We'll certainly miss the Tooth Fairy", one of them said following her death, which coincided with the 2010 British elections and rioting in Greece. The Tooth Fairy had only one surviving sibling who will now look after her offspring alone: Mr Bond Market of Wall Street and the City of London.


Sitting in America, it's hard to grasp the importance of the British elections and the Greek riots. Nothing to do with US, right? Well, I'd pay attention to the drama playing out here. It may be coming to a theatre near you.


The meta-story behind the British election, the Greek meltdown and our own tea party is this: Our parents were "The Greatest Generation", and they earned that title by making enormous sacrifices and investments to build us a world of abundance. My generation, "The Baby Boomers", turned out to be what the writer Kurt Andersen called "The Grasshopper Generation", We've eaten through all that abundance like hungry locusts. Now we and our kids together need to become "The Regeneration" — one that raises incomes anew but in a way that is financially and ecologically sustainable. It will take a big adjustment.


We baby boomers in America and Western Europe were raised to believe there really was a Tooth Fairy, whose magic would allow conservatives to cut taxes without cutting services and liberals to expand services without raising taxes. The Tooth Fairy did it by printing money, by bogus accounting and by deluding us into thinking that by borrowing from China or Germany, or against our rising home values, or by creating exotic financial instruments to trade with each other, we were actually creating wealth.


Greece, for instance, became the General Motors of countries. Like GM's management, Greek politicians used the easy money and subsidies that came with European Union membership not to make themselves more competitive in a flat world, but more corrupt, less willing to collect taxes and uncompetitive. Under Greek law, anyone in certain "hazardous" jobs could retire with full pension at 50 for women and 55 for men — including hairdressers who use a lot of chemical dyes and shampoos. In Britain, everyone over 60 gets an annual allowance to pay heating bills and can ride any local bus for free.


Britain and Greece are today's poster children for the wrenching new post-Tooth Fairy politics, where baby boomers will have to accept deep cuts to their benefits and pensions today so their kids can have jobs and not be saddled with debts tomorrow. Otherwise, we're headed for intergenerational conflict throughout the West.


David Willetts, a British Conservative candidate and the author of a new book, The Pinch: How the baby boomers took their children's future — and how they can give it back, told me that the Tories' most effective campaign ad was a poster showing a newborn baby under the headline: "Dad's eyes, Mum's nose, Gordon Brown's debt". Beneath was the caption: "Labour's debt crisis: Every child in Britain is born owing £17,000. They deserve better".


What is most striking about the British election, said John Micklethwait, editor in chief of The Economist, was that it may be the first Western election "based on pain". All the leading candidates warned voters that "cuts are coming", but none were even close to honest about how deep.


Here is how the Financial Times described it on April 26: "The next government will have to cut public sector pay, freeze benefits, slash jobs, abolish a range of welfare entitlements and take the axe to programmes such as school building and road maintenance".


After 65 years in which politics in the West was, mostly, about giving things away to voters, it's now going to be, mostly, about taking things away. Goodbye Tooth Fairy politics, hello Root Canal politics.
It's no fun. Just ask Greek parliamentarians, who, in the wake of announcing radical austerity measures, found their Parliament besieged by rioting anti-austerity protesters reportedly chanting, "Burn it down! That brothel Parliament!" My takeaway is that US and European politicians are going to have to get a lot smarter and more honest.


To be the regeneration, they'll have to figure out how to raise some taxes to increase revenues, while cutting other taxes to stimulate growth; they'll have to cut some services to save money, while investing in new infrastructure to grow economic capacity. We have got to use every dollar wisely now. Because we've eaten through our reserves, because the lords of discipline, the Electronic Herd of bond traders, are back with a vengeance — and because that Tooth Fairy, she be dead.








Blaming trees and gatesThe Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh has been battling with misfortune for the past eight years and had desperately turned to Vaastu Shastra for revival. On the advice of Vaastu experts, the party leaders first got a massive Chilbil tree in the party office chopped off. The tree provided shade to visitors and had been there for as long one could remember. But this did not help and then Vaastu experts decided that the main entrance gate of the party office was wrongly positioned and warded off good luck.


The party leaders promptly shut the main gate and opened a side gate on the northern end. But this did not help either and after the party's debacle in the Lok Sabha elections, the old gates have been reopened. Maybe it is time the BJP learnt that it is not trees and gates that make a political party — but workers and leaders.


Seasons of sexcapades

Who said all the excitement is in Delhi? In the past few weeks in Karnataka, two public men have been caught in the act. And on camera. One is a self-proclaimed godman, appropriately self-christened Nityananda. The other is a state minister, Halappa.

The swami took his disciples to bed after getting them to sign on a non-disclosure agreement. The minister, on the other hand, didn't turn out to be half as clever. He allegedly was caught in flagrante delicto with his best friend's wife. TV channels have run the sexcapades of both priest and politician over and over again, but now the videos are threatening to become a cottage industry. The SMS going around offers a good deal: Buy Nityananda CD, get Halappa CD free! 


Defying Mamata

The Trinamul Congress leader, Ms Mamata Banerjee, was stunned into disbelief when the Congress rejected her offer of 25 seats and decided to go it alone in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation elections. Ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, she had in a similar unilateral manner allotted 14 out of 42 parliamentary seats in West Bengal to the Congress. The Congress leaders had to willy nilly toe her line.

In all subsequent Assembly bypolls, the seat-sharing deal was forged purely on Ms Banerjee's terms. Even the pleas of central Congress leaders such as Ahmed Patel and K. Keshav Rao for some extra seats fell on deaf ears. This time, however, the Congress president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, and the senior leader, Pranab Mukherjee, accepted the argument of the state leaders that taking the "crumbs" thrown by Ms Banerjee would be both humiliating and suicidal. So they decided to call her bluff.


Statutory warning

After Shah Rukh Khan, it is Arshad Warsi's turn. While professionally things are going quite well for Arshad, he recently got the proverbial smack on the arm for smoking in a public place. Warsi, who was in Goa recently shooting for the third edition of the movie Golmaal, was clicked signing autographs for students in a college campus with a cigarette in hand.


As soon as the matter came to light, the National Organisation for Tobacco Eradication (NOTE) shot off a letter censuring him for smoking in public. "You are advised not to smoke because it will improve your health and it will prevent a number of young people from starting to smoke", the letter read. Unfortunately, since Warsi was not available, the poor college principal had to pay the fine as per rules.


Power-deafening antics

Power makes people blind. But as journalists recently learnt in Jharkhand, the race for power too can turn some people deaf. Ever since the state's Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-led five-party coalition government headed by Shibu Soren tottered, following the tribal satrap's mysterious casting of a vote for the United Progressive Alliance in the Lok Sabha, most JMM and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, in back-to-back parleys behind closed doors and often in secret locations in Ranchi, have been avoiding journalists.


While some simply refuse to answer journalists' phone calls, others have actually been feigning inability to hear journalists' questions clearly. The smart ones, of course, just keep their mobile phones switched off. Perhaps now that they are nearing a solutions, journalists will be briefed by rotation, by JMM and BJP.


Birds of the same feather

If you thought politicians and patrakars (journalists) are two separate tribes, you are wrong. Ask the Orissa finance minister, Mr Prafulla Chandra Ghadei, and he will explain you how they are the same. "Many people criticise politicians and patrakars", the minister said this while addressing a gathering of scribes at Orissa Union of Journalists on the occasion of May Day. "Despite doing so much for society, many people brand us corrupt and dishonest. But who reaches the people in distress first? We both do, not even caring about our lives. Others arrive much later".


The same minister had stirred a hornet's nest in the past by saying that many scribes were getting monthly "pocket money" from influential people. He perhaps wanted to utilise the occasion to mend for his "blunder".








Questioner: Is belief in God, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam a pre-condition for leading a meaningful and joyous life? In other words, can you lead such a life minus God?


Sadhguru: Let's look at the world. All the believers, are they living ecstatic lives? No. There have been some devotees who have been ecstatic, but they are just a handful. Four hundred years ago there was one Mirabai and one Ramakrishna Paramahamsa who jumped around in ecstasy. Nowadays, we don't see them though almost 90 per cent of the world believes in some kind of God. If 90 per cent was really joyful, I would retire. Really, I would like to see a day like that.


When I was eight or nine years of age, I was so intrigued to see what happens to people who visit the temple to meet God. So I just went and stood in front of a famous temple, watching the devotees closely when they came out of the temple. All I found was that they were generally talking and gossiping about something or someone whom they saw in the temple. Like what the people were wearing and what they were doing. Sometimes, in most of the temples in India, a devotee walks away with someone's shoes. Who knows maybe it was the God himself who wore the footwear and went. But when the person realises that his or her shoes have gone missing, they'll curse the Creation and the Creator. I always seen that people who come out of restaurants seemed to have more happiness and smile on their faces than people who come out of the temples and churches. Somebody went and met the Divine and came out without any joy on their face. Somebody ingested a dosa or an idli and came out more joyful! Doesn't make sense, does it? A dosa and an idli can't compete with the Divine? That's not good! This is because there is no experience of the Divine, there is only belief; and what you believe is just social and cultural. "But can I live better minus God?" I don't think there is such a possibility. What is it that you call as God? Whatever the source of creation is, that's what God is. Can you live without the source of Creation? Because there is a source of Creation, there is a Creation. So can you live well minus source of Creation? There is no such possibility. Can you live without the awareness of the source of Creation? You can but not too well. But if you are aware, conscious and in direct contact with the source of Creation, then you would live absolutely well. Once our capabilities increase, we start wondering if God is really needed. Yes, God as they believe today is definitely not needed. He is causing problems everywhere in the world. And God's words are causing horrible situations for people, because everybody claims they heard God's words themselves, and they wrote down their own stuff. No two books agree with each other.


Well into 22nd century, a group of scientists decided to go and meet God. They went there and said, "Hey old man, you've done pretty well with the Creation. Thanks for that, but now we can do almost everything. We can do everything that you can do. We think it's time for you to retire". God said, "Is that so? What all can you do?" "Well, we can create life". "Let me see". So they picked up a little bit of soil and made a little baby out of it; it became alive. God said, "OK, that's impressive, but first get some soil of your own. Don't use my creation". Whatever you do, it is only from the source that is already there. Minus that, how would you do anything? There is no minus that; you can either be in access or not in access to God. If you are in access, you will live in absolute ecstasy and capability. If you live without access, you may have some capability, but also great struggle.

— Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a yogi, is a visionary, humanitarian and a prominent spiritual leader. An author, poet,andinternationally-renowned speaker,Sadhguru's wit and piercing logic provoke and widen our perception of life. He can be contacted at [1]







The name Gandamak means little in the West today. Yet this small Afghan village was once famous for the catastrophe that took place during the First Anglo-Afghan War in January 1842, arguably the greatest humiliation ever suffered by a Western Army in the East.


The course of that distant Victorian war followed a trajectory that is beginning to seem distinctly familiar. In 1839, the British invaded Afghanistan on the basis of dubious intelligence about a non-existent threat: Information about a single Russian envoy to Kabul was manipulated by a group of ambitious hawks to create a scare about a phantom Russian invasion, thus bringing about an unnecessary, expensive and wholly avoidable conflict.


Initially, the British conquest proved remarkably easy and bloodless; Kabul was captured within a few months and a pliable monarch, Shah Shuja, placed on the throne. Then an insurgency began which unravelled that first heady success, first among the Pashtuns of Kandahar and Helmand, then slowly moving northward until it reached the capital.


What happened next is a warning of how bad things could yet become: A full-scale rebellion against the British broke out in Kabul, and the two most senior British envoys were murdered. On the disastrous retreat that followed, as many as 18,000 East India Company troops and maybe half again as many Indian camp followers, were slaughtered by Afghan marksmen. The last 50 or so survivors made their final stand at Gandamak. As late as the 1970s, fragments of Victorian weaponry could be found lying in the screes above the village; even today, the hill is covered with bleached British bones. Only one man, Thomas Souter, lived to tell the tale. It is a measure of the pertinent parallels between the events of 1842 and today's that one of the main Nato bases in Afghanistan is named Camp Souter.


For the Victorian British, Gandamak became a symbol of the country's greatest imperial defeat, as well as a symbol of gallantry. For the Afghans themselves, Gandamak became a symbol of freedom, and their determination to refuse to be controlled by any foreign power.


A week or so ago, while doing research for a book on the disaster of 1842, I only narrowly avoided the fate of my Victorian compatriots.


Gandamak backs onto the mountain range that leads to Tora Bora and the Pakistan border, an area that has always been a Taliban centre. I was trying to follow the route of the British retreat, but had been advised not to attempt to visit the Gandamak area without local protection. So I set off in the company of a local tribal leader who is also a sports minister in the Karzai government, Anwar Khan Jigdalek. We left Kabul and headed into the line of bleak mountain passes that link Kabul with the Khyber Pass. At Sarobi we left the main road, and moved into Taliban territory; five trucks full of Anwar Khan's old mujahideen comrades, all brandishing rocket-propelled grenades, appeared to escort us.


At Jigdalek, on January 12, 1842, 200 British soldiers found themselves surrounded by several thousand Pashtun tribesmen. The two highest-ranking British soldiers were taken hostage. It was 50 of those infantrymen who later managed to break out under cover of darkness to make the final passage to Gandamak. Our own welcome to the village was, thankfully, somewhat warmer.


It was Anwar Khan's first visit to his home since he had become a minister, and the villagers treated us to a feast, Mughal style, in an apricot orchard. We sat on carpets next to bubbling irrigation runnels, under a trellis of vine and pomegranate blossoms, as course after course of kebabs and mulberry-scented rice were laid in front of us. It was nearly 5 pm before the final pieces of naan bread were cleared away, and our hosts decided it was too late to head on to Gandamak. Instead, we went that evening to the nearest big city, Jalalabad, where we discovered that we'd had a narrow escape. The battle had taken place on exactly the site of the British last stand. In Afghanistan, imperial history seems to be repeating itself with almost uncanny precision.


Ever since, I've been thinking about the close parallels between the fix that Nato now faces in Afghanistan, and that faced by the British more than 150 years ago. Then as now, the problem is not hatred of the West, per se, so much as a dislike of foreign troops ordering people around in their own country.


There has always been an absolute refusal by the Afghans to be ruled by foreigners, or to accept any government perceived as being imposed on them. Then, as now, the puppet ruler installed by the West has proved inadequate for the job: simultaneously corrupt and weak, and forced to turn on his puppeteers in order to retain a fragment of legitimacy in the eyes of his people.


Then, as now, there have been few tangible signs of improvement under the Western-backed regime: despite the billions of dollars sent to Afghanistan, Kabul's streets are still more rutted than those in the smallest provincial towns of Pakistan. There is little healthcare.


Then, as now, the presence of large numbers of well-paid foreign troops has caused the cost of food and provisions to rise, and living standards to fall; Afghans feel they are getting poorer, not richer. Then as now, there has been an attempt at a last show of force in order to save face before withdrawal. As in 1842, this year's surge has achieved little except civilian casualties, further alienating the Afghans.


It is not, however, too late to learn some lessons from the mistakes of the British in 1842. Then, the British officials continued to send out dispatches of delusional optimism as the insurgents moved ever closer to Kabul. By the time they realised they had to negotiate and reach a compromise with their enemy, their power had ebbed too far, and the only thing the insurgents were willing to talk about was an unconditional surrender.


Today, too, there is no easy military solution to Afghanistan. Every day, despite the military muscle of the US, the security gets worse, and the area under government control contracts.


The only answer is to negotiate a political solution while we still have enough power to do so — which in some form or other means talking with the Taliban. Otherwise, we may yet be faced with a replay of 1842. George Lawrence, a veteran of that war, issued a prescient warning in the Times of London just before Britain blundered into the Second Anglo-Afghan War in the 1870s. "A new generation has arisen which, instead of profiting from the solemn lessons of the past, is willing and eager to embroil us in the affairs of that turbulent and unhappy country," he wrote. "Although military disasters may be avoided, an advance now, however successful in a military point of view, would not fail to turn out to be as politically useless".


* William Dalrymple, author of the recently-published Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, is writing a book on the First Anglo-Afghan War.


By arrangement with the New York Times









DISRUPTIONS over "issues" are now so routine in Parliament that people are surprised if a day passes without an adjournment, walk-out, acrimonious scenes etc. That actually reflects a diminished capacity to debate, or articulate a position without recourse to the "fire" that finds appreciation on a street corner. Yet even by its' own graceless standards the apex legislature shamed itself as the budget session was winding down: vicious personal attacks dominated its affairs. At least two ~ Mani Shankar Aiyar in the Rajya Sabha and Ananth Kumar in the Lok Sabha ~ were pre-meditated, not that there can be any condoning Sudip Bandhopadhyay losing his cool when rushing to the defence of Mamata Banerjee. All three would boast parliamentary experience, claim that they need no lessons in acceptable conduct ~ perhaps they deem themselves qualified to educate on how to create sensation. That one of the trio should have earlier been declared "Parliamentarian of the Year" not only indicates that it is awarded by rote, but that it does not inspire dignity. Surely some of the other awardees would be slighted at being bracketed with a man who takes pride in being provocative. Strong words from the Speaker did not have lasting impact. For it was not long after Bandhopadhyay's half-baked apology that Ananth Kumar launched a tirade against Lalu Prasad (it was his party leader who made amends). And Aiyar had made it clear that his backing off was only under pressure to get the House working again. 
While Meira Kumar did speak her mind, the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and a member of the panel of Vice-Chairmen cut sorry figures when contending that their powers were limited to expunging remarks. Was that because both belong to the Congress, hence aware that it was Aiyar's proximity to 10 Janpath that facilitated a backdoor return to Parliament? In any case, deleting the objectionable from the record is neither corrective nor punitive, indeed with proceedings now telecast "live" that remedy has become irrelevant. Party leaders, particularly of Opposition units seldom discipline their members. So there appears to be little alternative to the Chair falling back on the harsh measures the Rule Book provides. Traditionally that path has not been taken in Parliament, but when the mud-slinging gets personal a line has to be drawn. Failing to do that would be contributing to the corroding of parliamentary democracy. Enough is enough.






Several months ago, Prakash Karat had talked about a "rectification" drive with the radical suggestion that it would begin "from the top''. The implication was that it would not only include leaders under a cloud but stalwarts who have created kingdoms of their own on the pretext that it was for the party's cause. Now, after MK Pandhe's stirring call to protect "communist values'', the central committee has formed a committee to help honour Karat's assurance of decisive action to clean up pockets of corruption, crime and glaring deviation from the party's ideological objectives. In other words, the CPI-M is only beginning to get down to the cleansing operation as the party confronts another challenge in Bengal's municipal elections, and the honest intentions may well remain on paper by the time the CPI-M prepares to protect its turf in the assembly election. With Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Biman Bose in the central committee, there could be a serious difference of opinion on the definition of "non-communist behaviour''. The chief minister may find himself in the dock for declaring at a chamber of commerce meeting that he "unfortunately'' belongs to a party that believes in strikes. Biman Bose, on the other hand, may have to explain that the wealth amassed by party leaders, one of whose houses was pulled down by impoverished protesters in Lalgarh, has nothing to do with their dubious connections with local contractors and businessmen. 

While the methods of re-establishing the party's ideological credentials remain as elusive as ever, Bengal's most articulate comrades, now with their backs to the wall, would have to confess that old dogmas need to be discarded. Alimuddin Street, for example, has no choice but to allow local lords like Lakshman Seth to sit in authority in Haldia and district leaders in North 24-Parganas to seek the help of anti-socials to grab favourable verdicts in elections and agricultural land for industrialisation. Can this be "rectified'' without harming the party? How is it possible to uproot sectarian interests in sectors ranging from education and health to labour and law enforcement? Should rectification remove the pillars of Marxist power? While that dilemma remains unresolved, there may be little  hope of rectification while the Marxists are in power. If Karat and company honestly believe that voters who have seemingly deserted the Left and have to be wooed back must have the last word, there is perhaps no room for half-measures. Symbolic gestures, articulation of cliched positions and desperate efforts at damage control cannot restore credibility that has been lost.








THE Union HRD ministry's directive to affected states to rebuild schools is a profound step towards development that cannot await the surrender of the Maoists or the outcome of negotiations. Learning can't be kept in suspended animation either on account of the upsurge or State reprisal or for that matter the cleansing of the forests for whatever compulsion. It must be doubtful though whether a central government, committed as it is to an armed offensive, would have prodded the states without the stunning report of the NGO, Human Rights Watch, on the dilapidated schools in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar. It might be tempting too to interpret the Centre's move as an anxiety to implement the Act on universal education. But this is only incidental; the tragic irony must be that the destruction of schools along the Red Corridor has coincided with the passage of the Act. It is difficult to accept that the education infrastructure, however inadequate, has been damaged entirely by what they call surgical strikes by the extremists after schools were converted into barracks for security forces.  This may be a convenient handle to beat the Reds with. Misgivings ~ or are they suspicions? ~ that the damage wrought to schools tangibly mirrors the government's scorched earth policy towards tribal area development are not wholly unfounded. It is of a piece with the arrest of more doctors and closure of more health centres in Junglemahal. Malaria, for instance, can be as critical an affliction for the CRPF jawan as the Left radical, both entrenched in the forest areas. From tackling the Reds to cut-motions, the "pinks" and the saffronites of the BJP are on the same wavelength. Bengal and Chhattisgarh can be held up as two case studies.  

There can be no reason to procrastinate on the reconstruction of schools. It transcends the extremist challenge and the response of the State. Blighted learning can be one of the disastrous side-effects of both. It recalls the damage done to the early Seventies' generation when the Congress government had closed Kolkata's Presidency College for six months. The institution ~ then of excellence ~ had to be converted into a CRPF barrack ! The "enemy" then was the Naxalite; the "enemy" now is the Maoist.









IN The Statesman of 16 April 2010, Admiral Sushil Kumar, a former Chief of the Naval Staff, made a case for the induction of the army in the battle against the Maoists. This was after the massacre of 76 CRPF jawans at Dantewada on 6 April. According to him, the ferocity of the killings demonstrated that the Naxal order of battle would require operational counter-measures well beyond the scope of police outfits. As the tribal problem has sparked a rebellion against the Indian state, armed forces should be called upon to play the lead role against them with the police and para-military forces in support.

A contrary view has been expressed by both the Chiefs of the Army Staff and the Air Force. According to the former, the army should not be deployed against the Maoists who are not secessionists. The air chief has declared that the air force is meant for enemies across the border and designed to inflict the maximum lethal damage. The force cannot take any such action on our own people.

The Union Home Minister, on whom the question of deployment of armed forces depends to a large extent, has categorically declared in the Rajya Sabha that the services of  neither the Army nor the Air Force will be utilized  in the current operations against the Maoists.

In the 1970s I had served as the Superintendent of Police of two Naxal-dominated districts ~ Howrah and Midnapore. Thereafter, as the DIG of the Intelligence Branch, West Bengal, I was fully engaged in the battle against the Naxalite movement. It was successfully contained. It is far more important to consider the lapses in the current battle against the Maoists rather than the question of induction of  the armed  forces.
Fundamentally wrong

THERE is something fundamentally wrong if only a head constable of the Chhattisgarh police was present with an entire CRPF company which was wiped out by the Maoists at Dantewada. In the Seventies, Company Commanders of the CRPF units deployed in our districts for our assistance, would never permit their jawans to undertake anti-Naxalite operations with the district police in such unequal proportions. This was quite sensible as the district police alone knew the topography of the areas where people were friendly with the administration, the possible hideout and the route of advance or retreat of Naxalites and so on.

As per Intelligence percolating to the media, CPI-Maoists have their PLGA units in more than 200 districts spread across the Red Corridor. They are all armed with weapons, wireless sets and explosives as sophisticated as those usually possessed by a battalion of the central para-military force. The Maoists have been able to put on ground PLGA units comprising  several thousand members who are not only in a state of high ideological, organizational and military preparedness but also receive regular monthly wages from the local extremist leaders. If the army chooses to get involved in anti-Maoist operations in all these areas, it will no doubt have to deploy quite a number of divisions to be really effective.

But there are other deeper psychological and sociological reasons behind the current impasse. India is neither a People's Republic of the Chinese variety nor a Banana Republic like the ones in Africa. Nor for that matter does it have a pseudo-militaristic government like some countries of South America. The average Indian does not approve of army deployment against his fellow countrymen except for very strong reasons. As The Statesman wrote a few days ago, using military force to quell internal troubles is not only an admission of failure but risks depleting the army of its greatest strength which is the unstinted support of every Indian behind every bullet it fires. But when that bullet kills Maoists/tribals, there will be a wave of sympathy for them from the general public.

Dantewada is not an isolated incident. It has been preceded by countless killings of individual security personnel or non-political persons on the false pretext that they are police informers. A large number of security persons were killed in a single incident in Silda in Midnapore, at Ranipotili in Bastar, and at Rajnandangaon in Chhattisgarh where the SP, Vinod Kumar Chaubey, was killed with one of his OCs and 26 constables on 12 July 2009. In spite of such brutal incidents happening all along the Red Corridor for years, the CPI (Maoists) had until recently been considered by many Marxist parties as their juniormost sibling. This virtually tied the hands of the authorities and prevented them from taking stringent action.

The Centre has thus far refrained from taking recourse to legislation regarding preventive detention for loss of face with the progressive forces. It has been satisfied with declaring the CPI (Maoist) party illegal and passing the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. However, the West Bengal government has neither declared the party illegal nor allowed the SPs to initiate action without the government's permission. On 2 November 2008, the convoys of both the Chief Minister and the Union Steel Minister narrowly escaped being blown off by mines dug by the Maoists, but a member of the escort party suffered serious injuries. After this incident, the state government took the amazing step of withdrawing the police from Junglemahal, including the Lalgarh police station. An area measuring about a thousand square kilometers passed into Maoist control. The Chief Secretary, almost with childlike naivety,  appealed to the Maoists to surrender their arms. Many intellectuals cheerfully declared that they cannot decry the poor for being up in arms against the state. They advised the Centre to start a dialogue with the Maoists. None of them condemned the killings or preferred to remain silent on the issue. Violence cannot be condoned in a democracy.

Mineral resources

A NEW dimension has been added to the battle against the Maoists by the existence of rich mineral resources all along the Red Corridor, now under the thumb of the Maoists. Sometime in September last year, Arundhuti Roy told Karan Thapar in a TV channel that because of the mineral rich states the government actually needs a war and for that matter, it needs an enemy. She added that what the Muslims were to the BJP, the Maoists are to the Congress. With a note of superior detachment, she advised the government to open unconditional talks with the Maoists. An army of the very poor is confronting an army of the rich, backed by the corporate sector.
Mr Sam Rajappa has written in these columns that Mr P Chidambaram has a vested interest in clearing forest areas of their tribal habitations and handing over the lands to multinational mining companies, including the London-registered Vedanta Resources of which he was a Director before joining the Union Cabinet. In Mr Rajappa's reckoning, Operation Green Hunt really means that the Home minister is pursuing his business interest under a new hat.


We do not know if there has been any change in Arundhati Roy's perception after the killing of security personnel, neither rich nor corporate backed, at Silda and Dantewada. Both she and Mr Rajappa may be reminded that the government's policy against the Maoists was first announced by the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, on Independence Day from the Red Fort. And Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is one of the Chief Ministers who is enthusiastically implementing that policy. None of them can by any stretch of the imagination be accused of having any connection with multinational corporations. It is the Union Home Ministry that bears the responsibility of successfully implementing the government's policy. Mr Chidambaram may, as a highly successful corporate lawyer, have held a brief for such corporations including those interested in obtaining mining leases. But does that automatically prove that he should not hold this charge? After all the policy is to render the Maoists ineffective. The minister also has to ensure that the resources available are utilized effectively for early neutralization of the movement. And that incidents such as the one in Dantewada do not recur. The Maoists pose the stiffest challenge to the security network.







In Britain, a hung parliament, though not unprecedented, is still something of an anomaly. After an uninterrupted though chequered rule for 13 years, the Labour Party has suffered one of its worst defeats in the universal suffrage era. But the Conservatives, too, have not secured a clear majority. Even with a substantial rise in their seat share, the Tories stopped short of the magic number required to form government on their own. The real blow, however, was reserved for the Liberal Democrats. In spite of his impressive performance in the televised leaders' debate, Nick Clegg of the Lib Dems failed to make an impact at the hustings. It could well be said that everybody lost the election.


The real winners were the people. The split mandate testified to the growing diversity of British society, its rejection of monolithic structures of authority for a pluralist, multiparty democracy. The voters have moved on from the question of who should be the next prime minister. They are more worried about imminent crises, especially about the state of the national economy, which is on the brink of a catastrophe. With Greece erupting in civil unrest, whoever enters 10 Downing Street will have a tough time ahead. David Cameron, the Tory leader, who has the first right to try form the government, has pledged to reduce fiscal deficit. But Gordon Brown, the incumbent Labour prime minister, who has been clearly shown the door by the people, has promised to do no less. Both men are equally vague about budget cuts and tax rises. The real kingmaker is Mr Clegg, without whose support neither the Tories nor Labour would be able to come to power. An alliance with the Tories is unlikely to serve the Lib Dems well. Mr Cameron, although tactful about other issues, is committed to the first-past-the-post system, which determines elections in favour of the highest polling candidate. Mr Brown, on the other hand, is willing to replace this systemic bias with proportional representation. So, in the circumstances, Mr Clegg may find it sensible to support Mr Brown. But whoever becomes the new prime minister will find himself in the unenviable position of having to take unpleasant decisions. This election, in particular, has been a race to become the most hated man in Britain.








Some forms of oppression are so routine that they become visible only through their removal. The full absurdity of the dress code for female teachers may have struck some people only when the Calcutta High Court ruled that teachers have the right to choose what they wear to class. The issue has been simmering for a while, with clashes over the 'proper' apparel for female teachers erupting from time to time between individual or groups of teachers on the one side and school authorities, sometimes even guardians and students, on the other. That these conflicts began to become public only this century shows a growth in confidence among a particular segment of educated women, for oppressive dress codes had always been in place while the protests and defiance were new. The court's ruling puts an end to the bickering, but is also useful in underlining how blatant discrimination against women has been internalized by society as 'normal'. Society is used to seeing women teachers dress in a certain way, but whether women dress in a particular way because they want to, or because a usually silent but implacable authority compels them to is a matter of indifference.


The court has added that women teachers can dress as they wish as long as the dress is 'decent'. But it has left the judgment of decency to the women, who are "educated" and "responsible" enough to know what is becoming wear for a teacher. The court's good sense and display of balance might set an example for authorities nurturing medieval notions of women, although the fact that an extremely busy high court has to deal with such matters is a kind of triumph of stupidity. No matter what lessons are taught by textbooks, the values of educational institutions that force a dress code only upon their women teachers are nothing short of dangerous. Violence against women is bred in unlikely nurseries, side by side with the conspiracy of silence. From here come the women who cower and comply, who refuse to speak up when they experience violence or see another experiencing it, the policemen who refuse to take complaints from women, the husbands who beat their wives for 'disobedience' and threaten their daughters when the latter fall in love. Oppression is an everyday matter yet barely visible. By objecting to an unreasonable dress code, teachers have demonstrated its ubiquitousness.









"The enemies of Caesar shall say this;Then in a friend, it is cold modesty."


— Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 1


It should have been amply clear that the 13 parties that threatened to destroy the finance bill and, in the process, topple the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre, were embarking on a venture that was preordained to fail. The memory of the grimy proceedings surrounding a similar attempt in the not too distant past cannot possibly have faded yet.


Why then did the leftists decide to play a lead role in the new drama? One suspects that it was an attempt to woo back the poor on the eve of elections. The suspicion deepened, moreover, as one heard out a Left dignitary's statement that, along with food price inflation, the persisting inequality in land distribution was an important motivation underlying the 12-hour Bharat bandh call. The word 'Bharat', of course, was a euphemism for the April 27 droplet in the vast, shore-less Sargasso Sea of Bengal bandhs.


Ever since the occurrence of the economic disaster at Singur and the subsequent fiasco surrounding the Vedic Village, few words have sensitized politicians in this state as the word 'land' itself. The deep-rooted poverty associated with rural land in particular has affected endlessly many people. And when it comes to democracy, number counts.


After more than 60 years of Independence and 30 years of Left rule, the paradox persists that the support base for governments in this country remains entrenched in poverty. More than 60 per cent of India still lives in the rural sector, a majority of this in abject poverty. Following the Singur-Nandigram events, it was the rural poor, supported by a handful of urban intelligentsia, that had put the Left Front on the backfoot. And the Left now appears to be playing the poverty card once again to win back lost ground.


Few would disagree that the proximate goal of the present struggle has a human face. Access to food constitutes one of the most basic of human rights. No government can possibly disown its responsibility to ensure this right for all citizens. The question that is relevant in this context, though, is whether bandhs can help the nation reach the food to all destinations.


A simple calculation is in order here. According to the latest Reserve Bank of India data, West Bengal's net state domestic product was Rs 2,74,897 crore in 2007-08 (calculated at 1999-2000 prices). This figure would inflate substantially once the data for 2009-10 become available at current prices. However, even on the basis of the available figures, the average per day production (and hence income) in this state should hover around Rs 753 crore. To bring the economy to a complete halt for a single day then amounts to an uncomfortably large figure of income loss.


India's labour force has been variously estimated to lie somewhere in the region of 40-50 crore, that is, the labour force constitutes roughly 39 per cent of India's population. Applying this per cent figure to the estimated population of West Bengal (namely, 8.66 crore), its labour force should be to the order of 3.38 crore. Around 90 per cent of the workers, that is, 3.02 crore, belong to the informal and unorganized sectors. They are the worst victims of inflation, since, according to some, many of them depend on a daily income in the range of Rs 20-30.


Quite apart from the income loss figure quoted earlier, a bandh deprives more than three crore people of the right to earn their hopelessly meagre source of subsistence. In other words, a bandh worsens the already deplorable state of those very people who are the victims of food inflation. Even so, as a Left sponsor of the bandh argued on a popular television news channel on the eve of the event, a bandh's negative impact on the economy is justified for the same reason for which the terrorist strategies employed during India's freedom struggle were defensible. Indeed, he even mentioned in support of his thesis two of the most hallowed names in the list of India's freedom fighters, Khudiram, who gave up his life at a tender age, and Mahatma Gandhi, who led the civil disobedience movement during the Salt March in Dandi.


Should a bandh-provoked deceleration of the Indian economy be likened to India's freedom struggle, aimed as it was towards destroying the economic might of British imperialism? The question breaks up into several parts.


First, since Khudiram and Gandhi were specifically mentioned in this connection, one cannot help wondering if any of the leaders who organized the bandh (not excluding the one who drew the comparison) measure up, by any stretch of imagination, to these immortal personalities. If they do, then these persons ought to be identified without delay and their portraits published in national dailies in the same manner in which the railway ministry has been carrying out its brief. Second, Khudiram gave up his life for the cause of his country. In the present instance, although people are dying of hunger, one has yet to come across a leader who has sacrificed his life to protest against the deaths. Third, Gandhi is well-remembered for his fasts to oppose British rule. The latest bandh would have looked far more respectable if those who led it gave up even half-a-day's meal to draw the Central government's attention towards the plight of the poor. Fourth, shouldn't the pathetic millions who were prevented from earning their daily incomes of Rs 30 have been compensated for their losses?


These questions are trivial at worst and derisive at best. A far more important issue relates to viewing the UPA government at the Centre as no different from a foreign imperialist ruler. There can be little doubt probably that corruption rules the roost amongst a large number of politicians in power in Delhi. However, is it possible to justify economic destruction, particularly the earnings of the most vulnerable sections of the population, in order to bring to book real or imagined criminals? Mahatma Gandhi surely worked towards destroying the British economy in India. A bandh organized in independent India, let us not forget, is aimed at damaging India's own economy.


One should, of course, not attach too much importance to incompetent arguments. Let us leave this issue, therefore, and consider other bandhs or disruptive activities. Two such cases present themselves immediately. First, the Singur tragedy is still raw in our minds. The Tatas were forced to leave this state by a group of people who claimed to have engaged in a political agitation in the interest of the farmers. Second, right now the country is tottering on account of the Maoists' unleashed fear. The Maoists, too, claim to be engaged in an "armed struggle" in the interest of the long neglected adivasi development problem. In both instances, there are well-defined issues at stake and the bandh-like activities are the political weapons employed to serve the cause. The vital question in this context is, how does one establish the chastity of one bandh as opposed to the other?


Every cloud, though, has a silver lining. The media inform us that the chief minister of the state, accompanied by some other ministers and senior bureaucrats, attended office on April 27. It was this same chief minister who had assured us that he would not tolerate bandhs and rebuild the lost work culture of the state. We cannot help but admire the commitment of the person along with that of a group of his supporters in the government. His presence in the office probably establishes that the bandh had its critics in the government itself. Unfortunately, it points at the same time towards the helplessness of honest people in this society too.

The author is former professor of economics, Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta







Faisal Shahzad was no Timothy McVeigh, let alone a Mohamed Atta. McVeigh, who killed 168 people in Oklahoma City in 1995 with a massive truck-bomb, took the trouble to learn how to make a bomb that actually works. Atta, who piloted one of the planes that crashed into the Twin Towers on 9/11, even learned how to fly. Shahzad, who left a vehicle rigged to explode near New York's Times Square was a bumbling amateur.


He might still have killed some people, of course. But the casualties would have been in the dozens, at worst, and more likely only a few. Not enough, in other words, to drive Americans crazy again. I'm choosing my words carefully here. Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the US media have worked to persuade Americans that terrorism is the greatest threat facing the country. The enterprise has succeeded, and most Americans actually believe that terrorism poses a serious danger to their personal safety. Nobody has been killed by terrorists in the United States of America since 9/11, but the fear is so great that just one big attack would still have disastrous consequences. There would be huge public pressure for the government to do something very large and violent, in the delusionary belief that that is the way to defeat terrorism.


The main goal of terrorist attacks anywhere is to drive the victims crazy: to goad them into doing stupid, violent things that ultimately play into the hands of those who planned the attacks. Terrorism is a kind of political jiu-jitsu in which a relatively weak group attempts to trick a far stronger enemy into a self-defeating response. The US response to 9/11 was certainly self-defeating. A more intelligent strategy would have been to try and split the Taliban in Afghanistan, many of whose leading members were outraged by the threat of an American invasion that the action of their Arab guests had brought down on their heads. A combination of threats and bribes might have persuaded the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden and his whole al Qaida crew.


Stupid move


It was certainly worth trying first, but the political pressure on the White House to invade Afghanistan was extreme. Even though those who knew anything about terrorist strategies understood that that was exactly what bin Laden wanted Washington to do. Osama bin Laden's goal was to build support among Muslims for his militant ideology by convincing them that they were under attack by the 'infidels'. The best way to do that was to sucker the infidels into invading Muslim countries.


The 9/11 attacks succeeded in triggering a US invasion of Afghanistan. As a result, al Qaida has made some progress towards its ultimate goal of sparking Islamist revolutions in the Arab world and even the broader Muslim world, though probably not nearly as much as bin Laden had hoped. Since Washington was already doing what bin Laden wanted, he had no reason to carry out further major terrorist operations in the US after 9/11, and there is no evidence that al Qaida has attempted any. Faisal Shahzad's amateurish bomb certainly did not meet that organization's highly professional standards.But would al Qaida now be interested in carrying out a big attack in the US? Probably yes, for by the middle of next year US troops will be gone from Iraq. There is reason to suspect that Barack Obama's ultimate goal is to get them out of Afghanistan too, even if he first has to protect his flank politically by reinforcing them. As long as American troops are occupying Muslim countries, bin Laden's cause prospers. If they leave, the air goes out of his balloon. He therefore now has a strong motive for mounting a major terrorist operation on American soil. The goal would be to drive Americans crazy enough so that they decide to keep fighting the "war on terror" on Arab and Afghan soil. The last thing al Qaida wants is for the infidels to go home.



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





The UPA government's move to introduce some amendments to the Right to Information (RTI) Act is meant to reduce the scope and effectiveness of the legislation. In the last five years of its working, the Act has done much to undo the culture of secrecy that marks the functioning of government and public authorities and to empower the citizen. Some of the proposed amendments will directly go against the spirit of the law. One of them is to give immunity to the office of the chief justice of India from any queries under the RTI. This issue has been debated at length in the country. The Delhi High Court, in two rulings, has declared that the CJI is a public authority coming under the purview of the RTI Act. The supreme court has refused to accept this. The proposed amendment will validate its unfair position. It is ironical that the apex court which did much to promote and expand the right to information wants to erect a wall around itself, and it is unfortunate that the government is facilitating it.

Another amendment, which has been proposed, is more restrictive. It provides for the rejection of 'frivolous and vexatious' requests for information. This will lead to rejection of inconvenient  queries because the office from where the information is sought will only be happy to withhold it by relying on this exemption. No one would give away information which shows itself in poor light. Even if there are frivolous and vexatious queries that is no reason to deny information. The words will be interpreted by bureaucrats according to their convenience and to suit their interests. In any case there have not been many complaints about frivolous queries in the past. So why should such an exemption be introduced? It is also proposed to bring Cabinet decisions within the ambit of exemptions. Already cabinet papers under process are in the exempted list. If even the final Cabinet decisions are not open to the public, one important area will be removed from public scrutiny.

It is the success of the RTI Act in opening up the government that has prompted the authorities to put more shackles on the Act. An overwhelming majority of the information commissioners have opposed these amendments. There should be concerted pressure on the government to drop the idea of tinkering with the Act. Its scope should actually be widened further.








The outcome of the general election in Britain was no surprise, with a hung parliament voted into place in which no party has a decisive majority. But the details of the outcome are not on equally expected lines. Surveys and opinion polls had forecast that the Liberal Democrats, who had been for most of the recent past been only a marginal third force in British politics, would be placed second after the Conservatives. But while the Conservatives have emerged as the largest party with the highest percentage of votes, Labour has come second. The Lib Dems have actually lost some seats. They could not translate the sentiment in their favour into votes partly because of organisational limitations and partly because in their final view the voters were not probably very confident about them. Labour has always gained from tactical voting, and since there is more in common between them and the Lib Dems, the sentiment in favour of the liberals may have gone to Labour.

But the vote is a vote against Gordon Brown's government, as Labour has lost over 90 seats. The voters wanted a change after three consecutive terms for Labour and were unhappy about its management of the economy, foreign policy decisions and the scandalous conduct of many of its ministers and MPs. But under the British system Brown can continue as prime minister till he is defeated in the Commons. The Conservatives have gained about 100 seats and are best placed to form a government. The Lib Dems have emerged the king-makers as neither party can get a majority without their support. In the hung parliament after the 1974 elections the Lib Dems had supported Labour to form a new government after the Conservative party found itself in the same position as Labour is in now. Conservative leader David Cameron has opened talks with the Lib Dem leaders with a "big, open and comprehensive offer''. But there are major areas of difference between the two parties, like on electoral reforms and policies on the European Union and immigration. There is also no clear idea whether the new government should be a coalition government or a minority government of the Conservatives supported by the Lib Dems.

British political history is against coalition or minority governments. They have not survived for long, and the latest was Harold Wilson's government in 1974 which lasted only a few months. That casts a shadow on the present situation.







'My case is cleared, na?' said the politician who wanted to be telecom minister to the lobbyist for a telecom major four days before the present Union Cabinet was sworn in last summer. The middle-woman, Nira Radia, was coy and comforting in her first-name-basis response: 'Your case was cleared last night only.'



The truly touching aspect of the politician's piteous plea is a syllable, na. It has every shade of pathos, not to mention every variation of bathos, kneaded into it. The lobbyist is in command, and why shouldn't she be? She knows something that is privy to perhaps three or four people at the very highest level of the present government. She has a vested interest in telecom, and therefore a direct stake in the person who will run this department. The minister-to-be, A Raja of the DMK, is in her debt, and he better not forget it. She does not convey how she knows the decision was taken the previous night, but she implies that she has intervened on Raja's behalf. Raja does not care whether a corporation got him this job or not. He is merely desperate to get it.

We know this today, a year later, because of some sterling journalism done by the television channel Headlines Today, which obtained transcripts and audio recordings of the taped conversation and honoured the profession of journalism by doing the story.

Text demands context for greater clarity. Raja is an intimate associate of the Karunanidhi family and Radia must now be the most famous middle-woman in the world. She is on the payroll of some of the most important corporates in contemporary India, both those with a tradition of grease and those with historic claims to probity.

Corporate warriors did not record this conversation, as a hapless Congress spokesman vainly tried to suggest in defence of an indefensible ally. It was taped by Income Tax authorities, who suspected Radia of tax fraud, with formal permission of the home secretary. Raja's phone was on tap; Radia's was. It was fortuitous that the six-month window of taping coincided with a general election and formation of a new government. This information has been available with the Manmohan Singh government was many months now. Its only response was to harass and transfer the officials, as it sought to protect politicians.

It is the right of partners, in a coalition, to demand their quota of Cabinet members, but the allotment of portfolios is the privilege of the prime minister. Farooq Abdullah, a veteran who became chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir in 1982, is not particularly happy with renewable energy, but he has respected the prime minister's privilege. DMK accepted a change in the other portfolios allotted to its ministers, but made telecom conditional to its participation in government despite the fact that Singh was reluctant to give it.

Why was the DMK insistent and the PM reluctant?

Proven fact

Because both knew that Raja, as telecom minister in the first UPA Cabinet, was involved in a rip-off of incredible proportions. The Bofors allegations, which damaged the Congress in the 1980s, amounted to Rs 64 crore. This 2G scam is said to be of the order of over Rs 60,000 crore, or a thousand times that of Bofors. If you want to understand the scale of this rip-off think of this. Sonia Gandhi has been pressing government to provide food security for those below the poverty line. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar has said government does not have the resources to do so. The cost of a year's food security is far less than Rs 60,000 crore.

The unambiguous fact is that Singh and Sonia Gandhi were aware of this, but chose silence because the price of disclosure would have been the collapse of government. DMK has levelled a  cash pistol at the head of government, and the head has nodded in acquiescence because the alternative was to watch its brains being blown up. DMK blackmail has worked, and would have continued to do so but for the integrity of some journalists.

The most important question awaiting an answer, unless a large, interconnected, corporate-politician-media establishment protects the brazenly guilty, is: how did a lobbyist know of portfolio distribution? It is ironic that one of the reasons that brought the UPA back to power was a reputation for financial integrity, bolstered by the prime minister's personal image (which remains clean).

Radia was privy to specific details of the politics of government formation, much more than can be discerned by common or even uncommon sense. The tapes are proof of her contacts, at one level; at another, they also reveal the squalid civil wars within the DMK. The war of succession between the brothers Azhagiri and Stalin is only one detail of a diamond-studded opera that is surely beyond the fantasy of any television soap.

This much we know thanks to a leak in government, possibly initiated by an officer who saw this option as a last resort. But think of the perhaps hundreds of conversations between minister and middle-woman that could not be taped. How much sleaze is stored in them?








The referendum and the election are major battle grounds in the struggle between the AKP and the elite.


The adoption of major constitutional reforms by Turkey could formalise the shift in the balance of power in the country from the traditional secular politico-military elite to the moderate Muslim Justice and Development Party (AKP). The passage by a narrow parliamentary majority of the package on May 7 initiated preparations for the referendum to replace the 1982 constitution adopted during a period of military rule. Lacking the two-thirds majority required to pass outright the reform bill, the government, which has 335 seats in the 550-member assembly, has been compelled to turn to the referendum option.

For Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan the vote in the assembly was a triumph tinged with regret. He failed to get the votes needed to include a key provision which would have made it more difficult to ban political parties than at present. Since the 1980 military coup, 20 parties have been banned, including the Welfare Party from which the AKP emerged. The ruling AKP itself just survived an attempt to shut it down because it was accused of violating the stridently secular constitution. The country's chief prosecutor is now threatening to make a second try on the ground that the package of reforms is undemocratic.

After Erdogan was forced to drop the banning provision because eight members of his own AKP voted against it, he imposed party discipline to ensure that the 17 other provisions passed. These included reforming the board that appoints judges to ensure its independence from party politics and the constitutional court by allowing president and parliament to choose its members. The new constitution would also curb the power of the military — which regards itself as the guardian of Turkey's secularism — by permitting the trial in civilian courts of military personnel accused of crimes against state security and the constitution. The AKP was insistent on this provision because scores of officers, including generals, have been charged in civilian courts for plotting to overthrow the present government. The military has staged four coups in the past half century.

Another provision strengthens equal rights for women by ensuring that the state implements legislation in this area.

The adoption of these reforms is particularly important if Turkey's bid to enter the European Union (EU) is to prosper. While critics of the AKP accuse it of using the reforms to undermine the strongly secular judiciary, they cannot deny that it has been used to ban parties rooted in religion and to bloc laws put forward by the government. The chief opposition faction, the Republican People's Party, a stalwart of the secular establishment, has threatened to appeal to the constitutional court to annul the reforms. However, legal experts argue that the court should reject such an appeal which would be based on 'ideological legitimacy' unacceptable in western democracies. One expert called Turkey a 'juristocracy', a country ruled by jurists. Others claim the proposed reforms are not radical enough to overthrow the 'closed caste system' in the high judiciary which, they hold, obstructs Turkey's achievement of full democracy.

The campaign to adopt the reform package by referendum will test the strength of the AKP against its secular rivals ahead of next year's parliamentary poll. The referendum and the assembly election are major battle grounds in the struggle between the AKP and the elite which ran the Turkish republic from the 1920s until the AKP's election victory in 2002.

The militantly secular elite is determined to maintain the political system which kept their parties and the armed forces in power for decades. These parties are committed to an ideology which, in short, holds that Turkey is a secular republic where all citizens are Sunni Muslim 'Turks' and religion and ethnicity have no place in politics. However, Turkey is a patchwork of ethnic and religious minorities.

Determined to survive army coup or judicial banning, the AKP is seeking to democratise, recognise communal pluralism and confine the military to barracks. The party's success at the polls can be attributed to the rise of a new middle class of devout conservative Turks and to the identification with the AKP of working class and rural Turks, who are also more comfortable with moderate Muslim politicians than aggressive secularists.

While both the establishment and the AKP give lip service to Turkey's efforts to harmonise its system with that of the EU, the AKP has actually passed and implemented legislation designed to achieve this objective. The politico-military elite is loath to yield to the EU by adopting laws that would limit its powers and transform the political system.







During peace-time, military special train has the least priority.



A couple of decades ago, when I was a young captain in an infantry battalion, we were slated to move from a field area to a peace station, as part of the infantry relief programme. I was the designated quartermaster and planned everything meticulously for the movement of our battalion. We were supposed to travel on a military special train that was scheduled to arrive at a nearby railway station somewhere in north-east India.

While we camped near the railway station awaiting the military special, the atmosphere was a mix of emotions. For bachelors like me and other young officers it was fun attending officer mess parties and 'badakhanas' with the relieving unit, whereas for married officers and jawans with families, it was a happy and expectant feeling as their families would join them at the peace station.

There was an interesting incident one morning while we waited at the railway station; there was no dearth of humour in uniform, ours being a Sikh Light Infantry battalion. Now, we were on radio link and not on a fixed line. That morning, the signal platoon havildar brought a decoded radio message which read, "Your atta drwn to our signal no..." The word, 'attn' (for attention) was erroneously decoded as 'atta' and the havildar assumed it to be atta (meaning flour), and brought the message to me instead of the adjutant, since the quartermaster is responsible for the provisioning of rations to troops. On seeing the message I burst into laughter to the predicament of the havildar, and I couldn't stop myself from sharing this with other officers.

The train arrived after a wait of nearly a week. The special train was special in every way; right from missing bulbs throughout the train to the missing cushions in the first class seats and even missing window panes on windows. We army men always manage with whatever is available. We spread our mattresses out on the berths, lit lanterns and established communications among the officers' carriages, the engine-driver and the guard at the rear with our field telephones, by running our rugged looking telephone cables outside the carriages. As our special train passed through railway stations, curious onlookers tried making sense of our lantern-lit train with onboard communications and then gave up.

During peace-time, military special train has the least priority, after express-trains, mails, passenger-trains and goods-trains. At important railway stations, even stoppages for military special train are not at the usual platforms, and instead were at railway yards. Hence, our train took 12 days to reach our destination whereas an express train would take about 42 hours. Yet, we enjoyed the slow-paced journey from north-east to a peaceful

barrack in western India.

The leisurely journey had an anticlimax when our khalsa boys, who had spread a tarpaulin sheet over the tracks for unloading and transferring the stores to the new location, forgot to remove it, derailing the train!








Opposition leader Livni now has to ensure her words turn into action.

Talkbacks (2)


Opposition leader Tzipi Livni has finally woken up from her yearlong slumber thanks to the wake-up call sounded by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai. In a weekend Haaretz interview, Livni called on the Likud and Kadima to join forces and remove the haredi parties from the levers of power, thus providing the first sign that she is beginning to understand she needs to make her voice heard if she wants Kadima to remain a relevant force in Israeli politics.

There's no shame in a politician jumping on a passing bandwagon, and Livni was right to capitalize on the surprising media attention Huldai achieved earlier this month when he called on the "silent masses" to rebel against the allocation of state funds for private education in the haredi sector. Due to the haredi parties' political power, said Huldai, "Israel is funding and fostering large groups of separatists and, if you will, the ignorant, whose number is growing at a shocking rate and endangering our societal and economic strength."

Now there is nothing new in Huldai's remarks. He himself made them in a similar speech last year, which received little attention, and, of course, Tommy Lapid's Shinui enjoyed a few years of public support on precisely this issue at the beginning of the millennium before the party imploded.

WHY HULDAI'S remarks should have sparked such strong media interest this time around is unclear, although he was probably helped by the growing public disquiet with the level of haredi influence on secular life, as demonstrated with the farce concerning the delayed construction of a new emergency room at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon due to a few pagan graves.

Huldai's speech also followed the recent release of the Taub Center's "State of the Nation Report: Society, Economy and Policy," which highlighted the dangers to the wider society of the haredi refusal to provide their children with educational tools needed to enter the modern job market. Prof. Dan Ben-David, the center's executive director, has pointed out that about two-thirds of all haredi adults do not, and are not looking for, work, prepared to live off the handouts provided by the state, an economic model which is simply untenable.

Ben-David also provided a stinging rebuke to Moshe Gafni, the United Torah Judaism MK and chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, who ridiculously tried to combat Huldai's speech by arguing that it was the haredi public that was financing the secular public and not the other way around.

According to Gafni, because the haredi public (due to their larger families) spends proportionately more than the secular population on indirect taxation, such as value-added tax, "through these taxes, the haredim are the ones who fund the secular as the haredi public spends more than secular people on those taxes."

As Ben-David dryly noted, even if the haredim were paying the most value-added tax, they were simply returning the 16 percent at which VAT is charged from the 100 percent of state funding they receive to make these purchases in the first place.

SO LIVNI was standing on fertile ground when she called for the state to cut off funding immediately for schools that don't teach the core curriculum and prepare their students for the job market. She also didn't mince her words in describing the Israel of 2010 as a country "in which women ride in the back of the bus, dry bones take precedence over saving lives, conversion is a mission impossible, the Zionist vision has blurred and defining the Jewish state has been given to a monopoly of haredi politicians who are taking advantage of the

system and politicians."

Importantly, Livni did not restrict her interview to simple haredi bashing. She called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to combine the forces of Kadima and the Likud, "the two large Zionist parties," to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, as well as bring about societal change.

In doing so, Livni is laying down her marker for the autumn, when Netanyahu will be forced to do the thing he hates most: make a decision. The next four months will be taken up with proximity talks with the Palestinians that are scheduled to end at the same time as does Netanyahu's unilateral settlement construction freeze in the West Bank.

Come September and the end of the holidays, Netanyahu will have to decide whether he is prepared to negotiate in earnest with the Palestinians and present a diplomatic plan that covers all the core issues – settlements, borders, Jerusalem and the right of return – in return for a peace agreement that provides for an end to the conflict.

The present composition of Netanyahu's government makes the presentation of such a plan most unlikely, hence Labor Party leader Ehud Barak's recent calls to expand the government. Given that Barak is the person most responsible for preventing Livni from taking over from Ehud Olmert as prime minister without the need for elections, this does sound a bit rich, but nevertheless progress on the diplomatic front can only be made if Netanyahu ditches Shas (as well as the smaller right-wing parties in his coalition) for Kadima.

Now that Livni has finally roused herself after a disappointing first year as opposition leader, she has to ensure her words turn into action and that Netanyahu either invites Kadima into his government or Barak quits, leaving the Likud leader to deal with the consequences of his inaction.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.








Would the Iranian government hand nuclear weapons to a terrorist group or fire off nuclear-tipped missiles itself? It is easy for many experts and "experts" to answer no. The reason would be that historically, Iran has proven itself cautious and knows it would be punished for doing so. I might add that the Islamic regime has not been adventurous or crazy in its actual policy (as opposed to its words) over the last 30 years.

But as far as that response goes, it misses some very key points that might get a huge number of people killed.

First, Iran has not been adventurous or crazy in the manner that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was in 1979 and 1990; that is, Iran has not sent its military forces across the border to invade another country. Instead, Teheran has used subversion as its technique, backing and helping groups undermine other countries with terrorist attacks, with a long-term strategy of building a popular base to seize state power.

Thus to say that Iran has not attacked a neighbor with conventional military forces is quite true, yet this may not tell us how Iran will behave regarding terrorist groups. Moreover, a nuclear-armed Iran may feel a little more confident than the pre-nuclear version.

Having said that, I would correct the original response: Iran will probably not give nuclear weapons to terrorist groups.

"Probably" means that the odds are higher – let's say far higher – than 50 percent that it won't do so. The problem here is that even if there is a 10% or 20% chance of that happening, that's not the kind of risk one wants to take.

BUT THERE are other, more likely, scenarios that are never discussed but are quite important. Here are two:

• "Private Donations": I don't think the Iranian government would ever give Hizbullah, Iraqi Shi'ite groups or Hamas nuclear weapons. That is, I don't think there will be a top-level meeting where such a decision would be made officially. I do think that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which will be responsible for both the weapons and for liaison with terrorist groups, or other officials, might give them nuclear weapons. Iran is not a disciplined bureaucracy and the security of these arms – especially if some hot factional dispute breaks out or the regime is in danger of falling – is not going to be so tight.

The chance of an Iranian Dr. Strangelove pushing a button, a mad ideologist rather than a mad scientist, is higher than that for the weapons held by the US, USSR/Russia, Britain, France or Israel over many decades.

I have never seen someone from the complacent, conventional wisdom, containment-is-no-problem mainstream deal with any of the above issues.

• "The Defensive Umbrella for Aggression": If groups like Hizbullah or others get their members to believe they have access to nuclear weapons, either through a transfer or a clear Iranian guarantee to use such weapons in their cause, wars could be set off by their over-confident calculations. Iran's main purpose in getting nuclear weapons is probably not to fire them but to use them to protect its indirect aggression, encourage appeasement and persuade millions of Muslims to join pro-Teheran revolutionary Islamist groups.

But no matter what Iran did in the future – for example, establish its primary influence in Iraq by bringing its Shi'ite allies to full power; help Hamas seize the West Bank; make Hizbullah and other forces the ruling group in Lebanon – nobody could or would do anything about it because they would fear Iran's nuclear arsenal.

Consider – and this is not far-fetched – that Hizbullah concludes that if it attacks Israel, Israel would be deterred from retaliation out of fear that Iran would launch nuclear missiles. From what Syrian leaders say, it seems they already believe this, which makes them far more daring in their hard-line policies and encouragement of Hizbullah and Hamas.

A RELATED scenario is while US promises might make Arabs feel a bit more secure, in practice that factor is meaningless. They would still be afraid to do anything Iran doesn't like, not only because they didn't have full trust in the Obama administration but also because by the time the US kept its pledge and retaliated they would all be dead.

Consider also this true story told by Haim Saban, the Power Rangers multimillionaire and donor to Democratic campaigns. In considering who he would support, during the 2008 campaign Saban met separately with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. He asked each of them the same question: "If Iran nukes Israel, what would be your reaction?" Clinton answered: "We will obliterate them."

Obama's response? "We will take appropriate action."

Since Obama's reaction was off-the-record and before the election, it cannot be attributed to presidential caution. Saban interpreted it as something along the lines of (my words, not his): I'll think about it. This reflects a state of mind and way of thinking.

That anecdote should be far more frightening to most Arab countries than it is to Israel, which has its own ability to respond to any such threat.

Look at the overall situation of a post-nuclear Iran this way: If a boxer knows he can punch his opponent, without fearing a counter-punch, the boxer doesn't have to pull out a gun, he can knock him out by conventional means.

Of course, to extend the analogy, the boxer might miscalculate, get hit back hard and then pull out the gun.

And once again: I have never seen someone from the complacent, conventional wisdom, containment-is-no-problem mainstream deal with any of the above issues.

It would be far simpler and less risky to stop Iran from getting nuclear arms in the first place, but that option seems to be very close to non-existent. Let's face it: The campaign to convince the Western world to make a serious effort to take up this challenge has failed. Whatever half-hearted sanctions are passed after whatever number of months, we had better start directing our attention to a world where Iran has deliverable nuclear weapons.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies.


His blog can be read at








"[Law enforcement] interviewed Mr. Shahzad... under the public safety exception to the Miranda rule... He was eventually... Mirandized and continued talking." – John Pistole, FBI deputy director, May 4

All well and good. But what if Faisal Shahzad, the confessed Times Square bomber, had stopped talking? When you tell someone he has the right to remain silent, there is a distinct possibility that he will remain silent, is there not? And then what? The authorities deserve full credit for capturing Shahzad within 54 hours. Credit is also due them for obtaining information from him by invoking the "public safety" exception to the Miranda rule.

But then Shahzad was Mirandized. If he had decided to shut up, it would have denied us valuable information – everything he is presumably telling us now about Pakistani contacts, training, plans for other possible plots beyond the Times Square attack.

The public safety exception is sometimes called the "ticking time bomb" exception. But what about information regarding bombs not yet ticking but being planned and readied to kill later? Think of the reason why we give any suspect Miranda warnings. It is not that you're prohibited from asking questions before Mirandizing. You can ask a suspect anything you damn well please. You can ask him if he picks his feet in Poughkeepsie – but without Miranda, the answers are not admissible in court.

In this case, however, Miranda warnings were superfluous. Shahzad had confessed to the car bombing attempt while being interrogated under the public safety exception. That's admissible evidence. Plus, he left a treasure trove of physical evidence all over the place – which is how we caught him in two days.

Second, even assuming that by not Mirandizing him we might have jeopardized our chances of getting some convictions – so what? Which is more important: (a) gaining, a year or two hence, the conviction of a pigeon – the last and now least important link in this terror chain – whom we could surely lock up on explosives and weapons charges, or (b) preventing future terror attacks on Americans by learning from Shahzad what he might know about terror plots in Pakistan and sleeper cells in the United States.

Even posing this choice demonstrates why the very use of the civilian judicial system to interrogate terrorists is misconceived, even if they are, like Shahzad, (naturalized) American citizens. America is the target of an ongoing jihadist campaign. The logical and serious way to defend ourselves is to place captured terrorists in military custody as unlawful enemy combatants. As former anti-terror prosecutor Andrew McCarthy notes in National Review, one of the six World War II German saboteurs captured in the US, tried by military commission and executed was a US citizen. It made no difference.

But let's assume you're wedded to the civilian law-enforcement model, as is the Obama administration. At least make an attempt to expand the public safety exception to Miranda in a way that takes into account the jihadist war that did not exist when that exception was narrowly drawn by the Supreme Court in the 1984 Quarles case.

The public safety exception should be enlarged to allow law enforcement to interrogate, without Mirandizing, those arrested in the commission of terrorist crimes (and make the answers admissible) – until law enforcement is satisfied that vital intelligence related to other possible plots and threats to public safety has been sufficiently acquired.

This could be done by congressional statute. Or the administration could, in an actual case, refrain from Mirandizing until it had explored the outer limits of any plot – and then defend its actions before the courts, resting its argument on the Supreme Court's own logic in the Quarles case: "We conclude that the need for answers to questions in a situation posing a threat to the public safety outweighs the need for the [Miranda] rule."

Otherwise, we will be left – when a terrorist shuts up as did the underwear bomber for five weeks – in the absurd position of capturing enemy combatants and then prohibiting ourselves from obtaining the information they have, and we need, to protect innocent lives.

My view is that we should treat enemy combatants as enemy combatants, whether they are US citizens (Shahzad) or not (the underwear bomber). If, however, they are to be treated as ordinary criminals, then at least agree on this: no Miranda rights until we know everything that public safety demands we need to know.

   The Washington Post







"If there is no flour, there is no Torah; if there is no Torah there is no flour." Ethics of the Fathers (3:22)

The first half of this saying, coined by Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaria, who lived in the first century CE, has been the subject of much media attention in recent months. A wave of caustic criticism has been heaped on the haredi population for stubbornly clinging to an educational system that enjoys extensive funding from the state, but that is producing an ever-growing number of Talmud scholars who lack the basic skills needed to earn a living.

But not much attention has been given to the second part of the ancient rabbi's pithy statement: The sorrowfully inadequate level of Jewish studies provided to our nation's secular schoolchildren.

Our founding fathers understood the centrality of the Bible to the Jewish people's connection to the land. In 1937, for instance, David Ben-Gurion told the British Peel Commission, saddled with the job of ending conflict the between Jews and Arabs, that the Bible was "the Jewish people's mandate" for the land of Israel.

Israel policy makers, educators and IDF commanders have come to appreciate the strong correlation between a solid Jewish education and patriotism. Religious convictions aside, without a strong Jewish identity, Israeli citizens cannot be expected to make the necessary sacrifices demanded of them in a Jewish state surrounded by enemies. Nor can they hope to create an original Jewish culture.

But despite the appreciation for Jewish learning and Jewish identity, the reality today is far from ideal. Just two hours a week of Bible studies are required by the Education Ministry. According to minutes from a Knesset Education Committee meeting in March, many secular state schools teach even less, sometimes as little as one semester during all of the last three years of high school.

Often this is the first subject to be abandoned when time constraints arise. Bible teachers lack proper training and the requisite passion needed to bring to life the ancient text. Meanwhile, other Jewish subjects, such as Mishna and Talmud or Jewish philosophy, are completely optional.

All this is despite the recommendations of the 1994 Shenhar Commission, which explicitly called for more state-funded Jewish studies in the state school system. We fear that a new commission appointed by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and headed by Prof. Binyamin Ish-Shalom will face a similar fate.

Meanwhile, privately funded initiatives such as TALI, a Hebrew acronym for Tigbur Limudei Yahadut (enhanced Jewish studies), and the Hartman Institute are filling the vacuum, proving once again that private initiative always beats state-funded projects.

TALI, with an annual budget of just under $2 million, funded principally by North American Jews, works in cooperation with 40,000 families and hundreds of teachers to introduce a pluralistic, liberal version of Judaism and prayer into the secular state school system on the preschool and elementary school level, while Hartman works with 50 junior high and high schools.

The only education minister who agreed to fund TALI was the late Zevulun Hammer (National Religious Party), who argued that a little liberal Yiddishkeit is better than no Yiddishkeit at all. Previous and subsequent ministers have distanced themselves from TALI, either because their secular sensibilities led them to oppose any form of Jewish particularism or because of their own or their coalition members' Orthodox parochialism.

Dr. Eitan Chikli, executive director of TALI, says that the fund, with 90 elementary school and 70 preschool members, is stretched to its limit. Supply cannot catch up with demand.

True, some secular schools are ideologically opposed to the teaching of Judaism. But many secular Israelis who reject Orthodoxy are nevertheless open to liberal approaches to Judaism, as is clear from the rising interest in non-Orthodox educational frameworks for adults, such as Alma Hebrew College, Bina Center for Jewish Identity and Elul, all of which are privately funded.

An absurd situation has been created in which the State of Israel funds haredi schools that produce graduates who lack the occupational skills and the Zionist ethos to integrate into Israeli society, while it refrains from enriching secular schools with Jewish studies. This counterproductive policy must end.







Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas repeatedly warns against "provocations" that might derail the now kick-started proximity talks. Nothing that undermines confidence, he stresses, should be tolerated.

Yet does this only apply to Israel? Does a newly imposed boycott – of the sort never declared previously pre-

negotiations – not qualify as a provocation, at the very least?

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has not only imposed a boycott on any Israeli goods produced even meters beyond the Green Line, but he recently participated in a public burning of Israeli "settlements-made" products. Fayyad, feted worldwide as a moderate, himself tossed goods into the flames to the gleeful chants and applause of bystanders. Besides the incitement inherent in the "ceremony," it was disturbingly evocative of the book-burnings of very dark past eras.

Is this the way a respectable peace-partner behaves? Does this encourage coexistence and win hearts and minds to the cause of compromise?

Additionally, both Abbas and Fayyad relentlessly engage in inimical campaigns abroad in favor of such boycotts in other countries. These aren't moves that inspire confidence in the sincerity and goodwill of our reluctant proximity-talks interlocutors.

But it doesn't end there. Any such maneuver is certain to spark a negative dynamic. In this case the boycott has spilled across the Green Line in two ways.

The first is the fact that, in some cases, non-settlement products are also suffering from the ban, incidentally underscoring the reality that it's no simple matter even to pinpoint the origin of all components of given goods. Are these  innocent mix-ups? A blanket boycott was slapped against Israeli cellphone firms and communications paraphernalia not produced in any "settlement." Interestingly, the son of a PA higher-up operates a competing venture; a dose of protectionism can be good for business.

The second spillover is of greater concern. Israeli Arabs have now joined the boycott, in a move that seems too closely orchestrated for comfort with the clarion call from Ramallah. Such coordination is chillingly reminiscent of the synchronization of the October 2000 riots with the start of the Yasser Arafat-fostered second intifada.

The within-Israel boycott, moreover, is patently illegal here. It can easily trigger violent intimidation. To understand the seriousness of this we need only imagine the indignant outcry had prominent Jewish politicians urged a boycott of all Israeli-Arab townships and everything they market. The hypothetical instigators of such anti-Arab boycotts would rapidly face trial and their initiative would be hurriedly quashed by the courts. Israel's social fabric is anyway frayed. Tolerating communal boycotts inside the country threatens to rip that fabric to shreds.

Moreover, how can we complain against discriminatory boycotts overseas if their like are tolerated at home?

WHAT WAS initiated in Ramallah, though, is particularly outrageous. It's also designed to keep local Arabs from working in the settlements on the pain of five-years imprisonment and hefty fines. The first to suffer would be Fayyad's own population.

Fayyad should be reminded by our government that his new pet project directly violates the economic annex of the original Oslo Accord. Known as the "Paris Agreement," the April 29, 1994, Annex IV of the Gaza-Jericho Agreement (or "Protocol on Economic Relations") specifically forbids what Fayyad has launched.

That protocol clearly speaks of Israeli-controlled areas, and not only of within-Green-Line Israel. It forbids restrictions on agricultural and industrial products. Each side, the annex stipulates, "will do its best to avoid damage to the industry of the other side and will take into consideration the concerns of the other side in its industrial policy."

Likewise the annex obliges both sides to "attempt to maintain the normality of movement of labor."

So far Israel has kept officially mum on a series of flagrant violations including the recent public destruction of seven tons of Israeli watermelons, of detergents and Israeli-made plastics.

Under the Paris Agreement, Israel collects import customs for the PA. By continuing to remit the revenue, Israel unintentionally contributes to Fayyad's "National Honor Fund," established to underpin the boycott. Manufacturers Association President Shraga Brosh, hardly a right-winger, has proposed closing our ports to PA exports.

If the PA brazenly contravenes its undertakings – especially as negotiations get under way – for how long does it expect Israel to turn the other cheek?








New Bar-Ilan c'ter is another example of our 'blue-and-white' potential.

This week Bar-Ilan University will dedicate the Multidisciplinary Center for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology. Just another festive occasion at an academic institution that spotlights, for a brief moment, the work of a group of researchers focused on a specific field of scientific endeavor. One more ceremony at which these researchers are showered with deserved praise, where proper thanks are expressed to donors who have provided us with another essential infrastructure for enriching human knowledge. But the new center's unique characteristics also provide us with an opportunity to examine several important issues relevant to Israeli science in the 21st century.

First and foremost, this is another example of our "blue-and-white" potential to stand at the forefront of international innovative research. Nanotechnology – dealing with materials and phenomena at the nanometric level (that is, one-billionth of a meter) – is a young scientific realm that is developing at a dizzying pace. The concept itself was only coined in 1974, and major activity in the field was initiated less than 30 years ago, following the development of tools that allowed scientists to examine what was happening on such a minuscule dimension. Since then, there has been one breakthrough after another and their signs are clearly visible outside the laboratory and the professional literature.

Thanks to nanotechnology, revolutions are taking place to help direct drugs directly to the areas of the body where they are needed, to reduce friction in vehicles and significantly lower gasoline consumption, to increase by hundreds of percent our ability to utilize solar energy, to provide materials that can withstand different types of damage – in short, to change our lives in many positive ways. Israeli academia has successfully become part of this revolutionary effort, to the point where we are able to open this new center, which is one of the most advanced such facilities in the world.

THIS IS also a unique multidisciplinary center, which derives directly from the nature of nanotechnology and this type of cutting edge scientific research. Under a single roof, 40 research groups from various Bar-Ilan faculties will be able to work at the university. Each one of these groups will focus on a highly specific area of nanotechnology, yet all of them understand the need for an all-embracing perspective and mutual, productive work. Some of the groups deal with developing complex nanomaterials, such as nanotubes made out of carbon atoms. Others are looking at creating renewable energy sources, such as solar cells and miniature electrical batteries. There are those interested in nano-magnets (and designing new types of chips). Still others are devoted to medical issues (including advanced work on promising procedures for treating cancers).

This solid cooperation joins additional collaboration, which is one of the most important trademarks of nanotechnology. It seems there is no other scientific sphere where the distance between the basic laboratory research and industrial application is so short. This requires extensive assistance from industry for academia, and the question is how such assistance will be given and how we can ensure optimal coordination between the important involvement of those who "control the purse strings" and the no-less-important academic freedom of those who "control the knowledge."

This also necessitates our ability to cross these borders wisely and create ample opportunity for international activity. Indeed, a considerable part of the work at the new center is carried out thanks to funding from outside sources, such as foundations from the EU and the US government – a fact that indicates their recognition of the outstanding quality of the researchers themselves.

Yet this outside funding helps us turn our attention inward. The new center contributes towards Israel's national interest – among other things, by accepting returning scientists – but it is still awaiting proper national recognition. Construction of the center would not have happened without the generous contribution of the Friends of Bar-Ilan throughout the world in the midst of the global financial crisis.

But Israeli academia cannot get by solely on these contributions. The time has come to boost the importance of academic study by putting it higher on the national agenda, along with the budgetary expression it deserves.

The writer is the president of Bar-Ilan University.








The British general election produced mixed results on Thursday for those who trade on anti-Israel rhetoric. George Galloway's political career seems to have been finally ended when the Respect Party MP lost his fight with Labor's Jim Fitzpatrick. Respect's other two parliamentary candidates also failed to make it to Parliament.

Gerald Kaufman (Labor), who said that right-wing millionaire Jews controlled the Conservative Party, was convincingly reelected, while Martin Linton (Labor), who has spoken of Israel's "long tentacles" which fund the British electoral system, lost his seat to the Conservatives.

The fascist BNP failed to get an MP elected, but the Green Party – which supports the campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel – succeeded in getting its first MP when its leader, Caroline Lucas, won in Brighton on the south coast of England.

One of the closest contests was in London, in the district of Hampstead and Kilburn, where Oscar-winning actress Glenda Jackson, another fierce critic of Israel, won by just 42 votes, out of the 52,822 cast.

The Muslim Public Affairs Committee seems to have failed in its "Zionist" decapitation strategy as many Israel-friendly politicians succeeded. Lee Scott (Conservative) and Louise Ellman (Labor) were reelected and Luciana Berger (Labor) and Robert Halfon (Conservative) became MPs for the first time.

Andrew Dismore (Labor), a strong Israel supporter who was targeted by MPAC, lost his seat to Matthew Offord (Conservative). MPAC called this a "triumph" although, ironically, Offord himself can be considered a "Zionist" and will probably be similarly targeted by MPAC next time.

Richard Harringon, chairman of the Conservative Friends of Israel, got elected in Watford.

But the biggest winners may be the Liberal Democrats whose leader, Nick Clegg, called for the banning of the sale of arms to Israel during Operation Cast Lead.

Incredibly, the Lib Dems were expected to substantially increase their intake of MPs after the first two televised leaders' debates, but Clegg faltered in the third and final debate. The public may not have liked his policies on giving amnesty to some one million illegal immigrants and on taking Britain into the euro, especially with the death and destruction in Athens being broadcast on our screens leading up to the election.

NONE OF the three main parties ended up with an overall majority of more than 326 seats. The Conservatives now have 306 (up 97), Labor has 258 (down 91) and the Lib Dems have 57 (down five).

The Lib Dems are keen to do a deal to give them power for the first time in some 80 years and have given the Conservatives, as the largest party, the first opportunity to consider this possibility. The Conservatives, in turn, said they would be willing to work with the Lib Dems to try to implement much of the Conservative manifesto. This will involve easy concessions on tax, but the Lib Dems will also demand major reform of the electoral system, possibly proportional representation, which is something the Conservatives will not concede.

In the meantime, Gordon Brown is waiting in the wings, clinging on as prime minister, hoping that the Conservatives and the Lib Dems will fail to agree so that the Lib Dems will then come knocking on his door, where proportional representation is more of a possibility.

The financial markets have been crashing leading up to, and since, the election. The stock market is heavily down, as is the pound against the dollar. The politicians will need to resolve their differences quickly to restore the semblance of stability.

MORE CRITICAL for Israel is the possible concession of some Lib Dems now taking up cabinet positions which could impact negatively on British-Israeli relations. David Cameron himself has described east Jerusalem as "occupied" and Labor has been generally unsupportive on the Dubai assassination of Hamas terrorist Mahmoud al-Mabhouh and on the Goldstone Report.

The areas of London with large numbers of Jewish voters, including the four voting districts of Finchley and Golders Green, Hendon, Chipping Barnet and Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner all returned Conservative MPs. Many British Jews might well have voted this way out of concern for the policies of Labor and the Lib Dems on Israel, while the Conservatives are seen as generally more sympathetic to its situation.

The Conservatives will likely clamp down more firmly on Islamic radicalism and will seek to ban Hizb ut Tahrir (the Global Islamic Political Party which seeks a Caliphate), but what Jewish voters did not reckon on is that by voting Conservative, they could get the Lib Dems as part of the package.

There is need for political stability in Britain as quickly as possible to tackle the huge budget deficit. As the parties hammer out agreement in private, most British Jews hope that this will not be at the expense of Israel.

The writer is a London-based freelance journalist, studying for an MA in Near and Middle Eastern studies at SOAS. He blogs at








Tel Aviv's lack of a subway system (or as it is officially known, the Dan Region Mass Transit System ) is one of most grave infrastructure failures Israel has ever known. This country, whose scientists have won Nobel prizes and whose entrepreneurs shine in high-tech markets, has been unable to build a basic public transportation system of the kind that operates in Egypt, Iran and North Korea.


The result is that metropolitan Tel Aviv, where more than three million people live and work, does not offer reasonable public transportation as an alternative to clogged roads. A subway is fast, convenient, non-polluting and unaffected by weather. It is hard to imagine an infrastructure project that would contribute more to the well-being of the population and would reduce the use of cars, which are expensive and cause pollution.


The subway is based on technology more than 100 years old; foot-dragging in its construction is entirely due to failed management. Golda Meir's government decided as far back as 1973 to construct a subway in Tel Aviv, but since then the idea has been put off for various reasons. Either priorities change or authorities disagree; this time around, the developer that won the tender for the project is having difficulty funding it.


The Finance Ministry is now recommending that the project be nationalized and a new tender be issued, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to make a decision on the matter next week. This is Netanyahu's opportunity - with his great fondness for infrastructure and rail projects - to demonstrate leadership and extricate the heart of the country from traffic jams and pollution. Only giving the project top national priority will liberate it from its 37-year freeze.


It is very likely, however, that this will not happen. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz is planning to build a railway to the West Bank settlements, and Netanyahu wants a train to Kiryat Shmona and Eilat. The Dan Region, Israel's social and economic center, does not interest them.


In yesterday's Hebrew edition of TheMarker, Avi Bar-Eli revealed the process by which a new director general of Israel Railways is selected - exposing how, for the politicians who make appointments, political interests as well as promoting the interests of franchisees and prominent businesspeople outweigh the public weal. The Transportation Ministry has for years served its various ministers as a tool for advancing political interests. And it is the general public, waiting in the sun for the bus or in long traffic jams at the entrance to Tel Aviv, that pays the price.








Suppose some Palestinian group managed to set up a new settlement on land abandoned by refugees of the 1967 war in the Jordan Valley. What would your average Israeli patriot have to say about an Israeli contractor who agreed to build it, or about Jewish workers clambering on Palestinian scaffolds? What an outcry we'd hear from the Israeli right about such traitors! Never fear, our forces would never allow the uncircumcised to fix even a peg in the occupied territory under absolute Israeli control (some 60 percent of the West Bank ). The imagined scenario of Jews building homes for Palestinians was created only for the sake of discussion - specifically of the protests in Israel against the ban recently imposed by the Palestinian Authority against Arabs working in the settlements.


It takes no small amount of audacity to threaten the Palestinians with harm to their economy if they refuse to continue building Israeli settlements on their own land. Only we are allowed to threaten boycotts every Monday and Thursday against countries that dare to criticize us. After all, we, as is well known, have the monopoly on patriotism. Remember the treatment the Etzel and Lehi underground militias meted out to Jewish girls who went to bed with British soldiers?


"Buy Israeli goods" is an important ethos - with emphasis on the word "Israeli." Many Israelis, including this writer, and peace-seekers all over the world boycott products made in the settlements. But if Palestinian factory workers dare leave their jobs in the Barkan industrial zone in the West Bank, the president of the Manufacturers Association, Shraga Brosh, says he'll make sure that the government closes off the Haifa Port to Palestinian goods.


The entire world, with our American friends at the forefront, insists that the beefing up of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem cannot be reconciled with the "two states for two peoples" solution. How can the Palestinian leadership be expected to stand by idly while 25,000 Palestinian workers put a stamp of approval on the occupation through their own labor and the sweat of their own brows? Just as the Paris Protocol - the economic agreement between Israel and the PA - does not obligate Israel to employ Palestinian workers in Kfar Sava, neither does it prohibit the Palestinians from imposing restrictions on Arabs working in Ariel.


The commotion over the PA's economic campaign against the settlements indicates, more than anything else, how the colonialist mindset has been branded into Israeli consciousness. The protests over the threatened loss of the hewers of wood and drawers of water shows how hard it is to shake off the master-servant attitudes that have taken root over the last 43 years. The gap between the economies of Israel and the occupied territories, the security restrictions on entering Israel and movement within the territories, and the discrimination in favor of Israeli goods, have all forced the West Bank's labor force into the settlements. The settlers have also become dependent upon this asymmetrical relationship between themselves and the natives: Why should they accommodate Chinese workers on their holy land if they can get cheap Palestinian laborers who go home at the end of the day.


If the government of Israel were genuinely interested in the partition of the land, it would follow in the PA's footsteps and cut itself off from the settlers. In addition to freezing construction in the settlements, it would cancel the special benefits enjoyed by the industrial zones in the territories, which attract greedy entrepreneurs. Instead of encouraging settlement beyond the Green Line, the Israeli government would promote legislation for compensating those settlers willing to come home. Instead of hiding behind the self-righteous claim that it is providing livelihoods for thousands of indigent laborers, let the government open the Israeli markets to more goods and workers from the territories.


Meanwhile, what will happen to the workers who the Palestinian Authority will compel to leave the building sites, fields and factories that the settlers have established on the Palestinians' land? Who is going to feed the tens of thousands of families whose breadwinners will lose their jobs? The Palestinian economics minister, Hassan Abu Libdeh, has promised that before the boycott regulations go into effect, the government of Salam Fayyad will help those who work in the settlements to find jobs within the PA. The boycott of settlement produce, he says, has already increased the consumption of goods manufactured by Palestinian plants as well as the demand for local labor.


The economic divorce of Palestinians from the Jewish settlements is an important step toward divorce from Israel's occupation policies. Buy Palestinian.








On January 13, 1898, French author Emile Zola published an open letter to the French president in which he attacked the conduct of the authorities in the Alfred Dreyfus affair. The letter, which was published on the front page of the French newspaper L'Aurore, accused those involved of conducting a tainted investigation, blamed the court of miscarriage of justice, and was a catalyst in the retrial and exoneration of Dreyfus.


The title of the letter, "J'accuse," has also become a symbol of protest against law enforcement in cases where no injustice was actually perpetrated against the defendant.


The film made about the case of Aryeh Deri, who was convicted of receiving bribes, in which the judiciary and the prosecution was accused of persecuting Deri because of racial and religious motives, carried the title "I Accuse."


This title is also fitting for the disparaging and unprecedented speech given by former prime minister Ehud Olmert last Thursday - even before the start of the hearing of witnesses in the Rishon Tours double-billing trial.


Olmert, an expert in the art of media manipulation, attacked not only the judges but also the investigators and the prosecution. All of them, he claimed, joined "in an organized, planned, brutal and merciless witch hunt of the sort that has never been seen in Israel before."


If this is something that has never happened before, then indeed there has never been a prime minister, in power or not, who faced such a bevy of grave accusations in various cases, including aggravated fraud, breach of trust (for receiving cash in envelopes ), tax evasion and much more.


All this, of course, with no connection to the Holyland affair.


The police, who released Shula Zaken to house arrest last week, told the court that there are suspicions that Olmert received, through her, more than a million shekels in bribes.


Olmert's argument that he has not yet been questioned on this case is acceptable only to those who are unaware of the fact that the most senior suspect in any case is usually questioned last, in order to challenge him with the entire accumulation of evidence.


It is also hard to assume that the police, whose work is overseen by two experienced prosecutors, would have made such claims in a public hearing on Zaken's arrest unless they had significant evidence on top of the word of a state witness. Olmert's experienced defense attorney, Eli Zohar, who is normally careful in his statements, did not hesitate to say on the radio that the police officer who made the claims against Olmert during the arrest hearings "will eat his words," and complained about the "witch hunt" against Olmert.


It is appropriate to wait for the completion of the complex investigation in the Holyland affair, where the unknowns exceed the knowns. This is not the case in the political appointments affair, for which the director of the economic department at the state prosecution, Avia Alef, with the support of the state prosecutor and his deputy, has decided that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute Olmert for criminal violations.


The decision, which is based on a police recommendation and requires a hearing, points to suspicions that during the period in which Olmert held a post of a senior minister and vice prime minister, he allegedly used his position "in an organized, systematic and extensive manner" in dozens of cases, to hand out political appointments that boosted his political standing.


The violations would be fraud, breach of trust, and attempt to influence voters in internal Likud elections by favor peddling.


The investigation into this case is the continuation of an August 2006 report by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, against whom Olmert also conducted a J'accuse-like campaign. Lindenstrauss concluded that the management of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry under Olmert sought to make appointments on the basis of "personal and political relations" without following a competitive and egalitarian process.


Olmert was quick to dismiss the decision of the prosecution and argued that he would have also been indicted for jaywalking. He ignores the fact that the suspicions against him suggest that he crossed red lines even if the fact that fraudulent, political or just "fixed" appointments are a well known phenomenon which criminal justice does not regard lightly.


By accusing the authorities and the media of a witch hunt, Olmert is apparently finding it difficult to recognize the fact that his trials will be decided on the strength of the evidence and that his J'accuse will not help him.








Something bad is happening in the relationship between Israel and important Jewish communities abroad, and it's not just a political issue. A new rift is beginning to develop between Israel and segments of Diaspora Jewry. It's not just anti-Zionists like the Neturei Karta sect and Noam Chomsky who have been criticizing Israel and its policies; lately, even those known as enthusiastic supporters of Israel have been publicly coming out against Israeli policies, an act that isn't easy for them to do.


I would like to note that I'm not comfortable with a situation in which people who don't live in Israel and won't be bearing the possible repercussions of the policies they advocate give themselves license to intervene in the political process here. This applies to figures on the right as well as on the left. For all of Diaspora Jewry's affinity to Israel, the tough political decisions must be ours - and ours alone - to make, and it isn't fitting for non-citizens to have any part or parcel in those decisions.


That's the difference between citizenship, which entails responsibility, and support or sympathy. That's why I opposed the stillborn idea of forming a worldwide Jewish parliament and other such proposals (like the notion that the fate of Jerusalem be decided in conjunction with Diaspora Jewry ).


But what is going on these days requires some thought. Why is it happening now? There is a difference between the American lobby group J Street and the group of European intellectuals who recently signed a petition criticizing some Israeli policies. The American group is a hodgepodge of anti-Zionists, Israel supporters who identify with leftist Meretz ideology, and decent but naive people who don't always know what's going on in Israel. The lobbying group's existence has given rise to power struggles within the American Jewish establishment.


The same cannot be said about the signatories to the European petition.


So what's going on? The answer is simple but painful. For the first time we have a government that's succeeding, in its statements more than its actions (since the government has not done all that much ), in causing the rest of the world to hate us. This cannot be blamed solely on U.S. President Barack Obama's personality or positions, since even friends of Israel like France's Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany's Angela Merkel have lately lost patience.


Israel has never had a foreign minister who was happy to fight with the rest of the world, or a government that has managed to get the world riled up about construction in East Jerusalem even as it has yet to actually build a single home there.


This isolation from other countries worries Israel's friends and is responsible for the rift with Diaspora Jews, hence Israel is losing its inimitable voice as the representative of the Jewish public. One of the most important achievements of Zionism is being taken away from us.


In light of the trend, outrage and condemnation are not enough. Another path is open: trying to talk to Israel's critics. Not by pulling rank or patronizing or accusing them of being self-hating Jews, and not by making do with self-righteousness and fiery speeches at an AIPAC conference - but by holding genuine dialogue.


Only one public figure can initiate a dialogue like this: President Shimon Peres. Precisely because Peres lacks formal political authority, both he and the presidency itself have the ethical authority to attempt to close the fissures and initiate an international Jewish conference on Israel-Diaspora relations.


I have not deluded myself into thinking that each side will convince the other, but they should be sitting around a table in Jerusalem to listen to each other instead of attacking each other, to the joy of Israel's enemies. Perhaps the government will recognize that it also has a role to play in the estrangement, and perhaps the critics will see that reality is slightly more complex than they realize.


It isn't simple, but a situation in which Jews for whom Israel is a significant part of their lives feel alienated from the state of the Jews is simply intolerable - from an Israeli perspective as well as a Jewish one.








Happy days are here again for secular politicians and journalists, with all the talk of a consensus against the ultra-Orthodox, who do not study a core curriculum and who go on to not join the workforce and not serve in the army.


But it is not that simple. There is no real link between core subjects and joining the labor force, and certainly not with military service. There are many jobs for which core subjects are not required. More to the point, as we see in the Arab community, for whose education the state spends even less, even a fine higher education is no guarantee of employment. Masses of Arab university graduates (and Ethiopian immigrants, too ) are jobless because no one will hire them, because of their ethnic origin.


Moreover, given the hatred of Haredim, there is a concern that were they to enter the labor market, particularly in management positions and the technology sector, they would draw resentment and anger for "taking" good jobs. Tzipi Livni, speaking on the subject, said that action must be taken "before the situation is translated into mutual hatred that will not lead to a solution." Regrettably, hatred, hostility, and total distrust of Haredim have been around for a long time.


Even if not everyone hates them personally - of course there are those who do not, because they know some particular Haredim - the tone and the language used by secular politicians and media outlets in connection with the ultra-Orthodox are those of hatred.


Even if some of their claims have merit, there is no mistaking the intensity of the holy, righteous rage with which they lash out against the Haredim.


Dudi Zilbershlag, an ultra-Orthodox journalist, advertising executive and public figure, wrote an opinion piece in which he compared the ways in which Haredim are negatively depicted in the media to the methods used by anti-Semites to depict Jews negatively. He quoted Max Nordau's dictum: "Hatred of the Jew is not the outcome of anti-Semitic lie and calumny. The contrary is true: the lie and calumny are the outcome of anti-Semitic sentiments."


The fact that it is considered completely legitimate to call the Haredim "extortionists" exemplifies the attitude toward them. The Haredi political parties conduct coalition negotiations like all parties, looking after their interests. In today's capitalistic climate, those who grab whatever they can for themselves at the expense of others are generally admired, not accused of extortion.


It is clear why secular politicians blame the Haredim for their own weakness and readiness to pay any price to promote their own interests, such as holding on to the territories or to their jobs. It is a little less clear why the secular public buys these accusations and allows itself to be incited and consumed by hatred.


Hatred of the Haredim is not new - and thanks to [the defunct political party] Shinui, which did some very nice work in that area. It is bigotry, pure and simple, and like all bigotry it takes a few unique characteristics and then attributes them to its target group.


Many things must be done to bring Haredim into Israeli life as productive members of society. But as long as the talk of what should and should not be done with Haredi society is accompanied by so much bigotry, no constructive progress is possible.




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




Health insurers in many states have been seeking double-digit premium increases from people who buy their own policies directly from the companies rather than obtaining group coverage at work. In states where regulators have the power to curb excessive rate hikes, the increases are often rejected or negotiated down. In those where the regulatory laws are weak not much can be done beyond jawboning.


This hodgepodge of controls over premiums needs to be backstopped by a national law that would allow the federal government to block unjustified rate increases where state officials lack the authority to do so. Attempts to include such powers in the newly enacted health care reform law failed. And while the reform law does have provisions that should help restrain premiums, they lack the necessary teeth.


The story of Anthem Blue Cross's effort to impose big premium hikes on people who buy their own policies in California, a state with weak regulations, shows why that is so necessary. It also shows how difficult it is to measure what's reasonable and how a confusing mélange of factors can affect the setting of premiums.


Anthem outraged its enrollees and much of the public in February with a plan to raise premiums for individuals by an average of 25 percent. The company argued that it lost money on the individual market in California last year, that medical costs were escalating far faster than inflation, and that the recession was causing relatively healthy individuals to drop coverage, driving up average costs for the remaining, less healthy enrollees.


Anthem could have spread its losses more broadly to protect its individual buyers. The only reason the company lost money on the individual market is that it lost heavily on policies issued to participants in two state programs that required Anthem to cover people with pre-existing conditions and capped the premiums it could charge. It chose to offset further losses by imposing big hikes on other individual purchasers. For competitive reasons, it is unwilling to pass the costs on to employer-based group plans.


Meanwhile, an actuarial review commissioned by the state's Department of Insurance found that Anthem also miscalculated the costs it would face in the individual market and the premiums it would need to offset them. Had the calculation been done correctly, Anthem would have needed an average increase in the individual market of only 15 percent, not the 25 percent it proposed.


There is no evidence that Anthem deliberately cooked the books. The errors were not detected by an internal company review or by an outside consultant hired by the company. They were found only when an independent firm hired by the state, Axene Health Partners, assigned four actuaries who spent 500 hours over 10 weeks analyzing calculations that it described as "extremely complex."


It is daunting how much effort was required to dig out these discrepancies, and it's revealing that it required a truly independent review to find them. Regulators everywhere are now on notice that they can't assume company calculations are accurate and that they may need to hire their own consultants to probe deeply.


Anthem and its parent company, WellPoint, are scurrying to make amends. WellPoint has announced additional layers of internal review and will commission outside reviews of all of its 2010 rate filings in 14 states. Anthem is revising its rate proposals. But regulators won't have a lot of power to force reductions beyond the rhetorical threat of further embarrassment.


Meanwhile, it is important to realize that the prime culprit in rising premiums is the escalating cost of medical care; the prices charged by health care providers and drug companies; and the ever-wider use of medical services, much of it unnecessary. Until those costs are contained, it will be hard to truly restrain premiums.






With all that Haiti lost on Jan. 12 — and all that it has to do to rebuild — it needs a strong and legitimate government. That means it needs national elections.


Haiti was supposed to elect a new Parliament in February and a new president this November. The earthquake made the February vote impossible and the November vote uncertain. The current Parliament's term ends today, meaning Haiti is entering a period of uncertainty, with enormous obstacles to overcome for a transparent, honest and peaceful vote this fall. Power is concentrated for now in just one person, President René Préval, whom Parliament granted emergency authority to govern without a legislature.


Given Haiti's long and destructive history of one-man rule, that emergency period should be as short as possible. Mr. Préval has insisted that he will leave when his term ends on Feb. 7, but he sent tremors last week by announcing he might stay on until May 14, the technical end date of his five-year term if the election is delayed and looming chaos demands that someone remain in charge.


It's up to everyone in Haiti now, Mr. Préval in particular, to make that unnecessary. The United Nations mission in Haiti (Minustah) and the Organization of American States have pledged security and technical support. The task will be extraordinarily difficult: 1.5 million people — more than 15 percent of Haiti's population — are homeless, living in shelters or with relatives. Their identity documents were destroyed along with the schools used as polling places. The electoral council is working in makeshift headquarters: a gym. Huge logistical obstacles must be overcome, and decisions made about registration, voting procedures and candidate qualifications.


The process must emphasize the greatest possible flexibility and participation by voters and candidates. Displaced people should be allowed to vote where they currently live, not their old destroyed neighborhoods. Opposition parties will need aid to organize and campaign. In a country where transportation and communication are difficult and expensive, Mr. Préval's Unity Party should not be given undue advantages.


If fair elections can be held in Iraq, amid war, terrorism and ethnic feuds, they can be held in Haiti. The last thing Haiti needs is to lay a political catastrophe atop the natural one. Haiti needs a legitimate government chosen in a legitimate election. Let the campaigning begin






Politicians who do not agree on much else, agree that the nation's broken criminal justice system needs to be fixed. A bipartisan group of House members introduced a bill recently that would establish a blue-ribbon commission to study the issues and propose solutions.


The United States has the highest reported incarceration rate in the world. Prisons and jails are filled to bursting with nonviolent offenders. There are a wide array of approaches, including drug treatment programs and prisoner re-entry projects, that could bring these numbers down, save taxpayers' dollars and give prisoners a real chance to get their lives back on track.


Some of the resources being wasted on incarcerating minor law-breakers should be redirected to more serious threats to public safety, including violent gangs. Some of the money should be put back into badly overburdened federal, state and local budgets.


A commission of respected criminal justice experts would examine these problems and come up with an action blueprint. That could overcome the inertia in Congress and state legislatures.


When Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, proposed creating such a commission, his idea quickly attracted wide support. It is a rare cause in Washington that has the backing of the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the A.C.L.U. and the Marijuana Policy Project.


Senator Webb's bill passed the Judiciary Committee in January, and he has been pushing for a vote from the full Senate. The House bill closely tracks his.


Given the current fiscal pressures and rare bipartisan agreement, there is a real chance to address the criminal justice system's very serious problems. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should seize the moment and move these bills quickly.







Supporters of abortion rights held a lunch recently in honor of a momentous victory for their cause: 40 years ago, New York became the first state to fully legalize abortion.


That 1970 law began to reduce the death and injury toll from back-alley abortions and set the stage for the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, which made abortion legal nationwide and recognized a constitutional right to privacy.


But abortion-rights groups are newly anxious about new assaults on women's reproductive rights, including a fight over abortion that snarled the last days of the health care reform debate. Anti-abortion groups are newly emboldened.


The health care reform law contains advances for women's reproductive health care, including enlarged access to insurance coverage for maternity care, contraception and other services. But President Obama and pro-choice Congressional lawmakers made abortion coverage vulnerable as part of the effort to secure the measure's passage.


Kelli Conlin, head of Naral Pro-Choice New York, told guests at the lunch that "anti-choice forces are mobilizing in every single state to limit a woman's access to abortion in more insidious ways than we can imagine."


As Ms. Conlin was speaking, members of the Oklahoma House were getting ready to override vetoes of two punishing abortion measures. The state's Democratic governor, Brad Henry, rightly viewed these intrusions into women's lives and decision-making as unconstitutional.


One of the measures, which seems destined to spawn copycat bills in other states, requires women to undergo an ultrasound before getting an abortion and further mandates that a doctor or technician set up the monitor so the woman can see it and hear a detailed description of the fetus.


The other law grants protection from lawsuits to doctors who deliberately withhold fetal testing results that might affect a woman's decision about whether to carry her pregnancy to term.


Several states have either passed or are considering bills that would ban abortion coverage in insurance plans sold through the state exchanges established by the federal health care law.


A new Utah law criminalizes certain behavior by women that results in miscarriage. Embarking on a road that could lead to the Supreme Court, Nebraska last month banned most abortions at the 20th week of pregnancy based on a questionable theory of fetal pain.


About two dozen states are looking at bills to increase counseling requirements or waiting periods prior to abortions. About 20 states are considering new ultrasound requirements. This is on top of an already onerous regimen of state restrictions that has drastically cut down on abortion providers and curtailed a woman's ability to exercise a constitutionally protected right.


"One in three women in this country will have an abortion in her lifetime, and yet we're having exactly the same discussions and debates we were having forty years ago," Ms. Conlin said.


Anti-abortion forces aim ultimately to make abortion illegal. So far, by reducing the number of abortion providers, making insurance coverage more expensive and harder to get, and throwing up other obstacles, they have primarily succeeded in making it harder for women of modest and meager means to obtain a safe and legal medical procedure.


The painful decision to end a pregnancy should be made in private between a woman and her doctor — not in politically driven debate among members of Congress and state legislatures.










IN the 1950s, onion growers were often shocked at the low prices they were getting. Casting around for a villain to blame, they alighted on derivatives traders, and they persuaded Congress to ban any futures trading in onions.


Today onions are the only commodity for which futures trading is banned. Not coincidentally, onion prices remain extremely volatile: they doubled in 2008, and then fell by 25 percent in 2009.


Today, no one is silly enough to ask a member of Congress to simply outlaw futures trading in a certain type of contract — no one, that is, except Hollywood film producers. Under the proposed financial-reform legislation making its way through the Senate, the bit of the 1958 bill saying "except onions" would be amended to read "except onions and motion picture box office receipts."


Hollywood was scared into pushing for the new language after the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates futures trading, recently approved two applications for markets in contracts based on movie grosses. But if the new provision makes its way into law, the biggest losers will be the very film producers who lobbied for it.


The proposed contracts are simple: they would allow traders to bet on the total box-office receipts of movies in their first four weeks of release. A contract on "Iron Man 2," for instance, might be trading at $390, meaning that the market is expecting the film to gross $390 million in its first four weeks. If you think it's going to make more than that, you would go long, or buy the contract; if you think it's going to make less, you would go short, or sell it. At the end of the four weeks, the contract would expire at whatever the four-week gross is. If you went long at $390 and the film ended up earning $450 million in its first four weeks, then you'd make $60 for every contract you bought.


Hollywood's mouthpiece, the Motion Picture Association of America, has argued that the new market could tarnish "the reputation and integrity of our industry" and would constitute "unbridled gambling" — though there's nothing "unbridled" about the regulatory strictures involved in being listed on a Chicago commodity exchange.


The real reason most of Hollywood is opposed to this development is unclear, but it is probably simply the age-old story of large, conservative institutions being averse to change. Top executives at the biggest studios may suspect that smaller and nimbler competitors would get more benefit out of such a market: it's easier to hedge a $10 million project than a $200 million one.


Yet as Lionsgate Films, one of the few studios supporting the market, has recognized, a futures contract on box office receipts would be great news for the industry. For one thing, if the market got big enough, it would allow studios to easily hedge their investments in movies just by entering into a simple derivatives transaction. Studios could essentially sell contracts on their movies' grosses into the open market, and pocket the proceeds. They would lose money on the contract if the movie does well, but in that case they'd make enough money on the movie itself to cover their derivatives losses.


That kind of thing would be a lot easier, and a lot cheaper, than the studios' current methods of trying to hedge exposure and sell risk: the financing arrangements behind a typical Hollywood movie, with countless co-producers and incomprehensible accounting, make the average collateralized debt obligation look simple and transparent.


And even if the studios didn't participate in the market, they would still benefit. People care much more about things they bet on, and the fake-money version of these contracts — the online Hollywood Stock Exchange, in operation since 1996 — has done wonders for increasing awareness of coming films among its users, without a single dollar of publicity and marketing money being spent.


What's more, the contracts for the proposed market would be based on the first four weeks of box-office results, not just the opening weekend. A lot of people, of course, would be betting on that opening-weekend number, which is more a function of hype than a movie's long-term chances of success. Just as many, however, would wait until the movie comes out, watch it on its opening weekend, make their own qualitative determination of how well it will continue to perform over the rest of the month and then place their bets accordingly.


Hollywood has an entirely predictable predilection for shooting itself in the fiscal foot, so none of this should come as a surprise. But it is sad that the most intriguing derivatives product to be approved in years will probably be banned by Congress — thanks to the very people who stand to benefit the most from it.


Felix Salmon is the finance blogger at Reuters.








Fifty years ago, American family structures were remarkably uniform. The rich married at roughly the same rate as the poor and middle class. Divorce rates were low for the college educated and high school graduates alike. Out-of-wedlock births, while more common among African-Americans, were rare in almost every region and community.


That was a long time ago. The intact two-parent family has been in eclipse for decades now: last week, the Pew Research Center reported that in 2008, 41 percent of American births occurred outside of marriage, the highest figure yet recorded. And from divorce rates to teen births, nearly every indicator of family life now varies dramatically by education, race, geography and income.


In a rare convergence, conservatives and liberals basically agree on how this happened. First, the sexual revolution overturned the old order of single-earner households, early marriages, and strong stigmas against divorce and unwed motherhood. In its aftermath, the professional classes found a new equilibrium. Today, couples with college and (especially) graduate degrees tend to cohabit early and marry late, delaying childbirth and raising smaller families than their parents, while enjoying low divorce rates and bearing relatively few children out of wedlock.


For the rest of the country, this comfortable equilibrium remains out of reach. In the underclass (black, white and Hispanic alike), intact families are now an endangered species. For middle America, the ideal of the two-parent family endures, but the reality is much more chaotic: early marriages coexist with frequent divorces, and the out-of-wedlock birth rate keeps inching upward.


When it comes to drawing lessons from this story, though, the agreement between liberals and conservatives ends. The right tends to emphasize what's been lost, arguing that most Americans — especially the poor and working-class — would benefit from a stronger link between sex, marriage and procreation. The left argues that the revolution just hasn't been completed yet: it's the right-wing backlash against abortion, contraception and sex education that's preventing downscale Americans from attaining the new upper-middle-class stability, and reaping its social and economic benefits.


This is one of the themes of "Red Families v. Blue Families," a provocative new book by two law professors, Naomi Cahn and June Carbone. The authors depict a culturally conservative "red America" that's stuck trying to sustain an outdated social model. By insisting (unrealistically) on chastity before marriage, Cahn and Carbone argue, social conservatives guarantee that their children will get pregnant early and often (see Palin, Bristol), leading to teen childbirth, shotgun marriages and high divorce rates.


This self-defeating cycle could explain why socially conservative states have more family instability than, say, the culturally liberal Northeast. If you're looking for solid marriages, head to Massachusetts, not Alabama.


To Cahn and Carbone's credit, their book is nuanced enough to complicate this liberal-friendly thesis. They acknowledge, for instance, that there are actually multiple "red family" models, from the Mormon West to the Sunbelt suburbs to the rural South.


More important, Cahn and Carbone also acknowledge one of the more polarizing aspects of the "blue family" model. Conservative states may have more teen births and more divorces, but liberal states have many more abortions.


Liberals sometimes argue that their preferred approach to family life reduces the need for abortion. In reality, it may depend on abortion to succeed. The teen pregnancy rate in blue Connecticut, for instance, is roughly identical to the teen pregnancy rate in red Montana. But in Connecticut, those pregnancies are half as likely to be carried to term. Over all, the abortion rate is twice as high in New York as in Texas and three times as high in Massachusetts as in Utah.


So it isn't just contraception that delays childbearing in liberal states, and it isn't just a foolish devotion to abstinence education that leads to teen births and hasty marriages in conservative America. It's also a matter of how plausible an option abortion seems, both morally and practically, depending on who and where you are.


Whether it's attainable for most Americans or not, the "blue family" model clearly works: it leads to marital success and material prosperity, and it's well suited to our mobile, globalized society.


By comparison, the "red family" model can look dysfunctional — an uneasy mix of rigor and permissiveness, whose ideals don't always match up with the facts of contemporary life.


But it reflects something else as well: an attempt, however compromised, to navigate post-sexual revolution America without relying on abortion.







"Obama's Katrina": that was the line from some pundits and news sources, as they tried to blame the current administration for the gulf oil spill. It was nonsense, of course. An Associated Press review of the Obama administration's actions and statements as the disaster unfolded found "little resemblance" to the shambolic response to Katrina — and there has been nothing like those awful days when everyone in the world except the Bush inner circle seemed aware of the human catastrophe in New Orleans.


Yet there is a common thread running through Katrina and the gulf spill — namely, the collapse in government competence and effectiveness that took place during the Bush years.


The full story of the Deepwater Horizon blowout is still emerging. But it's already obvious both that BP failed to take adequate precautions, and that federal regulators made no effort to ensure that such precautions were taken.


For years, the Minerals Management Service, the arm of the Interior Department that oversees drilling in the gulf, minimized the environmental risks of drilling. It failed to require a backup shutdown system that is standard in much of the rest of the world, even though its own staff declared such a system necessary. It exempted many offshore drillers from the requirement that they file plans to deal with major oil spills. And it specifically allowed BP to drill Deepwater Horizon without a detailed environmental analysis.


Surely, however, none of this — except, possibly, that last exemption, granted early in the Obama administration — surprises anyone who followed the history of the Interior Department during the Bush years.


For the Bush administration was, to a large degree, run by and for the extractive industries — and I'm not just talking about Dick Cheney's energy task force. Crucially, management of Interior was turned over to lobbyists, most notably J. Steven Griles, a coal-industry lobbyist who became deputy secretary and effectively ran the department. (In 2007 Mr. Griles pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his ties to Jack Abramoff.)


Given this history, it's not surprising that the Minerals Management Service became subservient to the oil industry — although what actually happened is almost too lurid to believe. According to reports by Interior's inspector general, abuses at the agency went beyond undue influence: there was "a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity" — cocaine, sexual relationships with industry representatives, and more. Protecting the environment was presumably the last thing on these government employees' minds.


Now, President Obama isn't completely innocent of blame in the current spill. As I said, BP received an environmental waiver for Deepwater Horizon after Mr. Obama took office. It's true that he'd only been in the White House for two and half months, and the Senate wouldn't confirm the new head of the Minerals Management Service until four months later. But the fact that the administration hadn't yet had time to put its stamp on the agency should have led to extra caution about giving the go-ahead to projects with possible environmental risks.


And it's worth noting that environmentalists were bitterly disappointed when Mr. Obama chose Ken Salazar as secretary of the interior. They feared that he would be too friendly to mineral and agricultural interests, that his appointment meant that there wouldn't be a sharp break with Bush-era policies — and in this one instance at least, they seem to have been right.


In any case, now is the time to make that break — and I don't just mean by cleaning house at the Minerals Management Service. What really needs to change is our whole attitude toward government. For the troubles at Interior weren't unique: they were part of a broader pattern that includes the failure of banking regulation and the transformation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a much-admired organization during the Clinton years, into a cruel joke. And the common theme in all these stories is the degradation of effective government by antigovernment ideology.


Mr. Obama understands this: he gave an especially eloquent defense of government at the University of Michigan's commencement, declaring among other things that "government is what ensures that mines adhere to safety standards and that oil spills are cleaned up by the companies that caused them."


Yet antigovernment ideology remains all too prevalent, despite the havoc it has wrought. In fact, it has been making a comeback with the rise of the Tea Party movement. If there's any silver lining to the disaster in the gulf, it is that it may serve as a wake-up call, a reminder that we need politicians who believe in good government, because there are some jobs only the government can do.









The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil liberties group, claimed victory a few weeks back for successfully advocating that the Pentagon remove the Rev. Franklin Graham from its National Day of Prayer event, which took place this past Thursday. What it really succeeded in doing, though, was giving Graham a loudspeaker.


Graham first thrust himself into the spotlight immediately after 9/11 when he called Islam "a very evil and wicked religion." More than eight years later, he hasn't moved an inch. In March, he told The Washington Post's Sally Quinn, "True Islam cannot be practiced in this country." Speaking about Muslim teaching concerning women, he said, "It is shameful. It is wicked. It is evil."


The most obvious result of all this is a higher profile for Graham and further warts on the public image of Islam and Muslims. A more subtle but no less real impact is a weakening of America. Graham's comments violate the core American principle of pluralism, cited by Army spokesman Col. Tom Collins in his comments justifying the Pentagon's decision: "This Army honors all faiths and tries to inculcate our soldiers and work force with an appreciation of all faiths, and his past comments just were not appropriate for this venue."


America's example


Indeed, in a world torn by religious and ethnic violence, America remains a powerful example of a nation where people's identities are respected, where there are generally positive relations between different communities, and where there is a genuine commitment to the common good. Grossly inaccurate statements about the religion of several million fellow citizens and more than a billion Muslims worldwide lays the groundwork for conflict. We are the world's most religiously diverse nation and the West's most religiously devout nation at a time of global religious conflict. Making sure that the religious and ethnic tensions in Baghdad, Belfast and Bombay do not find traction in Boston must be a top priority.


Defending others


The Muslim groups that sought Graham's removal were trying to make this very point. In its public statement, CAIR emphasized the American value of "differing faiths united in shared support of our nation's founding principles" instead of the "message of religious intolerance" that Graham advocates.


In fact, some of the most inspiring moments in U.S. history are those where one community stands up for another — from George Washington's assurance to a Jewish community in 1790 that America is "a government which to bigotry gives no sanction," to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel saying in the 1960s that "the soul of Judaism" was at stake in the movement for black civil rights. This quality is a core part of Islam as well. The Quran says prophet Mohammed was sent "to be nothing but a special mercy upon all the worlds."


All of us have a stake in strengthening an America that promotes interfaith cooperation rather than religious conflict. That is best achieved when we challenge our own community to uphold its own highest standards by advocating to protect others.


What if, instead of Muslim groups lobbying for Graham's removal, evangelical groups had? What if Muslim groups got as worked up over anti-Semitic speakers as Islamophobic ones?


In America, when we advocate for others, we advance ourselves. In America, we arrive together — or not at all.


Eboo Patel is founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, an organization that works with college campuses on religious diversity issues.







Since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, opponents have steadily succeeded in making abortions harder to get. Sometimes, as in the case of parental consent laws, they've been right. Other tactics, particularly harassment of providers and women seeking abortion, are appalling. In between are intrusions, some of great importance, into grayer areas of law, often infringing on a woman's right to choose under the guise of other objectives.


The latest is an attempt in Oklahoma to push government control deep into choices that should be made by women and their doctors based on medical need. A new law there prescribes an ultrasound for every woman who seeks an abortion whether or not the procedure is medically indicated. The law mandates that the screen be turned so the patient can see the ultrasound and orders doctors to describe the size of the fetus and any viewable organs and limbs. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. It also limits who can do the ultrasound and which technology can be used — issues lawmakers are ill-equipped to decide. If doctors veer from these mandates, they can be stopped from performing abortions and sued.


The law intrudes far deeper into people's medical decisions than anything in the controversial new federal health care law.


Supporters of the law say they simply want to give women a choice, hoping that seeing an ultrasound will make women decide against abortion. No doubt they're sincere. They want to protect the fetus. But using government power to require unwanted, unnecessary medical procedures goes way beyond acceptable limits in any context.


Oklahoma law already requires that women considering abortion be told about ultrasounds (a sensible requirement), and no one has explained why more is needed. States don't prescribe the tests cancer patients must have, or what doctors must say to them. The government leaves that to the medical profession, where it belongs.


Laws to restrict abortions come in waves, and this year's wave is huge. Last week, Florida passed a measure similar to Oklahoma's. Ten more states are considering ultrasound mandates. And a new Nebraska law bans almost all abortions at or after 20 weeks — setting up a likely challenge to Roe v. Wade. Such abortions are already extremely rare.


Meanwhile, the existing welter of restrictions — on top of harassment — has made abortions almost unattainable in some states. South Dakota and Mississippi have just one provider each. Some women must travel hundreds of miles and stay overnight because of waiting periods. Oklahoma is simply adding to the burden in a new, dubious, expensive way.


If the motive is to encourage women to have their babies, Oklahoma could find better ways than ordering unneeded medical tests. It could, for instance, help teens who make that choice. But last year, state lawmakers killed programs that provided prenatal care to teens and health care to their babies at public schools. All to save $140,000. This year, a bill to mandate sex education in schools couldn't even get a hearing.


No one expects abortion foes to abandon their beliefs, but forcing those beliefs on women who have decided on abortion goes way beyond fair compromise on a procedure that is a legal right.







First things first: Yes, I am unashamedly pro-life. And I am a mother and a proud Chickasaw and Choctaw Native American. I know the real-world problems that too often confront women, especially poor minorities, in our society.


For women facing an unplanned pregnancy, there is often a sense of panic, distress and fear that can lead to hasty decisions.


That is why I authored House Bill 2780, which requires that women be given information obtained from an ultrasound before an abortion is performed.


Many clinics already perform ultrasounds before abortions — something they have acknowledged in legal filings — but women have told me over the past 20 years that they have not had access to that information.


Women should have the choice to see that image. I have personally visited with women who obtained an abortion in a panic and were devastated years later to see a friend's ultrasound and realize: That child is the same age as my baby when ... It is a devastating moment of intense sorrow and regret.


I filed this bill to empower women, no matter what their circumstance, to have as much information as possible before making a life-altering decision.


The new law requires that all women have an ultrasound, be shown the screen, though they can avert their eyes, and that the doctor describe to them what organs and heart activity the screen shows.


Individuals who argue women are too fragile to face the reality of abortion and make an informed decision do not respect women. The image of a baby on an ultrasound provides amazing clarity of thought. What was seen as a closed door suddenly becomes a world of endless possibilities.


Critics say the state should stay out of this issue, but I believe turning a blind eye to women in need is inexcusable, and preventing them from receiving accurate medical information is true cruelty.


It appears the pro-choice movement believes it is a tragedy only if a woman exercises her informed right to not have an abortion, but they have no problem maintaining barriers to informed consent that will leave women emotionally shattered for the rest of their lives once they learn the truth.


Pro-lifers do not fear modern technology. Why is it that pro-choicers can't say the same thing?


Lisa J. Billy, a Republican, is a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.








The Catholic Church's most famous (and infamous) holy relic is being exposed to the faithful for the first time since the year 2000. The Shroud of Turin, on display until May 23 in the handsome northwestern Italian town, can be shown by permission only from the pope.


With the unveiling of the shroud, which some believe was the cloth draped over Christ at his burial, comes a revival of controversies: the last test to date the fabric, in 1988, concluded that the shroud was a medieval fake. Then those results were thrown into doubt when it was shown the patch of fabric scientists had tested might have been contaminated. The shroud has also garnered criticism, or rather, snickers and ridicule, because it is an anomaly, a relic not just of a mysterious and revered human being, but also one that has survived the meteoric blast of the scientific revolution, which caused a paradigm shift in human thinking toward skepticism.


The cult of relics is often dismissed by 21st century non-Catholics, but one thing that's rarely taken into consideration is that scientific tests don't matter. Lambast the faithful for this antiquated form of worship. Snicker at the sight of someone praying in front of a golden reliquary that houses a shard of bone or a skin fragment from a medieval saint or a pope. It's an exercise in futility. Case in point: Last autumn, when the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux went on a 28-stop tour of Britain, each stop was overwhelmed with the masses hoping to get a glimpse of the bones of the beloved 19th century nun. More than a million and a half people have already reserved a spot to see the Shroud of Turin for its six-week showing.


Away from relics


The church though, has distanced itself from relic veneration. Relics became ingrained in Catholic Church orthodoxy at the Second Council of Nicaea in 787, when a law was passed stating that every church should have a relic at its altar. That law lasted until 1969 when, in an addendum to the Vatican II reforms earlier that decade, the church officially put the law on altar relics to rest. A few years ago, I called the Catholic church where I attended Mass as a youth, and officials there had no idea what relic (if any) was housed in the church.


I'm not Catholic anymore, but I believe the distancing from relic veneration is unfortunate. For centuries, the Christian faithful have relied on relics to do things that medicine, the government, the lottery and recreational drugs do for us today. And in the 21st century, relics have another power: they are believers' closest physical connection to the divine. Humans have a need to see the physical possessions of reverence (just look at our celebrity culture today and all the relics associated with it. Graceland, anyone?).


I learned this firsthand when I was doing research on another Christ relic: the circumcised prepuce of the baby Jesus, which had been preserved in a church in the Italian village of Calcata for centuries, until it mysteriously disappeared in the 1980s. People would laugh when I'd tell them what I was researching in the Vatican Library, where I had unearth centuries-old documents detailing the fascinating history of this seemingly unlikely object of veneration. The "holy foreskin" loomed about on the periphery of many historical periods — from the Carolingian dynasty in the early Middle Ages to the Reformation in the 16th century to 19th century romanticism. But as the general public became increasingly skeptical of such "medieval fantasies," as a priest I interviewed once referred to it, the church itself lost faith in the relic: Pope Leo XIII actually banned the speaking of or writing about this curio in the year 1900 under the threat of excommunication. But people would stop laughing when I'd mention why this relic was so important to believers: It was the only piece of flesh Christ could have conceivably left on earth before he ascended into heaven.


Real in their minds


In a sense, whether or not it was the real flesh of Christ didn't matter. (Spoiler: It probably wasn't.) People believed it was authentic (including several popes who granted indulgences to those who came to venerate it). Which is why the hordes of pilgrims who will flock to Turin to pay heed to the shroud will be oblivious to the non-believers' cackles. If they accept the shroud as the real deal, then, in their minds, in their hearts, in their conceptions of heaven and the afterlife, it is the real thing. They will pray in front of it and it will give them happiness and relief.


And isn't that what we all want, for ourselves and for each other? Which is exactly why holy relics and the Shroud of Turin still matter in this world.


David Farley is author of An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church's Strangest Relic in Italy's Oddest Town.







Hamilton County's magnet schools are quickly winning a well-deserved national reputation for excellence. Last week, the Chattanooga School for the Liberal arts, a K-8 school located on East Brainerd Road, was named the top elementary magnet school in the United States. It was the second time a district school has earned the honor. Normal Park Museum Magnet School won the award in 2005.


The award is not bestowed lightly. Vetting is rigorous. It includes carefully study of school policies, activities and accomplishments, as well as an on-site visit from officials of the Magnet Schools of America, the association which presents the award. This year, according to Krystal Scarbrough, principal of CSLA, the competition to be the nation's top magnet school was especially demanding.


Initially, she says, 240 magnet schools of the many across the nation considered for awards made the first cut. Of those, 52 schools were named as a national Magnet School of Excellence. CSLA, it should be noted, was the only Tennessee school included on that prestigious list.


From those 52, the association names four top schools -- one in the new or emerging school category and one each in elementary, middle and high school classifications -- as the best of the best. The award, which includes a $2,500 stipend, was presented to school officials at the Magnet Schools of America national conference last week.


The award validates CSLA's mission and the progress it makes in reaching useful educational goals. The school employs an innovative curriculum to promote academic achievement in a healthful learning environment. Emphasis on self-discipline and character education enhance the well-rounded curriculum. The program has a proven record of excellence.


As a magnet school, CSLA attracts a diverse student body from the entire school district. Indeed, CSLA's academic and other successes have generated a strong interest in the school. Parents of prospective students -- who must pledge to undertake 18 hours of volunteer work each year if their child attends CSLA -- often camp out in hope of enrolling their child in the first-come, first-served process. Not many schools, unfortunately, can generate that kind of parental interest and participation.


The award is, of course, a splendid tribute to CSLA, to its faculty and staff and to its students. It is more than that, though. Designation as the nation's top elementary magnet school also honors the school district that willingly supports the magnet school concept as well as the parents and patrons who work diligently to create programs and experiences that make CSLA the nation's best in its class.







One sure indication that an election campaign is under way is the appearance of flocks of political signs in yards, in front of businesses and, especially, at heavily-traveled intersections across the local landscape. The signage is a part of every election -- even those like the just concluded county primaries in which there were relatively few contested races and low voter interest. Putting up the signs is easy for candidates and their supporters. Removing them after voting is concluded, though, is sometimes a bit harder. There's a reason for that.


Winners generally are eager to collect their signs, or make sure that supporters do so. They are eager to move forward and don't want the public to connect their name to post-election clutter. The losers, on the other hand, don't have the same incentive to tacle the clean-up task. Consequently, their signs sometimes remain on view until they become faded reminders of shattered political hopes.


Local and state laws regarding removal of election signs vary, but generally require that they be removed from public property or rights of way within two or three weeks. Those laws are rarely enforced, and if they are, the penalties for violation are minimal. Even so, the sign clean-up following last Tuesday's primaries has been extraordinarily fast.


Though less than a week has passed since balloting ended, most of the campaign signs have been removed. The prompt work by both winning and losing candidates is welcome and appreciated.


The removal of campaign signs is a service to all residents in the area. It improves the look of the community. It also is fiscally prudent. One candidate who quickly picked up his signs after Tuesday's voting said he did so because it was the right thing to do and that because they were expensive he wanted to save them in case he sought office again. That's the sort of thinking that should endear an office-seeker


to voters who want candidates and elected officials to demonstrate civic and fiscal responsibility.


Not all the signs have been removed. A few still tout candidacies ended in the primaries. Hopefully, they'll be picked up within the time frame established by law.


Others will stay for a while. They tout the candidacies of primary winners who face opponents in the August election or promote individuals whose names were not on the ballot this month but will be on the August ballot. Indeed, as the next election nears, it is reasonable to expect that the number of signs extolling this or that candidate will multiply rapidly.


That's in the future, though. At present, it seems that most of those who seek public office know that it is a privilege to seek office and to be allowed to display their signs publicly in the run-up to an election. They understand, as well, that the privilege of doing so carries with it a responsibility to remove them when the election is over. Accepting that responsibility and acting on it is a community service and a mark of god citizenship.

Profile: Ruthie Thompson, Outdoor Chattanooga






Tennessee -- like the federal government -- is having some money and job problems. Unlike the federal government, Tennessee can't just run up more debt. So the organization called Tennesseans for Fair Taxation has offered some extensive proposals that it claims would cut some taxes and create more jobs, which it suggests would create more tax collections.


Here are some of the organization's suggestions:


* Eliminate the state part of the sales tax on food -- but leave the local option sales tax on food unaffected.


* Cut the state sales tax on non-food items from 7 percent to 5 percent.


* Eliminate the Tennessee "Hall Income Tax," with "unearned" income that currently is subject to the Hall tax becoming subject to a new broad-based state income tax with generous exemptions, with a 3 percent rate on the first $30,000 over the exemptions, and a 6 percent tax on amounts over that.


* Reduce state and local taxes for those in the lowest 20 percent of the population by income from 11.7 percent to 9.7 percent, for the middle 20 percent reduce the rate from 9.3 percent to 8 percent, and for the top 20 percent raise the tax from 4.5 percent to 7 percent.


The increase on higher-income taxpayers would affect savings but would have little effect on spending, the organization claims.


* Benefit businesses by removing the real estate-base from the franchise tax and cutting the rate in half.


* Close some loopholes used by large multistate companies to minimize their Tennessee tax liabilities.


The Tennesseans for Fair Taxation group says the proposed additional revenue would avoid state employee layoffs, avoid cuts in critical state functions, ease the recession and assist recovery.


It claims, "Applying the revenue estimates done in other states that have considered a switch to 'combined reporting' to Tennessee suggests that Tennessee could collect $100-$200 million additional revenue."


These proposals -- if enacted by the Tennessee General Assembly -- would affect a great many individual Tennessee taxpayers and a great many businesses "for better or worse." They should be considered very cautiously. They are not simple. So we thought you ought to know about them.


Tennessee needs sufficient pay-as-we-go state taxing -- at levels that will encourage full employment of our people and generate greater prosperity for all Tennesseans. Achieving such a balance is not easy.

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Profile: Ruthie Thompson, Outdoor Chattanooga






Back in 2008, federal farm policies were "reformed" with a promise that wealthy, corporate farmers would get reduced government payments. After all, farm subsidies have long been promoted as a way to help "small family farmers" stay in business.


But the reforms never really materialized. Technically, caps were placed on payments to wealthy farmers. But there were so many loopholes that a little "creative accounting" let rich farms keep raking in the lion's share of the taxpayer-supplied subsidies.


For example, some farmers who were facing sharply reduced payments were able to keep their federal "income" high by adding family members to their farm corporations.


The result, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is that 10 percent of farmers got more than 62 percent of federal subsidies in 2009. That's about the same percentage that they got in previous years.


So much for "reform."


For the record, farm subsidies are unconstitutional, and would be unconstitutional even if they went only to small family farms. But they are especially insulting to the taxpayers who must pay for them when the money flows to wealthy farmers







Just as critics of Arizona's tough new anti-illegal-immigration law were gearing up for angry and even violent protests against the measure, something happened that showed why the law is needed: A deputy sheriff in Arizona was wounded in a gunfight with drug smugglers who had come up from Mexico.


Three people believed to be in this country illegally have been arrested in connection with the incident, in which the officer was shot in the back.


Sadly, it is not the first time law enforcement officers or other U.S. citizens have paid a high price for our nation's failure to enforce its immigration laws. Back in 2007, two police officers in Phoenix were killed by illegal aliens. And recently, an Arizona cattle rancher whose land is near the Mexican border was killed by a drug smuggler.


As a matter of fact, while illegal aliens make up about 10 percent of the population in the area around Phoenix, they account for 20 percent of the inmates in the local jail.


Mark Spencer, a spokesman for the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, said illegal aliens are selling hand grenades on the black market. "It may be safer in Beirut than Phoenix," he told the Los Angeles Times.


President Barack Obama has criticized the Arizona law as "irresponsible." But the federal government has not fulfilled its constitutional duty to protect our borders and to fight illegal immigration. Even when Washington does propose overhauling immigration law, the "reforms" usually include an unjust path to citizenship for those who broke the law to come here in the first place.


Arizona is literally being overrun by illegal aliens -- many of whom are merely seeking a better life, but a significant number of whom are bringing drugs and violence to our nation. Arizona need not apologize for defending itself in the face of a federal government that will not do so.


knock-out roses






We can understand why some Massachusetts residents do not like the idea of a company building 130 giant windmills out in the waters of Nantucket Sound. Even if the windmills would appear quite small from the shore, they would detract from the natural beauty and tranquility of the sound for the many boaters who venture into it.


But what is troubling about the opposition to the project is that many of the critics have been politicians and media figures who are all too eager to impose windmills on "the rest of us." Only when a wind project threatened to mar the views from their Massachusetts coastal property did they object. And for nine long years, they succeeded in blocking the project, saying that particular area deserved protection that other areas did not necessarily deserve.


But recently, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar finally gave federal approval to the project. That means the 400-foot-tall windmills will be built, assuming lawsuits do not block the project further, and that it can get financing.


The question now is whether the $2 billion windmills will be funded privately, as they should be if they are to be funded at all, or partly by taxpayers through unconstitutional subsidies.


Wind power is not very economical, nor especially reliable on calm days. But that has not stopped our federal government from showering wind power projects with massive subsidies to fight the "global warming" that environmental activists blame on the use of fossil fuels.


That is unfortunate, because government should not be picking winners and losers in the energy market or any other industry.









U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, allied in war but lacking in personal chemistry, face a critical test of whether they can just get along.


From Washington to Kabul, the consensus is clear -- the two leaders have no choice but to use their White House meeting to move beyond a recent war of words between their governments and try to restore trust and mend frayed relations.

How well they do could have implications for the success or failure of Obama's military buildup in Afghanistan and fulfilling his pledge to start bringing U.S. troops home in mid-2011. "We don't have the luxury of having a dysfunctional relationship in such an important war," said Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution in Washington. "It's time for cooler heads to prevail." Still, it could be an awkward encounter on Wednesday, just weeks after Obama flew across the world to Afghanistan to lecture Karzai about corruption.

After that visit, Karzai and Obama's aides traded public rebukes before Washington finally backed off.

The flare-up marked a new low in U.S.-Afghan ties under Obama and was widely seen as a sign the White House was struggling to craft a coherent strategy for dealing with the Afghan president.

Obama has broken with predecessor George W. Bush's chummier approach to Karzai but now must find the right balance. Karzai, as a Washington Post foreign affairs columnist wrote, poses a classic dilemma for the United States of "you can't win with him, you can't win without him." U.S. officials have little faith in Karzai, but alienating the prickly Afghan leader would risk the support they need from Afghans to make Obama's war strategy work.

There is no viable replacement for Karzai at this point, and though Washington is increasingly reaching out to other Afghan officials there is little support within the administration for trying to marginalize him.

Karzai is just as mindful of how much he depends on Washington for support, aid and even his own survival in the face of a resurgent Taleban.

Against this backdrop, every utterance and bit of body language will be scrutinized for signs of tension when the two men meet. Expect smiles, a handshake and the usual diplomatic niceties in front of the cameras. In private, Obama is likely to stick to his arms-length approach of pressing Karzai to do more to crack down on rampant corruption and show Americans he is a reliable partner.

Would anyone blame Karzai if he felt a little nostalgic for the Bush era? His close bond with the back-slapping Republican included regular video conferences, praise and U.S. visits.

By contrast, the current U.S. leader, who cultivates a "no-drama Obama" image and relies less on personal diplomacy with foreign leaders, has opted not to become Karzai's pal. Obama advisers believe Bush's embrace gave the Afghan leader too much cover for his failings. While some experts agree, they say it could pay dividends for Obama to develop better rapport with Karzai.

Many analysts believe U.S. public pressure tactics became counterproductive after Karzai was declared the winner of Afghanistan's fraud-marred election last year. Incensed at his treatment, Karzai even hosted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Kabul and stood by as the Iranian president railed against the United States.

After Obama's visit, Karzai responded to heightened U.S. criticism with a series of anti-Western diatribes. That culminated in U.S. news reports — denied vehemently by Karzai aides -- that he told a closed-door meeting he might consider switching sides to the Taleban.

With critics at home accusing the White House of browbeating a vital ally, Obama sought to defuse the situation in April when he reaffirmed Karzai's invitation to visit.

Some analysts said Obama may have learned a lesson and expect him to put relations on a more even keel.

Karzai's recent outbursts were seen as calculated in part to show the Afghan public he is no U.S. puppet. That could also be a subtext during his trip to Washington.

"The president must show that he has self-determination and must not be carried away by Obama's patting" him on the back, said Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, a former Afghan prime minister.

Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and Iraq, urged Obama to cut Karzai some slack. "It is hard to over-stress the challenges that Karzai faces," he said. Obama will also be playing to a domestic audience, a public weary of what was supposed to be a "good war" compared to the more unpopular conflict in Iraq.

The Democratic president wants to keep Afghanistan from becoming another drag on his party in pivotal congressional elections in November when voter anxiety over high unemployment and a fragile economy is already expected to take a toll.

(Source: Reuters)


President Barack Obama reviews the honor guard with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, left, at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, March 28, 2010. (AP photo)








Amid all the media coverage of the Times Square Fizzler, Faisal Shahzad, we still know very little about the circumstances surrounding his actions. As Rachel Maddow helpfully pointed out on MSNBC Wednesday night, all those leaks about his alleged "links" to the Pakistani Taliban, and other "news" stories purporting to tell U.S. what he's told investigators, are unsourced, often single-sourced, and subject to the agendas of various factions who want to put their "spin" on the failed attack.


What we do know is this: his father, Baharul Haq, is a retired Pakistan air force officer, a former top official of the civil aviation agency, and that the family is "liberal" and secular. He had lived and worked in the U.S. for years, become a naturalized U.S. citizen, and was employed by Elizabeth Arden, the cosmetics company, and also by the Affinion Group, based in Connecticut, as a financial consultant. He bought a house that was later foreclosed on, and sent his wife to Pakistan, along with the rest of his family.

He had no past affiliation with radical groups, and was not unusually religious, although friends had noticed a change in his behavior over the past year, a new quietism, a certain reserve. Aside from that, however, there were no warning signs he was planning anything out of the ordinary. He was, in short, an ordinary man, but there is one thing that stands out in this little narrative: he was not very good at terrorism.

This is somebody who left the keys to his apartment in the ignition of the would-be car bomb, and had to call his landlord to be let into his Connecticut digs. He spent all of a month planning the attack, and used the wrong kind of fertilizer for his bomb -- the device could never have gone off. So much for all that "training" he supposedly received from the Pakistani Taliban. And one little detail does stand out, amid all the leakage coming out of law enforcement circles. According to Newsweek, when federal agents boarded his Emirates flight to Dubai on the runway at JFK airport, Shahzad said:

"I was expecting you. Are you NYPD or FBI?"

There he was, about to get away -- he was belted in his seat, and the plane was ready to take off -- and yet he tells the feds he was "expecting" them. There is some speculation as to how he managed to even get on the plane, given that an alert had already gone out, but the point is that he seemed relieved he was caught. A New York Times article on the trail followed by investigators is aptly entitled "A Suspect Leaves Clues At Every Turn."

Did Shahzad want to be caught?

I won't speculate as to why someone would deliberately set himself up for all this, but there is another explanation, one that explains an awful lot of what we know about Shahzad's recent experience.

Think about it: he was having huge financial difficulties: the couple reportedly walked away from their foreclosed home in a hurry, leaving a lot of their possessions scattered over the house. The bank that financed his home in Shelton, Connecticut, was suing him. He left his job at Affinion -- he wasn't fired, he simply quit. Forget, for a moment, all the speculation about "links" to the Taliban. The truth of the matter is that he may simply have gone insane.

If so, then he has a lot in common with many of his fellow Americans, who also seem to have gone off the deep end these days, especially some of our most prominent elected officials. How else can we explain the reaction of some of our more prominent politicians to Shahzad's crazed act?

Senators Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.), are joined by Reps. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) and Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), in introducing a bill that would strip Americans of their citizenship if they are suspected of having joined or given material support to a "foreign terrorist organization" -- and, no, this doesn't include the IDF. Never mind all those bothersome details about due process, and the rule of law: one merely has to be accused, and -- zap! -- your citizenship is gone in a puff of smoke. Oh, you can appeal -- to the U.S. State Department, or in a court of law -- but that's only after the fact. You're guilty until you can prove you're innocent.

Under normal conditions, one would think that such an extreme proposal would fall flat on its face from inception, but in the wake of our post-9/11 madness, a supposed "liberal" can endorse it without a thought. The Hill, Capitol Hill's newspaper of record, reports House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Baghdad-by-the-Bay) "expressed openness to the idea on Thursday, saying she liked the 'spirit' of the proposal, but would have to see the specifics."

I'd love to show Nancy some specifics -- but the last time I tried to engage the imperious Speaker, she was most uncooperative: and, in any case, Madame Pelosi is so distanced from ordinary citizens that she never has to engage anyone but sycophants and campaign donors.


Of course Pelosi loves the "spirit" of the Lieberman-Brown bill -- the gang in Washington is instinctively authoritarian, and could care less about the Constitution, never mind the principle of individual liberty. Liberals and conservatives alike worship at the altar of government, and think they know what's best for U.S. peons -- and as for the peons, they long ago gave up any hope of influencing their rulers, preoccupied as they are with day-to-day survival.

While Republicans cavil about reading Shahzad his Miranda rights, and the Pelosi-crats jump on board Lieberman's Police State Express, ordinary Americans are only vaguely aware that their republican (small 'r') patrimony is being sold down the river by a pack of drooling opportunists. If, indeed, Shahzad is a madman, then he is far from alone -- and it's no wonder no one's noticed, thus far, because he fits right in.


Photo: New York City Police Department Counter Terrorism Unit officers patrol in Times Square on May 5, 2010. (Getty Images)








What happens when a country consistently spends more than it earns? To plug the deficit, it must borrow, or print banknotes. The latter option leads to inflation, so if they can, governments prefer to issue interest-bearing bonds that are redeemed after a fixed period, together with interest.


A problem arises when a country has too many outstanding internal and external debts, and lenders fear that it lacks the ability to redeem its bonds. This specter is at the heart of the fiscal crisis that has overtaken Greece, and threatens to infect other countries in Europe. As Greece's budget deficit soared to 13.6 percent, speculators and rating agencies feared a default, and the latter have now downgraded the Greek government bonds to junk (or non-investment) status.

In desperation, the government of George Papandreou has turned to the IMF as the lender of last resort, and to its European Union partners. But a bailout is very unpopular in West European capitals as the Greeks are viewed as a profligate, fiscally undisciplined lot who do not deserve help. The problem, of course, is that Greece is a member of the euro zone, and its economic woes directly affect the common European currency.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is caught between a rock and a hard place: if she doesn't help Greece, the whole edifice of the European Union is threatened; and if she does, her party risks a pounding in the state election due over the weekend.

Germany, as the Union's biggest economy and known as the EU's ATM, will have to pay the lion's share — 22.4 billion euros — of the 110 billion euro bailout. Understandably, the German leader is very unhappy at the prospect of having to fork out billions to bail out the Greeks, and has publicly said they should not have been allowed into the European Union in the first place.

But the Greeks won't be getting a free lunch. The Papandreou government has had to agree to very tough conditions from its creditors. The ongoing riots in Greece are an indication of the pain to come. For a country accustomed to one of Europe's most generous welfare systems, Greeks will have to swallow the bitter medicine the IMF has prescribed.

For instance, Greek civil servants, used to getting 14 monthly salaries every year, will now have to accept a pay freeze for the next four years. Public sector allowances, a large chunk of take-home pay, are being slashed by 20 percent. VAT is being increased from 19 percent to 23 percent. Pensions will be linked to average pay over a career, rather than the final salary. Greeks, bewildered by this sudden and unexpected lowering of their living standards, are understandably furious at their government. In a televised speech, the Greek prime minister said: "This is the only way we will finance our 300 billion euro debt. These sacrifices will give us breathing space and the time we need to make great changes. I want to tell Greeks, very honestly, that we have a big trial ahead of us."

Many in Greece blame international speculators for their woes. As the Greek budget deficit ballooned, many traders in capital markets began selling Greek bonds at a discount, precipitating a meltdown. This process was accelerated by the downgrading of the bonds by ratings agencies. Whatever the cause, the fact is that for the next few years, the Greek economy will be run by the IMF and by Eurocrats from Brussels.

The danger is that if the rioting does not subside, the public unrest may scare away tourists, the mainstay of the Greek economy. Once the cuts begin to bite, and personal savings are depleted, the country might well descend into serious social disorder that could further devastate the economy.

The problems facing Greece threaten to spread: already, there is talk of Portugal, Spain and Italy going down the same route. The possibility of this contagion in the euro zone has caused a great deal of satisfaction here in Britain over the fact that the country did not join the common European currency.

Indeed, this is something the beleaguered Gordon Brown can take credit for: as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he resisted pressure from Tony Blair to sign up to the euro.

Apart from anger over having to bail out the Greeks, there is a certain amount of schadenfreude, or pleasure over another person's troubles, at the sight of the indolent Greeks finally having to pay for their extravagance. Some Germans have suggested that the Greek government should sell off their lovely islands to pay off its debts. Rod Liddle writes in the Sunday Times:

"There has been no concerted attempt by Greece to wean itself off the most enormous subsidies paid for by the grim and grey-faced denizens of the north in recent years… Quite clearly, to judge from the public mood in Greece – and later, just watch, in Spain and Portugal — nothing should be done about it now either. Its feckless and uneconomic farmers should continue to soak up the hard-earned wealth of the north, while it lives the life of Riley ... with a welfare system its economy cannot even dream of supporting. "From where do the Greek people think the money should come, if not from their own pockets? And why do they think that they have a right to it? Because they live somewhere prettier than the rest of us, and it's hotter?"

Faced with this bleak future, does Greece have a choice other than accepting all the strings attached to the bailout package? George Irvin, writing in the Guardian, thinks it does. He suggests that the country default on its huge debt, quit the euro, and return to the drachma. This is the route Argentina took eight years ago when faced with a similar fiscal problem. Despite the dire predictions of economists, Argentina recovered after a massive devaluation of its currency.

Irvin writes: "A central lesson of all this is that unless protective action is taken early, a country can rapidly be overpowered by the financial markets. Once traders start betting against a country's bonds or currency, the herd instinct takes over. Greece's budget deficit is not particularly high by world standards — 13.6 percent versus 11 percent in the UK, and 12.3 percent in the U.S. But traders perceived its sovereign debt structure as too risky and prophecies of doom became self-fulfilling…"

Another lesson from the Greek crisis is that countries should learn to live within their means.

(Source: Dawn)










Our weekend story by reporter Işıl Eğrikavuk on the possibility of visa-free travel to the Greek islands prompted a lively back-and-forth exchange of comments to our website.


The story was an agenda item for Friday's Athens summit between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Greek counterpart George Papandreou. The two will at least renew discussion of an old idea: limited visa-free travel of Turks to Greece. Among the insightful comments were those from a reader identified as "Ikarus."


"Lifting the visa restrictions is not a bad idea over all. People will get to know each other better from both ends of the Aegean and that's good," wrote Ikarus. "I do not believe that national security issues are a threat as some people suggest. The question is how one is to control the influx of economic refugees entering the EU from Turkey via Greece under this agreement. One can enter an island with a two-day pass and disappear to mainland Greece at no time. How is the control mechanism of such an action going to work I am not sure but as they say, 'If there is a will there is a way'."


We think it this matter of "will" that needs serious focus when it comes to the matter of visas, not just as the issue relates to Turkey and Greece but also within the larger European Union itself.


For while there are many irritations in the Turkish-EU relationship, few are as insidiously destructive to relations as the administration of the current "Schengen visa" regime. Turks seeking to travel for business or pleasure are routinely subjected to humiliating waits and questioning in the chanceries of Istanbul consulates or Ankara embassies. Costs are perhaps not exorbitant but the additional expense is an additional offense. No wonder there has been a small explosion in travel by Turks to Lebanon and Syria in the wake of new rules eliminating visas. Until you have been subjected to it, it is hard to fully appreciate the discouragement to travel that is the wait on a hard plastic seat for a short-term stamp in your Turkish passport.


Despite many efforts, this burden on Turks has eluded many a diplomatic effort. The fact that Turkey will begin issuing biometric passports next month may aid on this front. But the real issue is, as "Ikarus" thoughtfully points out, a matter of political and diplomatic will.


There is no reason Turkey cannot join the so-called "Schengen zone" of visa-free travel in Europe tomorrow. Non-EU Norway and Switzerland are members and Turkey's customs union agreement in place since 1996 actually anticipated Turkey's inclusion. Perhaps a breakthrough on the issue could be an early project for Catherine Ashton, the EU's new foreign policy chief. Perhaps the seed of that breakthrough can be planted this week in Athens.


In Brussels the issue may appear minor. But in Istanbul, it is major








For the last few weeks I have been trying the impossible: to get to understand what is happening in Greece. This sudden downturn of events has been so much explained, mocked and exploited by world economists, analysts, speculators, commentators, cartoonists and politicians that I find it difficult to see the clear picture. I am talking about understanding how does an average citizen of Greece feels who, to use an illustrative comparison made by a Greek writer, is told that "he has to pay the bill of a party to which he was never invited".


I am not of course talking about the wealthy class of Greek society which represents perhaps a twenty per cent of this small country. This group which consists of "old money" but also of the newly rich of the last three decades created by uncontrolled untaxed business activity, nepotism, corrupt politics, "embedded" media, and various other categories is found in any other country, including Turkey. This group, has probably already secured themselves from the impact of this unprecedented austerity package that is about to hit Greece. Many of them --some known to me- made sure that their fat accounts in Greek banks were realized into smart real estate investments mainly in London and Paris. Others simply transferred the contents of their accounts in Athens to their other accounts abroad. 


 I am talking about the other 80 percent of the population who have been trying to make sense out of an avalanche of events, decisions and adversities that will change their life for the worse soon. I am talking about the average citizen of Greece who could have been my relative or my friend and who walked together with some hundred thousand others in the center of Athens last week wishing to express their agony for the prospect of losing his job, or not being able to cope with a reduced income. Last week's general strike was the biggest general strike for several decades and it would have been a major demonstration of a spirit of social solidarity if it was not for the blind attack against a bank which bloodied the main message with three dead.


Talking to people you know, trying to pick up their feelings and decipher their blurred sentences is not easy when you are far from the scene. However, I was particularly struck the other day when my usually optimistic editor in Greece who could be counted as a mild supporter of the government described the current situation simply as "we hit the bottom." He had to clarify his statement a little later when he explained that what he really meant was that it was today's politicians that let the country hit the bottom, something, as he said, that happened for the first time in recent Greek history.


I may be far but I cannot but feel strongly that incredible feeling of rage that many of the people I talk to in Greece, convey. People, who belong to that anonymous honest crowd who feel deeply offended and disorientated after being told that it was their dishonest living which brought their country to this state.


I am following these agonizing discussions among Greek intellectuals who all agree that such a major economic crisis and the near bankruptcy of the country has also signaled a major crisis in the political system. "If our politicians today do not get their act together, very quickly will run the risk becoming scornful footnotes in the future history books and will find themselves one day encircled by thousands of honest citizens who will boo them. We live through historical days; we are at a crossroads which may resemble 1909 which started the modernization of the country, with the elections of 1920 and the Disastrous Defeat of 1922 and to other crucial crossroads. Things are not funny, the seriousness of the circumstances is huge, the stake is big," wrote Alexis Papachelas editor in chief of the established Kathimerini newspaper.


There is no doubt that the crisis that hit Greece recently has gone beyond money, spreads, debts and loans. The prospect that may see their living standards drop to a level that they had long forgotten, made many Greeks think over what went wrong. 


They agree that the society lived consistently beyond its means on borrowed funds creating a false perception of wellbeing. But it is the system of political administration and their long arm on the media and business that is receiving most of the blame. Most polls published in Sunday's Greek media illustrate a trend that it may become the dominant feature of tomorrow's Greek politics: a steady increase of the citizens who do not support any of the existing parties and express their disenchantment across the whole political spectrum. This is a new feature as supporting a party was very much the way a Greek understood his life as a citizen.


The EU Finance Ministers were at pains last weekend in Brussels to secure a "stabilization fund" of some 70 billion euros which would help countries in need, like Greece. But already Greece has been tied in the straight jacket of an IMF program which will hit eighty per cent of the population. And for this portion of society, the future is grim. Analysts are predicting that in 2014 Greece will probably owe more than it owes now and they cannot see a horizon for the termination of the measures. Worst of all, that the forty percent of the middle income people who, economists are telling us, used to enjoy about forty percent of the national wealth and who to a large extent were not "thieves, crooks, black marketers etc" will unavoidably become poorer and will join the rest of the forty percent of the lower income bracket.


This is a very worrying prospect, eminent analysts are claiming. The issue is whether the middle income class who has been called the "couch" or the "armchair class," will rise and go to the streets. Analysts are telling us that when the middle income citizens lose their income they can become more fanatic than the actual poor. Last week's demonstration in Athens was a show of that middle social slice.


Were the ugly reactions of the crowd last week a sign of a first crack in the middle of society? I hope not








Everyone has got her own take on what caused last week's wild ride.


For some, it was fears of euro area sovereign risk contagion. For others, it was China's tighter monetary policy. Yet others tied the sharp falls to intraday selling by electronic trading systems.


I am more interested in consequences, but at first glance, this seems like an almost trivial exercise. In periods of contagion, investors become risk-averse and flock to safe-haven assets such as gold and U.S. Treasuries.


With the yield on 10-year bonds hitting below 3.3 percent, the lowest level since late last year, and gold surging above $1,200 an ounce amid Thursday's turmoil, last week proved to be no exception. Then, it was no surprise that emerging market currencies suffered, but it was the different levels of misery that was most intriguing.


If you really try, you could tie the pressures on the Hungarian forint, the Polish zloty and the Czech koruna to fundamentals: In all three countries, policy-makers had recently voiced worries on the over-appreciation of their currencies and were willing to keep rates lower for longer- considerably more dovish, in other words, than the Central Bank of Turkey. There is also political uncertainty in the Czech Republic and Poland, with elections looming, and policy uncertainty in Hungary, as the new government intends to loosen fiscal policy.


But none of these changes the fact that Poland's economy is essentially healthy. Neither can fundamentals explain the fact that these three currencies underperformed even relative to the beleaguered euro. Things get even trickier once you adopt a more global perspective. Other underperformers of last week were the Mexican peso, the Brazilian real, the Indonesian rupiah and the Korean won. Don't waste your time trying to find similarities between these economies; I already did, to no avail - or at least until I looked into portfolio flows and discovered an almost perfect negative correlation with currency depreciation.


Countries that have received the most portfolio inflows in the last year seem to have experienced the largest selloffs last week. Poland, having received over $25 billion over the past year, is a case-in-point. Turkey, with less than $5 billion of inflows, is the other side of the coin. In the latter's case, foreigners had actually significantly reduced their positions during the political crisis of 2008 and the Lehman collapse, but then never really got back in. With foreign presence so light, it was no surprise that lira tremors were less than peers.


This is not to say that fundamentals did not work in Turkey's favor: The Central Bank's relatively more hawkish stance compared to its peers, the large foreign currency resident deposits, the positive recovery outlook, and the country's less ugly stature in the investors' beauty contest I discussed a couple of weeks ago all helped to keep the lira relatively stable. But I would argue that they were merely talented supporting actors in a drama crowned by hot money.


Before you congratulate me for having written something useful for a change and go long-lira, note that other fundamentals such as external financing or the fair value of the lira do not justify more real appreciation no matter how hard you try. In other words, Economics is definitely not as lira-supportive as most analysts are fervently arguing.


But irrespective of your feelings for the lira, last week has provided, if anything, lots of lessons for students of finance as well as tremendous buying opportunities in the international currency arena.


Just remember that as John Maynard Keynes noted, markets can remain irrational a lot longer than you and I can remain solvent.


Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at








I was in Washington this week to participate in a panel on recent developments in Turkey, organized by the Center for American Progress, an influential democratic think tank. The main focus during the discussion was the Kurdish issue. American Turkey watchers had a difficult time understanding what was happening and how to make sense of the contradictory news coming out of the country. While one Kurdish party, the Democratic Society Party, or DTP, was closed down in December of last year by the Constitutional Court, the successor party, the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, is alive and kicking in the national parliament.


Despite the fact that many observers in Turkey and abroad consider the BDP to be under even stronger influence of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan than the DTP already was. At the same time, hundreds of elected Kurdish politicians in the Southeast have been arrested and are waiting to be tried on suspicion of being linked to the PKK. The Kurdish or Democratic initiative, launched by the government last year, seems to be stuck between good intentions and a lack of political courage but only a few weeks ago the parliament, without making too much fuss about it, changed the electoral law, allowing Kurdish politicians, for the first time ever, to use their mother tongue in future election campaigns. One should not be surprised to see that if even informed outsiders sometimes get lost.


The day before my panel took place, a BDP delegation, including former DTP chairman Ahmet Türk, was in Washington to open a BDP office and to tell their side of the story to interested pundits in the American capital. My guess is that the new BDP representative will have a hard time explaining the position of the party in the debate on the constitutional amendments that was taking place right at that moment in Ankara. To put it more strongly: I am convinced that few people in the US and in Europe understand why the BDP decided not to take part in the vote on the amendments to the present Turkish constitution which, in effect, meant that the party voted against these changes. Can you imagine how implausible this behavior is in the eyes of many observers who have followed Turkish and Kurdish politics for many years? How can a party whose predecessors were closed down many times, vote against a proposal that makes the closure of political parties more difficult? How can a party whose members have suffered so much before military courts, vote against the article in the package that diminishes the role of these courts and allows civilian courts to trial military officers in the future? Why does a party that claims it wants to radically change the Turkish state, side with the defenders of the status-quo?


I am afraid the answer to this question lies in a combination of maximalist intuition and electoral calculation. According to its leaders, the BDP voted against the constitutional amendments because the ruling party had been unwilling to take some of the BDP demands on board. No misunderstanding, the wish to lower the electoral threshold is supported by all democrats in Turkey and abroad. That was a good point and it is disappointing to see that the AKP refused even to discuss the issue. But voting against the whole package just because you did not get what you wanted on this particular point, is only understood and defended outside Turkey by marginal groups that thrive on self inflicted isolation. To make things worse, many suspect that the BDP's opposition against the AKP is directly linked to the elections of 2011 in which the BDP does not want to compete with a party that can show that it was successful in tackling at least some of the issues that have bothered so many Kurds for such a long time.


Based on my impressions from Washington and my experiences in Europe, I can only come to the sad conclusion that the BDP has made a crucial strategic mistake in voting against the constitutional amendments. There is still a lot of support at home and abroad for the struggle of the Kurds to be heard and recognized as an integral part of Turkish society. But that sympathy has been severely damaged by the decision to obstruct substantial progress towards more democracy, also among those who recognize that these steps are not sufficient








The most important thing regarding Constitutional discussions is the "party-internal democracy" taking an exam and everybody failing it.


They may claim they believe in democracy and even more than others as much as they want. It is obvious that there is no real democracy within any party in the Parliament.


But there is a definite leader patronage.


Without any exception they are all the same.


If we were to make up a statement we may say that Erdoğan has obtained all he wanted but one.


The prime minister stood by his team for 10 days and worked until the morning light. He was like a commander leading an operation. He did not leave the front or his team for one minute.


At times he became angry and yelled at members of Parliament. At times he gave emotional speeches and made people cry. And sometimes he distributed flowers.


If a package of changes was able to pass with only one deficiency it was due to Erdoğan's close-marking and extremely effective supervision.


Why did the prime minister take on this risk now?


Many people just like me, ask the question that has not been answered yet.


Why did Erdoğan undertake such a risky endeavor 11 months before general elections?


Why did he get himself in such a show down despite the fact that he realizes the tension in Parliament and society, the danger in polls and a possible "insufficient result" coming out of the referendum?


This was a really risky show down.


Wonder if he knew something we don't.


Did he think this was the only opportunity for the administration in Turkey to "loosen the protection of the secular order to some extent or bring it back to normal?


Whatever it was he tried to force it.


We were battered and bruised a lot but in the end Erdoğan emerged quite powerful out of this. Especially if the referendum grants him more than 50 percent, he will obtain what he longed for.


The opposition only argued and insulted


Nobody could say that the parliamentarians of the AKP have used their votes independently.


Maybe true but if looked at from the outside it seems that they are under significant pressure and the span of command under control.


You may say the opposite as much as you want but this is how it is reflected on the outside.


The administration party is like that. Is the opposition more democratic?


Oh come on.


Unfortunately the approach of the opposition during Parliament discussions created disappointment.


About content it has not even been argued. But a lot of fights and a lot of mutual insults took place. In the 10-day marathon there has not been any opposition. Apart from some speeches in Deniz Baykal's group neither the CHP nor the MHP have conducted relevant opposition.


In the meantime, what attracted the most attention was a constant mention of democracy. Yet we saw in the argumentations that there is no democracy or freedom of thought present in Turkish politics, the only thing they worked on doing was to call the leader an authority democracy.


Each party fears its leader and everything develops according to that leader.


In group gatherings, there are no discussion about issues. The leader tells his members how to behave and what to say to the public at places they go and what messages to deliver in respect to democracy.


Leaders determine politics and other party members do the finishing touches as well as informing the public.


Those who don't agree are traitors. There is no right to be in the party.


Recently a İmralı Leadership has emerged.


Öcalan and the BDP, defender of democracy, started to pose a leadership authority.


Leaders stimulate solidification in opposition on purpose. That way they manage to closely enchain their party members and secure their own votes.


What's left?


Those who break their arms by banging on the table and at the same time shouting, "I won't allow anyone to insult my father," and then run to kiss the leader's hand… Those who say they'd jump of the cliff with their leader… and those who say they'd vote against a closure of the party just because their leader wants it that way.


To tell the truth, is our media different?


Actually who longs for freedom of thought in the real sense or an environment in which democracy can be discussed in the true sense of the word?


We all prefer those who think like us.


We drive away others or beat them up.


In short, we want democracy to serve our own purpose without considering others.


Let's not fool ourselves.








If in the 1990s someone was to suggest that Turkish-Russian relations could one day reach a level of strategic partnership it would have likely induced uproarious laughter to listeners. Psychological constraints revolving around misperceptions were a kind of Sword of Damocles in bilateral relations while the persistent lack of understanding, prevalent among the ruling elite on both sides, was the main source of mutual mistrust.


This problem was more acute among the Russian decision makers. In the post-Soviet period, the anti-Turkey lobby in Russia consisted mainly of security elites and, to a lesser extent, communist and ultra-nationalist deputies of the Duma who considered Turkey a proxy of Russia's arch-military adversaries, namely the U.S. and NATO. Due to ambitions they advanced with regard to the Russian sphere of influence, or the so-called "near abroad," their perception of Turkey appeared to have been that of a rival and traditional enemy.


As an expert on ex-Soviet geography, however, I always believed that, in time, the unique geopolitics of both countries, having left profound marks on their historical progress and bilateral relations alike, would inevitably force them to adopt a more constructive attitude. I was certain that they would eventually realize their interests overlap rather than clash. Time has proven me right.


The primary drive behind this astonishing process has come from Russia itself. The current Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, since coming to power in 2000, has prioritized economic interests in his foreign policy conduct while geopolitical ambitions have been replaced by geo-economical aspirations. Trying to make the most of Russia's few assets, Putin has increasingly relied on the export of energy resources. Under his leadership, the creation of an energy dependence on Russia among its neighbors in particular has become Moscow's primary foreign policy goal. The reason Turkey has been elevated to the top of Russia's foreign policy agenda is closely related to Putin's strategic expectations in that regard.


In the meantime, Turkey was also undergoing a change in its foreign policy understanding, the main motto of which was "A Turkish world from the Adriatic to China." Having first been uttered in a speech made by Henry Kissinger in a session of the World Economic Forum held in Istanbul in 1992, this idea dominated the Turkish understanding of the nation's foreign policy drive toward ex-Soviet geography in the post-communist period. However, it was the late İsmail Cem, the Turkish foreign minister between 1997 and 2002, who realized that it was this understanding which was raising Russian hackles. According to Cem, Turkey's foreign policy could be best described as being bereft of a historical dimension. He argued it lacked depth with respect to time and breadth with respect to space. At this time, Turkey needed to set a new policy course that acknowledged the role of Russia as pivotal.


The Action Plan on Cooperation with Eurasia, signed in 2001, became the eventual manifestation of the political rapprochement between the two countries. As someone who contributed academically to it, I very clearly recall that Cem, first and foremost, wanted both sides to speak openly, no matter whether they agreed or disagreed. Thus, the calls for consultation, as well as confidence-building measures, which are envisaged in the agreement, have undeniably led to talks of a strategic partnership today.


The Justice and Development Party government, under the theoretical guidance of Ahmet Davutoğlu, has taken one step further. There is no doubt that at present, Ankara is paying special attention to the Russia factor in its foreign policy conduct. There are, nevertheless, expectations. With the earlier mentioned agreement, both capitals finally acknowledged bilateral cooperation in the vast Eurasian area as a basic prerequisite for regional stability. This is particularly valid for the Caucasus, where the main problem is the resolution of the Karabakh knot. It is in this regard that Moscow should approach Prime Minister Recep T. Erdoğan's persistent calls for a regional Caucasian stability pact in a more concrete manner.


One of the basic issues to be discussed during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's official visit to Turkey will therefore be the Karabakh problem. Circles close to Erdoğan say that the prime minister, during his last visits to Russia, frankly highlighted Turkey's expectations of the Russian government and there have been promising signs that these calls have not gone unheard. During my visit to Baku last February, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov, for instance, described Russia's stance as having become "more constructive than ever." Apparently it was the Sochi meeting held between Medvedev, Azerbaijani President İlham Aliyev and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan that had increased his optimism.


In any strategic partnership, a common strategic vision is an essential prerequisite. What matters is whether respective parties are seeing the world, as well as the problems before them, through the same lenses. For the Turkish-Russian partnership the acid test will ultimately be the Karabakh issue.







There is a growing possibility that the principal accused in the Bank of Punjab-Harris Steel Mills case, Hamesh Khan, may escape the extradition ordered by a US court in Virginia. Hamesh's extradition had been sought following the direction of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The US court had in turn sought assurance from Pakistan that Hamesh, a US national, would not be tortured. The law ministry failed to complete what should be a routine matter by the May 3 deadline set by the US court. The US embassy has now warned that if Islamabad fails to convey to Washington its assurance by May 13, the US authorities may release Hamesh on May 14. As we have seen with the Swiss cases, writing letters is clearly not a strong point with the law ministry and the allegations regarding Law Minister Babar Awan's involvement in the case cannot be expected to infuse it with much enthusiasm in this regard. The present BoP president has, in a letter to the foreign office, warned that the law minister might 'jeopardise' the BoP's interest by delaying the matter, and the foreign office has now sought direct intervention of the prime minister. The interior ministry too is not seen as beyond suspicion in the case of Hamesh Khan's escape from Pakistan two years ago. Once brought back, Hamesh may have interesting stories to tell not only about who did what to embezzle Rs9 billion from the BoP, but also about who, in the present government, helped him escape.

The political dimensions of the case are obvious. The Punjab chief minister has implied in his statements that the federal government is eager to save Hamesh. Politicians who formerly ruled Punjab are being linked to the matter. Of primary significance in all this, from the point of view of governance and the interest of the people, is the need to uphold rule of law and send out a clear message on corruption. Precedents must be set. Bank officials have for years played a key part in aiding political corruption. It is true Hamesh Khan was not the first to engage in this nor will he be the last. Indeed, even now, other officials may be carrying out very similar acts at the behest of influential wielders of power. But such practices will end only if the guilty are punished and examples set. The federal government must explain why it has demonstrated an apparent reluctance to do so and answer the questions raised by the Punjab chief minister and others.







It would appear that our government is prepared to risk the wrath of the Americans and is moving forward with a project that will import 1,000MW of electricity from Iran. We have an energy crisis that we need to fix by whatever means. The Americans are willing to help us with the power problem for which we are grateful, but it will take more than one helping hand to solve this. We need a diverse basket of assistance on the power front, and it is going to be made up of a set of interests that are not necessarily congruent. We can choose our partners in this enterprise – at the same time developing our own regional interests — which in the longer term points to a more mature and evolved foreign policy that is steered from within rather than without.

The project is not a donation – the Iranians are selling their electricity and they want the best price they can get for it. The Iranians want 9.5 cents a unit and we have offered eight – negotiations continue. To build the 700kms of power infrastructure that will be needed to bring the Iranian power into our grid system is going to cost $600 million and will take up to five years – a fix that is neither quick nor cheap. The Pakistan side has completed its feasibility study; the Iranians have yet to complete theirs. Both sides have recently agreed to expedite the project. If we are to be more self-sufficient and less dependent on donor support then these are the kinds of deals we need to be making, deals with neighbouring states that cement relationships and promote trade and regional cooperation.












The British general election has not produced a clear result and as a political commentator said: "The British people have spoken but we do not yet know what it is they have said." Although the Conservative Party has won more seats than the Labour Party, it has not won enough to give it an overall majority in the House of Commons. For it to govern it would need to seek an alliance with one of the smaller parties, like the Liberal Democrats or the independents, and the ruling Labour Party is not yet willing to give up its place in 10 Downing Street. As this is written Gordon Brown remains the prime minister, though few would put money on him being either prime minister or leader of the Labour Party this time next week. Unusually for the UK, there were irregularities at the polling stations – not ballot rigging, but an underestimation of the size of the voter turnout which led to long queues at some polling stations and several hundred people being denied their vote as the polls closed. Also worthy of note the UK now has three Muslim women parliamentarians, two of them with origins in Pakistan.

The UK has not had a hung parliament since 1974. But this has been a bad year for British politicians who have been mired in corruption scandals. A coalition government, be it formed by Labour or the Conservatives, is likely to be short-lived, to be followed by another, hopefully more definitive, election at a later date. Britain now stands divided politically – England is mostly Conservative, Scotland is a Labour stronghold, Wales a mixture of Labour, independents and nationalists and Northern Ireland held by the Unionist arm of the Conservative Party. It could be several days before the deals are done that allow a government to be formed but the sooner the better, because at least two members of the euro-zone are teetering on the brink of financial meltdown and Greece is on the brink of the abyss.






Three weeks after a Delhi scrap dealer was exposed to cobalt-60 and developed acute radiation sickness, the radioisotope was finally traced to a chemistry laboratory of Delhi University. Meanwhile, one of the 11 exposed scrap-workers has died. The condition of another two is reportedly grave, and that of the rest, serious.

The episode highlights the utterly irresponsible conduct of the authorities, including Delhi University and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. The tragedy also underscores the infuriatingly poor capacity of Indian agencies to cope with mishaps, in particular damage caused by ionising radiation, an especially insidious poison that's invisible, intangible and poorly understood.

In February, the University prematurely auctioned to a scrap dealer a gamma irradiator, the apparatus containing cobalt-60, which had been imported in 1968. A University committee certified that disposing of the entire 300 kg assembly, including cobalt pencils and lead containers, would be safe. The poisoning was revealed six weeks afterwards.

It's extraordinary that a committee of science professors assumed that the cobalt-60, a powerful source with 3,000 Curies (a unit of radiation), had ceased to be hazardous. The half-life of this radioisotope—the time during which it naturally decays to reach half its original mass—is 5.27 years.

This means that about 10-20 Curies would still remain even after 42 years. And even one-billionth of a Curie is harmful to humans. For instance, the US Environmental Protection Agency sets a limit of 8- to 20-trillionths of a Curie for water. All this information is available in the public domain.

The University committee's decision to auction the irradiator was indefensibly unscientific and cavalier. Its members must be severely punished for endangering the lives of innocent and poor scrap-industry workers.

But the other authorities haven't conducted themselves exemplarily either. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board took its own time to track the irradiator's total of 16 cobalt needles. It's not the AERB's "scientists"—in reality technicians, trained to handle simple instruments, much like electricity meter-readers—but the police, who tracked the cobalt-60 source.


In order that no case of radiation injury goes undetected, the whole chain of transactions involving the irradiator must be established. Three other scrap traders were involved. Groups of workers were exposed to the cobalt-60 at different intensities for different durations. Good, responsible science requires identifying the number exposed and extent of their exposure, so they can be treated over a long period.

There is another crucial issue. The irradiator assembly was reportedly sent from Delhi to Rewari in Haryana, where it was melted in a furnace. It's imperative to establish the precise timing of the melting to estimate exposure duration and intensity.

It's after the lead cladding was removed that the full intensity of radiation from the cobalt would come into play. Everyone who handled, cut, transported or stored the needles would have been exposed. They must all be tracked down.

However, the AERB hasn't used a scientific model to map the transactions and processes through which the irradiator went and to estimate the overall exposure or the radiation doses received by the seriously injured, long-hospitalised seven survivors—despite the help it got from the Canadian exporter of the irradiator.

This is of a piece with the functioning of the AERB and its parent, the Department of Atomic Energy.

The extremely sloppy, inefficient, and unsafe DAE has never met a target or completed a major project without a typical cost overrun of 200 percent-plus. By its own projections—and generous subsidies—it should have installed 43,500 MW of nuclear power by 2000 and over 50,000 MW by now. The current installed nuclear capacity of 4,100 MW—3 percent of India's total electricity capacity—was achieved at the cost of the health and safety of thousands of people.

Shielded by the Atomic Energy Act 1962, the DAE isn't accountable to the public. It has a poor safety culture. The AERB, set up to regulate the DAE's installations for safety, has inherited and imbibed its callousness and become its lapdog. The AERB has no independent personnel, equipment or budget, nor even the will, to gain functional autonomy within the DAE.

The AERB's performance as the regulator of all non-DAE radiation-related equipment and activities has also been shoddy, irresponsible and corrupt. The AERB—created in 1983—has no full record of radiation-emitting equipment or activities going back to the 1950s. Its current records are also sloppy and its reports incomplete.

There are 50,000 X-ray machines, 735 radiotherapy units, 1,754 industrial radiography units, and thousands of apparatuses and radiochemicals used in physical, biological, chemical and agricultural experiments in India's

public and private laboratories and other facilities.

The AERB is meant to track all these. Under the Atomic Energy Act, it alone is authorised to finally dispose of all radioactive material, which it's legally empowered and mandated to collect. It only rarely monitors regulation enforcement. It doesn't order labs to hand over to it material for final disposal. It doesn't have the personnel, will or culture to track "use-by" dates of X-ray units.

Under the Atomic Energy (Safe Disposal of Radioactive Waste) Rules 1987, any venture using radioactive material must appoint a radiological safety officer. This happens rarely, but the AERB doesn't enforce the rules.

The AERB is supposed to regularly inspect 62,110 installations in 3,210 institutions. It conducted only 110 inspections last year. Of the 16 cases of theft or loss of radiation-related devices reported since 2000, it solved only three.

Scientists in three Delhi-based institutes complain that the AERB never provides technological support or guidance and ignores requests for help with radioactivity disposal. Sometimes, AERB personnel "informally" encourage persistent inquirers to dump the waste. On their rare visits to an institution/lab, they expect to be wined and dined or bribed outright.

The AERB hasn't installed radiation monitors at all major ports and airports. It refuses to monitor radioactive waste-dumping at Alang, the world's ship-breaking capital, itself a big disaster. Now it wants to transfer its responsibility for handling radioactive waste to scrap dealers, whom it proposes to train.

So when Minister of State Prithviraj Chauhan claims the AERB is highly efficient and can account for "every gramme" of radioactive material in India, and hence that the Delhi cobalt-60 was illegally imported, he talks through his hat.

The AERB's failure has allowed metallic products recycled in India to be extensively contaminated with radioactivity. Many countries have recently refused shipments of Indian-made steel after they were found contaminated, including 67 shipments to the US since 2003.

Shockingly, the controversial nuclear liability Bill solely empowers this very AERB to declare whether or not a nuclear mishap has happened, for which the public may be compensated.

The AERB must be made answerable or, better, replaced with a competent and independent agency accountable to Parliament, the public and the Right to Information Act. It should strictly license all nuclear- and radiation-related activities and establishments for safety; monitor their radioactive material stocks, safety practices and precautionary approaches; and must secure the safe disposal of radioisotopes.

The only way to ensure that the agency does its job is to make it accountable to Parliamentary and public oversight—beginning now. Or else, we'll have more radiation disasters on a horrendous scale.—end—

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email:







To say that technology has changed the Pakistani society in the last decade would be an understatement. With between 18.5 million and 22 million Internet users, 92 million cellular-phone users, 220 cities and towns with Internet access, and billions of dollars spent on telecom and technology infrastructure, Pakistan will never be the same. If the Internet revolutionised communications, the social media has revolutionised the Internet.

With the advent of social networking sites like Facebook which has over 400 million active users globally (and over 2.5 million in Pakistan) and Twitter, Pakistanis have thronged to these platforms to share and exchange views, information, photographs, and well…just about everything. If the social media revolution in Pakistan has affected advertising, music, social interaction, how we consume media, then politics couldn't have been far behind.

Politicians and political parties using the Internet is old news – they've been doing it for a decade with varying degrees of success (or failure), but social media is the new game. Ex-dictator Pervez Musharraf was one of the first to set up his Facebook fan page which has 179,713 'fans' or people who follow his 'feeds'. While this is an impressive number it should be put in perspective as B-grade actress Kim Kardashian has 242,009 fans. Mr Musharraf shares his 'analysis' on Pakistan on a daily basis sometimes via his posts or videos depending on his mood