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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

EDITORIAL 11.05.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

Month may 11, edition 000504, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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

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

 

THE PIONEER

  1. JAIRAM'S TAUNTING BLUSTER
  2. NO TIME FOR BICKERING
  3. TOO MANY HOLES IN 26/11 INQUIRY - SANDHYA JAIN
  4. TAGORE AMONG TAMILS - PRIYADARSI DUTTA
  5. PRUDENCE ISN'T PARANOIA - B RAMAN
  6. FIGHT PIRACY WITH STANDARD RULES - ILYA KRAMNIK

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. ALL PAY, NO WORK
  2. SHADOW GAMES
  3. NEW LABOUR DIES, LONG LIVE NEW LABOUR - SWAGATO GANGULY
  4. POLITICS, THE INDIAN WAY - DAVID M SLOAN
  5. CONFESSING CAN BE FUN
  6. A CHEAP EXERCISE IN SELF-EXPOSURE - VIKRAM SINHA

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. TRIPPING ITSELF UP
  2. OLD HABITS DIE HARD
  3. A LOSING PROPOSITION - SITARAM YECHURY

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. CASTING CASTE
  2. END THE NEEDLING
  3. FLAG OF UNREASON
  4. MOVING ON IN NEW YORK - C. RAJA MOHAN
  5. COTTONING ON - MILIND MURUGKAR
  6. 'WE DON'T HIRE TRADITIONAL PEOPLE. WE LOOK FOR RAW SMARTS'

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. OPPOSITION WITHIN
  2. BANKING ON GROWTH
  3. GAS DISPUTE IS ABOUT MORE THAN AMBANIS - KAUSHIK RANJAN BANDOPADHYAY
  4. SHOULD WE BE COUNTING CASTES? - P RAGHAVAN
  5. MORE VOTING RIGHTS - ASHOK KUDALE

THE HINDU

  1. FIGURING OUT SHAHZAD
  2. TREATING KIDNEY DISEASE
  3. WILL COUNTING CASTE HELP TO REDUCE INEQUALITY? - NANDINI SUNDAR
  4. LINKING WATER TO ENVIRONMENTAL CARE  - VINOD THOMAS AND RONALD S. PARKER
  5. LIB DEMS: THE ACCIDENTAL KINGMAKERS - HASAN SUROOR
  6. U.N. WARNS OF ECONOMIC IMPACT OF BIODIVERSITY LOSS - JULIETTE JOWIT

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. THE 3G LESSON: OPENNESS PAYS
  2. ENERGY FUTURE REMIX
  3. SEEKING A SUFI IN BOLLYWOOD
  4. WHEN FAMILY VALUES TURN FATAL
  5. THE MINORITY OPINION

DNA

  1. $1 TRILLION RESCUE
  2. THE RAMESH RODEO
  3. ABRAHAMIC CIVIL WARS - R VAIDYANATHAN
  4. FIGHTING REGRESSIVE AND RESTRICTIVE IDEAS - RANJONA BANERJI

THE TRIBUNE

  1. HELPLESSNESS IN CHHATTISGARH
  2. CULTIVATING OBSCURANTISM
  3. TOURISM TROUBLES
  4. BENGAL NEEDS MORE THAN MAMATA - BY AMULYA GANGULI
  5. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME - BY SHRINIWAS JOSHI
  6. CASTE IN CENSUS - BY MANJIT SINGH
  7. PRIVATISING HEALTHCARE IN UP - BY SHAHIRA NAIM
  8. DELHI DURBAR

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. CASTE IN CONFUSION
  2. RUE BRITANNIA
  3. GREEK LESSONS FOR INDIA - SUMAN BERY
  4. THE PUNTING ON SMALL-TOWN MEDIA - VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR
  5. PARLIAMENTARY PARALYSIS - A K BHATTACHARYA
  6. THE UNREAD TAGORE - NILANJANA S ROY

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. THE GREAT BRITISH TAMASHA
  2. AWESOME EU SOLIDARITY
  3. GAS NEEDS PROACTIVE POLICY
  4. THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
  5. NREG, PDS & NUTRITIONAL DEPRIVATION - R JHA, S BHATTACHARYA & R GAIHA
  6. IRRATIONALITY OF GLOBAL CAPITAL MARKETS - SUMANT SINHA
  7. A SHORT HISTORY OF DELUSION - MUKUL SHARMA
  8. WE ARE SEEING 70% GROWTH ON RECORD SALES: MERC INDIA CEO - HEMAMALINI VENKATRAMAN

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. THE 3G LESSON: OPENNESS PAYS
  2. THE MINORITY OPINION - BY PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA
  3. SEX, DRUGS AND THE DEEPWATER SPILL - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  4. ENERGY FUTURE REMIX - BY R.K. PACHAURI
  5. SEEKING A SUFI IN BOLLYWOOD -  BY MUZAFFAR ALI
  6. WHEN FAMILY VALUES TURN FATAL -  BY PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE

THE STATESMAN

  1. BRAVADO TO BARTER
  2. JHARKHAND'S SORROW
  3. TEACHERS' COUTURE
  4. CAULDRON & CORRUPTION - BY ABHIJIT BHATTACHARYYA
  5. MASKS THAT FELL WITH THE ALLIANCE

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. STATE OF GAS
  2. GOING HOME
  3. THE EURO CRISIS  - BHASKAR DUTTA
  4. NO TIME TO LOOK BEHIND - MALVIKA SINGH
  5. A WAR FOR PEACE AND PROGRESS
  6. THE BITTER TRUTH  
  7. GREY AREAS

DECCAN HERALD

  1. SET RIGHT
  2. NEPAL'S TRAVAILS
  3. AN ESCALATING CRISIS - BY DEVINDER SHARMA
  4. AT 60, EUROPE'S FINANCIAL MESS - JOAQUIN ROY
  5. MOONY MUSINGS - NAVARATNA LAXMAN

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. ECONOMIC VINDICATION

HAARETZ

  1. IDF SEGREGATION BYPASSES HIGH COURT RULING
  2. PEACE WITH SYRIA SHOULD COME FIRST - BY YOEL MARCUS
  3. AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM CHINA - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
  4. THE MEA SHE'ARIM MOB - BY SHAHAR ILAN
  5. WHERE'S THE FIRE? - BY NIVA LANIR

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. SEARCHING FOR ELENA KAGAN
  2. EUROPE'S BAILOUT
  3. THEY HAVE TO DO BETTER
  4. UPENDING TWISTED NORMS - BY BOB HERBERT
  5. WHAT IT TAKES - BY DAVID BROOKS
  6. PLAN B IN THE GULF - BY RIKI OTT, KEN ARNOLD, JOHN HOFMEISTER, TERRY HAZEN AND KEVIN M. YEAGER

USA TODAY

  1. OUR VIEW ON THE SUPREME COURT : EARLY CRITIQUES OF KAGAN FALL SHORT ON SUBSTANCE
  2. OTHER VIEWS ON THE SUPREME COURT: 'A SCANT RECORD'
  3. MOMS, PART-TIME WORK IS OVERRATED - BY LAURA VANDERKAM
  4. BLACK COLLEGE GRADUATES FACE BUMPY ROAD - BY DEWAYNE WICKHAM

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. KAGAN FOR SUPREME COURT
  2. SPECIAL ELECTION IN GEORGIA TODAY
  3. UNEMPLOYMENT RISES AGAIN
  4. NEW CHICKAMAUGA LOCK NEEDED
  5. SAVE MONEY, KEEP STRONG DEFENSE
  6. THIS IS STILL AMERICA

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - A MOMENT OF SOLIDARITY WITH 'VAKIT'
  2. THE BRITISH ELECTION - GWYNNE DYER
  3. WHAT'S GOING ON IN TURKEY (I) - CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER
  4. HALT US OFFSHORE DRILLING AFTER BP SPILL - MICHAEL BRUNE
  5. THE POLITICAL BLACKMAIL SEASON OPENS WITH A BANG - SEMIH İDİZ
  6. AKP, ALCOHOL, AND GOVERNMENT-ENGINEERED SOCIAL CHANGE IN TURKEY
  7. SONER ÇAĞAPTAY - CANSIN ERSÖZ
  8. YOU WOULDN'T BELIEVE IT, BUT TURKEY IS APPLAUDED ABROAD - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  9. AND ENTERS BAYKAL - YUSUF KANLI
  10. THERE IS NO UNLUCKY NATION - ERDOĞAN ALKİN

I.THE NEWS

  1. THE BOMBERS BREW
  2. CRISIS IN SINDH
  3. TREASURE HUNT
  4. DOES TTP HAVE THE REACH? - RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI
  5. WATER AND KASHMIR - DR SYED NAZIR GILANI
  6. PML-N'S ACCOUNTABILITY STANCE - ANUSHA RAHMAN KHAN
  7. STRATEGY FOR THE NEXT BUDGET - DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
  8. NEW TALKS, OLD FEARS - DR MALEEHA LODHI
  9. THE WATER FACTOR - AMITABH MATTOO

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. NATIONAL UNITY IS IMPERATIVE! - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
  2. MYSTERY BEHIND US INTEREST IN TALIBAN SHURA - ASIF HAROON RAJA
  3. A FABULOUS PACKAGE! BON VOYAGE SOLDIER - IFTIKHAR BUTT
  4. HOW TO MANAGE KARZAI

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. THE SCOURGE OF CANCER
  2. DEATH OF A MEDIA MAN
  3. WINNING MATCHES AGAIN..!
  4. BE PREPARED FOR THE BIG ONE - SYLVIA MORTOZA
  5. MONSOON RAINS IN ASIA - TAREQUL ISLAM MUNNA
  6. GENETIC PROPERTY RIGHTS ON TRIAL - DONNA DICKENSON

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. GOOD EFFORT FROM ABBOTT, BUT HE STILL NEEDS MALCOLM
  2. EUROPE CALMS THE BEARS FOR NOW
  3. A BUDGET FOR THE FUTURE, NOT JUST FOR THE ELECTION

 

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1.  RUDD LOSES SOME FRILLS
  2. COALITION YET TO CONVERT LABOR LOSSES TO GAINS
  3. DON'T MESS WITH MELBOURNE'S MARKET

THE GUARDIAN

  1. THE EURO: HANGING TOGETHER – AND APART
  2. GORDON BROWN'S RESIGNATION: HE HAD TO GO. NOW ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE

THE GAZETTE

  1. A NEAT COMPROMISE ON SCHOOL LANGUAGE
  2. JOURNALISTS' SOURCES NEED BETTER PROTECTION THAN THAT BETTER

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. JAPAN MUST DEAL WITH DEBT
  2. MA JOCKEYS FOR DOMESTIC AND CHINESE FAVOR - BY FRANK CHING
  3. AUSTRALIA'S RUDD MINING FOR TAXES - BY ALAN GOODALL
  4. MIDDLE EAST PEACE BY ANY MEANS AVAILABLE - BY DAOUD KUTTAB

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. CONTAINING THE DAMAGE
  2. DARWINISM AND POLITICAL DECISION-MAKING PROCESSES - BUDIONO KUSUMOHAMIDJOJO
  3. SRI MULYANI: INDONESIAN WONDER WOMAN - DONNY SYOFYAN, PADANG
  4. FORGIVENESS AND JUSTICE AFTER MAY 1998 TRAGEDY - JENNIE S. BEV, SAN FRANCISCO

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. FISCAL PRUDENCE
  2. FILING CHARGES
  3. GREEN GROWTH AS PLAN FOR DEVELOPMENT - YOON JONG-SOO
  4. THE OTHER AFGHAN WAR, BETWEEN U.S. OFFICIALS
  5. THE CHEONAN TRAGEDY RIGHT HERE AT WOOSONG - JOHN E. ENDICOTT
  6. POLANSKI SHOULD APPEAR IN U.S. COURT AS WELL
  7. COMMITTEE PROPOSAL WON'T SAVE THE WHALES

CHINA DAILY

  1. INJUSTICE OR BELATED JUSTICE
  2. LOOK BEYOND TRADE
  3. BRACE FOR FRESH CRISIS
  4. TOUGHER FIGHT ASSURED
  5. HOW DRAGON AND KANGAROO CAN FLY TOGETHER - BY YANG DANZHI (CHINA DAILY)
  6. WILL ASSET BUBBLE GO THE JAPAN WAY? - BY SYETARN HANSAKUL (CHINA DAILY)
  7. BASE TALKS ON MUTUAL RESPECT - BY TAO WENZHAO (CHINA DAILY)
  8. DEBATE: SHANGHAI EXPO - BY GUO XIN, JIANG XUFENG AND WU YU

DAILY MIRROR

  1. ATTACKERS OF SANDUN JAYASEKARA ROAM FREE
  2. URBAN RENEWAL: AND INALIENABLE RIGHTS
  3. CONFLICTS OF INTEREST  - DR A.C.VISVALINGAM, PRESIDENT CIMOGG
  4. MINEFIELD OF PROBLEMS
  5. A REMEDY WORSE THAN THE CURE?  - BY DR. ROHAN SAMARAJIVA
  6. BELEAGUERED LEADER'S POINT MAN MEETS DR. VARMA  - BY SNOOPER  

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

JAIRAM'S TAUNTING BLUSTER

PM MUST SACK BLABBER-MOUTH MINISTER


The Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests, Mr Jairam Ramesh, is suffering from a serious attack of foot-in-mouth disease. Nothing else explains why an otherwise alert and articulate Minister should have mocked at the policies of the UPA Government, of which he is a member, and described the Ministry of Home Affairs as "paranoid", "overly defensive" and "alarmist" in its approach towards China. As if it were not bad enough, he said all this and more during his visit to Beijing, where he shared his thoughts on the UPA Government's foreign, strategic and security policies with journalists, unmindful of the fact that he was on foreign soil and disregarding the principle of collective responsibility. The Congress has been prompt in disowning Mr Jairam Ramesh's appalling comments, but that really means nothing. The Congress cannot disown the comments of one of its own, that too someone as closely identified with the power centre of the organisation as Mr Jairam Ramesh — if it must, then it should be by way of sacking him from both Government and the party; anything less is but a charade. Interestingly, the Prime Minister, who should have sought Mr Jairam Ramesh's resignation for having made the Government look foolish and the Home Minister appear cussed and stupid, has merely expressed his displeasure and, strangely, 'advised' the junior Minister to "distance himself from the controversy". How does Mr Jairam Ramesh 'distance' himself from what he has said? By denying that he ever said it? Or by claiming that he has been 'misquoted'? That apart, it is astonishing that the Prime Minister should come across as so powerless as to take decisive action against Ministers who are fetching nothing but disrepute to the Government he heads. He has failed to act against his hugely corrupt Telecom Minister A Raja; he has not been able to rein in sniping colleagues in the Cabinet; and, he has failed to punish Mr Jairam Ramesh. The list of examples is endless and need not be elaborated.


The Congress is welcome to believe that the Government of India is its fiefdom and it shall do as it pleases. But that is not quite the way it works. The Government is answerable and accountable to the people of India and they are aghast at the manner in which Ministers continue to get away with violating all codes of conduct and probity. If Mr Manmohan Singh wishes to be seen as the Prime Minister and not as someone who merely holds office as a proxy, he must exercise his authority. Mr Jairam Ramesh knows that he has committed a blunder and gone far beyond his remit. But this is not the first time he has been found to be acting in this manner; his peremptory decision to stop work on the Maheshwar Hydro Power Project in Madhya Pradesh was so flawed and politically motivated that the Prime Minister's Office had to step in and retrieve the situation from spiralling into a full-blown Centre-State crisis. Nor is Mr Jairam Ramesh, unlike Mr Shashi Tharoor, a novice; he is fully aware of the import of both ministerial utterance and deed. He cannot — indeed, he must not be allowed to — get away with a mere 'sorry', more so because the apology he has offered on Monday night is lacking in sincerity. Had he been truly remorseful, he would not have waited for the Congress president to reprimand him and the Prime Minister's 'advice' that he "distance himself from the controversy"; he would have done so on his own, without any prompting. This is unacceptable. Mr Jairam Ramesh should resign, or be sacked. There is no third option.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

NO TIME FOR BICKERING

DECLARE TOTAL WAR ON MAOISTS


The Government's anti-Maoist offensive seems to be gaining momentum. On Sunday, security forces reportedly inflicted heavy casualties on Maoists in Odisha's Koraput district. The joint security force comprising personnel of the Special Operation Group of the Odisha Police and Greyhound anti-Maoist commandos swooped down on the extremists' camp in the jungles near Narayanpatna. Although it wasn't immediately clear as to how many Maoists were killed or wounded in the operation, there were enough tell-tale signs to suggest that the damage to the Left-wing guerrillas was significant. Till now, the anti-Maoist operations in Odisha had lagged behind due to a political logjam between the Centre and the State Government, with the latter demanding a greater deployment of Central paramilitary forces to initiate the Odisha-specific security measures. Though it is true that in many respects Central paramilitary units are better equipped than State police forces to carry out counter-insurgency operations, the role of local law enforcement officers in the anti-Maoist operations cannot be underplayed. For, they are the ones who have knowledge about the local conditions and terrain, and therefore, are in a position to provide vital inputs to the operations of the joint security force. Another important reason why local policemen should be seen as active participants of the anti-Maoist campaign is because the aim of these security operations is to reinforce the authority of the state. And as guardians of law and order, it is essential that local policemen are at the forefront of these operations. This will go a long way in making villagers in the Maoist-dominated areas realise that it is not the intention of the Government to strike down anybody who has grievances against the state. They must know that the security operations are meant to tame those who have taken the law into their own hands and have no qualms about killing anyone who stands in their way.


It must be understood that the anti-Maoist operations can only be successful if all our security agencies work together. Hence, it would be wrong to assume that a strong deployment of Central paramilitary forces in Maoist-affected areas is the solution. In fact, the Maoist insurgency needs to be fought on several fronts — development, ideology and security. Unless there is consensus among various stakeholders in society that the Maoist menace needs to be eradicated once and for all, the anti-Maoist operations will not succeed anytime soon. Thus, instead of bickering over the ratio of security personnel that the Centre and the States should provide to the anti-Maoist efforts, we need to muster all our resources to get rid of the Red scourge.


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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

TOO MANY HOLES IN 26/11 INQUIRY

SANDHYA JAIN


Judge ML Tahaliyani's decision to acquit the alleged Indian collaborators of Ajmal Amir Kasab for lack of evidence reveals serious lacunae in the investigations into the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in 2008. Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed allegedly gave logistical support for the November 26 attacks on multiple targets by preparing maps for the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. The special court judge was so unimpressed by the evidence adduced that he directed that the men be released immediately if they were not wanted in any other case.

That the surviving Pakistani terrorist, Ajmal Amir Kasab, received the death sentence is no credit to India's investigating agencies. Kasab was caught on CCTV camera along with Abu Ismael, spraying deadly assault rifle fire on innocent passengers at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, and was later apprehended by ASI Tukaram Omble, who sacrificed his life to capture him. As several witnesses testified to his crimes, it was an open and shut case. He was held guilty of waging war against the nation, murder, criminal conspiracy and committing terror activities.


It is poetic justice that the judgement that holds Kasab, and by implication his dead colleagues and Pakistani handlers, guilty of 'waging war against the nation' comes on the heels of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's capitulation to American pressure at Thimpu, where he again met his Pakistani counterpart and agreed to continue a futile dialogue. Islamabad, of course, has refused to hand over LeT founder Hafiz Saeed and operations chief Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi to a nation that cannot abide by its own commitment not to hold talks without credible action against the perpetrators of 26/11.


Now, with Kasab alone arraigned for this deadly attack on the nation, it may be pertinent to revisit the loopholes left untended to by then National Security Adviser MK Narayanan (who was invisible throughout the 60-hour trauma) and Home Minister P Chidambaram, who took over from the effete Shivraj Patil.


First, the terrorists' Western links were not even touched. On December 1, 2008, the Daily Mail of London reported that seven of the assailants were of Pakistani origin with British passports. That number soon fell to two, and a few days later Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh said no British Muslims were involved. Despite the whitewash, some traces remained, so on December 14, 2008, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown rushed to New Delhi to quash this line of inquiry and urge Mr Manmohan Singh to allow MI6 to interrogate Kasab. Why this urgency? And why did India agree when at St Petersburg, Russia, in 2006, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair had repulsed Mr Singh's request to hand over 14 terrorists who had committed attacks in India and were harboured in Britain?


The then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also arrived in New Delhi to demand non-action. As the Congress's Prime Minister-in-waiting was then busy with the wedding ceremonies of former Amethi MP Satish Sharma's son, nationalism was easily superseded by the personal convenience of the Page Three people. Soon afterwards, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband arrived, gave unsolicited advice on Jammu & Kashmir, a clean chit to Pakistan, and rejected India's demand for the conspirators behind the attack.


It is pertinent that Pakistan initially expressed willingness to cooperate, offering to send the ISI chief to India to assist in the investigation. But Islamabad was sharply rebuked by its British and American friends (read masters) and forced to backtrack. Scotland Yard and FBI arrived instead, obviously to ascertain the extent of evidence available with India. The UPA supinely agreed to let the FBI interrogate Kasab without any reciprocal accord; India is now running in circles trying to get a look at David Coleman Headley who did the major part of the reconnaissance for the attack!


The UPA shamelessly outsourced the task of chastising Islamabad to Washington, DC, and London. A dossier of 20 most-wanted terrorists was copied to major world capitals; Ms Condoleezza Rice did not promise to get even a token two for New Delhi, which meekly accepted her warning not to aggravate regional conflict because of American preoccupation in Afghanistan. No one followed up on the satellite phone recovered from the trawler with the body of the Gujarati captain, which had been hijacked to Karachi Port. While there, the phone was used to make calls to Australia, where the CIA has a famous outpost!


Regardless of the guilt or innocence of Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed, the Mumbai operation certainly had strong local support. Dawood Ibrahim, who lives under the ISI's protection in Karachi, reputedly loaned his network. Dawood used to smuggle gold from the de facto British-controlled Dubai, UAE, and later drugs, and fled India after masterminding the 1993 Mumbai serial bombings. On December 18, 2008, The Times of India reported that Moscow, which was sharing intelligence with India, "believes that Dawood's drug network, which runs through Afghanistan, was used to finance the Mumbai attack".


On November 26, 2008, the day the Mumbai attack was launched, the Indian Express reported that a Briton, Mohammed Raheel Ataur Rehman Sheikh, accused of funding the July 11, 2006 serial explosions in a Mumbai train that took over 200 lives, had been detained by authorities in England on the basis of an Interpol Red Corner Notice. Sheikh is an LeT operative, and considered responsible for the 2006 Mumbai bombings. On November 10, Interpol contacted the CBI for details behind the Red Corner Notice against Sheikh, but reports suggest he has been released, and remains in England!


Many other facts remain unknown or uninvestigated. In Hotel Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, the terrorists moved as if they knew every nook and corner, and away from the CCTV camera. They entered the manager's room and killed him. Mr Chidambaram angrily rebuked Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi when he said locals were involved in 26/11. It is pertinent that the Supreme Court has only now banned narco tests of accused without consent, but though narco and brain mapping was freely done on Sadhvi Pragya and Col Srikant Purohit (without finding an iota of evidence), it was not resorted to in the case of Ansari and Ahmed. Why the double standards?

There were persistent press reports that insiders at Hotel Taj Mahal Palace & Tower helped the terrorists to stockpile arms on the sixth floor; perhaps helped Headley's surveys. Yet no insider has been arrested and charged. Why?

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

TAGORE AMONG TAMILS

PRIYADARSI DUTTA


Full well do I recall those lamped days/ When first thou came to this our palm-fring'd isle, /And deigned to talk with clayey clods like us -/ Thou Poet-King of this hoopéd age!," wrote Robert Rasiah Crosette-Thambiah — later Solicitor-General of Ceylon — when Rabindranath Tagore visited Jaffna in 1922. The poem, perhaps unknown to Indians, appears in the monograph Tamils: Ancient and Modern (Colombo, 1960).


On his 150th birth anniversary, Tagore should be rediscovered beyond Bengal. Though not to the extent of his other Bengali contemporaries like Swami Vivekanand and Sri Aurobindo, Tagore had captivated Tamil imagination. KS Ramaswami Sastri, despite not knowing Bengali, wrote an impressive tome, Sir Rabindranath Tagore: His Life, Personality and Genius, in 1916. In Bengal, bereft of classical culture, Tagore tried to infuse classicism. We owe the popularity of Bharatnatyam in Bengal to Tagore, who assigned the dance form a prominent place in Santiniketan. Tagore's tribute to Tamil classicism is best demonstrated through the cultivation of the icon of Nataraj, the Tamil form of Shiv. His anthology Bana-Vani (1931), or Message of the Forests, has odes to Nataraj, running into 80 pages.


Tagore's interest in Nataraj was perhaps influenced by his proximity to Ananda Coomaraswamy. Art connoisseur and philosopher, Coomaraswamy, rightly claimed to be more Indian than Indians. Coomaraswamy's book, Dance of Síva: Fourteen Indian Essays (New York, 1918), portrayed Shiv as the lord of dancers and the king of actors. Tagore, during his 1922 visit to Ceylon, was dismayed to find that the people there had lost "consciousness of their unity with their Indian kinsmen" (To my Ceylon audience, 1922). He was speaking about the Sinhalese, whom he found deliberately neglecting their essential unity with India. At Jaffna, he advised Tamils not to fall into the "vagabondage of imitation" and think against a continental background. Crosette-Thambiah concludes thus, "Rishi, inspir'd by thee we yet shall rise/To those high peaks of life proclaim'd by thee…/And generations far shall chant the praise/Of him that led the way."


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THE PIONEER

OPED

PRUDENCE ISN'T PARANOIA

PRUDENCE DEMANDS THAT IN OUR ENTHUSIASM FOR EXPANDING OUR ECONOMIC TIES WITH CHINA, WE SHOULD NOT ALLOW SUSPECT FIRMS SUCH AS HUAWEI A FREE RUN OF OUR NATION AND ACCESS TO OUR COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK. IT IS SUSPECTED THAT MANY OF ITS EMPLOYEES IN CHINA AND OVERSEAS ARE EITHER SERVING OR RETIRED PLA OFFICERS OR CHINESE INTELLIGENCE AGENTS

B RAMAN


There has been an increasing focus by the Indian counter-intelligence agencies on the expanding presence, activities and business of the Chinese telecom giant Huawei, which is stated to have the largest mobile telephone network in the world after Ericsson. Ever since the 1990s, there have been concerns in the Western countries over the suspected links of the company with the People's Liberation Army and the Chinese intelligence agencies. The concerns initially started from the fact that the head of the company is a retired officer of the PLA. There were subsequent suspicions and allegations that many of its employees not only in China, but also in its overseas offices are either serving or retired officers of the PLA or the Chinese intelligence.

In fact,on the basis of the allegations made by the Washington Times in 2007, the United States Committee on Foreign Investment made a review of the security implications of business deals between Huawei and some American companies. It called for a report on the subject from the office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Huawei, which greatly values its business in the US, took note of the security-related concerns being increasingly voiced in the US about the dangers of doing business with it and allowing it to acquire American companies, and reportedly volunteered to employ American citizens to supervise its contracts, which could have security implications. This offer was made following reports that it might be interested in acquiring a unit of the Motorola.

Wikipedia gives the following instances of security-related fears and enquiries relating to Huawei in different countries:

·  A report of the US Administration's Strategic Studies Institute on Argentina published in September 2007 described Huawei as "known to bribe and trap clients". The report further detailed its alleged unfair business practices, such as customers being given "full-paid trips" to China and monetary "presents".

·  In February 2009, president of Indonesian mobile carrier Excelcomindo Pratama confirmed a data theft attempt by a visiting Huawei employee who "snuck in to general manager's network planning office".

·  In 2005, the possibility of Huawei's bid on British telecommunications company Marconi led to a request from the Conservative Party to the British Government to "consider the implications for Britain's defence security". Marconi was later acquired by Swedish telecommunications giant Ericsson.

·  In a 2008 military report to the Congress, the Pentagon stated that Huawei "maintains close ties" to the PLA. In the same year, the proposed acquisition of US-based communications company 3COM Corp by Huawei led to a US Congress investigation and a subsequent determination by the Director of National Intelligence that "3Com-Huawei merger would undermine US national security".

·  In March 2009, Mr Alex Allan, the Chairman of the British Joint Intelligence Committee, briefed members of the British Cabinet about the "threat", allegedly posed by Huawei's equipment in the British national telecom network BT. (My comment: The British media reported that the JIC Chairman had told the Cabinet at a special briefing that "Huawei components that form key parts of BT's new network might already contain malicious elements that could be activated by China and which could remotely disrupt or even permanently disable the network. Such action would have a significant impact on critical services such as power and water supplies, food distribution, the financial system and transport, which were dependent on computers using the communications network to operate.")

 

·  In September 2009, the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation started investigating the alleged links between local Chinese Huawei employees and the Chinese military. (My comment: This enquiry was started following complaints made to the Australian Government by some serving and former Australian employees of the Chinese company about its alleged suspicious activities).


In the US and other Western countries, the intelligence and security agencies keep a close watch on its activities. At the same time, this has not been allowed to come in the way of its legitimate business. This would be evident from the way it has been able to expand its business in the US and Europe despite all security-related fears and enquiries. Western countries follow a policy of allowing it to operate freely in areas and fields where there are no security-related concerns and curbing its activities where such concerns exist.


The suspicions and fears of the Indian intelligence agencies regarding the expanding presence and activities of the Chinese company arise from the results of the enquiries faced by the company in other countries, allegations of its close links with the PLA which cannot be dismissed lightly, the dangers of allowing it to operate from sensitive places such as Bangalore where it has an expanding research and development centre and the vulnerability to which our critical infrastructure could be exposed in times of a possible military conflict with China if we depend on hard and software supplied by Chinese companies.


One should not forget that Saddam Hussein lost his first Gulf War with the US in 1991 even before it started because the US from which he had procured most of his communication hardware and software managed to paralyse them before its troops went in. The headquarters of Saddam's army in Baghdad was totally cut off from all communications with its units in other parts of the country.


Prudence demands that in our enthusiasm for expanding our economic ties with China, we should not allow suspect companies such as Huawei a free run of our country and access to our communications network, which could facilitate their collection of intelligence in times of peace and war and paralyse our critical infrastructure during any military conflict.


The Indian intelligence agencies have done the right thing in sounding the wake-up call. Instead of taking their warnings seriously and examining what mid-course corrections are called for in our policy of giving a free run to Chinese telecommunication companies, Mr Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State for Environment and Forests, has chosen to ridicule the intelligence agencies and the Ministry of Home Affairs for imposing what he has described as needless restrictions and for being paranoid about Chinese investments. He has been quoted as saying: "We are imagining demons where there are none."


One could not think of a more unfortunate, ill-informed and worrisome remark.

 

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

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

FIGHT PIRACY WITH STANDARD RULES

PUNISHMENT FOR PIRATES SHOULD NOT DEPEND ON THE FLAG OF THE SHIP

ILYA KRAMNIK


On the night of May 6, commandos from the Marshal Shaposhnikov anti-submarine warfare ship of the Russian Navy's Pacific Fleet, on an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden, stormed the Moscow University oil tanker that was seized a day before by Somali pirates and released her 23 crewmembers.


The Russian tanker, owned by the Novorossiisk Shipping Company (Novoship), carrying 86,000 metric tonne of crude oil, was hijacked by Somalian pirates in the morning of May 5, while sailing from the Red Sea to China.

The crew signalled that speedboats full of armed men were approaching their vessel. After that, communications with the tanker were lost. The crew, however, managed to barricade themselves inside one of the ship's below-deck sections, and switch off her propulsion unit and rudder control system.


The pirates declared they had captured the ship and warned that crewmembers' lives would be in danger if any attempt to board her were made. However, they were unable to reach the crew or reactivate the tanker's engines.

The Marshal Shaposhnikov covered over 300 nautical miles and was approaching the Moscow University. After assessing the situation, the officers learned that the tanker's crew was in a safe place, hiding, and that the pirates were unable to control the ship. They prepared to storm the tanker.


The ASW ship's marine unit has been specially trained and had conducted several hostage-release exercises in preparation for its current tour of duty. Consequently, the ship was seized quickly and without a hitch. The marines approached the tanker in speedboats and quickly disarmed the pirates, killing one of them. No soldiers or sailors were injured.


The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has opened a criminal case under Article 227 of the Criminal Code, which deals with piracy. The hapless 'gentlemen of fortune' will be put on trial in Moscow.


This incident highlights the problem of legal support for anti-piracy operations and makes it possible to assess the effectiveness of the fight against pirates.


Under Article 227 of the Russian Criminal Code, pirates may face up to 15 years in prison. The life of an inmate in a Russian prison camp is more comfortable than life in Somalia, in addition to which they are eligible for parole. There are also many pirates who want to serve their prison terms in EU countries, hoping that they will be allowed to stay there upon release.


Most curiously, the pirates would have faced tougher punishment if they were captured before the criminal case in Russia had been opened. In that case, they would likely have been extradited to Yemen, which summarily hangs all pirates caught prowling the sea, weapons in hand.


As a rule, Russian and foreign Navies aim to prevent ships from being hijacked and their actions are seldom crowned with such an outstanding success involving the arrest of hijackers aboard the seized vessel as that of May 6. However, this remains a struggle against the symptoms of the disease, rather than the disease itself. Piracy is a very profitable business. These 'gentlemen of fortune' continue to seize new ships and their crews, releasing them for ransom.


This situation stands in stark contrast to the global repercussions of the major volcanic events in April 2010 at the Eyjafjallajokull ice cap in southern Iceland. Air travel across western and northern Europe was disrupted for an initial period of six days. Although ash clouds did not pose an immediate danger, as many had feared, it caused all-out panic, with many European countries promptly banning all air traffic.


The reason for this ban is obvious: 90 per cent of airline passengers flying over Europe are EU citizens, and their mass death in case of such evident force majeure circumstances is fraught with serious political consequences. Against this backdrop, European politicians care little about the threat of pirate attacks on the crews of merchant-marine ships, who are usually recruited from developing countries, the least prosperous European states, such as Greece or Romania, or even from major powers that are outside the EU including Ukraine, Russia and India.


At the same time, the scale of piracy has not yet reached frightening dimensions and business community remains unconcerned about it. As a result, the crews of civilian ships are escorted by relatively few warships, which are unable to effectively protect all shipping in the region. All they can do is use the theory of probability to try to predict possible attacks on specific freighters, container carriers or tankers.


This situation once again highlights the importance of cooperation between countries combating piracy on a tactical level off the Somali coast and at the level of official agencies. There has to be a standard set of regulations making it possible to fight piracy. The pirates' future should not depend on the national affiliation of warships seizing them.


-- The writer is a military affairs columnist based in Moscow.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

ALL PAY, NO WORK

 

The stage is set for a five-fold salary hike for members of Parliament. A joint parliamentary committee has recommended that an MP's salary be hiked from the existing Rs 16,000 to Rs 80,000, which would be at par with that of a secretary to the Union government. On the face of it, an MP's current salary might not seem high. But when one factors in perks such as virtually free accommodation, phone calls and healthcare in addition to a daily allowance when Parliament is in session, constituency allowance of Rs 20,000 per month, 34 single air journey tickets and a free first class railway pass, the picture is quite different. According to back-of-the-envelope calculations, an MP's real salary, including freebies, adds up to an impressive Rs 38 lakh per year.


Our MPs clearly don't deserve a salary hike. Any pay raise must be linked to performance. But the track record of Indian MPs in the recent past has been poor, to say the least. They have neglected one of their basic duties crafting and debating legislation. The figures for business conducted by Parliament speak for themselves. The number of sittings of the Lok Sabha has come down from a yearly average of 124 in the first decade of 1952-61 to 81 between 1992-2001, a decline of 34 per cent. For the same period, the decline for Rajya Sabha was 20 per cent. This has had a direct impact on the number of Bills passed by Parliament. The annual average of the number of Bills passed has come down from 68 in the first decade to 50 between 1992-2001.


This hasn't got any better in the past few sessions of Parliament. The government could only get six of the 27 planned Bills for the budget session passed. The number of pending Bills has shot up to 70. And even when Bills are passed, they are done without debate since MPs are busy shouting slogans or creating mayhem in the House.

In such a situation, it is absurd that the MPs get to decide their own salaries and the quantum of pay hikes. Instead, former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee's suggestion that an independent commission look into the question of MPs' salaries and make recommendations must be taken up. That way we might arrive at a more realistic revision of the salary structure for MPs.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

SHADOW GAMES

 

For a coalition with a bare majority in Parliament, the UPA has done well for itself in recent times. It pulled off a coup by getting the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Congress's bitter rival in UP till the other day, to support the government when the cut motion was put to vote. Now, faced with a sulking Trinamul Congress, Congress managers have hinted that it has lined up the Samajwadi Party (SP) to bail out the government in case Mamata Banerjee walks out of the coalition. The SP seems to find the loneliness of life outside the corridors of power unbearable, particularly after doing well in the last two general elections. Some influence at the Centre could help the SP recover ground in UP where assembly elections are slated in 2012. The SP's desperation to get close to the UPA also stems from the fear that the Congress and the BSP may work together to marginalise it further.


The SP's predicament has come handy for the Congress. It offers another option for the UPA if the Trinamul or the BSP acts pricey. For the Trinamul, the options are few. It needs the Congress to gain the upper hand in West Bengal. The party is also wary of the Left Front cutting a deal with the Congress to serve its interests in the assembly election. Whatever the permutations are the Congress has reason to feel happy. The opposition unity ahead of the cut motion has disappeared. The non-UPA, non-NDA front the Left attempted to build with the SP and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has not materialised. The RJD too could do well with Congress support in Bihar. With a divided opposition and prospective allies in waiting the government has the space to breathe easy, at least for now.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 EDITORIAL

NEW LABOUR DIES, LONG LIVE NEW LABOUR

Labour's poor showing in the UK general elections is being touted as the end of the New Labour project. Jointly initiated by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, New Labour was credited with bringing to an end the era of Conservative dominance of British politics that had lasted since Margaret Thatcher's victory in the 1979 elections. Labour 2.0 was a marriage of Thatcher's market-friendly policies which transformed the British economy, with a commitment to social welfare which Thatcherism had tended to jettison.


So why (if at all) did new Labour implode? And why should this stuff have any relevance in faraway India, which cut its ties to that doughty island some six decades ago? The fact of the matter is that even in its declaration of independence, India modelled itself closely on the political and economic system existing in Britain at the time, as opposed to the colonial order that the British imposed on India. India adopted the Westminster, "first past the post" system of parliamentary democracy based on universal adult franchise, which came into force in Britain itself barely two decades before, in 1928. It would be a crude and in some ways misleading rule-of-thumb to claim that trends in Indian politics and society lag behind those in the UK by about two decades. But even noting the differences in political evolution between India and the UK can be instructive.


The founding economic vision of the post-1947 Indian republic is closely aligned to that of old Labour, both of which have their roots in Fabian socialism. Fabian socialists favoured a strong state where planners and bureaucrats would be the lightning rods of enlightenment entrusted with the task of ensuring social welfare for all while the industrial working class would be given a corporate status. Besides publicly funded healthcare and education old Labour stood for public ownership of key industries and high taxation for the purpose of redistribution of wealth. The Indian variant of old Labour wasn't so hot on public healthcare and education, but government control over the commanding heights of the economy without going to the communist extreme of nationalisation of all economic activity ignited minds all round.


Unfortunately, the Labourist model gave the British a moribund economy which acquired the dubious status of being 'the sick man of Europe'. And it wouldn't be unfair to describe the pre-1991 Indian economy, subject to the fabled 'Hindu' rate of growth, as the sick man of Asia. While South East Asia's tiger economies roared and Deng Xiaoping set the Chinese on a course of pellmell growth, India stood aloof from this trend.


That has changed now, of course. Following the 1991 economic reforms Indian growth, too, has captured world attention. India is now seen as one of the poles of the new world order, and it has been welcomed into the G-20. And following the economic renaissance triggered by Thatcher, who shredded the Labourist model, the UK too is no longer a pitiable has-been.


Some differences should be noted as well. Thatcher was a conviction politician who believed in the power of the free market. Indian liberalisation, by contrast, has been half-baked at best, undertaken initially for technical reasons: the need to overcome the balance of payments crisis which left the country on an economic knife-edge. The inability to come up with a fully articulated case for reform explains why it has so often to be undertaken 'by stealth', as the belief system of the Indian political class remains anchored in old Labour.


A cynic might query whether this matters much, since India still remains among the fastest growing of the world's major economies. But there are reasons to worry about the quality and sustainability of this growth, which doesn't seem inclusive enough. Thatcher might have gutted social security, but she also made it possible for the British working class to own homes. The benefits of Indian growth, by contrast, haven't percolated significantly beyond the middle class. That means India hasn't made a serious enough dent on poverty it ranked 65 out of 84 countries in the Global Hunger Index of 2009, below North Korea, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

It's too soon to write obituaries for new Labour in the UK. It's moved the British polity to the centre, so that even the Tories had to modernise themselves and appropriate some of the new Labour agenda: social concern, connectedness over unbridled individualism, multiculturalism, environmentalism. David Cameron has clearly distinguished himself from Thatcher. In that sense, the supposed decline of new Labour is a mark of its success. It marks the consensual ground of modern British politics, into which new energies have been infused by the rise of young politicians. Blair became premier at the age of 43, Cameron is the same age now.


Indian politics, by contrast, is dominated by men over 70, which may explain why it is so resistant to change. Can we hope for a modernisation in the outlook of the Indian political class akin to the structural shifts in British politics? Could younger leaders come to the fore, and perhaps upgrade us from old-style Labourist politics to its more market-friendly 21st century variant?

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

POLITICS, THE INDIAN WAY

After their defeat on healthcare and climbdown on financial regulation, Republican leaders are scrambling to find new ways to derail the Obama agenda. Nasty partisan attacks haven't worked, 50 filibusters have failed, and expected gains in November's mid-term elections can't come soon enough. The GOP's only real short-term solution: truly creative obstructionism.


Republicans need look no further for inspiration than India, the world's largest and perhaps most gridlocked democracy. In its session ending May 7, India's increasingly unproductive Parliament managed to pass less than a quarter of the Bills teed up for approval even though the ruling coalition government enjoys an overwhelming majority in one House and a big plurality in the other. So what can the Republicans learn from India?


First, they can draw upon civil disobedience tactics inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, India's moral compass. Most Americans are already familiar with the sit-in, made famous by the Rev Martin Luther King, Jr, a Gandhi acolyte, during the civil rights movements of the 1960s. What's stopping Republicans from staging sit-ins in the Capitol Hill offices of the Democratic leadership?


And what about trying the political walkout, widely used in India to thwart the parliamentary process but rarely seen in US Congress? India's opposition parties walked out or otherwise disrupted the lower House of Parliament 36.6 per cent of the time it was scheduled to conduct business in the just concluded session, leading the Speaker to warn that such behaviour threatened to render the institution "irrelevant". Adept use of both the sit-in and walkout could paralyse Congress and, not incidentally, make for terrific political theatre.


Next, Republicans might borrow the Indian innovation of the rath yatra, loosely translated as "chariot pilgrimage". In India's most famous political rath yatra, a Hindu-centric Indian politician and his followers criss-crossed India in a Mazda made to look like a chariot, invoking images of India's mythological heroes. What better way to attract 24/7 Fox News coverage than a modified GOP "whistle-stop" tour with party leaders rallying the public from an American-made sport utility vehicle - perhaps a Jeep Liberty or Freedom tricked out to resemble the sturdy steeds that our Founding Fathers rode to victory? Who knows, maybe they'd attract a few disgruntled United Auto Workers members in the bargain.


Finally, the Republicans should consider the hunger strike or, if they are really serious, the fast unto death. Political fasts were used most famously by Gandhi against British rule and a recent fast unto death may force creation of a new ethnic Indian state. The formula is telegenically simple: surrounded by devoted followers, a popular party leader announces he will forego food until the opposition agrees to an urgent, noble demand (like, say, temporarily extending unemployment benefits). The politician invariably ends up in a hospital hooked up to an IV while friends and family feed the media alarming reports of his failing health.


Since the hunger strike rarely ends in death and has proven surprisingly successful, why doesn't House minority leader John Boehner or Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell lead the way and show the American people that the GOP is no longer the party of fat cats? Or enlist Mike Huckabee or Gov Chris Christie, who know a thing or two about dieting?


If these Indian tactics don't work for the Republicans, they could always ditch obstructionism altogether and revert to plain old American partisanship, offering real alternatives to Democratic proposals. But that scenario assumes the GOP leadership believes that Congress, and ultimately the electorate, can be swayed more by principled opposition than the politics of nope. With elections now less than six months away, that possibility, alas, seems about as likely as achieving nirvana.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

CONFESSING CAN BE FUN

 

They're humorously called "cringe" or "shame" parties, and everyone's invited. On condition the invitees tell all. Reading from teen diaries or adolescent love letters, they must come out with all the humiliations, disappointments and other blush-begetting pitalls of growing up that are thought too 'private' to make public. A rage in America, these dos where you "share your shame" with hundreds of strangers is spreading to Europe. We can see why. They take the confessional mode to the next level: good sports 'out' anything from romantic delusions to trysts with unrequited love, inviting derision but also seeking empathy.


Society's grouches will call it vulgar exhibitionism. But if someone dares to bare voluntarily, why object? People have always been driven by the urge to unburden their souls. And, in the modern world, most wouldn't associate confessionals with gravitas and secrecy and even less with guilt. The art of confessing has evolved as part of a secular, open-ended cultural dialogue. Take TV talk shows where flawed individuals, dysfunctional families and marginalised groups spill all before a voyeuristic yet generally sympathetic audience. This isn't just a washing of dirty laundry in public. Rather, it's a sign of the times. The more people live on their own terms and not by imposed standards of perfection, the less they feel the need to apologise for being human. Or to hide it.

Cringe partygoers admit they're human, warts and all, and have a sense of humour about it. Those who expose their own foibles and illusions regale others. More, they make others realise no one's alone, that everyone's united in a common humanity. Above all, such communication helps 'confessors' to laugh at themselves. What better way to overcome painful memories than to turn self-revelation into fun and entertainment, catharsis and communion rolled into one?

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

A CHEAP EXERCISE IN SELF-EXPOSURE

Self-flagellation has never been quite so popular. Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Springer and Howard Stern the airwaves are crammed with people who seem to like nothing better than to reduce others to blubbering wrecks. And their victims queue up eagerly, enamoured by the idea of giving a full frontal account of all their failings and indiscretions. So-called cringe parties although they seem more harmless than many of the other avenues for such humiliation pander to the same feelings of voyeurism and self-exposure.


This trend of baring all is little more than an emotional strip tease performed before a crowd of cheering strangers. Dress it up however you like the audience's soothing sympathy, the host's grave empathy, the self-appointed victim's bravery as he or she blurts out yet another deliciously shocking revelation there is something repulsive about it all. It is based on our craving for pity and approval, our search for instant absolution as if laying out our tawdry collection of sins before everyone somehow expiates them.


What exactly do cringe parties and their more serious versions the talk and reality shows that rule the ratings achieve? Are these hosts or their rent-a-quote professional counsellors qualified enough given that they deal with such delicate issues? Does confessing do any good or make the situation worse? Old-fashioned concepts though they may seem now, a certain reticence about one's personal life and the dignity that goes with it are not irrelevant yet. Baring your secrets and hoping for validation through others' sympathy can provide an easy way out. But learning how to deal with your problems yourself engenders a strength that is far more valuable.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

TRIPPING ITSELF UP

 

You have to say this much for members of the UPA: they are real troopers in the cause of democracy. It has now become clear to them that the BJP is slacking in its role of tripping up the government.

This, when issues like price rise and foreign policy have been served up to it on a platter. All right, we understand that BJP chief Nitin Gadkari is more keen to show the world that the party has a right regular bunch of lads who are not averse to a sing-song and a bit of self-deprecating humour now and again. But that is not nearly enough to keep the government on its toes.

So the UPA has had no choice but to evolve its own unique method of checks and balances. And leading from the front is the doughty Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh. Where would we be without his succinct comments on various issues from the new education initiatives to the government's 'alarmist and restrictive' policies on Chinese investment in telecom and infrastructure? Earlier we had

Mr Tharoor's incisive interventions on the government's policies. Now this is admirable and a sign that our democracy has really matured. Do you think that, even by a long stretch, you'd see the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton try and get a few whacks in at Barack Obama on his healthcare plan, unless she was looking at tending the petunias in Little Rock, Arkansas?

If only people followed our policy of letting it all hang out, the world would be an easier place. Now we are not suggesting that the UPA worthies are keen on this role of doubling up both as the party of governance and the Opposition. But with the Yadav duo busy trying to formulate future roadmaps to nowhere, the Left in a bit of a lurch and the BJP in musical mode, things will have to go on this way. A career in Bollywood may be waiting for some in the UPA where the same actor often plays double, triple, quadruple… roles.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OLD HABITS DIE HARD

 

If ever a nation did not deserve the leaders it has got, Nepal would probably be right up there in the rankings. After paralysing the country for the umpteenth time since the peace process began four years ago, the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has called off its strike citing hardships faced by the people. No one will buy this, given their past record and their earlier demand that Prime Minister Madhav Nepal resign and hand over power to them, which Mr Nepal refused to do.

One thing that was clear during this latest strike was the open hankering for power by the Maoists. At the end of the six-day strike, there is still no consensus on the new constitution, a sticking point among Nepal's political formations. Nor is there any political resolution to the deadlock among the political parties and the Maoists, with the latter rejecting Mr Nepal's invitation for talks. The Constituent Assembly that is to draft a new constitution is struggling and its term expires on May 28. With tourism in a shambles, thanks to the depredations of the Maoists, the people of Nepal are caught in a bind. Defying the Maoists could mean dire consequences for them, but the constant disruption of normal life means that many Nepalis who are daily-wage earners are faced with the prospect of penury. The disputes among the political parties are not likely to be resolved in the near future for they are not just about the composition of the government.

The Maoists and the other parties have differences over the federal structure, the system of governance and, most contentious, the integration and rehabilitation of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) into the country's army. The PLA's main motivation has been to take on class enemies, a far cry from the ethos of the country's professional army. The Maoists had a great chance at making a go of things when they were briefly in power but fell out with the coalition over a dispute on firing the army chief. Maoist leader Prachanda does not seem to understand that running a diverse country is very different from conducting guerrilla warfare. The give and take of democracy seems an alien concept to him and his cohorts. The indefinite bandhs that the Maoists continue to organise are hurting the common man. By relentlessly fomenting trouble and destabilising the country, the Maoists are only giving a handle to external forces who have a vested interest in keeping things on the boil.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

A LOSING PROPOSITION

SITARAM YECHURY

On the last day of the budget session of Parliament, the government hurriedly introduced the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill amid largescale protests by the Opposition. The Left had opposed the introduction of the Bill itself on the grounds of violation of Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees protection of life and personal liberty. Former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee says, "In view of Supreme Court judgements which are part of Indian jurisprudence and whose thrust is for the protection of victims of accidents as part of their fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution there is no warrant or justification for capping nuclear liability."

However, it is precisely such a cap that the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill introduces.

The proposed Bill has sought to limit all liability arising out of a nuclear accident to only 300 million Special Drawing Rights (about $450 million) and the liability of the operator only to Rs 300 crore. The difference between $450 million and Rs 300 crore (about $67 million) is the government's liability. Given that a serious accident can cause damage in billions, the small cap of $450 million that's been proposed shows the scant regard the the UPA has for the people.

The Bhopal Settlement of $470 million reached between the government of India and Union Carbide and accepted by the Supreme Court, has been shown to be a gross underestimation. Even today, gas victims are suffering and have received only meagre compensation. It is unconscionable of the UPA government to suggest that all nuclear accidents, which have the potential of being much larger than Bhopal, be capped at a figure that has already been shown to be a gross underestimate. Since the government wants to allow private operators in the nuclear power sector, this low level for compensation is meant to serve their interests too. Apart from this, the minuscule liability of Rs 300 crore for the actual operator is tantamount to encouraging the operator to play with plant safety.

The Indian legal regime is quite clear: for hazardous industries, the plant owners have strict liability. Neither does the law accept any limits to liability — the party concerned must not only pay full compensation but also the cost of any environmental damage that any accident may cause. The Oleum leak from Sriram Food and Fertility settled the liability regime in India and any legislation seeking to cap liability will be completely retrogressive.

Contrary to the claims being made, the Vienna Convention — the basis of the proposed Nuclear Liability Bill — does not cap nuclear liability but only puts a minimum floor. It also allows countries to operate their liability regimes. For example, Germany, Japan and Finland all have unlimited liability, the same as current Indian law. The US has a liability cap of $10.2 billion. Not only is the Indian government proposing to cap liability of nuclear plants, but it is also proposing a cap of only $450 million, way below the consequences of any serious nuclear accident. It appears that in order to promote private nuclear power and foreign suppliers, the UPA government is willing to sacrifice its own people.

The suppliers' liability is also being considerably weakened by the proposed Bill. Instead of the normal contract law, where recourse of the operator to claim damages is inherent, the Bill limits this recourse only if it is explicitly mentioned in the contract. Otherwise, the nuclear operator cannot claim compensation from the supplier of equipment even if it is shown to be faulty. It is evident that contracts for buying US nuclear reactors will explicitly exclude any liability on the part of the suppliers and, therefore, by the law to be adopted, they will go scot-free even if an accident occurs due to a defect in the equipment supplied by a US company. 

In fact the UPA-II government wanted such a legislation, which the prime minister could carry with him to the Nuclear Security Summit that President Obama convened in Washington in April. However, following the controversial passage of the Women's Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha with the help of marshals, the crucial support of 47 Lok Sabha MPs belonging to the BSP, SP and RJD was not forthcoming. This obstacle, however, appears to have been overcome now through possibly some 'bargain' similar to what happened at the time of the passage of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

The US is insisting that this law be enacted to protect US suppliers of nuclear equipment from liability to pay compensation in the case of a nuclear accident. Currently, only the State-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. under the existing Atomic Energy Act can operate nuclear power plants. But with the opening up of international nuclear commerce, US companies have sought a civil nuclear liability framework to be put in place before they enter. The US government has linked the completion of the Indo-US nuclear agreement to India's capping of nuclear liability. The UPA-I government, prior to the ratification of the 123 Agreement, had given a written commitment that India will buy nuclear reactors from the US totalling 10,000 megawatt of capacity.

This Bill has now been referred to the parliamentary standing committee for its consideration. It will now be tabled in the monsoon session. It is imperative for all political parties to ensure that the government is not allowed to disregard the life and safety of the Indian people through such a legislation. Article 21 of the Constitution and the various judgements of the Supreme Court cannot be allowed to be violated.

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP

The views expressed by the author are personal 

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CASTING CASTE

 

The last time caste was listed as a category in the census exercise was in 1931. And one need not go all that way back to survey the complications the government has just set up for itself by capitulating suddenly and agreeing to include caste identification in Census 2011. As John Henry Hutton, census commissioner in 1931, wrote later: "Experience at this census has shown very clearly the difficulty of getting a correct return of caste and likewise the difficulty of interpreting it for census purposes." Last week Home Minister P. Chidambaram told Lok Sabha: "The enumerator is not an investigator or verifier." There are for instance, he said, OBC (Other Backward Classes) lists at the Centre and the state, and they may be different; some states have these lists, some do not, and yet others have a subset of the most backward in this category. Also, just getting feedback from the enumerated on their caste identity would require a background understanding that is likely beyond the census' 21 lakh enumerators.

 

That problem of verification is similar 80 years on, but the India of 1931 is long past, and the ways of seeking caste identification cannot be taken from long ago. In the intervening years an independent country gave itself a progressive Constitution, that resolutely resists the idea of its citizens being ranked by caste. India today must come to the idea of caste by another route. Of course, the reality of caste exists in too many places and too many ways. Mitigating that reality, however, requires dealing with the systemic inequality resulting from caste realities but without, in turn, perpetuating caste. The Constitution rightly identifies the Scheduled Castes separately; but in allowing for affirmative action for others, it speaks of "other backward classes". Since the Mandal agitation opened up the politics of empowerment, that shorthand of caste as a marker for backwardness has been further nuanced. Groups listed at OBCs often defy the hierarchy of caste; the courts have laid down protocols for excluding the creamy layer; it is not just Hindus who are included; and the list is, in theory, updated periodically.

 

The point is, in modern India, must the state impose questions of caste identity on individuals? Is this task not better done through statistical endeavours, allowing an individual to opt in to avail of affirmative action on her own volition? These are among the questions the government must carefully consider, and be seen to be mindful about.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

END THE NEEDLING

 

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has managed to, in his own inimitable way, once again make the UPA look like a house divided. He has now gone to China and unburdened himself of his concerns that India's home ministry is "alarmist" and "paranoid". The point is not merely that a relatively junior member of the cabinet should not be talking out of turn about other ministries on a foreign trip. The question is larger than Jairam Ramesh. It is why UPA-II manages to give the impression of a leaky, off-kilter boat, divided, never staying on message, with no centre of gravity.

 

Ramesh's indiscretions follow on from Digvijay Singh's provocative assault on Home Minister P. Chidambaram last month; which followed Shashi Tharoor's multiple clangers and "Congressman-not-writer" Mani Shankar Aiyar refusing to miss an opportunity to needle the government and its policies. In the UPA-I we knew what the problem was: the Left, an ally giving the government outside support. But, in UPA-II, the fissures are within the Congress, raising questions about where the alliance's centre of gravity is. What undermines party-government discipline is the sense that too many party leaders have one eye firmly set on the 2014 elections, and are positioning themselves neatly for any rearrangements within the party and the government that might happen around that time. In the process, they are severely damaging this government's image, and distorting its message. That is not something that a Congress dependent for its government's survival on complex floor management, and therefore on a perception of authority and composure, can afford.

 

Is it the case that this is all orchestrated? That the Congress party wishes to put daylight between it and the government of which it is the major constituent? We do not subscribe to this theory. But it has, almost casually, become prominent, and a response is called for. The PM and the Congress president need to bring in discipline. The spectacle of individual Congressmen and women advancing their personal agendas by inflating notions of party-government dissonance cannot be in either's interest.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

FLAG OF UNREASON

 

In the middle of modernity, we are in the dark ages. Naveen Jindal, the promising young MP from Kurukshetra, has now declared his intention to mediate between Haryana's dreaded khap panchayats and the Centre. There has been widespread public recoil after a sessions court convicted a khap panchayat for their vigilante violence and the murder of a young couple for the sin of intra-gotra marriage. But khap panchayats are undeterred, and demand that the Hindu Marriage Act amended to make same-gotra marriages illegal.

 

Any original roles in dispute resolution and social order having long been rendered redundant, khap panchayats are now a dark and atavistic force in Haryana, responsible for maintaining frozen caste purities. Those who transgress, or undermine the khap's authority by simply falling in love with someone unsuitable — that is, someone whose family tree claims connection to the same clan — are punished through extreme social intimidation, even murder. Given the feebleness of legitimate panchayati raj institutions, the distinctions that khap panchayats foster have fed into political mobilisations. Despite the recent indictment, khap leaders have been obdurate in their insistence that caste honour transcends the Indian law, and they have been shamefully enabled by Haryana's political class, which exploits these divisions for electoral advantage. The administration is also complicit in perpetrating these practices, making it next to impossible for people to defy the khap's writ. The Haryana government has even defended the khap panchayats claiming that their being prosecuted under the Prevention of Unlawful Activities Act 1967 would be a "rash step", and would upset the state's law and order.

 

By acceding to the khaps' logic and agreeing to articulate their demands to the Centre, Jindal has clearly chosen sides and belied the hopes of those who considered him an enlightened voice for change, or even minimally progressive.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

MOVING ON IN NEW YORK

C. RAJA MOHAN

 

As the international community reviews the Non-Proliferation Treaty this month at the United Nations in New York, India must reaffirm its commitment to the global nuclear order and take steps to strengthen the NPT system.

 

At the conference many leading nations — not only from the developed world but also from among our friends in the non-aligned world — have demanded that

 

India join the NPT. But there is no question of India signing the NPT, since in its present form the treaty cannot accommodate Delhi as a nuclear weapon state. Any revision of the treaty is also virtually impossible given the complexity of the process involved.

 

The issue is not really about India signing the NPT. What matters is Delhi's approach to the non-proliferation regime. Is India a partner of the NPT or a permanent outsider and protestor?

 

As one of the world's nuclear weapon powers and a nation with plans to build a large commercial atomic energy programme, it is indeed India's obligation to boost the NPT. Any suggestion that India should endorse and support the NPT, however, generates considerable unease in Delhi, which has long denounced the treaty as "discriminatory".

 

To speak the unpalatable truth, the Indian strategic community is a victim of its own propaganda about the NPT over the last four decades. Whatever might have been the original reasons for Indian opposition to the NPT, those do not apply in the changed international context marked by India's own status as an emerging great power and the civil nuclear initiative that Delhi negotiated with the Nuclear Suppliers Group at the end of 2008.

 

India's rhetoric on the NPT's discriminatory character was never a compelling argument. After all, Delhi had accepted other unequal arrangements including the United Nations and the Bretton Woods system. Discrimination is a natural feature of international politics; so long as states are differently endowed and there is no world government, discrimination will remain an integral part of international life. "Matsya Nyaya" — big fish eating small — was central to the ancient Indian understanding of how sovereign entities relate to each other under conditions of anarchy.

 

No wonder states do not complain all the time about discrimination, but learn to cope with it. Some choose to rely on alliances with big powers; others strive to establish a minimum set of rules that bring some predictability to a world based on power politics; rising powers defy the system only to find an eventual accommodation on acceptable terms.

 

Those who protest against the NPT in India should ask themselves why the rest of the world has accepted it in such large numbers and stuck with it for four decades. Practically every nation in the world is now part of the NPT, except India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. Discrimination was not the central reason for India's opposition to the NPT, which was negotiated in the mid-1960s and came into force in 1970. It was about the unacceptable nuclear imbalance with China.

 

Once China tested its first atomic weapon in October 1964, barely two years after the Sino-Indian border conflict, India had no choice but to search for a measure of nuclear security. India first tried getting nuclear security guarantees from the major powers — Great Britain, the United States, and Soviet Russia. When it could not, Delhi went to the United Nations seeking a multilateral treaty to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. When the NPT that came out of this process was not satisfactory, Delhi chose to stay out citing reasons of inequity.

 

But once it declared itself a nuclear weapon power and initiated reconciliation with the international order, there is no reason at all for Delhi to use ideological arguments against the NPT. In New York last week, the word "discrimination" was in fact being thrown at Delhi. The complaint was about the exception that had been granted to Delhi by the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2008 as part of the implementation of the Indo-US civil nuclear initiative.

 

Delhi will not be the first to adapt its nuclear policy to changed circumstances. China, for example, had decried the nuclear order as it emerged in the 1960s as reflecting the political collusion and hegemony of the superpowers America and Russia. Once it normalised relations with Washington and was given the permanent seat at the UN Security Council, Beijing dropped its rhetoric against the NPT and eventually joined the treaty in the early 1990s. Now China is a champion of non-proliferation!

 

India began a similar journey since in May 1998 when it conducted nuclear tests. Two previous foreign ministers representing different governments — Jaswant Singh of the NDA and Natwar Singh of the UPA-I — declared that India had no quarrel with the NPT. In identical statements made in May 2000 and April 2005, respectively, in connection with the NPT review conferences, the two ministers said, "India may not be a party to the NPT, but our conduct has always been consistent with the key provisions of the treaty as they apply to nuclear weapon states."

 

Much has happened since then — including the successful negotiation of India's global civil nuclear initiative and the consequent transformation of India's nuclear status. India must now end its defensiveness on the NPT. It needs to articulate a clear vision about India's role in the management of the global nuclear order and its three pillars that are being examined in New York: non-proliferation, disarmament, and the expanded use of civilian nuclear energy.

 

Great powers have the burden of maintaining order in world politics even at the expense of equity and justice. As a rising power India must demonstrate that it is ready to undertake that responsibility and sustain the "discriminatory" global nuclear order built around the NPT.

 

raja.mohan@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

COTTONING ON

MILIND MURUGKAR

 

Our government changes its colours faster than a chameleon. Yesterday, it was announcing relief packages for distressed cotton growers; today it announces export bans on cotton. How can this government profess to be "pro-poor"? Yes, we have been witnessing the passage of one "pro-poor" bill after another in the Lok Sabha. But how can we take NREGA, Right to Information Act and now the Food Security Act as legislations designed in good faith when we see the government yielding to the pressure from textile mills to impose a ban on cotton exports? It appears that nothing has changed over so many decades: we still subsidise industry at the expense of farmers, announce relief measures to farmers on the one hand and take it all away through a regressive price policy. It is policymaking through pressure points. Clearly, the rich textile lobby is in a far better position to exert pressure than poor cotton farmers, once farmer suicides become yesterday's news.

 

The decision to ban cotton exports defies reason. Our cotton farmers have proved competitive in the international market. In the recent past India has emerged as a major exporter of raw cotton. This success is impressive given the fact that the cotton production in the USA, the world's second largest producer, is heavily subsidised. Add to this the pathetic state of rural infrastructure in India and the accomplishment of Indian farmers seems even more remarkable. Instead of encouraging them by building much-needed infrastructure and by facilitating exports and relieving their long felt distress, the government has decided to ban their exports, nipping in the bud the process of their recovery. The decision both tarnishes India's image as a reliable exporter and has triggered a downward spiral in domestic prices.

 

Most intriguing is the deafening silence from the Left, supposedly the champions of all causes on behalf of the poor. Why are they not protesting against this blatantly anti-poor measure? They would be denouncing the government, and trade, if cheap imports had made cotton prices take a dive. They protest against real and imagined threats from multinationals or from trade agreements. They rail against the hardship caused by the ups and downs in the market but they watch passively when the government makes back-room deals with rich mill owners to keep poor farmers from gaining from favourable market conditions. Under which ethical code is this justified?

 

It used to be the case that all anti-farmer policies were justified through clever semantics: refer to farmers as landlords or kulaks and identify industry with workers. It worked. It made us, white-collar city dwellers, feel comfortable in that we were on the side of the downtrodden and exploited. However, that trick can hardly work in the present case. The vast majority of cotton farmers are small farmers on dry land. Many of them have been in distress for years. Cotton grown by poor farmers is raw material for the textile mills, which need to get more efficient, with better management and technology, and compete in the international market. But they shouldn't be helped through export bans.

 

One argument sometimes heard is that an export ban has not affected small farmers since they had already sold off their produce right at the beginning of the season. But this understanding is naïve. The arrival of cotton in the market varies across agro-climatic regions. Therefore, an export ban affects all farmers irrespective of their land holding — and indeed most cotton farmers in India are small farmers.

 

What about the rest of the opposition? Not much has been heard from them either, although they were overflowing with impassioned rhetoric about farmers' suicides not too long ago. One would expect that local opposition parties like the Shiv Sena and its estranged cousin MNS would take up the cause of the farmers of Vidarbha. But that of course is wildly unrealistic. Instead, they have been busy scoring points over each other by invoking ridiculous symbols of identity politics, celebrating Maharashtra's golden jubilee year (the Shiv Sena was orchestrating Maharashtra Geet sung by a chorus of record-breaking size, while the MNS was trying to outdo them by producing a similarly oversized Puranpoli, the Marathi sweet). Maharashtra politics has reached, perhaps surpassed, levels of absurdity visible previously only in UP and Bihar.

 

The poor cotton farmer is caught between an insensitive ruling party on the one hand, and an opposition equipped only to play identity politics on the other. Confused civil society groups on the left, though motivated, have become mostly irrelevant. When will Indian politics engage with such, real, issues of substance, with pro-poor rhetoric giving way to pro-poor policy?

 

The writer is a policy researcher with Pragati Abhiyan, Nasik

 

express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

'WE DON'T HIRE TRADITIONAL PEOPLE. WE LOOK FOR RAW SMARTS'

 

The information revolution in India is powered, to a large extent, by Google—be it search, email or chat. In this Walk the Talk with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta, Nikesh Arora, who joined Google in 2004 and went on to become president of global sales operations, talks about his formative years in India, Google's unconventional hiring practices and work ethics, and the importance of information

 

Shekhar Gupta: My guest today is Nikesh Arora, Google's President, Global Sales Operations and Business Development. We are in one of your favourite classrooms in Delhi's Air Force School, Subroto Park.

 

Nikesh Arora: Yes. This is the classroom I studied in, in classes XI and XII. We sat here and spent three hours drawing, and learning how to draw, electrical things so that we could become engineers.

 

Shekhar Gupta: The reason to bring you here is to tell the world where you come from because everyone knows where you belong.

 

Tell us a little bit about your journey.

 

Nikesh Arora: Well, my father was in the Air Force. So every few years we had to pack our bags and move. I went to various Kendriya Vidyalayas around the country and then I ended up here because we moved here. And my parents saw that I needed some stability, so this is where I spent the last two years of my high school education. I had a great time, learned a lot. Then from here I went to Banaras Hindu University—Institute of Technology, BHU—and I studied electrical engineering, and then I came and worked at Wipro for a year. It was fascinating. It was 1989 and I think for the first time PCs were beginning to get hard disks. And given that I had just come out of engineering school, I was given a job that the earlier sales guy probably didn't want, which was to sell to the Indian government.

 

Shekhar Gupta: It must have taken some doing.

 

Nikesh Arora: Well, let's say some of those computers ended up on desks and some of those ended up as great props for coffee trays.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Did the government understand computers then?

 

Nikesh Arora: The good news is that there were parts of the government that were very keen on computerisation, like the National Information Centre. Then I decided to go to a business school in the US, so I went to Boston, during what was perhaps one of the big recessions in the US in 1992. So it was again a bit of a toil to find a job after going to business school. I ended up working there in a place called Fidelity Investments for five years.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Fidelity Investments and then Deutsche Telekom.

 

Nikesh Arora: There was another one—Putnam Investments, where I managed money. But one of the highlights of my time at Fidelity was that we were looking to outsource IT, so I could come back to India and talk to a lot of IT companies. It was 1994-95. And it is fascinating that even then this was the place to come and get outsourcing done.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But why was this the place to come to?

 

Nikesh Arora: It is fascinating. You can have a debate about which education system is better, and I think for a majority of us, at least for me, what worked in the Indian education system was the rigour. And now, you talk of other education systems around the world. My daughter goes to school, and there is way too much flexibility. My perspective is it is good to give people options, to eight-year-olds and ten-year-olds, but a little bit of discipline, a little bit of rigour, is a wonderful thing. It goes a long way.

 

Shekhar Gupta: When you went out, India had begun to change. Until then, almost all IITians used to go out.

 

Nikesh Arora: A majority of people ended up leaving the country at that point and working abroad. I do feel that trend has, hopefully, stopped, that it is reversing.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And they didn't come back as often as you do when you work overseas.

 

Nikesh Arora: A lot of people who I went to school with, who ended up going out, are coming back to work in India full-time. And a lot of us who work there want to come back and give back in some ways so that we get involved with various things in the country.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Tell us about how you joined Google. There are all kinds of urban legends. I hear that Larry Page and Sergey Brin interviewed you in the British Museum. You had to go through 19 interviews.

 

Nikesh Arora: After working in Boston I decided I needed to do something different. So I met the Chairman of Deutsche Telekom who was a friend and he said, why don't you come and do something for us. It wasn't quite clear what I was going to do. So, here I was in Germany, I didn't speak German. I started with the mobile data business and worked with them for about five years. Then I got tired of flying from London to Germany and back every week. I decided to start something again. So, here I was writing a business plan to start a mobile virtual network operator in the UK, France and Germany. And a friend of mine called me and said there was this guy interviewing people for this company called Google, which just went public.

 

So I ended up talking to this guy and we went to the Google office, which was about 80 people in the UK at that time. It was a small rented office. I had one conversation. The guy I talked to was my boss for five years and he is now sort of retired. He said, I have met 45 people and I would like you and one more person to come back and meet our founders. Sergey Brin and I met at the British Museum and that is where the interview happened, it is true.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And what is it that struck you about Page and Brin?

 

Nikesh Arora: They wrote this thing called the founders' letter, which was written in a sort of way where it challenges tradition. There were things in it, such as, we don't manage corporate earnings, we don't have many stakeholders, our stakeholders are users, we will do no evil. And I actually believed it when I talked to them. I think they were 28 when I started working for them and I was 36 and for the first time in my life I was going to work for people who were going to be younger than me.

 

Shekhar Gupta: I think you said somewhere that what they liked about you was raw smarts.

 

Nikesh Arora: Yes, they enjoyed the conversation but that is not enough. They felt that to be hired at Google, you have to be liked by a lot more people than just the founders. So, I still had to go to California and meet about 18 people before they would decide whether they would hire me. At the end, the CEO puts his arm around me and says, Nikesh, I really enjoyed meeting you but you do realise that the first thing we want you to do is be head of sales, and you don't have experience in that field except for one year in India. He said, the people we hire at Google are people who we believe can be sort of multi-faceted in life because we will change many times in the future as a company. So, if we hire very specific people who are fixated with one thing, then we run the risk that we will not be as nimble, as a company. And that thought stayed with me and it stays me with every time I hire. We don't hire traditional people. We look for raw smarts because we believe it is a good thing. But then we look for passion too.

 

There are very simple ways of making sure you don't get a negative. We do end up with false negatives, we end up rejecting somebody who might actually be very good, but we make sure that we don't end up hiring somebody who is not good because a lot of people come to us. We can check grades, we can check schools, all those things that say you have a good pedigree, that you have done well in the community of smart people. But beyond that ,there are two tests that you apply. One is what we call the airport test. I am stuck with this person at the airport, would I be happy spending three hours with this person? Would I be looking for the nearest way to escape? If you hire somebody whom you want to escape from, it is usually not a good idea.

 

The other one, which is more interesting, is passion. So one of the guys, for example, who works for me, won the Olympic Gold in figure skating. And he has got a regular MBA. So you say, why would we hire him? He must have learned in his life how to sacrifice a lot of other things to spend his entire life in figure skating. So this guy knows discipline, this guy knows perseverance, this guy knows how to win in some context. So, if he knows that, if he can bring those innate qualities to life in what we do, I am sure he's going to help us. I got somebody who is a poet, I got somebody on the British rowing team, so all these people have done very different things in life. Actually, the most interesting person we hired was somebody who claimed she was the world knitting champion and she had A grades from a top university, but also a passion.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And then you make them Google people?

 

Nikesh Arora: No, they make Google. The culture of Google is actually made by the people who work there. We don't have a bunch of rules that will say this is how you behave. People get together. We try and put as few constraints on them as possible. So, sometimes, we feel like we are living in managed chaos—sometimes it is managed and sometimes it is chaos.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Tell us about how you are dealing with the China challenge.

 

Nikesh Arora: We prefer not having to edit our service, we believe in the freedom of expression, we believe people have the right to access information, which is what I am very proud about. And from that perspective, we felt that we would rather not edit our services in China, so we decided to move our servers outside of China. We serve them from Hong Kong and the users have the right to access the information. If the government feels it wants to block access to certain information, it can do so.

 

Shekhar Gupta: You have worked in so many countries.

 

Nikesh Arora: Sixty, so far.

 

Shekhar Gupta: If we just look at the search pattern on Google, they are very similar across countries. They are not uniform but quite similar. You must have unique experiences or unique learnings from each country, but what does India teach you? Because India is so peculiar—I don't think any other country has invented the missed call?

 

Nikesh Arora: I think the market here is still growing, so we don't see the general characteristics of e-commerce that we see around the world. But we still see a thirst for information, we see a lot of search for entertainment and clearly, this market has more English searches than any other non-native English market.

 

Shekhar Gupta: We are probably the only democracy where a minister has lost his job because of Twitter. What does that tell you at Google?

 

Nikesh Arora: That means that the country believes in freedom of expression. There are instances where people have lost jobs because of YouTube. What people lose their jobs for is doing something they shouldn't have done in the first place. I am not sure technology changes the game, all technology does is that it creates a more equal right to information. If you look at it historically, anywhere where people have had more information, the country has progressed.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And that has begun to happen in India now.

 

Nikesh Arora: It has. And the spread of information is going to create opportunity.

 

Shekhar Gupta: You are on Twitter and I notice you follow a lot of film stars—Abhishek Bachchan, Minisha Lamba, Lara Dutta. Are you interested in Bollywood?

 

Nikesh Arora: I am interested in the brand phenomenon. And I am trying to figure out how people use Twitter. So, I am following a set of people from every segment of society.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So, this is work too?

 

Nikesh Arora: No. I guess it's a natural curiosity for technology. I have a story about Twitter. My father was visiting and I was trying to teach him how to use email. He was like, 'I am tired, I can't figure this out, I am okay with an SMS, I am okay with my phone.' Then one day my daughter walked up to me and said, 'Dad, my friends are using Twitter, can I use it?' I said I don't use Twitter and I don't think you should be using it. It is a set of flashbacks—my dad can't learn email, now am I turning into a person who's going to start saying no to technology because I feel I have enough technology to contend with? That was the day I signed up for Twitter. And then I need to understand how people use Twitter.

 

Some of these guys are very good at it, they get tens of thousands of people following them and slowly they are using them to sell the movies they are acting in, journalists are using them to get opinions, people are using them to create excitement for their sports. It is being used as a way to get people more and more engaged with the brand. So it is a perfect case of brand engagement.

 

Shekhar Gupta: You stay engaged with India not just with your Google sales, but also as a board member in Bharti. And you are a cricket buff. You were at the IPL final. Do you see yourself doing more with India, as a Google person and as Nikesh Arora?

 

Nikesh Arora: I think I have got to a point where I love what I do, but I want to make sure that I give back, and clearly, India is there at the top of my list, right there with my family and everything else. I went to school here, I went to university here, I feel very passionately about India, what happens here and how I want to see more progress in the country. So, clearly, in whichever small way I can contribute, I will try.

Transcribed by Mehraj D. Lone

www.indianexpress.com

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

OPPOSITION WITHIN

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been spending a lot of time playing schoolmaster lately. Specifically, he is repeatedly being called upon to sort out squabbles between his ministers. The most recent fracas has the Union minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh attacking the Union home ministry's attitude towards Chinese companies as 'alarmist' and 'paranoid'. He said this in Beijing of all places. Ramesh was reportedly referring to the ban on import of telecom equipment from Chinese major Huawei. Instead of passing adverse comments on sensitive international issues in a foreign country, Ramesh could as well have raised any concerns he had within the less controversy-conducive spaces of party and government forums. Was he actually looking to just create controversy? Wouldn't that be highly irresponsible? The PM has reportedly reminded Ramesh that it wasn't advisable for Cabinet members to publicly comment on the conduct of their colleagues' ministries. But that such a basic point needed reminding reflects an unfortunate state of affairs in the UPA government. Debate is one thing, but open clashes and chaos in government ranks do not inspire confidence even among policy enthusiasts—leave alone convincing sceptics about the acuity of chosen plans.

 

Ramesh, of course, has lately been at odds with many Cabinet colleagues. Union minister for road transport and highways Kamal Nath has been raising objections about how many infrastructure projects are getting stalled on environmental grounds. Minister of agriculture, consumer affairs, food and public distribution Sharad Pawar has weighed in on Nath's side—asking, for example, why the road to Solapur in Maharashtra had been blocked by Ramesh's ministry on the grounds that it passed through a sanctuary, when that was not the case. Ramesh, for his part, would like to shift the blame onto states' shoulders. On the states' front, Gujarat CM Narendra Modi and Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan are just two of the many voices that have been challenging Ramesh's environmental decrees. Given that the Cabinet isn't speaking in one voice, such challenges are gaining rising validity and the chaos is worsening. Even the general secretary of the All India Congress Committee Digvijay Singh made a notable contribution to this chaos recently when he challenged the rigorousness of the home minister's thinking on the Maoist issue, surely one of the biggest challenges confronting India today. There are better ways to thrash out their differences, than going public at the drop of a self-indulgent hat.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BANKING ON GROWTH

 

Banks have posted better-than-expected results for the quarter-ended March and also for the entire financial year on the back of late pick-up in credit growth and high net interest income. Both private and public sector banks have been able to increase low-cost deposits by more than 50%; and a strong expansion in loan portfolios and fee-based activities like advisory fees, commissions and treasury income have helped banks to increase their margins in the range of 25-40% in the quarter-ended March. The growth momentum in fee-based income will continue to remain healthy because of the pick-up in credit disbursement. The recent spurt in home and auto loans offtake will augur well for banks in garnering processing fees and other non-fund based income. Net interest margins—the spread between interest earned and interest expended—of banks increased sequentially as lending rates did not change and bulk deposit rates remained very low. As a result, banks with a larger component of wholesale deposits benefited from the sharp downward re-pricing of rates. However, concerns still remain over rising gross non-performing assets, which have increased for both the public and private sector banks in the quarter-ended March 2010 compared to the same quarter last year. With growing current account and savings account deposits, banks like ICICI, HDFC and Axis are better placed at the beginning of the growth cycle.

 

Going ahead, non-food credit growth is expected to touch 20% this current financial year as compared to 17% in the last financial year, backed by strong growth in retail loans, a higher working capital requirement for companies and an increase in capital expenditure because of strong economic growth. Interestingly, while the loan-to-GDP ratio in India has gone up from 24% in 2001 to 60% in the last financial year, it remains significantly lower than other developed and emerging market economies, indicating significant growth opportunity for both private and public sector banks. As banks have still not increased their lending rates despite the 25 bps rise in the cash reserve ratio, repo and reverse repo rates by Reserve Bank of India in its annual policy statement last month, risk aversion of banks is clearly reducing as the economic outlook continues to improve. But any sudden spike in interest rates can dampen investor confidence in economic recovery. Otherwise, things are looking good for banks in the financial year 2010-11.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

GAS DISPUTE IS ABOUT MORE THAN AMBANIS

KAUSHIK RANJAN BANDOPADHYAY

 

In a truly significant and balanced ruling, the Supreme Court ended the long-standing public squabble between the Ambani brothers on the pricing and allocation of a sovereign resource. The dispute was centred on a private MoU that decided on the price ($2.34per mmBtu) quantity (28 million units) and tenure of gas supplies (17 years) by Mukesh Ambani's RIL to Anil Ambani's RNRL. In the judgement, Justice Sathasivam, one of the three-judge bench of the SC, categorically mentioned, "The people of the entire country have a stake in natural gas and that its benefit has to be shared by the whole country." Given the fact that natural gas is a key driver of GDP growth and meets nearly 10% of India's primary energy requirement at present, the ruling comes as a real breather for all of us, not just for any particular entity—public or private.

 

The SC's ruling also endorsed the MoPNG's plea, albeit delayed, on the ground of the nation's energy security by declaring the government as the legal owner of gas (until it reaches the consumer) and affirmed the legally non-binding nature of the private MoU between the two brothers. The ruling categorically mentioned that the private MoU cannot override the government's right to fix price and approve utilisation of gas. The ruling, in a way, also removes the hurdles that the government would otherwise face in its proposed rationalisation of natural gas prices. The proposed rationalisation is primarily aimed at removing the price differential of natural gas based on variegated sources and eventually bringing parity with the benchmark price of the gas produced from K-G basin by 2013, in a phased manner.

 

There is another important issue that came to the fore in the ruling of the SC about the MoU. The MoU was clearly written within the four walls and not made public. Thus the three million shareholders of RIL-RNRL combined were not kept abreast while drafting such a closed-door family pact. In view of that, the SC underscored that the MoU does not technically come under the purview of corporate law. The immediate jolt of the verdict was manifest in share prices of RIL gearing up by about 5% to Rs 1,050 while that of RNRL nose-diving by 20% to Rs 50.

 

With due recognition of the potential fallouts with shareholders, the SC stated: "The GSMA (gas supply master agreement)/GSPA (gas sale and purchase agreement) deeply affects the interests of the shareholders of both the companies. These interests must be balanced." The SC also directed RIL to renegotiate the terms of GSMA with RNRL within six weeks, in order to safeguard the interests of the shareholders, and finalise the same within eight weeks. The apex court further advised that the resultant decision of renegotiation should be placed before the Company Court for necessary orders. In the context of renegotiation, the SC mentioned that the agreement between the two brothers should serve as the 'guiding tool' in reaching the new gas supply and pricing pact in conformity with the guidelines of the government.

 

The next six weeks are going to be crucial and will reflect upon whether the battle could really be declared over or not. However, there is no doubt that the SC ruling clearly implies a renegotiated gas price of no less than the price of $4.2 per mmBtu as this was the price that was decided by the EGoM in August 2008 (under the chairmanship of Pranab Mukherjee) as the benchmark price for KG-D6 gas and the SC's quashing of the private MoU reaffirmed that. The ruling, in a way, also vindicates the stand of RIL that it cannot accept a price that is below the price that has been benchmarked by the government. Considering otherwise, the benchmark price does not appear to be uneconomical from the point of view of fertiliser and power producers, who are the main consumers. This has already been shown by an evaluative study in the context of natural gas pricing carried out by Goldman Sachs way back in 2007.

 

The Hydrocarbon Vision 2025 and the Integrated Energy Policy (brought out by the Planning Commission in 2006) have both projected a considerable increase in the share of natural gas in India's energy mix in the future to sustain a robust economic growth of around 8-9%. Given the increasing importance of natural gas as an immediately viable and superior alternative to oil in the future energy mix, the detailed verdict also clears the plethora of doubts that have crept into the minds of our citizens on account of this long-drawn murky dispute. It comprehensively clarified the issue of ownership rights of this crucial national asset and the government's sole discretionary power in terms of pricing and allocation of the same.

 

The author is a senior fellow at the Asian Institute of Transport Development, New Delhi

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

SHOULD WE BE COUNTING CASTES?

P RAGHAVAN


The government's decision to introduce a caste headcount in the ongoing decennial census once again brings to the fore a contentious issue that has remained unresolved since the colonial times. This is because the number of caste groups and their status in the social hierarchy differs from region to region. Also, different censuses and other studies have themselves thrust out vastly disparate figures about the actual number of castes themselves and their sub-groups.

 

So, for instance, while the 1901 Census identified 1,646 castes in all, the number rose to 4,147 in the 1931 Census, including 300 castes among Christians and 500 among Muslims. The main problem was that the government's effort to identify caste itself led to the evolution of new caste labels that aimed at merging diverse castes spread across different geographical regions but with a common occupation. Thus was born the now politically ascendant Yadav category, created by combining Ahirs, Goalas, Gopis, Idaiyans and other castes of milkmen and grazers, pointed out by the 1931 Census Commissioner, JH Hutton. The latest numbers on caste are from The Peoples of India Project, launched by the Anthropological Survey of India, which identified as many as 4,635 different castes in the late-1990s.

 

If the identification of castes was so problematic then, the estimation of the size of the backward classes was even more complex and remains so even now. This grouping first came into significant use only in 1918 when the princely state of Mysore appointed a committee to investigate the status of backward communities in public service. Then in the mid-1920s, the Bombay government followed up with a definition for the group. Later other regions like the United Provinces, Travancore and Madras prepared lists enumerating these castes.

 

In Independent India, the Constitution spoke only about backward classes and not about backward castes. There was no major attempt to define backward classes at a national level so much so that TT Krishnamachari, India's first finance minister, predicted that the term backward classes would be a paradise for lawyers. The general belief was that the grouping would be designated at a local level. And it also reflected an acceptance of the wide divergence of this category across the states and even within them.

 

Article 340 of the Constitution also mentions that the President is to appoint a backward class commission and this was first done in 1953 under the chairmanship of Kaka Kalelkar and later in 1979 under BP Mandal. While Kalelkar prepared a list of 2,399 backward castes, including 837 classified as most backward; Mandal enumerated 3,743 castes as OBCs and used the 1931 Census figures to estimate the Hindu and non-Hindu OBC population at 52%.

 

This estimate of the OBC population seems to be excessively high if one looks at the data from the estimates made by the NSSO. For instance, a 1999-2000 survey showed that 39.9% of Hindus and 31.2% of Muslims described themselves as OBCs. However, a later survey in 2004-05 showed that the share of Hindus describing themselves as OBC had gone up to 44.9% and that of Muslims to 40.9%.

 

But such self-supported identification is not deemed valid in the census procedures. For instance, the enumeration of scheduled caste and scheduled tribes is done strictly on the basis of the caste list supplied to enumerators, which varies across states. So even if a person identifies himself as SC or ST, he would be enumerated as one only if his caste or tribe name figures in the enumerators list.

 

Preparing state-specific lists of OBC from 4,000-odd castes would be a Herculean process. It can also raise new claims and counter-claims causing conflicts and violence as was seen during the Gujjar agitation in recent years. Fears have also been expressed that such a caste census would provide a stamp of legal-administrative sanction and only further promote caste identities. The only positive impact of a well worked out caste census will perhaps be that it would bring down what are likely to be widely exaggerated figures on the size of the OBC population. The 2001 Census estimates show that STs, SCs, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs account for roughly 42% of the population. That figure by itself suggests that OBCs are not likely to constitute 50% of the total population as is often claimed.

 

Still, given the many procedural difficulties involved, it is probably best that a caste census is avoided at this point in time.

 

p.raghavan@expressindia.com

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

 MORE VOTING RIGHTS

ASHOK KUDALE

 

The Development Committee of the World Bank took historic decisions on increasing the financial capacity of the WB and enhancing the role of developing countries in its governance. India has now become the seventh largest shareholder of the WB with an increase in voting power from 2.77% to 2.91%. The US still leads with voting rights of 15.85% followed by Japan's 6.84% and China's 4.42%. In recognition of global economic changes, the voting power of countries like India, China, Brazil and Turkey has increased, bringing developing countries' share to 47.19%, while that of the countries that have traditionally dominated international finance like the UK, France, Germany, etc, has gone down to 52.81%.

 

In addition to changes in voting rights, the WB will raise its capital base through a general capital increase by $58 billion. Due to increased demand for bank assistance caused by the financial crisis, it was likely that the WB would have reached its statutory lending limit in a few years, constraining the bank's lending capacity. The increase in its capital base, along with the capital that will flow in because of the realignment in shareholding, will allow the WB to lend an additional $86 billion. As one of its largest borrowers, India will also be able to secure additional assistance from the WB of about $7-10 billion.

 

These changes will strengthen the WB's role as an effective multilateral instrument for eradicating poverty, supporting efforts to manage global public goods and keep it relevant in a dynamic world. India has made a plea for giving emerging economies more voice in shaping the global financial architecture. Countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal should have greater economic integration with India. The combined economic block can garner up to 10% vote in the next 10 years, which will be useful in channelling funding for development projects within the region.

 

Emerging nations have been waging a long battle for an overhaul of the systems in the IMF and WB to show their growing economic strength (which should emphasise the blend of GDP-PPP, thus better reflecting the real economy). Due to this, the WB has recognised that the support of the emerging economies should be a requirement for ensuring multi-polar growth and for creating new markets and investment opportunities.

The author is at Pune University

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

FIGURING OUT SHAHZAD

 

Precisely what led New York terror suspect Faisal Shahzad to try and set off a car-bomb in Times Square is not yet known. His journey from child of privilege to transnational jihadist was fuelled by the ideas of Yemen-based Islamist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, shaped by contacts with Jaish-e-Mohammad operatives in Karachi, and transformed into action by training and funds from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. The stereotypical elements supposed to drive jihadists — poverty or indoctrination in madrasas — had no role in his life. The son of an affluent Pakistan Air Force officer, Shahzad studied in the United States before starting a reasonable career. Post-9/11, it has become clear that many young people from well-heeled backgrounds are being drawn to jihadist groups: Daniel Pearl's executioner Syed Omar Sheikh, British-born al-Qaeda operative Dhiren Barot, and Pakistani-American jihadist David Headley were all products of western affluence. Last year alone, the U.S. faced over a dozen jihadist attacks initiated by American nationals. Many citizens of European states are also known to be fighting alongside the Taliban and its Islamist allies.

 

Why is the diasporic jihadist threat growing? Pakistan's reluctance to dismantle the infrastructure of jihadist groups — set up, in the main, as instruments of the state against India — is one reason. Would-be jihadists in the West now have ready access to training and funds. There is also a second, deeper, problem. More than a decade ago, Hanif Kureishi explored the cultural tensions that underpin western Islamism in his novella, My Son, The Fanatic. Kureishi's story centres on the problematic relationship between Pakistan-born Briton Pervez, for whom Great Britain represents unlimited opportunity, and his son, Farid. The young man rebels against his father's search for upward mobility, arguing that the West is "a sink of hypocrites, adulterers, homosexuals, drug takers and prostitutes." Many diasporic jihadists are driven less by theology than by rage against the societies around them. Researchers have found this rage to be made up of an inchoate mix of political discontent, cultural dislocation, and even sexual anxieties. Unfortunately, hundreds of young diaspora Indians, among them Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh, have been drawn to the diverse fundamentalisms of the homeland their parents left. The seduction of young people by extremists reflects the failure of immigrant communities and political institutions to tackle the problem at its roots. Politicians, community leaders, and intellectuals must work together to marginalise the extremists in their fold and intervene at various levels to counter the dangerous trend

 

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THE HINDU

TREATING KIDNEY DISEASE

 

India has a staggering burden of chronic kidney disease (CKD). Unfortunately for the vast majority of patients who progress to the end stage, the consequence is fatal renal failure. There is a strong case rapidly to scale up facilities for free or highly-subsidised dialysis because this therapy can cost a prohibitive Rs. 300,000 a year. Access to dialysis is crucial, since kidney transplants are available only to a small minority who can find a legal donor and afford the costs. But the major challenge lies at the public health policy level. Can governments prevent people with early CKD from developing renal failure? The good news is that they can — at relatively low cost. Fresh evidence indicates that a simple medical protocol can prevent most patients with compromised kidney function from developing end-stage disease early. Distinguished nephrologist M. Krishna Mani reports in his paper titled "Treating Renal Disease in India's Poor: The Art of the Possible" published by Seminars in Nephrology, January 2010, that a 15-year study of patients with chronic kidney disease from 1993 shows the potential for a remarkable extension of lifespan using the protocol. Compared with patients who were not part of the regimen, the treatment extended life by even 17 years. At the heart of the protocol is the reduction of the rate of decline in renal function using drugs classified as Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and Angiotensin Receptor Blockers.

 

The data from Dr. Mani's unit strengthen the trend of positive outcomes achieved in pilot programmes of the International Society of Nephrology Commission for the Global Advancement of Nephrology that followed the same strategy. These interventions provide key pointers for public health policy. The most important is obviously the need for a population-level programme of annual testing to detect diabetes and hypertension. Treating both conditions with lifestyle modification (such as dietary controls and exercise) and medication is essential to prevent kidney damage (and related cardiovascular disease). For those who have impaired renal function — measured by the presence of protein in urine and a threshold value for the kidney's filtration capacity — the treatment protocol must follow. Affordable generic drugs reduce further damage to kidney filters from elevated blood pressure and protein loss. The value of such prevention is inestimable, because only about one per cent of patients with end-stage renal disease in India can afford treatment. Moreover, there is just one nephrologist for every 1.6 million Indians. The kidney is a silent organ, but ignoring it can lead to disastrous consequences.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

WILL COUNTING CASTE HELP TO REDUCE INEQUALITY?

MORE THOUGHT NEEDS TO BE GIVEN TO THE KIND OF DATA GENERATED AND ITS PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS.

NANDINI SUNDAR

 

Yesterday when the census enumerator visited, I asked him how he felt about the current debate on counting caste in the census: "Not comfortable at all", he said, "I don't even like asking whether someone is SC/ST or Other, leave alone what their caste is." But, he added, "caste is an inescapable reality of Indian society."

 

The debate on counting caste in the census has not moved on from 2001, when opinion was equally divided. Supporters of caste enumeration argue that census categories merely reflect existing classifications, and that only the census can provide the figures necessary to map inequality by caste. Opponents argue that the census does not mirror but actively produces social classifications and ways of thinking. They point to the history of mobilisation around caste in the census and the consequent dangers of both distorted data and increased social tensions. In neither case has much thought been given to how the data might be used, the different kinds of figures needed for different purposes, or alternative ways of collecting the required data.

 

On the surface, caste enumeration appears to be a UPA concession to its OBC allies, but more fundamentally, it fits with the larger political agenda of moving people off the land, holding out the illusory promise of formal employment. For social justice, we are made to believe there is no alternative to reservation, and for reservation, no alternative to counting caste. With over 90 per cent of people in the informal sector, reservation can hardly be the primary solution to greater equality. There is no doubt that stringent affirmative action policies are required to make formal institutions more socially inclusive, but to shackle the census to this agenda betrays a failure to learn from the past or to think imaginatively about the future.

 

University degrees are important for certification, especially for those historically deprived of education, but they do not necessarily contribute to the creation and expansion of knowledge. For instance, there are over 20,000 rice varieties in Chhattisgarh, some 6000 of them in Bastar alone, yet this knowledge is rarely factored into discussions around educational expansion. 'Social Justice' becomes simply whether certain castes get admission into agricultural universities, not whether those institutions enhance existing knowledge or contribute to people's well being. And in the meantime, the holders of such knowledge are being decimated through land acquisition, displacement and inhumane forms of counterinsurgency. The counting of SCs and STs in the census has not led to any greater justice for them — not only do Mirchpur type incidents continue; but even in terms of planning or the everyday provision of services in villages, common educational or health facilities are often situated in upper caste hamlets, even when there are clearly larger populations of Muslims or Dalits in the village.

 

The transformation of caste through the census: While earlier rulers also created lists of castes and occupations, such as those in the Ain-i Akbari or the Rajatarangini, the urge to map every single caste is commonly attributed to the colonial need to know their populations in order to govern. Caste and religion were seen as key categories with which to explain native behaviour: to explain insanity, to help in the recruitment of 'martial races' to the army, or to determine which groups had a propensity to crime.

 

Yet successive Census Commissioners like Risley in 1901 and Yeatts in 1941 described the caste tables as the most troublesome and expensive part of the census: Risley complained: "If the person enumerated gives the name of a well known tribe or caste...all is well. But he… may give the name of a sect, of a sub-caste, of an exogamous sept or section... his occupation or the province from which he comes." In 1881 in Madras presidency alone, the inhabitants returned 3208 different castes, which the census then regrouped into 309 castes.

 

Enumeration also required people to be slotted into categories that were mutually exclusive even if untrue to their lived experience. A person could not have two castes or two religions. Where the 1911 census had recognised several sects as Hindu-Muhammadans, in 1921 they were reclassified as either one or the other, except for the Sindh Sanjogis who refused and were relegated to 'other.' The Meos today face similar problems, caught between the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Tabligh e Jamaat.

 

As people began to realise the value of census categories for economic, social and political advancement, mobilisation around the census increased, particularly after Risley's 1901 ranking of castes in order of "native opinion of social precedence". Numerous petitions to the census commissioners asked to have the names of castes changed or be ranked higher in the social hierarchy. For instance, the Khatris claimed that their name was really a corruption of Kshatriya. The census also initiated a wider transformation, with hundreds of caste associations formed between the 1880s and 1930s, addressing their demands both to the state and towards internal social reform.

 

Caste was not the only ascriptive identity politicised by the census. Religion, especially pre-partition, and

language were equally explosive, and saw complaints against alleged enumerator bias. For instance, in 1941, the Dalit Chuhras in Punjab complained of pressure to be recorded as Sikhs or Hindus by Sikh and Hindu enumerators and demanded that their religion be entered as Adh Dharm instead.

 

Given such battles, and the concern that India's innumerable castes and religions were used to justify colonial rule, the constituent assembly framing the Census Act of 1948 decided to exclude caste returns (except for SCs and STs). However, since caste did not disappear from public life as was hoped, political attitudes towards counting it have changed dramatically. Similar debates have taken place over the counting of race and ethnicity in the U.S. and U.K. census respectively, with some people pointing to the unscientific nature of race, and others arguing that "In order to get beyond racism, we must first take a count of race."

 

Nature of data: Assuming (optimistically) that the demand for caste enumeration is driven by an anti-discrimination, pro-equality impulse, we need to consider how the data thrown up by the census will fit public needs. Unlike earlier censuses which were caste and religion based, any proposed caste inclusive census would not have caste as a key variable, but simply as one return among others. It will depend on the precise tabulations decided upon whether we get a caste wise breakup of literacy, sex ratio, female work force participation etc. One argument being made is that it will help to identify weaker castes among the OBCs, but that would depend on the level of caste detail (sub-caste, caste) at which tabulations are carried out.

 

The major benefit the census will provide is the numbers of each caste by region, making it possible for researchers to conduct other kinds of surveys, e.g. to assess through additional sample surveys, the percentage of civil servants from a particular caste. On the other hand, because of returns which fluctuate according to identity politics, it may be difficult to construct accurate time series records to assess changing mobility trends.

 

Even for the purpose of measuring 'backwardness', the census is only a beginning, not an end in itself. While the Mandal Commission extrapolated from 1891 and 1931 census data, this alone was not the basis for its classifications. The comprehensive socio-economic survey conducted by the Second Backward Classes Commission (BCC) in Karnataka under Justice Venkataswamy yielded generally accepted population figures for each caste, but its indicators of backwardness were flawed. As Justice Chinnappa Reddy, who chaired the Third BCC noted, simply aggregating all the indicators of backwardness (data potentially available through a census) and ranking castes on that basis as was done by the 2nd BCC would place Vokkaligas in Karnataka on par with Darzis. The Third BCC therefore developed its own indicators of backwardness on the basis of several different kinds of data which included: personal touring; representations from caste associations; a sample socio-economic survey covering 600 villages; information from taluks on caste wise land holding; survey of caste and socio-economic background of gazetted officers, MPs, MLAs, leading Advocates, Professors, etc.; information on caste, occupation and income of parents for students appearing in the SSLC exam; information on admissions into medical, engineering, dental colleges, etc; and information from the Karnataka Public service commission and other recruitment agencies on 3.47 lakh government employees and 1.20 lakh public sector employees.

 

In short, while the census can provide base figures, it cannot substitute for the kind of information needed both for inclusion of castes in an OBC list or for 'graduation' of castes out of the list, even assuming the latter were ever to be politically feasible. In his discussion of sources, Justice Chinnappa Reddy pondered over the wisdom of excluding caste from the census, noting that such data would have saved the commission many problems. However, he went on to add: "On closer thought, I think it is just as well that caste is ignored in the census operations. A beginning has to be made somewhere to forget caste."

 

( The author is Professor of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics.)

 

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THE HINDU

LINKING WATER TO ENVIRONMENTAL CARE

THE CHALLENGE IS IN MEETING TODAY'S WATER NEEDS WHILE PUTTING IN PLACE INNOVATIVE STRATEGIES TO ADDRESS FUTURE REQUIREMENTS.

VINOD THOMAS AND RONALD S. PARKER

 

The task of providing water where needed is becoming increasingly difficult across the world. Countries have, in recent decades, been investing in infrastructure designed to alleviate water shortages. But the response has, for the most part, overlooked the problem posed by the deteriorating state of aquatic resources. If the growing crisis is to be effectively addressed, water use needs to be linked with environmental care.

 

In many places, even where water is still plentiful, environmental destruction has made water too expensive to use. In some others that enjoy a good supply of water, it is used inappropriately. Priorities can be so askew that while cities remain desperate for water, farmers are irrigating fruits or cotton in the desert. Even less acceptable, potable water is used to maintain gardens and golf courses while the urban poor are forced to pay dearly to buy drinking water by the bucket.

 

As a result, about 700 million people in over 40 countries are affected by water shortages. Human encroachment on water environments is also a growing problem. By 2030 the United Nations predicts that 75 per cent of the world's population will live in coastal areas, putting at risk wetlands that help clean the water environment as well as exposing hundreds of millions of people to the water-related hazards associated with climate change.

 

The World Bank is the largest official financier of water investments in developing countries. Loan commitments in the past decade were some $55 billion, with China and India topping the list of borrowers, followed by Brazil and Indonesia. Water projects, covering irrigation and hydropower to watershed management and inland waterways, have shown greater success in recent years than other sectors in meeting their objectives. Yet the challenge remains of meeting today's water needs while putting in place innovative strategies to address future requirements. Areas for emphasis fall in five main areas along the axis of water development and environmental management.

 

Firstly, the most water-stressed group consists of 45 countries — 35 of them in Africa — that are water poor. Water sustainability needs to become central to their development plans, with tailored measures to help meet their urgent needs. Even water-rich countries such as Brazil or Thailand can face deficiency as water levels in dams and from natural sources fall.

 

Secondly, groundwater is increasingly threatened by over-exploitation, inadequate environmental flows, and contamination. The most severe groundwater depletion is in West Asia, North Africa, and South Asia. Needed efforts include monitoring groundwater quality, landfill site improvements, and the reduction of infiltration by contaminated surface water into groundwater.

 

Thirdly, restoration of degraded environments can have big impacts. A Coastal Wetlands Protection project in Vietnam, for example, tried to balance environmental protection with the livelihood needs of people dependent on natural resources. The project helped to reduce the area of coastal erosion by as much as 40 per cent.

 

Fourthly, the United Nations estimates that 1.8 billion people will still not have access to basic sanitation in 2015. More emphasis is needed not only on low-cost solutions to basic sanitation but also on household connections to sanitation systems. East Asia has had the most progress among developing regions in sanitation.

 

Fifthly, investments in water supply need to be coupled with management of demand. Agriculture is the largest user of water in most settings, where efficiency improving technologies are not enough to improve water use. Greater cost-recovery in water projects would be helpful. Fixing and enforcing quotas for water use, a relatively recent approach, deserves careful evaluation.

 

Even when these priorities are known, it has been difficult to translate them into action. When the key players sit down to bargain about the allocation of water, the environment gets short shrift. Seldom is there support for rescuing a falling aquifer if water can still be extracted, or for restoring wetlands, or for keeping enough water flowing through a river so that wildlife can survive and saline intrusion is prevented. Political support for reform is often hindered by serious gaps in understanding a country's water situation. Better data, systematic monitoring and disclosure of findings are crucial to resource mobilisation and action. Knowledge sharing in turn supports the financial outlays and enables better results on the ground.

 

(Vinod Thomas is Director-General and Ronald S. Parker is a Consultant at the Independent Evaluation Group, The World Bank, Washington D.C.)

 

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THE HINDU

LIB DEMS: THE ACCIDENTAL KINGMAKERS

WERE IT NOT FOR A HUNG PARLIAMENT WHICH HAS CATAPULTED HIM INTO THE POSITION OF A KINGMAKER, NICK CLEGG WOULD HAVE STRUGGLED TO KEEP HIS JOB AFTER THE ELECTION DEBACLE.

HASAN SUROOR

 

The most intriguing story of the British elections and one which has gone almost unnoticed in the drama over the hung Parliament is the virtual collapse of the Liberal Democrats, the stars of the campaign. At one stage — after their leader Nick Clegg's "victory" in the television debates — they seemed to be the only show in town, the ultimate answer to the political duopoly of Labour and the Tories.

 

The media spoke of a "Cleggmania" sweeping the country with Labour and the Tories under "pressure to respond to the Clegg phenomenon", as The Sunday Times breathlessly reported after the first debate. Polls after polls had the Lib Dems neck-and-neck with the Tories and way ahead of Labour. Indeed, such was the hype that Mr. Clegg secretly started fancying himself as the next Prime Minister portraying the election as a "two-horse race" between his party and the Tories.

 

In the event, it turned out to be a disaster. The party lost as many as 13 sitting MPs, including several high-profile figures, and despite picking up some new seats it ended up with fewer seats than it had in the outgoing Parliament. And this when it was predicted to double its tally. As an Observer writer noted: "All that publicity, that huge push, the media hand-holding and they still come third, with fewer seats than they had before. Clegg led them like the dad who didn't think to empty out the potatoes for the school sack race."

 

Were it not for a hung Parliament which has catapulted him into the position of a kingmaker, Mr. Clegg would have struggled to keep his job. Some of his predecessors were sacked for lesser offences. He has been forced to acknowledge the party's pathetic performance but has blamed it on the quirks of the current first-past-the-post system saying that "even though more people voted for us than ever before, even though we had a higher proportion of the vote than ever before …we have returned to Parliament with fewer MPs than ever before".

 

But not everyone is buying his line and there have been calls for a serious review of the party's tactics that, critics believe, failed to build on the momentum created by the first two TV debates. There is a view that, ultimately, the party became a victim of the post-debate hype which led it to overestimate its strength. Also, the party's policies seemed to crumble under closer scrutiny — and Mr. Clegg started to sound more and more like any other politician as he kept repeating the mantra of "change" without offering a concrete vision. According to Andrew Cooper of polling agency, Populus, about 70 per cent of voters believe that while the Lib Dems "seem like decent people …their policies probably don't add up".

 

But what does it say about the impact of television debates which, we were told, had "transformed" the campaign from a predictable two-horse race into an exciting three-way contest and done wonders in helping people "re-engage" with politics? Whatever happened to the "millions" of voters who were said to be "flocking" to the Lib Dems after being "galvanised" into action by the debates?

 

On the other hand, we had Gordon Brown who was widely ridiculed for his stuttering performance which threatened to push Labour into third position. Yet, Labour alone among the three main parties did better than what the post-debate polls had predicted.

 

If the Lib Dems failed to take off despite Mr. Clegg's "electrifying" television feat, so did the Tories despite David Cameron's supposedly barnstorming appearance.

 

There is anger in the party over its disappointing election results which have left it begging the Lib Dems for support. According to the pro-Tory Times the anger is "bubbling dangerously close to the surface" with critics blaming the poor showing on the way the campaign was conducted by Mr. Cameron and a small inner circle of friends and aides. One senior MP was reported in the Observer as saying that Mr. Cameron ran the campaign "from the back of his Jaguar with a smug, smarmy little clique".

 

"He should get rid of all of them. The party will settle for nothing less," he said.

 

Meanwhile, other "surprises", overshadowed by the excitement over the hung Parliament, included the unlamented electoral demise of the far-Right British National Party (BNP) which failed to win even a single seat, suffering huge losses even in its supposed strongholds. Its leader Nick Griffin's ambition to be elected to Parliament as his party's first-ever MP was dashed despite a high-profile and often intimidating campaign. The party fielded a record number of candidates hoping to exploit anti-immigration backlash among white, working-class voters. But a spirited campaign, Hope not Hate, by Labour and anti-racist activists put paid to its hopes. It shows how fragile the BNP's support base was; and how wrong Labour and other mainstream parties had been in overestimating its strength which had led them to start imitating its tactics in order to woo disaffected white voters.

 

Another casualty of the elections was the maverick George Galloway, who became the darling of Britain's Muslim community after he was thrown out of the Labour party for opposing the Iraq invasion. He formed his own Respect party and won the 2005 election from East London defeating a high-profile sitting Labour MP, mostly with the support of the local Bangladeshi community. Post-Iraq, however, his magic evaporated and as many of his former supporters turned against him, he was forced to move to another neighbouring constituency but was defeated. In an ironical twist, his erstwhile seat was won by a young Labour candidate of Bangladeshi descent Rushanara Ali.

 

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THE HINDU

U.N. WARNS OF ECONOMIC IMPACT OF BIODIVERSITY LOSS

JULIETTE JOWIT

 

The "alarming" rate at which species are being lost could have a severe effect on humanity, conservationists warned on Monday. Targets set eight years ago by governments to reduce biodiversity loss by 2010 have not been met, experts confirmed at a U.N. meeting in Nairobi, Kenya.

 

The third Global Biodiversity Outlook report said loss of wildlife and habitats could harm food sources and industry, and exacerbate climate change through rising emissions.

 

Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said: "Humanity has fabricated the illusion that somehow we can get by without biodiversity or that it is somehow peripheral to our contemporary world: the truth is we need it more than ever on a planet of six billion [people], heading to over nine billion by 2050. Business as usual is no longer an option if we are to avoid irreversible damage to the life-support systems of our planet." The report confirms what a coalition of 40 conservation organisations said last month, when they claimed there have been "alarming biodiversity declines". The coalition said pressures on the natural world from development, over-use and pollution have risen since the ambition to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss was set out in the 2002 Convention on Biological Diversity. The first formal assessment of the target, published at the end of April in the journal Science, is the basis of Monday's formal declaration.

 

This week's meeting will see governments pressed to take the issues as seriously as climate change and the economic crisis.

 

"Since 1970 we have reduced animal populations by 30 per cent, the area of mangroves and sea grasses by 20 per cent and the coverage of living corals by 40 per cent," said Prof Joseph Alcamo, chief scientist of the UNEP. "These losses are clearly unsustainable, since biodiversity makes a key contribution to human wellbeing and sustainable development."

 

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

THE 3G LESSON: OPENNESS PAYS

 

The ongoing 3G spectrum auction is seeing bidding going beyond all expectations. The excitement is palpable as figures of the highest bidders are released daily. The prices of the pan-India 3G spectrum licence and the bidding for circles like Mumbai, Delhi and Maharashtra have hit the roof. The finance minister, the telecom department, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India as well as the Empowered Group of Ministers had all suggested far lower reserve prices for pan-India bidding. The bidding is for a total of 22 circles, and fair value bids have come even for B-category circles like Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Kolkata, the Northeast and Orissa. The remaining 12 circles have seen little or no bidding, but the government cannot complain as it is raising money beyond its wildest calculations. It had estimated at getting Rs 35,000 crores from the 3G auction, whereas as of now, with the auction expected to last a few days longer, it has already garnered bids worth close to Rs 51,000 crores. Soon afterwards, once the 3G process is over, bidding will begin for broadband access licences.


This is the first time the government is auctioning wireless telecom spectrum for 3G and wireless broadband services across the country. It is set to make data and voice communications speedier. Consumers still have to wait and see what the winners will offer them. There are a total of nine bidders, including all the big names, and the three highest bidders will end up with the pan-India 3G spectrum licence. Expectedly, the bidding is fiercely competitive after an initial hiccup over the auctioneer's selection, with some rumblings that it was not done in a fair manner.


For the winners, the stakes are sumptuous. Their valuation will increase threefold, and they will be able to offer value-added services providing them a competitive edge over 2G players and an added revenue stream. There is some scepticism that they might have a problem due to the very high bids, which might not prove economically justifiable, but industry insiders are confident that the big players could break even in three years. A more serious problem might be the huge borrowings that the major bidders have notched up, particularly with risk aversion having set in following the European financial crisis, and the likelihood that borrowing might get costlier, sending their calculations haywire.


One of the biggest pluses has been that it opened the eyes of the government to the benefits of a transparent process like auctioning while selling or allocating scarce national resources. During the earlier allocation of the 2G spectrum, controversial telecom minister A. Raja awarded these on a first-come-first-served basis, earning the government a virtual pittance. For the pan-India 2G spectrum licence the government got a meagre Rs 1,638 crores, whereas in the ongoing 3G auction process, it has already netted over Rs 2,000 crores from the Delhi circle alone. One can imagine the extent of the loss that the government suffered due to the hasty disposal of a scarce asset. One of the bidders who got the 2G spectrum licence later made crores selling an asset he had virtually got for a song. The telecom minister came under severe attack from the Opposition over this, forcing him to go in for the auction route for 3G. It is to be hoped that the government will make the lesson it has learnt from the 3G licensing process a benchmark for the future in all major projects. There is a simple rule to follow: in procurement, award the contract to the lowest bidder; while selling scare resources, give it to the highest bidder. It would be a big mistake to forget this principle.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

ENERGY FUTURE REMIX

 

 The American media is providing a great deal of attention to the oil spill which has taken place in the Gulf of Mexico, and it is evident that in respect of the impacts of this major environmental disaster the worst is not yet over. In fact, according to latest reports, not only is there thus far a complete failure to stop the flow of oil from the offshore well which has resulted in this problem, but much of the oil floating on the surface of the sea has yet to hit the coastline. The clean-up of this disaster would take several months according to informed estimates, and the loss in economic and ecological terms would be incalculable. The sight of birds dying slowly because their bodies and feathers have been covered by oil is not only a tragedy in terms of the species affected, but is also an indicator of how human activity is adversely affecting the ecosystems of this planet.


Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California has come out openly expressing opposition to drilling for oil and gas in offshore areas. The world has certainly been heavily dependent on consumption of hydrocarbons to run the economic engine of human society since industrialisation began, but we need to look at several factors that should influence our decision in favour of a distinctly different energy future. The reality is that the search for hydrocarbons will take us further and further away from established sources and into areas that are going to prove increasingly fragile. The symbolic sitting of a Russian flag at the North Pole is only an indicator of the fierce competition that we would witness over possible reserves of hydrocarbons in the Arctic region in the years ahead.


If we look at the projections of the International Energy Agency over the past five years they have changed downwards, leading analysts to believe that perhaps anything beyond a hundred million barrels a day of oil production is now going to be an impossible achievement. This figure is much lower than what was forecast just a few years ago — 115 million barrels a day.


There is no getting away from the fact that the world will have to move to a very different energy future from what we have assumed till very recently. Decision-makers should not ignore the fact that it was just three years ago that oil prices had increased to a level of $147. Further economic recovery worldwide is going to increase the demand for oil and natural gas to levels that would exert immense upward pressure on hydrocarbon prices very soon in the future. All of this should really convince decision-makers in governments and businesses to substantially step up research and development efforts and financial allocations by which not only do we improve the efficiency of energy use across the entire chain, but also bring about the development of viable and sustainable energy technologies essentially based on renewable sources.


Those countries which have read the writing on the wall are moving purposefully in creating technological solutions which would bring about a major shift in the world energy supply mix. It is now well known that China, for instance, is investing heavily in building its renewable energy supply capacity, and would clearly reach a position of comparative advantage that would not only help them in expanding supply in China itself, but also provide access to the growing global market which is likely to emerge under any set of scenarios that can be foreseen at this point of time. It is pertinent that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, while addressing a meeting of the State Council on May 5, 2010, to discuss issues of conserving energy and cutting emissions, emphasised the fact that China needs to make much larger efforts to cut emissions and conserve energy to meet their targets as set in the 11th five year plan. According to this plan, China will cut its per unit gross domestic product energy consumption by 20 per cent compared with the 2005 level by the end of 2010.
Another nation which has not deviated from its green growth strategy despite unfavourable economic conditions in the last two years is South Korea. In that country the green growth plan, which has been in place for over three years now, clearly targets a substantial increase in supply of green energy and in finding a share of the global market on the basis of projections made right up to 2030. The experience of Germany has also been largely favourable, not only in terms of expanding the physical supply of renewable energy, but also in generating new industry, creating employment and economic opportunities which did not exist earlier, given Germany's dependence on imports of energy.


Another impressive project which is been pursued vigorously now is the "desert tech" project which will essentially generate power in North Africa using solar energy and transmit electricity to Europe. Undoubtedly, there would be strategic opportunities from such developments because Western Europe, which relies heavily on gas from Russia, would be able to diversify its sources of supply.


The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations met in Thimpu, Bhutan, earlier this month with climate change as the main theme of the meeting. While the declaration at the end of the summit has identified some useful directions, it is critically important for the countries of this region to embark on a programme of collaboration that would make the best use of technological opportunities and exploitation of economies of scale. For instance, the desert region of Sindh in Pakistan and Rajasthan in India have great similarities on the basis of which large-scale solar-based power could be generated to supply to a substantial area of Pakistan and a large part of western and northern India.


There are enormous benefits in exercising a vision that not only deals with the problem of pollution from conventional fossil fuel-based energy systems but also creating a base of technological cooperation that would bring this region a level of cohesion which has been missing thus far. New sources of energy could bring the nations of SAARC together, while showing the way to the rest of the world.


Dr R.K. Pachauri is the director-general of The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI), chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and director of the Yale Climate and Energy Institute

R.K. Pachauri

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

SEEKING A SUFI IN BOLLYWOOD

 

Spiritual and cultural maturity of its people makes a nation invincible and influential. After 1947 we should have used the language of moving images to its best and highest use, to keep the country abreast of the world, and mature and educated enough to understand the dialectics of history to man a powerful democracy like ours.
Over the last six decades our narrow commercial sense has continued to underestimate our people and this is evident in our films. There is a huge disconnect between the large philosophical outlook of our people and a mentally sub-standard product which not only embarrasses the intelligent child of today but also makes us hang our heads in shame.


The child of today is extremely exacting and demanding. S/he expects a lot from what is made to sensitise him/her. They expect authentic feelings, authentic sources, even when they are served illusions.
First of all the right creative energies have to gravitate towards Hindi cinema. Sufiana concepts and characters have to find their rightful context.


You have a sacred task of taking a sacred idea into sacred space — you have to be cleansed of impurities to do so. You need writers burning with the desire to put spirituality, humanity and aesthetics in an intriguing and dramatic format. Then you need poets fired by love to create lyrics that will rock the soul. You need composers who can compose with the same ecstatic abandon as such poetry may demand. Singing Sufiana means singing Sufiana and for this you have to see the Sufiana in every form of singing and in every relationship in life. You cannot sing Sufiana if you are ungrateful, if you are petty and jealous, competitive and aggressive. Some can make the connect and in some cases their ego interferes. The audience is not coming to you directly. It is taking the same route as the singer... the divine route. Few understand this as commerce and intellect often comes in between. First you have to receive light from that divine connection to pour out your soul.


As a filmmaker I have journeyed through the realm of poetry and music that touches the soul and reality at the same time. Like many of us, I have evolved from poet to poet, from poem to poem. I have seen the process as an unveiling of mysteries in a modern strife-ridden life. For me it was finding a woman in a courtesan and not a courtesan in a woman. It was the discovery of the soul through poetry and music that takes one into a mystical realm. Umrao Jaan steered clear of the megalomania, a trap that films of such genres have found themselves landing into, taking away from a spiritual awakening that would be awaiting round the corner.
And in such a journey you find tassawuf (Sufism) in everything and everything in tassawuf. The power of music on the big screen is still untapped. The power of the voice has to rise to meet the challenge of a harsh changing world. Sufi films and music that is waiting to be born on Indian soil very soon, in these music will become the reality of the subject. You can't pay lip service to tassawuf in cinema. It has be the ethos the film, it has be the ethos of the reality the country is seeped in. Thus this journey has taken me to a realm when poetry and music, soul and reality, singer and the listener have become one. However, it is here where the challenge lies and needs to be addressed.

In the words of Jawed Kamaal, an Aligarh/Rampur poet Wahshat ne vo bhi loot li dam bhar mein dosto Jo muddaton mein ayi thi shayastagi hamein That moment of madness took it all away The refinement that had come over centuries

Muzaffar Ali is a filmmaker and painter. He is the Executive Director and Secretary of the Rumi  Foundation. He can be contacted at www.rumifoundation.in

Muzaffar Ali

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

WHEN FAMILY VALUES TURN FATAL

 

May.11:Was Nirupama Pathak murdered to preserve the "honour" of her family? Or did she commit suicide? Was she "sexually exploited" or was this a normal relationship involving two consenting adults that ended in a macabre way? It will take a while to know the answers. The young, educated woman, a journalist, whose life was snuffed out before she wanted to live her dreams, however, has raised questions which go beyond her. Her gruesome end busts some popular assumptions about New India.


India, the new, emerging powerhouse, is a nation of predominantly young people. Young India is striving, seeking, aspiring and globalising. In rapidly modernising India, wearing one's ambition on one's sleeve is admired. Families are prepared to invest increasing sums on education because education is a passport to mobility. Even in the traditional "marriage mart", an educated woman is much desired because her qualifications can translate into more money at the disposal of the family. The harsh truth, however, is that while more education spells better jobs, more opportunities, more money and more consumer choices, it does not necessarily lead to  more "empowerment" or "enlightenment".


An educated woman like Nirupama could choose her career but not her partner nor the nature of the relationship with the man she cared for. To her bank manager father, educated mother, brothers working and pursuing a PhD, nothing, not even India's Constitution, mattered more than a hoary tradition which forbids mingling of the "castes". "We did not educate her so that she could do everything of her own choice", Dharmendra Pathak, Nirupama's father, said on record.


That no major Indian politician, young or old, has condemned the unabashedly casteist utterances of the family members of this young woman is a telling commentary on the paradoxical nature of New India where the medieval and the modern, the digital and the criminal co-exist in an unsettling intimacy, sometimes within the same family.


A wafer-thin minority among the youth, mostly in metropolitan India, are living out their fantasies of freedom. But for the vast majority of young people, personal choices, if at all, are restricted to stuff that money can buy. The notion of young people having lifestyle choices which clash with the customary practices of their community continues to be anathema. Critics of personal freedom dub such restrictions an assertion of "family values".


To know the extent of "control" that young people have to deal with in their day-to-day life one has to only leaf through the most recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3). Young men and women are both circumscribed by family decisions and mores but young women are harder-hit because of the continuing low status of women in society.


Two key findings from the survey: The majority of married women do not have the final say on the use of their own earnings or other household decisions. Traditional gender norms, particularly those concerning wife beating, remain strongly entrenched. The survey notes that "education, employment or wealth do not ensure that women have money that they can control". Forty per cent of  women (among those surveyed) in the 15-49 age group, with  12+ years of education, do not have access to money which they can use in ways they choose. The majority of women (in the same age group) have little freedom of movement. "Only one-third goes alone to the market, health facility and outside the village/community", it points out.


Caste continues to be a big issue despite platitudes in public for a casteless society. The worst forms of caste discrimination are no doubt criminalised by the Constitution, but even educated, well-off families draw the line at inter-caste marriages.


It is fashionable to lay the blame for this on politicians and the older generation who refuse to move forward in their thinking. But even city-bred young people themselves have a lot to answer for, says Neelam Katara, Delhi-based academic and social activist.


"Medieval India is not lurking beneath a modernising India. Medieval India is in your face, staring at you boldly from the matrimonial adverts in the Sunday newspapers which are classified by caste and sub-caste. Nirupama's story is an extreme case. But such things do not happen in isolation. Such incidents are the logical outcomes of a system in which the caste system is accepted as a reality and leveraged during elections and in the marriage and job markets", says Katara.


Katara's son Nitish was kidnapped and brutally murdered in 2002. The young man's fault: he had fallen in love with a classmate, Bharti Yadav, who came from a family which did not like Nitish. Bharti's brother and cousin, Vikas and Vishal Yadav, were later found guilty by a trial court and jailed for life on May 30, 2008. Bharti, subsequently defended her family and said she had no intention of marrying Nitish Katara. "Young educated boys and girls can say 'no' but they don't. They are happy to be weak. They are happy to buy what they perceive as happiness. Those who hope to find their life partners through caste-based matrimonial adverts or allow their families to do so have collectively contributed to a situation where a woman has to die because she stepped out of line in a caste-based society", argues Katara.


Freedom comes at a price. Quite often someone defying restrictive social mores pays the price in strained or even broken relations with other members of the family. And then, of course, there are the extreme cases of so-called "honour" killings. This is as true of India today as it was in India yesterday. The bizarre story of Ajit Saini, a business management student in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, and Anshu Tomar is still breaking.
Families and clans can be great sources of support, but they can also destroy. For the youth in a transitional society like ours, there is a crucial takeaway lesson: being too trusting and failing to gauge the full implication of "family values" can sometimes be fatal.


Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at patralekha.chatterjee@gmail.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Patralekha Chatterjee

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

THE MINORITY OPINION

 

The May 7 judgment of the Supreme Court on the dispute over the pricing and allocation of natural gas from the offshore Krishna-Godavari basin in the Bay of Bengal has come as a huge victory for Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) headed by Mukesh Ambani and a loss of face for Reliance Natural Resources Limited (RNRL) led by younger brother Anil Ambani.


While Union minister for petroleum and natural gas Murli Deora has claimed that the judgment is a vindication of the Indian government's position in the dispute  — RNRL had claimed that Mr Deora's ministry had acted in a partisan manner to favour RIL — a close reading of the verdict indicates that the judges were rather critical of the way the government has functioned.


A perusal of the full judgment (the majority judgment delivered by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice P. Sathasivam is 118 pages long while the minority judgment delivered by Justice B. Sudershan Reddy runs into an additional 146 pages) could convey a distinct impression that the Indian government has been less than efficient in framing energy policies that are in the best interests of the people of the country.


It is all very fine to argue that the Union government has a legal right over the country's resources (including natural gas) and that no private agreement, including the one signed between the two Ambani brothers and their mother in June 2005, can override such a sovereign right. But that's really a no-brainer. The critical issue is whether the Government of India, as the custodian of the resources that belong to the people, has acted or is acting in a manner that upholds the genuine interests of the vast majority of the population or whether its policies have helped a few, powerful business groups.


Here's how paragraph 87 of the majority judgment reads: "It is relevant to note that the Constitution envisages exploration, extraction and supply of gas to be within the domain of government functions. It is the duty of the Union to make sure that these resources are used for the benefit of the citizens of the country. Due to shortage of funds and technical know-how, the government has privatised such activities through the mechanism provided under the PSC (production sharing contract). It would have been ideal for the PSUs (public sector undertakings) to handle such projects exclusively. It is commendable that private entrepreneurial efforts are available, but the nature of the profits gained from such activities can ideally belong to the State which is in a better position to distribute them for the best interests of the people. Nevertheless, even if private parties are employed for such purposes, they must be accountable to the constitutional set-up".


One sentence in the paragraph can be questioned. There is no evidence to indicate that the government decided to do away with the monopoly exercised by two PSUs, the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and Oil India Limited (OIL), and allowed private firms to enter the area of oil and gas exploration because either ONGC or OIL lacked resources or technical know-how. On the contrary, both are highly profitable companies and private players in the hydrocarbons exploration business would never have able to make any headway had it not been for the initial groundwork done by the PSUs. This has been repeatedly emphasised by past heads of ONGC, including the late Subir Raha and Col. S.P. Wahi.


THE MINORITY judgment by Justice Sudershan Reddy devotes considerable space to the issue of the "resource curse". He writes: "A small portion of our population over the past two decades has been chanting incessantly for increased privatisation of the material resources of the community, and some of them even doubt whether the goals of equality and social justice are capable of being addressed directly. They argue that economic growth will eventually trickle down and lift everyone up. For those at the bottom of the economic and social pyramid, it appears that the nation has forsaken those goals as unattainable at best and unworthy at worst. The neo-liberal agenda has increasingly eviscerated the State of stature and power, bringing vast benefits to the few, modest benefits for some, while leaving everybody else, the majority, behind".


Justice Sudershan Reddy does not stop there. He unlashes an impassioned tirade: "We have heard a lot about free markets and freedom to market. We must confess that we were perplexed by the extent to which it was pressed that contractual arrangements between private parties with the State and amongst themselves could displace the obligations of the State to the people… History has repeatedly shown that a culture of uncontained greed along with uncontrolled markets leads to disasters… Historically, and all across the globe, predatory forms of capitalism seem to organise themselves, first and foremost, around the extractive industries that seek to exploit the vast, but exhaustible, natural resources. Water, forests, minerals and oil — they are all being privatised; and not being satisfied, the voices that speak for predatory capitalism seek more…"
There's much more in the judgment that is all about the tussle over India's natural resources. The warring Ambani siblings have been given six weeks to rework the Gas Sale Master Agreement that safeguards the interest of some three million shareholders of not just RIL but RNRL as well, within the ambit of government policy.


What government policy? In the penultimate paragraph of his judgment, Justice Sudershan Reddy makes an important observation: "Before we part with the case, we consider it appropriate to observe and remind the GoI (Government of India) that it is high time it frames a comprehensive policy/suitable legislation with regard to (the) energy security of India and supply of natural gas under production sharing contracts".


The short point — that has in the past been pointed out by experts like Surya Sethi (former principal adviser, energy, Planning Commission) — is simply that the government would not have been accused of being a partisan participant in the fight between two of the richest men in India had there not been glaring gaps in the country's energy policy framework that are yet to be filled up. As for the Ambani brothers, they are unlikely to patch up in a hurry. One chapter in the saga has ended. Another will soon begin.


Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator


Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

$1 TRILLION RESCUE

 

The $1 trillion package hammered out between European Union (EU) finance ministers, central bankers and the IMF to rescue Greece and other beleaguered debt-ridden economies has brought sanity to the global financial

 

Punters who were short-selling European government bonds on the assumption that the EU would do little to protect the common currency were caught napping.

 

The rescue package consists of €440 billion in guarantees from euro area states, €60 billion in a European instrument, and €250 billion from the IMF, making for a total of €750 billion.

 

This is just short of $1 trillion at current euro-dollar exchange rates. The idea is to use some of the funds to buy up government bonds, so that the markets for these bonds stabilise.

 

It will also put speculators on notice about targeting any country that looks ripe for an attack.

 

While the scale of the rescue is reassuring — you can't fight a war without adequate ammunition — what is not so clear is whether such packages can work in the long run.

 

The main problem Europe faces is a sclerotic economy, with rigid labour markets and overblown welfare states.

 

The problems have been compounded by a declining birth rate, which can only be mitigated by allowing freer immigration.

 

But most recent immigration has come from Muslim Africa, leading to political tensions in much of northern Europe. So the problem of adverse demographic trends is not going to go away anytime soon.

 

Against this backdrop, it would be foolhardy to conclude that Europe's troubles are close to resolution. Its problems are structural in nature, and these cannot be tackled with mere financial bailouts for the weaker economies like Spain, Portugal and Ireland.

 

In fact, the package will create its own recessionary dynamics, since the main conditions attached are that economies with excess debt will start reducing their public expenditures drastically.

 

This will create contractionary impulses in much of southern Europe, making it tougher to manage the political consequences of declining jobs and incomes.

 

However, Europe's woes are not the only ones bedevilling the global economy.

 

The US and Chinese economies are currently booming, but both of them have to start winding down their economic stimulus packages sooner or later.

 

If US citizens save more and Europe's economy shrinks or stays stagnant, China's export-oriented economy will also have to slow down.

 

The world's troubles are not over, and it will take a long time to set things right. It is premature to celebrate.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

THE RAMESH RODEO

 

It is always good for the media if ministers put their foot in it. And so it was with minister of state for environment and forests, Jairam Ramesh, who spoke to the Indian media in Beijing without much concern for propriety.

 

Among other things, Ramesh foolishly criticised two ministries — home and defence — for being unduly "alarmist" and "paranoid" about the Chinese. He also made gratuitous remarks about how the Chinese had been bailed out by India at the Copenhagen summit on climate change.

 

Let's take the second remark first. Ramesh apparently said that India pulled China out of a tight spot — he called it China's isolation — at Copenhagen last December.

 

And he let it be known that India, China, and South Africa had dealt directly with the US and bypassed the European Union. It was an insider's anecdote and innuendo rolled into one.

 

The minister is not really worried about the true implications of what happened or did not happen in Copenhagen. Then he went on to criticise the home ministry for its tough positions on China and argued how it affected India-China bonhomie.

 

The message that Ramesh wanted to convey was how India and China are crucial partners in the global arena.

 

He could have done this in a less interesting way. But he seems to have taken a leaf out of the pre-match press conferences of cricketers, captains and coaches, that of talking big and loud as a way of playing mind games.

 

Of course, the cricketing norm has now gone out of fashion, something that Ramesh seems to have forgotten. Pop political sociologists may want to catch on to wisps of change as reflected by Ramesh and former minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor, and call it the arrival of the 'new generation' politician.

 

But loose talk should not be confused with greater openness.

 

Such bluster will die with a thud at the end of the day.

 

We may want something more from the well-meaning, well-heeled and well-educated new and not-so-young politicians and ministers.There is need to get rid of the old stuffiness. It cannot, however, be replaced by blabber and a flailing of hands.

 

A little thoughtfulness will not be out of place if intertwined with wit and clarity. Unfortunately, Ramesh crossed the line. While China is not going to thank him for showing it in poor light, the home and defence ministries will not be too happy with his new-found openness, too.

 

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DNA

ABRAHAMIC CIVIL WARS

R VAIDYANATHAN

 

The three children of Abraham, namely followers of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths, have been fighting and waging war for the last two centuries.

 

Many terms like crusade, jehad, radical Islam, paganism, and kafir have become a part of contemporary discussion, thanks to the Abrahamic hold on contemporary debate.

 

Of the three, the two younger children are in the news, both in Europe as well as in the US.

 

There is a ban on the construction of minarets on mosques in Switzerland, thanks to an overwhelming vote by the people.

 

There is a move in Belgium, France, Holland and Denmark to ban the burkha in public places along with hefty fine.

 

In Europe, local municipalities and cantons are fining veiled women, as indicated by a recent case in northern Italy. Geert Wilders — who could be the prime minister in the next poll in Holland — is an atheist and has called for a ban on the Koran.

 

He and many other European intellectuals are arguing that the issue is that of the religion itself and not the people professing it.

 

Earlier, Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, Oriana Fallaci, the late Italian journalist and author, and Andrew Bostom, an author on Islam, have talked about Eurabia developing in the heart of Europe and the UK becoming Londonistan.

 

It is interesting that godless and secular Europe is suddenly turning antagonistic to Islam. Most of the major churches in Europe are tourist attractions with small attendance, even on Sundays.

 

Radical Islam is as much upset about modern godless Europe as it is by the evangelical part of the US. The fastest growing Christian evangelical groups like the Pentecostals and Mormons are in conflict with various strands of Islam in many countries in Africa like Nigeria and Kenya.

 

The evangelicals are also spreading fast in many Latin American countries and impacting the traditional Catholic church. The traditional church is facing a crisis due to lack of interest by youngsters in joining seminaries and nunneries. Actually they are outsourcing the priestly functions to youngsters from India in many places in the US as well as in Europe.

 

Radical Islam is flush with funds due to oil money and global aspirations. A combination of Saudi funds, Pakistani foot soldiers and London as asylum facilitates the radicals. Radical Islam is totally against the covenants of westernism (which is passed off as modernism), namely living together, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, women's liberation, et al. Radical Islam finds all these obnoxious and hence its fight is with the church as well as the secular modernisers.

 

Europe is a tinder-box which could flare up in a couple of years, or even earlier, if the economic crisis accelerates. The near-collapse of Greece is a symptom of Europe's growing crisis. In a downturn, the blame is always on the "other" — in this case the Muslims of Europe, of Moroccan, Algerian, Somalian, Turkish or Kurdish origin.

 

Also, Europe which had over 20% of the world population during World War I, is down to 10% now. It could fall to just 3% in another three decades.

 

Demography is destiny and the Muslim population in Europe will reach 20% in another two decades. US president Barack Obama is trying to bring a rapprochement with his tele-prompter speeches by speaking half-truths.

 

He claimed in Cairo (June, 2009) that algebra, the decimal system and printing technology were the inventions of the land of sands when these accomplishments owe as much to India and China.

 

Obama does not have a good rating in his own country and, in the larger Islamic world, his credibility is low due to the continuing war in Iraq and Afghanistan and a threatened one in Iran. The recent Times Square bombing attempt is not helping him win his own people over.

 

But the 21st century belongs to India and China, both belonging to the non-Abrahamic traditions. For a change, the non-conflicting, non-proselytising Asian civilisations are becoming the economic axis of the world and power is shifting. This is an inflexion point in world history.

 

What should India do in the context of the wars between the children of Abraham? The best thing is to keep

quiet and observe. We have groups within India which will try to push India to one side or the other. The radical Islamists will try to localise global issues like the Danish cartoons. Similarly, the politically active church groups will try to globalise local issues like the Orissa riots or the feeble attempts to prevent conversions. But India should stand firm and maintain that we will take care of the problems of Indians internally. Period.

 

Our attempt should be to become a $5 trillion economy from the current $1.5 trillion over the coming decade. We should be part of the top four or five global economies. A $5 trillion gorilla will be muscular and no one will try to mess around with it, including that failed terror-sponsoring state on our west.

 

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DNA

FIGHTING REGRESSIVE AND RESTRICTIVE IDEAS

RANJONA BANERJI

 

Monday's newspapers contained a bit of news, which was either sad or shocking or both, depending on your frame of mind.

 

Naveen Jindal seen as part of the young brigade of India's politicians has apparently written a letter in favour of the stand taken by the khap panchayats of Haryana: same-gotra and intra-village marriages should be banned in Indian law.

 

This news came together with more and more reports of these so-called "honour" killings which are taking place all over north India. Families are killing their own daughters and sons, brothers and sisters because they have committed a cardinal sin in the eyes of society — they have married someone that custom disapproves of.

 

It should be made clear that there is no incest or something equally horrifying at work here. It is just that in some societies, custom dictates that all people who belong to the same village are related to each other: therefore, by custom, any boy and girl who may fall in love are automatically guilty of incest. In others, it is the age-old problem of inter-caste marriages. The solution to all these seems to be the same — death to those who dare.

 

It would be simple if one imagined that these archaic and brutal practices were limited to the peasantry of Haryana.

 

Apparently, you could be a middle class government employee in Jharkhand and your daughter could be a journalist living and working in a reputed newspaper in New Delhi and you could still be trapped in the same prejudices.

 

Even among the scandal of the IPL and the judgment in the trial of the November 26, 2008 terror attacks, there has been a fair amount of hand-wringing in urban areas over these horrific killings, where ugly bias and illiterate norms are being masqueraded as "honour".

 

The courts have ruled these honour killings as unconstitutional and the Union home minister has made his distaste and displeasure clear. Yet, the perpetrators themselves are unrepentant and local politicians have pledged their support to their awful practices.

 

Of all the various reasons forwarded for these killings — which frankly urban India had mistakenly thought were limited to some uncivilised quarters across our North Western borders most likely ruled by the Taliban — one seems to stand out the most.

 

These killings are a reaction to the freedom of choice exercised by women. North India, perhaps more than any other part of the country, is deeply patriarchal and decidedly backward compared to the south, west or east. Yet, even here and even in the villages ruled by khaps, women are being educated and going to work.

 

Once released from the shackles of a sheltered life it is more than likely that they dare to entertain individual ideas. And even have the incredible courage to fall in love.

 

This, in spite of their knowledge that death is what their families will reward them with. Does this sound overly dramatic? Cast your eye over news reports of the past couple of years and it is tragic to see that so much anger, prejudice and violence has been committed against these seemingly crazy couples-in-love.

 

Politicians have exposed themselves as a lily-livered lot. A few vote banks are more important to them than the Constitution.

 

Social reform has passed these areas by and political leaders are not willing to pick up that gauntlet. This is India in the 21st century, ready to take on the world.

 

If there is any consolation it is in the very fact that women are breaking out and reaching out. For the young couples, they have everything to lose when they decide to make a choice and they still do it. They know that the world has changed and our regressive, restrictive past is what they are trying to escape from.

 

No matter what you do to hold people back, once they are exposed to new ideas and new ways, the damage to the past has been done. Life, say the experts, will find a way. Until then, sadly, the dishonourable killings seem to continue.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

HELPLESSNESS IN CHHATTISGARH

ANTI-MAOIST OPS HAVE GONE HORRIBLY WRONG

 

It is becoming painfully evident that neither the Chhattisgarh police nor the para-military forces are able to cope with the Maoist upsurge any longer. Even the state's Home Minister appears to have thrown in the towel when he asserted on Sunday that he favoured the Army taking over the anti-Maoist operations and the job of wiping out the rebels. At the same time the state's Director-General of Police has made the startling admission that the police has neither the resources nor the skill to go after the Maoists. The DGP is also quoted as saying that the forests in Chhattisgarh are so extensively mined by the Maoists that there can be no question of going after them. Not surprisingly, therefore, even after the lapse of a month since the ambush in Dantewada that wiped out an entire company of a CRPF battalion, no headway has been made towards apprehending the rebels responsible for carrying out the brazen attack.

 

The vulnerability, even complete helplessness, of the state and the police is shocking. More so because enormous public funds have gone into modernising and training the policemen and providing them with the wherewithal to deal with the Maoist menace. But the admissions raise disquieting questions about how the money was spent and whether the police learnt any lesson at all during the last 10 years when the rebels seem to have consolidated their position. Ironically, the Maoists today appear to be better trained, better equipped and better informed in the state than the police. The situation may not be too different in other Maoist-hit states. The turnaround is intriguing because till recently the state prided itself on having dealt with the rebels most effectively. It had backed and armed vigilante groups of villagers against the Maoists. It had implemented a scheme under which rice was supplied to tribals at just Rs 2 a kg and it had cracked down on Maoist sympathisers, civil liberties activists and organisations. In the event, nothing seems to have worked.

 

The state's Home Minister needs to be reminded that it was not the Army but the Andhra Pradesh police which broke the back of the Maoists in that state. And though most of the senior Maoist leaders are from Andhra Pradesh, they have not been allowed to move and act as freely there as they are doing in the states they have moved to now. Chhattisgarh will simply have to pull up its socks and do the job.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

CULTIVATING OBSCURANTISM

POLITICIANS MUST PLAY A ROLE FOR SOCIAL REFORM

 

If there ever was any doubt that the infamous "khap" panchayats in Haryana which have been in the news in recent times for their aggressive support to obscurantist casteist practices draw their strength from the silent patronage they get from politicians of all hues, the manner in which Congress MP from Kurukshetra, Mr Navin Jindal, has capitulated before them should set it at rest. Mr Jindal, who had been threatened with action in his constituency if he did not extend support to the demand of the mahapanchayat of khaps for amending the Hindu Marriage Act to ban same gotra marriages, has, in a letter to khap representatives, supported their diktat.

 

The young industrialist, who has had the best of modern education, had not a word of reprimand or even advice for these panchayats fuelling the retrograde practice of "honour killings" of young lovers who fall victim to the fury of chauvinist relatives and village elders. The recent landmark judgment by a court in Karnal in the "Manoj-Babli honour killing case" in which five accused were given the death sentence was a reminder to the khap panchayats that they were not above law. Yet, it is the support of politicians which encourages the khaps to cock at snook at the Constitution and implicitly mock at the changing societal norms of freedom of choice in marriages. Already, the Indian National Lok Dal had come out in support of the demand to amend the law and ban same gotra marriages.

 

Clearly, politicians like Mr Jindal are motivated by their desire to cultivate the vote bank that khap panchayats represent. They lack the courage to call their bluff and to stand by what is morally and constitutionally right. Significantly, Haryana has one of the lowest sex ratios (821 in the 0-6 age group) in the country. Female foeticide is rampant but not once have these panchayats passed a resolution against it. If the likes of Mr Navin Jindal pick up the cudgels against such alarming trends, they would be serving a noble cause indeed. But if they fail to do so, posterity will blame them for perpetuating obscurantism in a world that is moving on with time

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

TOURISM TROUBLES

HIMACHAL ON A ROUGH ROAD

 

Just as Himachal Pradesh has achieved a national distinction in banishing illiteracy, it could very well have expanded tourism imaginatively to accommodate the neo-literate, who all now wait for government jobs. The state's myopic political leadership has failed to tap the state's full potential for tourism and remove even obvious hurdles. It has not yet learnt to compete and is content with whatever tourist flow the state gets. The state has gained from tourists turned away by militancy in Kashmir. Still, the hotel owners and tourist operators thank their stars if there is early and prolonged heat or snow, which means more-than-average business. The state leadership has not done any campaigning like the Centre's "Incredible India".

 

Himachal has hardly anything to offer in rain or spring or beyond the small number of tourist hotspots. High-end tourists get easily irritated by small inconveniences, which government officials don't even notice, and fly away to better alternatives within or outside the country. But the ordinary lot too has much to complain about. When they land in Himachal they find everything except what they are looking for: cool weather, greenery, long walks in the woods and rare plants and flowers. Instead what they discover in Shimla and Manali are the same ills of urban life they try to escape from: chaotic traffic, lack of parking space, vehicular pollution, bad roads, poor water supply and haphazard growth all round.

 

A hill state would ideally zealously guard its green cover and go in for non-polluting industries like biotechnology and information technology. The government here is encouraging cement plants and private builders regardless of inadequate water resources and fragile mountains. Trucks carrying construction materials choke roads as tourists get stuck in traffic jams. There are long queues even to pay an eminently avoidable entry tax. Himachal's political leadership must understand what is good for the state, abandon policies that tend to ruin the environment and remove hurdles tourists generally face.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

BENGAL NEEDS MORE THAN MAMATA

STATE NOT YET OUT OF THE WOODS

BY AMULYA GANGULI

 

Only time will tell whether Meghnad Desai is right in saying that West Bengal's problems "can only be solved after the elections if Mamata Banerjee wins and proves her incompetence". There are two sides to this curious assessment. First is the conviction that Mamata will win. It is widely shared in the state where the Left Front is believed to have run its course. The second is the belief that the Trinamool Congress leader is not the answer to the state's difficulties. The British peer has evidently based this assumption on Mamata's anti-industrialisation stance which, according to him, restricts the scope for employment and development.

 

If she is still expected to win, the explanation lies in West Bengal's dismal history of the last four decades when everything that could go wrong, did so in accordance with Murphy's pessimistic law. Yet, the state had started off on the right footing after Independence because it had a towering figure like B.C. Roy at the helm. It was because of his vision and enterprise that a truncated state was able to overcome the debilitating and disruptive effects of Partition when thousands of refugees poured in from East Pakistan.

 

Since Roy was a man of the modern era - he thought of an underground railway for Calcutta in the 1950s when its cost was estimated at Rs 20 lakh - the state was able to cope with the influx with its industrialisation drive, which saw the establishment of the Durgapur industrial and Haldia petro-chemical complexes. The Calcutta State Transport Corporation was set up to provide jobs mainly to the refugees, and satellite towns were conceived in the Salt Lake area near Calcutta - as it was known then - and farther away in Kalyani, where a university was also set up.

 

But even if West Bengal was able to deal with the after-effects of Partition, it had the misfortune of harbouring a communist leadership driven solely by its revolutionary doctrine of violence and destabilisation, which was again in evidence in the recent bandh against price rise when Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee's preference for a new work ethic and exemption of the 24x7 IT sector from closure came to naught. One reason why the communists were able to propagate their nihilism was that they drew their cadres from the refugees, who were in an anarchic frame of mind because of the loss of their home and hearth.

 

Yet, the fact that communist theory had little to do with their rebellious outlook became evident in the early 1970s when the Youth Congress and the Chhatra Parishad were able to enlist a large number of young men and women from the same lower middle class sections. However, the state's bad luck of being saddled with a cynical communist leadership was compounded, first, by the declining calibre of Congressmen after Roy's death in 1962 — Atulya Ghosh and P.C. Sen were not exactly inspiring figures — and, secondly, by the Emergency of 1975-77, which was a shot in the arm for a demoralised Left Front, which was left dazed by its defeat in 1972 when Siddhartha Shankar Ray became Chief Minister.

 

What is distressing, however, is that the story of West Bengal's decline and fall, which began with the Left's assumption of power in 1977, is set to continue, as Lord Desai has hinted. If the communists robbed West Bengal of its primacy of position as an industrial state by their militant trade unionism, their putative successors — Mamata Banerjee and Co — offer little hope of redemption because they, too, have imbibed the same destructive mindset. As her agitations in Singur and Nandigram have shown, her economics is little different from that of the Luddites at the dawn of the industrial age with their intense aversion towards machines.

 

Mamata's politics, too, has an anarchic streak, as was evident from the way she enlisted the help of the Maoists during her anti-Tata and anti-industries movements. It is clear, therefore, that West Bengal will not know how to move forward if she does become the Chief Minister. Since her Luddite tendencies seem to go hand in hand with the socialistic preference for the public sector, she may make the state relive the nightmare of driving away the private sector and pouring funds into the bottomless pit of the unproductive and loss-making public sector. It took Buddhadev Bhattacharjee three decades of communist folly to overturn its earlier anti-private sector policy. But if the person, who successfully frustrated his efforts, replaces him as the Chief Minister, then one can only expect a turning back of the clock.

 

If the Trinamool leader has become known for her whimsicality and recklessness, it is because these traits served her well in her long battle against the Marxists. The Congress's degeneration into what she described as the CPM's "B" team meant that she had to take on the Marxist goons all by herself. Despite being physically attacked which led to a fairly prolonged hospitalisation, she didn't lose heart. But the initial single-handed battle forced her to accept help from whoever was willing to provide it, whether the Maoists or that maverick group of communists belonging to the Socialist Unity Centre.

 

But though she is on the verge of success, she hasn't been able to shed her tendency to be guided by rash instincts, as her sudden snapping of ties with the Congress in the state shows. Had the two remained united, there is little doubt that the Left would have received a severe drubbing in the forthcoming municipal elections, and especially in the contest for the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, where a Congress-Trinamool Congress victory would have set the tone for next year's assembly poll. The breakdown of their alliance has cast a shadow, however, over the outcome. The Trinamool may still win, but the victory margins and majorities in the various local bodies will be low.

 

It is possible that the two parties will reunite after the municipal polls to fight the assembly elections together. Even Mamata may not be so impetuous as to go into the most important battle of her life on her own when an alliance with the Congress is expected to hand her an easy victory. The Congress's presence by her side is also likely to introduce an element of moderation in her policies and thereby prove Lord Desai wrong. But nothing can be said with certainty where Mamata is concerned. Her sole objective, of course, is to defeat the CPM. But her relationship with the West Bengal Congress, though not with the party at the national level, has always been an uneasy one because she cannot forget how it treated her when she was no more than an ordinary member.

 

In those days, the party of Pranab Mukherjee and A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chaudhury found her too individualistic to be accommodated and, therefore, virtually forced her to quit, expecting her to fade away. But she proved both her friends and foes wrong. Her street-fighting ways — she had once danced on the roof of Jayaprakash Narayan's car in Calcutta — was the right antidote to the CPM's crude dominance. It didn't take long for the Trinamool Congress to become the first among the non-Left parties and reduce the Congress to its "B" team, where it has remained. And which is why it is secretly resentful of her imperious nature. But the two complement one another — the Congress with its greater experience in governance and Mamata with her popularity. However, if they remain apart, West Bengal 's tale of woe will continue.

 

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E TRIBUNE

COLUMN

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME

BY SHRINIWAS JOSHI

 

Today, I am entering the 75th year of my trip round the sun. I would not have disclosed the year of my first journey, i.e. 1936, but thought of doing so yesterday when I was standing in Marina Book Shop on the Mall, where antique books are sold.

 

A lady watched me from the front and back and sides and told the keeper that there was no price tag on this piece. I was not annoyed by her comments but appreciated her for having thought of the price of a burning building.

 

I feel proud of my age because I am sure that nobody can stick charges of sexual harassment on me unless I turn ND Tewari. I am also sure that if ever a hostage situation arises, I will be among the first to be released.

 

I have reasons to be happy that all my favourite movies of yesteryears are being re-released in colour; my clothing that I had dumped in suitcases have come back in style and when I wear those, I get envious looks from the youngsters; all pharmacists and chemists are my new acquaintances and present me the new-year calendars with devis and devatas in blessing pose reserving those with pictures of semi-clad heroines for other customers; I have no troubles with my teeth because my teeth and I never sleep together; with crow-feet around my eyes, eagle headed baldness and turkey's neck, my face is birds' paradise and it is always the doctor who tells me to slow down not the policeman standing near the Victory tunnel.

 

On the eve of this birthday, the next door neighbour asked me, "Uncle, what present should I bring for your birthday?" I joked, "Something with diamond."  And lo! She brought a pack of cards that is lying before me; surely I will use that to play 'Patience'. She also brought a half-pound chocolate-cake and on my telling her that eating birthday cake gives me heartburns, she quickly retorted, "Never eat the cake along with burning candles, uncle."

 

When I was celebrating the 62nd birthday, the day gained such importance that  May 11 was declared the National Technology Day because on this day the first indigenous aircraft Hansa-3 was test flown at Bangaluru, Trishul missile was fruitfully test fired and Shakti, nuclear tests, were successfully carried out at Pokhran. The day which was important for me became important for the nation of a billion and more. Inspite of K. Santhanam and his anti-Pokhran tests uttering, my pride for the day enhanced 1998 onwards.

I am happy but also recall Clinton's saying on his fiftieth birthday, "I have less tomorrows now than yesterdays" and feel that my birth certificate is also approaching the expiry date but despite already eating away four years of one of my Himachali brother (life expectancy in HP is 70), I shout Happy Birthday to Me and wait for the next one.


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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

CASTE IN CENSUS

POLITICS OF SOCIAL DIVISION OR INCLUSION?

BY MANJIT SINGH

 

The inclusion of a column on caste in the data collection of census 2011, after a heated debate in and outside Parliament, at the first instance seems to be a benign and insignificant issue. A closer look at the long-run implications of such information forces us to go back to the historical debates on caste-based political reservation and its impact on social inclusion.

 

Before going in for a social auditing of 60 years experience of caste-based politics in independent India, with the obvious purpose of social inclusion, it is important to have a fresh look into the sources of strength of the caste system and its continuous reproduction even at places where there is no objective basis.

 

Nowhere in the world had slavery, followed by feudalism, taken such a rigid form of mutually exclusive social estates, namely, castes, as in India. The reasons for the survival of the segmented society in India till today lies in the multiplicity of disabilities heaped upon the socially marginalised sections of society, call them slaves, dalits, or socially excluded people.

 

The caste system is perpetuated not so much through economic exploitation or socio-cultural deprivation of the working people as much through the ideology of ritual degradation, and thus devaluation of harsh and hazardous labour, along with the labourer himself.

 

Consequently there is a wide acceptance of the calculation of the statutory minimum wage of a worker on the basis of meeting physical needs measured in calories (body energy) and not human needs.

 

The framers of the Indian Constitution were fully aware of this ground reality and thus prescribed a policy of reservation as a means to mitigate social, economic, cultural and political disempowerment of what were termed as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. There is no doubt that reservation (protective discrimination) has helped to ameliorate social and economic conditions of millions of dalits in India who were living under slave-like conditions at the time of Independence.

 

However in a democratic system of "one person, one vote" reservation has also turned out to be a tool with the political parties whose interests otherwise are in direct clash with the dalits. It is precisely for the twin conflicting arguments, one for social justice and the other of apprehension of political abuse, that there is a sharp division among the political parties on the inclusion of an additional column on caste identity in the ongoing census.

 

Some of the national dailies have opposed the move by pointing out the difficulties in collecting authentic data on such a diverse reality, while the others have questioned the use (or possible abuse) of such data against the very purpose for which it is to be generated. There is no simple "yes" or "no" to such a historic decision that, of course, is being taken in haste, more out of political expediency rather than a historical understanding of caste and its possible negative fallout.

 

All over the world identity politics, in the name of race, ethnicity, minorities, immigrants or "foreigners", has tended to bypass the core issue of exploitation, poverty and marginality, thus distorting the democratic functioning of political institutions.

 

The real question is: Despite compiling detailed data on the SCs and the STs since Independence, why has the Indian state failed to generate security among the dalit masses and integrate them with the process of nation building?

 

Unless we address this question squarely, the collection of additional information on castes would perhaps lead to new fissures in the already fragile social fabric of India rather than empowering the disempowered as claimed by the vociferous Indian political elites in Parliament.

 

The argument that such a data on castes is being collected after a gap of 80 years ever since the British did this exercise in 1930 provides all the more ground to suspect the real purpose of such information.

 

Castes have strengthened over time in independent India while we are not sure how far the caste system as a whole has been weakened through the efforts of the state as also social resistance.

 

If we deliberately wish to turn our back to the political upheaval of inter-state "red corridor", what we denounce as the Naxalite menace, still waiting for more data on ethnic identities, there is every reason to suspect the professed claims of those politicians who are advocating data collection on castes in the name of social justice to and empowerment of those hanging on to the social margin of society.

 

It is not as important to collect or not to collect details on castes in India as to address the question whether we have a roadmap of metamorphosing India as a nation by melting down the steel frames of caste hierarchies or we still want to carry on with the age-old strategy of dividing people on different identity lines over which the individual incumbent has no control.

 

If the experience of the past 60 years is any indicator, the way Indian democracy functions within a multi-cultural and uneven social framework, it is not difficult to imagine that how far the data on castes is going to meet the desired constitutional goals of social justice and empowerment, and how far it is going to end up as a political plank for garnering communitarian support at the hustings.

 

The writer is the Director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion, Panjab University, Chandigarh

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

PRIVATISING HEALTHCARE IN UP

BY SHAHIRA NAIM

 

The civil society is set to oppose the Uttar Pradesh government's decision to hand over the complete public health infrastructure in four districts to selected private partners for 33 years.

 

Describing it as the state abdicating its constitutional responsibility, more than three dozen NGOs and concerned citizens have regrouped under a newly formed 'Swasthya Sewa Nijikaran Virodhi Manch' (SSNVM) to launch a public campaign against the move.

 

Sources claim that Apollo Hospitals, Fortis Heathcare, Max Healthcare and Rockland have been shortlisted by the state government for the management, operation and maintenance of public health service facilities.

 

According to Jashodara Dasgupta from HealthWatch UP-Jharkhand, the SSNVM will launch a multi-pronged campaign to challenge the move that is being viewed as a violation of the fundamental right of a citizen to life with dignity.

 

In the very first attempt of its kind anywhere in the country, the Uttar Pradesh government has selected four District Hospitals, eight Community Health Centres, 23 Primary Health Centres and 210 Sub Centres for handing over to selected private partners. The districts selected for the experiment are Allahabad, Kanpur, Firozabad and Basti.

 

For this a Special Purpose Company is to be set up with the private partners in which the government will have a mere 11 per cent shareholding. After 33 years the SPC will be dissolved and the shares will revert to the government on the payment of a nominal sum of Re 1.

 

The 26-page Request for Qualification (RFQ) document available on the state government's website speaks of the entire curative chain being made a "financially viable business proposition" in which the government offers the partner a "captive market" of 23 lakh population in the district with "practically no presence of any other quality private provider".

 

According to Dasgupta, the word 'free' occurs only once in the document where it mentions that only those services which are free under category 'A' Conveniently these services have not been listed. No provisions for providing free services for the poor or BPL finds a mention in the bid document.

 

"Category B (list to be made available only to the shortlisted bidders in the RFQ document) are mandatory services to be introduced by the private partner for which they would "be allowed to determine its own charges" "as per market forces".

 

It is very clear from the bid document that the state government will not make any financial contribution to the capital and running costs other than providing "supplies under National programmes".

 

In its bid to offer an uncharted market to private players in the health sector the state government has not mentioned its obligation or that of the private partner to the increasing number of the poor and marginalised, who are getting free or subsidised medical care. There is no mention if there would be free beds for the poor.

 

What would happen to the UPA government's ambitious National Rural Health Mission is also not clear. In areas like maternal health, family planning, tuberculosis and malaria control the NRHM has provided a mechanism for laying out technical standards, funding as well as accountability for the health system.

 

The Director General, Medical Health Services, Dr R R Bharti, remained busy in meetings and was unavailable to comment on apprehensions of the civil society on this move to privatise health services in the four districts of the state.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

DELHI DURBAR

SUPREME ADVICE TO MEDIA

 

In the recent judgement on the pre-marital sex controversy created by the remarks of Tamil actor Khushboo, the Supreme Court said it wanted to give a piece of advice to the media before saying "omega" (concluding). The reason: some of the observations made by the court during the course of the hearing were reported by a section of the media giving the impression that these were the orders passed by the Bench on the subject.

 

This misled several religious organisations, prompting them to shoot off letter petitions to the court praying for a review of these orders. According to sources, the three-member Bench even received religious and mythological texts from some outfits which wanted to educate the judges on the high moral values being practised in the country for many a millennium. Some of them had even threatened to stage demonstrations outside the apex court. No wonder, the Bench said "omega" (the last Greek alphabet) only after sort of admonishing the Fourth Estate!

 

'Power couple'

 

Union Home Secretary GK Pillai and his Chandigarh-educated wife and batch-mate in the IAS, Sudha Pillai, are now the ultimate "power couple" in the bureaucracy in the capital. The Home Secretary's "better half" is now the Member Secretary of the Planning Commission in the rank of Minister of State.

 

Sudha Pillai, a 1972 batch Kerala cadre IAS officer, started her career as SDM Thiruvananthapuram. Born at Shimla, Sudha was educated in Chandigarh and topped the BA Honours exam of Panjab University. She went on to secure the second rank in the civil services exam, besides completing her masters.

 

In a lighter vein, people are asking if the lady, who now holds the MOS rank, will be senior to her husband in terms of protocol. On a serious note, the couple is down to earth and hardly displays the immense power it wields. In the past, the famous power couple at that level were SS Grewal, who was the Cabinet Secretary, while his wife, Sarla Grewal, was the PS to the PM.

 

CASTE UNITES RIVALS

The debate on the caste-based census in the Lok Sabha the other day generated a lot of heat and some surprise affection as well. The most notable exchange of warmth was witnessed between two arch rivals — Lalu Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Gopinath Munde of the BJP. Separated by political ideologies, the two came together on the floor of the House to demand the right of other backward classes to be counted.

 

And both did it in style. Munde, while stressing the importance of the caste system in India, said, "I don't know if I would ever be reborn. But were I to apply to God for a rebirth, even He would ask me which caste I would prefer to be born into…" Mesmerised by Munde's manner and the way he built a case in support of caste-based enumeration of people, Lalu went an extra mile to pat his OBC colleague's back. So when it was Lalu's turn to talk, he told Munde, "Sure you will be reborn. And I will personally recommend to God that you be born in Bihar as a Yadav." The House was in splits as caste, for once, seemed to unite people rather than divide them.

Contributed by R. Sedhuraman, Ajay Banerjee and Aditi Tandon

Top

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE

IN A WORLD WHERE HONOURABLE EXITS ARE THE TOP PRIORITY, FORMER IPL CHAIRMAN LALIT MODI AND M S DHONI'S TEAM INDIA ARE FIGHTING STRANGELY SIMILAR BATTLES

 

Since the universe is infinite, with infinite possibilities, it's possible that somewhere there is a planet exactly like ours. It has the same vegetation, the same religions, the same countries, the same people, the same buildings, the same jokes, the same films, and the same sports. The only difference is that a tree in some jungle is planted five feet to the left, or some houses have red doors instead of brown ones, or Sachin Tendulkar hasn't joined Twitter, or Lalit Modi did not click send on the one 'status update' that changed his life.


 The former chairman of the IPL is still a happy man on that planet, on his way to a yacht party at the Monaco Grand Prix. Back in the world we live in, however, how Modi has fallen – from private jets to commercial flights, from the cool Mediterranean breeze to the Arabian sea's summer gust; from show-cause to show-cause, lawyer to lawyer.


On a Monday when he was supposed to file his reply, Modi asked for five more days to answer the notices sent to him by the BCCI. There are reports that his submission will be one thousand pages long, that it will knock the living daylights out of anyone who reads it, that every allegation will be rebutted in a manner so eloquent and a tone so earnest that the cricket board will first cower and then, in a sudden moment of clarity, welcome him back with all powers restored.


 But from what I know of the BCCI, the eloquence or the earnestness of the report will have little bearing on what will follow. Modi may as well have turned it in five days earlier rather than five days later. The cricket board is not a court of law. There is no judge, just a partisan jury. The evidence need not be irrefutable for it to take action against an office-bearer. These notices are a procedural requirement, but their answers are immaterial. The decision to remove Modi has already been taken, and only thing left to know is what dirt Modi has on individual members of the board, and if it is enough to least buy him an honourable exit.
 More honourable, for example, than what the Indian cricket team are heading towards at the World T20, where a pretty regular combination of pace and bounce has again managed to make them flinch, fend, and squinch their eyes with disbelief. Short-pitched bowling and Indian cricket have a strange relationship, more volatile than anything the human race has been able to muster up over the decades. In comparison, Mike Tyson and Robin Givens are a laugh riot; Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Pressley a match made in heaven.
   Why Indian teams can't deal with the rising ball despite 80 years of international cricket is a question with such simple answers - better domestic wickets, horizontal-bat shots - that I yawn every time I talk about them. But the real problem behind the World T20 disasters, both here and in England last year, is that the team was simply not prepared.


 Coach Gary Kirsten spoke at great length about the ill-effects of the IPL after the exit in England, and if he gets a chance to talk again (I believe he's not addressed any press conference so far), hopefully he will not shy away from reiterating his stance. The IPL is simply not the best launch-pad for a serious international tournament for several reasons – the players and the national team's support staff get disconnected because the injuries and training procedures are managed locally by the franchises, performances can't be seen in context because there are always weak bowlers or batsmen in an XI because of only-fourforeigners rule, and 45 days of non-stop travelling/partying leads to unshakeable physical and mental fatigue.


 To put it in a different way, the Indian cricket administration has decided that because the IPL is more lucrative, it is also more important than any other event – the flagship of the season, the 'real' World Cup. India's early departure from England, from the Champions Trophy in South Africa, and the imminent exit from West Indies, are just water under the bridge as long as the money is flowing in.


 That's how things are in this post-IPL world, and who knows, they may never change – Modi or no Modi. At least not in this corner of the universe.

 

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EDITORIAL

CASTE IN CONFUSION

IT IS NOT CLEAR WHAT PURPOSE THE CENSUS WILL SERVE

 

If India is to carry on with caste-based reservations, the argument goes, what's wrong with the argument for having a caste-based census as demanded by Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav? The current method of figuring out the country's caste composition is based on a five-yearly sample by the National Sample Survey (NSS), and the numbers have varied quite a lot between the last two surveys. Many argue the new numbers are an overstatement — a census, by this logic, will separate the wheat from the chaff, and you'll know just how many people there are in various caste groups. That may well be the case, those opposed to caste-census like Home Minister P Chidambaram argue that there are huge difficulties associated with a caste-census. For one, there are supposed to be around 18,000-odd caste groups. This means there can clearly be no check boxes for caste groups; if the option is to have a "what is your caste?" question to be answered by the respondent being canvassed, how do you possibly aggregate this question from over a billion people if there are at least 18,000 possible answers to the question? There is also the question of who is backward and who isn't — one caste group may be backward in one state and a forward in another. Indeed, this is probably the reason why the proportion of other backward castes (OBCs) rose between the last two NSS rounds — in the five-year period in between the first one in 1999-00 and the second in 2004-05, state governments probably added more castes to the list of backwards. So, if states are free to keep increasing the list, how will a census help since the number will always be fluid?

 

There are other operational problems that the home minister has enumerated, but the real question to be asked is how the census, even if it can be done, will really help? It is probably not anyone's case that the proportion of SC/STs has fallen, but even if you assume it has, can anyone really think SC/ST groups will allow the government to take back the 22.5 per cent reservations that have been mandated for them? So, maybe the census will give us an accurate number for OBCs. Assume that it tells you, purely hypothetically, there are only 18 per cent OBCs as opposed to the NSS number of around 40 per cent, surely the OBCs will not stand a reduction in the seats reserved for them. And even if the number is, for the sake of argument, 60 per cent, there is nothing that can be done to raise the reservation percentage since the courts have put a clear ceiling to total reservation. In other words, given the problems associated with a caste-based census and the extremely limited benefits to be got from it, it's best to junk the idea.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

RUE BRITANNIA

TORY-LIB DEM COALITION IS REFLECTION OF THE MANDATE

 

Most Britons deeply rue the fact that they are headed for a coalition government, with many predicting various dire outcomes like a downward spiral into a Greece-like economic crisis and sundry political disasters. History suggests that they shouldn't be so apprehensive. Since the end of World War II, most of Europe's major economies have been governed by coalitions — Germany, Spain, Belgium, Italy, France, the Netherlands and Ireland to name a few — with no noticeable harm in the quality of governance. Yet, even as the British intelligentsia is veering round to acceptance — and urgently urging government formation to stave off a market crash in the face of a rating downgrade threat — many Britons view the prospect of a Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition with distaste and alarm. Certainly, given the polarity of outlook between the two parties and personalities concerned, the nightmare of a non-performing government appears strong. The Conservatives under David Cameron favour a diluted version of Thatcherism with a robust revival of privatisation (including of the five-centuries-old Royal Mail), tax breaks for the rich and cutbacks on welfare spending. Nick Clegg's Lib Dems — often disparagingly referred to as the "long hair and sandals" party — has a diametrically opposite agenda, including a pro-immigration and pro-Europe outlook, both anathema to a country struggling with high unemployment. Making the twain meet in terms of viable policy may look difficult but such a coalition would better reflect the plurality of the election result. Politics is the art of the possible.

 

It is, of course, easy to see why the British people dread coalitions. They haven't really known one (bar, of course, the war-time National Government under Winston Churchill and a Lib-Lab pact under James Callaghan). Most Britons who voted last week have been used to "strong" prime ministers with distinct policies for over two decades — from the Thatcherite era (1979 to 1990) to Tony Blair (1997 to 2007), so coalitions for them seem to spell weak governments. In that sense, Britons are right to be worried about the nature of their government going forward, given the record fiscal deficit and the real danger of a rating downgrade that the country faces. But there is nothing to suggest that Britain was better governed under one-party governments. Indeed, despite her muscular foreign policy and brashly pro-market economics, Thatcher's 11-year premiership was marked by a high degree of unemployment and social unrest. Blair, of course, will forever go down in history as George W Bush's "poodle", pushing Britain into its highly unpopular military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for following high-spending policies for which his successor Gordon Brown is partly taking the hit. Also, as an analyst in the Financial Times pointed out, it is worth noting that "one EU country that resembles the UK in usually having a government with a clear parliamentary majority is Greece, the recipient of a ¤110 billion financial rescue plan designed to avoid a debt restructuring". Indeed, Britons worried about the consequences of coalitions would do well to look to India, the world's fastest-growing democracy. Since the 90's, the country has been governed by a series of rainbow coalitions that delivered significantly faster economic growth than the mostly one-party domination of the Congress in the decades after Independence. The irony, of course, is hard to escape. Newly independent India looked to Westminster as a model for government. Now, Westminster could well turn to Raisina Hill to figure out how coalitions can work effectively.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

GREEK LESSONS FOR INDIA

THE WISDOM OF CAPPING FII ACCESS TO LOCAL DEBT, RESTRICTION ON ECBS, ETCETERA IS NOW APPARENT

SUMAN BERY

 

What is at the heart of the Greek crisis? What are the important lessons for India? Based on a fairly close reading of the international press, it has been surprisingly hard to answer the first of these questions, in a way that helps address the second.

The crisis first erupted in late 2009, when the incoming socialist government revealed that its predecessor had understated the country's fiscal deficit. As jittery financial markets took fright, attention shifted to other areas: the overall size of the country's sovereign debt and the rigidity of its nominal exchange rate given its membership of the eurozone.

 As a coordinated policy response has been fashioned, including exceptional access to the resources of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), there has been considerable criticism (for example by Arvind Subramanian in these columns) of the burden-sharing between the official and the private sector envisaged in the programme. Banks holding Greek debt are not being asked to suffer write-downs; indeed, Greece is expected to emerge from its three-year programme with the IMF with an even higher ratio of public debt to GDP.

There is criticism that the fiscal adjustment being imposed on Greece condemns it to unsustainable economic stagnation, and is merely postponing an unavoidable restructuring of its sovereign debt. There is also criticism of the asymmetry of the adjustment being imposed on Greece, particularly by Germany which is unable or unwilling to alter a growth model that depends on its running substantial export surpluses.

Many of these critiques, however, lack conviction. As has been frequently pointed out, Japan has systematically sustained much higher sovereign debt levels than Greece, with a decade of slow growth. Yet it has not (yet) suffered a sovereign debt crisis. Both Belgium and Italy, which are also countries with chronically high stocks of sovereign debt, too have managed to soldier on for decades.

More recently, in response to the global financial crisis, and still within the eurozone, Ireland has voluntarily committed itself to a severe fiscal adjustment with consequent implications for its growth prospects. It was on the way to regaining credibility and being rewarded by the financial markets before it was hit by the contagion spreading from Greece. Outside the eurozone, Latvia chose to impose a punitive deflation upon itself in order to avoid breaking its link with the euro.

One needs to remind oneself that the essence of the Bretton Woods arrangements that served the world economy so well in the two decades after the Second World War, was to maintain agreed par values (exchange rates) as far as possible, as an anchor of both domestic and international monetary stability. There is no "ideal" nominal exchange rate regime. One important reason for Greece's travails is the conviction in the financial markets that its political system does not have the same capacity as Ireland to force through the necessary economic adjustment.

The lessons for India of this Greek drama are more prosaic, but nonetheless important. Although it has not been particularly remarked upon, there seems to have been a basic failure of both public and external debt management, one that also seems to have caught the ratings agencies unawares. Greece suffered the misfortune of needing to roll over large amounts of its sovereign debt at a time when the private markets closed down for it. This is the phenomenon of the so-called "sudden stop" which has been extensively analysed for emerging markets. As a member of the euro area, Greece apparently believed that it was immune from this risk. As T N Ninan has observed, this view was shared by the ratings agencies, which continued to classify the country's debt as investment grade not long before declaring it as junk.

Out of long experience, India has developed multiple instruments and defences to guard against these debt management risks of particular importance given its relatively high stock of public debt. (External debt remains manageable in aggregate, although maturity management requires continued vigilance). These measures include restricting sovereign market borrowing to rupee instruments; capping the access of foreign institutional investors to the local debt market; imposing heavy portfolio requirements on a broad range of financial institutions (banks, provident funds) to ensure a market for government debt; restrictions on amount and maturity of overseas borrowings by corporate entities and financial institutions via the regulations covering external commercial borrowing (ECB); regulation of outward capital movements; and finally the accumulation of a large stock of foreign exchange reserves. The Greek crisis serves as a salutary reminder of why these controls were instituted and the care that is needed as we exit from them as part of financial liberalisation. It is fervently to be hoped that this body of experience transfers intact when debt management moves from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to the Ministry of Finance.

A second lesson is the importance of avoiding default. India gained huge credibility in the markets in 1991 when it went to the extreme step of pledging its gold reserves rather than call a moratorium on its debt service. India's aversion to inflation and its relatively high domestic interest rates have equally meant that domestic holders of government debt have also not been dispossessed. As Ken Rogoff of Harvard has noted (based on extensive research on sovereign defaults jointly with Carmen Reinhart of the University of Maryland), it can take up to a century to establish confidence and credit as a sovereign borrower. Accordingly, I find the calls for debt restructuring glib and short-sighted, even if a serial defaulter like Argentina appears not to have paid a high price in the short run for its misbehaviour.

The third lesson is that, when the chips are down, there seems to be little alternative to austerity. Smarting from the criticisms it encountered at the time of the Asian crisis in 1997, the IMF has attempted to tone down the harshness of its conditionality, particularly on fiscal adjustment. Yet in the Greek case, the judgment seems once again to be that there is no prospect of restoring financial market access without a Draconian fiscal programme.

Finally, the crisis does support the caution exercised by the RBI Governor in his April policy statement. As I remarked in "Monetary policy: The new normal" (April 13), the world economy is not out of the woods. External demand is likely to remain sluggish. Concerns about overheating, therefore, remain premature, despite the headline inflation numbers.

The author is director-general, National Council of Applied Economic Research, and member, Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council.

The views expressed are personal

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THE PUNTING ON SMALL-TOWN MEDIA

VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR

Indian language print is the new growth story in the $17-billion Indian media and entertainment industry. In December 2009, DB Corporation, the publishers of Dainik Bhaskar, raised Rs 450 crore through an initial public offer (IPO). Later, in April 2010, Blackstone, a private equity fund, picked up an undisclosed stake in Jagran Prakashan, publishers of Dainik Jagran, for Rs 225 crore. Earlier this month, Jagran bought Mid-Day in a share-swap deal.

Hindustan Media Ventures (HMVL), an offshoot of HT Media, is planning to raise Rs 300 crore through an IPO later this year. HMVL houses all the Hindi brands from HT Media, including the Hindustan. Several other language publishers are expected to raise capital too.

 KPMG recently released a report on the growth of print, with special emphasis on language media. Other analysts have been churning out reports on the implications of the latest Indian Readersship Survey results after ignoring them for years. When consultants and investment bankers start spotlighting an industry, you know it has arrived.

For more than 15 years, most language brands have struggled to establish their credentials as media vehicles that also reach an audience with significant purchasing power. Media buyers have been reluctant to acknowledge this power. There was a gap of about 1:10 between what an English brand could charge versus a language one. Though estimates on what the current gap is vary from 1:5 to 1:3, there is no doubt that it has been narrowing. Much of the growth in language media is the result of this narrowing — a sign that revenues are finally following the volumes the market offers.

However, it is not just the language media that investors are betting on, it is the whole small-town-India story that is being put to test here. The reason the gap between English and language ad rates narrowed is the evidence that the potential in non-metro India, where a lot of language media readers sit, is now overwhelming.

On affluence levels, market size and growth potential, towns such as Pune, Chandigarh, Indore and Jaipur are three-fourths or more of Mumbai, according to a 2008 report by Ernst & Young (The Dhoni Effect). A newer version of the report, being released this week, is packed with even more evidence of how much and what small-town India is buying.

"Small towns in India have reached an inflection point," says Amit Chopra, CEO, HMVL. According to him, research shows that when a market reaches a per capita disposable income level of $550-$600, ad intensity or the ratio of ad spend to per capita consumption expenditure jumps. In markets such as Russia and China, ad intensity hit 1.4 and 1.2 per cent, respectively, after crossing the threshold. India is at half those levels.

Recently, India reached the $550 level in per capita disposable income. So, expect ad intensity to rise significantly. However, since metros reached this inflection point earlier, what is really pushing the average up is the growth in small-town India. Therefore, a larger share of the increased ad spends will now go to non-metro India, meaning to language publications and other media. This is expected to happen in 2011-12. All the capital going into language media will then begin to see returns.

It just may, but only if investment in content keeps pace. Most of the language biggies used the capital raised in the first round five years ago in spreading across regions and launching news editions.

However, in each of these markets, competition is getting very intense a la English. Bihar, for instance, is a hotspot for most major media brands like the Hindustan, Dainik Jagran and Prabhat Khabar among others. As the readers and advertisers in these markets get used to more options, from TV to radio, they will become more demanding.

That means investing in developing local, not regional, content. This involves hiring, training and retaining good reporters in non-metro India, not just using stringers who double as sales agents. It also means spending on developing local advertising. These take huge amounts of time and effort as any radio, TV or local newspaper company will tell you.

The easy part was showing the promise, the tough one begins now.

Vanitakohli@hotmail.com

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

PARLIAMENTARY PARALYSIS

84% OF GOVERNMENT EXPENSES WERE PASSED WITHOUT SCRUTINY

A K BHATTACHARYA

The 2010 Budget session of Parliament ended last Friday. The Budget session is usually the longest and this one started on February 22 and ended on May 7, with a short four-week break in between. An assessment of what the two Houses of Parliament achieved during the Budget session is, therefore, a good indicator of how effective the government was in pushing its legislative agenda for the year.

Such an assessment can now be undertaken, thanks largely to the comprehensive work done by PRS Legislative Research, a wing of the Centre for Policy Research, which has collated and analysed data on the manner in which Parliament functioned during the just-concluded Budget session. The findings are a telling commentary on the disturbing nature and direction of the debate and discussion that took place in Parliament. A few trends deserve scrutiny.

 First, the broad picture. The government had planned 35 sittings each for the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha during the Budget session. The number of sittings actually achieved was 32 each. This may not seem a big problem, but this overlooks the fact that in these sittings, the government managed to get only 15 Bills passed, compared to its target of 28 Bills, set at the start of the session.

This makes it appear the government managed to get Parliament's approval for more than half of the Bills that it had hoped the two Houses would clear. Take a closer look and you will find that of the 15 Bills passed, as many as nine pertained to the Union Budget and the Railway Budget including the finance Bill and the appropriation Bills for them. In other words, Parliament passed only six other Bills, leaving out a large number of pending Bills in both Houses.

At the start of the Budget session, there were 49 pending government Bills in Parliament. The government had prepared a heavy legislative agenda and managed to introduce 37 new Bills (including nine relating to the Union Budget and the Railway Budget). However, with 32 sittings in each of the Houses, Parliament worked for only 66-74 per cent of the scheduled hours. The result: the government managed to increase the number of its pending Bills from 49 in February to 70 in May. No government can be proud of such an achievement!

The list of 70 pending government Bills is an indication of the yawning gap between the government's legislative agenda and the actual performance with regard to implementing that agenda over the last few years. Mind you, the government has been introducing many of the pending Bills in the Rajya Sabha so that their life continued even after the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. While this has helped in preserving the Bills, the absence of real legislative work in the two Houses has resulted in an increase in the number of pending Bills.

The Bills that are now gathering dust in Parliament's cupboards include those pertaining to the companies law, foreign trade, industrial disputes, insurance industry, telecom regulatory authority, mines and minerals industry, drugs and cosmetics industry, motor vehicles legislation, labour laws, coal mines, trade marks, the stock markets regulation, foreign educational institutions, chartered accountants, copyright laws and petroleum products transportation. The list is long and shows the range of legislative changes that have not happened because of the failure of Parliament to work more efficiently.

How did the Budget session of Parliament treat the Union Budget? Parliament approved all the Budget-related Bills, but discussed the expenditure demands for only three ministries out of a grand total of 54 ministries whose demands for grants were presented along with the Budget. These three ministries accounted for only 16 per cent of the total government expenditure that Parliament had to vote on and approve. Thus, as much as 84 per cent of the government expenditure to be incurred by 51 central ministries was passed by Parliament without any discussion as "guillotine" (the process of putting to vote without discussion) was enforced. This was worse than what happened in the 2009 Budget session, when six ministries' demands for grants, accounting for 21 per cent of the total government expenditure, were discussed before the "guillotine" was enforced.

Indeed, never in the last six years of the Manmohan Singh government has Parliament managed to discuss the demand for grants of more than six ministries in any of the Budget sessions. If the number of pending legislative Bills continues to rise and even the Parliamentary scrutiny of expenditure through discussion in the two Houses gets restricted to only a handful of ministries, it is reasonable to wonder if something is seriously wrong with the way the central government and Parliament are functioning.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THE UNREAD TAGORE

NILANJANA S ROY

As Tagore's 150th birth anniversary became a trending topic on Twitter, the social media site, it seemed like a good time to ask which Tagore we were celebrating. (Sticklers will point out that we're celebrating a year early — technically, the Nobel Prize-winning poet and prolific writer would have turned 149, not 150, today. Try telling them that in Shantiniketan.)

There are really three Tagores who have emerged over the last century. The first, Rabi Thakur, is venerated — almost literally — by the Bengalis. The entire Rabindra Rachanabali, his collected works, is still a prized wedding gift, the potters of Chitpur and Kumartuli do a thriving trade in Tagore busts, his poems and songs are the background to the bustle of any Bengali household, and children still perform his play, Tasher Desh (The Kingdom of Cards) in schools. (His non-fiction — the essays, letters and criticism — remains largely unread, even among this group.)

 Rabi Thakur is a living figure in this tradition, celebrated the most for his songs, and even the generation that grew up distanced from their language will know at least the Satyajit Ray films based on his works, Charulata and Ghare-Baire among them. The Bengali worship of Rabi Thakur can strain the patience of some, as Vikram Seth noted in A Suitable Boy, where Kakoli scandalises her mother by warbling, "Rabi Thakur, R Tagore/ Ohe what a bore!" But Kakoli represents a relatively tiny fraction of apostates among the vast majority of the devout, in India and in Bangladesh.

For the rest of India, there's the official Tagore. Despite the availability of translations, Tagore is more celebrated than read in this world. He's known by the kind of useful shorthand that precludes actual engagement: one of the Architects of Modern India, off to a side in the nationalist pantheon, the man who wrote Jana-Gana-Mana, our national anthem, and most crucially, as the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. He doesn't have to be read, except by literature lovers and dedicated readers. Instead, he functions as a symbol: Tagore stands for patriotism and success, the value we pay lip service to, and the value we actually worship.

What's lost in this version of Tagore is heartbreaking. By ironing him out, we've forgotten the Tagore who made his mark as a poet by inventing a Vaishnava poet, Bhanusingh, whose "rediscovered verses" were accepted by the literary canon until he confessed that the poems that made up Bhanusingher Padabali were his own invention.

We've also forgotten the Tagore who held his own in debates with Gandhi: he had his own views on the usefulness of the charkha, they argued over nationalism, and Tagore disliked the negativity that he felt was an inextricable part of a Non-Co-operation Movement. And we've forgotten the young man who wrote the first proper short story in Bengali, whose sympathy to women shows in all those gorgeous portraits of the Sucharitas and Charus who struggled against the constraints of their world.

The one Tagore poem most people can quote is, Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high/ Into that valley of freedom, my father, let my country awake. But that sentiment, beautiful as it is, obscures the intelligence of the writer who could craft a fierce debate between tradition and modernity; fanaticism, faith and liberalism in the deadly face-off between a king and his royal priest in Rajarshi. (This, one of the greatest and most contentious of Tagore's early works, remains untranslated — though the stage versions, Visarjan and Raj-Rakht, will be familiar to some.)

And the third Tagore is the mystic visionary and poet the West fell — briefly — in love with. W B Yeats was his champion, rendered rhapsodic by Tagore's Gitanjali: "He writes music for his words." But Yeats was also enraptured by his vision of Tagore as a kind of living saint, a poet of religion and nature, a man who could render the ancient spirituality of the East into terms that might ravish the ears of the West. Tagore's Nobel was also awarded, approvingly, as proof of the "rejuvenating efforts of the Christian Mission in India"; without English, the "native" Gitanjali would, in effect, have not existed.

In this version, "Gurudev" was one in a long line of Oriental mystics to beguile the West. Rumi is one of the few poets to have endured; but in the supermarket souks of Europe, Tagore's Gitanjali is no longer to be found. Rescuing Tagore from sainthood, from the pedestal or from oblivion could take another 150 years.

nilanjanasroy@gmail.com

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE GREAT BRITISH TAMASHA

 

They may be called Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg but they could just as well have been called Govardhan Barwan, Devidas Kumaran and Nikhil K Alagh. Their shenanigans ever since the May 6 general elections failed to crown any one of them as the outright winner may seem odd to a British public used to seeing tenants change overnight at 10 Downing Street, but for Indians it's just politics as usual.


After 700-odd years of parliamentary evolution, Britain has come to the same point where the Indian polity has been for the past two decades. A hung Parliament? We've been there. Days of talks to form a coalition government? We've done that. Confabulations, compromises and horse-trading behind closed doors? We've not merely bought, but practically patented, the tee-shirt on that one.


A prime minister who stubbornly refuses to bow to the people's verdict, a challenger hamstrung by his lack of a conclusive 'victory' and an ambitious kingmaker done in by a less-than-expected haul of seats are all familiar if not lovable characters from the great Indian political tamasha.


Add to that, divergent opinion polls, voters being turned away from polling booths and speculative political punditry, and it's Indian Elections Redux — barring the absence of British equivalents of Mayawatis, Mamatas and Mulayams to keep TRPs up while the protagonists sort themselves out.


Nor has the British system thrown up players in the mould of Lalu Prasad, Shibu Soren, and Karunanidhi, who can always be counted on to lend a helping MP or two in the national interest. Most worrying of all, barring the formidable Lord Mandelson (Mandal Singh?), British political parties lack those able intermediaries who are so crucial to government formation in uncertain times. Should Amar Singh volunteer his services?

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

AWESOME EU SOLIDARITY

 

Markets around the world, including in India, have risen sharply, applauding the European Union's resolve to keep their currency and the union going. Indeed, a trillion dollar war chest that the EU has put together is, indeed, bigger than what the market had anticipated. This should serve to beat down speculation that Greece would be forced to leave the euro, perhaps to be followed by Spain and Portugal.


For the time being, at least. When a country faces a sudden crisis and needs a boost in competitiveness to restart growth, it can let currency depreciation and inflation do the job of making wages cheaper, when measured in foreign currencies. But when the country's currency is inflexible, these methods of cutting wages to enhance competitiveness are no longer available. The alternative is to cut wages in absolute terms. This is not unheard of, but politically difficult, particularly when the cuts required are steep.


This is why continuing with the euro would be tough for Greece. The other way out is to enhance productivity. Marshall aid to war-wrecked Europe boosted productivity sharply, leading to a long period of boom in the second half of the 20th century. But now, the task is not to rebuild, but to build, which is tougher and takes longer.

The only way to persuade Greece to resist the temptation to exit the euro is to show massive levels of solidarity, so that Greek debt continues to find takers within the governments of the EU, avoiding crippling Greek budget cuts. By agreeing to prop up all euro-denominated debt, the stronger EU countries have shown real solidarity to keep the euro zone together and the euro intact.


However, if productivity in the euro zone does not rise fast enough to offset the inflationary pressures of so much additional public debt, the euro would weaken against the dollar, never mind its immediate rise. The short-to-medium-term result of Europe's willingness to spread the pain would be to prolong the dollar's reign as the safe haven currency. That is good news for those worried about the strengthening rupee.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

GAS NEEDS PROACTIVE POLICY

 

The Supreme Court's ruling in the Reliance gas dispute underlines the need for proactive market design, and follow-through infrastructure development. As the judgment clarifies, the specific need for arm's length prices and arm's length sales, both for natural gas, other hydrocarbons and minerals generally, is precisely to ensure that the sovereign receives a fair share of the revenues. But it adds that where the gas market is not properly developed, as ours is not, determining true arm's length or competitive, market-determined prices may not be possible.

It is further elaborated that the 'size, scale, scope and nature' of the market depends on the length and density of the gas pipeline network, and the attendant number of producers, distributors and retailers, among other factors. Hence policy need to fast-forward production in other gas finds by, for instance, ONGC and GSPC, also in the Krishna-Godavari basin, and elsewhere. But in tandem, we need a pan-India gas grid in which multiple distributors and suppliers are able to seek custom via open access to the pipeline network.


The court ruling notes that a thriving spot market for gas would be the 'best source' for determining arm's length sales, with opportunities for numerous transactions and consequent price discovery. And an active spot market would require unbundling of operations in distribution and supply, so as to avoid conflict of interests along the way.

And yet the notified policy for gas pipelines merely calls for an 'affiliate code of conduct' under the common-carrier principle for related-party transactions in gas production and supply. For truer arm's length sales, what's surely required is more effective unbundling of operations right across the board. We also need to develop regional gas hubs to benchmark prices.


In parallel, what's required is a spot exchange for gas and development of the futures market, for dynamic price discovery that reflects scarcity value and incentivises investment in prospecting, production and delivery. With gas, the cleanest hydrocarbon, meeting barely 10% of our energy demand, the upside is huge. Hence the pressing need to boost the gas market.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THROUGH THE THIRD EYE

 

Eye of the CBI

The BJP leadership's shrill campaign against 'the Congress misuse of CBI' has raised many eyebrows. Not that playing around with the CBI has been beyond the Congress' capabilities. But what has made observers amused about the BJP's hyper activity is the fact that the saffron party too, during its six-year stint at Centre, showed enough signs of learning the same trick real fast. Who can forget the way Murli Manohar Joshi was tripped when the CBI, quite spectacularly, let then home minister L K Advani off the Babri hook and left his rival Joshi hanging mid-air? So, the Congress camp is now analysing the reasons behind the BJP's attacking the CBI. A fly in the Congress strategy room says the party brass sees a clear link between saffron bashing of the CBI and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi's mounting problems with the investigating agency in many sensitive cases. Trust Delhi to house a conspiracy.


Return trip

After crusading against smoking, former health minister Anbumani Ramadoss is finding himself being smoked out of the Rajya Sabha. Ramadoss is completing his term in the Upper House in June and the PMK isn't likely to get a chance to renew his term. For the six ensuing RS vacancies from the state, the DMK-Congress alliance is set to bag four and the AIADMK front two. Having broken off with both the leading Dravidian parties, PMK finds itself in no-man's land in state politics and may have to wait for the upcoming state assembly polls for an opening. A clear signal of Ramadoss packing his bags came when his personal staff, including some cooks from his state, boarded the Chennai-bound Tamil Nadu Express last week.

Pragmatic partners


When Trinamul Congress-West Bengal PCC talks on the civic poll were showing signs of collapsing, Mamata Banerjee got two calls from the Congress high command. First AICC-in-charge of the state Keshav Rao called her at Rail Bhavan to know whether there was any scope for reviving seat-sharing talks. After Rao's negative feedback to his leadership, Congress president's political secretary Ahmed Patel called up Didi. The two apparently worked out a practical road-map for 'an agreement in disagreement': let there be a Congress-Trinamul disagreement in civic polls without affecting their national agreement. After all, the same formula was the base on which Congress and RJD fought against each other in Bihar assembly polls even as they agreed to stick together in UPA-1 . Now the Left is hoping that the same Congress-Trinamul disagreement formula will be extended to the upcoming West Bengal assembly polls too.


Captain on prowl


Uttar Pradesh is always a land of political manoeuvring. The Congress, which does not have enough MLAs in the UP assembly to win a single Rajya Sabha seat this time, is exploring the possibilities on the elasticity of the state parties to try and win a bonus seat. Congress managers think Ajit Singh's RLD could offer its MLAs' backing for a Congress nominee as a way of positioning for a future live-in with the UPA. Or else the BSP and SP could, as the two rivals did during the cut motions voting, compete against each other in humouring the grand old party with hopes of 'humanitarian' return gifts. While the Congress is already working on the UP House numbers, there are guarded whispers within the AICC that 10, Janpath loyalist Capt Satish Sharma, whose RS term from Uttarakhand is ending, is working for a wild-card entry from UP.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

NREG, PDS & NUTRITIONAL DEPRIVATION

R JHA, S BHATTACHARYA & R GAIHA

 

With spiralling food price inflation and sluggish employment growth in both rural and urban areas, the spectre of hunger and nutritional deprivation looms large for millions of households. While the battle lines are sharply drawn between those who pin their hopes of a rapid growth acceleration through a continuing bold fiscal stimulus and others screaming for an early exit before growth prospects are swallowed up by galloping inflation , those most vulnerable to food inflation are sidelined, if not altogether ignored, in the debates on macro stability and growth.


Arecent study (R Jha, S Bhattacharya and R Gaiha, Social Safety Nets and Nutrient Deprivation: An Analysis of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme and the Public Distribution System in India, ASARC Working Paper 2010/05, Australian National University , 2010), based on primary data collected in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh during 2007-08 , highlights the extent and severity of nutritional deprivation, and the contribution that NREG and PDS make towards mitigating it. Broadening the focus to include not just intake of calories and proteins but also micronutrients (e.g. calcium, iron), crucial for healthy and productive lives , we find an important link that emphasises undernutrition not merely as a consequence of poverty but also as a causal factor in perpetuating poverty. Our earlier collaborative research points to a nutrition poverty trap where low nutrition leads to low productivity which leads to low wages which lead to low nutrition, thus completing a vicious cycle.


While both NREG and PDS have been castigated as huge failures little is known about their contribution towards mitigating nutritional deprivation. Our analysis throws new light on this neglected aspect.


Let us first consider the nutritional profiles of these three states, taking into account consumption of calories, proteins, and micronutrients (calcium, iron, carotene, thiamine, riboflavin, Vitamin C and niacin).


Using standard cut-off points for each, it turns out that not a single household in Andhra Pradesh was adequately nourished in all nine nutrients. Mean consumption of all nutrients except iron was below the respective cut-off point for nutritional adequacy. However, there was considerable inequality in nutrient consumption across the sample with the minimum cut-off for calories, for example, attained only by households in the top 10% by calorie consumption.


The nutritional profile of Maharashtra is slightly better — 1.3% of the households were adequately nourished in all nutrients. As in the case of Andhra Pradesh, there was considerable inequality in nutritional attainment with the minimum calorie norm reached only by the top 5% of households for calorie consumption. In Rajasthan barely 0.5% of the households were adequately nourished across all nine nutrients. However, it had the lowest prevalence of deprivation across all nutrients (29% of households). But just the top 12% of households in calorie consumption crossed the minimum norm.


Against this background, our results point to varied effects of NREG and PDS on the intake of various nutrients. For example, both NREG and PDS significantly increased the intake of calories, proteins, iron, among others, in these states. In the case of calcium, however, in Maharashtra, both PDS and NREG had positive and significant effects whereas neither was significant in Rajasthan. In Andhra Pradesh, on the other hand, only PDS had a significant effect on calcium consumption. These differences reflect the different ways in which the income from NREG and income transfer implicit in the PDS are spent and the dietary preferences of households in these states.


Using standardising participation measures in PDS and NREG, their effects on nutrient intake are compared. In Andhra Pradesh, in most cases, PDS had a larger effect than NREG. By contrast, in Maharashtra, NREG had larger effects in most cases. Rajasthan presents a more complex picture. For some nutrients (e.g. calories, iron and niacin) PDS has larger effects than NREG while for others (e.g. protein, riboflavin) the latter has larger effects. So a general inference about the greater effectiveness of PDS or NREG is ruled out.


However, our evidence also suggests that the effects of NREG wages on nutrient intake in many cases (e.g. protein, calories, niacin) are larger than those of non-NREG income. This is not surprising as physically demanding tasks necessitate higher nutrient intake. This is of course not an issue in the context of real income transfer implicit in the PDS. An implication of these findings is, however, worth emphasising. Unconditional cash transfers touted to avoid administrative costs and corruption involved in the NREG and PDS are likely to be much less effective if the objective is to enable large segments of the rural population to break out of nutrition poverty traps.


(Raghbendra Jha is Rajiv Gandhi Chair Professor, Australian National University; Sambit Bhattacharya is Research Fellow, Australian National University; and Raghav Gaiha is Professor of Public Policy, University of Delhi.)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

IRRATIONALITY OF GLOBAL CAPITAL MARKETS

SUMANT SINHA

 

Global capital markets are not perfect. Nor are they rational, or even oftentimes effective. A quick look at the performance of the capital markets over the last 15 years just confirms this. In 1993, foreign investors pumped billions of dollars into short term, local currency, fixed income instruments in Mexico, otherwise known as Cetes. The logic was simple. Cetes were yielding more than 10% in pesos when short-term US treasuries were yielding 3% or less. Of course foreign investors were taking currency risk but as long as more of them kept piling into Mexico, the peso kept appreciating — making it a lucrative trade. In February 1994, the US Federal Reserve started increasing interest rates. Through the rest of the year smart locals kept pulling their funds out of Mexico while 'herd mentality' foreign investors kept piling in. In December, the Mexican Central Bank, in the face of a huge trade deficit, was forced to devalue the currency, and as a consequence, Cetes investors were forced to take a significant bath on their investments.


Similar episodes occurred later in 1998 after the Asian crisis during the devaluation of the Brazilian real, and again during the Russian GKO crisis. In each instance, the smart early investors "discovered" the trade, others then piled herd like into securities they understood little, and were eventually suckered into huge losses amounting to billions of dollars. The improbable run up of the Nasdaq to more than 5,000 in 1999-2000 , on the back of an "internet revolution" , after which it has been languishing at around 2,000 for the last 10 years is yet another example of this irrationality , but this time in one of the world's socalled "developed" capital markets.

Unfortunately the current global financial crisis takes the cake. After the US real estate crash of 1987, house prices started rising in 1995 and continued their upward movement for the next several years. By 2003, i.e., less than seven years later, the housing index had more than doubled and it was already becoming apparent that real estate was reaching unsustainable levels. Nevertheless from 2003 to '07, the index increased by another 50%. It was also accompanied by a frenetic period of activity in the mortgage market during which all sorts of risky structures were peddled to willingly gullible and increasingly leveraged consumers. These included backended principal and interest payments, ARMs, interest only, zero equity mortgages , etc. These mortgages were then repackaged and sold on to more highly paid but just as gullible investors and bankers in the US and other countries.

It should have been pretty clear to most capital markets players, and certainly to those in senior positions or in the risk departments , that given the steep run up in asset prices the market would correct, and would do so rapidly when it did. And yet, even though by mid-2008 real estate prices had declined only about 10% to 15% from their peaks, we had the cataclysmic collapse of Bear Stearns in March, followed by the near collapse of the entire global financial system. In hindsight, it is quite remarkable that a set of the most highly paid professionals in the world could have got it so insanely and totally wrong. And we are talking about highly sophisticated institutions, employing some of the best and brightest talent from all over the world. What made these investors take such really awful decisions which cost their investors so much? What in the world were they thinking?


It's almost as if the markets collectively get into a self-induced, mass hypnosis. To a point where reality is willingly suspended. As a result of such occurrences, faith in the efficiency of global capital markets has surely been shaken, if not lost entirely. The market has got it wrong so often and so spectacularly that one wonders whether all the research that is done and market theories that are espoused — random walk, efficient markets, technical analysis, etc, — are anywhere close to reality.


Now there is the possibility that the next big bubble is beginning to inflate. Again the capital markets are wilfully suspending credulity. And this one could be really big. For many years China has been growing rapidly. Its stock market has been among the best performing in the world. On the back of a deliberately cheap currency policy China's exports have swamped the world. It will shortly cross Japan to become the world's second largest economy. Per capita income has almost trebled in the last 10 years. Infrastructure has boomed and the country is unrecognisable to those who revisit it after a gap of a few years. In many sectors China adds capacity in a single year equivalent to India's cumulative installed capacity. It has become the world's largest consumer of many commodities (and the world's largest polluter). By any measure, these are phenomenal achievements.

And yet uneasy lies the crown. Much of the capacity that has been created is not being used. In sector after sector, there are excess capacities. The currency cannot be kept cheap forever and when it gets to realistic levels, it will surely impact the external sector negatively. Worryingly, the response of the government to the current crisis has been a further opening of the bank lending pigot to create even more capacities. Economic growth cannot endlessly come from capacity creation. Chinese planners understand this and are now doing their best to ensure that consumer demand manifests sufficiently to absorb all the excess capacity, being created But if this does not happen the banking sector will be left with a huge amount of non-performing and unproductive assets. Markets will go into a tail spin, the government will be forced to step in and things could well go out of control.

As an aside, funding to the US deficit will stop. Managing this transition from an investment-driven model to one where consumer demand takes up the slack, with the consequential impact that higher consumer spending will reduce the savings rate and thereby the investment rate and the government's ability to spend, will be a huge economic challenge. And there is a risk, however small, that it might well fail.


Still the Chinese stock market is trading at multiples higher than that of most other markets. Several of the world's 10 largest banks by market cap are Chinese. The systemic risk is high and growing, but once again, global capital markets are wilfully turning a blind eye. In reality, the situation is potentially quite sticky and the continued rise of Chinese asset prices, and by consequence, global commodity prices, is potentially the next big bubble built on misplaced optimism and hope, and the herd mentality disease. There is an increasing element of systemic risk in the global markets and this will continue — until the next big correction hits the "irrational" capital markets right between the eyes.

 

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

A SHORT HISTORY OF DELUSION

MUKUL SHARMA

 

The rise of behaviourism last century rose as a reaction against what mainstream scientists perceived psychology to be till then: a waffling kind of soft pseudo-science whose practitioners had gone woolly in the head and were generally faffing around the place.


Luckily for them, however, Pavlov had just shown dogs could be made to salivate not just by the sight of food but even by some stimulus that was associated with food. Here at last was some solid empirical methodology ! Meaning, in order for psychology not to be seen as a fringe member of the elite hard science club, they realised their theories needed to be supported by experimental data obtained through careful and controlled observation and measurement of behaviour.


Then they started going over the top. They became concerned mainly with observable external activity since only these could be scientifically quantified — as opposed to internal events like thinking, judgment, feelings, etc, which were subjective and could not. Maintaining there was no difference between the learning which takes place in humans and that in other animals they concluded all behaviour, no matter how complex, could be reduced to a simple stimulus-response association. In other words, when we are born our minds are a blank slate and everything thereafter is learnt from the environment through the process of conditioning.


"Give me a dozen healthy infants , well-formed and my own specified world to bring them up in," declared John Watson, a man who dominated behavioural psychology at one time, "and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select — doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggarman and thief, regardless of his talents , penchants, tendencies, abilities , vocations, and race of his ancestors."


Finally, they denied the entire existence of anything like mind, free will or consciousness even though each of them had memories , made decisions and dreamt on a regular basis. This instantly devalued what should have been considered senior and of primary importance. And while it may sound ludicrous, it's believed, promoted and applied in many theories and methods used in society today. Is it any wonder then why, instead of embracing a proper, empowering and correct philosophy, totalitarians simply adore modern psychology?

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WE ARE SEEING 70% GROWTH ON RECORD SALES: MERC INDIA CEO

HEMAMALINI VENKATRAMAN

 

German luxury car brand Mercedes Benz had the first-mover advantage when it started operating in India since 1995. But competition changed all that with Merc losing out its leadership position to German counterpart BMW last year. This was when BMW overtook Mercedes as the top luxury carmaker in the Indian market with sales of 3,619 units. BMW's market share crossed 40% against 9% in 2006.


This may have accelerated Merc's penetration strategy, even as competition is hotting up in the luxury car market. Newer players are entering the segment with Audi being the latest German brand to register its presence in this category, that is seeing fast-paced growth. However, Mercedes Benz India MD & CEO Wilfried Aulbur is quick to quip: "We do not focus on numbers. We compete only on the experience plank. We have invested heavily in people, training and processes (wholesale and retail )."


ET caught up with him on a hot Sunday at the racing track of Sriperumbadur, near Chennai, where Merc honcho was present to connect with potential customers and market the "stardrive" experience.


You have got back your leadership position , posting consecutive lead in the last four months. (Last month, it sold 341 units, compared to 307 cars by BMW and 189 cars by Audi.)


We have always believed in showcasing our strength by connecting with our customers with the Merc-Benz experience. Stardrive is one such initiative. Stardrive is a driving experience with simulation of critical road situations , combining the Mercedes-Benz spirit of innovation with a genuine spirit of fun.


Competition is picking up in the luxury car space. What is your game plan? What are the challenges that you foresee?

We have already exhausted 85% of our committed investment of Rs 200 crore into the sub-continent . To manage growth is the main challenge. For 16-17 years now, I have been a great believer in the India growth story . We are on the threshold of double-digit growth. The base has expanded but we see significant volume of sales kicking in in the coming years. Nearly 25-35 % of our sales are out of the tier-II locations as these are the pockets that have significant industrial development , where qualified businessmen are managing turnovers in the Rs 60 crore to Rs 200 crore range.


They have the means to fulfil their aspirations and they are also keen to make a statement. Such regions have tremendous potential as the power and aspiration is very strong.


We have built on the overall ownership experience by providing a unique three-year warranty and roadside assistance programme . We have gone the extra mile of flying our customer back to his destination and providing five-star experience depending on situations. The growth that we saw in 1994, is again happening now reflected through finalisation of fleet and larger deals.


How many dealers are you adding and what is the criteria?


We have a clear understanding of vehicle sales in different geographies. We rank the list of cities and increase our presence accordingly . For example, Kochi, Thiruvanthapuram and Calicut are prominent markets . We have upgraded the authorised centre in such locations through a combined sales and service network model. Our huband-spoke approach is working better in south. We also believe in having stable partners who have an ability to "re-invest ."


Periodic assessment is done and at the working team level, short-listing of dealers is done. A small number of dealers are selected to present their case to the Board of Management in Pune, where it has its plant. Goa, Indore , Bhubaneshwar, Surat, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Delhi are areas where we have increased our footprint. In the third quarter of 2010, the stage is getting ready for biggest brand display of 26 Merc cars in a single

outlet.

Has slowdown impacted sales trend?

Global slowdown did have a marginal impact but it gave us the comfort of making necessary adjustments at the wholesale level . It has been transition time, as we changed 30% of our network. That was the period when the availability of our 'E' class (Rs 39 lakh to Rs 50 lakh) series was limited. At the global level, we did not have much to launch. But 2009 is behind. We are extremely bullish this year as we are seeing 70% growth already, thanks to record sales. We clearly have the ambition to lead though we are not interested in the number game. Nearly 70% of our sales is through finance across the country, reflected by the overall penetration of luxury cars.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE 3G LESSON: OPENNESS PAYS

 

The ongoing 3G spectrum auction is seeing bidding going beyond all expectations. The excitement is palpable as figures of the highest bidders are released daily. The prices of the pan-India 3G spectrum licence and the bidding for circles like Mumbai, Delhi and Maharashtra have hit the roof. The finance minister, the telecom department, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India as well as the Empowered Group of Ministers had all suggested far lower reserve prices for pan-India bidding. The bidding is for a total of 22 circles, and fair value bids have come even for B-category circles like Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Kolkata, the Northeast and Orissa. The remaining 12 circles have seen little or no bidding, but the government cannot complain as it is raising money beyond its wildest calculations. It had estimated at getting Rs 35,000 crore from the 3G auction, whereas as of now, with the auction expected to last a few days longer, it has already garnered bids worth close to Rs 51,000 crore. Soon afterwards, once the 3G process is over, bidding will begin for broadband access licences. This is the first time the government is auctioning wireless telecom spectrum for 3G and wireless broadband services across the country. It is set to make data and voice communications speedier. Consumers still have to wait and see what the winners will offer them. There are a total of nine bidders, including all the big names, and the three highest bidders will end up with the pan-India 3G spectrum licence. Expectedly, the bidding is fiercely competitive after an initial hiccup over the auctioneer's selection, with some rumblings that it was not done in a fair manner. For the winners, the stakes are sumptuous. There is some scepticism that they might have a problem due to the very high bids, which might not prove economically justifiable, but industry insiders are confident that the big players could break even in three years. A more serious problem might be the huge borrowings that the major bidders have notched up, particularly with risk aversion having set in following the European financial crisis, and the likelihood that borrowing might get costlier, sending their calculations haywire. One of the biggest pluses has been that it opened the eyes of the government to the benefits of a transparent process like auctioning while selling or allocating scarce national resources. During the earlier allocation of the 2G spectrum, controversial telecom minister Mr A. Raja awarded these on a first-come-first-served basis, earning the government a virtual pittance. For the pan-India 2G spectrum licence the government got a meagre Rs 1,638 crore, whereas in the ongoing 3G auction process, it has already netted over Rs 2,000 crore from the Delhi circle alone. One can imagine the extent of the loss that the government suffered due to the hasty disposal of a scarce asset. One of the bidders who got the 2G spectrum licence later made crores selling an asset he had virtually got for a song. The telecom minister came under severe attack from the Opposition over this, forcing him to go in for the auction route for 3G. It is to be hoped that the government will make the lesson it has learnt from the 3G licensing process a benchmark for the future in all major projects.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE MINORITY OPINION

BY PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA

 

The May 7 judgment of the Supreme Court on the dispute over the pricing and allocation of natural gas from the offshore Krishna-Godavari basin in the Bay of Bengal has come as a huge victory for Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) headed by Mr Mukesh Ambani and a loss of face for Reliance Natural Resources Limited (RNRL) led by younger brother Mr Anil Ambani.

 

While Union minister for petroleum and natural gas, Mr Murli Deora, has claimed that the judgment is a vindication of the Indian government's position in the dispute — RNRL had claimed that Mr Deora's ministry had acted in a partisan manner to favour RIL — a close reading of the verdict indicates that the judges were rather critical of the way the government has functioned.

 

A perusal of the full judgment (the majority judgment delivered by the Chief Justice, K.G. Balakrishnan, and Justice P. Sathasivam is 118 pages long while the minority judgment delivered by Justice B. Sudershan Reddy runs into an additional 146 pages) could convey a distinct impression that the Indian government has been less than efficient in framing energy policies that are in the best interests of the people of the country.

 

It is all very fine to argue that the Union government has a legal right over the country's resources (including natural gas) and that no private agreement, including the one signed between the two Ambani brothers and their mother in June 2005, can override such a sovereign right. But that's really a no-brainer. The critical issue is whether the Government of India, as the custodian of the resources that belong to the people, has acted or is acting in a manner that upholds the genuine interests of the vast majority of the population or whether its policies have helped a few, powerful business groups.

 

Here's how paragraph 87 of the majority judgment reads: "It is relevant to note that the Constitution envisages exploration, extraction and supply of gas to be within the domain of government functions. It is the duty of the Union to make sure that these resources are used for the benefit of the citizens of the country. Due to shortage of funds and technical know-how, the government has privatised such activities through the mechanism provided under the PSC (production sharing contract). It would have been ideal for the PSUs (public sector undertakings) to handle such projects exclusively. It is commendable that private entrepreneurial efforts are available, but the nature of the profits gained from such activities can ideally belong to the State which is in a better position to distribute them for the best interests of the people. Nevertheless, even if private parties are employed for such purposes, they must be accountable to the constitutional set-up".

 

One sentence in the paragraph can be questioned. There is no evidence to indicate that the government decided to do away with the monopoly exercised by two PSUs, the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and Oil India Limited (OIL), and allowed private firms to enter the area of oil and gas exploration because either ONGC or OIL lacked resources or technical know-how. On the contrary, both are highly profitable companies and private players in the hydrocarbons exploration business would never have able to make any headway had it not been for the initial groundwork done by the PSUs. This has been repeatedly emphasised by past heads of ONGC, including the late Subir Raha and Col. S.P. Wahi.

 

THE MINORITY judgment by Justice Sudershan Reddy devotes considerable space to the issue of the "resource curse". He writes: "A small portion of our population over the past two decades has been chanting incessantly for increased privatisation of the material resources of the community, and some of them even doubt whether the goals of equality and social justice are capable of being addressed directly. They argue that economic growth will eventually trickle down and lift everyone up. For those at the bottom of the economic and social pyramid, it appears that the nation has forsaken those goals as unattainable at best and unworthy at worst. The neo-liberal agenda has increasingly eviscerated the State of stature and power, bringing vast benefits to the few, modest benefits for some, while leaving everybody else, the majority, behind".

 

Justice Sudershan Reddy does not stop there. He unlashes an impassioned tirade: "We have heard a lot about free markets and freedom to market. We must confess that we were perplexed by the extent to which it was pressed that contractual arrangements between private parties with the State and amongst themselves could displace the obligations of the State to the people… History has repeatedly shown that a culture of uncontained greed along with uncontrolled markets leads to disasters… Historically, and all across the globe, predatory forms of capitalism seem to organise themselves, first and foremost, around the extractive industries that seek to exploit the vast, but exhaustible, natural resources. Water, forests, minerals and oil — they are all being privatised; and not being satisfied, the voices that speak for predatory capitalism seek more…"

 

There's much more in the judgment that is all about the tussle over India's natural resources. The warring Ambani siblings have been given six weeks to rework the Gas Sale Master Agreement that safeguards the interest of some three million shareholders of not just RIL but RNRL as well, within the ambit of government policy.

 

What government policy? In the penultimate paragraph of his judgment, Justice Sudershan Reddy makes an important observation: "Before we part with the case, we consider it appropriate to observe and remind the GoI (Government of India) that it is high time it frames a comprehensive policy/suitable legislation with regard to (the) energy security of India and supply of natural gas under production sharing contracts".

 

The short point — that has in the past been pointed out by experts like Surya Sethi (former principal adviser, energy, Planning Commission) — is simply that the government would not have been accused of being a partisan participant in the fight between two of the richest men in India had there not been glaring gaps in the country's energy policy framework that are yet to be filled up. As for the Ambani brothers, they are unlikely to patch up in a hurry. One chapter in the saga has ended. Another will soon begin.

 

- Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

SEX, DRUGS AND THE DEEPWATER SPILL

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

 "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, minimised 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 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, US President Barack 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 organisation during the Clinton years, into a cruel joke. And the common theme in all these stories is the degradation of effective government by anti-government ideology. Mr Obama understands this: he gave an especially eloquent defence 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 anti-government 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 reminder that we need politicians who believe in good government, because there are some jobs only the government can do.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

ENERGY FUTURE REMIX

BY R.K. PACHAURI

 

The American media is providing a great deal of attention to the oil spill which has taken place in the Gulf of Mexico, and it is evident that in respect of the impacts of this major environmental disaster the worst is not yet over. In fact, according to latest reports, not only is there thus far a complete failure to stop the flow of oil from the offshore well which has resulted in this problem, but much of the oil floating on the surface of the sea has yet to hit the coastline. The clean-up of this disaster would take several months according to informed estimates, and the loss in economic and ecological terms would be incalculable. The sight of birds dying slowly because their bodies and feathers have been covered by oil is not only a tragedy in terms of the species affected, but is also an indicator of how human activity is adversely affecting the ecosystems of this planet.

 

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California has come out openly expressing opposition to drilling for oil and gas in offshore areas. The world has certainly been heavily dependent on consumption of hydrocarbons to run the economic engine of human society since industrialisation began, but we need to look at several factors that should influence our decision in favour of a distinctly different energy future. The reality is that the search for hydrocarbons will take us further and further away from established sources and into areas that are going to prove increasingly fragile. The symbolic sitting of a Russian flag at the North Pole is only an indicator of the fierce competition that we would witness over possible reserves of hydrocarbons in the Arctic region in the years ahead.

 

If we look at the projections of the International Energy Agency over the past five years they have changed downwards, leading analysts to believe that perhaps anything beyond a hundred million barrels a day of oil production is now going to be an impossible achievement. This figure is much lower than what was forecast just a few years ago — 115 million barrels a day.

 

There is no getting away from the fact that the world will have to move to a very different energy future from what we have assumed till very recently. Decision-makers should not ignore the fact that it was just three years ago that oil prices had increased to a level of $147. Further economic recovery worldwide is going to increase the demand for oil and natural gas to levels that would exert immense upward pressure on hydrocarbon prices very soon in the future. All of this should really convince decision-makers in governments and businesses to substantially step up research and development efforts and financial allocations by which not only do we improve the efficiency of energy use across the entire chain, but also bring about the development of viable and sustainable energy technologies essentially based on renewable sources.

 

Those countries which have read the writing on the wall are moving purposefully in creating technological solutions which would bring about a major shift in the world energy supply mix. It is now well known that China, for instance, is investing heavily in building its renewable energy supply capacity, and would clearly reach a position of comparative advantage that would not only help them in expanding supply in China itself, but also provide access to the growing global market which is likely to emerge under any set of scenarios that can be foreseen at this point of time. It is pertinent that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, while addressing a meeting of the State Council on May 5, 2010, to discuss issues of conserving energy and cutting emissions, emphasised the fact that China needs to make much larger efforts to cut emissions and conserve energy to meet their targets as set in the 11th five year plan. According to this plan, China will cut its per unit gross domestic product energy consumption by 20 per cent compared with the 2005 level by the end of 2010.

 

Another nation which has not deviated from its green growth strategy despite unfavourable economic conditions in the last two years is South Korea. In that country the green growth plan, which has been in place for over three years now, clearly targets a substantial increase in supply of green energy and in finding a share of the global market on the basis of projections made right up to 2030. The experience of Germany has also been largely favourable, not only in terms of expanding the physical supply of renewable energy, but also in generating new industry, creating employment and economic opportunities which did not exist earlier, given Germany's dependence on imports of energy.

 

Another impressive project which is been pursued vigorously now is the "desert tech" project which will essentially generate power in North Africa using solar energy and transmit electricity to Europe. Undoubtedly, there would be strategic opportunities from such developments because Western Europe, which relies heavily on gas from Russia, would be able to diversify its sources of supply.

 

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations met in Thimpu, Bhutan, earlier this month with climate change as the main theme of the meeting. While the declaration at the end of the summit has identified some useful directions, it is critically important for the countries of this region to embark on a programme of collaboration that would make the best use of technological opportunities and exploitation of economies of scale. For instance, the desert region of Sindh in Pakistan and Rajasthan in India have great similarities on the basis of which large-scale solar-based power could be generated to supply to a substantial area of Pakistan and a large part of western and northern India.

 

There are enormous benefits in exercising a vision that not only deals with the problem of pollution from conventional fossil fuel-based energy systems but also creating a base of technological cooperation that would bring this region a level of cohesion which has been missing thus far. New sources of energy could bring the nations of SAARC together, while showing the way to the rest of the world.

 

- Dr R.K. Pachauri is the director-general of The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI), chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and director of the Yale Climate and Energy Institute

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

SEEKING A SUFI IN BOLLYWOOD

 BY MUZAFFAR ALI

 

Spiritual and cultural maturity of its people makes a nation invincible and influential. After 1947 we should have used the language of moving images to its best and highest use, to keep the country abreast of the world, and mature and educated enough to understand the dialectics of history to man a powerful democracy like ours.

 

Over the last six decades our narrow commercial sense has continued to underestimate our people and this is evident in our films. There is a huge disconnect between the large philosophical outlook of our people and a mentally sub-standard product which not only embarrasses the intelligent child of today but also makes us hang our heads in shame.

 

The child of today is extremely exacting and demanding. S/he expects a lot from what is made to sensitise him/her. They expect authentic feelings, authentic sources, even when they are served illusions.

 

First of all the right creative energies have to gravitate towards Hindi cinema. Sufiana concepts and characters have to find their rightful context.

 

You have a sacred task of taking a sacred idea into sacred space — you have to be cleansed of impurities to do so. You need writers burning with the desire to put spirituality, humanity and aesthetics in an intriguing and dramatic format. Then you need poets fired by love to create lyrics that will rock the soul. You need composers who can compose with the same ecstatic abandon as such poetry may demand. Singing Sufiana means singing Sufiana and for this you have to see the Sufiana in every form of singing and in every relationship in life. You cannot sing Sufiana if you are ungrateful, if you are petty and jealous, competitive and aggressive. Some can make the connect and in some cases their ego interferes. The audience is not coming to you directly. It is taking the same route as the singer... the divine route. Few understand this as commerce and intellect often comes in between. First you have to receive light from that divine connection to pour out your soul.

 

As a filmmaker I have journeyed through the realm of poetry and music that touches the soul and reality at the same time. Like many of us, I have evolved from poet to poet, from poem to poem. I have seen the process as an unveiling of mysteries in a modern strife-ridden life. For me it was finding a woman in a courtesan and not a courtesan in a woman. It was the discovery of the soul through poetry and music that takes one into a mystical realm. Umrao Jaan steered clear of the megalomania, a trap that films of such genres have found themselves landing into, taking away from a spiritual awakening that would be awaiting round the corner.

 

And in such a journey you find tassawuf (Sufism) in everything and everything in tassawuf. The power of music on the big screen is still untapped. The power of the voice has to rise to meet the challenge of a harsh changing world. Sufi films and music that is waiting to be born on Indian soil very soon, in these music will become the reality of the subject. You can't pay lip service to tassawuf in cinema. It has be the ethos the film, it has be the ethos of the reality the country is seeped in.

 

Thus this journey has taken me to a realm when poetry and music, soul and reality, singer and the listener have become one. However, it is here where the challenge lies and needs to be addressed.

 

In the words of Jawed Kamaal, an Aligarh/Rampur poet

Wahshat ne vo bhi loot li dam bhar mein dostoJo muddaton mein ayi thi shayastagi hamein
That moment of madness took it all away

The refinement that had come over centuries

— Muzaffar Ali is a filmmaker and painter. He is the Executive Director and Secretary of the Rumi Foundation. He can be contactedat www.rumifoundation.in [1]

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

WHEN FAMILY VALUES TURN FATAL

 BY PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE

 

Was Nirupama Pathak murdered to preserve the "honour" of her family? Or did she commit suicide? Was she "sexually exploited" or was this a normal relationship involving two consenting adults that ended in a macabre way? It will take a while to know the answers. The young, educated woman, a journalist, whose life was snuffed out before she wanted to live her dreams, however, has raised questions which go beyond her. Her gruesome end busts some popular assumptions about New India.

 

India, the new, emerging powerhouse, is a nation of predominantly young people. Young India is striving, seeking, aspiring and globalising. In rapidly modernising India, wearing one's ambition on one's sleeve is admired. Families are prepared to invest increasing sums on education because education is a passport to mobility. Even in the traditional "marriage mart", an educated woman is much desired because her qualifications can translate into more money at the disposal of the family. The harsh truth, however, is that while more education spells better jobs, more opportunities, more money and more consumer choices, it does not necessarily lead to more "empowerment" or "enlightenment".

 

An educated woman like Nirupama could choose her career but not her partner nor the nature of the relationship with the man she cared for. To her bank manager father, educated mother, brothers working and pursuing a PhD, nothing, not even India's Constitution, mattered more than a hoary tradition which forbids mingling of the "castes". "We did not educate her so that she could do everything of her own choice", Dharmendra Pathak, Nirupama's father, said on record.

 

That no major Indian politician, young or old, has condemned the unabashedly casteist utterances of the family members of this young woman is a telling commentary on the paradoxical nature of New India where the medieval and the modern, the digital and the criminal co-exist in an unsettling intimacy, sometimes within the same family.

 

A wafer-thin minority among the youth, mostly in metropolitan India, are living out their fantasies of freedom. But for the vast majority of young people, personal choices, if at all, are restricted to stuff that money can buy. The notion of young people having lifestyle choices which clash with the customary practices of their community continues to be anathema. Critics of personal freedom dub such restrictions an assertion of "family values".

 

To know the extent of "control" that young people have to deal with in their day-to-day life one has to only leaf through the most recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3). Young men and women are both circumscribed by family decisions and mores but young women are harder-hit because of the continuing low status of women in society.

 

Two key findings from the survey: The majority of married women do not have the final say on the use of their own earnings or other household decisions. Traditional gender norms, particularly those concerning wife beating, remain strongly entrenched. The survey notes that "education, employment or wealth do not ensure that women have money that they can control". Forty per cent of women (among those surveyed) in the 15-49 age group, with 12+ years of education, do not have access to money which they can use in ways they choose. The majority of women (in the same age group) have little freedom of movement. "Only one-third goes alone to the market, health facility and outside the village/community", it points out.

 

Caste continues to be a big issue despite platitudes in public for a casteless society. The worst forms of caste discrimination are no doubt criminalised by the Constitution, but even educated, well-off families draw the line at inter-caste marriages.

 

It is fashionable to lay the blame for this on politicians and the older generation who refuse to move forward in their thinking. But even city-bred young people themselves have a lot to answer for, says Neelam Katara, Delhi-based academic and social activist.

 

"Medieval India is not lurking beneath a modernising India. Medieval India is in your face, staring at you boldly from the matrimonial adverts in the Sunday newspapers which are classified by caste and sub-caste. Nirupama's story is an extreme case. But such things do not happen in isolation. Such incidents are the logical outcomes of a system in which the caste system is accepted as a reality and leveraged during elections and in the marriage and job markets", says Katara.

 

Katara's son Nitish was kidnapped and brutally murdered in 2002. The young man's fault: he had fallen in love with a classmate, Bharti Yadav, who came from a family which did not like Nitish. Bharti's brother and cousin, Vikas and Vishal Yadav, were later found guilty by a trial court and jailed for life on May 30, 2008. Bharti, subsequently defended her family and said she had no intention of marrying Nitish Katara. "Young educated boys and girls can say 'no' but they don't. They are happy to be weak. They are happy to buy what they perceive as happiness. Those who hope to find their life partners through caste-based matrimonial adverts or allow their families to do so have collectively contributed to a situation where a woman has to die because she stepped out of line in a caste-based society", argues Katara.

 

Freedom comes at a price. Quite often someone defying restrictive social mores pays the price in strained or even broken relations with other members of the family. And then, of course, there are the extreme cases of so-called "honour" killings. This is as true of India today as it was in India yesterday. The bizarre story of Ajit Saini, a business management student in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, and Anshu Tomar is still breaking.

 

Families and clans can be great sources of support, but they can also destroy. For the youth in a transitional society like ours, there is a crucial takeaway lesson: being too trusting and failing to gauge the full implication of "family values" can sometimes be fatal.

 

- Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at patralekha.chatterjee@gmail.com [1]

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

BRAVADO TO BARTER

UPA STOOPED TO SAVE FACE 

 

RELIEF that potential trouble was averted rather than any valid sense of accomplishment would be the feeling prevalent in the UPA government now that the "inconvenience" of Parliament is behind it. True that in the absence of a competent Opposition there were only hiccups in the long budget session (the IPL/ Tharoor/ Raja scams included in that category), but if principles are even marginally relevant in contemporary Indian politics, Dr Manmohan Singh, and to no small degree the head of the political wing of the alliance, ought to feel uncomfortable with how things played out. Sonia Gandhi, her sycophantic spin doctors tried to convince us, had decided to bite the bullet and push through the Women's Reservation Bill. She missed her date with history in the Rajya Sabha on 8 March (International Women's Day), but the legislation was muscled through the next day. However the nerve did not hold, the bravado fizzled out as manipulating the numbers assumed priority when threats developed to financial business. So the much-vaunted, probably hypocritical, commitment to the women's cause was cast asunder: the UPA dared not take the logical next step and process the legislation through the Lok Sabha. Seeking further insurance, CBI cases against the BSP supremo were conveniently dropped, the Opposition was split ahead of the over-hyped cut motion. Never mind that the sweetening of Mayawati has deprived Rahul Gandhi's UP campaign of momentum. Wary of the implications of their arch-rival's opening a route to the UPA, Mulayam and Lalu also played ball. Pranab Babu slept soundly. 


Then the Yadav duo turned the screws. They reversed the stand taken when the government initially backed off from introducing the Nuclear-liability Bill: in return for silence the second time around they were rewarded with an assurance that the ongoing census would record caste. A trade-off that has manifold implications, many of them militating against the elimination of the evil the Mahatma had crusaded against. Manmohan and Sonia must now be bracketed with VP Singh in using caste as a life-support system. The backdown on the census will cost the home minister whatever reputation he retained after only the BJP endorsed his get-tough policy on the Maoist menace. Just hours before the Prime Minister publicly "buckled", Chidambaram had taken a different stance in the Lok Sabha. Standing upright obviously means less than saving face.


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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

JHARKHAND'S SORROW

BJP TAKES A CALCULATED RISK 

 

AS arrangement between two parties ~ one opportunistic and the other reluctant to begin with ~ can hardly be expected to give Jharkhand a stable government. After an angry withdrawal of support to Shibu Soren who claimed to have voted against the Opposition's cut motions in Parliament "by mistake'', the BJP has again been tempted into grabbing the chief minister's chair when its partner, the JMM, has no option but to fall in line. It spares the electorate, and the state's discredited leaders, the headache of another election. The question survives whether the arrangement will suit the JMM leader who likes to cling to power even by default. The JMM's proposal of a chief minister by rotation was a bait the BJP had spurned on account of its painful experiences with the same experiment in UP and Karnataka. But with just 18 seats in the 82-member assembly, supported hopefully by 18 more JMM MLAs, the BJP will be walking a tight-rope with the JMM holding out threats whenever it feels slighted. After the failed attempt to put Soren's son in the CM's chair, the JMM can be expected to demand portfolios of its choice and an honourable posting for the senior Soren who has been forced

out because he is unsure of a popular mandate after the stipulated six months in office.
  The ten-year-old state has never tasted a period of stable governance. It was made worse by unbridled corruption even on the part of an Independent who became chief minister by accident with Congress support. The explanation may have been that Congress had by then sized up Soren who was going in and out of the UPA while coping with criminal cases against him. The same Soren has been engaged in endless games after what was, by all accounts, a negative vote for JMM in the Assembly election. The most shameful example was his offer to parties after the fractured verdict that any one could share power if it agreed to make him chief minister. If the BJP had failed to resist the temptation then, it faced betrayal in less than six months. It may now be taking a calculated risk in continuing to sup with a tainted leader for the opportunity of heading the government. The disillusionment with leaders who have abused the people's trust is palpable. But it may not be too long before voters are again compelled to make a painful choice.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

TEACHERS' COUTURE

EXECUTIVE BUMBLES, JUDICIARY INTERVENES 

 

Sartorial freedom has been reaffirmed with Calcutta High Court (coram: Jayanta Biswas, J) striking down the dress code for teachers. In retrospect, if donning the salwar-kameez could lead to harassment, nay mental torture, of teachers and suspension of classes in certain schools, it illustrates how managing committees can be obsessed with non-issues. What occasions still greater surprise is that the West Bengal government feels bold to make its position clear only after the judicial intervention. The school education minister ~ invariably a non-performing portfolio ~ ought to have nipped the controversy in the bud. Not that the matter was immediately sub judice. He should have spoken up when some teachers were confined in a room for ten hours on 4 May 2009. Instead he allowed matters to drift and articulated the government's suppressed reaction only on Friday: "There were plenty of schools that were browbeating teachers to follow a dress code, which is not supported by the government." Is this categoric response an afterthought? Despite the government's stand on the issue, his department allowed matters to drift. What prevented the school education department from taking action, may we ask? Once again, the judiciary has intervened in the face of a bumbling executive. Whether the salwar-kameez is "indecent", as some school authorities reckon, is a matter of subjective reflection. As the court has observed famously: "Decency does not lie in clothes. It's in the eyes of the beholder." And the analogy was exquisite: "Can the Pablo Picasso painting, 'Green Leaves and Bust', that sold for 70.3 million pounds recently, be considered indecent?" The judgment has been extensively welcomed, pre-eminently by the chairperson of the West Bengal Women's Commission and the chairman of the state Human Rights Commission. Ergo, it wasn't merely sartorial freedom that was at stake; it was a question of human rights no less. And the HRC head has made a pregnant statement with the observation that women teachers' "suffering for years" will now end. The sari or the salwar kameez are of lesser moment than education, the raison d'etre of any school. And the schools now look silly in the eyes of the teacher and the taught. An antediluvian mindset has wrought far greater damage to learning than what the managing committees realise. With respect, the matter need not have gone to court.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

CAULDRON & CORRUPTION

STEPHEN COURT FIRE AND THE SYSTEMIC MALAISE

BY ABHIJIT BHATTACHARYYA


A "short circuit" reportedly caused the fire in Kolkata's Stephen Court on 23 March. Such fatal electrical faults can occur in the electro-mechanical machines that operate round-the-clock in highrise apartments. The authorities concerned failed to pre-empt the tragedy.


One hears flowery adjectives in most references to the city. Does Kolkata really deserve such superlatives? Opinions will differ. The fact of the matter is that the Stephen Court fire is the cumulative result of systemic corruption in India. The canker is spreading fast. Only a few have realised it. Fewer still are trying to grapple with reality. 


Both government and private entities are involved in any construction activity. On paper, there exists a system of "checks", "permission", "clearance", "no-objection", "completion certificate",  "licence" etc. Just ask any honest builder. The bona-fide "system"  ceased to exist long ago. In India, the system may be shining on the face of it; the route is marked by illegal cutting of corners, land-grab and the construction mafia. 


Unauthorised structures
Land is always geographically static, but economically mobile and profitable. The bigger the city, the higher the demand vis-à-vis the supply and availability of land. This increases the value almost by the day. Kolkata's Park Street is the dream-spot of many, but  the "realised destination" of a few. From the police to the pleader and the "barons and lords of all political colours" to the "paisa wallahs" of business centres, Park Street is an El Dorado of the dying "City of Joy"!


Not quite as yet perhaps; the state or the city could still be struggling to survive, the landed property being the main attraction.  Hence there are stakeholders galore in a competitive environment, merely to gain space. Do you want to build the fifth, sixth and seventh stories "illegally" over the "stipulated", the "permitted" and "legal" approval of the four floors? Just establish contact with the babus of the municipal corporation's Land and Building department, bribe the OC of the local police station and the local political dadas,  and entertain the zonal "inspectors" of the vigilance wing, surveyors and the junior engineers. Above all maintain a band of visible "bodyguards" for "self-protection" and "area defence" and pay a weekly or monthly amount to the extortionists, bootleggers, gamblers, and musclemen of the area. They will ensure protection and even take care of formalities.


In all metropolitan towns, the lure of land and the attraction of unauthorised structures has corrupted the municipal corporations, ruling and opposition politicians, senior civil servants, such stakeholders as guards and goondas, and labour leaders. Above all, there is a section of traders who are compulsive law-breakers. The common refrain is: "to get the job done". This is the byword for success even if the land is "barren". Kitna Paisa? is the key expression, a cliché but with serious implications. If the trader eyes a potential project, even if illegal and not approved, the law will be circumvented or will not be applied at all. The plan of action has to be successful. No project can be aborted for dearth of funds. Money can and is demanded by the law- enforcement officials because of the complications of bona-fide paper work that can involve multiple agencies. Hence, the compulsion to bribe the babus of all the connected departments. An objection raised by an honest functionary is not tolerated. The babus get the money they demand. The project, however irregular, gets executed. Nothing is impossible in the real estate business. Every babu quotes a price. And if paid the right amount, he will oblige the trader. He dare not challenge the hand that feeds him as it were. He has succeeded the  notoriously dishonest predecessors of the East India Company.  Kitna paisa? is a cynically accurate reference to the corrupt system. The gift of the graft benefits the promoters of the land, building and the super structure.
The kitna paisa syndrome has afflicted the army as well. At least four senior officers are allegedly involved in a land scam in Sukna, cantonment in North Bengal. As Generals, they have made a travesty of ethics, morality, principles, tax laws and the law of the land.


Corruption has spawned a category of citizens who avoid paying tax. They own benami property, luxury cars, more luxurious penthouse cabins and are intent on grabbing fertile land for conversion to highrises and lake resorts. They rarely pay income-tax, Customs or Central excise duties, Service tax, stamp duty and Sales tax etc. They lead a luxurious life without any ostensible source of livelihood.


Alarming scenario

SO alarming is the scenario that the ruling class in certain parts of  the country is anxious to accommodate the private sector in governmental endeavour.  The unscrupulous bureaucracy and their equally dishonest political masters have over the years become heavily dependent on this kitna paisa culture. Crime goes undetected, let alone punishment.


The misfortune of the country in general and eastern India in particular is the devastating decline of governance. A fair and objective administration cannot  be expected from a partisan bureaucracy. In West Bengal, the phenomenon has threatened social stability. The state's growth of population has been the highest on account of illegal migration, a callous administration, the spread of corruption and injustice. The spin-off has to be earned even if the method is unabashedly shameless and criminal. And that dubious method is not a cognizable or punishable offence. Bengal's "intellectually fertile society" is now history. Corruption is the bane of the state as it is for the rest of the country. Yet, it is of no concern to those who have been running the wheels of the state and are likely to ruin the system, such as it exists.


The writer is an alumnus of the National Defence College of India and a Member of International Institute for Strategic Studies, London

 

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

MASKS THAT FELL WITH THE ALLIANCE

 

The story of  backroom operations that led to the collapse of the Congress-Trinamul alliance is one of how moles were used, regardless of the ideological pretensions of the respective organisations, says UDAY BASU

It's intriguing how the Congress, Trinamul Congress and the CPI-M can turn politics in Bengal into one of moles at a time when there is talk of a regime change. The story of  backroom operations that led to the collapse of the Congress-Trinamul alliance is one of how moles were used, regardless of the ideological pretensions of the respective organisations.


   However, all this could not be concealed because of the shoddy handling of the moles. The break-up was no sudden development. It had been designed to happen from the day negotiations began on seat sharing for the 30 May municipal elections. The protagonists knew about the shape of things to come but played to the gallery creating the impression that they were trying their utmost o save the alliance. The masks fell when the moles came out in the open towards the last stage of the negotiations.


The Congress had no option but to use second and third ranking leaders to act as moles who became agents of their party and the CPI-M. Trinamul used a habitual turncoat.


The Congress followed a well-rehearsed script to announce its separation from the Trinamul at the most strategically appropriate time. The negotiations for the seat sharing deals began in January and the alliance was ruptured on 1 May, four days after the crucial cut-motion against the UPA-government was defeated.
The Congress was waiting for the vote on the motion to be over before the final act of breaking the alliance since it desperately needed Trinamul's 20 MPs, including an Independent backed by it, as the non-UPA foes-turned-friends ~ Lalu-Mulayam-Mayawati ~ were unpredictable.


Accordingly, it encouraged the Trinamul chief to go ahead with the release of her list of 115 candidates, leaving 25 for the Congress, soon after the cut motion was defeated. The next day, PCC chief and Union finance minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, known for his closeness to the CPI-M, enacted another drama asking the state unit not to announce its list of 88 candidates on the plea last-minute negotiations were on.


Simultaneously, the PCC fielded middle ranking leaders ~ Nirbed Roy and Pradip Ghosh ~ to make a noise about the Congress's "self-respect" which they said was being compromised. Then, as per the script, they went on a fast which was called off within hours with a "faxed" message from Mr Mukherjee urging them not to continue their agitation as their "demand is being seriously considered."


The next day ~ May Day ~ the Congress announced its list sealing the fate of the alliance following instructions from Mr Mukherjee. The Congress moles were shown in a "friendly" TV channel that had been working overtime to torpedo the alliance. One of them even went to the length of stating that the Trinamul had surpassed during the past one year and a half years the atrocities perpetrated by the CPI-M over three decades. That was a clear giveaway that the Congress was hand in glove with the CPI-M.


Then events followed a predictable course. The Trinamul chief announced the formal break-up of the alliance, released a revised list fielding her candidates for all the KMC wards and squarely blamed the Congress for snapping the alliance. But her arguments weren't convincing enough since the Congress version was that the alliance didn't happen because of her "stubbornness" in not conceding even five more than the 25 seats she had offered.

The moment it appeared that the Congress was less culpable, Miss Banerjee played her ace ~ Mr Subrata Mukherjee. He would naturally sound far more authentic than any of the PCC leaders since he headed the Congress panel for selecting its candidates.


In a reveal-all Press conference, he said the Congress had decided in January that it won't concede a single seat to the Trinamul in five districts where its base is strong while it would claim 30 per cent of the seats of KMC where the Trinamul is strong. There couldn't be any negotiation on such terms, he said, and as such he "kept quiet" during the negotiation process.


It was Miss Banerjee who had once used the analogy of the water melon to describe Mr Mukherjee. According to her, he had a green exterior (colour of the Congress) and red interior (colour of the CPI-M) like the water melon. Yet, she found new virtues in Mr Mukherjee and used his services to defend her case.
The CPI-M maintained a studied silence as it stands to gain the most if the Congress-Trinamul wrangling leads to division of Opposition votes ~ an old ploy it has been using in successive elections. But one of its loose cannons, a state secretariat member, Mr Shyamal Chakraborty, shot his mouth off when he said hours after the rupture that the Trinamul had grown so big because of the indulgence the Congress had given it. That completed the story of the moles.


The writer is chief of bureau, The Statesman

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

MASKS THAT FELL WITH THE ALLIANCE

 

The story of  backroom operations that led to the collapse of the Congress-Trinamul alliance is one of how moles were used, regardless of the ideological pretensions of the respective organisations, says UDAY BASU

It's intriguing how the Congress, Trinamul Congress and the CPI-M can turn politics in Bengal into one of moles at a time when there is talk of a regime change. The story of  backroom operations that led to the collapse of the Congress-Trinamul alliance is one of how moles were used, regardless of the ideological pretensions of the respective organisations.


   However, all this could not be concealed because of the shoddy handling of the moles. The break-up was no sudden development. It had been designed to happen from the day negotiations began on seat sharing for the 30 May municipal elections. The protagonists knew about the shape of things to come but played to the gallery creating the impression that they were trying their utmost o save the alliance. The masks fell when the moles came out in the open towards the last stage of the negotiations.


The Congress had no option but to use second and third ranking leaders to act as moles who became agents of their party and the CPI-M. Trinamul used a habitual turncoat.


The Congress followed a well-rehearsed script to announce its separation from the Trinamul at the most strategically appropriate time. The negotiations for the seat sharing deals began in January and the alliance was ruptured on 1 May, four days after the crucial cut-motion against the UPA-government was defeated.
The Congress was waiting for the vote on the motion to be over before the final act of breaking the alliance since it desperately needed Trinamul's 20 MPs, including an Independent backed by it, as the non-UPA foes-turned-friends ~ Lalu-Mulayam-Mayawati ~ were unpredictable.


Accordingly, it encouraged the Trinamul chief to go ahead with the release of her list of 115 candidates, leaving 25 for the Congress, soon after the cut motion was defeated. The next day, PCC chief and Union finance minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, known for his closeness to the CPI-M, enacted another drama asking the state unit not to announce its list of 88 candidates on the plea last-minute negotiations were on.


Simultaneously, the PCC fielded middle ranking leaders ~ Nirbed Roy and Pradip Ghosh ~ to make a noise about the Congress's "self-respect" which they said was being compromised. Then, as per the script, they went on a fast which was called off within hours with a "faxed" message from Mr Mukherjee urging them not to continue their agitation as their "demand is being seriously considered."


The next day ~ May Day ~ the Congress announced its list sealing the fate of the alliance following instructions from Mr Mukherjee. The Congress moles were shown in a "friendly" TV channel that had been working overtime to torpedo the alliance. One of them even went to the length of stating that the Trinamul had surpassed during the past one year and a half years the atrocities perpetrated by the CPI-M over three decades. That was a clear giveaway that the Congress was hand in glove with the CPI-M.

 

Then events followed a predictable course. The Trinamul chief announced the formal break-up of the alliance, released a revised list fielding her candidates for all the KMC wards and squarely blamed the Congress for snapping the alliance. But her arguments weren't convincing enough since the Congress version was that the alliance didn't happen because of her "stubbornness" in not conceding even five more than the 25 seats she had offered.


The moment it appeared that the Congress was less culpable, Miss Banerjee played her ace ~ Mr Subrata Mukherjee. He would naturally sound far more authentic than any of the PCC leaders since he headed the Congress panel for selecting its candidates.


In a reveal-all Press conference, he said the Congress had decided in January that it won't concede a single seat to the Trinamul in five districts where its base is strong while it would claim 30 per cent of the seats of KMC where the Trinamul is strong. There couldn't be any negotiation on such terms, he said, and as such he "kept quiet" during the negotiation process.


It was Miss Banerjee who had once used the analogy of the water melon to describe Mr Mukherjee. According to her, he had a green exterior (colour of the Congress) and red interior (colour of the CPI-M) like the water melon. Yet, she found new virtues in Mr Mukherjee and used his services to defend her case.


The CPI-M maintained a studied silence as it stands to gain the most if the Congress-Trinamul wrangling leads to division of Opposition votes ~ an old ploy it has been using in successive elections. But one of its loose cannons, a state secretariat member, Mr Shyamal Chakraborty, shot his mouth off when he said hours after the rupture that the Trinamul had grown so big because of the indulgence the Congress had given it. That completed the story of the moles.


The writer is chief of bureau, The Statesman

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

STATE OF GAS

 

Dhirubhai Ambani founded India's largest and most entrepreneurial business house; his sons have engaged in a bitter public quarrel over one particular asset of the house, namely the right to exploit hydrocarbons discovered off the east coast of India under the government's exploration policy. The judgment delivered by the Supreme Court in the dispute last week is prefaced by a summary of the course of the litigation that wound through courts over four years which cannot be disputed. It can be said unequivocally that the honourable court has not erred in its understanding of the facts or the law. In fact, the judgment can be taken as the last word on this aspect of the dispute.

 

Its authoritative interpretation confirms that Mukesh Ambani's denial to his brother and his companies of any share in the hydrocarbon assets violates the memorandum of understanding the two brothers signed in 2005. The loss suffered by one brother because of the judgment perhaps stands in need of some attention in a renegotiated settlement.

 

The judgment gives primacy to other considerations over the family agreement. In particular, it recognizes the primacy of the right of the government of India over mineral resources under Article 14 of the Constitution. The government's unwarranted and blatantly partisan intervention played a crucial role in the triumph of Mr Mukesh Ambani. The rationale of Article 14 is clear. It is easy to imagine ways in which private ownership of underground resources can impinge on public interest; the Central government's role in protecting public interest is therefore undeniable. The way in which the Central government exercised its judgment in this particular dispute is, however, colourable: the government intervened in the dispute between siblings without any reason, and it intervened entirely against one brother, namely Anil Ambani. This reading is supported not only by the proceedings in the Supreme Court alone, but also by previous proceedings. The attitude of the government of India has affected the interests of the two brothers beyond reasonable doubt; it can be inferred without much chance of error that their unequal influence has materially affected the stance of the petroleum ministry. The Indian people are sceptical about the impartiality and fairness of their governments; they are apt to read into the governments' actions bias even when it is not there. In this particular case, they do not need to entertain such prejudice; the pleas of the government in the cases between the two brothers are there for all to read. The bias cannot be attributed to the ministry alone. Both brothers had met the prime minister a number of times; in any case, their dispute was too public and too long-drawn for him to have been unaware of the role played by his government. Now that the highest court has come down in favour of one brother, it is too late to debate the merits of the case. But it is not too late to lament the unbecoming role the government has played in the outcome.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

GOING HOME

 

It is not enough to know an adversary's game plan; the trick is to devise a strategy to foil it. New Delhi could not have been unaware of the possible political fallout of Thuingaleng Muivah's planned visit to his native village in Manipur. For the Naga leader, this was no simple case of home coming after a long time. The visit was meant to be politically symbolic as he wanted to use it to further justify his demand for the inclusion of all Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur into his proposed Greater Nagaland. Manipur has always opposed the demand, often violently. New Delhi should have weighed the possible repercussions when it cleared the visit and played its part carefully in setting the stage for it. The violence over the visit and the subsequent stalemate suggest that the Centre's handling of the issue left much to be desired.

 

The Union home ministry's failure is evident also in the complete mismatch between its strategy and the Manipur government's plan of action. The events have proved that the chief minister, Okram Ibobi Singh, was right in his assessment of law and order problems over Mr Muivah's visit. That New Delhi could not carry even a Congress-led government with it shows how badly the former has handled the issue. The Centre's indiscretions have not only angered Mr Muivah but have also created a political problem for Mr Ibobi Singh with six Naga members of the state legislature resigning over the state government's decision not to allow Mr Muivah to enter the state. Both New Delhi and the Naga leader should move fast to mend matters so that the stalled visit does not derail the Naga peace talks or inflame ethnic passions in Manipur.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

THE EURO CRISIS

USE OF A SINGLE CURRENCY MAY LIE AT THE ROOT OF GREECE'S WOES

BHASKAR DUTTA

 

In a couple of articles in these columns, I had written that the worst of the global depression was behind us. Like many others, I too mentioned that the "green shoots of recovery" were evident on both sides of the Atlantic. In particular, both the French and German economies — the two largest in Europe — registered positive rates of growth during the last quarter of the previous year, generating hopes that other European countries would soon catch up with the leaders, while both unemployment and national income data showed that the recession was bottoming out in the United States of America.

 

Unfortunately, the recent crisis in Greece that threatens to engulf all countries using the euro as the common currency suggests that the earlier predictions of a quick recovery from the global downturn may have been unduly optimistic. As most readers of The Telegraph probably know, past sins of omission and commission have caught up with the Greek government. The previous government cooked its books to hide the massive size of the public debt. The problem was compounded by the inability or unwillingness of the current government to enforce the draconian austerity measures required to redress the situation. Of course, matters were not helped by the fact that the stagnation in the economy has meant a corresponding stagnation in government revenues. The net result is that the Greek economy is now dangerously close to collapse — it will default on its sovereign debt unless it receives massive bailouts from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

 

The Eurozone finance ministers have just decided to extend an emergency aid package worth $146 billion. In addition, the Greek government has raised tax rates and imposed other very severe austerity measures, including a 10 per cent salary cut for government officials. These measures have generated a lot of public unrest in the country, including a 48-hour strike by civil servants. (The strike may actually be welcomed by many who feel that the less one sees of the Greek bureaucracy, the better it is.) However, there are fears that the size of the bailout package is too small, and at least one prominent European politician has already gone on record to claim that Greece will have to borrow more money within 18 months.

 

A greater cause for concern is the apprehension that the contagion (of insolvency) will spread to some of the weaker European countries such as Spain, Portugal and Ireland. This would turn out to be very costly for other economies in Europe for at least two reasons. First, the countries that are immediately affected by the threat of rising public debts will be forced to deflate their economies. This, in turn, means that they would represent ever smaller markets for other countries' exports. Second, the two giants of Europe — Germany and France — will have to use up a non-negligible fraction of their own resources in order to shore up the economies of the weaker countries. For instance, Germany has agreed to contribute as much as a fifth of the current bailout package for Greece. The two countries could have utilized these resources to stimulate their own economies.

 

The governments in some of the weaker European countries have started to take corrective measures, essentially in the form of tightening belts. Real wage cuts have been enforced in Ireland. In Spain, the prime minister has announced that workers would have to increase the number of years over which they make contributions before they are eligible to draw state pensions. Not surprisingly, this has alienated trade unions in Spain.

 

Of course, the public opposition to any kind of austerity measure acts as a constraint on the set of policies which beleaguered governments can implement in order to avoid the stigma of defaulting on sovereign debts. However, there is an increasing convergence of views that the more serious constraint affecting Greece today is the use of the euro as a single currency. The European love affair towards monetary union has implied that individual countries can no longer adopt independent monetary policies. So, the "usual" remedy of devaluing the national currency is no longer a feasible option. A devaluation of the earlier Greek drachma would have meant that Greek exports would have been cheaper abroad since the costs of all domestic inputs such as labour would have been lower in terms of the international currency. The real cost of servicing all debts denominated in the local currency would also have been lower.

 

The inability to adjust exchange rates means that the entire burden of tackling the mounting sovereign debt falls on fiscal policy — essentially the type of austerity measures that Greece has implemented. Perhaps the consequences of fiscal contraction would not have been so painful if the short-term prospects for the Greek economy were not so dismal. Unfortunately, the prospects of the Greek economy growing out of trouble are pretty remote. One estimate suggests that Greece's real gross domestic product will not reach its 2008 level until 2017, and even the Greek prime minister has recently stated that the ratio of public debt to GDP will continue to grow until 2013.

 

A natural question that arises is whether the benefits associated with the single currency system have exceeded the costs. It is certainly true that the formation of the European Union has generated significant trade benefits to the member countries. But, it is not clear whether the same trade benefits could not have been achieved without monetary union. After all, the member countries could have abolished all inter-country taxes within the European Union while maintaining their individual national currencies.

 

There has been a somewhat cynical suggestion that the real reason for the formation of the single currency union lies in the political sphere. The hypothesis is that Germany and France wanted to form a giant 'Europe' with them as the joint leaders in order to combat the hegemony of America, and assert their own position as countries which matter in the world order. In order to further this objective, they had to put in place the main characteristics associated with the notion of a nation state. And how can you have a 'nation' without a 'national' currency? Thus was born the euro.

 

Will the recent crisis result in a break-up of the single currency system? The situation in Greece has deteriorated so much that it is in no position to pull itself out of the mess on its own, and will not receive any help from the rest of Europe if it were to leave the system. On the other hand, Germany and France will not want to break up the system either, unless the basket cases require a continuous infusion of resources. But the Greek crisis should serve as a warning to other regional groups which may contemplate unions based on the European model.

 

The author is professor of economics, University of Warwick

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

NO TIME TO LOOK BEHIND

MALVIKA SINGH

 

Pranab Mukherjee, the seasoned and headstrong Congressman and finance minister of India, has announced that we, as citizens of a federal democratic republic that does not make any distinction based on caste, creed and faith, will have to state our caste when we fill our census forms. This is unacceptable to those of us who have vehemently shunned such divisions that corrupt civil society.

 

I, for one, do not know my caste and was brought up as an Indian. I do not know my gotra either. Why must I be compelled to regress and go back to what the Constitution has steered away from? Why is the Congress Party of Gandhiji and Jawaharlal Nehru forcing the establishment of the caste of an individual as a necessity when filling a census form? Is it important to announce which traditional strata you were born into to be counted as an Indian citizen? The mind boggles at the absurdity of this demand circa 2010. Why are we moving away from 'liberty, equality, fraternity' to being segregated by caste?

 

One can only hope for a radical change in leadership that will cease to be divisive and aim for the stability and growth of India. This backward movement is alarming because it carries frightening portents for the future of our plural nation-state.

 

Diversity is the mainstay of India. Its cultural patterns need to be protected, its varied practices respected, its people across all strata need to feel that they are part of the composite whole and their lives must have a dignity of purpose and integrity of action. Unfortunately, the reality is that governance is corrupted and lawlessness rules. Whether in government decision-making or in bureaucratic action, propriety has gone out of the window.

 

Clean it up

 

Corporate honchos, operating through lobbyists who have access to those who influence our top leadership, are advising the 'government', and those who hold our natural and human resources in trust, to break existing laws in the name of 'development' that they claim will alleviate poverty. Most such decisions, particularly in the realm where business interests clash with statutory environment protection laws, do huge irreparable damage and only help to line the pockets of a few. The Narmada hydel project near Maheshwar is one where high powered interventions have reversed, in part, the decision noted in good faith and within the laws by the ministry of environment.

 

It is this kind of 'intrusion' from the top that sends a signal to the corporate community that political and bureaucratic lobbying is the only way to change decisions and beat the law. These interventions, made despite contrary notings on official files in the concerned ministry, carry huge monies that are doled out in sheer gratitude for a deviation well done. Lobbyists seem to have found their way into the prime minister's office from where top-secret decisions filter out and are discussed on telephones that are tapped by government agencies looking for information. In the recent exposure of a lobbyist hired by two of India's largest conglomerates, information about cabinet formation was given out well in advance of the announcement of portfolio allocation. Surely, phone-tapping can identify the mole in the PMO and the cabinet secretary could ensure the departure or suspension of the individual. Or will life carry on as if nothing happened?

 

Those who lobby with government departments and ministries have been kept out of the media glare so far. Will this unravelling that has begun implicate the old war horses sooner rather than later? Will the mediapersons who operate as interventionists with political parties and corporate houses be exposed? Or will they close ranks and continue unabated?

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

A WAR FOR PEACE AND PROGRESS

AS NONE CAN GO ON PLAYING POLITICS WITH THE LIVES OF THE POOR, MAOISTS NEED TO RE-EVALUATE THEIR PHILOSOPHY AND STRATEGY, WRITES SHYAMAL DATTA

 

As the spokesperson of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), a person called Azad responded to a set of questions that the organization had received from the media. The questions focused on the Maoists' seriousness of intent regarding talking to the government of India. The clarity of Azad's answers gives an insight into the thinking of the radical outfit.

 

Azad asserted that the offer of talks given by Kishanji to the Union home minister should be viewed positively. However, he was quick to mention that there was no formal discussion on the subject in the central committee of the party. He took the opportunity to reiterate that the ban on the Maoists and their front organizations should be lifted to create a congenial environment for the talks, making them more transparent and meaningful. Earlier, the Maoist leader, Ganapati, pressed for the release of leaders 'illegally' detained so that they could take part in the dialogue. For the talks to materialize, there has to be simultaneous cessation of hostilities from both sides, the spokesman added.

 

Azad clarified that the offer of talks had no underlying design of buying time to reorganize the party. Neither was it a ploy to undertake a re-evaluation of the strategy to go overground and take part in the electoral process and multi-party contest as in Nepal. The talks are actually meant to assert the rights of the people guaranteed under the Constitution. They would bring pressure on the government to implement the "limited and nominal" affirmative and inclusive provisions. This would, in turn, expose the government's "hypocrisy and duplicity", raise the people's level of consciousness and enhance their resolve to continue the struggle, while the Red Guards would get some respite from the "repression and oppression" of the State.

 

Azad made it clear that the talks would in no way dilute the revolutionary objective of the party. There was no question of any compromise on the party's political programme of "New Democratic Revolution" and the strategy of protracted people's war. The party would involve only the leaders released from 'illegal' detention in the dialogue process.

 

The press statement issued after the merger of the People's War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre into the CPI(Maoist) in September, 2004 had stated that "the revolution will be carried out and implemented through an armed agrarian revolutionary war, i.e, protracted people's war for the seizure of power as its principal and central task....directed against imperialism, feudalism, dangerous Hindu fascist forces and comprador bureaucratic capitalism. The party will also support the struggle for the right to self-determination, including the right to secession". The last smacks of the ulterior design to secede from the body politic once the people's war paves the way for a new democratic revolutionary government.

 

The over-ambitious Maoist plan of action shows a lack of understanding of the complex Indian reality in a changed international situation which saw the end of the Cold War without shedding any blood. Symbolically, the fall of the Berlin Wall marks an eclipse of communism. The success of the West, its economic prosperity, freedom and military might raised questions about the desirability of communism as it failed to match the progress of the West. Communism survived for more than 70 years in the Soviet Union, but left the people seriously disillusioned.

 

What exists in Russia and China after the Cold War is party autocracy and authoritarian regimes. Both countries are trying to be economically successful capitalist powers under a totalitarian system. Today, the two countries, by integrating with market economy and globalization, have become more liberal and democratic than they have ever been.

 

The communists in India learnt nothing from their comrades. They remained cocooned in dogma.While China provided factory employment on a massive scale to lessen poverty, the Marxist-led government in West Bengal stopped teaching English at the primary level for over a decade, making at least one generation ill-equipped to share in globalization. The militancy in the labour sector also continued to drive away capital and industries from the state.

 

The Leninist and Maoist movement that started in West Bengal for the first time in India as the peasants' uprising of Naxalbari in the late 1960s died prematurely as it failed to cope with the pressure of political and security offensives under Congress rule. The movement indirectly helped the Left Front come to po-wer. It is an irony that the people's government spearheaded by the Marxists failed to address the problems of the poorest of the poor in the tribal belt of the state during its unprecedentedly long tenure. It yielded space to the Maoists to revive the armed revolutionary movement in the districts of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia.

 

It is never too late in the life of a party or state to assess its shortcomings to take corrective measures. Such conduct shows political acumen and maturity. In keeping with this, the CPI (Maoist) will do well to be more circumspect, and stop continuing under the impression that the government of India has the watch while it has time on its side to remain engaged in the struggle. The party has to appreciate that in reality, none has the time to continue playing politics with the lives of the poor.It is most unfortunate that Dantewada has put the clock back. The gruesome killings of so many jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force and the state police have hardened positions on both sides. The Union home minister has said that any mention of talks at this juncture would amount to a mockery. According to the hardliners, negotiation without crushing the Maoists will mean abject surrender and an act of appeasement. It would also seriously undermine the counter-insurgency operations and demoralize the security forces. Under the circumstances, what looms large is the dire prospect of armed confrontations in the coming months.

 

Under authoritarian rule, it is the hard power that does the talking when faced with dissent. It is more so when such a political process emerges out of communism and the totalitarian mindset. It is exemplified by the ruthless manner in which social strife, civil unrest and militancy were dealt with by China and Russia in Xinjiang and Georgia respectively, and so on. Had insurgency of the kind at Dantewada taken place in either of the two countries, it would have been put down with the brute force. The problems would have been settled on terms that suited the government.Democracy is different. It provides an ideal framework for debate and dialogue. In today's complex situation, our democracy should guide both the CPI(Maoist) leadership and the government to mull over the revelations made through the questionnaire and make a beginning in a process of reconciliation.

 

In a mission like this, the nation will rally behind both the CPI(Maoist) and the government and help the two create a history of sorts. The Maoists need to agree to join the democratic forces to find a lasting solution to the vexed problem. They will find the government more than willing to reciprocate and go several extra miles. Trust has to grow between the two for the guns to fall silent. Talks and war cannot continue concurrently. With this might ensue a real war for peace and progress in place of the protracted people's war that entails a huge loss of human lives, the destruction of social assets and devastation in the lives of the poor and downtrodden. Our salvation lies in greater wisdom and the political sagacity to stop the mayhem once and for all, and in following the flicker of hope that might be visible at the end of the tunnel opened up by the media's questionnaire.

 

The author is former director of the Intelligence Bureau, and the former governor of Nagaland

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

THE BITTER TRUTH

GREY AREAS

 

Several questions about the Mumbai attack remain unanswered

Ajmal Kasab has been sentenced to death. Does that mark the end of the 26/11 story? Not for Kavita Karkare, and not for Mumbai's citizens, who might well echo her plaint: "I have received only 50 per cent justice." She still doesn't know who killed her husband, Hemant Karkare. In his verdict, the additional sessions judge, M.L. Tahilyani, admitted that he could not come to any conclusion regarding who shot Karkare and inspector Vijay Salaskar. Reportedly, the bullets that had exited their bodies have not been sent to the ballistic experts. Why? No one has the answer. Worse, no one's asking.

 

The value of Kasab's trial wasn't only in embodying the basic principle of justice — every accused person must get a fair trial. For many Mumbaikars, this trial was the only way to understand the discrepancies between what had originally been reported about the attack and the official version that came later. When Tahilyani was appointed to preside over the trial, and he, in turn, appointed the criminal lawyer, Abbas Kazmi, to defend Kasab, it was anticipated that the truth will be out.

 

What Kazmi could do was puncture the prosecution's story and discredit its witnesses. He got little help from his client, whom he could meet only in court. But despite this, little-known facts began tumbling out. A horrified public heard how rifle after rifle had jammed at the CST, where 109 policemen, 30 of them armed, were not able to stop two armed men who were newcomers to the city. More shocks were in store. The Cama Hospital episode, in which Karkare, Salaskar and ACP Ashok Kamte were killed, remains the most controversial part of 26/11. Conspiracy theories still exist about who killed Karkare, then in the thick of exposing a nationwide Hindu terror network. These claims may be fantastic, but what Kazmi's cross-examination revealed about that episode was equally disturbing.

 

When Kasab and his partner landed at Cama Hospital, they were obviously lost. Yet, they managed to outmanoeuvre 30-odd policemen and three members of a quick response team. SMSes and calls for reinforcements were constantly sent by Karkare and ACP Sadanand Date, but none came. It took an hour for help to reach Date, lying injured inside Cama, and half-an-hour before anyone reached the three officers lying bleeding in a lane that leads to the special branch office.

 

The trial didn't leave the Centre untouched either. A SIM card used by the terrorists was traced to an ID card issued by the ministry of urban development in the name of one Suresh Prashad. The prosecution had his electricity bill, but insisted that he was untraceable. A ministry spokesperson told the court that the ID card had been forged.

 

Kazmi had planned to call his own witnesses; among them Anamika Gupta, injured at Leopold Café, who claimed that she had seen the assailants 48 hours earlier. He was trying to scrutinize Vinita Kamte's revelations about the death of Ashok, Karkare and Salaskar that had Rakesh Maria running for cover. Kazmi was also determined to question the identity of Abu Jindal, the Indian trainer named by Kasab.

 

But before he could do any of this, Kazmi was removed by the judge for "non-cooperation". Refusing to accept affidavits presented by the prosecution as "formal", Kazmi insisted that the court follow normal procedure and hear arguments from both sides and then rule on the nature of the evidence. But his insistence on doing what any defence lawyer would have done cost him his job. From then on, it was smooth sailing for the prosecution. The special public prosecutor, Ujjwal Nikam, even got away with filing two affidavits just five days before the judgment. This included an eye-witness's statement on the shooting of two persons by Kasab and Abu Ismail after they had shot Karkare.

 

With such overwhelming evidence against the accused, why was the prosecution in such a rush? India could have afforded to have given Kasab the best possible defence, even if it took a while longer. We did neither that, nor are we nearer to unraveling the truth behind 26/11.

 

JYOTI PUNWANI

 

 

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

EDITORIAL

SET RIGHT

'A NATION'S NATURAL RESOURCES BELONG TO THE PEOPLE.'

 

The Supreme Court verdict in the Reliance case goes beyond the immediate issues involved in the dispute between the Ambani brothers over the supply of natural gas and its pricing. The court has clearly laid down some principles of public policy which should hold good in other cases and in future. The most important is that the country's natural resources belong to the people and their control is vested in the government in trust. Private parties have no claim to them and the government has to regulate their use for public welfare. That is why the court rightly rejected Anil Ambani's claim to a good amount of KG basin gas at a price less than what was fixed by the government for sale to other consumers. The private agreement between the two brothers on the sharing of gas has no sanctity as it did not serve the public interest.


The judgment can serve as a guiding principle in the framing and implementation of government policy on extraction of other natural resources like coal, iron ore, minerals and water. Mining rights and licences to exploit these natural resources are often given away without respecting the principle. The people thus lose their wealth and governments lose revenues. Governments have no power to misallocate resources and individuals or companies, who have been given the right to extract them, cannot consider themselves owners of the resource. That is why the court found that the private MoU between the Ambani brothers on gas sharing is not legally valid. The agreement had to be in conformity with the production sharing agreement between Reliance and the government and the latter's gas utilisation policy. The judgement also clarified that the status of the MoU has been adversely affected by the fact that it is an agreement between two individuals and not by two companies. However high the stakes of the individuals in the companies are, the agreement is not a deal between the two companies because it was reached without the knowledge and concurrence of shareholders and other stakeholders. The idea is important from the point of view of corporate governance.


Reliance has won the case on most issues but the court has felt that the legitimate rights of Anil Ambani's companies should be protected. It has directed negotiations for this but they should be held within the parameters of legality and public interest. Anil Ambani has done well to accept the judgement.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

NEPAL'S TRAVAILS

'NEPAL NEEDS A NATIONAL UNITY GOVERNMENT.'

 

The confrontationist approach adopted by Nepal's Maoists has plunged the country in deep crisis. They are not only preventing the country from meeting a May 31 deadline for approval of new constitution but also, their strikes and street protests have paralysed daily life, causing immense hardship to millions of ordinary Nepalese. Nepal has a little over a fortnight before its present constitution expires but not even the first draft of a new constitution is ready yet. Instead of sitting together with other parties to hammer out a document that will determine the future of this young republic, the Maoists are busy pushing for their leader, Prachanda, to become prime minister. They are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Madhav Nepal on the grounds that he is allegedly pro-India. It is obvious that the Maoists are trying to stoke anti-India sentiments to create public unrest and political instability.


Back in 2008, when the Maoists contested elections, their seeming willingness to make the transition to democratic politics was widely hailed. But two years down the line, it is apparent that they are unwilling to function in a democratic way. They seem to believe that as the largest party in the constituent assembly — they hold 40 per cent of the seats — it is their position alone that must be reflected in the constitution. They are unwilling to work for consensus solutions. When others do not agree with them, they simply walk out. A year ago, a miffed Prachanda resigned from the prime minister's post, irritated that the army did not agree with him. Making the transition to mainstream politics involves not just contesting or winning elections but functioning democratically. That the Maoists are yet to get an understanding of how a democracy works is evident. The violence that Maoist cadres unleashed on journalists in Katmandu last week because the latter had criticised their protests and strikes is one instance of their undemocratic style of functioning.


There are growing calls for a national unity government. The Maoists are insisting that as the largest party in parliament it is Prachanda who must be put in charge. But the problem is that Prachanda's aversion to consensus-building, his reluctance to consult and compromise makes him unsuitable for this leadership position. A national unity government requires constituents to pull together. Is Prachanda willing to provide that leadership?

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

AN ESCALATING CRISIS

BY DEVINDER SHARMA


First, industries guzzle up water and pollute water bodies, then they launch initiatives under Corporate Social Responsibility.

 

In this scorching heat, water is becoming a hot issue. With temperatures soaring, and with the major reservoirs drying, the battle for drinking water is becoming louder and bloodier, day by day. Unable to get their daily requirement of drinking water, angry protestors in various cities are taking to streets.


In the months to come, non-availability of water is sure to adorn the news. The warning bells have been ringing for over 15 years now, but nobody cared. Even now, when projections show that 70 per cent more groundwater has been depleted in the past decade than in the last decade of 1990s, and that water sources across the country have been contaminated in almost all the states leading to serious health problems like cancer and fluorosis that damages bones, teeth and muscles, the nation is not perturbed.


Parliament was informed that 1.80 lakh villages (out of the 6 lakh villages in the country) are afflicted by poor water quality. What these villages drink is nothing but slow poison. In addition, what parliament is not informed is that almost all the tributaries of our major rivers have become drain channels for the industry. Take, for instance, Ammi river flowing in the outskirts of Gorakhpur. For years now, over 1.5 lakh people who live on the banks of the river have been protesting against industrial effluents that have turned the river — the only lifeline for hundreds of villages on its banks — into a source of misery.


Ammi is not the only tributary that has turned into a drain. Almost all tributaries of the major Indian rivers flow dirty. Somehow the policy makers and planners treat the dirty rivers and tributaries as a misplaced sign of industrialisation, and thereby treat it as an index of development.


Returning to the issue of shrinking drinking water availability, a parliamentary standing committee has informed that while more than 84 per cent of households in rural areas are covered under rural water supply, only 16 per cent population gets drinking water from public taps. However, just 12 per cent of rural families have individual taps in their houses. This too is highly skewed in favour of the more progressive states. In Orissa, for instance, only 9 per cent households have access to tap water. If you travel to Kalahandi district, the percentage of population having access to tap water drops to a mere 2.76 per cent.


The picture isn't very rosy for the urban areas. Only 37 per cent of the households  have access to tap water. In other words, not only food entitlements, there is an urgent need to ensure right to safe drinking water.


Access denied

Isn't it shocking that after 63 years of Independence, only 12 per cent of the rural households have drinking water taps? This is despite the National Rural Drinking Water Programme being operative, for which Rs 8,000-crore was provided just in 2009-10.


What is more shocking is that while the drinking water taps are going dry, there is never a shortage of water supply from tankers? In Mumbai, for instance, an estimate shows that nearly 48 per cent of the drinking water gets lost due to leaks from damaged pipelines. Some think it is simply because the tanker mafia is at work. Not only Mumbai, cities across the country are under siege by tanker mafia. In the rural areas too, the water mafia has been continuously at work. If the water sources are drying up across the country, I wonder from where the tankers get water. Every one knows that the tanker mafia is leaving the countryside parched and dry, but who cares?

Well, the corporate sector certainly gives an impression that it cares. It has to. After all, much of the water crisis is its creation. First the industries guzzle up water, and pollute the rivers and water bodies, and then they launch water saving initiatives under Corporate Social Responsibility. ITC for instance has launched a project in Gurgaon to teach housemaids on how to save water while cleaning the utensils. Teaching the maid servants on how to save one mug of water is surely some responsibility!


What the corporate sector refuses to point at is the recent decision of the Andhra Pradesh government to allocate 21.5 lakh litres per day from the Krishna River in Guntur district to Coca-Cola. While several hundred villages in Guntur district are grappling with acute drinking water shortage, the government perhaps thinks that rural poor can quench their thirst from drinking Coke instead. To justify its exploitation of water, Coca-Cola claims to be buying mangoes for its Maaza brand under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative. Killing two birds with one stone, isn't it? But who cares?


Unfortunately, providing clean drinking water is no longer a national priority. Somehow the government believes that the more pressing need is to make the water resources available to the mineral water industry. With the elite and the middle class satisfied at the easy availability of mineral water, the rest of the population continues to suffer. Over the years, the state and the Central government have shifted focus to the middle class, as if the rest of the country does not matter.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

AT 60, EUROPE'S FINANCIAL MESS

JOAQUIN ROY


The disintegration of the eurozone would be the death blow to European integration.

 

On Sunday May 9, the European Union (EU) turns 60. Decades ago, to become a sexagenarian meant to cross the line towards old age.Today it is simply to start a third act of a professional and personal life, in which one cannot afford to make a fool of one's self. At 60, one has to be serious and responsible. The EU has to honour its birthday.


On May 9, 1950, Robert Schuman, minister of foreign affairs, France, surprised the startled bunch of journalists who had gathered in the Salon del l'Horloge of the Quai d'Orsay with an announcement that only a few detected as revolutionary. Schuman, reading a script by economic adviser Jean Monnet, vouched to place the industries of coal and steel in the hands of an independent institution. This way he invited Germany to accept the challenge, extending the offer to the rest of the European countries, just coming out of the nightmare of World War II.


The result of this proposal was the European Coal and Steel Community, founded by the Treaty of Paris in 1951, the predecessor of the European Economic Community, a new entity that, together with the European Community of Atomic Energy, would be the seed of the final European Community, founded by the Treaty of Rome of 1957. By the time of the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, the rather modest original project had been transformed into the current European Union, today comprised of 27 members, after it incorporated in 2004 ten countries that had formerly been under Soviet domination.


Economic crises

But the EU at almost 60 seems to be in a state of crisis, even though it recently passed the Treaty of Lisbon, which was designed to give its institutions more flexibility and reinforce its external actions by creating a more stable presidency and a position resembling a foreign minister. This reform has coincided with one of the most serious economic crises the continent has seen, threatening the European social fabric, with grave consequences for its political structure.


Among the culprits named in the crisis is the euro, the common currency shared by the 16 countries that form the 'eurozone' (many others would like to join, but a minority still resists further expansion). The fact is that for the first time in history, a currency has become an alternative to the dollar in financial transactions and as deposit unit.


The euro is one of the most identifiable symbols of European integration; it has also been made the scapegoat for all the errors, real and imagined, that have generated scandalous unemployment levels, indigestible government deficits, and an unsustainable debt.


The euro is guilty as charged, because with its adoption the countries had to perform a kind of self-mutilation, burying their liras, marks and francs. Euro-country governments cannot manoeuvre as in the good old times, via ostrich tactics such as printing money or currency devaluation. But the disintegration of the eurozone would be the death blow to European integration.


However, the cancer that is attacking the European integration process has other causes that are no less important than financial mistakes and the fraudulent behaviour. The first is the absence of the foundational leadership. Today's stewardship is light years behind that of 1950 and 1957 that gave birth to European integration. The indecision of today's high officials and their surrender to populist temptations are an obstacle to finding suitable remedies. They look to the electorates, seduced by short term solutions to problems as grave as those of the 1920s. Nationalistic egotisms have substituted solidarity and internal cohesion that aimed to reduce the internal and regional disparities that propelled the Nazi, fascist, and communist regimes in the past.

Proof of this mistaken tactic is the ambivalence toward the budgetary Greek disaster, and more to come in Ireland and Iberia. What is curious is the fact that the main cause of the general crisis of the EU as a whole is the danger of 'dying of success'. The EU has fulfiled its essential mission: "to make war unthinkable and materially impossible", as stated in the original document crafted by Schuman and Monnet, known as the 'Declaration of Interdependence'. The new European generations are incapable of appreciating this accomplishment.

The paradox is that the EU has become a global point of reference for any experiment in regional integration. One could respond to the EU's critics with a variation of Winston Churchill's famous quip about democracy: the EU is the worst example of regional integration — except for the others. Unless one proves the opposite, there is no other similar alternative for Europe and the rest of the planet.


IPS

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

MOONY MUSINGS

NAVARATNA LAXMAN


Every element of creation has a definite purpose.

No one can forget those evergreen childhood days when our mothers, showing us the smiling moon in the starry night sky and reciting the traditional lyric "Chandakki mama chakkuli mama!" coaxed us lovingly whenever we as children resisted eating our food. During lunar eclipse we felt immensely saddened imagining the pain of our favourite Chandamama whenever we were told that our dear 'mama' was in the process of being swallowed by the demons Rahu and Ketu. To this day I wonder why such weird and grotesque versions were being given to children when it was known since long that lunar eclipse was nothing but the passing shadow of the earth on the moon.

I still remember our days in 'shishu vihara' when our teacher would ask us why we liked the moon more than the sun, and our ardent reply would be that while the sun gave light in the day poor dear moon gave us the much needed light at night! During Ganesha festival we were warned against seeing the moon to escape the wrath of the Lord, whom the moon had inadvertently antagonised. But true to the saying that forbidden fruit is tastier we couldn't resist the temptation of sneaking furtive glances at the moon! Fortunately, none of us suffered in any manner as feared. May be Lord Vinayaka was indulgent towards us children who loved worshipping him!

There are only a few things in this world which can be compared to the celestial charm of the serene moonlit night — which is truly a symbol and divine manifestation of peace, tranquility and romance of life. It is said that every element of creation has a definite purpose and this enchantingly soothing milky magic of moonlight is perhaps the message mother Nature is conveying to humanity to inspire us to defeat the evil forces of hatred, violence and cruelty which are darkening the otherwise radiant face of our planet.


It is intriguing why moon, the only natural satellite of our planet, is referred to as 'he' in our country while it is 'she' in several other countries. The moon may have different significance to people of different religions, but for the moon-struck lover who swears to bring the moon and offer the same at the feet of his beloved in his most eloquent moments, the concept of this precious gift remains the same all over the world! Likewise the term honeymoon signifies the most cherished and memorable phase of human life ever since mankind found honey on earth.


Poets describe beautiful women as 'chandra mukhi', 'chaudhwin ka chand' and the like, but now that man has explored the cratered surface of the moon it is difficult to say how many women would relish this compliment!

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

ECONOMIC VINDICATION

 

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz hailed it as a "historic achievement." Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu saw it as a "particularly welcome sign of Israel's solid international standing," noting that any one of the 31 member states "could have voted 'no' and vetoed our inclusion."


They were talking about the unanimous vote yesterday at Château de la Muette in Paris by the 31 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to accept Israel – as well as Estonia and Slovenia – into its ranks.


It was undoubtedly a victory for the embattled Jewish state. Until the last moment, there was some concern that Switzerland, Turkey, Norway, Britain and/or Ireland could torpedo the move. These countries have criticized Israel for insisting on providing economic data that includes east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and settlements in Judea and Samaria as part of the Israeli economy. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, evidently unperturbed by potential damage to ties with Israel as proximity talks got under way, has campaigned against Israel's inclusion. The very fact that the well-connected Fayyad, a former International Monetary Fund economist, failed to sabotage the move is a success for Israel and for hardheaded reason.

Israel's impressive accomplishments are best appreciated when scrutinized by a forum of highly developed countries committed to democracy, liberalism, equal opportunity and the market economy using objective socioeconomic criteria. In contrast, negative misrepresentations of the "Zionist entity" as a repressive, racist apartheid state belong to the fairy-land world of hateful propaganda and a well-developed Palestinian victimization complex.


ISRAEL WAS judged in accordance with 18 parameters set by the OECD, an organization that has its roots in the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC), founded in 1948 to help administer the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe. Thanks to years of fiscal discipline, Israel's public debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to fall to around 70 percent in coming years, compared to 90% in Germany, 96% in France, 100% in Britain, 110% in the US, 130% in Italy and a whopping 250% in Japan. Greece, with debt estimated at €156.2 billion, as well as Spain, Portugal and Ireland, the four weakest European economies, all face massive economic overhauls. Israel's inflation over the past decade is just half of the OECD average, and GDP growth has been rising steadily (a 5.5% annual average between 2003 and 2008). In addition, Israel made changes in its intellectual-property and anti-money-laundering legislation to meet OECD criteria.


True, there is room for improvement. This was evident in January when Mexican OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, a friend of Israel and a personal acquaintance of Steinitz, presented his organization's economic survey of Israel. Gurría criticized the fact that one-fifth of Israel's population lives under the poverty line, much higher than the OECD average of 11%. About half of all Israeli Arabs and 60% of the haredi population are poor, as are 23% of the elderly population. Due to low haredi and Arab employment, participation in the labor market is low, at just 59%, compared to the OECD average of 67%. There is also too much red tape inhibiting business growth.

But everything, both positive and negative, is on the table for all to see. This transparency and external scrutiny that pushes for excellence is one of the benefits of being part of the OECD. Institutional investors, aware of Israel's dynamic economy, have been queuing up to buy Israel's bonds for the past few years. Perhaps even more will do so now, thanks to Israel's new OECD membership status.


ONE CANNOT escape the irony of the timing of this "historic achievement." Israel has been seeking OECD entry for years. Finally it has happened, at a time when Europe, the heart of the OECD, is in economic disarray, with Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and perhaps Italy threatening to undermine the EU's economic stability.

Israel, meanwhile, has faced profound challenges during its short lifetime – from the absorption of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from underdeveloped Muslim countries in the 1950s and 1960s, and from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia in the 1990s, to a constant security threat that drains a disproportionately large percentage of the annual fiscal budget, to an international anti-Zionist campaign of delegitimization. And yet it has become one of the world's most vibrant economies. The big, prestigious OECD may even have a thing or two to learn from its latest member.

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

IDF SEGREGATION BYPASSES HIGH COURT RULING

 

In less than three weeks, the portion of Route 443 that runs through the West Bank is due to open to Palestinian traffic. That's what the High Court of Justice ordered, but as the deadline approaches it seems - as Amos Harel reported in Haaretz yesterday - that the Israel Defense Forces only intends to open part of the highway to Palestinians and will erect an additional roadblock at its entrance, at which Palestinian cars will be scrupulously checked.

 

Route 443 has become a symbol of a policy of separation - a highway limited to Israeli use. When the road was built, partly on expropriated Palestinian land, the state explicitly said that it would also serve the residents of the Palestinian villages whose land was taken to build it.

 

Since 2001, after several shooting incidents on the road, the IDF has placed mounds of dirt and garbage and installed concrete barriers and steel gates in order to block all access from the villages and environs. The many Israelis who turned the road into another main route to Jerusalem mostly ignored the fate of the villagers who lived just adjacent to it. They also ignored the state's violation of its explicit commitment to allow free movement on the road to Palestinians.

 

About five months ago the High Court of Justice ruled that a permanent, total restriction of Palestinian traffic on the road was not permissible, and gave the IDF five months to open the road. The IDF was obligated to fulfill the court's directives without playing games. Now it turns out that the army is trying to deceive both the court and the public by ensuring that opening the highway to Palestinian use will not make a substantial difference, continuing the policy of blocking their access.

 

There are many roads in the West Bank that are traveled by both Israelis and Palestinians. Route 443 must become just like these roads. The IDF must protect the road, but it has no less of an obligation to protect the character of the state.

 

The state must maintain the letter and spirit of the High Court's rulings and not maintain separate road systems for Israelis and Palestinians in the occupied territories.

 

Last night it was announced that, in the wake of reports on the odd way in which the IDF decided to carry out the court's directives, another High Court petition on the matter was filed. It is to be hoped that the court will speak decisively about the army's conduct.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

PEACE WITH SYRIA SHOULD COME FIRST

STOPPING SYRIA FROM SLIDING INTO IRAN'S ARMS IS MORE URGENT THAN SOLVING THE PALESTINIAN-ISRAELI CONFLICT.

BY YOEL MARCUS

 

Just as we received the go-ahead for opening proximity talks with the Palestinians, Military Intelligence released an analysis of what is going on in Syria - namely, that President Bashar Assad is prepared to examine the possibility of a peace agreement with Israel.

This is not the first time Syria's name has popped up in the headlines as soon as some peace negotiation begins. But this is the first time the army's top brass has considered it incumbent on us to take Syria out of the circle of belligerents.

 

Syria is in a dilemma, between rapprochement with the West and joining the Axis of Evil. The latter option would make Syria a future target for the sanctions that are now to be imposed on Iran, and/or for an Israeli strike.

 

Though Assad senior insisted on tough terms - dipping his feet in the Kinneret - Syrian feet will never reach the Kinneret via an agreement. For one thing, the Kinneret has shrunk. And for another, Assad junior is more aware of the fact that his regime is dominated by the Alawite minority and constitutes a future target for radical Islam.

 

After Bashar Assad said he was ready for peace, Israel destroyed his nuclear reactor - but both sides kept silent. That was his "thinking" phase.

 

After the Soviet Union collapsed and Saddam Hussein's Iraq was finished off, Assad appears to have decided he prefers survival: maintaining his regime, receiving American political and financial guarantees and getting back the Golan Heights, which his father lost in a war.

 

The Golan is no more sacred than the vast territory Israel returned to Egypt for a peace agreement. An agreement with Syria - the last of the Arab states that tried to wipe Israel out on the day it was established - would close the circle. It is not by chance that officers who served as GOC Northern Command believe an attempt to achieve a peace arrangement with Syria is worth the effort.

 

One of Israel's problems, according to every senior Israel Defense Forces officer, is that its actions are not moving it any closer to a peace agreement. No permanent agreements emerged from the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, the Gaza evacuation, the Second Lebanon War or Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. Some have compared the government to a local bus that stops at every station, but never reaches its destination.

 

IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi told the editors of a major American newspaper that Assad is sitting on the fence. At times he commits to Iran, at times he gives Hamas shelter, at times he transfers weapons to Hezbollah and at times he speaks with Israel about peace. Sometimes he does all four simultaneously. Assad must decide whether he wants to be Muammar Gadhafi or Saddam Hussein.

 

It is time for the United States and Israel to force Assad to make a decision. For the sake of regional peace, it is important to take Syria out of the belligerents' circle. This would effect a profound strategic change in the entire region, first and foremost by isolating Iran and weakening Hezbollah. In any case, Syria should not be allowed to sit on the fence.

 

The price tag is clear. It's the Golan Heights. But unlike the places to be discussed in proximity talks and direct negotiations with the Palestinians, the Golan is not a holy site. Neither Abraham our patriarch nor Sarah our matriarch are buried there, and returning it for peace would not involve all those messianic emotions with which the Greater Land of Israel people are imbued. It's simply a lovely area.

 

But what wouldn't we do for peace? And if the Syrians want, they can turn it into a tourist site, as Egypt did with the Sinai.

 

The Palestinian Authority and Iran do not want us to reach an agreement with Syria. Some senior defense establishment officials believe Assad wants to make a deal, but is waiting for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to signal that there is a basis for negotiations.

 

But defense officials believe that in its present composition, which is wholly right-wing, the government will have difficulty making an agreement with the Palestinians, as this involves major concessions in the territories. "This goat will yield no milk," one observer said cynically.

 

Stopping Syria from sliding into Iran's arms is more urgent than solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Israel must give U.S. President Barack Obama a proposal for a short, swift process with Syria - a peace agreement at one go, not in dribs and drabs. That would serve America's interests, deal Hamas a blow and give the Palestinians an incentive to stop playing prima donna and miss their chance again.

 

If Netanyahu has the courage to offer Assad peace for the Golan, we could finally invert the Biblical saying and announce that out of the north shall come good.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM CHINA

BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

 

Yuval Steinitz has a refined sense of humor. Otherwise, he would not find time to tell us from faraway China - where he has been for nine days already - that "in a year or two, economists will beat their breasts over the poor advice they gave the governments of the United States and Europe, advice that led them into major budget deficits."

Is that so, Mr. Finance Minister? Is it really the "economists" who were at fault, not the politicians who set economic policy? And why cast your gaze as far as the United States and Europe? Better to examine what's happening right here in our own house.

 

The finance minister recently submitted the 2011 budget, which contains a deficit of 3 percent of gross domestic product and a 2.6 percent rise in spending, compared with the previous standard rate of 1.7 percent. And if that were not enough, Steinitz also said that "the swollen public sector is no longer quite so bloated."

 

In other words, we have reached the end of our travails and can now stop scrimping and saving. We can now gorge ourselves well past satiety, because we are, after all, nice and trim.

 

Yet is the public sector really so fit? Maybe the minister ought to look around and see the bloated delegation he brought with him to China. But that, of course, is only small change.

 

He could also visit one of the superfluous government ministries, or the Defense Ministry, to figure out why streamlining plans have failed to progress. Maybe he could look at the number of unnecessary layers of management at the Education Ministry, or how many pointless local authorities still exist. And what about the bureaucratic encumbrances and excessive salaries at the Israel Airports Authority, Israel Electric Corporation and Port Authority? The list is long.

 

Steinitz's remarks are dangerous because they give the green light to interest groups, unions and lawmakers to pressure him for handouts. But no less grave is the fact that the head of the Finance Ministry's budget division, Udi Nissan, has thrown his weight behind increasing the budget as well. His misguided, dangerous position violates the budget division's long-standing tradition of fighting for a smaller, sleeker government, so that greater resources will remain for private-sector investment and development - the only real way to achieve sustained economic growth.

 

No budget director before him ever suggested increasing spending, and rightly so: That is the diametric opposite of his role. Lawmakers and ministers are supposed to demand ever more funds, but the budget director has to play the bad guy, the wicked lender who watches the till and ensures a deficit of 0 percent, not 3 percent. That would rapidly reduce the national debt to at most 50 percent of GDP, from its current, dangerous level of 80 percent. It would save the Israeli economy from the next global or regional crisis.

 

It seems we are suffering from the Greek disease: We are unwilling to invest today so that tomorrow will be better. Instead of doing what must be done, our government merely panders to the public. Echoing Greece's leaders, our prime minister parrots the line that he needs more money "to improve social services."

 

And the problem lies not just with our government. The Histadrut labor federation is now demanding higher wages for public-sector workers, as is the norm in Greece. Lawmakers enact populist legislation that increases spending and undermines efforts to shift people from welfare to work, such as by terminating the Wisconsin program.

 

Steinitz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are doing nothing to change a situation in which 65 percent of ultra-Orthodox men do not work - a loss to GDP of NIS 12 billion a year. Nor are they addressing the question of what will happen in 30 years, when 78 percent of elementary school students will be ultra-Orthodox or Arab. Who will work then? What kind of minority will prop up the majority?

 

We are marching wide-eyed into a crisis that has already been written on the wall. Just lift your eyes and look. But of course it is much easier to present the public with a rose-tinted picture of where we are headed, congratulate ourselves on joining the OECD and continue our lovely visit to China.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIA

THE MEA SHE'ARIM MOB

BY SHAHAR ILAN

 

Soldiers patrolling through the streets of Mea She'arim during Passover week found themselves in a situation they generally encounter only on the Palestinian side of the border. Local residents, the hard core of Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox community, began hurling stones at them. The soldiers were at a loss. The police were called in and were greeted by similar violence. The assailants explained to the ultra-Orthodox media that the army was using the neighborhood to simulate operations in an inner-city environment, and the Haredim didn't want to let the authorities ruin the holiday atmosphere.

 

Hardly a week goes by in Mea She'arim without a stone-throwing incident, the torching of garbage containers or the blocking of streets. The public has gotten so used to the violence there that it's hard to notice that a new phenomenon has sprung up. In the past, the violence took place in the neighborhood mainly because of religious struggles. Now the very entrance of a government agency or service provider is a pretext for protest. Mea She'arim has become a dangerous place to visit.

 

In March, for example, police officers were attacked when they answered a call to break up a fight between a landlord and his tenants. In December, someone there painted "An end to filthy pictures" on the motorbike of a cable-company technician. Attacks on buses, window smashing and tire puncturing have become routine in Mea She'arim. On April 1, the ultra-Orthodox Web site Kikar Hashabbat reported: "Passersby tell us that dozens of yeshiva students threw stones at a bus while some of their friends tried to block it with garbage cans. The rioters were trying to get on the bus to separate the male and female passengers."

 

The neighborhood has become a lawless no-man's-land. It's part of the ultra-Orthodox community's process of radicalization. But there's no reason for radicalization to lead to unrestrained violence. These are not isolated excesses - large crowds take part in the incidents. Mea She'arim is ruled by the rabbinical court of the Eda Haredit, the extreme ultra-Orthodox group that could stop the riotous behavior if it wanted to. But it doesn't want to.

 

The violence is encouraged by the police's kid-glove policy and fear of a full-scale confrontation with the ultra-Orthodox. Quite often, instead of facing off with the rioters, the police simply close off the neighborhood. There are daily attacks on soldiers, police, technicians and bus passengers without a clear response. The locals realize that Israeli law does not apply to them. They are immune to punishment.

 

It's not hard to understand the police. They know that arresting ultra-Orthodox offenders and using reasonable force in Mea She'arim will generate heavy political pressure and draw sharp criticism from the United Torah Judaism party. Still, they must go back to enforcing the law of the land in the neighborhood. To do so, they must act firmly against rioters, use riot-dispersal measures and make arrests that lead to prosecutions. The internal security minister must give the police whatever backing is necessary.

 

Similarly, the authorities and service providers should function in Mea She'arim as they do in all other dangerous environments and cease operating until security is restored. This would not be collective punishment, but self-preservation. The same applies to the Egged bus company, which repeatedly endangers its passengers by entering Mea She'arim. It should stop doing so until the mob attacks on buses cease. The writer is deputy director for research and public relations at Hiddush, a group that promotes religious freedom and equality.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

WHERE'S THE FIRE?

BY NIVA LANIR

 

When's the last time you heard something memorable from a member of the forum of seven senior ministers, or even from one of the 30 cabinet members themselves? When's the last time one of them really turned you on? Not with delusions or illusions, punditry or sophistry, but with something material, something thought out, something you wish you'd said about violence in Israeli society, for example, or racism or discrimination.

 

When's the last time a minister took a stand on the avarice and gluttony of his colleagues who so love to travel at the taxpayers' expense? When did the public believe the ministers' pledges not to build in the settlements - and not to wink, nod and turn a blind eye - and to remove illegal outposts and checkpoints because they so very much want peace? In brief, when's the last time we could believe that they meant what they said?

 

They see no need to exert themselves. Just put everything in perspective and wait. "Where's the fire" is the name of a popular Army Radio talk show, but it's not only that. It's also a mood, a way of life. Anyway, what have they done to deserve being rushed, those 30 ministers who've had the good fortune to land a place in Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet? Why be petty now and insist on getting things done on their watch and not some other time?

 

After all, we do hear some good news in these parts. In the area of transportation, for example. The minister, Yaakov Katz, recently took a trip around Samaria - isn't that good news in itself? He announced his "plan for building a railway network in Judea and Samaria, to be connected to Israel's new railroads." If the question should arise as to how his ministry - which doesn't seem to have a clue on how to disentangle the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv light-rail imbroglios - would bear the burden of this project, the minister had a ready reply. "The planning would be carried out in cooperation with international partners who are showing interest," he said, adding that "in Jenin, a railroad linked to the Jezreel Valley line would be built."

 

More on the escapades of Minister Katz: He has pledged to the Supreme Court that separating males and females on bus lines will be permitted and based on "voluntary and consensual arrangements." Well, could it be otherwise? Trust Netanyahu's right-hand man to come up with the promised arrangements in parallel with our defense officials' commitment to the Supreme Court that they don't need another extension and can now take the time to evacuate illegal outposts and settlements. On their way, the buses with Katz's seating arrangements will be able to evacuate the settlers - consensually and separately.

 

Another bearer of good tidings is the chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, Moshe Gafni. Here's a quote from him at a committee meeting last week: "There are those who claim that yeshiva studies don't contribute to the economy, but whether Torah is necessary or not is an ideological argument and not an economic one, so it should be removed from the public discourse. Why don't they examine whether civics or Zionism are economical?"The core lesson, according to Gafni, is not Zionism's proven investment value, but its order of priorities. "Is it necessary to invest huge sums in the settlements?" he asked, replying: "It isn't economical and it doesn't contribute to the economy. It's a matter of ideology." At least with Gafni we know where we stand.

 

In an earlier election campaign, Netanyahu came up with his "They are s-c-a-r-e-d" label for the media. Now a term in office has come and gone, and any copywriter, even a beginner, would use that exact same label for the Netanyahu government. How very scared they are, there in the Netanyahu government. That's the answer.

 

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

EDITORIAL

SEARCHING FOR ELENA KAGAN

 

President Obama may know that his new nominee to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, shares his thinking on the multitude of issues that face the court and the nation, but the public knows nothing of the kind. Whether by ambitious design or by habit of mind, Ms. Kagan has spent decades carefully husbanding her thoughts and shielding her philosophy from view. Her lack of a clear record on certain issues makes it hard to know whether Mr. Obama has nominated a full-throated counterweight to the court's increasingly aggressive conservative wing.

 

Ms. Kagan would fill the seat held for 34 years by Justice John Paul Stevens, whose ringing opinions defined modern liberal jurisprudence, particularly as the decibel level of his dissents grew in recent years. The quality of his voice and his persuasive power raise the bar to a high level for his successor, and at this point there are little more than entrails and tea leaves to suggest that Ms. Kagan will meet the standard he set.

 

It is gratifying that the president has nominated to this court what would be its third female justice, one who is relatively young, well spoken and, by all accounts, brilliant and collegial. Though Republicans already are deriding her for never having worn a judicial robe, the current court, dominated by former appeals court judges, could use more members who have engaged more closely with the world than with a trial transcript.

 

But where, precisely, has Ms. Kagan been during the legal whirlwinds of the last few years, as issues like executive power, same-sex marriage, the rights of the accused and proper application of the death penalty have raged through the courts? As dean of the Harvard Law School, she spoke out against the military's discrimination against gay and lesbian soldiers, but many students and professors there have expressed chagrin that she did not take a more forceful stance. And she has stated that "there is no federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage." Her positions on other current issues are either unclear — or possibly to the right of Justice Stevens.

 

In a 2001 Harvard Law Review article, Ms. Kagan defended a robust assertion of presidential power unless specifically limited by Congress — albeit in the service of "progressive goals" on the domestic front. She told the Senate last year that she agreed the government has the right to indefinitely detain enemy combatants captured around the world. As Mr. Obama's solicitor general, she has supported his administration's positions, little changed since the Bush administration, on the use of military force against Al Qaeda, the habeas corpus rights of military detainees and the state secrets privilege. (In 2005, however, she did oppose a Republican attempt to remove judicial review from the cases of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.)

 

It may be unfair to blame Ms. Kagan for some of the positions she has taken as solicitor general, a job that requires her to defend the government's views. But a search for her own views on dozens of other matters yields little. Though she has said that she respects precedents on abortion, she has said virtually nothing on racial preferences, gun rights or private property rights. When the constitutionality of President Obama's health care law reaches the Supreme Court, as it probably will, given the forceful challenges now being waged in several states, would she reject the argument that Washington has overstepped its role in requiring health insurance? There is no record to suggest an answer.

 

The White House undoubtedly hopes the ellipses in Ms. Kagan's record will help her avoid a rocky confirmation hearing. That expedient approach, unfortunately, reflects the widespread sentiment that the right holds the upper hand in judicial debates, forcing the left to duck and cower. But in one of Ms. Kagan's few forcefully stated positions, she wrote in 1995 that she detests "polite and restrained" confirmation hearings, calling them a "vapid and hollow charade" and urging senators to fully explore a court nominee's substantive views. We hope the Senate follows her advice and gets Ms. Kagan to open up a little.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EUROPE'S BAILOUT

 

Europe's leaders stared into the abyss and finally decided to act. The nearly $1 trillion bailout package, arranged over the weekend, is intended to head off Greece's default and stop the crisis from dragging under other weak economies — Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Italy are all vulnerable.

 

The European and American markets celebrated on Monday. The CAC-40 index in Paris rose almost 10 percent. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 3.9 percent. It was certainly the right thing to do. Coupled with the European Central Bank's promise to buy bonds from stricken European countries, it arrested the financial turmoil — at least for now.

 

There is good reason to question whether even these steps will be enough. The strategy's biggest weakness is that it assumes that badly hobbled countries, starting with Greece, can regain their ability to service their debts by slashing their budget deficits.

 

These economies are already struggling; some are still caught in recession. The International Monetary Fund expects Greece's economy to shrink by 2 percent this year and by 1 percent in 2011. Overly harsh budget cuts will make the situation worse — making it even harder for Greece, and others that request the bailout, to honor their debts.

 

Greece, which got its own bailout of around $140 billion last week, definitely overspent and must cut a budget deficit that has now reached 13.6 percent of its gross domestic product. The bailout plan negotiated with the European Union and the I.M.F. calls for Greece to reduce that deficit to less than 3 percent of G.D.P. by 2014 — an adjustment equal to one-tenth of its economy. At the same time, it is supposed to remain current on all of its debt service payments. It is hard to see how that is fiscally possible.

 

Spain's economy also is forecast to shrink this year. Portugal's to barely grow. If they decide to dip into the new bailout fund, they likely would be served the same potentially self-defeating recipe.

 

Meanwhile, the banks that caused much of this mess are getting all their money back. A more equitable approach would require the banks to pay at least part of the bill — writing down the debts of some European governments or extending their maturities into the future to allow battered European economies time to recover.

 

This lopsided distribution of costs is built upon a distorted narrative: profligate governments from Europe's less responsible nations spent beyond their means and now can't repay their debt. Except for Greece, that is not what happened.

 

In 2007, before the financial crisis, Spain had a budget surplus of 2 percent of G.D.P. Ireland had a balanced budget. Portugal's deficit of 2.6 percent was well within the euro area's accepted limits. Today their budgets are all deep in the red because the global collapse slashed economic activity, boosted unemployment and required a large-scale government response.

We understand why European governments are not demanding that the banks share the burden. Rescheduling Greece's debt, or that of other governments, could weaken the balance sheets of European banks and make financial markets more unstable. That's the reason the Obama administration went so light on American banks. Still, Europe may not be able to solve its problems without bringing the bankers in to pay their share.

 

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

THEY HAVE TO DO BETTER

 

Banks ahead, American taxpayers lagging behind. That's the disappointing reality here after the first week of Senate action on the financial reform bill.

Senators overwhelmingly rejected an important provision that would have required large financial firms to pay $50 billion upfront to create a so-called resolution fund, which would have been used to dismantle big banks at risk of failure. Instead, the bill now authorizes regulators to borrow the needed cash from the Treasury to be paid back later, mainly by selling off assets of the failed firm.

 

That's better than a bailout, but taxpayers would still be in the line of defense against catastrophic collapse. In another setback, senators defeated an amendment that would have imposed caps on the size of big banks. That's unfortunate, because reform should reduce banks to a less-threatening size.

 

Senators have another chance to do better this week. But at this point, it is hard to be optimistic.

 

One important amendment would ensure swift enactment of the Volcker rule — barring banks from risky trading for their own accounts and from owning hedge funds and private equity funds. That would help ensure that banks do not become so big and interconnected that it's impossible to effectively manage them in good times or dismantle them in bad times.

 

The banks are also eager to preserve their ability to take huge risks. They are making an especially intense push to strike a provision that could force big banks to spin off the lucrative business of derivatives trading. That provision is necessary, in no small part because incremental efforts in the bill to regulate derivatives are in grave danger of being watered down.

 

Lobbyists and their Senate allies want several exemptions from a provision in the bill that would require most derivatives to trade on fully regulated exchanges. Exemptions would help banks protect their profits — the less transparent the trades, the less customers can comparison shop. Exemptions would make it easier for the banks to game the new rules, tailoring products to be exempted from transparent trading.

 

Banks and their Senate supporters also want federal backing — such as access to lending from the Federal Reserve — for exchanges and clearinghouses that would take on derivatives trades in a reformed system. If investors knew that the federal government stood behind the transactions, it would be easier for banks to enter into highly risky transactions. That ultimately could put taxpayers back on the hook.

 

Several other amendments likely this week would weaken the bill's protections for consumers — which could increase risk in the system by allowing predatory or abusive lending. One expected amendment would scale back the ability of state attorneys general to sue financial firms that violate new federal consumer protections; another would undercut the ability of state regulators to impose rules that are tougher than federal regulations. Banks don't want the scrutiny. But as the financial crisis has shown, the public needs the protection.

 

The only way to prevent another catastrophe is with tough regulatory reform — tougher than what the Senate has so far produced. It is time for senators to stop listening to the lobbyists and start defending the interests of American taxpayers.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

UPENDING TWISTED NORMS

BY BOB HERBERT

 

Chicago

One of the most frightening aspects of the murderous violence plaguing so many urban neighborhoods across the country is the widespread notion among young people that killing somebody who ticks you off is normal. It's something that is only to be expected, like eating when you're hungry.

 

If a stranger or someone from a rival clique steps on your clean, white sneakers, or makes a crack about your manhood, or laughs at you, putting a bullet in his heart or his head is seen by an awful lot of young people as an appropriate response. This is a form of crazed thinking that needs to be confronted and changed.

 

Dr. Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist who began focusing more than a decade ago on urban violence as a public health matter, has developed a program that is making progress in altering such behavior, and thus reducing the violence. Antiviolence initiatives that actually work are desperately needed to cut down on the slaughter that continues with numbing regularity, year after tragic year.

 

Two to three dozen school-age children are killed in Chicago every year. More than 150 have been shot in the current school year. And Chicago is hardly America's most dangerous city.

 

The toll is greatest among young, black and Hispanic residents whose daily experiences are far removed from the American mainstream. Most inner-city youngsters are not violent, but nearly all are touched by the violence in one way or another. The main problem is the acceptance of murder as normal behavior by so many inner-city young people.

 

"These violent behaviors are learned," said Dr. Slutkin. "They are largely formed by modeling, the almost unconscious copying of one another. And then they are maintained by the social pressure of peers. It becomes normal to reach for a gun.

 

"What happens is these guys have a grievance, just like everybody has a grievance. Most of it is interpersonal. It's not so much gang-related or the stuff of television dramas. They're shooting each other over things like, 'He looked at my girl,' 'He disrespected me,' 'He cut in front of me in line,' 'He owed me money.' And then, of course, there is the retaliation: 'He shot my brother or my friend.'

 

"These grievances require that they shoot somebody, primarily because 'my friends expect this of me.' "

 

With an organization that he formed in Chicago called CeaseFire, Dr. Slutkin has been trying to intervene in potentially violent situations to ward off tragic outcomes. Individuals who are most likely to be involved in violence, either as offenders or victims, are personally engaged, talked with, counseled, cajoled — whatever it takes to prevent bloodshed. Those who intervene know the streets firsthand, and in many cases are former gang members and convicts themselves.

 

Dr. Slutkin's immediate goal is to stop the killing. Longer term, he wants to change the violent norms of big-city environments.

 

Funding for CeaseFire has been erratic, but its record has been impressive. The neighborhoods in which CeaseFire has deployed its cadre of "violence interrupters" and outreach workers have seen significant decreases in shootings and fatalities.

 

A study of CeaseFire's efforts in Chicago by the U.S. Department of Justice found substantial reductions in homicides, ranging from 41 percent to 73 percent, in nearly all of the neighborhoods in which CeaseFire was operating.

 

If we really cared about the youngsters in the inner cities, the murder of so many of them would be a huge national story. Civil rights groups would be marching relentlessly against the violence, and against the neglect of so many inner-city children, including the unconscionable levels of parental neglect. And programs found to be effective would be expanded and adequately funded.

 

We know where the focus should be. As Chicago's police superintendent, Jody Weis, told me, most of the homicides here occur in areas that comprise "less than 9 percent of the city's real estate." Yet CeaseFire, which has helped reduce the violence nearly everywhere it has been, is operating in only about a quarter of the areas of Chicago in which it is needed because of a lack of financing.

 

The absurdity of this jumps out at you when you think of the cost of adequately funding an operation like CeaseFire versus the financial cost to society of the endless violence. Typically, when one of these shootings occurs, the public pays for the medical care (sometimes for many years), for the police investigation, for the prosecutors and the defense lawyers, for the judges and other court personnel, and for the imprisonment of anyone who is convicted. In other words, the costs are monumental.

 

We need proper policing, better parenting, better schools and more jobs. But we also need an immediate campaign to upend the norm of murderous violence in big cities. CeaseFire is offering a blueprint that deserves much wider distribution.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

WHAT IT TAKES

BY DAVID BROOKS

 

About a decade ago, one began to notice a profusion of Organization Kids at elite college campuses. These were bright students who had been formed by the meritocratic system placed in front of them. They had great grades, perfect teacher recommendations, broad extracurricular interests, admirable self-confidence and winning personalities.

 

If they had any flaw, it was that they often had a professional and strategic attitude toward life. They were not intellectual risk-takers. They regarded professors as bosses to be pleased rather than authorities to be challenged. As one admissions director told me at the time, they were prudential rather than poetic.

 

If you listen to people talk about Elena Kagan, it is striking how closely their descriptions hew to this personality type.

 

Kagan has many friends along the Acela corridor, thanks to her time at Hunter College High School, Princeton, Harvard and in Democratic administrations. So far, I haven't met anybody who is not an admirer. She is apparently smart, deft and friendly. She was a superb teacher. She has the ability to process many points of view and to mediate between different factions.

 

Yet she also is apparently prudential, deliberate and cautious. She does not seem to be one who leaps into a fray when the consequences might be unpredictable. "She was one of the most strategic people I've ever met, and that's true across lots of aspects of her life," John Palfrey, a Harvard law professor, told The Times. "She is very effective at playing her cards in every setting I've seen."

 

Tom Goldstein, the publisher of the highly influential SCOTUSblog, has described Kagan as "extraordinarily — almost artistically — careful. I don't know anyone who has had a conversation with her in which she expressed a personal conviction on a question of constitutional law in the past decade."

 

Kagan has apparently wanted to be a judge or justice since adolescence (she posed in judicial robes for her high school yearbook). There was a brief period, in her early 20s, when she expressed opinions on legal and political matters. But that seems to have ended pretty quickly.

 

She has become a legal scholar without the interest scholars normally have in the contest of ideas. She's shown relatively little interest in coming up with new theories or influencing public debate.

 

Her publication record is scant and carefully nonideological. She has published five scholarly review articles, mostly on administrative law and the First Amendment. These articles were mostly on technical and procedural issues.

 

One scans her public speeches looking for a strong opinion, and one comes up empty. In 2005, for example, she delivered a lecture on women and the legal profession. If ever there was a hot-button issue, it's the mommy wars, the tension between professional success and family pressures. Kagan deftly summarized some of the research showing that while women do well in law school, they are not as likely to rise to senior positions at major firms. But she didn't exactly take a stand. "What I hope to do is start a conversation," she said.

 

Her recommendations were soporific: "Closer study of the differences across practice settings, linked to the experiences of women in those settings, could help us to improve workplaces throughout the profession." Furthermore, "Charting a course for the profession in these times will require sustained cooperation between practitioners with the experience and wisdom to identify problems and implement solutions, and academic researchers with the ability to generate the systematic and unbiased research on which these solutions must be based."

 

Kagan's sole display of passion came during her defense of her decision to reinstate a policy that banned the military from using Harvard Law School's main career office for recruiting. But even here, she argues that her position was not the product of any broad opinions. She was upholding the antidiscrimination regulations of Harvard University. She told the Senate in written answers to questions during her confirmation hearings for solicitor general, "The position I took does not entail a view on the exclusion of R.O.T.C. from college campuses, and I never expressed a position on the exclusion of R.O.T.C. from Harvard."

 

What we have is a person whose career has dovetailed with the incentives presented by the confirmation system, a system that punishes creativity and rewards caginess. Arguments are already being made for and against her nomination, but most of this is speculation because she has been too careful to let her actual positions leak out.

 

There's about to be a backlash against the Ivy League lock on the court. I have to confess my first impression of Kagan is a lot like my first impression of many Organization Kids. She seems to be smart, impressive and honest — and in her willingness to suppress so much of her mind for the sake of her career, kind of disturbing.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

PLAN B IN THE GULF

BY RIKI OTT, KEN ARNOLD, JOHN HOFMEISTER, TERRY HAZEN AND KEVIN M. YEAGER

 

Over the weekend BP learned that its latest effort at stanching the Deepwater Horizon oil spill — placing a huge metal dome over the leak — had failed. With the oil slick now washing up on the Louisiana shore, the Op-Ed editors asked five experts for their thoughts on what should be done now — and how we can avoid future catastrophes.

 

 

Avoid Dispersants

ONE of the oil industry's favorite tools in fighting oil spills is chemical dispersants — indeed, over 300,000 gallons have been used so far in the Gulf. But as anyone who studied high school chemistry knows, like dissolves like: crude oil responds only to oil-based solvents, which are extremely toxic.

 

The first dispersants, released in the late 1960s, were quickly shelved because they turned out to harm wildlife more than crude oil did. Drums of Corexit 9527, a dispersant used to clean up the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, came with warning labels: "prevent liquid from entering sewers, watercourses or low areas." Little has changed in 20 years. Even worse, spraying dispersants in the Gulf in an attempt to minimize the oil's damage to the coast would kill shrimp eggs and larvae and young fish in the open water. They can linger in the water for decades, especially when used in deep water, where low temperatures can inhibit biodegradation. Dispersants may sound like a good idea, but they're bad news, and their use should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. — RIKI OTT, marine toxicologist and author of "Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill"

 

Forget Acoustic Sensors

IN Norway and Brazil, offshore oil rigs are required to have switches that close valves whenever they sense an acoustic pulse in the water, which could signal a blowout. In the wake of last month's accident, many have argued that similar switches should be required on American rigs.

 

But the Deepwater Horizon was hardly without safety precautions: it had manual switches at several different stations and two backups — a "dead man" switch that would automatically send a shut-off signal to the valve if there was a loss of electrical communication from the surface, as well as a mechanism to allow a remotely operated vehicle to shut it off. Either these all failed, or they worked and the valve still failed to close. Would a third backup sending yet another signal reduce risk? Maybe. But it would be of marginal benefit, and could result in a false alarm or premature signal. When a safety switch is thrown, a device cuts the drill pipe, letting it fall into the hole. Fishing it out, and even testing it regularly, is a dangerous proposition, putting worker safety at risk — precisely what such systems are designed to avoid. — KEN ARNOLD, energy industry consultant

 

Stop Outsourcing

LIKE many other American corporations, oil and gas companies have been outsourcing critical, high-risk operations for several decades, sacrificing control to save money. Today, platforms like the Deepwater Horizon resemble small villages, home to distinct chains of command from several different subcontractors. Workers for different companies may hardly know one another despite working side by side; they often answer to different bosses.

 

Some argue that the level of specialization and technical expertise required to run a platform demands teamwork by different companies, each with its own research and development and command structures. True, but specialization and cost-cutting can go too far. Fragmented control is not likely to blame for the Gulf spill, but it is likely to hamper the search for the real cause and the effort to enact reforms to keep such disasters from happening again. Slowing, or even reversing, the outsourcing trend is a critical next step for the industry.

— JOHN HOFMEISTER, former president of Shell and author of "Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk from an Energy Insider"

 

Soak Up the Oil

ONE tactic for reducing the amount of oil in the Gulf would be to seed the affected waters with absorbent materials — for example, cellulose fibers or animal hair — that can soak up oil. Once they've done their job, these materials can be retrieved and either compressed into blocks for burning or, better still, fed to microbes in quarantined spaces. Absorbent materials are cheap and readily available, and there's a fleet of commercial fishing vessels already in place for dispersing them. — TERRY HAZEN, microbial ecologist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

 

Do Nothing

THE best thing to do in response to the Gulf spill's landfall is ... nothing. Sure, larger oil concentrations can be sopped up, and large animals can be cleaned. But cleanup efforts can do only so much: evidence suggests that they reduce hydrocarbon concentrations only over the short term. And many responses have harmful side effects. Controlled burning spreads toxic materials and kills plants that retard erosion, thus hurting the very lands we're trying to protect. Nutrient-rich detergents or active bioremediation — which encourages the growth of bacteria that can break down oil — can fundamentally disturb the ecological balance for decades.

 

Instead, we should recognize that nature can do many things far better than we can, and with less collateral damage. Oil is a natural byproduct of biological and geological processes; if left alone in coastal environments, wave action, the sun and microbes in the sediment will naturally break down hydrocarbons. Meanwhile, money saved can go to helping local economies deal with the loss of income, improving safety regulations and enforcement and developing a clean energy policy. — KEVIN M. YEAGER, assistant professor of marine sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OUR VIEW ON THE SUPREME COURT : EARLY CRITIQUES OF KAGAN FALL SHORT ON SUBSTANCE

 

Time was, legal ability and independence were considered the primary qualifications for appointment to the Supreme Court. When Justice John Paul Stevens, now retiring, was nominated by Gerald Ford in 1975, he was confirmed by the Senate 98-0 in just 20 days.

 

Sadly, in this era of partisan ideological tests and "gotcha" posturing by senators from both parties, Elena Kagan faces a vastly different terrain.

 

Even before President Obama announced her on Monday as his widely expected choice to the seat Stevens is vacating, Kagan was under attack from conservatives, who complained she has never been a judge, and from progressives, who fear she's not a liberal crusader in the mold of William O. Douglas or Earl Warren.

 

None of the criticism seemed particularly substantive. The suggestion that Kagan should be rejected for lack of judicial experience, for instance, raises more questions about the competence of Kagan's critics than about the nominee. Kagan was, after all, the highly respected first female dean of Harvard Law School, acclaimed by legal scholars of both parties for her consensus-building performance there. And she is the first female solicitor general of the United States, where she represents the U.S. government's interests in cases before the Supreme Court.

 

The reason she has never been a judge is that when President Clinton named her 11 years ago to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the GOP-controlled Senate blocked her nomination from coming to a vote so the appointment could be made instead by an incoming Republican president. And the supposed "tradition" of focusing solely on appellate-court judges for the Supreme Court is, in fact, relatively recent: A half-century ago, there were no former appellate judges on the high court. If anything, the court would benefit from more diversity of experience. With Kagan on board, all nine justices would be products of Harvard or Yale law schools. Surely, the nation has top legal talent beyond the Ivy League.

 

As for the liberals' worries that Kagan wouldn't be sufficiently progressive for their tastes, well, they are probably right about that. Although she has been circumspect about her politics, it's a reasonably good bet they reflect the center-left views of the two presidents, Clinton and Obama, whose administrations she has served.

 

Who would expect otherwise? Elections have consequences, and it has long been our view that presidents deserve leeway in their Supreme Court nominations, so long as the picks are highly qualified, fall within the broad judicial mainstream and demonstrate a healthy respect for legal precedent. That's why we supported George W. Bush's nomination of John Roberts to be chief justice. And, though it's still early in the process, nothing disqualifying has surfaced about Kagan, 50, who would be only the fourth woman to serve on the high court.

 

No doubt the public will learn more about Kagan's life story as she approaches her Senate confirmation hearings, a process she described in a 1995 law review article as "a vapid and hollow charade" because nominees are allowed to duck hotly disputed issues such as abortion, affirmative action and privacy.

 

She was right about that characterization, but until senators as a whole return to judging nominees by their ability, integrity and independence — instead of fishing for red meat to appease ideological interest groups — that's unlikely to change. She will, at least, be fully vetted before the usual partisan barbecue begins.

 

Kagan, like any nominee for a lifetime appointment to the high court, has questions to answer, including about her role in limiting military recruiters at Harvard Law School to protest the military's policy of not letting gays serve openly. Senators, also, have to answer for allowing the confirmation process to sink to the level of tawdry gamesmanship it has reached. Kagan, every future nominee and the country deserve better.

 

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OTHER VIEWS ON THE SUPREME COURT: 'A SCANT RECORD'

 

Ed Whelan, president, Ethics and Public Policy Center: I have plenty of respect for Kagan's intellect and ability, and she deserves considerable credit for her tenure as dean of Harvard Law School, including for her generous treatment of conservatives, which has earned her considerable goodwill. But Kagan may well have less experience relevant to the work of being a justice than any justice in the last five decades or more. In addition to zero judicial experience, she has only a few years of real-world legal experience. Further, notwithstanding all her years in academia, she has only a scant record of legal scholarship. Kagan flunks her own "threshold" test of the minimal qualifications needed for a Supreme Court nominee.

 

Debra L. Ness, president, National Partnership for Women & Families: She has a proud history of public service, a fair and thoughtful approach to legal issues, a record of extraordinary accomplishment, and a history of working effectively with people who hold diverse political and legal views. Solicitor General Kagan has dedicated her life to seeking a just society. If she is confirmed, she will have the chance to continue that work on our highest court. She is a superb and brilliant choice to serve as a United States Supreme Court justice.

 

Elena Kagan's record — as a practicing attorney, a law school professor, the first woman dean of Harvard Law School, and our nation's first woman solicitor general — is distinguished by keen intellect, fair and independent thinking, and remarkable achievement.

 

Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director to the conservative Judicial Crisis Network: President Obama wants to pack the court with reliable liberal votes to rubber-stamp an agenda that he knows the American people would not accept. What better way than to appoint a loyalist from his own Department of Justice with a thin public record to advance his leftist legacy through the court? Ever since her efforts to get on the D.C. Circuit were stymied for fear of her extremist views, Kagan has bent over backwards to avoid taking public positions on hot-button topics. Except when she can't help herself, like when she banned military recruiters during wartime from Harvard Law School because their Democrat-initiated "don't ask don't tell" policy was, in her words, "a moral injustice of the first order."

 

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee: Just over a year ago, the Senate considered Elena Kagan's impressive legal credentials when we confirmed her to be the solicitor general of the United States. The person filling that vital post is informally referred to as the "tenth justice," because the solicitor general works so closely on the significant cases before the Supreme Court. Solicitor General Kagan has argued a broad range of issues, including in defense of Congress' ability to protect children from pedophiles and our ability to fight against those who provide material support to terrorist organizations. With this nomination, Elena Kagan follows in the footsteps of her mentor, Thurgood Marshall, who also was nominated to the Supreme Court from the position of solicitor general.

 

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee: Kagan's lack of judicial experience and short time as solicitor general, arguing just six cases before the court, is troubling. The public expects Supreme Court nominees to possess a mastery of the law, a sound judicial philosophy, and a demonstrated dedication to the impartial application of the law and the Constitution. With no judicial opinions to consider, it will be especially important that other aspects of her record exhibit these characteristics. ... (I) hope the president made this nomination because he believes Kagan possesses the rare qualities that make an exceptional judge — objective and faithfully devoted to the Constitution — and not because she is expected to produce results that he and his administration favor.

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

MOMS, PART-TIME WORK IS OVERRATED

BY LAURA VANDERKAM

 

For Mother's Day this past weekend, families everywhere nabbed flowers and brunch reservations to celebrate. If you'd asked moms what they really wanted, though, here's what many would answer: to work part-time.

 

Unlike in 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson inaugurated Mother's Day, these days a majority of moms are in the paid workforce. But most don't want to be in it too much. A 2009 Pew Foundation poll found that 62% of employed moms wanted to work part-time, up from 48% in 1997.A recent poll from DailyWorth (a financial website for women) found that a majority of moms who did work full time still thought part-time work was ideal.

 

This raises the question: Why? One answer is that our culture is obsessed with the notion of work-life balance. If we believe we're overworked, then part-time work appears closer to this elusive goal. But the more I study how people actually spend their time, the more I find these surveys puzzling. On average, part-time work doesn't help much on the life front, and it scars on the work front in a way that's dangerous for women (few men work part-time by choice). In some cases, it may be the best option. But I'd argue that for many moms, work-life balance is best achieved by working more.

 

Creating family time

 

Here's what we know on the "life" side of the equation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey, in two-income families, married moms who work part-time spend just 41 more minutes per day on child care as a primary activity than their full-time counterparts. They spend just 10 more minutes playing with their kids.

 

There are a few reasons for this. First, the average parent with a full-time job works roughly 35-44 hours per week. Not 80. It's also impossible to interact with kids 24/7 because, past the baby stage, they have their own lives. They go to school. They watch TV, do activities and sleep.

 

Most important, though, moms with full-time jobs often go to great lengths to protect family time. Some work for themselves, or set their own hours. Those with traditional jobs or longer hours get creative. While her husband is in Iraq, Maureen Beddis of Alexandria, Va., combines her 50-hour-per-week job at The Vision Council, a non-profit, with single parenting by stopping work right at 5 p.m., spending a few hours with her baby and 2-year-old, then working more from home after they go to sleep. Kristen Burris, a licensed acupuncturist in Eagle, Idaho, opens her practice later so she can spend the early mornings with her 2- and 3-year-old sons. "I don't cook, clean or talk on the phone" during that time, she says. "Every second is focused on hugging and loving and playing with them."

 

These factors keep the interactive numbers close. But those 41 minutes come at a steep cost. Warren Farrell, author of Why Men Earn More, crunched Census data and found that people working 45 hours per week earn more than double the wages of those logging 34 hours, even though they're only working about a third more. The situation is worse as you move toward the 19 hours a week that the time use survey finds the average married mom with a part-time job works. Sure, some of this is discrimination, present everywhere from Goldman Sachs (recently sued by an executive laid off from the part-time "mommy track") to blue-collar outlets. But not all. I work for myself and can see returns to scale when I log additional hours. I go beyond current assignments and seek out opportunities. There is a point of diminishing returns, and sometimes life requires us to temporarily scale back, but in general, extra hours on the margins move a career forward toward more clout and control of time, in addition to more money.

 

168 hours, for starters

 

That's why it's worrying that so many moms — who can't all have very young children — think part-time work is a great idea. Forgoing that additional income and advancement on a permanent basis might be OK if a mom is sure her family won't someday depend, financially, on her. But how many modern women can say that? According to Maria Shriver's 2009 report, "A Woman's Nation Changes Everything," moms are the primary or co-breadwinner in nearly two-thirds of families. The male unemployment rate is still in double digits. To be sure, moms of young kids who work full time often require more paid child care, but even here part-timers lose out: Center-based care is often proportionally more expensive for part-time vs. full-time.

 

More fundamentally, though, here's a point seldom raised in this debate: There are 168 hours in a week. If you sleep 56 and work 40, that leaves 72 hours for other things. That's a lot of time. It's so much time it's hard to see what's balanced about working 19 hours and having 93 hours left over.

 

That's what Rosemarie Buchanan is discovering. This Seattle-area mom of two started full-time work at an architecture firm after years of part-time freelancing. The "fabulous day care" she can now afford teaches her kids "things I was too burned out and exhausted to do," she says. "Now I get better sleep and feel more able to have fun with them at dinner time, after dinner and getting them ready for bed, and enjoy the weekends with them so much more." That sounds like a good balance to me.

 

Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, to be released May 27, is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

BLACK COLLEGE GRADUATES FACE BUMPY ROAD

BY DEWAYNE WICKHAM

 

In his first commencement speech as president to a black college, President Obama talked about the importance of education to graduates of Hampton University, a school that was founded in the wake of the Civil War just a short distance from where the first slave ship landed on these shores 249 years earlier.

 

The education he was referring to is something graduates who entered college four years ago will need to rely on to survive in a world that has changed dramatically since their freshman class arrived at Hampton, Va. In August 2006, the nation's unemployment rate was 4.7%. Last month, it stood at 9.9%. More than 8 million jobs have been lost since the nation plunged into recession in December 2007.

 

"In the midst of civil war, we set aside land grants for schools like Hampton to teach farmers and factory workers the skills of an industrializing nation. ... Education, then, is what has always allowed us to meet the challenges of a changing world," Obama said in his address to the school's 140th graduating class.

 

The education Hampton students received, the president said, has prepared them to compete in an economy that has become increasingly global and makes them better able to sift through the growing forms of media that seek to influence them.

 

"So, yes, education can fortify us to meet the tests of our economy, the tests of citizenship and the tests of our time," Obama said.

 

I hope he's right. When it comes to educating African Americans, schools such as Hampton do the heavy lifting. While they graduate nearly 25% of blacks who earn undergraduate degrees, the nation's 105 historically black colleges and universities have produced the lion's share of black professionals. More than half of the students who get their undergraduate degrees at these schools go on to attend a graduate or professional school, according to the United Negro College Fund.

 

But the ugly truth is that the road to success that the degree they've earned was supposed to open up is littered with potholes that their education alone cannot overcome. This year, blacks who have earned a bachelor's degree and higher have a higher unemployment rate than whites who have only obtained a two-year college degree. And blacks with college degrees earn substantially less than white college graduates.

 

In 2008, the mean annual income of blacks with a four-year degree was more than $13,000 less than that of whites with the same level of education. And blacks who had a master's earned about $1,500 a year less than whites with a bachelor's degree.

 

Obama might have had some of this in mind when he told Hampton's graduates the education they received has had the effect of opening their minds to the broader world beyond their campus and then added: "But now that your minds have been opened, it's up to you to keep them that way. And it will be up to you to open minds that remain closed."

 

It is those closed minds, I suspect, that are largely responsible for the potholes that ratchet up the unemployment rate of black college graduates and keep down their earnings. The thing that makes Americans unique, Obama said, is "a stubborn insistence on pursuing a dream."

 

But America can only dream of brighter days ahead as long as black college graduates continue to encounter barriers to opportunity that devalue their education and give the president's well-intended words of encouragement a hollow ring.

 

DeWayne Wickham writes on Tuesdays for USA TODAY.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

KAGAN FOR SUPREME COURT

 

In nominating Solicitor General Elena Kagan for the U.S. Supreme court on Monday, President Barack Obama extolled her as "one of the nation's foremost legal minds ... with a rich understanding of constitutional law" and praised her life of service -- "service to her students, service to her country, service to the law and to all whose lives it shapes." Given her professional achievements and her personal history, she appears remarkably well suited to serve on the nation's highest court.

 

Those qualities do not guarantee that Ms. Kagan's nomination will find a warm reception on Capitol Hill. Republicans, especially those on the far right of the party, made it clear within moments of the nomination of Ms. Kagan to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens that the nomination will face spirited opposition. That's to be expected.

 

An impartial view of her record and her background, however, suggests that any such opposition is more grounded in politics than in history. Initial criticism of the nomination centers on her lack of judicial experience, a paucity of legal writings and her record in public office and as dean of Harvard Law School.

 

It is true that she has never served as a judge and that, if confirmed, she would be the only sitting justice without such experience. That's not a disqualification.

 

Many justices have ascended to the court without judicial experience. Neither Lewis Powell nor William Rehnquist, had served as a judge when confirmed for the Supreme Court in 1972. And though she has a thin paper trail of judicial writing, there's little doubt that she's knowledgeable in the law and possesses a temperament and outlook that serves the broad public rather than a narrow, politically defined constituency. She won wide praise, for example, as solicitor general and as a conciliator of opposing viewpoints at Harvard.

 

The latter could come into play should she win nomination to the court. She would replace Justice Stevens, one of if not the leader of the court's liberal wing. Ms. Kagan fits that mold, but is receptive and understanding of more conservative viewpoints as well. On an increasingly partisan court, that is a quality to be prized.

 

Ms. Kagan is fully qualified for service on the high court. As Mr. Obama said Monday, the nominee has "a lifelong commitment to public service and a firm grasp of the nexus and boundaries between our three branches of government ..." and is "respected and admired ... for her openness to a broad array of viewpoints." Those qualities have prepared Ms. Kagan to deal with the complex issues that reach the Supreme Court.

 

The nominee will start making pre-confirmation rounds in Senate offices this week. Those with an open mind about her nomination should find her to be an engaging, well-informed legal scholar whose viewpoint will serve both the nation and the high court well. It's hard to see why her nomination would be spurned.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

SPECIAL ELECTION IN GEORGIA TODAY

 

Voters in Georgia's 9th Congressional District go to the polls today to elect a successor to former Rep. Nathan Deal, the Republican who resigned the seat he'd held since 1992 to seek the Republican nomination for governor. The special election has attracted a large number of candidates, though it remains to be seen how many voters their campaigns will bring to the polls.

 

Typically, special elections of this type prompt a relatively low turnout when compared to general elections when national and statewide races are on the ballot. The race to fill out Mr. Deal's term could prove the exception. The six Republicans, one Democrat and one Independent in the race have run, for the most part, highly visible campaigns in what is an overwhelmingly Republican and conservative district.

 

Given the size of the field and the relative brevity of the campaign, it is difficult even for seasoned political observers to name a favorite. The most common opinion is that no candidate in the field will receive the majority of votes needed to become a member of Congress. If that's the case, a special runoff election will be held June 8.

 

The winner of Tuesday's special election -- or the June 8 runoff if one is needed -- will serve the remainder of Mr. Deal's term. Those who want to serve a full two-year term will have to run in the state's regular primary election on July 20. That, of course, raises the possibility of a rematch in July between candidates in Tuesday's special election, since several have qualified for the primary.

 

Whatever the case, there could be a lot of elections in the future of District 9 voters before someone wins a full term in the U.S. House. There's today's special election and a possible runoff on June 8. That's followed by the state primary on July 20 with a possible runoff to follow on Aug. 10. Finally, there's the Nov. 2 general election. The last might prove anticlimactic

 

There are several Republicans but no Democrats ready to run in the July 20 primary, which means the winner of the GOP primary then likely will face only token opposition in November. After all is said and done, it appears that the eventual long-term successor to Mr. Deal will be a Republican.

 

It's a complicated scenario, but it has not dimmed the zeal of candidates to replace Mr. Deal, and it should not deter District 9 voters of either party from going to the polls today. Republicans Chris Cates, Tom Graves, Lee Hawkins, Bill Stephens and Steve Tarvin, Democrat Mike Freeman and Independent candidate Eugene Moon are seeking public approval for their candidacies. Democracy and the interests of the district would be well served by a large voter turnout.

 

Profile: Ruthie Thompson, Outdoor Chattanooga

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

UNEMPLOYMENT RISES AGAIN

 

About 290,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy in April, and that is surely good news for the Americans who filled those jobs.

 

But what is not good news is that 66,000 of those jobs were only temporary federal government positions for census takers -- positions that add to our $12.9 trillion national debt.

 

What is also unwelcome news is that even with some job creation, the nation's unemployment rate grew from a dismal 9.7 percent to an even worse 9.9 percent.

 

The rate rose because some desperate Americans who had given up even trying to find jobs re-entered the job market in an attempt to get work but couldn't find it.

 

And the "official" unemployment rate itself hides another ugly reality: When you add to the "official" figure the millions of Americans who have given up trying to find jobs or who need full-time work but can find only part-time, the so-called "underemployment" rate is an alarming 17.1 percent.

 

Worse still, about 46 percent of Americans who were unemployed in April had been out of work six months or longer -- a record high. That long-term unemployment is causing serious economic suffering for them and their families.

 

Our nation's ugly employment picture is a big part of the reason why 76 percent of respondents to a recent Associated Press poll said our economy is still in bad shape -- even as the Obama administration tries to convince the country that his big-government, big-spending "recovery" efforts are working.

 

Sadly, high joblessness is only a sign of worse things to come for our economy once expensive ObamaCare socialized medicine is fully implemented, with its higher taxes and increased bureaucracy.

 

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Profile: Ruthie Thompson, Outdoor Chattanooga

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

NEW CHICKAMAUGA LOCK NEEDED

 

Many of us enjoy the electric power generated at Chickamauga Dam. Thousands of us cross Chickamauga Dam in our cars. And many of us enjoy the boating, swimming and beauty of Chickamauga Lake. But most of us may not know how important the Chickamauga Lock at the dam is to us all.

 

Our Chickamauga Lock is one of 14 locks on the 318-mile-long waterway from above Knoxville through Chattanooga on the Tennessee River system that link us to the Mississippi River and connect to the Gulf of Mexico and the oceans of the world.

 

It has been reported that the Chickamauga Lock serves about 3,000 jobs and $200 million in payrolls.

 

But, as we have known for some years, the concrete in the 70-year-old lock is deteriorating. It urgently needs to be replaced before a threatened closing.

 

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander recently told the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works that work needs to start soon so a new Chickamauga Lock can be completed by 2015.

 

Sen. Alexander said, "It would be unimaginable if we had to close the lock, which is a major transportation artery for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Nuclear Weapons National Security Complex at Oak Ridge and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

 

"The new lock will hold 6.7 million tons of cargo annually," Sen. Alexander said. "It will take 100,000 tractor trailers off the road. So, Chickamauga Lock is tremendously important to our region. Finishing it would be a better use of taxpayers' dollars and it would help create jobs in our country."

 

Congress needs to act soon to approve building a new Chickamauga Lock to avoid any obstruction of the movement of water traffic on the important Tennessee River waterway.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

SAVE MONEY, KEEP STRONG DEFENSE

 

We spend a lot of money on our national defense -- necessarily. It's a big part of our annual federal budgets, requiring a great deal of our people's taxes. That's because the security of our nation and our people depends upon our being more than ready to defeat any international threat.

 

We are and must remain the strongest, greatest and freest nation in the world.

 

We unfortunately are in two wars -- in Iraq and in Afghanistan. That takes a lot of money. And the maintenance of our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard to meet other threats is expensive. We must not have less than we really need -- but we should not spend any more than is absolutely necessary.

 

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said wisely and commendably that the Defense Department needs a top-to-bottom paring of unnecessary spending. He believes we could save as much as $10 billion a year, without weakening our defense.

 

Necessary defense is one thing. Wasteful bureaucracy that costs but does not make us stronger is another.

 

Secretary Gates wants a strong defense through good management. He's right.

 

"The Defense Department must take a hard look at every aspect of how it is organized, staffed and operated -- indeed, every aspect of how it does business," Mr. Gates said.

 

War is a terrible thing. By its very nature, it is destructive and wasteful, in lives and material. A strong defense is necessary to prevent war if possible, or win it if necessary. We must spend whatever is really required. But we do not strengthen our nation or our defense by being wasteful.

 

We must maintain the soldiers, sailors and airmen we need. We must have all the ships, tanks, aircraft, guns, bombs, ammunition and the other complex parts of national defense that are really needed. It is far cheaper to have sufficient defense and prevent war than to fight it.

 

But there is no excuse for any spending that is merely bureaucratic and wasteful, "fat" rather than "sinew."

 

So all Americans should applaud Secretary Gates' call for "enough" defense but with elimination of "waste." That's the sensible and practical way for us to be really strong, both militarily and economically.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

THIS IS STILL AMERICA

 

It is nothing short of appalling that some students at a California high school were recently disciplined for daring to wear red, white and blue on Cinco de Mayo -- a day on which Mexicans celebrate Mexico's military victory over France in 1862.

 

An assistant principal at the school, in Morgan Hill, Calif., said the patriotic American colors were "incendiary," the San Jose Mercury News reported. He ordered the boys wearing them to hide the patriotic colors, leave campus or be suspended. Hispanic students -- many of whom freely wore the colors of Mexico's flag that day -- might be offended by the colors of the American flag, the boys were told.

 

"They said we could wear it on any other day," one of the boys told San Jose TV station KNTV. "But today is sensitive to Mexican-Americans because it's supposed to be their holiday, so we were not allowed to wear it today."

 

Incredibly, some Hispanic students said the boys should have to apologize for wearing the colors of the U.S. flag! There was even talk of violence against the boys -- two of whom, ironically, are part Hispanic.

 

Later, the school district called the incident "extremely unfortunate" and said the boys would not be suspended for their supposed "offense."

 

The very idea that American students would be disciplined for wearing American colors in an American school is deplorable and should be denounced.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - A MOMENT OF SOLIDARITY WITH 'VAKIT'

 

Today we stand in solidarity with our colleagues at the Turkish daily Vakit, a newspaper threatened with closure by a fine of 1.8 million Turkish Liras. We must agree with the banner headline in Sunday's Vakit, "The lynching of Vakit." We must also agree with yesterday's Vakit headline, which roughly translates as, "The dark side of the law."

 

We condemn the court's action; we believe it should and must not stand. And we hope the institutions of the European Union, as well as those of many international press organizations, all of whom have come to our support in our hour of need, will lend their authority to Vakit's existential struggle.

 

Which is not an endorsement of Vakit's commentary that prompted the court case or the newspaper's editorial line. We are as different as two newspapers can be and the difference does not lie in the languages of our publications. A core value of the Hürriyet Daily News is dispassion and equal distance from all actors on the Turkish political stage. Vakit is unapologetically "Islamist," it is highly partisan and many of its more radical views surely depart from our own.

 

But as we have argued in this space before, the greatest strength of the Turkish media is its sheer diversity. At any newsstand in Turkey, one can easily avail of perspectives that range from the Marxist left to the nationalist right to the secularist liberal to an Islamist media that has remarkable diversity, and even deep quarrels, within. There are dozens of new Kurdish publications while the oldest continuously published newspaper in Turkey is in Armenian. If one judges the level of freedoms accorded the press in Turkey by a measurement of the sanctions placed upon us, then the situation is indeed grim. But if one examines the Turkish media by the vast arc of its ideological and political rainbow, then Turkey enjoys a freedom of expression unparallel in Europe.

 

This journalistic pluralism is imperiled by a court decision to fine Vakit for a line in 2003 that attacked the quality of the military's leadership with a reference to "the country where those not even worthy of being a corporal are granted a generalship." Offensive to those in the military? Sure. Vakit is a newspaper with a set of conservatively pious perspectives that are widely held in Turkey. We certainly disagree with some of the assumptions that drive the journalism of Vakit and we have in fact taken offense in the past things Vakit has written about us.

 

But accepting the right of journalists to engage in thoughtful, insightful and polite journalism is not what the democratic principle of free speech is about. It is about the accepting the right of journalists to pen remarks that may strike us as banal, shallow and even crude.

 

This is more than an assault on a newspaper. It is an assault on democracy

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE BRITISH ELECTION

GWYNNE DYER

 

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 percent 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 6 May produced a result that tipped the major parties into a ruthless scramble for power. The Conservative Party ended up with fifty 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 percent of the votes cast, but 55 percent of the seats. The second-place Conservatives got 32 percent of the vote and only 30 percent of the seats. The Liberal Democrats got 22 percent of the vote and only 10 percent 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 Clegg would want it to happen fast, in case there is another election in the near future, as often happens with coalition governments.

 

Clegg is talking to Conservative leader David Cameron first, since his party got the largest number of seats and votes, but 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). Brown has already said that he would meet 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.

 

*Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

WHAT'S GOING ON IN TURKEY (I)

CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER

 

We are pre-occupied by parliamentary discussions over the constitutional amendment package. But almost everyone, one way or the other, has adopted a certain stance. More than that, everyone either in Parliament, or in the media, or in business circles got into arguments eventually.

 

We are actively involved in discussions because we know that the debate goes beyond constitutional changes.

 

The Wall Street Journal describes happenings in Turkey as "bloodless civil war." I have been claiming for some time that the "power struggle" that cannot be ended somehow makes a peak.

 

Discussions over constitutional amendments are not just discussions over the Constitution!

 

The Republic of Turkey has reached a very critical cross-road. This week (on Tues, Wed and Thu), I will focus on this issue.

---

 

I think an era comes to an end in the history of the Republic. The period can be roughly called "military-bureaucratic tutelage." I am of similar opinion, at this point, with some pro-government columnists.

However, I do believe that Turkey is not proceeding towards democracy, as they claim, but to a "civilian tutelage."

 

As I said before, the power struggle continues in Turkey. To the more, we have taken the sharpest turn.

 

The fight goes on between two groups. One of the groups believes they don't have enough share as the other group is scared of losing what they have since beginning of the republic.

 

When this fight is over and if the parties satisfy what they have in hand, then we can pursue democracy in order for optimum cohabitation.

 

Democracy is a regime of conciliation. Sides can only seek conciliation after acquiring a satisfactory share. But it is too early to have such conciliation in Turkey!

 

---

 

I cannot label this a "fight of classes." In Marxist perspective, there is no fight of classes. Both sides have different individuals coming from different economic circles. Moreover, people can adapt different views in the same class.

 

This is not only an economic power struggle. A fight is certainly going on but it is also a political and social fight.

 

Since the establishment of the republic, Turkey has been giving a fight of sharing in economic, social and political platforms as we proceed to the finale with the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, period.

 

---

 

The Republic of Turkey was established as a result of a fight given by a handful of elite by obtaining the state instrument via military and civilian bureaucracy, in order to materialize what they have in mind. And today, if those who furiously raise objections to the ways of establishment had lived in that period, they could've acted the very same way. There hadn't been any other way. And it is good that the founders acted how they acted in that period. However, their vision is not identical with that of masses. And the elite have imposed their own vision of Turkey, believing that it was the best for the country. They acted like parents of a family who never hesitate to act upon for the family's sake.

 

As all others, the War of Independence was realized through impositions that were bolt from the blue!

 

Impositions were urgent necessities and there was no time to settle none in mind.

 

Let me say in the opposite way, there was no infrastructure to deal with mind change of masses.

 

In that period, the "revolution" had to target the "appearance" and that had been done.

 

The vision targeted a 600-year-old lifestyle as the elite dared to change the 600-year-old lifestyle overnight in an "Istanbul-Ankara wagon lit".

 

I'll continue tomorrow

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

HALT US OFFSHORE DRILLING AFTER BP SPILL

MICHAEL BRUNE

 

michael.brune@sierraclub.org

 

The death of 11 oil workers and the devastation of the Gulf Coast's ecosystems and economy by the toxic sludge gushing from a BP accident site is a tragedy that may well change the course of the U.S.

 

Americans are horrified. Leaders who had been willing to give offshore drilling the benefit of a doubt have abruptly changed their minds, including California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said he no longer supports a plan to allow limited drilling for oil off his state's coast.

 

They're right. There is no safe way to drill for oil in oceans. This disaster is an impetus to halt our dependence on oil completely and move to a clean energy future fast.

 

Cost-benefit analysis shows this is the smart approach. Even the BP executives who, in the midst of this catastrophe announced that the company's first-quarter profit more than doubled from a year earlier to $6.08 billion, must be aghast at the powerful downward tug this awful event will exert on their bottom line.

 

The most urgent matter, of course, is to plug the well's leaks and launch a massive cleanup, making sure BP doesn't foist upon U.S. taxpayers one dime of the cost of removing the oil or compensating local residents who have lost their livelihoods due to the spill.

 

Then President Barack Obama and Congress need to develop a clear, ambitious vision for weaning us off our addiction to oil within, say, 20 years. Dirty fuels are undermining our national security and contributing to the future disasters that climate disruption will bring.

 

Look at the facts. The U.S. transportation system depends almost entirely on oil, guzzling some 13 million barrels worth daily, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

 

We already have the technology to run our cars on electricity generated from wind and solar power. Feel the neck-snapping acceleration of the all-electric Tesla, and you'll be disabused forever of the misconception that environmentally friendly travel is necessarily dull.

 

People are ready to change, and the Gulf disaster will only motivate them more. For example, when people use public transportation, they are helping to move the nation away from oil. Clever city planners are designing light rail and rapid-transit bus services and are making more neighborhoods safe for walking and biking. These efforts are blossoming across the country and are improving the quality of life.

 

Just last week, the Obama administration approved the nation's first offshore wind farm - Cape Wind, off the coast of Massachusetts. There's no chance of an environmental disaster in a wind farm or a solar plant.

 

We will save even more energy as we improve the efficiency of transmission lines and update the nation's power grid. A 21st-century grid could deliver plenty of cheap, reliable, clean electric power to all of us. Bold investments of this type would create millions of jobs and get us off dirty oil faster.

 

Smart grid pilot programs like the Pecan Street Project in Austin, Texas, are seeking to give consumers more control over their energy use than the simple light switch. Using computers and cell phones, we will be able to run appliances in our homes at optimal times, saving money and energy.

 

Another, often overlooked, way to wean ourselves from oil and other fossil fuels, is to improve energy efficiency.

 

If every U.S. household replaced one light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb, it would be like removing 1 million cars from the road in terms of reduced pollution. Replacing a business's computers and copiers with more efficient models can cut its energy usage by half. Municipalities are installing LED bulbs in street lights, reducing energy consumption by as much as 50 percent compared with conventional methods.

 

Clearly, we've begun moving toward a clean energy future. But oil industry executives seem to care more about their own prosperity than the health of their workers or the world we all share. Their idea of economic growth - now coming from the sale of detergents, dispersants, and oil-absorbing booms - is not as we environmentalists say, "sustainable."

 

If the future I'm suggesting here seems unrealistic, remind yourself of the millions of dollars BP and other oil industry conglomerates have spent trying to persuade us that it's possible. They are not so much against a clean and safe planet; it's just that they're so unequivocally for the massive profits their dirty business puts in their pockets, regardless of the price to everyone else.

 

Sometimes, though, major events play a clarifying role. It should be clear to all now, that offshore oil drilling is bad business. We are calling on the president to reinstate a federal moratorium on new offshore drilling, and to prevent future disasters - including climate disruption - by presenting the nation with a visionary plan to wean America from dirty energy for good.

 

Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club. This column originally appeared in Bloomberg News.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE POLITICAL BLACKMAIL SEASON OPENS WITH A BANG

SEMIH İDİZ

 

Turkish politics has taken a salacious turn again. What we have this time is a sleazy "sex tape" allegedly showing the Republican Peoples' Party, or CHP, leader Deniz Baykal in a compromising situation with a female party associate of long standing.

 

Such things are not unique to Turkey of course. The Monica Lewinsky scandal was lapped up in the U.S. with a supposed moral indignation that barely concealed the public snickering over the whole affair. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's "dirty weekend" photographs provided another case in point.

 

In some cases such things work to the advantage of the politicians.

 

President Bill Clinton's popularity did not drop after the pornographic Starr Report was released. Berlusconi's popularity on the other hand, seems to increase with every sexual misdemeanor. It remains to be seen if the same will happed for Mr. Baykal.

 

His party has rallied around him of course. His wife – in a reflection of Hillary Clinton's position at the time – has reportedly told her close friends that she will stand by her husband and they will overcome this problem together. But whether the public sympathy factor will work to Mr. Baykal's advantage is not clear, since he has provided such a bellicose, uncompromising and self-righteous image to the public that the chances are that many people feel he deserves it all.

 

The shocking allegation by his party, on the very day that the sex tape scandal hit the papers, concerning an "insufficiently investigated assassination attempt" against Baykal that was spearheaded by no less a person than Mustafa Sarıgül, a former bitter rival of his in the CHP, did not help the party's credibility of course.

 

Fantastic as it may sound, this allegation was too big a claim for the media to overlook, but most people felt that it was no more than a feeble attempt by CHP executives to direct public attention away from Mr. Baykal's alleges sex tape.

 

Rumors are also rife that, although news of the tape was first broken by the fundamentalist paper Vakit, which is close to the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, the provider of the tape was not from government circles but from within the CHP itself.

 

The argument here is that Baykal's rivals within the party want to topple him, and since this has proved difficult to do by democratic means, they are resorting to "blackmail" now. Given the ease with which rumors and counter rumors fly around in Turkey's volatile political domain, it may never be known who actually leaked the tape in question.

 

But whoever the source may be, what has become clear again is that political blackmail continues to be a weapon of last resort in Turkey, preferred by circles that can not get their way by democratic means. Take Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for example. He has been the victim of "scandalous video tape recordings" in the past.

 

None of those had involved sexual misbehavior of course. To think of Erdoğan in that context would require a serious stretch of the imagination. Instead he was caught uttering blood curdling words long before he became Prime Minister, which reflects his Islamic ideological outlook.

 

There can be no doubt, on the basis of those remarks - some of which make his "minarets are our bayonets" speech seem light – that both the CIA and FBI opened a file on him at the time. Especially when a photograph was also leaked showing a young Erdoğan sitting at the feet of Afghan Mujahideen leader Gulbiddin Hekmatyar, who is on the U.S. wanted list.

 

Today's Erdoğan is for all intents and purposes a different man. Whatever may lie in his heart of hearts, he is more in tune with the realities of the day now that he is no longer a "Mujahideen sympathizer" but a "world leader." But it is a fact that those tapes, which were leaked to discredit him, actually worked to Erdoğan's political advantage.

 

From a liberal perspective they made him appear the victim of political blackmail, especially since it was not clear why the "deep state" - i.e. the hardcore secularists embedded in the state apparatus - would release these tapes years after the fact. As for the conservative religious public, Erdoğan's strong position in those tapes on issues of importance to Islamists actually endorsed his Islamic credentials.

 

Thus, hitting below the belt at Erdoğan with "scandalous tapes and photographs" in order to politically undermining him, has actually strengthen him since 2002. What the outcome for Mr. Baykal will be is, however, that clear. Some say his political career is over, other that he will soldier on with his cronies who have managed to grab the upper echelons of the party and are controlling it as they like.

 

There is also the ironic fact that Mr. Baykal's alleged sex tape may work to Erdoğan's advantage, since he immediately ordered the secret service to investigate who leaked this tape and made the public know that he felt such things were reprehensible. Put another way, Erdoğan grabbed the mantle of righteousness here and has even been complimented by columnists for this.

 

The bottom line is however that the blackmailing season has opened in Turkish politics and that can be expected to result in more surprises, as well as political tension, as we gradually head towards a referendum on Constitutional amendments, and then to general elections.

 

It seems that there is a video tape recording, a voice recording or a photograph of just about anyone who is of importance in Turkey, waiting on shelves somewhere for the right moment to be use for blackmailing purposes of one kind or another.

 

Mr. Baykal, who did not hold himself back from relishing the revealing tapes and photographs of Erdoğan in the past, is only the latest victim and will clearly not be the last.

 

Note: Mr. Baykal resigned as CHP leader only hours after this piece was written. This does not mean, however, that he is out of politics. He has made a come-back before and may do so again. Especially if he garners sympathy votes after this costly scandal in terms of this political career

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

AKP, ALCOHOL, AND GOVERNMENT-ENGINEERED SOCIAL CHANGE IN TURKEY

SONER ÇAĞAPTAY - CANSIN ERSÖZ

 

Since the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, rose to power in Turkey in 2002, special taxes on alcohol have increased dramatically, making a glass of wine or beer one of the most expensive in Europe, and for that purpose anywhere in the world.

 

The AKP leadership is known for their aversion to alcohol. Yet, the Turkish people are divided on this issue, with some who believe that drinking alcohol is a sin according to Islam, while some believe it is not. While the debate continues, the AKP is implementing policies to make alcohol exorbitantly expensive and therefore out of reach for many Turks.

 

The issue at stake in Turkey is not whether the government promotes or condemns drinking, nor is it defending one's ability to get drunk, as would be the case in non-Muslim societies. Rather, given the split religious and cultural attitudes towards drinking in Muslim Turkey, which is also a democracy, the issue at stake is maintaining the notion that citizens in a liberal democracy are free to choose for themselves. Drinking might, therefore, be seen as one of the litmus tests of the AKP's commitment to liberal democratic values within the context of the Turkeys' majority faith, Islam.

 

Research show that after eight years of rule by the AKP, drinking has become an expensive luxury in Turkey due to large tax hikes.

 

For starters, the AKP's tax hikes against alcoholic beverages do not appear to be connected to a drinking problem in Turkey. In fact, Turkey has traditionally low alcohol consumption rates. According to data provided by the World Health Organization, at the time when the AKP came to power in 2003, Turkey's per capita alcohol consumption rate was 1.4 liters (L) per year. For that same year, this amount was 10.9L in Belgium; and 11.5L and 9.0L in neighboring Cyprus and Greece respectively. Even, Qatar, which implements a rigid version of the Shariat under the Wahhabi school, had higher per capita alcohol consumption rates than Turkey, at 4.4L per capita.

 

In June 2002, Turkey adopted a new taxation regime called the Special Consumption Tax (SCT). Prior to this, Turks had been paying only an 18 percent value-added tax on alcoholic beverages. After the AKP came to power, the SCT was set around 48 percent of the cost of the beverage. Since then, this rate has skyrocketed. As the AKP established itself in power, the SCT rose, until reaching 63 percent in 2009. The AKP came under fire for this policy, and in 2010, SCT on some alcoholic beverages, such as wine, was eliminated. Yet at the same time, lump sum (maktu) taxes on wine were raised, compensating for the elimination of SCT. The lump sum taxes on a bottle of wine used to be 1.30 Turkish Liras (TL), whereas in 2010, this became 1.50 TL. This appears to be a sneakier way for the government to stick to their agenda of making alcohol exorbitantly expensive.

 

Beer has been a second target of the AKP's cultural war against alcohol. Between 2002, when the AKP came to power, and 2009, taxes on beer increased a shocking 737 percent, with an additional 45 percent increase between 2009 and 2010.

 

Raki, Turkey's national drink, has been the third target of large tax hikes. Raki is the drink of choice with Turkish meals, especially for middle and lower class Turks. In 2002, the retail price for a bottle of raki was 9.15 TL. Today the same bottle costs around 35 TL. In 8 years, the price of Turkey's national drink nearly quadrupled.

 

What is more, the government has also taken administrative measures against raki, traditionally consumed with small meze plates, most notably cheese, fish, and fruits, On July 2009, the Alcohol and Tobacco Market Regulation Agency, or TAPDK, passed a regulation which banned raki commercials that portray food items, including cheese and fish. This effectively renders such commercials almost obsolete --an analogy would be if airline commercials could not display images of in-flight service.

 

The sharp increase in the price of alcoholic beverages in Turkey should also be viewed within the context of relative income levels. A bottle of raki now costs $22.30 (35 TL) in Turkey. This is an especially steep amount in Turkey, where the minimum wage is $365 (572 TL) per month. An estimated 4 million people in Turkey work at the minimum wage. Given that a bottle of raki is 15 percent of the monthly minimum wage, the beverage has become simply a luxury item under the AKP: Turks are free to consume them, but for those who are working class, this is no longer a choice.

 

The AKP's tax hikes against alcohol, rendering drinking a glass of beer a luxury at best, is a case study in Turkey's social transformation. The party is changing Turkey not by changing laws, but through administrative measures, enforcing its own select religious and cultural values on the country. In this regard, the party is limiting choices. If alcohol is too expensive to find its way to the dinner table of average families, then it turns into a luxurious commodity only the rich can afford. If the general public can't afford to buy a bottle of raki or wine, alcohol will diminish first from their daily lives, then from their lives in general. Soon, social practices will follow suit. For instance, when the AKP came to power in 2002, the number of "Shariah compliant" hotels throughout Turkey, where alcohol sales are prohibited, was five; in 2009, the country had over 40 such hotels.

 

Alcohol selling and serving licenses, granted by government-controlled municipalities, also seem to be shaping market dynamics. According to TAPDK, the number of licenses for stores to sell alcohol was 82,271 in 2002 but had dropped to 78,212 by March 2008. Similarly, the number of valid licenses for bars, restaurants, and pubs to serve alcohol fell from 13,115 in 2002 to 8,963 in March 2008– all this in a country whose economy and population are growing.

 

This is case in point about Turkey's social transformation under the AKP through social engineering. Increasingly under the party's growing weight, individuals' right to choose is being restricted according to the government's definition of what is a good Muslim. 'A good Muslim does not do…" seems to be the direction of the AKP government's acts that is also the driving force of social change in Turkey.

 

*Cansın Ersöz is a research intern in the Turkish Research Program.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

YOU WOULDN'T BELIEVE IT, BUT TURKEY IS APPLAUDED ABROAD

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

 

This past weekend I was invited to Paris as a speaker in Kollok in connection with the European Day announced by Schuman in his famous declaration, who also is considered one of the founders. During the event, organized by French Minister for Foreign Affairs Kouchner and Pierre Lellouche, the minister responsible for European affairs, we talked about Europe's present situation. The most important European experts were invited.

 

I asked Lellouche why he invited me.

 

I am a person who closely monitors Europe and is well known in these circles. Besides, I know Lellouche for many years now. But anyhow, I needed another reason to be invited on behalf of Turkey to a seminar in which Europe is being discussed.

 

He said, "Mehmet Ali, for us Turkey is a rising star in the region and a candidate country. Your view on the EU is very important for our future."

 

At first, I considered these words as being said out of politeness. Then as I heard the speeches held in front of 300 people I was even more amazed. I started asking myself, "Do these people talk about Turkey or another country?"

 

I had arrived in Paris that morning and was still under the influence of the chaos that we've been experiencing for weeks now. It made me more vibrant. And Turkey seemed to appear differently in my eyes. All I heard was true. Due to our constant fight with each other we missed out on where this country had arrived at.

 

Foreigners view Turkey more realistically than we do.

 

Europe tries to keep Turkey at a distance due to Turkey's extremely dynamic and effective politics and efforts but not due to poverty.

 

Turkey with its economy and external politics counts among the ascending powers.

 

I will give more details about Kollok later on, but rest assured that on my way back I was cheered up and my self-conscience increased.

 

But I'm sure that within a few days my pessimism will return. What can you do, that's fate.

 

I also don't agree with Sargül allegations

 

Guys, for Gods sake don't do this. Why do you believe in ridiculous allegations this easily or why do you pretend to do so?

 

It is a pity, a shame and heartless if you do this only to gossip, to obtain ratings or reach high circulation.

 

Do you really think that Sarıgül is this dumb? Do you deem it likely?

 

Sarıgül is a smart person. He is a reasonable person who wouldn't participate in a conspiracy or even think about such a thing as having Baykal shot in his knee in exchange for money.

 

If we pretend to believe in Baykal's sex tape trap or Sarıgül's notification then we won't be able to rid ourselves of incredible conspiracies only to achieve a response.

 

A bit more fairness please

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

AND ENTERS BAYKAL

YUSUF KANLI

 

News people were packed in the press conference hall of the Republican People's Party, or CHP, to listen to what they expected might be a historic statement from Deniz Baykal, who was out of public view ever since mass Web publication last Friday evening of a secret sex tape allegedly showing him naked with Nesrin Baytok, his former private secretary, who is currently a CHP deputy in Parliament.

 

So it happened.

 

Baykal announced that he decided to step down from the leadership of the CHP saying "My resignation does not mean running away or giving in." He charged that "This is a conspiracy which is formed to not only attack me but the CHP."

 

There were three different speculations about the source of the conspiracy.

 

According to one claim, Baykal was facing a plot staged by a political archrival, Mustafa Sarıgül, the mayor of the Istanbul's Şişli district who has been in efforts to organize a "Turkey Change Movement" party ever since he was expelled from the CHP two years ago. It was alleged last Saturday that Sarigül had hired hit men to shoot Baykal in both two knees during an April 13 visit to Brussels but the plan – which is now being investigated by police – was abruptly called off "at the last minute." Those supporting this assumption were claiming that the tape was at least eight years old and Sarigül and some collaborators within the party have released it now to force Baykal step down from leadership and allow a rejuvenation in social democratic politics in the country.

 

Baykal declared in his resignation statement yesterday that the tape was new and implicitly ruled out such speculations.

 

Another claim was that the Fethullah Gülen Islamist brotherhood was behind the plot. Baykal ruled out such speculations as well stressing that he has taken note and was grateful for the "sincere messages of support" that came from Pennsylvania, U.S. That was a clear message that he did not consider Gülen, who has been living since late 1990s at a Pennsylvania farm, and his brotherhood – which Baykal was often referring as the F-type organization within the state aimed to gradually turn the secular republic into one adhering Sharia, or to Islamic law – of being behind the plot against him and the CHP.

 

The third speculation was that some elements in the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government were behind the conspiracy. According to those speculations, some senior elements of the ruling party staged the "political assassination" with the aim and intention of distracting public attention from the upcoming referenda on the AKP-designed constitutional amendment package that Baykal and the critics have been condemning as an effort incompatible with democratic governance, violates separation of powers principle and could land Turkey into an autocracy. This speculation was apparently based on the assumption that Baykal would not step down from CHP leadership and instead of focusing to get the people vote down the constitutional amendment package in the referendum, would instead fight for his own personal survival.

 

Baykal said yesterday that such a conspiracy against himself and the CHP could not have been undertaken without the knowledge, permission and blessing of the government, particularly of the "top brass" of the ruling party, meaning the prime minister, who indeed has ordered the national Intelligence Organization, or MIT, to probe the incident and find those responsible. Baykal said the immediate reaction and expressions of sorrow over the incident by the prime minister and other top government executives were part of an effort to conceal their responsibility in the conspiracy.

 

"It is not a coincidence that the tape was released amid constitutional reform. It is impossible to organize such a plot within such a short period of time without the knowledge of the ruling party. One who gives credit to unlawful and unethical conspiracies cannot defend law and ethics … I will not give up in the face of such a black campaign. I will not let anybody question me … If this has a price, and that price is the resignation from CHP leadership, I am ready to pay it. My resignation does not mean running away or giving in … On the contrary, it means that I'm fighting it," said Baykal in announcing why he decided to step down from leadership.

 

He furthermore said his stepping down from leadership would help as well a rearrangement of the social democratic politics in the country.

 

Thus, in making an exit from CHP leadership – a move that probably those who prepared and staged the conspiracy did not foresee – Baykal was indeed making a debut into a new era in Turkish politics….

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

THERE IS NO UNLUCKY NATION

ERDOĞAN ALKİN

 

There is no unlucky nation, just unwise governments. Let me explain what I mean. Not long ago there was this widely accepted "special conditions of Turkey" thesis which was very popular among intellectuals. Some of those intellectuals used to reject every idea that was against their ideology, saying that those ideas were not compatible with the country's "special conditions." Some others tried to construct peculiar theories or models depending on those special conditions. There was a short period of time in which even a Turkish-style socialism-capitalism-democracy was frequently discussed.

 

Nowadays a new excuse (as strange as the one mentioned above) for countries' problems is in circulation, even in rich countries: "The main reason for economic and political instability in some countries is their unlucky geopolitical positions and ever-increasing external problems; these facts destroy the chance to live in peace and prosperity."

 

If this idea is true, the success of prosperous and stable countries depends not on wise policies implemented by their governments, but on their favorable geopolitical positions and exemption from external problems.

 

It is not very difficult to find suitable examples. Take Turkey's last 40 years: Cyprus-Armenian-Kurdish problems, several oil crises, embargoes, frequent early elections, social unrest, the Gulf war, the occupation of Iraq, political turmoil in the Balkans and the Caucasus, the Iranian revolution, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the reaction of some European countries against the country's full EU membership, growing tensions between it and the U.S., etc.

 

It is possible to add other problems to this list. And if this list is examined thoroughly from top to bottom, it is not so difficult to explain the reason for the emergence of Turkey's domestic and external problems – that is, its unlucky geopolitical position. However, it is obvious that this absurd idea is only a poorly constructed self-deception.

 

It is of course unwise to reject the negative impacts of some internal and external shocks on the decision making process of governments. But this must not mask the mistakes made by the same governments.

 

Sometimes chance really plays a role both in humans' and nations' lives. But this is not a mystical or magical element; it depends on gained lessons and experiences, which, in turn, depend first on wisdom and talent. There is a famous old saying: Chance is in the hands of who use it properly.

 

ealkin@iticu.edu.tr

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE BOMBERS BREW

 

More than a week has passed and the background to the life and times of the would-be Times Square bomber has begun to emerge, and on the day that there are reports of a man caught at Karachi Airport with some sort of electrical device – but no explosives – in his shoe it is worth reflecting on the effects of a failed bombing. Original perceptions that Faisal Shahzad was a 'lone wolf' and the dismissal of TTP claims to have had a hand in the event have turned 180 degrees. Today the Americans are chasing the money trail that Shahzad is said to have used to finance the operation; and the US attorney general has said that America is now 'convinced' that the TTP was behind the bombing, though he offered no detail to support the statement. What he said has to be seen coupled to the statement by the US secretary of state to the effect that there would be 'serious consequences' if there was any link back to Pakistan in the event of a successful terrorist attack on the US mainland. The American tone has hardened considerably, notwithstanding balancing statements that Uncle Sam is satisfied that our government knew nothing of the plot and is pleased with the level of cooperation being offered by our government. A bomb that did not explode has managed to ignite a number of fires.


And what of Shahzad? There is emerging evidence that he may just have been a disgruntled affectee of the 2008 economic crash that saw thousands of Americans lose jobs and houses. He was able to wrap his disaffection around angry action, and to turn that anger into the energy that powered what by any standards was an inept act of terror. He may have been angry at US foreign policy and the drone strikes, but he was also angry at what he perceived as America having done to him personally. If he was trained by the TTP or Al Qaeda the training was as poor as the crude device he made, and here we might question if there is a tactical shift by extremists who want to attack America. There may be as much to be gained (for them) by a cheap unsophisticated – and failed – attempt as there is by a complex multi-target operation. There are many men, and probably women as well, who are sympathetic to extremist groups and goals and who may offer themselves as recruits or find themselves approached by the scouting parties of the TTP and Al Qaeda. Radical preachers on the Internet reach out to them; they are 'under the radar' and, unless their behavioural patterns change in a way that exposes them, invisible to the hunters. Lastly, the 'something electrical' that was found in a shoe by airport security people in Karachi was not a bomb, and may have been something as innocent as a 'massage shoe' – but it could have been a part of one and the airport staff were right to be careful. Bomb or no bomb, explosion or no explosion, Shahzad has carved another facet on the dirty face of terrorism and all of us, everywhere, will sleep less easily.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

CRISIS IN SINDH

 

The future of the coalition government in Sindh remains in doubt after the turmoil generated by the prime minister's remarks on the restoration of Hyderabad division to its previous form. Hyderabad had been bifurcated into four districts under Musharraf through the devolution plan that led to the formation of local bodies. The suggestion that this could be undone has been met with fury by the MQM which is threatening to pull out of the government. It has also accused PPP members of attempting to fuel ethnic conflict. The merits and demerits of the division of Hyderabad are clearly an issue that generates passionate feelings. It is one that holds particular significance in the context of Sindh and the delicate ethnic balance that prevails there. Any jolt can trigger tensions which hurt ordinary people most. Politicians have, in the past, made use of this situation for their own purposes. The game is an incredibly dangerous one.


The key to the matter must lie in the building of consensus. The prime minister had said in Karachi that all allies would be consulted before any decision on the matter of Hyderabad was taken. It might have been wise to carry out such discussion before a public announcement of any kind was made. It is true that the bifurcation decision had taken place without any attempt to seek the opinion of parties not associated with the regime or to gain their consent. But this is what can be expected of a dictatorial setup. Even though the division was perceived by the PPP and key leaders as hurting their interests, they must adopt a spirit of statesmanship and take key elements in Sindh along with them. Talks need to be held among all those who figure in the politics of Sindh. In the past, Sindh and its cities have experienced the terrible repercussions of tensions between the PPP and the MQM. Sadly, ethnic dimensions entered the arena when these occurred. It is vital to prevent a recurrence. Both parties must demonstrate maturity, put the interests of the province ahead of all else and work towards a formula that is acceptable to all. This may require time and effort, but decisions made in haste inflict a great deal of damage. It is important then to avoid this and keep the Sindh coalition intact to prevent a descent into the chaos we saw in the past.

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

TREASURE HUNT

 

In Islamabad, a hunt is said to be on for the 12 boxes containing documents from the Swiss cases. The boxes have had an exciting life in recent months, whisked away from Geneva to London before landing in Islamabad. The presidency is now stated to be anxious to get its hand on the boxes, as the government's tussle with the Supreme Court over the implementation of its orders on the NRO continues. The Swiss cases are of course the main bone of contention. As casualties mount from the fallout of the battle, the NAB chairman, who seems likely to join the law secretary on the list of those forced out by the ugly battle in the capital, has sworn he will not hand over the boxes. It is reported that only he knows where they are hidden. The whole matter is beginning to look like the games of treasure hunt played by children. But there is of course a deadly serious edge to this game. The matter involves charges of corruption against the most powerful man in the state. The resistance put up by the government against bringing him to justice indicates how deeply the tradition of selective justice is engrained. It is a tradition the Supreme Court is determined to end – with its quest to do so leading us through a maze studded with increasingly bizarre events.

 

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I. THE NEWS

DOES TTP HAVE THE REACH?

RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI


Pakistan has again been thrust into the limelight, particularly the Pakistani Taliban and Waziristan, following the arrest of Faisal Shahzad, the 30-year-old Pakistani-American accused of the failed New York car-bombing. The fallout of the Afghan conflict, coupled with Pakistan's internal problems, has destabilised our country and the region and will continue to do so for an unforeseeable period.


The Faisal Shahzad case has taken twists and turns. He was first declared a "lone wolf" operating alone, but US attorney general Eric Holder is now claiming possession of evidence showing that Pakistani Taliban were behind the attempted bombing of New York's busy Times Square on May 1. He said Shahzad was working at the behest of the Pakistani Taliban, who helped facilitate the attempted car-bombing and probably also financed it.

This is the official US line based on the interrogation of Shahzad, who is cooperating with the investigators, apparently in the hope of getting a lighter sentence. A more transparent picture could emerge if the accused was tried in a civilian court, but a trial may not take place, as the US attorney general hinted, if Shahzad pleads guilty. Life in prison is a likely fate now for the young man who spent the first 18 years of his life in relative comfort in Pakistan, as the son of Air Vice Marshal Baharul Haq.


Few were willing initially to give credit to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for the attempted New York bombing. In fact, US government officials, both civilian and military, had been categorical in dismissing the TTP claim that it had a hand in the failed bombing, or that it had sent its men to strike targets in American cities. The situation, however, has changed, though this change is primarily based on Shahzad's confessions in US custody.


The TPP had originally claimed credit on May 2 for Shahzad's bombing attempt, before retracting it on May 6. It was Qari Hussain, referred to by militants as "Ustad-e-Fidayeen" (Teacher of Fidayeen, or suicide bombers), who was first reported to have recorded an audiotape to claim responsibility for the attempted attack. His claim was corroborated in an indirect manner by a videotape of his cousin and TTP head Hakimullah Mahsud, until then presumed dead by Pakistani and US intelligence agencies in the Jan 14 CIA drone strike in South Waziristan. In the tape, Hakimullah doesn't mention the New York bombing bid or Shahzad himself, but in a general statement threatens strikes in the US to avenge its drone attacks in Pakistan.


It isn't a revelation that the TTP, Al-Qaeda and other militant groups want to harm the US and its allies. They have declared "jihad" against the US, Israel and their allies in the same way in which the latter are committed to destroy Al-Qaeda and likeminded militants in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. It is a fight to the death between powerful states and Muslim non-state elements. No doubt, it is an unequal battle, but Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the rest have found ingenious ways involving acts of terrorism to unnerve their enemy and damage its economy.

The TTP hasn't demonstrated its capacity until now to strike in the US or any other country beyond Pakistan and Afghanistan. If Al-Qaeda, despite being an older more resourceful global and organisation, has been unable to attack the US after 9/11, one cannot expect the TTP to successfully undertake such a mission in a far more secure America. Under the late Baitullah Mahsud, and then his successor Hakimullah, it has been able to strike anywhere in Pakistan and launch complex and often spectacular attacks against secure targets such as the General Headquarters of the army in Rawalpindi and ISI, FIA and police installations in Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore and Multan. By joining hands with the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban also managed to strike difficult targets in Afghanistan. If it wants, the TTP could assist an allied jihadi group such as Jaish-e-Mohammad to strike in Indian Kashmir, or in India itself. There is no evidence, though, that it has done so yet. However, undertaking terrorist attacks in faraway America or Europe has been beyond the TTP's capability.

Unlike the Afghan Taliban, who have largely restricted their activities to Afghanistan, the Pakistani Taliban have at times proved to be reckless and boastful. One remembers Baitullah Mahsud claiming responsibility for an incident in the US in early 2009 in which an American of Vietnamese origin fired at and killed many innocent people. Also, the now detained TTP spokesman Maulvi Omar was prone to claiming responsibility for terrorist strike anywhere and anytime, including past ones in the US and Spain. Those claims were untrue and damaging for the TTP's credibility. In fact, the false claims were one reason that the recent statements of Qari Hussain and Hakimullah regarding their attempts to launch attacks in the US weren't taken seriously.

However, the TTP would not refuse to avail an opportunity if someone like Shahzad were to come along and offer his services to attack targets in the US. It cannot possibly infiltrate its men into the US, provide finances or execute a terrorist attack from afar. But Hakimullah, Qari Hussain or one of the several TTP chapters would be glad to provide inspiration, impart bomb-making training or record a farewell "fidayee" message if someone living in the West volunteered to do the job on their behalf. In particular, converts to Islam in Western countries are prized by groups like Al-Qaeda, as the converts could easily live and travel there without arousing much suspicion. The second prized category are Muslims living in Western societies, as many of them turn to religion and are generally better aware, and critical, of some of the unjust policies of the US and its Nato allies towards Islamic countries.

The case of the Jordanian suicide bomber Dr Humam al-Khalil al-Balawi well illustrates the readiness of the TTP to own anyone willing to work for a joint cause. He wasn't recruited by the TTP in Jordan, but presented himself to Hakimullah and Qari Hussain in South Waziristan and offered to blow up the CIA station in Afghanistan's Khost province after having gained the trust of his Jordanian and American handlers.

In his farewell video recorded in the company of Hakimullah, the Jordanian bomber says he was going to avenge Baitullah's death in a US drone strike by attacking the CIA's Khost station that oversaw the drones programme and gathered intelligence on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. In the video, Hakimullah says that avenging Baitullah's death had already been on his mind and then Allah sent the Jordanian Muslim brother to him to offer his services to take revenge from the American CIA agents.


Qari Hussain was the first to claim responsibility for the suicide attack in Khost that killed seven CIA and one Jordanian agent, along with some Afghan spies. Few believed him, as was the case when he first disclosed the TTP's hand in the attempted New York bombing, but in the end Qari Hussain was proved right. Although, on two subsequent occasions, the official TTP spokesman, Azam Tariq, denied the organisation's involvement and insisted that the Pakistani Taliban didn't know Shahzad, Qari Hussain hasn't spoken up again. However, one would like to think that if Shahzad had come into contact with Qari Hussain, he would have inspired him to become a suicide-bomber and provided him much better training in bomb-making.


The sloppy manner in which Shahzad tried to assemble the car-bomb and left evidence that led to his arrest makes one believe that he hadn't received proper training. As media reports based on his interrogation suggest, he was fired by revenge due to the deaths of innocent people in US drone attacks in Pakistan. The path he chose to avenge those deaths was wrong. He also lacked the skills to accomplish his mission. The consequences of his misadventure will be harsh not only for him but also his family and his native country.


The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim yusufzai@yahoo.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

WATER AND KASHMIR

DR SYED NAZIR GILANI


India and Pakistan are locked in a serious clash of claims over water in Jammu and Kashmir. Water resources are not unlimited and available forever. The actual stewardship of water resources in any part of Kashmir rests with the people of Kashmir. It is unfortunate that Srinagar and Muzaffarabad governments have failed to defend the manner and extent to which the people of Kashmir are entitled to have a role in the use of their water resources at Mangla, Baglihar and Diamir.


It is a violation of trust that India and Pakistan have been taking unilateral decisions in regard to water as a natural resource in Kashmir. Both countries have failed to incorporate the right of the people of Kashmir in the management of water uses and water-related activities under the Indus Water Treaty.


In 1995, Ismail Serageldin, then vice president of the World Bank, made a prediction that "if the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water." He may not have been far off the mark.


Water in Eastern culture is seen as sacred and this culture treats its provision as a duty for the preservation of life. In contrast, the West and its associates conform to a culture where water is seen as a commodity and its ownership and trade as a fundamental corporate right. Water in our culture is given from earthen water pots as a free gift to the thirsty. Hindus have Jal Mandirs (water temples), part of an ancient tradition of setting up free water stands in public areas. This is a common practice among Muslims as well.


Obviously a culture treating water as a commodity has to clash with cultures of sharing, receiving and giving water. Therefore, water wars are cultural wars and global wars. An economic fascism is out to destroy people's right to their water resources. It is much more important when disputed and trust territories among other resources have water brutally ravaged. The water resources in the state of Jammu and Kashmir are being exploited at Mangla, Baglihar and Diamir by all the three administrations on the two sides of the LoC.


On Aug 21, 1957, the government of India complained to the United Nations that Pakistan was about to build Mangla Dam in the disputed territory under Pakistani control. The Indian complaint added that "the execution of the Mangla Dam Project by the government of Pakistan was a further instance of Pakistan's consolidating its authority over the Indian territory of Jammu and Kashmir and of the exploitation of the territory to the disadvantage of the people of the state and for the benefit of the people of Pakistan." The complaint added that Pakistan's action was in violation of the Security Council's Resolution of Jan 17, 1948, and of the assurances given to India by the chairman of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP).


Less than three years later, India reversed its earlier position and entered into a water treaty, on the waters of Kashmir, with Pakistan in April 1960. The Indus Water Treaty was brokered by the World Bank. By concluding the Indus Water Treaty with India, Pakistan in practice accepted the sovereignty of India over Kashmir's water resource.

The use of water in the Indus Water Treaty has not been aligned on a principled, fair and just basis. It does not recognise the interests of the affected people (Kashmir) and has failed to develop a mechanism to include those interests in water allocation decision.


Under the Treaty the government of India on its part has breached the trust embedded in the instrument of accession (a disputed bilateral agreement). Under the Indus Water Treaty the government of India reversed its stated position on Kashmir. India cannot trade a natural resource of Kashmir with Pakistan, or vice versa. Pakistan's trust obligations too restrain it from violating any resource in its trust jurisdiction.


The water dispute at Mangla, Baglihar and Diamir has made keener the Kashmiri people's interest in their natural resource. They feel being driven to economic insecurity, cultural subordination and ecological dispossession. Water exploitation is fast spreading as a virus of hate.


Kashmiris are not averse to the welfare of the people of Pakistan or the people of India. Our stand on the Mangla, Baglihar and Diamir disputes is based on the jurisprudence of the habitat and the water resources embedded in it. We will have to argue for a corresponding and reciprocal benefit of compensation due to the people of Kashmir. India and Pakistan should embrace and honour the welfare of the Kashmiri people, which includes the use or preservation of water as a natural resource.


Kashmiri interest is incremented and guaranteed by our bilateral agreement with the government of India and Pakistan's "assumed responsibilities in Azad Kashmir" and its responsibilities under the Karachi Agreement on Gilgit and Baltistan.


The World Bank has made an error in not taking into consideration the jurisprudence of the Kashmir dispute and of the use of its resources without assuring a corresponding benefit for the Kashmiri people. Water resources are not unlimited. It is a genuine argument that the Indus Water Treaty promotes inequity. At the same time, it has failed to preserve and protect water resources and the environment.


Water resources in the natural habitat of Kashmir need to be defended as an integral part of self-determination.

The writer is secretary general of the Jammu and Kashmir Council for Human Rights (JKCHR). Email dr-nazirgilani@ jkchr.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

PML-N'S ACCOUNTABILITY STANCE

ANUSHA RAHMAN KHAN


The Holders of Public Offices (Accountability) Bill presented in the National Assembly on April 15, 2009, was drafted by the PPP government. This followed a policy statement that the National Accountability Bureau, which during the military government had become synonymous with discriminatory and politically motivated prosecutions, would be wound up soon, in accordance with the Charter of Democracy signed by the PPP and the PML-N in May 2006.


The draft bill contained many provisions that were patently inconsistent with the very objective for which a new law was intended to be enacted. Amid the ongoing public outcry against the infamous NRO, the bill was a source of disappointment for the PML-N. The proposal to establish a toothless body to replace NAB, with corruption-friendly provisions strongly championed by the PPP, such as a limitation period of three years after which a holder of public office would escape the law, was perceived to be an extension of the NRO.


As the PPP government prepares to seek its passage, the chairperson of the National Assembly's Standing Committee of Law and Justice is being quoted by a leading newspaper. Unfortunately, many of the statements attributed to the chairperson were rather economical with the truth. Others were such classic displays of selective memory recall as to amount to deliberate attempts to misinform the public.


The PML-N members joined the deliberations of the Committee, which were spread over at least 20 sessions during the past one year, with a firmly held belief about the party's public commitment to the enactment of a law that enshrines the principles of zero tolerance for corruption and corrupt practices in all their manifestations. The PML-N members had a clear mandate to ensure that the new bill adequately addressed legitimate public concerns regarding the standard of behaviour and conduct of their representatives and public officials, and the public demand to institutionalise across-the-board accountability of all holders of public office, without fear, favour or exception.

 

For the purpose, it submitted 58 proposals and amendments to the draft bill. Despite the Committee an overwhelming number of PPP members (eight out of the 17), the four PML-N members continued to voice serious concerns and reservations to seek evolution of a consensus bill that would help eradicate the mischief inherent in the functioning of the current organisational structures. The PML-N was determined not to be party to a law that was self-defeating. The PML-N sought to evolve a consensus for the establishment of a credible, judicious and transparent organisation, which had to be vested with administrative, financial and functional independence. It wanted the narrow definition of "corruption and corrupt practices" to be expanded to include all the provisions of the existing NAB laws, and for bribery to be made a non-bailable offence.


The PML-N opposed the proposal for the three-year limitation period and pleaded for denial of immunity to holders of public office for acts supposed to have been done in "good faith." It opposed reduction of the present 14-years imprisonment to seven years for its being inconsistent with the objects of the enactment. We wanted the title of the bill to be changed from Holders of Public Offices (Accountability) Act to National Accountability Commission Act.


The Committee took up the PML-N amendments one by one, and while many were accepted because of their undisputed merit, four important proposals were dropped by the Committee by majority vote:

The applicability of the law to holders of public office was made effective from Jan 1, 1985, after the rejection of the PML-N's proposal to extend its coverage to 1947. a.


That the chairman of the proposed National Accountability Commission be a serving judge of the Supreme Court. The PML-N suggested the appointment of the Commission's chairman and deputy chairman by sitting judges of the superior courts, with the concurrence of the respective chief justices. b.


Retention of the existing powers of the Commission and the federal government to request a foreign country to have evidence taken or documents produced; to obtain and execute search warrants; seize, freeze, confiscate and forfeit assets; and transfer to Pakistan any such evidence, documents and assets. These provisions are in accordance with the UN Convention against Corruption, to which Pakistan is a signatory; andc.


d. Omission of the highly unusual and objectionable provision in the draft bill that "no proceeding under this Act shall lie against a holder of public office for anything which has been done in good faith or in pursuance of or in exercise of powers vested in him or believed to be vested in him, or intended to be done at the material time by virtue of that office."


It was pointed out that such a clause will provide a conscious loophole to an accused holder of public office to plead that his impugned actions were taken "in good faith" or "in due exercise of powers vested in him," or which he "believed to be vested" in him. Several times there was agreement in the Committee on the omission of this clause, but the clause was brought back again, and finally approved by majority decision of the Committee, with the PML-N being overruled.


Hence, contrary to perceptions being generated by recent reports, the PML-N had submitted 58 amendments to the government bill, as well as a strongly worded note of dissent which covers each of the four critical provisions with which the PML-N does not agree. These are, and were always, in the full knowledge of the Committee chairperson and all its respected members.


It should be noted that there was neither backtracking by the PML-N, nor making efforts to derail the proceedings though new demands tabled in piecemeal, as has been reported in the media. In fact, it was the PML-N members who were surprised when, despite clear understanding in the Committee on the acceptance of substantive amendments, somehow agreements would not be faithfully reflected in the drafts placed before the Committee in subsequent meetings. As a direct consequence, discussed and agreed issues had to be reopened time and again despite repeated PPP assurances on its intention to seek a consensus bill.


This was particularly the case with corruption-friendly provisions inserted and strongly championed by PPP. One such example pertained to the statutory blockade of prosecution after an expiry of three years from the date of someone's ceasing to hold a public office. Although it was finally dropped following strong opposition by the PML-N, it resurfaced on numerous occasions for still more discussion despite having been rejected with consensus in previous Committee meetings. It was a classic case of backtracking with the responsibility resting with the Standing Committee chairperson.


Based on the record of backtracking over the past one year, there is, of course, no guarantee that many of the amendments proposed by the PML-N, and agreed with consensus in the Committee meetings, will actually be reflected in the final report that will be laid before the National Assembly. PML-N members have therefore filed a requisition notice requesting the chairperson of the Standing Committee to convene a meeting of the Committee to review the final draft of the bill.


The writer is a PML-N member on National Assembly's Standing Committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

STRATEGY FOR THE NEXT BUDGET

DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN


The present government will be presenting its third budget on June 5, 2010. A budget is not only an account of revenue and expenditure of the government, but it also reflects the government's policy stance to address the challenges facing the economy. Pakistan's economy is currently facing one of the worst and complicated crises in its economic history. Adverse internal and external developments of an extraordinary nature notwithstanding the inept handling of the economy for over two years have aggravated the miseries of the people. An extremely careful handling of the economy is required at this moment in time.


The declining investment, slow economic growth, shrinking capacity of the economy to create jobs, rising unemployment and poverty, persisting double-digit inflation, mounting debt burden, depreciating exchange rate, crippling effects of power mismanagement on the economy, and waning confidence of the private sector on the country's economic management are some of the critical challenges that the country is currently facing.

How to address the above-listed challenges through the Budget 2010-11 is the subject matter of this article. What should be the strategy for Budget 2010-11? The government has two options: either to go for a growth-oriented budget by creating more macroeconomic imbalances or strive for macroeconomic stability with higher growth on a sustained basis later. Both options have costs and benefits and their policy direction would be different as well.


The government may like to make the budget a growth–oriented one with a view to creating more jobs and providing "relief to the poor". Such a strategy would encourage the government to go for a higher budget deficit in the range of 5.5-6.0 per cent of the GDP. In other words, fiscal profligacy would be required to achieve higher economic growth. The government may also force the SBP to ease monetary policy by reducing the discount rate. This may encourage the private sector to come forward and raise investment to kick-start the economy. Thus, expansionary fiscal policy and easy monetary policy would revive economic activity and create employment opportunity.


Is this a viable strategy? Do we have room for such an expansionary fiscal policy? In my humble opinion this would be a one-off strategy with disastrous consequences for the economy going forward. Pakistan is already drowned in debt and such a strategy of fiscal activism would create even more difficulties for the economy. It is an established fact that the root cause of the unsustainable debt burden and the attendant rise in macroeconomic imbalances is the persistence of large budget and current account deficits. One cannot expect the private sector to come forward and increase investment in an unstable macroeconomic environment.


Some government economists may argue that the government should undertake massive public sector spending (the Keynesian approach) to kick-start the economy. This is not a viable option as there is very little fiscal space available to undertake such a programme without further aggravating the debt situation and creating even greater macroeconomic instability. Growth may pick up temporarily by pumping more money in 2010-11 but little or no growth would be in store going forward. Furthermore, higher budget deficit would worsen the current account deficit and Pakistan may face difficulties in financing the external gaps.


Pakistan must not take this route. The strategy of pumping more money to kick-start the economy at this stage will have disastrous consequences. The government must avoid fiscal activism and populist measures to provide "relief to the poor". Maintaining financial discipline is in the larger interest of the government itself. The government must not be seen as a fiscally irresponsible government. It must know that growth cannot be revived on a sustained basis without achieving macroeconomic stability. Empirical evidence around the world suggests that macroeconomic instability has generally been associated with lower growth, higher unemployment and more poverty.

 

This leads to the second option, which is, making efforts to achieving macroeconomic stability today with higher growth on a sustained basis tomorrow. The government should use the forthcoming budget as a vehicle to achieve macroeconomic stability. What should be the strategy for it? The government must target fiscal deficit at 4 per cent of the GDP in the next budget. The way to achieve this target is to set the resource envelope first. Every effort should be made to mobilise more resources (tax and non-tax revenues) and then add 4 per cent of budget deficit (this represents government borrowing) to arrive at the total envelope which will be spent during 2010-11.


There are three major expenditure items of the federal government, namely, interest payments, defence and security-related expenditures and running civil administration. These expenditures are committed and have no room for any meaningful reduction. After meeting these expenditures, the government will have to earmark some resources for subsidies and grants. Whatever is left thereafter can be utilised to finance development spending. In other words, development spending may be treated as residual for at least two years.


The reduction in budget deficit would reduce the borrowing needs of the government, slow the pace of accumulation of public debt, release pressure on the interest rate and help the SBP reduce discount rate which would then encourage the private sector to undertake new investment. It will also improve the external balance of payments by reducing aggregate demand and help contain monetary expansion to have salutary impact on inflation. Freezing the support price of wheat for two more years would go a long way in bringing the inflation down to single-digit.


Given the current economic challenges, the second option is the only option available to the government for budget strategy. What is required the most at this critical juncture is financial discipline and not fiscal activism. Let the next budget be a budget for stability. The economic team led by Dr Hafeez Shaikh must convince the political leadership of keeping the budget deficit low.


The writer is director general and dean at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email: ah khan@nbs.edu.pk

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

NEW TALKS, OLD FEARS

DR MALEEHA LODHI


The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.


Last month's meeting between the prime ministers of Pakistan and India yielded an agreement to resume the stalled dialogue between the two countries. The diplomatic challenge now is to find a way of reconciling different visions of how that dialogue should proceed and what it should address.


The format and agenda of future talks were not discussed at Thimphu. This means that the very ambiguities that enabled an agreement to emerge can frustrate further progress.

The diplomatic ice was broken by an hour-long conversation between Prime Ministers Yusuf Raza Gilani and Manmohan Singh that took place on the sidelines of the 16th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc). The two leaders agreed that their foreign ministers and foreign secretaries should meet to figure out modalities for future talks. The foreign ministers' meeting is now expected after the budget session of the Lok Sabha.


The outcome was welcomed in both nations as a necessary step to prevent further regression in the fraught relationship. But it was also accompanied by doubts whether the latest effort at rapprochement would set relations on a more normal course.


What was revived was not the dialogue suspended by Delhi in November 2008 in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attack, but a process of talks whose details have yet to be settled.


If the most meaningful aspect of the thaw at Thimphu was that the next stage of diplomatic engagement is more talks about talks, then caution is in order. There is a long way to go before the way is cleared for the renewal of a broad-based and purposeful dialogue.

Both Delhi and Islamabad conceded ground to break the diplomatic impasse. Until now India had insisted that Pakistan take prior action against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks before the renewal of broader talks. Pakistan, on the other hand, wanted a return to the composite dialogue of 2004-08 that was halted by India after Mumbai. In the past year India has flatly refused to resume the composite talks, while engaging sporadically with Pakistan and indicating that it was prepared to only talk about terrorism.

The agreement at Thimphu meant Delhi put aside its "terrorism only" approach to talks, while Islamabad gave up the term "composite" dialogue to move the process forward. The apparent Indian willingness to discuss "all issues of mutual concern" seemed to give Pakistan reason not to insist on "nomenclature" on the premise that it would be able to pursue the composite dialogue in all but name.


For its part, the Pakistani side accommodated not only the Indian insistence on dropping the term "composite" but also the suggestion that no reference be made to the earlier understanding reached in July 2009 at Sharm el-Sheikh (where the composite dialogue was decoupled from the terrorism issue following the meeting between the two prime ministers). Pakistani officials also reiterated the assurance that Pakistan's territory will not be allowed to be used for terrorist attacks against India.


Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi confidently declared that "all eight issues that were discussed in the composite dialogue will be part" of the upcoming talks with Delhi.


This is by no means assured when the format, scope and agenda of the process have yet to be agreed. Caution is also urged by recent experience. The February talks between the foreign secretaries that aimed at repairing relations and kick-starting the dialogue ended in disappointment. No agreement emerged on even a schedule for further talks. This suggests that the diplomatic reengagement will creep rather than leap forward, on what can be expected to be a bumpy road.

 

The path to a full-fledged dialogue is strewn with many difficulties and obstacles. For now the foreign ministers and their secretaries have been mandated to meet to assess the reasons for the current stalemate. The Indian view conveyed in the discussions at Bhutan was that trust and confidence had to first be restored for the process to advance.


What this means in practice is yet to be ascertained. But it could involve a protracted diplomatic dance aimed at trust-building before substantive exchanges get underway. In his May 3 statement to parliament the Indian foreign minister cited Manmohan Singh as telling Gilani that "if the trust deficit between India and Pakistan can be eliminated, all issues can be resolved through dialogue." This seems like a big "if" for wider talks.


While Delhi clearly prefers a step-by-step, confidence-building approach Islamabad wants the process to transition quickly to a broader dialogue that aims at dispute resolution.


Many Pakistani officials fear that a graduated step-by-step approach may provide Delhi the means to use each stage of that process as a lever to press Islamabad on Delhi's demands. Indian papers have quoted their officials to say that the dialogue will be focused on "confidence-building measures relating to terrorism." From this perspective, building trust could mean that the contours of future engagement will be determined by actions Islamabad takes to satisfy Delhi.


This presents the diplomatic challenge of finding a way to address mutual doubts and reconcile the differing priorities and concerns of the two sides in order to move towards normalisation.


Although Delhi has signalled the willingness to take up "all issues," it continues to avoid returning to the framework of the "composite" dialogue. In the past year's exchanges with Islamabad, Indian officials have questioned the utility and relevance of the composite process and conveyed to Pakistan that the issues that warrant priority attention are different today. This raises the question of how Delhi will seek to recast the dialogue.

The merit of the "composite" dialogue construct was that by identifying eight baskets of issues, it was able to craft a common agenda because the broad-based format reflected the varying priorities of the two countries. Originally Islamabad's phrase of choice to describe this framework was "integrated" dialogue, while Delhi preferred to call it a "composite" process.


The principles that informed Pakistan's approach in fashioning this architecture for engagement are worth recalling. The agenda of eight issue areas tied together by the notion of "integrated" dialogue meant that the principle of "simultaneity" was injected into the process.

The expectation was that all issue areas would be addressed simultaneously, and not consecutively--i.e., placing one issue before the other, or making the resolution of any one issue a precondition for discussion of the others. This was also meant to prevent one side from cherry picking and moving only on issues of its concern and not responding to the other's priorities.


This "mutuality" helped sustain a wide-gauge process that involved multilayered talks and the creation of a web of multiple interactions across different ministries.


A second principle was that of broad-based engagement, so as to bring to the dialogue a comprehensive–not selective–approach, as the latter would expose the peace process to fragmentation, even disruption. This also meant the rejection of a step-by-step approach.


A pragmatic consideration also lay behind the construct of the "integrated dialogue." As progress on all tracks would not proceed at the same speed or make similar advancement, "integrated" dialogue aimed to ensure that all tracks of engagement would remain in play, with no issue ignored or cast aside because of its difficult or vexed nature.


The third principle that undergirds this dialogue was the pursuit of "comprehensive" peace, without which the normalisation process was deemed to be shallow and vulnerable to deadlock.


Looking ahead, these principles--which served the interests of both sides in the past--can offer an instructive guide to finding a mutually agreed framework for the pursuit of peace. And while process is important, it is the substance of the engagement that will determine whether the latest diplomatic effort heralds a new beginning or turns into another false start.

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE WATER FACTOR

AMITABH MATTOO


Water is likely to be the most divisive issue between India and Pakistan in the future. Or water could, with imagination and political will, become the basis for enduring bilateral cooperation. Addressing a gathering at a mosque in the Chowburji area of Lahore in April, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the head of the Jamaat-ut-Dawa (and founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba), claimed the next war between India and Pakistan could be fought over water if India did not stop "water terrorism" by building tunnels and dams to turn Pakistan into a desert. Saeed's hysterical claims aside, at almost every official engagement with New Delhi in recent months, Pakistan has raised the issue of water, most recently in Thimphu at the Saarc summit.


The irony is that despite the many wars that India and Pakistan have fought over a variety of issues, water is the one area where the two countries had found accommodation through the Indus Water Treaty of 1960. The challenge for the two governments, therefore, is to now ensure that cooperation in this respect is not derailed. Rebuilding trust over the sharing of the Indus waters could even become the precursor for generating trust in other areas of conflict.


In fact, the "water wars rationale" forecasts war between countries "dependent upon a shared water resource if there is water scarcity, competitive use and the countries are enemies due to a wider conflict." India and Pakistan were, by this logic, prime candidates to go to war. What, then, explains the successful negotiations that translated into the Indus Water Treaty of 1960? As academic Undala Z Alam argues, India and Pakistan cooperated because it was "water-rational." "Cooperation was needed to safeguard the countries' long-term access to shared water," said Alam, who was given unique access to the World Bank's archives.


What explains this new shrill campaign? Firstly, Pakistan is facing the most severe water crisis in its history. Secondly, in the new Pakistani discourse inspired by military thinking, India's hypothetical plans to construct dams, despite their being within the ambit of the treaty, could potentially create the capability to choke water flow to Pakistan. Here, intentions are not a factor, but just the capability that India may possess in the future.


Thirdly, one episode over the filling of the Baglihar water reservoir by India and the alleged "delayed" release of water has been cited as an example of India's mala fide intentions. There are also Pakistani concerns about the Kishanganga project.


In any case, none of these issues calls for hysteria, but constructive engagement and bilateral dialogue within the scope of the Permanent Commission or outside it.


What is also clear is that while the Indus Water Treaty is still a vital document, it may be important to think of ways of harnessing the waters of the Indus Basin jointly for more optimal use of the resources, given new technology, better practices, greater scarcity, and lessons learnt from the past. These could be included though an additional protocol to the treaty.


In fact, Article VII of the Treaty on "Future Cooperation" leaves open the possibility of newer avenues of cooperation without the need for the signatories to renegotiate or abandon the treaty. Water is a common, increasingly scarce resource which needs to be shared for the mutual benefit.


We have given the world an example in the form of the Indus Water Treaty. The time is ripe to build on this cooperation.



The writer is professor of international relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. This article first appeared in the Times of India.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

NATIONAL UNITY IS IMPERATIVE!

NEWS & VIEWS

MOHAMMAD JAMIL

 

Pakistan is facing challenges to its internal and external security. Of course, Pakistan's armed forces have decimated strongholds of terrorists, and are in a state of readiness to deal with any aggression from across the border. But when internal and external enemies of Pakistan see Pakistan as a divided house, institutions at loggerheads and despondency and disillusionment among the masses, they feel emboldened. Our politicians, journalists, electronic and print media gurus should realize that the need for national unity has never in the past been more than today. For the last six months, Pakistan has had some sense of relief with the change in Obama administration and US army Generals' attitude whereby they promised to address Pakistan's concerns vis-à-vis Indian role in Afghanistan. But Indian and Israeli lobbies in America seem to have prevailed upon the administration through their gimmicks like Faisal Shehzad's drama. Even without comprehensive investigation, US Attorney General Eric Holder said on ABC television on Sunday: "We've now developed evidence that shows that the Pakistani Taliban was behind the attack."


The pressure is indeed mounting. And there is a perception that the US administration would push its joint strategy plan, and under this garb it would try to enter North Waziristan. To keep India on board, the US may try to push Pakistan to accept LoC as permanent border. Pakistan should not succumb to any 'incentives', pressures or threats in this regard. After Hillary Clinton's threatening posture, the New York Times reported that US military commander in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal met with the Pakistani military commander General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in Islamabad on Friday and urged to quickly begin a military offensive against the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in North Waziristan.


If one glances through the reports by Reuters and other news agencies, it is not difficult to conclude that it is a gimmick to keep Pakistan under pressure and push it to go after Haqqanis in North Waziristan. The Reuters report said: "Any links between Pakistan's Taliban and a failed bombing in New York's Times Square could put the country under renewed US pressure to open risky new fronts against Islamic militants". The US agencies and investigators are trying to find a link between him and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who reportedly accepted the responsibility. Many security experts are skeptical about the ability of the TTP to stage terrorist attacks outside Pakistan.


From his statement to the police, it appears that Faisal Shehzad is not at all a trained terrorist. His changing of cars, forgetting the keys and use of fire-crackers sounds intriguing. It appears that after a short hiatus, America has again reverted back to the policy of appeasing India by ensuring it a role in Afghanistan, which could be detrimental to Pakistan's interest. The United States has repeatedly called on Pakistan to do more to fight not just homegrown militancy but also Al Qaeda-backed Afghan Taliban based in North Waziristan. In fact, the release of video in which Hakimullah Mehsud, a Pakistani Taliban leader previously reported killed in a CIA drone strike, threatened suicide strikes in the US and simultaneous discovering the car laden with explosives raises doubts about the veracity of the whole story. Referring to the Times Square attempt, Robert Gibbs, White House spokesman, said on last Monday: "Whoever did that would be categorised as a terrorist." It should be borne in mind that even if a Pakistani resorts to such act that does not mean that Pakistan as a state is involved.

Anyhow, there are many questions ie how the suspect was able to drive the car all the way to the Times Square, and why agencies failed to check the car on the way. And if at all, the suspect had been able to reach the 'destination' what stopped him from carrying out the blast? Anyhow, whosoever planned it, he or she has been able to bring Pakistan under focus once again. Last year, a Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was charged with carrying explosives on board and attempting to blow up the Northwest Airlines flight, as it approached Detroit from Amsterdam on December 25.


On December 28, a wing of Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the failed attack, according to a statement posted on its website that the attempt was to avenge US attacks on its members in Yemen. Coming back to Faisal Shehzad, there is a perception that it could be a part of conspiracy to neutralize the goodwill Pakistan earned by decimating the terrorists' infrastructure and strongholds. And it seems to be an artifice to de-track the US government, which has decided to help Pakistan to overcome its economic difficulties and also to equip the Pakistan army to effectively take on the militants. Anyhow, Pakistan's civil and military leadership should ponder over the looming threat of US going back to the basics ie to secure Pakistan's nukes on one pretext or another. In 2007, a Pakistani patriot Ahmed Quraishi a treatise under the caption of "The plan to topple Pakistan military" had given detailed account of the sinister designs against Pakistan. A brief excerpt would portray the real motives and intentions of the US and the West. "This is about clipping the wings of a strong Pakistani military, denying space for China in Pakistan, squashing the ISI, stirring ethnic unrest, and neutralizing Pakistan's nuclear programme. The first shot in this plan was fired in Pakistan's Balochistan province in 2004. The last bullet will be toppling Musharraf, sidelining the military and installing a pliant government in Islamabad". Former president Musharraf perhaps understood the game plan and wittingly went on the back-foot and was thus saved from the assassin's bullet. But that was a gross miscalculation on the part of the super power that by eliminating people it would succeed in achieving its objective of taking control of Pakistan nukes.

Quraishi's observations got credence when on 10th August 2007 CNN's Barbara Starr had reported that three US sources from the military and intelligence communities independently confirmed that "military intelligence officials" are assessing what will happen to Pakistan's nuclear weapons in the event of a coup against the then General Musharraf. She said: "The United States has full knowledge about the location of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, but the key questions, officials say are what would happen and who would control the weapons in the hours after any change in government in case Musharraf were killed or overthrown". The CNN report "US 'nightmare': Will Pakistan chaos let al Qaeda get nukes?" on 5th November 2007 said: "As it continues the fight against terrorist worldwide, the United States is watching cautiously as a vital ally teeters on the edge of anarchy. In the war on terror there is no country more strategically critical than Pakistan." In fact, Indian and Jewish lobbies wish to see anarchy in Pakistan so that US could give a call to the international co