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Friday, May 14, 2010

EDITORIAL 14.05.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month may 14, edition 000507, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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






































































Though it comes as a surprise, US President Barack Obama's recent comment at a joint Press briefing with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Washington that Pakistan has a "cancer" gnawing at its innards and it is this, not India, that should preoccupy Islamabad, gives us little reason to believe that there is change in American policy on the horizon. The fact is that the US seems to be getting used to taking one step forward and two steps back. It is not that the Obama Administration doesn't know that powerful elements within the Pakistani establishment are helping jihadi organisations carry out their nefarious designs — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already said quite a lot about this — but right now Mr Obama and his team are more interested in disengaging from Afghanistan as soon as possible — July 2011 has been set as the date for the beginning of withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. And it is in order to meet this deadline that Mr Obama, despite not being unaware of Pakistan's real intentions, insists on persisting with his current approach to the AfPak problem: Keep Pakistan in good humour and hope that it cracks down on terrorist organisations that directly pose a security threat to US troops across the Durand Line. The fact that the US is unwilling to link civilian and military aid to Pakistan with the latter's performance on the terror front shows how convinced Washington is that its present course of action will work.

It doesn't take much to realise just how short-sighted the Obama Administration's approach is. It continues to view the problem of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism simply in terms of the impact it has on its own interests in Afghanistan. Of late it has even started promoting the bogus concept of a political solution to the situation in Afghanistan that will seek to co-opt those elements of the Taliban that give up their association with Al Qaeda. Nothing can be more absurd. It is absolutely suicidal to discriminate between jihadi groups simply on the basis of nomenclature. The fact is that whether it is Al Qaeda or the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba or the Taliban, they all come from the same ideological mould that seeks to establish a global Islamic caliphate through jihad against non-believers. Besides, the follies of the Obama Administration's discriminative approach can have bizarre consequences. It is astonishing that the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan is still not on the US terror list. This is despite the fact that the the group has openly declared war on US citizens and was responsible for the recent Times Square bomb plot. It is precisely because Washington believes that it can do business with certain sections of the Taliban that the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan is still not officially classified as a terrorist organisation.

Meanwhile, Islamabad continues to selectively target only those jihadis that it feels won't be amenable to doing business with the Pakistani establishment. Simultaneously, it chooses to turn a blind eye to jihadis like Hafiz Mohammad Saeed who have openly declared jihad against India, for they represent Pakistan's 'strategic assets' to wage an undeclared war on India. Unless and until the Obama Administration recognises the pitfalls of its present AfPak strategy — which will leave Afghanistan in a vulnerable position post-2012, making it an easy prey for Pakistan to re-establish its hold over that country — jihadi terrorism will continue to be the scourge of the global community







The people of the sleepy villages in Kinalur of Kerala's Kozhikode district have been living in fear for the past one week after the police's terror campaign on May 6, in which more than 60 villagers were injured, and the subsequent round-the-clock raids. The police unleashed a brutal attack on a group of villagers, including women and children, which was protesting against a survey for land acquisition for the construction of a 30-metre-wide road to an industrial facility in Kinalur. Unable to control their rage, the police chased the people to their homes and mercilessly beat them up in their courtyards and verandahs. All this was done for the construction of a road to an industrial park where no big unit exists nor is there a proposal to build new factories. Industries Minister Elamaram Kareem, a neo-liberalist Marxist, has justified the police action saying that the protesters had thrown cow dung at the law-enforcers. Mr Kareem has described the 'cow dung attack' as an act by Islamists but there are no takers for this charge. Chief Minister and veteran Marxist VS Achuthanandan, enemy of those whom Mr Kareem represents in the Kerala unit of the CPI(M), has ordered the immediate withdrawal of the police and suspension of the survey. He is now being taken to task by the reformist-dominated State CPI(M) for that decision.

The CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front Government has now announced an all-party meeting on the issue. It has made it clear that all parties in Kozhikode district will be invited to the meeting, except the outfits that represent the villagers who stand to lose their homes and land if the road has to become reality. The plan for the road was originally conceived after the State-run Industrial Development Corporation announced an industrial city project in association with a Malaysian company in 270 acre acquired at Kinalur in 2007. But the land acquisition procedures for the road project allegedly began after the expiry of the MoU signed with the Malaysian firm. During that period, the villagers saw a flurry of activity by real estate agents from outside the area. Reports say that land sharks with CPI(M) connections have bought close to 3,000 acre at inflated rates around the industrial estate. With no mentionable project proposed for the site, these 'investors' are now facing the prospect of huge losses. The villagers allege that Mr Kareem and his neo-liberalist comrades are determined to build the road so that the real estate dealers can get enhanced value for their land. Amazingly, though at another end of the country, there are ringing similarities between what happened in West Bengal and what's happening in Kerala in the name of industry!








Britain went to bed last Tuesday digesting the news of a Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition Government, the first of its type since World War II. The compact was sealed and delivered by the two party leaders, Mr David Cameron for the Tories and Mr Nick Clegg for the Lib-Dems. This is new territory for a country unaccustomed to such coalitions; on the Continent such arrangements have been par for the course as long as one can remember, based as they were, and are, on a proportional electoral system.

True, the British first-past-the-post exercise was less democratic, but it guaranteed political stability. Ruling parties significantly short of 50 per cent of the popular vote became the British norm. The Lib-Dems have campaigned vigorously for a reform of this system since they have most to gain electorally from the change. The Conservatives, who were the firmest supporters of first-past-the-post, have bowed to the new realities by agreeing to a referendum on the issue.

Beyond this was the give-and-take that invariably accompanies coalition talks: Taxation, Government spending and reduction of the spiralling national debt were priorities for both sides. Conservatives and Lib-Dem leaders are acutely aware of the depth of Britain's economic crisis. The explosive situation in Greece is a bleak reminder of what awaits a nation with a failing economy.

Numbers determined the Conservative-Liberal Democratic partnership. Although 20 seats short of an overall parliamentary majority, the Conservatives, with 306 MPs, were the largest party in the House of Commons; Labour was second with 258 seats and the Lib-Dems, with 57 seats, came third. Opting for a Labour-Liberal Democratic alliance would have been a partnership of the losers; it would have had a fractious and limited life-span and commanded little respect in the country. Working in tandem, the Conservatives and Liberal Democratics can ensure a critical measure of stable governance. It would send the right signals to the market and to Britain's partners in the EU and the US. That at any rate is the calculation, but there's many a slip between cup and lip and the best laid plans of mice and men do have a habit of going awry.

It could still be that the coalition with the Tories is a poisoned chalice for the Liberal Democrats. Their hallowed figures of the past — Gladstone, Asquith and Lloyd George — were reforming radicals, and the party's DNA is closer to Labour than the Conservatives. There is scepticism among the Lib-Dem faithful on the value of their party's alliance with Conservatism; looking through their glass,darkly, they fear an erosion of traditional Liberal idealism and the power and appeal of its ideas. History perhaps is with them. The Liberal-Conservative coalition strung together by Lloyd George in the closing years of World War I barely survived its aftermath, while Liberal participation in the National Governments of Ramsay MacDonald and Stanley Baldwin between 1931-37 reduced the party to a discredited rump, its fortunes restored in some measure in the early-1980s following the split in the Labour Party and the subsequent union between its departing Social Democrats and the old Liberals. It will be fascinating to see what the future holds. Will the Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition deliver the goods or will it flatter to deceive?

That said, there was dignity and a touch of sadness as Mr Gordon Brown left 10 Downing Street and his youthful successor, Mr David Cameron — at 43, the youngest British Prime Minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812 — took over the reins of office. "There was a fitting simplicity about Mr Gordon Brown's departure from Downing Street, and a no less fitting simplicity about David Cameron's arrival," said Andrew Grimson, The Daily Telegraph's sketch-writer.

The departing Prime Minister in office usually came across as a dour Scot, notably deficient in human management skills, yet as the possessor of a formidable intellect (he had entered Edinburgh University as undergraduate at the tender age of 15) and an enduring capacity for hard work, Mr Brown cut little ice with his public. His words of farewell included the following passage: "I have been privileged to to learn much about the very best in human nature, and a fair amount too about its frailties, including my own." At that moment, he shone with a human light. Mr Cameron made a gracious acknowledgement of his predecessor's contribution to Britain's well-being and its influence abroad.

The British people had had the last word. They opted for a hung Parliament to register their dissatisfaction with the state of politics in the country, with the scams of its many legislators and the general arrogance of the good and great, bankers' bonuses and all. They have thrown down the gauntlet to those who will govern them, and the challenge is daunting on every count.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party in opposition will have time to reflect and, hopefully, to renew itself. Mr Tony Blair's Iraqi misadventure was a crime against humanity above all, and his massive, ill-starred deception in taking Britain into an unpopular war continues to cost the country dear. However, as the only radical party left in the land, Labour will become the lightning rod of the people's discontent when the Conservative-Liberal Democrat honeymoon is a distant memory. Labour's period of seed-time and remedy, encapsulating the ebb and flow of history, will surely have lessons for enlightened democratic governance the world over.

My afterword concerns an interview by Arundhati Roy on Al Jazeera television. It was a sustained rant against her pet hate, India. The purgatory of Mumbai's 26/11 and Islamist and Maoist terrorism generally was just reward for what she described as "India's Islamophobia" and its "brutal suppression of the Adivasis".

The interviewer was a svelte American who introduced Mahatma Gandhi into the discussion, I suspect, as part of the script's foreplay. The late Ulrika Meinof, leader of Germany's oncefeared Baader-Meinof terrorist gang, died in prison without recanting her past. Ms Roy, on the other hand, would be Joan of Arc for the dispossessed, the show recorded for posterity by a network priding itself as the acceptable face of jihadism!







As Census 2011 gets underway, this time around there will be greater emphasis on collecting data on the housing sector, covering the smallest of villages to each and every metropolitan city. It goes without saying that this data will play a critical role in shaping the Government's development programmes, especially those related to housing. Given the fact that a large number of Indians still do not have a roof over their heads, the data collected on the housing sector will be critical indeed. For, one can initiate development projects only if accurate data is available.

It is interesting to note that this time around the Census department has added an extra question on whether the particular household owns a computer or a laptop. This wasn't there in the last Census. Hence, now we will be able to gain some insight into how many people are computer savvy and how many households in rural India have computers. Apart from this, one also has to give details about the number of rooms in a particular house, the source of water and electricity, the availability of in-house bathrooms, kitchens, toilets, etc.

According to the last Census, there were a staggering 191.9 billion households in the country. There were only 27 million homes with three rooms, and 73.9 million households with just one room. It goes without saying that these figures are an eye-opener for all the stakeholders in the housing sector. The Government must undertake concrete efforts to provide the needy with cheap housing. For this to happen it must first provide property developers with cheap land.

But cheap housing alone is not enough. Shockingly, only 74.8 million households have the luxury of in-house water facility. This means that the majority of people in India have to fetch water from hand pumps, tube wells, and other sources of water not located within their household premises. Around 32 million households have to fetch drinking water from sources which are at least 500 metre away. Thus, it is also important that the Government ensures that along with a roof over their heads, the poor also have access to basic amenities.







Why did the Congress agree to take up the issue of caste-based Census in principle when the party itself is divided on this issue? Though many fear that a caste-based census would grant legitimacy to caste-based politics, some advocate that the data obtained would help in planning welfare measures.

Some suspect a deal between the Congress and the Yadav trio — Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mr Sharad Yadav and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav — in return for their support to the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill which was introduced on the last day of the Budget session. It is interesting to see that the Congress whose leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel had dreamt of a casteless society has taken a step to perpetuate casteism.

However, it is to be realised that a caste-based Census is a double-edged sword. Religion and caste play an important role during elections. Therefore, it is natural for political parties, which thrive on their caste-based politics, to demand a caste-based Census. Moreover, the Backward Classes have grabbed power in some States and changed the nature of politics.

While parties like the BJP, the SP, the RJD, the JD(U) and the DMK demanded a caste-based Census, the Congress Government was dithering with a divided Cabinet. Even Union Home Minister P Chidambaram opposed the idea.

Social organisations' demand for a caste-based Census for the empowerment of the backward classes holds water. Why are political parties demanding caste-based enumeration in the ongoing Census? This is simply because the Census would equip politicians with statistics with which they can invoke the 'biradari' sentiment to reach Parliament and legislatures.

However, the Yadav trio argue that in caste-ridden society like ours caste-based Census cannot be wished away. Second, a headcount on the basis of caste will help in implementation of policies. Third, considering the complexity of castes and their significant bearing on the society, reliable data on castes should be available. However, these politicians are silent on the creamy layer which grabs the benefits.

Moreover, the BJP, the Left and most regional parties are backing the Yadav trio for their own reasons. The Congress is divided and would have liked an internal debate before agreeing for a caste-based Census. While OBC leaders in the Cabinet like Mr Veerappa Moily, Mr Vayalar Ravi, Mr A Raja and Mr MK Azhagiri supported it, others like Mr Anand Sharma opposed it.

Questions that arise are: Is there a need to resume a caste-based Census or will it result in more social conflict and social disorder? Will counting of castes help in reduction of inequality? Will it be diversity in unity or unity in diversity? These questions can be answered once the Census results are obtained. For now, there are arguments for and against which have their own merits and demerits.

The demand first came from the National Commission for Backward Classes to identify the OBCs. Second, the Social Justice Ministry has initiated such a move recently. Third, since the Women's Reservation Bill is on the agenda, a caste-based Census will help. Fourth, scholars would like such a census as it will help them study social order. Fifth, with more castes seeking inclusion and the courts disagreeing for reservation beyond 50 per cent, an authentic OBC list would go a long way in helping the Government to supply data to the courts.

The opponents cite the stand taken by India's first Home Minister Vallabhbhai Patel, who decaled that such a Census would never be undertaken. Successive Governments since then had resisted it. The last such Census was enumerated in 1931 when Lord Irwin was the Viceroy. In 1941, there was no Census on account of the World War Second. After independence founding fathers were in favour of building a casteless society. Moreover, caste is a subjective and not an objective measurable category like occupation, age, sex and education. There is no uniform definition of the OBCs across the country. The Articles 15(4), 16(4) and 340 refer to "socially and educationally backward classes". In the past six or more decades some castes have changed and some others have merged and new ones have emerged.

The Government was naturally reluctant on the ground that the logistics of caste enumeration would be daunting. Mr Chidambaram gave a cogent argument as to why it cannot be done. Moreover, with over 6,000 recognised castes and sub-castes, it would be a nightmare for the Census officials to collect the data and collate it. The enumerators, who are mostly elementary school teachers, are not trained to deal with this complex issue. There is also a tendency to misreport and misrepresent data to gain benefits.

What happens when the Census figures come out after enumeration? Will it throw up some new figures? Will it create more confusion or will it destroy some myths? No one knows what kind of effect it will produce — good, bad or ugly — as the caste-based Census is a leap in the dark.

However, one thing is certain. It is bound to unleash new forces. New leaders may emerge and new equations may be established. Some castes may develop new assertiveness. It needs to be realised that Census is a great demographic exercise which should not be confused with the social order. The Census officials are asked to collect observational data and not information on self-categorisation. Whether the collection of caste data will be socially divisive or help in the quest for equality is still debatable.

The grounds on which Vallabhbhai Patel had scrapped such an exercise holds good even today. But the political parties are playing caste politics for their own narrow ends. Clearly, we need to go beyond castes, quotas and vote-banks and look for a casteless society, as was the dream of Jawaharlal Nehru.








Omar Khayyam, in his celebrated Rubaiyat, dreamt of shattering "this sorry scheme of things entire" and remoulding it "nearer to the heart's desire". Now, northern India's khap panchayats want to recast Hindu society, but in their own sinister image, by amending the Hindu Marriage Act (1955) to incorporate their repressive practices. Supporting them are Haryana leaders such as Congress MP Naveen Jindal (who has since backtracked) and INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala. The fact that they can dare defy constitutional mores and a modern temper publicly is the consequence of political parties kow-towing to the interests of minority ethnic and religious groups at the cost of national identity and democratic and secular ideals.

Though Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily has stated that the Government will not accept the khaps' demand, instead amending the Indian Penal Code so as to charge perpetrators of honour killings with murder, his assurance of sympathy for personal laws is ominous. Jat khap panchayats, which function as a parallel, barbaric justice system, given to condemning same gotra and village couples to death or social exile, are pressurising politicos to initiate legislation that would allow them to function with impunity. If they manage to get their way, other retrogressive groups, in favour of reviving outlawed practices such as sati, polygamy, child marriages, denial of education to disadvantaged groups, and even untouchability — which have never really died out in the northern States and other bastions of orthodoxy — would be emboldened to convince their legislators to turn the clock back.

Stigmas against all categories, which suffered grievously during the period of Hinduism's decline, resulting in a mass exodus to heterodox belief systems, will again get sanction. On the verge of becoming a world leader, India is being pulled back by interest groups that have become rich and powerful on account of their vast land holdings and political leverage, but whose concerns are limited to ensuring social and economic precedence for their clans/baradaris/communities. Their worldview is extremely iniquitous. Females and the landless are marginalised, while the existing set-up is manipulated for their own ends. There is scarcely any sense of nationhood.

By capitulating to their demands to safeguard their customs, we would willfully undo the humane laws bestowed on Hindu society by British and Indian reformers. These include the ban on female infanticide (1795, 1802 and recent anti-foeticide laws); ban on sati (1829 and Prevention of sati Act,1987); law permitting widow remarriage (1856); Child Marriage Restraint Act (1929); and ban on polygamy (1955-1956), with the enactment of the Hindu Code Bill. Every initiative was strongly opposed by custodians of the old order. The difficult task of codifying Hindu laws of marriage and divorce, adoption, inheritance and related matters on equitable lines was accomplished under the supervision of free India's first Law Minister, BR Ambedkar. His was a liberating vision, discernable in the constitutional pledge of equal rights to citizens, irrespective of birth, religion and gender.

Under the democratic system, monogamy was made the rule for adult Hindu males; child marriage and sati banned; divorce and widow remarriage allowed; alimony provided to women by former spouses; daughters accorded coparcenary right, along with sons, to father's self-acquired property (and lately, ancestral property also); and demanding dowry and female infanticide made cognisable offences. Caste taboos and untouchability were also banned. Violations incur severe punishment. Sikhs, Jains and Buddhist, though free to observe their customs, come within the ambit of Hindu law. But Muslims are permitted to follow their personal laws for electoral reasons.

The stigma against union within the same or related gotras precedes the advent of Jats and others of their ilk. Old Hindu law books forbade such alliances on grounds of consanguinity. In 19th century Bengal, Kulin Brahmins' social interactions were primarily dictated by the intricacies of gotras. If any of the seven male ancestors along the father's line and five along the mother's line coincided, there could be no alliance between families. When five and three generations coincided in a marriage relationship, the Brahmin status was lost. Elaborate genealogical records were kept to compare the lines of descent. Kulin Kayasth marriages were similarly determined, as too alliances among other groups, aspiring for social dominance. But in the south, marriages between cousins or between the maternal uncle and niece are still common.

Customary laws, however, cannot replace national laws as these are the very foundation of our hard-won democracy though people are free to follow customs so long as these are civilised.







It's a standard plot device in thrillers and spy movies: The police arrest or detain the wrong man — in fact, the only man who can stop the real murderer or foil the spies. Think of the Thirty Nine-Steps, one of Hitchcock's first masterpieces. Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) has information that could prevent an international ring of spies from securing vital military secrets. Do the police believe him? No, instead they aggressively pursue him across England and Scotland for a murder he didn't commit.


The same formula is a staple in science fiction and monster movies. The authorities — police, military or CIA — detain the one person who has the code or the formula or the knowledge that will destroy the monster or prevent the aliens from conquering the planet. And, invariably, the authorities are portrayed as obtuse, unimaginative types, who can't seem to grasp the big picture.

What brings such movies to mind is the recently hatched high-brow plan to arrest the Pope. In April, Mr Geoffrey Robertson, a high-ranking United Nations jurist, called on the British Government to detain Pope Benedict XVI when he visits England in September. Mr Robertson wants the UK to send the Pope to the International Criminal Court to be tried for "crimes against humanity". Mr Robertson is backed up by celebrity atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. According to the Times of London, Dawkins and Hitchens have commissioned Mr Robertson and Mr Mark Stephens, a solicitor, to draw up a justification for legal action.

Let's see…Islamic religious leaders in the UK and around the world are spewing hatred at Christians and Jews, and are calling for the destruction of Israel, the murder of homosexuals, the imposition of sharia'h in Europe, and the defeat of "the Great Satan" (the US). Oh, and they want the right to marry 12-year-olds — maybe as many as four per man. But according to the twisted logic of the West's self-appointed virtue police, it's time to lock up the Pope.

Not that the Pope is the one man who can save the world from domination by Islam. Rather, he is representative of the handful of men and women who fully realise the threat from Islam, and who, in a sense, possess the formula or special knowledge necessary to halt the imposition of an alien moral order on the West.

Before he became Pope, Benedict wrote a series of books and papers which explained why an alien culture (not just Islam, but primarily a rootless secularism) was taking over Europe. Europe, he said, had succumbed to a "dictatorship of relativism" which opened the door to values based only on fickle opinion, or else on brute force. The "formula" for saving the West which Benedict offered is the recognition of god-given rights that "belong to man by nature" — "values that cannot be modified."

Likewise, in defending the Universal Declaration of Human Rights before the UN in 2008, the Pope said that human rights should not yield to a "relativistic conception" whereby "their universality would be denied in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks". In case you're wondering why the UN's own Declaration of Human Rights has to be defended in the UN, consider that the largest voting block in the UN now is the 56-state strong Organisation of the Islamic Conference. Many of the OIC member states are quite adamant in maintaining that sharia'h law takes precedence over Western declarations of human rights. And from a multicultural/cultural relativism perspective, who can gainsay them? That's why Benedict insists that the multicultural experiment won't work if it's cut off from its Western/Christian roots.

It's no accident that the Declaration was composed for the most part by people who had grown up in Christian cultures, and had inherited a social conscience that had been formed by the Judeo-Christian tradition. But what are the odds that today's Islamic-friendly assembly of multiculturalists at the UN would be willing to approve the Declaration if it were put to the vote again?

Will the Pope be arrested? Probably not — not this year, anyway. Others who won't genuflect to the dictatorship of relativism haven't been so lucky. Mark Steyn was hauled before three Canadian Human Rights courts on hate speech charges for simply observing that population trends would someday turn Europe into a branch of the Muslim world. Like Benedict, Steyn is also guilty of pointing out that a culture of relativism is essentially a suicidal culture. If the Steyn trials were a movie, the audience would be justified in thinking, "What thick-headed dunces. They've got the wrong man!" As more and more ordinary people are discovering, criticism of Islamic aggressiveness isn't the problem, the problem is Islamic aggressiveness.

On Monday: The case of Geert Wilders







It's a new beginning for Britain. After nearly 13 years in the wilderness, the Conservatives are back in the saddle. But unlike the glory days of Margaret Thatcher, the Tories will be heading a coalition government, the first such instance since 1945. Though the new British Prime Minister David Cameron is confident that his party's alliance with the Liberal Democrats will last five years, it's going to be a testing time for the government.

One hurdle could be the ideological mismatch between the two parties. The differences between the platforms of the Tories and Lib Dems were pronounced during the election campaign. To mention just two, the Lib Dems are strongly in favour of an overhaul of the first-past-the-post system and prefer closer ties with the EU. The Tories, on the other hand, see no problems with Britain's existing electoral system and are euro-sceptics to boot. There has, however, been an attempt to reconcile these conflicting goals. The Conservatives have promised a referendum on an alternative electoral system under which voters will rank candidates by preference and second choice votes. On the EU, the government has said that no further powers will be ceded without a referendum.

In domestic policy, the new government will have its hands full. The British economy is in poor shape and is expected to expand by just 1.3 per cent in 2010. Worryingly, unemployment has touched 2.5 million, the highest since 1996. Cameron has already pledged an emergency budget, which intends to cut the deficit and government flab.

For New Delhi, the change in government augurs well. The new government has said it wants to establish a "new special relationship with India". It is also worth recalling that Cameron chose India as his first overseas trip when he became the leader of his party in 2006. We hope that in the next five years India will be dealt with on its own terms rather than being clubbed with China and Pakistan, as was often the case in earlier Labour dispensations. Economic ties will be the fulcrum of this relationship since India is now the second largest investor in Britain. A sticky issue, however, will be the cap on skilled immigration from outside the EU, which will hit India the hardest and become an impediment to business ties. A Tory-majority government, however, may be well disposed to cooperating with India on terror. It's also unlikely to cut and run from Afghanistan. If Cameron accepts Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's invitation for an early visit, some of these issues can be taken up.






The stand-off between supporters of Naga rebel leader Thuingaleng Muivah and the Manipur government could worsen ethnic relations in the strife-torn region. Naga groups have blocked national highways that link Manipur with the rest of the country through Nagaland, leading to a scarcity of food, fuel and other commodities in Manipur. New Delhi's intervention to resolve the stalemate hasn't succeeded so far. The present crisis is the fallout of Muivah's move to visit his home village in Manipur. New Delhi seems to have cleared the trip without assessing its impact on Manipuris. A major demand of Naga separatists is the creation of Nagalim or a greater Nagaland that comprises all Naga inhabited regions, including those in Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar. The hill districts of Manipur bordering the Imphal valley are home to large Naga communities and the demand for Nagalim has a resonance there. Manipuris fear that Muivah's visit could upset the delicate ethnic relations in the state and fuel the demand for altering Manipur's boundaries. The fear is understandable.

A tricky part of insurgency management in the north-east is handling the complex web of ethnic and regional identities. The slightest misjudgement could spark violent reactions. One reason why the Naga talks have continued for over a decade without yielding any significant breakthrough, following the welcome ceasefire between the rebels and the security forces, is that the demands of the separatists directly impinge on non-Naga communities. A political vision obsessed with state boundaries can't bring peace and economic stability to this region. Rebel leaders must realise that what they want to divide are also ethnic memories and cultural assets, which can't be divided or annexed but only shared. A fresh paradigm that imagines an ethnic identity without being restricted by state boundaries is necessary to break the impasse.







Australia and India are natural partners. So it is frustrating that the relationship continues to fall short of a truly strategic partnership in which each country contributes greatly to the other's resilience and strength. Our nations are multicultural democracies facing shared hopes and challenges in the Asian century. The new India's human capital, growth and buzzing spirit of enterprise are a perfect match for Australia's unique combination of resources, development and proximity. We are neighbours in the Indian Ocean.

What keeps us apart these days is a mix of flawed policy and flawed perception, especially on the vexed issues of student welfare and uranium. Australia is making a big effort to build the relationship, with expanded diplomatic representation, high-level visits, efforts to build defence ties and commitment to a free trade agreement. The recent visit by trade minister Simon Crean - one of India's best friends in the Australian cabinet - is further proof of this.

But Canberra is constrained by old-fashioned and ideological thinking in parts of the Australian Labour Party, which prevents the sale of uranium to India for civilian purposes an area where Australia could have led the world. That is a policy that desperately needs to change, as i believe it will within about 12 months. The Labour Party needs to gain a contemporary understanding of India as part of the solution on non-proliferation and other global strategic challenges. India's democractic and developmental mission led by Manhoman Singh and new-generation leaders such as Rahul Gandhi is surely in step with the basic Labour value of maximising human welfare.

Sadly, Australia-India relations have also been harmed by the unexpected fallout of an education relationship that grew too far, too fast in the wrong directions, plus the exaggerated negative coverage in some parts of India's hyper-competitive mass media. But the difficulties are not solely on Canberra's side. I fear the relationship is also being held back in parts of what one might describe as Old India including some quarters of the bureaucracy where there remain outdated, stereotyped attitudes about Australia's and India's own places in the world.

So the private sector needs to lead. India is Australia's fastest growing large trade partner: two-way trade has grown a staggering tenfold in the last decade, and our exports last year grew 50 per cent. Australia's coal, gas, copper, gold, education and other service industries all drive the development India needs.

At the human level, the potential is also great. Australia and India are nations that can do much to help each other meet the shared challenge of shaping the kind of globally-minded, innovative and adaptive citizens any nation needs to prosper in this era. There are many Indians and Australians of great goodwill towards each other, fascinated with each other's societies, and willing to work hard to build a strategic friendship. These stories are beginning to come out. Indeed, Australia's very first novelist, John Lang, was a great friend of India in the 19th century, a crusading newspaperman and lawyer who stood up to the East India Company on behalf of notable Indians such as the Rani of Jhansi.

Now is the time for a new generation of entrepreneurial, open-minded citizens of both our democratic countries to take the time and trouble to build their own creative links across the Indian Ocean. First up, we have some hard work to do. The finding of a new opinion poll by the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank, shows that almost three quarters of Australians believe that violence against students has damaged Australia-India relations.

The nationally representative survey of 1,001 adult Australians was made in March 2010, and follows almost a year of media attention on the problems facing some Indian students in Australia, including vulnerability to criminal violence and the poor quality of some vocational courses. The fact that 74 per cent of Australians perceive real diplomatic damage underlines the need for Canberra to sustain exceptional efforts to repair Australia's reputation in India. The good news is that those figures also suggest that most Australians are worried that we think the relationship matters and should be repaired.

Of course, the causes of the violence were much more complex than the racism that some Indian media reports have alleged. Canberra needs to clear the air, by releasing as soon as possible the findings of a criminological study into what actually happened, especially in Victoria. But one silver lining from the crisis over student welfare is a recognition by the Australian and Indian governments that they needed to treat the relationship as a priority.

Australia is more than just another middle power lining up for a chunk of India's future. Australia's hybrid character offers India a singular combination of qualities as a collaborator. It has vast resources, a developed economy and democratic polity. It is partly western yet also an Asian and Indian Ocean neighbour. It is allied with America yet has independent military and intelligence clout. It has democratic stability alongside population growth and multiculturalism. It has the same security uncertainties as India, including about terrorism and growing Chinese power. The potential for each of our democratic nations to help the other is huge. It is a catch we cannot afford to drop.

The writer is a programme director at the Lowy Institute, Australia.






Bianca Jagger, founder and chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, was in India to visit the Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa where the local population is opposed to the setting up of a bauxite mine. Jagger spoke to Rema Nagarajan about the rights of indigenous people and the need for inclusive development:

What was your experience in Niyamgiri?

I was struck by a billboard at the Bhubaneswar airport, which said: "Mining happiness for the people of Orissa Vedanta." What cruel irony! Vedanta has received unconditional support from the government of Orissa to start an open pit bauxite mine in the Niyamgiri hills. The Kondh have been coerced into giving up their homes, their land, and their means of survival, in the name of 'public purpose'. They were promised employment and prosperity. Instead, the refinery has brought nothing but disease and impoverishment and it is an imminent threat to the sacred mountain of the Kondh and their way of life.

What are the similarities between what you saw happening in Niyamgiri and the situation in many Latin American countries where you have worked?

The Kondh tribe's battle to save their livelihoods illustrates the struggle for survival that tribal and indigenous people are facing throughout the world. It brings back memories of what i witnessed in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, among others. The struggle of tribal and indigenous people versus corporations and states, over ancestral land rich in natural resources, is a global issue. Throughout history, indigenous and tribal people have been oppressed and forcefully expelled from their ancestral land, their rights violated with impunity by governments that put the interest of corporations above their survival. This combination of factors has often led them to resort to armed struggle, in order to protect their families, their land, their livelihoods and their culture. Last year in Peru, hundreds of Amazonian Indians were wounded and arrested in clashes over oil and timber.

Why do you think indigenous people all over the world are facing displacement and discrimination?

Today, exploitation is no longer carried out by colonial adventurers aiming to discover new horizons for spices, tobacco or slaves. Now, it is often carried out by businessmen representing mining, oil and gas or logging companies. These policies are being implemented in the name of "progress and development". The mantra is "maximum production, minimum cost and open markets".

You say we need a new definition of democracy internationally. Why? And, what should the new definition be?

We need to redefine the meaning of "development". It must be sustainable. Any development project must take into account the needs and aspirations of the local communities and should benefit all sectors of society. As the UN Brundtland Report states, development must "meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". Measures of development need to be more holistic. We must ensure that corporations follow through with their pledges to adhere to ethical standards, corporate responsibility and sustainable practice. These principles have to be enforceable not as voluntary measures, but as a legally binding mechanism in international law. Corporate social responsibility is not only about how corporations spend their money, but about how they make it.







What do IPL and the mango have in common? Indians love both, both are the centre of stormy arguments, and both can end up creating the most unholy mess. Indians are gaga over IPL, and they're orgiastic about mangoes. IPL is divided into teams, each of which has its assertive fans. There are the Mumbai Indians and the Chennai Super Kings, to name only two (who are known, respectively, as the Mumbai Idiots and the Chennai Super Kinks by supporters of the other teams). Mangoes have their own competing teams, so to speak.


First is the Alphonso (which is also known to its intimates by its nickname, Haphoos). The Alphonso (or Haphoos) is claimed by its adherents to be the King of Mangoes. The Alphonsoese as Alphonso lovers sometimes call themselves claim that the Alphonso should be declared India's National Fruit, in support of which contention they quote the song composed by a famous poet which almost became the country's national anthem: Sare jahan se achchha, Alphonso hamara...


Codswallop, retort those who favour the Alphonso's closest rival, the Sinduri, which in some parts of the country is called Gulab Khas. (Mangoes, like cricketers, tend to go in a lot for aliases, like Sachin also being known as Master Blaster and Harbhajan as Bhajji.) The Sinduri or Gulab Khas is so called because of its patches of red which contrast prettily with the rest of its green skin.


Third some would say not third at all, but leading the pack is the curiously named Langra, which comes or rather, limps all the way from Benaras. No one knows why the Langra is called the Langra. However, an NGO advocacy group which champions the cause of politically correct terminology is believed to have launched a movement to have the Langra's name, with its derogatory connotations, changed by deed poll to PI, which is not a mathematical quantity but the abbreviated version of Physically Impaired.


But whatever the type of mango, eating it is a messy business. IPL creates a mess thanks to sweat equity. Mangoes create a mess thanks to squirt equity. Look at a man about to eat a mango. The mango is on a plate, beside which is a knife. The mango is the patient, the plate is the operating table, and the knife is the scalpel with which the man is about to perform one of the trickiest operations known to humankind: how to cut open and eat a mango without making a total muck-up of it. The man balances the mango on its broader end, tongue sticking out of the side of his mouth to maintain balance, and with the knife tries to cut off one cheek let's say the right cheek of the mango. The mango stone gets in the way. The man turns the mango around to make a second incision from the other side, so that two cuts can meet, thus enabling one hemisphere of the mango to come away free from the stone and the rest of the fruit. Frowning with concentration, the man completes the second cut. The two cuts don't meet. The cut mango is dripping juice, but its flesh is still inaccessible. The man decides to try cut off the other, the left, cheek of the fruit. Makes the two cuts. Same result. By now the mangled fruit is oozing juice and the squirt equity is coming into play. Plate and hands full of sticky mango squirt, the man, desperate by now, looks around to see no one of tender age or finer sensibilities is watching, says the hell with it, and tries to rip the goddam thing apart with sheer muscle power. There is a sound like an elephant pulling its foot out of quicksand and the mango explodes in a spray of yellowish orange guck that covers the table, the man's clothes and a part of the ceiling. The mango stone lands on the man's lap, as he holds the dismembered, dripping halves of the butchered fruit in each hand. End of civilisation as we know it. The man looks heavenwards and utters one short, sharp word. Mothers cover up the ears of their children. Susceptible auntiejis swoon in shock. Bouncers come and take the man away.


Mango? Not for this man, no. When it comes to the King of Fruits, i'm a strictly no-aam aadmi.







Manipur, it would seem, is a state in permanent flux. Therefore, one would have expected New Delhi to be cautious and weigh the pros and cons before approving the politically sensitive and potentially explosive visit of the NSCN-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) boss Thuingaleng Muivah to his birthplace at Somdal in Ukhrul district. Instead, it cleared the visit and asked the Manipur and Nagaland (where Mr Muivah is camping now) governments to make the arrangements for the proposed visit. As expected, the situation, if you take into account the history of discord, has now spiralled out of control with both parties

refusing to give the other an inch. The two central officials, Home Secretary G.K. Pillai and Naga talks interlocutor

R.S. Pandey, sent to salvage the situation, failed to do so.

There's a history of mistrust between Manipur and the NSCN-IM. While the latter has been operating a ceasefire with New Delhi since 1997, Manipur maintains that it does not extend beyond Nagaland. It had earlier banned Mr Muivah's visit saying it could stroke unrest in the state as the NSCN-IM had demanded that all Naga-inhabited areas in the Northeast be integrated to create a Greater Nagaland. Naturally, the face-off between Manipur Chief Minister Ibobi Singh (who heads a Congress-led coalition government) and Mr Muivah was a foregone conclusion. This round of trouble comes on the heels of the existing tension that has been unfolding in Manipur. Since April 12, the All Naga Students' Association of Manipur has blocked National Highways 39 and 53 (also known as 'ransom highways') over the amendment of the Manipur Autonomous District Council Act. For this landlocked state, this blockade and now the new stand-off between the state government and NSCN-IM, both looking for political mileage above anything else, have led to a sharp rise in prices with petrol being sold at Rs 150 per litre and LPG at Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 per cylinder.

Since there's no solution at sight at present, of the three parties — the state, NSCN-IM and the Centre — it seems the last has lost the match no matter what happens over the next few days. As it is, New Delhi suffers from a trust deficit when it comes to the Northeast. This mishandling of the situation on the ground will only heighten that feeling further. And, as always, the people of the state will pay for this political chicanery.

Regressive forces are known to take a mile when given an inch. This seems to be the case with the khap panchayats of Haryana who have now taken to issuing ultimatums to MPs and MLAs to support their illegal acts which masquerade as tradition. Recent statements from a former chief minister of the state and a prominent MP appear to have emboldened these village courts which dispense instant justice to those they perceive as crossing the lines of `culture' and `tradition'. The main issue that these khaps have been raising is that of marriages within the same gotra for which they have sought amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
Fortunately, the government has turned this down. It is a fact that under guise of punishing, often with death, those who pur- portedly marry within their caste, the khaps are actually vic- timising those who chose to marry someone of their choice.
Very few who have been at the receiving end of the khaps' bru- tal justice have actually married within their own caste. No one has the right to take the law into their own hands, and this crime is doubly compounded when it seemingly gets the sanc- tion of elected representatives who are the ultimate custodi- ans of the law.

While these public functionaries may intend to express their support for traditional societal structures, the message that goes out is that they condone the barbaric practices unleashed by these khaps. The Haryana khaps should take a leaf out of the book of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee in Punjab that decreed that anyone found guilty of female foeticide or sex selection tests would be ostracised from the community. It has also instituted a cradle scheme for unwanted girl children. Haryana has the second highest per capita income in the country but among the lowest male- female sex ratios. The khaps would be better employed fighting these social evils than trying to ensure the purity of caste in marriage.

The disregard for the due process of law on the part of the khaps was blatantly on display in a recent incident in Mirchpur village in which 20 Dalit homes were torched by upper castes. A handicapped girl and her father died in the incident. Yet the khaps have decreed that the culprits were innocent and issued an ultimatum to the government that they be released. The khaps must clearly be told both by the law enforcement agencies and elected representatives that no one has any quarrel with upholding traditions. But when under guise of doing so, they are threatening the constitutionally guaranteed right to life of people, they must face the appropri- ate punishment. No one should have the licence to run a parallel judiciary.






All those who are critical of Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers M.K. Alagiri's frequent flier propensities are missing a crucial point. It's not that the minister wants to be airborne every third day, it's that he is a family man. And as we Indians know, courtesy Karan Johar, it's all about loving your family. Yes, many may kvetch and grumble that he took off on a jaunt to the Maldives during the budget session, but please note that he paid for everything himself. And so what if he has airdashed to Chennai 61 times from May to December 2009? Not only was he demonstrating his faith in the domestic carrier but also showing what a devoted son he is to the DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi. After all, without daddy, dear Alagiri would be rattling around Marina beach on a good day.

So, put a lid on it all of you who think this is carrying filial fondness too far. But his love for his kith and kin is not confined to Chennai. Now he is about to add to his six international forays since he became minister with a trip to the US to, you guessed, visit family members. In the process, he will miss the first anniversary bash of UPA-II. But then given his blink and you'll miss him appearances in Delhi, no one's likely to miss him. We think he is being considerate in staying away from the capital for such long periods. You see, the poor man is not comfortable in either Hindi or English. He does not want the government to incur the expense of hiring an interpreter for him.

What about all the air miles he has notched up, you may ask. That is in the larger cause of family and since his family is a crucial part of the government, he's, in effect, acting for the greater good of the nation. As for his work in the ministry, for God's sake, you can't, like our cricketers, expect him to travel so much and still be on top of things all the time. Really, sometimes expectations can be so unrealistic.





The French and Belgians are considering banning it. The Australians might follow. The Saudis and Iranians are quite appreciative of it. And in our own India, there are all shades of opinion about it. Considering all the excitement this garment generates, you'd think the burqa is, well, the bikini.

The battle of the burqa — or more accurately, the naqab, which is the veil that covers the face — seems to be about a lot of things. It pits the 'liberal' West against the forces of orthodoxy in Islam. It pits feminists against male chauvinists. It pits a secularism that denies individuals the right to exhibit religious symbols in public against those who wish to wear such symbols on their faces.

At core, the issue is really simple. It's about the freedom of adults to choose their wardrobes. If a person wishes to go about in a bikini, that's her choice. If she wishes to go about in a burqa and naqab, that's her choice too. No priest or government has any business telling individuals what clothes to wear.

Of course, priests and governments love to take themselves seriously. They love to exercise control. And they have power, of a sort, so defying them is not always easy.

This is where the MIB should come in to zap those evil control freak aliens in our midst. MIB, short for Men In Burqas, would subvert the orthodoxies of both the governments and the priests simultaneously.

It would subvert the governments very directly, by defying the ban against the garment. It would also subvert the mullahs, because it challenges their use of the garment, which is to establish male control over women.

If men in all the places where the burqa is a contentious garment begin wearing it voluntarily in public, it makes a mockery of all the illiberal forces battling over it.






Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh announced his intention to introduce a Bill related to the setting up of a new National Environment Protection Authority (Nepa) in the 2010 monsoon session of Parliament. With this, the Ministry for  Environment and Forests (MoEF) seeks to bring in a new institutional structure for the governance of environment clearances for development and infrastructure projects. It's also to look at the dismal state of the monitoring and compliance (by project authorities) of the conditions laid out for projects and activities at the time of approvals.

At present these processes are carried out under the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). Over the past 16 years of the existence of the notification, problems of flawed environmental assessments financed by project developers, biases and conflict of interest in advisory bodies, and little or no attention paid to the objections to projects have continued. The ministry seeks yet another administrative reform to address these issues.

The intent for Nepa was first announced by the prime minister at the National Conference of Ministers for Environment and Forests from all states in August 2009. A discussion note was then uploaded on the MoEF website inviting public comments. Even as few in the country were debating on Nepa's need and design, the prime minster, during his visit to the US, demonstrated a hasty commitment to the idea the UPA government cleared. Among the many agreements signed during the November 2009 visit there, one was with the United States Environment Protection Authority (USEPA) to help set up Nepa in India. In the same month, the MoEF also had a consultation with state governments seeking their response. The PM's intent and rush to commit to establish a Nepa has much to do with the USEPA's announcement of a grant for the establishment of such a legal authority. The USEPA grant to our government is for the enforcement of environmental requirements and technical assistance on matters of environmental governance, specifically through a new medium of Nepa.

Since then, there's been much activity — US researchers have been in India giving specific inputs to the MoEF.

The Natural Resources Defence Council, a leading US-based not-for-profit entity has been helping the MoEF shape up Nepa.

The MoEF says that it carried out a study on the USEPA in January 2010 and the Indian Institute of Technology was awarded a consultancy in February 2010 to propose a mandate and structure for an independent regulatory authority for the protection of the environment. While so much has been done and USEPA's grant spent, the public has remained an inconsequential body, useless to the government in these exercises. Even the parliamentarians seem to think that the question of Nepa is still an open one, as per the March 2010 Lok Sabha submission made by the MoEF.

There is no disagreement over the objective that our environment needs a better regulatory system. But there's been no consensus whatsoever that an institution like Nepa will be that better system. Rather than investigating into the causes of environmental problems only in faulty or inefficient institutions and dissolving/disempowering them and creating new ones in their place, we need a more nuanced and careful reading of the problem. The prime minister and the ministry have almost decided that Nepa is the key to our environmental problems and have made a grand declaration that such an apex national body of experts can solve complex issues that are political, social and ecological at the same time. Such a move takes the energy and attention away from the ongoing negotiations that are on between governments and people in different locations to find ways out.

Today there is a draft Bill to amend the Environment Protection Act, 1986, and institute Nepa. Such a predecided action on the part of the government needs public debate on basic questions about the causes of environmental problems and who can be trusted to help solve them well before parliamentarians take it up in the next working session.

Kanchi Kohli and Manju Menon are with Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group

The views expressed by the authors are personal





What do Shashi Tharoor and Jairam Ramesh have in common? Both are incredibly bright, articulate men with impressive resumes: Jairam is a mechanical engineer with degrees from IIT and Massachusetts Institute of Technology while Tharoor is a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and has the distinction of  getting a doctorate at 22, the youngest in the history of  the prestigious institute. In a sense they represent the best traditions of  Macaulay's children, "A class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect." And yet, both these fine representatives of India's liberal and cosmopolitan traditions find themselves under siege in a political milieu that appears to share an uneasy relationship with the English-speaking professional-turned-politician.

Tharoor was undone by the seeming impropriety of having acquired sweat equity for his sweetheart without informing the world. Ramesh is being pilloried for having questioned the home ministry's policies towards China. Both are perhaps guilty of forgetting their constitutional responsibilities as Union ministers. Tharoor paid for it by being banished from a ministry which could have benefited from his wide experience as a global diplomat. Ramesh may yet pay the price for his indiscretion by being switched from an environment ministry that has acquired a renewed energy and a forward-looking profile under his leadership.

The irony is that the charges against the duo appear trifling when compared with the monumental scandal and corruption that besets the political class. An A. Raja gets away with it despite the clamour for his resignation over the spectrum scam because as his leader, M. Karunanidhi brazenly told the UPA leadership, "Mr Raja is a Dalit". A sweat equity worth a few crores appears loose change when compared with the fact that the public exchequer lost a few thousand crores because of a minister's dishonesty. Again, while Ramesh may have overstepped his brief when commenting on the home ministry's China policy, how do his statements compare with the unabashed criticism of  fellow UPA ministers by Mamata Banerjee? While Ramesh has to apologise, Banerjee remains unrestrained.

Which brings me to raise the larger question: are English-speaking, upper class, highly educated professionals soft targets in public life? An A. Raja gets the benefit of doubt because no political party can be seen to be anti-Dalit even if it means winking at corruption. A Mamata Banerjee enjoys the protection conferred on her by virtue of being a regional ally and a mass leader.

The problem is that both Tharoor and Ramesh are upper caste politicians with no mass base. Tharoor is a Nair, Ramesh a Mysore Brahmin. Tharoor was parachuted into the Lok Sabha from Thiruvananthapuram because of his proximity to the Congress leadership. Ramesh was made a Rajya Sabha member from Andhra Pradesh, again because he had a special relationship with the party's high command. Removing Tharoor as minister was an easy option because while it may have affected the twitterati, it will not affect the existing power equations in Kerala. Ramesh is also a politician who counts his numbers on a laptop, not in a public rally. In other words, both are seen to be easily dispensable netas.

The truth though is that Indian politics needs more of the likes of Tharoor and Ramesh, lateral entrants from the professional world who can add to the quality and intellect of  public life. Just contrast a Tharoor as minister of state in South Block with some of his contemporaries. As diplomats from African and Latin American countries have admitted, Tharoor's experience in the United Nations and linguistic skills made him an impressive 'interlocutor' (ah! that dreaded word again) in their engagement with India. Contrast also Ramesh with his predecessors as environment minister, many of  whom reduced Paryavaran Bhavan to a cash-and-carry ministry. Would you rather have a learned minister representing the country at climate change summits or a bumbling politician who has never heard of greenhouse gas emissions?

Across the western world, there are increasing examples of top-level professionals making a successful switch from the private sector to government. Unfortunately, in India, many of the individuals who aim to make this transition are typecast as English-speaking elitists who are disconnected with 'real India'. The charge of elitism partly stems from envy of the successful upper class Indian, partly from a certain condescension, even hubris, shown by the anglicised Indian towards his 'vernacular' counterparts.

For the traditional, feudal Indian politician, who survives on caste and family loyalties, Tharoor and Ramesh are gatecrashers into a closed system. The duo are a threat to the prevailing political order because they challenge the status quo: neither are they dynasts who are the beneficiaries of being the sons and daughters of  politicians nor are they caste chieftains who will nurture their votebanks. They are instead, like millions of others, children of middle-class Indians who have become upwardly mobile through scholarship and hard work. Indeed, if politics is to prove aspirational and attract the best talent, then it is important that the likes of Tharoor and Ramesh succeed. Which is also why professionals like them need to be extra careful in their public dealings because the rules for their conduct will always be measured by higher standards than those imposed on the rest of the system.

Post-script: If Tharoor and Ramesh are looking for a role model, maybe they should take a lesson from Nandan Nilekani. The former Infosys chief executive is now shuffling through data in a government office, with the singular focus of providing the country's citizens with a unique identification card. No twitter accounts, no Page 3 parties, no glib talks, no dramatic statements, it sometimes pays in public life to be a low-profile worker ant.

Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief , IBN Network

The views expressed by the author are personal








There's a right place and time for an idiom. Nor can it be used at will. Its individual syntactical components will be extracted and highlighted, although an idiom is nothing if not full. Certain idioms don't work at all. These are hard lessons BJP President Nitin Gadkari may be learning from his entanglement in the controversy over words he chose to describe the actions of Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav in a speech that chastised the RJD, SP and BSP for not supporting the NDA over the cut motion in Parliament. Gadkari may also be learning that when you've just entered a national spectrum of public life, adversaries' doubts about whether you should be there at all will persist. And these will be strengthened by gaffes.


In Parliament, and in politics, it has been observed how often abuse is resorted to and how readily offence is taken. In the delays to legislative proceedings and adjournments to the House, the role of disruption is widely noted, as well as the frequency and tenor of spats. Despite mechanisms to deal with unparliamentary language, there hasn't been visible willingness on our politicians' part to change their conduct. And similar conduct outside, in the wider political battleground, doesn't help at all.


Gadkari's offence is the use of foul language; and no excuse of "misunderstanding" what he meant or his idiomatic usage of Hindi will do. He has rightly apologised, and he would be advised not to stand on ego and finesse that apology. Lalu and Mulayam don't appear very forgiving at the moment; and the experience should deepen the BJP chief's understanding of the gravity of his new national stature. If there's a verbal line that cannot be crossed in civilised politics, it has no place for thoughtlessness either. Parliamentary language will not become more "parliamentary" if it's a free-for-all in the wider political flow that feeds Parliament.






After much carping from the sidelines, the information and broadcasting ministry has set up a panel to investigate and reform the entire business of television ratings. In a crowded market, attention-hungry news channels go to absurd lengths, degrading journalistic standards. In 2008, a news channel aired a sting operation that supposedly laid bare a porn racket run by a schoolteacher. The story was later revealed as fake, pure theatre designed to stoke TRPs. The government took a grim view of the matter. In fact, former I&B minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi had even called it a "game between the stock exchange and a company", with "five or six big corporate channels" gaming the system to their convenience and to the detriment of the viewing public. The data is riddled with inaccuracies. It fails to address much of the rural population or factor in advert-low viewerships from regions like Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast.


Television ratings systems have undergone several experiments, all unsatisfactory. In India, the business was long monopolised by a Nielson co-owned agency called Television Audience Measurement (TAM), which placed a few thousand people meters in sample homes across the country to assess viewing patterns. Although India because of sheer diversity needs more people meters than anywhere else in the world, the methodology has been picked apart by critics. Television networks criticised TAM when the scores made them look bad, and defended it when it swung in their favour. After irresponsible news reporting drew government scrutiny and much Parliament attention, the industry dropped TAM and formed the Broadcasting Audience Research Council to regulate their own workings, but that didn't make matters any better.


Would a different mechanism to generate ratings (one to be created by legislation) work better? Or perhaps, an accreditation body that would leave TRP generation to the industry representatives but screen their functioning better? It's a high-stakes game that will decide whether we get the TV we deserve.







In assessing Barack Obama's ambiguous response on Wednesday to a blunt question from an Afghan woman journalist about Pakistan's role in fomenting instability in Afghanistan and beyond, India can agree with the US president's diagnosis but must wonder if he can administer a demanding regimen on an unwilling patient. Delhi naturally welcomes Obama's assertion, at a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the White House, that the existential threats to Islamabad come not from India but the cancer of violent extremism that is growing in Pakistan's body politic. India, however, has reasons to question his claim that he is persuading Islamabad to swallow some of the bitter medicine. More broadly, it is hard to fathom Obama's Af-Pak policy that points fingers at its partners in Afghanistan, but panders to the Pakistan army which provides sanctuaries to terrorists determined to destabilise Afghanistan.


Since he took charge in January 2009, Obama's top foreign policy aides have developed a surreal logic that declares Karzai the problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, the solution. Consequently, Washington put Karzai on short leash and cut a lot of slack to Kayani. Washington's red carpet welcome to Karzai this week does not appear to have altered the basics of Obama's Af-Pak policy. There was nothing in the Obama-Karzai press conference to suggest that the gulf between the two leaders on the tactics of counter-insurgency, the strategy of engaging the Taliban, and Pakistan's role in the Afghan peace process have been bridged.


Obama's reluctance to offend Kayani and Washington's rush to walk back from the threatening noises made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after the links between the Times Square bombing plot and the Pakistani Taliban came to light a few days ago underline two important realities. The US dependence on the Pakistan army to achieve any objective in Afghanistan is real and probably cannot be reduced in any significant manner. The US pressure on Pakistan to do more against terrorist groups on its soil runs into some big demands of Kayani, who insists that his army remain "India-centric" in its threat perceptions and exaggerates Delhi's role in Afghanistan. Kayani wants Obama to deliver India on a range of issues including Kashmir and give his army a free hand in shaping Afghanistan's future. The next few days will show how far Obama will go in accommodating Kayani. Delhi, then, should be fully prepared for a situation where Obama delivers more candies to Kayani in the hope of subjecting the Pakistan army to some unpleasant therapy at some unknown future date.











Amidst the huge bids being generated by the 3G auctions which must have taken everyone by surprise, including the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issued recommendations on a longstanding issue in the telecom sector in India. Spectrum assignment had become a contentious and litigious issue, urgently needing review.


Spectrum and licence have historically been bundled and there is no "market" for 2G spectrum at present. 2G is predominantly used to offer voice services. For licences issued prior to 2001, the amount of bundled spectrum was 4.4 MHz for GSM technology. Additional allocations beyond 4.4 MHz were through occasional administrative orders. When mobile and fixed services converged into the Universal Access Service (UAS) licence with effect from 2003, the bundled amount increased to 6.2 MHz for GSM and 5 MHz for CDMA.


Many incumbent mobile operators such as Bharti, Vodafone Essar, BSNL and MTNL hold around 10 MHz of spectrum in many strategic service areas on the basis of such administrative orders; this excess spectrum was given based on subscriber numbers, DoT "rewarded" a higher base with more spectrum. Since no fees were due for this additional amount, it often distorted operator incentives towards inflating their subscriber numbers.


That spectrum given to operators was severely underpriced was also to be proven subsequently when applications were invited in 2007 for additional UAS licences. In all, 575 applications were received from 46 applicant companies in 22 service areas in the country. After consideration, DoT issued 122 new licences out of 232 applications before the cut-off date at an entry fee of Rs 1659 crore for the entire country. Significantly, this was the amount paid by the highest bidder at the time the fourth cellular licence was auctioned in 2001.


Some applicants who successfully received bundled spectrum with the UAS licence, subsequently sold it in the market for several times the amount they paid as fee, extracting massive arbitrage benefits. We have reached a situation today in which licensees have varying amounts of spectrum ranging from 0 (awaiting assignment) to 10 MHz in discrete intervals.


Remember, spectrum confers market power on those who possess more relative to others.


Against this background TRAI had an unenviable and challenging task: to "level the playing field". What the recommendations essentially try to achieve is to establish a market for spectrum, which would predictably result in efficient pricing and utilisation of the scarce resource. For a start, all licences are to be de-linked from spectrum, that is, no more bundling. TRAI also believes that the contracted spectrum or the prescribed limit for all the access licences issued on or after 2001 is 6.2 MHz / 5 MHz in respect of GSM/ CDMA respectively. Anything above that is to be paid for at the same price as discovered in the ongoing 3G auction. For example, the price in Delhi after 153 rounds of bidding for each MHz of spectrum stands at a whopping Rs 125 crore for 20 years of use. Thus, an operator in Delhi with 4 MHz excess spectrum and with five years of licence period remaining will need to pay Rs 125 crore. At this price some operators might choose to return the "excess spectrum" adding to the pool of spectrum that will then become available for others waiting in the queue to reach the "prescribed limit".


Since demand will always remain greater than supply even after that, TRAI has also recommended priority in assignment. Licensees who were given initial start-up spectrum and are waiting to receive it will be first in the queue; followed by licensees who were assigned the committed spectrum, and are waiting to be assigned spectrum up to the prescribed limit. The last in line are those who are yet to receive the initial start-up spectrum. Operators in the last category will naturally be aggrieved, but one should bear in mind that TRAI is delicately attempting to correct errors of omission and commission made in the past. Any recommendations at this stage would throw up winners and losers, with losers willing to stop or delay the change.


In any case these are merely recommendations made under the advisory role of TRAI. To be notified as policy, DoT will have to first accept them, or at least some of them. Even if they're accepted as is, there is likely to be litigation that will in all likelihood end up at the doorstep of the Supreme Court. I have a suspicion that TRAI itself recognised this aspect and thus the recommendations have a striking quasi-legal construction.


There are a number of other important recommendations buried in the 400 odd pages produced by TRAI, such as uniform licence fee and the need for sharing of spectrum. However, it is the recommendations on allocation, assignment and price of spectrum that will continue to hog the limelight in the near future. We should perhaps brace ourselves for another round on intense litigation in the sector.


The writer is a visiting professor at ICRIER, Delhi







It has been a breathless session of Parliament. Momentous questions stalled for decades seem to have been swiftly dealt with, the women's bill passed by the Rajya Sabha and the Centre clearing the idea of census enumerators quizzing citizens about "caste" — pretty much how curious fellow passengers in an overnight train want to suddenly ask you after the tea and bonhomie, "But what is your caste?" It has also been a "sub" season, with demands for sub-quotas and now, surprisingly, by sub-castes with a Haryana MP making it his business to back the khap panchayats and portray them as rational forces vital for social cohesion at the village level and important for any politician who wishes to continue getting votes the easy way.


The Centre is expected to take a line different from the one Om Prakash Chautala has taken and have a bill that squarely addresses the problem of these "cohesive village forces" turning murderous. But it perhaps did not surprise those of us watching successive politicians tie themselves into knots to rationalise khaps. One virtually invoked Gregor Mendel, as he advocated hybrids and not marriage within "sub-castes" as a scientific hypothesis. Another called khaps "informal organisations, like NGOs". We are yet to hear from the top party leaders of any party active in Haryana on khaps — the hesitation, while a quick back of the envelope is done, is so evident that we can almost hear the rustle of paper. Of course khaps may have started out as bodies of village elders that provided a forum, helped life get on and preserved the status quo and centrality of land ownership patterns in the area. Marriages were but another way of extending or managing property. Khaps allowed widow remarriage several years before Ram Mohun Roy made it an issue — a very big step, but keeping land sorted and organised being the sole driver.


But NGOs and genetic rationalisation in today's context of honour killings and ostracising of those who defy

the khaps' rules about who may marry whom? The answer needs to be a straight one, without any hmms and haws.


The track record of the interface between public life, representation and social change in India is mixed. And the record of the early years of independence is a tough act to follow. The early modern Indian leadership stuck its neck out to fight old frozen identities and articulated the idea of India and made it politically viable, well before the majority thought it possible, or perhaps even advisable.


The south is full of examples of leaders and movements when figures in public life tied the idea of social change to their politics and fused the two, boldly. The thought of being able to construct a majority behind a certain idea must often have been paramount, but consider what was happening in Tamil Nadu, when old and powerful caste shibboleths were demolished, or the entry of Dalits into temples like in Vaikkom was won. These are things we now take for granted but they were hugely unpopular steps at the time that did not have the vocal influential elite onboard at all. Yet eventually, sustained effort led to durable leaderships being built around these ideas.


Remember, these were times when devices to judge what was representative were not institutionalised. Even then, there were those who thought about public life as a calling, not a family or business enterprise. When Pandit Nehru piloted the Hindu Code Bill, he did it at a huge risk, with surly opposition from important sections in his own Congress party and with open opposition from President Rajendra Prasad. Several reformist moves and decisions such as Periyar's or Ambedkar's would not have happened but for calculated risks of alienating elitist wisdom entrenched in the power centres of the time.


For those unable to reach Naveen Jindal on why he set out to empathise with khaps, one has to only check with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on the perils of trying to fiddle with the status quo. The land question which he merely commissioned a report on, by the now famous West Bengal bureaucrat, D. Bandopadhyay, has effected a grand coalition of the upper castes led by the landed elite to somehow unseat the chief minister. And this, 60 years after the abolition of zamindari.


Social change and political representation have not always co-existed smoothly. Leaderships have mostly veered around the conservative and vocal base. Look how the "Muslim" vote is perceived — it is seen to be mediated by the most reactionary section of the community. Most politicians, unmindful of the huge numbers of puzzled and silent Muslims, those who lie between the Khan stereotype of the Bollywood Muslim and those delivering the (totally illegitimate and unauthorised) "fatwa" on a divorce or marriage.


Perhaps our "representatives" are so cut off from those they claim to represent, that the distance between their ears and the ground is too large to be ever bridged. It's easy for them to bank on those who claim to speak for the "grassroots", those who are fighting the last-ditch battle to secure a feudal system on the wrong side of history.


Perhaps our representatives are missing a vital moment, a moment of change that the average Indian is experiencing, social and economic — some change for the worse, but lots for the better.


At that moment of social unshackling, if our leaders claim to attempt to stand for those who are fighting change, it's a moment they will rue soon.


But then, sometimes one wonders if our very ideas of modernity need to be reviewed. Democratic India once proudly and confidently shook off titles like "maharaja" and "prince" — but now these are back, with shocking regularity, with people described, even self-referentially, as the "ruler of...". The last sigh of the feudal edifice, or perhaps, worryingly, a sign of the indifferent new order that cynically lives on? After all, it can always be explained away as an idea close to the "masses". In reality, these are dangerous choices being made by a lazy and populist elite unmindful of what's being unravelled.








After the Lok Sabha's unanimous suport for a caste census, it was natural for the Central government to agree to the demand. A full-fledged debate reflected the mood of all speakers, and the government, which is accountable to the Parliament, has to respect that wish.


In fact, it was unfortunate that the caste census was discontinued after Independence. The last census of caste took place in 1931. In 1941 it was discontinued because of World War II because the war needed more funds. State governments were asked to pay for a caste census if they wanted information. This means that even the British government was not against the caste census in principle.


But after Independence, the caste census was discontinued. It was a wrong decision on the part of the government of independent India. It is said that the caste census was discontinued because it is divisive. It is a funny argument. India was divided because of religion, not because of caste, but the religion census continued. So religion was the culprit, while caste was punished. If you are interested in knowing the figures related to religion, which proved to be divisive, why are you not interested in knowing the figures of caste?


Caste is a reality of Indian society, though it is a bitter reality. We should get rid of it, but we cannot do it by just ignoring it. To annihilate it, we have to understand it in its entirety and make an all-out assault on it. But the Indian government, which is credited with stopping the caste census because of the divisive nature of caste, did nothing to end the caste menace in 60 years of its existence.


Now people are arguing that our Constitution makers were not fools and their decision to forgo the caste census should be respected. The fact is there is no provision against a caste census in the Constitution. It is done by executive orders. Yes, our Constitution makers have amended it to ensure adequate representation of backward class of citizens through the first amendment, but that Constitutional provisions could not be sincerely implemented until now.


Other backward classes of citizens had Constitutional provisions for reservations 60 years ago. It was the right step to fight the menace of the caste system, which allowed a few castes to perpetuate their hold on power. After Independence, they strengthened this hold, and the majority of people who belonged to scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes were further subjugated. If the discontinuation of the caste census was the sincere desire of the government to do away with the evil of caste divisiveness, why was there no attempt to annihilate the caste system?


Great people, like Guru Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh, Kabir, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, Mahatma Gandhi, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan and many others fought against the evils of the caste system. The Lingayat sect in South India came into existence by fighting the caste system. One of the reasons for the founding of Sikhism was also to end the caste menace. Even Swami Dayananda of the Arya Samaj and Swami Vivekananda opposed it. They did what they could to campaign against the system of caste.


My question is, what did the government of India do? What is their record of the fight against caste, which it considered divisive, when the question of caste census came up in 1951? Caste based reservation is the single measure which nails this caste system. Those who enjoy high caste status and privilege dislike only one thing related to caste, and that is caste based reservation. The policy of reservation is the most badly implemented policy of the government after Independence. It has been never implemented with honesty.


They say that SCs and STs are not throwing up enough eligible candidates to fill the vacancies meant for them. That is why seats meant for them remain unfilled. But what about OBC candidates? OBC reservation in Central government services has been implemented since 1993, but their representation in Central gazetted jobs has not exceeded 5 per cent. According to the report of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), the UPSC is active with all kinds of conspiracies to minimise the recruitment of SC, ST and OBC candidates. They take a separate interview in order to give lower marks in oral exams.


So all kinds of attempts are on to strengthen the people seated high on the caste ladder and deprive others. They want to perpetuate the caste system to perpetuate their own stronghold. When the issue of caste census comes up, they turn into revolutionaries against caste and start preaching that caste is divisive and hence we should not count it. They are ready to do sample surveys of caste, but not a census. They have some caste figures from their fake sample surveys and they pit those against the caste census figures of 1931, but they do not want a fresh caste census, because they


are aware that their sample survey will fall flat.


Caste cannot be eliminated without an assertion of their caste identities by the so-called lower castes. So long as they suppress their caste identities, they will lose. Dominant castes readily assert their caste identity, but the others are ashamed of these identities, because of the social stigma. This only paves the way for caste domination. A caste census gives an opportunity to deprived people to know their numbers and assert their identities. Lower castes are nothing but suppressed social identities. Assertion of their identities will help them challenge the power establishment. That is why there is such hue and cry against the caste census, which will give the correct number of people of all castes and their domination over the system. Let us face reality. Let us remove caste from our society by knowing it more clearly.


The writer is convener of the National Democratic Alliance and president of Janata Dal (United)








Viswanathan Anand is a master calculator, but even he was unable to predict the effect that the volcano with the unpronounceable name would have on his title defence. Anand was due in Sofia, to play a best-of-12 game match against Veselin Topalov, the hometown favourite. He was en-route from Madrid and with his requests for postponement denied, it looked like Anand's campaign was over before it began. The airspace over Europe was shut, and they had to wend their way through Eastern Europe to reach Sofia.


After this arduous journey, the first game was as anti-climatic as they come. Topalov launched a fierce attack. While Anand had already prepared for this sequence of moves with his team of grandmaster helpers. he could not remember the move, at the crunch. With the clock ticking, he desperately searched the chambers of his memory (an immense library built move by move, book by book over the two decades that he has been a top level player). Rejecting a bishop manoeuvre that commentators said was necessary, Anand finally moved his king from the firing line. Topalov's response was as brutal as it was rapid. A knight smashed into the fortress of pawns around the black king. Anand attempted a flight to safety but it was too late. The white pieces corralled His Majesty in the centre of the board and with checkmate imminent, Anand had to throw in the towel. As he once said in an interview, "It's funny, you may remember every single thing. But if you don't remember that you remember, that is also a problem."


After that disastrous start, though, Anand fought back in the very next game and felled the Bulgarian with some exquisite play. The scores were levelled. What followed over the next three weeks was an epic battle as the two grandmasters went at each other. From torturous endgames to fierce battles in the middle-game, to pieces of outstanding preparation in the opening, the "thrilla in Sofia" saw them all. They did not play perfect chess. Far from it. Its splendour came from the clash of two absolute wills consumed by thoughts of victory.


Much of the excitement was provided by the contrasting personalities and their unique approaches to the game. Anand's opponent Topalov was once a champion himself. In 2006 he had lost his crown to Russia's Vladimir Kramnik in the most infamous world championship match of all time. Kramnik had gotten off to a 2-0 lead when Topalov's manager Danailov entered the fray. Accusing the Russian of visiting the loo once too often and getting computer assistance, Danailov threw the match into chaos. Eventually Topalov was dethroned by the Russian in a bitter battle.


Topalov was a 12-year-old prodigy with a difficult childhood when he caught the eye of Silvio Danailov. Danailov himself was a master who nurtured ambitions as a player. Once he saw Topalov, however, he sacrificed his own career. A Canadian grandmaster who knows the duo wrote: "Danailov took Topalov to his apartment and told him 'From now on, you live here and this will become your new home. I am not just your trainer, but I am also your mother and your father. I am your cook. I am the one who will wash your clothes. I am the one who will pay your bills and expenses to tournaments. All I want from you is to think only about chess!"


Topalov shot through the ranks — by 19 he had already defeated Kasparov. This lonely and obsessed East European could not be more different from Anand. And yet, in some ways they understand each other. Like all specialists in a very narrow field, there are only two ways of reacting to them — indifference or awe. To be admitted into their secret world, you have to know the rules. An amateur once congratulated Bobby Fischer on a "great game" - the legend snapped back "How would you know?" Chess is unique in that unlike football or cricket, you need to have a modicum of understanding even to spectate. And as the level becomes higher, even understanding the moves becomes difficult.


Topalov performs best when there is an air of "aggro" — an


atmosphere of menace and pressure. He tried provoking Anand, proclaiming that he would not offer or accept draws — he would fight to the death. Anand calmly offered draws anyway. Topalov had the unpalatable options of either playing on in a completely drawn position or accepting the hated offer.


This contradiction would impose its fatal pressure on Topalov in the final game. Eleven games had gone by with scores even. Now everything depended on the final encounter. Again the position began looking equal and Anand made a tacit offer of a draw. If this game too was drawn then the match would enter tie-breaks, a further match of four games played in "rapid style". And Topalov had lost to Kramnik in precisely the same fashion. With that on his mind, Topalov disdained the draw. He instead played in kamikaze style, with an all or nothing attack. Anand calmly retaliated and won a smashing final victory.


Like in all sports, you can be haunted by memories of a traumatic loss. Topalov spent much of the time after 2006 futilely arguing for a rematch. Topalov was obsessed with Kramnik, and Anand's biggest failing in the eyes of Topalov was that he wasn't Kramnik. Meanwhile, Anand was defiant in defeat, resolute in the struggle and magnanimous in victory. While a stunned Topalov could barely speak, Anand complimented the organisers and called his rival a great attacking player. And it is this — not his trophies, his rating, his hundreds of tournament victories — that make Viswanathan Anand a true champion of our times.


The writer is a chess enthusiast and graphic novelist







A reliable rule in politics is that whenever something is decried as an unprecedented innovation, you can be sure that this is a tradition with many precedents.


The British have just experienced a strange election campaign, and then a convulsive few days. But, as ever, there is little new under the sun. For the first time since 1974, no one party won an absolute parliamentary majority, meaning 326 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons. The Conservatives came nearest with 306, followed by 258 for Gordon Brown and Labour, 57 for Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats and 29 for others.


So on Friday the party leaders began horse-trading to see if some alliance could be arranged. What that meant was that the Liberal Democrats played one side against the other. On Tuesday evening their negotiations with Labour broke down, seemingly leaving Clegg with no alternative but to shake hands with the Conservative leader, David Cameron. This is far from historically unique. Whether it has been seemly is another matter.


One genuinely new factor was the televised debates between party leaders. Clegg outshone his rivals in the first debate, although, looking back, to appear less wooden than Brown and less glib than Cameron was not really such a feat. For a while, "Cleggmania" gave his party a surge in the polls, but it didn't last until the day that mattered, when the Lib Dems won fewer seats than five years ago. Yet since the Tories had failed to win an outright majority, they had to start looking for partners, while Brown stayed put uneasily at Downing Street. For the next three days there were intense discussions between the Tories and the


Lib Dems.


All this was dramatic, but not quite so novel. When Disraeli said that "England does not love coalitions," it was only partly true. The very term "hung parliament" is a recent coining, and would have puzzled the Victorians. In their day, parliaments usually had no one party with an absolute majority. Allegiances were much more fluid, and Parliament was sovereign, dominating the executive — rather than, as latterly and regrettably — the other way round.


Only one government has fallen on a parliamentary vote in the past 80 years, on that indelible evening in 1979 when Margaret Thatcher challenged the Labour government in a confidence vote and the government lost. Yet every government from 1837 to 1874 fell after a Commons vote.


Nor is today's predicament unheard-of. Exactly 100 years ago there was a "hung parliament." In fact there were not one but two general elections in 1910, with almost identical results. The second election gave both Liberals and Tories exactly the same number of MPs — 272 each when 336 was needed for a majority. So the Liberals continued in office, but with the support of Irish nationalists and Labour, for which concessions were exacted in return.


What was aberrant in hindsight was the two-party dominance in the middle of the 20th century. The story of the first half of the century was the rise of Labour and the fall of the Liberals, so that by 1951 Labour and Tories shared almost 97 per cent of the total vote. That has fallen, thanks to the revival of the Liberals, who are now the Liberal Democrats, and the rise of separatist factions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.


One consequence has to been to raise more sharply the subject of electoral reform. The Commons is elected by what's sometimes called the Westminster system: individual legislators are chosen in discrete electoral districts on a simple plurality, which always disadvantages third (or more-than-third) parties.


Not surprisingly, while the Lib Dems have many planks in their electoral platform, their chief demand is a proportional voting system which would give them a number of seats more in alignment with their share of the national vote. Not surprisingly, either, there has long been resistance to that from Labour and the Tories.


There are arguments on both sides. Plainly "Westminster" gives too much power to the largest party — five years ago, Blair won 54 per cent of seats with 36 per cent of the vote. But then proportional representation can give too much power to the smaller parties, as we have witnessed from Israel to Ireland — and as we have just seen here by way of a foretaste of what proportional representation would be like without even changing the system.


Although the election was a severe defeat for Clegg, it left him the most powerful player in the game. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a former Tory foreign secretary, called the Lib Dems duplicitous, and David Blunkett, a former Labour home secretary, said that they had behaved "like every harlot in history." One may not agree with those precise sentiments. But it really hasn't been a very elevating spectacle — or much of an advertisement for the very change Clegg demands.







Since its adoption after a landmark 1966 Supreme Court decision, the Miranda warning has worked its way into not only everyday police procedure, but American culture as well — even if you've never been arrested, you probably know the words "anything you say can and will be used against you." But as the Obama administration considers carving out an exception to the Miranda rules for terrorism suspects in the wake of the arrest of Faisal Shahzad, accused of being the Times Square bomber, it's important to note how little people understand what Miranda does and doesn't mean.

First, the failure to give a Miranda warning does not result in a case being dismissed. It only results in the inability of the police to use a confession and its fruits in evidence. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of successful criminal prosecutions do not involve confessions.


The warning's genesis lies in the Fifth Amendment, which says that the government may not compel a person "in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." The framers knew how easy it was to obtain a confession through torture or other forms of overt coercion, and how tempting it was for a government to use such tactics. To prohibit this, the founders said, in effect, that a person could not be forced to confess. The problem was trying to determine what counted as a coerced confession. The methods of police interrogation were so diverse, and the effects of isolation, intimidation and defendant ignorance so varied, that appellate courts found it difficult to determine whether a confession had been voluntary.


Finally, in 1966, the Miranda decision established a universal standard, requiring people in police custody to be read their rights before being questioned. Under most circumstances, failure to comply with this rule would lead to a suppression of the confession. However, contrary to common belief, the Miranda warning doesn't confer rights; it simply reminds arrestees of the rights already granted to them by the Constitution. Moreover, talk-show hosts and television police dramas have led people to believe that before the police may interrogate or arrest a suspect, the Miranda warning must be given. That just isn't the case. Neither arrest alone nor interrogation alone (if there has been no arrest) requires the warning to be given. Miranda applies only to in-custody questioning; a statement made to the police by a suspect not in custody is not subject to Miranda. Still, many supporters of Miranda exclusions argue that the rule hamstrings law enforcement. This is wrong, too.


When Miranda was decided, we envisioned wily defence lawyers using Miranda to suppress a confession, often the strongest foundation on which to build a conviction. Over time, however, police compliance became second nature, and the warning has become a routine part of post-arrest interrogation. Today, judges only rarely suppress confessions because the warning wasn't given. This doesn't mean that Miranda is irrelevant, or that there isn't a place for exceptions. In 1982, while I was a judge on New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals, we heard a case in which a man entered a supermarket with a loaded gun. When the police detained the man, they found him wearing an empty holster, and asked him the whereabouts of the weapon. After he showed the police where he had hidden the gun, he was charged with criminal possession of a weapon.


The lower courts held that he should have been given his Miranda warning before being asked the location of the gun. I wrote an opinion, later embraced by the Supreme Court, that created an "emergency exception" to Miranda, allowing the police to defuse a dangerous situation before administering the warning.


But resolving immediate emergencies is about as far as we should go in delaying the Miranda reading or creating exceptions to it. To open non-emergency exceptions, like the one proposed by the Obama administration, would be to go down a road toward the eventual nullification of the constitutional protection against self-incrimination. The Miranda rule enables us to protect a fundamental right without forcing the courts to allow the legitimacy of every confession to be proven before it is allowed into evidence. To compromise the rule would be counterproductive to the freedom we enjoy — a freedom that terrorists would like nothing better than to destroy.








Now that the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) figures for the fiscal year 2009-10 are finally in, it is time to take stock and read the signals. The overall record is impressive as the double-digit growth of 10.4% achieved has been surpassed only twice in the last 16 years that the current index has been used, once in 2006-07 and earlier in the mid-1990s. But what makes the most recent achievement impressive is the speed of the recovery as the slump pushed down growth to 2.8% in 2008-09, the lowest in the last 16 years. But then one can also turn this argument around and point out that a substantial part of the current boom can be attributed to the low base year, which is very unlike the case in the earlier instances. Another aspect that makes the current boom rather unique is the structure of growth. In both the earlier cases the double-digit aggregate growth in industry was uniformly reflected across almost all the major sectors. In sharp contrast, the current scenario is highly skewed. On one side are the impressive numbers spewed out by the investment goods segment. Growth in all the three important segments and sub-segments of this sector—capital goods, machinery and transport equipment industries—have hit a 16-year high, shooting up to the 19-24% range. Equally impressive is the gain made by the intermediate goods sector where the 13.6% growth is the second highest since the mid-1990s.


At the other extreme is the consumer goods segment whose 7.4% growth is lacklustre considering the double-digit growth registered by the segment in all the three years up to 2006-07. And what is even more surprising is that the two sub-segments of the consumer goods sector are treading at the extremes. While the 1.5% growth recorded by the non-durable goods or articles of daily consumption was the second worst recorded in over 16 years, the 26.1% growth achieved by the durables goods segment was the best during the period. Another striking aspect of the consumer goods segment is that the pick-up in some of the labour-intensive sectors, such as textiles, has been impressive, while those linked with agriculture, such as food products and beverages, have been very unimpressive. So boosting slack consumer demand is an important prerequisite for sustaining recovery. Bountiful rains and booming exports, both outside the control of government, will play a key role here, given the limited leverage that fiscal and monetary tools have in the current scenario.







Lately, marketing gurus and policy planners have made common cause of celebrating the rural market in India. While urban India and the world took a hit from the global economic slowdown, India's rural economy offered the rainbow of resilience. FMCG majors, telecom giants, auto players—the list of sectors that have had cause to revel in this rainbow is long. But our columnists have been drawing attention to how the binary simplicity of a rural-urban formula is fast becoming inadequate to describe a fast-evolving scene where rising incomes and infrastructural investments are imbuing suburbs and satellite towns with new energies. Following alongside such analysis, FE reported yesterday that peri-urban areas is where it is all happening. This sizeable and (also) resilient market lies between India's urban hubs and rural centres. It has been variously clubbed under umbrella terms such as tier I, II, III or IV centres or small towns, depending on the marketers' diverse industry criteria. A new study by Indicus Analytics that looks to overcome this confusion by classifying peri-urban markets based on population size finds that they are the ones that really helped India's consumer product companies and automakers to report gains at a time when most corporates feared the effects of the global financial crisis had on their bottom lines. From Dasna, which is a short 40 km off Ghaziabad, to Hodal in Haryana's Faridabad district and Niwari, which is located off the Hapur road in Ghaziabad, to take some examples that are really close to the capital and its expansion, we have instances of how traffic between urban and non-urban centres is throwing up startlingly new amalgamations.


In Niwari, FE reports that the local panchayat has dug into its pockets to set up solar street lights. Across Dasna, Hodal and Niwari, we know that educational institutes are proliferating. Whatever be their quality, they offer definitive evidence of a desire for higher education amongst the locals in this twilight zone. This evidence, in turn, is indicative of shifts in labour profiles as well as reflective of how infrastructural developments like roads and telecom have been transforming labour aspirations. All the energies evidenced in these buffer zones between rural and urban centres also affirm that more efficient delivery of markets, communication infrastructure, electricity et al indeed translate into more potent growth delivery. But both marketing gurus and policymakers have to recognise the significance of the rural-urban continuum before they can reap its advantages.









It is just as well that the minister of environment and forests, Jairam Ramesh, personally called on the home minister, P Chidambaram, to explain why he had described the home ministry as unduly paranoid about Chinese businesses wanting to enter India. The place and occasion Jairam Ramesh chose to vent his frustrations were certainly wrong. But P Chidambaram would be the first to admit that in recent years the bureaucracies at the ministries of external affairs, industry and home have never treated China on par with the western countries, as far as inward investment is concerned.


When Chidambaram was the finance minister, the Chinese had complained to him about the Indian bureaucracy's discriminatory attitude towards Chinese businesses wanting to enter India. I recall the Chinese ambassador told Chidambaram that of all the business visas given by China and India to each other, nearly 80% were extended by the Chinese until a few years ago. So, Chidambaram agreed that if visas were a proxy for the openness of an economy, the Chinese were more open than us.


Again, as finance minister, Chidambaram, and several other Cabinet ministers, had the good sense to oppose a draft proposal mooted by the then national security advisor (NSA), MK Narayanan, that China must be clubbed with Pakistan and Bangladesh in a negative list nations from where no investment proposal should get automatic clearance. In his first draft proposal, which went for comments to various economic ministries, the NSA had actually sought to put this negative list of countries as part of a national security legislation Act to 'safeguard India's national interests'.


Better sense prevailed as most Cabinet ministers then opposed the draconian idea of placing China on a negative list of inbound investors. Of course, later the NSA himself piped down and diluted the idea, after the Prime Minister firmly voted against any draconian legislation that treated China as pariah. It would be totally self-defeating to treat a global economic power in our immediate neighbourhood as pariah, it was argued.


Significantly, looking at Chinese investments with suspicion is a mindset that exists across the government. This is not just a home ministry problem. For instance, most investment proposals, even for innocuous consumer goods, are referred by the industry ministry for security clearance to the home ministry. I remember the investment proposal from the Chinese global white goods major, Haier, was held up for nearly two years before getting security clearance! Would Samsung from South Korea and Electrolux from Sweden be treated like this?


Two years ago, Jairam Ramesh himself led a campaign urging Indian power generation companies to buy equipment from Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) and not from Chinese companies, which were selling at 30% to 40% less price. There was a whisper campaign that the Chinese power equipments were inferior. However, power producers like Reliance Power and GMR had no complaints. In fact, after Jairam Ramesh persuaded BHEL to offer a better price to Reliance Power, it was found that Chinese equipment was still cheaper by 30%. As the minister of state for power then, Jairam Ramesh proposed that the Chinese must be forced to set up operations in India and value-add up to 30-40% here before selling power plants to domestic power producers.


I asked the head of General Electric in India whether Chinese equipment was indeed inferior. He told me that General Electric had fully transferred technology to the Chinese and they were adding more than half of India's total capacity every year! So what is wrong with Chinese equipment?


Let us face it. We are suspicious and even paranoid about China. There is no point blaming the home ministry alone for it. This suspicion has permeated the entire government. It is fuelled by strategic experts who are encouraged by the establishment, that is the ministry of external affairs, to constantly generate more suspicion about China. Clubbing China with Pakistan is the biggest disservice strategic experts do to this nation.


Actually, we are still totally unsure how to deal with the Chinese. Here is a classic example. Recently FE published a report based on the minutes of a meeting held by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board under the ministry of industry. There was a foreign investment proposal from the Chinese telecom equipment company, Huawei, which has presence across 40 countries in the world. Huawei also powers the telecom networks of half of 14-odd telecom operators in India. However, the government has observed in the minutes that Huawei is a company promoted by an officer of People's Liberation Army and has the capability to remotely manipulate the equipment it supplies to operators. Mind you, in the past this company has supplied equipment even to public sector companies such as BSNL and MTNL. This would certainly qualify as 'paranoia', for Huawei has a huge research centre at Bangalore powered by Indian minds. It has registered a large number of patents in telecom hardware earned by these very Indian minds. So why would Indian IT professionals work for a company run by the People's Liberation Army? Am I being paranoid?


Indeed, paranoia can also be part of conscious policy. British Historian Paul Kennedy describes the US's foreign policy approach to China brilliantly. He says American foreign policy towards China is marked by schizophrenia. One half consciously wants to convert China after America's own image. The other half is paranoid that a morphed China will become a huge threat. So at least there seems to be a method in their madness. Is there one in ours?








Users, telecommunications operators, equipment manufacturers and the government have a stake in transparent and predictable rules for the allocation and pricing of spectrum. Trai would have been expected to understand this best. Alas, it doesn't. India's spectrum rules were put together in the early 1990's, when few observers or even experts expected the current explosion of demand for spectrum; expensive mobile services were going to be toys for the rich. Subsequent events demonstrated that these rules reflect little of the value of this critical resource and that they, in fact, encourage wastage since companies receive 'free' spectrum once they acquire a threshold number of subscribers. The government collects a share of revenues as fees, but no upfront fee. There was an incentive to overstate subscribers and grab spectrum available at bargain prices. The minister for telecommunications stretched this anomaly to the hilt by creating rights to cheap spectrum for even more companies several of whom, as expected, sold them at roughly six times the price.


Trai's challenge was to reconcile the many conflicting interests in the market place which have arisen because of—let us be direct—the government's sins of omission and commission. It had to recommend rules that encouraged efficient use of the resource to protect India's long-term interests in wireless technologies. There was urgent need to help consolidate a sector which, thanks to irrationally cheap spectrum bundled with licences, has an unprecedented 12 mobile operators in each service area when in other countries this number rarely exceeds four. Much like land, which has many of the same features as spectrum, market-based rules for allocation and pricing of spectrum had to replace arbitrary administrative rules. Like in most important regulatory regimes, spectrum had to be separated from mobile licences.


Yes, Trai has delinked spectrum from licences since companies will have to apply for and pay separately for spectrum after they acquire their licences on payment of nominal fees. But the price proposed for spectrum has been linked to that for 3G spectrum. This has serious limitations since the chief reason for the high 3G prices is that the over one hundred licences issued by A Raja in 2008 have created an artificial scarcity and incumbent players, with huge investments and networks at stake, see little chance of receiving spectrum any other way.


Trai's recommendations seem more about fees. Were they to be accepted, older GSM players like Airtel, Vodafone and even BSNL/MTNL can expect to pay several thousand crores of rupees for spectrum. This would not be an issue, if the idea was to require all those who receive cheap spectrum to pay its actual value. Sadly, some beneficiaries of brazenly arbitrary decisions of government functionaries will be punished, while others actually rewarded.


The problem with Trai's recommendations is that they so obviously protect the interests of licences allotted in A Raja's regime by throwing all rationality, fair play or transparency to the winds. The Indian mobile market was one of the most competitive and crowded in the world before the new licences were awarded at bargain prices. It assures new players—many of whom have yet to even start services and others who have cashed in on the cheap spectrum—of 6.2 MHz. The same amount is now due to erstwhile CDMA players who have been awarded GSM without any public process.


To make matters worse, while GSM players with over 6.2 MHz will have to pay extra, the dual technology players will get to keep the their GSM and CDMA spectrum and not pay extra for either, because contrary to all accepted principles, Trai does not want the latter's spectrum supplies combined. So, even though Reliance may have 9.4 MHz of spectrum in several circles and serve comparable or fewer subscribers, only GSM incumbents will pay for spectrum above 6.2 MHz. Indeed technology neutrality, which Trai claims to abide by, demands that the spectrum be treated in a unified way so that companies choose technologies that are most effective for the services they wish to offer.


An even more bizarre example of helping dubiously licensed late comers is the approach adopted for spectrum in the 900 MHz band, which early GSM players received in the processes far more transparent than those seen recently. Trai has proposed that this spectrum will go—and be replaced by less valuable spectrum, when licences are up for renewal, even though other spectrum can be retained at a price. There is admittedly a case for re-farming 900 MHz for 3G. That Trai seeks to do it in a brazenly arbitrary fashion, demonstrates an ignorance of its responsibility towards serious players and orderly growth.


The author is a telecom consultant










The New Pension Scheme (NPS), now extended to all citizens of the country, has given a return of 12% to investors, a good 4 percentage points more than PPF and EPF. Despite the high returns, however, the scheme for unorganised workers has been able to attract only 6,000 subscribers with a corpus of Rs 10 crore, as compared to 4.5 crore subscribers in EPF.


Analysts say that NPS will have to show consistent results for a longer period of time to attract more subscribers and Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) will have to take proactive steps to market the scheme so that subscribers in the unorganised sector are aware of. Surprisingly, even after the government's announcement in this year's Budget to credit Rs 1,000 to new accounts opened after April 1, 2010, it has not generated enough encouragement for subscribers to queue up. The PFRDA will now have to aggressively increase the point-of-presence and gradually increase the number of pension fund managers for more competition.


The NPS, unlike existing pension funds like EPF and PPF that offer assured benefits, has defined contributions and individuals can decide where to invest their money with returns dependent on market conditions. One of the major irritants for subscribers under the current provisions is that withdrawals under the NPS attract tax under the EET (exempt-exempt-taxable) system, which means that while contributions and returns to the NPS are exempt, withdrawals attract tax. Analysts say that considering the marginal risk involved in the scheme coupled with the fact that the scheme is meant for the common man who does not have access to any comprehensive social welfare scheme, the government will have to look into this issue and grant complete tax exemption for the scheme. This will attract a lot of fence sitters as savings and retirement schemes in India are more tax-driven.


Going ahead, the government will also have to come out with clear guidelines on the co-ordination between PFRDA and Irda so that another Sebi-Irda like spat over Ulips does not crop up in the future.








The National League for Democracy in Myanmar, the political party of Aung San Suu Kyi — the main symbol of resistance against the junta for over two decades — has ceased to exist, a victim of mala fide by the country's uniquely repressive military rulers. Earlier this year, the State Peace and Development Council (the name the junta has given itself) brought in a new law requiring that political parties register for the national elections (expected to be held later this year) or face dissolution. A party would not be allowed to register unless it expelled members who had been convicted. The law was clearly aimed at excluding Ms Suu Kyi, who was convicted by the junta of violating the terms of her house arrest. Faced with the May 6 deadline for registration, the NLD chose principle over pragmatism and decided that it would disband rather than dump its leader. It is true that there are signs of fatigue among the people over the prolonged standoff between the junta and the pro-democracy activists. There have even been suggestions that the NLD might have helped serve the cause of democracy better by agreeing to participate in the election. Indeed, some members of the defunct NLD were quick to announce plans to contest the elections under the banner of a new political party but this is unlikely to take them anywhere.


By now, it is abundantly clear that the kind of democracy the SPDC wants to usher in will be nothing but military rule in another garb. The Constitution framed by the junta has a provision reserving a quarter of the seats in parliament for the military. In addition, several generals who recently stepped down are expected to contest the election as civilians. This will boost the number of military men in the new parliament. The NLD's participation can only legitimise a pre-rigged process. By making the difficult choice of staying out, the NLD has ensured that issues of legitimacy will plague the new set-up. This in turn will have implications for the outside world's constant search for engagement with fuel-rich Myanmar. The moral high ground of Ms Suu Kyi will be a constant reminder to international and regional powers, India included, of the ineffectiveness of their efforts to help her. For the NLD and its Nobel Laureate leader, the challenge now is to keep alive the political link with the people without the infrastructure of a political party. The immediate response has been the announcement of plans to launch social service programmes as a way to do political work. Whether the junta will allow this, given its track record, is highly uncertain. After all that she has endured, it seems the real battle for Ms Suu Kyi has just begun






Acting with unusual speed, the European Union has come up with an unprecedented $750 billion rescue package to combat the fast-spreading debt crisis that has engulfed Europe. Another $321 billion is to be provided by the International Monetary Fund. On the day the package was announced, financial markets across the world bounced back sharply reversing the steep declines of the previous three days. In India, the benchmark stock indices staged one of the biggest one-day rallies seen over the previous year. Since then, the stock markets have moderated, as it came to be felt that this huge package will only provide a breather and not address the basic causes that brought about the crisis in the first place. The urgent task is to check the rapid spread of contagion. The crisis that had its origins in Greece's fiscal problems has spread to the rest of Europe, although only three other countries — Portugal, Spain and Ireland, all with high levels of public indebtedness — are seen to be particularly vulnerable. The fears that the troubles in Europe would morph into another global crisis seem exaggerated. However, in the United States and many other developed countries, the European crisis might choke the already feeble recovery.


There are some similarities between the latest crisis and the previous one. Both had their origins in what were unlikely sources. The U.S. sub-prime housing market was hardly a familiar name even to bankers in many developing countries. Greece with just 2.5 per cent of the euro zone's GDP was least expected to threaten the euro and the monetary union or export its problems to many parts of the world. As in the previous crisis, the globalisation of financial markets has meant Greece's domestic problems rattling markets across the world. Private capital has stopped flowing into countries with strained finances. The euro has sunk to a 14-month low and the bond markets, reflecting the uncertainty, are quoting at increased spreads. Financial markets and governments will be looking for positive cues in the wake of the massive package. It is not clear in what shape the euro and the monetary union will emerge after the crisis. Euro sceptics are having a field day pointing out, among others, the relative inflexibility of the euro mechanism to tackle a crisis such as the one in Greece. In India, the crisis in Europe has, apart from having its impact on stock prices, raised question marks on the private sector's overseas borrowing. And once again, the crisis has shown the fickle nature of foreign portfolio money managers.










'Trust' is too loaded a term to be used in inter-state discourse; 'confidence-building' is a well accepted phrase and is safer to employ. The new buzzword in India-Pakistan dialogue is 'trust deficit.' Trust 'deficit' presupposes that there is trust, only its quantity or/and quality have diminished. Was there ever a time when there was 'trust' between the two countries?


The circumstances surrounding Pakistan's creation and its aggression in Kashmir ensured that there could be no 'trust' between the countries. Indira Gandhi tried 'trust' — she trusted Z.A. Bhutto to deliver on his promise of internationalising the Line of Control, made to her in Shimla — on the basis on which she agreed to all that she did in Shimla. Did Manmohan Singh trust Pervez Musharraf? We do not know but Indians cannot forget that the General was responsible for Kargil which cost us the lives of more than 800 of our best and bravest. Atal Bihari Vajpayee surely did not trust him after his experience at Agra.


It came as no surprise that our Prime Minister went all the way in Thimphu, responding positively to Pakistan's demand for resumption of dialogue at the political level. He jumped the several steps on Pakistan's 'road map' and met his Pakistani counterpart in Bhutan for over an hour. Thus the road map suggested by Pakistan got reversed; it started at the highest political level and will be followed up at the ministerial and Secretary levels. He has set himself the vision of establishing cordial relations and is determined to shame Pakistan into good neighbourly behaviour.


Sometimes, this approach can work. Going by media reports quoting unnamed MEA sources, Pakistan seems to have sold the line that Yusuf Raza Gilani has armed himself with new and enhanced powers under the 18th amendment to Pakistan's Constitution, making him a worthy interlocutor for the serious discussion of all weighty issues. This may be overstating things a bit. Perhaps the 'official sources' felt the need for this argument to justify to the public as well as sceptics within the ruling coalition the resumption of dialogue. The real question is whether Mr. Gilani has the authority to take decisions that the army, including the ISI, might not approve of or whether he would have to clear all the issues in dealing with India, Afghanistan, Kashmir, etc. first with the military. As for the Pakistan Peoples Party, Asif Ali Zardari seems to be in control, as evidenced by the fact that the government has decided to declare the Swiss cases against him 'closed.' Mr. Gilani's claim to be the valid interlocutor with Dr. Singh must be taken with a fistful of salt.


It is essential that India does not engage Pakistan in talks without a clear idea of what it expects of the neighbour in terms of reducing the 'trust deficit'; it cannot be simply a case of making a subjective judgment on whether Pakistan has done anything, or enough, to reduce the deficit. There are quantifiable criteria which can be spelt out and even publicly announced by our side.


At the same time, we must be objective in our analysis and approach. As for prosecuting the perpetrators of 26/11, a judicial process is on in Pakistan. After the role the judiciary has played in toppling Gen. Musharraf and considering the role it wants to play in applying the revocation of NRO to Mr. Zardari, it would not be fair to doubt its independence. By the same token, it is unfair on the part of those in Pakistan who cast aspersions on our judicial process — whereby the two Indians co-accused with Kasab were acquitted of all charges. We must note that the Pakistan government has not joined in these allegations.


The most important criterion has to do with terrorism. A statement by the Pakistan Prime Minister that his government will not allow Pakistan's territory to be used for terrorist acts against India does not, by itself, carry much meaning. It should be accompanied by specific action. There should be credible evidence of Pakistan vigorously pursuing the prosecution of the perpetrators of the Mumbai blasts. We need not keep harping on the slow pace of the process, so long as we are satisfied with the seriousness of the prosecution. Pakistan can certainly do more to contain Hafiz Saeed. It takes recourse to the unconvincing argument that it is unable to produce admissible evidence against this terrorist, but it can definitely take administrative action to bring him under control.


A related test is the rate of infiltration across the LoC. Our government has officially declared that it has gone up, and is a matter of concern. It should not at all be difficult to determine whether Pakistan has taken any measure to eliminate, or at least significantly reduce, infiltration. Similarly, the terrorist training camps — the existence of which in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and elsewhere is a known fact — should be dismantled. This is another assessable factor.


Pakistan managed to introduce Balochistan in Sharm-El Sheikh in the official India-Pakistan dialogue. However, no less a person than its Foreign Minister said, post-Thimphu, that Dr. Singh had categorically assured his Pakistani counterpart that India had no intention of destabilising Pakistan. The fact that Shah Mehmood Qureshi mentioned this to the Pakistani media suggests that he and his government were satisfied that India was not in any way involved in Balochistan; it should, therefore, refrain from bringing it up in future discussions with us or others.


It follows that Pakistan should stop objecting to the presence of our consulates in Afghanistan. Similarly, it should stop protesting against our development assistance to Afghanistan which has no hidden anti-Pakistan agenda. In fact, it can join India in some of the projects. This will help in persuading General McChrystal not to make gratuitous remarks about our assistance to Afghanistan — of the kind he made in his written report to President Barack Obama.


We should expect that Pakistan too will have its yardstick to assess whether or not India has done enough to reduce the trust 'deficit'. Kashmir would be on top of its agenda. We should not shy away from discussing Kashmir. After all, it is our territory it has occupied illegally for the past six decades; why should we not discuss with Pakistan the ways and means of getting the occupied territory vacated? If it brings up the long-dead United Nations resolutions, as its Foreign Minister recently did raise in its National Assembly, it will indicate that it is not serious about discussing Kashmir. In any case, is Pakistan ready to pull out all its forces, regular and irregular, from PoK, which is a condition precedent to the holding of any referendum? It is also worth recalling that the U.N. resolutions give only two options to the Kashmiri people — accession to India or Pakistan. Azadi is not an option.


We must not feel embarrassed or go on the defensive if Pakistan wants to talk Kashmir. We must also not revive the Musharraf deposit about his so-called four-point proposal. We must not leave Pakistan in any doubt that the only solution, which in any case will need endorsement from the Indian Parliament, is to convert the LoC into an international border. If Pakistan does not agree, we will be under no compulsion to offer anything by way of 'out-of-the-box' proposals. In any case, we must not agree to any 'confidence-building' measure which would give Pakistan a locus standi, however indirect, in the affairs of the Valley, in a consultative or any kind of mechanism. 'Trust' must have its limits. We can certainly agree on and encourage more people-to-people contacts, etc.


Of late, Pakistan has whipped up domestic sentiment against India on the water issue. It will certainly bring it up in any dialogue with us. Here, it is important to acknowledge that Mr. Qureshi has publicly admitted that the water woes of Pakistan are a consequence of its own mismanagement of its resources and that India is not to blame. If Pakistan has specific complaints, it should be encouraged to raise them within the framework of the Indus Waters Treaty. However irrational, Pakistanis are not suicidal; they know that the IWT is much more generous to them than to India and they would not want to renegotiate it.


The people of India are not against talking to Pakistan. Indeed, nearly all political parties support dialogue. What they do not favour is India going into the talks with its eyes shut. What they do not approve of is profession of good neighbourliness unaccompanied by matching action, and repetition of the usual mantras of not allowing Pakistan's territory for terrorism against India. They are also not convinced that asking for American intervention is the right or dignified thing to do; it gives an image of an India that is not self-confident. We must have well defined criteria or benchmarks, some of which have been spelt out above, to judge whether or not Pakistan has done anything to reduce the 'trust deficit.' If the civilian government in Islamabad can deliver on the issues, we would welcome it.










Bridging the trust deficit — the task handed down to Foreign Ministers S.M. Krishna and S.M. Qureshi by their Prime Ministers is indeed a daunting if not an impossible one. Yet, it is a task the two sides would better prepare for if they come closer in their understanding of the terms involved: primarily, terror. It's no secret that the trust deficit both sides refer to is euphemism for India's belief that Pakistan supports and nurtures the very terrorist groups that seek to destroy India. And to Pakistan's belief that India sees only its own pain, not the destruction caused by daily attacks to Pakistanis, adding to a general sense of injustice on issues like Kashmir and Water. Added in the mix, is the United States, with its daily push on Pakistan to act against groups that target the U.S., but not with the same dedication against groups that threaten India. The trust deficit is, as a result, a wide chasm that exists between all three countries when it comes to their definitions of fighting terror.


Interestingly the groups they are fighting today were once equally divided. Broadly put, these groups can be categorised as the Taliban (Afghan and Pakistani, including TTP — Tehrik e-Taliban-Pakistan), the Punjabi Taliban (comprising the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Jhangavi and the Sipah-i-Sahiba) and the Kashmiri Jihadis (Hizbul Mujahideen, Harkat-ul Ansar, etc.). In the past decades they have differed on ideology (Deobandi vs Ahl-e-Hadith), and on targets (anti-India vs. anti-U.S. vs. anti-Shi'a). But today, each of them has found ways of linking to each other and up to the larger Sala'fi grid of Al-Qaeda — in terms of training, funding and logistics. Yet the U.S. continues to focus on the Taliban, India on the Kashmiri groups and the LeT, while Pakistan, a state that was the puppet master to these groups is finding itself strangled by the very strings it once wielded — fighting the Pakistani Taliban, but not the Afghan Taliban, and refusing to act in a concerted manner against the Punjabi Taliban.


For India, terror's blind spot has meant a refusal to look for larger players in big attacks: from the IC-814 hijacking of 1999 to Mumbai 26/11 in 2008. In Mumbai, for example, Ajmal Kasab and the others were no doubt members of the LeT, but the choice of some of their targets: the Chabad House, western hotel guests, as well as their access to technology should have pointed our investigators to their Al Qaeda links more closely.


Perhaps there were none, and perhaps we'll never know. But shying away from the threat of groups other than the ones that openly challenge India will leave India unprepared for the next threat, just as underplaying the threat the LeT poses to the U.S. will cost America as well. Stephen Tankel — author of the soon to be released Storming the World Stage - The story of Lashkar e Taiba" — details the close operational links between the LeT and Al Qaeda's global jihad today. " Support takes two main forms:," writes Tankel, " as a training provider or gateway to Al-Qaeda, and as a facilitator for attacks in western countries. Lashkar trains not only on its own, but with other groups in the FATA. Some of its members are believed to be instructing at other groups' camps as well. The organisation also collaborates on infiltrating fighters into Afghanistan and on other logistical matters related to that front."


For Pakistan, whose ISI has been closest to the Lashkar and other members of the Punjabi Taliban — the signs of the new collaboration should be the most worrying. During the siege of the Lahore police academy in March 2009 and the strike on the Sri Lankan team before that, the gunmen were heard speaking 'Seraiki' (South Punjab dialect) with each other. The truck that detonated and destroyed the Marriott Hotel in 2008 carried a Jhang licence plate, while the explosives were sourced to Waziristan. In fact, the suicide bomber caught alive during the GHQ attack in Rawalpindi in October 2009, and also wanted for the Marriott bombing, was perhaps the perfect example of terror's threads tying together. Col. Usman left the Pakistan Army medical corp in 2006 to join the Jaish e Mohammed in Kashmir, and trained with the TTP to carry out the GHQ attack in retaliation for drone bombings in Waziristan. Pakistani magazine Newsline estimates that between 5,000-10,000 Punjabi "boys" are now enlisted with the TTP to fight the Pakistani Army.


In particular, the prosecution of three men — Hafiz Saeed, David 'Daood Gilani' Headley and Faisal Shahzad should sum up the completely fluid lines that exist between terror groups based in Pakistan as they draw on expertise from Kashmir, Punjab and Waziristan. As the motivator, Saeed stands convicted of sending men from Punjab to train in Kashmir, drawing on global Jehadi know-how for the Mumbai attack. It should be fairly clear to Pakistani authorities that every passing day of denying his role or choosing to portray him as a 'harmless cleric' only serves to widen the 'trust deficit' between India and Pakistan, even as it bolsters the Lashkar and JuD. For the U.S., the case of David 'Daood' Headley should be a key indicator of the bigger role groups like the Lashkar now aspire to — he may have been convicted for planning Mumbai's terror, but he was originally held for planning to bomb the Danish newspaper building over the cartoons of Prophet Mohammed. Finally, completing the circle, Time square bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad, who reportedly took terror lessons from the TTP — that he reached through a Jaish-e-Mohammed mosque in Karachi.


Ironically, the last time we heard the phrase 'harmless cleric,' it was the Indian government referring to the JeM chief Masood Azhar while releasing him at Kandahar. During the IC-814 hijacking too, the refusal of the U.S. and Pakistan to acknowledge the common terror threat allowed for men like Sheikh Ahmed Omar Saeed free to fund the 9/11 attacks, and execute the gruesome killing of journalist Daniel Pearl, while Azhar himself ordered the 2001 parliament attack in Delhi.


A decade later, failing to join the dots is just not an option. Lashkar, Taliban, Al-Qaeda-terror's foot soldiers and masterminds are disregarding their differences when it comes to plotting their next attack. It's about time that their targets too — India, Pakistan and the U.S. — see their united colours as they plan to counter them. Perhaps one step will be taken when Home Minister P. Chidambaram heads to Islamabad next month for SAARC and bilateral meetings on tackling terror. Track-2 discussions over the past few months have been counselling that meetings between the intelligence chiefs and the military heads be set up as well. Because unless New Delhi and Islamabad are able to find some common ground on terror, their trust deficit cannot be overcome. In the larger context, they along with Washington will each be left holding two sides of a terror triangle; missing pieces of the deadly puzzle that holds all our futures hostage.


( Suhasini Haidar is Deputy Foreign Editor, CNN-IBN.)









On April 27, 2010, courtesy of a historic ruling by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, sections of the Opposition moved cut motions on the demand for grants which are not discussed in the House. However, as the division of votes showed — 289 for and 201 against — the challenge did not really stretch the government.


Yet as the second United Progressive Alliance Government completes one year in office, it must fervently hope that such tests do not come up more often. For, the final scores point as much to the disarray in the Opposition as to the government's precarious numbers. Take away the Bahujan Samaj Party's 21 MPs, and it is immediately apparent that UPA-II is a minority regime dependent on fly-by-night supporters to keep it in power.


The irony is difficult to miss. When the Congress breached the 200-mark in the May 2009 election, the consensus in the opinion-making class was that freed of Left support, UPA-II was assured of a trouble-free five-year term. As if to confirm the impression, the Congress was besieged by post-poll suitors. Smaller parties like the Bodoland People's Front and the Sikkim Democratic Front quickly signed up to be a part of the ruling alliance. Yet many more queued up outside 7, Race Course Road : the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (secular) and the BSP. All four parties sent letters of support to Rashtrapati Bhawan, enabling Manmohan Singh to take the oath of office with numbers upwards of 300.


More make-believe than real


In truth, the numbers were more make-believe than real. All four external supporters had had a bitter falling out with the Congress. Besides, three out of the four, the SP, the BSP and the RJD, were from the heartland, where the compulsions of State elections would soon take over from the politics of Central give and take, rendering even a medium-term understanding with the Congress unviable. But that was in the future. For now, the Congress was happy to bask in the overwhelming show of hands. The illusion of strong outside support won over the hard reality of actual numbers.


As a consequence, Congress strategists opted for a minimalist government — not in terms of ministerial strength but in terms of party participation. Only five parties were sworn in with the Congress. They were: the Trinamool Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the National Conference and the Indian Union Muslim League. The combined strength of the five parties in government was only 51. Of course, there were members of the UPA who were not in government, among them the All-India Majlis-E-Itehadul Muslimmen, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, the SDF, the BPF, Kerala Congress (Mani) and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (no longer in UPA). But even with all of them on board, the UPA was short of a clear majority, and worse, without a steady and bankable external ally.


Contrast this situation with the real comfort of numbers through much of the UPA's first term. UPA-I started out as a pre-poll alliance of 12 parties which together won 219 seats — only a few seats more than what the Congress on its own picked up five years later. But in compensation the alliance got the rock-solid backing of the Left Front's 60-odd MPs. The Left cover rendered immaterial all other props. As in 2009, the SP and the BSP were only too keen to join the UPA-I bandwagon, but whether they did so or not had no bearing on the government's stability.


Over the next four years, the Congress had its share of troubles — both with its UPA partners and its external allies. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi quit the UPA in 2006 followed by the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in 2007. The Congress-BSP relations took a downturn in U.P. However, thanks to the overarching Left umbrella, UPA-I never once went into the danger zone. It was only in July 2008, when the Left finally withdrew support over the Indo-U.S. civil-nuclear deal, that UPA-I felt the heat of its dwindling numbers. The Congress' frantic search for a replacement brought the SP to its doors, and though Amar Singh and Mulayam Singh bailed out the government during the July 22 vote of confidence, their support came at a huge cost. Predictably the Congress-SP pact came undone before the April-May 2009 general election.


Data compiled by PRS Legislative research show that during the term of UPA-I, the Lok Sabha Speaker called for a division of votes on 21 occasions. Twenty of these were non-serious divisions, posing no threat whatever to the government. The only time division portended danger was after the Left's withdrawal. The division of numbers on July 22, 2008, the day Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tested his majority in the House, was: 275 for and 256 against. It was a close shave for the government, but fortunately for UPA-I, its first and only serious test came towards the end of its term — with just eight months left for the general election. As against this, the UPA-II government's first big test came within a year of taking office.


The Congress and the Left had a tension-filled relationship. But because the Left had a clear agenda and was upfront about the redlines, the Congress was spared nasty surprises. The Left was also committed to the Manmohan Singh government in a way its current external allies are not. The Left kept the government going for four years. On the other hand, the SP, the BSP and the RJD are fickle allies who will keep the Congress on edge if only to able to strike last-minute deals. The Congress-SP-BSP-RJD understanding, which was dramatically visible at the time of the formation of the UPA-II government, came unstuck inside of a year over the Women's Reservation Bill. Yet only a month later, with the cut motions slated to come up in the Lok Sabha, the BSP was ready with its rescue act. The SP and the RJD too staged a walkout, allowing the government to pull off an easy victory. What is the real story behind these intriguing moves? No one knows for sure. Will these parties stick around the next time division is called? No one knows for sure. But this much is obvious: The Congress can lower its guard only at its peril.


Within UPA-II, the odd behaviour of the Trinamool Congress and the strained relationship between the Congress and the NCP have added to the Congress' troubles. Mamata Banerjee is spoiling for a fight, and though logic strongly dictates a Congress-TC pact for the coming State election, she can never be trusted not to up and quit. She seems to have convinced herself that she can win that election all by herself. If that happens, the Congress' dependence on the SP-BSP-RJD trio will increase, making the party more vulnerable to pulls and pressures. The NCP, which was the target of much IPL-related mud-slinging, is looking to get back at its senior partner.


To be sure, the Congress' opponents are in far worse shape. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has been haemorrhaging so much, there is little left of it. The BJP has currently only three allies: the Shiv Sena, the Akali Dal and the Janata Dal (U). The Left has a tough election to fight in West Bengal while the other parties are scattered. More importantly, there is simply no one around who has the energy to fight a general election so soon after the last one. All of which suggests that UPA-II will have near fatal accidents, die many deaths, and yet survive for some time to come because of the sorrier state of its opponents.








The price of cheddar is going to go up by 10 per cent over the next six months. This is quite a rare food story, now, in terms of price rises: it's localised; it pertains directly to British weather conditions (too wet — cows don't like it); it feels containable, finite. This makes it a marked contrast to the general run of agricultural stories, which foretell total disaster. The U.N. this week made its report, tangentially about food, foreseeing price hikes, shortages and wars, all plausible consequences of the world's failure to halt biodiversity loss.


This issue was widely reported in 2007—08, but global recessions are at least good for something, and the spike in food prices fell back. As the economy picks back up, so does the cost of feeding yourself. When even the cheese-eating developed world is hit, things are much worse in developing countries. Studies in 2008 yielded some data on the impact of expensive food: not just the obvious results, some people starving, some people substituting cheaper, lower-quality nutrition; children are taken out of school; people go without medicine; in urban areas there are riots.


So I was a bit surprised to read the ad for MoneyWeek magazine which gave, in its list of helpful features, "How to profit from higher food prices." It's just so bald, isn't it? This phenomenon, both directly and indirectly, has already killed people and will kill many more. In India, lentil prices have tripled since 2008; urban families typically spend 55 per cent of their income on food. Even if gambling on food insecurity weren't likely to destabilise the situation further, it would still be a little bit tasteless, wouldn't it? You'd never see Homes and Gardens running a story on what bargains you get when people's homes get repossessed, or Elle passing on fat-busting tips discovered by chance in a refugee camp. I called MoneyWeek for a comment, but Wednesday is their busy day. I'm sure they wouldn't have been embarrassed. Capitalists capitalise — it's what they do. They never pretend to have a moral compass.


Nevertheless, the market — in the shape of business leaders, interpreted by city analysts — retains a bearing of authority. It presents itself in loco parentis over the childish hubbub of politics; bankers and "business leaders" pass judgment on what kind of government would suit them best. On what basis could anyone without morality claim authority over anything? Traditionally, on the basis that they are perfectly rational: that, free of morality (which is a passion of sorts), they are liberated from the heat of the human condition and can make cool, logical decisions. Each player may be motivated by self-interest, but self-interest will at least assure stability, since chaos serves no one.


That would be some consolation if it were true, but we don't even need to look back a year to see what hogwash it is. Markets panic, and that alone makes them dangerous. Even worse is this behaviour, described by Chuck Prince, former CEO of Citigroup: "As long as the music is playing, you've got to get up and dance," he said in 2007, justifying the overleveraged loans his bank was still making. They're not in the least bit rational, these people — or they simply accept that if their position runs counter to what peers and competitors are doing, that in itself makes it irrational. The crash and its causes all gave an insight into herd behaviour, but the whole caper is delinquent, manic and riotous: it's like some kind of penis panic (you might have to look that up).


It's been de rigeur since 2008 to talk about "greedy bankers." That doesn't really do it, though — greed is a broad and inadequate explanation for the bizarre spectacle of a cohort that is proud of its own unscrupulousness, amused by its own hysteria and yet self-righteous and unshakeable in its demands for political influence and respect.


I've come reluctantly to the conclusion that the problem is not the busted humanity of the people themselves but the process of engaging with financial markets. It divides people from themselves. It voids their sense of shame, and even the magazines that serve them are shameless. The pursuit of money has to be undertaken with no rules: if you want to be a human being afterwards, fine, give the money away — but in the making of it, you're basically a wolf. The whole business is not dissimilar to stepping into a driving seat. The bonds of community and etiquette dissolve. That's why we have a Highway Code. Item one, then, for a Market Highway Code: when people across the world are struggling to keep up with the spiralling cost of staying alive, maybe try not to skim some money off the top.


— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010







Taiwanese mobile phone maker HTC has filed a patent complaint against Apple, asking for the US sale of iPhones, iPads and iPods to be halted. The move comes after Apple sued HTC in March, alleging it infringed 20 patents relating to the iPhone.


Meanwhile, the world's biggest mobile phone maker Nokia is also embroiled in a patent suit with Apple. Analysts say firms frequently argue over patents, but the rows rarely lead to product bans. In its case at the U.S. International Trade Commission, HTC argued that Apple had infringed on five of its patents. The firm asked for a ban on the importation of Apple's products, which are manufactured overseas.


"We are taking this action against Apple to protect our intellectual property, our industrial partners, and most importantly our customers that use HTC phones," said Jason Mackenzie, HTC's vice president for North America.


In March, when Apple launched its action, co-founder Steve Jobs put out a statement which said: "We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We've decided to do something about it."


Industry watchers are not surprised by the escalating patent disputes surrounding Apple. "It's tit-for-tat to a degree because Apple sued HTC first and this is HTC fighting back," Van Baker of research firm Gartner told the BBC.


— © BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate








Not unexpectedly, David Cameron is Britain's new Prime Minister. It was indicated in these columns that the Conservative Party might not have won a Commons majority but it was the best placed to head the new government. After all, the direction of the vote was for change. A coalition of Labour and Liberal Democrats would have been a government of losers. Labour had been defeated and the LibDems won fewer seats than in the last election. This last factor was an argument for keeping Nick Clegg's party out of any ruling coalition. Indeed, Mr Cameron's Tories opting for a minority government might have best reflected the vote. Apprehension was expressed that such a government might always be fearful of being defeated on the floor, and what Britain needed was stability, above all, especially when the post-recession economy needs shoring up through deft economic and political management. This was a reasonable anxiety, but only on paper. The politics of the day are such that no party would dare risk being foolhardy enough to try topple a minority government, particularly parties that had been defeated at the hustings. The British people wouldn't stand for it.
While there can be no question that stability is the key variable, the Tories and the LibDems are ideologically and politically hopelessly mismatched. Mr Clegg being ideologically to the right within the LibDem fold does help, but not nearly enough. This is why the leaders of the two parties sought to give a spin to their coming together, suggesting they were offering not just a new government but a new politics. Anyone can see this is just fluff. The country needs reassurance simply because this is not a natural alliance that has been brought into being to rule Britain. Clearly, this is also the reason that the pact between the Tories and the LibDems specifies that their relationship would not be sought to be undermined before the expiry of the five-year parliamentary term. The leaders of the coalition parties may have reached such an agreement, but a lot that happens in Parliament is driven by what happens in the constituencies. Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg would need to be watchful on this score. In Mr Clegg's party, there would be many who might be keen to remind him that he courted the politics of opportunism to become Deputy Prime Minister.

The choice of ministers in the coalition government appears a good one. Home, defence, and the foreign office have been given to individuals with political experience. Some may harbour concerns over the inexperience of the new chancellor of the exchequer, who will be mainly responsible for steadying the economy at a time when Britain's sovereign debt is among the highest in the world and its deficit over 10 per cent of GDP. If the coalition partners don't pull against one another, the experienced Vince Cable from the LibDem side — who is credited with having predicted the international banking collapse — might offer useful support in husbanding the economy in his capacity as business secretary. Mr Cameron is said to want a special relationship with India and is thought to be comfortable with the idea of India acquiring a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has written him a letter of felicitation and telephoned him as well. The international economy was reportedly the main subject of conversation. This is a good base on which to build meaningful ties. On the political side, New Delhi also needs to establish links with foreign secretary William Hague, who will now be articulating the British position on Kashmir and Afghanistan. New Delhi should have every reason to hope that it can have fruitful ties with the Cameron government.







Given the recent series of sensational cricket scams and spy stories, this article may appear to be boring, but it is relevant as it narrates how in 1989, at the height of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) insurgency in Trincomalee port, Sri Lanka, a few good men from the Indian and Sri Lankan navies accidentally "invented" Twenty20 (T20) cricket, and used it to defuse a volatile situation.

On April 23, 1989, an Indian Air Force (IAF) AN-32 aircraft dropped me at the Trincomalee military airport. I took over my new assignment as Indian Navy Commander, Trincomalee. As an Indian Navy Captain (equivalent to an Army Colonel), I found myself in an unfamiliar territory and on an unfamiliar mission, but the Indian Navy has a unique method of training its officers which prepares them well to deal with any situation.
I was part of the IPKF (Indian Peace-Keeping Force) which comprised the Indian Army, the Indian Navy and the IAF. The situation was rather grim, with the IPKF fighting the LTTE, and also under attack by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP, a Sinhala grouping responsible for an uprising in 1971 and various acts of bombing. Some of whose cadre were suspected to have infiltrated the Sri Lankan military in 1989.). Indeed, the Trincomalee port was under constant threat from the LTTE and JVP activists, with bomb blasts and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) taking almost a daily toll of Indians and Sri Lankans. Added to this were the odd, sudden attacks by snipers who fired a single fatal shot and then melted into the surroundings.

Practically the entire Indian Navy detachment, including myself, went about our chores of water front and coastal patrolling, liaising, meetings etc. with loaded weapons in our hands. The overall Indian Navy presence in Trincomalee comprised a few dozen hardworking officers and sailors who, along with their Army and Air Force counterparts, did their best to keep the Indian flag flying high in very troubled waters.

Even though over 90 per cent of the Sri Lankan Navy personnel had been trained in India, and were very well disposed towards us, the tension in the air was palpable, with almost everyone moving around with loaded firearms. Our detachment was located next to the Sri Lankan naval base, and when I called on the Sri Lankan Commander East, Commodore W. Fernando, I discovered a friendly officer who had done all his training in India. I invited him for dinner. The evening was a great success and became a weekly event, with the commodore eating parathas and pooris with relish. Very soon the fame of our cooks reached the Sri Lankan Naval Headquarters in Colombo and the Sri Lankan Navy Chief sent a team of his Navy cooks to learn how to make various Indian dishes, the emphasis being on "parathas and pooris". I recollect that our enthusiastic naval cooks trained some three teams of their Sri Lankan counterparts.

The ice was slowly breaking with the "paratha and poori" diplomacy, but then a particularly nasty IED killed a few Army troops nearby, and tensions shot up again. Nobody was sure if this incident was the handiwork of the LTTE or the JVP, or any other unknown group. At this juncture, with things going from bad to worse, I suggested to Commodore Fernando that we play a cricket match on the coming Sunday. He readily agreed and arranged for the gear and a post-match lunch.

With just three days to go for the match, I had a very difficult time trying to pick 11 players who could play a reasonable game of cricket. Finally, a team of 11 (with no substitutes available) was selected. But a short training session at the nets resulted in a couple of injuries and it was decided not to practise any more. After all, the aim was to play cricket to reduce tensions, and so it was important that 11 fit players took the field on Sunday.

The Sri Lankan Navy, with a local pool of a few 100 men, took the forthcoming match seriously, with daily net practise. As I watched the Sri Lankans practise in real earnest, I wondered if I had made a huge mistake and we were heading for a washout!

Discussions with the Sri Lankans resulted in the match timings being fixed from 9.30 am to 12.30 pm. Elementary calculations of "over rate vs time available" resulted in a decision to play a 20-over (each side) game, and thus, unknowingly, "unrecorded history" was made many years before the world thought of T20!
Security for the cricket match was very tight, given a series of blasts the day before. After a sleepless night of vigil, our team went to play a good game of cricket. I remember that as captain of our cricket team, I had driven to the ground with a loaded service pistol which I handed over to one of my subordinates just before going for the toss.

I will not dwell too much on the match. We played our hearts out but lost narrowly to a far superior team. Our gracious hosts served a fabulous lunch (which included parathas and pooris, along with some fantastic local cuisine), and good relations were firmly in place after that. Both sides could now confidently focus on the daily threat. I believe that this happy state of affairs continued till the IPKF finally withdrew from Sri Lanka.
After my return to India I learnt that Commodore Fernando had been subsequently promoted to Rear Admiral and had taken over as the Sri Lankan Navy Chief. Sadly, he was later assassinated by a motorcycle-borne suicide bomber whilst driving to office in Colombo.

Lord Wellington (who studied at Eton from 1781 to 1784) after his victory over Napoleon in 1815, reportedly said, "The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton". Another historian records that many years later, while passing an Eton cricket game, Wellington remarked, "There grows the stuff that won Waterloo". Obviously, Wellington was referring to qualities of "leadership and espirit de corps" which cricket inculcated in the future military leaders of that era.

Wellington's era is long past. Cricket is no longer a gentlemen's game. In cricket-crazy India money-spinning modern cricket has spawned a new breed of entrepreneurs. It would, of course, be ridiculous to compare the Battle of Waterloo with the rather insignificant and unrecorded Trincomalee T20 cricket match of 1989, but it's worth recording that in those difficult times a few unknown Indians did their duty in Sri Lanka. There are countless unknown Indians who daily contribute their little bits to the economic rise and security of India. The same cannot be said of those few involved in the recent scam and of spies.


Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam







Where does the civil society stand in its war against terror? Are the hi-tech security measures and strict policing sufficient to deal with this menace? The failed car bombing in New York's Times Square has underlined the grim reality that the civil society cannot hope to win this war till the religious mindset — which is the motivating factor behind mindless violence — is not suitably dealt with.

The strategy of these "terror minds" is to fuel vulnerable individuals and groups that are sold out to the superiority and inevitability of Islamic domination and turn them to act independently to cause mayhem. In America, for instance, the Times Square bomber Faizal Shahzad is the latest among the American and European citizens sent to wreak havoc. And all — from David Coleman Headley to shoe bomber Richard Reid, from underwear bomber Syed Ahmed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to the Virginia Five — have a connection with Pakistan.

Nearer home, their counterparts are the Indian Mujahideens, like the Bhatkal brothers who were behind the Pune German bakery blast on February 13, 2010, the groups in Kerala led by T. Nasir, now captured, who recruited young Muslims for training in Pakistan, and the Delhi bomb blast accused Salman aka Chotu who operated from Nepal. All of them have been working under orders from the jihadi organisations based in Pakistan, described in a recent Time magazine article, Beyond Times Square: The Threat from Pakistan, as "ever lengthening list of extremist groups operating in Pakistan's northern wilds".

The jihadists working from Pakistan, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and other places are not just targeting India or the United States — they are targeting the entire civil society. Their aim is to establish what they consider a Quranic society where girls would not be allowed to go to school, women would be fully covered from head to toe when stepping out of the house, the criminal and civil laws as adumbrated in their holy book would be enforced strictly and anyone even uttering a word against the content of the holy book would be beheaded.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has warned Pakistan that it will face serious consequences if the next terror attack is traced to Pakistan. Her statement follows Shahzad's confession that he received training in South Waziristan, Pakistan. The way the jihadi threat is evolving, terror groups will only laugh at the US' warning. And anyway, what has the US actually done? It has persuaded the Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani to resume his force's war against the Pakistani Taliban. But America's warnings seem ineffective against the jihadi wall that the Pakistan establishment has built to promote a medieval society.
It must be galling for the Americans that the terror plots are now being hatched in their vulnerable urban conglomerations and that jihadi terror can so easily cross the Atlantic and mingle with citizens of the US. "There is no doubt that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and other Pakistani groups are now recruiting among Americans", says the Time magazine report.

In India, too, they are succeeding in recruiting. If the Pune bomb blast is any clue, the local recruits could well carry out an attack as vicious as 26/11 in Mumbai. As in the Times Square plot, it would be Pakistani jihadis who would be directing this event from their safe havens while our "secularists" would be shedding tears for the "innocent" young men conducting the murderous event.

Is there something in the way Islam is preached and practised that makes its faithful vulnerable to jihadi propaganda? This question can no longer be swept under the carpet with the claim that Islamic scholars have denied any connection between the interpretation of their faith and the terror mindset.
Look at the type of demonstrations which are held even if a single doubt is expressed about the practices of the religion, let alone its doctrine.

A cartoon in far away Denmark provokes violent demonstrations in Meerut, followed by calls for fund collection to reward the man who comes forward to murder the cartoonist. In fact, one of the tasks given to Headley by his Pakistani handlers was to plot the murder of the Danish cartoonist. Is this total rejection of any dissidence, any questioning and any discussion of the faith responsible for creating a mindset that is vulnerable to terrorist propaganda?

India has had a long tradition of Hindus and Muslims living together. The proliferation of cloistered madrasa education and its funding by the orthodox Wahabi regime in Saudi Arabia have widened the divide between the two communities even where harmony existed before.

A true scholar of Islam like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad failed to win mass support in his community while a lawyer-turned-politician, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, led the community and partitioned the country. Why did the bulk of Muslims in pre-Independence era reject a man like Mahatma Gandhi and choose to follow Jinnah who was not even a practising Muslim?

A report has now surfaced about how Anwar al-Awlaki, an Islamic cleric in New York who spent 21 of his 39 years in the US as an imam and proclaimed that post-9/11 his people had come to the US to build and not to destroy, is now hiding in Yemen leading terror attacks on America. Awlaki recently declared on his website: "America as a whole has now turned into a nation of evil… jihad against America is binding upon myself. Just as it is binding on every other Muslim".

What connects the Times Square bomber and the German Bakery bomber in Pune is such an overarching mindset. Worldwide cooperation in anti-terror plans can succeed in averting incident after incident but the terrorists count on one event succeeding out of a hundred failures. Unless the civilised nations threatened by such relentless terror begin to focus on attacking this mindset itself, we cannot hope for a terror-free world.

Balbir K. Punj can be contacted at









English is not the ubiquitous language it appears to be despite its overwhelming presence on the internet. There are many other languages out there, and linguistic diversity is a pleasant reality despite the problems it creates in communication.


So, one of the recommendations made in Maharashtra's draft cultural policy, which was accepted by the state cabinet on Wednesday, that ministers should speak in Marathi at state functions and with foreign dignitaries, is quite valid.


It is easy to dismiss this as linguistic chauvinism, but isn't it also a fact that Chinese, Japanese, French, German and Russian leaders speak in their own language because they do not know English?


There are, of course, a few who stick to their own language despite being conversant in English — for example former Chinese president Jiang Zemin — as a matter of protocol and as an expression of national and cultural pride, but that's not the norm.


On the bright side, the Maharashtra decision will create more jobs for interpreters who will be encouraged to learn Marathi as well as other languages because an interpreter has to be, by definition, multi-lingual.


On the negative side, we could be stoking the fires of regional one-upmanship if the idea is taken to its extreme and politicians insist on talking in their mother tongues to one another. Just think of the sparks that could fly if the chief ministers of Maharashtra and Karnataka decide to talk at one another in Marathi and Kannadiga over Belgaum.


But the more serious issue is the sheer number of languages in India: if all state politicians decide to implement the Maharashtra policy internally, every state would need 15-20 different kinds of interpreters at each level of government. It would become an unmanageable babel.


Clearly, beyond a point, the spirit of pragmatism should prevail. Due to an accident of history, English has emerged as a link language in India and it has proved to be a valuable asset in building bridges with the world outside. It has also made Indians nimble global business players.


So, it is not necessary to dump English to prove one's love and loyalty to Marathi or to any other Indian language. Indians have always been speaking languages other than their own. They have been excellent polyglots and they should not lose this natural flair.


The truth is that languages in India thrived and survived through centuries and it has not always been because of government directives.






The Indian cricket team's failure to make it to the semi-final stage in the ongoing World T20 Championships and captain MS Dhoni's apparently introspective observation that some players should have apportioned their time better between IPL parties and matches has led to the expected storm.


At the best of times, Indian cricket fans can be adulatory, worshipful and loving. Equally, when crossed, they can be vengeful, angry and bitter.


The current rage is directed against the players and their attitude (they are alleged to care more for money than the game), at the cricket administration, at the selectors and at the IPL, which is now the favourite whipping boy and presumably the repository of all the ills of cricket. Yet, this over-the-top reaction is all-too-familiar — we see it every time the Indian cricket fails to perform or has just had a bad day at the office. Part of the reason is the hysteria that is whipped up by television, where often irrelevant issues become matters of national concern merely by repetition and lack of volume control.


This is not to suggest that nothing is wrong with the Indian cricket team's performance. Certainly, there was not enough preparation between the end of the IPL and the beginning of this tournament. There were some issues with selection and, at the end of the day, none of the three disciplines — batting, bowling and fielding — was good enough. Even more important, the other teams were better.


The solution has to be a cricketing solution, not a witch hunt. Many international players also took part in the IPL and they have performed reasonably well in the championship, so it cannot only be about parties. The fact that India failed to win a single Super Eight match suggests that there has been much complacency after IPL-3. A domestic league tournament cannot be a training ground for an international competition where the world's best are taking part and yet that is how the cricket administration seems to have played it.


Once again, it might be a good idea to look at Australia. It fared dismally in the earlier T20 tournaments, went back to the drawing board and came back stronger and better.


But we seem to have learnt nothing about handling short-pitched deliveries on the world's perkiest pitches. Perhaps, Indian cricket needs a little less conversation and a little more action, as the great Elvis Presley sang it!







Britain has its first real coalition government in three decades. They are a bit trepid because as a monarchy and tradition of patriarchy which only recently gave way to feminist bullying, they have a culture of having one distinct boss —queen forcountry, daddy for family or lately mum. A sharing of power has never been part of the lyric of the tribe.


European countries get along with coalition governments. In Germany, with a recent record of stable coalitions, there were nine Weimar coalitions between 1920 and 1924.


Left and right wing partners would hold the centrists to ransom over some demand and bring the government down when the ransom was too high.


In Israel there are perpetual coalitions with several shades of fundamentalist Judaic parties holding the balance of power and blocking all progress towards a settlement of the Palestinianland and peacequestion.


In India the coalition government is a natural result of the democratic heritage that the Freedom Movement bequeathed to us. It was understandable that the Congress Party, seen as the prime mover in getting rid of the colonial power would hold the allegiance of a population with ballot papers in their hands.


Dr Ambedkar may have framed the Constitution that gave Indians universal adult franchise, but his Dalit followers were not yet a constituency or a political force in the country.


The Congress was the only party with a viable economic platform and the Nehru administrations with their five year plans, protectionist policies, careful foreign alliances, built the infrastructure for the great capitalist leap forward which subsequent Congress and other governments nurtured.


The greatest con-trick that these early administrations played on history, was to win from it the label of 'socialism'. Slipshod Indian journalists and politicians still label those years 'socialist' and a little patch ofmud in Highgate Cemeteryrumbles as one Karl Marx turns in his grave.


The universal adult franchise and this Nehruvian foundation for capital growth allowed different formations to group together and vote themselves to power. The first rumblings — at the ballot box — were regional. India got linguistic states.


Then the attention turned to religion and caste and vote banks were born. Democracy decimated the monolithic vote. Regions went their own voting way with the DMK and AIDMK (All India DMK, a silly name for a Tamil party?) and the rise of the Shiv Sena which wanted Mumbai for Maharashtrians.


The greater democratic quantum leap was brought about by the formation of religious and caste parties. The Akalis and the caste formations of UP and Bihar threw up state governments and scores of MPs at the Centre.


Vast sections of India who had not, for thousands of years. dared to demand were acquiring a sort of atma vishwas. It would lead to the fragmentation of power and the resulting formation of coalition alliances and governments. It's what India has and can have no other, till our economic development brings a proletarianised country into conflict with its capitalist classes. End of Marxist lecture. It will take some time.


The point of the analysis is that the Indian electorate is split into interest groups that necessitate coalitions. Britain is not.


The government that the Liberal Democrats have entered to shore up the not-quite majority of prime minister David Cameron's Tory party is not so much a coalition of interests as a coalition of compromised opinions.


Broadly speaking the Tories are for the rich and for free enterprise but the people who vote for them are not necessarily rich or have any stake in free enterprise. They have opinions and voice them in the pubs.


The Lib Dems are backed by people who believe in fairness even though they may have nothing to gain by it. It is purely a party of opinion. Opinions and interests clash and my humble prediction is that Britain is not ready for coalition. Watch this space.







Kashmir, and the questions of identity it raises, has so far dominated the barbed relations between India and Pakistan.


Now, a more troubling and fundamental issue of water, which can threaten the livelihoods of people, is becoming a bone of contention. The sharing of Indus waters, a matter of life and death for farmers in Pakistan, is now being raked up not only by many extreme elements inimical to India, but by many mainstream political parties.


The language used is strong. While Hafiz Saeed, chief of Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD) and founder of the Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Toiba, has threatened jehad against India over water, other mainstream politicians are equally strident. There is talk of "water terrorism of the regional hegemon," and that "the territory of Kashmir may not be as important as the water issue," and of a war over water.


Yet all opinion is not anti-Indian. A leading Pakistani paper, The News, soberly noted: "Water will continue to top the bilateral agendas for some time."Earlier this month, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi stated at a press conference that Pakistani authorities have a tendency to "pass the buck" and exaggerate differences with India over the sharing of river waters. He conceded that mismanagement within the country is resulting in the loss of 34 million acre feet of water of the 110 million acre feet that reaches the river system.


Pakistan faces a severe water problem, mainly because of climate change and increasing population. Poor water management and excessive use of ground water have aggravated the problem in a country where 77% of the people are entirely dependent on the Indus river basin. The per capita availability of water has gone down substantially in the largely arid country and is expected to fall further.


On a train journey from Lahore to Karachi recently, I saw how the plentiful Indus was reduced to a mere nullah after the Kotri barrage near Hyderabad in Sindh. Punjab and the Sindh are forever squabbling over their share of the water. Even though under the Indus Waters Treaty, Pakistan gets 80% of the waters of the six rivers of the Indus basin (it gets the entire output of the three western rivers, the Indus, the Jhelum and the Chenab) this is not proving enough as the rivers dry up.


When the Indus Waters Treaty was finalised after more than a decade of negotiation with the help of the World Bank, it represented the best possible compromise. That it has worked well for 50 years with only an occasional hiccup is an indication of its soundness. There is no need to renegotiate what has worked so well.


As a responsible upper-riparian state we are in the same position vis-a-vis Pakistan as China is in relation to us in building power dams on the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra (known as the Tsangpo) in Tibet. Besides, unlike the Indus river system, which is the lifeblood of Pakistan, the Brahmaputra is only of vital importance to the north-eastern states.


While Pakistan has objected to the Baglihar and Kishan Ganga hydroelectric projects that would supply much needed electricity to Jammu & Kashmir, the proper place to resolve the disputes is the Permanent Indus Water Commission.In fact, international mediation on the Baglihar project ruled in India's favour, but now Pakistan has put up the Kishan Ganga project for arbitration. These matters are best left to the assessments made by experts rather than be used to incite political passions. They may even help change our image of being 'hegemonic' and make our neighbours better inclined towards us.


But for terrorists and others inimical to this country or fearful of it, the Indus issue can become a rallying point for what might turn out to be another form of jehad. As defenders of that country's vital economic lifeline, they may strike a stronger chord that Kashmir or Islam ever did. This is what India needs to watch out for.


The reduction in the waters of the six rivers that pass through Punjab is really an environmental problem that is aggravated as rainfall tapers down and temperatures rise. To tackle it properly, both countries need to share information and technology on better use of water. This is going to be one of the major challenges that South Asia will face in the coming decades. If Bangladesh is confronted with coastal areas getting submerged by rising sea levels, Pakistan will face water famine.


This calls for a mature approach. At the very least, we have to be prepared for a large influx of environmental refugees from our western and eastern neighbours. It is in our vital interest to understand, plan for and try to minimise the damage that global warming will unleash in the sub-continent.


As the largest and most developed country in the region, with the only consistently democratic system, India has the responsibility to take a larger view of the problem. It could give us greater leverage among our neighbours, but that depends on many other factors in the realm of politics.










BJP President Nitin Gadkari is not realistic in saying that "India should not hold any talks with Pakistan —- our party is against it". He has come out with the negative viewpoint during an interview with The Tribune at a time when India and Pakistan are poised to resume dialogue at the political level. First Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram will visit Islamabad on June 26 for a briefing on the trial of the arrested 26/11 plotters and then External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna will be there on July 15 for talks with his Pakistani counterpart, Mr Shah Mahmood Qureshi. India will continue to put pressure on Pakistan to honour the commitment it has made on fighting terrorism. But it is prudent that it decided to move forward when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh interacted with Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani at Thimpu (Bhutan) during the recent SAARC summit.


It is true that India and Pakistan could not settle any major contentious issue during the composite dialogue process, which continued for a long time. But the peace process, which was interestingly initiated during the BJP-led NDA government headed by Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, did result in opening rail and road links between India and Pakistan. The peace constituency on both sides of the border also expanded considerably owing to the two countries remaining engaged with each other. There were demands for increasing people-to-people contacts as much as possible. Track II diplomacy had reportedly led to a blueprint being prepared for resolving the Kashmir question. The world had started noticing the atmospheric change in the subcontinent.


This, however, did not suit the enemies of peace. They struck a heavy blow to the peace process by enacting the Mumbai death dance. Terrorists and extremists in Pakistan feel uncomfortable when they see New Delhi and Islamabad busy finding solutions to the contentious issues keeping them apart. The BJP will be playing into the hands of such elements if it sticks to its "no talks" line.








The new Chief Justice of India Justice Sarosh Homi Kapadia began his innings well on Wednesday by issuing a stern warning against filing of frivolous public interest litigations. He said that these PILs not only make judges "work like tehsildars" but also waste valuable time of the court. His warning that heavy costs would be imposed on those filing such petitions comes at a time when concern has been mounting over the huge backlog of cases in various courts. There are over three crore cases pending in courts of which 2.5 crore are in lower courts, 40 lakh in high courts and about 52,000 in the Supreme Court. Remarkably, Justice Kapadia has set an example by hearing 37 cases in 29 minutes on his first day in office. Equally noteworthy is his decision to dispense with the daily practice of oral mentioning of urgent cases before lunch. Hereafter such urgent matters will have to be filed a day before to be considered for listing the next day.


Justice Kapadia's fast track approach is particularly commendable because despite so many recommendations by expert committees over the years, the wheels of justice in the country move at a snail's pace. Consider the problem of the Supreme Court itself. Though it is meant to decide only constitutional matters of great importance, nowadays it is expected to scrutinise every judgement passed by about 600 judges of 22 high courts and a large number of tribunals. Consequently, this has increased the workload of the court by leaps and bounds.


Unfortunately, despite the apex court's guidelines to govern the effective management and disposal of PILs, the courts are not exercising due discretion while admitting them. Though the original intent of PIL was to protect the interests of vulnerable sections, vested interests have misused it as a tool of harassment since frivolous cases could be filed without the heavy court fee as required in private civil litigation and deals could then be negotiated with the victims of stay orders obtained in the so-called PILs. This abuse of PIL can be regulated if the court ensures that every petition is genuine and not aimed at making personal or political gain. All this is not to undervalue the importance of PILs, some of which have blazed a new trail. It is the misuse of this potent weapon that is our concern.









India's ignominious exit from the Twenty20 World Cup after all the hype about the possibility of it bringing home the cup should lead to introspection and some hard decisions. While Indian skipper M.S. Dhoni's much-heralded captaincy left a lot to be desired in this tournament, his contention that the Indian Premier League post-match parties and the gruelling travel schedule took their toll cannot be brushed aside. It was indeed very difficult for the squad to maintain the intensity with which the members had played for six weeks in the IPL that preceded the World Cup. There is no denying that the Indian players looked jaded and tired through the World Cup. Lacking discipline and application, players tended to often stay up partying the whole night. A sense of responsibility was lacking in the team. Making huge money in the IPL, the players tended to over-indulge, disregarding the effect that it would have on their game when they would wear India colours. Besides, the IPL robbed the players of the necessity of travelling to the West Indies at least a week before the tournament to acclimatise to the conditions.


It cannot be denied that it was not the fatigue factor alone that caused India's defeat. Indian batsmen have always been found wanting against rising deliveries and so were they in this World Cup. From the slow Indian pitches in IPL, they went to the Caribbean tracks where short balls flew past the nose.


It is time we learnt a few lessons from the experience in the West Indies. Crass commercialisation is grievously hurting our performance. Not merely the excessive partying but too much involvement in ads and in TV reality shows too is disturbing the sense of application and concentration of players. Also, there is need to prepare wickets which have the kind of bounce that we encounter abroad. Overall, the accountability of players needs to be sharper. The unacceptable part is not that we have lost an important tournament. It is that we did not look like a winning side with poor drive in leadership and lack of fire in the team's attitude.

















THERE can now be no escape from the caste-based census that independent India had wisely never had before. Even during British days when caste of everyone was recorded during the enumeration of population, the pernicious and divisive practice had ended in 1931, exactly 80 years ago. Bad and depressing in itself, the decision of the Congress-led UPA government is, it was taken most casually. Hardly had Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram concluded his reasoned speech politely declining to include caste in census forms than the Yadav trio - consisting of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Sharad Yadav - forced an adjournment of the House. Thereafter the three Yadavs met Pranab Mukherjee, the ruling alliance's ace troubleshooter, and the deed was done.


For, as soon as the House reassembled Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a short statement indicating that his government was aware of the sentiment among all parties and the "Cabinet would take a decision soon". Ignoring this, the beaming Yadav leaders marched to the treasury benches, thanked Mr Mukherjee (who later made the decision public) and were even more profuse in expressing their gratitude to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. To be fair, there is strong sentiment in favour of caste-based census even within the Congress party. The Cabinet itself was divided on this issue. However, the 180-degree change in the established Congress policy is rooted in the need to placate the Yadav threesome. It was with their support that the government comfortably defeated the Opposition's cut motions. It needs their backing to see through the controversial Nuclear Liability Bill and deal with similar contingencies. In other words, political expediency has prevailed over high principle.


Another way of looking upon this dreary development, with profoundly deleterious potential, is that today's rulers have slapped it on the country rather like V. P. Singh had Mandalised India in 1989 primarily to contain his deputy and rival, Devi Lal. Ironically, this did not save his government. But it enabled Mulayam Yadav, Lalu Yadav and others of their ilk to come to power. After the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the general impression was that the caste-based and regional politics had "run its course", and that was welcomed. What an irony it is that the victors of 2009 have surrendered to the demands of the vanquished. Caste is now to the fore again. It has been a divisive force in the past and it will remain divisive in future. The casteists would consolidate their waning power. Moreover, because the flawed first-past-the-post electoral system suits the divisive forces eminently, its perpetuation also seems unavoidable.


Since Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh are the principal makers of the decision that should never have been taken, it would be useful to recall the firm stand that Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi took against the Mandal report when they were Prime Ministers. It was the Janata government, headed by Morarji Desai, that had appointed the Mandal Commission on the "Other Backward Classes". Mandal, who converted classes into castes (listing as many as 2,399 of them), submitted his report when Indira Gandhi was back in power. She mothballed the report. Nobody squeaked. Rajiv Gandhi followed her policy. When one of his ministers asked him what he proposed to do about the Mandal report, he replied: "It's a can of worms. I wouldn't touch it with a bargepole". When V. P. Singh implemented the Mandal report to reserve 27 per cent government jobs and seats in educational institutions for OBCs, the Congress opposed him strongly. When virulent anti-Mandal riots began, Rajiv told two of his aides: "V. P. Singh is the most divisive Indian after Mohammed Ali Jinnah".


It is a different matter, however, that after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination when the Congress was back in power, with P. V. Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister, the party clambered on the OBC bandwagon. So did the BJP that had opted for the Mandal versus Mandir fight to prevent the fragmentation of the Hindu society. Last week, the UPA found itself in a tight corner. But was it necessary to give the exploiters of caste divisions such a tremendous boost at this stage?


There has been an important change in the scramble for privileges in the name of caste since the unleashing of the Mandal genie. The demand that the OBC reservations must be shared with the backward castes among Muslims and Christians has been gathering momentum. The Rangnath Mishra Commission's recommendations are roughly on the same lines. The judiciary, too, has endorsed the concept. The writing on the wall is thus clear. It is all the more necessary therefore that whatever is done for the sake of minorities is done on the ground of backwardness and caste, not religion; also within the overall OBC quota, not in addition to it. The argument that there are no castes among Muslims and Christians simply would not hold water. There was a chief minister of Pakistani Punjab who was proud of being a Jat, indeed a descendant of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He also held a ceremonial meeting with a fellow Jat, the then Chief Minister of Indian Punjab.


Two warning signs about the shape of things to come because of the encouragement to casteists need careful watching. The first is what the medieval khap panchayats of Jats in Haryana are doing. They are making a virtue of killing young couples that dare to marry out of caste or within the same sub-caste. The state government has done absolutely nothing about it. When the Jats of Haryana burnt down the entire Dalit colony in Mirchpur village, Rahul Gandhi visited the spot, and Sonia Gandhi admonished the state Chief Minister, to no visible effect. On the contrary, Congress MPs, including the sophisticated Navin Jindal, have had the temerity to announce that they would seek an amendment of the Hindu Marriage Act to give effect to the Khap creed!


Secondly, a former Prime Minister and Janata Dal (Secular) leader, H. D. Deve Gowda, has let the cat out of the bag. He has declared that the share of OBCs in reserved jobs is restricted to 27 per cent because of the ceiling of 50 per cent imposed by the Supreme Court on all reservations. Because he believes that the OBC population is much larger than at present estimated, after the census he plans to challenge the 50-per cent ceiling, and seek enlargement of OBC reservations. To go by the Tourism Ministry's slogan, India is indeed incredible.








The ubiquitous bistarband or bed-roll, as it was called in its literal translation, was such an essential part of travel that it was with something like shock that I realised that it was almost obsolete. The only people you see carrying these nowadays are faujis on furlough. The realisation came when we were sorting out the store-room one Sunday. From one of the battered trunks emerged a bistarband, looking a bit worse for wear but with its leather straps and buckles in tact. We put it out in the sun to get rid of the mouldy smell.


"Didi, what's that lying outside?" My young maid asked, when she came to clean up.




"That green cloth thing…


It's a bistarband! Don't tell me you've never seen one before! I admonished.


"No didi, I haven't. What do you do with it?'


"You travel with it…you carry things in it." Although I hadn't travelled with a bistarband for decades now, I suddenly felt a rush of defensive affection for this symbol of travel in the past, lying on the terrace soaking in the sun. I'd been thinking of donating it to the maid, but seeing the disrespect the girl had exhibited, I decided that she didn't deserve it.


The girl, supremely unaware that she had failed miserably in my value judgment, cheerfully went about her work, leaving me to reflect upon how much a part of travel the bistarband used to be.


My parents preferred first class train travel and that, for a family of four, entailed two bistarbands (a couple of suitcases, a trunk and a surahi to keep water cold, a basket of food and another hamper of goodies). This much luggage was essential for a month-long vacation, to our grandparents' home in Chandigarh.


The bistarbands were laid out flat on the ground and then packed with neatly folded mattresses, sheets, towels, and if it were winter, blankets or thin quilts.


On either side, which was folded inwards, would be stuffed pillows, and extra clothes for the journey and the books and games that we needed for entertainment. Once my mother even put a watermelon in there (to eat on the way, of course).


After asking everyone, if anything else needed to be put inside, my father would roll up the bistarband tightly and then heave mightily at the thick leather straps to try and make it as compact as possible. It was no mean task, I tell you. It would leave him breathless. In the train, the bistarband would be unrolled and everyone would be handed out their quota of 'bedding'.


The bistarbands had long lives. I don't recollect replacing ours too often. They used to come in two sizes — smaller and larger. They were mostly in two colours: dull olive green and a duller khakhi.


Would I carry one for old time's sake?


Umm…well…no, actually. I'll take a pass! Prefer to travel light you know.


And OK…I'll take my value judgment back! The maid gets the bistarband!









The arrest of Faisal Shahzad for plotting to bomb the Times Square in the heart of the financial capital of the United States has again brought the terror crosswire onto Pakistan. Every time the spectre of a possible terror attack looms large on the American firmament, there is the usual noise about the genesis of the same being in the lawless tribal belt of Pakistan.


It is surprising, therefore, that there is still a talk in the American establishment about "Good Taliban" and "Bad Taliban". In spite of all signals to the contrary, there is still a worldview that persists in the American establishment that distinguishes between what it claims to be different entities.


The most obvious example of a similar folly that was committed by the US in the 1980s is how the Frankenstein created by the Americans to fight their ideological proxy war against the Soviets in the scraggy mountains of Afghanistan turned around to hit back the US with a vengeance on 9/11.


While it is to the credit of the American law enforcement agencies and their strict security drills that the country has so far staved off a major terror strike, however it still does not seem to have dawned on the American establishment that the oxymoronic "Good Taliban" is just another version of its real enemy, al Qaida, which has not trained its gun on the US yet. No amount of mollycoddling the same would yield any result. The moment the situation becomes more conducive to this fanatical breed of tribesmen, it would most certainly get back at the US.


It needs to be understood that the current state of Pakistan polity is but an outcome of years of radicalisation of all institutions of the state in Pakistan. What made perfect sense during the Zia-ul-Haq regime of the 80s has turned out to be the biggest headache for the Americans.


However, it is strange that the United States is investing in the outcome of the problem rather than treating the malaise itself. What is required is not just a military operation on ground with the aim to eliminate the highly motivated armed militia. What is required is a purge of the Pakistani establishment of all the fanatical elements that have infested it.


It needs to be understood that thanks to the fanatical discourse being doled out to generations of the Pakistani establishment, there is now an overwhelming support to all radical activity against the so-called 'aggressors' which are often seen as the West, Israel and India.


There seems to be a martyrs syndrome prevailing in Pakistan where every ill is blamed onto external forces with little introspection. The greater challenge is that the very raison d'etre of the Pakistani nation is an exclusivist vision of an Islamic state. So long there is any entity which is based on an exclusivist worldview there is little possibility of its peaceful mutual co-existance with any other entity that is deemed to be the "other" by it.


The radical "Islamisation" of the institutions has to be painstakingly reversed. The process has to start from changing the very pedagogy and by incorporating massive changes in the syllabi of Pakistan's educational institutions. It would take a generation of effort to reverse the radical thought process. It is here that the Americans need to make a more proactive intervention.


Instead of linking the dollar flow to just military co-operation, American assistance should be linked to efforts being undertaken by the leaders of Pakistan to bring about a change the mindsets of the people of Pakistan. A greater monitoring of the public discourse and school syllabi has to be undertaken.


It is time for the leaders in Pakistan to bite the bullet and take effective steps to bring about institutional changes in that country. The US can ensure that the Pakistanis look at Turkey as a worthy example to emulate and thereby prevent Pakistan going down the dangerous slide whereby the country becomes a peril not just to the other nation states but to its own very existence.


The US policy of differentiation between the so-called good Taliban and bad Taliban will have to go. At the same time the situation is ripe for serious introspection by the Pakistani establishment and set its house in order.


It is amply clear that using terrorists as an instrument of aggression by any nation is not only a morally wrong option, but also at the practical plane is akin to riding a tiger which would one day devour its rider.


The writer is an Assistant Commissioner of Customs in Mumbai. The views expressed are personal.








In good old days only a few genuinely bright students and teachers used to go into the rather laborious and genuine research-based task of getting a doctoral degree. No wonder, they used to get well-deserved exceptional respect in academic circles. 


What has brought the situation to such a pass that now the once-exalted Ph.D. degree has lost both respect and relevance needs to be probed rather thoroughly. 


For now a majority of literary doctors are seen, more than often, with suspicion, especially when one knows, rather intimately, their inherent incapability in basic communication skills and the mean means through which one can buy "original research" with ease! 


The rot began perhaps with an irrational decision that the UGC (University Grants Commission) took long ago. It made research-oriented degrees mandatory for getting a teacher's post in colleges and universities.  


This certainly created a big market for these degrees and initially gave a sharp rise to the number of ghost writers. A simple economics formula of keeping a balance between demand and supply led to a big money-spinning racket, which rests chiefly on cut-and-paste plagiarism. 


Here it would be interesting to note that while appointing even a nursery schoolteacher one is required to have certain specialised skill in the craft of teaching toddlers. But while appointing teachers in colleges and universities the candidate need not have any professional training in pedagogic skills.


Is it not funny that an irrelevant doctoral degree, which in no way prepares one to learn teaching methodologies, is considered a must. Of late even lawyers are required to pass a professional test before being allowed to practise in law courts. A very sensible and practical decision indeed, as one often encounters lawyers who are incapable even of drafting a case correctly.


There is a craze for acquiring the Ph.D. degree even if this degree is not needed for promotion or other benefits. Maybe because the charm of being addressed as "Doctor Sahib" gives a high, a boost to the ego and higher status at least amongst the less enlightened!  


Perhaps that is why the use of "Dr" before one's name by a literary PhD holder is reportedly considered as a criminal offence in Germany and can lead one to a jail term.  


Giani Zail Singh flaunted for quite some time an honorary doctoral degree that was awarded to him by a local university. It is another matter that he soon realised its drawback and dropped the tag. 


In this context I must add that this malice is not the sole property of us Indians alone.


In one of the issues of PUNCH, a British weekly magazine of humour and satire that ceased its publication in 2002, I had read an illustrated article that gave a graphic picture of many renowned universities of London where ghost thesis writing professors were available at an affordable price of £ 15-20 per hour! 


Interestingly, the article had also published copies of a couple of forwarding letters that were appended with a thesis. For, as per the local convention every seeker of the degree was expected to write a brief forwarding synopsis in his/her own hand. Surprisingly, they were awarded degrees despite those illustrated letters were penned in an atrocious language.  


The only saving grace was this that these degree holders, chiefly from Asian countries, were never given any weight while giving a job or admission even by those very varsities that were awarding them doctoral degrees for a price. Obviously, these were meant for Asian consumption alone.  


No wonder we have many snob "Doctor sahibs" having maneuvered doctoral degrees from prestigious English universities, sitting on high positions in our institutes of higher learning. 


What worries one the most is another sad fact that now college teachers are also being considered to be given the authority to act as guides to new research scholars.


My worry is based on the fact that I have observed, during my more than three decades of teaching career in a college, that a majority of my colleagues rarely visited the college library, leave aside getting even a single book issued in their name, textbooks being the only exceptions. 


However, the rot does not stop here alone. When my both daughters entered the local university after doing their under-graduation in the nineties I asked a close teacher friend at the varsity for his guidance in selecting some profitable course of study that they should pursue. "Since your daughters have scored well in their previous examinations, they will have the choice of joining any course. Let them have their choice and keep your own weird ideas to yourself. However, never, I repeat never, allow them to do a PhD here. I know the entire community of wolves in the guise of teacher-guides!" was his piece of sincere, may be a bit exaggerated, advice.








Shareholders in Anil Ambani's Reliance Natural Resources Ltd were left shell-shocked as the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries Ltd. The stock, originally positioned as an arbitrage play, buying gas from RIL's Krishna Godavari basin at US$ 2.4/MMBTU for sale at nearly double the price suddenly looked like junk.


The scrip plunged sharply and closed more than 22 per cent lower. Punters who accumulated RNRL in the run-up to last Friday's court ruling in the hope of making a killing saw huge erosion in capital.


But, as they say, stocks are bought on hope and sold when reality bites. And eternal optimists are those who make the markets. Several analysts popped up on television indicating that something may still be salvaged by those holding this stock.


Among the rosy scenarios touted by the optimists include a possible takeover of RNRL by Mukesh Ambani's RIL or if nothing at least some gas sale deal which would allow the company to earn some trading profits. All eyes are now on Kokilaben, mother of the Ambani siblings, who they hope will ensure justice is done towards the younger brother.


Meanwhile a close look at the ticker indicates that the smart money had exited RNRL long ago and the stock was down sharply in the past year even as the overall market showed a sharp recovery.


Wanted: a hangman for Kasab


The Maharashtra government is looking for a hangman. The vacancy was last filled till 1997 when the then incumbent, R Jadhav, retired. Since then no one has come forward to take up the job despite unemployment being rampant in the state. Each hanging will get the hangman a 'fee' of Rs 150.


There are 11 convicts on the death row in the state with the latest, Mohammad Ajmal Amir alias Kasab, joining them last week. Those earlier in the queue were convicted for assorted murders with several of them found guilty of carrying out the serial bomb blasts in Mumbai in 1993.


But no one seems to be interested in taking up the job though there wouldn't be any shortage of people willing to hang Kasab, admit senior police officials. The last hanging in India was of Dhananjay Chatterjee who was found guilty of the rape and murder of a 14-year old school girl.


Husain's long-distance film direction


Out of sight is surely not out of mind for M F Husain. The veteran painter, who renounced his Indian citizenship for a passport from Qatar, is coming up with new ways to be in the spotlight back home. The buzz is that Husain is directing yet another film. While Husain has already completed the script of the yet untitled film, he is busy preparing to direct it as well. Or rather direct it by proxy. Husain's son, Owais, will be doing the actual direction based on instructions given by the veteran painter by email and over the phone.









If you are looking at the historical landmarks around the BSE, be careful not to miss the stately structure opposite Jehangir Art Gallery: the David Sassoon Library and Reading Room.

An integral part of the art deco district, the library has been called "The Jewel of Kala Ghoda". Built in 1870 it is now classified a Grade I heritage building. It was one of the first buildings to be built on the southern end of the Esplanade - originally planned as a large, open, level area outside fortress or city walls to provide clear fields of fire for the fortress against incoming infantry or artillery - when the walls of the old fort of Bombay were demolished.

 David Sassoon was born in 1792 in Baghdad, Iraq, into a "Nasi" (traditional leaders of the Jewish community) family which had settled in the city since the 12th century. Most members were bankers to the rulers. David was the son of Saleh Sassoon, a wealthy banker and treasurer to Ahmet Pasha (Governor of Baghdad) who was appointed as "Court Jew" (a very influential position) but when Ahmet Pasha was overthrown for
corruption in 1829, the Sassoons fled to Bombay, which was on the trade route not only to the interior of India but also, more importantly, the Far East.

David arrived in Bombay somewhere between 1830 and 1832 with his family and a small part of his family's wealth. He originally acted as a middleman between British textile firms and Gulf commodities merchants. He started business with a counting house - a building, room or office in which a business firm carries on operations, particularly accounting - and a small carpet godown. A shrewd businessman, David was very soon one of the richest men in Bombay and by the end of the 1850s, he had interest in silver, gold, gums, spices, cotton, wool and wheat while at the same time he had made huge investments in harbour properties.

In 1847, a few young mechanics and foremen of the Royal Mint and Government Dockyard established a museum and library for mechanical models and design known as the Sassoon Mechanic's Institute but with the imperial government stopping its annual grant to the institute, Albert, son of David Sassoon, came up with the idea of having a library in the centre of the city. David Sassoon provided Rs 60,000 towards the cost of construction out of a total of Rs 1,25,000. The rest was borne by the Government of Bombay Presidency. It was only in 1938 that the institute was renamed as David Sassoon Library and Reading Room.

David Sassoon did not speak English but became a British citizen in 1853 and finally died in his country home in Pune on November 5, 1864, of fever. Albert migrated to England, became a Baronet (the holder of a hereditary title awarded by the British crown known as the Baronetcy) and died at his Brighton house on October 24, 1896.


The building was designed by Scott McClelland and Company while J Campbell and G E Gosling were the designing architects and yellow Malad stone was used for the construction.

 There is a white stone bust of David Sassoon above the entrance. The library has about 40,000 books, some of which are extremely rare dating back to 1798. A picturesque garden in the backyard enhances the beauty of the structure and adds that degree of serenity so badly missing in the frenetic lifestyle of Mumbai.

Next Week – The eighth part of a    close look at some of the historical   landmarks near the BSE



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From one extreme to another. That seems to be the tale of patenting in India. Accussed earlier of not doing its job fast and efficiently enough, the Indian Patent Office (IPO) now seems to be in overdrive. It is being accused of over-speeding patent clearance without adequate scrutiny. This would raise questions about the quality of patents granted. The number of patents granted annually by IPO has risen sharply, while the infrastructure and the staff strength of the patent office has remained more or less the same. The number of patent examiners, whose role is critical in ensuring that only deserving inventions get intellectual property protection, has not increased since the early 2000s. Yet, over 40,000 patents have reportedly been cleared in past three years, against less than 2,000 a year before that. Obviously, approval of frivolous patents cannot be entirely ruled out. Little wonder then that the number of court cases challenging the grant of patents has also spurted in recent years. This has led to a peculiar situation where the patent office grants patents and the courts overrule them or put them on hold. The prime objective of granting patents — that is to encourage innovation — is, thus, lost. The main sufferers are the chemicals and pharmaceutical industries which account for a sizable chunk of patents.


Interestingly, the number of patent applications has risen sharply since the amendment of the Indian Patent Law in 2005, and the switch to a product patent regime, as laid down by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This despite the fact that awareness about intellectual property protection is still insufficient in India compared to developed countries and even China. Going by the numbers put out by the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organisation in its 2009 report, the total applications filed in India was 28,940 in 2007, against a whopping 2,45,161 in China. India too will see these numbers rising. This means speeding up the much-needed revamping of the patent office. Better infrastructure and more trained and qualified patent examiners are needed. At present, the patent office has branch offices only in Chennai, New Delhi and Mumbai, besides its headoffice in Kolkata. More branches would be needed. The government recently conceded in Parliament the acute shortage of patent examiners but said it planned to create only 200 posts of examiners in the 11th Plan. This may not suffice as it would merely double the patent office's staff strength while the number of patent-seekers has risen manifold and is set to surge further. One recent sensible move by the patent office has been to enter into an agreement with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research to outsource part of the patent scrutiny work to this scientific body. But considering that even today over 70,000 patent-seekers are awaiting disposal of their applications, many more such measures would have to be conceived to clear the pending applications without putting the credibility of the patents at stake.







Credit information bureaus are going to become more important. First, there are now more of them, three new ones are being added to the earlier single bureau. Secondly, after the financial turmoil of the past two years accompanied by sharply rising retail loan defaults, lenders are increasingly seeking to hold the hands of the bureaus in rebuilding portfolios while walking up the slope of another recovery. Thirdly, the bureaus' remit is extending to a massive new area as microfinance institutions (MFIs) try to tackle the twin problems of multiple borrowing and calculated default with their help. Thus, since increasingly a large number of customers of industries ranging from consumer durables to housing will be affected by the working of the bureaus, it is in the interest of both business and the lay public that they run well. Against this need, the performance record so far has been distinctly patchy. Anecdotal stories abound of how loans repaid still show up as current and, what is worse, borrowers who have been able to restructure their loans and pay them off are still shown as defaulters.

This has been so for several reasons. A nascent service with a single operator needs time to get its act together, something that is aided by the process of complaint redressal itself. But more important is the fact that a lender who has passed on information in bulk to a bureau has no incentive to make sure that it is correct. After all, it costs money to clean up the data and make it up-to-date. Second, and this is more serious, what do you do when there is a dispute between the borrower and the lender? It is understandable that a disputed loan will show as a default, but what if a loan closed after a negotiated settlement still officially shows in the lender's books as outstanding. The only relief for the customer till now is that she can pay a fee and see her own credit record after which she at least knows where she stands. The bureaus say that they can show a customer what pertains to her but cannot change the data as that can only be done by the data supplier. On finding an inaccuracy, the only thing borrowers can do, and have been doing, is to take all the papers to a new lender and try and convince him that there is no earlier default.

 There is every need to maintain information depositories of defaulters and assets pledged. It should not be possible for more than one bank to lend against the same car or plot of land unknowingly, and a fraudulent person should not be able to carry on his craft by taking advantage of information gaps among lenders. For its part, the Reserve Bank of India should devise and put in place a method of quick complaint redressal and dispute settlement. Some kind of an ombudsman may be in order, though care must be taken not to let cumbersome procedures grow and delay disposal. That is already the bane of the Indian judicial process








Last week's panic in financial markets finally forced European policy-makers into taking decisive action. Convinced that inertia would potentially lead to the collapse of the euro itself, European Union (EU) leaders effectively threw the kitchen sink and whatever else they could at the issue. The outcome was a new financial stabilisation package of up to euro 750 billion. There are three pieces to the package: First, opening up the EU balance of payments facility to all euro area countries and increasing its ceiling from euro 60 billion to euro 110 billion. Secondly, a new European stabilisation fund, which will provide guarantees worth up to euro 440 billion. Finally, an additional International Monetary Fund (IMF) facility of up to euro 250 billion. In addition, ECB has announced that it will intervene directly in public and private debt markets, and in conjunction with the Fed has re-opened USD swap lines, allowing European banks to obtain USD funding against euro collateral.

These measures have been accompanied by a strong commitment from the respective euro area governments to ensure fiscal sustainability. Portugal and Spain have committed to additional fiscal consolidation measures in 2010 and 2011, which will be presented on May 18. Governments have also committed to reform the Stability and Growth Pact to ensure fiscal discipline. It was also made clear that any country drawing down on any of the above facilities will have to subject itself to strict IMF conditions and monitoring.

These measures are critical in importance not only because of the size of response, but also the speed and cohesiveness of the policy action. Investor negativism towards euro assets over the past few months has been based on more than just the deteriorating fiscal. For, in reality, the euro area's deficits and debt ratios are no worse than many other developed economies. The aversion to euro assets was based more on the EU institutional weakness, exposed while handling this crisis. The core problem of Europe not having a strong, centralised and empowered political leadership which can take quick, decisive action was shown up. The initial reluctance on the part of Germany to support Greece, the need to constantly revise the rescue package and the need for parliamentary approval in each country further highlighted the fractured decision-making model.

The sovereign credit crisis has brought Europe to a critical fork in the road as to its own existence. It can choose either closer political and fiscal integration or eventual disintegration. This crisis is similar to the ERM currency crisis during the early 1990's which eventually pushed the main body of European countries towards a monetary union.

While the real efficacy of the announced policy package is still to be tested, it clearly shows that the EU leadership is not prepared to give up on the single currency, and, in fact, seems to be prepared to move further down the road to much greater cooperation on fiscal and budgetary issues. This crisis may go down in history as the turning point wherein Europe accepted the need to move towards a loose fiscal union with far greater coordination and monitoring of each other's budgetary matters. As to the outlook for markets from here, there are two clear schools of thought.

One group is of the view that this package does nothing to address the fundamental issues of sovereign solvency. All we have done is given Greece, Portugal and Spain some time to get their fiscal house in order (without even addressing the issues in Italy and Ireland). This group is not optimistic about the ability of these countries to actually implement fiscal adjustments of the magnitude of 10 per cent of GDP and that too in a few years, and without being able to devalue the currency. The bears don't think there is enough political will or willingness to endure hardship in the above-mentioned countries, and a serious moral hazard problem. This group also questions the entire burden of adjustment having to fall on the local populace of these countries (through the fiscal consolidation). A more fair adjustment process would involve creditors also taking a haircut (be they banks on their bonds or other countries on their fiscal transfers). The bears fear the burden of adjustment on the local populace will be too high, growth will collapse, leading to a negative spiral of contracting GDP and rising debt ratios, and some type of debt restructuring will be inevitable and still lies ahead.

The counter point to this is an interesting study done by BCA which points out that in the past 30 years, there have been seven instances of successful fiscal adjustment in Europe where we have seen a  fiscal correction of more than 10 per cent of GDP. In each of these fiscal adjustments (except for Greece), GDP growth actually accelerated as the relevant country gained competitiveness and sustained productivity improvements. Key success factors which enabled these fiscal adjustments were a focus on expenditure cuts rather than tax hikes and a societal consensus supporting the necessity for the fiscal retrenchment. One may need to track the progress of Greece, Portugal and Spain on both these counts, to better handicap their chances of successfully completing the fiscal adjustments needed. The BCA study shows that it can be and has been done before.

The bulls point to the fact that global growth continues to surprise on the upside, with the latest US employment numbers surprising positively and purchasing managers indices (PMIs) improving across all regions. The current earnings season also continues to surprise positively, with the majority of companies continuing to beat analyst estimates. With strong earnings and low rates, markets screen cheap. Liquidity conditions will also continue to be supportive, as the latest crisis will only further push out any attempts at normalisation of monetary policy on the part of both the Fed and ECB. Markets thus continue to be in the sweet spot of very easy liquidity, super low rates but improving growth and earnings. For this camp, any corrections are a buying opportunity, as they continue to believe in the inevitability of markets rising till such time as the central banks remain on hold. Risk assets will get a bid, and capital will keep moving towards those asset classes and regions where growth is strong and benefiting from very easy macro policy settings.

It looks like being a very tough call, but I would tend to slightly tilt towards the bulls, and thus would remain invested, but have portfolio protection to safeguard against another potential shock. The markets should do fine if the relevant countries can deliver credible fiscal adjustment plans (based on spending cuts, not huge tax hikes) and we see greater buy-in from the local populace in understanding the need for austerity. In the absence of local buy-in, sharing the adjustment pain more broadly through debt restructuring comes back on the table, with potentially very serious consequences for the EU banking system and global liquidity. The only clear trade seems to be a further depreciation of the euro.

Net net, stay invested but remain paranoid...

The author is the fund manager and chief executive officer of Amansa Capital







As the world climbs out of the deepest recession in recent history, Asia is leading the global recovery. By end-2009, output and exports had returned to pre-crisis levels in most of Asia, including the hardest-hit economies. In our recently-released Asia-Pacific Regional Economic Outlook, we envisage that, on average, Asia will grow by 7 per cent this year and next, buoyed by growth in China, India and other countries. While activity in advanced countries remains held back by high unemployment and weak household and bank balance sheets, in Asia the picture is relatively more robust.

In the near term, we expect that Asia will continue to lead the global recovery. What underlies this robust growth picture? While public stimulus is being phased out in some countries, growth should be sustained by the momentum that has developed in private domestic demand. Private consumption is growing on the basis of high asset values, growing consumer confidence and good labour market prospects, and private investment is being boosted by increases in capacity utilisation to more normal levels. In addition, the recovery of demand in advanced economies, particularly the United States, is expected to continue fuelling a re-stocking of inventories through most of 2010 that will boost Asian production and exports.

 At the same time, the fragile nature of the global recovery still poses a risk for Asia. The global risks remain tilted to the downside, and a turn for the worse in the outlook for advanced countries or renewed negative shocks in world financial markets would present problems for the recovery in Asia as well as other regions.

In India, growth is expected to rebound strongly in 2010-11 to 8.75 per cent with both private investment and consumption expected to make substantial contributions. Improved business sentiment and favourable financing conditions should boost investment, while better employment prospects and an anticipated normal harvest should support consumers' incomes. The challenge in the short term will be to manage inflation: to address it, the authorities have rightly started to withdraw monetary and fiscal stimulus, and are expected to continue doing so in the rest of the year. Measures to ease supply bottlenecks will also help over a longer horizon to raise potential growth and reduce inflationary pressures.

For the first time in recent history, Asia is leading a global recovery and contributing an increasing share to global growth. Also, historically unprecedented is the fact that, this time around, Asia's recovery is predominantly being driven by domestic demand. Finally, capital inflows, which returned only slowly following previous downturns, are now surging into the region. These capital inflows partly reflect the extremely high levels of global liquidity, but are also a testament to Asia's improved resilience and growth prospects.

The strong capital flows do, however, carry risks that will need to be carefully managed. These inflows have the potential to lead to overheating in some economies and to an increase in vulnerability to asset price booms and busts, inflation, and macroeconomic volatility. Asset price inflation in most of Asia has so far been contained, but the increase in excess liquidity in many economies does raise some concerns. We, therefore, welcome the measures that many policy-makers are continuing to take to ensure macroeconomic and financial stability against the build-up of imbalances in local asset and housing markets. Still, more may be needed to be done in the future, if the region's bright economic growth prospects and its widening interest rate differentials with advanced economies attract even more capital. While the right package of measures vary across countries, in many of them it may be appropriate to allow more exchange rate flexibility, which could forestall short-term inflows and help make financial conditions less accommodative.

In India, sustaining rapid growth over the medium term will require addressing structural bottlenecks, notably infrastructure. The authorities are thus making great efforts to step up implementation of infrastructure projects and other structural reforms. As infrastructure investment takes off, it will need to be supported by adequate financial resources. Deepening the domestic corporate bond market, increasing the availability of instruments to help manage risks, and expanding the participation of domestic institutional investors in the funding of infrastructure could all play an important role. A complement to financial reforms will be reducing the public sector's claim on resources: the fiscal consolidation announced in this year's Budget is a welcome step in this regard.

For our part, the International Monetary Fund remains closely engaged with the region. Our policy dialogue with Asian authorities is being deepened through initiatives like a Regional Advisory Group, which draws senior figures from Asia to advise us in our work in the region. In addition, in July, we will hold an important conference in Seoul in partnership with the Korean government, to bring together senior figures from the region and draw lessons from Asia's success in managing this crisis for the future and for the rest of the world.

The author is director of the IMF's Asia and Pacific Department







Labour Minister Mallikarjun Kharge is doing his bit to take forward his party's (Congress) aam aadmi agenda. That explains the revival of efforts to push through a two-decade-old legislation, Participation of Workers in Management Bill, 1990, which was put in cold storage after its introduction in the Rajya Sabha.

 No one can fault the minister for lack of sincerity. As reported in Business Standard yesterday, he held wide-ranging discussions with representatives of various interest groups to find consensus on a move that has faced stiff opposition from industry in the past.

The Bill seeks to ensure "specific and meaningful" participation of workers in management in company boards. The government wants public sector units (PSUs) to take the lead, and the minister hopes "thereafter, it may also be possible to evolve consensus among other stakeholders".

That may, however, just remain wishful thinking. A day after the minister's meeting, the HR head of a PSU said the move will be a disaster. "We will have no option if the owners (the government) force us, but the managements will treat worker-directors as nothing but showpieces for the ultimate industrial democracy," he said.

The HR director said his company did have workers' participation at the plant-level in the form of work councils, etc. But the decisions were generally restricted to "tea, towels and toilets", as the workers' representatives were just not interested in scaling up their involvement. Managing is your responsibility, we want the benefits, he said, is the theme.

Trade union leaders have returned the compliment by saying that managements are just not interested in sharing meaningful information with workers' representatives in these meetings due to what they call a class bias.

These views can be termed extreme, but they also show lack of trust between the two sides. And trust is the minimum that is required for any such experiment to succeed. It is doubtful whether law can change people's minds.

Some Indian public sector banks do have employee-directors. But most bank managements say the experience hasn't been too good either. In many cases, these directors haven't attended board meetings citing political work pressures, or have been harping on just one theme — higher benefits for employees. "Directors need a holistic perspective. You can't carry your trade union baggage to the board room," a bank director said.

Supporters of workers' participation in company boards say the workers' representatives on the board can play a useful role in safeguarding the interests of workers; he or she can serve as a guide and control element; can prevail upon top management not to take measures that would be unpopular with the employees; can guide other board members on matters of investment in employee benefit schemes like housing, and so forth.

But those against the proposal say the focus of workers' representatives is different from that of the remaining members of the board. Also, communication and subsequently relations between the workers' representative and the workers suffers after the former assumes directorship as he or she tends to become alienated from the workers. As a result, the workers' representative may be less effective with the other members of the board in dealing with employee matters.

HR experts say the proponents of workers' participants in management often cite the experiment in Germany, which was the first country to adopt such a practice. Known as Mitbestimmung, meaning co-determination, the practice started during Germany's economic re-emergence after the second world war, with a series of laws culminating in a 1976 decree that requires that just under half of companies' supervisory board members are representatives of workers. Shareholders and trade unions elect members of a supervisory board which is meant to set the company's general agenda. The supervisory board then elects a management board, which is actually charged with the day-to-day running of the company. The management board is required to have one worker representative.

For many years, the German model was considered to be the ultimate example of how industrial democracy can and should work. But the enthusiasm of its supporters seems to have taken a few hard knocks in recent times. Many experts say the system of co-determination made managers less willing to take tough, unpopular decisions and more likely to make trade-offs. Supervisory board support for the performance-related pay of executives would often be traded with cash bonuses for the workforce, or the appointment of a new top executive would be linked to job security pledges for employees.

This has also led to corruption charges. For example, a couple of years ago, German car maker Volkswagen was in the news for all the wrong reasons. It was reported that managers in the company paid for exotic holidays to works councillors, etc.

India is certainly better off in this respect, but forcing workers' participation in boardrooms without ensuring that it first succeeds at the lower level, is nothing but putting the cart before the horse.







Back in January, during a discussion with this paper's editorial brains trust, I had mildly suggested an edit on the emerging Greek budget problems and its wider consequences. This was greeted with indulgent smiles and suppressed mirth of the kind usually reserved for doddering uncles. Which reader would be interested in the fiscal predicament of a small and distant European nation? Some four months later, I confess to a feeling of vindication. Greece's public finance problems have ballooned into a major European crisis with global ramifications. The evolution of the crisis has accelerated over the last fortnight and sent world financial markets into a tizzy.

 Today, Greece is in a bad place. Its GDP fell by 3 per cent in 2009 and is expected to drop another 4 per cent this year. Its fiscal deficit of 13.6 per cent of GDP in 2009 is slated to be brutally chopped to 3 per cent of GDP by 2014 under the huge euro 110 billion EU-IMF bailout programme agreed early last week. Despite such extraordinary fiscal compression, Greece's towering 115 per cent ratio of government debt to GDP is expected to climb to nearly 150 per cent in three years. GDP is expected to contract a further 5 per cent by then. As Martin Wolf has pointed out (Financial Times, May 5), even if everything goes according to plan, in 2014 Greece will be having to run a 4.5 per cent of GDP primary fiscal surplus to service the 7.5 per cent of GDP of interest payments on its government debt. Will Greeks put up with the deep and sustained cuts in public wages and pensions, and massive hikes in taxes that all this entails?

Commentators (and markets) are sceptical. They point out that if Greece had faced a similar problem 12 years ago, the obvious solution would have included devaluation of the drachma and a restructuring of the debt (an euphemism for organised, partial default). Today, being a member of the eurozone rules out devaluation. And debt restructuring for Greece would fan the flames of contagion that are already warming Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy (the other PIGS). Herein lies the rub. Greece is missing crucial options for adjustment because she is an eurozone member. Conversely, the likely political and economic infeasibility of Greece's harsh fiscal compression programme is damaging Europe by sustaining the threat of contagion and calling the entire single-currency experiment of the euro into question. And this is why the travails of little Greece (with GDP equal to about one-fortieth of the European economy) are plaguing the European Union, still the largest single economic entity in the world. A dozen years ago, many had doubted that a monetary union could be sustained without a fiscal union. Analysts, such as Paul Krugman, have pointed out that California's major fiscal problems are containable precisely because US federal fiscal policy cushions their impact on both Californians and the rest of the US. The euro-sceptics are waxing eloquent today.

How will all this pan out? The honest truth is that nobody really knows. The crisis is still unfolding. And fast. Recall that hardly three weeks ago, Europeans were still negotiating over a euro 45 billion bailout package for Greece. Months of dithering by Germany and others helped catalyse the recent downgrades by credit rating agencies, which amplified the Greek problem and its contagion potential, and nearly tripled the scale of the final package. That didn't prevent international financial markets and the euro from plunging towards the end of last week, triggering a weekend of frenetic activity among European leaders, with stiff doses of advice injected by the Obama administration. The result was the announcement on Monday, May 10, morning of the mammoth euro 750 billion EU-IMF standby, bailout package of loans and guarantees plus the European Central Bank's (ECB's) arm-twisted readiness to purchase European debt for quantitative easing. After an initial, reassuring bounce, international markets again turned jittery on Tuesday, underscoring the continuing doubts about a lasting resolution of the fiscal-debt problems of Greece and other PIGS.

There is a chance that the Greek polity will accept the fiscal compression demanded. It's possible that contagion (much of it irrational and fuelled by financial herd behaviour) will be contained through wise, anticipatory policy by the governments of Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland, and adroit actions by ECB and the European Union. In that case, just maybe, European recovery from the Great Recession will simply stutter a bit in 2010 and then resume the positive trajectory outlined by the IMF's World Economic Outlook of late April.

The problem is that such wisdom and courage, if shown, will need to be sustained. And the track record, thus far, is not wholly reassuring. Thoughtful analysts believe that there is a better than even chance that something major will go wrong in the many weeks and months of fiscal and financial stress that lie ahead for Europe. Then the unthinkable might happen: Greece could leave the eurozone or default or both. In that case, contagion could spread across Europe and undermine otherwise healthy economies. No realistic estimate can be made presently of the pan-European and global consequences of such events. But the continuing turbulence in financial markets worldwide suggests that people are thinking about the unthinkable and its consequences.

What are the possible consequences for India? It's too early to tell but one can speculate. If the crisis is successfully contained and European recovery resumes, then there may be no significant external trade shock to India. With more money sloshing around in international markets, capital inflows into India will grow and exacerbate the already big problem of a substantially overvalued rupee. Oil prices will resume their upward march and magnify India's petroleum subsidies and fiscal stresses. At some point, perhaps quite a few months later, the unsustainability of India's fiscal, debt and external current accounts will come home to roost.

On the other hand, if the Greek crisis spirals into a larger European sovereign debt crisis and possible fragmentation of the eurozone, then global trade and capital flows will be badly hit. How badly and how much this will hurt India is impossible to assess at present. The only silver lining could be a drop in international oil prices, implying a lower oil import bill and reduced petroleum subsidies for India.

Either way, macroeconomic policy will be exceptionally challenging in the months ahead. Let's hope the ministries and institutions responsible for the conduct of India's macroeconomic management can summon the requisite competence and will.

The author is honorary professor at ICRIER and former chief economic adviser to the Government of India. The views expressed are personal








Businessmen and society have a strangely contradictory relationship. The economic activity they generate can be an agent of social transformation and progress — a quick look at the changes in Indian society in the last two decades would be one indicator. Yet, businessmen in themselves are rarely conscious promoters of social progress.

 This is hardly unexpected. Business inherently seeks a stable environment in which to flourish, so businessmen tend not to be tethered to ideologies beyond the opportunistic. Even by those standards, Congress MP Naveen Jindal's support to the ultra-conservatives in his constituency Kurukshetra is hard to understand.

Jindal is a hip, polo-playing, emerging steel and power tycoon. Why should he bother his head with demands to amend the Hindu Marriage Act to ban marriages within the same gotra (ancestral clan) and village?

His protestations that he's only acting as the messenger for his Jat constituents are a tad disingenuous and certainly contradictory. Presumably, as an educated young industrialist — he holds a business management degree from the University of Texas — he has views of his own about how society should be shaped. His detailed and carefully crafted website positions him as a dynamic young patriot. These credentials stem from his famous seven-year campaign to have the flag code amended to enable private citizens to fly the Indian flag freely. "Our National Flag is the greatest symbol of our country and we all must respect it, love it and above all fly it to spread the message of peace, harmony, brotherhood and prosperity," he is quoted as saying under a section titled (no kidding) "Patriot".

First, it is not clear how pushing the cause of extra-judicial local community bodies that condone medieval-style honour killings can be construed as promoting "peace, harmony, brotherhood" etc. Second, Jindal, who beat a chief minister's son at the hustings, lists an impressive array of things he has done for his constituency, both via the MP fund and his own non-profit outfit. He claims to "have transformed the face of Kurukshetra from being a sleepy town to a modern, developed city which is on the threshold of becoming a major tourist destination". If we take his word for it, it is even tougher to see why he should feel compelled to give in to the importuning of a decidedly reactionary element in his constituency. (Ironically, his constituency is not that far from Gurgaon, the hotspot of IT and multinational investment, that teems with many young men and women who may well be contemplating matrimony without reference to gotra, caste, religion, and so on.)

In his support of the khap panchayats, Jindal cannot be accused of business opportunism. The units owned by the extremely successful $2-billion Jindal Power and Steel, of which he is vice chairman and managing director, are not based in the state in which his family is a strong local force. They are, in fact, almost 1,000 km away in raw material-rich Orissa, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, mineral-rich states that, incidentally, desperately need investment in social infrastructure to pull them out of the current spiral of Maoist violence.

Jindal's motives come down to the purely political. Various local elections are due in Haryana over the next month and a half and most local politicians are wary of antagonising the powerful but conservative Jat community in the state. This is understandable in the larger interests of realpolitik. But it is worth wondering whether such active support for their retrograde agenda was called for — Jindal could as well have not said or done anything at all.

Jindal's latest move is, however, no more misguided than, say, Ratan Tata, Anil Ambani or Sunil Mittal. Last year, these leaders of India's most powerful corporate groups chose to heap lavish praise on Narendra Modi for his pro-industrialisation drive in Gujarat. This is okay — no one will deny that Modi has made Gujarat an unusually industry-friendly state, hugely beneficial for investment-hungry businessmen. But surely, given Modi's openly expressed communal proclivities — even Vajpayee considered asking him to resign after the 2002 riots — none of them needed to go as far as to endorse him as India's next prime minister.

Such amorality is worth thinking about as more and more businessmen eye a political vocation as a way of capping successful business careers. Their growing number in both Houses of Parliament — Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Rahul Bajaj, Rajkumar Dhoot to name a few — may raise hopes for a more progressive outlook towards society, but as Jindal has shown, this need not be the case.

As for Jindal, his electoral opportunism may be less hard-headed than he thinks. Here's what one of his, presumably youthful, constituents wrote about him, passionately if ungrammatically, in response to a news item on his support of khap panchayats: "I belong to Kurukshetra and feeling ashamed that Mr Naveen Jindal represent our constituency in parliament. The person who claims to be youth Icon for modern india, just be popular as politician and secure vote for future is doing the rubbish."










What more can a man do for a beloved spouse than offer himself up for sale? It may sound like a scene that Rahul Mahajan would opt for to win over his TVwedded wife on some reality show, but it is not.

Instead, it's former US President Bill Clinton's novel way to help his wife raise funds to cover her pending $771,000 election campaign debts — and enjoy the task, presumably. Okay, so it's not one of his best 'come hither' lines, but it's at least one that his wife will not have to rue: "How would you like the chance to come up to New York and spend the day with me?"

This email entreaty may sound alarmingly familiar to those who followed the events of the Clinton era White House of the late 1990s but impressionable interns and special investigators can rest easy. Face time with Clinton for the nominal minimum online donation of $5 from starry-eyed donors is pretty innocuous — and also pretty smart.

After all, Mr Clinton's gallant gesture to offer himself as the grand prize for US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's sake will achieve much more than wheedling phone calls or suave panhandling. If he succeeds in getting the public to cough up the moolah, he will give politicians all over the world a novel new avenue to raise funds in a tight market.

Ms Mayawati has demonstrated how individual donations can add up to a lot, but monetising charisma via direct marketing has not been tried so blatantly and charmingly before. Lucrative speaking tours and bestselling memoirs are fine, but the 1946-born Mr Clinton's way of testing his pulling power is a wonderful reworking of the Beatles' eternal question: When I get older, losing my hair/many years from now/Will you still be sending me a valentine/birthday greeting, bottle of wine?/If I'd been out till quarter to three/would you lock the door?/Will you still need me,/ will you still feed me,/when I'm sixty-four?







The new pension system (NPS) for private citizens generated a return of 12% last fiscal year. This is higher than what the Employees' Provident Fund has achieved , and higher than what fixed deposits of banks yield.

However, it is significantly lower than what could have been achieved in a year in which stock indices doubled. It transpires that the NPS started investing in equity only a little late in the year and secured a modest 26% returns on equity investments. One has to wait for a full cycle to get a clear picture of how the NPS performs. However, the most striking feature of the NPS' first year of performance after it opened up to voluntary contributions is that the corpus of such contributions amount to a meagre Rs 10 crore.

This is remarkable under-achievement for a well-structured , well-regulated scheme with an asset management charge as low as 0.0009%. Of course, there is a disincentive in the form of discriminatory tax treatment of the NPS, as compared to savings schemes like the Public Provident Fund (PPF). Withdrawals from the NPS are taxed, while those from the PPF are tax-exempt. The promised harmonisation of the tax treatment of all long-term savings schemes is yet to materialise. But the NPS is floundering essentially because of a faulty marketing model. A course-correction is imperative for the scheme to succeed.


The government now contributes Rs 1,000 to the pension account of every new NPS subscriber. It will cover the cost of starting an account with the central record-keeping agency and of carrying out transactions, and give a positive return on the very day of joining the NPS. But this incentive to the subscriber does little to spread awareness of the scheme, to market the scheme. And the biggest problem with the NPS is that it is relatively unknown.

With a wafer-thin asset management fee, fund managers can hardly afford to market the scheme using their money. The pensions regulator PFRDA does some publicity for the scheme, but this is not enough. The government must offer distributors, the so-called points of presence — banks that open NPS accounts for subscribers — and others, reasonable incentives for roping in subscribers.







Signalling that the top leadership of the government and the Congress are now on the same page on the strategy to counter Maoism, home minister P Chidambaram has stressed the need to address the alienation of the people in areas where extremism holds sway.

Addressing the annual general meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industry, Mr Chidambaram urged industrialists to work to remove the trust deficit that makes room for Maoists. His statement comes in the wake of a high-decibel debate on the subject in which Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh criticised the policing-focused strategy of the home ministry.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh then highlighted the importance of complementing policing with development activity, in order to take on the Maoist challenge. The ministry of home, it transpires, has, in any case, been trying to orchestrate developmental activity in the areas affected by extremism.

Now, with the home minister making it clear that ending popular alienation that paves the way for Maoist interference calls for not just state action, whether policing or otherwise, but also mobilisation of civil society, particularly its more dynamic segments that create jobs and build new prosperity, the message is not just clear, but also more holistic.

This newspaper has argued that the roots of Maoism lie in a deficit of democracy and development. Combating this calls for state action — policing, and delivery of development schemes — no doubt. And conscious efforts by industry and voluntary organisations. But the most crucial part is political mobilisation of the people by parties that see deliverance in this world, not in some post-revolution utopia.

The UPA government, in its first term, had enacted three crucial laws that enable such political mobilisation: on forest rights, employment guarantee and the right to information. Corrupt, insipid administrations will not change the existing power structure just because some laws have been passed. Only democratic assertion can do that, articulating the will of people conscious of and determined to secure their entitlement as citizens. Political mobilisation of this order is a task for political parties, not the government or NGOs.







Brett Hemsley is primarily responsible for Fitch Ratings' banks and insurance group within the Asia-Pacific region. As the managing director and Asia-Pacific head of financial institutions group of the rating agency, Mr Hemsley also looks at segments such as covered bonds, asset management and international public finance. He was recently in India to meet the country's top bankers and assess the country's credit market scene in light of the unparalleled 20-25 % credit growth for the last three-four years. More often than not, such high growth accompanies the inherent risk of massive default if corrective steps are not taken. He feels India will be less impacted by the growing debt crisis of the eurozone.


"Asset price bubble has always been funded by rapid credit expansion and excess liquidity," Mr Hemsley says. At this juncture, Fitch seems less concerned about Indian banks' risk profile as their credit portfolio is well diversified and they deliver loans largely for productive purposes. India is one of the biggest credit rating markets for Fitch Ratings in the Asia-Pacific region. "The Indian banking sector becomes an exciting market with its strong credit growth. Yet, we are less concerned about Indian banking as its assets are well diversified."

"Banks' investment is not speculative or inflationary in India," he says, adding that banks channel a sizeable amount of loans to the infrastructure sector, key to the country's long-term growth. A comparison to China — a country that is also experiencing rapid asset growth — seems obvious here. And Mr Hemsley categorically says that Fitch is not exactly comfortable with Chinese banking system because of its sizeable exposure to the commercial real estate sector.

"Much of Chinese investment was for speculative purposes and not necessarily for production reasons. The whole thing can unravel very quickly and lead to severe asset quality problem in the Chinese banking scene. We are much more comfortable about Indian banks' risk profile, governance and quality of regulation. It's a robust system." Mr Hemsley seems to have a great deal of respect for the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). He thinks RBI is one of the most sound and proactive central banks even on aglobal perspective.

"Regulation is one of the keys to develop a sound banking system." Australia, to his mind, is another country with robust banking practices, backed by good prudential regulation and ability to take swift action during crises. Singapore and Hong Kong have strong banking systems as well. But how does Fitch rate central banks of developed countries such as the US and UK prior to the global financial crisis? No direct answer was forthcoming. "Some of the developed market regulators certainly did not behave as expected."

The global financial market is once again facing a crisis of sorts as the fiscal distress that began in Greece months ago is spreading across Europe. There is also rising scepticism about the fate of countries with far more manageable levels of state debt.

"There will be an impact on the Asia-Pacific region too. Yet, the impact would be obviously less on banks here as they do not have substantial holding of European debt. The banking systems in the all Asia-Pacific countries demonstrated that they are more resilient now than they were 10 years ago," says Mr Hemsley.

He felt that export-led economies such as Japan, South Korea and China may experience a setback if the latest crisis forces the Europe and global economy to move slowly. "For India, there will be limited impact — as was the case during 2008-09 global financial crisis — for the closed nature of its economy."

Coming back to banking in the region, Mr Hemsley, who is also Fitch's general manager for Japan, expects more consolidation of banks in Japan, as Japanese banks are chronically less profitable given the shrinking opportunity to lend. So what about consolidation in India?

By contrast, Mr Hemsley does not feel consolidation is desperately needed for Indian banks at this juncture since local banks are growing at a rapid pace. "It may happen in future when Indian banking system grows. There could be increasing divergence in performance of banks, and their product development and cost control ... this will necessitate consolidation."







There must be something about being counted that produces a visceral reaction in all societies. The US seems to routinely go through last-minute debates about counting immigrants and adjustment of undercount. The storm around the inclusion of caste in the 2011 Indian census is another example. However, it offers a unique opportunity for a public debate around what we are counting and why.

If this were simply a debate about how many Indians consider themselves belonging to Other Backward Classes (OBC) and enumeration of their basic characteristics, there is little reason for this storm in the teacup. Judging by the Press reports, all the census is going to do is collect self-reports of whether the respondents belong to OBCs and along with education, marital status and housing characteristics normally enumerated in the census, so one may be able to compare characteristics of OBCs with those of the general population.

Are any of the results likely to be surprising? Most studies based on large surveys document two things: socio-economic conditions of OBCs are worse than those of forward castes, although significantly better than those of Dalits and adivasis ; and their incomes as well as human development indicators are on par with all India averages.

This is not surprising since OBCs comprise a vast proportion of India's population and their conditions determine all-India averages. For example, NSS documents average monthly per-capita expenditure as Rs 557 for OBCs in rural areas compared to Rs 558 for the general population. A recently-published study by researchers from NCAER and University of Maryland documents that 46% of India's 8-11 year-old children cannot read a simple paragraph; among the OBCs, 44% cannot read.

If OBCs are expected to look more or less like the average Indian, it does not really matter whether their head count is large or small, particularly given the measurement error due to self-reporting. At the same time, the criticism of how incorporation of this one question is going to ruin the whole census exercise also seems overblown.

It is inconvenient to have to add one more column at this late date but I have great faith in the ingenuity of the office of the registrar general. What we lose by this careless inclusion of caste in Census 2011 is an opportunity to debate the underlying nature of social inequality in the country, and that is a grievous loss.

However, we do not help the most deprived by focusing on the average. Sadly, this is precisely what successive commissions on OBCs have done with the help of outdated data from the census of 1931 conducted by a colonial administration.

How many people in the country today even know how any jati comes to be termed OBC? The first OBC Commission of 1953, led by Kaka Kalelkar, set the trend of using regionally-specific caste groupings to define 'depressed classes' This was further refined by the Mandal Commission to come up with a set of criteria of social, educational and economic backwardness that were used to classify various castes as being backward or not.

If we truly want to identify the deprived groups, two aspects of this exercise deserve re-examination: are the criteria consistent with the Indian reality in the 21st century? And should these criteria be applied consistently across the country or be different for different states, as was the case with the Mandal Commission report?

The criteria used by the Mandal Commission overwhelmingly rely on social characteristics since social backwardness receives three points, compared to two points for educational backwardness and one point for economic backwardness in its classification. Definition of social backwardness includes high work participation by women and low age at marriage, among others. This may well have been reasonable in 1980, but in a modern economy, women with college degrees are more likely to be employed than women with primary education.

So, paradoxically, this criterion would place castes with higher college education for women below those where women only complete primary school. Similarly, the age at marriage criterion probably accounts at least partially for the fact that about 32% of Haryana's population is classified as OBC compared to 19% of Punjab's. The second aspect of the Mandal Commission decision is even more problematic. The commission quickly realised that given the geographic diversity of the country and its overwhelming reliance on social indicators, some states are likely to have many more OBCs than others.

In order to avoid this political quagmire, instead of using the same cutoff for each state, they used different cutoffs so that the stigma (and benefits) of backwardness were evenly distributed across the country. However, although OBC counts may appear to be similar for Bihar and Kerala, it is hard to argue today that these two states are similar on other aspects of deprivation.

These examples suggest a need for serious and thoughtful evaluation of backwardness with data that are consistent with 21st century realities. If census is to carry out a serious caste enumeration to update the 1931 data, it would take years of thought and planning to figure out how to condense a list of thousands of jatis into some manageable number and then to use it to elicit responses from the population instead of merely checking the OBC box. This is simply not feasible in 2010 when the population enumeration in February 2011 is barely seven months away.

If the goal of public policy is to ensure that the vulnerable and marginalised citizens of India receive special consideration, reliance on OBC classification is like using an ax to remove a brain tumour . However, if the current storm has generated a real political will to fashion a scalpel for the tumour, then we should be looking at setting up expert groups for a complete enumeration of jatis in 2021 and their reclassification to identify the truly marginalised backward classes. Is our polity brave enough to attempt this?

(The author is a senior fellow at NCAER and a professor of sociology at University of Maryland. Views are personal.)








The honorable High Court of Gujarat recently ruled that a company cannot have exclusive rights over a common surname while delivering its order in a


brand dispute. The fight was over the name Bisazza, an Italian surname claimed by two Indian firms operating in the glass mosaic tiles market. It is interesting to see two companies fight over an uncommon surname in the Indian context; as interesting as the 'Indianisation' of their names by some Chinese executives working in India. Some interesting combination names adopted by the executives of telecom equipment maker Huawei include Chetan Chen, Depak Xu, and Rajiv Yao, as reported by The Economic Times.

These two episodes point to some common themes on brand name decisions. In the first case, one probable purpose of the brand name was to leverage quality associations with a geographical location. The other indicates an inclination of the company to integrate with the local language and symbol systems, probably for an enhanced acceptance in the host country.

Should a brand name be a meaning-filled one that leverages prior associations that consumers have? Or, should it be an arbitrary or constructed one without any significant prior associations in consumers' mind?

Brand name is the most visible symbol of a brand's identity and it constitutes the vital anchor to collate consumer experience with products. Since brand names constitute a significant decision point in the product strategy, firms need to choose a name that can convey the core meaning of the brand to consumers. There is not much room for mistake because the cost of creating new brands is increasing constantly.

One perspective holds the view that brand names should be meaningful to consumers, either representing the product category in some ways or some quality parameters of the product or service offering. The name Infosys communicates the arena of the brand's operations unambiguously and so do Nutrasweet and Energizer that suggest some property of the products. Relevance of a brand name to consumers thus rides on the principle of associative meaning and it provides the initial thrust to the product. Many firms prefer brand names that help consumers decipher the product and its properties.

A contrasting view is the affinity for a neutral name or a name devoid of any specific meaning in a given product or service category. An invented or constructed brand name carries no baggage of either positive or negative associations, so this approach has the advantage of filling the brand name with vivid imageries, symbols and feelings. Some of the world's most respected brands in their categories such as Intel and Lucent built their reputations over time, imparting the name with meaning through technology, innovations, and quality of product and services.

Appropriateness of an approach to choose a brand name is determined by a host of issues including the brand's strategic trajectory, category dynamics and the firm's resource endowment. A name that is meaningful in a specific category sometimes can restrict the brand's growth to that category. This issue, however, is equally applicable when an invented or neutral name is endowed with category-specific meaning and associations. It would be as difficult for Amul to travel beyond milk-related product categories, just as it would be difficult for Infosys to go beyond IT-related services and products without any major brand makeover. It would also take far greater amount of resources to create meaning out of a name in a cluttered category than to evoke consumer connect through a meaning-filled name in a nascent product category.

Simplicity has always been advocated as an important parameter to decide a good brand name. The argument states that a short, crisp and easy-to-pronounce brand name helps consumers to remember it. Thus, Melody is easy to remember than Alpenlibe and Cipla is far easier to pronounce than Hoechst. The principle here is the context of human memory system wherein the recall of information is aided by linguistic simplicity and the associations through prior information stored in the memory network.

However, repetition and rehearsal of information is vital to develop stronger memory nodes and people tend to rehearse complex names and denser information more than simple names and lucid facts. From this perspective, more complex, difficult-to-pronounce names are likely to get repeated and rehearsed in consumers' mind and therefore such names are not as villainous as they are made out to be. But the problem with phonetically complex names is the quantum of investments needed to communicate the brand. This is one of the reasons that make a large number of firms to prefer simple, easier names to creative tongue-twisters.

Vitality of the brand name is only one of the initial impetuses for success. It is the synergistic amalgamation of different elements of strategy that guarantees a brand's success. In the world of brands, there is no single-point success formula.

The author is professor of marketing at IIIM, Ahmedabad. Readers can send their response to









A circus has come to town. People have been flocking to it in large numbers, not for its novel and attractive numbers but (as gathered from a collection of whispers) for its semi-erotic numbers. The sex, as always, is subtle and when in public leans on the pole of survival. We are victims of voyeurism. We enjoy watching the stripped, but hate seeing the naked self. Gordon Brown might have a confession to make to Silvio Berlusconi.

There are many reasons why we go to see a circus show and it is not about our whispers but tuning our whiskers. Live in Uttar Pradesh to know that. A statue can be made of those untouchable thoughts. There is little to differentiate between a salon and circus tent. The hairs are pruned in both of them. One of them is that people say, not aloud, of course, that it is worth a visit. So you are subject to peer pressure. Even if it is a circus, it must be worth something if people within your circle are talking about it. You do have a taste for it even if you think that your culinary nostalgia has gone wrong. Else, why would you have a penchant for freaks? And, since we have confined ourselves to our armchairs in front of the rectangular thing that beams innumerable images by the seconds, we do like watching reality shows where participants eat scorpions, snakes and other still life. The circus has come home. Or is it a homecoming?

A trapeze of thoughts that are not there returns to jump from a swing to another hoping that they wouldn't come crashing to the ground: after all, there is a net in between . And the circus still attracts numbers like neighbours in an apartment block who are interested in what is happening next door. It gives them more succor than their own lives. How does it matter if the actors' in the behind-the-scenes program is a harmlessly raunchy travelogue set to hurdy-gurdy music. MTV or I aMTV. One such group of travelling performers do visit your locality and you ignore it because it mirrors your ideologue and forces you to engage in a pedagogy with your self. You don't want to be told what you are. The jokers in the circus are the last thing you want to see within (without you). They clap, laugh and engage in a mocking soliloquy which gives you an excuse to disregard it.

The circus has come to town. But you are above it. So let's "ignore it; give it a go by; and it is not for the likes of our people; who would go to watch it."

But people are flocking to it. And they are not us. We are not them. And we disdain activity — of any kind. Therefore, we dissuade people from going to watch a circus. Charlie Chaplin can be pardoned for all the subtitled sarcasm but he struck the right chord years ago. We could perhaps wait for a Chaplin or a circus. Beneath a tent, be it may human, canvas or satin, it shelters a spectacle of emotions. Some that are often hidden. We are in an age where the primitive state of mind fails to take a leap to modern thinking as the line between the two is blurred by economics and how much you can pay for in monetary terms. We are so much in love with speculation that we could almost embrace casinos as a model for the country's economy. After all, a circus has an act called the well of death.

Things like a khap in a Haryana village that boasts of a hitch with a nose and even no-nose stunts finds popular support with nobody taking the jump with a contrarian view, nets notwithstanding.

How are the outlaws within ourselves going to grow up? If it's not the greatest show on earth, the circus inside our four walls does investigate, in a light and ambling way, the allure of freakhood, as well as the strange forces that hope to abandon it all behind. The science behind a circus is that human beings get away with sexism, homophobia and violence; the kinds that we have ascribed names to and have got the collective state to act against. We need to be protected against the jokers in the pack. Even if we have in some way created them.

So welcome to the circus. The magic lies beneath the tents. And the guffaw has the resonance of a grenade going off.








Creationists have been axing their own feet. Their most trenchant teleological argument for the existence of God is one taken from the 18th century Christian apologist William Paley — the watchmaker analogy, or the evidence from design. It goes like this: Since the complex inner workings of a watch necessitate an intelligent designer — the watchmaker — therefore , the complexity of any given thing such as a particular organ or organism , the structure of the solar system , life, the entire universe, etc, necessitates not only a similar designer but a much more powerful one.

It appears to be such a compelling and elegant argument, one which instantly appeals to commonsense, that from its inception it's managed to enter and ignite the minds of people and sway them. Just as its oversimplification and incompleteness have infuriated non-believers who have attacked it on various grounds. They say intricate patterning is observed regularly, resulting from mindless processes, like in snowflakes or crystal generation. Or, that design can be produced by a series of very small randomly generated naturally selected steps. Or, if complex things are intelligently designed by something more complex than themselves, then God must also have been designed by something yet more complex.

However, wrangling aside, let's assume for a moment they have a case that can be proven; that a designer did get existence going the way a watchmaker gets his newly created watch going. There's still a problem. For, what does a watchmaker do afterwards? Does he keep track of it throughout his life, checking constantly if it's functioning properly, keeping time, needing service or repair? No, he lets that onus bear on the individual owner. Yet is this the kind of creator the Creationists are talking about? No, again. Their creator is caring , in the here and now who watches over all things from galaxies to a blade of grass and one who can, and does, intervene when required.

Now if Creationists would only change their strategy a little by saying He started it but then left it alone, their battles with science could become a thing of the past. Because science doesn't really concern itself with such philosophical questions as why the Big Bang happened, how come the fundamental constants are just so or what made life jumpstart. They're perfectly content to play gods afterwards.








In my column last month (ET, Apr 9) I had shown that world trade underwent dramatic changes in the decade 1995-2005. For one, trade between developing countries (SS) now dominates world trade and is growing the fastest. Second, a clear regional pattern has emerged in that manufacturing is concentrated in Asia, agriculture in the Americas and resource based production in Africa. Third, intra-regional trade dominates global trade with the emergence of regional hubs.

These hubs are centred around South Africa , Brazil and China. Some have argued that India is a possible secondary hub in Asia. Finally, Asia (read China) is where African exports have shown maximum growth. These exports are probably fuelling the manufacturing sectors in Asia. Here I will look at some implications of these patterns globally and for India.

We now know that the world did go through a major recession between 2007-09. The main difference between this recession and earlier cyclical disturbances is that, for the first time, both outputs and prices fell globally. The world was clearly in a Keynesian mode not seen since the 1930s. Unlike the 1930s, however, countries did not respond by unilaterally raising tariff barriers. Yet world production and hence trade did decline substantially.

Common sense tells us that it is via world trade that the impact of recessions is transmitted globally. It is here that the changing global patterns have important implications. Thus, some degree of decoupling of the developing countries from the developed world has taken place which is why the severity of the global recession was not seen in most developing countries. This also implies that the worry of 'double dip' recession (which is still real) has much less meaning for developing countries.

What about India's trade patterns? Do they mirror the changes at the global level? As far as the broad commodity composition is concerned, changes between 1995 and 2005 (and more recently) have been minimal with agriculture-based exports constituting about 19% and manufactures about 75%. The main change lies within manufacturing with the share of textiles and clothing down from around 35% of manufactured exports in 1995 to around 16% in 2005. This space seems to have been taken up by engineering goods which accounted for about 28% of all manufacturing exports in 2005. Two points need mention.

First, unlike the rest of the developing countries in Asia, manufactured exports have not shown any major change during 1995-2005 . Second, the question of the impact of trade on employment seems to lie in a comparison of the employment elasticities of the engineering and textile sectors. The answer as to whether trade has led to 'informalisation' of employment also rests on this empirical exercise.

In terms of the geographical composition of its trade, India seems to have followed global trends with exports to the developed countries of the West down by about 7% and to developing countries up by about 10%. Asia again is the main regional market for India. However, surprisingly Asean has shown less than 2% growth and China seems the dominant destination. It is interesting to note that the Asean market is less important than the markets of the Gulf (so called GCC countries).

However, GCC exports are dominated by agriculture and it is unlikely that this market will show enormous growth in coming years given India's own capacity constraints in agricultural exports. It is also worth noting that the highest growth is seen in India's exports to the African continent. This has lessons for India's attempts to conclude regional trade arrangements (RTAs) in recent years. In general, the success of an RTA is directly proportional to the extent of trade among the contracting members. Hence, it is not clear that the ASEAN RTA is necessarily where all efforts should be focused. In fact, an RTA with China seems to make the most sense. The politics here needs early resolution.

However, in one sense India is an outlier in Asia. In particular, it has mainly run trade deficits in contrast to its Asian neighbours. On the other hand, it has generally run surpluses in exports of services alone (and not just from the overhyped IT sector). Hence, it would be fair to conclude that the regional hub around which Asian manufacturing exports have centred is China. To that extent, China has become the focal point for export of intermediate goods for onward exports of manufactures to developed countries and other regions.

Is it then reasonable to conclude that India would emerge as the hub of service exports? Why did India miss the bus (given its demographic size) in manufactured exports? What was special about China? What are the implications for FDI? These are important questions to which I will try to provide answers in subsequent columns.






Stephen Davies, CEO, Javelin Wealth Management, in a chat with ET Now talks about the global markets.

What is your perspective on the equity market as a whole and the pressures that we are seeing burgeoning upon ourselves because of the environment that we are in and also inflation is a big concern for China?

It is certainly true that inflationary pressures in China have been building and that has been something that has been a concern for markets for sometime and that is definitely reflected in the performance of the Chinese market year to date. In broader terms, our motto over the last couple of months has been: don't just do something standard i.e. we are sitting around doing absolutely nothing and that prevents us from being whipsawed in some of these incredibly volatile markets which are up 5%, down 5% and otherwise on the month now not quite broadly unchanged but certainly have recovered a long way from their lows.

Could you also give us a perspective on the cuts that we have already seen coming into these emerging markets along with India - a possible fund flow activity flowing into these markets considering that valuations have also now become fairly well priced?

You have to look at the performance of emerging markets generally last year and so one of the reasons why they are relative underperformers on a global basis this year is a reflection of that. By early year January none of them were looking desperately cheap. There was a lot of recovery that was built in prices and as a consequence, one of the reasons why we - for instance - have been much more positive on developed markets is a direct reflection of that. So all of that activity has really been focussed in the last six months on the US and to a lesser extent some of the other developed markets like Japan.

Are there any particular sectors that you would be watching out for where you see a lot of value creation?

Our stance remains broadly unchanged. We are still very much focussed on the IT and recovery stories on a global basis as you can see from the performance of IT related stocks here to date that these are still early adopted as far as the recovery is concerned. I expect that trend to continue. Elsewhere, it is very much focussed on the developed markets. So we are still overweight Asia and emerging markets where all of the activity is focussed on, particularly on the US where we see greater short term recovery potential.







RITES, a consultancy organisation under the railway ministry, earns a large part of its Rs 700-crore revenues from Africa and is now looking to expand in West Asia. But, the company's proposed IPO to fund its expansion has been put on hold. CEO and managing director VK Agarwal spoke to Nirbhay Kumar of ET about his plans for the company. Excerpts:

You had initiated the IPO listing process.

We are following all the processes required for listing. The government approval is also on the horizon. But we have put the plan on hold as we do not need money immediately. The world is facing one crisis after another. After the American financial sector meltdown we are now faced with the Greek crisis. We are an export-oriented company with a significant presence in Africa. Most African countries get aid from Europe and the US and invest in infrastructure development. The financial crisis has hit aid flows and this has affected us indirectly. For current expansion we have enough cash. RITES is sitting on Rs 600 crore.

When are you planning to hit the market?

We are not in a hurry. Our balance sheet speaks for our financial health. We are sure when we launch IPO it will do well. It will take only 6-8 months to float an IPO once we decide. We are expected to end 2009-10 with Rs 672 crore revenues. Our domestic operations have been stable.

Do you plan to expand to regions outside Africa?

We have bagged the operation and maintenance (O&M) contract for a 2400-km rail project in Saudi Arabia. It will bring us $100 million in three years. We look at working on more such projects in the region.

You operate largely in railways sector in Africa...

We are doing various infrastructure projects in railways, highways and airports sectors. But yes, we are more into railways as it is our core strength. Also, while there is a lot of competition from Chinese companies in highway sector, we have an advantage in rail sector. We have seen that people there (African countries) find it difficult to handle complex and high-end rail technologies as it requires highly-trained manpower. There is also the issue of transparency in maintenance and spare parts. We provide right technology. What we do here and

there are two different things.

How do you manage to get highly trained technicians?

Being a PSU there are some advantages such as job and social security. Large pay package is just one aspect. We have ensured freedom to work. We have tried to maintain parity in salary and allowances. We cannot pay more than 5% of our earnings before tax to executives. This is a constraint. But we have written to the government twice to remove the cap.







Standard chartered, one of the country's oldest foreign banks, is likely to raise around $600 million through an India listing — the first such listing by a multi-national corporation.

The bank, which set up its first Indian branch in Kolkata in 1858, could also look at a Chinese listing, depending on the regulatory framework, said Standard Chartered group CEO Peter Sands. The bank was listed in the UK in 1969 and in Hong Kong in 2002. The stock was trading in London on Thursday at £16.91 (Rs 1,122) and has a market capitalisation of over $50 billion.

The bank will decide on the pricing based on the closing price on May 21. The issue will be at a minor discount to the ruling stock market price. In addition, it may also give retail shareholders an additional 5% discount. The IDR is likely to be priced at around Rs 100. The bank will issue around 240 million IDRs and each share of the bank will represent 10 IDRs. The IDR will hit the market on May 25 and close on May 28.

In an exclusive interview with George Smith Alexander, Mr Sands said there could be an increasing volatility in the market because of the European crisis. Mr Sands who had applied for a PIO status a few years ago, has to yet hear back from the Indian government. He says: "It's got lost. I don't know where it is. I suspect that it's not going to come through which is a shame." Incidentally in the 2007 ET Awards ceremony, Mr Sands had said: "I would love to have the cost of capital implied by the P/E ratings of the Sensex or the Shanghai Stock Exchange! If anything, the cost of capital is arguably now a disadvantage for Western multinationals."

Despite restrictions in India, why did StanChart have to go for an IDR?

I don't think the restrictions are particularly different from ADRs or GDRs. I think it's very consistent. It seems different from an Indian perspective as it is the first one that has happened here. We did it in India because we thought it was the right time — both in terms of the development of India's financial markets and in terms of Standard Chartered's business here. We worked closely with Sebi and RBI in establishing the framework by which it would work. It is also an important step in the development of Mumbai as a financial centre. We broke $1 billion profits for the first time last year (in India) and we just want to take up the visibility. And we see the IDR as a very powerful way of doing it. I think it is a very tangible and powerful symbol of commitment to the country.

What is your outlook on the European crisis? Would it boil over to Asia?

I think that problems that Europe have are very specific to the interplay between some of the governments having some specific problems around the scale of their public deficits and a fixed currency regime to the extent that it reduces the European demand for exports from Asia. Then there is an indirect impact on Asia. But I don't think you can draw an exact analogy to what happened in the past few weeks as that happening in Asia. There are indirect consequences on Asia as credit spreads around the world are affected because of the prevailing concerns of sovereign risks. Credit spreads will tend to percolate around the world.

Do you think the overall situation would worsen before it improves?

The best point of view I can give you is that the world is in a much better place than it was this time last year, but there are still quite a lot of problems to be worked through. We anticipate quite a turbulent year. You are seeing that already — currencies, share prices, asset prices, commodity prices. We think a higher level of volatility is going to continue.
India is the second-largest business for the group and the difference in the profit between Hong Kong and India was only $2 million last year. Do you see the Indian business contributing more?

I don't see any harm at all in having some healthy competition within the group which would be the largest profit generator for 2010. I don't care on the percentage of the total profit, but the quality of the profits and how fast they are growing and how fast the group's overall profit is growing. India has done very well and has driven rapid profit growth. But it is not the only market. Africa increased profits by 54% last year, in mainland China we increased profits by over 200% last year. This is a bank with some very fast growing business in the world. India is one of our more successful business but a healthy internal competition among very strong business is a good thing.

Would you look at inorganic growth as far as India is concerned? You had earlier looked at the former ABN Amro Bank's retail and commercial banking assets in India?

The opportunities are very constrained here given the rules. The fundamental focus of our business here is going to be organic growth. If the right opportunities are available, we will look at them.







Microsoft's tech troubleshooter has the onerous task of weathering a siege from rivals and coming up with answers in an ever-evolving computing world. Mundie tells ET how he copes and gives a peek into the future of computing. Excerpts:

Microsoft seems to be playing catch-up rather than pioneering applications that people use, like YouTube, Facebook or messaging.

It's a mix of truth and perception. I gave a speech last fall to students and I had one of these Surfaces (Microsoft surface computer). After a few demos, some kids came up and began playing. They said this thing is cool. "It's like a giant iPhone!" I said, "No, you don't understand that the Surface predated the iPhone by three years'.

There are things that I wish we could do better. But all the things that you talk about (collaboration, social networking etc) depend on Microsoft's underlying infrastructure to exist. Like, without a PC, there won't be a Google. There are many things that we have provided the infrastructure for, without which things you see wouldn't have been around. For us, it's a balancing act between trying to take the things out of research labs, putting them out and scaling them against the investment required to sustain the core infrastructure elements. The latter has been the bulk of the company's business.

We want to provide leadership, but we are also challenged in many ways. For example, with our core products, people have come to expect and even demand that when we put these things out so that they are supported quickly in 35-40 languages. They want all the updates.

Small companies don't have the requirement. They launch in a single country or a single language. They look 'wow' and seem ahead of the game. Many times, it's not that we are behind, but given our scale, it's impossible to do things at a speed that a startup can do.

Often, we don't execute perfectly, as the Vista operating system shows. We had the first smartphones and then we went through a bad patch in executing and transitioning. We hope to recover that with Windows Phone 7. We are not always behind but we are not always ahead either. We just accept that we don't invent every good idea.

How do you plan to counter Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn? Is it a lucrative business to be in?

Look at the Office 2010. Our strategy is not to focus on a 'social' social network, but on social networking in business. Instant messaging and texting were first used by users for non-professional use, then adapted to enterprise.

Similarly, we are trying to get the 'social' social networks adapted to enterprise. For instance, we are trying to integrate MS Outlook with other social networks. There are social contacts defined by your contacts that you use in your business environment. And there are social networks among people and their colleagues. We are building cross-connectors between the two via Outlook. We will continuously work on our Windows Live platform to deliver value.

Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are just starting to get monetised. But most of them are ad-supported. Commercial social networks won't be ad-supported. We are trying to cross-connect the two.

Do you feel frustrated that you are no longer seen as a company that is on the cutting edge of technology?

Sure. We make more money. We deliver more products across an array of things that everybody uses every day. We have delivered so much innovation. Often, we find a new innovation or startup that has emerged which has roots in our work — that we did academic research programme on.

We admit we are not perfect. We don't have all the smart people. We sometimes don't get sufficient credit for our work. There are not many people who look that far enough. And today, it's down to a two-horse race between Microsoft and Google.

Many of your products are for the rich. Is it possible to re-engineer that paradigm where product development in education or healthcare is available at low prices?

Companies are not philanthropies. Unless, there is a way to monetise the investment, you are not going to see businesses focus. The RoI isn't there. Either via philanthropies or government intervention, there will be a market for these things. Some of that is happening. I don't really worry about whether we can design specific things — I got people doing research work to use these things to create village doctors and tutors.

I don't think you get a natural business focus on it. Many companies, including Microsoft, see a long-term potential in it. I don't see solving the problem of rural villages by the trickle-down of the most exotic technology there. Lots of rich people will buy high-technology stuff to enhance productivity. But it's the ability to adapt some of these technologies in special ways to other environments that might allow us to approach some problems in healthcare and education. It can't just be philanthropy.

Of late, we've seen a lot of brute force attacks emanating from Chinese soil on systems. What are your views?

There is nothing new in this. The fact is that people are just awakening to it. We really don't know where it comes from. There are a number of countries that are quite sophisticated about these capabilities of cyber espionage and monitoring capabilities.

Many people attributed the attacks to people in China. I think there are about 6 -10 countries that could have performed that attack and it could have looked like it came from China.

At the World Economic Forum meet in Davos, you talked about the need for internet users to have a licence. What is the reasoning behind that?

In the physical world, we demand some credentials that provide identification, or provide authorisation for certain types of activities where we think there's a risk to society. So we have drivers' licence, licence plates on cars, insurance and so on. My view is that on the internet, we are approaching a similar time. We don't seek to authorise or require performance guarantees on the internet. Many of these are now becoming threats to the rest of the environment.

For example, when people don't do anything to maintain computers to protect them, the machines can be compromised. These machines become the basis for spam, denial of services, attacks and so on. Today, in the Net, there's no requirement and no authority whereby people who are harming others are obligated to do anything about it. Governments also do not take action. I am not suggesting that people are going to need an operator's licence for every activity. But in certain cases, we are going to demand a more reliable identity as we see in online banking. We think there is real need to introduce some of these claims based on identification mechanisms.

For that we need companies like Microsoft to provide a more robust security environment. A cyber attack can be launched from a third country with hackers in China or Russia.

A concerted effort is needed to eliminate the botnets (malicious software). That doesn't require much technological capability that doesn't exist today. Rather, new authorities must be harmonised internationally. We need a World Health Organisation for the network, for all the reasons that the world ended up having a WHO. If you have fever at an airport, they check your temperature with an infrared camera. They (health workers) will put you in an isolation ward as you may have an infectious disease. Because you are a danger to everybody else.

We don't have any equivalent for computers. I may know that your computer is compromised, doing all kinds of evil stuff but no one has any right or authority to do anything about it. We have to change that. If the computer is compromised, it's no different from a person being compromised — it risks the rest of the population.

Right now, it's not difficult to identify machines that are sick and misbehaving; it's just that there is no legal authority to act against them. These are the kind of things that now have to be agreed by policymakers and legislators. One of the problems with hacking and espionage stems from the fact that there is no reliable identity. Therefore, attribution is essentially impossible. Without attribution, there can be no law enforcement. You can't really tell who was it.

The Indian government is trying to tackle this by having its own operating system as they can't get Microsoft to reveal all its codes.

The government of India has our code. We had a government security programme that has been around for a decade. (Microsoft made the offer, but the government is clueless). We made the offer to 62 governments around the world. Forty-two entered into a legal agreement where they can analyse our codes. So it's not about looking at the code or analysing it. People who talk about writing their own operating system just don't know what they are talking about.

It does not matter if you like Linux, free software, Windows or others; they all are extremely complex. From that complexity, there comes some vulnerability. India suffers much more due to lack of maintenance of what it already owns than the intrinsic failures of software.

Another big problem that is overlooked is that even if software is perfect, people are not. Many of these threats have a counterpart threat — there is no panacea for that. Commercial or homemade software can't compensate for people failure.


What's Microsoft's China strategy? Will you agree to all the restrictions?

In every country we operate, we have to confer with the laws of the country. China is no different. We have been very contemplative in the way we approach issues in China. In the search business, the way we operate is that we notify users that the government intervened in the result that they get. Our view was to be transparent about it. Second, we have a lot of interactions with the government about the areas of concerns and third, we along with Google and other companies created a GNI (Global Network Initiative). What we wanted was a neutral organisation comprising both commercial parties and NGOs that would worry about these questions of human rights. It offers a set of principles that businesses can apply in China and in other countries uniformly. The way we operate in China complies with the agreed GNI principles.

Microsoft employs engineers across the world. But governments like the US are concerned about job losses and want companies to rely on local talent. What are your views on immigration restrictions?

Microsoft has been one of the biggest voices publicly in the US supporting free and high-skilled immigration. We are a company that hires high-skilled people globally and moves them around in order to meet business requirements.

We have been frustrated in the years since 9/11, when permanent immigration became much more difficult. Even a temporary visa became difficult. That had an adverse impact on the quality of students in US universities, and reciprocally on businesses that wanted to hire them.

With immigration reforms, do you see that changing?

It's unclear when the US Congress will act on that, because the high-skilled immigration has become embroiled in the broad immigration reform. There is talk of an immigration bill in the future, but it's difficult to predict when it will happen. In general, in our class of work, we don't have factories. Most of the rhetoric you hear about job losses is centred on factory manufacturing jobs rather than tech-oriented jobs.

Often, we have not been unable to make permanent arrangements. We hire them but keep them in our labs outside the US. That's how we compensate for those kinds of issues.

Computing has morphed into devices of various form factors, from netbooks to iPads to smartphones. What next?
Earlier, the industry was concentrating on just trying to make one computer faster by parallel computing — that is, adding more and more processors. So, in effect, it would mean adding multiple computers on a chip. It made existing applications about 50-100 times faster. But that has not added value or excited people because applications already possessed lots of unused computing power. The issue now is what you do with so much computing power. There is a dramatic shift happening. It may change the computer itself. After years of experimentation with chipmakers, we have come to a conclusion that if we can make this unused power in core tasks, it would have a profound impact.

What will this achieve?

It will improve the man-machine interaction. It can make computers emulate human sensory type of behaviours. We have experimented with touch, speech, voice recognition and machine vision, but typically one at a time and in a limited manner. It's hard to do all of them well together due to the constraints on the microprocessor side. But if each of these things can be done parallel, we can help make computers reach people who don't have access. Currently, only about 2 billion on the planet have access to devices like computers, cellphones or TVs. There is a vast majority of others who are not computer-literate. Our dream is to be able to help them get access and benefit.

It will have an impact in terms of market expansion and societal points of view. The change will be profound. Computer will become more of a helper in the form of a personal assistant. We've been very committed to the idea NUI (natural user interface). We constructed something of a prototype of the office of the future, on the lines of the Project Natal, where sensors and display technologies will evolve.

When will such products hit market?

A prerequisite to this future is the next-generation microprocessor and we expect its arrival in 2012. It will be an enabler and we and other people writing applications will try to avail this power, learn how to master it and build devices. We have working models of a robotic doctor that presents itself as an avatar at the research level. The next (enabling) factor is for the walls and tables to become touch-enabled surfaces and displays. Much work is going on with people in the display technology business, touch-enabled technologies and projection display-type things.








Himalaya Drug Company, makers of India's leading herbal livercare brand, Liv. 52, ventured into the personal care space a decade ago and has been emerging as a strong national player in recent years. The business head of Himalaya Herbals, the consumer products arm, Saket Gore informs ET that together with one skincare patent in its kitty, this division is poised to overtake its pharmaceutical counterpart in international sales within a couple of years. Excerpts:

Himalaya Herbals has been operational for a decade now. How has the run been so far?

We've had a very different and difficult 10 years. In the first four years, we started running fast but made a few judgement errors. Despite entering several households, the company's ambition was to take the brand global. However, even closer home in the Middle East, ayurveda was not cutting ice. It became a task to explain our proposition to overseas consumers and for them to relate to us as the manufacturers of Liv 52. We realised that building two brands would be difficult. So, in 2004 we rechristened Ayurvedic concepts as an umbrella brand called Himalaya Herbals to signify that it married the ayurvedic tradition with scientific research. Though much of the work began post-2004, we consider the initial years as an investment in learning.

How much does the consumer products division contribute to Himalaya Drug Company's turnover?

Around 40% of the India business is contributed by the consumer products division. It currently accounts for one-third of the group's total turnover. The division has been growing at 35% for the past three years and we see it contributing more than half of the international business by 2012. South India is the largest market for us.

Unlike other FMCG players, Himalaya Herbals has explored the stand-alone retail model. How successful has that been?

Modern trade was only evolving in India when we ventured into retail and it wasn't readily accepting some products such as single herb combinations (eg: neem capsules) that are generally bought over the counter in western countries. So, banking on our pharmaceutical and animal health portfolio, we rolled out stand-alone outlets to capture consumers who buy into the brand through one product but end up purchasing a bigger basket. Together with the increasing modern retail penetration in recent years and difficulties in managing retail, we have pared the stores down from 190 to 122 outlets. But we continue to add outlets based on necessity. Around 15% of the India business comes from retail outlets today.

Which is the biggest growth driver for the company across oral, hair and skincare?

Skincare is the largest personal care category globally and for us. We don't view only ayurvedic or herbal brands as our competition. The value market share for our face washes have grown to 16.1%. In recent years, 15% of our consumer products portfolio has also been tweaked for international consumption patterns.



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Not unexpectedly, David Cameron is Britain's new Prime Minister. It was indicated in these columns that the Conservative Party might not have won a Commons majority but it was the best placed to head the new government. After all, the direction of the vote was for change. A coalition of Labour and Liberal Democrats would have been a government of losers. Labour had been defeated and the LibDems won fewer seats than in the last election. This last factor was an argument for keeping Nick Clegg's party out of any ruling coalition. Indeed, Mr Cameron's Tories opting for a minority government might have best reflected the vote. Apprehension was expressed that such a government might always be fearful of being defeated on the floor, and what Britain needed was stability, above all, especially when the post-recession economy needs shoring up through deft economic and political management. This was a reasonable anxiety, but only on paper. The politics of the day are such that no party would dare risk being foolhardy enough to try topple a minority government, particularly parties that had been defeated at the hustings. The British people wouldn't stand for it. While there can be no question that stability is the key variable, the Tories and the LibDems are ideologically and politically hopelessly mismatched. Mr Clegg being ideologically to the right within the LibDem fold does help, but not nearly enough. This is why the leaders of the two parties sought to give a spin to their coming together, suggesting they were offering not just a new government but a new politics. Anyone can see this is just fluff. The country needs reassurance simply because this is not a natural alliance that has been brought into being to rule Britain. Clearly, this is also the reason that the pact between the Tories and the LibDems specifies that their relationship would not be sought to be undermined before the expiry of the five-year parliamentary term. The leaders of the coalition may have reached such an agreement, but a lot that happens in Parliament is driven by what happens in constituencies. Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg would need to be watchful on this score. In Mr Clegg's party, there would be many who might be keen to remind him that he courted the politics of opportunism to become Deputy Prime Minister. The choice of ministers in the coalition appears a good one. Home, defence, and the foreign office have been given to individuals with political experience. Some may harbour concerns over the inexperience of the new chancellor of the exchequer, who will be mainly responsible for steadying the economy at a time when Britain's sovereign debt is among the highest in the world and its deficit over 10 per cent of GDP. If the coalition partners don't pull against one another, the experienced Vince Cable from the LibDem side — who is credited with having predicted the international banking collapse — might offer useful support in husbanding the economy in his capacity as business secretary.








Where does the civil society stand in its war against terror? Are the hi-tech security measures and strict policing sufficient to deal with this menace? The failed car bombing in New York's Times Square has underlined the grim reality that the civil society cannot hope to win this war till the religious mindset — which is the motivating factor behind mindless violence — is not suitably dealt with.

The strategy of these "terror minds" is to fuel vulnerable individuals and groups that are sold out to the superiority and inevitability of Islamic domination and turn them to act independently to cause mayhem. In America, for instance, the Times Square bomber Faizal Shahzad is the latest among the American and European citizens sent to wreak havoc. And all — from David Coleman Headley to shoe bomber Richard Reid, from underwear bomber Syed Ahmed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to the Virginia Five — have a connection with Pakistan.

Nearer home, their counterparts are the Indian Mujahideens, like the Bhatkal brothers who were behind the Pune German bakery blast on February 13, 2010, the groups in Kerala led by T. Nasir, now captured, who recruited young Muslims for training in Pakistan, and the Delhi bomb blast accused Salman aka Chotu who operated from Nepal. All of them have been working under orders from the jihadi organisations based in Pakistan, described in a recent Time magazine article, Beyond Times Square: The Threat from Pakistan, as "ever lengthening list of extremist groups operating in Pakistan's northern wilds".

The jihadists working from Pakistan, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and other places are not just targeting India or the United States — they are targeting the entire civil society. Their aim is to establish what they consider a Quranic society where girls would not be allowed to go to school, women would be fully covered from head to toe when stepping out of the house, the criminal and civil laws as adumbrated in their holy book would be enforced strictly and anyone even uttering a word against the content of the holy book would be beheaded.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has warned Pakistan that it will face serious consequences if the next terror attack is traced to Pakistan. Her statement follows Shahzad's confession that he received training in South Waziristan, Pakistan. The way the jihadi threat is evolving, terror groups will only laugh at the US' warning. And anyway, what has the US actually done? It has persuaded the Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani to resume his force's war against the Pakistani Taliban. But America's warnings seem ineffective against the jihadi wall that the Pakistan establishment has built to promote a medieval society.
It must be galling for the Americans that the terror plots are now being hatched in their vulnerable urban conglomerations and that jihadi terror can so easily cross the Atlantic and mingle with citizens of the US. "There is no doubt that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and other Pakistani groups are now recruiting among Americans", says the Time magazine report.

In India, too, they are succeeding in recruiting. If the Pune bomb blast is any clue, the local recruits could well carry out an attack as vicious as 26/11 in Mumbai. As in the Times Square plot, it would be Pakistani jihadis who would be directing this event from their safe havens while our "secularists" would be shedding tears for the "innocent" young men conducting the murderous event.


Is there something in the way Islam is preached and practised that makes its faithful vulnerable to jihadi propaganda? This question can no longer be swept under the carpet with the claim that Islamic scholars have denied any connection between the interpretation of their faith and the terror mindset.

Look at the type of demonstrations which are held even if a single doubt is expressed about the practices of the religion, let alone its doctrine.

A cartoon in far away Denmark provokes violent demonstrations in Meerut, followed by calls for fund collection to reward the man who comes forward to murder the cartoonist. In fact, one of the tasks given to Headley by his Pakistani handlers was to plot the murder of the Danish cartoonist. Is this total rejection of any dissidence, any questioning and any discussion of the faith responsible for creating a mindset that is vulnerable to terrorist propaganda?

India has had a long tradition of Hindus and Muslims living together. The proliferation of cloistered madrasa education and its funding by the orthodox Wahabi regime in Saudi Arabia have widened the divide between the two communities even where harmony existed before.

A true scholar of Islam like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad failed to win mass support in his community while a lawyer-turned-politician, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, led the community and partitioned the country. Why did the bulk of Muslims in pre-Independence era reject a man like Mahatma Gandhi and choose to follow Jinnah who was not even a practising Muslim?

A report has now surfaced about how Anwar al-Awlaki, an Islamic cleric in New York who spent 21 of his 39 years in the US as an imam and proclaimed that post-9/11 his people had come to the US to build and not to destroy, is now hiding in Yemen leading terror attacks on America. Awlaki recently declared on his website: "America as a whole has now turned into a nation of evil… jihad against America is binding upon myself. Just as it is binding on every other Muslim".

What connects the Times Square bomber and the German Bakery bomber in Pune is such an overarching mindset. Worldwide cooperation in anti-terror plans can succeed in averting incident after incident but the terrorists count on one event succeeding out of a hundred failures. Unless the civilised nations threatened by such relentless terror begin to focus on attacking this mindset itself, we cannot hope for a terror-free world.

* Balbir K. Punj can be contacted at [1]









If we want Times Square to be safer from terrorists, we need to start by helping make Pakistan safer as well.
People with links to Pakistan have been behind a hugely disproportionate share of international terror incidents over the last two decades: the 1993 and 2001 World Trade Centre attacks; Richard Reid's failed shoe bombing in 2001; the so-called Bojinka plot in 1995 to blow up 12 planes simultaneously; the 2005 London train and bus bombings; the 2001 attacks on the Indian Parliament; and attacks on two luxury hotels and a Jewish centre in Mumbai in 2008.

So it came as little surprise that the suspect in the attempted car bombing in Times Square, Faisal Shahzad, is a Pakistani-American.

Why does an ostensible "ally" seem to constitute more of a threat than, say, Iran? Or Lebanon or Syria or Iraq? Or Egypt, birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood brand of militant Islam? Or the West Bank and Gaza, where resentment of America's West Asia policies is centered?

One answer, I think, is that Pakistan's American-backed military leader of the 1970s and 1980s, Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, drove the country off course, seeking to use fundamentalism as a way to buttress the regime. Instead of investing in education and infrastructure, he invested in religious sanctimony.
The public education system, in particular, is a catastrophe. I've dropped in on Pakistani schools where the teachers haven't bothered to show up (because they get paid anyway), and where the classrooms have collapsed (leaving students to meet under trees). Girls have been particularly left out. In the tribal areas, female literacy is three per cent.

There's an instructive contrast with Bangladesh, which was part of Pakistan until it split off in 1971. At that time, Bangladesh was Pakistani's impoverished cousin and seemed pretty much hopeless. Henry Kissinger famously described Bangladesh as an "international basket case".

But then Bangladesh began climbing a virtuous spiral by investing in education, of girls in particular. It now has more girls in high school than boys, according to United Nations International Children's Fund (Unicef). This focus on education has bolstered its economy, reduced population growth rates, nurtured civil society and dampened fundamentalism.

Educated girls formed the basis of a garment industry, making shirts for Americans. This brought in currency, boosted employment and provided an economic lifeline to the country. Those educated girls went to work for poverty-fighting organisations like BRAC and the Grameen Bank.

In Pakistan's tribal areas, you can hear American drones buzzing faintly overhead, a reminder of our focus on military solutions. Drones and hard power have their place, but not to the exclusion of schools and soft power.

An important 2008 study from Rand, "How Terrorist Groups End", concluded that "military force has rarely

been the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups".

I can't tell you how frustrating it is on visits to rural Pakistan to see fundamentalist Wahabi-funded madrasas as the only game in town. They offer free meals, and the best students are given further scholarships to study abroad at fundamentalist institutions so that they come back as respected "scholars".
We don't even compete. Medieval misogynist fundamentalists display greater faith in the power of education than Americans do.

Let's hope this is changing under the Obama administration. It's promising that the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid package provides billions of dollars for long-term civilian programmes in Pakistan, although it's still unclear how it will be implemented. One useful signal would be for Washington to encourage Islamabad to send not

only troops to North Waziristan but also teachers.

We continue to be oblivious to trade possibilities. Pro-American Pakistanis fighting against extremism have been pleading for years for the United States to cut tariffs on Pakistani garment exports, to nurture the textile industry and stabilise the country. Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, told me that his top three goals are "market access, market access, market access". But Washington wants to protect North Carolina textile mills, so we won't cut tariffs on Pakistani goods. The technical word for that: myopia.
Education and lower tariffs are not quick fixes, sometimes not even slow fixes. But they are tools that can help, at the margins, bring Pakistan back from the precipice. It has been reassuring to see the work of people like Greg Mortenson, whose brave school-building in Pakistan and Afghanistan was chronicled in Three Cups of Tea. Ditto for Developments in Literacy, or DIL, which builds schools for girls in Pakistan that are the most exhilarating things I've seen there.

It costs $1,500 to sponsor a DIL classroom for a year, and that's just about the best long-term counter-terrorism investment available.








 "It is not the prize. It is a means to the prize." This is how one long-time political ally of David Cameron described the Tory leader's entrance into Downing Street at the head of a coalition government. The deal with the Liberal Democrats which has put Cameron in Downing Street is, as this Cameron ally admits, "an arranged marriage not a love match". In the run-up, the bride's family was trying to negotiate a better dowry from an alternative suitor, and many in the groom's family were praying that he would be jilted at the altar. Guests on both sides of the church could be heard whispering that the marriage would never last.

Yet a coalition with the Liberal Democrats has been the leadership's aim ever since it came up short in its effort to gain an overall majority. They believed that a minority government without a fixed-term Parliament was the worst possible combination, as it meant that the government could be toppled at any time. They concluded that, once inside government, the Liberal Democrats would be more committed to making things work and more likely to compromise on policy.

But on Monday the coalition seemed in danger. The Lib Dems wanted more concessions on electoral reform than the Tories had been prepared to give, and opened formal negotiations with Labour. There was something approaching panic amongst the Tory leadership, who feared a Labour-Lib Dem deal. At a dinner that evening, George Osborne said he believed the game was up.

For all the leadership's dismay, Tory MPs were that evening bullish about the prospect of a Lib-Lab pact that

would have been widely reviled and collapsed within months — leading, they believed, to a Conservative majority government. But an MP who went to see Mr Cameron on Sunday evening reports that he had no appetite for a rematch: he looked uncomfortable whenever the idea of another election was mentioned. He still seemed to be reeling from what was (by the definition he gave the Spectator a fortnight ago) a failed election campaign.

With the Liberal Democrats having opened formal negotiations with Labour, Cameron called a shadow Cabinet meeting on Monday and announced then that he intended to offer a referendum on changing the electoral system. Nick Clegg's threat — that he might run off with Gordon Brown — was effective in increasing the pressure on Cameron.

In the shadow Cabinet meeting, Cameron made the case that only by going into government could the process of detoxifying the Tory brand be completed: only by governing as a reasonable, compassionate party could the Tories persuade the voters that that's what they were. The meeting was carried with relative ease.
Having secured the agreement of the shadow Cabinet, Cameron convened a special meeting of the parliamentary party. Most of those present either backed the deal or held their tongues. But on the phone afterwards, one senior backbencher described the situation to me as a "massive screw-up, a massive failure to get to where we needed to be electorally, compounded by amazingly inept negotiations". Another shadow Cabinet member said: "The people who lost the campaign are now conducting the coalition talks".
This reveals the tension between the leadership and the rest of the party. The leadership seems genuinely convinced that it ran a good campaign, one that did as well as could be expected in a difficult election. But the rest of the party disagrees. In a survey 62 per cent of party members described the campaign as "poor". Among veteran Tory MPs there is a feeling that the election really should have been won comfortably. Among new MPs who fought marginal seats there tends to be a view that the party lacked messages that resonated on the doorstep.
The official view on why the party failed to win is that it did not do well enough in three areas. First, Scotland: the party won only one of 52 seats north of the border, with the voting share little changed from the 1997 wipeout. Second, areas with a lot of people dependent on the state, for employment, benefits or housing; and third, seats with a high ethnic minority population. To the Camerons, this is proof that the problem was that the party had not changed enough. They argue that the nature of these three areas where they failed shows that a more Right-wing message on the economy or immigration would not have delivered a better result.
A lot of the campaign was based around Cameron personally. At events Tory staff often sported DC10 badges. But in this bitterly anti-politics environment, the public — predictably — refused to fall in love with Cameron. As one MP put it, "They thought the country would fall head over heels for David and Samantha and it didn't".
But as Cameron told his MPs, the party is in a less than ideal position now and is tasked with making this coalition government work. The political opportunities for the Tories are huge. If successful, this coalition could re-align British politics: drawing the Tories and the Liberal Democrats closer together and isolating Labour.
If, as intended, the government runs until May 2015 and is broadly successful — with the economy roaring into recovery — then the Tories may well find themselves in the strongest position they have been in electorally for decades. A productive coalition would also shift the Liberal Democrats to the Right, making an electoral pact — and even, some say, an eventual merger — more likely.

The risks are as great as the potential rewards. There is a danger that the Liberal Democrats claim credit for everything good that the government does and that the Tories get the blame for everything unpopular. So the rise in the income-tax thresholds is a Lib Dem policy but the cuts are still Tory cuts. Another risk is that the Tories will instinctively view the coalition through the prism of what they have given up, while the Liberal Democrats will look at it through what they have gained; making them much more effective at communicating their message.

Some fear that coalition with the Liberal Democrats could, pace Cameron, actually slow the process of detoxifying the brand. The concern is that the public will think that the government is only reasonable because the nasty Tories are being moderated by the nice Liberal Democrats. Underpinning all this is the big danger that the Liberal Democrats will walk out at a crucial moment.

Even if the Lib Dems are not plotting an exit strategy, they may well start doing so if their poll rating tumbles as the cuts take root. One insider tells me that he thinks that the Liberal Democrats' secret, parallel negotiation with Labour over the weekend will ensure a certain amount of realism at the top of the party about the way the Liberal Democrats behave.

Cameron ran a cautious campaign and it failed to deliver him a majority. He has responded to this with a move of remarkable boldness. No one can be certain how it will play out. But now that education and welfare reform are in the hands of proven Tory reformers, and if the Lib Dems can be trusted actively to defend the cuts, then the result could fundamentally re-align British politics — and in the Conservatives' favour. It is an almighty risk. But in the dismal circumstances facing the government and the country, it is a risk worth taking.

By arrangement with the Spectator








Given the recent series of sensational cricket scams and spy stories, this article may appear to be boring, but it is relevant as it narrates how in 1989, at the height of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) insurgency in Trincomalee port, Sri Lanka, a few good men from the Indian and Sri Lankan navies accidentally "invented" Twenty20 (T20) cricket, and used it to defuse a volatile situation.


On April 23, 1989, an Indian Air Force (IAF) AN-32 aircraft dropped me at the Trincomalee military airport. I took over my new assignment as Indian Navy Commander, Trincomalee. As an Indian Navy Captain (equivalent to an Army Colonel), I found myself in an unfamiliar territory and on an unfamiliar mission, but the Indian Navy has a unique method of training its officers which prepares them well to deal with any situation.
I was part of the IPKF (Indian Peace-Keeping Force) which comprised the Indian Army, the Indian Navy and the IAF. The situation was rather grim, with the IPKF fighting the LTTE, and also under attack by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP, a Sinhala grouping responsible for an uprising in 1971 and various acts of bombing. Some of whose cadre were suspected to have infiltrated the Sri Lankan military in 1989.). Indeed, the Trincomalee port was under constant threat from the LTTE and JVP activists, with bomb blasts and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) taking almost a daily toll of Indians and Sri Lankans. Added to this were the odd, sudden attacks by snipers who fired a single fatal shot and then melted into the surroundings.


Practically the entire Indian Navy detachment, including myself, went about our chores of water front and coastal patrolling, liaising, meetings etc. with loaded weapons in our hands. The overall Indian Navy presence in Trincomalee comprised a few dozen hardworking officers and sailors who, along with their Army and Air Force counterparts, did their best to keep the Indian flag flying high in very troubled waters.
Even though over 90 per cent of the Sri Lankan Navy personnel had been trained in India, and were very well disposed towards us, the tension in the air was palpable, with almost everyone moving around with loaded firearms. Our detachment was located next to the Sri Lankan naval base, and when I called on the Sri Lankan Commander East, Commodore W. Fernando, I discovered a friendly officer who had done all his training in India. I invited him for dinner. The evening was a great success and became a weekly event, with the commodore eating parathas and pooris with relish. Very soon the fame of our cooks reached the Sri Lankan Naval Headquarters in Colombo and the Sri Lankan Navy Chief sent a team of his Navy cooks to learn how to make various Indian dishes, the emphasis being on "parathas and pooris". I recollect that our enthusiastic naval cooks trained some three teams of their Sri Lankan counterparts.


The ice was slowly breaking with the "paratha and poori" diplomacy, but then a particularly nasty IED killed a few Army troops nearby, and tensions shot up again. Nobody was sure if this incident was the handiwork of the LTTE or the JVP, or any other unknown group. At this juncture, with things going from bad to worse, I suggested to Commodore Fernando that we play a cricket match on the coming Sunday. He readily agreed and arranged for the gear and a post-match lunch.
With just three days to go for the match, I had a very difficult time trying to pick 11 players who could play a reasonable game of cricket. Finally, a team of 11 (with no substitutes available) was selected. But a short training session at the nets resulted in a couple of injuries and it was decided not to practise any more. After all, the aim was to play cricket to reduce tensions, and so it was important that 11 fit players took the field on Sunday.


The Sri Lankan Navy, with a local pool of a few 100 men, took the forthcoming match seriously, with daily net practise. As I watched the Sri Lankans practise in real earnest, I wondered if I had made a huge mistake and we were heading for a washout!
Discussions with the Sri Lankans resulted in the match timings being fixed from 9.30 am to 12.30 pm. Elementary calculations of "over rate vs time available" resulted in a decision to play a 20-over (each side) game, and thus, unknowingly, "unrecorded history" was made many years before the world thought of T20!


Security for the cricket match was very tight, given a series of blasts the day before. After a sleepless night of vigil, our team went to play a good game of cricket. I remember that as captain of our cricket team, I had driven to the ground with a loaded service pistol which I handed over to one of my subordinates just before going for the toss.

I will not dwell too much on the match. We played our hearts out but lost narrowly to a far superior team. Our gracious hosts served a fabulous lunch (which included parathas and pooris, along with some fantastic local cuisine), and good relations were firmly in place after that. Both sides could now confidently focus on the daily threat. I believe that this happy state of affairs continued till the IPKF finally withdrew from Sri Lanka.


After my return to India I learnt that Commodore Fernando had been subsequently promoted to Rear Admiral and had taken over as the Sri Lankan Navy Chief. Sadly, he was later assassinated by a motorcycle-borne suicide bomber whilst driving to office in Colombo.

Lord Wellington (who studied at Eton from 1781 to 1784) after his victory over Napoleon in 1815, reportedly said, "The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton". Another historian records that many years later, while passing an Eton cricket game, Wellington remarked, "There grows the stuff that won Waterloo". Obviously, Wellington was referring to qualities of "leadership and espirit de corps" which cricket inculcated in the future military leaders of that era.


Wellington's era is long past. Cricket is no longer a gentlemen's game. In cricket-crazy India money-spinning modern cricket has spawned a new breed of entrepreneurs. It would, of course, be ridiculous to compare the Battle of Waterloo with the rather insignificant and unrecorded Trincomalee T20 cricket match of 1989, but it's worth recording that in those difficult times a few unknown Indians did their duty in Sri Lanka. There are countless unknown Indians who daily contribute their little bits to the economic rise and security of India. The same cannot be said of those few involved in the recent scam and of spies.


* Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retiredas Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam







Many years ago, thinking that a film Thank God it's Friday! would focus on Good Friday and the life of Christ, an old devout uncle bought us tickets to see it. To my amusement and his alarm, the movie was all about youth dancing away the weekend in an American discotheque. In secularised societies, the "TGIF" call heralds weekend entertainment. But in multi-religious India, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays mean more; they enable us to rest and relish sacred time.


You might ask: Is there anything like "sacred time" or "holy days"? Isn't everyday equally holy, or unholy, for that matter? Greek has two words to denote time: chronos and kairos. Chronos refers to routine, everyday time, while kairos is "special time" invested with sacred significance. Thus, certain days are holier than others, so to say, and religions attach special meaning to them.


While Hinduism dedicates each day in the week to particular gods, Thursday — Brihaspativar or Guruvar is usually dedicated to Vishnu and Brihaspati, the Guru of Devas and on this day, some Hindus observe a fast and visit temples. In Islam, Fridays are holy and Friday Salat Al-Jumuah prayer is regarded as especially effective for worshipping Allah.


The sabbath — referring to the seventh day of the week — is sacred in the Judeo-Christian tradition. It's a day of rest. The Bible says: "God rested on the seventh day… and blessed it" (Genesis 2:2-3). If God rested on the sabbath, shouldn't we also rest one day every week? The Book of Exodus enjoins people to: "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy… in it you shall do no work… for the Lord blessed the sabbath day" (20:8-11). Like a woman skilfully weaving a beautiful mat, God wisely wove a holiday, a "holy day", after every six days into the maddening maze of mundane life. Thus, much as one is created to work, so is one created to rest. Moreover, the sabbath is not only a day of rest, but also of refreshment. Interestingly, the Bible says that not only did God rest but "was refreshed" (Exodus 31:17). Rest leads to refreshment, a recreation of expended energies.


Besides rest and renewal, the sabbath is meant for communitarian worship. Sacrifices are offered to God as a token of gratitude (Ezekiel 46:4). The sabbath is "a delight" (Isaiah 58:13) with special events celebrated by the community — remembering what God has done, and is doing, in the world (Deuteronomy 5:15). This communitarian remembering causes the community to look backward with gratitude and to launch forward with hope.
Weekly rest is freedom from work, from tension, from competitiveness, acquisitiveness and worldly preoccupation. It's a way of letting go of human control and letting God take charge: "In rest you shall be saved; and in trust shall be your strength" (Isaiah 30:15).


When Jesus' disciples described all that they had accomplished, he said: "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest awhile" (Mark 6:30-31). To those who were over burdened, he said, "Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).
Jesus often rested by spending long hours in prayer (Luke 6:12). Yet, he was often accused of subverting sabbath stipulations by healing people — something that was considered "work" and thus forbidden. Hence, he said, "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27), meaning, the true good of human beings is more important than sabbath observances. Flocking to churches and temples without doing good is useless. Sundays should be used for loving service of others.


Who doesn't love spending time with their beloved? The supreme joy of the bhakta, the believer, is to love God and rest in God's loving presence (Deuteronomy 33:12). Thus, death, our final "resting in God", is called "eternal rest" for we hope to be united with God forever. That's why tombstones bear an RIP abbreviation signifying "rest in peace". Beyond space and time, and Sundays and Fridays, all God's children will hopefully rest in God who is love and peace, whispering, "Thanks, God!"


— Francis Gonsalves is the principal of the
Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi. He is involved in interfaith dialogue and peoples' initiatives for
fostering justice, harmony and peace. He can
be contacted at [1]








The social perversion of rural governance must end. And as revolting as the khap panchayats, notably in Rajasthan and Haryana, is the fact that a Congress member of  Parliament has played into the hands of the self-appointed custodians of justice. But Navin Jindal, theoretically an MP of a party that rules the country, only identifies himself with the almost criminal khap culture on three counts: his presence at a meeting of a caste council in Haryana; his assurance that the demand for a ban on same gotra  marriage will be taken up with the Congress high command; and his resolve to put the Haryana government on notice. As an MP, he ought to have sought the help of the law-enforcement authorities when the khap had threatened to besiege his house. It is a socially emotive issue, the reaction of the khap as bizarre as it is mortal. And the Congress may be trying to be diplomatic by maintaining its distance from Mr Jindal. This is neither here nor there. The party has made it clear though that it does not support any organisation or custom which violates the rule of law. This is a generic observation in place of what must be specific and categoric. Above all, it calls for a measure of firmness on the part of the administration. Mr Jindal ought to be put on notice by the high command; these are actions the party can well do without.

That firmness, if it can be mustered by the Centre and the affected states, must translate to a severe crackdown on the khap panchayats. Not the sort of political support that the one near Chandigarh received on Monday. Of course, strong reservations about marriage within the same gotra exist even at the level of the urban middle and upper classes. But to persecute the couple, harass the families, nay more even resort to killings is a criminal travesty of what the Congress calls the "rule of law". It is travesty of a kind that goes beyond superstition and ignorance, one that thus far has been tacitly condoned by the political class and governments. Arguably, even early 19th century society was more civilised. The khap panchayats have arrogated to themselves the right to persecute. This precisely is the criminal vulgarity that must end. Social mores are merely a facade. The exemplars are portentious enough if a person can be killed for marrying within the gotra. Whether or not the Hindu Marriage Act needs to be amended is a different matter altogether. The khap has reduced the issue to legislative cant. These panchayats, so-called, must be banned.








Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee would be defending the indefensible if he were to suggest that Writers' Buildings was unaware of the loot perpetrated with development funds in backward areas under the supervision and control of panchayats. It is equally evident that the districts in question had traditionally been red bastions till the Maoists stepped in, pretending to champion the cause of the hapless tribals who had no means of knowing that the funds were being diverted to personal pockets. It is to the credit of the District Magistrate that he could stand up to the rampant corruption, as exposed by this newspaper, at a time when a large section of the administration has bowed down to the dictates of the ruling party. It goes well beyond a case of party thieves masquerading as paymasters, who over the years have been expected to contribute to the process of local development much like government contractors. What it suggests is that the administrative system has been usurped to create armies of beneficiaries who eventually perform the lucrative tasks of party cadres.

That all this was being done to deprive tribals of their legitimate share of centrally sanctioned welfare schemes was a suspicion that is now officially confirmed. At a time when his party is up against its stiffest challenge, the chief minister can at best engage in the token gesture of dismissing the paymasters. How does it remove the sources of the crime that can be traced to the political masters who have turned the panchayats into dens of corruption?

Equally culpable is the minister in charge of the Paschimanchal Unnayan  Affairs Department who is already under a scanner for his role in "cleaning up'' pockets of political resistance with the connivance of law enforcement authorities. In the circumstances, it is virtually impossible for Mr Bhattacharjee to even begin the process of making amends for the monstrosities perpetrated by his party which have allowed extremists to gain a foothold in the western districts. Where the system as a whole has been abused, the tainted paymasters constitute just the tip of the iceberg. Throwing them out can only mark the beginning of a cleansing drive.










NOTHING fails like failure. That the Indian fan's "passion" is essentially a product of commercially-driven hype is confirmed by poor showing in the T20 World Cup condemning Dhoni & Co, to the kind of slamming dished out to Wadekar's wonder-boys after they were shot out for a paltry 42. Success cannot be guaranteed, Indians have no monopoly over it, others too play well. Hence the unimpressive performance in the Caribbean has to be evaluated against reality. Victory in the maiden T20 championship may not have been a fluke (luck did run Dhoni's way) but did subsequent performances suggest that India would have a cake-walk? No. It is easy to blame the IPL for the Indians never looking the part in St Lucia and Barbados: the schedule was gruelling, the quality of play not high enough to serve as a preparation for international competition etc. Strange, we heard none of that during the league, and we would have heard nothing of the sort had India had reached the World Cup semis. As for the lament about late-night partying, nobody could have forced the players to attend, and if there was such a contractual binding it was incumbent upon the cricket Board to have removed it. It is pathetic that since the IPL (for other reasons) is now in the doghouse it should be portrayed as a manifestation of all evil: not surprising that the ex-stars who are blasting it were the ones excluded from the cash-rich carnival. Sour grapes?

The sad truth is that Indian cricketers ~ Sachin and a couple of others excepted ~ are woefully short of professionalism and commitment to the India colours. Even before the IPL and its distractions they never made the effort to get themselves into prime physical condition, concentrate enough to retain their "form". The way quick bowlers expend themselves is ludicrous, the fielding has long been patchy, the inability to handle short-pitched deliveries of genuine pace has persisted since the days of Trueman, Hall or Thomson. The Indians are a great "winning side" but lack the resilience and tactical craft to recover when things don't work out. Teamwork has never been a strong point. Is it that they earn too much to care? But, because there have also been several victories those flaws are generally overlooked. Today Dhoni's head is on the block, a "sweep" in the next series will see the side raised to demi-god status again. That fickleness ~ of player, administrator, media and fan ~ is what keeps the pendulum swinging recklessly.








AJMAL Amir Kasab has been sentenced to death. The case was decided after observing full legal procedure. The Home Minister expressed pride in the fair play and justice dispensed by India's legal system. TV channels went gung-ho over the fact that the state had succeeded in nailing the guilty. Some have questioned the death penalty, preferring a life sentence. It is all very puzzling.

After being caught on camera killing people, after personally shooting dead 7 persons including police personnel, after being responsible along with his terrorist gang for the death of 166 victims, was any other verdict for Kasab possible? What, then, is the great achievement of the Indian legal system that made several hearts burst with pride? As for commuting the death penalty to a life sentence, that question simply cannot be entertained as long as capital punishment remains on the statute book.  Kasab was sentenced by a Mumbai special court. The death sentence must be confirmed by the Bombay High Court. If the sentence is upheld, Kasab could appeal to the Supreme Court.  Finally he could file a mercy petition before the President of India. The government has assured the public that the entire process would be completed within a year.

Confusion and debate

THE debate about death penalty versus life sentence would never have arisen were it not for an earlier Supreme Court observation that the death penalty should be administered only in the "rarest of rare" cases. This curious statement came about ironically in another case involving the death penalty in circumstances most unusual. The statement has caused confusion and needless debate. Defining the rarest of rare cases can only be subjective. Little wonder that twenty death sentences, including one of Afzal Guru, remain pending. Why did the Supreme Court make this observation? Thereby hangs a not too pretty tale.  This observation by the apex court came in the course of the Indira Gandhi assassination trial. The SC judgment in that case was very controversial. The sentence to hang Kehar Singh was widely questioned. Kehar Singh was deemed innocent by most people. There was no evidence against him except that he was related to Beant Singh. The families of Beant and Kehar had visited the Golden Temple. This was considered sufficient by the SC to nail Kehar Singh. This decision left a permanent blot on the wisdom of the SC.

 Earlier the Justice Thakkar Commission Report had suggested that the conspiracy behind Indira Gandhi's assassination be probed. The commission identified one Congress politician as a suspect. That politician instead of being probed was rehabilitated by Indira Gandhi's son, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Therefore, closure of the conspiracy angle of the case was required urgently. Kehar Singh was made the fall guy to close the chapter and to silence all questions about the unsolved aspects of Indira Gandhi's murder.

Responsible voices questioned the judgment. Kehar Singh's lawyer, Ram Jethmalani, requested me to write on the subject in order to influence the President before whom Kehar Singh's mercy petition was pending. I wrote on the fallacy of the judgment for The Indian Express. Kehar Singh was sentenced to death on 16 December 1988. He was hanged on 6 January 1989. It took less than a month to hang Kehar Singh deemed innocent while it may take at least one year before Kasab is hanged, if at all. So what is the Home Minister so proud about?



MANY responsible quarters thought Kehar Singh innocent. Even The Economist of 29 October 1988 wrote: "Four years after they killed her, two of Indira Gandhi's presumed assassins are about to hang. In one case, the government may be making a terrible mistake." Commenting on the case former Chief Justice of India (CJI) PN Bhagwati wrote: "The possibility of error in judgment cannot therefore be ruled out on any theoretical considerations. It is indeed a very live possibility and it is not at all unlikely that so long as the death penalty remains a constitutionally valid alternative, the court or the State acting through the instrumentality of the court may have on its conscience the blood of an innocent man". VM Tarkunde, former Bombay High Court judge remarked that the evidence against Kehar Singh was not sufficient even to hang a dog. He criticized President Venkataraman for rejecting the mercy petition without objection. Indeed, President Venkataraman himself admitted his lapse in his autobiography. He described the decision to hang as being politically motivated. He wrote: "Kehar Singh's case raised a few queries in my mind… should not the President have discretion to examine any extenuating circumstance and alter the death sentence without the advice of the government? How else can prejudice or partisanship be prevented?"

Most remarkably, the SC itself seemed to suffer from pangs of conscience. Chief Justice RS Pathak, who headed the Bench that passed the sentence, obliquely urged the President to grant pardon by observing that "the Constitutional power of grant of pardon or the executive power of remission does not conflict with the judicial power of passing a judgment".

 All this was to no avail. Kehar Singh overwhelmingly considered innocent was allowed to hang because everybody looked the other way. None had the courage to speak the truth. After all, this was related to the murder of Indira Gandhi. Kasab's case is related to the death of 166 innocent people. Contrast the treatment of guilty Kasab with that of innocent Kehar Singh. Will India's judicial system ever have to stand trial?
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







The 'constructive worker' propagated by Gandhi was the medium through which the people's mandate was manifested and the decline of India's governance has taken place because this non-political entity has become weak and dysfunctional, says Bharat Jhunjhunwala


Our members of Parliament think that the bureaucracy, judiciary and media rank much higher in corruption than politicians. This has been revealed in a survey of 100 sitting MPs undertaken by CMS Transparency. On the other hand, it is seen that many honest bureaucrats have been transferred for not toeing the line of corrupt politicians. It seems futile to discuss who is more corrupt.

Their relation is like the chicken and the egg. A corrupt politician forces an honest bureaucrat into corruption; and a corrupt bureaucrat leads an honest politician in the same direction. An old saying goes: "thieves are natural cousins". Corrupt politicians and bureaucrats are like cousins. It is waste of time to try to find out who is more corrupt. It is more important to examine how we have allowed this unholy alliance to rule and ruin the country.

In the past, corruption had a different meaning. The king was the absolute ruler. He was the "owner" of the country. There was no distinction between personal income of the king and that of the state. We had our share of corrupt rulers, however. The Puranas speak of a time when anarchy prevailed. The people got together and appointed Vena as the king. Soon Vena became a tyrant. Then the Brahmins got together and shouted Vena to death. In this way, the dishonest were dethroned. Thus Indian civilisation has not only survived but prospered for the past 5,000 years.


In the main, "good" kings alone came to power. We must introspect how India managed to install great kings like Ashoka and Vikramaditya but today we are unable to install honest politicians. Somewhere this arrangement has broken down.

Fundamental to the Indian system of governance appears to have been the concept of a non-ruling political entity - one that was powerful yet without power. Something like the "constructive worker" that Gandhi propagated or the "party comrade" of Lenin or the "Brahmin" that Chanakya spoke of. He was one who had transcended his "lower" desires of physical pleasures, wealth and power and now sought self-knowledge. He lived in voluntary poverty, he did not serve another and worked for the betterment of the society.
What was this creature like? Maybe an example will clarify. When Alexander invaded India, he came to know of a Brahmin named Dandamis. He sent his soldiers to get him. But Dandamis would not go even when threatened with death. Instead, he sent the following message: "What Alexander offers me, and the gifts he promises are all things to me utterly useless; but the things that I prize are these leaves which are my house, these blooming plants which supply me with dainty food, and the water which is my drink. Let Alexander, then, terrify with these threats those who wish for gold and for wealth for against Brahmins these weapons are both alike powerless. Go, then, and tell Alexander this: 'Dandamis has no need of aught that is yours and therefore he will not go to you, but if you want anything from Dandamis come you to him'.''
Hearing this reply, Alexander conceded that in Dandamis he had found more than his match. He went to Dandamis to learn about the spiritual teachings. Such teachers alone can exercise control over the kings because they cannot be bought by offering material and money.

It was the task of such people to ensure that "good'' rulers alone ascended the throne. They were able to do this because of their live contact with the masses. They were fearless because they had embraced voluntary poverty. One who needs little is the one who is least afraid. The operative principle was to give constructive advice to a good king as Vasistha gave guidance to Rama; and to organise the people against a bad king as they had killed Vena.
India, it appears, never believed in the initiative of the common man. Surely, he was the ultimate arbiter of the king's destiny. The victory of a king depended on his ability to rally the common man and to persuade him to part with wealth in exchange for protection. But such a "control" by the people was realised only through the intervention of constructive workers, party comrades or Brahmins. The common man, ultimately, is a meek person. He is unable to make ends meet. His energies are wholly consumed in earning his livelihood. He has no time to think or act about good governance. The constructive worker was the medium through which the people's mandate was manifested in the life of the country. The decline of India"s governance has taken place because this non-political entity has become weak and dysfunctional.

The task of the constructive workers was difficult. They had to be politically active without acquiring power themselves. The saying goes, "Power corrupts". Their ability was to be near power without acquiring power. Having transcended their "lower" worldly desires, they were expected to check the excesses of a "bad" ruler and revel in this task.

Perhaps the pujaris and pundits proclaimed themselves as Brahmins - their claim resting solely on their birth. Those who served a bania or a king and who wore robes of silk and smoked ganja were accepted as Brahmins if they could chant a few verses of the Rig Veda. These intensely worldly people readily served the kings to sustain their luxurious lifestyles. Instead of living frugally and facing the wrath of corrupt rulers, they gleefully started living on the crumbs thrown by the rulers. And those who would rather not serve the king became ascetics chanting Sankara's dictum "Brahma satyam jagat mithya" - the world is unreal. Both abjured the task of politics-without-power.

The Brahmin disappeared from the scene. Only the pujaris and ascetics were left. The real thing - transcendence of lower desires, voluntary poverty, intense desire for the social good and willingness to take on the might of an evil king - existed no more. And the rulers of India, bereft of such counterweight, went haywire.
The reason we are unable to exercise control on the corrupt politician-bureaucrat combine is that these Brahmins have failed the country and the people. The genuine Brahmins, who could have exercised control over the politician-bureaucrat combine are wholly engrossed in search of the self. They have denied the world. Only the worldly ones are left. These pundits and pujaris, eager to serve another for the benefits of comfortable life, satisfy themselves with teaching Sanskrit in universities. They live off the money paid by the government and are, therefore, unable to raise their voice against corruption by the same government run by the politicians and bureaucrats. The way forward is to recreate a new form on a non-political centre of power. A new form of the Brahmin has to come to the fore. He has to live in voluntary poverty and expose the politician-bureaucrat combine before the people.

The writer is former Professor of Economics, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.








For more than 120 years, Harrods has traded under its suitably select Latin motto "Omnia Omnibus Ubique": "All Things for All People, Everywhere". As global aspirations go, such a logo was always perhaps a little overstated for a retail empire with just one, admittedly eye-catching, outlet in Knightsbridge.
Now, after a century or so of peddling consumer durables – from Ceylon tea to ruby-encrusted shoes guarded by a cobra – to a clientele that encompasses Oscar Wilde, A A Milne, Russian plutocrats and visiting VIPs, it seems that the Harrods brand may finally be about to live up to its slogan thanks to the rise of an Arabian emirate the size of Yorkshire.

Qatar Holding, one of the investment arms of the hugely wealthy Qatar state and royal family, has signalled that it is considering opening a new flagship Harrods shop in China after it completed a £1.5bn deal to buy London's department store from Mohamed al-Fayed.

After flying to Britain to close the deal, the Qatari Prime Minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, who is also chairman of Qatar Holding, completed a tour of his latest purchase, which boasts no fewer than 330 departments as well as 28 restaurants, and made what is becoming a very familiar statement about a further acquisition for his nation's vast sovereign wealth fund.

Sheikh Thani said: "I can assure you that Qatar Holding will do their best to upgrade this monument to make it even better for tourism and also for the British people. Harrods will add much value to our international portfolio of investments".

In 2005, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the parent company of Qatar Holding and its $65bn (£44bn) spending fund, was set up with a view to maximising the country's return from a vast carbon-driven windfall. Already respectably wealthy because of its oil reserves, Qatar struck gold in the late 1990s when technology was perfected allowing large quantities of natural gas to be liquified and transported by tanker ship to grateful clients.

By an accident of geography, this one-time impoverished British protectorate, whose earnings once came largely from pearl fishing, now finds itself sitting on 26 trillion cubic metres of gas – the world's third largest reserve – and, as a consequence, a per capita income of $83,000 that is second on the planet only to the banking enclave of Liechtenstein.

The advent of sovereign wealth funds – those seemingly bottomless reserves of state-owned money available for investment by cash-rich countries – has been one of the more dramatic developments on the world's stock exchanges in recent years. But none can match the speed and scale with which Qatar has set about spending its surplus cash to acquire, either in whole or in part, some of the oldest and biggest companies in markets from Britain and France to Morocco, Sudan, the Seychelles and Indonesia.

One analyst said: "The Qataris are not frittering away their cash. They have a well thought-out strategy aimed at securing stable and long-term returns. But there should be no doubt that they are also looking to buy and buy big".

With global stock markets still trying to shrug off the effects of a brutal recession, Qatar and other sovereign wealth funds have increased their assets by nearly 20 per cent in the last nine months. And nowhere has Qatar's "buy big" strategy been more in evidence than in the UK.

The Thani family, which has traditionally kept a lower profile than the equestrian-obsessed Maktoums of Dubai or Saudi Arabia's House of Fahd, has close personal links to Britain. Qatar's ruler, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, was trained at Sandhurst and, such was his admiration for Dorset's Sherborne public school, where his son was educated, that a branch was set up in the desert sands of Doha, the Qatari capital.

Qatar Holding and its advisers are thought to have driven a hard bargain, pushing down Mr Fayed's initial asking price from £2bn. The Egyptian tycoon, whose 25-year tenure as owner of Harrods was one of the more colourful in the shop's history, had initially insisted his most prized asset was not up for sale. Just two weeks ago, Mr Fayed, 77, said: "People approach us from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar. Fair enough. But I put two fingers up to them. It is not for sale. This is not Marks and Spencer or Sainsbury's. It is a special place that gives people pleasure. There is only one Mecca".

Certainly, the Qataris are hoping to take that allure to a wider audience. The Financial Times reported yesterday that Harrods' new owners are considering opening a "branch" in Shanghai. A source said: "Conventional wisdom is that it would be unwise to open in Paris, New York or Madrid, because people there are close enough to be drawn to London. There have been significant discussions about whether to open in Shanghai. But will it be sufficiently far away and different from London not to cannibalise the brand?"

It is unclear quite what Qatar Holding – which has pledged to keep in place Harrods' current management and has appointed Mr Fayed as an honorary chairman – will do in the long term with the company's additional activities which include an aircraft-leasing business and a bank selling "off-the-shelf" gold bullion. Whether the Egyptian room in Harrods, which is adorned with several busts of Mr Fayed will remain untouched is unknown.
In 2000, the Duke of Edinburgh announced he was withdrawing his patronage from Harrods because of a "significant decline in the trading relationship" between Buckingham Palace and the store. Privately, the royal household made it known that the duke had been angered by Mr Fayed's oft-repeated allegation that he had masterminded the 1997 crash in Paris which killed Princess Diana and the tycoon's son, Dodi.
Soon afterwards, Mr Fayed decided not to renew his three other remaining warrants, saying the Queen's husband was "perfectly entitled" to buy his shirts elsewhere. A source close to Qatar Holding let it be known that it would be "keen to renegotiate with the Royal Family" over regaining the Windsors' stamp of approval. The Independent






After the scandals comes the poor performance. But even the captain's analysis of the poor performance does not go to the heart of what afflicts the Indian Premier League and the kind of cricket it promotes. The promoters of IPL — this includes the mercurial Lalit Modi, the celebrities who have associated themselves with it and the Board of Control for Cricket in India — have perpetuated certain myths regarding it. One of the more enduring ones is that the IPL is a global brand. Any definition of the term global brand would have to include first and foremost the geographical spread of the brand. The IPL exists only in India. The world has no interest in it; the global media ignores it. Its sponsors are either domestic businessmen or non-resident Indians. That the description of the IPL as a global brand is misleading is revealed by placing it next to a genuine global brand like World Cup soccer. The argument that IPL is a global brand because foreign players play in it is a specious one since these players were paid at rates far higher than the going market price. At such exorbitant rates, it could have been possible to get David Beckham to come and play for any of the leading football clubs of Calcutta. Would that make the IFA shield a global brand?


The entire project of IPL proceeded on certain erroneous premises. Its promoters created a financial and business model and cricket (or a form of it) was tailor-made to fit that model. Money-making took precedence over sports. Whereas in the genuine global brands in sports — say World Cup soccer or the National Basketball Association or the English Premier League — a regular sporting event was made financially rewarding through various instruments like sponsorships, prize money and so on. Commercial interests followed sports to monetize the latter. The distinction is an important one even though Mr Modi and his ilk have chosen to overlook it.

The IPL is a case where the baby has to go out with the bathwater because the form of cricket and the way it has been organized are causing serious harm to the game of cricket in India and to the players. The BCCI would be well advised to build up Ranji Trophy — a tournament now much neglected but the original nursery of Indian cricket — as a brand. It can be reorganized into a premier league and a first division; foreign players can be got to play for the various teams and even transfer rules introduced. The BCCI should follow its Australian counterpart and make it mandatory for all Indian cricketers to play at the Ranji Trophy level and it should not schedule any overseas tours during the domestic season. The improvement of cricket in India should be the prime motive of BCCI, not building a fortune.








Where the mind is without fear and knowledge (of no repercussions) is free, the walls are besmirched with all the colours of the rainbow. That is, the select colours of contending political parties and the rest for lettering — although not always correct spelling. This is Calcutta before the municipal elections, that arena of empty-headed derring-do, where politicians gearing up to run the city begin their campaign by violating the Election Commission's dictates. In 2009, the EC had forbidden graffiti on walls of private houses unless the party had got written permission from the owner. Not that this had worked like a charm in Calcutta, given the propensity of parties here to threaten house-owners into compliance. Besides, many of those who complained that their permission had not been taken were left exposed to the wrath of the parties with neither the anonymity that the EC assured them of nor protection from the police. This time, local elections have dressed up in Calcutta and West Bengal to look like a rehearsal for the assembly elections. And with the State Election Commission in charge, the artist slumbering in the soul of the political worker is being allowed to wake up and run riot with his paintbrush. Apparently, the SEC cannot implement anything till there are specific complaints. But people want to know what will be done after they complain, before they expose themselves to the inevitable hassle of complaining and then the parties' wrath.


Yet if monitoring bodies are weak there is no reason that people should not be strong. The people of one locality in central Calcutta have rid themselves of depredations by political artists by getting together and refusing to be cowed. Their logic is simple. The politicians want something from the people — let them first comply with the rules protecting people's walls. Different localities and housing estates could try this out — the logic is so simple even the cadre can follow it. The city may be getting sick of being bullied.









Future historians may well look upon the second Elizabethan age as the time Britain lost its certitudes. The period between the death of George VI and the possible accession of Charles III will have encapsulated more change than is usual for a country that never tasted either foreign occupation or political revolution. The "orderly management of decline" that began with the loss of India in 1947 may have been well choreographed, but it has not been without trauma. The unchanging Britain of long summers, aggrieved shop stewards and smug aristocrats has yielded way to binge drinking, boarded-up Woolworths and a strange form of multiculturalism that celebrates every identity, as long as it isn't English. With 14 prime ministers under her belt, the new Old Queen has reigned over a country that has changed unrecognizably: ethnically, religiously, linguistically, sartorially and, most important, emotionally.

For the disappearing tribe of Anglophiles, there were just a handful of institutions that lived up to the cravings of nostalgia and good taste: Radio 4, a Test match at Lord's, Prime Minister's Question Hour, the public library and, above all, the Conservative Party.


In many ways, the Conservative Party personified the soul of Britain. Sometimes dubbed the 'stupid' party, it celebrated the British penchant for tradition and common sense and the corresponding distaste for abstruse ideology. Apart from a short spell under Margaret Thatcher, when a particular economic doctrine dominated its thinking, the Conservative Party was only nominally right-wing. It stood for orderly change, social mobility and a nebulous Britishness — highly personalized attributes that were clumsily transplanted to politics. It was a party of privilege in so far as it attracted the propertied, cricket lovers and those who regarded politics as a minor feature of existence. The foot soldiers of the Conservative Party in the 'Shires were invariably stalwarts of the local Women's Institute, those concerned with the quality of food and gardening rather than the profundities of governance. The Tory party was never an acquired taste; it was an instinct you either possessed or didn't.


The Church of England used to be described as the Tory party in prayer. The analogy was appropriate. Like the Conservative Party, the national church in its heyday — before the Book of Common Prayer was abandoned and the clergy began thinking of themselves as NGO activists — was ferociously non-doctrinaire. Its only real commitment was to the congregational singing of robust hymns composed by noble Victorians and the belief that God is a good chap.


Whether the post-war decline in Anglican church attendance played a role in the slow displacement of the Conservatives as Britain's default party is a subject for future historians to consider. What is certain, however, is that far-reaching social changes such as massive immigration from the New Commonwealth and the European Union, the erosion of deference resulting from indifferent schooling, the Americanization of mass culture and the breakdown of family values played their part in the dramatic eclipse of the Conservatives during the triumphant reign of Tony Blair. The Tory defeats in 1997, 2001 and 2005 meant more than an inability to resist the charisma of Blair and the contemporariness of New Labour: it suggested that Britain had moved from natural conservatism to securing what Gordon Brown shrewdly detected was a "progressive majority".


In the normal course, 13 years of accumulated anti-incumbency and a fiscal crisis of enormous magnitude should have seen David Cameron walking triumphantly into 10 Downing Street on the morning of May 7 and delivering an oration that would have at least matched Thatcher's invocation of St Francis of Assisi in 1979. Instead, despite making phenomenal gains from a dispirited Labour and preventing a Liberal Democratic surge, the party fell short of an absolute majority by 20 seats in a House of 650.


In his post-resignation address to the Labour faithful last Tuesday evening, Brown blamed himself for his inability to translate the impulses of the "progressive majority" into a parliamentary victory. But, at least, he gloated, Labour denied Cameron an outright victory.


In defeat, Brown was being entirely truthful. The last-minute consolidation of Labour votes, particularly in the marginal seats, prevented Cameron from securing the outright victory he so desperately hoped for. But it was always a difficult journey. Even if the 18 seats of Northern Ireland, where politics is unrelated to the concerns of Westminster, are excluded from the calculations, the Conservative Party was a non-player in all but one of the 59 Scottish seats. Sadly, this wasn't always so. In 1959, for example, the Conservatives won a majority of seats in Scotland and even the Thatcher administration boasted Scottish stalwarts such as Teddy Taylor, Ian Lang and Malcolm Rifkind.


A manifestation of what is called the "West Lothian question", after a question posed by the Labour member of parliament, Tam Dalyell, in the Commons in 1977, has meant that the Conservative Party has a winnable presence in only England and Wales. In last week's election, the Tories won 305 of the 573 seats in England and Wales, a tally that would have given it a clear majority had it not been for Scotland and Northern Ireland.


The growing Englishness of British conservatism symbolizes one of the major concerns of a party that has historically stood for the unflinching union of the four countries of the United Kingdom. For all practical purposes, Scotland has emotionally detached itself from Westminster. Its primary focus is the Scottish assembly in Edinburgh and even the Union Jack has become a novelty, if not a provocation, after Gretna Green. And although the Union Jack still serves as a badge of identity in large tracts of Ulster, Irish Unionism has become an embarrassment to England. Irish Protestants are the Britons the rest of Britain would rather do without.


Coming in the wake of the larger social transformation of Britain, the crisis of Unionism has undercut a key political plank of the Conservatives. The party can still connect with one or the other faction of the Ulster Unionists but its claim to represent Britain is punctured by the hostility of Scotland. Had Cameron won an outright majority on the strength of gains in England and Wales, it would have given Scottish separatism a huge fillip.


The Conservative Party has to renew itself, but without discarding its traditional commitment to doing "the right thing"— a Cameronian expression that means so much and so little. It has to connect to a new generation of Britons whose Britishness is a shade too cosmopolitan and who have acquired a sense of entitlement that is dependent on an unaffordable welfare State. Cameron's concordat with the Liberal Democrats may have struck many die-hard Conservatives as a reckless sell-out. However, it has given the party an invaluable entry point into a Britain that is unmoved by traditional Toryism.


Throughout its history, the Conservative Party has reinvigorated itself by drawing defectors from other political traditions. The grafting of Joseph Chamberlain's municipal activism to the high Toryism of Lord Salisbury and the accretion of the self-made Essex man to the party vote bank by Thatcher are just two recent examples. The addition of the social compassion of the Liberal Democrats to the Conservative kitty has the potential of undermining the "progressive majority" that the Labour Party believes will secure its recovery. A coalition government is a novelty for Britain, but it offers British Conservatism the best chance for a long innings in government.


The Lib-Dems have both a Liberal and a Labour pedigree. To reinforce the May 6 gains, Cameron has to absorb the Gladstonian inheritance of his coalition partner.









It would be a most heartening summer gift if the prime minister cracks the whip and makes sure that A. Raja and the other allegedly 'tainted' ministers resign from the cabinet like Shashi Tharoor was made to do. The signal to the people of India will be salutary. If a leader stands apart and emphatically calls for integrity, probity and transparency in governance, this country will support that individual regardless of all else. It is far more appropriate to lead a minority government and openly join the fight against 'corruption', which has managed to infiltrate every aspect of our lives. If the government has to be dissolved because its leader is opposed to corrupt practices, so be it. India, in its turn, will bring that individual and the party back to power with resounding numbers.


The perception that corruption is acceptable because of the need to stay in 'power' is detrimental to civil society and the moral fibre of our country. We have become hopelessly ungovernable because of the selfishness of a few, and also because national laws are regularly broken by the very authority that is mandated to abide by them in an effort to facilitate rapacious, illegal corporate business interests. We have, over the last few decades, managed to corrode our administrative and political systems to a point where it is embarrassing to be associated with the system that regulates the lives of honest Indians.


Surely the honourable individuals who lead the United Progressive Alliance and the Congress would want to rectify the breakdown and renew the pledge made at Independence. This is the right moment. The citizens of India are sick and tired of being exploited in some manner, ranging from the growing Naxal protest to upheavals in civil society in our towns and cities. With the exception of the political class and the administrative services, there is no segment of the population that is 'satisfied' with basic governance.


Ugly picture


In Delhi, ugly elements overwhelm us all. Municipalities are corrupt and demeaning; law enforcement is abysmal as protection is earmarked for those breaking the law and not for the law-abiding citizens; the chief minister is helpless and cannot be made accountable because every department has been divided into sections that are ruled by different institutional heads which perpetuates divisiveness. Moreover, there is no administrative cohesion because of a myriad 'bosses' who live with daggers drawn at our expense; and, elected representatives behave in an uncouth, unacceptable way in Parliament. Never has India been so deeply insulted.


The time has come to call a spade a spade. Morality should triumph over the need to sit on the treasury benches and hold India to ransom. It is unethical and unfair to exploit the ethos of this civilization and reduce it to mire because a handful of people need to be protected from the law. It is sad to see how business interests influence government decisions despite stringent regulations. This gross misuse of 'development' has and will continue to destroy our land and rob us of our natural resources. I cannot comprehend why and how 'parents' (ministers too have children) poison the environment for their progeny in return of a few crores.


If only our rulers did not isolate themselves in their ivory towers, they would know what the ordinary, honest people of India think of their decisions as well as of the court rulings. Symbolically speaking, the red light on the cars of the men and women who rule, and the clearing of roads for their passage, have alienated them from India. People across all economic and social strata swear when these VIP cars pass them by. What a depressing truth. Do we need a mother goddess to nurture and renew India?



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





It is a matter of serious concern that several legislators have come out in support of khap panchayats. Congress MP Navin Jindal is reported to have supported the Haryana khap panchayats' demand for amending the Hindu Marriage Act to ban marriages within the same gotra. Others who are backing this demand include Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) chief and Haryana MLA, Omprakash Chautala, senior Congress leader and six-time MLA from Rewari, Ajay Yadav, and Congress MP Shadi Lal Batra. While electoral calculations rather than personal conviction is believed to have prompted the positions taken by these legislators, still this is wholly unacceptable. Khap panchayats are unconstitutional bodies. They have been openly defying the law of the land, issuing illegal diktats, even killing people who dare to act in defiance of their regressive thinking. Scores of young people who have married within their gotra or chosen their own partners outside their caste have been hunted down and hacked to death on the orders of these khaps. And the frequency of such 'honour killings' is mounting as growing numbers of youth in rural India want to break away from the shackles of feudal ideologies.

Recently, a Haryana court sentenced five people to death and one person to life imprisonment for killing a couple who had married within the same gotra. The sentence appears to have rattled several khaps in Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Their campaign to outlaw same-gotra marriages is a ruse to get legal sanction for their illegal diktats. And it is this campaign that Jindal and others are supporting.

It has been reported that Jindal endorsed the khap panchayats after they threatened to lay siege to his house. His buckling to their intimidation is shameful. One would have expected him to show more spine in defending the law of the land. He has sought to explain away his support to the khap panchayats by claiming that he was only articulating the demands put forward by a section of his constituents. If he is indeed committed to giving voice to his constituents, then he should speak up too to articulate what victims of the khaps feel on the issue. Jindal, Chautala and others should bear in mind that as Indian citizens, they must obey the laws of this country and as legislators they are duty bound to defend the law of the land, not to encourage illegal 'caste councils' to violate the law.







As America continues to borrow from China, the rationale of economic superiority in the longer run for it would be in serious decline.


The current debt crisis in Greece reminds one of Kautilya's perceptions about debt. He considered debt to be 'instruments of decline' for kings and governments alike. But modern governments seem to have come a long way and the Chanakyan prescription has truly become outdated. Today, good economics and good politics have become mutually exclusive. At least, so it seems. Sound economic policies need not necessarily yield political dividends to incumbent governments. Conversely, leaders and political parties may actually win renewed political mandates to government on the 'strength' of their 'bad' economic policies.

Thus, it is no secret that modern day governments 'stimulate' the economy by spending more and more and earning less and less to ensure their political continuity. In this 'debt ridden world', according to 'The Economist' magazine, the total current global debt is around $32 trillion. Based on the total world population of around 7 billion, this amounts to an average debt of around $4,600 or around Rs 2 lakh on every human being on this planet.

Recently the Indian government sought approval to spend an extra $6.6 billion in part to subsidise food and fertilisers and to halt the inflation. The average debt of an Indian citizen is nearly equal to his 10-month income, which on an annual basis has recently been estimated at Rs 38,000 by the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) for a population of 115.4 crore. With the government adding about Rs 3,00,000 crore (Rs 3,000 billion) to the public debt annually in the last few years, the total public debt is estimated to zoom to a whopping Rs 34,06,322 crore (Rs 34.06 trillion) by March 2010, nearly double the amount recorded seven years ago.

This initiative to spend more than planned is affecting the yields on benchmark 10-year bond. Among the top 10 local-currency debt markets in Asia last year, Indian bonds were the worst performers (except Japan), handing investors a 5.1 per cent loss, as the government spent Rs 1.86 trillion to shield the economy from the global recession. India's current public debt to GDP ratio is 58.2 per cent — almost close to the US position of 60.8 per cent — and we have much to learn from Uncle Sam.

Lessons from US debt

Backed by the US Congress, President Barack Obama recently signed into law an increase in the US national debt limit to $12.4 trillion. The US government posted a record $1.4 trillion deficit in the fiscal year ending Sept 30, 2009. The US government needs to spend more or 'stimulate' its economy. To facilitate this spending, it needs to borrow more and more to cover its deficit.

Historically, the lone super power has been living well beyond its means. Public debt in dollars quadrupled during the Reagan and Bush presidencies from 1980 to 1992, and remained at about the same level by the end of the Clinton presidency in 2000. The most important legacies of President George W Bush have been the rise in total public debt from $5.6 trillion in January 2001 to $10.7 trillion by December 2008. This was the quintessential lesson that the Bush Junior learned from the Bush Senior as the latter lost his re-election bid to Clinton purely due to his attempt to trim the US National Debt by increasing taxes, a far departure from his stated election promise. The trend is expected to continue as Barack Obama intends to spend more on war, health care reforms and social security, leading to a projection of total national US debt of around $20 trillion by 2015.

So who is funding this enormous US debt? In May 2009, the US owed China $772 billion. It also owed substantial money to others like Japan and Saudi Arabia. In reality the money that a Chinese saves is spent by an American. This has definitely posed critical economic and political risks for the United States. As America continues to borrow more especially from the Chinese, the rationale of economic superiority in the longer run for America would be in serious decline. China doesn't intend to fish in the troubled waters at least for now purely due to lack of substantial alternative currency to the US dollar. However, even this is changing as seen from recent increase in diversifying its non US dollar based securities by oil rich countries and also by countries like India, China and Russia. Cumulatively, this poses an enormous challenge to the US dollar in the longer run.

The US has been able to withstand its national debt purely due to its economic and political dominance and the power of US dollar so far. But what about India? Obviously, the American approach cannot be blindly followed. Indeed, it is high time that our economic planners adopted a balanced approach which would require them to decrease deficits and trim our national debt. In the urge of economic prosperity we cannot go on borrow from others to spend at home, even if it means sacrificing some growth targets. Our fiscal discipline is quintessential to our long term national and economic security.  Its time that we look ourselves as a post-developing nation and make sound economic choices, though that may be politically very hard to accept. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of 'Black Swan' recently said in a blog that "A lot of the growth (of America's) of the past few years was fake growth from debt".







There is a striking asymmetry between the new political and economic world order that has been emerging from the South over the last five years and the relative immobility of the international system of information, which only partially reflects the major transformations of our age.



There is a clear explanation for this disparity. During the last three decades of constant economic and demographic growth of the emerging nations the developed countries have been mired in relative exhaustion and were the epicentre of the information technology bubble that burst in 2000 and the even more calamitous world depression, which began in 2008 and is not over yet.

It was therefore no coincidence but rather a matter of necessity and realpolitik that US president George W Bush convened in November 2008 the first G20 summit of the world's major economies. The old G7, all from the North, were not enough but even for a modest coordination of the various international institutions, particularly those of an economic and financial nature.

Public opinion

The ascension of the South which is reflected in the G20 and in BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and in IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) has earned it the important role of co-pilot in world affairs, yet its presence remains negligible in world public opinion, in the international media, and more generally in cultural production (from cinema to television and publishing).

The reason for this is that the major centres of cultural and information production are still in the North, but also that emerging countries give priority to the plans of multilateral, financial, and environmental institutions.

The big question is whether now that they have attained their objective of sharing in global political and economic governance, these heretofore incommunicado countries will establish the channels for information and cultural exchange that are essential to win public support for and to reinforce this process.

Thus far both BRIC and IBSA lack integrated communications systems. For example, IBSA has formed 16 internal work groups, yet none are for communications.

In mid-April BRIC and IBSA held their summit meetings in Brasilia. In this framework an editors forum, coordinated by IPS, was attended by editors of major media houses in IBSA countries. There was unanimous consensus that the exchange of information among the countries had not kept pace with the integration process.

The exchange of opinions and experiences led the editors to the conclusion that they themselves must generate a flow of information among their own countries and with the rest of the world.

For this to occur, a network of IBSA editors will establish a constant flow of information among their media on the integration process and the three countries.

At the same time, there was recognition of the need to create a new workgroup with both public and private media from the IBSA countries to promote the exchange of information in a democratic, horizontal manner using traditional and more advanced technologies, including web sites, blogs, cellphones, and digital journalism. This could be considered a strategic decision intended to close a part of the current information gap both among IBSA countries and within the South.

There was also agreement on the need to increase coverage of countries of the South by the media of the South, and to give them preference over the agencies of the North —which select and tailor material to their own perspective.

The emerging new world order, the new role played by the countries of the South, and the need to create new instruments and links to strengthen horizontal communications, should be part of university programmes and the professional training of the new generation of journalists.

There are, of course, certain positive indications of the potential of the South in communications and culture. Brazilian soap operas, for example, are a global export. A complete series was recently produced on India and its relation to Brazil and the world at large which gave Brazilians a greater understanding of the country.

Nor should we forget sports. The next two Word Cup football championships, in South Africa this summer and

Brazil in 2014, demonstrate the ability of emerging countries to rise to these challenges.

Initiatives like this, which are sure to multiply in the near future, can set in motion a virtuous cycle of interaction with a well-informed public able to drive a process that is changing power relations on a global scale.








It takes a long time to effectively translate theory into practice.


Have you seen this advertisement on television where a young mother coos to her infant and promises to buy only 'new things' for the babe? Apparently the lady was forced to use her elder sister's stuff as a kid. Since she did not enjoy the 'hand me downs' she wanted to spare her child of the humiliation.

The reason she assigned to her promise always filled me with disdain. I failed to understand her sentiment. Personally, I have never felt belittled when my various aunts, cousins and second cousins passed on their girlie paraphernalia, trinkets and best clothes when outgrew them. In fact, I would rather enjoy the variety that strengthened my wardrobe and my accessory kit at no extra expense. I simply followed tradition by passing on things when I outgrew them, to my younger cousins and nieces.

I was completely convinced about the anomaly of the theme of the ad till very recently. Last week I cleared my wardrobe and sorted out a wide range of my meticulously maintained, diaphanous chiffon, organza and nylon saris to give them away. Even as I picked them out, I realised the young ladies in the family would not be wearing them for they draped yards of the Indian wear only when occasions demanded.

I had to find other youthful takers. I suddenly realised that it was a very onerous task. First, I had to zero in on young women who wear saris. Secondly, girls who would be willing to take them. I could not possibly give the saris to the under-privileged because the nature of the material made it mandatory for the recipient to compliment them with matching in-skirts and blouses to drape them gracefully. Besides it would cost them a pretty penny.

After giving the issue much thought, I zeroed in on a couple of young friends who work on some eco-friendly projects with me. They were visibly impressed by the collection and found them irresistible. All the same their social and economic pride disallowed them from picking them up. They vetoed the idea. I dropped the matter.

Soon they briefed me on the report of the current project on 'saving water'. It was not very successful because the public who signed up for the project had not walked their talk. The irked girls launched into a tirade on the uncouth public which simply refused to recycle and re-use despite being educated about the same.

I told them it would take a long time to effectively translate theory into practice but we must not be bogged down by teething troubles and started putting the saris away.

They looked at one another for a while silently and all of them at once brought down the pile of saris and started making their choices. I must say the experience was cathartic in more ways than one!








When Team India lost its first Super Eight match to Australia some ten days ago, ardent fans had reconciled to the ignominious defeat thinking it was just a case of one bad day on the field. Then they lost to West Indies, a team that has been struggling for a long time even against some ordinary ones. That defeat virtually sealed the fate of Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men in this third edition of the ICC T20 annual event. India needed to win against Sri Lanka and win convincingly. In the end they went down to Kumar Sangakkara's men as well and completed their hat-trick of defeats.

That is pathetic, to say the least. For the second time, the champions of the first edition of this high profile ICC event failed to enter the semi-finals stage. The fans deserved better from their heroes. In the aftermath of this string of defeats, Dhoni has suggested that the recent Indian Premier League's punishing travel schedule and 'after-match night parties' might have taken a toll on some of his players, particularly those not known for a disciplined regimen. It is good that interim IPL chief Chirayu Amin has decided to end these licensed night-long parties for the players and their 'fans'.

Dhoni's post-mortem may be valid to some extent. Because, reports from St Lucia suggest that some of the players were back to their partying ways that ended in an ugly brawl outside a bar. But the indisciplined lifestyle of players apart, there are other serious issues. Coach Gary Kirsten has problems with the fitness of some of the players who went to West Indies and he has even named a few of them. Team selection is another issue. Players like Yuvraj Singh were certainly not in the team on the strength of their recent performance but merely because of their reputation. It is debatable if the national selectors were right in excluding in-form players like Robin Uthappa, Pragyan Oja and Amit Mishra. In the end our batsmen were bounced out of the crease and our bowlers hit out of the park, leaving them with little option but to board the next flight back home. While even the best of teams should expect defeats and take them in their stride, it is doubtful if we had the best one in West Indies.







Ahead of celebrations this week of the 65th anniversary of the Soviet Union's triumph over Nazism, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in an interview with the newspaper Izvestia, attacked attempts by nostalgic fellow Russians to reassert the legacy of Stalin.

"The regime built in the Soviet Union can be called nothing other than totalitarian," he said. "Unfortunately, it was a regime where elementary rights and freedoms were suppressed."

Medvedev's description of the Soviet era is accurate, indeed. Unfortunately, post-Soviet Russia has not fully internalized history's lessons.

Russian society, unschooled in the arts of liberalism and democracy, is plagued by its own human rights abuses. In recent weeks two reports, one by Freedom House and one by Reporters Without Borders, have accused Moscow of severely limiting freedom of the press. Between 2000 and 2008, when Vladmir Putin was president, 17 reporters were murdered for engaging in investigative reporting, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Perhaps the most famous was Anna Politkovskaya, who wrote a book, Putin's Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy, describing rampant corruption in the judicial system.

Most disturbing for Israel are Russia's overtures to Iran and Syria, which actively support Hamas and Hizbullah. During a trip to Damascus this week to meet with President Bashar Assad, Medvedev said, "Cooperation on atomic energy [with Syria] could get a second wind."

Assad said the two had discussed possibilities for developing nuclear power plants inside Syria. (In 2007, the IAF reportedly destroyed a nuclear reactor in east Syria built with North Korean assistance and intended for weapon-making.) Medvedev also met with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, and subsequently suggested that Hamas, a terrorist organization avowedly committed to destroying Israel, be included in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

While Medvedev's comments grabbed headlines, they represented no real surprise. Although a member of the Middle East peacemaking Quartet, Russia has consistently defied the Quartet consensus and called for engagement with Hamas. And Russia has offered technical aid to several Middle East countries, including Saudi Arabia, to build "peaceful" nuclear energy facilities, while playing a critical role in the Iranian nuclear program. Russia has also provided Syria with weapons such as AT-14 Kornet-E anti-tank guided missiles, ultimately used against IDF soldiers with deadly consequences by Hizbullah during the Second Lebanon War.

Medvedev's latest visit to our part of the world is consistent with Russia's intensifying bid to reassert its role in the Middle East, seeking a Cold War-era style counterbalance to US hegemony. Analysts such as Matthew Kroenig of Georgetown University argue that it is the desire to counter and weaken the US presence in the Middle East that lies behind Russia's stance on Iran, including its ongoing involvement in the nuclear program and its resistance to the US-led drive for effective sanctions to thwart an Iranian nuclear weapons capacity. An Iran with nuclear capability would certainly help neutralize the US, though a rapacious nuclear Iran on Russia's doorstep could only be construed as a positive development for a thoroughly narrow-minded and short-sighted Moscow.

IN THE face of what seems from here to be a misguided Russian sense of realpolitik, and one that appears to have few moral qualms about supporting rogue states, Israel's concerns are intensifying. Any expectation that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman might be able to warm relations has proven empty, not because of a provincial bias against the Moldovan-born minister but because he has unable to persuade Moscow of where not only Israel's, but also Russia's, strategic interests lie.

Putin and Medvedev might not deliberately do anything to harm the million or so Russian speakers living in Israel, one of the largest Russian expat communities in the world. That might explain why last year Russia, implored by Israel, suspended the planned sale of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran that would have greatly bolstered Teheran's ability to protect its nuclear facilities from an air strike. Russia has also refused to sell these missiles to Syria. Nevertheless, as it pursues its goal of countering US dominance in the Middle East, Russia, a country that, despite Medvedev's claims to the contrary, has not fully thrown off its totalitarian Soviet roots, is severely undermining Israeli interests.

President Shimon Peres spent part of this week in Moscow trying to communicate some of these concerns. Medvedev heard him out and then flew off to see Assad and Mashaal. From our perspective, it made for a bleak 65th anniversary.



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




The feckless Federal Election Commission has done it again. It is supposed to enforce campaign finance laws and protect elections and voters from the worst money abuses. Instead, it has tailored another loophole in the ban on unlimited "soft money" politicking — allowing Congressional candidates unrestricted war chests to try to influence the redrawing of electoral maps.


Redistricting litigation battles should be seen as having no bearing "in connection with" the elections that follow, the commission ludicrously maintained, using language from the McCain-Feingold soft money ban to undermine it. The F.E.C. would have us believe giving a ballplayer the power to shape the playing field has absolutely no effect on the outcome of the game.


Redistricting battles are tooth-and-claw fights for survival for incumbents. Mapmaking is waged town by town and street by street as statehouse political machines reshape districts to protect powerful colleagues in Congress. Paul Ryan of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center correctly warns that fresh pots of easy money will only enhance the cynical maxim of redistricting that "members of Congress choose their voters," not the other way around.


The F.E.C. was created to protect the public interest in elections. Time after time the interests of the major parties win out. The six-member commission — split between the parties — needs a majority for any enforcement action. In recent months, it has been paralyzed by partisan splits. Not on this chance to license soft money bonanzas for the redistricting battles that will follow the 2010 census. All six commissioners voted yea.


Once again, the F.E.C. tilted the playing field toward party insiders. Once again, it offered compelling evidence for why it must be replaced with a panel of truly independent experts committed to enforcing the law, not finding more ways around it.






The global war on AIDS has racked up enormous successes over the past decade, most notably by providing drugs for millions of infected people in developing countries who would be doomed without this life-prolonging treatment. Now the campaign is faltering.


Donations from the United States and other wealthy countries have leveled off while the number of people infected with H.I.V., the AIDS virus, grows by a million a year. By one informed estimate, only $14 billion will be available of some $27 billion needed this year to fight the disease in the developing world. Fewer than 4 million of the 14 million people infected with the AIDS virus are getting drug treatment — far short of the goal of universal access set by the United States and others.


Donor nations cite the economic crisis and tight budgets as reasons to slow their contributions to the global fight against AIDS. The Obama administration and many donor nations apparently believe that more lives could be saved by fighting other cheaper diseases, such as respiratory illnesses, diarrhea, malaria and measles.


The results of those decisions can be seen in Uganda and other countries where, as Donald G. McNeil Jr. recently reported in The Times, the campaign against AIDS seems to be falling apart.


Although the number of Ugandans receiving drug treatments jumped from fewer than 10,000 a decade ago to nearly 200,000 today, hundreds of thousands more Ugandans need the drugs and likely can't get them because clinics now routinely turn new patients away.


That is partly because American funds have been frozen and clinics were told to stop enrolling new patients unless the government has a plan to pay for their treatment. It is also because Uganda has badly skewed its own priorities, such as negotiating to buy a squadron of fighter-bombers from Russia for $300 million.


The United States has been a leader in providing financing for the war on AIDS through bilateral programs and a multilateral global fund. Now, instead of a sharp increase in donations, as once planned, the administration proposes only a slight increase in bilateral financing and a modest reduction in its multilateral contribution.


It has shifted its focus to childhood diseases, keeping young mothers alive, and interrupting the transmission of H.I.V. between mother and child. It is pushing countries to improve their medical delivery systems, manage their own AIDS programs and contribute more of their own funds.


Those are good goals. But the AIDS pandemic is still spreading. And the goal of universal access to treatment remains a distant dream.







You don't have to look far for proof that this country must cut its dependence on fossil fuels and develop cleaner sources of energy.


It can be found in the oil-slicked Gulf of Mexico. It can be found in China's aggressive efforts to win the global competition for green technologies and green jobs. And, most urgently, it can be found in the inexorable math of accumulating greenhouse gas emissions.


And where is the Senate? After a year of talking, utterly nowhere. Paralyzed by partisanship, hobbled by indifferent leadership, it is unable to muster a majority (much less a filibuster-proof 60 votes) for even a modest energy and climate bill.


Senators John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman presented a good but far from perfect bill on Wednesday that would at least point the country in the right direction. For the first time, it would set a price on carbon emissions that are now dumped without penalty into the atmosphere. A price signal is an essential prerequisite for reducing emissions and for shifting American industry to cleaner, less polluting sources of energy.


The measure would also invest widely in low-carbon technologies, renewable fuels, more efficient vehicles and mass transit.


The two senators (originally three, until Lindsey Graham jumped ship) have worked hard to fashion a worthy companion to a similar measure passed by the House in June of last year. They deserve thanks. Yet the bill has no chance unless President Obama steps up.


Mr. Obama pledged to "engage" with the Senate to pass a comprehensive energy and climate bill "this year." This was one of those ticket-punching statements that isn't going to change any minds. What he should have said is that he is going to hammer on the Senate until it does what this country needs.


Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lieberman doled out all sorts of rewards to various industries to bring them aboard, and the bill has been endorsed by several big power producers, including Duke Energy. But Republicans remain unanimously opposed and Democrats from industrial states are not enthusiastic.


Getting the Senate to act is not just a matter of leadership for Mr. Obama. It is also a matter of honor and sound science. At the Copenhagen climate conference in December, the president — who did much to rescue that meeting from failure — committed this country to a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.


That is the target in the Senate bill and the bare minimum that scientists believe is necessary to get the United States on track toward reducing its emissions by 80 percent by midcentury — which it must do to help the world avoid the worst impacts of a warming planet.


Despite industry pressure, the bill preserves much of the Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory authority to reduce emissions from power plants. And on Thursday, the agency issued a rule saying that it planned to address only the biggest emitters. But while the E.P.A.'s authority is important, Congress must still act. A broad market-based scheme would be much more effective than a patchwork of regulations.


The United States is the world's second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China. Until America moves seriously to control emissions, the big developing countries will not do so. As Mr. Obama knows well, all senators like to imagine themselves as world leaders. Well, here's his chance, and their chance, to lead.








FOR centuries, speculation about the existence of life elsewhere in the universe was the preserve of philosophers and theologians. Then, 50 years ago last month, the question entered the scientific sphere when a young American astronomer named Frank Drake began sweeping the skies with a radio telescope in hopes of picking up a signal from an extraterrestrial civilization. Initially, his quest was considered somewhat eccentric. But now the pendulum of scientific opinion has swung to the point where even a scientist of the stature of Stephen Hawking is speculating that aliens exist in other parts of our galaxy.


The search for extraterrestrial intelligence is predicated on the assumption, widely held today, that life would emerge readily on Earth-like planets. Given that there could be upward of a billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy alone, this assumption suggests that the universe should be teeming with life.


But the notion of life as a cosmic imperative is not backed up by hard evidence. In fact, the mechanism of life's origin remains shrouded in mystery. So how can we test the idea that the transition from nonlife to life is simple enough to happen repeatedly? The most obvious and straightforward way is to search for a second form of life on Earth. No planet is more Earth-like than Earth itself, so if the path to life is easy, then life should have started up many times over right here.


Searching for alternative life on Earth might seem misconceived, because there is excellent evidence that every kind of life so far studied evolved from a common ancestor that lived billions of years ago. Yet most of the life that exists on Earth has never been properly classified. The vast majority of species are microbes, invisible to the naked eye, and scientists have analyzed only a tiny fraction of them. For all we know, there could be microbes with other ancestral origins living literally under our noses — or even inside our noses — constituting a sort of shadow biosphere, containing life, but not as we know it.


The denizens of the hidden "alien" biosphere — let's call them Life 2.0 — might employ radically different biochemical processes than the life we know and love. Microbiologists could easily have overlooked their existence, because their methods are focused on the biochemistry of standard life. Obviously, if you go looking for A, you will find A and not B.


One way to go about tracking down Life 2.0 is to make educated guesses about what its biochemistry might be like. Alternative microbes might, for example, have different chemical elements. One shrewd suggestion, made by Felisa Wolfe-Simon of the United States Geological Survey, is that phosphorus — crucial to life as we know it — could be replaced by arsenic. She and her colleague Ron Oremland are dredging bugs from arsenic-contaminated Mono Lake in California in search of arsenic life.


Other researchers are focusing on the handedness of molecules. In standard life, the key amino acids are always left-handed, and the sugars are right-handed. Scientists are not sure why standard life has made this particular choice; nonliving chemical mixtures tend to contain equal amounts of both left- and right-handed molecules.


If life started again, perhaps it would select different handedness for its key molecules. Should a shadow biosphere of "mirror microbes" exist, the organisms could be identified by culturing microbial samples in "mirror soup" — a cocktail of nutrients with the handedness reversed, available from commercial suppliers. Standard life would find the soup unpalatable, but mirror life would thrive on it. Some experiments along these lines are being carried out at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, in Huntsville. Ala.


Life 2.0 would be easier to identify if it inhabited distinct niches beyond the reach of regular life. Microbes are known to dwell in the superheated water around volcanic vents in the deep ocean, for example. Others survive extremes of cold, salinity, acidity or radiation. Yet all these so-called extremophiles that have been investigated to date are the same life as you and me. Regular life is clearly very hardy and adaptable, and can tolerate amazingly harsh conditions. Nevertheless, there will be limits. If Life 2.0 has a different chemical constitution, it may lurk in pockets at even more extreme temperatures or higher levels of radiation.


An argument often given for why Earth couldn't host another form of life is that once the life we know became established, it would have eliminated any competition through natural selection. But if another form of life were confined to its own niche, there would be little direct competition with regular life. And, in any case, natural selection doesn't always mean winner-takes-all. Some years ago it was discovered that simple microbes actually belong to two very distinct domains — bacteria and archaea. Genetically, these groups differ from each other as much as they differ from humans. Yet they have peacefully co-existed in overlapping habitats for billions of years.


If my theory turns out to be correct, it will have sweeping consequences. Should we find a second form of life right here on our doorstep, we could be confident that life is a truly cosmic phenomenon. If so, there may well be sentient beings somewhere in the galaxy wondering, as do we, if they are not alone in the universe.


Paul Davies, the director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University, is the author of "The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence."










It's an ill wind that blows nobody good, and the crisis in Greece is making some people — people who opposed health care reform and are itching for an excuse to dismantle Social Security — very, very happy. Everywhere you look there are editorials and commentaries, some posing as objective reporting, asserting that Greece today will be America tomorrow unless we abandon all that nonsense about taking care of those in need.


The truth, however, is that America isn't Greece — and, in any case, the message from Greece isn't what these people would have you believe.


So, how do America and Greece compare?


Both nations have lately been running large budget deficits, roughly comparable as a percentage of G.D.P. Markets, however, treat them very differently: The interest rate on Greek government bonds is more than twice the rate on U.S. bonds, because investors see a high risk that Greece will eventually default on its debt, while seeing virtually no risk that America will do the same. Why?


One answer is that we have a much lower level of debt — the amount we already owe, as opposed to new borrowing — relative to G.D.P. True, our debt should have been even lower. We'd be better positioned to deal with the current emergency if so much money hadn't been squandered on tax cuts for the rich and an unfunded war. But we still entered the crisis in much better shape than the Greeks.


Even more important, however, is the fact that we have a clear path to economic recovery, while Greece doesn't.


The U.S. economy has been growing since last summer, thanks to fiscal stimulus and expansionary policies by the Federal Reserve. I wish that growth were faster; still, it's finally producing job gains — and it's also showing up in revenues. Right now we're on track to match Congressional Budget Office projections of a substantial rise in tax receipts. Put those projections together with the Obama administration's policies, and they imply a sharp fall in the budget deficit over the next few years.


Greece, on the other hand, is caught in a trap. During the good years, when capital was flooding in, Greek costs and prices got far out of line with the rest of Europe. If Greece still had its own currency, it could restore competitiveness through devaluation. But since it doesn't, and since leaving the euro is still considered unthinkable, Greece faces years of grinding deflation and low or zero economic growth. So the only way to reduce deficits is through savage budget cuts, and investors are skeptical about whether those cuts will actually happen.


It's worth noting, by the way, that Britain — which is in worse fiscal shape than we are, but which, unlike Greece, hasn't adopted the euro — remains able to borrow at fairly low interest rates. Having your own currency, it seems, makes a big difference.


In short, we're not Greece. We may currently be running deficits of comparable size, but our economic position — and, as a result, our fiscal outlook — is vastly better.


That said, we do have a long-run budget problem. But what's the root of that problem? "We demand more than we're willing to pay for," is the usual line. Yet that line is deeply misleading.


First of all, who is this "we" of whom people speak? Bear in mind that the drive to cut taxes largely benefited a small minority of Americans: 39 percent of the benefits of making the Bush tax cuts permanent would go to the richest 1 percent of the population.


And bear in mind, also, that taxes have lagged behind spending partly thanks to a deliberate political strategy, that of "starve the beast": conservatives have deliberately deprived the government of revenue in an attempt to force the spending cuts they now insist are necessary.


Meanwhile, when you look under the hood of those troubling long-run budget projections, you discover that they're not driven by some generalized problem of overspending. Instead, they largely reflect just one thing: the assumption that health care costs will rise in the future as they have in the past. This tells us that the key to our fiscal future is improving the efficiency of our health care system — which is, you may recall, something the Obama administration has been trying to do, even as many of the same people now warning about the evils of deficits cried "Death panels!"


So here's the reality: America's fiscal outlook over the next few years isn't bad. We do have a serious long-run budget problem, which will have to be resolved with a combination of health care reform and other measures, probably including a moderate rise in taxes. But we should ignore those who pretend to be concerned with fiscal responsibility, but whose real goal is to dismantle the welfare state — and are trying to use crises elsewhere to frighten us into giving them what they want.








If you're elected president or prime minister in pretty much any country in the developed world today, you're faced with the same set of challenges: to reduce national deficits without choking off a fragile recovery; to trim the welfare state and raise taxes while still funding the things that lead to long-term growth; to try to enact brutally painful measures at a time when voters don't trust their leaders; to do it at a time when politics are polarized and a hundred different interest groups have the ability to block change.


The chances that the world's leaders are going to be able to do these things successfully are between slim and none. It's hard enough to figure out the right mix of spending cuts and tax increases. It's nearly impossible to build a political majority willing to enact them. Sometime over the next decade or so, the world will probably suffer from another series of crushing fiscal crises with significant economic pain and maximum political turmoil.


But, occasionally, there's a ray of hope. Occasionally, a country stumbles into a political arrangement that may help it avert a crisis. And that's what's happened in Britain.


Britain has all the fiscal problems that plague most developed nations. British households are carrying more debt than those in any other rich country: 170 percent of annual income. British general government debt is surging — not at Greek levels yet, but getting there.


The political culture is brutally adversarial. The political extremes are strong. The Conservative Party didn't win this month's election outright because 5 percent of voters preferred the anti-immigrant parties.


Moreover, the election produced no clear-cut result. That would seem to make it harder to undertake the sort of necessary painful changes. Yet over the past few days, many British analysts are coming to the wary conclusion that something good may have happened.


David Cameron, the Conservative leader, was forced to confront the fact that even in the best possible circumstances, the Conservatives could get only 36 percent of the vote. He was faced with the possibility that the two other parties might form a permanent anti-right coalition. But as Daniel Finkelstein of The Times of London has pointed out, Cameron seized the problem and made it an opportunity. By cutting a deal with the Liberal Democrats, he has built a center-right coalition.


In so doing, he has changed the nature of his own party, and the nature of the Liberal Democrats, his coalition partner. If he had a small majority, he would have been hostage to his most ideological members. As it is, he has potentially weakened the strong partisans in both parties, empowered the pragmatists who are better-suited to coalition politics and created a less polarized political climate.


Matthew Parris, also of The Times of London, writes that watching Cameron and Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats' leader, "was like witnessing a coup. Millions of viewers will have shared my impression almost of watching two men staging a putsch against their own parties, against the entire British political system, and against the ingrained assumptions of more than a century of parliamentary government." Parris sees the potential for a softening of the normal adversarial culture, a strengthening of the sort of leader who likes compromise and a weakening of the sort that detests it.


The two parties are now in an economically conservative, socially liberal embrace that they hope will last for five years. The parties disagree on many things (immigration, Europe, electoral reform), but they tend to agree on the need for fiscal restraint. The efforts to control debt will be strengthened by having a broad coalition behind them. The political pain will be shared.


Cameron has the opportunity to look less like a party leader and more like a national leader. Today's coalition will compel the Tories to formulate policies in new ways, and lodge them closer to the center of the electorate.


It helps that the Conservative government has already moved to a more communitarian "Big Society" governing philosophy. No longer purely free market, the Tories emphasize rebuilding social bonds. That means they speak less about slashing government as a matter of principle and more about improving it and decentralizing power. This little platoons approach has left- and right-wing variants and has the potential to break down the old ideologies.


Of course, it all could fail. The parties could reject the implant. In U.S. terms, it's like a marriage between Marco Rubio (The Tory base) and the accumulated wisdom of the Ivy League (the Liberal Democrats). But Cameron and Clegg are nothing if not flexible. The entire political class understands what needs to be done. The financial markets will insist on some serious budgetary restraint.


Without any planning but by sheer good luck, the British may have stumbled into an arrangement that will be a model for all the other countries in the same desperate straits.








After United Airlines and Continental Airlines announced last week that they wanted to merge, grumbles could be heard rising from beleaguered fliers and key lawmakers. After all, air travel has become a grim exercise of endurance. And, in normal industries, less competition results in even lower customer satisfaction.


But after decades of misery for airline passengers, employees and shareholders alike, the proposed United-Continental merger offers an opportunity to rethink long-held assumptions about what the industry needs.


Is the public really best served by trying to save as many so-called legacy carriers as possible? If this were true, surely their competition would have yielded fruit by now.


Instead, legacy carriers (those dating back to the days of regulation) consistently have lower satisfaction ratings, from companies such as J.D. Power and Associates, than the newer discount airlines. The legacy carriers' inability to generate customer contentment, coupled with their nearly routine trips in and out of bankruptcy court, suggest that more isn't necessarily better.


A United-Continental union would create the world's largest airline, surpassing Delta-Northwest, which combined two other legacy carriers in February.


In recent years, United has consistently ranked at or near the bottom of customer satisfaction surveys as it has gone through multiple incarnations, ranging from a failed effort at employee ownership to a three-year stint in bankruptcy reorganization.


Continental, on the other hand, has been one of the few relative successes among the legacy carriers. Since former mechanic Gordon Bethune took over the deeply troubled airline in 1994, it has consistently ranked higher than other traditional carriers, enjoyed comparatively peaceful labor-management relations, and concentrated on the task of getting people and their luggage to the same place at the same time.


The best outcome for fliers would be if the merger brings United up to Continental's service level, rather than Continental down to United's. Encouragingly, current Continental CEO Jeff Smisek would head the combined company, which would keep United's name but put Continental's colors and logo on the planes' tails.


The airline industry has lacked the kind of stability necessary to make long-term investments and long-term decisions necessary to serve fliers. It operates in an environment where a seat on a plane has become a commodity for which people will generally pay the lowest price to any airline they think will get them to their destination alive. Last year, United lost $651 million and Continental lost $282 million.


Letting the number of legacy carriers shrink to a sustainable level of as few as three healthy ones might be the best way to ensure that fliers can get services they have lacked for so long. To be sure, the Justice Department should review the routes where Continental and United compete, either internationally or at busy domestic airports where takeoff and landing slots are at a premium. Beyond that, however, efforts by the merged carrier to jack up fares would likely be met with stiff competition from discount airlines such as Southwest, JetBlue and AirTran.


In the long run, fliers might be better off with fewer, stronger carriers rather than a bunch of sickly ones. And with the right managers in place, air travel might even become, well, tolerable.








When Delta and Northwest merged recently, I warned that the deal would create great pressure for other large airline mergers. Now that warning is coming true. If allowed to happen, the planned merger of United and Continental Airlines would move the country a major step closer to an airline system dominated by three global megacarriers.


These megacarriers would Balkanize the domestic market as they concentrate efforts on fortress hubs and on the routes they dominate. Less competition would mean fewer flight options, poorer service and higher fares.


The situation will be worsened by the trend toward vesting international service largely in the hands of three global alliances. Protected by immunity from antitrust laws, these alliances have every incentive to refrain from competing on service and fares.


And in the end, given the long history of ultimately unsuccessful airline mergers, no one knows whether this merger will succeed in bringing stability to a challenged industry.


This is the very antithesis of the structure I voted for when Congress deregulated the industry in 1978. Deregulation promised robust competition and innovation — not market domination by a few powerful carriers.


Beyond encouraging future mergers, the proposed United-Continental merger itself presents problems. The two carriers' networks overlap on 13 routes between some of America's largest markets. The two carriers also compete in a number of international markets.


The Justice Department has already expressed its concerns over a reduction in competition between United and Continental. Last year, the two airlines applied for antitrust immunity to collaborate on international service. The department said granting immunity would reduce competition and raise fares in markets where United and Continental claim big shares. As a result, the Transportation Department removed several foreign markets from the immunity.


If antitrust immunity in these markets is unacceptable, how can we now accept a merger that would have the same effect of reducing competition on important domestic and international routes?


The Justice Department should demonstrate that same degree of caution now and put an end to this merger madness.


Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., is chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.








Swedish artist Lars Vilks— known for his controversial cartoon depicting the prophet Mohammed as a dog — was assaulted Tuesday as furious protesters interrupted his guest lecture about the limits of free speech at Uppsala University in Stockholm. When he showed a film about Islam and homosexuality, a young man leaped from his front-row seat and tried to attack Vilks, who escaped without injuries, although his glasses were broken after running into a police officer during the chaos.


This unleashed the fury of 15 to 20 young men and women — the Associated Press said they were all younger than 20 — either fighting with the police officers or shouting in Arabic "Allahu alakbar," or "God is great." Swedish police officers swiftly ushered Vilks from the room unharmed while subduing the crowd. But this incident, which was captured on video, is disturbing — to say the least. It exposes a dangerous movement of Muslim youth turning toward violence and censorship as a means of defending their faith. Not understanding their own religion, they are being deceived by so-called scholars or radical imams and jihadists into believing that such attacks are justified.


If this week's attack was an aberration, I — as a Muslim — would still be troubled, though I also know that one radical doesn't speak for my religion. But we've seen this scene, or acts much worse, too often in recent years. Since Vilks published his controversial cartoon in 2007, he has received numerous death threats and was the target of an alleged assassination plot in March involving Colleen LaRose, the Texas woman now known as "Jihad Jane." South Park's recent episode showing Mohammed as a costumed bear caused outrage among Muslims, culminating in death threats against the show's producers. Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered in 2004 by a Muslim man with ties to a terrorist organization, in response to his film critical to the treatment of Muslim women. He was left with a knife in his chest.


Mohammed's words


The perpetrators have one goal: censor anything — or silence anyone — critical of Islam or the prophet Mohammed. Can you imagine if followers of every faith did this? What if Christians threatened violence to anyone who said Jesus did not die for their sins? What if Jews attacked anyone claiming the Holocaust was fiction? In our 24/7 world, in which information can traverse the globe with the click of a mouse, this type of thin-skinned reaction is especially dangerous. Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper, which published a dozen Mohammed cartoons in 2005, ignited a global tinderbox of jihadists outraged by the "blasphemy."


What makes these reactions doubly troubling for me is that Islam does not support people who violently censor free speech. The Quran guarantees freedom of speech on four occasions, teaching Muslims to respond to people who criticize their faith by asking for proof of their claim. The Quran forbids compulsion in thought. Should a person go as far as to insult a Muslim, the Quran forbids retaliation in any form, explaining that a Muslim's only option is to simply "turn away from them" or "sit not with them." No violence, anger or aggression.


This is supported by the actions of the prophet Mohammed himself. When he was once returning from an expedition, a man insulted him. The remarks upset Muslims, and one believer even suggested that the culprit should be killed. The prophet Mohammed, however, did not permit anyone to do so and, instead, instructed to leave the man alone.


True Muslims follow the guidance of the Quran in response to insults. These violent Muslims invite insult and derision to Islam because they blame Islam for their calls to violence and censorship. I will respond the way the Quran instructs me to: by asking for proof of their claim. Furnish the proof, so that educated Muslims can expose the fraudulent use of our faith.


Crossing the globe


Censorship enforced by individuals is bad enough, but when the state gets involved, freedom of thought is threatened on an entirely new scale. That's what has happened in several majority-Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. All three have implemented anti-blasphemy laws to prevent any criticism of religion.


Saudi Arabia treats blasphemy as apostasy, which it claims is punishable by death. Afghanistan uses its blasphemy law to persecute religious minorities, dissenters, academics and journalists. The death penalty is the answer. In Pakistan, too, anyone even indirectly insinuating an insult to the prophet Mohammed can be sentenced to death or life imprisonment. When countries endorse such punishments for blasphemy, it follows that millions upon millions of people are exposed to such tortured thinking. And the intolerance spreads. But censorship is not an issue with Islam. This is an abuse of religion by political figures in intolerant countries, which then spreads and infects the minds of Muslim youth in other nations, including those in the West. Call it the globalization of intolerance. From my Islamic lens, this is unacceptable, and Muslims must reform themselves and come back to the true teachings of Islam.


The real lesson in all this: You can actually learn something from those you try to censor.


Harris Zafar is the national director of community service for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Youth Association and a freelance writer in Portland, Ore. He can be contacted at








WASHINGTON — Even in this town where politicians often change their stripes depending on which way the wind blows, this week's visit by Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai emphasized unusual phoniness.


A month ago, after Karzai said he was so fed up with foreign meddling that it might drive him to join the Taliban, Obama administration officials were fed up with him. Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs even said the White House was reconsidering his invitation to visit.


But this week, they gave him everything except the Rose Garden. President Obama spent much of Wednesday with him. Vice President Biden hosted him at a fancy dinner. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton threw a big reception for him and took him for a walk in the garden.


Why this change from sticks and stones to wine and roses? Because officials apparently now think we should stick with a foolish plan rather than come to our senses.


Common sense says President Bush was absolutely right in invading Afghanistan after 9/11 to try to catch the perpetrators — the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. But Bush was wrong not to try to work a way with Pakistan to chase them when they fled there, where they continue to be a threat.


Most remaining Taliban members in Afghanistan now have a primary mission of growing poppies for money-making opium.


Here is the price tag so far for our continuing Afghan misadventure:


•976 U.S. military deaths.


•$345 billion.


Those billions shockingly total about the same as the combined 2010 federal budget for these seven major departments: Health and Human Services; Transportation; Veterans Affairs; State; Education; NASA; Labor.


Instead of recognizing a costly mistake and getting out, Obama is doubling down. It's his war now. I voted for Obama for president. But.


Feedback: Other views on Afghanistan


"Over the past eight years, the leadership of both countries has permitted our cooperation to slip. We can't let this happen again; the stakes are far too high, for Afghans and Americans alike."


— Sen. John Kerry, chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee


"Even those who support the war must recognize the futility of trying to force the creation of a democracy. It is time to stop wasting lives. It is time to get out."


— Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio

"Clear threats to the homeland emanate from this region. It will not be easy, but it is absolutely essential that we keep the pressure on extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and deny them a safe-haven. That is the work we are doing with Afghanistan, Pakistan and our other partners."


— Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan








When Texas Gov. Rick Perry recently asked me to consider joining the 11-member board of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, my first inclination was to say no. At the moment, like many Americans, I am unemployed. As a single mother trying to put her son through college, I felt I needed to continue to look for a full-time job, and the board position is non-paying.


To be honest, I also felt unqualified. I thought I'd be lost among the doctors, oncologists and scientists who would help the board decide how to dispense $3 billion in grants to research groups. But a second conversation with the governor — whom I first got to know when I was writing my book on a hate crime in Jasper, Texas — changed my mind for both personal and statistical reasons.


My brother's wife lost her battle to breast cancer, and a sister survived colon cancer. Now that I've agreed to serve on the board, I am already learning more each day about the cancer deaths in my state and nationwide, about the break down in race and age, as well as which cancers are prevalent. I am also looking into whether any other states have passed effective laws to address cancer research and prevention. We want Texas to be a model; we also welcome organizations outside the state to apply for some grant money.


I've come to realize that volunteering my service — rather than sitting by the phone each day waiting for that elusive job offer — has already been rewarding. This non-paying job does have good benefits — it gives me passion and purpose, by helping others.


My experience has also made me realize that many other Americans in my situation can volunteer for good causes. Experienced adults can bring a wealth of life experiences and professional skills to any organization that needs folks to lend a hand to help feed, clothe, teach and nurture other Americans in need. Between September 2008 and September 2009, more than 63 million people volunteered, at least once. Ages of those most likely to serve are 35-54, and volunteer rates have inched up slightly.


Now it's my turn. I might not have a paying job, but I feel pretty good about helping make decisions on how to dispense $3 billion to help my fellow man. Maybe more people, while we wait for decent full-time paying jobs, can find a match for their talents and consider working for free, too.


Joyce King is a freelance writer in Dallas.







The New York Times, in an editorial: "President Obama may know that his new nominee ... Elena Kagan, shares his thinking ... but the public knows nothing of the kind. ... Kagan has spent decades carefully husbanding her thoughts and shielding her philosophy from view. ... (Kagan) 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."


John Paul Rollert, professor, in The Christian Science Monitor: "As applied to the Supreme Court, the practice of empathy shapes how a justice resolves disputes involving affirmative action, abortion, gun rights, campaign finance reform and other 'truly difficult' cases. ... (Kagan) has said that the most important thing (Thurgood Marshall) taught her ... was the recognition that 'behind law there are stories — stories of people's lives as shaped by law, stories of people's lives as might be changed by law.' The willingness to listen to the stories of people's lives, the wisdom to see how law might change them, and the courage to act on that knowledge are all what make empathy such ... a valuable addition to the court. ... Let us hope a Justice Kagan embodies it."


Michael Barone, columnist, on RealClearPolitics: "The one issue on which Kagan has voiced strong opinions is the ban on open gays in the military. ... In barring military recruiters from Harvard Law School, she condemned 'the military's discriminatory recruitment policy.' ... But it is not the military's policy. It's the law of the land. ... Obama said he wanted a justice who understood 'the real world.' But it seems that he nominated someone who, on one important occasion, utterly misjudged the real world beyond the campus. Of course, one might say the same of Obama himself. ... We are seeing what government by the faculty lounge looks like."


Glenn Greenwald, blogger, on Salon: "Nothing is a better fit for this White House than a blank slate, institution-loyal, seemingly principle-free careerist who spent the last 15 months as the Obama administration's lawyer vigorously defending every one of his assertions of extremely broad executive authority. ... The right appoints people like John Roberts and Sam Alito, with long and clear records of what they believe. ... Beltway Democrats do the opposite: the last thing they want is to defend what progressives have always claimed is their worldview, either because they fear the debate or because they don't really believe those things, so the path that enables them to avoid confrontation of ideas is always the most attractive, even if it risks moving the court to the right."


The Baltimore Sun, in an editorial: "The president noted that the first case Kagan took up as solicitor general was the government's side in Citizens United ... the campaign-finance lawsuit. ... 'I think it speaks to her commitment to defending our fundamental rights,' Obama said. ... This was a ... continuation of the back-and-forth that began with Obama's criticism of the court's decision in Citizens United during his State of the Union speech in January and which continued with Chief Justice Roberts' criticism of those remarks in a speech months later. ... Rather than escalating the war of words, Obama is sending a nominee most famous for fostering productive relationships with those of differing points of view. ... Obama hasn't given up on the idea that a new kind of politics can be more effective than the old ways of confrontation."








Every year on May 9, the European Union celebrates Europe Day. Usually no one notices. It is a holiday marked by European Commission news releases and a few toasts raised in Brussels, but altogether ignored everywhere else. The holiday commemorates the anniversary of the day in 1950 when French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman issued his Schuman Declaration calling for the formation of a supranational community bringing together Germany, France and other European countries. That declaration marked the beginning of the process of European integration that led eventually to the EU we know today.


This past Sunday, marked the 60th anniversary of Europe Day. And this time, Europe Day was indeed Europe's day. EU finance ministers and European Central Bank officials, with the backing of the International Monetary Fund, agreed to a nearly trillion dollar rescue package to address the debt crisis threatening Greece, Portugal, Spain and other eurozone countries. The next day the world's markets soared, the euro gained and yields on Greek bonds plummeted as investors were reassured that European leaders would act decisively to defend struggling eurozone economies.


In the days since, worries about the long-term debt problems of several EU member states have resurfaced. After all, offering loan guarantees to struggling economies might stave off speculative attacks in the short term, but it does nothing to address their long-term fiscal challenges. While the bailout package is no panacea, it is a remarkable act of solidarity that flies in the face of the chorus of doomsayers who had predicted that the EU was too divided to mount a coordinated response.


Europe's beat goes on


Over the past several weeks, the Greek crisis had observers predicting a host of calamities — Greece defaulting on its debt, contagion spreading to Portugal, Spain and beyond, a breakup of the Eurozone and even the collapse of the European Union itself. Predictions of the EU's imminent demise are of course nothing new. The Economist even ran a cartoon of a gravestone declaring the European community "moribund" as early as 1982. And yet, while commentators have been eager to write obituaries, the European Union has stubbornly refused to turn up for its funeral. Instead, it has survived and even thrived — enhancing its powers and expanding its membership from six to 27 countries encompassing 500 million people.


For all its faults, the EU is far stronger and more durable than most news media accounts suggest. European institutions are more effective than critics give them credit for. After the 2004 enlargement of the Union into Eastern Europe, many predicted gridlock in Brussels, yet the legislative machinery continued to function. The single market and the euro deliver tangible economic benefits, and the EU serves as an anchor of political stability across the continent. Though the EU inspires little love amongst European citizens, most clearly see membership in the Union as a good thing. Likewise, despite the challenges posed by European Union and eurozone membership, member governments prefer to be in than out.


Work to be done


To be sure, the Greek crisis has laid bare a flaw at the heart of Europe's monetary union — the mechanisms put in place originally to curb "excessive deficits" by eurozone members were never credible, and the systems for monitoring national budgets were inadequate. Moving forward, these will need to be strengthened. And they surely will be, as Germany, France and others will demand as much in exchange for their loan guarantees.


As with past crises that supposedly threatened its very existence, the EU will again defy the skeptics and muddle through. The ultimate impact of the Greek crisis will be to strengthen the EU — giving European institutions greater powers of oversight over national budgets and repairing flaws in the economic governance of the eurozone that were present from the start.


R. Daniel Kelemen is associate professor of political science and director of the Center for European Studies at Rutgers University.










The United States Patent and Trademark Office is a federal agency that is vaguely familiar to most Americans, but one that generally stirs little interest except in those who directly interact with its sometimes arcane operations. A broader understanding of its work and the obstacles it currently faces in accomplishing its assigned tasks would be instructive.


The office, to put it succinctly, has problems. Currently, according to most objective observers, it is unable to fulfill its basic task -- examining patent applications. That is, to be sure, esoteric and often complicated work, but that's not the reason the agency currently finds itself in a state of considerable disarray.


The extent of the problems that beset the agency were revealed last year by a hard-hitting investigative series undertaken by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The paper reported last summer that the office had a backlog of 1.2 million patents and that 700,00 of those had not received an initial examination. The problem is so extensive that it now takes an average of almost three years for the office to provide a ruling on patentable ideas.


In an environment where innovative ideas are the currency that fuels progress, such delays are not only unconscionable but damaging. Industry and individuals that require patent protection in order to bring new products to market, to create jobs and to help rebuild the economy can't do so in the current circumstances. The office requires significant reform.


There is a blueprint for such change, but it needs help to become reality. Some assistance is at hand. David Kappos, director of the office for less than a year, has identified problems -- an archaic computer system and flawed personnel policies, for example -- and attempted to remedy them. He's done about as much as he can do to promote efficiency and improve the standard of service without expanded funding. Help might be on the way.


There is a patent reform bill moving through Congress. That will provide assistance. So will President Barack Obama's proposal to increase the office's budget by nearly 25 percent. Both the bill and the budget request should be approved.


Whether those steps will be taken is uncertain. Congress, in fact, has a poor record of providing the office with what it needs. Indeed, the Journal Sentinel report showed that Congress regularly diverted money from the Patent Office to other purposes from 1992 through 2004. Similar activity apparently continues.


Late last year, legislators imposed a spending ceiling on the Patent Office. That cost the agency, those familiar with the situation say, about $100 million. No wonder the office is unable to properly do its work.


The situation is increasingly untenable. Efficient operation of the Patent Office fuels the technological innovation that promotes the nation's economic progress. Congress can improve operations at the office by implementing relatively uncomplicated changes in policy and with a wise infusion of money. It should do so promptly.







Preserving the nation's historic sites, its greenspaces and its scenic vistas has never been an easy task. The pressures of a growing and mobile population and the country's continuing shift to a suburban way of life and the infrastructure that supports it make it difficult to engage in the important but sometimes thankless task of preservation. Some groups, however, persevere in the necessary work.


One such group is the Civil War Preservation Trust. Its mission is to preserve and protect that conflict's numerous battlefields. The group has built a remarkable and positive reputation over the years and has become widely known to the public both for its overall work and for its yearly list of what it calls the nation's 10 most endangered Civil War battlefields. The 2010 list was released Thursday. As always, the list attracted a lot of attention here. It should. The region is rich in the history of that war.


The names of the battlefields on the Top 10 this year should be familiar to all Americans. Gettysburg, the Pennsylvania site of the war's largest and bloodiest battle, is the most threatened site on this year's list. A group wants to build a casino less than a mile from the park. A similar proposal was beaten back before, but the new plan and the promise it holds for additional development is no less objectionable. It should be rejected.


Approval of a huge commercial center that would include a Walmart at the gateway to the historic Wilderness battlefield in Virginia puts that site in the second spot on the endangered list. A lawsuit to halt the project is pending, but the pressure for development in the increasingly populated area is likely to pose problems for years to come.


Additional places on the list include other sites in Virginia, as well as battlefields in Arizona, West Virginia, the District of Columbia, , Georgia, Kentucky, and Maryland. Those places, of course, are not the only sites rich in the history of the period that face pressure from encroaching residential or commercial development.


The CWPT also provides an additional list of 15 sites of what it aptly calls "at risk sites." This year, the "at risk" group includes sites close to home. Both the Chickamauga Battlefield and Knoxville are included.


The effort to preserve Civil War battlefields -- as well as concomitant efforts by other worthy groups to protect other portions of the nation's patrimony -- is an on-going one. It pits those with a sense of history and an understanding of the need to preserve the past for future generations against those who often put profit above all.


Preservation groups like the CWPT have made significant headway in their efforts, but they are not always successful. The annual list released of endangered Civil War sites is a powerful reminder of just how much work remains to be done.







Do you remember when Congress passed the Medicare prescription drug benefit back in 2004? Taxpayers were told the 10-year cost of the benefit would be "only" $400 billion. But soon after the benefit passed, its estimated price tag rose to more than $700 billion.


In fact, there is a long history of Washington's predictions of the cost of entitlements being far lower than what those entitlements actually wind up costing.


Now, the same thing is happening with ObamaCare socialized medicine, which Congress passed with only Democrat votes a couple of months ago.


Shortly before the vote, the Congressional Budget Office estimated ObamaCare would cost "only" $940 billion. Now that ObamaCare is the law of the land, the CBO has revised its estimate upward. It says ObamaCare may wind up costing $115 billion more than first predicted -- well over the $1 trillion mark -- if all the spending it authorizes is approved.


The CBO said that money would cover "administrative costs," as well as community health centers and medical care for American Indians. The CBO resisted including those expenses in earlier estimates despite objections by Republicans that the American people were not getting the full picture of how much ObamaCare will cost.


Of course, the big problem is that our nation cannot afford even the $940 billion original estimate, much less an additional $115 billion surcharge. And even the best minds at the CBO cannot really know what all the ultimate costs will be in a health reform law that runs thousands of pages and that most lawmakers probably never even read.


With a $12.9 trillion national debt, the United States is drowning in red-ink spending. But we are swimming even farther from the shore of fiscal responsibility.







Massachusetts is a rich state, and it has America's highest number of primary-care doctors per capita.


So if any state could handle lots of new patients, it should surely be Massachusetts.


But it hasn't worked out that way.


In 2006, before ObamaCare socialized medicine was ever proposed, Massachusetts started its own medical reform -- on which ObamaCare would later be modeled. The state pumped money into health care so it could reduce the percentage of its residents who lacked coverage.


Now, if that were all there was to it, you might think Massachusetts' program was a "success." After all, lots of residents who had not had easy medical care before suddenly had it. But the goal was to ensure everyone could get timely, efficient health care at a reasonable cost. And by that measure, Massachusetts' model has failed catastrophically.


Costs skyrocketed -- and so did waiting times to see a doctor. For example, it now takes an average of 63 days -- more than two months! -- for a new patient in Boston to get an appointment with a primary-care physician. That is the longest wait in any of 15 cities nationwide where wait times were studied. By contrast, it takes only a week for a new patient to see a primary-care doctor in Miami. Wait times to see specialists in Boston are also far higher than in other cities, according to the research company that surveyed doctors' offices in the 15 cities.


Worse still, 56 percent of internists and 40 percent of primary-care physicians in Massachusetts are no longer accepting new patients at all, according to the Massachusetts Medical Society.


So where do you think the sick in Boston wind up when they are told they have to wait more than two months for a doctor's appointment -- if they even can get one? Some surely end up in hospital emergency rooms.


And remember: Massachusetts has the highest percentage of doctors in America. If it was woefully incapable of handling the influx of newly covered patients under its "miniature" version of ObamaCare, what is going to happen to patients in states that have far more patients for every available doctor? Won't many people wind up getting extremely costly, inefficient care in emergency rooms -- the very thing that health "reform" was supposed to prevent?


The "Massachusetts model" has given us a terrible warning about socialized medicine. It is sad that our nation as a whole will have to suffer through some of the same consequences because our Democrat-controlled Congress recently narrowly passed ObamaCare.







With a federal judge recently having ruled that a federal declaration of the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional, it was anybody's guess how another court might rule on an atheist's attempt to have the word "God" removed from the presidential oath of office.


Fortunately, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia turned down atheist Michael Newdow's demand that the reference to God be erased from the oath.


Dr. Newdow, a physician, has also failed in his legal crusade against the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency.


The various federal courts that have heard these cases have given both constitutional and technical reasons for ruling against Dr. Newdow. But whatever their reasoning in an individual case, the Constitution was clearly not written to forbid public expressions of faith by ordinary citizens or elected officials. The First Amendment rightly forbids the establishment of a state religion, but it does not bar free, non-coercive expressions of faith and acknowledgments of the religious heritage that shaped our country.


It is a relief that the court recognized that principle in upholding the use of the word "God" in the presidential oath of office.






Many Americans feel sorry for people who live with less freedom and few economic opportunities throughout the world. But we can't solve their problems by letting millions of people violate our laws to come here.


How many millions of illegals will we accept?


Nobody really knows how many illegals we have already. Are there 12 million, as some estimate, or 20 million, as others believe?


We in Tennessee are far from international borders. But consider Arizona, for example. It has been invaded by literally hundreds of thousands of illegals. But amazingly, some in the federal government not only are not for protecting our country but are opposing Arizona's efforts to reduce the illegal flow.


We would not tolerate a foreign military invasion of our United States. Why do we tolerate a foreign nonmilitary invasion without facing facts involving crime, economics and lack of respect for our laws?








We in generally peaceful and generally safe America cannot even imagine the horrors in Iraq, where there are repeated street bombings by terrorists -- killing scores of innocent people who had simply been going about their daily business.


Most of the victims are not soldiers. For example, in one day this week, a man strapped an explosive to his body and blew himself up in a crowd. More than 100 people died in that and other bombings that day!


That's the kind of horror our American troops and Iraqis face daily in Iraq, with no end in sight.








At the heart of the way we conceive our journalistic mission at the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review is a keen attention to the tones of gray in a news environment where stark black and white contrasts are the norm.


Turks vs. Kurds. Islam vs. secularism. Urban vs. rural. East vs. west. And of course, the military vs. the civil sector. All journalists face this dilemma. The United Kingdom is just now learning to cope with the end of a "two-party system" in place for nearly 70 years. Americans struggle to create a nomenclature that can effectively explore persistent problems of racism that are difficult to square with the ascendancy of the country's first black president.


Life is usually far more complex than the linear contest of two football teams where the stakes, the odds and the winners and losers are clearly outlined. What utility, for example, do the terms "right" and "left" have in today's political journalism? Not much, despite the endurance of these adjectives for reporters in a hurry.


This is not to say that narratives constructed along the opposites of good and evil are without merit. A 16-year-old girl dying of the burns inflicted by a spurned suitor dousing her with gasoline, as we reported yesterday, is a case in point. Any day's news would offer countless examples.


But working in a relentless news environment, with Ergenekon indictments, murder investigations, labor protests, economic turmoil, gloves-off political combat and so much more defining our workday, capturing nuance is a challenge. Which is why we gave front page play to the story yesterday, "Lone response to 'Peace Mothers' from army brass." Views were divided as to whether this deserved the front page and we took the unusual step of a vote. The story won.


For the story was on a group of 150 women who began a sit-down strike on Sunday, Mother's Day. All mothers of fighters in the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, waging a hit-and-run war of terror tactics with the military, they are seeking an end to military operations. They sought audiences with President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Parliament Speaker Ali Şahin and the General Staff. One mother we quoted, Tayibet Tekin, has two sons in prison, two sons fighting in the PKK and one son serving in the army.


Who responded to the anguished mothers? Only the military. The response, and the promise of a more detailed response within two weeks, prompted the mothers to end their strike.


The mothers demanded to know how politicians refusing to meet with them intend to solve the Kurdish conflict. That the only sign of empathy with the mothers' palpable pain has come from the General Staff is worth noting.


We do not exaggerate the significance of this nor do we read great meaning into it. But we believe it a bit of gray in an ongoing story cast most often in stark black and white







A recent spate of contacts between Turkish leaders and heads of state of Middle Eastern countries has revived the "Turkey is changing direction and turning to the Islamic world" argument once again. The Wall Street Journal carried a news analysis piece earlier this week with the title "What is happening to Turkey?"


Its author, Bret Stephens, even featured historian Bernard Lewis suggesting that "in a decade the secular republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk might more closely resemble the Islamic Republic of Iran—even as Iran transformed itself into a secular republic."


Sadly, Prof. Lewis, who has some excellent books on Turkish history, appears to have seriously lost touch with a reality that he should be much more familiar with, given his contacts with this country. The sociological dynamics in Turkey today require a better understanding of what is going on.


On the other hand, whatever may be read into the increased contacts between Turkey and Islamic countries in its region considered "unsavory" by Western countries, the picture is much larger on that side of the fence also. The high profile visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Turkey and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's high profile visit to Athens today provide two concrete examples.


If we take the first of these, one can easily say, if U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Turkey was the highlight of 2009, Medvedev's visit to Turkey is the highlight of 2010. In fact, one can even go further and suggest that the latter visit has produced much more in terms of concrete results than the former.


There is no doubt, for example, that Washington is looking on with a certain chagrin as Turkey awards a $20 billion nuclear power plant contract to Russia and signs documents that propose a $100 billion volume of trade as well as billions of dollars worth of investments, all suggesting a rapidly growing strategic partnership.


There must be further annoyance as Ankara and Moscow reveal positions that are not too dissimilar on issues such as Iran and Hamas or relations with Syria, where President Medvedev actually was visiting just prior to coming to Ankara.


One can also assume that many in Europe are also following these developments, and there are suggestions now that EU officials are annoyed that visa restrictions are being lifted, not just with Russia – as was decided during the Medvedev visit – but also with other regional countries. These officials clearly have immigration concerns on their minds, but that is of no consequence to Turks, who do not enjoy easy access to Europe, even if they are officials, businessmen or well known actors.


Looking at these momentous developments in Turkish-Russian relations, then, one wonders what should be attracting more notice – and perhaps causing more concern: Turkey's developing ties with Middle Eastern countries or with Russia? Regarding the long-term effects with regional as well as global consequences, there can be no doubt that developing ties with Russia will have great significance for the Caucasus, the Middle East and the Balkans, all regions Europe is also interested in.


While many in the West may be locked into their "Islamic paranoia" and reflect this, as Prof. Lewis is quoted as having done, it is clear policy planners in Europe will have to look at the "Turkish question" from a broader perspective now in light of these developments and of what is happening in Europe.


The second momentous event mentioned above involves Prime Minister Erdoğan's visit to Athens, which starts Friday. Mr. Erdoğan's being accompanied by a host of ministers and officials responsible for economic and commercial affairs indicates that this will not be just a "pro forma visit for the sake of nice publicity shots."


Turkey is not only being touched adversely by the Greek economic crisis, but also finds potential political and economic benefits that may accrue for both countries from this. No doubt Greek planners are now looking to the future more realistically and considering the great advantages of further developing ties with Turkey, which has an economy that is increasingly important for the region.


The significant thing here is that these developing ties with Greece do not fit into the "Turkey is slipping gradually to the Islamic world" format either – just like the ties Ankara is developing with EU member Bulgaria, or trying to develop with Armenia against all odds. What is happening, though, and perhaps what is really bothering some people in Washington and Europe, is that Turkey is increasingly becoming a free agent in its decisions.


The critical mass it has secured economically and politically is freeing its hands from previous encumbrances, many of which were the product of dependencies. Turkey is still a long way away from being able to say "look out world, here I come" of course, and there is no point in being naive about this. But the direction it is moving in is one that no one can afford to overlook. It is also one that requires a realistic understanding of what is really happening to Turkey?









"First we trust in Allah, then in Tayyip!" The young man proudly told the TV interviewer while a dozen others heartily applauded him. That was a scene from a program featuring common people's political views broadcast on one of the many Islamist TV stations.


Then the chorus of commons took turns praising Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and cursing rival politicians. A lady boasting her Islamic headscarf got her turn after pushing and shoving the small, mostly male crowd: "If Deniz Baykal becomes the prime minister – may Allah forbid – he will force every woman to go out naked!" That was several days before the main opposition leader, Mr. Baykal, had to resign after an embarrassing sex scandal.


In a similar mindset a lady in a miniskirt could tell any interviewing TV crew that Mr. Erdoğan has a secret agenda to force every woman to wear the chador. But why are the Turks at each other's throat in what the Wall Street Journal recently called "a bloodless civil war?"


In a separate article ("What Is Happening to Turkey?" WSJ, May 11) the Journal asked Bernard Lewis where he thought Turkey might be going. Mr. Lewis answered that in a decade the secular republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk might more closely resemble the Islamic Republic of Iran – even as Iran transformed itself into a secular republic.


I do not agree with Mr. Lewis about his Iranian prophesy. A better resemblance could have been something that is halfway between what is today Turkey and Egypt. But the Journal's "bloodless civil war" analogy is more than accurate. So, why are the Turks at war with each other?


This is a war of religion. Not between two religions. Not between the faithful and the atheists. It is largely a war between people of the same faith but with different grades of observance.


Last week, a suspect in the Erzincan leg of the infamous Ergenekon case, a young gendarmerie intelligence officer, testified before the court which was trying him on charges of toppling the elected government by use of violence. The lieutenant's defense at the court was unusual but probably realistic: "… Ninety percent of my family are pious people… I even have a sister, a nurse, who wears the Islamic turban."


It wasn't a coincidence that a suspect chose to defend himself at court by telling the judges how pious his family is, or that he has a sister who wears the headscarf. On an individual level, we can call this pragmatism. On a broader analysis the lieutenant's defense strategy could be the answer to the Journal's headline.


Anyone recall what Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, then Parliament speaker, said in the run-up to the presidential election in 2007? Allow me to remind you: "They [secularists] don't want a Muslim president."


But who is a "Muslim" president? Were, for instance, Presidents Turgut Özal, Süleyman Demirel and Ahmet Necdet Sezer non-Muslim? Is Turkey not "99 percent Muslim" as the ruling Islamist elite often boasts? Are Turkey's generals Jewish? Are the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, deputies Catholic? Are the politicians other than the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, members atheists? When Mr. Arınç proudly says that Turkey is 99 percent Muslim, but insist on the election of a "Muslim" president he must be implying something else.


And that something else is at the heart of Turkey's bloodless civil war. When Mr. Arınç mentioned a "Muslim president" he actually meant a "pious Muslim president."


For Mr. Arınç and his party "pious" means "pious like us," and non-Muslim means "officially Muslim but not sufficiently pious," or "not pious like us." From that perspective, the war is between "us the pious" and "them not so pious." Similarly, for the seculars/secularists the war is between "us secular Muslims" and "them pious Muslims."


Sadly, both camps view each other as "the enemy" although they belong to the same faith. But same-faith wars, in any of the monotheistic religions, have never been too few throughout the history. We have seen wars between religions, wars between different sects of the same religion, and today what we see in Turkey is a war between different understandings of practicing the same religion.


A piercing question remains: How could those who are at a savage war with less or more pious people of their own faith be at peace with other faiths, or with agnostics or atheists?









Even though it was to attend an informal summit of Balkan countries, the decision of George Papandreou to make his first foreign trip to Istanbul days after the October 4, 2009 election victory, which brought his Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement, or PASOK, to government in Athens, was an important diplomatic gesture, demonstrating a strong political will for improved relations with Ankara. By accepting the unofficial Balkan summit invitation from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and making his Oct. 8 trip to Turkey, Papandreou parted from the established Greek tradition of making his first visit as prime minister to the Greek Cypriot-administered Republic of Cyprus.


Both during the election campaign and in the immediate aftermath of his coming to power there was indeed immense optimism that Papandreou would steer relations of Greece with Turkey into a new era with increased prospects of a resolution to the perennial problems between the two countries, as well as the Cyprus quagmire. Yet, within weeks Papandreou, Greece, the European Union and the entire world discovered why the conservative New Democracy Party leader Costas Karamanlis called for early elections midway through his second four-year term in government: a battered economy and inability to hide further scandalous governance of the conservatives, who tried to fool the world with distorted economic indicators as if Greece was doing fine…


Since then, not only Greece but the entire eurozone have been trying to battle the Greek crisis and other euro economies, which are giving signals they might be at the edge of collapse as well. Only last week, thanks to France and Germany, a gigantic emergency fund has been decided that, besides aiming at instilling confidence in the eurozone, was also a strong message to speculators that Europe is determined to fight them through a collective [economic] defense commitment. The move of course was one designed to avoid a European and consequently a global economic meltdown.


But, as the prime minister of a country fighting its own economic survival, Papandreou, excluding delivering some platonic and romantic statements reaffirming his commitment for improved relations with Ankara or a resolution on Cyprus, could not have undertaken any of the much hoped for moves for a rapprochement with Turkey or a push for a quick resolution to the problem of power sharing between Greek and Turkish peoples of the eastern Mediterranean island.


Yet, for most Turks Papandreou remains to be the "most trusted Greek leader" and even the name of Papandreou provides reason to be optimistic for future ties, a phenomenon partly the legacy of the 1990s when Papandreou and Turkey's late foreign minister İsmail Cem sowed the seeds of rapprochement.


Accompanied by a large group of leading Turkish businessmen and ten members of the Turkish cabinet, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will travel today to Greece. From many aspects, the visit will be of great importance.


First of all, with this visit Erdoğan will become the first-ever Turkish premier to officially visit Greece.


Secondly, at the official talks "everything" - from the Aegean problems to the Cyprus issue, the situation of the Western Thrace Turks and the Greek minority of Turkey, Turkish-EU relations and economic cooperation prospects - will be on the negotiating table.


Thirdly, with the participation of ten members of the Turkish cabinet and ten members of the Greek cabinet, Erdoğan and his host Papandreou will convene a "high level strategic cooperation council" or some sort of a joint Turkish-Greek council of ministers meeting, where possibilities of cooperation in many areas will be explored. The two countries have already agreed on the principle of convening the "high level strategic cooperation council" once a year on the basis of rotation. Thus, around this time next year the council – if Papandreou can visit Ankara – will convene in Ankara and review the results of the decisions adopted in this forthcoming first meeting in Athens. Such meetings convening routinely every year will of course help energize and accelerate relations between the two countries.


Participation of some 100 leading Turkish businessmen in the visit of Erdoğan to Greece, on the other hand, is of course a gesture to Papandreou, whose country is passing through one of its worst economic periods.


Last but not least, with the visit, not a leader of any of the EU partners of Greece - but Erdoğan - will become the first foreign leader to travel to Athens in this crisis period.


There are speculations that Erdoğan will be traveling to Athens with a "package deal" that includes many hot topics, such as reopening the Halki seminary, construction of a mosque in Athens, waiving visa requirement for short tourist trips by Turks to the Aegean islands, restrictions on military maneuvers in the Aegean and measures to cut defense spending and a joint reaffirmation of the two leaders to support a negotiated lasting settlement on Cyprus.


Erdoğan's visit, even if it produces no tangible result, will be a great step towards better Turkish-Greek relations.







Twenty years ago, very few people knew what an email was, and even fewer had actually sent one. Instead, we were passing memos around the office, sending faxes, and calling in the bicycle messengers. A lot has changed since then. The idea of distributing a printed memo around the office seems quaint. People get puzzled if you ask them to send a fax. You can spend an entire day in New York City without seeing one bicycle messenger. Email seems to have taken over the world.


Actually though, many baby boomers and Gen X'ers don't realize it, but an entire generation now considers email old-fashioned, too. Ask Gen Y'ers to send an email, and they'll look at you with the same puzzled expression you get when you ask someone to send a fax. For them, social media website messaging has taken the place of email. In fact, the only time many Gen Y'ers use email is to confirm their registration on a new social media site!


Gen X and the baby boomers still love their email, but they've jumped on the social media bandwagon too. As a result, most online communication today actually takes place via social media sites like Facebook. Of course, email still makes up a large part of online communication, but it's in the minority now, and its slice of the communication pie is getting smaller. In the workplace, email is still king, but that's only because businesses are taking to social media with reluctance and fear, seeing it as a time-waster and a security threat.


Instead of being blinded by the risks of social media, businesses should open their eyes to its potential. Think of a large company with thousands of employees scattered around the world. With the older communication methods, it's practically impossible to know who else is in the organization, unless you're one of the lucky few who have developed a wide network of internal contacts over the years. Otherwise, when you want to get the scoop on someone you need to work with, the best you can do is get it from the friend of a friend of a friend. You have to cooperate on a project with this new person, but you don't even know what he looks like, or what things you might have in common. When you send an email to him, you might not even hear back, because he doesn't know you, either. What if you could bypass all that, and make it easier to establish rapport? You could get so much more done.


Social media networks like Facebook can help companies solve that problem. Companies can either use the public websites, or, if they want to keep their network in-house, secure white-label networking tools for corporate intranets abound. And these days, because social media has become so popular outside of the workplace, most employees immediately understand how to make use of a newly-installed internal network, too. Tools like these can make it so much easier for employees to connect with far-flung colleagues, shortening the time they spend building trust with each other. Instead of asking friends of friends of friends what a colleague is like, or working with people for years without even knowing what they look like, employees can establish rapport in minutes. And since they can see which friends and colleagues they have in common, they can build trust much faster, too.


This works doubly well for new employees who haven't established any relationships yet, not even with the people in their own building.


Unfortunately, though, companies tend to see social media as a time-waster. They see it as something that distracts employees and steals their focus from work. When companies look down on social media as a waste of time, then of course they can't see the benefits it can bring. 


I urge them to change the way they view social media, to start seeing its potential to help their employees get more done by spending less time navigating the company's inefficient social networks. Social media sites like Facebook have grown so large so fast for a good reason: In order to ignite their creativity and bring value to the world around them, people need contact with other people. You don't get synergy when your people are hidden away from each other.







As expected, Sudan's incumbent President Omar al-Bashir won the national presidential poll with approximately 68 percent of the vote, despite facing war crimes charges over Darfur. The April elections were touted to be the country's first multi-party democratic elections since 1986. Back in July 2008, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, accused the Sudanese leader of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Sudan's troubled western region, a conflict that left more than 300,000 people killed and another 2.7 million internally displaced. In March 2009, the court issued an arrest warrant for the Sudanese leader.


The people of Sudan held high hopes for the elections in early April. With opposition parties on the ballot, even featuring the country's first-ever female candidate for presidency, it appeared that 2005's Comprehensive Peace Agreement, CPA, is achieving one of its key provisions, paving the way to the 2011 referendum vote on the independence of South Sudan from Khartoum.


What began in 1983 as a war between the Muslim north and the largely animist and Christian south ended in January 2005, when Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, or SPLM, signed the CPA, effectively ending one of Africa's longest running civil conflicts that killed more than 2 million people and displaced another 4 million. But the election process proved to be rather "unreal" with the country's ruling National Congress Party, NCP, accused of widespread fraud, a feat to which the supposedly impartial National Election Commission promptly turned a blind eye to and subsequently denied.


As the result of a tainted lead-up to the elections, the majority of prominent opposition parties, like the north's Umma party and the south's SPLM party, opted to pull out from the northern contest, rather than participate in the sham that followed, ironically labeled "democratic" elections. With the electoral process severely undermined what does the election mean for Sudan? For starters, the central administration in Khartoum, under the leadership of President Bashir, has once again proved itself to be unwilling to share power with the rest of the country's struggling regions.


Indeed, election officials have purposely isolated voters likely to tilt against Bashir and his NCP through rigging the census and electoral registration process, ultimately denying the vote to the many people living in Sudan's internally displaced camps. Government and election officials have also imposed unreasonable restrictions on opposition party campaigns and rallies, restricted air time dedicated to their competition, and severely censored opposition party campaign platforms.


While people still turned up at the poorly organized ballot boxes and participation was deemed high by the EU observer mission at 60 percent, hopeful voters were confronted with inadequate administration, complete with missing names from voter lists, candidates appearing on multiple ballots, stations operating without ballot papers, not to mention the shameless rigging, with one of the election workers caught stuffing ballot boxes on camera. EU and U.S. independent observers immediately criticized the process' inadequacy and deemed it fell short of meeting international standards, but declined to openly call it a failure.


In all fairness, the election is the first one for Sudan in 24 years. Severely underdeveloped infrastructure, low literacy rates among voters, and an intricate and complicated electoral design made for a complex process to manage, even by Western standards. Additionally, the fact that elections are actually taking place is a step in the right direction.


With the elections lacking legitimacy in the eyes of Western governments and some international election monitors, there is no guarantee that the upcoming referendum on the independence of Sudan's oil-rich South in early 2011 will not be shadowed by the same problems of pervasive fraud and full-scale vote-swindling, both by the NCP and the SPLM, the latter also accused of falling short of meeting international standards in the election process. Bashir's win of the presidency and the NCP's capture of the majority of seats in parliament will undoubtedly fan the flames of unrest, already manifesting itself through the anger expressed by the opposition, calling into question the authenticity of the results.


So what will the future hold? Bashir's victory will legitimize his corrupt regime and undermine the ICC's indictment. Furthermore, the unlikely prevalence of democratic change under the continued leadership of the NCP is sure to leave the neglected and marginalized masses of Sudan's peripheral population no other choice than to resort to arms in order to make their voices heard. The SPLM's sweep of the south is also worrisome, with the party being accused of extensive voter intimidation and election fraud, bringing into question its ability to democratically govern the potentially independent South Sudan.


In other words, even though the elections were conducted relatively free of violence, there is no guarantee that the results will not cause a powerful stir, with clashes already occurring along the country's north-south border and opposition parties calling for non-violent protests. By silencing the voiceless, disenfranchising the neglected, and ignoring the disparate, there will be no more business as usual in Khartoum. The seeds of the country's disintegration have now been sown and thoroughly watered by the ruling elite's denial of basic democratic rights to its own citizenry.


* Hany Besada is a senior researcher at the Center for International Governance Innovation, or CIGI, in Waterloo, Canada. Ibi Brown is a research assistant at CIGI.








ATHENS – The Greek public is not much aware of what they could face, a bit of surprise and a dose of uncertainty. Tight economic measures endorsed by Parliament have not showed any affect because none has hit the ground yet. The public is going through a waiting period.


So, restaurants and bars are still full of people, but all know this cannot be for long. The meaning of this crisis has begun to sink in. A shock and awe is in the atmosphere.


Under these circumstances, today Turkey is making a "show off" in the Greek capital Athens.


Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his entourage consisting of 10 ministers and many businessmen will start a two-day official visit this afternoon.


For some Greeks this is really a "show off" as they are so very vulnerable and Turkish top officials leaving economic crisis period are now making a visit to Greece. They don't like this. Yet some others claim Turkey is lending a hand for friendship and this is a historic moment.


All right, let's leave the public opinion aside and check this out… What the top official in the country, Prime Minister Georges Papandreou, says. How he evaluates this trip.


I've known Papandreou for 25 years. We met many times and this time we talked about almost everything in this frame. I've realized that he is pleased to host Turkish Prime Minister and his crowd. "A nice gesture this is," says Papandreou.


'It's time for balance check'


"I certainly do not see this visit as a routine, ordinary trip. To the contrary, I do believe that it will be a cornerstone, a new turn in our relations. We took the steps of rapprochement with Turkey a decade ago together with İsmail Cem. It was reinforced in the earthquake incident and so here we are. Now, we should strike of the balance. We should deepen environment of the peace. We should eat fruits of the peace. If Turkey assists us in this direction, it gives the biggest support."


'Flights over the Aegean and defense expenditures should be reduced'


The Greek Prime Minister believes the continental shelf issue needs to be resolved, as dogfights over the Aegean Sea have to come to an end. He didn't say it out loud, but wants to end dogfights. Even if there is no certain outcome during this visit, a critical step will be taken, that's how I read his remarks. As far as I see armed forces of the two countries are working together. Besides, reducing defense expenditures in the Aegean is one of the key targets.


Papandreou made a crystal clear statement about the continental shelf issue:


"Work on reducing mutual expenditures continues. We can take the continental shelf issue to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Foreign Ministry has been working on the issue for some time. (P.S. Turkey, on the other hand, wants to take the court not only the continental shelf issue but the air corridor as well. Difference of opinion seems to remain at this moment.) As far as the visa issue is concerned, we are in general bound by the Schengen visa agreement we have with the European Union. However, we can take steps to facilitate visa applications to the [Greek] islands [in the Aegean Sea]. If we manage to set up a mechanism with Turkey to stop illegal immigrant flows, then we can have a break in the Schengen agreement for daily tours or trips."


'Sides must find solution to Cyprus'


According to the Greek Prime Minister, it is time for a solution in Cyprus. However, Athens' general approach is not to be involved in the solution process. It only recommends two sides to find a solution. Ankara, on the other hand, wants Greece to play a more active role and, for instance, asks for a four-party conference among Turkey, Greece, Republic of Cyprus and northern Cyprus.


But Papandreou objects to this:


"In a four-party conference we immediately face the recognition problem. We don't recognize northern Cyprus; you don't recognize southern Cyprus. For this reason, if two sides find solution themselves; this could be more accurate."


I shared my reservation with the Greek prime minister on a specific issue that has disturbed me for some time.


"Europe acted very slowly toward the economic crisis in your country and hurt you considerably. I wonder if it is not better for a country like Turkey to stay away from such a heavy mechanism," I asked him.


Papandreou opposed:


"Europe might act slowly and have misjudgments, but at the end of the day finds the right way. In fact, you see the support they give us. We have always supported Turkey and will continue to do so. Turkey shouldn't stay out of Europe."


'The crisis gave us a chance for correction'


Of course, subject of the day is the financial crisis.


Who is responsible? I wonder if Papandreou blames himself or politicians or markets.


I see that the Greek leader is extremely realistic. He believes that everyone has a share in this problem. From his father the late Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou to the former Prime Minister Karamanlis, all politicians, markets and market speculators as well as Greek people… Everyone is responsible, according to Papandreou.


But will you be save yourself from this endless well?


"We will certainly. We don't have any other way. Actually, I believe that the crisis has created an opportunity for us. If we cannot correct an ill order now, we will never do it in the future. Bribery must be ended. The gray economy and the easy life should come to an end…"


Papandreou is one of the few politicians who know latest prime ministers in Turkey.


I asked him "What could you tell me if I ask of you to analyze Turkish prime ministers?"


He paused for a second and then explained why he prefers Erdoğan:


"Turkish-Greek relations have been full of urban legends and myths for years. Greek people are scared of Turks, and in Turkey, the fear is being encircled by Orthodox. We should set ourselves free from these two myths. I believe we can do this together with Erdoğan because he is a brave leader. Courage in politics is seen rarely yet extremely important."


We have shared the views of the Greek Prime Minister Papandreou here before this historic visit. I will be in Athens to follow the visit and share my impressions tomorrow








Adviser on Finance Dr Hafiz Sheikh offered almost no good news at all in his media talk in Islamabad. In fact the prescription he laid out to guard Pakistan's financial future seemed distinctly grim. He said that to meet an IMF conditionality, VAT would be added from July 1. Worse still, Dr Sheikh cut right through the version of events offered by the minister for water and power several times in the last few months, and made it quite clear that the power tariff would need to be levered up by some six per cent with retrospective effect from April 1. He did not say when exactly this increase would be notified, but whenever this happens people cannot have much to look forward to. The hard-hitting, but honest, comments by the adviser also tore into government's credibility, with more than one statement made recently about no increase in power tariff until the end of loadshedding in the country. This assertion is now redundant given that the power increase will date back to April anyway. With the contents of the press talk, people everywhere will be writhing in metaphorical, if not literal, pain. The means mentioned by the adviser to tackle the budget deficit act to eat away into the pockets of ordinary people – the middle class and the poor who survive for the most part on inadequate salaries. For them, the promise of wage rise for government employees to keep pace with inflation means little. All those without the perks that government employment brings will need to manage on their own. Already, when one looks at grocery bills, restaurant bills, airplane tickets and so much else it is quite alarming to see what a heavy burden is inflicted by indirect taxation. Meanwhile, the richest in the country get away lightly. It had been reported that the IMF had also sought taxation on agricultural wealth. One wonders why this source of income has not been added on to the equation. To bolster the exchequer, better tax collection from industrialists and businessmen could also play a significant role.

More disturbing is the revelation that a further loan may be sought from the IMF to pay off the existing debt. Much has been written about the debt cycle and its crippling impact. There must be a realisation at the highest levels of how big a role continuing political instability plays in this. In the first place it deters investors from bringing money into the country. With this, the power shortfall cuts into economic welfare of people and adds to the problems as jobs are cut and businesses close down. The adviser did not quite say how these problems were to be overcome. Yet it is his ray of hope for a brighter future that people most desperately need to light up a sky that is growing ever darker as the stars flicker out one by one. The despondency we encounter everywhere needs to be ended, and this is possible if we see a set of sensible government policies aimed at ushering in the change people yearn for.






For the first time ever there will be a Muslim woman of Pakistani origin, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, sitting as a full member of the British cabinet as minister without portfolio. Her own portfolio also expanded with her appointment as chairperson of the Conservative Party. People of Pakistani origin now form one per cent of the population of the UK, but their presence on the political landscape outstrips their demographic. That they have achieved high office is not through patronage or corruption or nepotism – they have got where they are today on the basis of hard work and merit and stand as an example and an aspirational model to our own politicians.

Warsi is now the most influential Muslim woman in British politics. The posts she holds are not sinecures; they are real jobs that come with a significant burden of responsibility. She will sit at the heart of government with an office in 10 Downing Street as well as an office in the Conservative Party HQ. She will be in a very literal sense the new face of British Conservatism. She will be responsible for the running of the party and liaison between the parliamentary Conservative Party and the grassroots electorate and voluntary organisers. This is another indicator of how British society has changed – such an appointment would have been unthinkable just twenty years ago. That a Muslim woman now finds herself at the pinnacle of British political life also speaks to one aspect of the great multiculturalism experiment that has clearly worked. Warsi comes from a humble background, and her success is not rooted in family wealth or powerful connections. Her appointment to these key posts is an indicator that society and cultures are not static but ever evolving – and evolve faster when opportunities for change are positively sought. Look and learn, members of our own political elites. Look and learn.













In an uncomfortable counterpoint to the elevation of Baroness Warsi to positions of power and authority in the UK, we hear reports that up to 148 MNAs and MPAs may be holders of fake degrees. This information comes into the public domain courtesy the former secretary of the Election Commission. If this is correct, then a significant portion of our provincial and federal legislature got to their present positions by the time-honoured expedient of lying. If they can lie their way into the legislature why should anybody believe anything they say on the floor of any of our houses of parliament?

Clearly, this is not a matter of much concern for the prime minister who has been campaigning energetically for his good friend and colleague, Jamshaid Dasti. Dasti, it will be remembered, resigned his seat in the National Assembly once his fake degree was exposed. A measure of how disconnected from reality the collective political mind is may be taken in consideration of the prime minister's statement that the PPP has eliminated the politics of self-interest. His enthusiastic endorsement of Dasti would appear to suggest exactly the opposite. Politics never smells sweet anywhere in the Land of the Pure, and this latest reek rising from the body politic suggests that we still have a long way to go before our institutions of legislature have purged themselves of the corruption that has tainted them almost from the outset. A regular bath in the disinfectant of transparency is prescribed.





This is premature exhaustion, a government and political dispensation running out of steam and ideas, and nothing going for it but the power of inertia. Musharraf, a bitter comparison, arrived at this stage in four or five years. By 2005-2006 his rhetoric even to his ardent supporters had begun to sound stale and tired. The present lot of paladins has arrived at the same critical point in less than half that time. This must be counted as its most striking achievement.

The ideology of the post-2008 democratic revival was anti-Musharrafism. But with other problems rising to the fore, that call to arms has lost what traction or resonance it had. The departed tin-pot strongman's name now induces boredom. Any denunciation of him is the last resource of orators with no other arrows in their quiver. Musharraf himself is down to drawing spiritual sustenance from his Facebook following. It can't get any worse than this.

The restoration of the judiciary was the call which inspired a section of the political class and the entirety of the chattering classes after the roll call of the February 2008 elections. An entire year was consumed first in thwarting this move and then giving way before it. The judiciary stands restored but the promised path to national renewal that was supposed to open up looks like another pipedream.

Awakened to the paths of glory, their restored lordships, hailed as national saviours by a nation ever in search of unlikely heroes, now show every sign of succumbing to Pakistan's foremost temptation: the aching desire for over-fulfilment. Sooner or later, authority in Pakistan--military, political and, as we are now seeing, judicial--can't resist the fatal urge to overstep its bounds.

Our fatalism, and we are a fatalistic people, should teach us moderation and patience. But when it comes to the conduct of national affairs, these seem not to be among our cardinal virtues.

On four occasions Pakistan has been laid low by the army's attempts to save the nation. Now it is the leading lights of the third pillar of state falling into the habit of issuing so many papal injunctions. We can only wait with bated breath for the outcome.

The presidency is driven by nothing higher than the instinct for self-preservation. It has done all in its power to stop the wheels of accountability, supposed to have been set in motion by the NRO judgment, from churning. The landslide-created Hunza lake could burst its banks and flood the Indus. There could be cataclysms on the military and political fronts. But the presidency is attuned only to the music of saving its skin.

The Supreme Court is betraying signs of frustration because it thinks the provisions of its judgment in the aforementioned case are being flouted. This is leading to avoidable outbursts of temper. But it remains determined to pursue the scent and have the government write to the Swiss authorities to reopen the Swiss money-laundering cases which touch upon the person of President Asif Zardari. This is a situation tailor-made not just for simmering confrontation but eventual collision.

Their lordships may think they have public opinion behind them. But this is a calculation open to considerable error. The people have had their fill of slogans and calls for national redemption. They are now worried about problems closer home: the cost of living, power blackouts, and the like. Accountability is not the same siren call as it once was.

The nation has played with judicial and political issues--such as the glorious achievement of the 18th Amendment, which seems somewhat less glorious by the day--and now it wants to move on. But those hurling shots at the political horizon seem to be caught in a time warp. They also, like so many of our other players, seem to be fighting yesterday's battles.

Where is all this heading to? I really don't know. If there is one thing pundits, self-proclaimed or properly anointed, should avoid, it is prognostication. But one thing is certain. Where the political class should be concentrating on other things--inflation, energy shortages, balancing the books--its attention will remain distracted by peripheral issues. The distinction between the essential and the non-essential still seems to lie beyond our national grasp. The summer ahead should therefore be interesting. We will continue to tilt at windmills. As to what may lie beyond, only the gods in their inscrutable wisdom should know.


Ruling the largest province---which in more senses than one is more than half of Pakistan---the PML-N too is part of this dispensation. Is it also showing signs of exhaustion? Is it too short of ideas? Especially for a fellow-traveller, this is a dangerous line of questioning. No one likes doubting Thomases from within one's own ranks. So let me say no more.

But one thing is for sure. The slogans are outdated. Their lordships, whose cause we carried on our horns for so long, have been restored. The 18th Amendment is out of the way. This is a time for taking stock and searching for fresh directions.

The necessity of such schemes as the heavily-subsidised sasti roti (cheap bread) scheme would also seem to have passed. And, please, in any coming Ramazan let there be no more subsidised Ramazan package. Governments must learn to start living within their means. It is in this context that Punjab should perhaps be taking a second look at the hugely-expensive Daanish schools. But since this seems to be a pet scheme of the chief minister's, and he being someone not easily given to changing his mind, discretion demands that I hold my peace.

(Although, to be fair to the PML-N, it is more of a laidback party in many respects than many people would be prepared to give it credit for. In the PPP, to which I belonged once upon a time, it was difficult, nay impossible, to carry on with politics and journalism at the same time, unless of course the journalism was fulsome and sang the unstinting praises of the leadership. It's not so in the PML-N where, the Lord be praised, I have not faced the same problem.)

The army too is in danger of getting stuck, not so much in a rut as on a plateau. Swat and South Waziristan have been successes and they haven't come cheap, many valuable lives lost in these operations. But what is the way ahead? The insurgency, or call it what you will, has been contained. The Taliban have suffered reverses. But they haven't been defeated or eliminated.

So even if we talk to the Taliban (something which we will eventually have to do) from a position of relative strength once the Americans begin withdrawing from Afghanistan, as they are likely to start doing sometime next year, that's about it.

There are no more spectacular triumphs looming on the horizon. Between now and next year the army has to hold on to what it has won. Consolidation is often more difficult, certainly more patience-testing, than the initial rush to arms. So the army faces a tough twelve months. The nation's prayers should be with its men and women in uniform.

Although it would vastly help if the army could stick to its primary duty and cut down on some of the commercial instincts which it has developed and honed over the Zia and Musharraf years. Before Swat and Waziristan the army had become too much of a Defence Housing Authority army, its skill in the use of arms in serious danger of being outstripped by its skill in the intricacies of real estate. Just as the political class needs to reinvent itself, and come up with fresh ideas to meet Pakistan's multiple challenges, the Taliban insurgency is a rare, almost heaven-sent opportunity, for the army to reverse its Defence Housing Authority outlook. That is, if the army is at all serious about the nation leaving its past behind and setting out in fresh directions.

Tailpiece: My apologies to poet and man of letters Ataul Haq Qasmi for not making it to his son's wedding. I did get to Lahore and checked in at the Gymkhana where lying in ambush were two friends who, treacherously, had taken care to lay out the evening's entertainment. Before I knew it, it was one in the morning, long past the time for any wedding. Some hope of national renewal.








The 18th Amendment to the Constitution devolves a host of responsibilities onto the five provinces. Much of the debate on the amendment relates to how the Supreme Court will interpret its sweeping changes to our basic legal document. But few have appreciated the repercussions of other far-reaching and hidden changes it brings to the way our country functions. One of these is the huge change it heralds to the role and responsibilities of provincial governments.

A change in role and responsibility is not just a question of management and administration. It is also a rare chance to rewire the federal and provincial Rules of Business, the little-known code that determines the very manner in which our government functions.

The Rules of Business is the manual that instructs our bureaucracy how to deal with government. It determines whether or not a secretary or deputy secretary can interact with the minister. It sets out how legislation is to be prepared before it's submitted to the Assembly. But most importantly, it sets out the jurisdiction and responsibility of each ministry and department. In this way, it's the sort of phone directory you need to consult to figure out whom to go to when you've got a problem only the state apparatus can fix.

The problem with the Rules of Business is that they are too old. The very documents that set out how the administration is to interact with the government and the people were conceived and set down before I was born. I, for one, for this reason alone, refuse to believe that the Rules of Business, as they stand, can meet the environmental, social, economic and political challenges we face today.

Climate change is the most important issue facing Pakistan today. If anyone doesn't think so, they are, respectfully, misinformed. No other issue costs tens of thousands of lives a year and a billion rupees a day. Not terrorism, not the PCO Judges' Case in the Supreme Court, not a land scam in the Rawalpindi-Islamabad area, not the income tax XYZ did or did not pay last year. Climate change, on the other hand, does.

But the Rules of Business, which were written in the early 1970s do not understand what climate change means. Why else would they put the people responsible for surface water (the irrigation departments) in a different room, so to speak, from the people responsible for either energy (the ministry of petroleum and natural resources) or pollution (the environment ministry and departments)? How come something as innocuous as an endangered species of fish has no chance of survival (it has, for its protection, the overlapping jurisdictions of any of the irrigation and drainage authorities, fisheries, wildlife, environment and forests? It's because government today is wired in a way that made sense back in the 1970s. But please consider: back in the 70s other things seemed to make sense as well. What else can explain bellbottoms and long sideburns. And you wouldn't be caught dead in those these days, would you? Why should our government?

The 18th Amendment gives the provinces a wider role and hands them greater responsibility in the control and planning of this country than ever before. In all, over 40 subjects are being devolved to the provinces, including things as important as Auqaf, the environment, labour affairs and population welfare (and as relatively trivial as poisons, intestacy or books and printing presses). The devolution of powers under the 18th Amendment, in this way–and I mean this–is a secret and revolutionary change in the basic structure of our Constitution.

It's time now to write the roadmap of the future. The chance to rewrite the Rules of Business is one of the great hidden characteristics of the 18th Amendment; and the government of Punjab's announcement that it is going to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do just that is the perfect "carpe diem" reaction. I should, however, acknowledge that Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is the one province whose Rules of Business have attempted to take the environment and climate change into consideration by granting a wide ambit to the environment department.

Nevertheless, because climate change, water and energy are at the core of the existential challenges Pakistan faces, government needs to be armed by brand-new Rules of Business in order to meet these challenges. Now is the time to rewire the very way government operates. Now is the chance to reset the role and responsibility of the federal government. For example, what's the use of a ministry of health (other than drug registration) if all the health workers are now working for provincial health departments?

But one wonders whether anyone has the capacity to seize this opportunity. At the federal level, our prime minister is alleged to have violated Election Commission guidelines by spending state resources for a political rally--catch this--in support of the disgraced former MNA Jamshed Dasti. Dasti is the fellow who lied about his educational qualifications (it matters not that the requirement no longer applies; what matters is that he violated the law of the land when he stood for election) and was eventually cornered into resigning by an inquisitive Supreme Court. (His claims of qualifying for a sanad, or certificate, were belied by his inability to recall an important Surah or perform simple arithmetic.)

In Punjab, the chief minister just recalled his own order of a few days ago for the purchase of Rs312 million of VIP cars. The order was publicised in the media right after news that Governor Salmaan Taseer was getting a new Rs2.5 million bullet-proof Mercedes. What's even more interesting is that back in 2008, as part of his new government's austerity measures, this very same chief minister ordered the auction of dozens of vehicles, including VIP cars.

Even though the decision to recall the order was the only bit of sense that prevailed these parts, clearly, these do not appear to be people who are in carpe diem mode.

For the record, when questioned on Twitter about the purchase, the governor responded (in three 140-character bursts) with: "Bullet-proof car being purchased 4 protocol use by govnr house. Not by me I drive my own car, live in my own house and pay my own utilities . . . The existing car is 16 yrs old. Representing the Federal govt I have 2 host Presidents international visitors. So can we stop the BS? Nxt time the Turkish prezdnt comes I'ii drive him around on a motorbike and if Hakimullah knocks him off we can tell the world we r 2 poor." Evidently, a new world of political interaction is upon us.

The writer is an advocate of the high court and a member of the adjunct faculty at LUMS. He has an interest in urban planning. Email:







This is in response to Mr Kashif Jahangiri's article 'The real Hazara problem' which appeared in The News on May 6, 2010.

The incidents of discrimination that Mr Jahangiri has mentioned in his article must be condemned; discrimination – be it ethnic or religious - is wrong. But to generalise the entire Pukhtun community on the basis of wrong behaviour shown by a few individuals is also wrong, just like it is unfair to brand all the Muslims as terrorists based on the actions of a few.

According to the hypothesis proposed by Mr Jahangiri, the current movement for the province of Hazara is a reaction to the "contempt" doled out to Hazarewals by Pukhtuns. I disagree with Mr Jahangiri and my disagreement is based on two reasons. First, this ethnic labelling is not unique to Pukhtuns and Hazarewals, and also, it is not one-sided. Second, the intensity of this "contempt" is not as high as suggested by Mr Jahangiri.

Linguistic differences provide the basis for ethnic identities, and using these differences to make ethnic jokes is a common practice around the world. In Pakistan, ethnic labelling exists between all linguistically different communities that are living side by side. Even in the more politically correct society of the United States, jokes based on Spanish-American accent, for instance, are part of the popular culture. This does not stop at different ethnicities; in many cases different dialects of a language become the basis for similar pun. For instance, within the Pathans, the linguistic differences between the Pukhtuns, Pashtuns and Pashteens often become a source of humour and labelling, and in many individual cases the difference has boiled into discrimination as well, similar to what Mr Jahangiri has described.

While the jokes and banter part is acceptable in most cases, and cherished as diversity, problems arise when this difference becomes the source of outright discrimination at a community level. Living in Dublin, Mr Jahangiri must be aware of the history of the differences between the Irish and the English, and how much blood had been spilled because of that. The Rwandan genocide that resulted in the death of almost a million people was also a result of distrust between two communities. In our own history, the discrimination against the Bengalis became the main reason for the creation of Bangladesh. Similarly, Karachi's Pathan-Muhajir riots of the 60s, that planted the seeds of ethnic disharmony in Karachi, are a sad example.

So, how have these two communities - the Pukhtun majority and the Hindkowan minority - fared in the former NWFP? If the case presented by Mr Jahangiri is correct, then a discriminatory Pakhtun majority must have been a hurdle towards the political aspirations of the Hindko-speaking minority. The Hazarewal politicians must have found it really hard to argue their case in the Pukhtun-dominated provincial assembly. But when one looks at history, nothing of that sort has happened. In fact, since independence, the Hazara division has had the honour of claiming the highest number of chief ministers than any other division in the former NWFP. These include Sardar Bahadur Khan (1955), Muhammad Iqbal Khan Jadoon (1977), Pir Sabir Shah (1994), and Mehtab Ahmed Khan Abbasi (1999). Incidentally, all four of them belonged to the Hindko-speaking minority. If, as suggested by Mr Jahangiri, the Pukhtuns had strong contempt towards Hindko speakers, then this achievement would not have been possible through democratic means.

A discriminatory Pukhtun majority should also have leveraged its numerical strength to hog most of the provincial resources, leaving little for the Hazarewals in terms of development spending. But the reality, when measured in terms of various indicators of economic development, is that the Hindko-speaking districts of Hazara have a much higher level of development than the provincial average. The Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey (PSLM) for 2006-07, conducted by the Federal Bureau of Statistics, reveals that in the former NWFP, 26 per cent of the households reported to have 'RBC/RCC (concrete) roof', with the Pushto-speaking area of Battagram at 15.9 per cent. In contrast, the Hindko-speaking districts of Abbottabad and Haripur reported 45 per cent and 51 per cent concrete roofs respectively, i.e. twice the provincial average. These statistics are comparable to Sialkot at 47.64 per cent and are much higher than those for districts in southern Punjab, for instance, Multan at 19.22 per cent, Bahawalpur at 11 per cent and Rajanpur at 2 per cent.

Similarly, Haripur and Abbotabad boast 67.76 per cent and 61.44 per cent access to tap water respectively, which is much higher than the provincial average at 44.19 per cent. This comparatively higher level of development, which, no doubt, reflects a better quality of life, is confirmed through a variety of other indicators pertaining to health, literacy and sanitation. Had there been well-entrenched hatred and discrimination against the Hazarewals, they would not have been able to achieve this level of development as a minority.

Mr Jahangiri also mentions the use of the word "Khariyaan" i.e. hindko speakers of Peshawar city, as a derogatory term used by the Pathans. Well, if that was true then how is it possible for Khariyaan such as the Bilours, Haji Adeel and Syed Aqil Shah to become the top leaders of a nationalist Pukhtun party? As I understand politics, leaders are defined by their popularity and acceptance; followers would not follow someone whom they consider 'inferior'. For instance; did Malcolm X even stand a chance for membership in the Ku Klux Klan (KKK)? If one is to extend this KKK analogy to this situation, then these black Khariyaan have risen to level of Grand Dragons in this Pashtun Ku Klux Klan. Paradoxical indeed, if one is to accept Mr Jahangiri's assertion.

But instead of acknowledging the prominence of these Khariyaan in Pukhtun nationalism, Mr Jahangiri disapproves of the Bilours, terming them non-Pukhtuns pretending to be Pukhtuns. I must say that this argument uses a logic that is very antiquated and defies modern sensibilities. If a Pukhtun lineage does not stop a Tareen, Tanoli, Jadoon, or Swati to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Awans, Gujars, Jatts, and Abbasis of Hazara in the name of the Hindko language and Hazarewal identity, then by the very same principle, the Khariyaans of Peshawar have every right to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Pushto-speaking Pukhtuns in the name of Pukhtun identity. The notion of lineage-based identity and the consequent generalisation of races based on their bloodline is an old and obsolete concept. The rejection of the name Pukhtunkhwa, by the descendents of Ahmad Shah Abdali's soldiers that is the Jadoons, Tareens and Tanolis is living proof that when it comes to ethnic loyalties, successful cultural assimilation can leave bloodlines and lineages to be pretty much meaningless.

I would conclude by saying that the higher development levels of the Hindko-speaking districts of Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa, the frequent election of minority Hindkowans to the chief ministership of a Pukhtun-majority parliament, and the key leadership positions of Hindkowans in the ANP, provide ample proof of the cultural harmony that exists between Hindko speakers and Pukhtuns in Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa. This harmony is an achievement, the equivalent of which is very hard to find in Pakistan. It also is an achievement that cannot be discredited through mere anecdotal evidence.

The writer is an economist working in Islamabad. Email: imran.khan.hks@gmail .com







When I left the hotel in North Tehran, there was ample time to reach the airport, but an hour later, I found myself hemmed in; there was an unending line of vehicles in all six lanes all around us. There was no way to turn back or go forward. The traffic jam was so bad that the road looked like a huge parking lot. The driver had been trying to move to the far left lane, but the traffic was crawling so slowly that he could not even do that. Finally, he went out, stood in front of the vehicle on the next lane and, when a little space became available, he simply pushed the car on to that lane. He did the same for the next two lanes. We now had the possibility of making a left turn at the next exit to one of the side roads. It took us another fifteen minutes before we could do that and enter the maze of narrow streets in residential areas which Ali knew like the back of his hand.

"Don't worry," he kept on saying, "I will get you to the airport in time."

Ali had grown up in a small village in north of Tehran at a time when this lush and beautiful area was no more than a distant suburb of what is now Tehran. Today, the city sprawls from the enchanting Alborz Mountain in the north to the Shrine of Imam Khomeini on the road to Qum.

Tehran is not alone in this transformation of cities from manageable units of human habitat to unmanageable megacities where millions of human beings struggle to survive. Cairo, Karachi, Mumbai, Calcutta, Toronto, Chicago, Beijing, and London - all suffer from the same choking roads. The number of vehicles registered in Beijing crossed the four million mark in December 2009 and will cross the five million mark later this year. What this means for the air quality and inevitable respiratory diseases can only be imagined. This is the state of all major cities of the world.

In 1800, 978 million people lived on Earth and only 3 per cent of them lived in cities. By the end of the twentieth century, the world population had increased to 5978 million (5.97 billion) and 47 per cent lived in cities. In 1950, there were 83 cities with populations exceeding one million; by 2007, this number had risen to 468! The UN forecasts that today's urban population of 3.2 billion will rise to nearly 5 billion by 2030, when three out of five people will live in cities.

Almost all the emerging megacities are mostly in that part of the world where urban planning is at its lowest level of sophistication: Mumbai (33 million), Shanghai (27 million), Karachi (26.5 million), Dhaka (26 million) and Jakarta (24.9 million people). Included in these emerging cities are overpopulated slums, disease-ridden shanty towns where every sixth person now alive lives in unsanitary conditions.

This was not the case prior to the emergence of the modern world. In the past, Baghdad, Córdoba, and many cities in Imperial China each had over a million inhabitants, who lived surrounded by green pastures and orchards. What was so different is simply amazing: there were no motorised vehicles, there was no way to pollute air in the manner we now do, no one had air conditioners, fridges, and thousands of other gadgets that we now use, and yet, people lived life to the full.

Of course, there was poverty, hunger, and disease, but all of this was of a different order. Humanity did not suffer from catastrophic environmental disasters which now surround us. The damage done to the environment during the last three hundred years is far greater than thousands of years which preceded the modern era.

Cities have become so unmanageable that no amount of urban planning can now save those who live in overcrowded cities from daily existential struggles. The only answer available to resolve various problems of mega- and large cities is 'de-urbanisation". This can only succeed if alternatives are available which will allure the city dwellers.

In recent decades, Turkey has emerged as a major player in finding creative solutions for its urban sprawls. The Turkish government launched an experiment with the help of the United Nations which provided city-amenities (electricity, schools, internet, library, etc.) to a few selected villages and then invited their previous residents to return. The experiment has been so successful that it is being hailed as one of the most creative solutions to urbanisation. Perhaps other governments can follow this example.

Such an experiment, however, needs careful planning and screening of those who would return to the villages, because there is great danger that these city dwellers will bring the pollution of the cities to the remaining places on earth, rather than act responsibly and live a life that Earth can sustain.


The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:







The drone attacks in the tribal areas have picked up since the Faisal Shahzad episode, as has the rhetoric from the United States. Attorney General Holder found a Pakistani Taliban link and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked of severe consequences had the attack materialised.

These statements were tempered by the US military that, playing the good cop, praised Pakistan for its vital role in the Afghan conflict. Ambassador Holbrooke also tried to fudge the issue by suggesting that Clinton's statement had been misinterpreted.

Whatever the real nature of the signals emanating from the US, one thing is clear. The botched Times Square bombing have reinforced negative perceptions in the West about Pakistan. Coming on the heels of the media hype in India after Ajmal Kasab's conviction, it puts not just a few criminals but the entire country in the dock.

Those in Pakistan always looking for a conspiracy are having a field day. Their prognosis is that gro