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Saturday, June 12, 2010

EDITORIAL 12.06.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month  june 12, edition 000536 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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

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

 

THE PIONEER

  1. CRIMINAL COLLUSION
  2. MAMATA IS A WINNER
  3. GAS TRAGEDY,SOLID FARCE - ASHOK MALIK
  4. ANSWER THE CALL OF DUTY - AJIT BISHNOI
  5. ANOTHER NON-SERIOUS KASHMIR TRIP - IFTIKHAR GILANI
  6. GREAT EXPECTATIONS - KHURSHEED WANI
  7. NEW GENOCIDE POLICY IN J&K - GN SHAHEEN

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. UNDERSTANDING RUSSIA
  2. SOCCER'S NOT BORN EVERY MINUTE...
  3. LIBERAL LAWS ARE GOOD
  4. NOT IN SOCIETY'S INTEREST - RUDRONEEL GHOSH
  5. PAYING ATTENTION TO CHINA - NAYAN CHANDA

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. PLAYING WITH A FULL DECK
  2. MENTAL BLOCKS THAT'RE CUTTING MANIPUR OFF FROM INDIA
  3. WHERE ONLY THE PARANOID SURVIVE - PRATIK KANJILAL
  4. FOR A FEW DOLLARS LESS - BARKHA DUTT

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. ON THE FLY
  2. PARTY-FREE, PARTY-LESS
  3. IRON RULE
  4. 1984, ONE LESSON - SHEKHAR GUPTA
  5. LIABILITY TRUTHS - RAVI VISVESVARAYA PRASAD
  6. DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL - NAJEEB JUNG
  7. A KING OR QUEEN FOR AMERICA
  8. COMPETITION UNBOUND? - FARHAD SORABJEE
  9. BUDGET PAKISTAN - RUCHIKA TALWAR

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. HOLE IN MOILY'S ORE ARGUMENT
  2. VERDICT AFTERSHOCKS
  3. WHERE ARE PRICES HEADED? - MADAN SABNAVIS
  4. DON'T SCRAP LOHARINAG PALA PROJECT - NOOR MOHAMMAD
  5. BRIDGING THE PULSES GAP - SANJEEB MUKHERJEE

THE HINDU

  1. PRODUCTIVE VISIT
  2. AFGHANISTAN: THE MARCH OF FOLLY - MAHARAJAKRISHNA RASGOTRA
  3. U.K.'S POLICY: CHAMPIONING FAIRNESS, PROSPERITY FOR INDIA - ANDREW MITCHELL
  4. SLOW-MOTION TRAGEDY UNFOLDS FOR MARINE LIFE - SUZANNE GOLDENBERG
  5. RICH COUNTRIES ACCUSED OF CARBON 'CHEATING' - RICHARD BLACK
  6. A POTATO REMADE FOR INDUSTRY HAS SOME SWEDES FROWNING - JOHN TAGLIABUE

 THE ASIAN AGE

  1. BHOPAL: MUCH TO DO, BUT LET'S GET REALISTIC
  2. MEIN KAMPA COLA - FARRUKH DHONDY
  3. POISONOUS JUSTICE - ANTARA DEV SEN
  4. DELICATE MATTERS - KISHWAR DESAI
  5. THE 1947 MATRIX - UMAIR MUHAJIR

DNA

  1. CLEARING PRISONS
  2. BEAUTIFUL MEMORIES OF NAGALAND - SUMIT KESARKAR & SUDHIR GATTAWAR
  3. SARASVATI: TRACING THE DEATH OF A RIVER - VIVEK KAUL

THE TRIBUNE

  1. ARMY AGAINST MAOISTS
  2. MAKING DIVORCE EASY
  3. TAMING TEHRAN
  4. THE VERDICT AGAINST INDIRA GANDHI - BY KULDIP NAYAR
  5. SAY CHEESE - BY NAINA DHILLON
  6. HOW TO SAVE SUKHNA

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. CHINA'S LABOUR UNREST

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. CONFLICTED AND CONFUSED - SURJIT S BHALLA
  2. PEOPLE-FRIENDLY GROWTH - B G VERGHESE
  3. ISRAEL'S WORST ENEMY - K NATWAR SINGH
  4. MANIPUR'S DEVELOPMENT BLOCKADE - ADITI PHADNIS
  5. TWO SIDES OF TAGORE'S ART - SUNIL SETHI
  6. KEEPING COOL, INDIAN STYLE - GEETANJALI KRISHNA
  7. TRAGEDY AS FARCE –  T N NINAN
  8. LAILA LALAMI'S PARADISE FOUND & LOST - V V

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. ONLY A SUPPORT ROLE
  2. NOT BY PRICE ALONE
  3. PET DOGS ARE DUMB
  4. WHITE MAGIC OF EXCHANGE - VITHAL C NADKARNI
  5. STAFF FIRST, CUSTOMERS SECOND FOR HCL BOSS - SHUBHAM MUKHERJEE
  6. INDIA ONE OF PRINCIPAL MKTS IN ASIA, SAYS PAR OSTBERG - CHANCHAL PAL CHAUHAN

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. BHOPAL: MUCH TO DO, BUT LET'S GET REALISTIC
  2. MEIN KAMPA COLA  - BY FARRUKH DHONDY
  3. UNEASY PSU CROWN
  4. POISONOUS JUSTICE - BY ANTARA DEV SEN
  5. THE 1947 MATRIX  - BY UMAIR MUHAJIR
  6. DELICATE MATTERS - BY KISHWAR DESAI

THE STATESMAN

  1. WAGONS OF HOPE
  2. ADVANTAGE MAOISTS
  3. TURNING OF THE SCREW
  4. PITFALLS OF LEARNING - BY SUBRATA MUKHERJEE
  5. 'EDUCATION SYSTEM HAS A LONG WAY TO GO'
  6. ON RECORD
  7. DELHI DURBAR

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. IN PRAISE OF A GOAL
  2. RECALLING AN OLD SCHOOL - SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY

DECCAN HERALD

  1. AMONG BIG BOYS
  2. RED RAG
  3. SEAT FOR SALE - BY GAYATHRI NIVAS
  4. MANMOHAN SINGH: THE TINA FACTOR - BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
  5. DOGGED PERSEVERANCE - BY D V GURUPRASAD

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. THE LATEST WORK DODGE: A SHUTDOWN
  2. BP'S RESPONSIBILITY
  3. SNAKE OIL FOR BREAKFAST
  4. S.C. STRIKES AGAIN - BY GAIL COLLINS
  5. FRIENDS, NEIGHBORS AND FACEBOOK - BY CHARLES M. BLOW
  6. THE COURAGE TO LEAVE - BY BOB HERBERT
  7. TO SAVE AFRICA, REJECT ITS NATIONS - BY PIERRE ENGLEBERT

USA TODAY

  1. GULF OIL SPILL: WHAT WOULD REAGAN DO? - BY MARK D. WEINBERG
  2. AMERICAN CHRISTIANS LOVE A GOOD CONVERSION STORY - BY THOMAS S. KIDD

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. DAMAGES FROM THE SPILL
  2. CHATTANOOGA'S 'DREAM'
  3. GENERAL ASSEMBLY FINALLY ADJOURNS
  4. A COMING EMERGENCY ROOM CRISIS
  5. UNFORTUNATE CONFLICTS

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. GOING THROUGH A DIFFICULT LEARNING PROCESS - CENGİZ AKTAR
  2. AS THE EAST LOOKS WEST - GİLA BENMAYOR
  3. WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO THE GAZA FLOTILLA - MUSTAFA AKYOL
  4. EROSPOLIS - SINS AND COMMANDMENTS - NAZLAN ERTAN
  5. ACTIONS AND MEANINGS IN TURKISH BUSINESS CULTURE - ZAFER PARLAR
  6. THE CORRIDOR - ELECTIONS IN FALL? - GÖKSEL BOZKURT
  7. SEEKING PEACE, PLANTING HATRED – MURAT ONUR
  8. IN THE WAKE OF FLOTILLA TRAGEDY, WORK FOR PEACE - DALILA MAHDAWI
  9. A 'RESPECTED TURK' IN THE MIDEAST! - YUSUF KANLI
  10. MATH GENDER GAP NARROWS - SHARON BEGLEY
  11. INFORMAL PROPERTY SALES AGREEMENTS - SADETTİN ORHAN
  12. A BIRD'S EYE VIEW: PRIORITIZING FINANCES - ADVENA AVIS

TEHRAN TIMES

  1. A DEFENSE OF HELEN THOMAS - BY JONATHAN COOK
  2. A PREDETERMINED OUTCOME AT THE SECURITY COUNCIL - BY OUR STAFF WRITER
  3. THE OLD GAZA BOY AND THE SEA - BY RAMZY BAROUD
  4. PROPAGANDA MASKS ISRAEL'S ATROCITIES - BY LINDA S. HEARD

I.THE NEWS

  1. SHADOW DANCE
  2. DRONE DEATHS AGAIN
  3. UNDER THE BOOT
  4. KASHMIR: NO RUSHED SOLUTION, PLEASE - ASHRAF JEHANGIR QAZI
  5. DANCE OF THE DEMONS - RAOOF HASAN
  6. MILITARY VICTORY, POLITICAL LOSS - PRAFUL BIDWAI
  7. METAMORPHOSIS OF THE MEDIUM - AZIZ ALI DAD
  8. DIRE STRAITS - ARIF NIZAMI
  9. FATA'S 'SQUIRTERS' - IFTEKHAR A KHAN

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. GOVERNMENT'S LACK OF INTEREST IN BD TOO
  2. FREE FOR ALL IN KARACHI 
  3. RISING NUMBER OF FAKE DEGREE HOLDERS
  4. US MILITARY AID & INDIA'S FALSE CRY - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
  5. INDO-AMERICA STRATEGIC DIALOGUES - LT COL (R) ZAHEERUL HASSAN
  6. DYNAMICS OF 3 CS: COMMERCE, CONQUEST & COLONISATION - DR S M RAHMAN
  7. FROM KEY ALLY TO CANDIDATE FOR STRIKE - HAMID ALVI
  8. GAZA BLOCKADE ISN'T ABOUT SECURITY - SHEERA FRENKEL

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. MESSAGE IN NUMBERS
  2. MANPOWER EXPORT
  3. A SLINGSHOT AND A PRAYER..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
  4. DYNASTIC POLITICS - SYLVIA MORTOZA
  5. IMPLEMENTATION WILL BE THE REAL CHALLENGE - FERDOUS RAHMAN

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. THE REALITY OF AFGHANISTAN
  2. THE BEAUTIFUL GAME TAKES CENTRE STAGE
  3. SEND US A POSTCARD, MR PREMIER

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. TRUTH GETS LOST IN MEDIA CAMPAIGN
  2. MOSES AND CLEOPATRA HAVE A LOT IN COMMON

THE GUARDIAN

  1. NETHERLANDS ELECTION: AUSTERITY WITH A CONSCIENCE
  2. BLOODY SUNDAY INQUIRY: PRICE OF THE PROCESS
  3. UNTHINKABLE? A LONGER LABOUR LEADERSHIP ELECTION

THE GAZETTE

  1. AND ANOTHER THING ...
  2. WHY DO PARTIES DESERVE PUBLIC FUNDING? 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

CRIMINAL COLLUSION

WHO HELPED ANDERSON FLEE?


La affaire Warren Anderson, who was the chairman of Union Carbide Corp, the American parent company of Union Carbide India Ltd when deadly methyl isocyanate gas leaked from its pesticides factory in Bhopal killing at least 15,000 people — many of them died during the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984; others died a painful, slow death over a period of time — gets murkier with each passing day. Anderson arrived in Bhopal four days after what turned out to be the world's worst industrial disaster, apparently to see for himself the extent of death and destruction caused by the leak which had resulted from Union Carbide's criminal indifference to safety measures at its hazardous unit in order to save money and increase profits. The police arrested him, and rightly so, but that action proved to be inconsequential. Anderson, instead of being carted off to jail, was taken to Union Carbide's well-appointed rest house so that he would not suffer any discomfort. A couple of hours later, the Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh summoned the Collector and Superintendent of Police of Bhopal and instructed them to release Anderson on bail, accompany him to the airport, and put him on a plane that would be waiting for him. Anderson was granted bail, escorted to the airport, and put on the plane waiting for him. It turned out to be the State Government's aircraft. The man who was to be later declared an absconder by the courts was flown to Delhi from where to he took a flight to America, fleeing India forever. This is the brief story of a wanted man's flight from justice and how he escaped the punishment he richly deserved. These details have tumbled out of the closet this past week, with officials spilling the beans after last Monday's judgement.


What is intriguing is that the then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Mr Arjun Singh, should have gone to such extraordinary lengths to protect Anderson from the law of the land. The Chief Secretary was merely carrying out instructions given to him by Mr Singh; he couldn't have acted independently. The evidence implicating Mr Singh is far too overwhelming to give him the benefit of doubt. But did Mr Singh act on his own? Did he decide to facilitate Anderson's escape without consulting anybody? Or was he acting according to orders received from the Union Government, which was then headed by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi? Given the scale of the disaster and the implications of letting one of the prime accused flee the country in so brazen a manner, it is unthinkable that Mr Singh acted on his own. It is equally implausible that if there was any American pressure to let Anderson go free — Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh says the Government acted under US pressure — it would have been applied on the State Government directly: The Americans would have contacted the relevant people in the Union Government. Are we then to assume that it was the Centre's, and not the Madhya Pradesh Government's, decision to free Anderson and help him jump bail? These are some questions that need to be answered by the UPA Government and the Congress immediately as the nation has the right to know the truth and not be subjected to such grotesque mockery of the law. A full closure will elude the Bhopal tragedy unless the truth is placed on record and those who colluded with Union Carbide are brought to book.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

MAMATA IS A WINNER

NO REASON FOR HER TO JOIN CONGRESS!


It is not surprising that the Congress, which has all but disappeared from the political scene in West Bengal where a decrepit State unit of the party with virtually no local leadership worth its name has been pushed to the margins, should have slyly floated the idea that perhaps the Trinamool Congress could consider merging with the 'parent' party. But surely that amounts to over-reaching by the central leaders of the Congress who obviously think that this is the best, easiest and assured path to recovery of the party's rapidly declining electoral fortunes. For, it is absurd to expect that a triumphant Trinamool Congress, which is clearly the front-runner — way ahead of the ruling CPI(M)-led Left Front — in the next Assembly election (whenever it is held), would want to even remotely consider this option. True, the Congress desperately needs winners on its side and there could be nobody better than Ms Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal — she has not only demonstrated that perseverance pays but, after a string of stunningly splendid electoral victories, has emerged as the most popular leader in the State, adored by the masses. The people of West Bengal are craving for change and they see the Trinamool Congress, more specifically Ms Banerjee, as the 'change agent'. The tipping point has been reached and all that remains to topple the Left Front regime is the proverbial final push which will come, it can be safely predicted, by way of a ringing endorsement of the Trinamool Congress and Ms Banerjee's leadership in the Assembly election. Everybody knows this — the CPI(M), its allies in the Left Front, the Marxist cadre (who have begun to jump ship), the bureaucrats (who are keen to dissociate themselves from the incumbent regime) and the intellectuals who till recently were aligned with the Left but have abandoned both party and ideology. Surely the Congress is not unaware of either the popular mood or the electoral trend.


Given this reality, it is amazing that the Congress should have even remotely considered the possibility of the Trinamool Congress giving up its existence and identity. Ms Banerjee's response has been both wise and mature; she has politely but firmly distanced herself from the Congress's 'offer' made public through media reports. The Congress, which has reduced itself to a caricature in West Bengal, is welcome to believe that it still remains an important factor in deciding the outcome of an election. But as has been proved since last year's general election, this is far from the truth. Had it been otherwise, senior State-level leaders of the Congress would not have switched their allegiance to the Trinamool Congress. More importantly, the Congress is seen in West Bengal as the 'B' team of the CPI(M). Instead of looking for quick revival and easy success, the Congress would do well to introspect on where and how it has gone so horribly wrong.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

GAS TRAGEDY,SOLID FARCE

ASHOK MALIK


Frankly, the biggest villain of the Bhopal gas tragedy is not American capitalism, Union Carbide or its Indian subsidiary. It is not even the managers of the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal and the local Government officials who obviously ignored safety protocols. It is the Indian criminal justice system.


It has taken 25.5 years for a city court to convict those it says are responsible for the gas leak of December 1984, and for the instant death of 4,000 people. (In subsequent years, more died due to after-effects; those numbers can only be estimated and, to be fair, have been exaggerated by self-serving activists who have made Bhopal a little industry of their own.)


The judgement is not perfect. Indeed, if the larger social intent of a justice system and a conviction is to send a message to others, to would-be perpetrators of similar crimes, the judgement fails quite miserably. Today, India is a laughing stock. Don't be fooled by the words and statements of anti-market and environmental protesters in the West, who are appearing on television shedding crocodile tears for Bhopal. More than a victim, India has come across as a joke republic.


So slothful and weak has the judicial system proved that it has almost justified the decision of Warren Anderson, the then chairman of Union Carbide, to jump bail, flee India and never come back. The man is 89. Presuming he had agreed to show up for trial, he would have been doing the rounds of courts in Bhopal for close to a quarter century. If he had been convicted in June 2010, his lawyers would have appealed to the Madhya Pradesh High Court and then the Supreme Court. That process could well have taken another five years.

So Anderson would possibly have been 94 before India's apex court either confirmed his conviction or freed him. Considering the original crime was committed when he was aged 63, and that he retired from Union Carbide at 65, a third of his life, his entire post-retirement phase, would have been washed away by the Indian legal system.


Obviously, he — and his lawyers —anticipated this fairly early. As such, though declared a fugitive by a Bhopal court in 1992, he decided to stay put in America. Remember, Union Carbide had very clever lawyers at that point. In December 1985, the issue of justice for Bhopal took a critical turn when a New York court ruled against the Union of India's petition that the case needed to be tried in the United States, and that the Indian legal system wasn't up to the task.


Testifying on behalf of Union Carbide, Nani Palkhivala, one of India's finest legal minds, said, "The Indian judicial system can fairly and satisfactorily handle the Bhopal litigation." He discounted fears of delays and urged Union Carbide to submit to Indian jurisdiction. Palkhivala was being a good lawyer. He was protecting his client's interest. Why blame him?


In the past 25 years, India — the Indian system, Government and judiciary — have shown no urgency to expedite the Bhopal case and the process of justice for that abominable negligence of December 1984. That is why when Indians — from television anchors to Law Minister Veerappa Moily — talk of how Anderson hasn't or couldn't be extradited but should be, it sounds not sombre but laughable. If you take 25 years to settle an open-and-shut case — pinning responsibility for why the leak happened — do you really deserve to have any extradition request taken seriously?

Several issues have been conflated and confused in recent days. Was the quantum of compensation the Government of India and the Supreme Court agreed Union Carbide would pay enough? What are the conditions in Bhopal (they are actually better than activists, posing for day-tripper disaster tourists, would have us believe, but that is another matter)?


Important as these issues may be, they have nothing to do with the case that reached a conclusion on June 7. That case was limited to allocating guilt for the gas leak, and finding and punishing those who, deliberately or otherwise, ignored safety norms and did not activate measures to neutralise the likelihood of atmospheric poisoning.

Has the judgement served its purpose? Not quite; and that is unrelated to whether or not Anderson should have been extradited or whether or not Union Carbide (or Dow Chemicals, its successor company) needs to pay more damages.

Why has the judgement not served its purpose? It has convicted eight employees of Union Carbide India Ltd, holding the chairman and the works manager guilty under the same section of the Indian Penal Code. Can the liability of a company chairman living in Mumbai (then Bombay) and a works manager responsible for the immediate running of the chemicals plant be the same? Is this not stretching the frontiers of the concept of remote liability? The issue of a non-executive director's limited liability was meant to check financial fraud and protect the interests of shareholders. Is it correct to interpret it in the context of collateral incidents and accidents?

These are uncomfortable and politically incorrect questions. Meanwhile, public hysteria, complemented by an unstructured media-driven campaign, is celebrating the conviction of Keshub Mahindra, non-executive chairman of Union Carbide India Ltd when the tragedy occurred. Mahindra was 60 then; he is 85 now and may be 90 by the time the case is decided by the Supreme Court. Unlike Anderson, he was an Indian and stayed in India for the length of the trial. Yet, did he deserve conviction — or was this simply a concession to populism?

Astonishingly, not one Government official — whether responsible for ensuring safety rules were adhered to or for assessing the potential health impact of the chemicals factory on the neighbouring Old Bhopal community — has been indicted. There is a familiar ring to this. The dazzle of big names has the media and NGOs chasing high-profile defendants rather than the truly guilty. It is difficult to believe this 'tall poppy syndrome' does not weigh upon lower courts. Delhi's Uphaar fire (1997) is a case in point. Sushil Ansal was convicted despite being only a former director of the cinema company. The genuinely guilty party, Delhi Vidyut Board, got away with the trial of merely a junior engineer.


That such a ridiculous, delay-prone and impressionable criminal justice system hasn't been fixed in a quarter-century is the continuing scandal. The fear of quick and effective punishment is just not there — and that makes the incentive to prevent another Bhopal disaster that much weaker.

 

 malikashok@gmail.com

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

ANSWER THE CALL OF DUTY

AJIT BISHNOI


The Bhagavad Gita says that duty is paramount. These are determined by time, place and circumstance. For example, if a student is preparing for his final examination and his mother falls seriously ill, his duty lies in attending to her if there is no one available.


A very important facet of our lives, duty has three components — that towards one's body, that related to one's mind and that in connection with the soul. Unfortunately, one usually fails to fulfil any of them. Let us reflect. How many can claim that they are looking after their bodies in the best way possible? How many are not swayed by our tastebuds, even though foods thus eaten are not desirable? How many can stop ourselves from overeating?

But this is nothing compared to the constant battering we give to our minds. How many can readily forget an injustice or a slight? We are conditioned to do everything that disturbs our minds. Lust, greed, anger, jealousy and pride are one's usual emotions at the cost of love, forgiveness, mercy and compassion. No wonder peace of mind is a rare commodity nowadays.


The last component of duty is that to one's soul. "What is soul?" many people wonder. "Isn't it a figment of imagination of some religious people who have authored the scriptures? What do we need to do for such an imaginary thing?"


The result of such avoidance of duty towards what we really are makes us well and truly miserable. No wonder depression is no prevalent is today's societies inspite of its material progress. Isn't that a shame?


To fulfil one's duties, one must known that one cannot be whimsical about deciding them. Our bodies must be cared for in the best way possible, according to their needs and not according to the preference of our senses. As far as the mind goes, all decisions must be weighed against whether or not it leads to maintenance of its sense of peace. If that is disturbed, one should rethink.


The soul requires only one duty, a link to god. That is what is expected of us if we are really intelligent. If we do that, the rewards are enormous.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

ANOTHER NON-SERIOUS KASHMIR TRIP

WORSE THAN NOT DOING ANYTHING TO RESOLVE THE KASHMIR PROBLEM IS TAKING HALF-HEARTED MEASURES. THIS WEEK, THE SRINAGAR VISIT OF MANMOHAN SINGH WAS AN EXHIBITION OF THE UPA GOVERNMENT'S LACK OF COMMITMENT IN THIS VITAL THEATRE

IFTIKHAR GILANI


Many Prime Ministers have, over the years, used their Kashmir visits to convey specific messages. Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited the State twice — May 2002 at the peak of Operation Parakram and later in April 2003. He used both trips to convey precise communication. In 2002, while addressing Army personnel in Kupwara, he called for a 'decisive battle' and hoped for a 'sure victory'. His tough statement prompted the then Pakistan President, Pervez Musahrraf, to take a U-turn asking the clergy in his country to desist from India bashing.


Vajpayee's other visit, on April 18, 2003, was marked by the offer of dialogue to Pakistan as well a call to apply the balm on Kashmir's agony within the framework of 'insaniyat'. This not only opened the doors for open engagements with the separatist leadership, but ingeniously crafted a triangular framework, though at separate tables, among New Delhi, Islamabad and Srinagar to find a settlement of the long-standing issue under the framework of a larger South Asian union.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did follow the tradition. His earlier visits were marked by flagging off a cross-LoC bus, appointment of working groups and rolling off a dream train in the Kashmir Valley.


Ironically, however, his current visit lacked both content as well as coherence. His advisors were most uncharitable while equating the Srinagar visit to the Prime Minister's sojourns to any other state.


One was expecting that his speech, made in chaste Urdu, would include some iron-clad promises, at least human rights, as the visit coincided with fresh allegations of fake encounters sparking protests. But he did not make even a cosmetic promise to induce accountability among security forces. Nor did he assure any mechanism to fairly probe all the pending allegations of human rights abuse. Over 100 cases involving security men are awaiting sanctions for prosecution with either the Home or Defence ministries.


Manmohan Singh did talk about implementing working group recommendations but only as far as those related to economic reconstruction and facilitating more interaction across the Line of Control was concerned. He deliberately chose to ignore the other working group recommendations. As far as talks were concerned, even though he made a cursory cosmetic mention of a 'dialogue with all those who shun violence,' he made no specific promise of at least restoring the initial initiative with moderate faction of separatist leadership.


The Prime Minister's address even did not mention about the internally displaced persons (IDPs) or Kashmir Pandit migrants. A single thread in the analysis of Prime Ministerial visit to Srinagar was that the uninspiring speech chose to ignore and underplay the ground realities.


Singh's visit, however, was a shot in the arm for the young Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, whose functioning was under question not only from the alliance partner, the Congress, but within his own party — the National Conference. Prime Minister's encomium after Abdullah's 40-minute power-point presentation on power and urban development left even the chief minister blushing. The Prime Minister called him not only the "youngest" but also the most impressive "chief minister".


Little did the Prime Minister realise that his own office had presented to him a damning report on the tardy progress of a Rs 24,000-crore reconstruction plan he had announced six years ago to facilitate fast-track development in Jammu & Kashmir. The report on gross delay on the part of the state government in implementation of half the projects under the PM's plan has been prepared by the Delivery Monitoring Unit (DMU) set up in the PMO under the PM's principal secretary, TKA Nair, which was set up to keep track of the UPA government's flagship programmes.


It says that only half the 67 projects that the Prime Minister had sanctioned during his two-day trip to Srinagar in November 2004 have been completed so far. These included expansion of economic infrastructure to provide basic services and give a thrust to locals' employment as also schemes for providing relief and rehabilitation to victims of militancy and families uprooted from the Kashmir valley.


Manmohan Singh's reconstruction plan included a project to bring electricity to all villages of Jammu & Kashmir by March this year, but the state government now says it will be completed only by March 2012. The DMU report says only 40 per cent work has been done till now on the project for which an agreement was signed between the state government and the National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) of the Centre way back in 2005. "The state government has noted the concern of the ministry of power regarding slow progress, security and non-availability of manpower," the report said.


The PM's plan included upgradation of the Jammu Medical College to the level of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences under the Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana (PMSSY). The DMU report says the progress on this upgradation is so slow that it fails to meet the target date.


The Centre had deposited Rs 276.90 lakh in 2006-07 for land acquisition required for the Uri-Salamabad-Kamanpost road project for the Prime Minister's dream project of cross-LoC trade. But the land is yet to be handed over to the Border Road Organisation (BRO), which was to construct the road up to the Line of Control (LoC).

"There is no progress since last review dated May 31, 2009. The chief secretary has agreed to review all land acquisition cases. No progress report has been received from the State Government," said the DMU report.


It also lamented that another road project for providing access to Swalkot was sanctioned at an estimated cost of Rs 119 crore, but there is hardly any progress.Also, the power transmission and distribution network involving 67 schemes (32 Grid Stations and 35 Transmission Lines) is witnessing the same slow progress, the report said. It said only 48 per cent work has been completed as only seven grid stations and eight transmission lines are in place so far.


With this record of utilisation of funds, Prime Minister's latest slew of sops, amounting to over Rs 1,000 crore, which includes the restoration of cuts amounting to about Rs 400 crore to the State plan outlay, does not exude much confidence. The performance of the state administration in handling day to day issues has also been causing worry in military circles. At a recent TV programme on human rights violations in the context of fake encounters, Abdullah expressed his anguish at the rising graph of violations by men in uniform. But former Army chief Gen (retd) VP Malik bluntly retorted: "Improve your governance and there will be no need for the Army to intervene."It does seem that chronic poor governance in Srinagar & Jammu has attracted Singh's attention. His idea of focusing governance rather political initiatives may not yield results in the face of an absence of a committed and serious government.

 

The writer is Chief of Bureau, Kashmir Times


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THE PIONEER

OPED

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

MANMOHAN SINGH, ON HIS SECOND VISIT TO SRINAGAR THIS WEEK, PRETENDED THAT THE PROBLEMS OF THE KASHMIRIS ARE MORE ECONOMIC THAN POLITICAL. BUT WHO IS HE TRYING TO FOOL?

KHURSHEED WANI


The intention with which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived in Srinagar this week turned out to be in total contrast with the presumptions generated among ordinary Kashmiris. A section of separatists expected a formal invitation for the talks regardless of the fact that the ground work had not been done for it. And, most of the people were looking forward for a stern message to the security forces to safeguard human rights in Jammu & Kashmir.


But, the Prime Minister chose to focus more on issues of governance and announcing packages covering diverse things — he declared saffron cultivation and trade as a national mission and went on to grant Rs 100 crore to the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences. The admonition to the security forces in the backdrop of the killing of three north Kashmiri youth in a staged encounter at the LoC, was fairly routine. Incidents like this are usually described as a consequence of the "attempts to disturb the lives of the people of Kashmir from across the line of control".


Interestingly, while delving on the need for political dialogue, the Prime Minister chose to ignore his meetings with separatists (between 2004 and 2006) and instead recalled his three "roundtable conferences" which were boycotted by the separatists. Nevertheless, the separatists' expectations were not misplaced. The reason they were thrown out of the dialogue loop from 2007 was that the government of India chose to drift from engagements with the then Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf. The internal situation in Pakistan sabotaged prospects of a settlement of the Kashmir issue, which was a "signature away", according to former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri. India deemed it improper to work with Kashmiri separatists when Pakistan was kept out of the frame. This is the reason why Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was, despite his efforts, denied audience in New Delhi in January 2007 after his arrival from Pakistan. Ever since, there has been no overt arrangement between the Hurriyat and New Delhi.


The subsequent developments in Kashmir also went against the separatists. The 2008 Amarnath agitation, followed by the unexpected turnout in the Assembly election, proved to be the watershed. The separatists failed to consolidate on the momentary eruption of the people. The calculated risk of holding elections also went to the government's advantage.


Now that India has again initiated dialogue with Pakistan after the Thimpu meeting between Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani, expectations are soaring. In mid-July there would again be foreign secretary-level talks in which separatists are expected to make a contribution. On its part, Pakistan wants them to be on board, albeit on its own conditions. That is why a standing invitation exists for a selected group of separatist leaders, including Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar. The pro-dialogue Hurriyat's worry is that Pakistan has deleted some of its leaders from the choice list of invitees and the Geelani-led Hurriyat is not in agreement for forming an alliance with a crowd of leaders, a suggestion communicated to separatists by Islamabad.


Another factor that prompted Singh to speak from a position of strength is the diminishing level of violence and the drop in the number of militants in J&K. Notwithstanding some major encounters in the valley, where casualties were inflicted on the security forces and a fidayeen attack in Lal Chowk in January 2010, the graph of violence continues to recede. The Army's claims that infiltration attempts are on the rise received a drubbing in the wake of a staged encounter in the Macchil sector, which compelled Omar Abdullah to put a question mark on all such encounters on the LoC.


Against this backdrop, the Prime Minister's delivery of the standard line — "We are ready to talk to all sections of society who are opposed to terrorism and violence"— sounds very casual indeed. "This is old wine in a new bottle", was a slapdash response from United Jehad Council chief Syed Salahuddin.


On Pakistan, the PM didn't say anything new. The oft-repeated and irrelevant border theory was reiterated and the initiation of meaningful talks for resolution of "old issues" was preconditioned with Pakistan's denial to let its territory be used for acts of terror against India. In the backdrop of the Thimpu meeting with Gilani, Manmohan Singh said: "Both countries accepted that there is a trust deficit. We also agreed that this distance between the two countries must be reduced." This is perhaps one statement which found acceptance in the troubled state. The common Kashmiris understand that the situation at ground level would show signs of improvement when India and Pakistan get closer. The onus of resolving the Kashmir issue largely lies with the two countries.


Before Singh's arrival in Srinagar, political entities in Kashmir started demands for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Public Safety Act (PSA), which empowers the state to detain anyone without trial for two years. Mirwaiz Umar, on the anniversary of his father's death on May 21, demanded repeal of these draconian laws and the release of prisoners. PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti wrote a letter to the CM demanding a special session of the Assembly to discuss the consequences of these Acts. In response, Omar promised to waive off the Act by the conclusion of his tenure in 2014.


This valley-specific debate on the AFSPA did not evoke a response from the Prime Minister. He did mention the wrongdoings of the security forces and the government's responsibility to safeguard rights of the civilians, but there was no specific mention of the Centre's intentions to do away with the harsh laws. No assurance was offered to mainstream political leaders who chose to touch this issue in the closed door meeting with the Prime Minister.

But this does not mean that the PMO took the LoC killings casually. A day before the PM's arrival, the GOC-in-C (Northern Command), Lt Gen BS Jaiswal, announced that two officers suspected to be involved in the gruesome killings have been sidelined pending inquiry. This may have been prompted by the PMO. The Army's apprehensions on the militants' designs to disrupt PM's visit were also nullified. The Prime Minister's venues were not changed, as reportedly suggested by the Army. Instead, the state government erected the harshest security measures like snapping mobile phone signals and declaring Boulevard Road out of bounds for commoners.Understandably, the Prime Minister's main focus remained governance and development. He put the Omar Abdullah government on notice by referring to complaints in Srinagar and other cities related to power supply, drinking water, roads and ration shops. He prompted the state government to address these problems and extended his government's help in this regard.Singh deliberately chose to give the impression that the disillusionment in the valley, especially among the youth, is more economic than political. "I am concerned that many youth from Jammu & Kashmir, especially from Srinagar, feel disillusioned due to the lack of economic opportunities. We will make every possible effort to create adequate employment opportunities in Jammu & Kashmir," he said. Mentioning Srinagar's youth population and their disillusionment indicates that the state government has highlighted the issue of stone-pelting and proposed the central government to address it more seriously. Currently dozens of youngsters have been jailed for their alleged involvement in stone-pelting.

The writer is J&K Correspondent of The Pioneer

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

NEW GENOCIDE POLICY IN J&K

PRIME MINISTER MANMOHAN SINGH TALKS OF 'ZERO TOLERANCE' ON HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES, BUT DOES NOTHING TO REIN IN THE ARMY FROM IMPLEMENTING A NEW POLICY OF GENOCIDE WHICH TARGETS CHILDREN — THIS RENDERS HIS CALLS FOR PEACE BOGUS.

GN SHAHEEN

 

With their movements restricted and phone lines jammed, the residents of Srinagar Valley craved more for departure of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh than the sops, CBM's and political promises he announced. The visit ended hopelessly, as expected. The people of Jammu & Kashmir do not differ with former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who once famously said that Manmohan Singh wants to do something to resolve the Kashmir dispute but has no courage to do so.


Nevertheless, in view of the peace process undertaken by the governments of India and Pakistan in follow up of the Sharm-el-Shiekh and Thimpu proclamations, the visit had assumed greater political significance.


Against this backdrop, it was presumed that the Indian Prime Minister would focus on three subjects — settlement of the Kashmir dispute as the core issue between India and Pakistan which has endangered the peace and security in perpetuity in the South Asian region, implementation of the Prime Minister's promise of "zero tolerance" on human rights violations, and, the offer of a political dialogue to resolve the Kashmir issue.


Ironically, the Prime Minister did not seem to be even peripherally attentive or focused on any of these three issues. As such his visit was a routine exercise in obduracy.


He did make a bogus call for "dialogue" with all sections of the people of Jammu & Kashmir for restoring peace and normalcy in the state with the condition that the talks would be held with the separatists provided they shun the path of violence. This rhetoric has been reiterated by the Prime Minister as had been done by his predecessors in office since 1947. It had no takers in Jammu & Kashmir as the cause of the violence is the perpetuation of the Kashmir dispute and Indian denials to resolve the core issue.


The violence is a symptom not the cause, and unless the basic cause is addressed these offers would not have takers. Nor can it be expected to yield any positive result. A section of the separatist leaders had in the recent past placed faith on such a call from New Delhi but ended up only becoming party to some photo sessions. In the process not only was their credibility shaken but their own self-confidence was badly dented. In this context, the APHC(G) led by Syed Ali Gilani, the APHC(M) led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and the JKLF led by Mohammad Yasin Malik were genuine in rejecting the call for talks made by the Prime Minister in unequivocal and unambiguous terms along with United Jahad Council Chief Syed Salahuddin.


The common Kashmiri firmly believes that nothing would change till such time as India, Pakistan and the Azadi leadership sit for talks under the rubric of a concrete and structural framework for finding a peaceful and permanent resolution to the Kashmir dispute. The Indian Prime Minister is committed internationally to his promise of "zero tolerance" on human rights violations but this promise has proved farcical. Singh, instead of accepting the gross realities on human rights abuses which are marked by extra judicial killings, fake encounters, random arrests and sexual abuse of women as a means of state oppression to subjugate the will of the people, seems to be back-tracking on his promise by relating human rights violations to the rhetoric of cross-border infiltration.


The gruesome execution of three youngsters of Nadihal in north Kashmir by the Army in a staged encounter at the Line of Control is an eye opener for all. Under the new pattern of genocide carried out by the authorities, young school-going children are targeted purposefully to deter future generations from embarking on the path of freedom. Asiya and Nelofar's double murder at Shopian, the death of a Class 7 student, Wamiq Farooq of Rainawari, the killing of Class 9 student Zahid Farooq of Brian Nishat are but symbolic of this official policy. None of these children were militants or remotely connected with any political party, yet they had to loose their lives at the hands of the armed forces.


Undoubtedly, the peace process between India and Pakistan is of enormous value, but the intransigencies inherent with the Indian establishment makes this fragile and delicate. However, major global powers, including the US, China and the European Union, realise the urgency of a resolution of political disputes across the globe, significant among them Palestine and Kashmir, which have long endangered peace, security and stability in West and South Asia. Neither paucity of time nor brute suppression can change the nature of the Kashmir issue and its implications upon the peace security and development in the region. Therefore, it is time for the contending parties of the Kashmir conflict to seize the opportunity and find out a peaceful resolution to the dispute in the larger interests of global and regional peace security stability and development.


The writer is General Secretary, J&K High Court Bar Association


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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

UNDERSTANDING RUSSIA

 

On June 12, 1990, the First Congress of the People's Deputies of the Russian Federation announced "The Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian Federative Socialist Republic". Quite a mouthful: in essence the intention was to bring about constitutional reform thus ushering in the 'new' state of Russia as a nation and ultimately a democracy. Two years later, during which time the Soviet Union imploded, the date was adopted as the national holiday, Russia Day. Today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Russia Day. It makes one think!


One of the truly astonishing things in modern history, perhaps especially for someone of my generation (b 1945), is how amazingly short-lived the Soviet Union was: 1922-91. Having been on a number of occasions in the Soviet Union in the mid/late 1960s, it would have seemed absolutely inconceivable at the time that in fact the regime was living on borrowed time. Ultimately, not only was the collapse quite incredible, but so was the speed with which it happened.


The last two decades have been a roller-coaster ride for Russia. The Yeltsin years (1991-99) were certainly quite frantic, ending with the 1998 collapse of the Russian stock market, rouble and economy, relegating the country to virtual junk status. It was estimated then that the Russian GDP was smaller than Belgium's! When the G7 submitted to Putin's insistent demand to have Russia admitted into the club in 2002 hence becoming the G8 this was seen as a sop on the part of the initial G7 to "poor old Russia". During the Putin years (2000-08), Russia's economic and geopolitical star re-emerged; written off in 1998, within a short time it appeared that Russia as a global power was back. President Medvedev has had to contend with the catastrophic impact of the global economic crisis, as a result of which the Russian GDP in the space of one year contracted by 10.9 per cent, but his agenda does not deviate from Putin's.


So in the course of these very tumultuous two decades, some very pertinent questions remain, including whether Russia is a democracy, whether it is a market economy, whether it is West or East. What will the future hold?

A new categorisation arose with the invention of the term 'BRIC' by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O'Neill in 2001. In this paradigm, Russia is put in the company of the key 'emerging' nations, two of which (China and India) are Asian and one (Brazil) Latin American. This would seem to put Russia beyond Europe. Moscow occasionally seems to relish this association and there have been some not terribly convincing attempts at institutionalising the BRICs as a body engaged in global governance. Russia is also a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, also founded in 2001, which brings together the leaders of Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, intended to provide geopolitical weight or counterweight in a still western dominated planet.


As many have pointed out, however, Russia's appurtenance to these entities raises multiple anomalies. It does not really belong in the BRICs; it is not an emerging market, it is more of an old power undergoing pains of transition and decline. Whereas India, China and Brazil are all three prominent members of the WTO and active commercial players in multiple sectors across the planet, Russia is basically an oil and gas economy.

But perhaps the element that most distinguishes Russia and puts it in stark contrast with emerging economies is demographics. Russia has a very low birth rate and a much shorter life expectancy than both industrialised and emerging economies. Prospects are dim. With a population of 145 million in 2010, on the basis of current demographic trends and demographic trends are difficult to reverse the population by 2050 will have dwindled to an expected 108 million.


Demographics, as the philosopher Auguste Comte stated, is destiny: you cannot escape it. Russia is by far the world's biggest country with extremely long boundaries. How a dwindling and ageing population can continue to inhabit such a very vast territory, let alone govern and protect it, is a critical question.


Bearing all this in mind, it would, it seems, be in Russia's national interest to cement much closer ties with Europe; and this would also be in Europe's interest. Some indeed advocate that Russia should be made a member-state of the European Union. To that end, Europe and notably the European Union should be having a much more proactive policy of engaging with Russia.


Paradoxically, however, there is one other dimension in which Russia does stand out from most of the rest of Europe. Western Europe, but also increasingly Central and Eastern Europe have become secular, indeed one can say irreligious societies. Churches are empty and consequently they play far less of a role in European daily life than they did only half-a-century ago. In Russia, remarkably, after seven decades of enforced atheism, the Orthodox Church has enjoyed a truly remarkable renaissance. It is close to the centre of power as it also impacts the lives of ordinary Russians.


Understanding the 'Russian soul' is not an easy task. I would strongly recommend reading or re-reading among others, the collected works of Tolstoy. You may still not understand; but at least you will understand why you don't understand!


The writer is professor of international political economy at IMD, Lausanne, Switzerland.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

SOCCER'S NOT BORN EVERY MINUTE...

 

When football mania hits, manna flows not just from the Hand of God. Good sport that he is, South African prez Jacob Zuma feels that FIFA World Cup 2010 belongs to all of Africa. So, he invited all African leaders to join the ball. Rumour has it that those attending have got mammoth entourages including consorts, kids, aides, bodyguards and what-have-you-not. So what? Unlike taxpaying suckers, soccer isn't born every minute.


Besides, when has political royalty ever travelled light? That'll be even truer of the noble tribe of "WaBenzi", a term coined for Africa's ruling elite said to have a continent-sized weakness for six-door Mercedes-Benzes. From Uganda to Malawi, riding stretch Limos is a status-marker. With all that empty space inside, the charters of national destiny surely need baggage, human or otherwise, to not feel lonely at the wheel. Elementary, my dear WaBenzi.


If only it were that simple for mega-event managers. They're reportedly sweating it out to fit all that baggage into two overcrowded places. One, VVIP and VIP spectator areas at stadiums, which are also claimed by sports officials and sundry politicians. Two, outside stadiums, where Merc must race Merc for that ultimate luxury: a parking spot. This squeeze can only get tighter with Bollywood royalty also having headed for Africa, raising hopes in desi groupies about a possible Chak De Football screenplay. Now, that'll be some consolation for their not making it into King Khan's band of privileged hangers-on.


It might even compensate for our heartburn over the inability of the British queen and her retinue of royal pets to make it to the Delhi Commonwealth Games. Clearly, India's ceremonial as well as elected representatives are far more chak de about phoren trips. Down the years, their impressive trains have included important personages from specialist cooks and electoral fortune-tellers to milk-producing goats. No belt-tightening with the economics and logistics of sustaining such Noah's ark entourages. Size does matter: look at our VVIP convoys, netas' perks and egos, babudom's burden and ever-widening fiscal deficits. Yes, we've limited ministry strength. But we've added to berth pangs and run up bills to herd MPs or MLAs into poaching-free luxury resorts.

Off the political field, India's cricket-crazies have gone soccer-mad. Not that India's going to play host to a soccer World Cup anytime soon. But must we regret not having entourages of the WaBenzi kind? After all, ours is a country where even lifeless statues of netas acquire retinues of lifelike statues of jumbo tuskers. Then, monumental politico and pachyderm both nearly acquire a "special zone security force". And this proposed protective entourage is now to become a phalanx of armed Home Guard. Thus the Hand of Maya scores for the bahujan.

Now, India's bahujan are simply those who help payroll a jumbo tribe of political footballers. The universe, after all, is a free kick. Move over, WaBenzi. WaBehenji is here.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 EDITORIAL

LIBERAL LAWS ARE GOOD

 

This has been a long time coming. The law ministry's suggestion that "irretrievable breakdown of marriage" be made a ground for divorce has been cleared by the Union cabinet. Now, steps would have to be taken to amend the Hindu Marriage Act and Special Marriage Act accordingly.


The marriage Acts of our country have clearly not kept up with the times. Legislated in the 1950s they have only three clauses for granting divorce: matrimonial fault, mutual consent and specific circumstances like a missing partner or insanity. The Supreme Court as well as the Law Commission have on several occasions recommended that breakdown of marriage be included in divorce provisions, but that is yet to have any impact on our laws.


It's time this provision, which is available in many liberal democracies, be included in Indian law. The reasons for this are clear. Marriage is a contract where individuals are meant to enter on their free will. If one of the partners wants to break the contract for whatever reason, he or she must have the option to exit. This is akin to the no-fault divorce where dissolution of a marriage does not require any evidence of wrongdoing or breach of the marital contract. Several countries, including the US and Australia, have provisions for such divorce.


In the Indian context, objections have been raised regarding the vulnerability of rural and illiterate women. These don't have much merit. If a man seeks divorce, he is likely to exploit a legal loophole. In any case, our current laws have not been able to stop men from deserting their wives or marrying many times.


Instead of dwelling on the worst-case scenarios we need to amend our laws to make them more liberal. In the case of marriage, this must be predicated on the belief that it is a contract like any other.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

NOT IN SOCIETY'S INTEREST

 

The cabinet's nod to the proposed amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act and the Special Marriage Act, clearing the way for incorporating 'irretrievable breakdown of marriage' as a ground for divorce, is a disastrous development. This will strike at the very root of the institution of marriage and significantly contribute to higher divorce rates in the country. For, if irretrievable breakdown of marriage becomes a legitimate ground for divorce, it will serve as a convenient excuse for married men and women to opt out of their marriages at the slightest hint of inconvenience. This is especially true for the urban set-up where individualism along with financial self-sufficiency is on the rise. The repercussions are indeed grave. Increase in the number of broken marriages will lead to various social problems such as erosion of the concept of family. Plus, the negative impact of divorce on children is immeasurable. Hence, this is a trend that should be discouraged.


In particular, the amendments will severely impact married women from rural or disadvantaged backgrounds who are largely dependent on their spouses for their financial needs. Divorce for them equals destitution. In such a scenario if a man were to claim irretrievable breakdown of marriage and get a divorce, given our weak alimony rules, his wife would be forced into abject poverty. Besides, making divorce easier should never be the aim of the state. Instead, the focus should be on marriage counselling. Divorce should be the last resort when all else has failed.


Marriage is the most fundamental of social institutions and its sanctity must be maintained. Social problems in western societies can all be traced to their flippant attitude towards marriage and family. Our society should not follow suit and fall prey to misplaced notions of modernity.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

PAYING ATTENTION TO CHINA

 

When Indian and US leaders toasted their great strategic friendship in the ornate, chandelier-hung Thomas Jefferson state reception room, there was much bonhomie and talk of common democratic heritage. The fact remains that both the countries have been democracies ever since they had established diplomatic relations but they never had as close a relationship as now. It cannot be explained by Hillary Clinton's love for India or President Barack Obama's admiration for Mahatma Gandhi. The elephant in the state department's reception room was China.


Ever since India-US ties deepened under the BJP government, the relations were explained by the code word "natural allies". Left unsaid were mutual concerns of two democracies about a rising China. What lies behind the love-fest of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's White House reception and now S M Krishna's at the state department is a more acute concern about Beijing. The clinking of champagne glasses in Washington last week took place against the backdrop of a worsening climate between the US and China.


In the dark days of 1989, when the violence of Tiananmen Square left China a global pariah, Deng Xiaoping crafted a cautious strategy. In his now famous eight-character directive, Deng recommended that China "keep a low profile and bide our time, while also getting something accomplished". The 2008 financial crisis that left China standing tall may have ended the imperative of circumspection. A series of bold Chinese actions and assertions in recent weeks has left no doubt that China feels its moment has arrived. While not seeking "war war", to borrow a Churchillian term, it would still "jaw jaw" its rivals, especially the US, in order to expand its power and influence.


Earlier this week, Global Post, a Chinese government-controlled newspaper, published successive commentaries warning the US against dispatching aircraft carriers to the Yellow Sea for the forthcoming joint military exercise with South Korea. In a commentary headlined 'Yellow Sea no place for US carrier', Beijing seemed to walk back its earlier tacit acceptance of a US presence in the region. "With stronger national strength, the Chinese public naturally feels upset by the close proximity of a foreign warship," the commentary explained. Another column in the same paper warned, "The US should be aware of the severe consequences such a move [introducing the aircraft carrier] would bring." Notably, the participation of a US aircraft carrier battle group in last year's joint US-Korean exercise provoked no such protest.


These protests have followed a series of public disagreements between US and Chinese military officials. During a strategic and economic dialogue between the two countries in Beijing in late May, Rear Admiral Guan Youfei of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) chastised the US for its "hegemonic" behaviour and for plotting to encircle China with strategic alliances. Several days later, at the annual Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore, US defence secretary Robert Gates and China's deputy chief of the general staff, Gen Ma Xiaotian, clashed publicly, with the former accusing the PLA of blocking the development of US-China relations and General Ma accusing the US of treating China as an enemy.


This war of words follows several recent incidents at sea between the Chinese, American and Japanese navies. The same exercises that foreign forces have been conducting in international waters near China for decades are now unacceptable to China. In April, a retired Chinese general explained China's new assertiveness: "We kept silent and tolerant over territorial disputes with our neighbours in the past because our navy was incapable of defending our economic zones, but now the navy is able to carry out its task."


The recent US announcement of arms sales to Taiwan has also provoked a surprisingly strong reaction, leading Gates to wonder why all the fuss about "old news". The reason was provided by Cui Liru, the president of an official Chinese think tank, who told the Washington Post: "For years, China has opposed arms sales to Taiwan among other things, but we were never strong enough to do anything about it. But our national strength has grown. And it is time that the United States pays attention."


Washington, it seems, has been paying attention.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

PLAYING WITH A FULL DECK

 

Rajapaksa is widely hailed as the Lion of Sri Lanka, but perhaps foxy is a better description of his dealings both with his rivals and the great powers in the Asian region.

He is widely hailed as the Lion of Sri Lanka, but perhaps foxy is a better description of his dealings both with his rivals and the great powers in the Asian region. This was clearly on display during Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's recent visit to New Delhi, the first since his re-election earlier this year.

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) made a half-hearted stab at raising the Tamil resettlement issue, to which Mr Rajapaksa paid lip service. The rest of the visit has been on predictable lines with New Delhi including the displaced Tamils as one subject among many discussed with the Lankan leader. No one expects any sudden changes in the Rajapaksa regime's attitude towards the Tamils now that the battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has been decisively won. There are still about 80,000 Tamils languishing in refugee camps. But Mr Rajapaksa is in no hurry to make restitution as he faces no pressure either internally or from the international community, especially India.

Rarely has a leader in the volatile South Asian region held all the cards as Mr Rajapaksa does today. While he always pays fulsome tribute to the relationship with India, he is equally lavish in his welcome to its traditional opponents like China and Pakistan. Of course, always with the caveat that he would never allow his country to be a staging post for anti-Indian activity.

China's growing presence is of considerable concern to India that still considers the region its sphere of influence. Mr Rajapaksa has used his unique position at the moment to play his cards to his nation's advantage. It also helps Mr Rajapaksa that his family has an all-pervasive presence in his government and that the opposition has been rendered ineffective following his military victory. However, the Tamil issue is not one that he can wish away.

Sooner or later, he will have to look at implementing the 13th amendment that promises greater devolution of power to the Tamil regions. While there is no immediate threat of Tamil militants regrouping, a political solution would be a surefire way of ensuring lasting peace. Here, New Delhi can nudge him along given its influence over the Tamil population in the island.

The issue, fortunately, is no longer a bargaining chip for southern parties like the DMK. This allows New Delhi the elbow-room to engage Mr Rajapaksa in arriving at a meaningful settlement of the issue. If nothing else, the Rajapaksa visit has established that the traditional relationship between the two countries has got out of the 'Big Brother' syndrome and will now be much more that of equals.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

 

MENTAL BLOCKS THAT'RE CUTTING MANIPUR OFF FROM INDIA

 

Out of sight, out of mind (Our Take, June 10), not only are many statements in the editorial inaccurate, they also reflect an extreme prejudice against the central government. The decision to hold elections to the Autonomous District Councils was a decision taken by the Government of Manipur, in accordance with its constitutional and statutory obligations.

No elections had been held for 20 years. Groups that opposed the elections did so for various reasons. At the same time, there were other groups that welcomed the elections; candidates filed nominations; voters turned out to vote despite threats; polling was very high in three districts; and the participation was average to unsatisfactory in the remaining three districts. Hence, the decision to hold elections had mixed outcomes, and the decision cannot be condemned outright as a "felony".

As regards the allegation that the Centre unilaterally allowed Thuignaleng Muivah to visit Manipur, the facts have been stated on more than one occasion, but your editorial has deliberately ignored the facts.

On May 15, the home minister issued a statement which, inter alia, said: "In order to set the record straight, I wish to point out that Government of India is holding talks with the NSCN (IM) led by Muivah. Muivah expressed a desire to visit his native village, Somdal, in Ukhrul district, Manipur. He submitted an itinerary through the interlocutor, R.S. Pandey. Muivah was told that his visit  can be facilitated in consultation with the Government of Manipur. The Manipur government took the stand that such a visit would not be appropriate at this time.

Efforts were made over several days to find a solution. The chief minister of Manipur was requested to go over to Delhi and he did so on May 6. The finance minister, the defence minister and the home minister held talks with the Manipur CM. However, after his return to Imphal, the CM reiterated the stand of his government that the visit of Muivah to Somdal could not be allowed at this stage."

Hence, it will be clear that no permission was granted to Muivah by the Centre to visit Manipur and, despite efforts made over ten days, it was not possible to arrive at a mutually acceptable arrangement.

As regards ensuring supplies to Manipur, the following steps have been taken by the Centre and the state government:

a) Two consignments of life-saving drugs reached Imphal on May 18 and additional consignment of life-saving drugs weighing 4 MT was airlifted by IAF aircraft on the same day. Between May 17 and May 23, 492.52 quintals of PDS rice was airlifted from the Food Corporation of India, Guwahati, by the Indian Air Force's AN 32 aircraft.

b) Transportation of essential commodities via NH-53 escorted by state police has started since May 21.  More than 1,000 trucks and tankers with essential commodities such as petroleum products and rice have reached Manipur through this route. An IL-76 aircraft carried 32 kilolitres of kerosene oil on May 21 and 48 kilolitres of High Speed Diesel (HSD) on May 22.

c) Essential commodities are also being transported to Manipur through NH 150 with the assistance of the Mizoram government. Between May 16 and June 7, 180 goods vehicles and 37 POL tankers reached Manipur through this route.

In addition, supplies of essential goods to the Hill Districts of Manipur have been arranged by the district administration and Naga civil society groups. The Government of India has been in touch with the governments of Nagaland and Manipur and steps initiated to have the blockade removed and normalcy returned.

Ravinder Singh, Director, Media and Communication, Ministry of Home Affairs

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

WHERE ONLY THE PARANOID SURVIVE

PRATIK KANJILAL

 

They say that when a lawyer can neither hammer home the law nor the facts, she must hammer on the table. So earlier this week, we saw the intelligent, suave and persuasive Jayanthi Natarajan in the avatar of a television tyrant who wouldn't let anyone else speak until she had finished. And she never did finish.

The law has not covered itself in glory in the Bhopal case. The facts suggest that in the past, the government had sided with Union Carbide Corporation against the people, whom it had a monopoly right to represent. And the UPA government is now putting the issue to bed with the customary sleeping draught — yet another committee. No wonder Natarajan is hammering on the table. How else do you defend the indefensible?

To divert public attention from the Bhopal ruling, the UPA is urging us to learn from the disaster and move on. Where to? Unfortunately for the UPA, to the forthcoming Civil Nuclear Liability Bill, which is controversial even before it is tabled. The liability of the operator of a nuclear facility is capped at Rs 500 crore per incident, a fraction of the cost of clean-up alone. Actually, it's the cost of five apartments in a posh new building coming up on Mumbai's Napean Sea Road. The government reserves the right to increase liability by notification — or to decrease it to Rs 100 crore. And it will pay the difference in clean-up, reparation and rehabilitation costs.

There are two points worth noting here. One, that the government — the taxpayer, that is — will actually foot the whole bill because under the Atomic Energy Act, only the government and PSUs can operate nuclear installations. The Bill mentions only 'operators' and is silent on the liability of foreign suppliers, who can probably be sued in separate tort actions. Perhaps by the government, which may again appoint itself sole representative of affected populations and then make a hash of the case. The draft Bill should explicitly state foreign liability.

Secondly, it's on this ground that Natarajan has pooh-poohed fears that foreign agencies will get away with murder again — the operator of nuclear facilities is finally the government, which is accountable to the people. But this is a half-truth. The Atomic Energy Act currently bars private nuclear operators. But this can be rectified by an amendment. Reliance Energy, Tata Power and GMR Group have reportedly expressed an interest in operating nuclear power plants. Public-private partnerships are sexy, and our governments are embarrassingly vulnerable to business lobbies.

So what, eh? They're solid Indian companies. They can't just run away from their liabilities like Union Carbide and Dow Chemical, its present owner. But what if they operate nuclear facilities in partnership with foreign agencies, or simply take on a large foreign stake? This, too, can be enabled by an investment-friendly government. And after a nuclear incident, the foreign interest can lift its stakes, strike its tents and do the midnight flit like Anderson.

Is that being paranoid? Perhaps, but the 25-year debacle that followed the Bhopal disaster was largely home-brewed. We now know that our government and courts are not perfect guardians of the national interest. And that it's smarter to be paranoid first than to be screwed over afterwards.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

FOR A FEW DOLLARS LESS

BARKHA DUTT

 

Sometimes a single sentence captures a magnitude like nothing else can. In 2002, Kathy Hunt, the chief public relations honcho for 'Dow Chemicals' declared- with what can only be called twisted, imperial arrogance — that $500 was "plenty good for an Indian." Yeah, right: not good enough for an American though, we bet.

Hunt was talking about the pittance that the Indian government accepted in its bewilderingly weak-willed settlement with Union Carbide (UC). A few hundred dollars — that is the shockingly dismal value we placed on an Indian life in 1989. Over the years Dow — which acquired UC in 2001 — has told us helpfully that the amount is enough "to cover a full year of medical care in India." We guess, it's an irrelevant, little detail that 120,000 people have remained chronically ill and in need of continued medical help since the toxic gas from the Carbide plant infiltrated its way into their destinies 25 years ago. Another 20,000 are dead. But no, that's all a statistical blur to the American corporate behemoth that by a brazen double-standard has kept aside billions of dollars to deal with potential liabilities arising out of Carbide's asbestos production in the US.

And yes, the oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico just painfully contrasts the schizophrenia of the American response. As President Obama rolls up his sleeves and gets down to business with British Petroleum (BP) warning it not to "nickel and dime" poor fisher folk out of deserved compensation, we have to wonder whether the Americans believe they occupy some different hierarchical position when it comes to measuring the worth of a human life. 

Yet — and this is the bitter pill — as we rave and rant about America and why it won't extradite Carbide's former Chairman Warren Anderson, it isn't American double-standards that resulted in the betrayal of Bhopal; it is the horrific collusion of India's politicians, bureaucrats and judges and decades of neglect by everyone else, including the media, that has left thousands and thousands of people on the very margins of justice. So, let's quit moaning and groaning about who failed us, and examine how we failed ourselves.

Now they tell us that bringing back an ageing Anderson to India won't deliver justice to Bhopal. But who will stand up and take responsibility for the fact that he got away in the first place? The pilot who organised his 'exit aircraft' is categorical that the phone call came from the then CM's office. The now-retired Bhopal Collector says the orders came from "above." And the ever-controversial Digvijaya Singh has managed to put his own party in the witness stand by declaring that American pressure was a likely factor in Anderson's escape. Delhi is abuzz with hoary whispers of a phone call from the then US President Ronald Reagan that worked its influence down the power chain. But none of it — not the public outrage, not the nudge from his own party — has moved former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Arjun Singh into standing up and answering the questions that India has for him. Will the Congress — at the very least — make him answer? Or will the closest India gets to Anderson be electronic images of him holidaying at the Hamptons?

We are all wonderstruck at the seeming leniency of the two-year sentence announced after the "guilty" verdict last week. But the fact is that once the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Ahmadi, reduced the charges against Carbide from culpable homicide to those of criminal negligence, the script for how this was to end became pre-ordained. Should the court then have asked the same judge to head the Bhopal Memorial Trust, created with funds from Union Carbide? The truth is that a murky collusion of self-interests combined with a callousness that we reserve only for our poor, is what has led us to this travesty of justice. Somehow, I wonder, whether the handling of the Bhopal tragedy could have ever been this compromised had the victims been born into a different class.

Even today, big money seems to drive the debate going forward. Without making this some unintelligent, simple-minded rant against the supposed evils of multinationals, isn't it extraordinary that Dow Chemicals refuses to pay the Rs 100 crore needed to clean up the site of the gas leak? And isn't it even more extraordinary that while the Madhya Pradesh courts are yet to decide on the moot dispute — is Dow liable for Union Carbide — the government seems to have already decided that it is not.

Consider the letter written by Andrew Liveris, the Chairman of Dow Chemicals to the then Indian Ambassador to America, Ronen Sen, in 2006. Following up on the meeting of an Indo-US CEO Forum, he refers repeatedly to statements made by "government of India representatives in front of all attendees that Dow is not responsible for Bhopal" and goes on to ask for "concrete, sustained actions that are consistent with these sentiments."

But how was the government authorised to make any such assurance to Dow Chemicals when the legal challenge to Dow's disavowal of liability has never been resolved? Why is the head of an American multinational able to ask India to ensure that "Government of India leaders ... work with all ministers of the central government to ensure that their stated position is reflected in any and all statements?" Why is one of India's most respected industrialists, Ratan Tata, willing to — so easily — accept Dow's assertion, that it is not morally culpable for Union Carbide?

We know that most ministers in the government backed Tata's proposal to let Indian industry lead the clean-up of the site. While competitive activism should not stop that from happening, isn't there any value placed on the outrage of the Indian people and the rights of the victims? What happened to good, old fashioned moral responsibility? Or is this what they mean, these days, when they talk of Corporate Social Responsibility? Frankly, if this is what it takes for India to 'shine', we'd rather live in the 'dark' ages.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

ON THE FLY

 

If transport is indeed civilisation then a country's airport serves as an indicator of its progress. Less than three weeks from now, on July 3, the Prime Minister will inaugurate India's largest terminal. One made of imported Saudi Arabian granite and Italian chairs. One that will offer passengers luxuries and convenience previously unavailable. Delhi's T-3 has also appropriated 300m of "meet and greet" space — a core component of modern airport design; rather than viewing it as a purely functional tool providing connectivity to a plane, T-3 has the capacity to act as container of memories now.

 

In fact the notion of an airport as a mere hop-on and hop-off point is being challenged. Airports are at first just runways, they are then the terminals and then hangars, and rising above are the control towers. The airport is itself an urban entity. It houses hotels and spas, shops and chemists and eventually finds its form in a township. Amsterdam's Schipol brings together under one roof the artwork of Rembrandt; it also has shops with Holland's famous tulips, bulbs and cheese. Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok, is an ambitious project in architecture that appears as a cutout silhouette of a plane. Airports respond to the political context during their period of construction; Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport was under construction for 40 years — beset with delays, corruption charges — it was only completed once the then controversial PM, Thaksin Shinawatra, was deposed. As such airports are mirrors of the city they inhabit.

 

Modern airports have started paying more attention to design. Large green open spaces are seen in Singapore's Changi Airport and waterfalls line the entry to Dubai International Airport. The real centre of gravity is the terminal, which embodies the art of merging limited space with cultural expression. The challenge for T-3 lies in deadlines: should it want to place itself as an international hub, the norm of missing deadlines should be avoided.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

PARTY-FREE, PARTY-LESS

 

Opposition unity is at most times elusive in Uttar Pradesh, but diverse political parties are united in their protest against a move to disallow political parties from contesting local body elections. Draft rules notified last month contained this sentence: "The election to the post of members, corporators, chairperson and mayor of municipalities shall not be contested on the basis of political parties." Part of the opposition's fury is at having been caught unawares just now about the BSP government's move. The draft rules were notified on May 11, with a month available for anybody to file objections. Now, the Congress, SP, and BJP are attributing ulterior motives to the Mayawati government's proposal. But it may be salutary to separate the politics from the idea of abolishing political parties in local elections.

 

Mayawati's detractors say that, were the change to be effected, her government to capture municipal bodies without having won them outright. They also hold that she is dodging a test of the BSP's popularity two years before the state must go to assembly elections. In fact, this charge was levelled against her in 2006 too — that she was fearful of revealing her political strength at that time, a year before the 2007 elections that gave her a majority in a traditionally hung assembly. There would, of course, be politics at the heart of the move and it makes all more important that the chief minister explain why her government is taking such a leap in the way municipal body elections are conducted.

 

Political parties are crucial in a democracy, and attacks on them to make a case for direct democracy are alibis of dictators scared about the will of the people being made actionable through the organising structure provided by parties. But is there an intimacy to representation at the lowest, smallest level that's more meaningful without strict political party control and mobilisation? After all, what makes grassroots bodies different from state and national legislatures? The current controversy should occasion a wider debate on municipal elections.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

IRON RULE

 

Mining everywhere is a messy business, but it is undeniable that in India the business is much more messy than elsewhere. The political interference, rampant illegality and enormous, uneconomic profits to be made in the sector are born of confused, opaque and outdated regulation. It is welcome, therefore, that the mines ministry has been working to update mining law — specifically, the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act of 1957, universally and cheerlessly known as MMDR. Now comes news, however, that the law ministry, which is supposed to vet new legislation, has suggested to the mines ministry that "losing mineral wealth forever" should be a concern. An increased emphasis on "conservation" means, among other things, that we should look very carefully at what they call "large-scale exports". This would, they claim, also cut down on illegal mining.

 

This is a seriously wrong-headed approach. Leave aside for the moment the question of whether this represents a bit of over-reach by the law ministry, which is supposed to examine legislation for legal loopholes and possible challenges, not set out its possible deeper policy implications. There is another concern here: the knee-jerk use of trade barriers to satisfy various domestic constituencies that might be having a tough time. Last month textile exporters successfully managed to get the Centre to introduce restrictions on the export of raw cotton; this hit farmers hard, and set a terrible precedent. In this particular case the concern is about the state of India's iron and steel industry: squeezed by high commodity prices recently, steelmakers have been lobbying hard for those subsidies that are, in Delhi-speak, euphemistically called "relief". A few weeks ago, the steel ministry had written a letter to the finance ministry asking that export of iron ore be "de-incentivised". Steelmakers feel that they should at least get to control the supply of iron ore given that the price of coking coal, for example, spiked over the past year and there was very little they could do about it.

 

There is absolutely no payoff to introducing barriers to trade, whether price-related or quantitative, in response to industry's desire for control. Here's another reason to extend financial sector deepening: hedging through the judicious use of commodity futures should take the pressure off struggling companies. Nor can "conservation" be interpreted to mean restricting mining but, as the mines ministry has pointed out, increasing productivity and the value addition from related industries. Above all, the knee-jerk use of trade barriers to appease lobbies must end.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

1984, ONE LESSON

SHEKHAR GUPTA


In a season when some of the late Rajiv Gandhi's own political legatees are busy besmirching his name, post the Bhopal verdict, it may be useful to also remember some of the good he did in his very early days, in fact even months before he had taken any office. It is important to highlight this for three reasons. One, because he is given far less credit than is due for the contribution he made to our national security. Second, because this is precisely what may hold a lesson for us as we grapple in our supremely and typically Indian confusion on how to respond to the Maoist challenge. And third, because this was also an idea that came up in 1984, probably the most difficult year in our contemporary history (Operation Bluestar, mutinies in the army's Sikh units, Indira Gandhi's assassination followed by the massacre of Sikhs, and then the Bhopal tragedy in the middle of the election campaign).

 

As a reporter who covered all these awful stories but the last, I would agree entirely that after the 1971 watershed, India had never felt more vulnerable, internally and externally, than in 1984. In fact that was one of the main factors contributing to Rajiv's landslide win. The people of India were in no mood to take any chances. As I confessed earlier, I did not quite get to cover the Bhopal tragedy. But I did happen to go past Bhopal within days of the tragedy, on my way to cover the court-martial of Sikh mutineers in Jabalpur. I mention that to highlight the state of multiple crises India was then facing, under a caretaker prime minister with five weeks in public office. So one reason why Bhopal did not get the detailed attention it may have got in more normal circumstances was how distracted and wounded the establishment in New Delhi was, at that point of time. If you had your army fight a battle with fellow countrymen in Sikhism's holiest shrine, with tanks and howitzers, suffer countrywide mutinies, see the country's most powerful politician ever (to date) assassinated and thousands of a much loved and respected community butchered in a one-mile radius of Rashtrapati Bhawan, you would be dazed by one more crisis.

 

It is probably because of the many and mostly self-inflicted political crises that overwhelmed Rajiv Gandhi's government, overriding the early euphoria, that we forget some of his most useful contributions. And the one relevant today is the thought process that led to the formation of the National Security Guard (NSG), the popular "black cat" commandos who the entire world saw in action in Mumbai in November 2008.

 

Rajiv was not in the government yet when Operation Bluestar happened (June 1984) but was never far from the PMO either. The operation was a military success, but a political and tactical disaster. Worse, it forced the army into a combatant's position vis-a-vis the Sikhs. It is the mutinies that followed that got Rajiv thinking. Was it unavoidable to pitchfork the army into such a tricky internal situation? Could it have been done some other way? After all, his grandfather had sent the army to Hyderabad in 1948 and called it "police action". In 1961, he sent the army, navy and air force into Goa — and still called it "police action". Nehru was not stupid. He knew that the army must always be kept above all internal divisions and shielded from controversy. As for the police, they are meant to be the "bad guys" anyway, and can afford to take the flak.

 

I speak from some pretty good reportorial insight into the internal debate at that time. It was out of this thought process that the idea of the NSG emerged. A dedicated counter-terrorist force, managed and controlled by the home ministry, consisting of the finest men of all our armed forces, given specialised training and capable of carrying out not merely smaller, precise counter-terror operations like anti-hijacking and hostage-rescue, but also larger ones where sizeable bodies of men and material may be required, like Bluestar and, eventually, 26/11. What made it such a brilliant innovation was that its spearhead, the Special Action Group (SAG), was almost entirely drawn from the elite units of the army. The recruits for the Special Ranger Group (SRG), which usually forms outer cordons during operations, provides a crucial support role, and whose commandos you usually see involved in VIP security, were mostly hand-picked from the paramilitary forces. The entire force was led by an IPS officer, to keep its civilian veneer, who was in turn assisted by senior army officers who headed operations.

 

The brilliance of the idea lay in the fact that you could use all the might and resources of the armed forces in an internal situation without exposing the army as an institution. Its first success came with Operation Black Thunder in the summer of 1988 when terrorists again had to be evicted from the Golden Temple. There was no controversy, no mutinies and no collateral damage. It may be of academic interest, but still deserves a mention, that the army officer who was the NSG force commander in that first, and to date finest, operation was one Colonel Kishan Pal. He returned to our headlines last week in the controversy following the armed forces tribunal expunging some of his remarks, as Kashmir Corps Commander, from his battle performance appraisal of Brigadier Devinder Singh. Another man who has been in the headlines lately is former BSF chief E.N. Rammohan for conducting the Dantewada inquiry; he was one of the tiny core group that designed the NSG.

 

We talk about this today not merely to set the historical record straight, but to underline the imaginative, firm and decisive way in which Rajiv Gandhi had responded to India's most formidable internal security challenges. We need to contrast it with the self-destructive waffling and intellectually bankrupt "debate" which has now broken out among his own legatees over a response to the greatest internal security challenge of "their" times. Instead of putting their heads together and crafting an imaginative new response to a formidable new challenge, they are hunting for excuses and finding cover for their utterly mindless pussyfooting by unleashing "leak warfare" in the media. No country that takes itself seriously anywhere in public discusses issues of tactics, like which equipment and which forces to use in which situation. This problem gets more complicated when "debate" is used as a tactic even by important ministries and ministers, resulting in a loss of time, opportunity and morale.

 

That there are indeed "root causes" of Maoist violence and that these must be addressed is a no-brainer. So is the fact that you cannot address them unless you can either end the violence, or at least get an upper hand in the fight against it. How you do it, what is the minimum force that is required to achieve it are for the government of the day to decide on, and take responsibility for the outcome. That is why we elected them and accorded them their hallowed places in the Cabinet room. Maybe you cannot conjure up a brilliant idea like Rajiv's NSG at will, but you need to find a strategic resolve and then look for tactical innovations to back it up. And if you still feel lily-livered or quake in your chappals, you will only be dumping the formidable legacy on national security that you have inherited from leaders in whose names you still seek votes and are accorded the blessing of public office and power.

 

sg@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

LIABILITY TRUTHS

RAVI VISVESVARAYA PRASAD

 

The judgment on the Bhopal disaster has incited the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left parties to renew their attacks on the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, which is pending before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology.

 

Several misconceptions are prevailing about the bill: that the compensation limit of Rs 500 crore is too low in the light of Bhopal; that the bill permits foreign suppliers of defective equipment to get away scot free; and so on. But in fact, the bill will bring speedy compensation to the victims of a nuclear accident, unlike Bhopal where the victims had to wait long years. Indeed, the present bill adheres to international best practices and is far better than the national laws of countries such as Canada.

 

First, it is a "no-fault" bill, and relieves the victims of the burden of proving negligence (that is, it is a "strict" liability bill). The plant operator is compelled to pay compensation irrespective of the cause of the accident (that is it is also an "absolute" liability bill). Second, unlike the victims of Bhopal who had to wait for years to receive compensation, Clause 16 of the bill provides that the claims commissioner shall make his award within three months of the incident occurring, and ensure that payment reaches the victims within a further 15 days.

 

Third, even though it is not mentioned in the bill, under the common law of torts, the victims retain their rights to file claims for damages over and above the operator's no-fault liability limit. Fourth, the state continues to retain its right to file criminal charges of culpable homicide or causing death due to negligence.

 

At present there is no law in India which compels either the government, or the operator of a nuclear plant, or an equipment or material supplier to pay compensation until negligence is proved in a court of law. The Public Liability Insurance Act of 1991 specifically excludes nuclear and radiological accidents. Moreover, the Indian Atomic Energy Act of 1962 makes no mention at all of liability or compensation in the event of a nuclear accident. Most life and health insurance policies also specifically exclude death or damage due to nuclear accidents or radiation.

 

Indeed, India is the only major country — already operating as many as 18 nuclear power plants — which is not a member of either the 1963 "Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage" of the IAEA, or the 1960 "Paris Convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy" of the OECD.

 

In addition to wanting vendors of equipment, components, and raw materials to be directly liable, the opposition criticises the Rs 500 crore limit on operator liability as far too low, and the supplementary liability of the government, as passing on the burden to the Indian taxpayer. They also say the 10-year limit for claiming damages is too short.

 

But all these objections are contrary to both the Vienna and Paris conventions, signed by over 80 countries. Both share the following main principles. First, liability is channelled exclusively to the operators of the nuclear installations; second, liability of the operator is absolute, that is, the operator is held liable irrespective of fault; third, liability is limited in amount; fourth, liability is limited in time. Compensation rights are extinguished if an action is not brought within ten years from the date of the nuclear incident.

 

Indeed, the cap of liability of an Indian operator at Rs 500 crore per incident is well above those of several other countries. China has a liability cap of Rs 205 crore, Canada of Rs 335 crore, and France is about the same at Rs 575 crore. Moreover, this limit of Rs 500 crore can be easily raised, as clause 6(2) of the bill permits the Central government to do so by issuing a notification.

 

A controversial issue is the liability of the suppliers of faulty equipment. Clause 17 as tabled in Parliament stated that "the operator of a nuclear installation shall have a right of recourse where: (a) Such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing; (b) The nuclear incident has resulted from the willful act or gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment, or services, or of his employee; (c) The nuclear incident has resulted from the act of commission or omission of a person done with the intent to cause nuclear damage." This is stricter than IAEA's model law which contains only 17(a) and 17(c) and not 17(b). There are reports that the government plans to drop Clause 17(b). That would be fatal; they should stand firm in retaining it, so that suppliers are not negligent and exercise due diligence in design and manufacturing.

 

With a bit of tweaking, especially on the clauses relating to faulty equipment and enhancement of the liability cap, the bill would exceed international norms.

 

The writer heads a telecom consulting firm in Delhi

 

express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL

NAJEEB JUNG

 

It was past midnight when a concerned friend called us, asking us to secure our windows. There had been some kind of gas leakage in old Bhopal and residents were feeling as if they had been tear-gassed. I felt more curious than alarmed, but when I called the police control room, they confirmed that was in fact a nameless gas in the air, many people were escaping to the new city and the police were trying to locate the source.

 

Within minutes I had got calls from several colleagues, either cautioning me about the leak or supplying information. Oddly, none of us smelt anything strange nor did we experience any distress. The reason for this was to dawn on us a few days later. At the time I was a civil servant housed in a government colony called 74 Bungalows, situated at the base of a hill. The old city is located on the other side of the hill with the magnificent lake dividing the old and the new parts of the town.  The Char Imli housing area where most civil servants and ministers lived was even further away. The reason these sarkari areas weren't poisoned was simple: methyl isocyanate being heavy, crashed into the hill, and the heavy winter night helped it to settle onto the

 

Bhopal lake. Both nature and geography conspired to take care of the powerful.

 

It was only later that that we came to know there had been a gas leak from one of the tanks at the Union Carbide factory located in the heart of old Bhopal. The sickening scale of the disaster became gradually apparent in the late afternoon when bodies began emerging and huge numbers of patients began reporting to government hospitals complaining of everything from eye problems to an acute difficulty in breathing. Late that night the BBC had reported the leaking gas was methyl isocyanate, the same gas used by Hitler in his gas chambers.

 

In 24 hours, Bhopal, this idyllic city of nawabs, begums, beautiful lakes, shikaris with exaggerated tales and mushairas, had turned into the seventh circle of hell. My Bhopali friends described it as qayamat, literally the end of the world. NSS volunteers began work, stacking up bodies. Chief Minister Arjun Singh directed the finance secretary to spare no resources to deal with this deadly visitation. Eight of us were drafted by the government to tour the affected areas, assess the death toll and provide some immediate ex gratia relief.  

 

As the bodies accumulated, the administration ran out of firewood for cremation. Sweepers fled the city and the government scoured other districts to draft in workers. Normally adult bodies are buried six feet deep; this time round there were so many corpses that relief workers did not dig deep enough; some bodies resurfaced, only to be attacked by vultures and dogs. Buffaloes and cows that had died expanded and then exploded. The hospitals ran out of eye drops and other medical supplies. We later realised that eye-drops

 

aggravated our conditions; what

 

we needed was water to wash the eyes clean.

 

The people who survived were preyed upon by dreadful suffering.  Pregnant women gave birth to abnormal children. Eye and lung disease became an everyday problem. Many people found it impossible to either lead a normal life or work for a living. The $ 400 million relief awarded by the courts was a joke that dishonoured the victims.

 

The courts are still debating the applicability of Section 304 (ii) versus Section 304 (a) of the Indian Penal Code. Senior officers of the CBI have claimed that Anderson was let off deliberately. Within a few days of the incident, Anderson arrived in a special plane to Bhopal. The SP of Bhopal was at the airport to arrest him. Anderson had the gumption to think that the SP was actually there to receive him as a VIP. He was comfortably lodged in a guest house and then let off on bail after a few days. Stories continue to do the rounds on the reasons why he was allowed to flee. If it hadn't been for the gravity of the tragedy, it might have been amusing to see Justice Ahmadi squirm when quizzed on television about his judgment. Does anyone in the country believe that justice was done?

 

It is now 26 years since that hellish night. Thousands of people carry the physical and mental scars. Half a dozen IAS officers who were involved with the relief operations have suffered from different types of cancer. But instead of ritually spelling out the tragedy, let us, a quarter of a century later, do something about it.

 

Let the law take its laggardly course as far as Union Carbide's officials are concerned; let us try to succour those who continue to suffer. $400 million as compensation is a pittance. Let us for a moment imagine the government's reaction had this tragedy occurred in Lutyens Delhi or Nariman Point in Mumbai. If the Indian republic continues to publicly treat poor Bhopalis as an underclass to be ignored both in life and in death, our claims to be a vibrant republic and an "emergent power" are just self-congratulatory propaganda.

 

The writer is vice chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, and a former civil servant

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

A KING OR QUEEN FOR AMERICA

 

The national campaign to get President Obama to emote, throw crockery at oil executives and jump up and down in fury has failed. But here's a long-term solution: Let's anoint a king and queen.

 

If we can just get over George III, our new constitutional monarchs could serve as National Hand-Holders, Morale-Boosters-in-Chief and Founts of American Indignation.  Our king and queen could spend days traipsing along tar-ball-infested beaches, while bathing oil-soaked pelicans and thrusting strong chins defiantly at BP rigs.

 

All that would give President Obama time to devise actual clean-up policies. He might then also be able to concentrate on eliminating absurd government policies that make these disasters more likely (such as the $ 75 million cap on economic damages when an oil rig is responsible for a spill).

 

Our president is stuck with too many ceremonial duties as head of state, such as greeting ambassadors and holding tedious state dinners, that divert attention from solving problems. You can preside over America or you can address its problems, but it's difficult to find time to do both.

 

Other countries often hand over ceremonial duties to a titular head of state with no real powers — sort of a national nanny.  In Japan, the head of state is effectively the emperor. In Germany, it's the ceremonial president. In Britain, it's the queen. Canada divides the job of head of state between Queen Elizabeth (a freebie since she's on the British payroll) and her representative, the governor general.

 

A figurehead head of state is a nifty foreign policy tool as well. President Obama has twice had to delay his trip to Indonesia and Australia because of the press of domestic policy, but an American king and queen could spend days greeting crowds and cutting ribbons at new schools. And when they aren't travelling, our king and queen could be kept busy hosting state dinners five nights a week.

 

Some folks complain that it's silly to fret that Obama doesn't emote. Of course, it is. It's farcical that we have bullied our president into trash-talking on television about kicking some you know what.

 

One of the things I admire about this administration is its cerebral, no-drama emphasis on empirical evidence in addressing issues such as health, education and poverty. This is government by adults, by engineers rather than by dramatists.

 

But Obama also knows that drama and emotion are the fuel of American politics, and that's why he's struggling to feign fury.

 

As Stephen Colbert observed about the oil spill: "We know if this was Reagan, he would have stripped to his skivvies, put a knife in his teeth, gone down there and punched that oil well shut!"

 

But let's be realistic. Most presidents just won't look that good in their skivvies. And some may accidentally swallow the knives. Thus, the need for a handsome king and queen to lead photo-ops.

 

Small-minded critics will offer petty objections, complaining that it is undemocratic or inequitable to have royalty. Hmm. Considering that the wealthiest 1 per cent of Americans own financial wealth six times greater than the financial wealth of the entire bottom 80 per cent, well, we already have an aristocracy.

 

Critics may also protest the expense of royalty. But we could save on housing by having royals stay in the castles at Disneyland and Disney World. In any case, think of royalty as an investment that could bring in billions of dollars in tourist revenue.

 

If we choose well and adopt royals who are prone to scandal, we might also give a much-needed boost to the newspaper industry. A particularly fecund couple might offer the prospect of regular royal weddings, with sales of enough commem

 

orative kitsch to balance the federal budget.

 

How should we choose a king and queen? Frankly, we already have royalty: Hollywood celebrities. And they are well trained to emote and explode on demand. Just imagine the Nielsen ratings for an Academy Awards-type evening in which Americans would choose a royal family for the first time — live!

 

Movie stars are mostly rich enough that we wouldn't have to pay them, and they can often be counted on to indulge in enough adultery to make royalty entertaining and titillating.  They also tend to be gorgeous, and if we're going to have a king and queen stripped to their skivvies with knives in their teeth, we may as well enjoy the sight.

 

What? You say that this would be un-American? It's not who we are as a country? Well, rage isn't President Obama either. It's not who he is any more than a monarchy is America.

 

So maybe we should just accept that we're stuck with a presidential system — and with a ruminative and slightly boring president who tries to solve problems rather than fulminate about them.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL 

COMPETITION UNBOUND?

FARHAD SORABJEE

 

True to type, India is last in the line of major economic jurisdictions implementing an effective law to ensure fair competition in its markets. And when it finally did implement the Competition Act, 2002 in May last year, it did so, to paraphrase the immortal words of Nehru, neither wholly nor in full measure. The implementation for merger regulation was held in abeyance, and so it remains.  

 

So what has been achieved on this front one year on from the competition commission going live on the other provisions of the Act? The new commission members, most of whom were only appointed last year, were faced with an impossible situation: major new regulatory duties with virtually no proper staffing. The commission may justifiably point to its hectic efforts to staff itself to handle the expected flood of merger control notifications by companies as an achievement in itself. All the work done by the tiny staff that operated the commission before 2009 had been lost by attrition or the usual transfers to unrelated departments of the civil service. So the institutional memory that the government had developed at the taxpayer's cost was casually thrown away. The new commission was left to start from square one again. 

 

On the ground, the government has instilled even less confidence. The justifiable howls of protest that ensued from companies and practitioners globally when the first draft merger control regulations were issued were addressed. The draft was withdrawn — many months ago. The commission then worked quickly to take on board valid suggestions made by various stakeholders and delivered revised regulations to the government — again, many months ago. 

 

While the silence on concrete progress is deafening, there is no shortage of soundbites from government officials. The corporate affairs minister has been particularly active. A year ago we were informed merger control would be made effective within 100 days, something that was communicated by practitioners to their colleagues all over the world. Nothing happened. 

 

Then we were informed the government was considering sectoral and individual exemptions.   

 

Soon after, the first of the expected turf wars between regulators erupted. The RBI stepped in to protect what it considers to be its exclusive domain, the regulation banking sector, on the basis that mergers and acquisitions are a part of such regulation and are within its exclusive remit.  

 

Caught in the crossfire, the government is increasingly looking like a deer caught in the headlights. It appears to have first attempted to broker peace. Recent reports suggest it may be dicing with the thin end of the wedge and considering exempting the banking sector from the law. Waiting in the wings are a slew of other regulators such as the Trai and the electricity regulatory commissions.  

 

The answer is simple. As the minister has rightly pointed out, exemptions may be necessary from time to time to promote the objects of the Competition Act. The granting of exemptions can't be a comprehensive one-off event to be enshrined in regulations written in stone. These exemptions can be granted and moulded from time to time. Surely this can't be a reason to hold up the approval of the basic merger control regulations? 

 

Quite recently, another phantom hurdle has surfaced. The minister appears to have gone on record that the current thresholds will be enhanced, so that the filing before the competition commission is only required for "really big" mergers and acquisitions. This is bound to provoke resistance in several quarters, and perhaps with good reason. What exactly is "really big"? The current Indian thresholds are higher than in European countries and are similar to those for the EU. The mandate of the competition commission is to prevent or detect unfairness and distortion in markets, and the administrative convenience of private industry is unfortunately only subsidiary. If market effect is paramount, there is a reverse case for actually lowering the thresholds in view of the relatively small size of Indian markets. Either way, this can be addressed later after practical data is available. But will it? Or will it become one more unwarranted obstacle, measurable in months of delay and embarrassment? 

 

As practitioners we have fielded the same question from around the world over the last year: "The merger control provisions — when?" We have valiantly attempted to provide reasonable answers: " A hundred days, we believe" ... "by September"... "probably by January"... "perhaps by March". The current favourite is a sheepish grin and a look to the heavens. Perhaps it is time for government to erase this global embarrassment.

 

The writer works with a New Delhi-based law firm.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BUDGET PAKISTAN

RUCHIKA TALWAR

 

Pakistan's budget, announced this week, looked like the to-do list of an embattled state, struggling to manage what little was left in its coffers and desperate to generate more. The highlight, expectedly, was its defence spending. Dawn reported on June 7: "The defence budget for 2010-11 has been jacked up to Rs 442.2 billion with the cost of 'war on terror' crossing the $10 billion mark in a single year for the first time since 2001... The increase comes to 17 per cent of the revised estimates for 2009-10." After terror, the next big issue in Pakistan has been electricity, or the lack thereof. Daily Times reported: "To overcome the severe power shortage... the Finance Division has allocated Rs 129 billion for 2010-2013 for the Ministry of Water and Power under the Medium Term Budgetary Framework... The ministry is bound to reduce load shedding by 60 per cent in 2010-11, 70 per cent in 2011-12 and 80 per cent in 2012-13."

 

While the budget has goodies for select government servants, Pakistan's members of parliament might be left high and dry, and it sounds worse for faujis and federal ministers. Daily Times reported that the "50 per cent increase in salaries will not be applicable to salaries of the armed forces, police, judiciary and federal ministers. However, the government would decide whether this increase would be applicable to members of parliament." Salaries of federal ministers will be pruned by 10 per cent but, adds Daily Times: "the cut is not likely to benefit the national kitty to a large extent."

 

Gilani-Singh warmth

 

As India's PM Manmohan Singh visited Srinagar, Pakistan's PM Yousaf Raza Gilani headed to Quetta. Dawn reported on June 8: "Speaking at the Command and Staff College at a ceremony to mark the completion of a course, he said: 'Pakistan seeks negotiated and peaceful resolution of all disputes with India...the Indian leadership had agreed to resume composite dialogue on all controversial issues. Pakistan believes in having peaceful relations with all neighbouring countries."

 

Daily Times added: "By suspending composite dialogue following the Mumbai attacks, non-state actors succeeded in dictating their agenda... it was Pakistan's consistent viewpoint to delink the peace process from terrorism... Better late than never."

 

Nato attack

 

The News on June 8 reported one of the most brazen attacks on foreign security forces: "Unidentified armed men opened fire at a convoy of over 30 vehicles including trailers carrying supplies and vehicles and tankers carrying oil for the Nato forces in Afghanistan near Sang Jani, a few kilometres short of Taxila on the GT Road at around mid-night on Tuesday... The police claimed the terrorists continued shooting at the trailers and oil tankers for over an hour."

 

General popularity

 

News of Pervez Musharraf's expected return to Pakistani politics resurfaces every few days. The News reported on June 8: "The All Pakistan Muslim League, led by former president Pervez Musharraf, has started its 'political journey' from Karachi to target, what its representatives call the politics of dynasty in order to empower the masses. 'We observed unprecedented sentiments for Gen Musharraf, which showed he was more popular than we expected,' said Musharraf's spokesman Rashid Qureshi at a press conference at the Karachi Press Club."

 

Corruption slur

 

Daily Times carried a news item on June 9 questioning the integrity of the country's legal hero, Aitzaz Ahsan: "The executive committee of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) has decided to forward the names of senior advocates Aitzaz Ahsan and Irfan Qadir for allegedly accepting bribes in the controversial Haris Steel Mills case for getting a favourable decision from the court. Qadir is the prosecutor general of the National Accountability Bureau."

 

Defence of defiance

 

Nawaz Sharif has kicked up a religious row, as. Dawn reported on June 10: "PMLN has rejected criticism of its leader Nawaz Sharif's remarks about Ahmadis' rights following the suicide bombings on two mosques in Lahore... Sharif upset religious and political circles last week after he said "Ahmadi brothers and sisters are an asset" of the country." Sharif's comments drew criticism from religious parties, and a grouping of such parties was reported to have "urged Mr Sharif to retract his statement and not to defy religion for petty political gains." PMLQ's Chaudhry Pervez Elahi has reportedly termed this remark as an "attempt to secure his properties in the UK."

 

Legal eagle

 

To end the long queue of resignations from law secretaries, Pakistan's law minister has picked his new aide, reported Dawn on June 11. "The government gave its opponents enough ammunition... when it picked a relatively inexperienced advocate to head the law ministry. Mr Masood Chishti, a former associate of Law Minister Babar Awan, will be the fifth law secretary since the government took over in March 2008. The post has almost always been held by retired or sitting judges of superior courts."

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

HOLE IN MOILY'S ORE ARGUMENT

 

The Union law minister Veerappa Moily has waded into the debate on restricting the export of iron ore, but unfortunately on the wrong side. The law minister has demanded changes in the draft Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Bill, 2010, so that the Bill ensures conservation of mineral resources. In particular, the law minister wants a ban on the export of iron ore, in the absence of which he perceives India's iron ore resources will be completely depleted in the next 20-30 years. This argument in favour of conservation adds another layer to the debate on iron ore exports—the steel minister Virbhadra Singh has, on occasion, favoured raising the export duty on iron ore so that steel manufacturers can add value to it in India before it is sent out. Both sets of arguments are entirely misplaced. They are simply playing into the hands of the domestic steel industry, which wants a form of protectionism imposed in their favour. And protectionism of this kind is bad for the efficiency of the steel industry that needs to compete with the best in terms of technology and productivity, not just policy favours. Iron ore can always be imported from elsewhere and then used to make competitively priced high-quality steel. Plenty of countries in the world already do that.

 

There are, of course, other arguments against the law minister's proposal. There is nothing to suggest that India has already discovered all the iron ore it has. Surely, more needs to be discovered. For that, private and foreign investment must be permitted and use of land for mining must be rationalised. The government should focus on transparent methods to facilitate the discovery and excavation of natural resources—like auctions. It can even set royalties at a reasonable rate, to get a fair share of the wealth for the state coffers. But it must not make unnecessary and illogical interventions like the ban the law minister is suggesting. The law minister should also know that the Indian steel industry simply doesn't have the capacity to absorb all of India's iron ore. The industry uses mostly lumps and not fines and it is the latter that mostly finds its way to export markets. 'Conserving' what is not being used locally doesn't make economic sense. The mines ministry must, therefore, resist the law ministry's suggestions and the Cabinet must come down in favour of the ministry of mines in this important policy matter.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

VERDICT AFTERSHOCKS


Why do we need a GoM on Bhopal? It would have been pertinent to set up one if there was a need to find out if the disaster did happen. Or the responsibility for the leakage could not be ascertained. But all these are not in dispute. Even if a token punishment has been awarded, it has established the onus on those who committed the crime. The sole and the grim tragedy that still trails Bhopal is, therefore, the lack of compensation, which the victims should have got a long time ago. Since Union Carbide does not exist and the liability does not pass on any more to Dow Chemicals, the only agency that can possibly offer restitution is the government of India. So, the only possible role of the GoM is to set a sum that should be offered as compensation. But this could have been established by a government agency like the National Disaster Management Authority, unless the plan is to further push the issue into files for another quarter of a century.

 

What looks more plausible is that the outcry generated by the court's convictions for the Bhopal tragedy has taken the establishment by surprise and the GoM is a response to this. It will possibly bring order to the sordid mess where different actors are falling over each other to spill secrets and point fingers hither and thither. From the point of view of the victims and their sympathisers, who have been patiently waiting for the guilty to be brought to the books while struggling for medical attention, two years' imprisonment and a fine of Rs 2 lakh each probably seems like dark comedy. The judgement has been the natural consequence of the watering down of charges over time and in any case had limited ability to offer restitution after so many years. The judiciary, which has not shone in this case, is also trying to deflect attention towards the investigating and prosecuting agencies. These, in turn, argue that their actions have been circumscribed by political actors. And this is where a can of worms has really spilt and raised a stink. For example, Digvijay Singh has raised the bogey of American pressure in letting then-Union Carbide CEO fly back home. The man hasn't been extradited back since. The Opposition and even UPA ally Trinamool has taken the opportunity to try and stall the Nuclear Liability Bill. Some of their questions with regard to the liability cap may be valid, but the smell of crass opportunism is in the air.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WHERE ARE PRICES HEADED?

MADAN SABNAVIS


The global economic canvas is at an interesting stage for the artist who has to decide on the direction of the strokes of his brush. There are strong growth impulses in the emerging markets at one end and considerable uncertainty regarding the euro zone's prospects at the other. Somewhere in between is the US, which appears to be in the take-off mode, with the Fed not really worrying about inflation. What does this portend for commodity prices?

 

Commodity prices have generally been driven by economic fundamentals of demand and supply, with the exception being 2008 when it was felt that 'paper oil' pushed up the prices. This had led to considerable discussion over the role of futures trading in increasing the price of crude towards the $150 mark. Today, however, with conditions easing following the financial crisis and economic downswing, commodity prices are more likely to be driven by fundamentals.

 

Energy prices are linked inexorably with the state of growth when the producers maintain a neutral stance. Here, there is hope that prices would remain within the present range of $70-80 a barrel as growth conditions are uncertain. The IMF expects growth to pick up this year. However, the kind of acceleration that was seen prior to the financial crisis is unlikely to be replicated to support such high prices. Further, the strengthening of the dollar would provide support to oil prices. It may be recollected that one of the reasons Opec gave in 2008 was that it had adjusted prices in terms of the euro to counter the declining dollar (up to around 25%). A stronger dollar should hold back prices to this extent. Therefore, a six-month view could be towards stability, which could change if there is a dramatic recovery in the euro zone.

 

The China factor has been quite decisive in pushing demand for metals, which has kept prices high. However, with the Chinese economy showing signs of heating, the government has taken certain steps like increasing interest rates and aligning the exchange rate, albeit marginally, to counter this pressure. Therefore, there could be a moderation in demand for metals, which, in turn, could temper their prices.

 

A major development in this context would be the steps taken by various monetary authorities. As of today, growth has taken precedence over inflation, which is a non-issue for most countries that are seeking to regain growth. The Fed has made it clear that it is not interested in increasing rates until early 2011, while the ECB will be focusing on growth against the background of the rescue packages that have been invoked in the region.

 

On the positive side, the prospects for prices of farm products are looking much rosier today, especially for grains and oilseeds. Prices of these products are primarily supply-driven as demand changes gradually over time in most cases. There were exceptions in 2007-08 when there was diversion of grains and oilseeds for the production of fuel oils, which, in turn, accentuated shortages and sent prices on a different trajectory. However, with crude oil remaining stable for the most part, this factor may be taken to be neutral for the year.

 

How about India? The concern today is that inflation appears to be emerging from two ends. Higher industrial growth and investment has triggered demand-pull forces that are being observed keenly by RBI, with core inflation increasing now. Food inflation remains the Achilles' heel, which has to be tolerated until the harvest in October-December. Given the seasonal nature of our farm output, with most crops being largely single-season, a shortfall encountered in one season remains till the next harvest the following year. Therefore, the crux will be the monsoon. It is possible that keeping in mind this state of affairs, the government has deferred the idea of increasing fuel prices. Petrol and diesel together have a weight of around 2% in the WPI and also affect prices of other products through the transportation costs route. Generally, a 10% increase in these prices can have an impact of somewhere between 0.5-0.8% on overall inflation.

 

While fundamentals will drive prices of these basic commodities, gold will remain an investors' delight. Normally, gold is a substitute for the dollar and people buy gold when the dollar weakens. Today, the dollar has strengthened mainly due to the weakness of the euro and not due to the inherent strength of the US economy. This being the case, gold has witnessed sharp movements in both directions as investors are moving funds across stocks, bonds, currencies and gold. Higher volatility in these markets has made gold a favourite for the more audacious investors, and while it would be difficult to conjecture the level to which this metal will reach, this game is not meant for the faint-hearted.

 

—The author is chief economist, CARE ratings. These are his personal views

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

DON'T SCRAP LOHARINAG PALA PROJECT

NOOR MOHAMMAD

 

NTPC started work on its 600-mw Loharinag Pala project on the Bhagirathi river in 2005 after securing all statutory approvals, including environmental clearance from the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF). NTPC has already invested Rs 600 crore in the project and implementation work is at an advanced stage. But now the central government is seriously considering scrapping the project, apparently under pressure from the NGOs that have raised fears that the natural flow of the river will slow down because of project execution. As part of the project, long tunnels have already been dug under the hills. If the project is abandoned at this stage, it would pose serious risks to an area that is seismically sensitive. In addition to safety risks, scrapping the project would seriously damage the credibility of the regulatory regime and send out a wrong message to private developers who have shown interest in the hydropower sector.

 

Project developers have complained about the stringent procedures followed by the MoEF for issuing environment clearances. Many projects fail to bag MoEF's nod and never see the light of the day. But there is little scope for doubting the efficacy of the procedures adopted for issuance of environmental clearances, given that a comprehensive public hearing programme is conducted by the district administrations. The issues and concerns raised during the public hearings are properly documented and taken cognisance of by the MoEF while issuing the clearances. It is surprising why such concerns, if they are creditworthy, were not raised during the hearing for the Loharinag Pala project.

 

What is even more surprising is that the relevant NGOs and environmentalists did not raise any concerns when the NTPC started implementation work on the project. They appeared on the scene only after NTPC had made a sizeable investment and implementation work was at an advanced stage. This is not the first project being developed on the Bhagirathi river. Hydroelectric plants like Tehri Dam, Maneri Bhali-I and II have also been built on the river. These plants have been operated for a long time without causing similar complications. The Loharinag Pala is a run-of-the-river hydroelectric project. Such projects do not necessitate submergence of a vast tract of land for development like a reservoir-based project.

 

Capacity addition in hydropower generation has been rather slow. This is because, historically, only a few public sector companies have been active in the sector, while the presence of private players is just nominal. When India's largest thermal power generator NTPC ventured into the sector a few years ago, it raised hopes of expediting the pace of hydropower capacity addition in the country.

 

NTPC has outlined ambitious capacity addition plans in hydropower generation as part of its strategy to diversify away from fossil fuel-based power generation. In fact, the company had approached the government for the allocation of inter-state hydroelectric projects, which are stalled because of litigation between states over water-sharing. It had argued that being a central utility, it was well positioned to undertake implementation of such projects. However, if NTPC is forced to abandon the Loharinag Pala project, it would be a bad experience for the company. This could, in turn, deter the thermal generator from aggressively pursuing opportunities in hydropower generation. If that happens, it would be unfortunate for the country.

 

Strong support for the project among local people has been demonstrated by the fact that almost all the public representatives from the area have opposed the government's plan to scrap the project by writing letters to the PM and the Union power minister. This is probably because NTPC had raised hopes of development in the area by taking up the project. Abandoning the project would be a big disappointment for the local population. The state government has already stopped work on two hydropower projects taken up for development on the same river by the Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam. Significantly, most of the states with hydropower generation potential are economically underdeveloped and lacking in employment opportunities. As a result, people from these states have to migrate to metros for jobs. Now, if these states cannot even harness their hydro resources, hopes of development will dim further.

 

India has the potential to add 150 gw hydropower generation capacity, of which it has harnessed only 25%. In recent years, the government has taken policy initiatives like allowing developers the flexibility to sell 40% power in the free market to attract private investment to the sector. But there is not much difference on the ground, as private players still find hydropower projects a risky investment. If central public sector companies become risk averse too, capacity addition in hydropower generation just won't take off.

 

—noor.mohd@expressindia.com

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

BRIDGING THE PULSES GAP

SANJEEB MUKHERJEE

 

The MSP of kharif crops for the 2010-11 crop marketing season has been announced. The big surprise is pulses. The MSP of arhar has been hiked by a whopping 30% to Rs 3,000 per quintal, that of moong by 15% to Rs 3,170 per quintal and that of urad by 15% to Rs 2,900 per quintal. Such a sharp hike in the MSP of pulses has not been seen in the last several years. The reasoning appears to be to promote the cultivation of pulses in a big way to bring them into the same league as main crops like foodgrains and oilseeds. This, in turn, would help bridge the demand-supply gap—estimated to be around 3-4 million tonnes annually.

 

The gap has widened in the last decade, even as pulses production has stagnated at around 14-15 million tonnes annually, while demand has steadily increased to over 18 million tonnes. Pulses are the primary source of protein for the poor. It is in this context that the recent MSP increase poses a big challenge for the government. After the hike, the MSP of pulses, considered to be a wholesale market benchmark, will be around 30-50% of the retail prices of moong, urad and arhar that are being sold for up to Rs 100 a kg in the retail market. In other words, the base price of arhar (tur) would now be Rs 30 per kg, for moong it would be Rs 31.70 per kg and for urad it would Rs 20 per kg. There is an added incentive of Rs 5 per kg to farmers if they opt to sell to state procurement agencies during the two months of harvest or arrival season is meant to keep adequate stocks with the government to meet its social obligations.

 

A farmer who opts to sell arhar to government agencies will get a price of almost Rs 35 per kg. Thus, private traders definitely have to pay more than this to purchase his produce. Added to processing costs and other incidentals, this could increase retail prices. Given the experience in foodgrains, the MSP usually forms the base market rate. Raising the MSP is just one part of the solution. It should be adequately supplemented by research on new varieties and investment in irrigation (as the crop is mostly grown in arid regions), so that the objective of bridging the demand-supply gap is met in its entirety.

 

—sanjeeb.mukherjee@expressindia.com

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

PRODUCTIVE VISIT

 

The visit by Sri Lanka's President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has reaffirmed the country's close ties with India and provided both sides the opportunity to signal a readiness to take the bilateral relationship to a new level. This was reflected in the joint statement by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Rajapaksa, and the host of agreements to strengthen and expand bilateral cooperation. It was the first time in a quarter century that New Delhi played host to a Sri Lankan head of state who arrived without the burden of a raging ethnic conflict back home. Mr. Rajapaksa, whose political stock following his presidential and parliamentary election triumphs is unmatched among leaders in the region, did not have to seek support for his government nor assistance in a devastating civil war. For three decades, the Tamil question, and unease with the way successive Sri Lankan governments handled it, dominated ties between the two neighbours. With the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam eliminated as a military entity, the Sri Lankan leader clearly wants to reformulate the bilateral relationship. That he is prepared to go the extra mile for this is evident from his agreement to an Indian consulate in the southern city of Hambantota where China is assisting in building a modern port, in addition to the already agreed diplomatic outpost in Jaffna.

 

India too is eager to look at its relations with Sri Lanka through a post-LTTE lens. In this, the immediate issue has been the resettlement of all the Tamils displaced during the final stage of the military operations against the Tigers. In addition to the grant of Rs. 500 crore for the humanitarian relief, rehabilitation, and resettlement of internally displaced persons, the infrastructure development, and other assistance being provided by India for projects in Northern Sri Lanka, New Delhi's decision to assist in the building of 50,000 houses is a timely initiative. But as a good neighbour, India must make a much bigger, and qualitatively more significant contribution, to the development of the war-ravaged North, and the rehabilitation and rebuilding efforts for the Tamils.

 

While the assurances given by President Rajapaksa give rise to the hope that the longstanding political grievances of the Tamil people will be addressed in a just manner, it is no surprise that the joint statement reveals differences over how to go about resolving this question. New Delhi expects "a meaningful devolution, building upon the 13th Amendment…[to] create the necessary conditions for a lasting political settlement," in other words implementation of the 13th Amendment with significant enhancements. Mr. Rajapaksa, on the other hand, has recorded "his determination to evolve a political settlement acceptable to all communities that would act as a catalyst to create the necessary conditions in which all the people of Sri Lanka could lead their lives in an atmosphere of peace, justice and dignity, consistent with democracy, pluralism, equal opportunity and respect for human rights." Expressing his resolve "to continue to implement in particular the relevant provisions of the Constitution designed to strengthen national amity and reconciliation through empowerment," he shared with Dr. Singh his ideas on "conducting a broad dialogue with all parties involved."

 

This requires, first, political will on the Sinhala side to find a just and enduring solution. It also implies responsibility on the part of Tamil parties to make up their minds quickly on what kind of devolution, development, and future they want for their people within a united Sri Lanka. They must overcome their differences and liberate themselves from the separatist mindset of the Prabakaran era, which prevented even so-called moderates from making any workable proposals in talks with successive Sri Lankan governments. They must move forward in the confidence that Sri Lankan Tamils are a hard-working, educated, brave, and resilient people with many talents. Given a congenial socio-political environment, generous development assistance, peace and stability, and a decent measure of self-administering opportunities, they can shape a bright future for themselves as part of a united nation.

 

The setting up of a 'Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation" is a positive step President Rajapaksa has taken towards bridging the deep ethnic divide. Under its terms of reference, the Commission, which has eight reputed representatives from the Sinhala and Tamil communities, is to go into the events of the period, February 2002 to May 2009, "their attendant concerns and to recommend measures to ensure that there will be no recurrence" of such a situation. Some objections have been raised to the limited period covered by the terms of reference as well as to the absence of a mandate for the Commission to inquire into the alleged excesses committed by the Sri Lankan military in the final days of the war. But in balance, the Commission is a good opportunity for both the majority and minority communities to put the past behind and move forward to live harmoniously in a united Sri Lanka. South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Committee, from which the Sri Lankan experiment takes its inspiration, was also not a perfect model but it helped the country close the chapter on apartheid and progress. In Sri Lanka, years of war and attrition have damaged both communities. The Commission can surely help begin the process of healing.

 

From 1991, successive governments in New Delhi have conducted Sri Lanka policy on sound and constructive lines. The time has come to take the bilateral relationship to a new level by exploring its full potential. As part of this, rising India must – without imposing itself – continue to encourage the Sri Lankan leadership to find a satisfactory resolution to Tamil grievances within an improved devolution framework.

 

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THE HINDU

AFGHANISTAN: THE MARCH OF FOLLY

IN THEIR ANXIETY TO END THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN, LONDON AND WASHINGTON SEEM POISED TO COMPOUND THEIR EARLIER FOLLIES, AND MAKE WAY FOR THE INDUCTION OF THE TALIBAN IN KABUL.

MAHARAJAKRISHNA RASGOTRA

 

The United States is in the process of committing a historical blunder with grave consequences for not only Afghanistan but also the regions surrounding it. President Barack Obama's decision to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2011 is understandable: the long and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taxed the patience of the Americans, and the President himself must start planning his campaign for the second term. But it is the manner of the planned exit and its consequences that cause worry.

 

The strategy devised at the London Conference in January 2010 on Afghanistan — "reintegration and reconciliation" — is a veiled scheme to hand over Afghanistan, once again, to Pakistan. President Obama's rhetoric on the "Way Forward in AF-PAK" has the same thrust. The consequences of this dangerous scheme are not hard to foresee: the return of the brutal Taliban rule in Kabul, the resumption of a civil war which will suck in the neighbouring countries; and spread of terrorism and bloodshed farther afield. The end result will be a virtual partition of Afghanistan into Pushtoon and non-Pushtoon countries and the eventual rise of a larger, independent Pushtoonistan incorporating Pakistan's own Pushtoon lands. I would not wish that fate for Afghanistan or Pakistan.

 

The march of folly in Af-Pak began with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1978. Today, NATO has about the same troop strength in the country as did the Soviets have in 1982 — 1,10,000. In late October 1982, at a meeting in the Kremlin to which I accompanied Indira Gandhi, General Secretary Breznhev ruefully told the Indian Prime Minister that he had blundered into Afghanistan; that he did not quite know what 1,10,000 Russian troops were doing there; and that he wanted to get out of the country. "Show me the way out." he asked Indira Gandhi, who cryptically responded that the presence of the Soviet army in Afghanistan was doing no good to Russia, Afghanistan or India. "The way out of Afghanistan," she said, "is the same as the way in."

 

In other words, Moscow should declare the mission accomplished and walk out of the quagmire. It took the Soviet Union three regime changes, eight years and a Gorbachev to do that simple thing. However, for three or four years before the Pakistan-sponsored Taliban invasion, Afghanistan was stable and at peace. That same course is not open to the U.S. today. For, if nothing else, it will leave behind a welter of widespread unrest, conflict and violence. And the U.S. itself will be reduced to a much diminished player, with little influence and role in a rising Asia.

 

At the end of the Afghan jihad, President Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan asserted that the triumph of the jihadis had earned his country the right to install a government of its liking in Kabul. And Washington readily rewarded its loyal Islamist ally, leaving it alone to manage Afghanistan as it thought best. That dispensation ignored the traditions and sentiments, cultural linkages of Afghanistan's Hazaras, Uzbeks and Taziks and the interests of other neighbours and friends — Iran and the Central Asian republics, India and Russia. In the event, Pakistan squandered its one chance to win the friendship and affection of Afghans of all shades of ethnicity and belief by imposing on Kabul a regime of Sunni fundamentalists. It lost the trust of the Afghan populace, and the Taliban is hated in Afghanistan to this day.

 

The jihad had many other noxious side-effects. It gave birth to the al-Qaeda, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Jaish-e-Mohammad and other terror outfits. The size, reach and mischief potential of the Inter-Services Intelligence greatly expanded. In a side bargain, Pakistan acquired the Islamic bomb and Abdul Qadeer Khan his nuclear mart. The jihad fulfilled Huntington's prophesy of the 21st century's civilisational wars.

 

And yet in their anxiety to end the war in Afghanistan, London and Washington seem poised to compound their earlier follies and make way for the induction of the Taliban in Kabul. What other objective, if not this, is there in President Obama's new strategy? In his own words, the strategy is "centred on the full recognition that [the U.S.'] success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to [its] partnership with Pakistan." No wonder, Generals Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and Shuja Pasha returned from the recent U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue in Washington exulting over their hosts having conceded legitimacy to Pakistan's quest for strategic depth in Afghanistan.

 

The London Conference was indeed a work in the same direction. The much-touted U.S.-India strategic partnership was not much in evidence in that concourse. In a sideswipe, the conference marginalised India completely. The hosts were provocatively insensitive to India's historical and civilisational affinity with Afghanistan and its overall strategic interests in the region. They did not deign even to mention India's solid contribution in Afghanistan's social and economic development activity.

 

Britain, under a Labour government, never seems able to resist the temptation to wound India just a very little bit.

 

It is not that we in India never stumble into a stray sideshow off a clear firm path. We do. Witness, the unwholesome zeal with which New Delhi, nudged surely by Washington, has plunged into talks with Islamabad at the highest levels to strengthen and save democracy in Pakistan while Washington busily pours arms and money into the Pakistan military's coffers to reinforce its dominance over the civil polity.

 

And all this at a time when the wounds of 26/11 remain unhealed, infiltration of terrorists from Pakistan into India continues, and our embassy and aid workers in Afghanistan continue to be targeted by ISI-sponsored terror attacks. Have we embraced the linkage propounded in London that India-Pakistan peace and a Kashmir settlement are essential for resolving the problem in Afghanistan?

 

In war, it is legitimate to sow dissension and look for deserters in the enemy ranks. So, in principle at least, one cannot quarrel with the policy of "reintegration and reconciliation" enunciated at the London Conference. Clearly, Pakistan is being encouraged to get involved in selecting the Taliban to be reintegrated and reconciled. It will naturally sponsor its own proxies for "reintegration and reconciliation." How can anyone forget that Pakistan created, trained and armed the Taliban, and it still serves as the base for Islamabad's operations in Afghanistan? The sole purpose of Pakistan's protégés will be to subvert the Karzai government and take over the country once again.

 

Wisdom demands that this task of reintegration be left to President Hamid Karzai. Several Afghan leaders I have talked to in recent weeks are convinced that there is no better leader in Afghanistan, the charges of corruption and inefficiency against him notwithstanding, and that the Taliban's return to Kabul, in any guise whatsoever, will mean bloodshed. Mr. Karzai should therefore be strengthened, not humiliated. There are quieter, more effective ways of dealing with corruption in high places.

 

The withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan is inevitable; the sooner it comes, the better for all concerned. An honourable way of achieving it with peace and stability in Afghanistan is still available. President Obama should convene a conference in Kabul, attended by heads of state or government of all countries sharing borders with Afghanistan, as well as China, India, Russia, Britain, France and the U.N. Secretary General. The conference should give credible guarantees for Afghanistan's integrity, independence and sovereignty, and for immunity against interference or intervention by any of its neighbours and, indeed, any other power. The result should be formally endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, which should also station in Afghanistan an adequate peace-keeping force for a sufficient period to allow the Afghan Army and police to assume full responsibility for internal and external security. The conference should then convert itself into a consortium for aiding Afghanistan's rapid economic development over 10-15 years.

 

(The author is a former Foreign Secretary. Currently he is president, ORF Centre for International Relations.)

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

U.K.'S POLICY: CHAMPIONING FAIRNESS, PROSPERITY FOR INDIA

U.K. AID TO BE KEPT UNTIED FROM COMMERCIAL INTERESTS.

ANDREW MITCHELL

 

Today I want to deliver a message from the new Coalition Government of Britain directly to the millions of Indians who are battling against poverty and disease.

 

Our message is this: the people and Government of Britain are on your side, and we will use every tool in our policy armoury — aid, trade, climate policy, diplomacy, business investment, and more — to champion fairness and prosperity for you.

 

It is worth reminding ourselves of the scale of the challenge that confronts us. Globally, over eight million children die before the age of five each year. More than 70 million children are missing out on primary education. A fifth of global child and maternal deaths, and cases of TB occur in India. Over 40 per cent of children in India are underweight and a child dies every 15 minutes from easily-preventable diseases.

 

Clearly, we must act, and act now, to right these wrongs and end this terrible waste of human potential. But we can't escape the fact that in Britain, today's economic situation is radically different from what has gone before. The UK has a massive deficit, which it is our number one priority to tackle.

 

Of course, there are those who argue that in these difficult times aid and aspiration are inevitable casualties of austerity. I disagree. This is a time to reaffirm our promises to the world's and India's poor people, not abandon them. We won't balance the books on the backs of the world's poorest.

 

We have resolved, in our Coalition programme for government, to honour our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on overseas aid from 2013, and to enshrine this commitment in law. We will keep aid untied from commercial interests, and continue to focus, via the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), on reducing poverty.

 

The philosophy of empowerment will be central to our approach. We want people in developing countries to be masters and owners of the international development system, not passive recipients of it.

 

For instance, many aid agencies are testing options that involve giving control to citizens through direct cash transfers. I want us to explore that for ourselves. And where cash is not appropriate, we'll look at other measures that involve participation, choice, and self-determination. India shows just how effective this can be.

 

But capable and effective states are also vital. Here too, we'll put the power in the hands of developing countries rather than dictating activity from a distance.

 

Linked to this theme are other, wider opportunities for empowerment. The sort of power that enables citizens to hold their governments to account. Through the Right to Information Act, India is leading the way by enshrining in law its citizens' right to information from their government.

 

In future, when we give money directly to governments in developing countries, we want to earmark up to five per cent of the total amount to help parliaments, civil society and audit bodies hold to account those who spend their money.

 

If empowerment is a key component of development, so too is transparency. Transparency for the U.K. taxpayer and transparency for the poor. This is why I'm pleased to announce a new U.K. Aid Transparency Guarantee that will help to create a million independent aid watchdogs — people around the world who can see where aid money is supposed to be going and shout if it doesn't get there.

 

The Guarantee commits us to publishing full information about DFID projects and programmes, including our work in India, on our website (www.dfid.gov.uk) — in a way that is user-friendly and meaningful. Over time, we want to make that information available, in an open and standardised format to the people who depend on the funding: the communities and families living in developing countries. Knowledge is indeed power.

 

We will also bring new priorities to the work we do on the ground. Tackling the scandal of maternal mortality is particularly important. Half a million women die during pregnancy and childbirth every year around the world, a figure that has barely fallen in the past two decades in many regions. In India one woman dies in childbirth every seven minutes. So we will continue to strengthen health systems and family planning facilities in India, including taking steps to improve access to well-trained midwives and emergency obstetrics care.

 

As the new U.K. Secretary of State for International Development I am honoured to take charge of DFID, and I am determined to continue — and improve — our work.

 

( Andrew Mitchell was appointed U.K. Secretary of State for International Development on 12 May 2010.)

 

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THE HINDU


SLOW-MOTION TRAGEDY UNFOLDS FOR MARINE LIFE

A WILDLIFE HAVEN AT THE HEART OF AN ENVIRONMENTAL CATASTROPHE.

SUZANNE GOLDENBERG

 

Out on the water, it starts as a slight rainbow shimmer, then turns to wide orange streamers of oil whipping through the waves. Later, on the beach, we witness a vast, Olympic-sized swimming pool of dark chocolatey syrup left behind at low tide, and thick dark patches of crude bubbling on the sand.

 

The smell of the oil on the beach is so strong it burns your nostrils, and leaves you feeling dizzy and headachey even after a few minutes away from it.

 

According to marine biologist Rick Steiner, my companion on a boat ride through the slick, this is the most volatile and toxic form of crude oil in the waters and lapping on to the beaches of Grand Isle, the area at the heart of the slowly unfolding environmental apocalypse that has engulfed Louisiana, and is now moving eastwards, threatening Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle.

 

Fifty-three days after BP's ruptured well began spewing crude oil from 1,500 metres below the sea, the wholesale slaughter of dolphins, pelicans, hermit crab and other marine life is only now becoming readily visible to humans. So too is the futility of the Obama administration's response effort, with protective boom left to float uselessly at sea or — in the case of the Queen Bess pelican sanctuary which we visit — trapping the oil in vulnerable nesting grounds.

 

Steiner, 57, a marine biologist from the University of Alaska and a veteran of America's last oil spill disaster, the Exxon Valdez, says he is in the Gulf of Mexico "to bear witness," and for days he has been taking to the beaches and the waters in a Greenpeace boat gathering evidence.

 

All at risk

 

The first casualties on Steiner's tour appear minutes after our boat leaves the marina and moves through Barataria Pass, prime feeding ground for bottlenose dolphins. Several appear, swimming, eating, even mating in waters criss-crossed by wide burnt-orange streamers of oil. All are at risk of absorbing toxins, from the original spill and from more than 1.2m gallons of chemicals dumped into the Gulf to try to break up the slick, says Steiner.

 

"They get it in their eyes. They get it in the fish they eat and it is also possible when they come to the surface and open their blowhole to breathe that they are inhaling some of it," he says.

 

The Greenpeace crew turn up the throttle and the boat pulls up to the orange and yellow protective boom around Queen Bess island, which was intended as a haven for the brown pelican. These birds, until recently, were on the federal government's list of endangered species and were doing OK — but now that recovery appears to have been abruptly reversed.

 

A dark tideline of oil encircles the island, and has crept into the marsh grasses, where the pelican nest. Many, if not most, of the adult birds had patches of oil on their chest feathers. Nearly all are doomed, says Steiner, if not now, then at some point in the future. "The risks in here to birds are not just acute mortality right here right now," he says. "There is mortality we won't see for a month or two months, or even a year." He points out a pelican standing so still it looks like it's been made out of a slab of chocolate, another frantically flapping its spread wings to try to shake off the oil, and then another manically pecking at the spots on its chest. "He could be a candidate for cleaning, and he may survive," Steiner says. "He obviously won't if he's not cleaned."

 

Rescue teams have plucked hundreds of birds from the muck. But stripping oil from the feathers of stricken birds is a slow and delicate operation, and there is no assurance of the birds' survival. About a third of the rescued birds have died so far.

 

As we pull up to Queen Bess island, two crew boats are at work shoring up the two lines of defence for the island: an outer ring of orange and yellow protective boom intended to push the oil back out to sea, as well as an inner ring of white absorbent material that is supposed to suck up any of the crude that gets through.

 

Since oil began lapping at the Louisiana coast, the government has set down 700,000 metres of containment boom and 700,000 metres of absorbent material. But local sports fishermen on Grand Isle complain response crews bungled the protection zone for Queen Bess because they only put a portion of the island behind the orange and yellow barrier boom. That turned the boom into traps which pushed even greater quantities of oil onshore.

 

Steiner agrees: "I would say 70 per cent or 80 per cent of the booms are doing absolutely nothing at all." The efforts on the beaches seem equally futile. By day workers in white protective suits march along the sands of the state park on the eastern end of Grand Isle, trying to suck up the oil. But as the tide goes out there is only more oil to be found, and dozens of dead hermit crab that have struggled to flee to shore. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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THE HINDU

RICH COUNTRIES ACCUSED OF CARBON 'CHEATING'

RICHARD BLACK

 

Some rich countries are seeking new rules under the U.N. climate convention that campaigners say would allow them to gain credit for "business as usual." Russia, Australia, Canada and some EU countries are among the accused.

 

The rules relate to land-use change, which can either release or absorb carbon, depending mainly on whether forests are planted or chopped down. Rich countries, apart from the U.S., could account for about 5 per cent of their annual emissions through this loophole.

 

The U.S. is not involved in these negotiations because the proposals fall under the Kyoto Protocol, of which it — alone among developed countries — is not a part. By way of comparison, 5 per cent is roughly equal to the total emissions reduction that developed countries pledged to make between 1990 and 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol. The benefit for some countries, notably Russia, would be much greater.

 

"This would allow developed countries to circumvent their obligations on reducing emissions,'' said Melanie Coath, climate change policy office with the U.K.'s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, who has conducted analytical work on the draft text currently being negotiated.

 

"These are double standards that make us question the legitimacy of the whole process," added Kevin Conrad, lead negotiator for Papua New Guinea and chairman of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations.

 

"If rich states tell us we have to adopt robust standards [for REDD] and then use forestry as their biggest get-out clause — it's double standards, it's climate fraud."

 

Diplomats from developing countries have also criticised the proposals, which are under discussion during a fortnight of talks in Bonn under the U.N. climate convention (UNFCCC). Some have suggested that rich countries would operate their forestry sectors under looser accounting rules than developing nations would face under the REDD mechanism (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation).

 

Several different "fudges" are up for discussion in the draft text that would create the 5 per cent (or 500 megatonnes of CO {-2}) loophole. One would allow countries to measure emission reductions or increases against a "forward-looking baseline." In other words, a country would decide how its land-use carbon emission or absorption would be likely to change in future, and then to measure actual performance against that baseline. By contrast, developed nations have to measure emissions from every other sector of their economies simply for what they are — against a zero baseline.

 

A second proposal, from Russia, would mean that countries would not have to count emissions from land-use change until land-use changes across the entire country resulted in net emissions. Currently, Russia's land-use sector is a big net absorber.

 

In addition, each governments could decide which aspects of land use change to include in its emission reports — which it would then compile and submit to the U.N. Delegates from some EU countries have suggested that others with large areas of forest — such as Austria, Finland and Sweden — are pushing for lax regulation, along with Russia and Australia. But the European Commission's chief negotiator, Artur Runge-Metzger, said the EU favoured tighter rules. "Certainly from the EU side, what we want to see is a system where we have the highest environmental integrity that is possible," he told BBC News.

The U.N. talks here are due to conclude on Friday, and to set out some goalposts as governments look to the next U.N. climate summit in Cancun, Mexico, at the end of the year. Small island states and many of the world's poorest nations are demanding that Cancun must see agreement of a legally binding global treaty, but many others are pushing for a "bottom-up" approach that would seek small but concrete agreements in key areas such as REDD. — © BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate

 

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THE HINDU

A POTATO REMADE FOR INDUSTRY HAS SOME SWEDES FROWNING

AMFLORA IS A KIND OF MIRACLE POTATO: IT IS PRECIOUS TO THE STARCH INDUSTRY.

JOHN TAGLIABUE

 

Johan Bergstrom, a blond and boyish man of 31, who farms here with his father, reached into the dark, soft soil and extricated a tennis-ball-size potato, holding it gently so as not to snap off any of a half-dozen white shoots that were growing out of the potato's eyes. He advised against tasting the potato, whose dulcet name Amflora belies its harsh flavour, a result of genetic jiggling that has made it almost pure starch.

 

The potato, the first genetically engineered organism to be allowed in the European Union in more than a decade, was planted on 16 acres of land on the fringes of this town in southwestern Sweden, after a quarter century of bureaucratic wrangling.

 

Although inedible, Amflora is a kind of miracle potato on two counts: for one, there is its starch content, which makes it precious to the starch industry, a major employer in Sweden; and then there is its feisty resilience in surviving some 25 years of tests, regulations, rules, ordinances and applications for approval by both Sweden and the European Union, of which Sweden is a member.

 

While not grown as a food crop, the Amflora potato is giving many people in Skara, a region of rolling hills, broad lakes and small farms a bad case of indigestion.

 

Though genetically engineered crops like corn, cotton or soybeans are common enough in the United States, they remain a rarity in Europe, where public resistance is high. The European Union takes the position that the long-term effects of genetic engineering on the environment and on plant and animal life cannot yet be known with scientific certainty, and so urges extreme circumspection. In few places is that caution as much in evidence as in Skara.

 

"I generally don't like modified potatoes, carrots, what have you," said Bengt Uilsun, 74, a veterinarian, interrupting his shopping one recent Friday morning. "Perhaps it's not unhealthy for humans now, but it may be unhealthy over the long term for other creatures." Still, the Amflora is something of the pride of Sweden. Development began in the mid-1980s, at the beginning of the revolution in biotech foods.

 

A Swedish farmers' cooperative, Lyckeby, one of Europe's biggest starch producers, was searching for potatoes with high starch content to supply the starches it sells for manufacturing paper, textile finishes, glues and other products. "Genetic engineering was first emerging," said Kristofer Vamling, 51, managing director of Plant Science Sweden, a company that grew out of the original research efforts.

 

"We thought this could perhaps be something for the new engineering."

 

But then, in 1998, the European Union imposed an indefinite moratorium on approval of genetically modified organisms, and no one at Plant Science knew when it would end. "I heard every year: 'Next year,'" Vamling said.

 

The moratorium was finally lifted in 2004, but it was another six years before the bureaucrats in Brussels, perhaps concerned about falling too far behind in biotech, gave the green light for planting. None too soon for Bergstrom.

 

Since 2004, when he finished agricultural college, Bergstrom has run a 590-acre farm just north of Skara, raising wheat, rye, barley and other crops. His family has farmed the lands here since the 1660s.

 

In 2006 a neighbour asked whether he wanted to try the new Amflora potato. "He asked if I was interested, we talked about it," Bergstrom said. "It's one more leg to stand on."

 

Holding one potato, he said, "I cannot tell the difference."

 

He is aware of the controversy.

 

"You need both sides," he said. "But the debate has gone the wrong way, and that's bad."

 

"I don't see any risk, or very low risk," he said. "There are so many papers to fill out; if only everyone did the same inspecting we do."

 

Just a few miles west of here, Anders Lunneryd, 47, disputes that. Working the 425-acre farm his grandfather bought in 1942, he grows wheat, oats, barley and a variety of other crops, but like an increasing number of farmers hereabout, he has done so organically for the past 10 years. When spraying his fields in the past with insecticides or weed killer, he explained, he often came too close to the village, and people would complain bitterly.

 

"I'd stop immediately, I'd tell them, if I could afford to," he said. "After all, I'm the one getting sick from all the chemicals."

 

As demand for organic crops soared, he switched to organic farming. "We have increased demand all the time," he said. "People are asking for it." Now about 7,000 acres of land in the area are organically cultivated, he said.

 

He objects to genetically modified foods, for their complexity and the control they give to big corporations. The genetic codes, he said, "are like a piano keyboard, but going four times around the planet earth, and now you're going to play that piano?

 

"And it's even more complex," he said, "because you're playing in an orchestra."

 

He compares biotech crops in farming to performance-enhancing drugs in sports. "In the short run, it enhances your performance," he said. "In the long run, you get sick from it." — New York Times News Service

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

BHOPAL: MUCH TO DO, BUT LET'S GET REALISTIC

 

Crime and punishment are eternal binaries. In the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster case, however, the focus has shifted to crime and compensation. The expanded scale of the noxious gas leak, leaving 20,000 dead and over one lakh people sustaining maiming injuries, were figures that forced themselves on the public consciousness. Union Carbide's less than sympathetic attitude in the matter of recompense for those who suffered, and the slippery approach of the Union government, necessitated that the issue of cash compensation for families of the deceased and for those still suffering should undergo no dilution. Two voluntary organisations that distinguished themselves lobbying government, Parliament and public opinion over the world's worst industrial disaster stressed its human and medical impact to secure adequate compensation for the victims and their families. Other civil society elements permitted amnesia to take over.


With Bhopal's chief judicial magistrate pronouncing judgment earlier this week in the matter of criminal liability — which took 25 years coming due to the dilatory tactics of the respondents, the public space is ringing with denunciations. Shock was expressed over the light nature of the sentence. People are suddenly discovering that UCC chief Warren Anderson (who lives in seclusion in America) visited Bhopal to survey the damage in December 1984, was placed under arrest, and then inexplicably permitted to leave India after furnishing a bond to the court. His legal status in this country is that of an absconder, and yet efforts by the government to seek his extradition appear to have been less than purposive. In American eyes, there is no real case for Mr Anderson's extradition to India. After having failed to get adequate compensation for victims of the disaster, public figures in India will have to do better than hurl wild allegations, or engage in competitive populism to score political points, if they accord any seriousness to the idea that appropriate punishment must follow in the wake of a crime. The United States is not a place where lawlessness prevails. It is Indians who must do their part to present appropriate facts that can count as evidence before the US judicial system. Frank Pallone, US Congressman from New Jersey, has just come to India's rescue by demanding that Mr Anderson be extradited to face an Indian court considering the serious nature of the Bhopal disaster, which had enormous human and environmental dimensions. After the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which brings immediacy in the American mind to environmental questions and their impact on our lives, Bhopal is likely to ring a bell. It might strike quite a few in America that this is a story not even half finished yet. New Delhi of course needs to present the right kind of evidence, but it must in addition also mount a massive publicity campaign in the US and elsewhere on the meaning of Bhopal — both over compensation and punishment. This should be on the scale launched a few years ago when the India-US civil nuclear agreement was in danger of being toppled by some anti-nuclear hawks in America.


The Group of Ministers on Bhopal, which has been given an expanded mandate, is unlikely to take us places. Questions are already being raised about its composition. It might be better to form a group of experienced civil servants and task it to collect evidence, suggest the changes needed in our laws to tackle a disaster on the scale of Bhopal, and mount a serious attempt to get the former Union Carbide chairman extradited. Such a group will do well to involve citizens' bodies which have over the years accumulated knowledge and expertise in the matter. It should also be required to give its recommendations in the shortest possible time.

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

MEIN KAMPA COLA

FARRUKH DHONDY

 

"Consciousness is but a chain of metaphor"From Discovered Scribbles (Ed. by Bachchoo)

 

Friends, Indians, countrymen, lend me your ears. At last Indian irony and our national sense of humour has come of age. As an operative in British TV for many years —  and many years ago — I was constantly offered the suspect proposition that one didn't laugh with Indians, but only at them. At the time Indians and South Asian immigrants to Britain in general were sensitive about "race" and putting situation comedies or sketch shows featuring Asian characters on the telly would always be accused of "stereotyping" and of "racism".
New communities, immigrants, do tend to take time to adjust to the mores of a country and while they stumble into the language and fill the vacuum of employment and enterprise, taking jobs and manning counters that the native population has abandoned, they tend to produce stereotypes.


Think of the hundreds of sketches of Mr Patel, the British corner store owner, spending his days behind the sales counter for all the world as though he were in a live puppet show.


A measure of the maturity of a community's or even a nation's humour would be its ability to cast fresh light on some reality, as an artist's eye informs or transforms the act of seeing. Finally, the gift of humorous insight into another's foibles emerges as satire.


For Indian humour to undergo such a change, we would have to leave behind the laugh generated by someone slipping on a banana skin or by the fat lady in an outrageous sari wobbling her cheeks. I think it was Mel Brooks who said, "If I bite my tongue, that's tragedy. If you fall into a manhole and break your neck, that's comedy".


It was certainly Mel Brooks who produced the Broadway and film hit The Producers. The story, as older readers will recall, was about a couple of hustlers who set out to scam old ladies and foolish investors by getting them to buy shares in a stage musical called Springtime for Hitler which they calculate is the nadir of taste and therefore bound to fail. The failure and closure of the production would mean that the producers could trouser the share money and disappear. They produce the musical with songs extolling Adolf Hitler and, in accordance with Ramsammy's Third Law, which states that a spanner's natural home is in the works, the play is an instant and runaway Broadway hit. It is so bad that it's good. (Ramsammy's Fourth Law states: On an infinite circular race track, the loser is a winner.)


Now along comes our own film director Rakesh Ranjan Kumar who bedazzles the world with an announcement that he is making a Bollywood film called Dear Friend Hitler. Mr Kumar didn't stop with the simple announcement. He proceeded to tell the foreign media that he aimed to "capture the personality of Adolf Hitler.

 

As a leader he was successful. I want to show why did he lose as a human being? What were the problems, what were the issues, what were his intentions?"


Never since reading the brave romantic works of Shobhaa De who does such sterling service for the unfortunates with reading difficulties, or listening to the interviews and views of that great actress Shilpa Shetty, have I encountered such a bold satirical assault on Western values and history.


It is with supreme wit that Mr Kumar sees Hitler as a man with problems, issues and intentions. The rest of the world has been under the delusion that Hitler, rather than suffering from problems, caused a lot of other people problems. As for issues and intentions, I was under the delusion as were many people of my acquaintance that there exist records of a war, concentration camps, genocide, racial purity doctrines and a lot else. But as Ramsammy's Fifth Law says, why dwell on the negative?


Think about it.


Never since some Indian spiritual conman fleeced a lot of confused foreigners by confecting truisms, has one of our own played such a convincing trick on the world. Of course, I have seen through it. Mr Kumar can't make a fool of me, even though he has expanded the story to include the casting of the film. An accomplished actor called Anupam Kher is, in Mr Kumar's telling, going to grow a square caterpillar on his lip and play the loving Adolf. I wonder if Mr Kher knows that his name is being used for this humorous purpose.
The actor who plays Eva Braun, a beautiful lady named Neha Dhupia, is obviously in on the joke, because the UK newspapers quoted her saying she has "researched widely to prepare for the role".


"How do you marry the most hated man in the world? I think it's by taking each day at a time", says Ms Dhupia.


It's an astounding insight. A day at a time? Wow! Perhaps even hour by hour? Or minute by minute? I can see what she means. One must cultivate the frame of mind which thinks "now shall we have tandoori Bratwurst for dinner tonight or shall I just bung a chicken in the gas oven?"


Actors must prepare and the talented and intellectual Ms Dhupia must have come to this conclusion having read the Bollywood Hitler's great work, Mein Kampa Cola.


One disappointing aspect of this Grand Plan is that Mr Kumar has, no doubt as a tease, announced that there will be no songs and dances in the projected film. In the end I am sure he won't be able to resist a little number whose choreography can be based on the goosestep of the Storm Troopers. And what about catchy little numbers with country shepherdesses in short skirts in the Alps dancing to the tune of
"Hol–lo-caust, Ho-lo-caust,Yeh hein Super Hit!


Hitlerian Pyar ki kahaniWhat a load of shhh—oe polish!"

 

I don't suppose on the basis of this small sample Mr Kumar will commission me to write the rest of the lyrics and really make this epic love story rock

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

POISONOUS JUSTICE

ANTARA DEV SEN

 

So Warren Anderson, 89, chief accused of the Bhopal gas disaster, is still "absconding". After a quarter century, the verdict in the Bhopal gas disaster case didn't mention him. But the case against Warren Anderson is not closed, our government assures us. They will get to the bottom of it.


Sadly, when it comes to the Bhopal gas disaster, our government is not far from rock bottom. For more than 25 years successive governments have insulted the citizens they claim to represent by blocking justice for the victims of the world's largest industrial disaster. The Bhopal tragedy has killed 22,000 and injured almost 6,00,000. Thousands continue to be killed silently as toxins contaminate drinking water, creep into vegetation, food, into the baby in the womb and mother's milk.


Most of it was caused by 40 tonnes of methyl isocyanate (MIC) that leaked from the pesticide plant of Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) on the night of December 2-3, 1984. But locals are still being poisoned by toxic waste dumped around the factory which has leached into the soil and groundwater. Our government has not cleaned up the killer waste that it accepted from Union Carbide, nor has it got Dow Chemical, which now owns Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), to do so.


So while foaming at the mouth over paltry two-year sentences for a few UCIL employees held responsible and screaming ourselves hoarse over the extradition of Anderson, we may also wish to take a closer look at our compatriots complicit in this continuing crime. Because the gas leak was just part of the disaster. The way the case was handled, the victims denied proper compensation and Anderson whisked away to freedom, the way successive governments failed to deliver justice just shows how hollow our principles of justice and democracy are.


Sure, the principal accused are the Union Carbide and its Indian subsidiary. The UCIL had been dumping thousands of tonnes of toxic waste around its Bhopal factory from 1969. Complaints about water contamination were ignored. Then came the catastrophic gas leak in 1984, because safety measures were inadequate — Union Carbide didn't want to waste much money to protect Indian lives. Nor did it want to pay adequate compensation later.


Then there is Dow Chemical, which acquired UCC and ignores Carbide's liabilities in India. It is on record saying that "$500 (compensation paid by Carbide) is plenty good for an Indian". Dow has reportedly spent $2.2 billion for asbestos liabilities that it inherited from UCC. Why not liabilities in Bhopal then?


Then there is the Indian government. The Congress government first took away the victims' rights to fight for themselves and grabbed the case, shoving aside national and international organisations and law firms keen to represent the Bhopal victims. Then it smugly settled for $470 million instead of the $3.3 billion initially claimed as compensation. Then it failed to disburse it for decades, finally paying a flat Rs 25,000 to the affected and Rs 1 lakh for the dead, not accounting for medical expenses.


Besides, it stashed away the huge interest accrued and tried to divert it. And it has still not cleaned up the toxic waste, which is slowly killing its own people and poisoning future generations. Babies are born maimed and need care that their parents, themselves poisoned, ailing and struggling with debts to meet health expenses, cannot provide. Then the state let Dow Chemicals go free and even wooed it back to India, hoping for business investments.
Meanwhile, the locals continue to drink the poisoned water and live off the poisoned land in Bhopal. The decision-makers, the ministers and bureaucrats, don't live there, they don't have to drink that water or bathe in it, rear their children on it. Yes, we know, they say officiously. We are working on it. Run along now. Union Carbide unleashed an "Industrial Hiroshima", but our government continues the silent genocide.
And apparently the state government plans to build a Rs 116 crore memorial at the factory site for the victims, like the Hiroshima Memorial. Why pay the victims or give them proper healthcare or clean up the toxic waste?
But then, public outrage must be addressed. Well-practised in disasters, our sarkar — irrespective of the party in power — is a veteran in handling that. It sets up committees and commissions. The Liberhan Commission, the Srikrishna Commission, the Nanavati Commission — generally, panels that examine what the public is outraged about and produces reports that lie locked up or create more public outrage. So the outrage over the Bhopal verdict is being handled by setting up a group of ministers (GoM).


Wait, isn't there already a GoM examining Bhopal? Never mind. Let's regroup. So the GoM has been reconstituted with P. Chidambaram at the helm instead of Arjun Singh. That's better. Mr Singh was chief minister of Madhya Pradesh at the time of the disaster, and had reportedly put the state machinery at Anderson's disposal to help him flee, arranging for instant bail and airlifting him to Delhi. It was strongly believed that he acted on orders from the Centre.


But how dependable are the new members of this GoM? Chidambaram was at the forefront of wooing Dow Chemical to India, waiving any liability it may have for Carbide's sins. And Kamal Nath too, another member. There is Jairam Ramesh too, who had cheerfully declared, ''I held the toxic waste (in Bhopal) in my hand. I am still alive and not coughing. It's 25 years after the gas tragedy. Let us move ahead". And in this matter the Congress-led government must not go by the Congress spokesperson's advice either — Abhishek Manu Singhvi is Dow's counsel in the matter of Carbide's liability, and has a clear conflict of interest.


Finally, there are our courts. In 1989, the Supreme Court settled the compensation amount at $470 million instead of $3.3 billion under then Chief Justice of India (CJI) R.S. Pathak. Then in 1996, CJI A.H. Ahmadi ruled in favour of Carbide and converted the CBI's charge of Section 304 (II), which could sentence you to 10 years in jail, to 304 (A) which attracts a maximum punishment of just two years. That is what the accused got this week. The fact that since retirement Justice Ahmadi heads a trust set up by Carbide only makes it worse.
If we are looking at culpability, we need not look overseas at "absconding" old Anderson. We have a system of governance and justice right here which has failed us at various levels, over 25 years. And will do so again, unless we seek accountability. While we wait for foreign investment and international nuclear deals, let's clean up our home.

 

Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine.

She can be contacted at: sen@littlemag.com

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

DELICATE MATTERS

KISHWAR DESAI

 

The response of the two governments, American and Indian, towards an environmental disaster created by a multinational, could not be more different. While the Indian government has meekly turned the other cheek over the killing of thousands of its citizens in the Bhopal gas tragedy, the US government under President Barack Obama is ferociously looking out to "kick ass" over the Louisiana oil spill by BP. And Mr Obama has done so without bothering about the repercussions of BP's plunging share price or the tensions it may cause for British business in the US.


In India the convenient explanation is that when the gas leak took place, Rajiv Gandhi was a new and untried Prime Minister, struggling with the 1984 riots and that Arjun Singh, the then Madhya Pradesh chief minister, was, perhaps, the real culprit who allowed the Union Carbide head honcho Warren Anderson to get away. It is shocking that after 25 years we are still discussing who should have been arrested on that fatal day. That is barely relevant any more. The emphasis, on the contrary, should be on total corporate responsibility, about compensating for the lives lost and injuries caused by the gas leak, and of the subsequent environmental fallout. The fact that Union Carbide is now a fully-owned subsidiary of Dow Chemicals has further allowed the government to delink the two on Indian soil.


In fact, on the Dow website it says clearly: "As a publicly owned corporation , Dow is unable, due to share price concerns, accept any responsibility for the Bhopal catastrophe caused by our fully-owned subsidiary, Union Carbide. As an individual, however, you can help as your conscience dictates". How very convenient! The real issue, therefore, is not only about who pushed for the cover-up but who has reaped the profits from either Union Carbide or in its avatar as Dow Chemicals. Because when a government wants to protect its citizens, the balance sheet of companies should be the last thing on its mind.


A lesson must be learnt from the way Mr Obama is attacking BP without bothering about its falling share prices. This is despite the fact that the drop is causing a grave concern in the UK, especially since many UK pension funds have invested with BP. But for Mr Obama it is crucially important to sort out the mess as soon as possible. After the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina by the last government, he needs to be extra vigilant about the loss of life and environmental degradation. Commentators in the US are distancing themselves from BP, deliberately calling it British Petroleum and now doubts are being raised about the effect this may have on other British businesses in the US. But Mr Obama has been steadfast in his resolve — perhaps rightly focussed only on his own country and its people. He has been appalled, just like everyone else, that the oil giant had no safety provisions in place in case there was an underwater accident. Even though the death-toll is not high (compared to Bhopal), the environmental impact has been enormous, and Mr Obama has not hidden his frustration or his anger against the BP boss, Tony Hayward. While there may not be any arrests, there is no doubt that corporate responsibility will be firmly pinned and BP will be made to compensate heavily for this gigantic folly.
Sadly, in India, on the other hand, 25 years after the mishap, a group of ministers has been cobbled together, which is far too little, much too late. Where is the anger? How much more dishonesty will we have to put up with? We desperately need a Barack Obama to "kick ass".

 

Meanwhile, let us, as always, move to more cheery subjects! The Labour Party leadership contest which was beginning to look like a competition between four frankly rather indistinguishable white men of a certain age, has suddenly been given a frisson of excitement with the entry of a black female rebel MP, Diane Abbott. While her chances of winning are very slim, Ms Abbott represents the diversity of Britain much more than any of the others. However, she did need a helping hand from one of the white men, as she would not have been able to even get the 33 nominations required to compete. It was the front runner and former foreign secretary David Miliband who threw her a lifeline. Mr David Miliband, a hot favourite with the bookies, already has an Ambani-like battle on his hands as his own younger brother, the ex-environment minister, Ed Miliband, is opposing him for the top job. If this was a Bollywood film (or the dispute between the Ambani brothers), the final decision would be taken at "amma's" feet. But Mr David Miliband, while expressing his sympathy for his mother's position, has clearly said that she will not take sides. However, for the rest of us, it's three cheers for the entry of a brave woman into the leadership zone. Now if only Ms Abbott could manage to pull off a Margaret Thatcher! Highly unlikely, alas.

 

Female bonding is back, though, in a "Big" way (pardon the pun) with the return of Sex and the City 2 (SATC2). But the comeback has not been entirely cool. It has led to a deep and vicious rift between male and female film critics, with the latter dismissing all those male critics who have thoroughly trashed the film. Women columnists are coming out fighting in favour of the incorrigible mindlessness of SATC2 — and for a very good reason. The film (even if it is puerile, superficial and kitsch) is doing extremely well. Most women will see it with their best buddies to have a good laugh. Since the usual Hollywood films are designed to appeal to a macho taste of extreme violence (such as the currently running, highly controversial The Killer Inside Me), it is refreshing to see a "girlie" film, however politically incorrect it may be. SATC2 is no classic — with sexual innuendoes and over-the-top designerwear — but it also represents the kind of film we don't see enough of. In a world dominated by the World Cup, here is a film about aging women with wrinkles and sagging breasts on the other side of 50 — not fighting with each other as Indian soaps depict them, but enjoying the company of their girl friends. The sight of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte floating in their outrageous clothes across Morocco may be a ridiculous sight. But it is also, strangely, quite heart warming. So grab some pop corn and off we go, girls!

 

The writer can be contacted at kishwardesai@yahoo.com

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

THE 1947 MATRIX

UMAIR MUHAJIR

 

It is probably a reflection of my narcissism that my first reaction upon hearing that the man arrested for last month's Times Square bombing plot was an American of Pakistani origin, was to wonder what this might mean for my application for an Indian employment visa. Although, that's a bit misleading: these days (that is to say, four months after I submitted my papers), just about everything leads me to wonder about my visa application.
It wasn't always thus: once upon a time, back in the days before David Headley, American citizens like me could count on getting a visa within two or three weeks the first time they travelled to India, and within two or three days on subsequent visits. These days the security clearance process is of indeterminate length. This would be my cue to saying that I feverishly hope that clearance will be forthcoming now that Indian investigators have finally gotten access to Headley. But given my first paragraph, you already knew that, didn't you?


Let me back up. American citizens "like me" is a somewhat complicated concept in my case. I was born and raised in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and am a naturalised US citizen. Growing up — that is to say prior to my naturalisation — and to this day, I have regarded myself as inextricably bound to India. To its politics. To its films (not just in Hindi, but also in Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu). And god knows, to its cricket, and the heartbreaks associated with it, especially in the fourth innings of Test matches. (The pain associated with tragedies like Bangalore '05, against Pakistan, or Mumbai '06, against England, or Karachi '06 is all the greater when one has braved time zones to stay up all night in New York to watch the implosion live.) This does not pose any kind of identity crisis or conflict with my US citizenship, but is simply the contemporary reality of hyphenated Americanness: the Irish, the Italians, and Jewish immigrants over the decades have paved the way for newer waves, comfortable in (at least) two worlds, and not required to give up either. So far so good, but as with so many immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, my life isn't just marked by the passage to the US. Its contours are also, and implacably, shaped by the 1947 fault line. I used to be a citizen of Pakistan prior to becoming an American.


Rooting for the Indian cricket team while carrying a Pakistani passport and lapsing into "we" when others meant "them" might seem odd, and I certainly wouldn't be the one to say it's anything like common. But 1947's detritus makes certain oddities more likely among Urdu-speaking Muslims than among others; types that, even if they are uncommon, are encountered only among them. The Urdu-speaker knows, perhaps is even related to, all of them: the hyper-nationalistic, Nehruvian anti-Pakistani, committed to maintaining India as the un-Pakistan, perhaps with a childhood scarred by the vanishing of half a family to the other side. The cricket traitor, rooting for the other team — but never able to meet anyone from that side of the border without succumbing to the temptation of a barb about how bad it is Over There. The prosperous relative from Karachi, oblivious to the condescension in his reaction when he hears his hosts in Hyderabad won't have dancing, and will have sex-segregated seating, at the family wedding. The engineer from Meerut forced to migrate (his protestations overruled by his parents' view that there were no prospects for Muslims in the India of a couple of decades ago), to join his siblings who have, by now, all left for Canada, the US, South Africa, or the UK, leaving him stuck in Karachi as an illustration of a perverse joke, the punch line to which seems obscure. And many more beside. No community has a monopoly on Partition's legacy, but the figure of the Urdu-speaking Muslim incarnates that history in an especially unfinished way. Whatever the time, one hand of the clock points to 1947.
It took the diaspora to present "the other" as a banal fact to the post-1947 generation. Once hundreds of thousands of desis, of this or that country, owing allegiance to this or that god, appeared in the English-speaking world and in the petro-states of the Gulf, Over There ceased to be simply a political fact or family condition manifesting itself every two years. It became an everyday reality, in schools, offices, all manner of places. Nor could one delude oneself that it was reducible to communal identity: certainly not where Malayalee Muslims rubbed shoulders with Pashtuns; Chicago Hyderabadis with Punjabis. And if most people did no more than replicate the cartography of the motherland, distance — and, where available, the privileges afforded by naturalisation — meant another orientation, one where the border was contingent, became possible.
Traffic can run both ways, however. No one seems to have known this better than David Headley and the Lashkar, who used precisely Headley's diasporic position — as an American citizen of Pakistani descent, he was able to travel, not only in the US and Pakistan, but also in India — to facilitate terrorism. Nuance has been one of the first casualties of the discovery, potentially reducing those "like me" to no more than the passport I once carried. I suppose this isn't any officialdom's fault — government bureaucracies are especially ill-suited to nuance, let alone to telepathy — and in the context of the subcontinent's bloody turmoil, visa limbo for a few (or many) immigrant desis who saw in the naturalisation process an opportunity not just to find a new world, but to engage more fluidly with their old, does not, as tragedies go, make the grade. With the result that in a little over a month, when India's first Test match begins in Sri Lanka, I'll still be watching, and hoping Dhoni's boys do a better job of tackling Mendis this time around. Only it will likely be from New York, late at night, nine-and-a-half hours behind.

 

Umair A. Muhajir is a lawyer based in New York City. He blogs at http://qalandari.blogspot.com.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

CLEARING PRISONS

 

Mumbai: For decades now, the majority of prison population in the country comprised of those waiting for their cases to be tried by the courts. Most of them end up spending more time in jail than they would have if they had been sentenced for their petty crimes. The Supreme Court noted the anomaly years ago but it seemed that it was like the issue of legal backlog that seemed too complicated to solve. This was also a scandal because most of the people who were arrested and forced to waste away in prisons were the poor folk.

 

For once the government seemed to have got out of its habitual inertia. Law minister Veerappa Moily took up the issue with evangelical zeal. On January 26 this year, also known as the Law Day, he launched 'Mission Under-trial'. The minister wrote to the state governments, to the courts to speed up the disposal of the cases involving the under-trials. In three months nearly 100,000 out of a total of 170,000 under-trials held for petty offenses have now been released, making the prisons less crowded than they have been for years.

 

There are two reasons for this nightmarish situation. First, it is the absolute right of the police to arrest and put people in prison for any offense, which includes offenders indulging in petty crimes. There is need to examine this arbitrary power of the police. There is, of course, the legal provision, that anyone arrested should be presented before a judicial magistrate within 24 hours.

 

There are innumerable instances when even this basic requirement is not met. It is not surprising that this right to arrest is more often than not misused by the police. There is need then to restrict this power, which is clearly a colonial legacy.

 

Second, the courts have been unable to dispose of the cases that grew exponentially mainly because of procedural loop holes that would allow a case to be dragged on for years, even where it involved a petty crime.

 

Simplifying the procedures is one way. Another is to increase the scope of offenses which would incur fines and a prison term only in case of failing to do so. The courts could use the provision of probation and suspended sentences.

 

It is a disgrace for a justice system where people are penalised for more than their crime, and where the offenders have to languish in jails even before their crime is proved.

 

Democracy would be a travesty if the justice delivery system is so distorted.Moily has made the right move in addressing the shameful issue. He needs to be at it to keep it going and decongest the prisons and improve the functioning of the courts.

 

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DNA

BEAUTIFUL MEMORIES OF NAGALAND

SUMIT KESARKAR & SUDHIR GATTAWAR

 

Nagaland has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Political unrest has often overshadowed the natural beauty this state has to offer and the vast cultural heritage preserved in its hills and valleys has yet to find its rightful place in the sun. We boarded a train from Guwahati to Dimapur and thus, began our journey into a hitherto unexplored region of the country.


We had touched base with a social worker in Mumbai whose work extended to Nagaland and through him we were hosted by a Guruji Jamir in Dimapur, who runs a school there to promote Hindi language and national integration. From Dimapur, we decided to travel to the north-eastern tip of Nagaland up to Lungwa village in Mon district and stop over at Mokokchung district on our way back to participate in the tribal festival happening there. Considering the poor roads and long distances, state transport was not an option for us, so we booked an Alto for ourselves and headed to Mon.


An overnight journey was inevitable considering we had to cover 350kms before we could reach Mon. Our first halt was at Kohima (75kms from Dimapur) where we visited the beautifully constructed World War II cemetery. Our journey took us through some awe-inspiring landscapes comprising lush green fields, thick forests, amazing blue skies, foggy mountains and roads dotted on both sides by ethnic Naga houses made from bamboo and grass.


After a dark, adventurous night on the road, we were relieved to hit a tar road at Namtul in Assam, which we bypassed and entered Mon around noon. Without further ado, our guide took us to visit the Ang (King) of his village. A walk through the hamlet quickly revealed the lack of infrastructure and poverty prevalent in the region. The bamboo homes lining the muddy paths were adorned with skulls of dogs, bulls and the legendary Naga animal, mithoon. To our surprise, the king's house was not very different either; it simply had more skulls on display. We learnt that more the number of skulls a Konyak tribesman possesses, the stronger and richer he is considered. The king was out; however, the young prince showed us varied historical artifacts and gave us insights into the ways of the Konyak warriors.


The next morning, a two hour drive took us to Lungwa — the village of two countries. Strategically, the international boundary between India and Burma cuts through Lungwa in such a way that half the village lies in India and the other half in Burma, with the king's house being even more remarkable, as the border runs through his house. Upon entering the village, we were greeted by sights of Konyak tribesmen donning their traditional attire.


While scouting around for a spot to click pictures, we chanced upon some army men belonging to the Assam Rifles Cadre. From them, we learnt that the Indian national is allowed to go up to 16kms into Burma for farming and other necessities, while the Burmese people get access to 45kms of Indian soil, thus, factually, a Burmese national can settle in Mon town.


The following day saw us in Mokokchung district where a local politician's daughter hosted us for the night as most hotels were overbooked due to the festival. Her generosity gave us a chance to stay with a Naga family and experience their hospitality. The eastern Himalayas watched over us as we retired to bed thinking of the contrast between Mon and Mokokchung in terms of the friendliness of people. The last day was spent in mingling with the


Ao people in Ungma village, where the tribal festival was being flagged off. Our Mumbai origins made us eligible for VIP treatment at the fest. We finally bid adieu to the Ao people as our Alto rolled toward Dimapur with the memories of the past week vying for our attention.

 

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DNA

SARASVATI: TRACING THE DEATH OF A RIVER

VIVEK KAUL

 

The common belief that the invisible river Sarasvati meets the Ganga and the Yamuna at the Prayag in Allahabad is just that: a belief. "After the collapse of the Harappan civilisation some of the late Harappans moved eastward, crossing the Ganga, and it is likely that they did not want to forget the sacred river. So they restored it in the new location, but as an "invisible" river," says Michel Danino, a Frenchman, who has lived in India for more than 25 years and has most recently authored The Lost River: On the Trail of the Sarasvati (Penguin Books India, 2010). He spoke to Vivek Kaul of DNA on the saga of the lost river.
A large number people believe that the search for the lost river Sarasvati is a very recent phenomenon. Is that true?


It is the recent study of the Sarasvati basin through satellite imagery that gives this wrong impression. But explorations of the region by British topographers, surveyors and geologists began in the 1820s, as I have documented in my book. They soon noted a wide, but dry, riverbed running more or less parallel to the Indus through a mostly arid region. It was called the "Ghaggar" and "Hakra" further downstream. They recorded numerous ruined mounds along its banks, local traditions of a "lost river of the Great Indian Desert" — a loss that explained the desolation of the region — and finally the presence of freshwater wells along that bed. Other explorations followed, building up a considerable body of evidence by the end of the 19th century.


From the evidence that is available, where exactly did the Ghaggar-Hakra river start and through which parts of India did it flow?


The Ghaggar-Hakra starts its course in the Shivalik Hills, flows through today's Haryana (it still does so during good monsoons), continues (its dry course, rather) through Punjab, northern Rajasthan, flows into Cholistan (the Pakistani extension of the Thar desert), and finally all the way to the Rann of Kachchh. This course was clearly marked, for instance, in a map of 1893 drawn by CF Oldham, who was a surgeon-major in the Indian army, but also an Indologist.


So the Ghaggar-Hakra river system that flows through Rajasthan into Pakistan is the Sarasvati?
If in the nineteenth century most scholars identified the Ghaggar-Hakra's course with the Vedic Sarasvati, it is basically for three reasons. The RigVeda, the oldest of the four Vedas, mentions various rivers but praises the Sarasvati above all others: it was a "mighty river" flowing "from the mountain to the sea", and one hymn listed it between the Yamuna and the Sutlej — precisely the location of the Ghaggar-Hakra. Secondly, the local traditions regarding the "lost river" of the Indian desert matched those in the post-Vedic literature (including the Mahabharata), which recorded the gradual disappearance of the Sarasvati. Thirdly, scholars noticed a minor tributary of the Ghaggar called "Sarsuti", an obvious corruption of "Sarasvati": it rises in the Sirmur hills that are part of the Shivaliks and was marked on British maps as early as in 1788. Putting these three lines of evidence together, they concluded that the lost Sarasvati could only have flowed in the Ghaggar's bed. In fact, it was a French geographer Vivien de Saint-Martin who reached this conclusion for the first time — in 1855! Since then, most archaeologists have accepted this identity between the Ghaggar-Hakra and the Sarasvati.


How did the Sarasvati river dry up and disappear?

The explanation offered by most scholars, geologists in particular, is that the Sarasvati was partly fed by waters from the Sutlej (in the west) and the Yamuna (in the east). Indeed many palaeo-channels connecting those three rivers systems have been traced. Now, the watershed between the Yamuna and the Sutlej is a very flat and a seismically active region; it has been proposed that it underwent a slight upliftment, which drove away the Sutlej and the Yamuna, leaving the Sarasvati with only a few seasonal tributaries originating in the Shivaliks.

Was the decline of the Harappan civilisation due to the drying up or disappearance of Sarasvati?
It does seem to have been a major contributory factor, but probably not the only one. It is certain that the urban Harappan sites in the Sarasvati basin, such as Kalibangan, Banawali or Rakhigarhi, had to be abandoned. In the Indus basin, on the contrary, floods and consequent shifts in the Indus appear to have occurred. All this must have greatly impacted agricultural resources and possibly the urban administration. The Harappan state was geographically quite overstretched, from the Yamuna almost to Iran, and from northern Afghanistan to the Narmada; it apparently could not survive these upheavals, and the Harappans had to revert to a rural stage.

How did Indians start to believe that Sarasvati is the invisible river that merges with Ganga and Yamuna at Prayag?


I think this is a transfer of name intended to remember the river, nothing more. Some of the late Harappans moved eastward, crossing the Ganga, and it is likely that they did not want to forget the sacred river. So they restored it in the new location, but as an "invisible" river. Such name transfers have been fairly common in India, showing that remembrance and continuity of worship mattered more to the people than geographical or historical accuracy.


Currently, there seem to be five rivers named after the Sarasvati. Where exactly are these rivers, and what are their exact names?

Yes, five at least: the Sarsuti I mentioned above; a small Sirsa river that runs from Kalka to meet the Sutlej above Ropar ("Sirsa", like "Sarsuti", derives from "Sarasvati"); then, starting near Pushkar, the upper course of the Luni River is locally known as "Sarasvati"; finally, we find two Sarasvatis in Gujarat, one flowing from the Aravalli Hills to the Little Rann of Kachchh, and another joining two other rivers at Prabhas Patan in Saurashtra. All these rivers are in, or near, the basin of the original Sarasvati, and it seems plain enough that they testify to the sacredness of the original river and to a desire to preserve its memory.


You write "the 21st century may well see the end of the 3,000 year old Ganges civilisation." Why do you say that?


Because the Ganges and its tributaries are now endangered rivers. Global warming threatens not only Himalayan glaciers, which are their sources, but the very existence of monsoons. Rapid but blind industrialisation compounds these threats with intense pollution and wasteful use of water. The Ganges plains were the cradle of India's classical civilisation; I hope they won't be its grave too.
Email:k_vivek@dnaindia.net

Copyright Permission     www.3dsyndication.com      

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

ARMY AGAINST MAOISTS

WEIGH THE PROS AND CONS CAREFULLY

 

It came as no surprise when the Cabinet Committee on Security this week failed to reach a consensus on deploying the Army against Maoists. The government has been under pressure for some time to get tough with the outlaws, who have got away time and again after challenging the authority of the state. The impunity with which they attacked and virtually decimated an entire company of the CRPF in Chhattisgarh and the unfortunate sabotage of the railway track in West Bengal resulting in the death of hundreds of passengers also strengthened the demand for dealing with the Maoists with an iron-fist. With para-military forces like the CRPF having failed to rein them in, there is overwhelming public pressure for unleashing the full might of the state against the rebels. But the cabinet committee is clearly divided on the wisdom of pressing the Army against the Maoists and the decision has wisely been deferred. A decision of this magnitude after all would require at least a broad consensus both within and outside the government and also across the political spectrum.

 

The decision cannot be taken lightly because there are weighty arguments both for and against such a move. While on the one hand it is imperative for the state to re-assert its authority and restore confidence in its ability to strike back at the rebels, on the other hand there is the very real risk of innocent civilians paying a heavy price for absolutely no fault of theirs and of alienating the tribals. Past experience in both Kashmir and the Northeast bears this out. Exposing a conventional Army, which is not quite equipped to fight a protracted guerrilla war, to a war of nerves may also take its own toll. It should, however, be clear at the same time that the Maoists, who make no bones about taking over power at gun-point, would at some point be planning to take on the Indian Army. Thus, any pre-emptive strike by the Army would be entirely justified.

 

The Army is already being used to impart training to para-military forces. Army helicopters are being used for transport and evacuation of personnel. And there is a strong case for placing Armymen on deputation in Maoist-hit states so that security agencies on the ground can learn from their experience and expertise. But the government will have to consider several other factors, including the possibility of human rights violations and the international reaction, before it sets up a unified command and commits the Army against the Maoists.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

MAKING DIVORCE EASY

AMENDED LAW WILL SAVE DELAYS AND HARASSMENT

 

The Union Cabinet's approval of a new Bill that provides for irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a new ground for divorce is welcome. The Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010, which will now go to Parliament, takes into account a situation in which a spouse refuses to live with the partner and is against any attempt at reconciliation. It seeks to amend two Acts governing marriages at present — the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and the Special Marriages Act, 1954. Examples are galore, though some couples decide to divorce on mutual consent, one party does not come to court or willfully avoids the court to keep the divorce proceedings inconclusive. The amended law will save the other party such unnecessary delays and harassment.

 

The new clause — irretrievable breakdown of marriage — will be in addition to the existing grounds of divorce which include adultery, cruelty, desertion, conversion to another religion, unsoundness of mind, virulent and incurable form of leprosy, venereal diseases, renouncement of the world and not heard as being alive for a period of seven years. Divorce by mutual consent is also a ground for presenting a petition for divorce in the court. The new clause, first introduced in New Zealand, is in line with the worldwide trend of dissolving marriages that are not working. The Law Commission (217th report) and the Supreme Court had also recommended it.

 

In an important ruling in March 2006, the Supreme Court Bench consisting of Justice Ruma Pal and Justice A.R. Lakshmanan upheld a woman's petition for divorce on the ground that her husband was mentally ill. The woman — a structural engineer from IIT, Delhi — had filed for divorce a few months after her marriage in 1993, but was turned down by both the family court and the Delhi High Court. In another ruling, the Bench consisting of Justice B.N. Agrawal, Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice Dalveer Bhandari permitted dissolution of a 30-year-old marriage that was never consummated. It said the Allahabad High Court was wrong in setting aside the trial court order and recommended the Centre to enact legislation making irretrievable breakdown of marriage a ground for divorce. Some women's groups fear that the new clause may allow men to walk out of marriages abruptly and whimsically. Thus, the judiciary ought to judge each petition of divorce carefully and with utmost care.

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

TAMING TEHRAN

WILL SANCTIONS REALLY END THE N-CRISIS?

 

The fourth round of sanctions imposed on Iran by the UN Security Council on Wednesday may provide satisfaction to the US and its Western allies —Britain, France and Germany —- for at least two reasons. One, Iran has been further punished with 40 more of its firms blacklisted by the UN for its failure to rollback its controversial nuclear programme even after the international gatherings Tehran organised recently to prove that it has no ambition to become a nuclear weapon power. The nuclear fuel swap deal it signed with Turkey, mediated by Brazil, during the G-15 summit could not prevent Iran from getting punished again. Two, interestingly, Russia and China have also voted for the latest sanctions along with the Western powers though earlier both Moscow and Beijing argued that any such punitive action would only complicate the Iranian nuclear crisis and should, therefore, be avoided.

 

The Iran-Turkey deal — under which Tehran had to ship 1200 kg of its low-enriched uranium to Ankara to be later returned as nuclear fuel rods — had undeclared Russian approval, but Moscow later on changed its mind owing to some other considerations. Perhaps, both Russia and China agree with the US viewpoint that there is no guarantee about the use of the remaining part of the low-enriched uranium that Iran will have after dispatching over one tonne of its nuclear fuel to Turkey. Iran also failed to convince the International Atomic Energy Agency that the nuclear material in its possession was meant only for peaceful purposes.

 

The situation is taking a turn for the worse with Iran remaining defiant. It is doubtful if it will succumb to international pressure so easily. The sanctions regime may harm the Iranian economy, but not to such an extent that it may ultimately abandon its nuclear ambitions. Diplomacy and dialogue can help even at this stage to make Iran see the writing on the wall. Efforts must be made to prevent more sanctions, or a recourse to military means because that will adversely affect the entire Gulf region and other parts of Asia.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

THE VERDICT AGAINST INDIRA GANDHI

CIRCUMSTANCES THAT LED TO EMERGENCY

BY KULDIP NAYAR

 

June 12 should never be forgotten because a judgment on that day some 35 years ago rewrote India's history and debarred the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, from holding any executive post for six years. Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court was the person who pronounced the verdict on the petition which Raj Narain, a socialist leader, had filed against Mrs Gandhi's election to the Lok Sabha in 1971.

 

Justice Sinha held her guilty on two counts. The first was that she had used Yashpal Kapoor, Officer on Special Duty in the Prime Minister's Office to "further her election prospects." As a government servant, he should not have been put to such use. Although Kapoor had tendered his resignation on January 13, he had continued in government service until January 25. Mrs Gandhi, according to the judge, had "held herself out as candidate" on December 29, 1970, the day she addressed a news conference in New Delhi and announced her decision to stand for election.

 

The second impropriety was that Mrs Gandhi had obtained the assistance of UP officials to build rostrums from which she addressed election rallies. The officials had also arranged for loudspeakers and electricity to feed them. This amounted to the misuse of government machinery. Justice Sinha's judgment might have looked like a hammer employed to kill a fly. But the electoral laws are very strict in India and he had no option.

 

There was such a benumbing effect on the Congress representatives at the court that nobody from among them filed a petition for appeal in the Supreme Court. A relatively unknown lawyer, V. Khare, who rose to be India's Chief Justice, on his own initiative submitted an application seeking permission to appeal against the judgment.

 

Justice Sinha gave Mrs Gandhi a fortnight to file an appeal against the judgment in the Supreme Court. The court in recess had Justice Krishna Iyer as vocation judge. He allowed her to continue as Prime Minister till the disposal of her appeal but forfeited her right to vote in the House.

 

After the judgment Mrs Gandhi thought of resigning. My feeling is if she had done so and gone back to the people for a verdict, she should have probably been re-elected. However, her adviser, her son Sanjay Gandhi, ruled out resignation. Siddharth Shankar Ray, then West Bengal Chief Minister, advised her to impose the Internal Emergency. India was already under External Emergency following the Bangladesh war.

 

A dropout from Doon School and an apprentice motor mechanic with Rolls Royce in England, Sanjay Gandhi had come a long way in "establishing" himself in politics. What fascinated him was money and power, and he was beginning to have both. Sanjay was Mrs Gandhi's refuge. She was confident that he would be able to help her in her hour of need.

 

In fact, Sanjay Gandhi was credited with having given her the election-winning slogan in the 1971 polls. "They say Indira hatao (oust Indira), but I say Gharibi hatao (oust poverty)." Now he had to do more than coin a slogan. He knew his mother was not the one to give up easily, but at that time she was on the verge of doing just that. And that must not be. Sanjay organised public support, not only to convince her that the country needed her but also to keep her enemies at bay. Yashpal Kapoor was adept in tactics like rent-a-crowd. He rang up the chief ministers of the neighbouring states to send truckloads of men and women. They did so without a whimper.

 

At the government-managed June 20 solidarity rally in New Delhi, Mrs Gandhi said she would continue to serve the people in whatever capacity she could till her last breath. Service had been her family tradition, she said. For the first time she mentioned her family at a public meeting. The family was indeed present on the rostrum-Sanjay, Rajiv and Sonia.

 

Mrs Gandhi said that "big forces" had been working not only to oust her from office, but also to liquidate her physically. To achieve their designs, they had spread a wide net, she alleged. Dev Kant Barooah, then Congress president, was at his old job building up the Indira cult. He recited an improvised Urdu couplet: Indira - Tere subah ki jai, tere sham ki jai, tere kaam ki jai, tere naam ki jai (Indira - Victory to your morning, victory to your evening, victory to your action and victory to your name.)

 

The rally was a success. "It was the biggest in the world," as Mrs Gandhi put it. But it had not been televised, merely because it was a party rally, not a government rally. And that cost I.K. Gujral, then Information and Broadcasting Minister, his portfolio. Sanjay had a brush with Gujral, who had to tell him that he was his mother's minister, not his.

 

From the public meeting, as many as 13 chief ministers trooped into Rashtrapati Bhavan to reiterate their confidence in Mrs Gandhi and to submit a one-page memorandum which said that her resignation would lead to instability, not only at the national level "but also in various states."

 

Some of those chief ministers were present in the Supreme Court on June 23, when Justice Krishna Iyer heard Mrs Gandhi's appeal. Her application had sought "absolute and unconditional" stay "in view of the position held by Mrs Gandhi." It was argued that it was eminently in the national interest that the status quo should not be disturbed while the appeal was still pending.

 

Justice Iyer heard the arguments of both sides for two days and came to the conclusion that Mrs Gandhi had not been convicted of "any of the grave electoral vices." The stay given was conditional. But there was no bar on her participation in discussions in Parliament. Justice Iyer's judgment upset several people's plans-and ambitions. Meanwhile, the party's parliamentary board also met to warn the nation that "some groups and elements might continue their efforts to mislead the people and exploit the situation for their partisan ends."

 

Among those who did not share the enthusiasm of other party men were the Young Turks-Chandra Shekhar, Mohan Dharia, Ram Dhan and Krishna Kant — and a few others. They held a separate meeting to assess their strength. It was not much, as they could count their supports on the tips of their fingers. What happened in the inner circles of the Young Turks did not concern Sanjay and his group who were now putting into operation the mechanics of their plan. Ray had spelt it out for them.

 

The time set for action was midnight, June 25. The rest, as they say, is part of history.

 

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THE  TRIBUNE

COLUMN

SAY CHEESE

BY NAINA DHILLON

 

Over the course of the past year, while working on the school magazine, I have discovered the convenience of the digital camera. I must admit that I for one have been in awe of the speed at which things get done. Thanks to my students, I have now become accustomed to this speed and technology.

 

Take a look around you at any function and you will find that at least nine out of ten people will be hidden behind their cameras. In fact,sometimes one is left waiting to meet them because they seem to be so absorbed in capturing a particular moment. Whether it's weddings, informal get togethers, award functions etc everyone seems busy in trying to capture everyone else onto the camera.

 

It is not uncommon now to have the photographers directing the "Anand Karaj" instead of leaving that to the powers that be. How does it matter if the "gyaniji" is upset or not? This doesn't stop there.

 

After the wedding, it's time for the reception; the result is that you have a plethora of snaps of people in the midst of gastronomic ecstasy, while the lack of table manners recorded in the process leave a lot to be desired. So if you get "caught in the act", you can spend the rest of your life telling everyone that you were working on the "before" snap for the weight loss clinic you just joined.

 

I have come to the conclusion that the best seats in the house now hold no meaning because the minute a performance gets underway, 90 per cent of the audience is out of their seats, taking snaps. Objecting is out of the question as you will be looked down upon with disdain. I mean what are you doing just sitting there? How disinterested can you be if you're not clicking away? Whatever happened to sitting back and watching a performance, enjoying every bit of it so the memories are embedded in your heart for all time?

 

During school socials, most of the students are busy taking photographs. I often wonder how many of them actually take the time to file these snaps away and look at them later. With the constant posing and fake smiles, how many of them actually remember anything about the special evening?

 

As a teacher of English, I have a recurring nightmare:

 

I am in class teaching 'Daffodils' by William Wordsworth, my favourite poet. A student recites:

 

"For oft when on my couch I lie,In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye,Which is the bliss of solitude.And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils."

 

As I try and explain the essence of these lines, a hand goes up and one of my students looks at me incredulously, as if he can't understand what the fuss is all about and says, "Maam, what's the big deal? Why can't he just capture that on his cam?"

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

HOW TO SAVE SUKHNA

 

The response of our readers to the 'Saving Sukhna' campaign has been overwhelming. While paucity of space prevents us from carrying all the articles and letters received in response to our appeal, The Tribune gratefully acknowledges each one of them. Excerpts from some of the responses are being published on this page.

Get silt-free water

 

We are grateful to The Tribune for transforming the status of the Sukhna from a local concern fit to be published in the city pullout to a national concern and published on the front page of the newspaper. It will hopefully catch the attention of the Prime Minister.

 

In the silt-management measures adopted at present, the water, after leaving the check-dams in silt-free state, picks up silt again and to the same level as the upstream of the check dams. Channel-management, therefore, needs to be extended to the entire catchment area along with proper water management.

 

Dr G.S. Dhillon, Former Chief Engineer, Research-cum-Director Irrigation and Power, Amritsar
Sector 10-D, Chandigarh

 

Two lakes needed

 

The only solution is to have two lakes divided by earthen median of suitable width to enable visitors to walk. The median should have wide, water-gates under the bridges so that water of the lake flows from one part to another and maintains a uniform level of water and also allow free passage of boats. One end of the median should be near the entry-point of the Sukhna Choe so that water from the Choe can be diverted to any part of the lake.

 

Ramesh Varma, Sector 8, Panchkula

 

Give a decent burial

 

Building of check dams and dredging of the silt have made no difference in the past, primarily because Le Corbusier erred in properly assessing the 'dry hard, wet soft' nature of the soil upstream of the rivulets. The upper layer of the barren hills is unable to withstand the torrential rain. It instantly dissolves into gushing waters of the rivulets and ends up settling at the bottom of the lake.

 

How long will the fight against nature continue at the cost of the public exchequer? Sukhna is a patient in a coma. Sentiments apart, the situation demands that Sukhna be allowed a peaceful burial and replaced by a terrace garden. As observed by Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina, " Why not put out the candle when there is nothing more to see?"

 

S.S. Beniwal, Sector 40-A, Chandigarh

 

Learn from examples

 

The Tribune has reported on the revival of the Man Sagar Lake and the historic Jal Mahal (Saturday Extra, May 1, 2010) and how a PPP project restored the stinking dead lake to its pristine glory.

 

The Rajasthan government did not allot any fund for the restoration. Jaipur-based Tourism infrastructure firm, Jal Mahal Resorts Pvt. Ltd. restored the lake, which has been full of water for the past two years though the city did not receive even the normal rainfall.

 

The UT Administration should stop futile experiments and draining resources. It would be wiser to solicit help from the firm in Jaipur instead.

 

Kartar Singh, via e-mail

 

Problems not unique

 

Weeds have been successfully removed in the US through aquatic plant harvesting in New Jersey. Similar problems affecting Lake Victoria in Kenya also appear to have been combated effectively with the help of a US company, Aquarious Systems, Wisconsin. Our own engineers need to think out of the box and find affordable solutions to the complex issue.

 

Meanwhile, a thick canopy of forest along with thick, grass carpeting would reduce silting considerably.

 

J.S. Kalra, Sector 34 C, Chandigarh

 

Initiate a mass movement

 

The Tribune investigation is an eye-opener. Lovers of environment are really upset. The Union Territory Chandigarh is under the Union Government and the Capital of Punjab and Haryana. The Union Government should immediately release funds for the Sukhna Lake and so should Punjab and Haryana governments.

 

Punjab and Haryana governments should despatch draglines (heavy earth moving machine) with Punjab Irrigation Department and machinery can be hired from the Ranjit Sagar Dam to carry out the desilting of sand and cleaning of weeds. The species which eats these weeds should be protected. Social organisations should start an awareness drive and request the people to desilt the sand from the boundary of the lake as much they can. The government will be compelled to take immediate action if public voice is raised. The World Environment Day is celebrated with pomp and show throughout the country. Now is the appropriate time to initiate a mass movement to save the Sukhna Lake.

 

Rajat Kumar Mohindru, via e-mail

 

Involve Baba Seechewal

 

The Sukhna lake, the lungs of Chandigarh, is dying due to lack of water, silt and unwanted weeds. There is no sense in singling out any state or the UT administration.

 

Residents must show their concern and real love for the lake and help in removing the silt or the weeds that are threatening the lake's existence. There are men like Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal who, if approached, can provide guidance and inspiration. The lake is a perennial sanctuary for thousands of migratory birds that visit it annually. To restore its glory let all well-meaning people assist the administration. Let there be shramdan if there is paucity of funds.

 

Gurmit Singh Saini, Phase 10, Mohali

 

More check dams

 

The investigation carried out by The Tribune to revive Sukhna Lake will certainly act as an eye-opener for the Chandigarh Administration and the Haryana Government. Provisions of silt control devices and check dams are made in every water body to stop the entry of silt. But they require to be functional throughout the year. It seems that the guidelines mentioned in the maintenance manuals have not been followed strictly by the respective agencies, resulting in accumulation of huge quantity of silts and growth of weeds in the Sukhna Lake.

 

Instead of blaming the Haryana Government for making the condition of the Sukhna Lake critical, the need of the hour is to take remedial measures for the de-silting process and removal of weeds after consulting experts in the respective fields.

 

The de-silting of existing check dams in the Sukhna Catchment Area also needs special attention in order to stop the silt inflow into the Sukhna Lake. Additional checkdams are also required on the upstream side of Sukhna in order to minimise the entry of silt into the lake. Special funds must be provided immediately to the executing authorities/agencies in order to complete the job of cleaning up of the silt speedily.

 

Niranjan Singh, 18-A, Chandigarh

 

Who needs check dams ?

 

Construction of check dams in the catchment area will gag Sukhna forever. The report submitted by the Society for Promotion and Conservation of Environment (SCACE) seems to be stage-managed and a captive study by the Forest Department.

 

The report is apparently silent on the negative impact of check dams on the ecology of forest land. Perhaps this vital issue was not a part of the study and is likely to have been omitted intentionally from it. In fact the check dams have starved the lake of its only source of natural rainwater. The check dams are in no way a remedial measure to save Sukhna.

 

Sewa Singh Sewak, Sarita Vihar, New Delhi

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

CHINA'S LABOUR UNREST

SO FAR UNHEARD, BUT WORKERS ARE STRIKING IN THE WORLD'S MANUFACTURING SHANGRI-LA

 

Apple's iPhone is made in China. It's assembled by a large contract manufacturer called Foxconn International located in the Shenzhen area. This company is a typical Chinese giant employing almost half a million workers in various units that assemble electronic items for many other companies like Nokia and Sony.

 

The workers' wages are a small fraction of the price paid by end consumers. For example out of $150 that you might pay for an iPod, less than two dollars go toward wages of the Chinese worker who assembled it. Workers typically stay in dormitory type accommodation, often work all seven days a week. Their lifestyle is strictly regimented not unlike army barracks. Most workers work overtime to supplement their low wages, ending up working 12 hours for seven days.


Such conditions are common across industries, not just electronics, but also toys, textiles, automobiles. Low wages have been the main attraction for foreign investors, who have brought hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign direct investment into China in the past two decades. For many years the wages have remained low and constant, and as investment poured in, millions of jobs were created, with a steady flow of rural to urban migration into coastal China. Since Chinese currency has remained consistently undervalued (ie artificially cheap for a foreign investor), the wages paid to a worker, when measured in dollars is a tiny fraction compared to an American or European worker.


The foreign employers can hire and fire easily, since workers have limited rights, and there is hardly any job security. Even collective wage bargaining is done with government intervention, which means workers hardly have any say. This situation has prevailed throughout the phase of China's phenomenal economic growth of the past two decades. Nobody had reason to complain, since jobs were created, exports surged, foreign investors made decent profits, and consumer boom of western economies kept demand for Chinese made goods steadily growing. The low wages for the rural migrant were still better than not having any job.

 

This story started to turn sour sometime in 2008 as the financial and economic crisis in the West caused sudden slump in demand. This was when the government of China injected huge funds through their fiscal policy to keep factories chugging, even though foreign demand was slackening. As the world economy started to recover, Chinese growth was back to double digits, with business as usual for the low paid workers. But something else was happening at Foxconn. In the past one year there have been 11 suicide deaths and three attempted suicides. There were major protests at Foxconn's annual general meeting in Hong Kong. The Chairman of Apple had to answer questions regarding labour exploitation. Relatives of a worker who had committed suicide alleged that poor working conditions, and poor pay had led him to take such an extreme step. Foxconn announced two salary hikes within one week, almost doubling the workers' wages from 1200 to 2000 yuan per month. Expect your iPhone to become a wee bit more expensive.

 

But Foxconn is not an isolated incident. There have been strikes at other factories too. The Honda Motor company had strikes at four different factory locations in China. Other foreign companies, notably Taiwanese also experience work stoppage in their factories. Strangely no Chinese public sector company has had any worker unrest. (Is the government turning a blind eye, nay winking at worker strikes in foreign plants?) The demand for higher pay and better working conditions is spreading across China's manufacturing landscape, at least in prosperous south west coastal regions, in foreign owned factories. Coupled with growing worker shortages (remember one child policy?), lesser rural to urban migration, and less fascination for export led growth, Foxconn may be a turning point in China's economic development.

 

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******************************************************************************************BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

CONFLICTED AND CONFUSED

PITY THE POOR CONGRESS PARTY POLITICIANS - THE SIGNALS ARE SO CONFUSING THAT THEY DO NOT KNOW WHICH WAY THE WIND IS BLOWING

SURJIT S BHALLA

It is not easy being a Congressman these days. In the good old days, the commands to be followed flew from one source. Genuflection was easy. Today, there are at least two major sources of political power in India, mother Sonia Gandhi and son Rahul Gandhi. Sometimes, to add to the confusion if not much else, there is a third source — the prime minister, Manmohan Singh.

The divergent sources of power can provide a perspective on the strange goings-on in the Congress community. We have been mute witness to the duality of the stand against the Maoists-Naxalites-terrorists. There is Sonia Gandhi guiding us with platitudes of love, concern, and development. We cannot hope to win the battle unless we win the hearts and minds of those wanting to desperately help the poor. Before generals go to battle, they send soldiers; two leading Congress politicians Digvijay Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyar had echoed (drafted?) the same sentiment just weeks earlier. The home minister, P Chidambaram, believes that he is not being allowed to do his job effectively. Does Rahul privately support the home minister? Two interpretations are possible — fractious Indian politicians slugging it out in public, to the obvious detriment of the country, or Congress people not knowing what lead to follow, also to the detriment of the country.

 Another example: Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh and his ruminations to the press. Again, one interpretation is that Jairam, speaking way out of turn in Beijing (and co-incidentally lecturing Chidambaram on how to do his job), was only upholding the best traditions of the Congress party. The Congress strongly believes in democracy, and openness begins at home, and, therefore, it allowed Ramesh to criticise his own government on its policies and attitudes towards China and that also in China as part of an official visit to China — well, how much more democratic you want the Congress to be? They should be awarded a prize in the form of a majority in the next general election. But then, how does this openness square off with the hatchet the Congress hatchetmen swing at anybody who dares to question the Congress party leaders — no, correct that to dares to question Congress's first family. (You can criticise Congress' own PM as much as you want; indeed, you will most likely be rewarded for doing so!) Lines are crossed, books are banned, movies are censored, all in the name of allowing people to express their opinions.

One can add many more instances of strange and confusing Congress behaviour. For example, the once in four years press conference that never really happened. If that was a press conference, then I am a Congress apologist. And if Jairam was just shooting his mouth off in Beijing, then we did have a press conference. A necessary part of democracy is checks and balances; an important aspect of modern democracy, especially in contrast to feudal democracy, is communication, and yes, cross-questioning by the people. Why is it that there is no demand from the "open to dissent" Congress that the PM, whoever he or she might be, give not just one press conference in four years but one every four months? And why is there not a demand that the supreme leaders of a political party, especially the ruling party, give at least one press conference in 10 years, let alone once every four years? Indians like to think of themselves as being part of an important democracy; indeed, the Congress party keeps reminding us that it gifted us democracy in 1947. So how dare the peasants, instead of being thankful, demand accountability and press conferences?

There are many more examples of the new "confused" Congress. Most of the surprise is in actions of the Congress that were unthinkable with previous Congress leaders. For example, which Congress leader of yesterday would be on the same side as the narrow domain of the 15th century Khap panchayats? Who would stoop to (seemingly) give in to the demands for caste in census? Who would advocate the give me glory and give me the reactionary reservation Women's Bill, especially on International Women's Day; who would arrogantly not consider more progressive policies on women in politics? Who would condone the abundant corruption within the government and offer as an explanation: corruption cannot occur on our watch because it is us who have placed the honest and upright Manmohan Singh as prime minister? And so on and so on and…

It must be confusing for Rahul Gandhi. Mother a knee-jerk socialist, with a profound belief in "in the name of the poor" policies; his father, a non-socialist capitalist who was bold enough to call the bluff on government's anti-poverty programmes, arguing that less than 15 per cent of the money in the government welfare programmes reached the poor. Sonia Gandhi has done everything possible to blindly expand these very same welfare programmes, thereby not only ignoring, but strongly rejecting Rajiv's wise empirical observation. What is poor Rahul to do?

A consistent and plausible explanation to the actions of Congressmen in the last few months is that there are mixed signals emanating from the high command(s). Rahul Gandhi is the heir apparent; young and with an ideology much like his father, and much unlike his grandmother. His mother has an ideology much unlike her husband but much like her mother-in-law and idol, Indira Gandhi. There is also the obvious conflict of age. It is only to be expected that parent and child have different views on various subjects; have different ideologies, have different benchmarks. All parents recognise this, so why should the First Family be different?

If I am a Congress person, and I want to get ahead, which ideology do I cater to, and who do I dare displease? One game theory recommendation would be to mix and match — sometimes cater to one, and sometimes satisfy the other. All this makes for great drama, and even better TV, but it comes at a cost to the public, and the nation.

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

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

PEOPLE-FRIENDLY GROWTH

THE CHALLENGE OF MAOISM CAN BE MET WITH EQUITABLE AND INCLUSIVE SOCIO-ECONOMIC PROGRESS

B G VERGHESE

The Supreme Court on May 7 ruled that natural resources were national assets that belonged to the people and were ideally exploited by public sector undertakings. This obviously implies that local communities, including tribals, living on mineralised land, enjoy entitlements but not prescriptive ownership rights to such national assets. This is an important reiterative clarification defining mineral rights in Fifth Schedule areas that are currently in contention. Whether PSUs should exclusively exploit this wealth is a moot question as increasingly innovative regulatory mechanisms suggest that private investments can be brought in line with "national interest".

The draft Land Titling Bill, 2010, marks another seminal step in mitigating, if not altogether removing ambiguity, uncertainty, litigation and unconscionable delays in transferring land titles. The absence of clear titles has been a huge impediment to development and financing, as records of rights, even where they exist, are totally unreliable and have given a handle to land mafias. Early legislation could eliminate land transfers as a major development hurdle. If titles are clearly annotated in a register of titles, focus will shift from the legality of transactions to the terms and conditions of compensation for loss of property, livelihoods and future benefits.

 Some years ago, a National Sample Survey report indicated that 40 per cent of farmers sampled would give up farming if suitable employment and income alternatives were available. More recent data, as from Nandigram and Salboni (the Jindal steel plant site in West Bengal), and from Andhra Pradesh, indicate that with falling land-man ratios, farm sizes are becoming ever less viable and agriculturists are leasing out or selling lands to become tenants or landless labourers, burdened by debt and hunger. Agriculture is in crisis and must be enabled to enhance productivity and farm incomes. Increasingly marginalised farming is not viable as a way of life and people need to abandon nostalgia and move from farm to non-farm avocations as part of an ongoing national socio-economic transition. This is not going to be easy and must be assisted by appropriate state policies.

Small is beautiful but not sufficient. Large and even mega projects cannot be shunned as economies of scale and competitiveness matter. Even if private land purchase and transfer are facilitated without land acquisition, other impediments remain. Generous R&R, compensation, stakeholder participation, training for emerging employment opportunities and a share in future benefits are required; and new regimes are coming into place and better packages are constantly being evolved. Forest protection is obviously important from the point of view of ensuring adequate green cover, preserving biodiversity and wildlife sanctuaries. But none of these are absolutes and are subject to trade-offs over time and space. Many so-called pristine forests in the European and Japanese Alps and Himalaya are actually regenerated forests and large dams, so readily condemned for submerging forests, by and large create far more green cover than they destroy. For the Sardar Sarovar project, the ratio is something like 500:1.

Likewise mines. A most valuable Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) study, "Challenge of the New Balance" (May 2010) estimates that for India to get on to a low carbon growth path by 2031 will require augmenting the land under six major carbon emitting sectors — fertiliser, steel, aluminium, cement, paper and pulp and power and their related mines and ancillaries — by a million ha over and above the 0.7 m ha currently occupied by them. Power (including coal mining and hydropower) and steel and related mines account for 64 and 16 per cent, respectively, of this total. Likewise, water consumption by these six sectors will rise almost threefold by 2031 to over 16,000 million cubic metres per annum or three times the current drinking water needs of the country today.

These are formidable figures. But, there can be savings over and above what has been built into the CSE model. Land requirements per unit of production of steel/aluminum, etc, need to be standardised nationwide, allowing for technological and topographical variations, so as to preclude over-indenting for future expansion, speculation or diversion to other uses or real estate. Norms can be fixed and subsequent land sales/diversions subjected to stakeholder sharing and taxation. Mines occupy by far the largest area. But apart from underground mining, open cast mining is possible in excavate-fill and cover strips, so that not all the leased area is bare all times and the whole area is retuned to forest at the end of the cycle. The Prime Minister's Office is wisely pushing the Ministry of Environment and Forests to approve coal mining in forest blocks with relatively larger crown cover. The right balance must be struck.

As far as water is concerned, use of seawater and inland saline aquifers, nuclear desalination and multiple recycling can be contemplated. Exploration of the long hypothesised deep aquifer underlying the northern Ganga plain is obviously overdue. If proven, this could be a huge bonus. Over and beyond that, national water accounting cannot exclude storages in Nepal and Bhutan, nor the fact that over 70 per cent of the nation's water goes to agriculture which is an inefficient user with so-called "pro-poor" pricing policies (including that of electricity and diesel), encouraging waste. Improved technology, better maintenance, rational cropping patterns and demand management can make a huge difference. The big-dams-are-bad mantra is ideologically driven and large hydro or multipurpose schemes may now be warranted by the uncertainties of climate change and aberrant rainfall.

Misconceptions persist. Bauxite mining projects like Gandhamardhan and Nyimgiri in Orissa will actually improve the water regime by removing the top layer of impervious laterite that prevents infiltration and recharge. Pollution must of course be controlled.

Another article in the Economic and Political Weekly (Banikanta Mishra, May 15) refers to the danger of resource exhaustion of iron ore, bauxite and coal in Orissa on account of the large number of mega plants being licensed, together with large ore export commitments at low prices and low royalty charges. This returns to a theme being pressed once more with greater urgency by the Club of Rome. On one calculation, Mishra estimates that at current rates of exploitation, Orissa's reserves of bauxite and coal will last 50 years and its iron ore reserves for no more than 20 years. Then what? Water demands are also going to affect farming and domestic/municipal use.

This trajectory merits examination. Conservation, pricing and better technology are called for. With that, a reconsideration is indicated of the nation's (and global) growth path and lifestyle patterns that are related more to greed than "need", here interpreted as comfortable though not extravagant living. This does not imply lowering growth but equitable and inclusive growth. Maoism will not be stopped by lower growth but by redefining it. And poverty and hunger will not disappear or basic needs be met by extolling life on the margin till proletarian revolution enables some to be more equal than others.

www.bgverghese.com  

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

ISRAEL'S WORST ENEMY

K NATWAR SINGH

One of the rules of diplomacy is to increase the number of friends and decrease adversaries. But Israel seems to be doing the opposite.

Well-known Israeli paper Haaretz wrote in its editorial, "The intelligence failure and faulty planning in the operation to board the Mavi Marmara has led to a crisis in Israel's foreign relations and a low in its standing in world opinion." The concluding paragraph of the editorial would have given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, no comfort. "Even if the world is 'hypocritical', as Netanyahu claims, he must fundamentally change his government's aggressive and inward-looking approach. A thorough investigation of the Mavi Marmara incident and lifting of the siege against civilians in Gaza are essential steps, but they are certainly not sufficient. If Israel is to break out of the strategic catastrophe it now faces, it urgently needs a different policy." Wise, mature, sensible Israelis would be wondering what to say to friends of Israel. The adversaries are having a ball. What a propaganda golden windfall. One article in the International Herald Tribune has this unusual heading, "Saving Israel from itself". The writer, Nicolas D Kristo, concludes his piece thus: "He (President Obama) needs to talk sense to Israel and encourage it to back away from its plans to intercept other flotillas now heading for Gaza — that would be a catastrophe for Gaza and America alike. Above all, he needs to nudge Israel from its tendency to shoot itself in the foot, and us along with it."

 This is strong stuff. Mind you the Herald Tribune is a pro-Israeli newspaper with worldwide reach. I am an admirer of Israel and its courageous and long-suffering people. For the life of one, I simply cannot comprehend the hawkish policy of the belligerent Mr Netanyahu. The only Muslim country that Israel was close to has been antagonised. Tempers are running high in Turkey. And rightly so. Surely, the vastly intelligent, astute, shrewd Israelis realise that damage-control cannot be permanent nor can it be a substitute for policy. There was a time when Israel was invincible. No longer so. Hammas is no push-over. The year 2008 and 2009 are ample proof of that. One of the unutterable rules of diplomacy is to increase the number of friends and decrease the number of adversaries. The Israeli prime minister seems to be doing the opposite.

India's response has been measured and candid. We very much want peace in West Asia. We value our relations with Israel, but not at the cost of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians. We value our relations with Israel. Both India and Israel share commonalities — these provide the underpinning to the relationship. Both are parliamentary democracies governed by the rule of law, both have similar legal structures flowing from their British common law background. The media in both countries is free. Both face the threat of terrorism. In the Mumbai terror attacks on November 26, 2008, Israel was as much a target as India. Relations between the two countries exist in crucial areas, including politics, defence, economics and trade. We share information on water management, science and technology, space and security. Clean energy is another important area of cooperation where Israel has the lead in solar know-how, whereas India is ahead in wind.

There can be no peace in West Asia (a vitally important area for us) without a decision by Messrs Abbas and Netanyahu to learn to co-exist. For that, sustained dialogue is a must, not adventurism in the Mediterranean international waters.

Without the American umbrella, Israel would lead a very precarious existence. As India's benign power, GDP and influence grow, America will come closer and closer to India. Corporate America will invest in India, the amounts will be huge. It cannot be ruled out (in the distant future) that the American umbrella might develop leaks. I am reasonably confident that the think-tanks in the US and Israel are already working on this scenario and how to avoid it.

Tailpiece
The other night I had an extraordinary dream. I am in Washington leading the Indian delegation to the Indo-US conclave. On the second day, Mrs Clinton's reception for the delegation was attended by President Obama. When I shook hands with him on being introduced to him, I was tempted to ask him a question but resisted the temptation. When I was invited to speak, I told him that I wished to ask him a question. I said, "Mr President, I am 5'.6" and shrinking — you sir, are 6'.4" and growing (forgive the pun). Could you kindly tell us how's the weather up there." Loud applause. Then I woke up. Pity, for I would have liked to hear Mr. Obama's response.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

MANIPUR'S DEVELOPMENT BLOCKADE

ADITI PHADNIS

Why can't the political issue be development, instead of identity?

The people of Manipur have had a hard summer. The price of petrol in the black market is Rs 150 per litre. Diesel costs Rs 110. A filled LPG cylinder ranges between Rs 1,500 and Rs 2,000 — when you can get it. The price of kerosene has gone up from Rs 35 to Rs 65 over the last few days. Militant groups — whether Kuki, Naga or Meitei — are raking it in: they levy a tax of Rs 2 on every Rs 100 spent in the state and this has recently been raised to Rs 5. Traders too are making hay. The only people who're hurting are ordinary, hapless citizens, waiting for life-saving medicines to be airlifted or wheat or rice.

 The All-Naga Students' Association launched the blockade in Manipur on April 12 to protest against elections to six autonomous district councils in the hills. The Nagas, who inhabit the hills, feel the Manipur (Hill Area) District Council Act (Third Amendment) 2008, under which the election was to have been held, takes away the powers of the tribal people. The Meiteis, mostly Vaishnavites who occupy the valley and are a dominant power centre in Manipur, would like to bring the Nagas to heel. Differences between the Nagas and the Meiteis, between Naga tribes like HoHo, Angami, etc, and between communities like Kuki and Naga have been deliberately deepened and manipulated by political leaders as part of identity and caste politics in the North East. So, when the Nagas objected to the district council elections on the ground that the Act under which the polls were being held undermined the traditional tribal elders' authority, the Meiteis, led by Okram Ibobi Singh, chief minister of Manipur, merely shrugged and said: "Do your worst." This led to a week-long blockade, initially.

Left to themselves, the Nagas may have tired after a spell, giving up the blockade. But an incident intervened. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN)-Isak Muivah (IM) chief Thuingaleng Muivah was in India, and in the newly discovered spirit of friendship with New Delhi, expressed the wish to go to his village, Somdal, in Manipur's Ukhrul district.

For those who don't know much about the politics of the Nagas, Muivah, who is considered the supreme leader of the Nagas and has been living in exile outside India to fight for a Naga "nation", is now holding talks with India to create a Greater Nagaland or Nagalim — a state carved out of the Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur, Nagaland, Assam and other states in the North East. Obviously, no state is going to allow this. Nor is the central government too keen to roil the waters, but understandably, it would rather that Muivah continued to hold a dialogue with it, instead of the government of Myanmar.

Anyway, Muivah's proposed visit to Somdal made the Manipur government (which is a Congress (I) one, by the way) see red. On the day he reached the border of Manipur and Nagaland, the Manipur police commandoes opened fire, killing some Nagas and badly injuring members of a welcome party of Naga elders, there to escort Muivah.

Why did the central government permit Muivah to go to Manipur? As Home Minister P Chidambaram said, no one can be prevented from travelling to the village of his birth if he wants to, no matter where the village might be. The incident hardened positions. After a couple of days, Muivah was persuaded to return without visiting his village, and a tense situation was defused. The Meiteis, meanwhile, have decided to show the Nagas who the boss is. The Nagas, on their part, say they control the two national highways that lead to Manipur and they will decide who and what will use the roads.

A Cabinet committee on security discussed this issue and decided to deal with the situation very, very tactfully. Thankfully, Muivah doesn't believe that the blockade is an India-backed conspiracy, yet. But a combination of the persuasive powers of Pranab Mukherjee, Chidambaram and A K Antony was unable to make Okram Ibobi Singh a little more charitably disposed towards Muivah: He flatly refused to let him visit.

And why should he? Okram Ibobi Singh is the current darling of Manipuris. They see their gallant chief minister ready to battle with uncivilised Nagas to retain the "sovereignty" of the state.

The irony should be lost on no one. It is under this very chief minister that the roads and highways leading to Manipur are in a state of such disrepair that the wheels of trucks frequently get stuck in the rutted mud. Manipur raises no revenue: It gets 90 per cent of its development funds from the Centre. Whatever happens to this money. But these questions, no one wants to ask. It is the rights of the Meiteis that must be protected.

There isn't much that the Centre can do, beyond watching and counselling. Although mediation is on, there is no evidence that the blockade is going to be lifted soon. Why can't the political issue in the North East be development, instead of identity? All Indians must ask themselves this question.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

TWO SIDES OF TAGORE'S ART

SUNIL SETHI

An inveterate traveller all his life, the poet Rabindranath Tagore in 1930 visited Dartington Hall, a 1,200-acre estate in Devon established by his long-standing Anglo-American camp followers Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst as a Santiniketan-type institution in England. The hosts and their guest had an old association: in the 1920s Elmhirst, an agricultural economist from Cornell, had been invited by Tagore to run his farm project near Santiniketan as an experiment in rural reconstruction; later, he acted as Tagore's personal secretary on his travels in China, Japan and Argentina. Tagore was instrumental in persuading Elmhirst (who married the daughter of American railroad millionaire and financier William C Whitney) to buy the Dartington Hall estate in 1925.

 Revisiting Dartington in 1930, the 69-year-old poet asked for some bottles of coloured ink and, according to Elmhirst's diaries, "when these arrived, there began to emerge a series of paintings and sketches". A rare cache of 11 of these drawings are the highlight of Sotheby's auction of South Asian art in London next week. They are mostly works in watercolour, pastel and ink on paper (not large, on average about 15 to 25 inches) and typical of Tagore's art — mostly lugubrious long heads with limpid staring eyes and a couple of blurry, vaguely impressionist landscapes. Put up for sale by the Dartington Hall Trust, their estimated prices range between $27,600 and $61,500 each (approximately Rs 11 to Rs 25 lakh each). It will be interesting to see how the bidding goes on June 15; if the estimates on Tagore's art are exceeded, it should come as a welcome revaluation of what was, after all, a sideline in the Nobel laureate's vast output that chiefly centred on verse, song, drama and prose writings.

As coincidence will have it, the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in New Delhi has a special display of several dozen of Tagore's artworks on at Jaipur House at the moment. The exhibition occupies a couple of large rooms and commodious corridors but what a poor and inadequately curated show it is! In 12 pages of its small catalogue, Sotheby's gives us more information about a small slice of Tagore's life, philosophy and art, together with excellent colour reproductions than India's premier art gallery run on public funds. The NGMA show is accompanied by the thinnest information — there is no reappraisal of Tagore's work or worth as an artist 70 years after his death; no scrutiny, in light of the wealth of new Tagorean research, of when and how these were created, or how they came to be acquired; nor any effort to place them in the context of a polymath's life.

On the contrary, it is Sotheby's sale catalogue that attempts to succinctly answer many questions using multiple sources — Tagore's own history of Santiniketan, accounts by his biographers, the Dartington Hall archives and critical studies of his art. From these we learn that Tagore began by doodling on his working manuscripts and his career as an artist became an obsession after 1930. "It is thought that in the last 10 years of his life he produced over 2,000 pictures. His work was publicly displayed for the first time in Paris in 1930 followed by an exhibition in Calcutta in 1931." The present lot of drawings on sale were first exhibited in London's Calmann gallery in 1938 before being gifted to his friends the Elmhirsts.Each of the London Tagores carries a detailed description, including an ink portrait that is said to resemble his friend Lady Ranu Mukherjee, wife of the industrialist Biren Mukherjee. Most eloquently, here is Tagore himself on his art: "People often ask me about the meaning of my pictures. I remain silent even as my pictures are. It is for them to express and not to explain." Unfortunately, the NGMA show has taken Tagore's word to heart for it tells us almost nothing.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

KEEPING COOL, INDIAN STYLE

GEETANJALI KRISHNA

Stuck in bad traffic on Delhi's inner Ring road, my eyes fell upon an advertisement for a new cold drink. It declared that the drink tasted just like a home-made one. For the next 15 minutes, while our car stood next to that billboard, I stewed over the irony of it all. The country, with one of the largest repertoires of traditional coolers, is today one of the world's biggest markets for packaged soft drinks! Maybe it was the irritation of being in such lousy traffic, or it was my parched throat, but I just couldn't stop remembering the wonderful sharbats I'd had in the summers in my youth.

Sharbats, simply sugar syrup mixed with flower essence or fruit juice, were first popularised by the Mughal kings. They say that one of them actually used to get consignments of ice from the Himalayas to ensure that the drinks he had in the summer were suitably chilled.... Sitting in my car that day, I thought longingly of the green coolness of khus sharbat. Made from an extract of vetiver, a type of grass with an aromatic root, this wonderful drink cools both body and mind. Its essential oil, also called the "oil of tranquillity", was certainly something many of the motorists around me could use to calm their tempers! Not long ago, when I went to a village near Mirzapur, I noticed that people often added a muslin-wrapped packet of khus to their earthenware pots of drinking water. It imparted a mild aroma to the water, already scented by the pot itself.

 Another fragrant drink made with essence of rose used to be synonymous with summers of yore. Till a couple of decades ago, rose petals gathered at dawn (when they released the maximum perfume) were steeped overnight in pitchers of water, cooked to a syrup and served chilled with water or milk. Like other summer coolers, this aids digestion and cools the system. A variant — a delicious mixture of raisin juice (made by boiling a handful of raisins) and rose extract — that I remember from childhood, is great for bringing down stubborn fevers.

As the traffic began inching forward, I remembered another favourite drink, which was made from phalsa. An infusion of these tiny dark fruits yields a tasty drink with astringent and cooling properties. My grandmother also used to swear by bael as an efficient heat buster and as a remedy for all sorts of stomach- and heat-related disorders. She'd crack its hard cover, scoop the aromatic flesh, mash it with sugar and strain the extract with lots of chilled water. It was not until later that I saw bael being used very differently in UP's villages. Its soapy texture made it a good detergent, and some even added its pulp to wet clay to make a wall glaze!

Glaring balefully at all the soft drink ads on the way, I finally made it home. For if it weren't for the convenience of bottled drinks, many of us would still have been making these lovely sharbats at home.

I opened the fridge for a bottle of water, and there lay some mango panna, the uncrowned king of summer coolers. "I'd made some with mangoes and fresh mint, and thought you might enjoy a bottle in this heat," said my mother. I drank it gratefully, happy to find that my sharbat ruminations had come to a happy conclusion.

That day, I stopped the old man who sold phalse in a small basket, and set them to steep in water. Soon, we were enjoying glasses of tangy pink juice. "Let's have this everyday," the kids said, "It's better than fizzy drinks!" Maybe there is hope for sharbats after all.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

TRAGEDY AS FARCE

BHOPAL IS NOT AN EXCEPTION, ONLY A POINTER TO WHAT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME

T N NINAN

One of Marx's more commonly quoted aphorisms is that "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce". There are few countries where that could be more true than India—as the Bhopal case shows. But Bhopal is not an exception, only a pointer to what happens all the time. Indeed, the substantive Bhopal case was killed and buried a long time ago, which is one reason why the sudden media anger over the farcical denouement raises uncomfortable questions. In any case, the problem is much larger than Bhopal, because in case after case over the decades, the bigger scandal in India has been what happens after the first scandal hits the headlines.

 That was true of Bofors, where the sustained effort to prevent the truth from emerging and the culprits from paying a penalty was a more serious indictment of the system than the initial pay-offs. It is true of the manner in which the Gujarat pogrom cases have been handled so that justice has been denied to victims for eight long years. And it is true of the 2G telecom scandal, where the minister concerned continues to hold office and brazen it out although it is evident that he cost the exchequer thousands of crores of rupees of lost revenue—many multiples of what was involved in Bofors. It is also true of Ayodhya—where no one till date has been brought to book. As for Harshad Mehta, only one of several cases had been settled when he died in late 2001, nearly 10 years after his stock market scam was exposed; even today, the courts are busy trying to assess his assets and liabilities.

But synthetic anger by TV anchors will not change what is a shameful reality. That needs careful analysis, and sound reform. The primary problems in all the cases are two-fold: political interference, and judicial delays. It is easy to argue that criminal investigation should be insulated from political pressure, and the Central Bureau of Investigation made truly independent, but is there any method for achieving this other than through creating public opinion? And public opinion is an unreliable safeguard—look at how cases against state-level politicians get activated and de-activated, depending on whether they are in favour in New Delhi—without it even attracting much public notice.

It has been suggested that investigators should answer to magistrates and not the political executive, as is apparently the practice in France. The argument has some merit in India too, since it is the Supreme Court which has tried to ensure that justice is done in the case of Gujarat, that automobile manufacturers clean up their act, and so on. But then, it is also the Supreme Court that diluted the Bhopal charge, from culpable homicide to criminal negligence, and which settled the limit that Union Carbide would have to pay, at under half a billion dollars. In any case, given the level of corruption that exists in the system, can the magistracy be trusted to do better than the politicians? A better way of de-politicising the criminal investigation system would be to have a bi-partisan commission (appointed jointly by the government, the leader of the opposition and the chief justice, and armed with suo motu powers) oversee the handling of all cases that have a systemic resonance, properly defined, and simultaneously to have all such cases handled by special courts, with procedures so laid down that no one can deliberately delay a verdict. The task is urgent because political systems can deal with tragedy; it is farce that undermines legitimacy.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

LAILA LALAMI'S PARADISE FOUND & LOST

V V

With Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie established what has remained since 1981 the most distinctive pattern for the Third World novel: the family chronicle that is also the history of the nation, a distorted autobiography that embodies in an equally distorted form of the political, social and intellectual life of the country. In many ways, it becomes a novel of ideas not as distinct and sharp as the European (especially the French) novel but all the same the subtext is a philosophy expressed in images. It is this secret fusion of experience and thought, of life and reflection on the meaning of life, that marks out the Third World novel from its Anglo-Saxon cousins. Moroccan-born Laila Lalami, an acclaimed short story writer who brought together her collection in Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits has now come with a full-length novel, Secret Son (Penguin/Viking, Special Indian Price Rs 399) that is much more than just a family story of a son lost and found in the slums of North Africa. It is a meditation on "how much land does a man need", whether happiness is merely the fulfilment of one's desires for the sweet life and why the past is never quite past.

The clue to the novel lies in the epigraphs from two poems, the first from an Algerian poet and the second from a Cuban-American, that open the story:

 Silence is death And you, if you speak, you dieIf you are silent you dieSo, speak and die.

— Tahar Djaout

The fact that I am writing to you in English already falsifies what I wanted to tell you.

— Gustavo Perez Firmat

The intellectual debt to Frantz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth, of how colonialism cripples and corrupts the mind, is spelt out right from the start. But it is spun out in the story of a family that is unhappy and disoriented, like all unhappy families, in its own special way.

The novel is spread out over four parts. Youssef El-Mekki, is a 19-year-old who is brought up in the stinking alleys of the North African town of Casablanca by his mother in a one-room tenement. He doesn't have anything to look forward to, not even hope, and plays out his days dreaming of the sweet life offered by the film stars shown on the local cinema's screens and pirated DVDs. Youssef's life is somewhat like Meursault's, the narrator of Camus' The Stranger locked in the routine of daily existence, a shapeless void without ideas. He has nothing to do, and the whole day to do it in.

One day, Youssef discovers that his "dead" father, the powerful Nabil Amrani, is very much alive and what's more, he is the richest man in Morocco having made his pile through shady deals. However, because Youssef is an illegitimate child of a poor nurse, he can't afford to come out in the open in a deeply conservative society. But Amrani is disenchanted with his daughter and eager to take on the son he never knew. (Whatever, sons would always be "legitimised" in Third World societies.) Youssef is installed in the penthouse and gets a glimpse of the life he could never have dreamed of as he tries to reinvent himself to be the legitimate heir of Amrani.

This is where the real "story" begins. Can you shake off the past? What does one do with memory? What is the meaning of identity? Do we have just one identity or multiple identities? Which one of these multiple identities can we call our real "self"? Where does the confused self go to find solace and meaning — in religion or violence?

But it isn't easy because the past is another country. Youssef drifts along from pillar to post, ogling at DVD porns in cafes, till he arrives where all reluctant fundamentalists arrive: Jihad as liberation. He joins al-Hizb ("the Party") and, to prove his credentials, agrees to kill an influential journalist.

But Youssef isn't a fanatic; he loves the good life, and aspires for the great American dream. He decides to read English and is taken up by Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby without, of course, realising the hollowness that lies beneath all that glitter. Youssef doesn't recognise the simple truth that you can't have your cake and eat it too; there's always a price tag which may not be worth the cake.

Here, Lalami touches upon a subject that many have been asking: how does the Muslim, brought up in the liberal traditions of the West and all the goodies that the West has to offer, turn to militant Islam? What alienates him in the West and drives him back to fundamentalism to seek a meaning in life? Lalami exposes the darker side of western consumerism and its ways of all flesh but only just; she does not go far enough to say that perhaps it is the lack of liberalism, its belief in the certitudes in Islam itself that drive the confused adolescent to turn to militancy.

A good novelist, it is said, is also a social historian: the operative word is also. As a commentary on the Islamic world today, the novel raises a number of pertinent questions but doesn't go the whole distance in answering them. All the same, it is worth a read because the questions have been asked.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

ONLY A SUPPORT ROLE

 

While the army can, indeed, perform useful functions in the campaign against the Maoists, the political leadership must be clear that the kind of force that has to be deployed against the Maoists is best delivered by the police. The army can and should help to remove landmines and train the local police in combat tactics. But to actually deploy the army against the Maoists would be a big mistake, politically and tactically.


If superior force alone could prevail against determined, entrenched guerrillas fighting on their own terrain, Vietnam would not have become the emblem of American hubris. Use of the army has not quelled insurgency either in the Northeast or in Kashmir. On the other hand, tough policing, in combination with a coherent political drive to include the alienated support base of the armed insurgents into the base of growth and development, has virtually wiped out Maoist activity in Andhra Pradesh.


Security experts might rue the AP strategy of chasing the insurgents out of its own backyard, without caring whether they would carry on their activity in some other state. But that is a result of failure to coordinate operations across states. Hopefully, the right lessons have been learnt on that front. But there can be no scope to be woolly-headed on the choice of the instrumentality of force to be used against the Maoists.


Local policemen, who know the terrain, the people, the language and the mind of the political leadership well, are the viable option. Sure, they need special training and equipment. Providing them with both will take time, true. But to hope that the Maoist problem can be finished off in a flurry of air raids and infantry wizardry would be a mistake. The police forces are sadly undermanned in the states where the Maoists run amok and the government has been doing the right thing by recruiting large numbers of the local people. The task is to recruit even more, train them, demonstrate political commitment to local welfare and deploy the trained regular police against the Maoists. It worked in Andhra Pradesh, it will work elsewhere.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

NOT BY PRICE ALONE

 

The Centre's decision to raise the minimum support price (MSP) sharply for pulses, moderately for coarse cereals and oil seeds, and not at all for rice and cotton (the nominal hike for rice merely rolls in the bonus offered last year) is right, in the conventional sense. The signal against increasing acreage for rice this kharif is sound, given the huge stocks with the government. The signalling is right, too, with the 30% hike in the MSP for pulses, but its utility is in doubt since farmers already receive higher prices from the market. The technology mission on pulses has not really delivered, with the supply trailing, by far, the fast-rising demand for pulses.


Imports are no cure, because import prices are high, with the rest of the world not producing much of pulses. With rising income levels, and rising demand for superior foods, the only solution is to rapidly raise output. And for that, price changes signalling a shift in the cropping pattern are not sufficient. We need to raise yields and output across the board.


Farm economists stress the interdependence of different lines of farm activity. Brajesh Jha of the Institute of Economic Growth, for example, finds that Indian milk output is constrained by the availability of fodder and of oil cake. A shift in the cropping pattern might alleviate the shortage of a particular agri commodity, but could well trigger shortage, perhaps unforeseen, of others. Cropping mix changes are welcome to the extent they raise productivity (as would happen, for example, if water-scarce Maharashtra were to abandon sugarcane and Bihar to embrace it).


But otherwise, the focus has to be on increasing output in every crop, through modern crop husbandry, huge investment in water management and new hybrid and bio-engineered seeds. Such changes are not possible without a change in the political culture vis-a-vis farming. Investment is viable only if diversion of subsidy is viable. Farmers need new organisational forms to take advantage of markets and technology. Only reforms will ensure sustained growth in agriculture and rein in inflation.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

PET DOGS ARE DUMB

 

The world is full of them. These so-called studies and experiments which tell us these bland or arcane truths one would probably have evinced already. One is talking about those 'chocolate makes you happy' or 'being lonely is bad for your health' sort of things. And some are plain downright dumb. Like the survey which apparently concluded that an iPhone was a 'chick magnet', since women were more likely to date a man with such a phone. And now another brilliantly pointless experiment has thrown up the startling factoid that dogs have become dumber due to years of domestication.


Now, most dog lovers would probably want to throw a brick at the chap who suggests their keen, intelligent and highly sensory pets are brainless twits. Intelligent and alert are words most of us would readily associate with the canines. But this experiment, which involved pitting domesticated dogs against Australian dingoes, seems to have been designed to show that a close relationship between humans and dogs is somehow bad for the latter. The experiment involved making the two species work out how to get to some food through some sort of maze. The pet dogs, used to getting a plate or dish shoved under their noses obviously didn't quite make it.


But that begs the question: just what else was supposed to happen? There are plenty of people, for example, who live with their parents, and are quite used to food dutifully materialising on the table every day. Were many of us suddenly left to fend for ourselves, we'd naturally flounder. Even making an omelette, as quite a few have found out, can be quite a task. But it'd take some enterprising soul to run a survey and announce 'people with moms have fewer kitchen skills'. Startling stuff.


So why precisely does someone actually spend time, effort and money on such experiments and surveys? To get into the news, perhaps. To join the ranks of people who have done pointless and useless surveys, maybe. Or perhaps there exists a shady link between such people and newspapers. There are often days when it is just hard to fill in pages. And that's when that latest dumb experiment comes in handy.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

WHITE MAGIC OF EXCHANGE

VITHAL C NADKARNI

 

The Buddha and his disciples were once waiting for the boatman near the Ganges when a Yogi came by striding and gave them a pitying look only to walk on the water to cross the river. The bewildered disciples looked to the Buddha but he did not respond. Later, as they crossed the river in a sailboat, the Buddha asked the sailor how much he charged to take his retinue across and the boatman mentioned a paltry sum.


The Buddha then told his disciples that the yogi who had meditated for most of his life to learn how to tread water had wasted his life to learn a cheap trick and he went on to bind his followers to a modest code of conduct that never "showed off" siddhis or "miraculous" powers to impress people.


In his Yoga Sutra, Patanjali also talks about siddhis or magical attainments that may be obtained by birth or through genes; by elixir or herbs; or by the chanting of occult mantras; by austerities; or by attainment of samadhi.

But in the very next breath the Master provides a warning that echoes the Buddha's ban on siddhis: If you want true liberation give up these powers; only then is the seed of evil destroyed as the individual ego merges with the universal one. After that ultimate attainment, the great souls never return to this temporary world which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection or sam-siddhi, says Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.


Intriguingly, the Buddha's own personal name, Siddhartha, is based on the root-word Siddha' and literally means "he whose aim is accomplished". He distinguishes between two types of powers: the garden variety of siddhis, which include all those forces of the conditioned world that transform or energise the elements.


These should include modern 'miracles' such as airplanes, satellites, telephones, computers and internet that transform elements. Buddha's second category has extraordinary siddhis or the ability to open beings up for liberating and enlightening truths. Again include secular siddhisof modern age, the byproduct of hundreds of years of continuing improvement. That's the theme of The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley.

Economic progress is an evolutionary phenomenon, he argues , which occurs in an undirected bottoms-up way as a result of the selective survival of ideas and technologies. What makes it work is exchange, today's supreme dharma.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

STAFF FIRST, CUSTOMERS SECOND FOR HCL BOSS

SHUBHAM MUKHERJEE

 

Within a month of being hired by HCL Technologies, Vineet Nayar, who later rose to become the company's CEO, was asked to leave. For Nayar, there were two major takeaways from it — a company is not always right, and neither is the individual. As for his management thought on the event — there is a need to search for a thought in-between.

 

If you don't figure out where the man is coming from, Vineet Nayar, the CEO of the fourth largest Indian IT services firm, may appear just too radical. For instance, he says he wants to make his employees unhappy, just to start a process of creative dissonance in the ranks. Then he goes on to add that he would happily make a fool of himself just to make himself more approachable to his employees. He doesn't care much about respect or what they think of him as long as it helps in breaking down barriers.


During the over threehour chat, you almost come to a point of believing that he is just faking it when he says that the Eurozone problem , which every IT services company is quite rattled about, is an opportunity for his company. But here lies his ability, which sets the man apart.


During the recession, when every company was letting people go, HCL was actually hiring as Nayar thought even then that it was an opportunity. Many would say he was fortunate to have been proven right. But at the end of the day, it's the numbers that count. And the numbers are with him. For, it was during the year ended July 2009 (just after the recession) that his company delivered a growth of 23%, one of its best years financially.

Though HCL missed out on the first half of the decade, Nayar was instrumental in its growth when he took over its reins in 2005. The net income has risen by 91% during his five years at the helm. HCL Tech competes with the likes of TCS, Infosys and Wipro and is number four in the industry pecking order.

 

Though figures speak for themselves, the man himself shies away from them. Ask him where he sees the company in the next five years, and he dons his professor's hat to draw up a pyramid on an inverted pyramid to make a star and then draws circles around it to explain that he wants to create a circle of influence , leading to multiple collaboration and thus better performance. Whew! But it was not that difficult to understand when he took time to explain it.


Clearly, 48-year-old Nayar is not your regular CEO. It's not about the way he casually flings off his jacket to sit down and talk or the way he draws intimately from the lives of his children to foretell the future trends in business. It's just about being the caring big brother at work.


Nayar, in fact, has just authored a book, Employees First, Customer Second, again a contrarion view at a time when most companies are focused on the customer for more business. But you have to listen to the man when no less than Tom Peters has taken time to read him and note, "Rumour is that Vineet Nayar has invented a whole new way of configuring and managing an enterprise. I think there's more than a grain of truth to that. I'm on the verge of the verge declaring that Mr Nayar could be the next Peter Drucker.'' Nayar is quite thrilled with Peters's comment. Excerpts from the interview:


You say you don't want to be taken seriously. Don't you feel that if respect goes away, it gets difficult to get work done? Or is it just love versus respect?

Why should a CEO be respected, what is so special about him? A CEO also has to do a job which he has been told to do. Most of us in India are looking up to people all our lives — Mahatma Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Sachin Tendulkar or Shah Rukh Khan. But in this culture, the ownership is on somebody else; like if the roads are not good, we blame the chief minister. We cannot afford that in an organisation. I want a problem to be our problem and not somebody else's.


The boss's role is to enthuse, enable and encourage. There are three ways of transmission. Step one, make them extremely unhappy with their present situation; step 2, create a romance of tomorrow which is very compelling; and step three, set up small catalyst actions which connect the dots between today and romantic tomorrow.
'We will reboot our BPO business.'


How is this seen from the outside world, employees first and customer second?

 

The assumptions that we make in the industry is that customers are very loyal to us. The customer understands the passion and the dedication of the employees they come face to face with, and its ultimately the organisation's job to enthuse that passion among the employees. Customers know that the CEOs and the management will not be there to adhere to them. They look for the team that is going to cater to them directly. This book was launched in a customer event, with around 300 customers and they completely understood and agreed with the concept.


What did you do differently during the recession years?

I was tested the most during that period because I was tempted to settle for low effort decisions that would please the stock markets. The tough part was to take a decision for the long term when it could not be beneficial for the short term. But once you got over the hump, execution was exactly the same and intensity of initiatives was a lot more.


Nasscom has predicted 13% growth. Is that the new normal?


That is the average growth that has been predicted. Good ideas and good teams behind them will outgrow these averages.

Your BPO biz is not doing well.

Sometimes businesses become irrelevant. India was doing very well for the past few years and it became obsolete faster than we realised. We have decided that we are not going to fix it but reboot it. Rebooting is more painful because we have to address the issues for the long term. The actions which we have taken include a new leadership — Rahul Singh will be heading the new management team. Second, is buying platforms that will help in the transformation. Third, investing our own capital into putting a new platform.

(With inputs from Aaheli Bagchi)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INDIA ONE OF PRINCIPAL MKTS IN ASIA, SAYS PAR OSTBERG

CHANCHAL PAL CHAUHAN

 

Volvo is eyeing India as the next big potential market to drive its global truck sales, as it faces shrinking sales in the principal markets of Europe and the US. Volvo's head of Asian trucks business and chairman of VE Commercial Vehicles. Volvo's equal equity joint venture with Eicher Motor, Par Ostberg spoke to Chanchal Pal Chauhan on the Swedish auto giants aspiration in emerging markets and plans for expanding the scope of the Indian partnership . Excerpts:


Do you plan to introduce any of your global brands in India, besides Volvo?

We have Mack, Renault Trucks in Europe and the Japanese UD Trucks brand that is strong in Australia, Middle East, South Africa and the US, but I do not think they are ideal for the India market. We will continue with the Volvo brand as of now.


Volvo has just announced plans to triple the engine making capacity with a new unit in India. What kind of synergies are you looking at with Eicher Motors?

We are working on a combination of technologies to utilise the low-cost platforms to develop high value products. The Rs 288-crore investment for new-age engines announced today (Friday), is completely being routed through the JV that is generating good cash flows. It would helps us to develop next generation Eicher vehicles in the 5-40 tonnes range for the mass market.


Does that mean that Eicher brand would also be sold through Volvo's global distribution?

We are exploring distribution options for Eicher brand at the group level. We have to identify markets, the right vehicle size and suitable technology applications. The new generation of trucks should roll out by 2013 and could be shipped to overseas markets.


What has Volvo's Indian business operations been like?

India has shown robust growth even in difficult times. We came here in 1996 and sales have exceeded our expectations. We see India as the principal strong market in Asia like China and Japan that would drive our global volumes.

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

BHOPAL: MUCH TO DO, BUT LET'S GET REALISTIC

Crime and punishment are eternal binaries. In the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster case, however, the focus has shifted to crime and compensation. The expanded scale of the noxious gas leak, leaving 20,000 dead and over one lakh people sustaining maiming injuries, were figures that forced themselves on the public consciousness. Union Carbide's less than sympathetic attitude in the matter of recompense for those who suffered, and the slippery approach of the Union government, necessitated that the issue of cash compensation for families of the deceased and for those still suffering should undergo no dilution. Two voluntary organisations that distinguished themselves lobbying government, Parliament and public opinion over the world's worst industrial disaster stressed its human and medical impact to secure adequate compensation for the victims and their families. Other civil society elements permitted amnesia to take over. With Bhopal's chief judicial magistrate pronouncing judgment earlier this week in the matter of criminal liability — which took 25 years coming due to the dilatory tactics of the respondents, the public space is ringing with denunciations. Shock was expressed over the light nature of the sentence. People are suddenly discovering that UCC chief Warren Anderson (who lives in seclusion in America) visited Bhopal to survey the damage in December 1984, was placed under arrest, and then inexplicably permitted to leave India after furnishing a bond to the court. His legal status in this country is that of an absconder, and yet efforts by the government to seek his extradition appear to have been less than purposive. In American eyes, there is no real case for Mr Anderson's extradition to India. After having failed to get adequate compensation for victims of the disaster, public figures in India will have to do better than hurl wild allegations, or engage in competitive populism to score political points, if they accord any seriousness to the idea that appropriate punishment must follow in the wake of a crime. The United States is not a place where lawlessness prevails. It is Indians who must do their part to present appropriate facts that can count as evidence before the US judicial system. Frank Pallone, US Congressman from New Jersey, has just come to India's rescue by demanding that Mr Anderson be extradited to face an Indian court considering the serious nature of the Bhopal disaster, which had enormous human and environmental dimensions. After the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which brings immediacy in the American mind to environmental questions and their impact on our lives, Bhopal is likely to ring a bell. It might strike quite a few in America that this is a story not even half finished yet. New Delhi of course needs to present the right kind of evidence, but it must in addition also mount a massive publicity campaign in the US and elsewhere on the meaning of Bhopal — both over compensation and punishment. This should be on the scale launched a few years ago when the India-US civil nuclear agreement was in danger of being toppled by some anti-nuclear hawks in America.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

MEIN KAMPA COLA

BY FARRUKH DHONDY

 "Consciousness is but a chain of metaphor"

From Discovered Scribbles (Ed. by Bachchoo)

Friends, Indians, countrymen, lend me your ears. At last Indian irony and our national sense of humour has come of age. As an operative in British TV for many years —  and many years ago — I was constantly offered the suspect proposition that one didn't laugh with Indians, but only at them. At the time Indians and South Asian immigrants to Britain in general were sensitive about "race" and putting situation comedies or sketch shows featuring Asian characters on the telly would always be accused of "stereotyping" and of "racism".

New communities, immigrants, do tend to take time to adjust to the mores of a country and while they stumble into the language and fill the vacuum of employment and enterprise, taking jobs and manning counters that the native population has abandoned, they tend to produce stereotypes.

Think of the hundreds of sketches of Mr Patel, the British corner store owner, spending his days behind the sales counter for all the world as though he were in a live puppet show.

A measure of the maturity of a community's or even a nation's humour would be its ability to cast fresh light on some reality, as an artist's eye informs or transforms the act of seeing. Finally, the gift of humorous insight into another's foibles emerges as satire.

For Indian humour to undergo such a change, we would have to leave behind the laugh generated by someone slipping on a banana skin or by the fat lady in an outrageous sari wobbling her cheeks. I think it was Mel Brooks who said, "If I bite my tongue, that's tragedy. If you fall into a manhole and break your neck, that's comedy".

It was certainly Mel Brooks who produced the Broadway and film hit The Producers. The story, as older readers will recall, was about a couple of hustlers who set out to scam old ladies and foolish investors by getting them to buy shares in a stage musical called Springtime for Hitler which they calculate is the nadir of taste and therefore bound to fail. The failure and closure of the production would mean that the producers could trouser the share money and disappear. They produce the musical with songs extolling Adolf Hitler and, in accordance with Ramsammy's Third Law, which states that a spanner's natural home is in the works, the play is an instant and runaway Broadway hit. It is so bad that it's good. (Ramsammy's Fourth Law states: On an infinite circular race track, the loser is a winner.)

Now along comes our own film director Rakesh Ranjan Kumar who bedazzles the world with an announcement that he is making a Bollywood film called Dear Friend Hitler. Mr Kumar didn't stop with the simple announcement. He proceeded to tell the foreign media that he aimed to "capture the personality of Adolf Hitler. As a leader he was successful. I want to show why did he lose as a human being? What were the problems, what were the issues, what were his intentions?"

Never since reading the brave romantic works of Shobhaa De who does such sterling service for the unfortunates with reading difficulties, or listening to the interviews and views of that great actress Shilpa Shetty, have I encountered such a bold satirical assault on Western values and history.

It is with supreme wit that Mr Kumar sees Hitler as a man with problems, issues and intentions. The rest of the world has been under the delusion that Hitler, rather than suffering from problems, caused a lot of other people problems. As for issues and intentions, I was under the delusion as were many people of my acquaintance that there exist records of a war, concentration camps, genocide, racial purity doctrines and a lot else. But as Ramsammy's Fifth Law says, why dwell on the negative?

Think about it.
Never since some Indian spiritual conman fleeced a lot of confused foreigners by confecting truisms, has one of our own played such a convincing trick on the world. Of course, I have seen through it. Mr Kumar can't make a fool of me, even though he has expanded the story to include the casting of the film. An accomplished actor called Anupam Kher is, in Mr Kumar's telling, going to grow a square caterpillar on his lip and play the loving Adolf. I wonder if Mr Kher knows that his name is being used for this humorous purpose.

The actor who plays Eva Braun, a beautiful lady named Neha Dhupia, is obviously in on the joke, because the UK newspapers quoted her saying she has "researched widely to prepare for the role".

"How do you marry the most hated man in the world? I think it's by taking each day at a time", says Ms Dhupia.

It's an astounding insight. A day at a time? Wow! Perhaps even hour by hour? Or minute by minute? I can see what she means. One must cultivate the frame of mind which thinks "now shall we have tandoori Bratwurst for dinner tonight or shall I just bung a chicken in the gas oven?"

Actors must prepare and the talented and intellectual Ms Dhupia must have come to this conclusion having read the Bollywood Hitler's great work, Mein Kampa Cola.

One disappointing aspect of this Grand Plan is that Mr Kumar has, no doubt as a tease, announced that there will be no songs and dances in the projected film. In the end I am sure he won't be able to resist a little number whose choreography can be based on the goosestep of the Storm Troopers. And what about catchy little numbers with country shepherdesses in short skirts in the Alps dancing to the tune of

"Hol–lo-caust, Ho-lo-caust,Yeh hein Super Hit!Hitlerian Pyar ki kahaniWhat a load of shhh—oe polish!"

I don't suppose on the basis of this small sample Mr Kumar will commission me to write the rest of the lyrics and really make this epic love story rock

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

UNEASY PSU CROWN

Heading a PSU is not easy for IAS officers. And when the PSU is connected to other PSUs, it's a double headache. Senior IAS officer, Mr S. Narsing Rao, is chairman of Singareni Collieries and his colleague, Mr Vijayanand, heads APGenco. Mr Vijayanand always pesters Mr Rao for a higher share of coal from Singareni. But being a PSU, Singareni has very little coal it can sell in the open market. And what it can sell, it naturally wants to sell at a higher rate to show some profits. But APGenco is moving heaven and earth to convince Mr Rao to part with the coal meant for open sales. For Mr Rao, the dilemma is, should he help out another PSU or ensure more profits for his own?

Never again!Daggupati ignores expectant Naidu

Actor Balakrishna's birthday bash in the city was certainly a time for celebration for his fans and a section of the Telugu Desam cadre, but not for his feuding brothers-in-law! The continuing animosity between the Congress MLA, Mr Daggubati Venkateshwara Rao, elder son-in-law of the late N.T. Rama Rao, and the younger son-in-law and the TD president, Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu, was glaringly obvious at the celebrations in Kotla Vijayabhaskar Reddy Stadium. Mr Naidu, who was the chief guest and clapped the muhurat shot of Balakrishna's next blockbuster Param Vir Chakra directed by Dasari Narayana Rao, stood beside Balakrishna and greeted the guests. Cameras popped when Mr Venkateshwar Rao also got onto the stage and walked briskly towards Mr Naidu and Balakrishna. Everyone expected him to shake hands with Mr Naidu, but Mr Rao simply ignored him, not even sparing a glance in his direction. He walked straight up to Balakrishna, shook hands with him and then stood beside him. Mr Naidu tried to put a brave face and even managed a smile, but it was obvious that he was shocked at the rebuff. The feud began when NTR was dethroned in a bloodless coup by Mr Naidu. The animosity led to Mr Rao and his wife Me Purandeshwari joining the Congress.

Income-tax 'kick' for liquor bid winners

Those who pumped in tons of money to bid for wine shops across the state, are in for a kick of a different kind. The bidding for each shop went to unprecedented levels, ranging from Rs 1.5 crore to Rs 5 crore. Such large sums of money naturally attracted the sleuths of the Income Tax department, who are now busy sniffing out the source of the funds and demanding their pound of flesh in the form of tax. The sharp decline in real estate and other business had the moneybags looking for alternative businesses to invest in and many of them, including 200-odd women, queued up to bid for liquor shops. Of course, the excise department and the government couldn't be happier at the moolah flowing into their coffers — Rs 6,000-odd crore — from the lease of the shops, but the bidders have realised, rather belatedly, that they have to account for every paisa they have invested. "No bidder tho-ught about income tax. The whole focus was on bagging shops by hook or by crook. New wine shop owners have to undergo nightmare not only from IT sleuths but also from extortionists in the days to come," a ruling party MLC said. remarked.

Members of both the ruling and Opposition parties are in the liquor business, though the majority are from the Congress. So, despite the I-T wallahs, the wine dealers may yet be able to raise a toast to their new acquisitions.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

POISONOUS JUSTICE

BY ANTARA DEV SEN

So Warren Anderson, 89, chief accused of the Bhopal gas disaster, is still "absconding". After a quarter century, the verdict in the Bhopal gas disaster case didn't mention him. But the case against Warren Anderson is not closed, our government assures us. They will get to the bottom of it.

Sadly, when it comes to the Bhopal gas disaster, our government is not far from rock bottom. For more than 25 years successive governments have insulted the citizens they claim to represent by blocking justice for the victims of the world's largest industrial disaster. The Bhopal tragedy has killed 22,000 and injured almost 6,00,000. Thousands continue to be killed silently as toxins contaminate drinking water, creep into vegetation, food, into the baby in the womb and mother's milk.

Most of it was caused by 40 tonnes of methyl isocyanate (MIC) that leaked from the pesticide plant of Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) on the night of December 2-3, 1984. But locals are still being poisoned by toxic waste dumped around the factory which has leached into the soil and groundwater. Our government has not cleaned up the killer waste that it accepted from Union Carbide, nor has it got Dow Chemical, which now owns Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), to do so.

So while foaming at the mouth over paltry two-year sentences for a few UCIL employees held responsible and screaming ourselves hoarse over the extradition of Anderson, we may also wish to take a closer look at our compatriots complicit in this continuing crime. Because the gas leak was just part of the disaster. The way the case was handled, the victims denied proper compensation and Anderson whisked away to freedom, the way successive governments failed to deliver justice just shows how hollow our principles of justice and democracy are.

Sure, the principal accused are the Union Carbide and its Indian subsidiary. The UCIL had been dumping thousands of tonnes of toxic waste around its Bhopal factory from 1969. Complaints about water contamination were ignored. Then came the catastrophic gas leak in 1984, because safety measures were inadequate — Union Carbide didn't want to waste much money to protect Indian lives. Nor did it want to pay adequate compensation later.

Then there is Dow Chemical, which acquired UCC and ignores Carbide's liabilities in India. It is on record saying that "$500 (compensation paid by Carbide) is plenty good for an Indian". Dow has reportedly spent $2.2 billion for asbestos liabilities that it inherited from UCC. Why not liabilities in Bhopal then?

Then there is the Indian government. The Congress government first took away the victims' rights to fight for themselves and grabbed the case, shoving aside national and international organisations and law firms keen to represent the Bhopal victims. Then it smugly settled for $470 million instead of the $3.3 billion initially claimed as compensation. Then it failed to disburse it for decades, finally paying a flat Rs 25,000 to the affected and Rs 1 lakh for the dead, not accounting for medical expenses.

Besides, it stashed away the huge interest accrued and tried to divert it. And it has still not cleaned up the toxic waste, which is slowly killing its own people and poisoning future generations. Babies are born maimed and need care that their parents, themselves poisoned, ailing and struggling with debts to meet health expenses, cannot provide. Then the state let Dow Chemicals go free and even wooed it back to India, hoping for business investments.

Meanwhile, the locals continue to drink the poisoned water and live off the poisoned land in Bhopal. The decision-makers, the ministers and bureaucrats, don't live there, they don't have to drink that water or bathe in it, rear their children on it. Yes, we know, they say officiously. We are working on it. Run along now. Union Carbide unleashed an "Industrial Hiroshima", but our government continues the silent genocide.

And apparently the state government plans to build a Rs 116 crore memorial at the factory site for the victims, like the Hiroshima Memorial. Why pay the victims or give them proper healthcare or clean up the toxic waste?

But then, public outrage must be addressed. Well-practised in disasters, our sarkar — irrespective of the party in power — is a veteran in handling that. It sets up committees and commissions. The Liberhan Commission, the Srikrishna Commission, the Nanavati Commission — generally, panels that examine what the public is outraged about and produces reports that lie locked up or create more public outrage. So the outrage over the Bhopal verdict is being handled by setting up a group of ministers (GoM).

Wait, isn't there already a GoM examining Bhopal? Never mind. Let's regroup. So the GoM has been reconstituted with P. Chidambaram at the helm instead of Arjun Singh. That's better. Mr Singh was chief minister of Madhya Pradesh at the time of the disaster, and had reportedly put the state machinery at Anderson's disposal to help him flee, arranging for instant bail and airlifting him to Delhi. It was strongly believed that he acted on orders from the Centre.

But how dependable are the new members of this GoM? Chidambaram was at the forefront of wooing Dow Chemical to India, waiving any liability it may have for Carbide's sins. And Kamal Nath too, another member. There is Jairam Ramesh too, who had cheerfully declared, ''I held the toxic waste (in Bhopal) in my hand. I am still alive and not coughing. It's 25 years after the gas tragedy. Let us move ahead". And in this matter the Congress-led government must not go by the Congress spokesperson's advice either — Abhishek Manu Singhvi is Dow's counsel in the matter of Carbide's liability, and has a clear conflict of interest.

Finally, there are our courts. In 1989, the Supreme Court settled the compensation amount at $470 million instead of $3.3 billion under then Chief Justice of India (CJI) R.S. Pathak. Then in 1996, CJI A.H. Ahmadi ruled in favour of Carbide and converted the CBI's charge of Section 304 (II), which could sentence you to 10 years in jail, to 304 (A) which attracts a maximum punishment of just two years. That is what the accused got this week. The fact that since retirement Justice Ahmadi heads a trust set up by Carbide only makes it worse.

If we are looking at culpability, we need not look overseas at "absconding" old Anderson. We have a system of governance and justice right here which has failed us at various levels, over 25 years. And will do so again, unless we seek accountability. While we wait for foreign investment and international nuclear deals, let's clean up our home.

- Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine.She can be contacted at: sen@littlemag.com [1]

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE 1947 MATRIX

BY UMAIR MUHAJIR

It is probably a reflection of my narcissism that my first reaction upon hearing that the man arrested for last month's Times Square bombing plot was an American of Pakistani origin, was to wonder what this might mean for my application for an Indian employment visa. Although, that's a bit misleading: these days (that is to say, four months after I submitted my papers), just about everything leads me to wonder about my visa application.

It wasn't always thus: once upon a time, back in the days before David Headley, American citizens like me could count on getting a visa within two or three weeks the first time they travelled to India, and within two or three days on subsequent visits. These days the security clearance process is of indeterminate length. This would be my cue to saying that I feverishly hope that clearance will be forthcoming now that Indian investigators have finally gotten access to Headley. But given my first paragraph, you already knew that, didn't you?

American citizens "like me" is a somewhat complicated concept in my case. I was born and raised in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and am a naturalised US citizen. Growing up — that is to say prior to my naturalisation — and to this day, I have regarded myself as inextricably bound to India. To its politics. To its films. And god knows, to its cricket, and the heartbreaks associated with it, especially in the fourth innings of Test matches. (The pain associated with tragedies like Bangalore '05, against Pakistan, or Mumbai '06, against England, or Karachi '06 is all the greater when one has braved time zones to stay up all night in New York to watch the implosion live.) This does not pose any kind of identity crisis or conflict with my US citizenship, but is simply the contemporary reality of hyphenated Americanness: the Irish, the Italians, and Jewish immigrants over the decades have paved the way for newer waves, comfortable in (at least) two worlds, and not required to give up either. With so many immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, my life isn't just marked by the passage to the US. Its contours are also, and implacably, shaped by the 1947 fault line. I used to be a citizen of Pakistan prior to becoming an American. Rooting for the Indian cricket team while carrying a Pakistani passport and lapsing into "we" when others meant "them" might seem odd, and I certainly wouldn't be the one to say it's anything like common. But 1947's detritus makes certain oddities more likely among Urdu-speaking Muslims than among others; types that, even if they are uncommon, are encountered only among them. The Urdu-speaker knows, perhaps is even related to, all of them: the hyper-nationalistic, Nehruvian anti-Pakistani, committed to maintaining India as the un-Pakistan, perhaps with a childhood scarred by the vanishing of half a family to the other side. The cricket traitor, rooting for the other team — but never able to meet anyone from that side of the border without succumbing to the temptation of a barb about how bad it is Over There. The prosperous relative from Karachi, oblivious to the condescension in his reaction when he hears his hosts in Hyderabad won't have dancing, and will have sex-segregated seating, at the family wedding. And many more beside. No community has a monopoly on Partition's legacy, but the figure of the Urdu-speaking Muslim incarnates that history in an especially unfinished way. Whatever the time, one hand of the clock points to 1947.

Traffic can run both ways, however. No one seems to have known this better than David Headley and the Lashkar, who used precisely Headley's diasporic position — as an American citizen of Pakistani descent, he was able to travel, not only in the US and Pakistan, but also in India — to facilitate terrorism. Nuance has been one of the first casualties of the discovery, potentially reducing those "like me" to no more than the passport I once carried. I suppose this isn't any officialdom's fault — government bureaucracies are especially ill-suited to nuance, let alone to telepathy — and in the context of the subcontinent's bloody turmoil, visa limbo for a few (or many) immigrant desis who saw in the naturalisation process an opportunity not just to find a new world, but to engage more fluidly with their old, does not, as tragedies go, make the grade. With the result that in a little over a month, when India's first Test match begins in Sri Lanka, I'll still be watching, and hoping Dhoni's boys do a better job of tackling Mendis this time around. Only it will likely be from New York, late at night, nine-and-a-half hours behind.

- Umair A. Muhajir is a lawyer based in New York City. He blogs at http://qalandari.blogspot.com [1].

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

DELICATE MATTERS

BY KISHWAR DESAI

The response of the two governments, American and Indian, towards an environmental disaster created by a multinational, could not be more different. While the Indian government has meekly turned the other cheek over the killing of thousands of its citizens in the Bhopal gas tragedy, the US government under President Barack Obama is ferociously looking out to "kick ass" over the Louisiana oil spill by BP. And Mr Obama has done so without bothering about the repercussions of BP's plunging share price or the tensions it may cause for British business in the US.

In India the convenient explanation is that when the gas leak took place, Rajiv Gandhi was a new and untried Prime Minister, struggling with the 1984 riots and that Arjun Singh, the then Madhya Pradesh chief minister, was, perhaps, the real culprit who allowed the Union Carbide head honcho Warren Anderson to get away. It is shocking that after 25 years we are still discussing who should have been arrested on that fatal day. That is barely relevant any more. The emphasis, on the contrary, should be on total corporate responsibility, about compensating for the lives lost and injuries caused by the gas leak, and of the subsequent environmental fallout. The fact that Union Carbide is now a fully-owned subsidiary of Dow Chemicals has further allowed the government to delink the two on Indian soil.

In fact, on the Dow website it says clearly: "As a publicly owned corporation , Dow is unable, due to share price concerns, accept any responsibility for the Bhopal catastrophe caused by our fully-owned subsidiary, Union Carbide. As an individual, however, you can help as your conscience dictates". How very convenient! The real issue, therefore, is not only about who pushed for the cover-up but who has reaped the profits from either Union Carbide or in its avatar as Dow Chemicals. Because when a government wants to protect its citizens, the balance sheet of companies should be the last thing on its mind.

A lesson must be learnt from the way Mr Obama is attacking BP without bothering about its falling share prices. This is despite the fact that the drop is causing a grave concern in the UK, especially since many UK pension funds have invested with BP. But for Mr Obama it is crucially important to sort out the mess as soon as possible. After the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina by the last government, he needs to be extra vigilant about the loss of life and environmental degradation. Commentators in the US are distancing themselves from BP, deliberately calling it British Petroleum and now doubts are being raised about the effect this may have on other British businesses in the US. But Mr Obama has been steadfast in his resolve — perhaps rightly focussed only on his own country and its people. He has been appalled, just like everyone else, that the oil giant had no safety provisions in place in case there was an underwater accident. Even though the death-toll is not high (compared to Bhopal), the environmental impact has been enormous, and Mr Obama has not hidden his frustration or his anger against the BP boss, Tony Hayward. While there may not be any arrests, there is no doubt that corporate responsibility will be firmly pinned and BP will be made to compensate heavily for this gigantic folly.

Sadly, in India, on the other hand, 25 years after the mishap, a group of ministers has been cobbled together, which is far too little, much too late. Where is the anger? How much more dishonesty will we have to put up with? We desperately need a Barack Obama to "kick ass".

Meanwhile, let us, as always, move to more cheery subjects! The Labour Party leadership contest which was beginning to look like a competition between four frankly rather indistinguishable white men of a certain age, has suddenly been given a frisson of excitement with the entry of a black female rebel MP, Diane Abbott. While her chances of winning are very slim, Ms Abbott represents the diversity of Britain much more than any of the others. However, she did need a helping hand from one of the white men, as she would not have been able to even get the 33 nominations required to compete. It was the front runner and former foreign secretary David Miliband who threw her a lifeline. Mr David Miliband, a hot favourite with the bookies, already has an Ambani-like battle on his hands as his own younger brother, the ex-environment minister, Ed Miliband, is opposing him for the top job. If this was a Bollywood film (or the dispute between the Ambani brothers), the final decision would be taken at "amma's" feet. But Mr David Miliband, while expressing his sympathy for his mother's position, has clearly said that she will not take sides. However, for the rest of us, it's three cheers for the entry of a brave woman into the leadership zone. Now if only Ms Abbott could manage to pull off a Margaret Thatcher! Highly unlikely, alas.

Female bonding is back, though, in a "Big" way (pardon the pun) with the return of Sex and the City 2 (SATC2). But the comeback has not been entirely cool. It has led to a deep and vicious rift between male and female film critics, with the latter dismissing all those male critics who have thoroughly trashed the film. Women columnists are coming out fighting in favour of the incorrigible mindlessness of SATC2 — and for a very good reason. The film (even if it is puerile, superficial and kitsch) is doing extremely well. Most women will see it with their best buddies to have a good laugh. Since the usual Hollywood films are designed to appeal to a macho taste of extreme violence (such as the currently running, highly controversial The Killer Inside Me), it is refreshing to see a "girlie" film, however politically incorrect it may be. SATC2 is no classic — with sexual innuendoes and over-the-top designerwear — but it also represents the kind of film we don't see enough of. In a world dominated by the World Cup, here is a film about aging women with wrinkles and sagging breasts on the other side of 50 — not fighting with each other as Indian soaps depict them, but enjoying the company of their girl friends. The sight of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte floating in their outrageous clothes across Morocco may be a ridiculous sight. But it is also, strangely, quite heart warming. So grab some pop corn and off we go, girls!

- The writer can be contacted at kishwardesai@yahoo.com [1]

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

WAGONS OF HOPE

THE POLITICAL DEBATE IS IRRELEVANT 

 

Mamata Banerjee's detractors may suggest that her initiative in bringing Burn Standard and Braithwaite under the Railway ministry with an assurance that they will receive the orders they need to survive as viable units has the limited objective of keeping public hopes alive till the 2011 elections. The fact remains that even Biman Bose has to welcome the outcome with the rider that this is because of a sustained movement by Citu. While the Left Front chairman stretches himself for credibility, the wider perception is that this is one of the bright spots in a dismal industrial scenario where, apart from the IT sector, there has been very little to talk about in terms of manufacturing industries in Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's Bengal. On the contrary, thousands of small units have closed down, throwing lakhs out of jobs. It required nothing less than a political will for the Union Cabinet to transfer the two PSU units from the heavy engineering ministry to Railways, to guarantee them orders for a substantial portion of the 18,000 wagons the Railways need this financial year. It required an equal amount of courage to write off accumulated loans and dues to the tune of Rs 1,139 crore and bring pay scales in the two companies on par without resorting to retrenchment. In other words, the financial liabilities are covered by the proposed flow of in-house orders that will help augment the existing level of profits and sustain the workforce.
 It is pointless to argue whether this would have come about had the UPA not recognised Trinamul's rising stock after the municipal election. It is equally futile to be cynical about whether Miss Banerjee would have gone the extra mile to bring two units under her charge had it not been for the compulsion of shedding the anti-industry tag after the Tatas walked out of Singur. What matters is the end result of protecting the future of thousands of families and the fate of what were blue chip units. Compared to this, Citu tries to retain its presence among workers with claims of a "long struggle'' that didn't bear any fruit even when the CPI-M could have its way with UPA I. Competitive trade unionism has spelt disaster enough. On the other hand, the ambitions of a party seen to be on a roll and endorsed by the Centre need not cloud the turnaround. When it generates hope of a revival, no one in Bengal should be complaining ~ and the political debate becomes irrelevant.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

ADVANTAGE MAOISTS

UPA CAN'T GET ITS ACT TOGETHER

 

PATHETIC would be the least harsh description of the image the UPA projected of itself after the stand-off at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security to discuss an upgunned role for the Army in tackling Maoists, as well its larger policy encountering severe criticism at the National Advisory Council. If the threat is as grave as the Prime Minister projects, surely he must ensure his government and party present a united "face". Reports of the "inconclusive" CCS meet suggest it was akin to haggling at a fishmarket: the Home ministry presenting an already publicised wish-list, the Defence ministry shooting down most of the demands with arguments that have also been systematically revealed to the media. Is it not the duty of ministers to resolve differences and not merely re-state positions, and for the Prime Minister to take the decisive call? Which army would like to get bogged down in CI-Ops? Which police force(s) would claim to possess the wherewithal to deal with such a widespread, violent insurgency? But if the CCS cannot come up with an action plan ~ the Army cannot "refuse" if an operational role is ordered ~ it makes a laughing stock of itself. Certainly the Maoists are chuckling: one leader issues congratulatory messages for highlighting the government's internal differences, another "demands" the railways deal directly with them to secure safe passage for its trains. They will be further emboldened now that the CCS has chickened out of exercising authority.


Regardless of any "spin", the offensive dimension of what P Chidambaram insists is a two-pronged policy has been blunted. There is limited political support, even less professional competence in the central paramilitary for it to prove effective. Recourse to the refrain of it actually being a state-spearheaded operation only confirm near-failure, and raise questions of whether the preparations were adequate. Obviously the determination of the Maoists was underestimated, and North Block never cared to assess the capabilities of the unfocused CRPF. The home minister appears to have painted himself into a corner by failing to ensure political and "military" consensus before creating an impression that taking on the Maoists was his mission. One that so occupied him that no initiative was taken by New Delhi to relieve the blockade of Manipur. Are we being driven to conclude that UPA home ministers have more "style" than substance?

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

TURNING OF THE SCREW

FOURTH SANCTIONS REGIME AGAINST IRAN 

 

THE metaphor is characteristically defiant ~ "It is like a used handkerchief that should be thrown in the waste bin." However contemptuous Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reaction to Wednesday's fourth round of UN sanctions may be, there is little doubt that they are more sweeping than the previous turning of the screw. Of course, China's intervention in the Security Council helped dilute the original draft. Yet the scope of the latest round extends to manufacturing companies, maritime trade and most crucially, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, the country's military elite that historically has led the crackdown against democracy. Aside from the economy, the sanctions cover internal security as well. Quite obviously, the UN ~ save Brazil, Turkey and Lebanon ~ are not convinced by Teheran's recent policy on enriched uranium for bio-medical objectives. The country has a record of reneging on commitments. And the Security Council would primarily appear to have addressed the USA's concerns. As much is clear from Barack Obama's description of the sanctions as an "unmistakable message" to Iran that the world would not tolerate its continued refusal to halt uranium enrichment. 


 In a sense, international law against Iran has been tightened with the latest additions to the sanctions regime. The arms embargo, covering eight new categories of weapons, prevents Iran from investing abroad on uranium mining. This is specially significant in the wake of Iran's latest move to export uranium to Turkey for enrichment.  The corporate sector has been hit with the freeze of the assets of 40 companies that in the reckoning of the UN were merely "fronts" for the arms industry, notably the secret enrichment facility near Qom. The sanctions will extend the travel ban on 40 officials. The UN may have acceded to China's standpoint that the sanctions must not hamper what it calls a country's "day-to-day" economy. But Iran will now have to contend with a fairly intensive cache of  curbs, covering economics, trade, military contracts, internal policing and also, of course, the individual's right to travel. Critical no less is the advisory to countries not to deal with Iran's Central Bank; the text of the sanctions resolution accuses the bank of assisting terrorism and arms proliferation. The cargo inspection regime envisages a check on Iranian vessels, a stipulation that is bound to affect overseas trade. It will not be easy for Teheran to defy the fourth sanctions regime, as it has the three previous.

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

PITFALLS OF LEARNING

RED HERRINGS ALONG THE TRAIL OF HIGHER EDUCATION

BY SUBRATA MUKHERJEE


India's education sector is the world's third largest in terms of students, next to China and the United States. Unlike China, however, India has the advantage of  English being the primary language of higher education and research. Yet this decisive edge also has its shortcomings. In the 2009 Times Higher Education-Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University rankings, no Indian university features among the first 100. But universities in East Asia have been included in the first hundred. Hong Kong has three, ranked at 24, 35 and 46; Singapore two ranked at 30 and 73; South Korea two ranked at 47 and 69 and Taiwan one in the 95th position. Notably, China's Tsinghua University and Peking University are ranked at 49 and 52 respectively. There is no Indian university in the rankings from 100 to 200. It is only when one moves on to the next 100 that we find the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur at 237; IIT Madras at 284 and the University of Delhi at 291.


Gross enrolment ratio

What ails higher education in India? The country lacks the critical mass in higher education. Its gross enrolment ratio (GER) is a mere 11 per cent compared to China's 20 per cent, the USA's 83 per cent and South Korea's 91 per cent. This means that in comparison to India, China has double the number of students pursuing higher education.


Second, a recent study by NASSCOM-McKinsey has pointed out that only one out of ten Indian students with degrees in humanities and one out of four engineering graduates are employable despite the boast that India has one of the largest technical and scientific human resources in the world.


Third, a study by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council reveals that 90 per cent of the colleges and 70 per cent of the universities graded by the council are or "middling or poor quality". It is not mandatory for educational institutions to seek accreditation, and that explains why there is no ranking. Despite such entities as the National Assessment and Accreditation Council, the National Board of Accreditation and the Accreditation Body, only 30 per cent of the universities, 16 per cent of the colleges and 10 per cent of the management institutes are accredited. Too many students run after a handful of institutions. This has also led to the emergence of sub-standard institutions. An overwhelming majority of them have to make do with mediocre faculty and poor infrastructure, such as laboratories or libraries.


Fourth, in most of the institutions, including the IITs, there is a 15-25 per cent shortfall in faculty strength. The freeze on new full-time appointments in many institutions and the increase in the number of part-time teachers has demoralised the academic circuit. The system lacks incentives to perform; there is no reward for the meritorious and no way to ease out the non-performers. The quality of teaching and research cannot be evaluated because there is no accountability. To that is added agitations both by the teachers and the taught.
Fifth, on an average, most Indian universities revise their curricula only once in five to ten years. Then they get diluted over time. Besides outdated syllabi, the students do not have the flexibility of carrying their credits and move between institutions with ease as is done in the US, Europe and now even in China.


Sixth, the excessive regulation by the government and multiple agencies leads to stagnation and corruption, which tends to get institutionalised. Seventh, the quality of school education has not improved. There is little or no teaching in fifty per cent of the primary schools in the rural areas of northern India.


Finally, it is an alarming trend that Indian students spend about $7 billion to go abroad and study in foreign universities because of the poor quality of education at home. As high as 86 per cent of students in science and technology, who obtain degrees in the US, don't return. About 30 per cent shift from science and technology to earn an MBA degree in India because salaries are higher. Because of the dearth of proper incentives the very best do not opt for pure sciences, the foundation of a sound higher educational edifice.
Another related issue is that despite the increasing rhetoric on free market operations in education, state intervention is pronounced in institutions of higher learning throughout the world. The state intervenes by regulating  fees, recruitment of teachers, and fixing the salaries and service conditions. It ensures that disciplines such as Philosophy, that are not linked directly to the market, remain in the curricula. There is no balance between state intervention and market pressures. For instance, there are more than 40 management institutes in Delhi. If the British standardisation mechanism of QAA is applied, none of them would qualify. There is an overriding  anxiety to regulate and control public expenditure. It is a paradoxical situation; on the one hand there is a demand for laissez-faire monetarist reduction in the  powers of the State. On the other, the education segment is marked by an intrusive expansion of State power.


Human development

International agencies such as the UNDP stress such factors as pluralism and the human development indices. On the basis of these criteria, one finds that Sri Lanka and China perform better than India. They spend less than this country in regard to the percentage of GDP in implementing the parameters of meritocracy, reward, and accountability. An estimated Rs 7000 crore, one-third of the national budget on education, are spent on private tuitions and tutorial colleges. This generates black money without any improvement in the quality of education. There has been a mushroom growth of private institutions. These are essentially money-spinning enterprises, thriving on corruption. This isn't the case in the privately-sponsored universities abroad.
The bane of the system is job security without accountability, less than 100 days of teaching in most of the universities including the Central ones, pay parity irrespective of individual achievement, and the operation of Gresham's law of the bad driving out the good. Proponents of privatisation overlook the fact that even in the USA, the mainstay of the educational system are the state universities.


The maladies and deficiencies in India's higher education system need urgently to be addressed by making it more professional and creative and less bureaucratic and political. China, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea are trying to cater to more and more students at the bottom of the academic system. Simultaneously, research-based universities are being set up to compete with the world's best institutions. If India wants to be a major player in the emerging knowledge-based economies, then it will have to go in for a major overhaul of its higher education system. As Plato had said, if the State ignores education it does not matter what else it does.
The writer is retired Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

'EDUCATION SYSTEM HAS A LONG WAY TO GO'

 

Narendra Jadhav is member of both the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) and the Planning Commission where his sectoral responsibilities include education, labour, employment and skill-building. Dr Jadhav, who was vice-chancellor of Pune University, served the Reserve Bank of India for 31 years and took voluntary retirement when he was chief economist (executive director) of the RBI. He was also economic adviser to the International Monetary Fund and has served in Ethiopia and recently in Afghanistan. He has written 11 books and more than 100 research papers in national and international journals. His family biography Untouchables has been published in 15 languages, including English, French, Spanish, Korean and Thai, and has sold around 4,00,000 copies.


In an interview with RANJEET S JAMWAL, he spoke on the large-scale reforms in the education sector, the urgency in implementing them and the final shape the government wants to give the education sector.


India's higher education sector is undergoing large-scale changes. The reasons?

Over the years we have not made adequate investment in the education sector. We are in the 11th Plan and this is the first Plan where education has been given due importance. Education is the most dominant sector in this plan. In India, the education system can be seen from three different aspects ~ access, equity and quality. They are inter-related. In all these, we are way behind. Our cherished dream of India becoming an economic superpower will not actually fructify unless our priority is the education sector.
Our education system has a long way to go and a lot needs to be done. Our GER (gross enrolment ratio) is 12. 4 per cent, which is only one-half of the world average and one-third of even the average for developing countries.

 

Until 1999, India and China both had GER of about six per cent. In the last ten years, we have moved to 12.4 per cent but China has moved to 22 per cent. So this does not augur well for a country which is hoping to become an economic superpower. Access is a big problem. If we look at the quality, we have a system which is over-regulated but under-governed. As a result, even if there is access, the quality is poor. Look at the research output of Indian universities, it has not grown rapidly. Until 1984, India and China were producing the same number of research papers in international journals. Today China is producing five times more research papers.

What are the reasons for India lagging behind?

We have not made enough investment. For example, in 1966 when the Kothari Commission was appointed, it had set a target that out of India's gross domestic product, six per cent should be spent on education. We have never spent more than 3.5 per cent even 44 years after the Kothari Commission. We have a huge deficit in the education sector and we are finally correcting it. It's not that nothing has happened. We have 500 universities, but we need 1,500 universities. We have 24,000 colleges but we need 40,000 colleges. So this is not to belittle what has been done but it is grossly inadequate to the needs of our economy.


To achieve double-digit growth and maintain it, we need to step up the investment in education sector massively. That is why in the 11th Plan, the allocation for education was raised to Rs 84,000 crore compared to Rs 9,000 crore in the 10th Plan. With this spending, we are moving in the right direction. But we need to accelerate; that is why these reforms are taking place.


Despite the low GER, many people with higher education degrees are unemployed.

That is another aspect. Various surveys have shown that one-third of our engineering graduates are not employable. This is a reflection of the poor quality of education. What has happened is that there has been a kind of disconnect between education and changing society and industrial needs. Our education system should have evolved or adapted to these changing needs. If you don't, there is a mismatch, which is reflected in some of our graduates not getting good jobs.



How is this mismatch going to change ?

In the next two years, the Indian education system will be completely different from what it has been for the last 60 years. History is unfolding right now. The architecture for education is being put in place, which is going to remain here for next 30 to 50 years. This is a system which will promote high quality education with much larger access and better employability for those who were fortunate to have access to higher education.


For quality education, quality teachers are required. But there is a shortage of quality teachers...

There are three problems as far as quality is concerned. Our curricula in many cases has not been revised for many years, teachers are not available in required numbers and even those that are available are not of the right quality. So we are talking about revising curricula to make it suitable for the changing requirement of the sunrise industry and emerging needs of society. Availability and quality of teachers have to be improved. All those who are employed must be up-to-date in their field so that quality of teaching improves.


Do state governments have enough funds to implement these reforms?

They will have to implement the reforms. There is no choice as it is law. In the last ten years, expenditure by the Centre has gone up but the states' share has gone down. Both together are about 3.5 per cent of the GDP. So both the Centre and state governments have to increase expenditure in the education sector.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

ON RECORD

 

We are a transparent party and I believe in transparency. Let the names of the mayor, deputy mayor, chairman and leader of the Trinamul in the CMC be proposed by our party. Then, I will ask all of you councillors present here to say whether you agree to the party's proposals. If there's any difference of opinion, you are free to express that. Let there be no hide and seek. Trinamul supremo Mamata Banerjee, prior to the selection of mayor and other office-bearers of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.


The monsoon will have hit Kolkata by the time our board takes over. So I wanted to review the preventive measures that are being planned to combat waterlogging. The problem of poor water pressure in the added areas also needed to be discussed.


Mayor-select Sovan Chatterjee, after his first entry into the KMC before the swearing-in ceremony.


No, I am not going ... I am staying here.


Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, asked if he will attend the CPI-M Politburo meeting in Delhi.


It (the defeat of the Tamil Tigers) provided a historic opportunity for the country's leaders to address all outstanding issues in a spirit of understanding and mutual accommodation.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while congratulating Rajapaksa on the successful fight against the LTTE.


This is the best any government could have done. The group of ministers will study all the issues pertaining to the legal framework required, compensation and punishment.


Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natrajan after the verdict on the Bhopal gas tragedy.


This punishment is not enough. I lost my son, younger brother and father and I still have nightmares.
A villager, Ram Prasad on the Bhopal verdict.


You can handle a wind but not a heavy storm. The state is witnessing a storm; it is too difficult to handle. We have to fulfil our promises within mid-2011. A strange anti-establishment trend is now sweeping the state... We have to accept the people's verdict.

PWD minister Kshiti Goswami.


I feel the Assembly polls may be held earlier than scheduled. We should contest with the mindset to play the role of a responsible Opposition.

Fisheries minister Kiranmoy Nanda.


I really don't know my exact role in Mamata's expert committee. But yes, if they want me in the panel, I am there.

Former footballer Sailen Manna.

I feel it here, I'm swimming in the World Cup!

A Bloemfontein vendor about the excitement around the tournament in South Africa.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

DELHI DURBAR

 

A BETTER STRATEGY

With a few exceptions, the media was run by a few families. Then came a few business houses. With the advent of TV, a motley crowd stepped in. Some whose seeds were planted on fertile soil remained, while the others ran aground among shoals and sandbanks. So the politicians were not far behind. They knew the media was a useful handmaiden and, in course of time, they too entered the fray. Needless to say, not all media ventures flourished.
One politician, powerful as well as cerebral, has realised that it is not necessary to own a newspaper to get across to a larger audience. It can be done by either by having the baron (or baroness as the case may be) dance to your tune, or to be a friend-in-need to those in charge. He has been successful on both these counts. In one case, he has succeeded in installing a follower, a relatively junior journo, in a senior slot in one of the group's dailies. So he has space in major dailies to run his stories, or take his "line" or have "plants" against his detractors. And given his calibre, he has been able to give interesting leads and insights, besides providing fodder to stymie those who fall out of favour with him, whose numbers are legion. Lessons to learn?

TRANSPARENCY THE KEY

Is it a late realisation or just another statement to be seen as politically correct ? Pranabda has expressed fears about rising NPAs as shown by the recent balance sheets of PSU banks. Although lending practices have proved near-calamitous, very little has changed about how the financial arena operates and is supervised. In fact, most acquisitions are underwritten by PSU banks -- if they worked out, good for the companies; if they didn't, bad for the banks and the tax-payer.


The trouble isn't that the barons get rich in the booms. The trouble is that too few get poor -- really suitably poor -- in the busts. To the tycoons go the upside, to the taxpayers go the downside. Instead, in times of busts, let the value of the yachts, luxury jets, cars and villas be assigned to the firm's creditors.
As if to prove their complicity, senior bankers who winked as the tax-payers' money was whittled away have been rewarded with bigger jobs and increased responsibilities. Do as you may, the government merely needs to publicise the cost of doles to bail out companies and the recipients. Let the country know who the deadbeat debtors are. Don't use the fig-leaf of "provisioning" to thwart RTI queries and hide such rip-offs.


PUTRID SOCIETY

Thunderbolts from the blue have become commonplace. The latest was the judicial verdict which ripped open the cupboard teeming with skeletons. From the highest to the very high, they all seemed connected, be it a CJI, the then head of government, a CM and legal luminaries to the Bhopal tragedy. It no longer shocks the Indian conscience, it merely numbs the mind. Indeed, this proves the axiom that "every man has his price". Even all honourable men.


Warren Anderson was feted during his visit at the Rashtrapathi Bhawan by the then President, Zail Singh. And we still have a honourable man in our midst to push the Nuclear Bill, to keep his commitment to the US. History is bound to repeat itself. After public angst, there is variation in tone and prevarication in substance. And everybody admits that mistakes were made, but always made by somebody else. What happened to the then boiler inspectors and factory inspectors, all those who turned a Nelson's eye to the failings in the operational system?


Will this bring about a corrective ? Definitely not. At this very time, the high and mighty are still holding a brief for Dow Chemicals which bought over Union Carbide.

Silver lining

 

The only change the current Bhopal tsunami brought about was the immense relief it provided to the Pawar "parivar" which was under fire for distortions, lies and damned lies. Pawar has been carrying on well with cricket -- he is due to take over as the ICC chief -- but to carry on with IPL has become like "carrying a cat by its tail". He and more so his only progeny, Supriya Sule, tried the balancing act, but wobbled on the high wire. The media can be carping and relentless, but of no avail. Did it make any difference to Hasan Ali who is still cooling his heels in Pune?


What took the cake was the defence of the Maratha strongman by the disgraced IPL chief, Lalit Modi. As they say in the vernacular: it was like the wolf bearing witness for the fox. It was said of Watergate: "It was not just a scandal. It was a threat to the republic. The head had to be removed for the country to survive". In this case, several heads may have to be removed for India to survive.


MAKING MERRY

It is shocking. An expert panel constituted by the Supreme Court has said that leases of 215 mines operating in Orissa expired 20 years ago. Out of 341 mines existing in the State, only 126 operate on a valid lease. In addition, mining activity was carried out far in excess of land sanctioned under the lease. Many leases were yet to obtain the statutory environment clearances. Naveen Patnaik may have a lot of explaining to do, inspite of his goody-goody image.


Many states go on a spree of signing MOUs. Chattisgarh has signed 102 MOUs with industrial houses for production of steel, sponge iron, power, cement and aluminium. And now Karnataka has joined the bangwagon by entering into deals with corporates. Both states are ruled by the BJP. Worse still, all this has been done on the basis of private negotiations without any fair competition.


World out of balance

One-sixth of the world's population owns 80 per cent of the global GDP while another billion struggle to survive on less than a dollar a day. The rich one billion share similar attitudes, values and vision. They comprise the market force which is gradually dominating the democratic process and may, in the prophetic but frightening words of Jazques Attali, replace it.


Worse still, 59 per cent of the world's people are living in countries with growing inequalities, according to the World Commission on the Global Dimension of Globalisation. So this produces two cultures -- one culture of the haves with a overpowering strategy; and the other culture of the have-nots with a strategy based on frustration and retaliation. Are we seeing signs of it?


Heard on the street

It could have been due to heat and humidity. At the inauguration of the Insurance Institute of India, the regulator sang praises of the AP chief minister, (who was nowhere in sight) when the Maharashtra CM was in the chair. The reason was not far too seek. He belonged to the AP cadre of the IAS. His fulsome praise must have echoed in Hyderabad. The finance minister too got the names of his PSU chiefs mixed up. To kind of retaliate, the Maharashtra CM abbreviated the regulator's name. Anyway, what's in a name?

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

IN PRAISE OF A GOAL

 

Short of the Olympics, the greatest sporting extravaganza in the world is the football World Cup. For one month, across the globe, all kinds of people — the rich and the poor, the religious fundamentalist and the secularist, the scholar and the idiot — will be glued to their television screens (this excludes the fortunate few who will be physically present at the grounds) to watch some of the dazzling shooters trying to score a goal while some equally dazzling defenders go all out to stop them. Sporting skills of a very high order will be packed into 90 minutes every day for one month. Passions will run high in the countries whose teams are playing; they will also run high, strangely enough, in India, even though an India XI playing in the World Cup is more than a pie in the sky. Debate will rage among Indian sports lovers about this plight of Indian football since countries smaller in size and in gross domestic product are far more successful in kicking the football around in the global arena. Despite the love of Indians for football, India, in so far as the World Cup is concerned, is irrelevant.

 

Looking back at the history of previous world cups, it is clear that the contest is really between the countries of Europe and the countries of Latin America. The contrasts among the competing countries range from the style of football to the size of the economy. Europe is part of the developed world despite being badly hit by the recent recession. South America, on the other hand, is part of the developing world. The contrast is between the former colonizer and the former colony. Even more striking are the different kinds of football in which the countries of the two continents excel. At one time, it would have been convenient to describe the contrast as one between individual genius and teamwork or between brilliance and discipline or between magic and reason. Those stark differences are gradually being blurred. Latin American football, while retaining its native talent for dribbling and ball play, has learnt the virtues of teamwork, defence and formation. European football, within its disciplinary framework, has created space for sheer individual brilliance. This has made international football more competitive, and watching it even more attractive.

 

One reason — many would argue that this is the only reason — for this blurring of distinctions is the fact that every top soccer player in the world plays for a leading European football club. The primacy of football in Europe and the wealth that the game garners there have done away with the differences of nationality, race and colour of skin. Sport has often been described as a great leveller: of no other sport is this more true than soccer. It is this embedded spirit of egalitarianism that accounts for the global popularity of football. A goal is recognized everywhere from the alleys of Calcutta to the Middle Kingdom in Beijing to the glitzy casinos of Monaco to an oasis in the Sahara.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

RECALLING AN OLD SCHOOL

AN INSTITUTION WITH LITTLE ROOTED IDENTITY

SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY

 

A country's future cannot but be bright if its citizens prize education so highly as to commit crime for its sake. But one wonders whether qualifications are not bound to be flawed if there's a backdoor into school and college and a bribe overcomes the hurdle of examinations. No wonder Singapore derecognized Indian medical degrees.

 

Media reports about my old school prompt both thoughts. Yet — faint ray of light in the engulfing darkness — I know for certain of one recent instance of La Martiniere for Boys admitting only on merit a Bengali child without money or influence. This heartwarming news mitigated to some extent the shock I received 18 years ago when a respected private tutor told me she couldn't coach my son — not even a teenager then — because she did not take pupils from schools for "moneybags". Her objection was not ideological. Nor communal though she did identify "moneybags" in ethnic terms. Her point was that scholarship had to take a backseat in institutions so awash with money.

 

It was a shock because the school I remembered was anything but rich. Most pupils were poor Anglo-Indian boarders supported by the church or private foundations. No shame attached to being a foundationer. That was the purpose of Claude Martin's philanthropy. The Armenian boys also received help: the school prayer extolled their benefactor, Paul Chater.

 

The scattering of full-blooded non-Christian fee-paying Indian day scholars who went to school by bus or tram were admitted under gentle government pressure. The art master was the only non-Christian Indian on the staff, and he was not invited to the last British principal's farewell party. I could understand it when the owner of Park Street's best restaurant, an old boy from before the Second World War when the school moved to Lucknow, told me he felt no attachment because "they didn't really want us".

 

The inexorable laws of demand and supply did not then set a price on everything. If La Martiniere has fallen like a ripe mango into the arms of those who know no other way of doing things, it is at least partly because it never had a rooted identity to defend. I recall a master who later emigrated to Australia (where else?) dismissing socially superior St Xavier's as "an Indian school". St Thomas, Kidderpore, and St James were undisguisedly Anglo-Indian. La Martiniere was also as Anglo-Indian as the Rangers Club but nursed pretensions derived from a unique provenance and the distinction of sister schools in Lucknow and faraway Lyons.

 

We were never allowed to forget that Martinians had fought for the government in 1857. The battle honours they won — the only school in the Empire to be so honoured — hung in the Lucknow chapel. Ceremonial occasions brought out the Union Jack and French tricolour. Signed photographs of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the last emperor and empress of India) graced the assembly hall and polished brass tablets, as in an Oxford college, honoured long-departed principals like "William Henry Arden Wood". We mispronounced the English public schoolboy's Latin slang. The few Brits on the staff were colonial relics who went on "Home Leave". A Lodge Martiniere lurked somewhere. Everything pointed to higher aspirations.

 

Anomaly and contradiction began at the inception when it was uncertain whether Martin had left his money to Roman Catholics or Protestants. They battled over his will until the former handed victory to the latter by rejecting the Privy Council's ruling of joint administration. The school was notionally Church of England in my time and that was its only certainty. No other British Indian institution took so long to come to terms with contemporary reality.

 

Bengali posturing compounded ambivalence. It was the fashion to sneer at things phiringi; the derogatory word most commonly used was tyansh. But many cultural patriots in flowing dhoti pleaded and cajoled to get their sons admitted in our bastion of phiringi life. It was refreshing the other day to hear Julius Malema, the African National Congress youth leader, admitting on television, "It's always been our ambition to live like whites." Such candour is unthinkable in India.

 

"What has the school done?" Lakdasa de Mel, the last Metropolitan of India, once exclaimed over dinner in Bishop's House. "All that expense and it's only turned out generations of railway guards and customs inspectors!" Had the patrician Sinhalese, who was proud of his pre-Christian caste but a great and generous man otherwise, connected La Martiniere with St Xavier's in Partibus, "the great old school" in Kim, he would have known that Anglo-Indians had no higher destiny under the British.

 

Change did not come easily to them, resulting in all manner of dissonances and discrepancies. Teachers and students who did not admit to understanding a word of any Indian language had to force themselves to sing Jana Gana Mana. My curiosity about the school authorities being called "acting governors" was only satisfied many years later when someone explained that the real governors under the charter were dignitaries like the commander-in-chief, lieutenant-governor and chief justice. Some positions had been abolished; some incumbents were no longer Christian. Hence the makeshift "acting governors" — white burra sahibs from Clive Street who added to the sense of impermanence since they were here today and gone tomorrow. The sole exception for a while was West Bengal's devoutly Christian rajyapal, Harendra Coomar Mookerjee, whose attire occasioned merriment in the school where no one followed his Biblical references.

 

I can only guess what happened as the last of the senior old-school Anglo-Indians departed as the Brits had done, as the number of Anglo-Indian boys dwindled, and investments withered. There were no committed owners and managers with a stake in the traditions that had nurtured the school's sense of being different. Authority had to be vested in Christians and that often meant inconsequential people on the make gambolling like Kipling's bandar-log in the abandoned city. The saintly Mookerjee would have turned in his grave at their antics.

 

One heard of Indian Christians trying to pose as Anglo-Indians in hopes of benefits but theirs can have been a feeble intervention. They did not have the money, connections or business acumen to fill the vacuum when the school was up for grabs. It was like sterling tea gardens and British management agencies. The sharp operators hovering around greedily eyed La Martiniere's two most marketable assets — prime land and the imprimatur of a supposedly Anglo-Indian education in a state that the Marxists were purging of English.

 

It's many years since I entered the gates but I can imagine the promoters, hand-in-glove with some of the Indian Christian worthies to whom management passed, gnawing like jackals at the estate's carcass. The assembly hall was the first casualty. Much of the land bounded by Loudon Street, Lower Circular Road, Rawdon Street and Moira Street (the old names seem more appropriate) has gone, the still lofty main building imprisoned by ugly new structures to the gods of commerce. One mocks Claude Martin's Lucknow palace for calling itself Constantia. More money-driven vandalism is evident in Moira Street. A string of other scams is reported.

 

Education is big business in upwardly mobile India. The Guinness Book of Records acknowledged South Point School's spectacular explosion. Delhi Public School is expanding like any multinational organization. English-medium instruction commands the highest price and a touch of Anglo-India (a Rozario or Parker on the staff) adds value. Irrespective of standards, the snob appeal that still attaches to even the shade of the La Martiniere that was generates brisk commerce. Such institutions sell a dream even more than education, the "simple dream" that inspired Malema and his comrades to fight for freedom, "If we defeated apartheid we would all live like whites."

 

Flats sell at huge undisclosed premia. Trading in dreams may yield even higher profits.

sunandadr@yahoo.co.in

 

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

EDITORIAL

AMONG BIG BOYS

"THE WORLD CUP FOOTBALL IS IN A LEAGUE OF ITS OWN."

 

Uplifting and free from pretensions, Friday's enthusiastic opening ceremony provided the first hint about South Africa's readiness and passion for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Upwards of 95,000 people crowded the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg to usher in one of the most significant moments in South African history, a moment made possible by the vision of former president Nelson Mandela and endorsed by FIFA president Sepp Blatter's determination to leave a lasting legacy behind. From fringe players on the footballing spectrum, Africa made the logical progression to earning their rightful place among the big boys. The staging of the World Cup in the continent of unparalleled natural resources is the most commendable step in further expanding the reach of the Beautiful Game, already the King of sporting disciplines.

 

Africa has forever enchanted and intrigued, but as with entities less explored, it has also sparked mistrust, fear and questions surrounding efficiency. With South Africa in the forefront, the successful conduct of the 19th World Cup will go a long way towards erasing those unfounded doubts. That South Africa, only recently liberated from apartheid, providing the perfect union of the old and the new, should be conferred with the honour of bringing the World Cup to Africa is only fitting.


Over the next month, however, sentiment will take a back seat. No quarters will be asked and none given as the battle for the most coveted sporting trophy intensifies. The Olympic Games signify the greatest coming together of athletes from different disciplines on one platform, but for sheer magnetic pull and attendant hysteria, the World Cup is in a league of its own. Even the most battle-hardened have been reduced to putty in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a Cup match, suggestive of why the competition has thrown up more and more upsets in recent times. As ever, Brazil begin the peoples' favourites even if they have opted to sacrifice flair and style at the altar of substance, but a host of others, most notably Spain, will test them severely. The absence of marquee names such as David Beckham and Michael Ballack will be offset by the luminescence generated by the magical skills of Messi, Rooney, Ronaldo and Kaka. The next month will be one long celebration — of talent, of skills and goals, and of the bridging of cultures as the world moves closer to becoming a global village.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

RED RAG

"CONGRESS ONLY BELIEVES IN PERSONALITY CULT."

 

 

In spite of its claims of being liberal and democratic, the Congress has never been comfortable with dissent from inside and criticism from outside.


The party which allowed a free play of different views and opinions in its ranks exists only in accounts of the past and the one which encouraged ideological challenges does not live any more. The problem gets more serious when the one person and the family who only matter in the party get adverse attention. How could anyone dress and walk like Sonia Gandhi, and how could anyone think of writing a novel about her life? There is only one authoritative version of the life of the supreme leader, and the argument that she is a public personality is not good enough to see her in any light other than that approved by the party.


This is the attitude that has made the Congress men object to some shots in Prakash Jha's movie Rajneeti and attack a fictionalised biography of Sonia Gandhi written by a Spanish writer, Javier Moro. The heroine in Rajneeti, played by Katrina Kaif, is said to resemble Sonia in style and manners. The censor board had cleared the film. When the body which is authorised to vet and certify films has approved it and cleared it for public viewing, the Congress men had no reason to find fault with it. Moro's 'The Red Saree' would not have become a red rag for the party if it was more tolerant and respectful of creative freedom. The Congress never tires of criticising the Hindutva brigade's culture of intolerance and bigotry. It also has these qualities in good measure.

It is the authoritarian and personality-cult-laden culture pervading the Congress that makes it go wild at assumed slights. It is yet to learn that in a democratic society public personalities are liable to different interpretations and even misrepresentation. The ability and willingness to accept freedom of expression is the mark of a party that values democracy. The Congressmen's objections to the film and the novel are a reminder of the Emergency regime's treatment of 'Kissa Kursi Ka.' It will help them if they take a more mature and tolerant look at the world around it. A spot of humour can also do them good in dealing with this disrespectful world.

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

SEAT FOR SALE

BY GAYATHRI NIVAS


If money power is the bane of elections, how does one put an end to the peddling of the lucre even before going to the hustings?

 

Whose money is it anyway that liquor baron Vijay Mallya will be lavishly spending to buy votes of 'secular' leader H D Deve Gowda's Janata Dal(S) party MLAs to win a berth in the Rajya Sabha in the June 17 election? It's a wellknown fact that Mallya-owned Kingfisher Airlines owes several hundred crores of rupees in overdues of aviation turbine fuel bill to HPCL, so much so that the oil ministry recently asked the public sector major to invoke the corporate guarantee provided by Mallya's liquor business flagship, United Breweries.

It's official. JD(S) is all set to back Mallya's candidature, instead of fielding a minority nominee in keeping with its secular credentials and Gowda's earlier announcement that the party's national general secretary Danish Ali would be the party candidate. This would also facilitate communal BJP to gainfully deploy its surplus votes - 31 in all - after ensuring the election of two of its official nominees — Venkaiah Naidu and Ayanur Manjunath.

The BJP, however, is yet to make its intentions clear although it claims it wants to keep the Congress from fishing for votes in rival camps to win a second seat. The Congress has the numbers to get only its first candidate and senior leader Oscar Fernandes reelected. Yet, it has fielded a second candidate, T V Maruthi,  to prevent its 29 surplus votes from crossing over to any other party after its seat adjustment talks with JD(S) failed.   

It's not new for businessmen to have contested and won Rajya Sabha elections from the state as independents. Only, the asking price of surplus votes of political parties has risen with every biennial election and currently hovers around a few crores of rupees. Mallya himself had won his first Rajya Sabha term as an independent back in 2002, with the help of Congress and JD(S).


Thereafter, M A M Ramaswamy (2004), Rajiv Chandrashekar (2006), Anil Lad (2008) and now again Mallya (2010) making a bid for a second term, all of them winning with the blessings of Gowda and son H D Kumaraswamy, not to forget their party legislators, whose consent father-son duo unfailing seek even if the final choice is theirs.
The BJP is not very far behind, although comparatively better off, having sent the likes of Prabhakar Kore of KLE group fame to the Rajya Sabha. Similar is the case with nominations to the Legislative Council, where persons with purchasing power occupy the seats meant for elders and experts from different fields.

Loyalty at stake

Going down with the eminent citizens and specialists in this race for easy lucre are the scores and scores of loyal party workers of whichever political party is in question, life-time members and functionaries of the ideological arms of these parties such as the RSS, and of course the career politicians, whose only business is democratic, electoral politics.


The political benefactors of these businessmen cite their son of the soil or caste credentials for backing them. But the contestants themselves waste no time in baring their true interest - safeguarding their parent businesses. Vijay Mallya is a permanent special invitee on the consultative committee of members of parliament to the civil aviation ministry although parliamentary norms dictate that interested parties must be kept out of such committees.

Perhaps, the upcoming the Rajya Sabha poll is the worst example so far of Gowda's political diplomacy of convenience. While, the JD (S) has always made the first moves for a tie-up with the Congress in all the recent elections, this time too Gowda-son duo kept their options open even after making the customary motions of seeking party legislators' opinion and announcing a tentative party candidate for the Rajya Sabha poll.
Their options included a berth in the Union cabinet for scion Kumaraswamy in exchange for the party's surplus votes to help Congress win a second Rajya Sabha seat; fielding local real estate baron Kupendra Reddy instead of renominating Congress' retiring RS member B K Hariprasad for the second RS seat; and over and above all this, Congress support to JD(S) to clinch a seat in the just concluded Legislative Council election.
With Congress turning down all the options, Gowda revealed another trump card - Vijay Mallya - which he had kept secret until the talks with Congress broke down although it is said that a 'deal' of sorts had been struck quite a long time ago. Even Kupendra Reddy's candidature was mooted by Gowda only after the former raised the stakes above that of state Congress chief R V Deshpande's offer, say the rumour mills.


If electoral reforms are intended to curb the influence of money and muscle power in democratic politics, how does one curb money play even before going to the hustings? Perhaps, there is light at the end of the tunnel. An online campaign has begun to collect signatures of discerning citizens from different walks of life against the candidature of Mallya. With another week to go for the Rajya Sabha poll, will it help a JD(S) and BJP change of heart? Hopefully it will.

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

MANMOHAN SINGH: THE TINA FACTOR

BY KHUSHWANT SINGH


The prime minister's first press conference in his second tenure of office has had a mixed reception in the media.

 

The general trend of criticism is that the pace of progress which marked his first tenure has slackened and the government has not been able to spell out its course of action as clearly as it should have done. There is some substance in these charges — so I make bold to draw up my list of priorities which need immediate solution.  
On top of my list are high prices of foodstuffs which the mass of people can't afford to pay — essentials like rice, wheat, lentis, (dals), onions, potatoes and cooking oils. They must and can be brought down as soon as possible. No one should go hungry. On the same level is the need for the government to re-assert its authority on territories where Maoists rule that roost.


It has to be a joint effort of the local governments and the Centre to open dialogue with Maoist leaders, concede what is justifiable on condition they give up their illegally acquired arms and resorting to violence. The onus for doing so rests more on the state governments than the ministry of home affairs at the Centre.


There is also a pervading sense of insecurity all over the country.  Even in the national capital women feel uneasy going out alone after sunset. There are far too many vagabonds without work who go about snatching, purses, handbags and making unseemly overtures to young girls. Common citizens must cooperate with the police in driving these unsocial elements away from streets and bazaars. 


And finally, we have to do something to speed up our judicial processes. Inordinate delays in bringing criminals to justice has spread a feeling of despair and belief in taking the law in one's own hands because people in charge of maintaining law and order take far too long to do so. Once agreed on the list of priorities, ask yourselves, who is the best person to fulfil them? Go over the names of all you think of us possible replacements for Manmohan singh. There are quite a few who sound cleverer than him but is there one who can match his wisdom and sagacity?


There are some with more political clout in the regions they come from: but do any of them has as much experience of economic affairs, international relations and can be credited for turning round the economy of the country as he did during his tenure  as finance minister and later as prime minister?


Do not misjudge his gentleness and humility as weakness. He has, and still can, be a leader to be reckoned with. Without an exception all ministers of his cabinet hold him in great respect and abide with his judgment. There are no dissenting voices amongst the men and women who rule us. They have delivered the goods and as Manmohan Singh himself admitted with characteristic humility "We have done well; we could have done better."

Shankar Sen again

For me Shankar sen of Kolkota is a discovery. I had earlier written favourably of his translations of the poet Shamsur Rahman.  I now have his collection of poems 'down memory lane.' The following lines echo my sentiments and Shankar Sen's words read better than mine:


For a few moments

The sun hides behind the clouds and the light grows hazy

My heart sinksI ask myself, is this the end?...

I have had my fill of the many pleasures this world  had to offer

I have suffered pain,

shed tears been betrayed  by friends and befriended betrayers.

As the inevitable climax draws near one last thought looms up on the few unwritten page still left in the diary.

* * *
Let me not dwindle inch by inch like a tapering candle

ending without a flicker.

Let mine be the exit of a meteor —

swift, abrupt, one last burst of fire into the realms of unknown.

Would it please thee to grant his ultimate wish?

'Man Mohana'

Santa was angry with the dyer (Rangrez) who dyed his turbans because it did not mach with the colour herdered. 'I wanted the blue worn by prime minister Manmohan Singh but he coloured much darker,' he fumed

nd said, 'I wanted to look like Manmohan Singh not like Man Mohana (Lord Krishna).

Last wishOn GT road near Ambala a van was lying sandwitched between two trucks. The only visible portion of van displayed 'Press.'

(Contributed by Madan Gupta, Spatu, Chandigarh)

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

DOGGED PERSEVERANCE

BY D V GURUPRASAD


The demand for a pet dog at home was like a stinger missile hitting me.

 

 

Since childhood, I had a morbid fear of dogs. When I was a student I have been chased by these four legged creatures any number of times. May be they always thought that I had nice calves to chew on. Thankfully no dog managed to bite me. Probably because whenever I would see a dog, I would make a very quick U-turn and be as far away as possible from him.


When I was engaged to be married, I learnt that my fiancée was very fond of dogs. All her life she had lived with dogs and days before our engagement, her fourth dog had died. Only her imminent marriage had made her come out of her mourning. But she couldn't help thinking about her pet most of the time. Soon after our honeymoon, we set up family in a remote rural area. We had a big bungalow with a number of people around for help. I had to often go for work in the nights and my wife would feel very lonely those times. During the first year of marriage, since either her parents or my parents would come visiting us, she didn't feel very lonely or homesick often.
The birthday of my wife, her first after our marriage, soon approached. I wanted to give her a nice gift and asked what she desired. I expected her to say that she wants a bottle of perfume or ornaments or clothes. She said that nothing would please her more than having a nice Labrador pup as a gift.


It was like a stinger missile hitting me. I tried to duck, but there was no way. I tried to reason out with her saying that I am in a transferable job and every two years time we need to shift homes and taking our dog with us would be a big hassle. Besides, a dog needs non vegetarian food and for me cooking non-veg at home is unthinkable. She replied that a dog can survive on dal and rotis and my other arguments held no water.  
I changed track and said that it is very tough to toilet train a pup and our house would become dirty too often. She said she would take care of that. I said the dog would bark in the night and we have to spend sleepless nights. She said 'Most of the nights you are away on work.'


I said that our dog would bite whoever who comes home. She replied that she will train him to be sociable. Her final statement was that only by having a dog in the family, would I overcome my fear of dogs. She said 'You are policeman and you know the worth of dogs. Shame on you for being so scared of dogs.'
This was too much to stomach. I decided then and there to live with both my wife and a dog. On her birthday her face lit up when she saw a black cocker-spaniel pup. Ever since, dogs have become a part of our home.

 

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

EDITORIAL

 

THE LATEST WORK DODGE: A SHUTDOWN

 

Once again, Albany's lawmakers are disgracing the state. In this case, the $135 billion state budget is more than 70 days late and around $9.2 billion short. An annoyed governor, David Paterson, has begun adding sections of the 2010-11 budget every week to emergency budget extenders. If lawmakers refuse, they will shut down the entire state government.

 

Democratic leaders need all 32 Democratic senators to pass Monday's budget bill, but, so far, two Democrats — Senators Pedro Espada Jr. and Rubén Díaz Sr. — have been telling reporters that they will vote no. That means a state shutdown unless two or more Senate Republicans come to the rescue. Dean Skelos, the Republican leader, has said he expects his 30 Republicans to vote no unless the governor approves at least $400 million more in cuts. Mr. Skelos has even hinted that turning out the lights for a few days might be little more than an inconvenience.

 

Actually, it would be idiotic. A shutdown would disrupt millions of lives, cost millions of dollars and leave state officials scrambling to operate prisons, the State Police and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — never mind services like motor vehicle offices.

 

Republicans seem to think that acting so recklessly while Democrats control the government is great politics. They're wrong. Voters would blame anyone who participates in a shutdown. Doing so would disqualify themselves from re-election, regardless of their party.

 

Instead, Democrats should get the budget done now. Here are some of the big remaining issues:

 

THE GAP The governor and Democratic lawmakers have agreed on ways to fill about $7 billion of a $9.2 billion deficit. That leaves a hole of $2.2 billion.

 

BORROWING One way to fill this year's gap would be to borrow the money short term. That was part of a proposal by Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch, which allowed borrowing only after very basic budgeting reforms were enacted. The Assembly is ready to support most of the Ravitch plan. The Senate Democrats have come up with their own longer-term borrowing that is fiscally irresponsible. And Mr. Paterson is resisting any borrowing until the Legislature agrees to more cuts. It is time to agree on cuts and use the Ravitch plan to fill in the gap.

 

TAXES Nervous legislators are quivering about the prospect of making New Yorkers pay even pennies more in taxes. They are particularly faint-hearted about imposing a few extra cents per ounce on sugary sodas. That tax would eventually bring in another $1 billion a year but is not being considered because of heavy lobbying from the bottling industry. An increase in taxes on cigarettes and tobacco products should be easy, Governor Paterson and the Assembly have both agreed to a tobacco tax that would add at least $218 million in revenue.

 

PROPERTY TAX CAP Democratic state senators outside New York City are once again pushing for a cap on property taxes. Property taxes are, indeed, a burden in New York, but other states have found that they hit schools in poorer areas hard. This tax should be left up to localities, especially when state aid is being cut.

 

SCHOOL CUTS Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker, is fighting against Mr. Paterson's proposed cuts of $1.1 billion to school aid. Budget negotiators should take care to make these cuts fairer, with less pain to poorer areas.

 

These problems are all solvable. There is no need to shut down the government.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

BP'S RESPONSIBILITY

 

The Times reported on Friday that investors and politicians in Britain are increasingly upset at America's criticisms of BP. This isn't an issue of American pique or British patriotism. Americans are rightly angry at BP's inability to stop a disastrous leak for which it was wholly unprepared and its failure to tell the truth about the extent of the damage.

 

United States government scientists did nothing to improve Americans' mood this week when they doubled their estimate of the amount of oil flowing from BP's out-of-control well in the Gulf of Mexico. The new range announced by a special panel is 25,000 to 30,000 barrels a day. At that rate, the amount of oil fouling the gulf is approaching one Exxon Valdez spill a week.

 

One can sympathize with people who depend on BP and its large profits for part of their income. BP is also a major taxpayer in Britain, which is eager to reduce its huge government deficit. But what is at issue here is BP's responsibility for a huge mistake and for the damage to, and possible destruction of, one of the most productive ecosystems on the planet — and the many thousands of livelihoods that go with it.

 

These are points President Obama can and should make when he meets with BP officials next week. The main point to stress, of course, is that BP must be in this for the long haul, that Americans expect it to meet its obligations under law and that it must honor its oft-repeated commitment to pay claims from individuals even if those claims exceed statutory limits.

 

The president might also point out that BP is not on Americans' most-trusted-corporations list right now — partly because of its carelessness, partly because of its chief executive's tin ear.

 

Many people are genuinely worried that BP will not have enough money on hand to pay for the cleanup and claims. To make sure that it does, some have suggested the Justice Department enjoin the company from paying its dividends. The company may soon find it prudent to do that on its own.

 

Although BP has about $11 billion in cash and investments on hand, its obligations in the gulf could exceed this cushion as well as anticipated profits. Credit Suisse has suggested that a total bill of $40 billion is not out of the question — even without a finding of gross negligence. That number is breathtaking. The destruction BP has wrought is even more so.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

SNAKE OIL FOR BREAKFAST

 

More than a century after President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Pure Food and Drug Act, deception is still a far too popular marketing tool for food makers.

 

The Federal Trade Commission barred Kellogg's last year from running ads saying Mini-Wheats are "clinically shown to improve kids' attentiveness by 20 percent." To claim "benefits to cognitive health, process or function provided by any cereal or any morning food or snack food," was a no-no, unless the claims were true. But the F.T.C.'s order covered only cognitive abilities. So just as it was signing its consent, Kellogg's was starting a new campaign in which "Snap, Crackle and Pop" called out to parents from the Rice Krispies box promising to help "support your child's IMMUNITY."

 

Last week, the F.T.C. said that it had closed that loophole, reaching an agreement with Kellogg's that would bar the company from making any claims about the health benefits of their food unless they were backed by scientific evidence and not misleading.

 

Businesses have been making dubious claims about their products at least since the 17th century, when the British clergyman Anthony Daffy sold Daffy's Elixir as a cure for scurvy as well as agues, gout, rheumatism, rickets, worms and other ailments. Hucksterism — no matter how implausible the claim — lives on.

 

In 2004, the F.T.C. barred KFC from saying its fried chicken was compatible with low-carbohydrate weight-loss programs — because such diets specifically advise against breaded, fried foods. The Food and Drug Administration sent letters to 17 food companies in March warning them about misleading product labels. Dreyer's claimed there is no trans-fat in its ice cream but forgot to mention it has lots of saturated fat. POM Wonderful claimed its pomegranate juice helps treat, prevent or cure hypertension, diabetes and cancer.

 

This might be par for the course for an era of swift-boating political ads and a torrent of television commercials plumping for myriad wonder drugs (sudden death may result). It leaves the consumer in a quandary: what part of the label can be believed?

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

S.C. STRIKES AGAIN

BY GAIL COLLINS

 

Alvin Greene filed for our sins.

 

Greene, an unemployed 32-year-old, is currently the most famous Democratic candidate in South Carolina. He just won the nomination to run against Senator Jim DeMint in November, overcoming major obstacles such as not having campaign staff, campaign funds, a campaign Web site, cellphone or personal computer. And then there's the felony charge pending for allegedly showing a University of South Carolina student a pornographic picture.

 

I'm sorry we have to keep coming back to South Carolina. There are 50 states, and I'm sure every single one has some really peculiar political phenomena that we could make fun of if time allowed.

 

But South Carolina has definitely been on a roll. Earlier this week, it looked as if the big primary story was the two Republican political consultants who claimed to have had sexual encounters with Nikki Haley, a candidate for governor. Haley went on to finish 27 percentage points ahead of her closest rival. Having endured so many sex scandals with male candidates, we have long wondered what would happen when women running for high office started to get hit with adultery charges. Apparently, it makes them more popular.

 

Now there's Alvin Greene. To get on the ballot in South Carolina, a candidate for Senate has to pay a $10,440 filing fee. By now, there are political junkies in every part of the United States who could make a list of things that Greene needed to spend money on more than he needed to be on an election ballot. The cellphone and computer would be nice. His own apartment. (He lives with his dad.) And a lawyer, since he's currently being represented by a public defender in the obscenity case.

 

"That I'm not commenting on," he said on MSNBC.

 

Normally, hopeless candidates for high office are either dedicated to a cause or drenched in ego. Either way, they bloom under TV camera lights. Greene wilts. He haltingly ascribed his win to "simple old-fashioned campaigning," which did not seem to involve any gathering featuring other people.

 

Suspicious minds wondered if this was a plot. "I don't know if he was a Republican plant; he was somebody's plant," said Representative James Clyburn.

 

At any rate, Senator DeMint, a darling of the Tea Party set, is now getting a free ride to re-election. He's the guy who compared the United States in the age of Obama to "where Germany was before World War II." He appears to be positioning himself as a future Senate Republican leader, and South Carolina Democrats have now given lots of additional free time to a person who makes Mitch McConnell look like a good idea.

 

The candidate who was supposed to win the nomination was Vic Rawl, a well-spoken former judge who vastly overestimated the number of people around the state who recognized his name.

 

"Voters seem less and less well informed," said Carol Fowler, the Democratic state party chairwoman.

 

Or at least we're demanding more and more of them. When Greene came in to file his candidacy papers, Fowler recognized that there was something wrong. But she didn't feel it was her responsibility to get the word out.

 

"We did research him to the extent we could," she said. "For whatever reason, this business of his indictment did not come to the top." She pointed out that in another race the party successfully unearthed the fact that a Congressional candidate "had served time in the pen," thus reinforcing my conviction that South Carolina is the best place in the world to be a political reporter.

 

The state has open primaries, and it's possible that thousands of Republicans cannily crossed over to give DeMint a pathetic opponent. But voters generally aren't that sneaky. It's more likely that Democrats drew a blank, then flipped a mental coin. The exception was in neighborhoods where local party leaders passed out sample ballots with their recommended candidates, and helped people avoid voting to turn a clearly troubled guy with large legal problems into a U.S. Senate nominee.

 

We've spent decades now working on the assumption that the problem with American politics is the strength of political parties. This week, California eliminated party primaries entirely in favor of a system where all the candidates run on one ballot and the two top finishers move on to the November election. We'll have to see how that works, although it's a good rule of thumb to figure that anything approved in a California referendum will make things worse.

 

The alternative to parties is an every-voter-for-herself system that would inevitably leave people staring at endless choices among candidates they've never heard of. The polling places become casinos where you pull the lever and pray. Maybe the real answer is not to make the parties weaker but to make them better.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

FRIENDS, NEIGHBORS AND FACEBOOK

BY CHARLES M. BLOW

 

Mister Rogers would be so disappointed in me.

 

Aside from the people who live in my building, I know the name of only one person who lives on my block: Roger Cohen, a Times colleague.

 

I want to blame it on the fact that I'm absolutely awful with names and can be quite socially awkward. But that has ever been thus. Then I thought that maybe it was a city thing, but that explanation goes but so far. I'm actually beginning to believe that it's bigger than me, bigger than my block, bigger than this city. I increasingly believe that less neighborliness is becoming intrinsic to the modern American experience — a most unfortunate development.

 

A report issued Wednesday by the Pew Research Center found that only 43 percent of Americans know all or most of their neighbors by name. Twenty-nine percent know only some, and 28 percent know none. (Oh, my God! When Roger dashes off to Paris this summer, I'll become a "none.")

 

Yet I have thousands of "friends" and "followers" on the social-networking sites in which I vigorously participate. (In real life, I maintain a circle of friends so small that I could barely arrange a circle.) Something is wrong with this picture.

 

I am by no means a woe-is-us, sky-is-falling, evil-is-the-Internet type. In fact, I think that a free flow of information has led to greater civic engagement. Yippee! However, I am very much aware that social networks are rewiring our relationships and that our keyboard communities are affecting the attachments in our actual ones.

 

For instance, a Pew report issued in November 2009 and entitled "Social Isolation and New Technology" found that "users of social networking services are 26 percent less likely to use their neighbors as a source of companionship."

 

And a May study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that "college kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago." The reason? One factor could be social networking. As one researcher put it, "The ease of having 'friends' online might make people more likely to just tune out when they don't feel like responding to others' problems, a behavior that could carry over offline."

 

Furthermore, an article in The New York Times on Thursday laid out new research that revealed that "feelings of hurt, jealousy and competition are widespread" among children of parents who obsess over cellphones, instant messaging and Twitter at the expense of familial engagement.

 

There's no need to pine for a return to the pre-Facebook, cardigan-swaddled idealism of Mister Rogers and his charming "neighbors" and "friends," but it is important for us to remember that tangible, meaningful engagement with those around us builds better selves and stronger communities. I should post that on Twitter.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

THE COURAGE TO LEAVE

BY BOB HERBERT

 

There is no good news coming out of the depressing and endless war in Afghanistan. There once was merit to our incursion there, but that was long ago. Now we're just going through the tragic motions, flailing at this and that, with no real strategy or decent end in sight.

 

The U.S. doesn't win wars anymore. We just funnel the stressed and underpaid troops in and out of the combat zones, while all the while showering taxpayer billions on the contractors and giant corporations that view the horrors of war as a heaven-sent bonanza. BP, as we've been told repeatedly recently, is one of the largest suppliers of fuel to the wartime U.S. military.

 

Seven American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan on Monday but hardly anyone noticed. Far more concern is being expressed for the wildlife threatened by the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico than for the G.I.'s being blown up in the wilds of Afghanistan.

 

Early this year, we were told that at long last the tide had turned in Afghanistan, that the biggest offensive of the war by American, British and Afghan troops was under way in Marja, a town in Helmand Province in the southern part of the country. The goal, as outlined by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, our senior military commander in Afghanistan, was to rout the Taliban and install a splendid new government that would be responsive to the people and beloved by them.

 

That triumph would soon be followed by another military initiative in the much larger expanse of neighboring Kandahar Province. The Times's Rod Nordland explained what was supposed to happen in a front-page article this week:

 

"The goal that American planners originally outlined — often in briefings in which reporters agreed not to quote officials by name — emphasized the importance of a military offensive devised to bring all of the populous and Taliban-dominated south under effective control by the end of this summer. That would leave another year to consolidate gains before President Obama's July 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing combat troops."

 

Forget about it. Commanders can't even point to a clear-cut success in Marja. As for Kandahar, no one will even use the word "offensive" to describe the military operations there. The talk now is of moving ahead with civilian reconstruction projects, a "civilian surge," as Mr. Nordland noted.

 

What's happening in Afghanistan is not only tragic, it's embarrassing. The American troops will fight, but the Afghan troops who are supposed to be their allies are a lost cause. The government of President Hamid Karzai is breathtakingly corrupt and incompetent — and widely unpopular to boot. And now, as The Times's Dexter Filkins is reporting, the erratic Mr. Karzai seems to be giving up hope that the U.S. can prevail in the war and is making nice with the Taliban.

 

There is no overall game plan, no real strategy or coherent goals, to guide the fighting of U.S. forces. It's just a mind-numbing, soul-chilling, body-destroying slog, month after month, year after pointless year. The 18-year-olds fighting (and, increasingly, dying) in Afghanistan now were just 9 or 10 when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked in 2001.

 

Americans have zoned out on this war. They don't even want to think about it. They don't want their taxes raised to pay for it, even as they say in poll after poll that they are worried about budget deficits. The vast majority do not want their sons or daughters anywhere near Afghanistan.

 

Why in the world should the small percentage of the population that has volunteered for military service shoulder the entire burden of this hapless, endless effort? The truth is that top American officials do not believe the war can be won but do not know how to end it. So we get gibberish about empowering the unempowerable Afghan forces and rebuilding a hopelessly corrupt and incompetent civil society.

 

Our government leaders keep mouthing platitudes about objectives that are not achievable, which is a form of deception that should be unacceptable in a free society.

 

In announcing, during a speech at West Point in December, that 30,000 additional troops would be sent to Afghanistan, President Obama said: "As your commander in chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined and worthy of your service."

 

That clearly defined mission never materialized.

 

Ultimately, the public is at fault for this catastrophe in Afghanistan, where more than 1,000 G.I.'s have now lost their lives. If we don't have the courage as a people to fight and share in the sacrifices when our nation is at war, if we're unwilling to seriously think about the war and hold our leaders accountable for the way it is conducted, if we're not even willing to pay for it, then we should at least have the courage to pull our valiant forces out of it.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

TO SAVE AFRICA, REJECT ITS NATIONS

BY PIERRE ENGLEBERT

 

Claremont, Calif.

 

THE World Cup, which began on Friday, is bringing deserved appreciation of South Africa as a nation that transitioned from white minority domination to a vibrant pluralist democracy. Yet its achievements stand largely alone on the continent. Of the 17 African nations that are commemorating their 50th anniversaries of independence this year — the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia will both do so in the coming weeks — few have anything to truly celebrate.

 

Five decades ago, African independence was worth rejoicing over: these newly created states signaled an end to the violent, humiliating Western domination of the continent, and they were quickly recognized by the international community. Sovereignty gave fledgling elites the shield to protect their weak states against continued colonial subjugation and the policy instruments to promote economic development.

 

Yet because these countries were recognized by the international community before they even really existed, because the gift of sovereignty was granted from outside rather than earned from within, it came without the benefit of popular accountability, or even a social contract between rulers and citizens.

 

Buttressed by the legality and impunity that international sovereignty conferred upon their actions, too many of Africa's politicians and officials twisted the normal activities of a state beyond recognition, transforming mundane tasks like policing, lawmaking and taxation into weapons of extortion.

 

So, for the past five decades, most Africans have suffered predation of colonial proportions by the very states that were supposed to bring them freedom. And most of these nations, broke from their own thievery, are now unable to provide their citizens with basic services like security, roads, hospitals and schools. What can be done?

 

The first and most urgent task is that the donor countries that keep these nations afloat should cease sheltering African elites from accountability. To do so, the international community must move swiftly to derecognize the worst-performing African states, forcing their rulers — for the very first time in their checkered histories — to search for support and legitimacy at home.

 

Radical as this idea may sound, it is not without precedent. Undemocratic Taiwan was derecognized by most of the world in the 1970s (as the corollary of recognizing Beijing). This loss of recognition led the ruling Kuomintang party to adopt new policies in search of domestic support. The regime liberalized the economy, legalized opposition groups, abolished martial law, organized elections and even issued an apology to the Taiwanese people for past misrule, eventually turning the country into a fast-growing, vibrant democracy.

 

In Africa, similarly, the unrecognized, breakaway state of Somaliland provides its citizens with relative peace and democracy, offering a striking counterpoint to the violence and misery of neighboring sovereign Somalia. It was in part the absence of recognition that forced the leaders of the Somali National Movement in the early '90s to strike a bargain with local clan elders and create legitimate participatory institutions in Somaliland.

 

What does this mean in practice? Donor governments would tell the rulers of places like Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea or Sudan — all nightmares to much of their populations — that they no longer recognize them as sovereign states. Instead, they would agree to recognize only African states that provide their citizens with a minimum of safety and basic rights.

 

The logistics of derecognition would no doubt be complicated. Embassies would be withdrawn on both sides. These states would be expelled from the United Nations and other international organizations. All macroeconomic, budget-supporting and post-conflict reconstruction aid programs would be canceled. (Nongovernmental groups and local charities would continue to receive money.)

 

If this were to happen, relatively benevolent states like South Africa and a handful of others would go on as before. But in the continent's most troubled countries, politicians would suddenly lose the legal foundations of their authority. Some of these repressive leaders, deprived of their sovereign tools of domination and the international aid that underwrites their regimes, might soon find themselves overthrown.

 

African states that begin to provide their citizens with basic rights and services, that curb violence and that once again commit resources to development projects, would be rewarded with re-recognition by the international community. Aid would return. More important, these states would finally have acquired some degree of popular accountability and domestic legitimacy.

 

Like any experiment, de- and re-recognition is risky. Some fear it could promote conflict, that warlords would simply seize certain mineral-rich areas and run violent, lawless quasi states. But Africa is already rife with violence, and warlordism is already a widespread phenomenon. While unrecognized countries might still mistreat their people, history shows that weak, isolated regimes have rarely been able to survive without making significant concessions to segments of their populations.

 

For many Africans, 50 years of sovereignty has been an abject failure, reproducing the horrors of colonial-era domination under the guise of freedom. International derecognition of abusive states would be a first step toward real liberation.

 

Pierre Englebert, a professor of African politics at Pomona College, is the author, most recently, of "Africa: Unity, Sovereignty and Sorrow."

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

GULF OIL SPILL: WHAT WOULD REAGAN DO?

BY MARK D. WEINBERG

 

President Obama can be a gifted orator. It's too bad he wasn't able — or willing — to utilize his considerable skills when, in trying to describe his reaction to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, he told an interviewer that he was looking for "whose ass to kick" and that he would have fired the CEO of BP.

 

Perhaps the president intentionally used such language to counter mounting criticism of what some believe is an emotionless response to the worst environmental crisis in modern history. It is easy to envision his handlers telling him to "sound angry" just before he sat down for the interview.

 

While strong words from a president can be a good thing, they should never be tasteless. In that regard, Obama might be wise to recall the example of a president for whom he has expressed admiration —Ronald Reagan. He could tell a salty story with the best of them (as long as a woman was not present), but never used language in public that he would not want his young grandchildren to hear. Reagan had too much respect for the Office of the Presidency to do anything like that. Yet he was always able to convey how he felt. Sometimes all it took was a facial expression, like when he was mad at Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev for being obstinate about arms control during talks in Iceland. When he used words, he chose them carefully and delivered them with a precision and elegance few presidents have equaled.

 

Inspire; don't berate

 

Even more disturbing than Obama's locker room language is what it tells us about how he views his job. He was not elected to "kick ass" or berate business leaders, or anyone else for that matter. Indeed, his anti-business rhetoric is especially disturbing given that the survival of our fragile economy depends on the success of businesses.

 

Rather, presidents are elected to solve problems by inspiring people of differing viewpoints to work together for the common good. That's called leadership. Always placing blame and finding fault is called being a demagogue. That's the type of behavior we expect from politicians — not presidents.

 

Admittedly, Obama cannot possibly meet the unrealistically high expectations that accompanied his election and have followed him into office. But it is fair to expect him to understand that he was elected president of all the people — not just the ones who supported him — and that it is absolutely essential to his success that he make the transition from politician to leader, especially when confronted with a crisis.

 

The Challenger response

 

For an insight on how to do that, again, it would be worthwhile for the Obama administration to take a page from Ronald Reagan's book. When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, Reagan instinctively knew exactly what to do. Within hours of the tragedy, he addressed the nation from the Oval Office. In what would become one of the most memorable speeches of his presidency, Reagan expressed our collective sorrow in a way that touched hearts, allowing us to begin to come to terms with had happened, yet at the same time, he made it clear that he would find out what caused the accident and fix things so our national space program could continue. He appointed a high-level commission to investigate what went wrong and make recommendations to ensure that future space travel would be safe. And he and Nancy Reagan traveled to the Space Center in Houston to hug the spouses and children of the deceased astronauts, and show solidarity with the larger NASA family.

 

There was no talk of "kicking ass" or firing CEOs. Reagan did not position himself as the adversary of anyone, certainly not the businesses that were part of the space shuttle program. He did what presidents are supposed to do in such circumstances — he took command of the situation and led by speaking directly to the people, comforting those who were hurting, demanding answers and identifying solutions. As a result, the space shuttle program resumed far sooner than anyone expected.

 

There's no way to know how things might have evolved had Obama approached the Gulf oil spill like Reagan did the Challenger accident. But surely there is a higher and better use of a president's time than the pointless and self-indulgent exercise of trying to figure out whose keister needs kicking and which CEO should be terminated.

 

Mark D. Weinberg served as special assistant to the president and assistant press secretary in the Reagan White House, and director of communications for the president's Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident. He is currently a communications consultant to corporate and public sector clients.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

AMERICAN CHRISTIANS LOVE A GOOD CONVERSION STORY

BY THOMAS S. KIDD

 

Ergun Caner, a prominent convert from Islam to Christianity, and the dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va., has recently come under fire for suspicious claims he has made about his Muslim past. Critics have pointed to speeches in which Caner dubiously suggested that he had been trained as a terrorist in Turkey (he and his family moved to Ohio when he was a child), and in which he spoke in "Arabic" phrases that appear actually to be gibberish. Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. has initiated a probe into Caner's behavior, with results due later this month.

 

Caner's climb from relative unknown to his prominent post at Liberty was swift.

 

At the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Caner was an obscure Baptist minister. He'd lose that anonymity with the 2002 publication of his book, Unveiling Islam: An Insider's Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs. Co-authored with his brother Emir, the book catapulted him to new heights of fame, culminating in his 2005 appointment as the dean of the late Jerry Falwell's seminary. Caner's ascent illustrates how important Muslim conversion stories are in American society today, but American Christians have had a longstanding fascination with tales of Muslims converting to Christianity, dating back to the American colonial period.

 

The 'Muslim menace'

 

Americans' interest in Muslim converts to Christianity has traditionally grown out of a belief that Islam presented a global threat to Christianity. Conversion, to American Christians, was the most satisfying way for that threat to end. In early America, the "Muslim menace" was embodied in the power of the Ottoman Empire and the Barbary pirates. The latter made a mockery of the fledgling United States in the late 18th century, repeatedly seizing American ships, holding sailors captive for ransom and demanding bribes from the government. The United States, unable to confront the Barbary states directly, agreed to these payments, which eventually gobbled up about 20% of the federal budget.

 

It was no coincidence that stories of Barbary captivity, as well as accounts of Muslim converts to Christianity, became wildly popular in America' early national period. The most enduring story, "The Star in the East," told of the conversion of Muslim friends Abdallah and Sabat to Christian faith, for which Abdallah ultimately suffered martyrdom. Versions of this tale were published in most large American towns and cities through much of the 19th century, and the story was adapted in poetry and plays.

 

Other conversion stories kept the market churning through the 20th century. The most popular one before 9/11 was Pakistani noblewoman Bilquis Sheikh's I Dared to Call Him Father (1978). Sheikh converted from nominal Muslim faith after receiving a series of dreams and visions of Jesus, and her account seemed apt for a new generation of readers troubled by the Arab-Israeli crisis and OPEC oil embargo. Sheikh spoke at Billy Graham evangelistic crusades, and her best-selling book — which remains a steady seller even today — was translated into many languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Finnish and Ethiopian Amharic.

 

A post-9/11 surge

 

The American longing for Muslim conversion stories reached unprecedented levels after 9/11. These accounts have become big business, and writers such as Caner may have felt pressure to embellish or even fabricate details of their Muslim past in order to present a more compelling narrative. At least with Caner there is no doubt about the basic fact of his testimony: He used to be a Muslim, and now he is a Christian. Critics have raised even more serious questions about certain popular authors who claim a similar conversion.

 

Mark Gabriel, for example, wrote in his post-9/11 book Islam and Terrorism (2002) that he had earned a doctorate at Al-Azhar University in Cairo and worked as an imam in Giza, but that he subsequently lost his faith in Islam and became a Christian. As he tells it, this required him to flee for his life from Egypt. Some in the blogosphere have raised questions about whether Gabriel even exists, or whether he is a figment of a ghost writer's imagination, invented to exploit the heated interest in Islam after 9/11.

 

The latest celebrity convert from Islam to appear on the American scene, Mousab Yousef, is the son of one of Hamas' founders, and has also generated widespread media coverage, with interviews in outlets as varied as The Wall Street Journal, BBC News and the Fox News Channel. Yousef became a spy for Israel's Shin Bet intelligence agency before converting to Christianity and moving to America, a story he tells in his remarkable book Son of Hamas (2010). Although Yousef has, predictably, been denounced as a liar by his family and Hamas, there seems to be no substantial question about the reliability of his account. If his story withstands the scrutiny that will inevitably be applied by critics, then perhaps Yousef's account, not Caner's, will become this generation's defining Muslim conversion narrative.

 

Caner's incautious statements may not lead to his dismissal, but they should remind Christians eager for a good Muslim conversion story not to believe everything they read — Americans have always loved these stories, and it seems that especially since 9/11, the more dramatic the details of the conversion, the better. But we need to make sure that they're true.

 

Thomas S. Kidd, senior fellow at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion, is the author of American Christians and Islam, and God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution(forthcoming).

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

DAMAGES FROM THE SPILL

A government panel's extended studies of the amount of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico from BP's blown-out well have produced stunning new estimates that more than double previous estimates from BP and the government. The panel, called the Flow Rate Technical Group, said Thursday that deeper studies of sonar, video and other technical evidence suggests that the well may be spewing from 25,000 to 50,000 barrels of oil a day since the explosion of an oil drilling rig 53 days ago.

At 42 gallons a barrel, that would equate to 1.05 million gallons to 2.1 million gallons a day. That would equal, in every four-to-eight days, the volume of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill of 10.8 millions into Alaska's Prince William Sound, previously the nation's worst oil spill.

That suggests the ecological damage now occurring in estuaries, fisheries, reefs, sea beds, barrier islands and beaches along the Gulf coast from Louisiana to Alabama to Florida may be far more devastating that previously anticipated. And no matter how much more oil BP is able to skim and process from the riser pipe it cut and partially capped last week, the spill is now expected to continue into August. That is when BP says it should be able to finish two relief wells at the site to reduce pressure on the blown-out well, and allow BP to seal it with cement.

The vast environmental damage, which scientists say will linger to some degree for decades, is already severe. It is also heartbreaking, especially for the generations of fisherman, shrimpers and oystermen who have earned their living, and filled our plates, from what until now were some of the richest fisheries in the world. A story Friday on National Public Radio's Morning Edition on WUTC 88.1 provided one of many compelling reports on the tragic consequences of the spill.

It related how oysterman Mitch Jurisich, who has farmed oysters all his life, first spotted the rust-colored, "fudgy" weathered oil floating this week over the last of his safe oyster beds in Bayou La Chute, where his family settled a century ago and begin working the waters.

He had to call Al Suseri, president of P&J Oyster in New Orleans, to tell him that his last oyster beds had just been oiled. That put Mr. Suseri's business out of oysters and out of work, possibly for good, for the first time in the 134 years since his family started their business. Mr. Jurisich was Mr. Suseri's last supplier, among six of seven oystermen, to be shut down by the spill. He now expects he will have to close his wholesale business, lose his customers and let go the half-dozen women who have made a livelihood of shucking oysters for him.

"We were fortunate enough to have one little slice of pie left that we were still farming from, and that slice of pie is now gone," said Mr. Jurisich. "Everything we've worked so hard our whole life to build could be done for. It's not the way we like to think, but when you start seeing it, you know reality is here now, you know."

Their plight reflects that of tens of thousands of employees and families, retail and wholesale business people, who have earned a living off the Gulf's rich waters. So it is especially disheartening and maddening that nearly two months into this spill BP and state and federal agencies have not mobilized and supplied enough of the out-of-work, willing-to-help fishermen to contain more of the spreading oil.

On Thursday, for example, oil lapped into the inland waters of Perdido Bay on the Alabama-Florida state line, another NPR story reported. There weren't enough skimmers or booms to contain what one observer called the "brown, gloppy goo," even though local county officials had been anxiously trying to get federal and BP officials to erect a closure barrier to the bay for several weeks.

As the oil moves east toward Florida's beaches and intrudes further on the state's fishing grounds, residents of the Panhandle and Florida have also become increasingly angry over the continuing pollution, and the idea of allowing more oil drilling in the Gulf.

The dire circumstances are increasingly accompanied by reports of slow and inadequate compensation by BP for the economic harm caused by the spill to Gulf residents' livelihoods and businesses. There is no excuse for that. BP, the world's third largest oil company, earned $17 billion in profit last year on sales of $239 billion. Even after a recent 40 percent plunge in its stock value due to the spill, it still has an economic value of over $100 billion. But so far, it's paid less than $50 million in damages.

Though its apparent culpability for the spill, and possible criminal prosecution, remain unclear, BP should be ordered by Washington to process economic claims more rapidly, and that work should be monitored for fairness by federal officials. This far into the aftermath of the spill, that much, at least, should be clear in the circumstances of residents like Messrs. Jurisich and Suseri.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

CHATTANOOGA'S 'DREAM'

The late Jack Lupton had an "impossible dream" some years ago. He envisioned a rejuvenated downtown Chattanooga, thronging with scores of thousands of "on-foot" visitors, enlivening the community's economy.

Despite some doubts at the time, everyone is familiar now with the magnificent Tennessee Aquarium, which brings a million visitors -- year after year.

And for nine days starting yesterday, many thousands of Chattanoogans and visitors from afar are enjoying a wide variety of entertaining musical and other events as the exciting annual Riverbend Festival is going full steam.

Downtown Chattanooga has progressed in many ways, along with the North Shore developments.

Just look around and you'll see crowds gathering and having fun.

The Tennessee Aquarium and the Riverbend Festival are just two of the diverse examples of Chattanooga progress in our industrial, historic and scenic city. We have many facets of our economically advancing community.

Chattanooga is a fine "home" community, with thousands of new jobs coming from several welcome industrial developments -- most prominent among them being the Volkswagen plant -- along with many cultural and civic activities.

We have the pleasure of enjoying and celebrating more than just a few improvements. The ripples of progress in Chattanooga are many, wide, spreading -- and continuing.

Just look at the many thousands of Chattanoogans and visitors "hanging loose" and enjoying our Riverbend Festival and our community this week -- and realize that's just one part of many good things for all of the people in our thriving community.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

GENERAL ASSEMBLY FINALLY ADJOURNS

It is often remarked that it is "necessary" for us to have our state legislature -- but we just don't need "so much" of it.

Our legislators do many very important things for the benefit of all Tennesseans. But sometimes they do some unsound, frivolous and contentious things, too. There often is a justified feeling of relief when the Tennessee General Assembly adjourns, as it has after a little unpaid "overtime."

The legislative session was extended this year, as there were many challenges. There was no general desire to raise taxes, but there were difficulties with financing because of the ongoing economic crisis. There was customary political contention, of course, as many complex issues had to be addressed.

There had to be some economic fine-tuning -- rejecting nearly half a billion dollars in proposed spending -- to enact a $29.9 billion balanced budget beginning July 1.

Education, medical care, economic development and many other important subjects had to be dealt with by the 99 state representatives and 33 state senators, in cooperation and contention with Gov. Phil Bredesen.

Many Tennesseans aspire to be state officials -- governor and legislators. But serving responsibly is not an easy job. We are glad many good officials accept the responsibility -- and we are glad that they have adjourned and come back home.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

A COMING EMERGENCY ROOM CRISIS

One by one, the claims that ObamaCare socialized medicine will "rescue" health care in America are collapsing.

The Congressional Budget Office has declared that ObamaCare may cost tens of billions of dollars more than first estimated. Many small-business owners who thought they would get help with rising insurance premiums for their employees are discovering they won't qualify.

And now, some already overburdened hospital emergency rooms are expecting a flood of new patients when millions of people who are newly insured under ObamaCare cannot find a primary care doctor.

If you'll recall, ObamaCare was supposed to relieve emergency room caseloads by insuring the uninsured.

Promoting the medical overhaul, President Barack Obama last March said that "taxpayers currently end up subsidizing the uninsured when they're forced to go to the emergency room for care, to the tune of about a thousand bucks per family." He said ObamaCare would create savings by redirecting people from emergency rooms to doctors' offices.

The trouble is, there was already a doctor shortage, and ObamaCare will worsen that shortage by adding tens of millions of new patients while doing little to increase the number of care providers. So lots of people will end up in emergency rooms anyway.

"There's no question that emergency department (visits) will go up (under health care reform) ... because insurance doesn't equal access," Dr. David Seaberg, dean of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Chattanooga and an emergency physician at Erlanger hospital, told the Times Free Press.

Hospitals in Tennessee and Georgia are trying to get more efficient to accommodate the expected rise of caseloads of people seeking routine care in emergency rooms.

We sympathize with them in their predicament. But if ObamaCare is not repealed or seriously modified, dangerously clogged emergency rooms are not the only crisis it will create.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

 

UNFORTUNATE CONFLICTS

In World War II, when Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were our primary enemies in the world, the Soviet Union, which was also threatened, chose to be our ally.

But immediately when World War II ended -- in fact even before it ended -- the Soviet Union embarked upon aggressive schemes, choosing to be our enemy.

The Soviet Union seized much of Europe and Asia. It forced us into tremendous spending for armaments to defend against its many threats.

The Soviet Union's military ambitions impoverished its own captive people.

In the early 1990s, fortunately, the Soviet regime collapsed, for a variety of reasons. While the Russians are still troublemakers in many ways and in some places, they are not the imminent military threat they used to be.

We still need to be quite wary of modern Russia's rulers, however.

We also need to be quite wary of Communist China and its troublemaking leaders, even as China is sometimes at odds with its former Russian sponsors.

But our immediate enemies today are based in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, and in Communist North Korea. Fortunately, none of them can readily threaten our very existence today, as some enemies could do in past years.

But today we are suffering losses among the men and women in our U.S. military forces, and are paying a huge economic price because of enemy aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Just consider how much better off Americans -- and the people of Russia, Communist China, Communist North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the rest of the world -- would be if the aggressors just ceased their aggression.

It would not be a "perfect" world. But all, even the aggressors, would be served so much better by peace than by threats of war.

Human nature is a strange thing. Too many nations and too many people insist on doing things that are self-destructive, when it would be so much easier and so much more productive if they just determined to live in peace and industry for their own well-being.

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Time to smell and ... eat ... the roses

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

GOING THROUGH A DIFFICULT LEARNING PROCESS

CENGİZ AKTAR

 

Turkey is not heading East. It is already there. It is not re-Islamizing either. The majority of the population is devout Muslim, and in a multi-actor world it is important that Turkey pays attention to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which wasn't the case before. But it is important to act with accurate information and knowledge.

 

For instance, 60 percent of the population of East Jerusalem consists of Palestinians. Despite that, according to the data released by the European Union report in December 2008, the Israeli government allows only 12 percent of the East Jerusalem territory for the Palestinians to construct buildings. According to another report by the United Nations, approximately 60,000 Palestinians are living in houses in East Jerusalem that the Israeli government declared illegal.

 

The problem has continued for some time to hit the roof with the Benjamin Netanyahu government. This fait accompli, which the Mahmoud Abbas administration fiercely stands against, harms mediation efforts and deeply hurts relations the Barack Obama administration and the European Union have with Israel. Now how many people in Turkey are aware of this?

 

The Palestinian cause was under the monopoly of leftist activism in Turkey as it was all around the world. But in time, the issue has been cleaned from all other tones because of Hamas' influence and reduced to a conflict between Islam and Judaism. And today, the widespread opinion in Turkey is that the Palestinian cause is simply a problem of Muslim Palestinians who live under excruciating conditions in Gaza and that the Palestinian cause is equivalent to giving unconditional support to Hamas. How many people know that the Palestinian Arabs are not all Muslim, that not all Palestinians are pro-Hamas, to the contrary Hamas cannot stand the Palestinian Liberation Organization? If you reduce the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one of the top problems in the world, to such a primitive level, you may over-egg the pudding, like today.

 

A cost-benefit analysis

 

Let's look back and note first that the international community has brought the Gaza blockade of Israel to the top of the agenda. Egypt has opened the Rafah border crossing with Gaza, and Israel has loosened its embargo.

 

Questions at this point are: Were the deaths of nine people, such a chaotic and unnerving situation in the relations of Turkey with the West, necessary in order for a country of the size and importance of Turkey to take the lead for the above result? As for "punishing" Israel, it will be "punished" as much as it was when they killed hundreds of civilians in Gaza in January 2009 in a similar and usual preemptive strike. Developments that have a crucial meaning for us are ordinary events for others. As for a government change in Israel, expected by several columnists, the new one may be worse than the current one. Regarding the "new Nasser" metaphor used for Prime Minister Erdoğan, Nasser's record and achievements are there to tell us that it is not necessarily an adequate resemblance.

 

But worst is the fate of the nuclear deal concluded with Iran by Brazil and Turkey. Turkey barred itself from becoming an advocate of the deal by adopting a harsh rhetoric and behaving mistakenly. The West read the nuclear deal through this rhetoric, decided that Turkey is just a pal of Iran and stopped short of backing the deal. Gaza's blockade was lifted, but the nuclear deal was thrown in the paper basket as "a used handkerchief" as put by Ahmadinejad. However, both issues were of utmost importance and closely linked. They had to be managed carefully. They couldn't. Moreover, besides Brazil, at the end of the Security Council voting, no-sayer Turkey has been isolated to give more ammunition to its detractors.

 

Today, how convincing could a Turkey be in its regional and global ambitions when its prime minister has never uttered the word "two-state solution," sided with Hamas, which dreams of nothing but wiping Israel off the map and welcomes the Jewish-hater Ahmadinejad? Today, the official rhetoric is no longer on a "win-win" formula but on "who will lose the most?" Determined to find solutions to regional conflicts, Turkey seems to be slowly becoming part of the problem. Lacking an institutional and academic memory regarding the region of interest is resulting in a costly learning exercise. Communication and behavioral errors are systematically bringing ammunition to the chronic anti-Islam stance in the West.

 

Domestic implications and double standards

 

After the flood of emotions and nationalist bullying, new breaking points appear in politics. Since the beginning of the week, the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, officials refuted each other regarding military deals with Israel. At the end of the day, it looks like agreements will not be annulled. That, however, will not satisfy anyone, starting with pro-Hamas "National View" (Milli Görüş). Similarly, to the right of AKP, the Saadet Party will increase its opposition, as the Gülen Movement's realistic approach corners the government party. The AKP executives who fail to manage the crisis and who cannot give up rhetoric to escalate it are reacting post-facto to events - in other words, they cannot produce policies.

 

If the brutal language used against Israel is adapted to the Kurdish question, the century-old Armenian issue and the Cyprus conflict, a tragicomic double standard, appears. If you cannot act in the same way towards the aggrieved inside and cannot pursue the villain as you cry for Gaza and curse for Israel, you cannot be convincing. Termed as a terrorist organization, just like the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, by the United States and the European Union, Hamas was not so, according to the prime minister. No matter what he says, one can easily exchange the words "Hamas" and "Palestine" with domestic issues. A government that is lecturing the world about the Middle East is having difficulties watching itself in the mirror. And that, unfortunately, destroys its credibility inside as outside the country.

 

The government is having a hard time adopting the language of peace. When officials speak up, they slip into a pattern. Since power is understood only as hard power, there remains no room for soft power. What a pity!

 

Humanitarian intervention is no picnic

 

Turkey has no noteworthy involvement in international humanitarian aid operations due to economic and structural reasons. In a country in which people barely have bread and butter, we cannot reach out to others. International humanitarian efforts of national associations and foundations were not facilitated by stringent legal limitations either. But in the last decade, things have changed. Turkey is doing a lot through the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency, or TIKA, and nongovernmental organizations. In the meantime, we are re-discovering the wheel.

 

Humanitarian intervention and aid operations are taken care of by the United Nations' specialized agencies, other organizations and the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid department, or ECHO. Additionally, the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as the national Red Crescent and Red Cross societies and other nongovernmental organizations help. There were a total of 290,000 humanitarian aid workers around the world in 2008. Usually governments either use or manipulate or try to get rid of these civilian workers. But there is not a single government in the aid operations' record similar to that of the AKP in Turkey, which is eager to be manipulated by a civil society organization, the İHH, organizer of the aid flotilla for Gaza.

 

The United Nations announced Aug. 19 as World Humanitarian Day last year after 22 UN workers were killed in an attack against its Baghdad Office that day in 2003. According to the data of the U.K.-based Overseas Development Institute, which keeps a record of the attacks against humanitarian aid workers, 711 workers died in 1,618 attacks in the period 1997-2008. The death toll in 2009 was 96. Among the most dangerous places include Sudan where Prime Minister Erdoğan insists on saying "No genocide has taken place there." Occupied territories are equally highly risky. Humanitarian aid is not tourist sightseeing.

 

These 807 unarmed volunteers who were killed since 1997 were of different nationalities. The state authorities of these volunteers did not declared the states whose soldiers killed their countrymen as enemies, like in Turkey. They simply resorted to legal channels to punish the soldiers who killed their citizens.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

AS THE EAST LOOKS WEST

GİLA BENMAYOR

 

In the aftermath of the Israeli raid against a humanitarian aid ship to Gaza, Turkey voted "no" for sanctions against Iran in the United Nations Security Council. So, discussions whether "Turkey is shifting toward the East" have inflamed again.

 

We face the issue of "breaking up with the West" on almost every platform.

 

In fact, the Sabancı University Policy Center in Istanbul and the Transatlantic Academy in Washington prepared a joint report summarizing the last ten months of politics. The report, in a way, seeks an answer to this specific question.

 

Titled "Towards Zero Problems: Turkey, its Neighbors and Iran," the report was revealed during a conference. Kemal Derviş, vice president of The Brookings Institute, former German Foreign Minister Joshcka Fischer, former Foreign Minister of Hungary Peter Balazs and distinguished academics attended the meeting.

 

Derviş and Balazs put on the table the question "What will happen to Turkey's European Union membership?" which pumped up in mind, and the "breaking-up with the West" issue surfaced.

 

Derviş, who is a consultant to the Istanbul Policy Center, says a kind of "fatigue" is observed in both sides as accession talks prolong.

 

A "Let's get married or call it quits" kind of approach has begun to surface, Derviş claims.

 

Former pro-AKP now sides with the SP

 

Derviş is certainly right.

 

An over-excited and head-spinning agenda makes Turkey lose track of the EU membership bid. In fact, most people might think like this.

 

However, this is not valid for eastern Turkey.

 

Let me explain what I am trying to say:

 

Before I headed to the conference at the Sabancı Museum the other morning, I met with Şanlıurfa Mayor Ahmet Eşref Fakıbaba and Şanlıurfa Governor Nuri Okutan.

 

Fakıbaba was elected mayor of the AKP in the previous election. But he run as an independent candidate for the last local elections and joined to the Saadet Party, or SP, later on.

 

At this point, let me remind you that the municipal assembly splits 50-50 between the AKP and the SP.

 

Fakıbaba believes that Şanlıurfa is not known sufficiently although it is the location of one of the world's oldest settlements "Göbeklitepe," which was brought to light in the most recent archeological excavations in the region.

 

"We unfortunately cannot publicize Şanlıurfa well enough," he says.

 

As you lend an ear to the mayor from the SP, you see the progress in the city owing to the EU funds, even if you have difficulty in picturing the AKP and the SP in the same frame when it comes to the EU.

 

100 million euros from the EU

 

A key "disaster coordination" center in the region was mostly built up by the EU funds.

 

Likewise, a 100 million-euro EU project, 90 percent of which comes from donation money, is about to be received for infrastructure and waste treatment facilities in the city

 

But most importantly Şanlıurfa Chamber of Trade and Commerce has gained a 22 million-euro grant aid for the 2nd Organized Industrial Zone in the city.

 

Both the mayor and governor agree that Şanlıurfa will become more competitive in industry.

 

Okutan says the city has endless trump cards in hand for the textile and food industries.

 

Fifty-five percent of cotton, 2 percent of pistachios, 35 percent of lentil and 15 percent of corn are produced in Şanlıurfa.

 

According to the "Social-Economic Development Report" of the Southeastern Development Project, or GAP, Şanlıurfa is ranked 70th among 81 provinces. But it is making a great leap forward nowadays and that is because of the EU funds.

 

Moreover, as mayor Fakıbaba points out Şanlıurfa is eager to adapt the "EU standards."

 

I think I am not wrong when I say the "East is looking West."

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO THE GAZA FLOTILLA

MUSTAFA AKYOL

 

Twelve days have passed since Israeli commandos raided the Free Gaza flotilla in international waters, killing nine civilians. From the first moment, Israeli spokesmen kept saying the exact same thing that they do after every such carnage: They were perfectly entitled to kill. Their commandos were attacked by the "jihadists" on the Mavi Marmara, the main ship, and they simply had to "defend themselves."

 

Since I am skeptical with any official narrative, and especially the Israeli one, I have been wondering what really happened on that infamous day. And to get a bit more perspective, I went to the press conference that the main NGO that organized the flotilla, the IHH of Turkey, held in Istanbul last Wednesday.

 

The fight onboard

 

First, a word about the IHH, which I think can be best defined as an "Islamic relief organization." Their religious motive, which is fine for me, is obvious: One of their booklets is titled, "The Rights of Orphans in Islam," and most of their work is focused on helping troubled Muslims around the world.

 

However, at least recently, the IHH seems to have branched out. Salih Bilici, their press contact, speaks proudly of their cataract operations in animist Africa, or the aid packages they sent to Haiti after the recent earthquake and even to New Orleans after Katrina.

 

The organization is certainly passionate about Palestine, and its publications openly condemn "the crimes of Zionism." But its president, Bülent Yıldırım, insists that they "only oppose Israel's brutal policies, and work hand in hand with conscientious Jews."

 

One such Jew, Dror Feiler of Sweden, a former Israeli citizen who now heads an organization called European Jews For A Just Peace, was both on the Gaza flotilla and at Wednesday's press conference. He told how the Israeli soldiers who "knew who he was and saw him as a traitor" mistreated him and other activists.

 

Based on short interviews with people such as Mr. Feiler, and a few others who were on the Mavi Marmara that night, here is the picture I got about what really happened:

 

First, right at dusk, Israeli boats and helicopters appeared around the flotilla, telling them to stop. The boats went on. Then the Israelis threw sound bombs and shot some rubber bullets on the decks, injuring a few activists. The boats still went on, as men on board "got ready to resist."

 

Then came the most controversial moment. A few, probably three, Israeli commandos rappelled down onto the Mavi Marmara from a helicopter. The moment they hit the deck, some activists started hitting them with the sticks in their hands, as seen on the short the footage that keep playing on TVs.

 

But the short footage, which is obviously trimmed for Israel's propaganda purposes, does not show what happened to the commandos after the very first seconds of the skirmish. Did the activists just keep beating the soldiers in order to "lynch" them, as Benjamin Netanyahu argued?

 

The IHH folks at the press conference insisted that this was not their aim, and they smacked the commandos only to unarm them. Once they took hold of their guns and threw them to the sea, they added, they actually took the soldiers to the doctor of the ship for medical treatment.

 

Photographs published both in the Turkish media and the New York Times confirm this narrative. They show Dr. Hasan Huseyin Uysal of the Mavi Marmara cleansing and treating the bruises of an Israeli commando.

 

Yet, apparently, the resistance onboard led the Israelis to get tougher and the second group of commandos used live ammunition against the activists. One of the victims, the 19-year-old Furkan Doğan, an American citizen of Turkish origin, was shot five times, four in the head and one in the chest.

 

We have no scenes showing this most vile part of the raid. Israelis, who captured all cameras onboard, were obviously clever enough to conceal them.

 

Of course, we will get a much better grasp of the truth if an independent international investigation is carried out. For now, I am convinced that the Israelis were needlessly brutal — and certainly criminal.

 

Iran, Hamas and us

 

Before closing, a final word on the UN Security Council decision to put sanctions on Iran and Turkey's "no" vote: As the architect, along with Brazil, of the only promising deal to convince Tehran to give up its nuclear arms ambitions, Turkey could not have said "yes." That would have been unprincipled. But abstention, perhaps, would have been better than "no."

 

Turkey's place in the "Western alliance," after all, is an important one.

 

Meanwhile, I would suggest Prime Minister Erdoğan to be a bit more careful with his tone. He is right to be angry at Israel, and compassionate for Gaza, but some of the previous actions of Hamas — such as suicide bombings in Israeli cities — are indeed terrorism par excellence.

 

Turkey's reputation within Hamas circles can actually be an asset for peace, if it can help convincing the latter for moderation. Otherwise, it will be a problem.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

EROSPOLIS - SINS AND COMMANDMENTS

NAZLAN ERTAN

 

The man with the jaunty walk and the quick temper slammed the door to his outer circle. "No one, but no one gives me a lesson on religion," he shouted. "And certainly not some tax inspector-clone whose knowledge of religion is limited to elective religion classes he took at secondary school."

 

"With due respect, Mr. Prime Minister," said a timid aide, "The religion he is talking about is not yours."

 

Others in the circle looked at the young aide with some concern - one had to be very careful to speak back at the premier. His walk was getting less jaunty and his temper quicker every day.

 

"That hardly matters," shouted the prime minister. "No one lectures me on no religion, is that clear? None of this would have happened if you speech-writing guys had got the number of the commandments right. I have become a subject of ridicule, because what I cited as the Sixth Commandment was not about murder but adultery."

 

"Mr. Prime Minister, let me explain," said the young aid (clearly his days were numbered). "Only a very small group of Catholics and Lutherans count their commandments differently than the Talmudic tradition."

 

"No more high-brow rejoinders from you," said the prime minister. "You have to learn that when I say something, I want it to be a hundred percent true - or at least sound right. Nor do I want my own commandments thrown back at me. Now that we have exhausted the 10 Commandments, do you think I could use the Seven Deadly Sins in my next speech? I was thinking of accusing the new leader of the opposition of Envy…"

 

"Don't you think he would hit you back with Wrath and Vanity?" said the young aide. These were the last words he ever uttered in the presence of the prime minister.

 

Meanwhile, at a daring magazine…

 

"It is always the same thing," complained the young CEO as he looked around his ultra-high-tech office where an elderly editor-in-chief sat uncomfortably. "Our sales are sliding, and do you know why? You are boring. Don't take it personally now."

 

"I don't," said the editor-in-chief. "And don't you take it personally but the way we sell magazines is a little different than the way we sell tires, which I believe was your last post."

 

"I need excitement in this paper," said the young CEO. "This year we will not give the best businessman, or the best entrepreneur awards."

 

"We are, after all, an economics magazine," pointed out the editor-in-chief.

 

"Economics are boring. This year, we will give the Cardinal Sin and Ten Commandment awards," said the young CEO. "It just occurred to me while I was watching TV while having my feet massaged, and boom, it came to me, just like that."

 

"Just like that," repeated the editor-in-chief.

 

"Yes. I even jotted some names - you know, a mix of journalists, businessmen and politicians. I was thinking of giving Turkey's diva, Ajda Pekkan, the Second Commandment Award - the one that says, "You shall not make yourself an idol." You see the irony?"

 

"Well, the Second Commandment is actually 'You shall not make for yourself an idol,'" said the editor in chief. "Perhaps we can give the award to some of the pro-government press or to the CHP."

 

"Too political," waved the young CEO. "We give the Adultery Award to Deniz Baykal, now that is an easy one. Then we give Lust to Sarkozy, Greed to the whole Bush family and, well, you think of the rest."

 

You think of the rest, dear reader.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

ACTIONS AND MEANINGS IN TURKISH BUSINESS CULTURE

ZAFER PARLAR

 

Especially during negotiations, we try to understand why the other party acts in a certain way in order to get what we want from them. If the reactions are verbal, it is easier to do that, but nonverbal communication can make this a bit difficult. Despite the difficulty, business cultures have certain patterns. I am often asked by executives the meaning of those.

 

Let's start with the first one: silence. You have started negotiating with a Turkish company and had a great couple of meetings, but somehow you cannot reach them anymore. The counterpart does not answer your emails. He is always in a meeting or out of office when you call. Well this pattern of the Turkish business culture usually means you lost the deal. For the sake of being polite and not losing face against you, you are simply being ignored until you give up. After some time you can see the same person in public and can greet you as if nothing happened. This is very difficult to understand for a person from a specific/neutral oriented - mainly U.S. and Western European - business culture. In their terms, you can answer the phone and simply say you have reconsidered the deal and decided not to proceed. That's it. It is unfortunately not that simple in Turkey, where these actions are based on respect to you. Therefore, you should take it positively.

 

First, meetings can be the second one. When you meet Turkish business people, they might seem to be over-positive toward whatever you propose. Sometimes this can be interpreted as if they have accepted the deal. That's not true. First, they act that way to be polite to you. Second, don't forget almost all the companies in Turkey are family owned, even the biggest ones. Therefore, the main way of decision-making is communitarian. Individuals cannot usually make decisions and decide on their own. Even though they are family members, they have to consult others before deciding. The only exception can be fathers or the older brothers who can overrule the others. Usually you do not sense that because the others tend to act like the decision makers. Like in Asian cultures, especially Japanese, Turkish business people attend meetings with as many people as they can get with them. This can empower them and bring many allies when the position is reconsidered with the family members.

 

I was invited to a presentation regarding the outcome of research on the functionality of board members in Europe. There were many parameters - like employing board members out of the sector. The highest score Turkish companies had was the number of female board members. The presenter was impressed. As the number of female executives is quite high in Turkey, this was also the reflection of that, he believed. When I told him many of these members are sisters, mothers or wives of the owners, he was surprised. This is a common way to maintain shared decision-making when, in return, others have single or closed decision-making.

 

The last example of a certain cultural pattern in Turkey is what I call the "relative" act. It is a common act to call a stranger on the street as an aunt or uncle while you are referring to them in Turkish culture. Respect for the elder is a common characteristic, like hospitality in Turkey. If they are younger they are called sisters or brothers. This "relative act," as I call it, also reflects itself in business culture. People you deal with or manage would like to affiliate with you in this sense. Without being too close, you can be their father figure, uncle or aunt. For that you have to be aware of their social lives and cannot be business-specific all the time. If you become too close, the next day this can turn to your disadvantage, but if you stay too distant this might damage your reputation as a leader or business partner. Like many things in life, it is a delicate balance.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE CORRIDOR - ELECTIONS IN FALL?

GÖKSEL BOZKURT

 

The crisis with Armenia, a change of leadership in the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, following a video tape scandal, a new quest of the left with the new CHP chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, escalating violence by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, an Israeli raid over the Mavi Marmara humanitarian aid ship to Gaza, volunteers dead in the raid and relevant developments afterwards, tension in U.S.-Turkey relations and a change of political axes… These are the key agenda items of the last few months… And in this chaotic and complex environment Turkey is heading for general elections.

 

If the elections are held on time, they have to be taken care of until July 22, 2011 at the latest. However, the government tends to hold elections before July due to an expected hot summer season. The spring of 2011, April or May in particular is being considered for that.

 

A month ago Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan insisted for the elections to be held on schedule. Then, has anything changed at this point? What does the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, parliamentary group think about rescheduling the elections? Could the AKP possibly seek a rush election in the fall of 2010, right after a possible popular vote as the opposition asserts?

 

The CHP and the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, backstage expect an early election in the fall. Comments have it that the AKP, following the Constitutional Court decision in particular, may go for an election. Close circles with Erdoğan and his team, their old political allies the Saadet Party, or SP, chairman Numan Okutmuş think that if the Court annuls the constitutional amendment package as a whole, the possibility of a popular vote will vanish, and under these circumstances the AKP may seek an election. Otherwise, voting will be held as scheduled.

 

At the government party wing, though, we see no tendency for an early election for several reasons. First of all, there is a Kılıçdaroğlu factor. Because a big part of the AKP officials believe that "Gandhi Kemal" has created a new political wind beyond expectations. Therefore, seeking an early election could be shooting oneself in the foot. Apparently, the AKP's top officials consider that if the elections are held on schedule, around 10 months from now, that could stop the Kılıçdaroğlu wind from blowing.

 

The second argument is that the AKP may lose votes and have less deputies in Parliament because the AKP won 47 percent of the votes in the 2007 general elections with the help of an e-memorandum issued by the General Staff on April 27, 2007. That additional support was lost in the 2009 local elections, and the AKP fell back to 38 percent. Without a doubt, the eight-year-old government is wearing out in power. With that in mind, the AKP may lose some more votes in the upcoming elections. Opinion polls support the idea. The AKP will try hard not to lose any votes or seats in Parliament so will push the election date as far as possible.

 

And lastly, before heading to the elections, the AKP will likely take populist steps and loose the leash on the economy. As a matter of fact, we see signs of it. Bills to have additional personnel, 25,000 teachers, 20,000 police officers, 5,000 civil servants in the Religious Affairs Directorate, are being passed in Parliament nowadays. The goal is to have 100,000 civil servants by the time of election and consider them as a potential source of votes. But for that the AKP needs at least 10 months to put the plan into action.

 

It seems that, if there are no extraordinary circumstances, the AKP will prefer a general election on schedule, not a rush election.

 

'Ghandi Kemal's' Kurdish initiative

 

The CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu has not yet made a solid suggestion regarding the solution of the Kurdish question. He has not revealed a detailed "Kurdish report" concentrating on "brotherhood" and "honor of ethnicity" as the former chairman Deniz Baykal and others did. Kılıçdaroğlu is getting prepared to meet the expectations in this direction. In the upcoming weeks, he will go to Batman and mingle with constituents and pay visits to the southeastern provinces of Mardin and Diyarbakır as well. It's been said that, during these visits, Kılıçdaroğlu will adopt a similar approach to that of the Socialist People's Party's, or SHP, Kurdish report and suggest "concretes solutions." Expectations are that Kılıçdaroğlu will go beyond the ordinary. We'll see what's inside Kılıçdaroğlu's Kurdish initiative…

 

Minister Ergin passed the ball to the Judiciary

 

One of the most assertive projects of the AKP was the Kurdish initiative. As the honeymoon between the AKP and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, was over, the initiative came to an end quickly. A case was filed against the closed Democratic Society Party, or DTP, leader Ahmet Türk for delivering parliamentary speeches in Kurdish. In fact, propaganda in different languages other than Turkish had been allowed by an adjustment in the election law, but the same amendment was neglected in the Political Parties Law. So, Türk paid the price. Reporters asked a relevant question to Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin. He passed the ball to the Judiciary and said: "Politics and the judiciary are two separate things. At this point, it's the judiciary's decision..."

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

SEEKING PEACE, PLANTING HATRED

MURAT ONUR

 

Controversy over the Gaza flotilla raid on May 31 will continue even after international and Israeli reports become available. However, one doesn't need a report to see the senseless raid operation and the failed Gaza blockade, or to notice the Turkish government's responsibility and absurd reaction to the incident, as well as its eagerness to manipulate foreign policy for political support.

 

Israel argues its forces boarded the Gaza flotilla ships because the organizers intended to break the blockade and that it had the right to inspect the cargo as Israel is at war with Hamas. However, serious legal questions remain on the IDF operation against an unarmed ship in international waters almost 80 miles off the coast of Israel and outside the borders of the self-imposed and internationally denounced Gaza blockade.

 

More importantly, the flotilla raid exposed the disproportionate use of military force by the Israeli government. For Israel, its soldiers opened fire to defend themselves from a pre-mediated attack by a violent group. Flotilla organizers, on the other hand, argue it was the passengers who acted in self-defense because Israeli forces attacked their ship in international waters. Regardless of the accounts, the Israeli government did authorize the use of excessive force and ordered a full-scale operation involving commando units, gunboats, and helicopters against an unarmed boat. According to a former British special forces operative, "the Israelis tried to crack a nut with a sledgehammer" by taking on an unarmed ship.

 

The IDF sent out counter-terrorism units against a ship that doesn't belong to a nation or a group Israel is at war with. The ship did not threaten human life, Israeli interest or its citizens. An operation that could have been carried out by the Coast Guard was given to navy commandos who are trained and equipped to handle much more critical situations where human life or national security is at stake. When the IDF soldiers faced resistance (or violence) on board, all they had was their weapons to defend themselves. They were neither equipped nor trained in crowd and riot control.

 

Israel seems determined to prove that the incident took place because of a pre-planned attack orchestrated by terrorists (or, as they are called in later statements, by terrorist sympathizers). Official statements changed several times and significant contradictions exist with witness accounts. At first, the IDF expressed that its forces were attacked with "firearms" from the Mavi Marmara and acted in self-defense. Then, Israel announced that firearms were found on board.

 

Immediately after the incident, the IDF confiscated all footage and Israel waged a "YouTube War." Israeli government sources have been releasing videos - which support the Israeli version of the incident – that contradict the reports of almost all witnesses. In fact, the IDF even serviced doctored versions of radio transmissions between the Israeli Navy vessels and the Flotilla ships in which Mavi Marmara passengers were portrayed as telling the Israeli Navy vessel to "go back to Auschwitz." In the original release, Mavi Marmara reply to Israeli Navy radio message to change course was "Negative, Negative … Our destination is Gaza." Since Israel has all the footage, serious concerns remain whether all videos will be released, as Israel decides what to show.

 

When Israel was rushing to make sense of the operation, Ankara acted quickly and called on the international community to pressure Israel. Ankara demands an international investigation on the raid. But findings could demonstrate a very different picture than the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and the media portrayed in Turkey. Serious questions remain unanswered about the Turkish government's role in the incident and its handling of the developments after the May 31 raid.

 

According to some conservative newspapers, some people joined the aid ship hoping to become shahids, or martyrs. Turkey completely ignores the fact that some passengers actually engaged in active, rather than passive, resistance by using knives, iron sticks and slingshots. The government also dismissed the responsibility of the IHH, an Islamic charity that owns Mavi Marmara. Serious concerns remain regarding the motives behind the organizers and the authorities that allowed (or encouraged) people who wanted to become martyrs or who brought knives.

 

To critics, the AKP government, which has been doing everything within its power to provoke the right-wing groups in Israel, finally found the opportunity to rally masses against the Jewish state. It didn't take long for the AKP to portray the incident as a matter of national pride and make it a top responsibility of Turkish foreign policy. At the same time, questions raised were immediately labeled as "Tel Aviv's advocacy" by the pro-government media, in fact, by Prime Minister Erdoğan himself.

 

But, Turkey did not come to this point over night. In the last couple years, conspiracy theories linking Israel to almost all the problems Turkey faces became so widespread that even serious media outlets followed the trend. The Israeli government, on the other hand, did everything possible to escalate tensions in the region. It put more pressure on the Palestinian authority, waged war against Hamas in densely populated Gaza, and expanded settlements in East Jerusalem. While Turks remained critical of the Israelis policies, anger replaced criticism after Israeli soldiers killed nine Turks in the Mediterranean.

 

During the burial ceremonies signs glorified the shahids and banners read pro-Hamas statements. Demonstrations (organized by ultraconservative Saadet Party and the IHH) rather than supporting the Palestinian cause or protesting the killings, turned into political rallies where protestors waved Hezbollah and Hamas flags. Nevertheless, while thousands attended the demonstrations, many in Turkey are still confused about Hezbollah flags and men with Hamas headbands in demonstrations that were supposedly held to protest Israel's operation.

 

Israel will most likely fail to provide credible evidence to support its account of the raid. Evidence and investigations aside, the fleet incident resurfaced concerns about the motivations behind the AKP foreign policy and showed the abuse of country's national interests and foreign relations for political gain. In Israel, it demonstrated the unconditional support by the right-wing and conservative groups to the irrational policies and the 'commando spirit' haunting the government. Yet, perhaps the worst effect of the Gaza flotilla raid is the hatred planted in national memories of two peoples that were once called friends.

 

* Murat Onur is a Washington-based Defense Analyst and a graduate student of Security Studies at the George Washington University

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

IN THE WAKE OF FLOTILLA TRAGEDY, WORK FOR PEACE

DALILA MAHDAWI

 

The tragic bloodshed aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship has, justifiably, provoked criticism about Israel's use of force against civilian populations. It has also, if somewhat tardily, refocused the international community's attention on the need for an immediate end to the siege on Gaza.

 

Louise Arbor, President of the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to preventing and resolving deadly conflict, was quoted in The Independent as saying: "It is easy to condemn Israel's attack on a flotilla of aid bound for Gaza as unnecessary, ill-conceived and disproportionate. What is harder to do - but what must now be done - is understand how this incident is an indictment of a much broader policy toward Gaza, for which the wider international community bears responsibility." Arbor's argument, however, doesn't go far enough in recognizing that the latest bloodshed is also an indictment of the international community's failure to prioritize and pursue a just peace process.

 

Lifting the blockade on Gaza's 1.8 million residents is a much required step, as is a full and independent investigation into what occurred on the flotilla, but both are only part and parcel of the more urgent need to end a 62-year-old conflict.

 

What is required now, just when it seems least likely, is the immediate resumption of peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

 

Rather than serve as another opportunity to exchange fiery political rhetoric and further entrench divisions between two already polarized communities, let the deaths of those aboard the Mavi Marmara provide the impetus needed to persuade both Palestinians and Israelis to return to the negotiating table once and for all.

 

Unfortunately, however, reactions to the flotilla killings from international power brokers like the United States, Canada and Great Britain suggest little change to the status quo. Watered-down comments, such as Ottawa and Washington's expressions of "deep regret," are counterproductive and suggest an unwillingness to make any definitive statement on moving the peace process forward. Even the United Nations has only condemned in nebulous terms the "acts" aboard the flotilla and urged an investigation "conforming to international standards."

 

Few countries have mentioned the need for constructive dialogue, and as emotions run high, it is possible indirect peace talks launched just a few weeks ago will stall. But as French President Nicolas Sarkozy noted a few days ago: "Lasting peace and security in the region can be achieved only through peaceful dialogue and not through use of force."

 

Western and Arab nations have remained largely silent throughout decades of appalling violence and suffering, but they must now find their voices. They are not only complicit in Monday's tragedy, but also in the failure to achieve peace. The road towards a lasting and just peace, as countless failed negotiations testify, is one fraught with obstacles. But the difficulties can and must be overcome.

 

Violence and finger-pointing is unsustainable - only a decisive agreement will protect the rights of the Palestinians and provide assurances to the Israelis. The two sides must accept the inevitability of peace and coexistence, and the international community must help them achieve that.

 

The United States, Israel's closest friend, has the biggest role to play in coaxing along negotiations. When U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the Muslim world in Cairo last year and pledged to seek a new era in relations, he was lauded by the Palestinians as setting the tone for a more balanced American policy in the Middle East. Now is the time for him to seize the opportunity and live up to his words.

 

If anything is to be gained from the flotilla deaths and injuries, it is that they should symbolize a critical moment in reigniting peace-building efforts. If the opportunity for a peace settlement is squandered, it is inevitable that such bloody confrontations will only continue. Let us hope that international outrage at such senseless and avoidable violence will push the world into demanding an end to the bloodshed and hatred that led to it in the first place, working alongside both Palestinians and Israelis for a sustainable, constructive solution.

 

* Dalila Mahdawi is an Arab-British journalist focusing on human rights issues. She is currently based in Beirut. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

A 'RESPECTED TURK' IN THE MIDEAST!

YUSUF KANLI

 

What might be the issue on which the American Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and many other eminent European politicians and ordinary people in the streets of Turkish cities have an almost identical assessment? Turks are frustrated with the hypocrisy of the European Union towards Turkey!

 

In response to a veiled conclusion in my article yesterday ridiculing the "Turkey has started to tilt East" rhetoric and implying that indeed this country is fast transforming from a democracy to a Middle Eastern-type governance with gradual consolidation of an autocratic and radical mentality, Osman Mert - obviously that was not his real name- wrote yesterday to this writer in an e-mail that "I would better want to be a respected Turk in the Middle East than a Turk constantly humiliated, scolded and indeed unwanted in Europe…"

 

Obviously, not necessarily because of Turkey's mistakes, which unfortunately is indeed a very crowded list, but more so because of the shortsighted and prejudiced "We shall not let the Turks hold Greek Cypriot EU membership as hostage… With or without a settlement [Greek] Cyprus will join in the EU" since the May 1, 2004 – just a week after Greek Cypriots killed a United Nations settlement planned and as if to reward their intransigence – accession of Greek Cypriots as full member as the "sole legitimate government" of the entire island, the Cyprus problem has been impairing the EU accession process of Turkey.

 

Somehow, the EU has been more interested in the "Kurdish problem" in Turkey than the "Turkish problem" and has been giving strong signals that it indeed cared less as regards the need for a resolution of the pressing democratization problems in the country headed by freedom of expression – which of course could be taken as the freedom to disagree – and the election and political party laws that provide a "legal basis" for autocracy of party leaders, and thus governments so the more the EU continues to primarily focus on the Kurdish, Alevite or other "minority" problems in the country and neglect the democratization problems of the majority which when resolved would automatically provide a resolution to many of such "minority problems" as well, even the die-hard supporters of the EU process of this country feel frustrated with the EU.

 

The anti-Turkish rhetoric of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and suggestions of Germany's Angela Merkel that Turkey should be given a handicapped status, or privileged partnership status rather than a membership with full rights are equally exhausting for Turks as well even though they are pretty much aware that these are conjectural problems and tomorrow there will not be a Sarkozy or Merkel. Yet, deep inside themselves Turks are frustrated with the reality of being perceived by the vast majority of European peoples and their political leaders as "the other" just because this country is an overwhelmingly Muslim society.

 

In this age of rampant Islamophobia in the West, the inability of the United States and the EU countries to come up with outright condemnation of the Israeli actions that has turned the Jewish state into a terrorist state, the ordinary Turk is of course frustrated with the Western hypocritical insensitivity towards the sufferings of the Muslim people.

 

At a time when Turkey – which first applied for EU membership back in 1959 and which served as a key outpost of Western defense against the Warsaw Pact all through the Cold War – is wanted by Europe to spend some time in the "accession negotiations room" without a perspective for eventual membership and indeed condemned to an "open ended process the outcome of which cannot be guaranteed," to what extent indeed it is appropriate for the West to complain about a tilt in Turkey toward the East?

Without acknowledging and taking action for the eradication of these and similar impediments in the Turkish-West relations and giving Turkey a clear membership perspective, including an accession date, it is nonsense for the West or EU in particular, to express concern with Turkey's efforts to forge an EU-like scheme in the Middle East the nucleus of which was declared this week with Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon disclosing their intention to work on an agreement to create between themselves a zone of visa-free travel and free trade area to which other members of the area might join in.

 

Wake up West, Turkey is not tilting towards East, just shouting loudly, "I would better want to be a respected Turk in the Middle East than a Turk constantly humiliated, scolded and indeed unwanted in Europe."

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

MATH GENDER GAP NARROWS

SHARON BEGLEY

 

Even the most hidebound male chauvinists have been forced to admit that girls are as good at mathematics as boys, on average.

 

Boys no longer start outperforming girls at age 12 or 13, as they did as late as the 1970s. At high schools in the United States, girls now take calculus as often as boys, and in fact tests run by the organization No Child Left Behind, NCLB, show that girls have reached parity with boys in achievements in mathematics throughout high school. Other tests which examine complex problem-solving skills have even found that girls have now pulled even with boys through to the completion of high school in this skill too.

 

But the stereotype that females lack the innate ability to match males at the highest levels of mathematics lives on. A new study comes as close to burying this myth as anything else yet.

 

In a paper posted in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers describe analyzing data on the highest level of mathematic achievement. These problems are not multiplication calculations, nor even second derivatives- they're more like calculating the necessary relationship between N and epsilon for a uniform continuity proof.

 

There are certainly hints that more males than females have what it takes to excel at mathematics, "and there is an ingrained belief among very well-educated people that [the idea of superior math achievement among males] is true," says Janet Mertz, professor of oncology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

 

In the US, men earn 70 per cent of doctorates in the mathematical sciences, though that's down from a high of 95 per cent in the 1950s. No female has ever won the Fields Medal, mathematics' Nobel Prize. A study of mathematically precocious young people finds that boys outnumbered girls 2.8-to-1 in 2005, though that was down from 13-to-1 a quarter of a century earlier, both Mertz and psychology professor Janet Hyde reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS.

 

"On average, girls have reached parity with boys in the U.S. and some other countries, and the gender gap at the high end is closing," says Hyde. The question, then, is what accounts for the disparity in mathematical geniuses. Here, international data are crucial. In the U.S., tests typically show that, among students scoring in the 99th percentile for mathematic achievement, boys outnumber girls 2-to-1. But that's only among white students. Among Asian student populations in the U.S., girls outnumber boys very slightly, as they do in Britain, Iceland and Thailand. That suggests that males' superior mathematical ability does not hold true across the world, which is always a strong clue that both social and cultural forces are involved.

 

"We concluded that the main reason many fewer females than males excel in mathematics in most countries is not lack of innate ability or 'intrinsic aptitude' but gender inequality," says Mertz. (Gender equality, as measured by economists, reflects the number of women holding political office, the difference in men's and women's pay and the like, and is calculated by the World Economic Forum. The U.S. currently ranks 31st, with northern and western Europe dominating the top spots.) That suggests that the root of gender disparity in mathematics is socio-cultural factors, not anything unchangeable that girls are born with or without. Society either sends a message that girls can excel at math, that they will be rewarded for doing so- or it doesn't.

 

For anyone who still believes that innate factors explain the math gender gap, as I wrote last year, look at countries with a common gene pool. East Germany regularly sent many more girls than West Germany to the International Mathematics Olympiad by margins of 5 to 0. Slovakia sent more girls by a margin of 3 to 1. Korea topped Japan by 6 to 0. As I wrote then, "It's hard to see that as anything but the result of the starkly different social and other environmental forces in each country, not intrinsic biology."

 

Sharon Begley is Science Editor of Newsweek

 

The article originally apperead on the Khaleej Times website

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

INFORMAL PROPERTY SALES AGREEMENTS

SADETTİN ORHAN

 

I have received a question about property sale problems. If we summarize the question:

 

"Dear Orhan, I am writing to you to highlight a legal matter that I have been experiencing in Turkey. I purchased an apartment in Muğla. After waiting for a period of 12 months to receive my Tapu from the builder, I contacted a local solicitor to see if I could pursue this legally. I was informed at the time that the apartment that I had purchased was not legally mine, as the builder and his company had secured credit against the property and had failed to repay this. It was at this time also that I was informed that the bank was about to repossess the property in repayment of the loan. 

 

I have since been awarded my money by the judge in relation to my apartment, but now my solicitor is demanding that I start another case to claim this from the builder and is demanding that I give her 10 percent of anything recovered. I have respectfully requested that she attempt to claim the costs from the other party, but have been stonewalled, as she has refused, advising that the law does not allow for the claiming of legal costs from the accused. 

 

I don't understand why the courts awarded me my money back. As I requested the apartment, the debt that was originally on the property had been paid off before the court case started, so legally there was no problems with me being awarded the apartment and the 'tapu'.

 

I have also asked the solicitor for my court case number, and any documents relating to the apartment court case, so that I may confirm whether builder has presented himself with a list of his assets in court as requested by the judge. My solicitor has not honored this request, and has never been able to provide precise answers to my questions. Any help or advice that you can give in this matter would be greatly appreciated as I do not fully understand my position."

 

Dear reader, I am so sorry for your bad experience. Unfortunately, an informal property sale agreement is not valid under Turkish law. The only way to become the owner of a property in Turkey is to have it registered at the Land Registry Directorate. An informal sales agreement itself never confers the ownership of a property onto a buyer. In brief, the ownership of a property can only be registered at the Land Registry Directorate, the only authority where the title of a property can duly be transferred. It is a basic rule that a property should be registered with the Land Registry Directorate in order to conduct any kind of transaction related to it.

 

Let us come to the answer. After winning the case, your solicitor should begin the collection process. I do not know how to determine the contract terms with solicitor in beginning. If you decided single payment for all case processes, the solicitor cannot demand an extra 10 percent. But I cannot say anything definite about it without seeing your contract. On the other hand, in the general rules of Turkish law, litigation and solicitor's fees are paid by the losing side.

 

As I understand, the court decided to refund your money instead of the land registered in your name. After this decision, you cannot demand the "tapu."

 

Finally, your solicitor has to give you all the documents and information about the case. Otherwise, you can terminate the agreement and submit a complaint to the local bar association.

 

For your questions: sadettin.orhan@hdn.com.tr

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

EDITORIAL

A BIRD'S EYE VIEW: PRIORITIZING FINANCES

ADVENA AVIS

 

We birds are still unable to understand some aspects of human behavior. Here you are facing one of the most serious financial crises in your history, yet you continue to spend money for armaments.

 

On May 17, the Secretary-General of NATO Fogh Rasmussen and Madeleine Albright, who chairs the group of experts for reforming NATO, gave a joint press conference. Asked whether the economic crisis would impact negatively on the organization, Rasmussen gave the following response: "The current economic climate is a challenge. Many countries have been forced to make deep cuts in government budgets, including defense budgets. And from a long-term perspective, this is a matter of concern. Governments could take advantage of the crisis, if I may use that term, and use the budgetary constraints as leverage for necessary reform and transformation and to make sure we really get value for our money and make good use of our resources." According to other press sources he has been quoted as having said that establishing security is helpful for economic development.

 

Albright replied with the following: "This is one reason I think we believe the public needs to understand the value of NATO and what it is they get for the money they put in."

 

Well, at least Rasmussen acknowledges the existence of the economic crisis and is concerned about it. And instead of advocating more defense spending cuts, he urges reforms in the member states that will allow them to get more value for their money. He also forgets that if there were no arms on the planet, or a limited amount, then perhaps humanity might not be facing a financial crisis today. But the Albright statement is preposterous. She insists that the public needs to understand the value of NATO and what it gets for the money it puts in. If the public has not understood after 60 years the value of NATO, it means that NATO has no value. And what do the people of NATO get from it? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. You cannot ask the people of the member states of NATO, who are suffering from the crisis, from unemployment, from salary and pension cuts, who are fighting to make ends meet, to pay for armaments. And if asked the people will not accept, since any further cuts will endanger their survival. So we would advise both the Secretary General and Ms. Albright, to get out of their glass cages, go to the streets and assess the true realities of humanity, instead of promoting the interests of the global armament industries.

 

One last issue. You humans have been fighting among yourselves forever. Since the human soul, or any soul, is immortal why do you wage war? Since you cannot kill your soul, anyway?

 

Ponder our thoughts dear humans for your benefit.

 

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TEHRAN TIMEA

 EDITORIAL

A DEFENSE OF HELEN THOMAS

BY JONATHAN COOK

 

The ostracism of Helen Thomas, the doyenne of the White House press corps, over her comment that Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine" and "go home" to Poland, Germany, America and elsewhere is revealing in several ways. In spite of an apology, the 89-year-old has been summarily retired by the Hearst newspaper group, dropped by her agent, spurned by the White House, and denounced by long-time friends and colleagues.

Ms Thomas earned a reputation as a combative journalist, at least by American standards, with a succession of administrations over their Middle East policies, culminating in Bush officials boycotting her for her relentless criticisms of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. But the reaction to her latest remarks suggest that, if there is one topic in American public life on which the boundaries of what can and cannot be said are still tightly policed, it is Israel.


It is true, as she says, that Palestine was occupied and the land taken from the Palestinians by Jewish immigrants with no right to it barring a Biblical title deed. But 62 years on from Israel's creation, most Jewish citizens have no home to go to in Poland and Germany -- or in Iraq and Yemen, for that matter.


But Ms Thomas did apologize and, after that, a line ought to have been drawn under the affair -- as it surely would have been had she made any other kind of faux pas. Instead, she has been denounced as an anti-Semite, even by her former friends.


The reasoning of one, Lanny Davis, counsel to the White House in the Clinton administration, was typical. Mr. Davis, who said he previously considered himself "a close friend", asked whether anyone would be "protective of Helen's privileges and honors if she had been asking Blacks to return to Africa, or Native Americans to Asia and South America, from which they came 8,000 or more years ago?"


It is that widely accepted analogy, appropriating the black and Native American experience in a wholly misguided way, that reveals in stark fashion the moral failure of American liberals. In their blindness to the current relations of power in the U.S., most critics of Ms Thomas contribute to the very intolerance they claim to be challenging.


Ms Thomas is an Arab-American, of Lebanese descent, whose remarks were publicized in the immediate wake of Israel's lethal commando attack on a flotilla of aid ships trying to break the siege of Gaza. Unlike most Americans, who were half-wakened from their six-decade Middle East slumber by the killing of at least nine Turkish activists, Ms Thomas has been troubled by the Palestinians' plight for much of her long lifetime.

She was in her late twenties when Israel ethnically cleansed three-quarters of a million Palestinians from most of Palestine, a move endorsed by the fledgling United Nations. She was in her mid-forties when Israel took over the rest of Palestine and parts of Egypt and Syria in a war that dealt a crushing blow to Arab identity and pride and made Israel a favored ally of the U.S. In her later years she has witnessed Israel's repeated destruction of Lebanon, her parents' homeland, and the slow confinement and erasure of the neighboring Palestinian people. Both have occurred under a duplicitous American "peace process" while Washington has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into Israel's coffers.


It is therefore entirely understandable if, despite her own personal success, she feels a simmering anger not only at what has taken place throughout her lifetime in the Middle East but also at the silencing of all debate about it in the U.S. by the Washington elites she counted as friends and colleagues.


While she has many long-standing Jewish friends in Washington -- making the anti-Semite charge implausible -- she has also seen them and others promote injustice in the Middle East. Doubtless she, like many of us, has been exasperated at the toothless performance of the press corps she belongs to in holding the White House to account in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon and Israel-Palestine.


It is with this context in mind that we can draw a more fitting analogy. We should ask instead: How harshly should Ms Thomas be judged were she a black professional who, seeing yet another injustice like the video of Rodney King being beaten to within an inch of his life by white policemen, had said white Americans ought to "go home to Europe"?


This analogy accords more closely with the reality of power relations in the U.S. between Arabs and Jews. Ms Thomas is not a representative of the oppressor white man disrespecting the oppressed black man, as Mr. Davis suggests; she is the oppressed black man hitting back at the oppressor. Her comments shocked not least because they denied an image that continues to dominate in modern America of the vulnerable Jew, a myth that persists even as Jews have become the most successful minority in the country.


Ms Thomas let her guard down and her anger and resentment show. She generalized unfairly. She sounded bitter. She needed to -- and has -- apologized. But she does not deserve to be pilloried and blacklisted.


(Source: Countercurrents.org)

 

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TEHRAN TIMEA

 EDITORIAL

A PREDETERMINED OUTCOME AT THE SECURITY COUNCIL

BY OUR STAFF WRITER

 

The UN Security Council approved the fourth round of sanctions against Iran in a 12-2 vote on June 9, but Brazil and Turkey, which brokered a nuclear fuel swap deal with Iran in May, voted against the resolution.

With every day that passes, Iran's sincerity, truthfulness, and logic in its nuclear activities become more apparent.

The decision by Brazil and Turkey to vote no to the sanctions resolutions speaks volumes.


The fact that Brazil, an ally of the United States in the Americas which is geographically very far from Iran and which has no significant cultural, religious, or ethnic links with the Iranian nation, voted against the resolution should come as a wake-up call for the U.S., its European allies, and all the other countries that are blindly following Washington in the campaign to punish Iran, even though its nuclear activities are conducted in the framework of international regulations.


Brazil and Turkey did not approve of the resolution because they do not believe Iran should be punished.


Yet, it appears that permanent members China and Russia and almost all of the non-permanent members of the Security Council voted for the resolution against their will.


Some do not dare to express their opposition to the U.S. while others are trying to create a balance between their interests and their approach toward the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.


On December 3, 2009, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said, ""We have no information that Iran is working on the creation of a nuclear weapon.""


But now the Russians have changed their tune on sanctions.


In addition, Chinese officials, who resisted the calls for sanctions against Iran but finally backed down, have never said they believe that Iran intends to produce nuclear weapons and have called for Iran to expand its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.


The anti-Iran measures of the three other permanent members of the Security Council, the U.S., Britain, and France, which, unfortunately, have a great influence over many other countries, are being taken due to animosity and greediness.


Thus, the Security Council must produce convincing evidence to justify its policy toward Iran.


Iran's commitment and adherence to the nuclear safeguards agreement is clear. It froze its uranium enrichment activities for a time to prove that its nuclear program is peaceful, took corrective measures for some shortcomings, allowed surprise inspections, and provided reasonable answers to all the IAEA's questions.


But now that all the questions have been answered and Iran has become a standard-bearer in non-proliferation and the nuclear disarmament campaign, the U.S. has resorted to fabricating bogus nuclear weapons studies to put pressure on Iran.

Finally, as another goodwill gesture, Iran agreed to the nuclear fuel swap deal. But this goodwill gesture was not welcomed and instead Tehran was punished rather than rewarded.


All this shows that the West was never negotiating in good faith.

 

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TEHRAN TIMEA

 EDITORIAL

THE OLD GAZA BOY AND THE SEA

BY RAMZY BAROUD

 

I grew up by the Gaza sea. Through my childhood, I could never quite comprehend how such a giant a body of water, which promised such endless freedom, could also border on such a tiny and cramped stretch of land -- a land that was perpetually held hostage, even as it remained perpetually defiant.

 

From a young age, I would embark with my family on the short journey from our refugee camp to the beach. We went on a haggard cart, laboriously pulled by an equally gaunt donkey. The moment our feet touched the warm sand, the deafening screams would commence. Little feet would run faster than Olympic champions and for a few hours all our cares would dissipate. Here there was no occupation, no prison, no refugee status. Everything smelled and tasted of salt and watermelon. My mother would sit atop a torn, checkered blanket to secure it from the wild winds. She would giggle at my father's frantic calls to his sons, trying to stop them from going too deep into the water.


I would duck my own head underwater, and hear the haunting humming of the sea. Then I'd retreat, stand back and stare at the horizon.


When I was five or six, I believed that immediately behind the horizon there was a country called Australia. People from there were free to go and come as they pleased. There were no soldiers, guns, or snipers. The Australians -- for some unknown reason -- liked us very much, and would one day visit us. When I revealed my beliefs to my brothers, they were not convinced. But my fantasy grew, as did the list of all the other countries immediately behind the horizon. One of these was America, where people spoke funny. Another was France, where people ate nothing but cheese.


I would scavenge the beach looking for "evidence" of the existing world beyond the horizon. I looked for bottles with strange lettering, cans and dirty plastic washed ashore from faraway ships. My joy would be compounded when the letters were in Arabic. I would struggle to read them myself. I also learned of such countries as Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Morocco. People who lived there were Arabs like us, and Muslims who prayed five times a day. I was dumbfounded. The sea was apparently more mysterious than I'd ever imagined.

Before the first Palestinian uprising of 1987, the Gaza beach was yet to be declared off-limits and converted into a closed military zone. The fishermen were still allowed to fish, although only for a few nautical miles. We were allowed to swim and picnic, although not past 6 pm. Then one day the Israeli army jeeps came whooshing down the paved road that separated the beach from the refugee camp. They demanded immediate evacuation at gunpoint. My parents screamed in panic, herding us back to the camp in only our swimming shorts.


Breaking news on Israeli television declared that the Israeli navy had intercepted Palestinian terrorists on rubber boats making their way towards Israel. All were killed or captured, except for one that might be heading towards the Gaza sea. Confusion was ominous, especially as I saw images of captured Palestinian men on Israeli television. They were hauling the dead bodies of their Palestinian comrades while being surrounded by armed, triumphant Israeli troops.


I tried to convince my father to go and wait by the beach for the other Palestinians. He smiled pityingly and said nothing. The news later declared the boat was perhaps lost at sea, or had sunk. Still, I wouldn't lose hope. I begged my mother to prepare her specialty tea with sage, and leave out some toasted bread and cheese. I waited until dawn for the "terrorists" lost at sea to arrive at our refugee camp. If they made it, I wanted them to have something to eat. But they never arrived.


After this incident, boats began showing up on the horizon. They belonged to the Israeli navy. The seemingly hapless Gaza sea was now dangerous and rife with possibilities. Thus, my trips to the beach increased. Even as I grew older, and even during Israeli military curfews, I would climb to the roof of our house, and stare at the horizon. Some boats, somewhere, somehow were heading towards Gaza. The harder life became, the greater my faith grew.


Today, decades later, I stand by some alien sea, far away from home, from Gaza. I have been denied the right to visit Palestine for years. I stand here and I think of all those back home, waiting for the boats to arrive. This time the possibility is real. I follow the news, with the stifling awareness of a grown up, and also with the giddiness and trepidation of my six year old self. I imagine Freedom Flotilla loaded with food, medicine and toys, immediately behind the horizon, getting close to turning the old dream into reality. The dream that all the countries that my brothers thought were fictitious in fact existed, embodied in five ships and 700 peace activists. They represented humanity, they cared for us. I thought of some little kids making a feast of toasted bread, yellow cheese and sage tea, waiting for their saviors.


When breaking news declared that the boats had been attacked just before crossing the Gaza horizon, killing and wounding many activists, the six-year-old in me was crushed. I wept. I lost the power to articulate. No political analysis could suffice. No news reports could explain to all the six-years-olds in Gaza why their heroes were murdered and kidnapped, simply for trying to breach the horizon.


But despite the pain that is now too deep, the lives that were so unfairly taken, the tears that were shed across the world for the Freedom Flotilla, I know now that my fantasy was not a child's dream. That there were people from Australia, France, Turkey, Morocco, Algeria, the U.S. and many other countries, who were coming to us in boats loaded with gifts from those who, for some reason, really liked us.


I cannot wait to get to Gaza, on top of a boat, so I can tell my brothers, "I told you so."


Ramzy Baroud is a syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com.

 

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TEHRAN TIMEA

 EDITORIAL

PROPAGANDA MASKS ISRAEL'S ATROCITIES

BY LINDA S. HEARD

 

Did you ever wonder why so many people in the U.S. appear to be blind to Israel's crimes? No matter how many international laws it breaks or UN Security Council resolutions it trashes, most Americans are oblivious to the truth.

 

Think about it! Since 2006, Israel has launched a war of aggression on Lebanon killing 1,200. Then, in 2007, it began a complete blockade of Gaza before attacking its residents in the winter of 2008-09 and killing 1,440. Now, its commandos gun down nine activists on a humanitarian ship in international waters.

Yet even before the bodies were placed into coffins, the Israeli government attempted to paint these heroes as armed terrorists.


Palestinian advocates are amazed that this tiny U.S. ally gets away with perpetrating atrocities over and over again with little more than a slap on the wrist. What is equally shocking is the backing the Israeli authorities receive from large sections of the American public.


You only have to tune in to U.S. television networks such as Fox News or CNN. Their spin reflects the pro-Israel view of Congress and public sentiment that invariably sides with Israel.


Israel's narrative is so protected in the U.S. that lawmakers have passed a bill calling for punitive measures against television networks in the Middle East for fuelling hatred. Such a move ensures that Americans remain indoctrinated.

Now for confession time! If these horrible events had occurred during my teens and early twenties, I would have probably been marching with Israel's supporters.


The fact is that from the age of nine I grew up in a predominately Jewish area of London. Our neighbors on either side were Hassidic Jews and at least 70 per cent of the girls in my grammar school were Jewish supporters of ""poor little Israel surrounded by 100,000 hostile Arabs"".


During the 1967 war, several of my school friends flew to Israel to work on Kibbutzim and I remember wanting to go too. This didn't go down very well with my naval officer father, who had fond memories of playing football with Palestinians in Haifa during the Second World War.


Some years later, I spent some time in Cyprus, when I was introduced to the Middle East expert and author Desmond Stewart and his agent Gillon Aitken. A lively discussion on the Israel-Palestine conflict ensued with Stewart and Aitken in Palestine's corner and me stridently rooting for Israel as though I knew it all.


I still cringe at the thought of my arrogance and ignorance. They, on the other hand, were astonishingly patient while Stewart was kind enough to send me his book The Arab World.


My attitude softened when I lived in Algeria during the early 1970s, mainly because I had the opportunity to work with Palestinians, who told me their stories. But I wasn't convinced enough to do a 180 degree U-turn.


Quite honestly, I must have been a complete idiot (I know, I'm leaving myself open with that one). I'll tell you why. Algerian friends invited me to a party in Algiers and as my French was rusty in those days, I gravitated towards a small gathering of English-speakers, who turned out to be Palestinians.


Our topic of conversation was Palestine when, naturally, I launched into my usual babble. We spoke for hours. They told me of their enforced exodus from Palestine and the hardships they had endured. One explained that he was stateless. Another showed me a key to his father's house that hung around his neck although he knew he would never live there again. A third described how life was like in a squalid refugee camp.


As I was leaving, one of the young men took me to one side to say, ""Do you know who we are? We are Black September and I can assure you if you had been a man you would have been thrown out of that window.""


But everything changed for me when I actually visited Tel Aviv in 1974 and saw with my own eyes how Arabs are treated as second class citizens. In occupied Jerusalem, I witnessed elderly Palestinian women being stopped and searched and an Israeli soldier mercilessly taunting a Palestinian youth, who was hauled off when he was driven to snap back.


It soon became clear that my Israeli 'friends' considered the Palestinians as little better than vermin who should be exterminated. I was also a target of Israeli bigotry myself when a clinic refused to treat me for severe sunburn because I wasn't Jewish and a hotel manager decided to berate me for having Arab stamps in my passport.

The other day, I heard an American activist on Al-Jazeera saying, if ordinary Americans were allowed to know the truth they would turn over their country's pro-Israel policy in a heartbeat.


If my own journey to an awakening of conscience is anything to go by, he may have a point.


Linda S. Heard is a specialist British writer on Middle East affairs.

(Source: Gulf News)

 

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

SHADOW DANCE

 

That the various members of the Supreme Court, including the chief justice himself, have not spontaneously combusted as a direct result of the myriad impediments put in their way by the government is little short of a miracle and testament to their professionalism. The latest of these concerns the attempts by the National Accountability Bureau to get former head of the FIA Tariq Khosa to lead the investigations into the Bank of Punjab scandal. Now this is the very last thing the government would want as Mr Khosa is a competent investigator who has previously had his wings clipped by the prime minister when he was investigating the Pak Steel scam. And who was he investigating at the Pak Steel scam? Why none other than that master of mystery and occasional unexplained disappearances, Mr Riaz Laljee -- a close and confidential friend of our very own president. Well, what a coincidence – and who might the government be seeking to protect in the BoP scandal? That pillar of probity and uprightness, Mr Babar Awan, who just happens to be the current law minister, and de-facto boss of the National Accountability Bureau who is beavering away at pinning accountability for all sorts of dodgy dealings in the BoP on people close to – and here is the surprise – the president and the law minister.

It would appear that Mr Khosa is unavailable for the job to which he is admirably suited as he is secretary to the Anti-Narcotics Unit and cannot be spared. Mr Gilani has sat on the proposal to put Mr Khosa in charge of the BoP investigation for a fortnight, his office has refused to reply to letters from NAB and the Supreme Court has quietly fulminated while the government shadow-dances in an attempt to ensure that yet more embarrassment does not see the light of day. The court will await the appointment of a new investigating officer and now stands adjourned until June 16. Nobody on the government side is emerging with anything other than the stink of corruption about them. This is shameless manoeuvring in an attempt to delay or defeat the ends of justice; and those who act thus demean themselves in the eyes of an already embittered and cynical populace for whom their antics are little more than a circus of grotesques. How can our people be expected to conform to the rule of law when their rulers so blatantly flout it? Any petty criminal only has to point to the highest in the land as he stands in the dock and say – 'Never mind my crimes, what about theirs?' It would not be difficult to empathise with his viewpoint.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

 

 DRONE DEATHS AGAIN

 

We have news of further drone strikes in North Waziristan. Fourteen people are reported dead. It is assumed the attack falls in line with US thinking about North Waziristan now being a key hotbed for Al Qaeda and Taliban activities. Revelations from the Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, appear to have strengthened US convictions on this count. The terrorists apprehended after the attack on Ahmedis in Lahore had also pointed to North Waziristan as their training site. The fact though is that the drone strikes almost inevitably inflict damage on innocent people. They also add to anti-US sentiments that appear to be driving on the militancy that takes so huge a toll on our country.


The question to be asked is what the government of Pakistan and its military are doing to counter this situation. Last month, the US military chief had met with his Pakistani counterpart to discuss an operation in North Waziristan and a basic agreement had been reached. It is uncertain when it will begin or indeed if the preparations necessary to make it a success have been put in place. There is general agreement that North Waziristan needs to be approached with caution given its terrain and its proximity to Afghanistan. Islamabad, as the capital of the country which has suffered most due to terrorism, with thousands killed in bomb blasts and other attacks over the past two years alone, must also come up with a plan to counter militancy. The operations in the northwest cannot alone achieve this. We need a broader strategy and the sensible use of funds coming in for this purpose. Only then will it be possible to persuade Washington to give up drone attacks and allow Pakistan to take the lead at all levels in waging a war complicated by the US involvement in it.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

UNDER THE BOOT

 

Reports from Amnesty International rarely make comfortable reading, and their latest on the situation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas is no exception. Entitled "As if Hell Fell on Me: The Human Rights Crisis in Northwest Pakistan", it is the product of 300 interviews of people who live there, and the picture it paints is somewhat at variance with what our government would have us believe. In essence the report says that about four million people are effectively living under the rule of the Taliban and that they have been 'abandoned' by the federal government. About 1,300 civilians are said to have been killed in operations against the Taliban in 2009, says Amnesty, in large part due to the Taliban tactic of dispersing themselves among the civilian population which both maximises the risk of 'collateral damage' which plays to the Taliban advantage and minimises the risk to the Taliban of bombing or artillery strikes because of the danger to civilians.


Amnesty says there is little or no rule of law other than that dispensed by the Taliban. Not so, says the government that is of the opinion that it has made considerable progress. The report calls FATA 'a human rights free zone' and that there were a million people still displaced who were in desperate need of aid. For its part the government has challenged the Amnesty report and suggested that its officials visit Swat, where considerable progress has been made after hard fighting. This is undoubtedly true, and to some extent Swat has returned to control of the federal government, but Swat is not representative of the FATA area and should not be held up as the norm for FATA generally. The Taliban have disrupted or destroyed the old tribal order and the government's promised short-to-medium term plans for rehabilitation have yet to sprout, never mind bear fruit. Troops are operating still in six of the seven agencies and the seventh is a no-go area. Promises have been made that have yet to be honoured and both government and aid agencies, as well as education resources, continue to be targeted by the Taliban. The Amnesty report may be hard reading, but it has the ring of truth about it.

 

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I. THE NEWS

KASHMIR: NO RUSHED SOLUTION, PLEASE

ASHRAF JEHANGIR QAZI


Save me from my friends and I'll look after my enemies! In other words, the first duty of a friend who cannot be helpful is at least to do no harm. Has Pakistan been a good friend of Kashmir? It is often said we cannot sacrifice Pakistan for the sake of Kashmir. But no Kashmiri asks Pakistan to do such a thing. They are, in fact, as one in saying if Pakistan is harmed it would be a calamity for Kashmir. All they need from us is consistency. Otherwise, they will be progressively alienated from the idea of any real association with us.


I believe in normalising relations with India. There are innumerable links between us. There are also serious differences. But the challenge of India should not distract us from our overriding priority which is to grow at around 10 per cent per annum for the next 20 years. This will require a peaceful neighbourhood. Without it, we will not be able to mobilise the domestic and foreign resources needed for transformative growth and provide basic services to our people, such as rule of law, health, education, social protections, infrastructure and human development.

This excludes confrontation and conflict with India, unless that country chooses to gratuitously threaten us. But if India is half rational it will be in its own interest to respond to our normalisation policies. In any case, we cannot remain a security state in place of a development state without continuing to betray our people.


Does this mean we forget a principled Kashmir settlement acceptable to its people? No. What it requires is that our policy of progressive normalisation with India and our policy of seeking a principled settlement of the Kashmir dispute be consistent with each other. If India reciprocates, well and good. If not, we still avoid policies that are self-defeating and exacerbate the sufferings of the Kashmiri people. It is, accordingly, important for our policy towards Kashmir to be clear, rooted in law, realistic and acceptable to the present generation of Kashmiris and Pakistanis. If any of these four conditions is not met, it will fail.


Clarity: Pakistan's policy is entirely and exclusively in support of the rights of the Kashmiri people, including their right to self-determination and freedom, and the protection of their basic human and humanitarian rights. Pakistan seeks the resolution of this dispute with India peacefully, and in accordance with the UN resolutions.


Legality. The Kashmiri right of self-determination is an inalienable right which has been acknowledged by UN Security Council resolutions. As such, it constitutes an obligation for all members of the United Nations, and in particular, the designated parties to the dispute, India and Pakistan. Obligations stemming from UN Security Council resolutions are binding. The right of self-determination has not been exercised by the people of Kashmir because it has been forcibly denied by Indian occupation and suppression. The UN has not recognised the accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India. India's non-cooperation and the passage of time do not erode its obligations. Similarly, Indian-organised elections, statements of the Srinagar regime, and resolutions in the Indian parliament cannot derogate from India's obligations.


Reality: The UN Security Council resolutions have remained unimplemented for over 60 years. The Kashmiri people have suffered horrendously. Pakistan's ability to assist Kashmiri armed resistance to Indian occupation is limited. The international community has little interest in compelling India to implement its legal obligations. Since 9/11 the US and the western countries have conflated armed resistance against occupation and repression with terrorism. Pakistan has committed serious policy errors which have made it difficult to garner active international support for the rights of Kashmiris. A younger generation in IHK now prefers the third option of independence. This option is not included in the UN resolutions. In AJK the preference is for Pakistan and unity with their brethren in IHK. A majority of the residents of Gilgit and Baltistan, and Jammu and Ladakh prefer the status quo and wish only to protect and promote their rights within it. A younger generation in Pakistan sees the country besieged by a myriad of challenges and has little inclination to make Kashmir its priority. The UN resolutions are the basis for Pakistan's legal status as a party to the Kashmir dispute and for challenging the legality of the Maharaja's accession to India. Accordingly, General Musharraf's discarding of the UN Security Council resolutions was unnecessary and unacceptable.


Acceptability: The majority of the population in IHK and AJK rejects Kashmir's being part of India, but are divided over the question of acceding to Pakistan or becoming independent. Since a Kashmir settlement is not imminent, this need not divide the APHC or the Azadi movement. Pakistan needs to emphasise its respect for Kashmiri opinion without pushing its own preferences. It is crucial that any position or strategy adopted by Pakistan should have the support of the majority of Kashmiris. To a great extent, Article 257 of the Pakistani Constitution guarantees that the option of acceding to Pakistan embodies the substance of the Azadi option. It gives the Kashmiris the right to determine their relationship with Pakistan. This should be reiterated as policy in all appropriate forums and implemented. India may well claim the same for Article 370 of its constitution. But its claim is belied by the experience of the Kashmiris of IHK. Accordingly, it is critically important, pending a Kashmir settlement in accordance with the UN resolutions, for Pakistan to ensure in practice that the people of AJK and Gilgit and Baltistan enjoy the full range of political and representation rights available to citizens of Pakistan, and are able to determine their relationship with the Federation in accordance with Article 257 of the Constitution. This is urgent, as it would provide a model for the majority in IHK and strengthen the unity of the APHC and the Azadi movement. Rule from Islamabad is not an option.

 

Thus, we have a policy framework of maximising the rate and quality of Pakistan's economic growth and development, normalising relations with India, and strengthening the unity of the Azadi movement in IHK. Critics who say India will never accept a non-status-quo territorial settlement miss the point. Nor will we compromise on Kashmiri rights. But a settlement process respectful of Kashmiri rights and wishes and a normalisation process with India can be compatible because it would be mutually beneficial.


Accordingly, it would be unrealistic and unwise to rush towards a Kashmir settlement with India on the basis of Musharraf's four points or any backchannel understandings. What is needed is a process that addresses the concerns of all parties, particularly the Kashmiris, along with improving India-Pakistan relations. As long as conflict and violence between India and Pakistan and Indian repression of Kashmiris become things of the past, our transformative growth agenda need not be adversely impacted by the lack of a signed, sealed and delivered Kashmir settlement. As life for Kashmiris, Pakistanis and Indians improves it will provide its own momentum. There is just one condition for all this to be possible: governance and policy making in Pakistan must become responsible.

The writer is Pakistan's former envoy to the US and India. Email: ashrafjqazi@yahoo.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

DANCE OF THE DEMONS

RAOOF HASAN


The lack of directional movement in a society is generally symptomatic of the absence of growth. In other words, it could also mean that a pattern of decay has set in that may, ultimately, jeopardise, even eliminate the prospect of its development generating hope for its people and becoming a credible voice in international engagements.

Currently, our society is a typical example of this malaise. It appears as if its growth has stymied and it is only moving in circles around the demons it has accumulated over the last sixty-two years of its existence. The one demonstrative of an extreme lack of flexibility in coping with the ever-changing realities that countries or nations may be confronted with tops the harrowing collection. Internally, it typifies our inherent inability to accept and adjust to the emerging symbols of the rule of law and out insistence on perpetuating a mindset that promotes and lives by the opposite. Externally, it represents our growing aloofness in the comity of civilised nations that only grudgingly accords acknowledgement to our existence without tiring of exuding sentiments that they would be better off without us or, at least, would be more comfortable living with us if a drastic overhaul was undertaken swiftly in the manner of our thinking. This harsh approach is an apt rejoinder to the absence of legitimacy that is sorely pasted on all initiatives that we undertake either for our domestic consumption or international assimilation.


It is widely acknowledged that it practically took us all the years that we have been there as a sovereign country to throw off the yoke of living by the doctrine of necessity and see the emergence of the symbols of constitutionality and legality. It is also a principal paradox that the very forces that initially embraced and championed the cause of these symbols and apparently fought for their ascendance quickly degenerated to joining hands in conspiring to thwart their empowerment. It is nothing short of a modern-day miracle that, through a combination of circumstantial events and happenings, these symbols ultimately succeeded in emerging on the horizon heralding the beginning of a new era of constitutionality and the rule of law. In spite of being frustrated by the tenacity of the forces spearheading this movement, the conspirators quickly set about erecting impediments to reverse the prospect of change and continue living by the decadent symbols of perpetuating the authority and ascendance of individuals over institutions.


There are numerous examples demonstrative of this effort, but the grotesquely brazen and blatant manner of combating the injunctions of the Supreme Court by the sitting government emerges as the principal indicator of measuring the lack of adaptability of the ruling hierarchy in accepting the change that may appear to work against their illegal and self-aggrandising interests. The multifarious benefits accrued to an individual that are generally perceived to be at a tangent to the national cause and the concept of empowerment of the institutions found a confluence of interest with a coterie of his close associates and partners. Consequently, we witnessed the emergence of a group of loud-mouths whose impassioned mission is to defend the status-quo that revolves around the perpetuation of the hold on power of an individual. In the process, and not withstanding the 18th amendment, their personal interests also found an umbrella in the weird interpretation of the concept of immunity for an individual and his credentials to be in a position of power consequent upon the annulment of the National Reconciliation Ordinance and the order relating to the re-opening of all cases with retrospective effect. All this is being enacted in broad day light with the whole world watching this bizarre concept of one person's sway over the fate of a whole nation.


After its recent emergence as an independent pillar of power, though wobbly in its new-found authority, the judiciary does not appear to have given up on its resolve to assert its lawful credentials and, in the process, force all players to conform to the internationally accepted norms of legality. The same is duly enshrined in our constitution that stipulates contrary to all power being vested in an individual to the detriment of the interest of the institutions and other pillars of the state. This principal conflict seems to be tearing the nascent contours of a system apart. In this advanced stage of decay, is there still a way out of the deepening quagmire?

This is a question that stares us in the face, desperately seeking an answer when, apparently, there is none that can be offered by way of the traditional yardsticks. Does that mean that we would have to suffer the pangs of childbirth again to chisel our way out? Or, is there still hope for a more peaceful recourse that would take us through the immediate and present crisis? While none of the two extremes may present a tenable solution, the answer may lie somewhere in the middle mixing a bit of both potions. The hardened stances of the ruling hierarchy, crudely on display through its conglomerate of cronies and sycophants, may appear to frustrate the prospect of a compromise, but the dominant determination of a whole society that continues to pour forth in so many powerful variations will be the crowning factor to define the nature and contours of the outcome. In the event the change is not allowed to materialise, the prospect of blood on the horizon would descend right in our midst sweeping away the efforts of the saner minds still engaged in fostering a peaceful settlement. Every day that is lost in this mindless quest of stamping the authority of individuals over principles and institutions would only expedite the shaping of a culture of intolerance that may take over in the end, obliterating completely the prospect of living by the rule of law. The demons would emerge from the silence of oblivion. One lives in fear of the day!

The writer is a political analyst based in Lahore. Email: raoofhasan@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

MILITARY VICTORY, POLITICAL LOSS

PRAFUL BIDWAI


There is a stunning precedent to Israel's attack on the Freedom Flotilla which carried humanitarian aid for Gaza, which is under a three year-long blockade.


In 1947, the ship Exodus 1947, carrying 4,500 Holocaust survivors, left France for Palestine, then under Britain's "mandate" and also under a blockade. Britain stormed the ship on the high seas, killing three persons and injured scores. The passengers were removed, humiliated and deported to Germany.


International outrage over the incident forced Britain to give up its "mandate". The incident also spurred the creation of Israel. The Exodus was called "The Ship That Launched a Nation".


In attacking the Mavi Marmara in the Freedom flotilla, Israel committed a condemnable act of illegal brigandage and suffered a loss of global legitimacy. The incident, in which nine people were killed, could prove a tipping point in Israel's occupation of Palestine -- if international opinion is powerfully mobilised.


The Israeli military wove a web of lies about the flotilla, alleging the presence of Al Qaeda in the ship. These stories didn't sell. But Israel continues to assert that it exercised the "right of self-defence". There can be no such right for heavily armed commandos attacking unarmed civilians in international waters.


The episode highlights the Israeli government's criminal character and turns the limelight on the blockade of Gaza. Going by the strong reactions by many Western powers, the episode will further isolate Israel.


Israel's behaviour, though shocking, was in line with its past conduct, including its increasingly inhuman occupation of Palestine and its propensity to deal with threats, real or imaginary, with military force -- witness the 1981 attack on an Iraqi nuclear reactor under construction, and the 1982 and 2006 invasions of Lebanon.

No other country has defied as many Security Council resolutions as Israel. It maligns even its mildest critics as anti-Semitic. Paranoid Israel lives with a make-believe self-perception of victimhood, and is obsessed with security defined in anti-Palestinian terms.


Israel's government today includes the far right and fascists such as foreign minister Avigdor Liebermann, who wants all Palestinians driven out of the West bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.


Israel has turned Gaza into the world's largest open-air prison and systematically impoverished it. The blockade covers 2,000 items, including glass, paper, cancer medicine, toys and chocolate. The flotilla aimed to break the siege with 10,000 tonnes of relief material like wheelchairs, and pencils for schoolchildren, which are banned.


Over four-fifths of Gaza's 1.5 million people are dependent on international food aid. Sixty-five per cent of them are children, of whom ten per cent are permanently stunted from undernourishment. In Gaza, unemployment runs at a crushing 50 per cent.


Gaza was left devastated by Israel's invasion of December 2008, which killed 1,400 civilians, and damaged or destroyed 11,000 houses, 105 factories, 20 hospitals and clinics and 159 educational institutions. Of the 51,800 people displaced, 20,000 still remain homeless.

Karen Koning Abu Zayd, former head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, says: "Gaza is on the threshold of [being] intentionally reduced to … abject destitution, with the knowledge, acquiescence and…encouragement of the international community."


The blockade amounts to collective punishment of civilians under foreign military occupation, prohibited under international law. As UN Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories Richard Falk, also an eminent US jurist, put it: such massive collective punishment "is a crime against humanity, as well as a gross violation of…Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention".


The UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict led by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, also a Jew, concluded that Gaza's blockade may amount to persecution, a crime against humanity. Israel attempted to discredit Goldstone.

 

Israel evidently prefers being seen as savage, rather than weak. But this makes little difference to Israel's sworn enemies like Hamas and Hezbollah. And it deeply embarrasses Israel's allies. The cost of defending Israel is steep and rising.


The Gaza siege has become a huge political liability and must be called off. But Israel is taking wantonly contrarian positions because it fears that if the siege ends, critical global attention on its occupation of Palestine will trigger its unravelling.


Contrarian behaviour comes naturally to Israel. For instance, it built close relations with apartheid South Africa. The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, a just-published book by US-based scholar Sasha Pulakow-Suransky, documents how Israel sold arms to South Africa, then under international sanctions, and more crucially, clandestinely gave it nuclear weapons.


The nuclear deal was struck between South Africa's defence minister PW Botha and Shimon Peres, then Israel's defence minister, now its president. With Israel's help, South Africa is believed to have made at least six nuclear weapons, which it destroyed when apartheid's end became imminent.


Israel gets away with its consistently roguish behaviour primarily because of the United States' support. This, in some respects, is a hangover from the Cold War when Israel was an important strategic ally. It no longer is. And the influence of the US's legendarily powerful Zionist lobby is in decline.


Even American Jewish opinion is turning critical of Israel. About half the participants in recent anti-occupation demonstrations in the US were Jews.

 

The US would have earned much global goodwill, neutralised some jihadi opposition, and strengthened its own security had it criticised the flotilla attack.


Washington could yet shift its stance -- if it finds the cost of cleaning up after Israel exorbitant. The recall of their ambassadors to Israel by many countries is a pointer in that same direction.


Israel has lost its only friend in the Islamic world, Turkey. Until recently, the two had close military relations both within and outside NATO. Turkey voted for Israel's unfortunate entry into the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.


Turkey is an emerging regional power, which seeks a high profile. It recently agreed with Brazil to exchange slightly enriched uranium from Iran with medium-enriched material for its "research" reactor.

If Israel continues to ignore sane advice, it will be eventually reined the way apartheid South Africa was -- by a combination of global sanctions and external pressure, with opposition from the Palestinians and sections of domestic and global Jewish opinion.


Falk urges: "It is time to insist on the end of the blockade of Gaza. The worldwide campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel is now a moral and political imperative..." He warns: "Unless prompt and decisive action is taken to challenge the Israeli approach to Gaza, all of us will be complicit in criminal policies that are challenging the survival of an entire beleaguered community."


The BDS campaign is gaining momentum in many countries, but not in South Asia. India is building close relations with Israel, led by huge arms-purchase deals and counter-terrorism intelligence sharing. This is a historic blunder. India must fundamentally revise its approach to Israel. Pakistan too must cease and desist from holding clandestine talks with Israeli leaders.


This won't happen unless South Asian political parties, civil society organisations and the intelligentsia launch a powerful BDS campaign, which demands a complete cessation of military purchases and joint ventures, a boycott of Israeli products, beginning with those made in the occupied territories, and sanctions. This campaign has become urgently imperative.


The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email: prafulbidwai1 @yahoo.co.in

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

METAMORPHOSIS OF THE MEDIUM

AZIZ ALI DAD


These days, deterioration appears in every sphere of life, including the human senses. Oral cultures clamour that the written culture is robbing them of their memory, academicians complain of proliferation of information without knowledge, musicians object to the alienation of the ear from the cultural realm and booklovers moan the decline of the written word. We feel as if our senses are falling apart and we cannot control them. Rather, one of our senses determines us by becoming independent from the whole.


Human beings, through different historical stages, have relied on different media to engage meaningful communication. With the emergence of speech they had started conceptualising and storing ideas in memory. Although writing was invented in 3500 BC, it did not dominate the spoken word until the printing press came along.

We live in an age where the world is increasingly being dominated by the electronic media. Because of development in the electronic media, visuals are inundating our sensory space. The shift from the written word to visuals has long-term ramifications. Change in the medium not only influences the nature of language and cognitive behaviour, but also conditions sense and sensibilities and brings about changes in the individual and in society.


The written word has had a close relationship with production of knowledge. In oral cultures, the human mind was preoccupied with storing knowledge in memory. Plato lived in a time where the dominant mode of communication was oral, but writing was increasingly gaining ground. It was to save the wisdom of Socrates for posterity that Plato acted against his view that "writing is inhuman" and recorded Socrates' ideas. Now, the social fabric conditioned by the written word stands in danger. It was Marshall McLuhan who showed us how technology changes the patterns of perception, thereby influencing culture, society and individuals. His argument is that the electronic media will replace the printed word of books. He asserts: "The Gutenberg galaxy is being eclipsed by the constellation of Marconi."


Historically, the written word was the elite's domain. With the Gutenberg revolution, it reached the common man and a new type of self-aware, knowledge-seeking and inquisitive population emerged. Still, literacy is a hurdle to a layman because it does not allow him to enter into the temple of knowledge without becoming literate. The visual media, on the other hand, removed the prerequisite of literacy. Hence, it can be said that the visual medium is more inclusive. But the question arises: does the increased access to the media necessarily lead to more understanding and knowledge? After the media revolution, we observe everything passively but rarely make any logical sense of it all.


On the heels of the Industrial Revolution, philosopher Soren Kierkegaard remarked: "Modern man is spoiled for choices." The modern man is inundated with information. In such a situation it is difficult to sift knowledge from information. Never in the history of mankind have people had such easy access to information. However, despite so much information at our disposal, misunderstandings between different cultures and peoples have increased.

The domination of the visual medium has changed "sense ratios or patterns of perceptions," on the one hand, and drastically altered the composition of listeners and speakers on the other. As a result, teachers and parents have become kind of irrelevant and persons' worldview is now formed by what is shown on the electronic media.

Aldous Huxley bemoaned this situation when he warned: "Never before in human history have so many listeners been at the mercy of so few speakers." The current state of the electronic media in Pakistan bears testimony to this situation. One-way communication creates a one-dimensional man. The dialogic man of Socrates is dead.


The contours of knowledge in the future will be shaped by the electronic media. Only fragments of the knowledge of the written word will be part of this knowledge. But their meaning will not depend on the previous whole, but on the context formed by the new media. There is a likelihood that knowledge in the future will be built on the foundation of continuous flux. Thus, it can be assumed that the practice of long-term education will disappear because the situation will change so rapidly that eighteen years of education will become irrelevant. Knowledge will be available in the shape of a montage and not in a treatise. Like the ever-hifting images in a video we'll have shifting, instead of thinking, minds.


These developments will have long-term repercussions. Since we are trained in the written word, it is extremely difficult to get rid of thinking habits formed by it. Instead of carrying the dead burden of the alphabetical letters on our shoulders, we need to get conversant with the new media. Only then will we be able to find a niche in the future world of "video enlightenment."


I take the wisdom of the maxim "a picture is worth a thousand words" with a grain of salt. I do not see any possibility at the moment of my arguments being shown in a picture. Going against the grain, McLuhan rightly asserted, "Invention is the mother of necessities."


Developments and inventions in technologies used by the modern media have made it necessary for us to adjust to the new mode of communication to remain relevant. My generation has been trained in the written word. That is why we face difficulties in the transitional period. We are condemned to think through two mediums–the print and the visual. This explains our nostalgia about the written word in a world of the modern electronic media. Our ambivalence to the visual culture stems from the conflict between nostalgia and necessity. One can only hope that the generation trained in the new visual media will be less confused than our generation.

The writer is associated with a rights-based organisation in Islamabad. Email: azizalidad @hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

DIRE STRAITS

ARIF NIZAMI


The writer is a former newspaper editor


Presentation of the annual budget in recent years has become more of a ritual than a roadmap for the economy in the new financial year. The suave, freshly inducted finance minister, Dr Hafeez Sheikh, performed the rite rather well. But his articulate number crunching cannot hide the deep malaise of the Pakistani economy.


The former World Bank mandarin, who was finance minister in Sindh and federal privatisation minister under Musharraf, has a deep understanding of the structural problems of the economy. So he could not resist the temptation of lecturing the parliamentarians on the very basics: "if you raise expenditure without generating revenue you will end up having more inflation." Perhaps he had at the back of his mind the double-digit inflation increasing the burden on the common man.

The projected size of the budget is 10 per cent higher than the current year's outlay with a fiscal deficit of 4.0 per cent of the GDP. This seems an elusive goal and would mean a mutually exclusive but necessary exercise of practicing austerity on the one hand and increasing revenues on the other.


From the word go, the federal cabinet decided to increase the salaries of government servants by 50 percent, as opposed to the proposed 25 per cent. This will cost an additional Rs30 billion to the exchequer, not counting the burden it will put on the provinces to replicate a similar increase. Total revenue expected from the imposition of a 15 per cent value-added tax is projected at Rs70 billion. The imposition of one per cent additional GST till the proposed introduction of the VAT in October is expected to generate Rs35 billion.


With the fate of the VAT's imposition still hanging in the balance, we could end up with a Rs65 billion deficit only on this count. The uncertain and precarious law-and-order situation owing to rampant terrorism and inevitable subsidies on power and food items owing to political compulsions could further exacerbate the revenue gap.


Dr Hafeez Sheikh lectured the parliamentarians on the need for austerity. But a mere 10 per cent cut in the salaries of the federal ministers cannot change the culture of profligate spending. The very day the budget was announced, our prime minister returned from an embarrassingly futile but expensive trip to Spain and Belgium. Accompanied by a large entourage, he was snubbed by the EU bureaucracy in Brussels, which made it plain that it was not willing to budge on the issue of giving Pakistani textile exports tariff-free entry under the GSP-Plus scheme.


With the prime minister not leading by example, what is the incentive for members of the cabinet to be frugal? Virtually every minister in the federal cabinet wants bullet-proof vehicles and a vast security detail at his disposal, at state expense. What is the justification for the allocation of Rs30 billion to the parliamentarians for their schemes when most areas for which this money has been allocated after the passage of the 18th Amendment fall under the purview of the provinces? An additional Rs30 billion have been allocated just for Multan, the prime minister's home district?


Dr Sheikh has stated that "it is the business of the government to make policy, not to run enterprises." Public-sector enterprises like PEPCO, WAPDA, the Railways, Pakistan Steel Mills and PIA have become the scourge of the economy. Out of a whopping Rs285 billion losses incurred by them, Rs185 billion is gobbled up by PEPCO alone.


KESC is another racket. Despite having been privatised under an unequal agreement, KESC prefers to take cheaper power from WAPDA than produce power itself. Public-sector enterprise receivables being around Rs500 billion and payables at Rs400 billion means a gap of Rs100 billion. The endemic problem of circular debt thus created is driving the economy further down. Even Pakistan State Oil (PSO) is going bankrupt, thanks to the money owed to it by different power companies, including WAPDA and KESC.


Unfortunately, the finance minister's ideological belief in privatisation (after all, he was privatisation minister under Musharraf before he fell out with him) is not shared by the PPP government, which believes not only in retaining these loss-making corporations in the public sector but has also packed them with cronies, party stalwarts and other political appointees. As a result, for example, PIA and Pakistan Steel Mills are in dire financial straits. It is evident even from a cursory examination of the budget documents that there are zero receipts expected from privatisation in the coming financial year.


Arguably, even if the VAT is imposed in October and brings new sectors within the tax net, the structural problems of the economy are not going to go away. The raising of the GST by one per cent shows that the government does not have the political will to impose taxes on hitherto exempted sectors. To say nothing of new taxpayers, at least, 1.5 million of those already in the tax net do not pay taxes.


There is a lot of clamour every year around budget time for the agriculture sector being taxed. The federal government conveniently gets off the hook on the usual excuse that agriculture taxation is a provincial subject. But what stops the government from taxing agricultural income, which according to its own admission has increased manifold not because of improved yields but owing to state fixed purchase prices, which are even higher than international prices?


The answer lies in the simple fact that the feudal elite and the agricultural lobby dominate parliament and the provincial assemblies. Even people like the Sharifs, who belong to the urban elite, are afraid of alienating this lobby, as they are dependant on its support in the assemblies.


Given the war on terror and the ongoing military exercises, the largest in two decades according to some estimates, an increase in the defence budget was to be expected. It is now Rs442.2 billion, an increase of 17 per cent. Given the security situation, no one should grudge the military being allocated additional resources to finance its dire needs.


Dr Sheikh spoke of transparency in the budget-making process. But should parliament not be presented a more detailed outlay of the defence budget? Secrecy in the name of national security has been our practice. Bearing in mind such sensitivities, briefings on the defence budget could be held in camera or a committee system could be evolved for the purpose. It is in the national interest to enhance the deterrent capabilities of our armed forces. But it is equally important that the nation be kept informed and every rupee spent accounted for.


Politicians of different affiliations are engaged in punditry about the budget on television channels and in newspaper columns. The level of debate in some instances is pretty high and it is extremely helpful for the public to understand the intricacies of the economy. However, most federal ministers are conspicuously absent from these debates. It seems that Dr Sheikh, a technocrat like Mr Tarin, is not being owned by the party that inducted him.


A glaring omission from the budget speech was any mention of the so-called nine-point agenda that the government had been touting at every forum, including the Friends of Democratic Pakistan. Similarly incentives announced in previous budgets for the textile industry and the SMEs were not included in the budget.


The bottom line of the budget is that revenue receipts are somewhat overstated. Without infusions from the IFIs and other foreign donors, including the US, it will be a Herculean task to achieve the targets. The IMF has already expressed its unhappiness at the delay in the imposition of the VAT, upon which it has made the future of the programme contingent.


Email: arifn51@hotmail.com

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

FATA'S 'SQUIRTERS'

IFTEKHAR A KHAN

 

If you live in any of the two Waziristans and spot drones overhead in the sky and you run for cover to save your life, you're a "squirter," which is a new slang term coined for such men, women and children.


Raining down Hellfire missiles from drones of both varieties, Predator and Reaper, is the CIA's favourite sport in real time, which even Mr Obama recently mentioned, with levity though, to deride the hapless squirters. In jest he warned the members of a pop group his daughters had a fancy for: "Two words for you-- Predator drones. You'll never see it coming. You think I'm joking?"


No, Mr President, you aren't. Who understands your sense of humour better than the squirters, the live targets of the videogames your spy agency plays out in Fata? Jane Mayer, in her article for the New Yorker ("The Predator War," Oct 26, 2009), quoted a CIA official who referred to the drone attacks in the following words: "People who have seen an air strike live on a [computer] monitor described it as both awe-inspiring and horrifying. 'You could see these little figures scurrying, and explosion going off, and when the smoke cleared there was just rubble and charred stuff'.' " "Human beings running for cover are such a common sight that they inspired a slang term, squirters," Mayer went on.


Mayer recalled meeting a social worker from Miranshah who, on arriving home, found it hit by a drone. The drone strike had killed three people whose fully burned bodies could only be recognised by their legs and hands. One body was still burning when he reached the site. To his horror, he learned that the dead were his close relations, including a boy aged about eight years. The charred body parts could not be collected in one piece so they had to be collected in plastic bags.


Yet, the appetite of the drone operators to kill had not sated. Within fifteen minutes of the first strike, the second drone arrived to incinerate those gathered to nurse the wounded and attend to the dead. As a result, six more people turned into charred stuff, including the brother of the one died in the first strike. It turned out they all were ordinary folks busy in their daily household chores when death came upon them–death by Hellfire. While death by drones relieves a few of their suffering, many are swept away by the blast to ram against roofs and walls, sustaining brain concussions and broken limbs, thus disabled for life.


Imagine a group of CIA drone operatives, sitting in air-conditioned comfort and watching on the computer monitors another group of men, women, and children dashing for cover to save their lives. Could the operatives for a moment imagine themselves in place of the squirters? They couldn't, because they belonged to a civilised nation while the cavemen they were hunting down were better off dead than alive. Besides, they provided an opportunity for live sport.


The death toll by drones has crossed 1,200 in Fata, which is a rather conservative estimate, because no organisation is known to keep an accurate tally of the dead. Although it was the Bush administration which initiated drone strikes in the tribal belt, Mr Obama seems more enthusiastic than his predecessor about using drones. No wonder the drone strikes have now multiplied manifold.

Eighteen missiles were fired on May 10 alone. But it remains a mystery where the drones operate from. A large majority thinks it's a domestic affair.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Lahore. Email: pinecity@gmail.com

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

GOVERNMENT'S LACK OF INTEREST IN BD TOO

 

THE tall claims of the Government about its commitment to build more dams in the country to meet growing water and power needs stand exposed as it has allocated a paltry sum of Rs 15 billion for the proposed Diamer-Basha Dam. The amount would be spent both on acquisition of land and related infrastructure whereas Rs 40 billion are required only for land compensation, which clearly means that not to speak of the physical work on the important project, even the process of land acquisition is unlikely to be completed during the entire year.

It is regretted that the country is facing worst ever energy crisis and water shortage too is assuming dangerous proportions, which would severely affect our economic growth but the Government is paying only lip-service to building of water reservoirs. The country built no mega dam after 1976 when Tarbela was completed and according to experts it has lost its storage capacity by about thirty per cent during 34 years. Same is the case with Mangla Dam, built in 1967, the storage capacity of which has been reduced by 15% due to accumulation of silt. No doubt, Mangla raising project has been completed to compensate for the losses to some extent yet here again the Dam has not been filled to the new levels because of inability of the Government to sort out issues with the affected people and the AJK Government. This clearly shows the kind of importance the present Government is attaching to these projects of vital importance to the country. History will not forgive the authorities for their unilateral decision to abandon the economically and technically viable project of Kalabagh Dam, which has been politicized by some vested interests. That the Government shelved plan for building of the Kalabagh Dam without trying to build the so-called national consensus on the project is also indicative of the real designs of those behind this development. It is strange that a water deficient country like Pakistan can afford the luxury of releasing enough water to sea that could fill a major dam. If Kalabagh Dam is controversial then what is wrong in allocating necessary funds for Diamer-Basha Dam and expediting initiation of the physical work in view of the rising gap between demand and supply of both water and energy. We hope the Government would prioritize construction of new dams and arrange the required funds for the purpose.

 

 

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

FREE FOR ALL IN KARACHI 

 

IT seems that Karachi, which is commercial capital of the country, has fallen completely into the hands of law-breakers, criminals and gangs and mafia of different sorts. This was the message that one got once again on Thursday when tension gripped the Godhra Camp locality in New Karachi after an armed clash between two groups over an old dispute.


The hour-long shooting left some five people with bullet wounds, two vehicles and two shops were also torched. And, parts of Shah Faisal Colony also remained tense and regular business was suspended after an MQM activist died of the injuries sustained earlier. The self-exiled leader of the MQM, Altaf Hussain has described the severe clashes as an attempt to fan sectarian tension in the metropolis, urging Karachiites not to fall into the trap of conspiracies to disturb peace of the city. There is no reason to doubt contentions of the MQM chief who has intimate knowledge of what is happening in Karachi. However, the way the automatic weapons were used freely during the incident spoke volumes about weapons' proliferation and breakdown of law and order in the city. There are powerful groups and gangs that take peace of the city hostage and create trouble any time they wish. There are reports that some foreign powers are also exploiting the situation with a view to destabilizing Pakistan and inflicting damage on its already fragile economy. In view of the immense economic and commercial significance of Karachi for the country, peace there should be the prime concern and number one priority for the Government but unfortunately no concrete step has so far been taken to address the root causes of trouble. We have been demanding in these columns to take effective measures for de-weaponisation of Karachi and busting of gangs and mafias but the successive governments took half-baked initiatives that produced no results. MQM and PPP have effective presence in Karachi and as the two parties have a coalition government in the province they can surely do that if there is will, determination and sincerity to cleanse Karachi of all kinds of crimes.

 

 

 

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

RISING NUMBER OF FAKE DEGREE HOLDERS

 

THE Lahore High Court on Thursday disqualified PML (N) MNA Syed Javed Husnain for possessing a fake BA degree of a Madressah and ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan to hold fresh elections within sixty days to fill the NA-68, Sargodha, seat. Intriguingly, the degree produced by the member had the same roll number which was allegedly issued in the name of Naghma Mushtaq, who had won the election from PP-206 and later was held disqualified on the basis of a Madressah certificate.


The issue of fake degree holders has created a lot of interest and concern amongst people, as the number of such elements is rising with the passage of every day. The Election Commission has already forwarded over eight hundred degrees of Members of Parliament and Provincial Assemblies to the Higher Education Commission and the exact extent of the scandal would become clear once a report from HEC is available. However, on the face of it, it seems that there are a large number of representatives who contested elections on fake degrees and ought to be shown the exit door as they have no moral or legal standing to represent the people in these esteemed institutions. One can imagine the extent of moral rot from the fact that there was no realisation on the part of leadership of these Parties as instead of taking disciplinary action against them they are awarding tickets to same people for contesting bye-elections and some of them have already returned to Assemblies. What a shame that fraud and dishonesty is being patronised at State and Party level! There are justified demands that mere disqualification was not enough and the courts should penalize them for their crime. At least, they should be barred from taking part in elections for the rest of the life to send a loud and clear message that there was no place for such elements in the society.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

US MILITARY AID & INDIA'S FALSE CRY

MOHAMMAD JAMIL

 

Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake has said that United States is taking appropriate steps to ensure that the military aid given to Pakistan is not used against India with a view to addressing Indian concerns. "I think they (India) understand that we are trying to build up Pakistan's counter-insurgency capabilities and we are seeking end use assurances to ensure that the weapons that are provided will not be used against India in any case," Robert Blake said in response to a question at a State Department Blog Forum. Blake said India and the US have a shared interest in stabilisation of Pakistan; and New Delhi supports the US' Pak policy, adding that "New Delhi was in support of Washinton's concerns with Pakistan as both the countries want to see stabilisation of Pakistan". If one examines Blake's statement, it sounds absolutely absurd that Pakistan will not use US weapons against India, because it is not logical and unfeasible. In case of palpable threat on eastern border, Pakistan's military personnel will have to move from western border to eastern border, and it is not possible that troops would first deposit the arms and equipment including night-vision goggles with army headquarters in Rawalpindi.


As to the India sharing concerns with the US to see Pakistan stablised, it is the travesty of the truth because it is an article of faith with India to destabilize Pakistan. Anyhow nobody can befool Pakistan by issuing statements to appease or to make Pakistan lower its guard. Of course, India should realize that in case Pakistan is destabilized, terrorists and extremists will then create anarchic conditions. Would India like to have turmoil and violence next door? Indian leadership should has to understand that a strong and progressive Pakistan is not only in the interest of India but also in the interest of the entire region, as destabilization could transcend Pakistan's borders and engulf India where in majority of its provinces either Maoists or other separatists are waging struggle. India should therefore look inside, and resolve the issues with minorities and other belligerent elements. However, it is heartening to note that tension between India and Pakistan has somewhat eased, and it is hoped that India would restart the stalled composite dialogue to take it to the logical conclusion.


Anyhow, India's false cry is not new. In March 2009, India's Defence Minister AK Antony had said: "United States decision to provide sophisticated weapons to Pakistan is a matter of serious concern to India. The US should ensure that these weapons are not targeted against India…The American explanation that Pakistan army has to be strengthened to fight terrorist outfits like Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan was not convincing". India on one hand says that Pakistan should destroy terrorists, and on the other cries hoarse that the US should not help Pakistan. Other Indian leaders are also expressing concern over Washington's decision to provide sophisticated military equipment to Islamabad. Anyhow, aid or no US aid, Pakistan has to have minimum credible nuclear deterrence and also improve its conventional weaponry. Instead of expressing unfounded fears and concerns about use of US weapons against India, it should resolve all contentious issues with Pakistan. The problem is that India is not willing to go beyond its stated position. Secondly, India always found some pretext to roil the dialogue when it came to resolve the Kashmir dispute and other issues like Siachin, Sir Creek or violation of Indus Water Treaty. India has always ruled out any third party mediation because it knows that its position vis-à-vis UN resolutions is weak.


The world now is aware of India's doublespeak. It rejects with disdain any third-party mediation but has been persuading America to pressurize Pakistan for taking action against so-called masterminds of 26/11 Mumbai attacks. On 25th November 2009, in a joint statement after the meeting between US President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier in Washington wherein US and China had welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia and vowed to support efforts for improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan, India's External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vishnu Prakash had said that India did not envisage a role by a third party in what was essentially a bilateral dispute. Indian statement read: "The Government of India is committed to resolving all outstanding issues with Pakistan through a peaceful bilateral dialogue in accordance with the Simla Agreement. We also believe that a meaningful dialogue with Pakistan can take place only in an environment free from terror or the threat of terror."


To pacify India, Rober blake had then clarified that it was not the intention to play role of a mediator but desire to see peace in South Asia. The problem is that world powers eye India's big market, and they are impressed by the sheer size, population and so-called largest democracy in the world. The US should have asked India as to how long it will take to resolve the issues especially the core issue of Kashmir which has remained unresolved for the last six decades. The composite dialogue between India and Pakistan to resolve all outstanding issues started in 2004, but no progress was made on Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, and on disputes over water under Indus Basin Treaty. It means that there is not even a remote possibility of success of bilateral negotiations on the Kashmir dispute. India seems to be perfectly happy by discussing all the issues under the sun, but balks at real issues: reduction of Indian army in occupied Kashmir, working out the methodology or considering various options to resolve the core issue of Kashmir to the satisfaction of India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leadership. There is no denying that people of India and Pakistan want peace and they do not want to live in trepidation and fear of war between the two nuclear states. Indians must acknowledge that Kashmir is a dispute that remains to be settled and one that should be settled through creative dialogues involving India, Pakistan and all major shades of Kashmiri opinion. By resolving Kashmir dispute, Pakistan and India could move forward and enter into a partnership in trade with Afghanistan and Central Asian republics.


Gandhi's grandson Rajmohan Gandhi in one of his recent articles given a piece of advice to India, which is worth reproducing: "Leaderships in both India and Pakistan should realize that they have a stake in the triumph of the ballot over the bullet in Afghanistan. Successes for the extremists and militants in Afghanistan will hurt Pakistan before they can threaten India. New Delhi's engagement in Afghanistan should mean for the benefit of the Afghan people and in the interest of Pakistan as well as India, not for pressurising or embarrassing Pakistan. Not only that. Indian Government should keep Government of Pakistan informed of Indian projects in Afghanistan". Rajmohan Gandhi sounds as well wisher of India, and its leadership should pay heed to his advice.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

INDO-AMERICA STRATEGIC DIALOGUES

LT COL (R) ZAHEERUL HASSAN

 

Indo-US strategic Dialogue has been held in Washington to discuss Pak –Afghan situation and bilateral counter-terrorism cooperation on June 3, 2010 just during current blast wave of Kabul. Anyhow, the theme of the indo-US talks has been viewed very critically in China and South Asian countries. The global geopolitical and security environment is under turmoil .The talks are undergoing when tussle between North and South Korea is on its peak, Indo- China border clash is once again in the news, India is determined to get hold of regional natural resources, Pakistan, Banglades