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Monday, June 14, 2010

EDITORIAL 14.06.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month june 14, edition 000538 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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


















































































The breathtaking inauguration of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa has raised the curtains on more than just football's biggest quadrennial tournament. As is usual with the World Cup — other sports have world cups; there is only one World Cup — it is more than just a contest between football teams. It is as much a sociological event, an economic phenomenon and a political statement. The World Cup anticipated globalisation well before that 'g' word was coined — when soccer fanatics in Kolkata or Kerala or Copenhagen or Canada are divided between Argentina and Brazil, how else does one describe it? This year's World Cup is all the more special because it is the first to be played in Africa, coming only eight years after the first World Cup in Asia (2002, jointly hosted by Japan and South Korea). This indicates just how much of a worldwide phenomenon this game and this tournament have become. Indeed, the United States team that has qualified for the World Cup is being cheered and bolstered by Vice-President Joe Biden. European political leaders and heads of Government often make it to the FIFA World Cup. That an American vice-president has thought it worth his while to join the party reflects on not just the growing popularity of the sport in the US — fuelled by immigrants from Europe, Asia and Africa — but also the import of this World Cup's geographical location. In a sense, it is a celebration of all Africa — and not just because dozens of delegations from across the continent are making it to South Africa for the jamboree. Africa is the land of perennial hope but also of a history of false starts. Yet, the economic surge that the continent is beginning to experience, the note of optimism in the building of new universities and social institutions, the seriousness in meeting health and social development challenges do indicate that this time the Africa story may be different. South Africa, as the economic engine of the continent, is in many ways emblematic of its fresh turn. It has transferred power, peacefully and democratically, to a third successive post-apartheid leader. While neither of his successors has matched his stature, apprehensions that the 'rainbow nation' would fall apart after the tenure of Nelson Mandela have proved exaggerated. South Africa after Mandela, much like India after Jawaharlal Nehru, represents the success of democracy in a pluralist and economically uneven society. This is the face South Africa wants to show to the world; this is the South Africa the World Cup is acknowledging and celebrating.

There is the minor matter of the football itself. While each of the 32 teams must start as some sort of a favourite — to its fans back home, if nothing else — five teams seem to have caught the imagination in particular. Brazil and Argentina — coached by Diego Maradona, the inspirational if emotionally imbalanced star who took his team to victory in 1986 — are evergreen in their appeal. Holland produces one great team a generation; could 2010 be its year? Spain and Portugal, neighbours, old rivals and among the strongest teams to have never won a World Cup, are counting their chances. Yet, it is not as if even one of the other 27 teams is an also-ran. As recently as 2002, South Korea and Turkey were surprise semi-finalists. Who will be this year's miracle makers?







Karnataka Forest Department's initiative to radio-collar rogue elephants should be seen as a model to be emulated all over India, a history with increasing incidence of human-elephant conflicts. The plan is to implant GSM-enabled microchips in 20 wild elephants over a span of two years, enabling authorities to track their movements so that any incursions into human habitats and farmlands could be averted. It is indeed a tedious task to identify for radio-collaring the troublesome elephants from Karnataka's forests, home to close to 5,000 tuskers. But once done, its advantages would go far beyond the immediate objective of reducing incidents of crop losses. The decision to radio-collar rogue elephants was taken after an increase was noticed in their incursion into human habitats and agricultural land, as has been happening in the coffee estates of Hassan in southern Karnataka. The programme will be of immense help to wildlife officials and conservationists in understanding the movements, habits and variations in population of wild elephants. The success of the bid by the Karnataka Forest Department, however, will be dependent on the response from its counterpart in Kerala. The Bandipur National Park, main home of Karnataka's wild elephants, is contiguous to the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. An understanding of the migratory routes is essential in reducing conflicts and the radio-collar could be of great help in that.

The main reason for the rise in incidence of human-elephant conflict is shrinkage of forest due to the explosive growth in human population and the ever-increasing need for land for urban development. For example, studies show that the forest cover of Kerala has shrunk by more than 30 per cent since Independence. Most of the lost forest land has converted into agricultural land or human habitat, resulting in human-animal conflicts. According to available estimates, such conflicts cause the death of 300 humans a year in India and the number of elephant deaths is put at 200. At least half a dozen human lives have already been lost in Kerala, including that of a Forest Department guard, in attacks by rogue elephants in 2010. Though the implementation of a nationwide radio-collaring programme for rogue elephants is near impossible given the complexity of India's forest system, efforts in this direction can bring down the incidents of conflict considerably. The radio-collaring initiative of the Karnataka Forest Department holds a valuable message for authorities in Kerala, who had successfully carried out a microchip-implantation drive for captive elephants, and Tamil Nadu. Elephants in Bandipur and Wayanad are known to migrate across borders in accordance with climatic changes and availability of water and fodder. As such, a joint effort could produce encouraging results. After all, animals do not honour the borders that humans draw.









Karnataka Forest Department's initiative to radio-collar rogue elephants should be seen as a model to be emulated all over India, a history with increasing incidence of human-elephant conflicts. The plan is to implant GSM-enabled microchips in 20 wild elephants over a span of two years, enabling authorities to track their movements so that any incursions into human habitats and farmlands could be averted. It is indeed a tedious task to identify for radio-collaring the troublesome elephants from Karnataka's forests, home to close to 5,000 tuskers. But once done, its advantages would go far beyond the immediate objective of reducing incidents of crop losses. The decision to radio-collar rogue elephants was taken after an increase was noticed in their incursion into human habitats and agricultural land, as has been happening in the coffee estates of Hassan in southern Karnataka. The programme will be of immense help to wildlife officials and conservationists in understanding the movements, habits and variations in population of wild elephants. The success of the bid by the Karnataka Forest Department, however, will be dependent on the response from its counterpart in Kerala. The Bandipur National Park, main home of Karnataka's wild elephants, is contiguous to the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. An understanding of the migratory routes is essential in reducing conflicts and the radio-collar could be of great help in that.

The main reason for the rise in incidence of human-elephant conflict is shrinkage of forest due to the explosive growth in human population and the ever-increasing need for land for urban development. For example, studies show that the forest cover of Kerala has shrunk by more than 30 per cent since Independence. Most of the lost forest land has converted into agricultural land or human habitat, resulting in human-animal conflicts. According to available estimates, such conflicts cause the death of 300 humans a year in India and the number of elephant deaths is put at 200. At least half a dozen human lives have already been lost in Kerala, including that of a Forest Department guard, in attacks by rogue elephants in 2010. Though the implementation of a nationwide radio-collaring programme for rogue elephants is near impossible given the complexity of India's forest system, efforts in this direction can bring down the incidents of conflict considerably. The radio-collaring initiative of the Karnataka Forest Department holds a valuable message for authorities in Kerala, who had successfully carried out a microchip-implantation drive for captive elephants, and Tamil Nadu. Elephants in Bandipur and Wayanad are known to migrate across borders in accordance with climatic changes and availability of water and fodder. As such, a joint effort could produce encouraging results. After all, animals do not honour the borders that humans draw.







The conduct rules of all Government employees in our country mandate that they maintain absolute integrity in their functioning. Though unambiguously stated, these rules have unfortunately been violated both in letter and spirit by bureaucrats as well as their political masters.

It might appear surprising that five months after the Secretaries Committee decided that Ministries with Central Public Sector Employees under their control would not allow them to use facilities owned by or paid for by these state-run companies, the Department of Personnel and Training asked its officials to return at the earliest and before March 31, 2010, all mobile phones, chauffeur-driven cars, air conditioners, laptops and faxes provided to them by Central public sector enterprises.

Instead of specifying that such misuse would attract dismissal or severe penalty, the order says, "Any such use shall attract suitable action... Any manpower or other facilities from CPSEs already being availed by the Ministries or Departments will be returned by the concerned Ministries." The same communication adds, almost apologetically: "In case of exceptional circumstance, if there is a need to utilise a facility for a bona fide purpose related to official duty, usage may be allowed by the Secretary concerned for a specified period after a careful assessment of the situation."

Common sense says that if one issues a directive, there should be no loopholes. But our legal experts leave sufficient loopholes when they make laws in order to provide escape routes to crooks in the bureaucracy. Anyone who has had anything to do with the functioning of the Government has suffered the consequences. Nothing moves without love, money, influence or other considerations. I once asked a businessman why he required an agent to move around in Government offices and speak on his behalf. "One is generally unaware of the exact procedure to be followed for getting one's work done. Even otherwise, it is too circuitous," was his reply.

Notwithstanding Government's claims of simplifying procedure, layer after layer of legislation is added to the point that it becomes too difficult to get anything done in the normal course of business. A single window system with a time-bound response is the only solution. The common complaint is that whether in India or abroad, Indian citizens face humiliation, contempt and ill treatment. If one makes a complaint against any member of the authority, one is guaranteed to receive no positive response.

Admitting that the bureaucracy has failed the country owing to widespread corruption and malpractices, the Cabinet Secretary in March said in a communiqué: "The issue of corruption needs to be addressed fair and square. Preventive vigilance should be strengthened. Transparency must be introduced in decision-making. Stringent action must be taken against officers found guilty. Disciplinary proceedings must be expedited."

He added that civil servants were appointed on the basis of fair and open competition and said, "We must respond in full measure to the faith that citizens have reposed in us and meet their hopes and aspirations of good governance... Of late, there have been some disturbing incidents which call for serious introspection by civil servants. Integrity, honesty, objectivity, impartiality, transparency, accountability and devotion towards duty are the core values which civil servants should cherish and which form an integral part of our decisions and actions."

The Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions has also stressed on the importance of bureaucratic reforms. "There is a perception that the Indian bureaucracy is inefficient and corrupt. If we are not able to provide for inclusive growth and maintain regional and social balance, it may lead to conflicts which may shake the very foundations of our federal polity and our nation," Minister of State Prithviraj Chavan said. He added that India's performance (132 out of 179 countries) as per UNDP's human development index that provides composite measures on three dimensions of human development — life expectancy, literacy rate and standard of living — remains "abysmal".


Six years ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had assured Indian industry that a high-level standing committee with representatives from industry and the Government would review all existing industrial laws vis-à-vis international best practices and if required amend archaic laws to end the tyranny of the inspector raj. "The rules and regulations would be made more transparent and simple…The attempt would be to, as far as possible, not leave issues to personal interpretation and to ensure that discretionary powers are not misused," Mr Singh said. But unfortunately, there has been no change in the working style of the Government.

It is a reflection on the utter insensitivity of our bureaucracy that while the common man and the poor are reeling under skyrocketing prices of food commodities, the subsidy provided by the Government for distribution of foodgrains through the public distribution system is being misused. The Justice DP Wadhwa Committee appointed by the Supreme Court to study the public distribution system said in its report: "It is a known fact that the Department of Food and Public Distribution has the dubious distinction of being one of the most corrupt in the country. Corruption is pervasive in the entire chain and it continues to remain a formidable problem. Most functionaries in the Department are typically callous and resort to corrupt practices. It is, in fact, a cancerous growth and has to be chopped off."

The committee added that although the Centre was giving a "whopping" annual subsidy of Rs 28,000 crore to the States on food items to be distributed to poor through the system, it was being pocketed by a strong nexus of corrupt officials, dishonest fair price shop owners, treacherous transporters engaged by State Governments to carry the goods to the shops, and unscrupulous mill owners. While finding that wheat was being directly sold to flour mills, the committee said unless concrete remedial measures were immediately taken as suggested, "the poor will go on suffering at the hands of this nexus".

Despite setting up two Administrative Reforms Commissions, India's leaders have failed to implement their recommendations. Apart from weak political leadership, one reason for corruption and inefficiency that permeates bureaucracy at all levels is that it defends the status quo long after it has lost its relevance.







Hope Census 2011 — which is curiously being conducted in 2010 — does not end up putting the cart before the horse. Can the Government make a decision on the caste count before it is concluded? The enumeration is over in 16 States and Union Territories including Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal, Karnataka, Kerala and Haryana. The civil society and intelligentsia remain as fragmented as the Government on the caste issue. Having raised a scrapheap of petitions asking for inclusion of caste in the headcount, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared on the last day of the Budget session that caste-wise enumeration is on. But now the ball is in the court of the Empowered Group of Ministers. The Home Ministry, initially averse to the idea, now opines that caste could be enumerated later during the framing of National Population Register.

Caste identification is a humongous task, a far cry from the Vedic varna classification of Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. In the 1901 Census, there were 2,378 main castes. In 1931 — the last time caste count took place, there were 387 sub-castes in the Brahmin category and 1,025 in Rajput category in Tehri Garhwal that had a population of only 3.5 lakh.

But today's proponents of caste count — the Yadav satraps, BSP and DMK are least interested in celebrating this academic multi-casteism. Their agenda is to push forward reservation in public and private sectors, educational institutions and the political sphere. The 21st century law-makers want to reorganise the society according to four varna — Forwards, OBCs, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Should we be afraid of caste census? No, but we have missed the bus this year. Conducting it as part of the National Population Register is least desirable. It might reveal the demographic share of different castes but not their corresponding socio-economic educational status. Many OBC groups who own large rural assets and have risen in political clout in the last 20 years might thus be economically better off than the Brahmins. The religion census, always conducted as part of the Census proper, yields analysable results. But the caste census may turn out to be news we can't use.







Facing a severe scarcity of food and medicine owing to an indefinite economic blockade by Naga groups, the residents of Manipur are on the brink of a severe humanitarian crisis.

The Government must take proactive steps to put a swift end to the impasse.

Landlocked Manipur faces an acute shortage of food and medicines following an indefinite economic blockade imposed by several Naga organisations since April 12. Protesters have laid siege on two national highways, blocking supply of essential commodities, life-saving drugs and fuel, resulting in immense hardship for the people of the State.

The economic blockade was called by the All Naga Student Association Manipur and the United Naga Council in protest against the elections to the Autonomous District Councils under Third Amendment of Autonomous District Council Act 2008, claiming that the amendment "suppresses tribal rights".

However, before the State Government could address their demands, the Union Government's permission to the proposal of NSCN(I-M) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah's visit to his ancestral village Somdal in Ukhrul district of Manipur and its subsequent denial escalated the stalemate.

Because of the economic blockade, even passenger buses are not allowed to ply on the two highways. The Manipur Government took coercive measures to prohibit the entry of Mr Muivah to Manipur while he was camping along with NSCN(I-M) cadre at Viswema village of Nagaland "waiting for the Centre's clearance to his entry". For over two months now, the State has been in turmoil and on the brink of a full-blown humanitarian crsis.

Mr Muivah's proposed itinerary has received mixed reactions from different communities. Some were ready to roll out a red carpet for the leader. Many registered their opposition alleging that he is responsible for 'ethnic cleansing' in the 1990s while others feared that his entry would disturb '2,000-year-old history' of peaceful coexistence and cultural and economic ties among different communities in the State.

The Manipur Government conducted the controversial Autonomous District Council elections amid disturbances with a handful of voters exercising their franchise. If local media reports are to be believed, the elections to the Autonomous District Councils in Ukhrul district are nothing but a mockery of democracy. As per official sources, "The turnout of voters at Ukhrul district was extremely poor with only 23 voters cast their votes at polling station number 3/3 Huishu in Chingai AC. In Shangshak, not a single vote was cast in the eight polling stations. At Shingkap Autonomous District Council, out of the seven polling stations, voting took place only at Tangkhul Hundung where 48 voters exercised their franchise rights. At Ethan polling station, out of the 186 registered voters, only a handful voted, while at Khoiripok polling stations five votes were cast as against the presence of 827 voters." In short, the election in some districts was a total failure. Only the Manipur Government knows how important it is to conduct an election sans people's participation.

Two days after the election, Mr Muivah left Viswema for Pfutsero, the highest town of Nagaland in Phek district. However, the people's ordeal continues while Mr Muivah's plan to visit his birthplace is 'still on the cards' and the blockade, now accompanied by full scale support to Mr Muivah's entry to Manipur, remains effective though the election is over.

At such a juncture, efforts on the part of the Union Government to end the impasse are a dire necessity. However, no initiative on the account has been observed save a statement from the Union Home Secretary, Mr GK Pillai, in the form of a stern warning against agitating Naga organisations that came after 50 days of the blockade. On June 5, Mr Pillai told newspersons in Shillong that the Government's patience is running out. "We have to come down with a hard hand on those who are imposing this blockade… The consequence of the action will lie on these organisations… This blockade is totally illegal and has to stop," Mr Pillai said.

The strong message of the Union Home Ministry further encouraged the State Government to intensify its crackdown on the agitators instead of searching for an amicable solution. Perhaps for the first time in the history of India, the State Government even issued notices proclaiming that the acting president of the ANSAM, Mr Samson Remmei, and the acting president of the UNC, Mr David Choro, as 'wanted' and announcing a reward of Rs 1 lakh each to anyone providing information leading to their arrest.

The State Government measure rubbed salt into the wound of the blockade supporters. But at the same time, the hard stand of the Government was welcomed by others who saw it as a means to end the imbroglio.

The NSCN(I-M), which allegedly "orchestrated everything from behind the scenes", has simply washed its hands of the present impasse by conveniently placing the total blame on the Okram Ibobi Singh Government by saying that it is "the direct result of the misdoings of the Manipur Government". It justifies the blockade as a "democratic protest of tribals" and attempts to draw on the ethnic distinctiveness of the Nagas by sowing the seeds of hate politics against the Meiteis.

In such a situation, the Naga Students' Federation's announcement that there would be some relaxation to the blockade is a welcome development. The Manipur Government should also initiate a dialogue to end the impasse as coercive measures would further aggravate the situation. On humanitarian grounds alone, the agitating groups need to consider some relaxation to the restrictions by allowing movement of some essential commodities to the people of the State.








A major worry for the international community has been the danger of Al Qaeda using a chemical weapon to indulge in an act of mass casualty terrorism. Studies have been made of the possible scenarios and how to prevent and counter them. Dealing with a chemical disaster — deliberately caused by terrorists or other criminal elements or due to the criminal negligence of those producing and storing them for industrial and other purposes — is now an important component of any national disaster management plan.

In India, too, we have a high-powered national disaster management authority and one understands it has prepared different contingency plans to deal with different types of disasters — a chemical disaster being one of them. One would have thought that a detailed case study of the disaster in Bhopal in 1984 due to the leakage of chemical gases from a plant of the Union Carbide would have been the starting point of any such contingency planning.

What would happen if Al Qaeda manages to get hold of a deadly chemical weapon and uses it to kill people in their hundreds and thousands? People would start dying without knowing what is happening to them. Security and other bureaucrats involved in disaster management would take some time to understand why people are dying and set in motion the drill to deal with situation. Al Qaeda is not going to announce beforehand that it would be using a chemical weapon. It will use it and let the world realise that it has used it from the initially unexplained deaths.

That is what happened in Bhopal in 1984. People in their hundreds working in the factory, moving around in the town and living in their homes started falling dead without anyone understanding why they are dying. It took sometime for the authorities to realise that the deaths were due to the leakage of gas from the factory and its spread across the town. They did not know what kind of a gas it was and how to protect people from its effect.

No proper study had been made beforehand of the dangers of a leak — due to negligence or deliberately caused. There had been no contingency planning to deal with the resulting situation. It goes to the credit of the authorities of Madhya Pradesh and the Governments of India and of Rajiv Gandhi, who had just then taken over as the Prime Minister, that without any previous experience of dealing with that kind of situation, they rose to the occasion and did whatever they could to save lives at tremendous risk to themselves. Despite their praiseworthy efforts, over 3,500 people died — as many as during the September 11 terrorist strikes in the US.

In many seminars that I have attended since September 11 on the dangers of an act of mass casualty terrorism using a chemical weapon, there were references to the Bhopal disaster as a forewarning of what could happen if the terrorists manage to get hold of a deadly chemical weapon and use it. Many of those who made the reference, at the same time, expressed their surprise and disappointment over the fact that the Indian authorities had not documented the details of what happened in Bhopal in 1984, how the situation was dealt with by the authorities, what kind of difficulties they faced and how they got over them.

In fact, according to them, no proper case study of the Bhopal gas disaster has been made to draw lessons for future contingency planning to deal with similar disasters. If this is true, this does not speak well of us and underlines once again our casual attitude in such matters. Before the officials of Bhopal who dealt with the disaster pass away, their account of the disaster should be documented and a thorough case study done.

It goes to the credit of Rajiv Gandhi that he realised the importance of contingency planning to deal with similar disasters in future and set up a special cell in the Ministry of Home Affairs for this purpose. This cell allegedly stopped functioning after he left office as the Prime Minister in 1989. Contingency planning for disaster management started receiving the attention it deserved only after September 11.

The writer is a former senior official of Research & Analysis Wing and a leading security affairs expert.






The structure of international relations has undergone a sea change in recent years: Now, one of its features is that so-called non-state actors have greatly expanded their reach, to the detriment of the global situation. Non-state actors are global political entities that act outside the realm of international law. They include extremist, radical and terrorist organisations, fundamentalist movements, criminal syndicates and commercial entities engaged in illegal activities. The international drug mafia is undoubtedly one of the most influential non-state actors in the world.

The drug mafia, as a non-state actor in global politics, is distinguished by its decentralised and networked structure. It is essentially indestructible because, like the Lernaean hydra of Greek mythology, for every head it loses, it grows two more. Like all businesses, its goal is simple and clear: To make the largest profit possible. The drug mafia's network now covers the entire globe. There are producer countries — Afghanistan (opium poppy) and Columbia. Drugs from these countries are transported to consumer countries through transit regions — Central Asia, Central America and the Middle East. The profitable markets of Russia, the European Union and the United States (coca bush) form the endpoint in the supply chain.

In a number of cases, the drug mafia enjoys considerable public support, and any efforts to fight it could provoke a backlash of popular anger. This is why the powerful Nato-led coalition focuses on counter-terrorism in Afghanistan and shies away from taking on Afghan drug producers. The recent attempt of Jamaican authorities to arrest drug lord Christopher Coke vividly shows what can happen in this case. The confrontation between his supporters and police resulted in a heavy street fighting in Kingston.

However, it would be wrong to draw parallels between Jamaica and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a unique case. It is, in effect, the world's only narco-state, and as such, it warrants special attention. The lion's share of revenue in the Afghan economy comes from the production of heroin, the world's most dangerous drug. The country's black market is several times bigger than its legal economy. The drug mafia plays a special role in Afghanistan, and it is aided in its criminal activities by the Taliban, Government officials who have business ties with drug lords and the Nato-led coalition which prefers to turn a blind eye to the problem. As a result, the political system that has taken shape in Afghanistan can be described as a form of drug-fueled military feudalism in which real power belongs exclusively to local warlords, who are closely involved with drug trafficking.

This is fertile ground for the drug mafia. Economically, it stands to gain from the destabilisation currently plaguing Afghanistan. But the drug lords are never content. They are always interested in expanding their business. This is a cause for concern in the important transit countries in Central Asia. By buying off local authorities and forming relationships with the local communities and businesses, the drug mafia is securing its foothold in this strategically important region.

In light of these circumstances, the counter-terrorist operation launched in Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 attacks has lost all meaning. The drug mafia will provide the Taliban and Al Qaeda with unlimited funds to maintain its position in the country. Fighting them will become nothing more than a battle with windmills. To win the war against terrorism in Afghanistan, we must first deal a blow to its deeply entrenched drug mafia. This will require an effective combination of force, on the one hand, and social and economic measures on the other.

We must also work toward economic renewal in Afghanistan and the creation of a normal economy to replace the current feudal-criminal economy. The international community should initiate an open dialogue to find a solution to the Afghan crisis. This process must be rooted in a clear understanding of the fact that the terrorist threat in Afghanistan is now second to the drug threat.







Pranab Mukherjee must look for ways of tax reduction as higher rates lead to more evasions

My appetite is infinite and greed is more," says Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to Income Tax Commissioners exhorting them to collect more. He also hinted at unfolding the revised draft of the direct tax code and phase-out deductions.

The Finance Minister has only hinted at more trouble for the citizens as he called upon the officers to surpass the target of Rs 4,30,000 crore set for the current fiscal. Phasing out exemptions would effectively increase the tax rates as there is no proposal to reduce the present slabs.

It also opens up the debate of having income tax as an oppressive tool of the state particularly in a country that is having one of the highest tax rates. A citizen is made to pay 65-70 per cent of his income as taxes — direct, indirect, provincial and local — in addition to various toll taxes. One obvious fallout of the high tax rates is on the market as it depresses the capacity of the so-called middle class to spend. This lowers activities in the market. The tax policy needs to bolster the Government's growth projection at 8.5 per cent. Besides, less than three per cent of the population come in the direct tax net — that is a little over two crore of 110 crore. In a country where most have a low income, even after intense efforts the number may not rise much.

The Kelkar committee had noted that for such tax collection "efforts" the Government has been losing 48 per cent of the taxes it collects. Since then the department has added an army of officers, inducted through a fiat of the former Finance Minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha. The logical conclusion is that the Government is losing more money on collecting every rupee it adds to its kitty.

The citizen is not born to pay all his income to the authorities, whose accountability is often in doubt. The idea for revising the Income Tax Act was mooted primarily to simplify the cumbersome rules, rationalise the tax structure and simplify procedures in order to reduce hassles created by bureaucratic discretion. An unstated objective was to reduce corruption. During the last few years, a number of income tax officials were held with assets beyond their known source of income.

This has been possible owing to large discretionary powers that the officials have and multiplicity of rules that could be interpreted in many different ways. The system is oppressive for the tax-paying citizens. Instead of rectifying the lacunae, the direct tax code sought to further empower the officials. Instead of simplifying procedures, it has proposed to complicate them.

The code has stressed less on willful compliance or creation of a system where one would be tempted to pay tax. One blatant instance is the scheme launched for shopkeepers who were told to pay Rs 1,400 if their turnover was upto Rs 5 lakh. It failed because many who filed the returns and paid the tax were subject to a witch-hunt. The officials found it an easy tool to harass tax-compliant citizens. The scheme failed.

It is universally known that higher taxes lead to higher evasions. The corporate houses are masters of the art. They fudge accounts to reduce tax burden. The present rate of 33.5 per cent including various cess is oppressive. A compliant corporate taxpayer may find himself out of business. That is how there is opposition to the proposed minimum alternative tax. Tax deducted at source or TDS demonstrates the distrust the state has for its citizens and penalises the willing taxpayer and the service class.

So far the revised draft has not proposed any change in the basic tax structure. Unless it does so there would not be any rationale in doing away with exemptions the basic idea for which emanated from the suggestion of bringing down the highest tax rate to 20 per cent. The other slabs were expected to be of 10 and 15 per cent. The tax code has ignored this but gone on to increase the tax burden. The code needs more discussion. The Finance Minister should not be in a hurry to sate his greed.








THE government seems to have followed the path of least resistance in deciding that the Army and the Air Force would not get involved in the fight against the Communist Party of India ( Maoist). Instead, retired service personnel, including sappers, and leased helicopters will be pressed into service. The Maoist- affected areas will not be declared disturbed areas, and the current pattern of using the Army to train the police and paramilitary personnel will continue.


Clearly, the Cabinet Committee on Security was unable to take a decision given the contrary views put forward by the ministry of home affairs ( MHA) and the ministry of defence ( MOD). The former wanted to cherry- pick the kind of assistance it needed from the Army and the Air Force, while the latter wanted clear terms of reference and engagement, including the promulgation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or the Disturbed Areas Act and a Unified Command led by the political authorities of the state concerned.


Since the current " solution" has tried to make its way around these opposing views, it is unlikely to work. What was needed was a clear- cut decision by the Union government, one that would meet its two- tiered objectives — the restoration of the authority of the state, as well as the relaunch of development programmes.


Without significantly degrading the Maoist military challenge, there is little chance of restoring development activities, let alone re- establishing the writ of the state.


Retired personnel may be able to de- mine areas with greater skill, but the military challenge can only be met with far better trained forces than have been employed so far. One of the issues the Army had put forward was the lack of jungle warfare tactical skills in personnel from the Indian Police Service who still want to retain their command positions in the anti- Maoist operations. It is not just a matter of putting the central paramilitary forces jawan's through a capsule course, but entirely reorienting their professional profile, and also having their leaders understand the imperatives of the tactical challenge.


The whole exercise smacks of indecisiveness and the lack of leadership on the part of the Union government. Clearly unwilling to buck the MHA or the MOD, the Cabinet Committee on Security has decided on the middlepath.


Such a path may be advisable as a guide to life in normal times, but is unlikely to meet the demands of a conflict situation.







THERE is a Goebbelsian touch to the Bharatiya Janata Party advertisement campaign in Bihar to show that Narendra Modi is the saviour of Gujarati Muslims. Never mind the fact that they used the picture of Muslim girls in a class from Uttar Pradesh's Azamgarh to depict the purportedly happy Gujarati Muslims.


Not only did Modi preside over the state when the community went through a statesponsored pogrom in 2002, he has also gone out of his way to prevent those accused of murder from being brought to justice. If justice has come to some of the victims, it is through the Supreme Court which took the unprecedented step of taking some of the trials out of the state and appointing a Special Investigation Team to look into the worst instances of carnage, as also Modi's own role in the incidents. Certain recent developments have suggested that the net may be closing around the Gujarat chief minister. This is probably one reason why the Gujarat government has aggressively sought to try and rewrite history.


There are two other reasons as well — the state assembly elections in Bihar and the ongoing BJP national executive meeting in Patna. The mass murder of Muslims in Gujarat has boxed Modi in Gujarat and he has found it difficult to get traction with voters elsewhere in the country.


By brazenly strutting around Gujarat as a saviour of Muslims, Modi is hoping to kill two birds with one stone. First, he hopes to show his own party that he is the natural successor to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L. K. Advani, and current party chief Nitin Gadkari, merely a stalking horse. Second, he intends to do this by riding on the shoulders of his party's local ally, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, a man acknowledged by all as a genuinely secular figure.








JAVIER Moro's El Toro ( The Red Sari ) has already entered a life of anticipatory censorship and free publicity even though it has not been published. It is factualised fiction about our contemporary leader, Sonia Gandhi, who obviously does not want it published. Was this not the case, her lawyer, Abhishek Singhvi, would not be shooting his legal mouth off in what appears to be partisan Congress aggression. The idea is to pressure Moro with the threat of a civil suit or criminal defamation case, or both.


Ever since two professors in Denver coined the word ' slapp suit', such threats have been portrayed as forms of legal terrorism.


On June 6, 2010, an undeterred, and unimpressed, Moro accused Singhvi of terrorism and threatened to sue him.


This is one of those cases where few have read the book, but have no hesitation in joining the crusade against Moro to save the leader.


I guess they will have to invoke Shahabuddin's defence to his attack on Rushdie's Satanic Verses : " You don't have to read it to know it is filth." If this is the way we want to run the country, we need to introspect.




When Sonia Gandhi entered the public domain, she placed herself in a position of being cartooned, lampooned, written about, caricatured, criticised and portrayed as good and evil. Was it not Sonia ji who awakened the slumbering Vajpayee with the stinging suggestion that people of his persuasion on certain matters were traitors or deshdrohis . The more public a person you are, the greater the possibility of jibes, sleazy portrayals even in fiction and untruth.


Morarji Desai lost his case in America on the basis that even if what Seymour Hersh had said was not true, anything said in good faith and promoting public discourse on a public person was not actionable. We have not fully accepted this approach.


Suggestive innuendoes, make- believes, fact and fiction, parade our imagination.


Let not even the wise Yudhishtra cast the first stone. Moro tries and wants to get into the mind of Sonia Gandhi, especially when she was the bahu of the reigning Queen Empress, Indira ji , and consort to her successor. Is nothing sacred? It is precisely because it is sacral that it needs to be explored.


The book has not even been published on Indian territory. The battle for pre- censorship has begun — presumably at Sonia Gandhi's bidding. So far she is quiet. Her actions in authorising legal notices talk. Let her speak or forever hold her peace. If she is silent, she must meet the moral and social charge of censorship.


Currently, she speaks through the legal mumbo- jumbo of her lawyers. As de facto ruler of a de jure coalition, she has three legal and one illegal option. Legally, she can persuade ( command?) her government to impose a customs ban — invoked from time to time, as on Katherine Mayo's Mother India and Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses . The film Nine Hours to Rama was similarly censored by anti- import laws. Examples from the Nehru, Indira and Rajiv eras display such a misuse of laws.


Perilously poised in coalition circumstances, Sonia ji would hopefully forbear.


The second legal option would be to ban and forfeit the book on the basis that it is seditious, divisive, communal, obscene or a threat to the sovereignty and integrity of India. Indira claimed she was India.


Sonia ji would not be that audacious. In any event, the book has not been published; and there is nothing to forfeit.


The third legal strategy is to wait for the book to enter India or show that it is about to enter India, and file a case for injunction or stay order ( as it is popularly called) to stop entry into and publication and distribution in India.


This is called the slapp suit, which defenders of free speech find reprehensible.


And yet, courts are willing to grant this as Justice M. K. Sharma did in the case of a book on Sikkimese Buddhism, only to be reversed by Justice Mudgal's bench in appeal. But such tactics are a showstopper.




The Supreme Court Bar Association ( through lawyer K. K. Venugopal) injuncted Kuldip Nayar's India House

through the Delhi High Court. Likewise the publication of Khushwant Singh's memoirs was stayed at the instance of Maneka Gandhi.


The story is as endless as it is shameful in the eyes of free speech activists.


Moro has faced such censorship when the Jabalpur High Court stopped the publication of Dominique Lapierre, Shekhar Malhotra and Moro's It Was Five Past Midnight . Now, we come to the illegal option which is even more omnipresent in India, and contrary to what Arun Jaitley thinks, runs across the political spectrum. This option would invite the Congress lumpen to intimidate everyone.


The Sangh Parivar smashed up the Bhandarkar Institute where James Laine worked and destroyed galleries with Husain's, and other, paintings. We now know the Parivar can rent thugs to terrify beer- drinking girls in Mangalore. All too painfully, we also know that Bal Thackeray has set up his own brand of censorship in Bombay, now Mumbai. I would sincerely hope that Sonia ji does not pursue the illegal option.


The controversy has proved to be a bonanza for Moro and his publisher.


Thousands of publicity pamphlets and tons of advertising could not have given the book the publicity and notoriety that it has achieved. This is crores of rupees of free publicity. The book is already in the public domain. It has been translated into Italian, French and Dutch. The English edition is ready.


When Spycatcher was injuncted by English judges, since its content was already in the global domain, the Daily Mirror did a banner headline calling the judges " You Fools!" This is not necessarily what Indian papers should attempt but it expresses a sentiment that where the cat is already out of the bag, ( or the egg has already been scrambled — whatever the choice of metaphor), it is futile to injunct its publication which dates back to 2008. It is another thing that Indian judges will not be as tolerant of such a media denigration.




Clearly, intimidatory tactics were reserved for India. The unshakeable Singhvi is relentless. He claims there are more than 20 examples which are not substantiated and are in inverted commas — conversations ( some in the head) which Moro could not be privy to.


But the biography is a fictionalised account reconstructed by Moro's mind.


Moro agreed that the book contains a disclaimer that this biography is not authorised.


Like images in Plato's cave, it is Moro's glimpse of fictionalised reality, not Sonia ji 's experiments with truth. Since the book is already in the public domain ( and more so because of Singhvi's legal strategy), injunctive relief should be refused.


So, the issue will be about quantifying damages. Foreign publishers in India tend to back down when faced with legal threats. Moro and Roli Books may not.


But they may agree to more disclaimers, deletions and the like.


Sonia ji claims to be, and should act as, a statesman. She should ignore the book in one of those flashes of wisdom that should guide the best in the best of us.


An Arab proverb reminds us of that wisdom: " Dogs may bark, but the caravan passes by." Moro is not canine, but he has barked. Let Sonia ji 's caravan pass by.


( The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer)









THERE is a raging existential crisis in the Congress that threatens to cripple the government and the party. UPA ministers feuding openly at cabinet meetings are now passé; now the government and the party that's leading it are at war and it's an ideological war. One thinks global, talks about FDI, wants greater economic interaction with the West, is grateful for Barack Obama's occasional kind words and gloats over strategic initiatives with the United States. The other thinks local, its leaders talk of aam aadmi , routinely visit jhuggi jhopris and never take their eyes off the next elections. Digvijay Singh is among the seniormost Congress leaders.


Far from being a loose cannon, he is among the most responsible Congressmen.


Yet, he has said and done enough in the last two months to show up the glaring differences in the ruling establishment.


Two months ago, he embarrassed the government by publicly slamming P. Chidambaram for the home ministry's policy on handling Maoist extremism. Now, Diggyraja has gone and done it again, this time over the Bhopal gas leak tragedy. His statement that Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson was allowed to go scot free under pressure from the US has once again embarrassed the government and underscores the depth of the divide. The frequent salvos from Digvijay — never mind if once in a while he retracts his statements — are signs of two wings of an establishment pulling in opposite directions. One that wants development at any cost and the other that believes in the Congress of old times — left of centre.


After the massacre of CRPF jawans in Dantewada, Chidambaram talked tough but was met with scathing criticism from large sections of the party. Surface transport minister Kamal Nath is in a hurry to acquire land for roads but environment minister Jairam Ramesh wants the impact on local habitats to be assessed before clearance is given.


The same Jairam had embarrassed the government by attacking the home ministry while on an official visit to China.


He was duly censured by the Prime Minister and there was even speculation over his continuation in the ministry as rumours did the rounds that he would be denied a renomination to the Rajya Sabha. His re- entry into the Upper House last week, which could not have come about without clearance from the highest party levels is, if anything, proof that for all the admonitions, he continues to have the full backing of the few who matter in the party.


Last week, the newly reconstituted National Advisory Council with Sonia Gandhi as chairperson held its first meeting.


Readers will recall that the NAC was set up weeks after the UPAI took office and, before it became defunct in 2006, had played a key role in the enactment of two of the government's showpiece achievements — the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Right to Information Act.


In its first avatar, there were charges that the NAC was being some sort of a " Super Cabinet" but the government was quick to deny these. The charges are likely to resurface now after the NAC, at its meeting last Thursday, made known its displeasure over the implementation of flagship schemes.


The members are said to have insisted on scrutinising the progress of the programmes.


One even pointed to the incongruity of the government pushing the Nuclear Liability Bill at a time when the nation is reeling in horror at the Bhopal gas tragedy verdict.


Everyone seems to have taken positions, but the two who must are holding their cards close to their chest. So far, neither Sonia Gandhi nor her son has said anything of significance on the Naxalite menace, terrorism, the economy or foreign relations.


Their motto seems to be: talk less, work more. So Rahul spends nights in the interiors, sharing dal- roti with impoverished villagers in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Sonia's helicopter makes day trips to similar locales in other parts of the country. Both mother and son ignore the bitter recriminations in the UPA cabinet and carry on with their work, knowing that issues such as the Nuclear Liability Bill or increased FDI have nothing to do with getting votes.


The first test of this strategy will be the elections next year in states such as West Bengal and Kerala, where the Left has already ceded space. If they succeed, by the time Rahul's coronation comes up in 2014, it will be a different Congress that marches to the polls. And many of the ministers now strutting around will have no place in Rahul's team.



EVEN four weeks after the Prime Minister announced the decision to appoint an Empowered Group of Ministers to discuss and resolve the conflicts stemming from the decision to hold the controversial caste- based census, Manmohan Singh seems to be in no particular hurry to honour his pledge. Ever since he said in Parliament that his government will give the idea serious thought, he has been under immense pressure from civil society leaders as well as large numbers of young MPs to keep the decision on hold. Even during the past few cabinet meetings, the idea was opposed by few senior ministers.


The opposition within the council of ministers, however, came into the open only when minister of state for home affairs Ajay Maken wrote a letter to all young MPs cutting across party divisions, asking them to oppose the move. It was his contention that a caste- based headcount will trigger another aggressive and divisive agitation for enhancing reservations in government jobs and educational institutions, leaving the upper castes and even the meritorious among the poor with nothing but crumbs. The Prime Minister's promise to take a serious look at the demand for a caste- based census was made merely to placate the powerful Yadav duo in return for their support to get cut motions moved by the BJP and the CPI( M) on the finance bill defeated.


Bizarrely, he did so just a few hours after home minister P. Chidambaram told Parliament about the inherent difficulties and dangers of holding such a census. It now appears that with the cut motion now out of the way, the government is having second thoughts and there are rumours that it was the party leadership that encouraged its Gen Next MPs to speak up. Now, with the massive divisions within the BJP also coming into the open, Gen Next seems to have won round one in dictating the political agenda.








THE Bhopal gas tragedy verdict may have brought a political tsunami but it has come as a great relief to the Pawar " parivar" which was under fire for distortions, lies and damned lies. Sharad Pawar has been carrying on well with cricket — he is due to take over as the ICC chief — but to carry on with the IPL's affairs has become like " carrying a cat by its tail" for Pawar. He and his only progeny, Supriya Sule, tried the balancing act, but wobbled on the high wire. The media was carping and relentless till Bhopal came along.


What took the cake was the defence of the Maratha strongman by the disgraced IPL chief, Lalit Modi.


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".


Tellis versus Tellis


IT'S unfortunate when your namesake is more ( or even less) famous than you are. When the story broke about Ashley Tellis, a gay rights activist, being sacked from IIT- Hyderabad, it was natural to get confused with the probably more famous Ashley Tellis, the Washingtonbased South Asia and strategic affairs expert. After all, the latter served as a senior advisor to the US ambassador in New Delhi and also as an adviser to the US state department.


While most newspapers carried the story without a picture of the IIT professor, the Mumbai edition of a 172- yearold English newspaper carried a picture of the other Tellis putting him and his family in an awkward position. What is known is that the latter Tellis is a Mumbai boy, having completed his MA from the city before heading to the University of Chicago for a PhD. What we don't know though is who was more upset, Ashley Tellis or Ashley Tellis! Well, so it goes.



SOMETHING is rotting in the Orissa mines. Chief minister Naveen Patnaik may have a lot of explaining to do. An expert panel constituted by the Supreme Court has revealed that the leases of 215 mines operating in the state expired 20 years ago. Out of the 341 mines, only 126 operate on a valid lease. In addition, mining activities are being carried out in excess of the area sanctioned under the lease. Many leases were yet to obtain the statutory environment clearances.


Many other states have gone on an MoU signing spree. Chhattisgarh has signed 102 MoUs with industrial houses for production of steel, sponge iron, power, cement and aluminum. And now Karnataka has joined the bandwagon by entering into deals with corporate houses.


And all on the basis of private negotiations without any fair competition.



IS IT a late realisation or just another politically- correct statement? Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has expressed his fears about rising nonperforming assets of the PSU banks.


Although lending practices have proved near- calamitous, little has changed about how the financial arena operates. 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- payers. To the tycoons goes the upside, to the taxpayers goes the downside.


And as if to reward them, senior bankers who winked as the tax- payers' money was whittled away have got bigger jobs and increased responsibilities.


Do as you may, the government merely needs to publicise the cost of the 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 the RTI queries and hide such rip- offs.





THE UTTAR Pradesh police have been bragging about the amount of criminal evidence they have accumulated over time against the state's dreaded dons. But if the police have equipped themselves well to put the dons in the dock, the high- profile criminals have also spread their tentacles to turn the tables on the cops.


As the game of cat and mouse continue, important documents with evidence against mafia- politicians such as Mukhtar Ansari, Atiq Ahmad, Brijesh Singh and others have gone missing from the state's court record rooms over the past two years.


The worst, though, is the disappearance of original copies of the FIRs from the police stations.


Additional director- general of police Brijlal confirmed the predicament. Copies of chargesheets and recorded statements of the witnesses couldn't be produced in the court because they went " missing". " Initial inquiry shows that the files of mafia leader Brijesh Singh and criminal- politician Atiq Ahmad and their aides went missing from the lower courts in Varanasi and Allahabad.


One such file is related to a murder case against Brijesh Singh and his aides registered at the Chaubepur police station in Varanasi in 1985. A case- diary and a charge- sheet registered in Allahabad against Ahmad are missing," Brijlal said, naming some of the many missing documents.


While two pages from Ansari's case diary are also missing, sources claimed that the statement of a prosecution witness in a murder case had also vanished.








The UP government's decision to ban political parties from fielding candidates in the upcoming election to urban bodies is flawed. It goes against one of the basic premises of our electoral democracy, which is the right of the people to organise and contest elections under the banner of a political party. The opposition in UP, united against the government decision, believes the move is aimed at manipulating the election in favour of the ruling party. The apprehension is not without reason.

Elections in India are centred on political parties, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Most of these parties may have failed to rise to the expectations of the citizens or master the skills necessary to govern. Independent legislators and councillors may make for better administrators than those with party affiliations, but this is not a given in every case. We do need more professionals to join politics and contest elections. But that shouldn't mean a blanket ban on political parties. Rather, parties themselves should be reformed so that public-minded individuals can join the electoral process without having to draw support from communal identities like caste, religion, ethnicity and lineage. It is impossible, and perhaps unnecessary, to reorganise politics in India around non-party platforms.

Interestingly, many more people without party affiliation get elected to panchayati raj institutions than to Parliament and state legislatures. Local dynamics, especially the limited size and spread of the electorate, allow individuals and small groups with limited financial resources and manpower to win local body elections. Will these positive trends be strengthened by a ban on political parties? Hardly. Political parties will most likely circumvent the ban by fielding proxy candidates. Since independents are not bound by the anti-defection law parties are likely to bid for them after the election. Outfits that hold office and have access to finance are likely to benefit from such a situation. In fact, Mayawati's political opponents allege that the BSP intends to court independent candidates after the election and gain office in urban centres, which have traditionally favoured other parties.

Indian politics is already a murky affair. If we are serious about reforming it we need to have more transparency in elections and in government formation. The last thing we need is to create a political climate that provides incentives to horse-trading.







Even though the Supreme Court ordered a ban on the administration of corporal punishment to children almost a decade ago, it is shocking that schools across the country continue to adhere to the philosophy of 'spare the rod and spoil the child'. The tragic case of Rouvanjit Rawla once again highlights this point. Rouvanjit, who was a student of Kolkata's prestigious La Martiniere School for Boys, committed suicide after he was caned by his school principal and allegedly by four other teachers as well. What is truly despicable is that the school principal has no regrets about the incident and has admitted as much to the school's board of governors and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights investigating the case. This reflects a perverse streak among certain educators who have no qualms about using their position of authority to inflict physical torture on children. The problem is symptomatic of a virulent mindset within the education system that sees corporal punishment as a legitimate means to discipline students and build character. In reality all it does is promote a culture of violence.

There have been hundreds of cases from schools across the country where children have sustained severe physical injuries due to corporal punishment, in many instances leading to their death. Last year Shanno Khan, an 11-year-old girl studying in a municipal school in Delhi, died after she was made to crouch with bricks on her shoulder in searing summer heat. In order to prevent such atrocities, the perpetrators need to be quickly brought to book and specific laws against corporal punishment worked out (and implemented where they exist on the statute books). This is the only way we can erase this blot on our education system.







WASHINGTON: Now that the US-India strategic dialogue has had its inaugural meeting, how does the state of the relationship between the world's largest two democracies look? Not different from the uncertain shape it was before the dialogue, say sceptics. Not bad at all; the dialogue yielded results, say optimists.

Given the reality of today's geopolitics, the optimists are probably right. To start with, the atmospherics were great. Secretary of state Hillary Clinton made special efforts to make the Indians feel good. Not only did she and her colleagues make the right noises at the dialogue, she threw a spanking good party at the state department on June 3. When she strode into the hall at 5 o'clock with the president of the United States in tow, the crowd looked impressed. She spoke warmly and wrote an oped the next day in this newspaper. President Barack Obama, looking surprisingly relaxed given the pummelling his administration is receiving on several fronts, spoke glowingly of the relationship and ribbed Clinton on her fondness for Indian food. When he announced he would visit India in November, the Indians present clapped loudly.

Clearly, the Americans had surmised correctly that we Indians like pomp and flattery. But the fact that they went out of their way to make us feel good must mean that they wanted to dispel the disquiet many Indians have been voicing lately about an apparent downgrading of India's status in America's geostrategic eyes. They wanted to tell the Indians, "Don't feel hurt. You are still very important to us."

The next morning many Indians had a cold shower. Almost nothing about the strategic dialogue or the glittering state department reception appeared in the US media. The Washington Post had a tiny item on an inside page about Obama's planned India visit; TV channels and other major newspapers carried zilch. Now, contrast that with the coverage another strategic dialogue got a couple of weeks ago, the one with China in Beijing: frequent bulletins, TV discussions, news analyses, grave punditry, the works.

One pill we Indians need to swallow about today's world pecking order is this: China is sexy; India is not. It is, well, interesting, shows promise, but isn't quite there yet. China has an economy that is nearly four times ours in size. It has an astounding $2.5 trillion in foreign exchange reserves. It holds nearly a trillion dollars worth of US paper. It makes it a point to punch at its weight in global affairs, both as a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council and as the world's pre-eminent emerging powerhouse.

By force of circumstances, India is still a regional player. New Delhi does not yet have a long strategic vision, one in which it sees itself exerting serious global influence in, say, 10 or 15 years. Even its Asia policy has to be necessarily Janus-faced, with one eye on China and the other on Pakistan. Perhaps that is how it will stay for the time being, given India's domestic developmental needs, internal and regional security challenges and a consequent unwillingness to stake out positions on global issues.

Therefore, when we pitch ourselves for a permanent, veto-empowered membership of the Security Council, we should be fully conscious of what we are asking for. As it is, a coming rotational membership of the council for two years can place us between a rock and a hard place. For instance, some diplomats are already worrying sotto voce about what position we would take if matters came to a crunch on Iran. With a permanent membership will come great responsibility, not for just two years but on a permanent basis. We would have to take stands on global affairs, size up our alliance preferences and cut the coat of our tactical positions according to the cloth of our strategic worldview. There can be no harm in putting a few wise heads together to prepare a paper outlining India's view of the world a decade from now.

Meanwhile, to keep the US on our side, we might like to focus on just three areas: Close cooperation on global counterterrorism; staying in the loop on the endgame in Afghanistan; and rapidly intensifying the economic and technological side of the partnership. On all three fronts, the recent dialogue was fruitful.

Counterterrorism is high on the agenda of both sides. It figures prominently in the joint statement after the dialogue. The recent US-India Counterterrorism Initiative to increase collaboration, information-sharing and capacity-building is a step in the right direction. On Afghanistan, the joint statement firmly reiterates India's role in the reconstruction, development and stabilising of that beleaguered nation, apparently brushing aside private Pakistani grumblings over this matter. And on economic and technological issues, they both agreed to resolve the lingering problems over US export controls on high technology "in the spirit of the strategic partnership between the two countries". Let's hope it works.

Given the circumstances, the relationship got a boost through the dialogue. Plus, the US has since made positive statements about India's role in any expansion of the Security Council. And there were those canapes and glasses of champagne offered by Clinton.






Over the past 25 years, Abdul Jabbar, convener of Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sangathan and himself a gas victim, has fought legal and social battles to seek justice for gas victims. He spoke to Suchandana Gupta:

How do victims see this verdict?

Betrayal. Why did it take 25 years for the verdict? Why did the government not set up a special court for the trial of the case? The criminal case against Union Carbide was being heard in between trials of chain-snatching and petty theft. On an average, the Bhopal gas leak case was heard once every two months. Delaying the criminal case proceedings has been a confidential policy decision of the Union government, irrespective of which political party has been in power. The government of India has never been interested in seeking justice for the Bhopal gas victims because any stern legal action against the Union Carbide and its erring officials would discourage other multinationals from doing their business in India. On the other hand, there have been multiple attempts to drop charges against the Union Carbide Corporation, especially Warren Anderson.

The first attempt was in 1989 when the Union Carbide paid $470 million as a final settlement with the Union government. As part of the settlement, all criminal cases against the accused were revoked. The criminal case was revived after NGOs took the matter to the Supreme Court. The CBI prosecution did nothing to extradite or execute the non-bailable warrant of arrest issued against the prime accused, Anderson. However, under directions from the ministry of external affairs, the CBI prosecution filed an application before the CJM Bhopal on May 24, 2002 for reducing criminal charges against Anderson.

The state government has said it'll challenge the verdict in the high court. An expert committee has been constituted to advise the government.

Unless the charges against the accused are reverted back to section 304(II) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the IPC, it is useless to take the case to the High Court. The Supreme Court had diluted the charges in September 1996 from culpable homicide to section 304-A (death by negligence). It was because of that dilution that the accused have been able to walk away with a sentence of two years imprisonment and an immediate bail. As victim NGOs we will present this matter before the legal experts committee that they need to present fresh evidence.

Do you believe former chief minister Arjun Singh ordered the release of Anderson under pressure?
If that's true, it means the Indian government buckled under US pressure. Arjun Singh could have argued on behalf of the innocent lives lost because of the gas leak. If the US government was putting pressure for one citizen, why could our leaders not speak up for thousands of innocent victims? The administration not only released Anderson, they escorted him to the airport and gave him a state aircraft. The collector and police superintendent who helped Anderson flee should be arrested and a case registered against them under section 224 (resistance or obstruction to lawful apprehension) IPC.






The road to recovery is always full of minefields. One misstep and you could see the end of the journey itself. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, once contemptuously dismissed by her critics as a foreigner who could not even read Hindi, the natural language of Indian politics, first carefully crafted a political turnaround, and then amazingly sustained it.

She began as a non-politico, and now is quite a virtuoso in the art of the possible. In the process, she has overcome accomplished masters of the art representing all shades of the political spectrum. Indeed, there is no one who has emerged unscathed in any encounter with her.

A large share of the credit for this success has to go to the team that she has led admirably during this period. Her choice of personnel, be it Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the general-in-chief and chief trouble shooter Pranab Mukherjee or the unflappable Ahmed Patel, has been justified if only on the grounds that there has been no public spat among these players in all these years.


There is no dearth of instances in recent political history wherein personal ambitions and ego clashes have ruined the prospects of a party at the apex of its power. But with Sonia Gandhi at the helm of affairs, ambitions and talents have been harnessed to the advantage of the team and this could be an object lesson for those who are aspiring to be team leaders.

Of course there is nothing that shall satisfy those who have habitually struck at the Congress for being authoritarian and autocratic. But now they continue to do so at their own peril. With the people endorsing the policies and deeds of UPA-1, a much more invigorated Congress is leading the UPA-2 from a position of safer strength. The roadmap as spelt out by Manmohan Singh is quite elaborate and reassuring. He has also proved his ability to deliver on his promises, even in the face of crippling political circumstances.

Fortunately for the Congress, there is an increasingly acceptable GenNext leader in Rahul Gandhi. Here is a leader who, unlike the rest of the lot, is in no hurry to grab power and is prepared to work his way with the masses. It is this element that lends the vital touch of sincerity to all political pursuits and makes it more credible.

If the Congress turnaround that began in 2004 looks more sustainable now, then it is due to the chemistry that arises from a careful blending of all these factors. Not surprisingly, the opposition looks out of touch.








The term flying by the seat of your pants could take on a different connotation altogether, given recent scientific developments. Now what lies beneath could hold the secrets, no, not to your love life, but your health. Your underwear can now be wired with electronic biosensors to measure your blood pressure, heart rate and other vital signs. This discovery, courtesy the University of California, breaks new ground in the concept of intelligent textiles.

This is the latest in line of everyday objects that can double up as one's doctor, the others being mirrors and toilets. At this rate, the medical profession might have to hang up its collective stethoscope. This could also mean a whole new range of lingerie that you would do well not to slip out of. A novel concept when lingerie has so far served to raise the blood pressure of the beholder. For those of us who suffer from White Coat syndrome and try to avoid a visit to the doctor at all cost, this is good news. You can keep things brief and to the point. No more having to say aah or breathe deeply. Your undies will tell you all you need to know. Wearable biosensors can even measure your blood alcohol levels. So, if not your breath, your innerwear could give you away when the police pull you over to the kerb.

Well, who are we to oppose the march of science for sooner rather than later it is bound to get to the bottom of things. So let's go with the flow and watch our backs to make sure that we're not missing a beat now and then. Now that it seems we will really be judged by the clothes we wear, there is no point in losing our shirt or getting our knickers in a twist over that. At least, we won't be caught with our pants down when it comes to matters of health.






Factory output in April rose the fastest in 20 years, setting India Inc off to a great start for the financial year. The 17.6 per cent growth in industrial production underlines the speed of the Indian recovery, with manufacturing growing at 19.4 per cent fed by an eye-popping 72.8 per cent rise in capital goods. The numbers, of course, flatter to deceive. Industry had virtually come to a standstill last April with manufacturing output climbing a measly 0.4 per cent and capital goods actually shrinking by 5.9 per cent. Nevertheless, the latest figures confirm that the Indian consumer is buying with a vengeance: consumer durables grew at 37 per cent, up from 17.6 per cent last April; and consumer non-durables, which had been anaemic for most of the previous 12 months, grew by a creditable 6.6 per cent, up from a 10.5 per cent decline in April 2009 and at double the pace of March 2010.

There is an extra bit of cheer to be drawn from the phenomenal surge in capital goods. At the beginning of the financial year this would seem to suggest that investment plans put on hold in the aftermath of the global liquidity crisis are back on stream. That bodes well for overall demand, investment being the biggest component after consumption, and one that takes its cues from the people's spending patterns. The long tail of the government's stimulus package is still on display here with heightened infrastructure spending creating an appetite for capital goods, but corporate India's capacity building plan, too, seems to have found its feet despite the withdrawal of tax giveaways and income transfers.

The government can look back on its handling of the economy during the crisis with a degree of satisfaction. That national income grew 7.4 per cent in 2009-10 owes itself in large measure to an industrial revival in which manufacturing output grew by 10.8 per cent, helped by handouts that cost the government 3.5 per cent of the GDP in 2008-09. The tricky bit now is to keep this growth momentum alive while winding down the huge debt the government has piled up in the immediate crisis period. Elation over output numbers will be short-lived as the low base effect begins to wear off in a couple of months. The government has a roadmap on fiscal correction laid out by the 13th Finance Commission; it must display the political will to adhere to these targets.






On the front page of Syed Shahabuddin's weekly The Milli Gazette there was a news item written by its editor Zafarul Islam Khan, which I felt should have made to the headlines of every national daily and TV channels. But I did not see it appear in any other journal and felt saddened that our media had failed to perform its duty. The article was headlined "Sikhs rebuild mosque demolished in 1947". I give a short summary of its contents.

Sarwarpur, a village ten kilometres from Samrala town, in Punjab has a sizeable Muslim population. In the communal civil strife which accompanied the partition of Punjab in August 1947, most of the Muslims fled to Pakistan and the mosque was demolished by rampaging mobs of Hindus and Sikhs. Last year the Sikhs of the village decided to rebuild the mosque.

On May 22, Jathedar Kirpal Singh of the SGPC (Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee), the MLA of the village Jaagjivan Singh and all villagers welcomed Maulana Habibur Rehman Sani Ludhianvi and presented the keys of the mosque to the oldest Muslim villager Dada Mohammed Tufail. There were triumphant cries of Allah-o-Akbar (God-o-Creator). Among those present was Mohammed Usman Radanvi, Chairman of the Punjab Wakf Board.

My heart swelled with pride at what members of my community had done. Something what Guru Nanak, whose first disciple Bhai Mardana remained Muslim to the end of his life, would have liked them to do; they had done what the Fifth Guru Arjan, compiler of the adi-granth and builder of the Harmandir (today's Golden Temple), whose foundation stone had been laid by the Sufi Saint Hazrat Mian Mir of Lahore, would have applauded. And so would Maharaja Ranjit Singh, one of whose Maharanis built the white marble Dargah of Data Ganj Baksh, the most popular Sufi shrine in Lahore today.

I don't think it is too late for the media to make amends for its oversight. It can still highlight this historic event. Let pressmen and crews of TV channels visit Sarwarpur, reproduce pictures of the rebuilt mosque, interview residents of the village and tell all their countrymen what we need to do to keep it together. They could organise special showings for the destroyers of the Babri Masjid including L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharati, Sadhvi Rithambra, Kalyan Singh, the Hindu Mahasabhaees, Shiv Sainiks, Bajrang  Dalis and others who share their venomous views. I think the results will be  spectacular. And I am sure our Bapu Gandhi in heaven will be showering his blessings on the villagers of Sarwarpur.  Don't you agree with me? 

Poets of yore

One evening, Geeti Sen, who is currently Cultural Counsellor with our embassy in Kathmandu, brought her son Murad with her. I had seen him as a baby in 1969 when his parents and I lived in the same block of flats on Cuffe Parade. He has grown into a handsome young man — educated in Lawrence School, Sanawar and with a degree from Sydenham College, Bombay. He went into making films and acting in different institutes in Paris and America. Since his parents split and his own marriage went on the rocks, he lives alone in Nizamuddin and devotes himself to studying and reciting Urdu poetry. He has given many recitals in different cities in India and Nepal.

That evening he got going in my home. I was astounded by his phenomenal memory. If I quoted a couplet of an Urdu poet, he came out with the entire ghazal. And many more of his own choice.

It occurred to me that while mushairas are restricted to poets reciting their own works and the better poets usually come on the stage past midnight, there was a better alternative to keep Urdu alive.

If schools and colleges where Hindustani is understood had men like Murad Ali invited to give recitations of old and new poets from Meer Taqi Meer, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Ghalib and Momin down to Iqbal, Faiz, Kaif-I-Azmi, and Ahmad Faraz, they could put fresh life into the dwindling love for Urdu poetry which is our priceless heritage. 

yes, minister With ministers, surprises never cease One had 'foot in the mouth' disease His statements on China Caused some angina But the PM gave him a fresh lease

Environment minister ruffled some feathers And helped create inclement weather. His diplomatic intrusions Created confusion That India and China should work together

Jai ho, Jai ho, Jairam Ramesh, Jai ho He is trying to unite friends and foes Chinese investments be allowed: He says — clear and loud But the bloke is treading on some toes (Contributed by J.K. Mathur, Gurgaon)

The views expressed by the author are personal






The BJP refuses to learn any lessons from its mistakes. Its leaders are busy fighting each other and if the perception persists that it is not an alternative to the Congress-led UPA, they have only themselves to blame. The party's recent National Executive at Patna should have been used to strengthen the organisation. But far from this, the major issues of conflict within the party remain unresolved.

The plight of the party is perhaps much worse than when it was controlled by Rajnath Singh and the coterie surrounding its top leader, L K Advani. Those who pinned their hopes on the saffron outfit being resuscitated, following the intervention of the RSS, must be terribly disillusioned now.

The change at the top brought about by the appointment of Nitin Gadkari, a choice of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, has not helped the party get back to its Hindutva roots. Instead, many who are opposed to Hindutva now find themselves being rehabilitated in the BJP.

In fact, while earlier it was only the BJP which was divided into factions, Bhagwat's first year in office has done similar damage to the Sangh. The RSS, like the BJP, has many groups functioning within it. Those who follow Sangh developments very closely have no hesitation coming to the conclusion that Bhagwat may go down in history as perhaps the most ineffective Sarsanghchalak.

But coming back to the BJP, its leaders have failed to analyse the reasons for its vote base moving away from it. For instance, the middle classes who were the backbone of the saffron party supported the Congress in 2009, evidence of which was provided by the results in most cities. It is another matter that rising prices may have led to a sense of alienation from the ruling dispensation among the middle class voters. But the BJP has not done enough to win them back.

This is not going to be easy since the Congress too will go the extra mile to hold on to its newfound base in the next polls, essentially because the original Congress votebank has also shifted away from it and supports parties like the BSP in UP.

Regardless of the outcome of the Patna conclave, the Gadkari-Bhagwat duo have a lot to worry about on how to curb Advani's influence. This seeks to undermine their very existence. The Rajya Sabha nominations have demonstrated beyond any doubt that Advani and Narendra Modi have managed to get Ram Jethmalani, an eminent lawyer known for his anti-Hindutva stance, the BJP ticket from Rajasthan.

In the process, the two leaders have perhaps attempted to make Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the numero uno of the BJP, irrelevant. Jethmalani had contested in 2004 from Lucknow against Vajpayee whose hoardings could be seen in Patna but whose status has certainly been put under a shadow with the latest development. It is true that Modi needs Jethmalani to contest his case in the apex court but the nomination has not gone down well with the rank and file of the party.

There have also been strong reservations about the Rajya Sabha seat from Uttarakhand for Tarun Vijay who had to leave the editorship of Panchjanya, the RSS mouthpiece, following an inquiry. Seshadri Chari, the former editor of Organiser, also an RSS mouthpiece, has already made his opinion on the matter known to one and all.

The crucial issue is that the BJP has been unable to get back to its Hindutva plank and the disillusionment of its core supporters has remained unaddressed for too long now. Factionalism is weakening the party with each passing day. Conclaves like the one in Patna have not helped matters since the perception persists that the saffron outfit, in its present state, is not an alternative to the Congress. Between us.






The only thing that ensures that she will wake up alive each morning is the fact that she became something of a cause celebre in 1992 when she, a Dalit, was gangraped by five upper caste men in her village of Bhateri in Rajasthan. Today, as people reel in shock at the travesty of justice in Bhopal, Bhanwari Devi still has some vestige of faith in the criminal justice system that has so cruelly let her down. Which is nothing short of amazing, considering that she has been waiting 15 long years for the Rajasthan High Court to hear her appeal against the verdict that let off the accused. She was attacked when she opposed child marriage in her village, the final 'provocation' being when she stopped a nine-month-old baby girl from being married off.

Still beautiful despite the knocks that life has dealt her, today she lives on Rs 1,000 given to her by the Mahila Vikas, wearing the same set of clothes day after day. The husband who stood by her valiantly as she fought for justice has today moved away from her as have her four children. She does not believe that it is because they do not care but because they live in fear of associating with her. Her rapists, exasperated by this woman's determination to bring them to justice, made her an offer they thought she could not refuse. Five bighas of land and five lakh rupees. Take it and get back your life, they said. A princely offer for someone living a hand-to-mouth existence. She refused.

At every step in her struggle to bring her tormentors to justice, she has encountered obstacles, a notable incident being a sessions judge telling her that upper caste men would not rape a Dalit woman. Yet, she soldiers on and was recently part of a women's karavan organised by an NGO, Anhad, to demand the implementation of the Women's Reservation Bill. Bhanwari's case; that of Musharrat whose husband had his legs cut off when she, a panch in Rajasthan, refused to be an accomplice to an upper caste sarpanch's crookery; the struggle for justice by the mother and sister of Ishrat Jahan, cruelly cut down in her prime in a fake encounter by the Gujarat police, are the forgotten stories of India. But they all hope that the tide will turn once the controversial bill is passed.

The heated debates about empowerment among the chattering classes are very far removed from the concept of that word among the Bhanwaris of this world. For them empowerment literally means the ability to survive against the harsh odds stacked up against them in a feudal and patriarchal society. It is perhaps a pipedream but it has given them the will to fight on even when justice seems elusive and distant.

The notion of empowerment for them does not mean a seat in Parliament, but at best a few crumbs at the panchayat level that may ensure that they get a fair hearing. Musharrat knows that being in a panchayat evokes more resentment than admiration or cooperation but she is not ready to throw in the towel. Rather she has used the minuscule amount of power that she has to pursue her case.

The issue of women's empowerment seems to have fallen by the wayside despite all the hype over the UPA 2's aam aadmi agenda. Apart for the hyperbole over the Women's Reservation Bill, which we are bound to see when it comes up again in Parliament, real tools of empowerment like literacy, employment, matrimonial choices and family planning, among others, are hardly talking points anymore. The spurt in so-called khap panchayat verdicts suggests a resurgence of a patriarchal order aimed at silencing women rather than any adherence to tradition.

The women's movement in India suffers from the drawback that it is fragmented. As Shabnam Hashmi of Anhad pointed out, the fight that women have on their hands ranges from domestic violence, social and religious discrimination, to sexual harassment. The karavan was meant to highlight all of these and more but no sooner was it over, so was the issue, at least in popular perception. The Reservation Bill has become such a hoary old chestnut that debating its finer points has become an academic exercise. At the prospect of any resolution, our political magicians are able to ensure that, like in a snakes and ladders game, the women's empowerment advocates slide down to the starting point.

Yet, perhaps at no other time has so much lip service been paid to gender sensitisation, gender budgeting, gender equality and so on. It is almost as though by talking about them incessantly, our policy-makers feel that they have fulfilled their duty to women. But for women like Bhanwari and Musharrat, these rarefied words make no sense. They have experienced firsthand that being a woman means being the most marginalised in any socio-economic strata.

The foolish argument that women's reservation will only empower the biwi-beti brigade stands exposed. Party bosses like those of the NCP or the DMK, to give two examples, need no reservations to ensure that their women are automatically elevated to positions of power with no particular merit other than their lineage. But for millions of dispossessed women, the myth that the Women's Reservation Bill will give them a level playing ground still persists. When you are living on Rs 1,000 a month, no more than a tip at a five-star restaurant, the dream of an army of empowered women meting out justice seems so inviting. But somewhere there is also a strong sense of realism in these women who refuse to give up. Bhanwari told me that she knows that she is not going to get the justice she deserves in this world. But for the few brief moments of her life that she was part of the karavan, she felt the strength in numbers of the other forgotten women like herself.

In its new, improved avatar, maybe, just maybe, the UPA government will live up to its middle name — progressive. And put just a little bit of power into the hands of women for whom survival itself is a daily challenge. Until then, the little karavans have scant hope of becoming the kind of juggernauts that will bring about a real change in gender equations.







An incoherent despair utters itself every four years. Every four years the football World Cup, the greatest show on earth, is inaugurated, and on cue the excitement in India is laced with a familiar question, why is it that India, this land of more than a billion, cannot field a team good enough to compete in the finals? The mix of elements that brings eminence to a country's team is too inscrutable for that question to be easily answered. But in the carnival-like atmosphere that's radiated around the world from South Africa demands another question.


Why is it that we in India have still not figured out how to maximise our enjoyment of sport? Take football. You do not need TRPs or confirmations of how much the television rights for the tournament went for to know that football is very popular in this country. As profiles in The Sunday Express showed, a motley group of individuals is working against the odds to bring professionalism to club football — the licensed football agent, the referee, analyst, promoter physiotherapist, they are acutely conscious that the infrastructure they seek to put in place is of a higher level than India's football. But what of the viewing experience?


All the above mentioned enthusiasts cite their love for the beautiful game to explain their passion. And it is telling that their fanhood is nurtured by following the best in international and club football telecast on television. To harness this devotion to the football fields of this country we need another, stronger connect. We need to be more inventive to fill the stands at local stadia for local matches. An old saying has it that if you build the stadia, they will come. Perhaps we need to tune that a bit: stage it well, and they will come. Then we could begin to plan a greater team on a greater stage.






The BJP went to its national executive meeting in Patna over the weekend with a weighty agenda: price rise, terrorism and Naxalism. If that was the intention, the party must explain how it all ended up spinning out of control into a confrontation with one of its oldest and, in the current context, most vital alliance partners. As tension simmers with the JD(U) in Bihar, the incident reframe two challenges before


the BJP. The first concerns its


ham-handed and, as the recent advertisements show, clumsy attempts to rebrand Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The second, at a crucial juncture before Bihar heads for assembly elections this year, points to confusion in the party on how to keep on board such few constituents as there now are in the National Democratic Alliance.


That an effort is afoot to rebrand Modi in a softer, inclusive, and nationally viable avatar is obvious from the advertisements that sparked off this controversy. And that this effort is being carried out in stealth is seen from the sharp reaction it drew from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Kumar is furious that photographs of Modi and himself in arms were issued in a Patna newspaper without his consent. He has also taken exception to mention in the advertisement about the Gujarat government's assistance for the Kosi floods of 2008. To make his outrage public, the Chief Minister cancelled a dinner he was to host for the BJP leaders in town for the national executive. In the hours since the controversy broke, efforts to calm matters were frantic. BJP spokespersons pleaded that too much must not be read into the advertisements, and that they did not know who issued them. JD(U) President Sharad Yadav held that the alliance is "old" and that "an unpleasant incident" had passed.


That last claim may prove to overstated. Nitish Kumar's anxiety is obvious. In an election in which the old faultlines of Bihar's electoral politics are being remapped, and new axes of political mobilisation reconfigured, his fear is that the focus on Modi could alienate the Muslim vote, which came to him in significant numbers in the 2005 assembly election. In turn, the fact that this anxiety is so obvious should be notice to the BJP on managing both its alliance partners and Narendra Modi.







Many of India's institutions are perceived as having hollowed out over the years; they have discovered their authority assailable and their credibility under siege. Something that should relieve us is that India's higher judiciary, in particular the Supreme Court, has justifiably been exempt from these concerns. The occasional dust-up over accountability and appointments doesn't take away from the fact that it remains an institution that is understood to be above petty politics and the heat-and-dust of business as usual in India's Capital. Which is why Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily's intemperate attack on the court on Saturday is deserving of special attention and condemnation. Not since the executive ran rampant during the Emergency in the 1970s have we seen such a brazenly cynical assault on the judiciary, and for the basest of political reasons.


This is, sadly, in keeping with the Law Minister's recent public statements, the immoderate nature of which is exceeded only by their frequency. Following the Bhopal gas verdict he has been everywhere, making extravagant attempts to placate public opinion that he must know are not entirely accurate — that the case against Warren Anderson is "not closed", for example, or that the Bhopal verdict in some way changes the debate around the Nuclear Liability Bill. And even in other matters Moily has been a gadfly. The Supreme Court was forced recently to take note of reports that he linked "unrealistic judicial activism" to the Naxalite problem, for instance. His ministry has unwisely decided to poke its nose into matters of policy outside its traditional remit — such as the suggestion that the Mines Ministry rework new legislation to prioritise "conservation" of minerals. Whether on the caste census or on Maoism, he has shown little respect recently to the internal deliberations of the government to which he belongs.


However, launching a crude attack on a former chief justice for a judgment passed more than a decade ago now that it is suddenly political expedient to do so is a new low. Throwing to the wolves of public opinion an individual who headed India's judiciary in this manner is the worst sort of short-sighted politics; one would have to have to be cynically unconcerned about institutional strength to lend one's weight to undermining one branch of the government in this manner. This transparent attempt to ride public opinion against the judiciary must be seen for what it is.











It is said that in 1977 at the time — timed to the exact hour — that Jayaprakash 'JP' Narayan was scheduled to hold a massive rally in Delhi after the Emergency was withdrawn and general elections called, the besieged Indira Gandhi government decided to screen Bobby on Doordarshan, the only television channel then. Given that Doordarshan in those days did to telecast much entertainment, the hope clearly was that Dimple Kapadia and Rishi Kapoor would discourage at least a few thousands from converging and bringing the house down at Ram Lila Maidan. It is unclear how much of a hit the crowd took with the scheduling, but the relationship between Indian cinema and what it says about the politics and the times we live in has long been established.


The times, politics and politicians have had their resonance in cinema ever since the sound would crackle and the black and white images would flicker all the way to "The End". There has been much made of the freedom, the netas, the unfulfilled promise of 1947 for several Indians — films like Naya Daur and Mother India had central characters blighted by the state of affairs. These were stories of people up against a formidable wall which constituted the "system"; and then there was the "struggle" — hope and despair and stories of common people all playing out magically on the screen.


The fundamentals kept changing. The portrayal of the zamindar and "evil moneylender" gave way to harsh portrayals of the police, gangsters and then finally the holy nexus between all, contractors, police, politicians and crooks — a case made out powerfully in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron and one made out very dramatically even in Tridev.


Then there was a stage, loudly inspired by films made in South India, when Andha Kanoon (remake of a Tamil film) and Meri Awaaz Suno (based on the Kannada film Antha) were violent statements on how the system had "failed" and vigilantism was the need of the hour. The message was, one had to blow the system up to make a point, else the point would not be heard.


In this new decade, 2010 is a year that has proved more exciting with at least two Hindi films that appear more nuanced, perhaps reflective of the more complex relationship with the "system" and politics that Indian have forged than simply tarring the entire "system" with a single brush.


Raajneeti is an absorbing, clever but cynical film which in a sense marks the coming of age of the idea that politics has occupied and continues to occupy in the lives of Indians.


It does justice to its name and also marks a sense of having come full circle in popular films about politics. Its greatest success lies in having touched upon so many tantalising characters in real life but making sufficient departures to leave the audience confused, so that it also becomes a riveting guessing game.


Why Raajneeti seems to have drawn people and audiences of all ilk and held them there for the entire length of the film is also about how the 1990s and 2000s stereotype of the one-dimensional, evil and grimy politician has been replaced by a multi-faceted set of politicos, deeply ambitious of course, but portrayed in all kinds of colour and with much more texture than what we even got to see in Prakash Jha's earlier "political" offers (Apaharan and Gangajal).


Perhaps a part of the answer lies in Jha's closer understanding of the electoral system after his stint as a Lok Janshakti Party candidate in Bihar in 2009. The anger and the regional stereotypes that limited the imagination to the venal Uttar Pradesh-Bihar, somewhat BIMARU thug are missing from Raajneeti's landscape. Shot in Bhopal, a mix of sets and actual backdrops, it could be any state and any city — Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore, Mantralaya in Mumbai or even Sansad Marg in Delhi.


It is interesting that a film like Raajneeti came out about the same time as Shyam Benegal's Well Done Abba. More interesting, as Benegal, too, is a member of Parliament now, which you might argue would have afforded him, an already brilliant film maker, a closer understanding of the 'system". It may appear as an unlikely bracketing, but with its very nuanced and detailed location in an Andhra Pradesh village, Well Done Abba is also a realistic parable of the Indian situation and the connections between two completely apolitical lives just trying to better their lot as they run into the "system". The system is not portrayed as just an opaque and dark wall, but with its idiosyncracies, custodians, corruption, and also little nooks and cracks, the promise of hope and new laws and how they have shown a way which could lead to results.


Oddly enough, there are again similarities in how Boman Irani, the driver in Well Done Abba, and Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif in Raajneeti are all the classical innocent outsiders, who are transformed by the time their respective films end.


This year has been promising, with both films having imaginatively attempted to reflect on politics, the times and how human lives get intertwined and not necessarily in a way that is full of despair and darkness — it's a very Indian portrayal of the mixed ideas we all have about the "system", political ambition, why we vote as we do, why we change our minds, all the while trying to chip away to make our place in the "system" and understand it, if only to simply get by and cope. Very much like Abba in Benegal's movie or Katrina Kaif's character in Raajneeti.








The government says that it is open to taking another look at its new rule that all listed companies must have a minimum public shareholding of 25 per cent. There is clearly merit in insisting on a minimum floating stock, and 25 per cent is a very reasonable limit. After all, investors need liquidity in order to reduce the cost of transacting; moreover, small floats mean that prices can be more easily manipulated — which is not really desirable because valuations can be either inflated or deflated to suit the majority shareholders. Typically, market indices also favour companies with larger floats and since large investors do follow indices, companies gain if they get higher weightage in the indices.


The government wants those companies that didn't already have a minimum public float of 25 per cent to get there by selling a minimum 5 per cent of their stock every year. Firms that haven't gone public yet are allowed to start off by offloading just 10 per cent of their equity capital, provided they manage to get a market value of Rs 4,000 crore. Subsequently, they could get to 25 per cent in stages. The 10 per cent rule for companies making an initial public offering (IPO) has probably been framed keeping in mind the several large public sector companies waiting to hit the market; if they had to sell so much of their equity at one go, they wouldn't get the best price for it. In fact, if owners of a Wipro, or even the state-owned NTPC, sell 5 per cent of their equity in a year, it will dampen their share prices — not only because the equity overhang, in such a short time, would impact the price.


Also, a bull market will fetch the owners of these shares a better valuation for their shares rather than one which is volatile; the outlook for the market right now is uncertain at best and investors are skittish given the state of the global economy and the financial problems in the Eurozone. In fact, that's probably the reason for the government's rethink. With large issues, including those of Coal India and SAIL lined up, and the disinvestment target of Rs 40,000 crore looming large, the government doesn't want to hurt the market by flooding it with paper.


After all, it stands to lose the most if things go wrong. A rough calculation shows that should the rule be enforced immediately, of the $32 billion to be raised at current market prices, 86 per cent of the amount will have to be raised by public sector companies. Of this, in the first year, when companies need to sell 5 per cent, approximately $13 billion needs to be raised, of which 75 per cent will have to be raised by PSUs. Clearly, the stakes for the government are high and it doesn't want to be seen selling shares in its companies for a song. So it might not be a bad idea for the government to ease the 5 per cent norm, for the first year, to say 3 per cent or even 2 per cent since the markets are choppy. Why after all should any owner be forced to give away equity cheap if he can command a better valuation?


India today is among the world's top investment destinations rivalling China and foreign investors, who want to participate in India's growth, are willing to pay for it. But right now, with the world economy in so much turmoil and recovery some way off, fund managers across the world are likely to be cautious and justifiably so. Which is why the timing for offloading so much equity doesn't seem right. While Rs 40,000 crore may not seem like a very ambitious target, it wouldn't pay to be over-confident. Just for some perspective, the indicative amount of $32 billion to be raised is twice the sum mopped up by companies through sales of shares in 2009-10. Already, between the government and the private sector, companies are looking to pick up about $10-15 billion worth of equity by March 2011 and it's hard to see the market absorbing such large quantities of paper without prices coming off.


There's clearly a case for staggering the sales because otherwise those companies that need the money more urgently, for their expansion or diversification plans, may not get it. And those owners who don't really need the money in a hurry will be forced to raise it nonetheless. The economy can do without such a mis-allocation of resources. The only negative point about having a minimum 25 per cent float is that many multinational companies might prefer to de-list altogether. That would be a pity because Indian shareholders can't participate in their growth and some of them are doing exceptionally well.


The writer is Mumbai Resident Editor, 'The Financial Express'







Chronologically, the story of Junagarh ought to have been told earlier than that of Operation Polo in Hyderabad (IE, May 31). But so sinister were the Nizam of Hyderabad's machinations, in collusion with Pakistan and the British Conservative Party, to establish his "sovereignty" over his state, and so crucial the integration of that state with India that the Hyderabad saga had to take precedence. Moreover, unlike Hyderabad that was of the size of France with a population of 20 million and an army, railway and postage of its own, Junagarh was a tiny state in Kathiawad, a Gujarati-speaking region that was a mosaic of princely states whose territories crisscrossed one another's. Neither Hyderabad nor the small state that eventually merged with Gujarat had any contiguity with Pakistan, but the latter boasted of a coastline with a functioning port at Veraval though more than 300 nautical miles south of Karachi, Pakistan's principal port and then capital. However, Junagarh had one thing in common with Hyderabad: Both had Muslim rulers and predominantly Hindu populations. Furthermore, the famous temple of Somnath, the holiest of a string of Hindu shrines in the area lay within Junagarh.


After prevaricating about his intentions for several weeks and ducking meetings with V. P. Menon, secretary of the states ministry in New Delhi and chief negotiator with the princes, Nawab Mohabat Khan of Junagarh announced the accession of his state to Pakistan on August 14, 1947. For reasons still unknown, Pakistan sat on the Nawab's request for accession for a month, and accepted it only on September 13, apparently in the belief that Junagarh could be used as a bargaining chip in relation to Kashmir. By then it was too late because a lot else had happened in the meantime to queer the pitch for Pakistan.


Indian leaders were understandably incensed by the Nawab's declaration, Sardar Patel, the Iron Man uncompromising on Indian unity and belonging to Gujarat, more than everyone else. The first thing he did was to secure the accession to India of Junagarh's two tributary states, Mangrol and Babriabad. As expected, the Nawab protested that his "vassals" had no right to do what they had done. The Sardar's reaction was to send a small army contingent to protect the twosome. Around the same time, in the city of Bombay, a provisional government of Junagarh was formed. Its head was Samaldas Gandhi, a nephew of the Mahatma and a resident of the princely state.


A vigorous agitation against the Nawab's proclamation and for a popular government in the state followed. In sheer panic, the Nawab fled to Pakistan, taking with him his family, of course, and 12 of the 2,000 pedigree dogs he owned.


The man left holding the baby was Junagarh's newly appointed dewan or prime minister, Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto, a Muslim League leader close to Pakistan's founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and father of the more famous Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He tried to tread softly but found the going very tough. Thus it was that Junagarh turned into a critically important contest between India and Pakistan. Its denouement was to become a precedent for the much larger states of Hyderabad and Kashmir.


From the word go, Jinnah had insisted that on a princely state's accession to either of the two dominions (as India and Pakistan were then) the ruler's word was "final" and no one else could have any say in it. The British government stated that technically Jinnah was right but there were several other important considerations about accession that "could not be ignored". Nehru argued emphatically that whoever might be the ruler and whatever his predilections, the wishes of the people of the state were supreme and must prevail.


These, he added, could be ascertained through a plebiscite, when and wherever necessary. Ironically, Junagarh and its "accession" to Pakistan provided him with a perfect opportunity to establish the principle he stood for. (Mountbatten, though governor-general of India had friendly relations with Jinnah. He privately conveyed to his opposite number that Pakistan "could not have chosen a worse Indian state" to accede to it.)


Isolated and helpless, Sir Shahnawaz found that his position was becoming more and more untenable. On October 27 — incidentally, the day on which Pakistan first invaded Kashmir — he wrote to "Quaid-e-Azam" that after accession to Pakistan, the Nawab and he were initially flooded with letters of congratulations. But "it now seems that Muslims of Junagarh have lost all their enthusiasm for Pakistan". Precisely ten days later, he threw in the towel, and informed the government of India that he would like to hand over the administration of Junagarh to it. After a brief discussion, the formal transfer took place on November 9 when the regional commissioner at Rajkot, M. N. Buch, took over.


It was then that Nehru made his point. He held a plebiscite in Junagarh on February 20, 1948. Mountbatten — who, in view of what had gone over Junagarh and the fighting that was going on in Kashmir, was anxious to avoid a general India-Pakistan war — backed Nehru fully. Ninety one per cent of Junagarh voted for accession to India. This triggered an intriguing change of heart on Jinnah's part. Having rejected a plebiscite out of hand, he suddenly told Mountbatten that he would settle for a plebiscite in Kashmir. But his conditions for it were such that Mountbatten knew India would never accept them.        


A narration of the Junagarh episode cannot be complete without a fascinating footnote. A full 32 years later, in April 1980, three months after Indira Gandhi's return to power, Pakistan's then president, General Zia-ul-Haq, first met her at Harare during Zimbabwe's independence celebrations. On arrival he presented her an autographed, coffee-table book on his country. She opened it only after he had left and was furious to find that the map on the book's front piece showed not only the whole of Jammu and Kashmir but also Junagarh, Mangrol and Babriabad as parts of Pakistan. Instantly, she ordered two of her aides to take the book back and return it to the military ruler personally.

The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator.








The Constituent Assembly's political legitimacy is being intensely debated, after the house chose to extend its own tenure despite having failed to deliver the constitution by the rigidly prescribed deadline, May 28.


The Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal (RPP-N), with four members in the 601-strong house, declared the extension wrong on both political and moral grounds, although its national executive did not endorse the majority demand that its members quit this "illegal house".


The party spoke from a Hindu right-wing plank, demanding that the matter of whether the country became a federal republican and secular Nepal or reverted to a unitary Hindu monarchy, be settled only through a referendum.  


Its decision to come out openly as a Hindu and monarchist party comes at a time when the parties that undertook to write the new constitution institutionalising the three new identities failed to do so within the mandated life of the house.


But the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M), which still insists that its joining the peace and democratic process is only tactical, and that it has not given up its ultimate goal of establishing a people's republic peacefully if possible, and through violence if necessary, has clearly not surrendered the revolutionary space to other groups or forces.


As resentment against the three big parties — the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and the UCPN-M mounts, RPP-N's assertion against their policies is understandable. The party is clearly banking on a groundswell of opposition against these parties, which monopolised power and policy in the last four years, and failed to resist blatant foreign interference in domestic affairs and speculation over Nepal's unity and integrity.


The strongly pro-Maoist national media has also started giving space to news and views in favour of the monarchy, their simple lifestyle, and the former sense of public security and national integration. RPP-N chief Kamal Thapa claimed that the Maoists have realised their mistake in abolishing the monarchy and are now in favour of "a cultural monarchy". The claim is yet to be endorsed by the Maoists although its senior leaders have met various pro-monarchy leaders, and have been trying to meet former King Gyanendra, who has apparently asked them to first make their "position vis a vis the monarchy" public.


The conflict for a decade until 2006 was followed by rising expectations that Nepal would be a stable democracy and prosperous economy. With the death of that hope, more and more Nepalis are seeking better opportunities abroad.  Official assessments show that more than five million Nepalis are working abroad, including in the Gulf. The process remains unabated, as another 3.5 million face food scarcity this year.  The earlier trend of well-settled Nepalis abroad returning home to contribute their expertise has now stopped altogether, because of the chaos and uncertainty. As a result, Nepalis living abroad — nearly a fourth of the country's population of 2.8 million — have more stakes in the stability and prosperity of the countries they work in, than in Nepal. This reduced investment of Nepalis, though they contribute nearly 17 per cent of the GDP — also allows the international community, and donors (which contribute about 5 per cent of the GDP) and the business community (which contributes 2 per cent through taxes), a greater space in policy formulation.


Clearly, the exclusion and indifference of vast sections, including the middle classes and the disadvantaged, from the sphere of politics and policy formulation both dilutes national feeling and plays into elite hands. The UCPN-M however, is the only party that mobilises Nepali migrants and labourers abroad and collects money from, almost like Sri Lankan Tamils once did.


The RPP-N, in a way, has taken these factors into account and indirectly challenged the influence of outside actors by asserting that the three new identities of federalism, secularism and republicanism are concepts borrowed from there.  But it is clearly coasting on the others' failure and unpopularity rather than putting forth its own organisational ability and vision. The upside, however, is that large numbers of people, who live in the country despite all the instability , have begun acting like active stakeholders warning political parties that they are not indispensable and would not be forgiven for missing the historic opportunity to deliver a constitution consolidating peace and democracy and opening new vistas for Nepal's economic growth. The days to come will sorely test Nepal's political parties.








The opinion given by Abhishek Manu Singhvi, in the Supreme Court to Dow Chemicals in 2006, has raised questions about the dos and don'ts of the legal profession.  The uproar is centred on the idea that Singhvi, also Congress spokesperson, should never have become professionally involved with Dow Chemicals, perceived as the villain of the piece ever since it acquired the erstwhile global behemoth, Union Carbide Corporation in 2001. Phrases such as "conflict of interest" have been floating loosely since news of the maligned legal opinion came out in the open. This controversy follows others of a similar character, from Ram Jethmalani's defence of Manu Sharma to fair trial rights for Ajmal Kasab.


A popular Latin maxim lists the three precepts of the law to be — living honourably, injuring nobody, and rendering every man his due. It is the third precept that demands the presence of a lawyer, as spokesperson for the man who awaits his due. The lawyer is an unavoidable part of the process, and his duties are meant to bring fairness and transparency to it. An old quote says, "When a lawyer defends his client, he is simply fulfilling his duty, in obedience to the behests of an institution which rendered it just, as well as expedient, that he should be substituted for his client, whatever might be the thought of their morality. That was a question for the legislature, not for him."


Viewed from this prism, a lawyer cannot be faulted for defending a person, however heinous his crime. It is ironical to see double standards from enlightened sections of society who take up cudgels on behalf of a Kasab under the banner "terrorists have rights" and then deride legal representation to a Dow Chemicals because they have killed "poor Bhopal victims", or mock a fair trial for an S.P.S. Rathore. Let us stop playing judge, and let the law and the lawyer, take their own course. Still, such a course can be one marred with blemishes and improprieties. This is where "conflict of interest" kicks in.


The allegation against Singhvi is foundationally flawed as it attempts to draw linkages, unjustifiably, between his professional conduct and his political views. The conflict of interest rule is meant to safeguard the interests of the client, not that of society at large. Indeed, this is a multi-faceted principle with many ambiguities surrounding it, but Singhvi's conduct does not even fall within the ambiguous and hazy zone of this rule. Broadly, this rule prevents a lawyer from taking a brief on behalf of a party who is opposed to an existing client of his. The rationale is to prevent the lawyer from playing both actor and spectator in the same arena. The catch lies here — the arena has to be the same one. A lawyer may be an open advocate against the death sentence with membership in organisations devoted to this cause and yet, argue for death to the accused in his capacity as public prosecutor. This position does not shift because the lawyer in question is Singhvi and the client is Dow Chemicals.


The conflict of interest rule finds expression in the Bar Council of India Rules, 1975, Part VI, which enlists the duties of senior and other advocates. Importantly, mention is made of the rule of disclosure, which commands the lawyer to place all facts to the client as may influence the client's decision to engage him. This is important as it affirms the rationale for the "conflict of interest" rule, being protection of the client's interest. This is noted by the Supreme Court in its 1983 verdict in Chandra Shekhar Soni v. Bar Council of Rajasthan, reported in AIR 1983 SC 1012, where the Court observes: "It is not in accordance with professional etiquette for an advocate while retained by one party to accept the brief of the other. It is unprofessional to represent conflicting interests except by express consent given by all concerned after a full disclosure of the facts." It is incorrect to apply a rule meant for this restricted purpose to equate the political and the professional spheres.


It is trite to say legality is one thing and propriety quite another. Singhvi's act may be legal but is it proper? It is, because all that has been done is rendering an opinion on an issue of law, the issue being whether the acquirer will be held liable for the conduct of the acquired in the factual matrix of the Bhopal disaster and subsequent settlement. Merely stating there is no such liability under the existing legal regime doesn't affect the Congress party's professed commitment to render justice to the Bhopal victims. Ultimately, it is for the judiciary to take a view on this and Singhvi's opinion only guides the client, a guidance that may ultimately be proved wrong. If questions of morality are brought in where legal opinions are drafted, most would be incorrect in law!


The writer practises in the Madras high court.







New forms of media have always caused moral panics: the printing press, newspapers, paperbacks and television were all once denounced as threats to their consumers' brainpower and moral fiber.


So too with electronic technologies. PowerPoint, we're told, is reducing discourse to bullet points. Search engines lower our intelligence, encouraging us to skim on the surface of knowledge rather than dive to its depths. Twitter is shrinking our attention spans.


But such panics often fail basic reality checks. When comic books were accused of turning juveniles into delinquents in the 1950s, crime was falling to record lows, just as the denunciations of video games in the 1990s coincided with the great American crime decline. The decades of television, transistor radios and rock videos were also decades in which IQ scores rose continuously.


For a reality check today, take the state of science, which demands high levels of brainwork and is measured by clear benchmarks of discovery. These days scientists are never far from their e-mail, rarely touch paper and cannot lecture without PowerPoint. If electronic media were hazardous to intelligence, the quality of science would be plummeting. Yet discoveries are multiplying like fruit flies, and progress is dizzying. Other activities in the life of the mind, like philosophy, history and cultural criticism, are likewise flourishing.


Critics of new media sometimes use science itself to press their case, citing research that shows how "experience can change the brain." But cognitive neuroscientists roll their eyes at such talk. Yes, every time we learn a fact or skill the wiring of the brain changes; it's not as if the information is stored in the pancreas. But the existence of neural plasticity does not mean the brain is a blob of clay pounded into shape by experience.


Experience does not revamp the basic information-processing capacities of the brain. Genuine multitasking, too, has been exposed as a myth, not just by laboratory studies but by the familiar sight of an SUV undulating between lanes as the driver cuts deals on his cellphone.


The effects of consuming electronic media are also likely to be far more limited than the panic implies. Media critics write as if the brain takes on the qualities of whatever it consumes, the informational equivalent of "you are what you eat." As with primitive peoples who believe that eating fierce animals will make them fierce, they assume that watching quick cuts in rock videos turns your mental life into quick cuts or that reading bullet points and Twitter postings turns your thoughts into bullet points and Twitter postings.


Yes, the constant arrival of information packets can be distracting or addictive, especially to people with attention deficit disorder. But distraction is not a new phenomenon. The solution is not to bemoan technology but to develop strategies of self-control, as we do with every other temptation in life. Turn off e-mail or Twitter when you work, put away your Blackberry at dinner time, ask your spouse to call you to bed at a designated hour.


And to encourage intellectual depth, don't rail at PowerPoint or Google. It's not as if habits of deep reflection, thorough research and rigorous reasoning ever came naturally to people. They are not granted by propping a heavy encyclopedia on your lap, nor are they taken away by efficient access to information on the Internet.


The new media have caught on for a reason. Knowledge is increasing exponentially; human brainpower and waking hours are not. Fortunately, the Internet and information technologies are helping us manage, search and retrieve our collective intellectual output at different scales, from Twitter and previews to e-books and online encyclopedias. Far from making us stupid, these technologies are the only things that will keep us smart.


The New York Times








In the last couple of weeks, newspapers have carried reports of Bharti sealing the Zain deal, RIL picking up stake in Infotel, industry logging a 17.6% growth in production and telecom companies paying up Rs 1,06,336 crore to the government through the 3G and broadband auctions. At the same time, the government is unable to decide on a much-needed reform in oil prices as ministers cannot see eye to eye on it, has pushed back a decision on disinvestment in the largest public sector issue—that of Coal India, even after investment advisors have been appointed by the company—and we have seen senior members and ministers of the ruling coalition scoring political points over a 26-year-old tragedy whose handling remains one of the most sordid episodes in India's economic history. In the face of such contrasting performance by the private sector and the state, will it be a wrong conclusion to draw that the government should steer away from involving itself in matters of commerce? We are not even including issues like raising the threshold for public issues to 25% of the total equity that created a huge ruckus in the stock markets. One might argue that one set of episodes in a financial year cannot be any long-term yardstick but the trends are too strong for any other conclusion. Last week, this newspaper pointed out how the vacillation within the government on another key area, export of iron ore, is creating incentives for companies to play the lobbying game.


In this context, it is interesting to point that the only two sectors that the government actually runs in contrast to the ones where it sets rules are the financial sector and the oil sector. This weekend, the government had to shell out Rs 6,212 crore to six public sector banks. Yet, public sector banks by definition should not have suffered from the vicissitudes their counterparts in the private sector suffered during the global financial storm. The condition of the public sector oil companies of all shades is, of course, a serious cause for concern. Contrast this with the power sector where, even though the government is the dominant entity, it has learnt the rules of prudent behaviour, as a result of which the performance of all the companies has gone from strength to strength. It will be interesting to see, if in the light of these developments, sovereign ratings of India start mentioning governance as an area of concern from now on.






After a soft start to the financial year, Indian banks are once again tapping the global markets to raise funds. The recent overseas bond issues by Bank of India which raised $550 million and Axis Bank which raised $350 million (with the issue getting subscribed four times over), only indicate the favourable response of overseas investors to Indian issues. Last year, the country's largest public sector bank, SBI, raised around $750 million. It is in the process of selling bonds in the next quarter of this fiscal again, here and abroad. As a recent FE report indicated, Punjab National Bank and ICICI Bank are also in the fray to raise money from the global markets. The favourable response is a combination of the robust performance of the Indian economy that has coloured the perception about Indian banks and their ability to survive the sustained maelstrom of closure of banks in most countries. Foreign investors are also looking at Indian banks with renewed interest because of the high domestic savings. Apart from low interest rates globally, overseas borrowing also has some exchange rate advantages with the rupee appreciating against the dollar, which brings down the overall cost of borrowing. At current rates, banks are paying a coupon rate of around 4.45-4.55% on their overseas borrowing. In contrast, interest rate on a five-year term deposit is around 10%. Analysts expect the Libor to move up, but the spreads will narrow. This will keep the overall borrowing rate for Indian banks constant and they, in turn, can pass the increase in Libor to floating rate borrowers.


The receptiveness of Indian papers in the international market is strong as they are well priced and packaged. With interest rates likely to harden in the country, domestic borrowers may turn to the overseas market in more numbers to raise funds. Moreover, the US Fed chairman has recently indicated that the soft interest rate is likely to continue for some more time, which will bode well for Indian corporate borrowers, especially banks. To ensure uniformity in overseas borrowing and investment portfolio of banks, RBI has allowed banks to borrow up to 25% of their unimpaired Tier-1 capital from the overseas market. Similarly, the existing limit of 15% of unimpaired Tier-1 capital for investment in overseas market has been raised to 25% of unimpaired Tier-1 capital. These moves have indeed helped banks to raise capital from the global markets.









The Prime Minister had lamented recently that the chiefs of public sector enterprises(PSE) were "largely disempowered by the government". Bureaucratic interference makes the decision-making process at some of our best PSEs suboptimal. So, as head of the UPA government, what is Manmohan Singh doing about this? Many of our good PSEs today are listed on the stock markets and operate in a globally competitive environment. Suboptimal decision-making in critical areas has a direct and adverse impact on both shareholder value and the profitability of the company. In a highly competitive environment, the slide in market share and profitability happens much faster than we realise. Look at the way BSNL has rapidly lost market share and ceded its pre-eminent position over the last five years. A good part of BSNL's decline can be explained by lack of a coherent strategy to grow the company and to compete with the ambitious private telecom service providers.


Deliberate delays in tendering equipment worth tens of billions of dollars inordinately slowed its network expansion and gave away crucial catchup time to private players. Remember BSNL was way ahead of private players in terms of having the most extensive national telecom services network. There was a time when only BSNL mobile phones worked if you traveled in India's deeper interiors. All that advantage is gone now.


The BSNL example is instructive because many other profitable PSEs are likely to meet the same fate. ONGC is another leading player that may go down that path, with ambitious and focused private sector players already into oil exploration. In the past, ONGC could afford to be complacent as it was a monopoly. In a more competitive environment, ONGC needs to pull up its socks. However, ONGC can compete on a level playing field only if it gets genuine operational autonomy. Merely designating a company Maharatna or Navaratna is not good enough. Last week, the ONGC management was forced to cancel big tenders for selecting well-equipped ships that do the job of maintaining undersea exploration infrastructure simply because politically motivated "verbal instructions" came from the ministry, seeking modification of tender specifications. Against the backdrop of the BP oil spill, which has shocked the world, ONGC is trying to make specifications for maintenance vessels more stringent. But politics is interfering with this process. ONGC officials express deep frustration over this.


Last week, at a conference organised by the CII on governance issues related to PSEs, the head of Hindustan Copper Ltd, Mr Shakeel Ahmed, spoke his heart out. He said managements of better-run PSEs must seriously assess how much of their real potential is not being achieved. Citing his own example, Mr Ahmed said Hindustan Copper Ltd was a mini ratna and therefore had a limit on how much investment it can make automatically. For higher investment decisions, the file goes to the board, the administrative ministry, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs and so on. In one case, Ahmed has already waited three months for the final Cabinet clearance for a simple investment decision.


Ahmed argued that PSEs are suffering from overgovernance from various government institutions. This comes in the way of genuine risk-taking, which is part of any business enterprise. Ahmed's anguish is shared by the larger PSE community. A CII-Deloitte joint study conducted a survey of officials across all PSEs, which bears this out.


The survey lists some of the big impediments to PSE's competitiveness in the current globalised business environment. PSEs are subjected to dual audit, one by the statutory auditor and the other by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), resulting in duplicating of efforts by the officials.


Second, compliance with the Central Vigilance Commission(CVC) requirements in many cases delays decision-making. Since PSEs are owned by the government, they have to adhere to disclosures under the RTI act. The time required for responding to various Parliamentary Committees slows down decision-making.


One of the biggest hurdles to efficiency is the tendering process, which is marked by political interference all the time. You just have to study the delays caused in some of the recent tenders floated by ONGC or NTPC, and it will become amply clear why their projects take so much longer to get off the ground.


So, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was dead right when he said PSE managements were disempowered by the government, which owns these companies. How do you insulate the PSEs from the owner's curse and give it real operational autonomy. This can be done by separating ownership from day-to-day management. This must be done in both letter and spirit. There is an even greater need today to insulate the PSEs from administrative ministries run by rapacious coalition partners who look at juicy ministries as instruments to fill their party coffers.


With coalition politics having made PSEs that much more vulnerable, the Prime Minister must think of radically altering the governance structure of PSEs. One radical idea is to put many profitable and listed PSEs under one holding company. It could be modelled on Tata Sons, under which dozens of Tata companies are governed.


The holding company housing all the PSEs can act as a managing agency for which there is a provision under the Companies Act. The holding company must preferably be kept under the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). The PMO must act as the administrative ministry for all profitable PSEs above a certain size. This will insulate the PSEs from individual politicians who may want to milk them. It could have a diverse board representation reflecting the true character of the public sector. Any takers?








It happened faster than anyone expected. The announcement by Mukesh Ambani's RIL to enter the telecom sector through the wireless broadband route by acquiring a little-known Internet firm Infotel within 20 days of the scrapping of the non-compete agreement between the brothers surprised everyone. While the entry was guaranteed and that too by acquiring a firm (and FE was the first to highlight it), nobody had guessed that it would happen so fast given that the domestic telecom industry is going through its worst upheavals in the last 7-8 years.


Mukesh's love for telecom is well known, particularly the passion with which he had begun Reliance Infocomm. While the project started during his father Dhirubhai Ambani's time, it was Mukesh's pet project and saw the commercial launch after Dhirubhai's death. It would not be wrong to say that if telecom business would not have been demerged from RIL in 2005, it would have been the first project that Mukesh built on his own, right from the scratch. Oil and gas, petrochemicals, textiles et al were Dhirubhai's creation. Mukesh did subsequently go on to create retail, SEZs, pharma and life sciences businesses but none have been as successful as the telecom business was in the short span of time he piloted it. Anyway, let's leave it for the counterfactual business historians to pontificate whether he would have beaten Sunil Mittal's Airtel had he carried on with it.


RIL's entry into telecom would certainly cause worry for the big domestic players, particularly Bharti Airtel and Anil Ambani's RComm. Mukesh's entry in 2002 using the CDMA platform, which was restricted by regulations to limited mobility, was used cannily to provide full mobility, which was later backed by policy. This caused huge disruptions in the Indian market. Tariffs dropped, people stopped paying for incoming calls, mobiles became a product for the masses and teledensity multiplied. If Mukesh had violated regulations, it was hard to pronounce him guilty as he had brought greater good to the people!


Would Mukesh repeat the same with wireless broadband? Would he start offering voice on broadband, which is not permitted today as full mobility was not allowed on CDMA in 2002? Would he partner Anil's RComm to get what he does not have? These are some of the questions that would bother all industry watchers. The concerns are genuine given that wireless broadband may offer scope as it currently has a very low subscriber base but certainly does not offer a sound, stand-alone business case worth Rs 18,000 crore.


While it is early days, it does seem that Mukesh's second stint in telecom would be collaborative rather than disruptive as was the case the first time around.


After all, the telecom landscape in India has undergone a huge transformation and low tariffs cannot deliver wonders anymore. Sunil Mittal does need to worry because whatever RIL does, it is on a huge scale so the market leader cannot afford to relax. But there is immense scope for synergies today. The two can collaborate rather than contest. Be it selling bandwidth to corporates, last-mile connectivity or reselling airtime bundled with handsets, all is possible.


The same holds true with Anil's RComm. While chances of RIL taking over RComm or even acquiring a minority stake in it are dim, sharing infrastructure and other forms of voice networks is certainly a possibility. However, since RIL would need to scale up fast it would certainly not limit itself to an exclusive partnership with RComm for anything. The partnerships it would forge would be diversified—with a range of service operators, technology providers and device manufacturers.


The problem for Anil could come at a different level. He is seeking to divest 26% stake in Rcomm for which finding buyers could now become difficult because investors would first want to wait and watch how the peace accord between the brothers pans out. Second, this is only the beginning. With the kind of surplus cash RIL has and generates year after year, Mukesh, by all means, could acquire a telecom firm either domestically or globally—the surprise could be similar to the one he has sprung now. Therefore, global players looking at the India market would prefer to wait and only hitch their wagons to the better suitor.


Since RComm has the second-largest subscriber base in the country, it doesn't have any thing to lose if Mukesh builds up his telecom empire. In the interim, if Anil scales up his power business, particularly the gas-based one where Mukesh would not venture till 2022, the pie would be big enough for the two brothers to share rather than quibble and fight over.


Whichever way the relationship between the brothers shape out, one thing is clear now: the much-awaited second generation telecom revolution has begun knocking on the door.









At the turn of the millennium when a little-known Stanford graduate decided to make India's first electric car, many thought the decision was miscalculated and audacious. This impression only gained strength over time, as Chetan Maini's Reva could sell only 3,000 units (with most of them being shipped abroad) in the last nine years. However, the sudden and unexpected takeover of the company by the country's largest utility player Mahindra & Mahindra has triggered a debate that shows no signs of abating. Speculations are still rife about what prompted Anand Mahindra to buy Reva.


With the black gold getting dearer by the day, we need to explore alternatives. But whether electric cars are a solution to this problem is still unclear. Carmakers, analysts and common folk are all divided on this issue. Infrastructure constraints and lack of government support are some of the most common reasons leading carmakers cite for not entering the electric space just yet.


An analyst told me recently that though a handful of carmakers are surreptitiously developing electric prototypes, none are willing to invest heavily in the project just yet—they are waiting to see a sizeable market. Honda Siel's decision to launch a hybrid version of its Civic has met with a lukewarm response. And GM's promised launch of e-Spark has been delayed after the company snapped all ties with Reva. But electric two-wheelers could be perfectly placed to bridge the gap between a vision and its succesful execution. Consider that 14 million electric two-wheelers are sold in China every year. While India's total two-wheeler market is 80% of China's, we sell only a little over a lakh electric two-wheelers. The serious mismatch here is hard to miss.


An electric car is not only pricey by normal standards but also requires ample space for charging, but an electric two-wheeler scores on both these fronts. Plus, with pressure mounting on India to cut carbon emissions, we could be only days away from a concerted effort by the government to promote green vehicles. Electric cars may still be a far fetched dream, but an electric two-wheeler could prove to be the game changer.








Early last month, three north Kashmir villagers were lured from their homes with promises of work and murdered by officers of an Indian Army unit who passed them off as jihadists trying to cross the Line of Control. Northern Army commander Lieutenant-General B.S. Jaswal has promised that the murderers would be prosecuted and punished. That isn't enough: the case has demonstrated, not for the first time, that there is a serious malaise both in the Indian Army's counter-insurgency formations and in the internal oversight mechanisms. Evidence gathered by the police leaves little doubt the Srinagar-based XV Corps ought to have known something had gone horribly wrong long before complaints were filed by the murdered villagers' relatives. Instead, top commanders proved clueless about what rogue units under their command were doing. Back in 2006, a police investigation found evidence that Rashtriya Rifles formations had been involved in the murders of several south Kashmir residents who were passed off as jihadists killed in combat. In 2004, an anonymous whistleblower in the Army revealed that four porters hired from Jammu and Punjab had been killed in a similiar fashion by the 18 Rashtriya Rifles. Not in one single case did the Army initiate action against the perpetrators. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has promised "zero tolerance" of human rights violations — but these words will remain a meaningless piety unless the Army evolves credible criminal justice systems.


Militaries around the world have to grapple with criminal acts by their troops, often of magnitudes worse than anything soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir are accused of. Earlier this month, troops from the United States army's 5 Stryker Brigade murdered several Afghan civilians in cold blood; the institutionalised torture of alleged terrorists in Iraq is too familiar to need recounting. However, in many of these cases, internal military investigators worked to build credible prosecutions conducted in the full light of day. Indian military commanders have, for the most part, reflexively glossed over wrongdoing. Between 1993 and 2007, the Army's Human Rights Cell investigated 1,321 allegations of human rights violations in J&K and the North-East. Just 54 cases, it claimed, were supported by fact; in consequence, 115 personnel were punished. But no data on either the investigations or the proceedings that followed has ever been made public. The argument that making such details public will erode military morale makes no sense whatsoever. After all, the actions of rogue military personnel demean the sacrifices of those who put their lives at risk in genuine counter-insurgency operations.






A year after the World Health Organisation declared an Influenza A(H1N1) pandemic, a joint investigation by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has raised "troubling questions about how WHO managed conflicts of interest among the scientists who advised its pandemic planning, and about the transparency of the science underlying its advice to governments." The open access findings are published in the journal ("Conflicts of interest: WHO and the pandemic flu 'conspiracies,'" by Deborah Cohen and Philip Carter). While three scientists had financial ties with drug companies producing influenza drugs and vaccine, and had declared their conflicts of interest in other instances, WHO failed to disclose this. In a defensive letter sent to the journal, Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, admits that the "WHO needs to establish, and enforce, stricter rules of engagement with industry, and we are doing so." However, at a January 2010 hearing of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, the organisation denied any industry influence on the scientific advice it received. A report by the Council of Europe has already come down heavily on WHO for its mishandling of the H1N1 influenza pandemic, which led to "distortion of priorities of public health services across Europe, and waste of large sums of public money."


It is mandatory for authors submitting papers to leading medical journals to declare any conflict of interest, and such information becomes part of the published paper. This is a vital safeguard meant to protect the integrity of academic work. By contrast, the BMJ article points out, the investigation reveals "a system struggling to manage the inherent conflict between the pharmaceutical industry, WHO, and the global public health system, which all draw on the same pool of scientific experts." Conflicts of interest by experts advising WHO can have serious financial and healthcare implications, especially when the world body declares a pandemic. Many developed countries spent a fortune stockpiling drugs and vaccines when they were not needed; and the healthcare systems of many developing countries were severely overstrained. One doesn't have to buy into conspiracy theories to be able to recognise that when a pandemic is mis-diagnosed and mis-declared, only the drug companies gain. Dr. Chan has vehemently denied that commercial interests influenced the world body's decision-making. If the idea is to regain trust, mere assurances will not do










The first substantive round of climate negotiations after Copenhagen that concluded in Bonn on June 11 began sedately enough. The dominant refrain in press briefings and reports in the global media was about "building trust" after the bitter debates in Copenhagen six months ago. One climate analyst, in a lyrical vein, detected a "gentle breeze of optimism," while the correspondent of a major British newspaper reported finding a "remarkable amount of goodwill around." Spokespersons from developing countries were more circumspect, though there was a rare optimistic note in the comments by negotiators of major developing countries at a media briefing on June 9.


However, the mood of constructive engagement rapidly dissipated in the second week, with the underlying conflicts coming to a head at the plenary sessions of the two negotiating tracks on the ultimate day. In a reversal of roles from the pre-Copenhagen days, it was Japan that held up the plenary session of the Ad hoc Working Group on the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) — and as a consequence the final meeting of the Ad hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) — demanding that the two plenaries be held together. This was clearly a renewed brute attempt to further its well-known demand to eventually bury the Kyoto Protocol.


But the ruder surprise for the developing countries was the fresh draft negotiating text of the AWG-LCA presented by chairperson Margaret Mukhanana-Sangarwe of Zimbabwe on the penultimate day of the meeting. Sweeping aside the views of the developing countries on a number of critical and contested issues, the text attempted to swing the negotiations decisively in favour of the developed nations. Bracketed text (which in the jargon of international negotiations denotes areas of disagreement and which is placed within square brackets) vanished across major sections of the document, to be replaced with wording that appeared to come straight out of the versions of the infamous "Danish text" that had bedevilled the negotiations in Copenhagen.


In one striking instance, going well beyond the language of the Copenhagen Accord, the un-bracketed text read: "Parties should cooperate in the peaking of global and national emissions by 2020," suggesting that developing countries were amenable to the peaking of their emissions around 2020, when, in fact, no such agreement had even been hinted at by them. Un-bracketed text farther on called for mitigation action by the developing countries to deliver "in aggregate a substantial deviations in emissions from business-as-usual emissions by 2020" — again an unwarranted interpolation. In marked contrast, when referring to the mitigation action of the developed nations, the draft called for the reduction of "the aggregate greenhouse gas emissions of developed country Parties by 25-40%" by 2020 but left unspecified the reference year with respect to which emission reductions were to be measured. It may be recalled that it has been a favourite stalling tactic of the developed nations to quote emission reduction figures without specifying the base year with respect to which these reductions were to be measured.


As many developing countries' delegations noted, the text, inter alia, appeared also directed at diluting the Kyoto Protocol, undoing the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, and focussing on the monitoring, reporting and verification procedures for developing countries in an unbalanced way. As the Indian delegation noted at the closing plenary, references to equity and burden sharing were scrubbed off the section on the shared vision for future climate action.


The G77 (which includes India) and China were forthright in dismissing the draft text and asserting that it could not form the basis for future negotiations. From the chairperson's remarks it is clear that the draft text is to be revised before being presented as the official negotiating text at the next meeting of the AWG-LCA in August. However, one must await the next round to know the extent to which the chairperson would adhere to the appeal of the G77 and China, which had urged that the chairperson produce a more balanced text reflecting better their viewpoints. It is notable though that the G77 did not follow Bolivia in outrightly rejecting the document.


The developed nations, for their part, have initiated a counter campaign of criticising the current text with their own set of complaints. It is evident that the tactic is to mount pressure to ensure that the negotiating draft for the next round does not go too far in accommodating the protests of the developing nations. If prior experience is any indication, it is likely that these efforts would bear some fruit. In fact, the negotiating text that was presented on May 17 — before the talks began — had already made subtle but key changes, privileging the developed nations, to the final text that emerged from Copenhagen. For instance, a critical point made by India, in its submission before Bonn, elaborating on the equitable sharing of global atmospheric space was ignored.


The dominant trend in the global media reports on the last day in Bonn was to portray the disagreements at the plenary as yet another manifestation of the divide between the global North and South, when in fact the former had attempted something of a negotiation "coup". The departing head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Yvo de Boer, indicated the nature of the coming media campaign with his remarks that the text was a "major advance" and that the talks showed an "increasing convergence on key issues." Inspired by such remarks, the pro-developed nation spin in the media commentary on Bonn is already visible.


The first, and primary, lesson from Bonn is that post-Copenhagen, with the developed nations continuing to seek to force their hand at every turn (with negotiation "coups" if necessary), the developing nations cannot afford to take their eyes off the ball. Despite some superficial bonhomie on occasion or some progress on secondary issues, the key long-term agenda remains one of ensuring that the developing world either accepts a contraction of the developmental space available to it or faces the potentially disastrous consequences for the most vulnerable amongst them. This agenda continues to have the potential to disrupt the unity of the developing world at the negotiations.


The Bonn experience also provides another important lesson. If the global South, with the major developing economies taking the lead, has to regain the initiative in the negotiations, it will have to do so with a counter-campaign that takes a fresh look at the key issues in global climate negotiations. Climate justice and equity must undoubtedly remain the bedrock of their policy, but the details and minutiae of the negotiations have to be formulated in a revamped discourse that enables the developing world to avoid a reactive and, on occasion, querulous response to the challenges posed by the developed nations. Unfortunately, today, the conceptual heights of climate policy-making, across the entire gamut of issues from the economics of climate change or adaptation to the core issues of equity, are dominated by a framework imposed by the North.


The most important issue undoubtedly remains that of ensuring the drastic emission reductions that the developed countries are bound by treaty to undertake. But their hand cannot be forced without the developing nations gaining the upper hand in the arena of global public opinion. While the developing nations rightfully seek the support of the developed world in capacity-building, technology transfer and financial flows, they cannot outsource their strategic thinking on climate policy to itinerant consultants, Northern aid agencies and the multilateral institutions of an unequal world.


( T. Jayaraman is Chairperson, Centre for Science, Technology and Society, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.)










The sprawling manufacturing plant in Shenzhen symbolised much about China's two-decade rise to become the workshop of the world. Every morning, 300,000 workers would troop in past the factory gates, all dressed in identical white overalls. Over a twelve-hour work day, they would stand in silence, their hands nimbly sifting through tiny electronic parts as they efficiently worked to assemble the high-tech iPods and MP3 players that were shipped off to far corners of the planet. If China's south became the world's factory, Foxconn's massive Shenzhen plant, itself the size of a medium-sized town, was its heartbeat.


As the world's biggest electronics manufacturer, the Taiwan-based company was, in many ways, the epitome of the labour-intensive, low-wage, large-scale and highly-efficient factory model that has underpinned much of China's export-led growth since economic reforms were launched three decades ago. But in recent months, the durability of the China factory model has come under increasing scrutiny, after a series of strikes across China's manufacturing heartland. The signs of change were most evident at Foxconn's Shenzhen home, where a dramatic spate of suicides in recent weeks has stirred public debate in China on the bleak conditions of its factories. Ten workers have died, throwing themselves off the rooftop of Foxconn's factory.


The debate ignited by the suicides has intensified in recent weeks following a series of high-profile strikes at other factories over low wages. Last week, production at Japanese carmaker Honda's facility in Foshan, in southern China, came to a grinding halt as workers laid down their tools demanding higher pay. The company was forced to acquiesce to the demands, agreeing to a 24 per cent pay hike. The strike's success prompted workers at a number of other plants across China's Pearl River Delta, the manufacturing heartland, to follow suit.


On June 7, about 250 workers at another Honda plant stopped work, demanding higher wages. As of June 10, the dispute remained unresolved. The automaker, which manufactures 650,000 vehicles in China every year, has now suspended work in all of its China factories. Over the weekend, another Shenzhen-based electronics manufacturer, Taiwan-owned Merry Electronics, faced a worker uprising that led to clashes between police and protesters. More than a thousand employees blocked the factory's entrance and stopped work, calling for better pay, less demanding working hours and better working conditions.


Beijing concerned


The spreading strikes have the government in Beijing concerned. What is causing them? Labour analysts and company executives in interviews with The Hindu pointed to the convergence of a number of trends, including an increased awareness of workers' rights, growing dissatisfaction with government-controlled unions and changing demographics as a result of family planning policies that have shrunk the size of the workforce.In the 1980s, China's factory boom in the south and southeast was largely driven by the influx of millions of migrant workers from the provinces. It was, essentially, the abundance of cheap labour that laid the foundation for China's export-led growth and the unmatched competitiveness of the 'China price'. Back then, for migrant workers who left villages that were impoverished in the aftermath of the disastrous economic planning and political upheaval of the 1950s and 1960s, the factory towns presented a way out of poverty and a better future. Indeed, China's booming manufacturing sector played a crucial rule in all but eliminating poverty in much of the country's south and southeast.


But one generation on, economic and social contexts, as well as aspirations, are much different. The pool of cheap labour has dried up, and in recent months, a number of factories have been forced to raise wages because of labour shortages. One possible reason, analysts suggest, is a shrinking workforce, a legacy of the family planning of the 1970s. Another is rising employment opportunities in rural China, particularly on the back of the $586-billion stimulus plan that has created thousands of jobs in the hinterland.


"Migrant workers are no longer so constrained for choice when it comes to finding employment," says Geoffrey Crothall of the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin (CLB), which monitors labour trends in China. "Now, if a company does not pay good wages, you can possibly go a few kilometres down the road to another town, or even go back home to work on your land."


Labour analysts say the Chinese government will soon have to increase minimum wages across-the-board to stem growing unrest. In recent weeks, local governments have already begun doing so. The Beijing municipal government this week announced a 20 per cent rise in the monthly minimum wage to 960 Yuan (Rs.6,600 or $140). A wage increase between five and 27 per cent that affects all companies has also been put in place by several local governments.


After the Foxconn case and the strikes at Honda, a number of foreign companies are raising salaries. The rise in wages, analysts say, will have global repercussions. The wage hike will see between 2,000 and 3,000 Hong Kong-owned factories close in southern China, estimates a Hong Kong-based industry group. Labour costs in southern China now exceed average costs in seven Asian countries, including India, rising to $1.08 (Rs.50) an hour. Foxconn, which announced a 65 per cent pay hike following the suicides, has already announced it will move some of its factories out of southern China; the company is said to be considering Vietnam and India.


Not everyone is mourning


In China, not everyone is mourning the decline of the factory model. Sections of the government have been pressing for a rebalancing of the export-reliant economy following the financial crisis. Rising wages, it is argued, will help boost domestic consumption and stimulate other industries. President Hu Jintao this week called for "transforming the growth pattern" and pledged more investment in innovation. An appreciation in China's Yuan currency, which many countries say has been kept devalued to support exports, is widely expected later this year and will further hasten the process.


Labour rights advocates are also cheering, arguing that a wage hike is long overdue after two decades of growth in the 1980s and 1990s that saw manufacturing companies and local governments get rich off the backs of cheap migrant labour. The status quo, they warn, will only result in more strikes and unrest across China's manufacturing heartland. Xia Yeliang, a professor of labour economics at Peking University, says workers are now in an "extremely weak" position, and "unreasonably low" wages, coupled with the absence of substantive dispute-resolving mechanisms, will mean they have few other options besides marching out of the factory gates.


The ruling Communist Party, adds Mr. Crothall of the CLB, has restricted space for independent unions in recent years, reluctant to compromise on the growth of its industries and fearing instability at the grassroots. The official All China Federation of Trade Unions is widely seen as representing the interests of the Party over the workers. "The problem is that the All China Federation of Trade Unions essentially does not have the power to make its own decisions," Mr. Crothall says. "It is completely reliant on the Party to tell it what to do. It cannot become more pro-worker unless it gets the go-ahead from Beijing. The Party has to tell the union in no uncertain manner, 'Your job now is to represent workers, and not act as a third-party facilitator.' Whether or not the Party is willing to make the adjustment remains to be seen."

A recent study conducted by a group of scholars at Shanghai's Fudan University found that dissatisfaction among China's 200 million migrant workers is rising. Part of the reason, according to Professor Lu Ming, is that incomes have failed to keep pace with the prosperity that has come to urban and coastal China. Another is restrictions on migration that limit access to social security for workers who leave their home-towns, a legacy from the days of China's centrally-planned economy. Prof. Lu believes Beijing is finally beginning to pay attention to the reforms scholars have been calling for, as evinced by a State Policy document released in March that eased some restrictions. "But far more needs to be done," the scholar cautions. Change, he says, cannot come soon enough for China's workers.









  1. The political parties that were in power during these years are guilty of culpable neglect
  2. One extraordinary feature of the outcome is that the highest officer who was involved in Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, is nowhere in the picture


The mass slaughter that occurred in Bhopal on December 2, 1984 was the consequence of an American multinational corporation dealing with Indian lives in a cavalier manner. Some 20,000 people were "gasassinated." Yet, after 26 years of trial, the culprits get two years of rigorous imprisonment as punishment. Such a thing can happen only in bedlam Bharat.


The President of the United States and the white world, and the Prime Minister of brown India, shout themselves hoarse against terrorism by the Taliban and the Maoist-naxalites. However, when it came to carnage caused by an American company in a backward region of India, it took all of 26 years to get a court judgment.


India is but a dollar colony, and so the "gasassination" has been treated as a minor crime. This is Macaulay's justice of Victorian vintage still ruling India. Our Parliament and the Executive are less concerned with the lives of 'We, the People of India'; their deprivation is of little consequence. The judiciary is another paradigm of insouciance and it is often indifferent to its fundamental duty of issuing a swift verdict. Parliament is too busy making noises to be able to make laws to defend citizens' lives. The investigative-judicial delay that has occurred is unpardonable for a crime of this kind.


Indian courts will do justice — if proper judges are appointed and fair procedures are made, if sensitive and sensible laws are enacted and the Executive has the needed independence, alacrity and integrity.


Trust violated


Meanwhile, this socialist democracy continues to be a cause for despair for the common people. This contradiction must end. We have enough human resources to redeem the pledge of the Father of the Nation whose ambition was to wipe every tear from every eye. This trust of Indian sovereignty was ludicrously violated in Bhopal.


Every poor man in hungry despair resisting the British Empire was once called a Congressman. When the Congressman came to power after freedom, every hungry militant was called a Communist. When the Communists came to power in some States and still kept many people starving, these poor men were called naxalites.


Does India have a future? Yes, provided the glorious Constitution and the marvellous cultural tradition, sharing the vision of both Karl Marx and Mahatma Gandhi, are realised. Have we such a sensitive perception? Have the instrumentalities under the Constitution a noble mission and a passion? Have the judges such an ambition? The Bhopal decision shows that India is still in a Victorian imperial-feudal era, distances away from the socialist dream.


One extraordinary feature of the outcome is that the highest officer who was involved in Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, is nowhere in the picture. This is but mockery of justice. If the chief criminal is beyond the party array, the millions who are the victims are being mocked by the trial of lesser offenders. In exempting the powerful from criminal jurisdiction, the law has become lame. Is an American criminal immune to investigation by an Indian court order? Such discrimination makes justice risible.


Over the 26 years it took, what was the Supreme Court, with so many judges who have original jurisdiction to try cases when fundamental rights are violated, doing? The Government of India did not move the court for an early trial? Now the Law Minister says he is not happy with this two years' rigorous imprisonment that has been granted. During these 26 years, no amendment to Sections 300 to 304 of the Indian Penal Code was moved or enacted, or severe punishment written into the Penal Code. This by itself constitutes dereliction of duty on the part of Parliament and the Executive. The political parties that were in power during these years are also guilty of culpable neglect: they slept over the noxious infliction on Indian humanity.


Fair compensation has not been paid to the victims. A huge hospital financed by Union Carbide was built in Bhopal. But it is not for the poor but the rich. It is over the bodies of the poor that the hospital building was built, and still the have-nots have no access to it. The Supreme Court, seemingly lost in issues relating to its own allowances and perks, did not call up the case from the trial court and decide it at once.


Warren Anderson is a closed chapter for the U.S. The most powerful nuclear nation has its bizarre sense of justice which should give courage for the Indian plural masses to resist dollar colonialism. Americans are above our rule of law. Brown India must be satisfied by White Justice where MNC bosses are indicted.


Washington swears by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But it uses a nuclear treaty to leverage things to its own advantage. India has no guts to call this bluff. We have MNCs with cosmic jurisdiction. Anderson is an American, so is Union Carbide. Its ukase is just on Asian fuel in earth. Indian justice is for municipalities and panchayats, not beyond.






There is no denying that media coverage of Dalit-related incidents and issues in Tamil Nadu has improved in the last two decades. In the early years of Independence, the typical attitude to Dalit problems was, as in every other State, one of complacency. This was mainly because the moment the Republican Constitution declared that untouchability was abolished across India, the media, civil society, and the political establishment began to believe that the problems concerning this section of the people have been resolved once for all.


In Tamil Nadu, particularly in the first few years of Independence, the struggle for reservation for backward classes in government employment became the foremost item on the social agenda of the Dravidian parties. So, unsurprisingly, when the State was rocked by incidents of violence involving Dalits and a section of caste Hindus in southern Tamil Nadu in the 1950s, the media as well as the mainstream political parties saw it as a "riot involving two social groups" or a fallout of competitive politics.


Only in the 1990s, when the birth centenary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was celebrated across the country and Dalit

socio-political assertiveness was in evidence did the media begin to see the issue from a different perspective. Horrific violence against Dalits, the resultant loss of life and property, and brutal intervention by the police on the side of the oppressors gave a new dimension to the media approach to Dalit-related issues. The killing of Dalits, and entrenched discriminatory practices against them were now seen, at least by a section of the media, from the angle of violation of human rights. Kodiyankulam (1995), Gundupatti (1998), and the Tirunelveli massacre (1995) can be cited as notorious examples of police repression against Dalits.


The dawn of the 21st century witnessed some new developments. The realignment of political parties, hopes raised by electoral politics, and the success of coalition-building among Dalit parties altered the ground reality. Media coverage of Dalit issues seems to be in decline, although a few popular Tamil magazines have chosen to keep the coverage alive, in a diluted form, usually with an eye on those looking for sensational reports. During the same period, there has been a decline in anti-Dalit violence but the chronic or entrenched problems loom large. Aside from persistent social discrimination against Dalits, landlessness, loss of land owing to ignorance or acute poverty, and improper implementation of the reservation system cry out for a solution. In the most recent period, the subject has been given lower priority even among the handful of newspapers that have been maintaining a decent level of coverage.


Madras High Court judgment


For instance, a recent court judgment of the Madras High Court on the alienation of the "Panchami Lands" assigned to the 'Depressed Classes' (later termed Scheduled Castes) to persons who were not from the Depressed Classes raises questions about a problem that has defied solution over decades. Dismissing the writ appeals filed by a private builder and a residents' association against an order passed in 1996 by a single Judge of the Madras High Court, a Division Bench comprising Justice Prabha Sridevan and Justice P.P.S. Janarthana Raja affirmed the findings of the single Judge that the lands in question were the [Panchami] lands allotted to members of the Scheduled Castes, subject to the conditions stipulated in Standing Order No. 15 of the Board of Revenue and that the present alienation of the land was in violation of these conditions. According to the Standing Order, if there has been violation of the conditions in the alienation of Panchami land, the Government has the power to resume the land. In such cases, "the Government will be entitled to re-enter and take possession of the land without payment of any compensation or refund of the purchase money." The judgment pointed out that the conditions imposed by the Government when it assigned the land were that the allotted land should not be alienated to any person for 10 years from the date of assignment and thereafter they could only be alienated to persons belonging to the Depressed Classes and if they were alienated to persons other than the Depressed Classes, the Government had the power to retrieve such land.


The Division Bench quotes extensively from the observations of the Supreme Court of India while dealing with the question of the right to economic justice under Article 46 of the Constitution, "which casts upon the State a duty to provide economic justice to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and other weaker sections of the society in order to prevent their exploitation." Justice Prabha Sridevan, who delivered the judgment for the Division Bench, gives a brief history of the assignment of lands to the Depressed Classes, before elaborating the Bench's verdict. In 1891, the Collector of Chengalpet District in northern Tamil Nadu, J.H.A. Tremenheere, sent a report to the British government on the plight of the Depressed Classes. Lands were then in the total control of persons who were considered to be at higher levels in the caste hierarchy and the bonded agricultural labourers and landless workers mainly belonged to the Depressed Classes.


Tremenheere stated further in his report: "The small marginal land holdings, housing, literacy, free labour without force/bondage, self-respect and dignity are the factors that could lead to transformation (in their lives)." The British Parliament passed the Depressed Class Land Act in 1892 and 12 lakh acres of land were distributed to people from the Depressed Classes in Tamil Nadu. The lands were called Panchami Lands [also known as Depressed Classes Conditional Lands] and were given away on certain conditions.


Justice Prabha Sridevan noted in this judgment that it would appear that the conditions over sale were imposed bearing in mind that it would be easy to exploit persons belonging to the Depressed Classes who had been kept in a subjugated condition. Statistics showed that vast extents of lands distributed under the scheme were later in the possession of persons who did not belong to the Depressed Classes. The Judge observed that the conditions appeared to have been violated without any check or restraint. (The counsel for the appellants had submitted that such a restraint on alienation of land was void.)


The Judge drew attention to an excerpt from the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, which the Supreme Court referred to while dealing with a petition challenging the Act. The excerpt read: "Despite various measures to improve the socio-economic conditions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, they remain vulnerable. They are denied a number of civil rights. They are subjected to various offences, indignities, humiliation, and harassment. They have, in several brutal incidents, been deprived of their life and property. Serious crimes are committed against them for various historical, social and economic reasons." She added: "The very sad truth is that the conditions recorded in the Statement of Objects and Reasons in the year 1989 have not abated. Therefore, this only underscores the importance of protecting the rights of those who have been for centuries, denied this right [to live with human dignity]."


The verdict of the Division Bench, which has looked into the problem from the perspective of the constitutional rights of Dalits, such as the right to economic justice and the right to live with dignity, gains significance in the context of repeated appeals of Dalit and Left organisations to the government to retrieve Panchami lands, assigned to Dalits but now in the possession of non-Dalits, and restore it to Dalits. Only massive, concerted efforts of the government to survey the land assigned under the Panchami Land scheme and identify the land alienated to non-Dalits in violation of the conditions can lead to restitutive justice on the ground.


Dalit reassertion in Tamil Nadu


Although 1.2 million acres of land are reported to have been assigned to Dalits in Tamil Nadu, much of this has fallen into the hands of non-Dalits over the decades. The problem came to light only around the 1990s. It is noteworthy that an organised agitation demanding retrieval of the assigned land back to Dalits was staged in 1994 at Karanai near Chengalpet (now Chengalpattu), where the District Collector Tremenheere initiated the historical move to recommend to the British India government distribution of land to people of the Depressed Classes in 1891. The agitation was met with a heavy hand, resulting in the death of a couple of Dalits in police firing. Although the agitation did not succeed, the movement marked the beginning of Dalit reassertion in Tamil Nadu.


It is unfortunate that the Madras High Court judgment has not got the media attention it deserves. Only a few newspapers have reported with insight and context on the issue. Truthful and sensitive investigation of social issues and challenges, linked to mass deprivation in rising India, is a key responsibility of the media. Provided they are sensitised to the social responsibility of the media, young journalists with their skills, talents, and energy can do a lot to investigate these issues and help place them on the public agenda. It is up to those who lead media organisations and shape their agenda to give them their head.








It was a brilliant coup in the world of communications technology: Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries can rightfully claim he will usher in a revolution in the way Indians communicate in the not too distant future. Imagine a scenario in which you can download an entire movie on the Internet in a few minutes or download all the encyclopedias in just a few hours. You won't need DVDs, which might soon get outdated. You will be able to have more data downloaded in far less time. More exciting still, you can use your computer to make phone calls very cheaply. The new 4G — or Wimax, or LTE (long term evolution) — technology will give you access through the Internet to both data and voice — a giant leap from 3G.

Technology is getting obsolete faster than you imagine. The VCR, for instance, lasted a little over a decade, and the DVD is soon set to follow... Now 3G is in danger of getting outdated in just six months. After 4G, the next big thing will probably have to be something faster than the speed of light! Speed is the name of the game, and none of the other players who bid with such abandon for the 3G and broadband wireless access (BWA) spectrum licences have the pan-India spectrum that Mukesh Ambani's company now has. And he got it literally for a song — a far superior technology for a mere Rs 4,800 crores, compared to the Rs 10,000-crores-plus that some of the others paid. This is what he shelled out to acquire a 95 per cent stake in Infotel Broadband, that had bid for — and secured licences in — all 22 circles. The others had made BWA bids in just three or four circles. In fact, big names like Vodafone and Reliance Communications had dropped out of BWA bidding as they thought the price was too high and they had already bid a lot for 3G. It was considered by some that Infotel Broadband was acting unwisely in bidding for all 22 circles. Very few people could have had any idea of the much more exciting game being played behind the scenes. The cost of a pan-India BWA spectrum licence was considerably less than that for 3G. Mukesh Ambani must have been watching the bidding by big names at the auction with concealed glee — with hindsight, it almost appears like a Tom and Jerry show. It eventually emerged that the government and Mukesh Ambani were the two biggest beneficiaries of the first-ever 3G and BWA auction. As the RIL boss said later, 3G and BWA promise to be key drivers for rapid growth of advanced services. But 3G is limited to cellphones, while the 4G technology is extremely futuristic. The use of Wimax technology and LTE is relatively new, and not really proven yet. A presentation by RIL noted that only 110 operators in 48 countries have so far committed to deploying LTE; and of these it is operational in only two — Norway and Sweden. Given RIL's petrochemicals track record, his company might well make India the third country after Norway and Sweden to deploy LTE.

There is some concern in corporate circles that given his monopoly in 4G, Mukesh Ambani's company could well dictate prices in the same manner that the initial operators in mobile telephony were able to. Way back in the early years of this century, it was the then undivided Reliance that turned the cellular world upside down with its Monsoon Hangama scheme that made cellphones affordable for the lower economic strata. The others simply had to follow if they were to survive. Exciting times indeed lie ahead.









The massive victory of the Trinamul Congress in the West Bengal municipal elections has changed the contours of political discourse in India and calls for "out-of-the-box" thinking. In this context, I am proposing that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) calls for an all-party government under the chief ministership of Pranab Mukherjee between now and the May 2011 Assembly elections. The CPI(M) does not have to give up power as according to the Constitution they can continue to govern for five years. No one can push them out of power unless they themselves give it up or a huge law and order problem creates conditions for applying the President's Rule that is enabled by Article 356 of the Constitution of India. On the other hand, they can invite Mr Mukherjee to become the chief minister of a government still dominated by them on clearly identifiable issues of law and order and basic development, both of which are in jeopardy in West Bengal.

I suggest this because this is probably the only way the CPI(M) can extricate itself from the present mess in West Bengal. Clearly, people do not want them to rule any more. And to ignore this situation saying that these elections were only in urban areas and the rural Bengal still supports the CPI(M) is false. Anyone travelling to West Bengal today would clearly see that the CPI(M) has lost its support base throughout the state and every day as it clings on to power it loses more chances of a comeback.

The major problem that the CPI(M) is going to face now is a possibility of a total breakdown of law and order and the rise of fascist forces in different shapes and forms to devour the party faithful. The mastans or the lumpens — who were dominating the CPI(M) in West Bengal of late to control election machinery — will all desert them and go on a rampage throughout the state. An exactly similar situation was created in Indonesia when more than a million members of the Communist Party of D.N. Aidit were massacred by the fascists, most of them supported by the angry public. In Chile too, a similar situation was created when the Allende government was overthrown. The Left forces have always been decimated by the fascists when they had alienated themselves from the people.

I consider this to be the major danger facing not only the CPI(M), but also the country as a whole, where the fascist forces can destroy the basic structure of our democracy. The official law and order forces would join the lumpen elements and take revenge on the progressive forces. Everything must be done to stop that possibility which would turn history back. But the CPI(M) would find it extremely difficult to face this situation alone. It cannot give up the government as it will lose all its control over the state machinery. But trying to keep the mastans within its hold would make them even more unpopular among the masses. If a new government is formed under its patronage with Mr Mukherjee, known for his administrative skills, as the chief minister would not only ensure to maintain law and order, but also bring back the development agenda, which the CPI(M) has been trying to push for the last few years. A one-year respite from the turmoil would give the CPI(M) the breather which the party needs in order to reinvent itself.

Will the Trinamul Congress support this proposal for such an all-party government for the next one year? A dispassionate analysis shows that the Trinamul Congress has everything to gain from this unless it believes that it can push out the Left government in the next few months. The chances of that happening are very remote and an attempt to precipitate that situation through law and order problems will make the Trinamul Congress increasingly unpopular. A much better approach for the Trinamul Congress now would be to consolidate its position from its recent victory and come out with concrete constructive suggestions so that the people of West Bengal would believe that it is not just a party to bring about change or "parivartan," but is committed to a programme for carrying out the parivartan now in a most comprehensive and constructive way. The Trinamul Congress is not going to lose anything by waiting for one year and can only gain in image and popularity throughout Bengal. It is a challenge that only Mamata Banerjee could take up and win at the end. Even if she does not join the government, she should allow it to function with constructive opposition.

The Congress Party, of course, would gain from the suggested all-party government, as otherwise it will have to give up its turf totally to the Trinamul Congress. It is important for the Congress to realise a decimation of the Left is not in its interest and a revival of the alliance would be helpful at the Centre. The person who would probably be most effective is Mr Mukherjee himself. He has now reached the pinnacle of his career and to take a new line may be too risky to sustain on a weak structure of his Congress Party. But he is also capable of turning the tables and instead of becoming dependent on the CPI(M), he can make the Left so much dependent on him that can see the beginning of a new face of Congress-CPI(M) partnership. If he succeeds in that process to save West Bengal, to uphold law and order and the development agenda, he will become a name in history comparable to B.C. Roy. If this proposal of mine is acceptable then the call for an all-party government should come from the CPI(M) itself, so that it does not lose the initiative and retain its control over the situation, and the law and order machinery can give it due protection and it can revive themselves fully with a genius Left programme of development and democracy. I very much hope that these suggestions of mine will be examined carefully by all parties concerned.


Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament and former Economic Adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi








The battle with India's Maoists has begun, and it has become bloody. Maoists have ambushed and killed over a hundred security personnel in recent months. Media reports say Maoists have also engaged in reprisal killings of alleged informers and "class enemies". There is suspicion that the Maoists sabotaged tracks, leading to the train wreck that killed nearly 150 passengers in West Bengal last month. Government forces have also allegedly committed abuses — arbitrary arrests, rape, and torture — as they advance against the Maoists.
The debates too have become heated. The government has called upon civil society to condemn the Maoists and end any "intellectual support" for their cause. Groups providing material support to criminal acts should be identified and prosecuted. But a blanket suggestion that anyone who speaks openly about government failures or warns against human rights violations is a Maoist backer and anti-state will have very serious repercussions for free expression.

The Maoists, also called Naxalites, have a presence in almost 200 districts across several states. State governments, in India's quasi-federal structure, are responsible for law and order, and thus have primary responsibility for handling the Maoist violence.

The Indian government has said the Maoists pose the biggest threat to the country's internal security. To address this, it has provided Central federal paramilitary to state governments to assist local police forces. The Union Cabinet, while recently turning down a proposal to deploy the Army, agreed that it must assist with training. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government insists that winning public support is also crucial in this battle. In what it calls a "two-pronged" approach of security and development, the government has initiated several projects to address a serious lack of resources in these areas, which include some of the country's most marginalised communities.

A strong civil society can help the government deliver on its development goals and monitor progress. But just as important, the media and non-governmental organisations can serve as watchdogs to report abuses by both sides. Mistakes are likely to occur in any operation of this scale, and only with access to information can a democracy provide prompt and effective redress to those unfairly harmed, instead of allowing rage over injustices to compound the problem.

This is particularly important because the states, often driven by their own political imperatives, have not always subscribed to the Centre's approach. The Centre, for instance, has condemned the vigilante Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh, which forced villagers out of their homes into government camps, killing, raping and committing arson to enforce their plan. But this group continues to receive state protection as a strategic tool against civilian support for the Maoists, with special police officers (SPOs) and Salwa Judum members often blocking access to the area by journalists and human rights workers.

The Centre might want effective and well-trained police forces that use modern investigation and law enforcement methods, winning the trust of the people they serve instead of being despised and distrusted by them. But some state governments have yet to embark upon police reform, or in fact, even to recruit to fill vacancies. That leaves the police overworked and disgruntled, without the training to tackle the Maoist challenge, and prone to commit human rights abuses.

State government failures to end abuses by security forces only strengthen the Maoists' support base. In Chhattisgarh, there are repeated allegations of brutal attacks by these SPOs, including sexual attacks on women. In West Bengal's Lalgarh, support for Maoists increased because the police tortured and arbitrarily arrested local tribal residents after a failed Maoist attack targeting the chief minister. There was no effort to address complaints or to investigate the allegations of human rights violations.

The Centre's development efforts have met with mixed success in various states. Jharkhand, for example, is still at the bottom on development indicators, even as some of its politicians are accused of gathering enormous wealth through corrupt practices. The rush to pull in foreign investment has ignored the need for careful assessment of the impact on those displaced. Nor has there been any real effort to engage the affected communities and determine effective rehabilitation. This became apparent in Nandigram, West Bengal, where villagers cut off access to the area to prevent the acquisition of their farmlands for industry. When supporters of the state's ruling CPI(M), with the complicity of the police, committed rape and killings to enforce the government plan, local support for Maoists increased.

The Centre's agenda for security operations has also had failures. The Maoists repeatedly attacked security personnel, killing troops and escaping with arms and ammunition. A government-appointed committee investigating the death of 75 paramilitary personnel in Chhattisgarh in April found that the troops had ignored prescribed procedures. If the security forces themselves are not being adequately prepared for these operations, standard precautions to protect civilians and prevent human rights violations are even more likely to be disregarded.

The government has a responsibility to contain an armed rebellion that puts citizens at risk, but it also has an obligation to ensure that people's rights are protected and to deliver prompt and transparent action against abusers. A failure of justice can push people towards those who propagate extralegal methods. And so it is crucial to have a vigilant civil society that can inform policymakers and governments of suspected human rights abuses, by both the Maoists and government forces.

Silencing government critics might seem like an attractive option in the short term. But if the government wants a lasting resolution to this conflict, it should embrace its critics instead, and work promptly to address the concerns they raise.


Meenakshi Ganguly works on South Asia for Human Rights Watch








The cabinet committee on security (CCS)'s decision — or is it a non-decision? — not to press the army and the air force to fight the Maoists is, indeed, sensible. The contrary positions taken by the home and defence ministries need not be interpreted as chinks in government's armour and that this would affect the political will to fight the insurgents. As a matter of fact, it strengthens the deliberative and decision-making process at the higher levels which is needed to win the ideological war against the left extremists.


The arguments offered by the two ministries are not fully convincing. The defence ministry's view that the armed forces are stretched in the operations in Jammu and Kashmir and in the north-east of the country, apart from manning the international borders with China and Pakistan may not hold good. What it would mean then is that the country needs a larger army and air force to keep the country secure from external and internal threats. If this requires a much larger force then means should be found to meet the requirement. Similarly, if the home ministry wanted the help of the army because the state police and the central para-military forces are not able to meet the Maoist challenge, then again the answer to that is to strengthen these forces.


The question that seems to have been sidestepped is the nature of the challenge posed by the Maoists. Are these armed rebels threatening the authority of the state through sheer fire power? Then, this is as good as an external challenge, and all forces, including the army and air force, need to be mobilised to face the challenge. It seems that the Maoist power is being overstated. The armed groups are some sort of a rag-tag army, who are able to pull off surprises through guerrilla tactics and not because they are better organised and better armed than the state forces.


The problem lies elsewhere. The failure of state is not to be attributed to the strength of the Maoists. The state is in disarray and it is not able to get its act together. Is it because it is trying to do too many things as critics from the conservative end point out, or is it because it is doing too little as argued by the liberals? That is indeed the issue.






The amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act which allows "irretrievable breakdown of marriage" as grounds for divorce is in keeping with the demands of the times. This amendment will not just make divorce easier for unhappy couples but will also prevent either spouse from harassing the other just to delay proceedings.
These amendments were approved by the Union Cabinet based on proposals made by the law ministry. These in turn were based on recommendations by the Law Commission and the Supreme Court. But it is also true that the courts have been somewhat ambivalent on the issue of divorce, given its implications especially in a relatively conservative society like India. There have been several instances of judges ordering couples to try again, which can make the process tortuous and torturous.


Of course, caution is understandable as divorce can be used as a weapon in the battle of the sexes and only fools would rush in where angels fear to tread. But for the most part, dissolution of a marriage is a serious and painful business and this new provision will come as a godsend to couples currently fighting the system in their attempt to separate from each other.


The number of divorce applications has been growing rapidly in all urban centres of India. But the Hindu Marriage Act has been locked in history. Although divorce through "mutual consent" is the easiest option currently available in India, it can still be complicated. Other provisions include adultery, cruelty, religious conversion, being unsound of mind, renouncement of the world, not being seen for seven years, having a sexually communicable disease and strangely enough, having leprosy. It would make sense to revise these provisions from time to time as they may have become archaic, redundant and out of sync with contemporary mores.


The trouble for the courts is when both parties are not willing to be separated by divorce. One party can and does use any of the provisions against the other as a means of harassment.


"Irretrievable breakdown" however adds additional ballast to "mutual consent" so that warring partners do not have to pretend to try and live out a lie together when what they want is to be apart.


Sikhs now want similar provisions to apply to them to bring their marriage laws up to date. Other communities bound by tradition and practice may also follow suit as laws have to keep up with society and its needs. India it seems is on the move in all kinds of unexpected – but vital – ways.







The tragedy of Bhopal didn't happen a second time with the court verdict: it happened at least 26 times, at each anniversary of the worst industrial accident in the world.  There are very many points that strike you about this massive human tragedy. Here are some of them, in no particular order:


 Depending on which newspaper you read or which television channel you tune in to, the death toll number has ranged from 15,000 to 20,000. There's a 25% difference in those figures. If we don't have a definite figure about deaths, how on earth was compensation paid to the kin of the victims? And if we aren't even sure of the number of deaths, how very vague will be the much larger figure of those incapacitated by the gas leak!


The tentativeness about these figures suggests either complete carelessness or utter callousness on the part of government authorities. It also suggests that those who were to be compensated did not get what they should have. May be others, not affected at all, were the false beneficiaries with the connivance of officials.


Much attention has been focused on the then Union Carbide chief, Warren Anderson. One news channel in fact was enterprising enough to station its correspondent outside his home in the United States. Much was made about his 'posh' house, the 'exclusive' suburb it was located in and the stark contrast with the gas victims. That, to me, is missing the point. Anderson is entitled to his perks; after all, he was the head of a large corporation so that would be par for the course. The real question is: was he guilty of wrongdoing?


The same TV channel did manage to get hold of mail exchanges between shop floor employees in the Bhopal Carbide plant and Anderson. They show quite clearly that there was concern amongst Indian engineers about the safety of the plant and that this was overruled by Anderson on grounds of economy. Was this evidence produced earlier? If it wasn't, why wasn't it? If it was, how did the courts not take it with the seriousness it deserved and make Anderson the chief accused?


A general point that emerges from this should be of concern to all of us for the future: MNCs will outsource work to countries like India, especially if it is considered hazardous or polluting. Since outsourcing is also done to reduce costs, there will always be a tendency to cut corners, thus increasing the dangers many fold.


As was shown in Bhopal, the Indian engineer cannot overrule his Big Chief. So how does he ensure safety? By whistle blowing to the government factory inspector? What if the factory inspector has been paid off by higher-ranked executives to overlook irregularities?


Why is there shock and so much hand-wringing at the verdict now? It's clear that the prosecution (ie the state) framed its case on lesser charges. Under these, punishment could not exceed the two years now awarded by the court. If the court under justice Ahmadi refused the more serious charges to be brought, why didn't the government appeal? It could have taken the matter to a division bench of the Supreme Court. Didn't the law ministry think this case big enough to merit its utmost attention?


If the government has come out badly from this, the courts have come off even worse. Why did it take 26 long years for the case to be decided? A case of this magnitude — in fact, the most serious case of human negligence ever to come to court — was treated routinely and kept on the back-burner all these years. Yet courts have been known to fast-track some cases deemed to be important, like some recent assaults on foreigners. Wasn't Bhopal important? Or do we still think of Indian lives to be cheaper than foreign ones?


The courts, in general, have an antiquated view of compensation to be paid. This is seen in every decision taken by courts at all levels. Just look at the legal costs awarded in routine cases. The amount is paltry enough to be a joke. Aren't the courts aware of how much real legal costs are? That just tells you how out of sync our judiciary is about the cost of living, about earning capacity and so on. Couldn't the judges have applied their minds more seriously in the Bhopal case and given compensation of at least 10 times the amount finally awarded? American courts give huge awards and penalties, and Union Carbide was an American company.


The final question has to be about who allowed Warren Anderson to flee. If he was kept in custody, as he should have been, if serious charges were brought against him as they should have been, the victims of Bhopal wouldn't be left high and dry as they have been.


No one can bring to life the thousands who died or alleviate the pain of those who suffer physical disabilities even today. But fair compensation could have eased the pain a bit. And massive penalties would have ensured that the Andersons of the world would be less callous about the loss of human lives.







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 US 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. 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 GI'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. 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 — emphasised 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. The talk now is of moving ahead with civilian reconstruction projects, a "civilian surge," as Nordland noted. What's happening in Afghanistan is not only tragic, it's embarrassing. The American troops will fight, but the Afghan troops, supposed to be their allies, are a lost cause. The government of President Hamid Karzai is corrupt and incompetent — and widely unpopular to boot. And now, as The Times's Dexter Filkins is reporting, the erratic Karzai seems to be giving up hope that the US 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 US forces. 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.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. Ultimately, the public is at fault for this catastrophe in Afghanistan, where more than 1,000 GI'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. —NYT









WITH the public anger over the release of former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson mounting, the Congress finds itself driven into a corner. Its foremost aim is that the name of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi does not get besmirched. To ensure that, there has to be a scapegoat, and at one stage it seemed that the onerous responsibility would fall on the then Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Arjun Singh. But the gameplan is not unfolding quite as well as some of the crisis managers of the party would have wanted. One, there is a considerably large section within the party which is not happy with the turn of events, because everyone knows that there was no way that Mr Arjun Singh could have taken the decision on his own without a signal from the top. Two, there is always the distinct possibility that pressed too hard, the wily Thakur might hit back and reveal details which may be embarrassing, to say the least. He seems to have some support within the party at least on this issue.


Even otherwise, details are tumbling out which hint that Rajiv Gandhi might have had a role in the release of Anderson after the Bhopal gas tragedy 26 years ago. No less a person than Mr P. C. Alexander, former Principal Secretary to Rajiv Gandhi, has insinuated that. At the same time, a television channel has quoted declassified CIA documents stating that Anderson was released on the Central government's orders to Madhya Pradesh. In the light of such developments, Congress' assertion that the late Rajiv Gandhi had nothing to do with the episode is becoming untenable.


In the firefighting mode, the Congress has tried to pull the chestnuts out by saying that the government, and not the party, will have to clarify. And to blunt the Opposition knife, it has taken the fight into the BJP arena by asking why the NDA government did not make any attempt to extradite Anderson when it was in power. Two wrongs do not make one right, but in political sparring, at least make a functional weapon of defence. There is also the hope that public memory being what it is, the controversy might slowly go back to the backburner.








THE farmers in Punjab face a major challenge in the transplantation of paddy this season with labour in acute short supply and mechanized transplanters, especially of Chinese make introduced last year, not having many takers due to unsatisfactory results. Japanese transplanters have shown encouraging results but these are far more expensive and therefore unaffordable for many despite the subsidy that the state government extends. The State was largely dependent on migrant labour from U.P., Bihar and Jharkhand in the past but with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act helping many labourers find work closer to their villages, the option of moving to Punjab for the paddy transplantation season has ceased to be attractive. The policy of the two State governments to shorten the transplantation season so that it overlaps with a part of the monsoon has made the deal even more unattractive for the migrant labour. The considerably-reduced numbers that are now coming are demanding and managing to extract a much heavier price which is virtually double of what they were being paid last paddy sowing season.


Clearly, there is cause for the State's youth to turn towards farming in a much bigger way. It is a cold reality that for many years now a large proportion of youth who have their roots in the villages are ready to sit idle or even take up small jobs in towns rather than working in the fields. They find working on farms beneath their dignity. There is a strong need to motivate these youth to return to the farms through concerted governmental campaigns to educate them and to wipe off their prejudices against farming. At the same time, mechanisation on a large scale can be a big boon if the transplanters are of the right quality.


The shortage of labour is indeed here to stay. It is therefore imperative that the dependence on migrant labour be minimised. The Punjab government's decision to provide paddy transplanters to paddy farmers this kharif season and to subsidize them is a step in the right direction.









Despite the protracted anti-Taliban drive by the US-led multinational forces in Afghanistan, the extremists continue to remain a potent threat to peace and progress there. The latest proof of this ugly reality is that new British Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to abandon his visit to a military base because of an intelligence report that his helicopter could be shot down by the Taliban. The way the extremists have been behaving for some time indicates that their maximum stress is on retaining their following among the masses. Nowadays they refuse to claim responsibility for any incident of violence once they realise that the casualties include largely civilians. This tactic can be seen in the denial of their involvement in a wedding party attack last week, resulting in the death of over 40 persons. They have also been exploiting the government's failure to revive normal economic activity in most parts of Afghanistan in spite of its having received billions of dollars in aid from different countries.


There must be some reason why President Hamid Karzai has been seriously working on a strategy to hold peace negotiations with the Taliban. He is believed to have lost all hope in the ability of the multinational forces to normalise the situation in Afghanistan, as claimed by a former head of the country's intelligence services, who resigned recently. Mr Karzai also organised a jirga (an assembly of tribal elders) a few days back to gauge the mood of the people about launching a reconciliation process. The tribal elders sympathising with the Taliban refused to attend the jirga, describing it as a "phony process", yet Mr Karzai has been sending feelers to Taliban factions that their fighters can be accommodated in different government departments provided the Taliban masterminds agree to accept an asylum offer.


The idea on which Mr Karzai appears to be working today is different from the one which divided the extremists into the "good" Taliban and the "bad" Taliban. The US and its allies are allowing him to have his way because they seem to be frantically looking for a solution to the Afghan crisis before July 2011, when the US troop withdrawal is scheduled to begin. All this, however, amounts to groping in the dark.

















THE UN Security Council has imposed the fourth round of sanctions on Iran with 12 members voting for it and two against it with one (Lebanon) abstention. Turkey and Brazil, whose leaders attempted to mediate on the issue and whose mediation efforts were widely applauded, voted against the fresh sanctions. The 12 who voted in favour included all five permanent members of the Security Council and seven non-permanent ones, including Bosnia-Herzegovina and Nigeria, which has only 50 per cent Muslim population, though both are members of the Organisation of Islamic Conference. In other words, the Iranian nuclear issue is not viewed as an Islamic one, as some people in India portray it.


It is claimed by the US and its supporters that the sanctions will bite this time unlike on the last three occasions. At the recent NPT Review Conference, President Ahmedinejad made a personal appearance and attempted to portray Iran as a country pledged to disarmament, which was only exercising its right under the NPT to have access to peaceful application of nuclear energy. He was rebutted by the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who said, "In the case of Iran, the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material, but remains unable to confirm that all nuclear material is in peaceful activities because Iran has not provided the necessary cooperation. I continue to request Iran to take steps towards the full implementation of its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and relevant resolutions of the IAEA Board of Governors and the United Nations Security Council, and to clarify activities with a possible military dimension."


The Security Council sanctions are the direct result of Iran's refusal to cooperate with the IAEA, the UN watchdog on the peaceful nature of the nuclear activities, by a member-nation of the NPT.


Why should Iran take the risk of such sanctions if it wants to be a member of the NPT? Its reactor at Bushehr initiated by the Germans during the period of the Shah and completed last year by the Russians has guaranteed enriched uranium fuel supply from Russia.


Accounts from defectors, clandestine attempts to procure uranium enrichment technology from Pakistan, procurement and construction of clandestine centrifuge plants, its non-cooperation with the IAEA, its dealings with North Korea and its development of long-range missiles all raise reasonable suspicions that Iran is attempting to acquire clandestine nuclear weapon capability. At the same time, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, has issued a fatwa saying that production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam. The fatwa was cited in an official statement by the Iranian government at an August 2005 meeting of the IAEA in Vienna and, more recently, at theTeheran conference on nuclear disarmament in April this year. Most of the western analyses of Iran's nuclear efforts relate them to its ambitions to be a regional power, its hatred of Israel and its anti-Western orientation.


Most of the Western analyses ignore that Iran is the only country which was subjected to an attack by a weapon of mass destruction (a chemical weapon) in the 1980's by a Sunni Muslim country, Iraq. The Sunni Arab countries financially and otherwise supported Saddam Hussein. Iran is estimated to have suffered 500,000 casualties. That war followed the Iranian Revolution and was undertaken simultaneously with the vast Wahabisation effort of the Afghan mujahideen. Al-Qaeda and the associated extremist groups which owe their origins to the Afghan war period conditioning have been targeting Shias in Pakistan and Iraq. There are demands from Sunni extremists that Shias should be declared apostates and non-Muslim.

The restoration of Shia majority rule in Iraq is resented in the Sunni countries. The animosity between the Sunnis and the Shias is as old as Islam. Iran could not overlook the expansionism of nuclear Pakistan and its establishing a Wahabbised Sunni rule over entire Afghanistan in the nineties, attempting to dominate the majority Dari-speaking Afghan population. Consequently, Iran supported the Northern Alliance and was involved in a covert war with Pakistan supporting the Taliban


In the eighties, as the Pakistanis, with financial support from Saudi Arabia and direct nuclear proliferation support from China and tacit permissiveness of the US, acquired their nuclear weapons, simultaneously Saudi Arabia obtained its long-range missiles from China.Those missiles make no sense unless they have nuclear warheads and the only nuclear warheads to which Saudi Arabia can have access are the Pakistani ones which they lavishly financed. Now comes the news from a number of Western sources that Pakistan has already exceeded India's nuclear stockpile and is planning to multiply its arsenal manifold, thanks to the plutonium production reactors provided by China.


As usual, Western analysts are fixated only on the India-Pakistan equation. In its latest annual world military expenditure report, released on June 2, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said Pakistan's weapons-grade plutonium production would jump seven-fold with the two new reactors at Khushab nearing completion. "Our conservative estimates are that Pakistan has 60 warheads and could produce 100 nuclear weapons at short notice," said SIPRI. Many Western observers overlook the possibility that the additional warheads could arm Saudi missiles, and Shia Iran may face a two-front Sunni nuclear threat. The Pakistanis think that they will be back in Afghanistan irrespective of what President Obama may say. The Iranians are well aware of the consequences of firing nuclear warheads on the West or on Israel. They, in fact, need the nuclear weapon capability against the Sunni nuclear threat. A nuclear Iran will give a further morale boost to the Shias in the Sunni-majority countries as the Iranian Revolution and the emergence of Shia-majority Iraq and Azerbaijan have already done.


How do the Iranians hope to achieve this objective against the tremendous odds they face, including the present sanctions? They appear to depend on the Shia strategy of taqiya. Within the Shia theological framework, the concept of taqiya refers to a dispensation allowing believers to conceal their faith when they face a threat, persecution and compulsion. A top-ranking Shia religious scholar, Ayatollah Sistani, has explained that taqiya is done for safety reasons. For example, a person fears that he might be killed or harmed if he does not observe taqiya. In such case, it is obligatory to observe taqiya.


History would appear to indicate that taqiya is especially allowed in the case of dealings with non-believers. Iran is presumably resorting to taqiya, both in respect of Sunni Pakistan and the non-believer West. After all, it was the US which eliminated Saddam Hussein, routed the Taliban out of Afghanistan and is fighting the Wahabi terrorist groups, all contributing to Shia Iranian interests. It is not in the US interest to allow a two-front nuclear threat to Iran either.








MY father built his house 80 years ago on a 3,000 sq. ft plot of land. He owned the house but not the land which was held on what was called a "Lease In Perpetuity" which meant that there was no time limit and the owner of the house could sell it anytime. The token ground rent was Rs 1/56 per annum paid to the Defence Estates Officer, Delhi Cantt. When I sold the house in 1988, the rent had not changed.


There were four such properties in the locality with tumbledown cantonment bungalows all belonging to an Englishman called Roberts, a widower who had lost his only son in a swimming accident. He was getting rid of his property, at throwaway prices before going home.


Roberts was an extraordinary Englishman. Except during the monsoon, he slept on the roof of his house throughout the year. His hobby was catching snakes, of which there were plenty on the Ridge. He once bagged a pair of white cobras which he presented to the London Zoo.


In 1830 the British garrison shifted from Daryagunj, which was considered too malarious, to the wide and open spaces beyond the northern Ridge where, many years later, was built the Viceregal Lodge.


The roads bore military names — Cavalry Lines, Probyn Road, Battery Lane, Lawrence Road, Racquet Court Road and Arsenal Road. The names were changed after Independence but old-timers like myself still use the original names.


Atop the Ridge the Flagstaff Tower, a rotunda gave shelter to British women and children during the sepoy mutiny of 1857. The road from it to the mosque built in the 14th century by Feroze Shah Tughlak is closed to vehicular traffic to make a peaceful venue for early morning and evening strollers, with only monkeys and peacocks for company.


By the time my father had finished building his house, the university had moved into Viceregal Lodge. N.K. Sen, popularly known as "Nishi Babu", occupied a small corner of it to live. Before becoming the Registrar he had taught philosophy at St. Stephen's College. My father's subject was English but both his younger brothers had been Nishi Babu's students.


Registrars those days seemed to have sufficient time for an evening stroll which the cigar-smoking Nishi Babu indulged in on the campus accompanied by my father and followed by myself and my dog.


As for the house, what it lacked in modernity it more than made up in spaciousness. Each of its three bathrooms could easily contain a living room in one of the sophisticated flats in New Delhi and, of course, there were the lawns, front and back.


Peace, perfect peace, occasionally broken at night by a laughing hyena who had made himself comfortable on our front lawn.









THE Guardian and Wards Act, 1890 (GWA), the 116-year-old Indian legislation plays spoilsport. A whopping 12 million orphan children in India need parents but the law does not allow Muslims, Christians, Jews and Parsis to become their adoptive parents. They can be appointed as guardians only.


The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 (HAMA) does not allow non-Hindus to adopt a Hindu child. Consequently, non-Hindus and foreign nationals can at most become guardians under the GWA but cannot adopt children from India.


The Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) is the nodal Central body in New Delhi. To facilitate implementation of the norms, principles and procedures relating to adoption of children from India to foreign countries, the Supreme Court in three successive decisions in 1984, 1986 and 1992 in L.K. Pandey vs Union of India had directed the Government of India to issue guidelines for the above purposes. Accordingly, CARA from time to time has issued guidelines for adoption of children from India to foreign jurisdictions besides in-country adoptions.


The new guidelines by CARA for full and final "adoption" of children in India before they are sent abroad with prospective parents and that these will mandate "final adoption of Indian children" under HAMA and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 (JJ Act) seem attractive but illusory. This is because unless non-Hindu parents are statutorily permitted to "adopt" and not be merely guardians, any guidelines cannot overreach statutory law.


Till such time adoption is permitted only to Hindus, any foreigner who is a non-Hindu cannot adopt a child in India simply because no law permits so. In such event, the exercise of CARA to frame guidelines to allow foreign couples to adopt children in India may be flawed and defective. Any guidelines can supplement the law but not supplant it. Consequently, CARA cannot enact a law of its own.


HAMA permits adoption to a male or a female Hindu through a process of adoption enacted by Indian Parliament to codify the law relating to adoptions among Hindus. Even the JJ Act, permits adoption of orphaned, abandoned, neglected and abused children through institutional and non-institutional methods. But there is no statutory law which permits non-Hindus who are foreign nationals or professing other religions to adopt children in India.


For them, the limited recourse is to the GWA to become guardians which enables them to use the guardianship order obtained in India under the GWA to ultimately gain adoption in foreign jurisdictions. In this event, Indian statutory law does not permit adoption to foreign nationals and persons professing other religions to adopt in India.


HAMA gives a conclusive status to an adoption deed recording an adoption in compliance with its provisions. However, all foreign embassies or the High Commission in India still insist that the adoption deed is not enough. Rules of foreign jurisdiction stipulate that the adoptive parents have to thereafter obtain guardianship orders from a Guardian Judge under the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 (HMGA) for Hindus and a similar order under the GWA for non-Hindus.


Genuine transfer of parental responsibility by an irrevocable adoption deed is rendered redundant. This results in a paradox in law. A valid adoption deed under HAMA is not acceptable to foreign jurisdictions for immigration purposes unless it is supported by a guardianship order under the GWA or HMGA. Strange but true, that is how the law is read by foreign embassies and High Commissions in India.


Against this backdrop, what should CARA do? It should resolve the conflicts and not compound them. CARA could well send a recommendation that before it enacts any guidelines, they should confirm to statutory law. Any guidelines which differ from the codified law will only add but not subtract to the current muddle of inter-country adoptions law.


The mechanics of inter-country adoptions, stringent adoption procedures, insurmountable technicalities, high refusal rates of visas for children in adoption matters and inordinate delay in Indian court procedures have been a deterrent to adopt a child from India. What do we need? Where is the change desired?


A general law for adoption in India enabling any person, irrespective of his religion, race or caste to adopt a child from India will help. Further, keeping in view the Supreme Court's guidelines in adoption by foreign nationals to prevent trafficking of children and to protect their welfare, a uniform streamlined statutory procedure acceptable to foreign jurisdictions would also sere the purpose better to mitigate the plight of the adoptive child.


The writer, a practicing lawyer in Chandigarh, specialises in Private International Law








THE increasing attacks by the Naxalites on all symbols of the State come as no surprise. The audacious attacks are now even targeting ordinary civilians and show the diabolical agenda of the Maoists. What is surprising, however, is the support they continue to have from a section of the intelligentsia.


The irrepressible Arundhati Roy's statement in the wake of the May 17th attack at Dantewada is quite intriguing. She says, "Media reports say that the Maoists have deliberately targeted and killed civilians in Dantewada. If this is true, it is absolutely inexcusable and cannot be justified on any count. However, sections of the mainstream media have often been biased and incorrect in their reportage."


There is an insinuation in the statement, that the media which interestingly has been responsible for the very proliferation of this tribe of anti-establishment nay sayers, is not correctly reporting the ground realities. Recorded coverage of the carnage and the most heart rending scenes captured on camera are obviously not enough to nail the dastardly acts of the Maoists for these so-called human rights activists.


There seems to be a doubt cast as to whether the massacre has been an act orchestrated by the Maoists at all. There seems to be a suggestion that the government itself may have organised the attacks.


It is further stated in the statement that "Some accounts suggest that apart from SPOs (special police officers) and police, the other passengers in the bus were mainly those who had applied to be recruited as SPOs. We will have to wait for more information". In other words, is it implied that the passengers who had applied to be recruited as SPOs become combatants and therefore by that token the act of massacre is condonable.


Further, Roy goes on to say, "if there were civilians in the bus it is irresponsible of the government to expose them to harm in a war zone by allowing police and SPOs to use public transport." Does it imply that the soldiers and brave jawans are any less innocent than the non-combatant "innocents"? Or is it that their lives are expendable and are in fact their massacre justified as an act against the so-called oppressive state?


It is of no relevance to Roy that the soldiers are fighting a lonely war against a group who question the very legitimacy of the state. It is a sad commentary on the flawed thought process of the self-proclaimed people's spokespersons that they question the rationale of making them travel by public transport. Is she suggesting using combat armoured vehicles to ferry government servants and other citizens within a state? If so, Roy obviously realises the situation inside these pockets is indeed grim and calls for immediate state action. If there is still support for the lawless militia, it can be deemed nothing short of sedition.


Roy's statement seems to betray a perverse logic wherein there is a differentiation made out in the lives of those who get killed. The professional soldiers who are fighting amongst the toughest of odds against the guerilla militia are strangely seen as a collateral damage that is but an outcome of a war that is said to have been foisted upon the "people" by the government. In that sense, there seems to be strange justification in the acts of mass murder.


The strange and contorted rationale is further at display in the play of words that is resorted to by Roy. The allusion of Maoists being "Gandhians with a Gun" is an affront not only to the Father of the Nation but also the sensibilities of all those who genuinely empathise with the plight of the poor since it pushes them into the ranks of anti-nationals whose sole agenda is to usurp the power of the state.


Worse, despite incontrovertible proof against the Maoists, there are caveats and provisos attached in the condemnation of blatant acts of murder. This is a common diction of most so-called human rights activists.


Whose war are the Maoists fighting? What is that they wish to achieve? Do they have any constructive agenda? Is there any evidence of the Maoists institutionalising a school or hospital for those who they seem to represent? None of the above questions are ever sought to be posed by the human rights proponents. Nor have any of them ever questioned the killings of the legitimate soldiers of the state. No wonder, they are often deemed as Maoists' sympathisers.


The root of the homegrown violence is service delivery failure and poor governance. But for any government programme to be effective, peace and the rule of law are the prerequisites. In spite of service delivery issues and the resource dissipation for which the government is normally associated with, the State remains by far the best agency to institutionalise any systemic improvement. Maoists speak from the barrel of the gun. There can be no justification of their ideology, leave alone their actions.


The writer is an Indian Revenue Service officer in Mumbai









THE latest terrorist attack on Ahmedis, a religious minority, in Lahore has led to a raging debate. How strong are the Taliban in South Punjab? Who are its members? Is there need for launching a FATA-style military operation to uproot them? Or are the killings of Ahmedis the handiwork of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) having its headquarters in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)?


While the PML (N)-led government in Pakistan's Punjab has been denying the existence of any extremist group such as the Punjabi Taliban in the province, Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik has hinted at the likelihood of a military drive against the extremists in South Punjab in the near future.


Says Kamran Shafi, a Dawn columnist, "More than anything else, the Punjab government must immediately stop living in denial and face the ugly fact that the southern parts of the province, districts like Multan and Bahawalpur and D.G. Khan and Jhang and Muzaffargarh and Rahimyar Khan, are awash with militants of a very hard hue.


"It was absurd seeing Law Minister Rana Sanaullah say on a TV talk show, in which Shafqat Mahmood and Arif Nizami were trying to talk sense to him, that the basic fault lies in FATA where all of the terror schools are located."



The Business Recorder points out that "There is a long list of deadly terrorist attacks that have been conducted in Punjab during the last three years, including attacks on the GHQ, ISI headquarters, Naval War College, Manawan Police Training Centre, FIA Headquarters, SIU safehouse, Moon Market, inside Lahore cantonment, the two Ahmadi places of worship and Jinnah Hospital.

"The overwhelming majority of the attackers identified, or arrested, comprised Punjabis from the southern part of the province. Some of the attacks were owned by the organisation calling itself the Punjabi Taliban. A number of analysts have concluded that with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Jaish-e-Mohammad joining hands with the TTP and Al-Qaeda, a Punjabi chapter of the TTP was formed, which now goes by the name of the Punjabi Taliban."



Some analysts see a change in the tactics of militants. The extremist killers now prefer gunning down their targets to blowing themselves up as suicide bombers. The new method, it is argued, indicates that the militant outfits find it difficult to have fresh recruits and hence the changed strategy, which will help save the experienced "fighters". According to The Nation, "the most noticeable change in Lahore was the abandonment of bombs in favour of bullets. The attackers still carried suicide jackets, but that was probably more a holdover from the past, when the terrorist blew himself up, thus using himself as a weapon."


The new development — terrorist outfits getting new recruits with great difficulty — can help in making these killer machines disfunctional, provided the anti-terrorism drive also includes spurring economic activity in the tribal and other affected areas and an ideological campaign to prove that these enemies of peace have nothing to do with religion. Their rotten ideas cannot stand strict scrutiny.









They whisper in Gandhinagar's corridors that Narendra Modi is an early riser. Those who know him say the first thing he does before starting work is to update himself on all the news online. If this is true then Mr Modi would by now have probably seen Shahla Muzaffar's telling retort that finding her picture from Azamgarh's Shibli College plastered over the Gujarat government's advertisements was a "cruel joke".

The Gujarat government official fielded to defend the advertisements inadvertently hit upon a cardinal truth of politics when he said the pictures were only meant to be symbolic. Of course they were, but there is a reason why they say that a picture speaks louder than a thousand words. The same picture can always be interpreted in multiple ways but when the picture itself is wrong then even that ambiguity is gone. In this case, the symbolism is exactly the reverse of what the Gujarat government intended.

If the Gujarat government cannot find a local Muslim face to put on its pictures then it reveals the sleight of hand implicit in its claims. Symbolism and semantics are at the heart of politics. Nobody knows this better than Mr Modi who fashioned his political imagery in 2002 with the rhetorical device of Gujarati asmita and the clever turn of the double meaning political entendre. We can argue now about technicalities, blame it on a careless mistake, hoist it on the ad agency. Did the Railways too not make a somewhat similar blunder this year with its advertisement showing Delhi outside the Indian map? The fact is that even if these Gujarat advertisements had the right pictures, their message would still have seemed cynical in Bihar and elsewhere.

The reason lies at the heart of the Modi model itself: hard-headed developmentalism tinged with a certain kind of authoritarianism. Modi is a man who gets things done, who delivers spanking new roads and uninterrupted power. But you do not question him. The elephant in the room is always 2002. As Ashis Nandy argued a couple of years ago, the spectacular development in the state has seemed to justify a Faustian bargain with "amorality, abridgement of freedom, and collapse of social ethics." Super-conscious about his legacy, Mr. Modi has spent the last eight years largely keeping aloof from the obvious questions about Muslims and 2002. The only exception was his counter-rhetoric on Sohrabuddin in the 2007 election and his assertions that the development of 5 and a half crore Gujaratis includes everyone.

The thing about Modi and India's Muslims is that there has never been a reconciliatory public gesture. Without such a gesture, to much of liberal India, quoting the Sachar committee's figures would always seem a bit facetious, given that Gujarat is already one of India's most industrialised and urbanised states.
   The irony is that these advertisements may just have been the start of the first such outreach to redefine Brand Modi, to make him more acceptable to the BJP's allies.

The backfire has been spectacular. Nitish Kumar's simultaneous threat to take legal action for another advertisement showing him hand-in-hand with Modi is unprecedented. If a trusted ally of more than a decade and a half cannot stand to be in the same picture frame then it starkly demonstrates the limitations of Brand Modi outside Gujarat.

 Nitish Kumar too knows the meanings of symbolism and he has dramatised the moment for his own purposes. He had no qualms in sitting with Mr Modi on an election dais in Ludhiana last year, but the permutations of Bihar are different. He has fallen out with his own party president over the Women's Reservation Bill, he is facing bhumihar dissension from his party ranks and the forward mobilisation that propelled him to power last time may be in danger. At such a time, what better way to shore up the Muslim vote in Bihar than to court the TV cameras and attack Mr Modi. And with Rahul Gandhi praising his leadership last year, the tea leaves appear to be moving.

 At a time when the BJP is looking for a new direction, Mr Modi remains one of the few real mass leaders among its Gen Next but this latest spat shows that he remains a polarising figure outside Gujarat. It would need more than advertisements to change that.



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





Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee's opposition to disinvestment in Coal India and Hindustan Copper is difficult to fathom. There can be, it is true, two opinions on whether outright privatisation, strategic or otherwise, of profit-making state-owned enterprises (SOEs) is a good thing, be it from the viewpoint of workers, consumers or taxpayers. It should be acknowledged though that if an organisation grows faster after privatisation, workers tend to do better, investors and consumers benefit. Even if politicians are only worried about the rights of organised labour, and not those of taxpayers and consumers, most privatisation structures seem to have a clause protecting workers from getting fired. We've seen that in the case of SOEs like BSNL, MTNL, Air India, and many others, that the private sector has steadily and rapidly beaten them in market share, so it's difficult to see how stagnation in growth (often deceleration) that is associated with most SOEs can help protect the interests of labour, except for the small labour aristocracy that is employed in these units. In the case of SOEs like BSNL, once seen as the only hope for telephony in rural India, we find that private players are doing a better job — both in terms of connectivity and providing rural jobs. While there can still be an argument against privatisation of profit-making SOEs (though it is not clear why anyone would like to buy loss-making SOEs, unless there is land to get hold of!), disinvestment is an altogether different thing, especially if the stake sale is a mere 10 per cent, as in the case of Coal India.


For two decades now, successive governments have used disinvestment as a revenue-raising measure. For the firm concerned, there is the benefit of getting listed, since this forces the management to be more alive to what markets expect. But for all practical purposes, disinvestment need not change SOEs' style of functioning. As has been seen in the case of the oil sector where SOEs continue to bleed, it is government policy that is followed, not market diktats. Nor does disinvestment mean SOEs' labour policies change or that large voluntary retirement schemes will now be the order of the day. Disinvestment is being done solely to meet the government's budget needs. Indeed, to that extent, the government needs to be blamed for carrying on with the policy of selling family silver to pay the day's food bill. But the point is that till allies like Ms Banerjee and various Congressmen themselves understand that they need to cut back on the gargantuan subsidy spending that doesn't even reach more than 20-25 per cent of the target audience, the government needs the money. If Ms Banerjee is not going to allow disinvestment to proceed apace, then she needs to go along with the government and plan/approve cuts in government spending. One cannot have the cake and eat it too! This earthy wisdom can be conveyed to her by her team of able advisors led by the likes of Amit Mitra and Bibek Debroy. It will be helpful advice for a chief minister-in-waiting who is going to have to deal with empty coffers and overflowing expectations!








The country's first locally developed H1N1 vaccine, Vaxiflu-S, which is claimed to provide protection against the infection for a year, has been launched and a few more are in advance stages of trials. New Delhi seems to have done well to arm itself with an indigenous vaccine to combat the dreaded H1N1 influenza (swine flu) regardless of the view that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had over-played the threat posed by this pandemic virus. So far, Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Zanamivir have been the only drugs available for both cure and prevention of swine flu. Total dependence on imports for sourcing these drugs may not be desirable, especially for pandemics that spread fast and generate drug supply shortages, as swine flu did last year. However, though the circulation of the flu virus has ebbed considerably in the last few months, due partly to seasonal factors, it has not ceased completely. Going by the reports submitted officially to the WHO by member countries, fresh cases of H1N1 influenza are still surfacing in parts of the Caribbean, the tropical zone of the Americas as well as in South and South-East Asia, notably Singapore, Malaysia and, to a lesser extent, Bangladesh. In India, too, some 30 cases were reported last week alone, mostly from Maharashtra and southern states, even though summer is not flu season.


There is, therefore, no room yet for slackening vigil against this disease. The WHO, too, last week decided to maintain its advisory on placing the world on maximum alert. The UN health body, obviously, remains unfazed by the level-of-threat controversy. The doubts on this count are based chiefly on the allegation that the WHO changed the definition of "pandemic" and declared swine flu as one to favour some pharmaceutical companies. A committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has also now said that the WHO wasted large sums of public money by raising unjustified fears of a pandemic that never really was. Indeed, regardless of the merits and demerits of such allegations, the fact remains that a highly contagious infection of the H1N1 type could not have been combated without governments being on high alert. It is worth recalling that the first recorded pandemic of H1N1 in 1918, when there was no one to issue such a warning, had resulted in the death of over 50 million people. The 2009 version of the H1N1 outbreak spread to as many as 214 countries within a few months, causing over 18,000 officially confirmed deaths. Though India was not as badly affected as some other countries, notably the US, yet over 1,500 persons have lost their lives due to laboratory-confirmed H1N1 infection here. The WHO may have over-reacted, but to err on the side of caution is better when it comes to pandemics. H1N1 is an influenza-viral combination that affects humans, swine as well as birds and can mutate or re-assert itself in a more virulent form in any of them. Its new avatar may be immune even to available vaccines. This winter, the normal flu season, will show how well prepared we are.








Since the financial crisis in Greece made the headlines, financial markets — bonds (particularly of southern and central/east European countries), equities, currencies, commodities, etc. — have been nervous and volatile. Amongst the major traded currencies, the biggest change has been seen in the dollar-euro exchange rate, which has slipped below $1.20. The nervousness also stems from worries about the quality of assets of European banks outside Greece, Portugal and Spain, since they hold private and sovereign obligations of the order of euro 2 trillion, of borrowers in these three countries. One recent manifestation of market nervousness was the turmoil caused by some off-the-cuff remarks by a Hungarian official. It led to a sharp fall in the exchange rate and caused worries about mortgage lenders — as much as 60 per cent of Hungary's house mortgages are in low interest rate currencies like the Swiss franc and the Japanese yen, with the borrowers attracted to low interest rates.

Nervousness also arises from the fact that the latest US jobs data are disappointing. These, coupled with the fact that growth in the core consumer price index over the last 12 months has been just 0.9 per cent (its lowest rate since 1966), are creating worries that the US economy may also be slowing down, at a time when outlook for much of the EU is weak, despite the fillip given by the far more competitive euro. No wonder the euro dropped early last week, despite the poor jobs data in the US (to be sure, the rate seemed to have stabilised later in the week).

Another sign of market nervousness is the thousand-point drop in the Dow Jones Index of stock prices on the New York Stock Exchange, followed by a 600 point recovery, within a span of 10 minutes on May 6. This seems to be the result of ultra-fast, high frequency, algorithmic trading. Such trading is now estimated to account for as much as 70 per cent of the equity trades in the US, and uses high-speed computers to identify and execute trades in milliseconds (a 1000th of a second). (To describe such trades as having been made by "investors" is a travesty.) And, given the ultra-fast execution needed for such trades, it seems that locating computers physically close to the stock exchange also gives a comparative advantage! The regulators are considering measures to curb such volatility, by imposing circuit breakers. Meanwhile, such trading seems to be catching the fancy of the Indian market as well. Obviously, we have become a "developed" economy!

Meanwhile, Germany has unilaterally acted to curb speculative trading in the Eurozone sovereign bond markets — it has banned "naked" short selling of such bonds and 10 stocks of the largest financial firms. "Naked" in this context means that not only does the seller sell a stock or bond without owning it, but also without borrowing it from somebody else for delivery. (Instead of calming market participants, it seems that their first reaction was: "Does the German government know something about the Eurozone sovereign bond markets that we do not? Is some other country in trouble?") Germany has also taken steps to ban the use of credit default swaps for speculating on price changes in sovereign bonds. France and Germany have called on the European Commission to follow suit on an EU-wide basis. The German chancellor made her unhappiness with the functioning of financial markets clear while addressing a high-level conference on market regulation. She said, "We need the financial industry to be honest with us…. If we don't get honesty, then we might not do the right thing technically, but we will do the right thing politically." The German finance minister made the same point by claiming, "The financial market is only concerned with itself, instead of fulfilling its purpose and financing sensible, sustainable economic growth .… We have to change that."

The bigger issue is that financial markets, driven by a market fundamentalist ideology, have grown much, much faster than global trade or global GDP. One McKinsey study recently estimated that financial assets have grown from $12 trillion in 1980 to as much as $ 200 trillion by 2008! The result is that, as Jeffrey E Garten, professor of international trade and finance at the Yale School of Management wrote recently (Newsweek, May 17), "The financial markets still cast the deciding votes about how things work — in the form of currency movements, bond prices, equity values, and the cost of credit default swaps — even more so than the votes of millions of citizens at the ballot box." Garten obviously seems to see this as a positive development. Should the rest of us also do so? Is this good when measured against the yardstick of "the greatest good of the greatest number"?

The fact is that growth in financial markets is the result of a very sharp increase in speculative trading. What value does it add to "market efficiency", let alone to the real economy? — a point I will come back to next week.  






The issues in Bhopal go way beyond the Congress letting Anderson go

The Congress party's role in allowing Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson to escape after the Bhopal disaster — and Digvijay Singh inadvertently bringing in Rajiv Gandhi by saying there was probably pressure from the US — is immensely entertaining, but is really a side issue. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Anderson hadn't been allowed to leave the country on the orders of then Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Arjun Singh. What then? He couldn't have been kept under arrest all this while, so like Keshab Mahindra and others he would have been sentenced to a two-year prison term only 26 years after the tragedy. And since the judgment will be challenged and will certainly travel all the way up to the Supreme Court — and take another few decades to do so! — it is not certain if Anderson will even be around by then.

 The real issues are the complete and utter failure of all governments, both at the Centre and the states, and their apathy. A list of some of the most egregious ones:

> While the original charge sheet asked for trying the case under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), which has a maximum sentence of 10 years, the Supreme Court under then Chief Justice A M Ahmadi reduced this to Section 304A under which the maximum sentence is only two years since this deals with death by negligence (like running over someone with your car). While evidence was presented to show the plant was not working properly and the equipment was faulty, the judgment read: "Even assuming that it was a defective plant and it was dealing with a very toxic and hazardous substance like MIC, the mere act of storing such a material by the accused in (tank) No. 610 could not even prima facie suggest that the accused concerned thereby had knowledge that they were likely to cause death of human beings."

What followed was worse since the Review petition was dismissed by the court. Given the evidence provided and the quote from the judgment just cited, this tells you just how much of a sham the entire Review process under Article 137 of the Constitution is. More so when you consider that, just 453 words later, Article 142 says, "The Supreme Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction may pass such decree or make such order as is necessary for doing complete justice (itals mine) in any cause or matter pending before it." Which means that if circumstances warrant it — and given how the unsafe plant, run to the ground by Carbide, was responsible for several thousands dying, surely circumstances warranted it — the court can pass almost any order.

The court didn't do it, nor did Parliament — surely our MPs should have realised that what had happened was a colossal tragedy and the court rejecting the Review petition was a travesty of justice. For 14 years after this, the MPs twiddled their thumbs and then, when the local court gave a two-year sentence last week, the shock of waking up so suddenly made the law minister try to bluster his way out by saying Anderson could still be extradited! (By the way, Carbide is so cocky, despite all the evidence and the court sentence, its website says it was not guilty, that the water was introduced into the MIC tank by an employee, that the government knew who the employee was, but didn't want to pursue him since it only wanted to pursue Carbide and get compensation from it (

> The government never even bothered to give compensation to the victims, preferring to wait instead till Carbide paid up — a third of this money is with the government even today. Surely the government's job was to provide immediate compensation, and then let the victims get money from Carbide separately. To give an example, when you die in a plane crash, your next of kin get compensation from the airline immediately; if negligence of the airline is proved and there is a payment from a lawsuit, this is in addition to the immediate relief provided.

To ensure history doesn't repeat itself when the next Bhopal happens, we need to look at setting up a tort compensatory system with contributions from industry — in the manner the entire telecom industry contributes to the Universal Service Obligation Fund for rural telephony — so that victims can be provided immediate succour. What they get from the Carbides of the world later is a different matter.

> Even if the government didn't want to pay compensation, you'd think it would at least clean up the toxic material from the disaster site. For 25 years, nothing got done and when the Centre for Science and Environment did tests earlier this year, it found mercury and toxic materials like lindane and carbaryl were 24-110 times the safe limits — and this at a site 3 km from the Carbide plant. In other words, the toxic material, kept covered with plastic in a shed, has leached down into the groundwater. Surely the clean-up didn't have to wait for Carbide to pay for it, it was vital for Indian citizens — Carbide paying up was a different matter. Interestingly, while a committee of experts wants to dispose of the toxic waste in an incinerator in Gujarat (the matter is stuck in a series of court cases), state government reports insist the site is non-toxic.

Given the way the Congress party is trying to shield the late Rajiv Gandhi by insisting there was no pressure to keep the CBI from extraditing Anderson, it's not clear what the reconstituted Group of Ministers (GoM) will achieve since anything it recommends will show up previous governments run by it. By the way, since the Congress party is now blaming Arjun Singh for releasing Andersen (to protect Gandhi), you wonder how it justifies having Mr Singh head the GoM before it was recast. But that's what happens when everything is politics.







France and India have become partners in building a multipolar world, Sarkozy's adviser Levitte tells Sanjaya Baru

A month before the Lehman Brothers' collapse moved the tectonic plates of the global economy, Japan's Sherpa to the 2008 G8 summit, Masaharu Kohno, told an audience at Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy that the original G7 had made a mistake by bringing in Russia to create a G8. He didn't see Russia as being ready to help the G7 manage the global economy.

In saying so, Mr Kohno revealed why Japan had dragged its feet over the role of the so-called "outreach countries", the G5, in the 2008 Hokkaido summit of G8. Left to itself, Japan would have gone back to the original format of the G7 or, at best, invited a few leaders of the developing world for tea and a polite conversation.

In the event, however, it was Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's veiled threat to boycott the Hokkaido summit if it becomes a repetition of the 2007 Heiligendamm summit, and the support his stance got from Brazil, China and South Africa that prompted Japan to ensure greater participation of the so-called "emerging economies".

The French take justifiable credit for using the 2003 Evian G8 summit to invite "emerging powers" like China and India to the G8 for a dialogue rather than to deliver homilies. Neither the Gleneagles summit (2006) nor Heiligendamm stayed this course on the role of the "outreach" countries.

Returning home from Heiligendamm, Dr Singh complained that the format of the G8+5 meetings was less than satisfactory. While his threat to boycott the Hokkaido summit helped retain that format, the G8 was not yet ready, even a month before Lehman, to engage China and India in a serious discussion on the management of the global economy.

The one G8 leader who correctly sensed the irritation of India and the G5 was France's President Nicholas Sarkozy. Recollecting those difficult days of 2008, Mr Sarkozy's key diplomatic adviser Jean-David Levitte told me last week in Paris that it was Mr Sarkozy who called up US President George Bush and suggested that the time had come to end the charade of the G8+5 and go in for a more meaningful format that would enable the US and the European Union (EU) to seriously engage China and India in a discussion on global economic management.

The first call was made immediately after the Lehman collapse. President Bush rejected the idea saying that it was the responsibility of the US government to clean up the post-Lehman mess, and there was nothing others could do to help. As things got worse, Mr Sarkozy called again and got the same reply. It was in mid-October that Mr Sarkozy made his third attempt to convince Mr Bush that a global response was needed to manage what, by then, had clearly become a global crisis.

Cutting short a visit to Canada, recalls Mr Levitte, Mr Sarkozy flew down to Camp David. He was joined by the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso. The three addressed a joint press conference at which Mr Bush announced that he would soon be convening a global conference of major economies to discuss the financial crisis and seek a coordinated response. Thus was born the G20 summit.

When Mr Sarkozy returns to Toronto later this month for the G20 summit, he would naturally recall his last visit and that last-ditch flight to the US with some satisfaction. At the end of an hour-long conversation with Mr Levitte in an impressively elegant corner of the Elysee Palace in Paris, it became clear to me that the true architects of the G20 process are indeed President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Singh. Dr Singh voiced the impatience of the G5, Mr Sarkozy forced the G8, especially the US, to listen.

Mr Levitte is proud of these facts. He believes France enjoys a unique position in the world — as a leader of the EU, a friend of developed economies like the US and Canada, and, at the same time, a friend of the developing world, especially India. "We two are the world's oldest and biggest democracies," he says, repeatedly referring to the growing intimacy of high level contact between Mr Sarkozy and Dr Singh.

"France and India talk to each other all the time about a wide range of issues," he says, listing the global economy, climate change, nuclear energy, Afghanistan, terrorism and world trade among them. Mr Levitte believes French companies are doing well in India and hopes investment in nuclear energy, space and defence industries will cement a closer strategic relationship.

I remind him of Dr Singh's observation that India has no complaints about the French leadership at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). His smile is broad! He may well want IMF's Dominique Strauss-Kahn to continue doing his good work at the Fund and not return to Paris to challenge the incumbent Mr Sarkozy! He is far too experienced a diplomat to say anything of the kind, having been France's ambassador to the US and the UN, and now slated to head a proposed French National Security Council. Mr Levitte is credited with cementing closer US-France relations during the Bush era — a good background for attempting the same with India!

Mr Levitte says that Mr Sarkozy will use his chairmanship of the G20 in 2011 to further strengthen the grouping as an effective institution of global governance. Mr Levitte is deeply committed to France's view of a multipolar world. He sees the G20 as a logical by-product of the unfolding of that world view and Indo-French partnership as vital to its success.







It is important for us to find our own idiom for corporate governance, which is rooted in the Indian ethos, but speaks the global language.

 Lakshmi, one of goddess Durga's children, is supposed to be responsible for the wealth, peace and prosperity of the households on earth. Durga has three other children, each of whom has been given a separate portfolio. Lakshmi's sister, Saraswati, has the portfolio of knowledge; and Kartik oversees the department of courage. The youngest of them, Ganesha, in the role of Siddhidvata, seems to have a larger remit to crown all endeavours with glory and success, for which he has to ensure that all obstacles in the path are removed. I am not very clear about the seniority among the children in the Shiva-Durga family, but I am certain that a considerable thought went into the portfolio allocation, for it seems that the affairs of their estate are being run pretty well. Indeed, this allocation should serve as an example for the boards of Indian companies on how to choose the right director on the basis of knowledge, expertise and experience, and give each director a remit based on his strengths and allow him a full and free play.

Leaving aside the debate over the seniority of the sisters, it would be interesting to focus on Lakshmi. She is worshipped by every Bengali household on the day of full moon, which comes four days after Durga Puja. Outside Bengal, she is also worshipped on Diwali, when businessmen open books for the New Year. My grandmother used to tell me that Lakshmi had many idiosyncrasies, one of which was that she was very temperamental — here today gone tomorrow. That is why she is named Chapala. One has to be really a bit careful, because given her temperament, she has a tendency to run away from things that are ugly, mean and base; folklore has it that she is reluctant to visit and bestow her love and beauty wherever she finds these things. The import of what my grandmother said was not very clear to me in my youth, but what was apparent was that Lakshmi was quite sensible and clear about her likes and dislikes. Later, when I bought some good books on economics, and much later, when I read about the crises of Enron, Lehman, Satyam as well as the global financial crisis, I found that the resplendent lady made a lot economic sense too. Wealth can be frittered away in no time. And, as Micawber said, "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

Someone might inherit a lot of money, but if he does not invest it judiciously to make the money grow, he, too, might find himself in a "here today gone tomorrow" situation. A company would be in a similar situation, if it leverages indiscriminately to buy assets. For example, Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco Global, not being able to service debt, decided to fudge the accounts (quite like Satyam) with the help of auditors, and then went bankrupt. Surely, an ugly enough situation for Lakshmi to abhor.

My wife and I, while having tea one morning, discovered an earth shattering piece of economic truth. It ran something like this: If I am a miser and don't ever discard old clothes, continue to wear torn and tattered stuff, I will not have space in my cupboard to keep new clothes. If I do not buy new clothes and if there are many like me, then shops will have no buyers and if the shops have no buyers, then the cloth manufacturers will be affected; and they will close down factories and then there will be series of consequential effects on the economy. So, wealth will decrease. In other words, the lady concerned will again run away. Thus from the behaviour of the lady it turns out, that she will consent to abide only in situations where efforts are made to preserve, distribute and grow wealth, and where there is nothing sordid and squalid. Aha, this sounds interesting and I hope Indian businessmen understand this. (Actually many do, though not all!) This approach of "raksha", "vriddhi" and "palana" to wealth is what ensures the creation of wealth. That is what brings sustainable success for businesses. This is what corporate governance is all about.

There is a Sanskrit sloka (verse) I read a long time ago which runs something like this: Karagrey vasatah Lasksmi, karamuley Saraswati, karamodhey madhusudanah, prabhatey hasta darshana. It means that you must see your hand in the morning and remember that Lakshmi resides in the fingers (which is understandable because with the fingers one holds the tools, the pen, the brush and earns the living); Saraswati is in the wrist (without the wrist movement, the fingers won't work; without knowledge as the guide, one cannot work) and madhusudanah or the divine is in the middle. For the present, I will leave madhusudanah aside and focus on the combined role of Saraswati and Lakshmi. If knowledge provides the guide, then the efforts towards sustainable wealth creation will bear fruit. It is then that success will crown the enterprise, and this will please the youngest sibling, Ganesha. In a modern idiom, for an enterprise to have sustainable success, there must be a business strategy and model based on knowledge and understanding of the business and competition, and directed and stewarded by a knowledgeable and experienced board as guide, with a management approach towards wealth creation, maintenance and distribution. This is the essence of corporate governance. This is our own stuff, very much "made in India".

The conceptual underpinnings of corporate governance, in their present form, are rooted in the western culture and thought or in the western "dharma" (in the wider sense of the word); and in the rational jurisprudence of the Roman law and the western law. Hence they lend themselves to an easy adaptation by the English-speaking peoples. They are a product of European liberalism. They have evolved through the debates on the beneficiaries of a governance process between the Magna Carta and the American War of Independence. Board activism and empowerment, at the heart of which is the demand to strengthen the board, also have their origins in the English-speaking countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. However, those countries whose economic and political traditions, and institutions and ownership structures, are different from the English-speaking countries, find these concepts distant as well as foreign; or in a sense "not invented here"; and not easy to accept.

In India, the way corporate governance came to be formally adopted by firms especially after 2000 reflects the natural dominance of the contemporary western culture and thought over Indian perceptions and readings. It has not often been realised that the principles of corporate governance have always been an integral part of Indian culture and society. This has its advantages as well as weaknesses.

Advantages arise from the fact that in an era of globalisation, when the Indian economy is seeking to integrate itself with the global economy, and when there is a concerted move towards harmonisation of global regulatory standards and accounting principles, it is only pragmatic that the corporate governance architecture should be built on globally-recognisable design, and the standards scripted in globally-understood alphabets. For this reason, long before the two words became a business reality in India, the principles of corporate governance came to be easily adopted by those companies and people behind them, who had by education or by business came in closer touch with the western world.

The weakness is that, unless the founding principles of business are rooted in the dharma and culture of a country, their easy and wider acceptability and adaptability become elusive, if not difficult. It is important for us to find our own idiom for true governance, one that is rooted in the Indian ethos, but speaks the global language.

I must end with an acknowledgement that the idea of this article came from one of the finest managers of corporate India, R Gopalakrishnan, executive director of Tata Sons, as I was reading one of his recent articles.

The author is currently associated with the Global Corporate Governance Forum of the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank and is a former executive director of the Securities and Exchange Board of India. Views expressed are personal.  







In the old fable, once you killed the golden goose, your supply of future eggs of gold came to an end. In the modern era, you haven't entirely cooked your own goose, even if you allowed your greed to overcome sense.

With its spectrum auctions, the government chose upfront money over diffusion of technology and fast connectivity via cheap spectrum, leading to faster economic growth.

Diffusion of third and later generation communication services has been slow in western markets, where the needed spectrum cost the service providers a bomb, while it has been fast and extensive in countries like Korea and Japan where spectrum costs are small and carriers are free to use their funds to invest in the infrastructure, instead of being forced to feed the government.

Without further government intervention, 3G and wireless broadband spectrum winners are unlikely to roll out ultra-fast mobile data connectivity services in a hurry, and if they do, these services are unlikely to be cheap.

Unfortunately, there is a conflict between this commercial rationality and public welfare, which calls for extensive deployment of fast, inexpensive data connectivity, to enable groundbreaking advances in the delivery of healthcare and education , governance, rural development. So the state must intervene.

It has the needed instrumentality in the form of two state-owned operators, MTNL and BSNL. They have, between them, a pan-India footprint, in terms of both operations and spectrum. These companies must be asked to roll out fast data connectivity — with a minimum speed of 4 megabits per second, right now.

The government could use a part of its spectrum bounty to infuse further capital in these companies, if needed, to let them execute this mandate at a low cost to the consumer, defraying capital costs over a long period. Simultaneously, the government should enforce number portability without delay . These strong-arm tactics would force private telecom companies to not delay roll-out of next generation networks , and to keep costs down.

But first, the government should unshackle MTNL and BSNL, give them the freedom to buy and deploy equipment and take operational decisions with autonomy.







They have both been called 'the beautiful game' . They both involve a playing side of eleven. But that apart, football and cricket are about as similar as chalk and cheese.


One is so global, involves so many playing nations, is so universally popular that it makes the other seem like a little provincial game indulged in by a handful of nations united by little else except the history of British colonialism . Football is fast, even frenetic, a game lasting a mere ninety minutes, and even a drawn match, if the teams play well, can be as exciting as little else on earth.

Cricket, by comparison, seems positively day-stretching , even though Twenty20 has emerged as the new, faster kid on the block. And Test matches! Would anyone who didn't know ever believe that a game can last as long as five whole days? And there used to be a 'rest day' in between.

That used to make a Test match last one whole week. Tell that fact to someone unfamiliar, and observe the look on their face. Truly a game invented by gentlemen of leisure to while away colonial times. And the rules. Were we to ponder for a brief second, cricket is governed by and played according to a whole litany of laws and rules, were one to write them all down, it'd surely fill a medium sized legal dossier.

Football on the other hand is absurdly simple . Take ball, score goal. And all you need to play is a patch of land, a ball and a few stones or twigs or anything else as goalposts. So, is it football that's the beautiful one, really?

Well, its zillions of fans may aver so. But the cricket aficionado would demur. The sheer joy of batting, the thwack of hitting a ball with sweet timing, the elegance of a cover drive well executed, the trill of a soaring sixer... One could go on. Or bowling, the web of spin, the fury and aggression of fast bowling.

Even fielding has its pleasures, the run as the ball streaks through the turf, the triumph of a well-aimed throw... again, one could go on. Zillions may not play it, but millions do. And it's in their bloodstream. So, go ahead and watch the football world cup if you so please. Then we can go back to the other beautiful game.







Indian industry is firing on all cylinders, after marked deceleration last year. But there is no sign of overheating and the cost of funds need to remain reasonable, even as policy innovates incentives for innovation and productivity gains. The index of industrial production (IIP) for April has gone up by a whopping 17.6%, over April last year.

However, the latest growth number is on top of a lacklustre 1.1% increase in industrial output notched up during April, 2009. The lowly base figure needs to be kept in mind for policy purposes. Overall, industrial growth during April-March 2009-10 is now put at 10.4%: creditable , not heady.

Manufactures, which have a 79.3% weightage in IIP, have grown an impressive 19.4% during April. Though, again, the high growth this time around follows on a mere 0.4% rise in manufacturing output during April last year. Also, mining, with a 10.4% weightage in the index, has been buoyant this past year thanks to increased oil and gas production. There's also a welcome 6% growth in electricity generation.

More importantly, disaggregated figures for April industrial production reveal unprecedented robustness in capital goods output, with growth up by a huge 72.8% year-on-year (y-o-y ). Now capital goods output, which have a weightage of 9.3% in the index, point to investment demand, and so is doubly significant.

It is true that output last April, which serves as the base for computing the growth this April, had registered an actual decline of 5.9%. Further, given that car and truck sales have been zooming and since 'transport equipment' is included under the capital goods head, the growth in the segment needs to be appropriately qualified.

However, the breakup also shows that while transport equipment and parts did grow 32.3%, the production of machinery and equipment other than transport equipment increased by 55.6% in April y-o-y . It suggests genuine stepping-up of investment activity. This has to be sustained.






Soon after the global financial meltdown of 2008 and the spectre of corporate bankruptcies in the US and elsewhere, the possibility of sovereign defaults, especially in some countries in southern Europe , have become all too real.

The bailout of banks, insurance and automobile companies in the developed world by massive infusion of liquidity by governments has, in effect only ended up with unsustainable corporate debt being substituted by sovereign debt that is now being increasingly seen as unsustainable.

In Europe, the underlying problem with potential sovereign defaults is essentially one of excessive borrowing during the good times that cannot be serviced during the present difficult times. Credit downgrades among southern European countries are gathering momentum and rollover of maturing sovereign obligations is becoming difficult even at increasingly higher yields.

The consequences of a sovereign default are too serious to comprehend given that the big global banks — who are themselves passing through an existential crisis — hold a significant portion of these debts.

With even the recent unprecedented $1 trillion bailout commitment from the eurozone and the IMF being increasingly seen by the market as insufficient to address the problems at hand, it is time to examine how the end game in Europe may play out.

Fear and confusion about the eventual endgame in Europe is causing the euro to steadily depreciate and is down 18% against the dollar in the last six months alone. The text book solution to a sovereign debt crisis and loss of competitiveness — as is the case with Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy — is a substantial cut in government spending and a deep enough currency devaluation that makes the country's exports competitive.

In addition, structural reforms to address the problem of inflexible labour markets and loss of competitiveness are needed. If there is enough appetite for the country's exports in the rest of the world, fiscal consolidation and a stable economy should be the end result.

This economic prescription is difficult to follow in crisis-ridden Europe because the eurozone countries are unable to individually depreciate their currency. This robs these countries of a very potent tool to address the crisis and regaining competitiveness sans currency depreciation would be harder and more painful involving recession and deflation.

The continuing depreciation of the euro should boost European exports but it is unlikely to change the relative competitive position of say Greece — for whom tourism accounts for 70% of total exports — against the other eurozone nations.

The flip side of the euro depreciation is that it is largely aiding German competitiveness vis-a-vis the non-euro world to which 40% of German exports are directed. The net result would be a further increase in Germany's current account surplus from 5% of GDP in 2009 to probably double the number by 2011 thus accentuating imbalances within the eurozone.

The imbalances , if left unchecked, could soon become global in nature as the eurozone would convert a small current account deficit presently into a large surplus in the future at a time when other developed countries are themselves not in good economic health either. A competitive beggar-thy-neighbour policy all around may well be the end result.

Surplus countries like Germany would need to substantially expand domestic demand and help boost exports from the distressed southern eurozone countries.

Instead, austerity measures are being imposed in these very countries. If the integrity of the European Union has to be maintained, a full fiscal integration necessitating a substantial weakening of the power of national parliaments and an effective one-time wealth transfer from the surplus countries may well be required.

However, the ground reality is — far from a potential wealth transfer — the German taxpayer views the recent $1 trillion bailout package involving guarantees and soft loans as an elaborate ploy where the financially prudent are being asked to pay for the profligate. There does not appear to be much sympathy for the distressed fellow eurozone countries.

A lasting solution to the crisis would therefore require working out a new political bargain among the EU member countries to maintain support for the monetary union. Needless to say, such a political bargain would certainly require a level of statesmanship that is not visible on the horizon as yet.

The current stability and growth pact requiring EU member countries to maintain a minimum level of fiscal health has clearly not worked. Unless a new deal is forged soon enough among member countries, the risks of sovereign defaults and a possible break up of the EU are rising.

A fast weakening euro and increasingly volatile markets are the sure signs that these risks are not being ignored by the markets any more. However , markets cannot be trusted to get Europe out of the mess in which it finds itself in a non-disruptive manner.

Given that the current state of flux in Europe is clearly untenable in the medium term, a sovereign debt restructuring initiative is urgently required that would involve some sacrifice from creditors in exchange for serious economic restructuring in the distressed countries involving reforms in taxation, benefits and entitlements , labour and public spending. In addition, a credible arrangement to sustain the single currency system should be firmly put in place soon.

If there are irreconcilable differences among the EU member countries in forging a new deal, it is time to start working on arrangements for an orderly default and a planned exit of some countries from the European monetary union well before the markets assume the worst outcome and cause further disruption.

There would hardly be any winners in this case because if the weak nations exit, they are likely to have massive debts in euro to be repaid in a highly depreciated new currency and if the strong nations exit they will be far less competitive on account of their rapidly appreciating new currency. Either way it is best that some peremptory and credible action is taken to end the virtual stalemate that the markets abhor.








The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving, noted the savant contemplating growth and change. That was then, in a far more sedate era and decades before regular data series and growth numbers.

Fast-forward to the here and now, and the latest estimates, for April, do reveal heady industrial growth over the like period last year. Although, considering that growth in the previous April was entirely lacklustre, the buoyant year-on-year increase this time around is also statistical mirage.

The way ahead is to compile both leading and lagging indicators, so as to have a much more composite picture of the vagaries and interstices of growth.

And better growth estimates and more up-to-date figures should lead to more considered, proactive policy and attendant industry response. Anyway, the larger objectiveoughttobetorevupinnovation, across industries and sectors. Besides, the economic case for innovation is unexceptionable, for multiple reasons.

Consider, for instance, the issue of pricing, returns and the greater good. Sans innovation , product offerings in the marketplace tend to become more similar and predictable . Such a scenario can mean consumer indifference , and scope to "play off" one vendor against the next, to strike a price bargain. Prices would then tend to stabilise at not much above costs, stultify investor returns and reduce customer choice.

But when innovation does take place, it can result in more differentiated products and offers, with the real possibility that different goods and services become the preferred choice of different market segments in the pecking order.

It would imply reasonable pricing power for producers, and demand would likely stabilise at prices well above costs, thus giving rise to attractive economic returns and so boost investments. Also, innovation designed to cost-reduce routine processes, for instance, can shore up productivity gains and bring about efficiency improvements going forward.

However, the ground reality is unlikely to be either stylised or prosaic. For corporates and institutions are more likely than not to encounter innovation underperformance , and a panoply of other suboptimal outcomes. Hence the vital role of leadership , to take calculated risks, prioritise tasks and bring about much-needed focus.

But then, it cannot be gainsaid that a general risk-reduction mentality can mean routinely avoiding "bold actions," so as not to unduly affect existing 'going' assets and transactional relationships. It's herd behaviour really, of keeping close to the norms and rule-book .

Such a risk-reduction strategy can even be deemed sensible, especially when the penalties for faulty operations and implementation are significant, but nevertheless, there are no built-in rewards and upside for brilliant performance. Such a state of affairs may well have been the case a decade or two back, when corporates here had little appetite to globalise and think big. But it's clearly no longer so.

And as corporates in India chalk out plans to expand and shore up operations , even venture into promising, sunrise sectors, it is basically about striking a different growth path and "not going with the herd." Also, this time round, there's much possibility for upside gains across borders.

Which is why continuing with the risk-reduction mindset of old when it comes to innovation and enterprise would be debilitating , and backfire. In any case, risk-reduction as an innovation practice is often meant to cover up underperformance and to wriggle out and avoid accountability.

But while risk reduction as innovation strategy does not quite make sense in our large, high-growth and fast globalising economy, achieving real breakthroughs also calls for focus that's highly coordinated across enterprise and settings. It's possible to envisage innovation that is decentralised and diffused activity that takes place on umpteen fronts, in many different directions.

But it can also mean just not enough coagulation of resources for pathbreaking innovation and "breakaway status" . The fact remains that novel products and sustained innovation by our leading corporates have been few and far between. Could it be because we simply avoid putting all our eggs in one basket, or that we prefer to traverse the beaten track and hedge bets?

The point is to bring about proper alignment of institutional resources for breakthrough innovation. It is not enough to have a sprinkling of innovative activity enterprise-wide , if there's no real direction and focus.

After all, innovation is more like vector addition — complete with arrows that show the direction and magnitude of a given force of action. So if innovative resources are diffused and thinly spread or otherwise unaligned , it could well mean suboptimal outcomes.

The Centre needs to firm up leading and lagging indicators of economic growth for a more composite index. But how corporates here strategise to innovate and update would make all the difference.








The threat of cheap petrochemicals from Gulf floodining India has been looming large over the last few years, but remains elusive so far. Indian petrochemical companies, that predominantly use naphtha, have been wary of gas-based capacities coming up virtually in their backyard. Ilana Djelal, managing editor of Platts for Europe, however, contends that such perceptions may be misplaced as strong domestic demand will help India and China remain competitive.

The country has been a net importer of petrochemicals including polymers. But this is changing gradually, with the government launching petroleum, chemicals and petrochemicals investment region (PCPIR) schemes and the SEZs. Many domestic companies including RIL, ONGC, MRPL and BPCL plan to add new polymer capacities within next 2-3 years. In parallel, another 2.6 million tonnes of polyethylene capacities is set to be added in the Gulf region between 2010 and 2013.

All new polymer capacities in India will be naphtha-based , while those in the Middle East will be gas-based . Will India remain competitive? "I don't see Indian naphthabased players becoming uncompetitive.

In fact the threat they face is far less than Europe or South-East Asia, because India has the benefit of a very strong domestic market ," says the managing editor of Platts, a global provider of energy and metals information . India's five kg per head polymer consumption is less than a quarter of China's and a tenth of the Europe's consumption. Strong domestic demand will help India and China to remain competitive. Besides India can impose anti-dumping duty, if need be.

The country's petrochemical industry lost considerable time in scaling up its operations . Unlike India, the concept of a SEZ was introduced in China a long time ago.

Today , China has over a dozen petrochemicals-specific SEZs. India has, however, improvised the concept by allowing the SEZ units to procure raw materials from domestic tariff area, that enables them to ensure raw material security.

The capacities commissioned in the Middle East so far have been absorbed mostly by the strong Asian demand. Some projects have, however, been bogged down by delays . The situation is gloomy in Europe where petrochemical manufacturers are preparing for the worst.

"There is a realisation that eventually there will be some supply indigestion and Europe will prove uncompetitive . This means reduced rates of naphtha crackers and polymer plants. We have seen some tough decisions being taken , but there are more to come," said Djelal.

What lies ahead for the petrochemical producers in advanced economies? Eventually , the region will have to move towards technology-driven products that are not available in other regions.

A clear trend is visible now with mature economies such as Europe and North-East Asia — Japan, South Korea and Taiwan — focusing on speciality polymers. The GCC, India, China and South-East Asia, on the other hand, are looking at commodity polymers. Consolidation is the mantra for naphtha-based petrochemical producers in mature economies.

European firms are also increasingly looking at forming strategic partnerships in India , more of licensing technologies. "ONGC Petro-additions (OPaL) is using Ineos' metallocene catalyst technology for LLDPE resins , that is a premium product with better specifications" , said Djelal. She foresees more such deals happening in coming years.

While new capacities are being created, the world is also becoming more interested in recycled plastics. "There is growing interest in Europe about recycled plastics for certain non-critical uses. At the moment, we publish recycled PP prices in Europe, but we are getting enquiries to publish recycled HDPE prices as well," said Djelal.

The world is yet to see the full impact of gas-based polymer capacities in the Gulf region . This will unfold in next couple of years. There could be oversupply, albeit for a temporary phase.

However, the demand for polymers is growing as it replaces wood, metal and glass. At present, all gas that can be explored in the Gulf region appears to have already been tied up with petrochemical projects and new projects are unlikely to come up in foreseeable future. Indian petrochemical players have to keep their fingers crossed.

(With inputs from Quintella Koh, Platts managing editor, Asia)








Listing various joyful manifestations, Cecil Frances Alexander conceives of the "Lord God" who has "made them all" . Indeed, her inspirational narration is also applicable even to agnostics, who too can discern and be sensitised to a moving force — God or call what you will. This force manifests as things of goodness and beauty, making things, accomplishments and ultimately, civilisation possible.

This also is the process of becoming aware and mindful of and thus being supported by such soothing, supporting and healing influences . Otherwise , one could easily bypass these to be denied finally those blessings and benefits, which he could effortlessly have received by being just positive and receptive.

Having divined the potential inherent in tapping such resources around, the question arises as to how to practically go about doing the needful. The process commences with being observant and watchful, guarding against laxity, drift and unproductive habits or routine.

Every activity, including mechanical ones, could spring to life as vibrantly joyful ones through this attentiveness and awareness. Acts of even simply getting up, attending to chores, bathing, eating, sleeping, cuddling a baby or whatever — the quality and contours of these can assume a new significance, conferring also the needed benefits.

During outings or even ambling along, one can observe things around, including the resilience of not just persons but also "all creatures great and small" .

This also is acceptance of not just oneself but situations and things around, because in this broadness of outlook, one's own problems and limitations would appear less horrifying.

He would then be more sensitised to others' goodness and problems and less obsessed with his own. This also is the commencement of the dropping and shedding of the ego — a singular service, which one does to himself, where he himself becomes the principal and prime beneficiary.

Cecil Frances concludes, "How great is God Almighty,/ Who has made all things well" . This also is the practical realisation of Robert Browning's concept (Pippa Passes), "God's in His Heaven –/ All's right with the world!"

Indeed, that "Lord God" , involved with every true seeker of worthy living — regardless of his faith in a God or lack of it — has made them all, and made them, in the ultimate scheme of things, well too!








I'm learning to live with the fact that I've become some kind of historical archive consultant. Usually when something from 'before' resurfaces, given that most of today's Indian media are in their venerable 20s.

But the Bhopal gas tragedy was way before my time, so I can't claim to have covered it in any way. Still, I wasn't dribbling on my baby toys, so I was trying to dredge up memories of the time. You know what? I can only remember some pictures and avidly scouring newspapers for sketchy details.

1984 was a different world. We didn't have 24/7 news television. We didn't have cellphones, twitter, 20 flights a day to Bhopal, a vibrant pharmaceutical and medical industry, an aggressive domestic media, and nobody had heard of crisis or image management. Nobody knew much about health or safety; concepts like CSR didn't exist.

Most importantly, we didn't have that 8% GDP growth rate. We had no money, resources, or experience to tackle a tragedy of this kind — so yeah, every mistake in the book was made.

The verdict has been greeted with howls of outrage, as too little, too late. I'm going to argue that it may or may not be too little — but it isn't too late. The timing, thanks to the accidental convolutions of India's judiciary, is historically bang on.

Twenty five years is how long it has taken for the world and India to ready to put Bhopal back on the global centrestage. To tell a new generation the truth about one of the darkest chapters in the history of MNC colonial imperialism. (It happened, all the time. Remember the Banana republics?) .

Take a poll in America today, if you can retell the whole story, and chances are many would agree Warren Anderson should have been held accountable for his role.

Twenty five years ago? Holding an important American citizen, backed up battalions of lawyers, diplomats and spin doctors in an India jail? It would have blown up all over the western world as something akin to the Taliban kidnapping an American diplomat. Let's be real.

Today, India can pick and choose the quality of FDI we want, we can even argue and negotiate about nuclear liability. Back then? The backlash would have been brutal. Beggars can't be choosers.

There's always been anger about Bhopal. But it was the hopeless kind of anger of the permanently poor; that's what makes the Bhopal gas victims lifelong struggle for justice so unique and remarkable.

It has taken 25 years of struggle, and independent research by thousands to even piece together the real story; Union Carbide went into spin doctoring and denial overdrive, something Indians had no idea how to counter. Dow Chemicals, which now owns the erstwhile Union Carbide, is distancing itself — perfectly within its legal rights. But there's no reason to step down the activist pressure.

We now live in a world that's a lot more open, inter-connected and sensitive to corporate bullying. Morals and ethics are back in fashion. Not to mention that MNC worldview has changed — third world countries are no longer locations with lax laws to outsource 'dirty' manufacturing jobs to, we're customers.

Whether a group of old men are actually sent to jail or not, in my view, matters less than the fact that the timing makes it a perfect opportunity to notch up the pressure. For the victims, the suffering is still not over; there's reportedly, toxic waste still lying around the plant site. So why should there be closure?

I'd recommend that everyone who's involved with Bhopal or the nuclear liability bill keep a very close eye on the BP and Gulf of Mexico case. The parallels — right down to diplomatic and political ramifications are eerily familiar.
Faced with crashing political ratings, Obama has gone after BP.

On this side of the pond, Brits are furious about what they perceive as anti-British rhetoric that's wiped more than a third off the value of one of its most valuable companies.

American politicians insist BP cancel its dividend, want to retrospectively change laws to raise its total liability, capped at $75 million after Exxon, go on calling it British Petroleum, (a name the company dropped a decade ago), and Mr Obama has promised to keep the American 'boot on BP's throat' , kick ass, and so on. British Premier Cameron has been dragged into the battle, and come out in support of BP, saying it is in nobody's interest to bash the company .

Why? Because BP is a core component of UK's largest pension funds, and if it goes bust, it will decimate lots of little old widows here. It's threatening Anglo-American relations, and we're talking about close allies.

The difference is: the parent company is being held responsible, not some local subsidiary. BP has said it will pay for the clean-up and damages — the argument is how much, and where that liability stops. It's an important precedent because international law is so vague that MNCs can usually squirm out of most overseas liabilities. Compared to 25 years ago, they're finding it just that little bit more difficult.








Hyundai Motor, India's second-largest carmaker, has lined up ambitious growth plans for the Indian market. Encouraged by the scorching demand for cars over the last year and rising competition, the company has decided to launch at least three new car models every year to keep up with an ever-increasing demand. It is also busy ramping up sales and service stations across the hinterland, seeing opportunity in low-car penetration. Among other things, the company will have a stronger rural focus in the coming years. During January- April this year, the rural market for cars grew 27%, with Hyundai's sales growing at about 40%, thanks to the company's move of having sales branches and road shows to stimulate demand in those areas. Arvind Saxena, director, sales and marketing, Hyundai Motors India, discusses company's strategy in an ever-evolving Indian market in an interview with ET . Excerpts:

i10 seems to have gone down well with the Indian consumers. Which other upcoming product from Hyundai could get a similar response?

Any product of our company is developed in such a way that it helps the company's cause in terms of volume and market share. We designed i10 for the Indian market, and it has done well and achieved its aim. Fair amount of research went into designing it; we repeatedly checked with consumers about the product. The key was to give them value for money. Customers do not always go for the cheapest product, and look for value in products. Everything about the car was new—styling, interiors—all this gave much greater value to the consumers.

Hyundai had to strip down the i20 to launch a lower-priced variant. How successful has the company been in attracting consumers?

The i20 was designed for the European market. It's a very high spec car and is expensive in its segment. People do want to buy high-performance, fun-to-drive cars but in a small package. We are surprised by the customer response to the car, which has been unexpectedly good. The package of design and features has caught the fancy of consumers.

I would not say that we have stripped down the car as we still have a fairly feature-rich car. But naturally, variants always allow you to expand the market and clearly, that is what we have attempted. After creating a product with very high brand image, we had to go for volumes.

While auto industry had a good run last year, the competition has become intense and the space is now more crowded. It's said that in any industry there is room for only top three players in the long run. Your comment.

The penetration of four-wheelers here is such that the Indian market will take years to reach saturation point. There are different reasons for the growth. Most of the growth has been from July last year. Fundamentally, we are a growing and stable economy. We never had a recession. Automobile is the biggest beneficiary of economic growth.

There will not be uniform growth for all, but one thing that we believe is that competition always expands the market. India has a stellar advantage of having an excellent financial system. So, availability of finance enables car market to grow.

At a time when retail presence and service network widening are at the top of the agenda for carmakers, how much of a priority is it for your company?

We are in a strong position to take full advantage of the market scenario. We are a much stronger brand now. We have close to 1.5 million customers and a strong network of outlets. Products, distribution and overall company strategy are all key in the Indian market.

We are committed to expanding operations. Last year, we had 285 dealers. We will close this year at 320, many of them in newer cities.

How has the brand evolved over the years?

When we began operations, we banked on the superior technology plank. So we introduced a lot of firsts in the market. The first power steering in a small car with Santro, clear headlamps were first brought by Hyundai. We introduced a technology like crdi, an advanced form of diesel engines.

But with a customer base of 1.5 million, we are now taking the position of a trusted innovator. It reflects in our products, technology and approach to consumers. We have the most innovative and fuel-efficient engines in the market. So we are innovating rapidly to live up to that image.

Old cars have been replaced globally, but not in India. How does this make the Indian auto buyer different from their global counterparts?

India is a very different market. Consumption of cars in developed markets is far greater than in India. The per capita income of people in those countries is greater than Indians. So we are dealing with different consumer demand in some other markets.

If our cars meet Euro –4 standards in terms of technology, then they cease to be old. We are giving choice to consumers by retaining established models. We are still selling 7,000 santro cars a month. It means that there is strong demand for these cars. If there will be no demand, we will stop selling them. These are contemporary cars from the technological standpoint.

There is a lot of talk about green tech, especially in the auto sector. What are you doing in this field?

We have the widest range of alternate fuel cars in the country. Santro, i10, Accent are already available in dual-fuel options. We also showcased the electric i10 in the auto expo earlier this year. I do not think that the time is right for bringing electric cars. The technology is there with us, but the infrastructure is inadequate. There are no charging stations for cars. Range is also an issue. Even for CNG, there are long queues, despite close to ten years of its launch in India. So this dissuades consumers from such cars. We will bring the technology when the infrastructure is adequately available.








The over Rs 1,00,000 crore bonanza from the 3G and broadband auctions has dissipated all fiscal concerns for the finance ministry. A sticky inflation and the dodgy issue petroleum subsidies seem to be the only concerns. Finance secretary Ashok Chawla talked to ET on a wide range of issues such as rupee volatility, impact of Greek crisis and the new norm that stipulates 25% floating stock for listed firms. Excerpts:

IIP numbers have been very good. Will the government revise the growth target?

More than the numbers, we need to see that mining and manufacturing are doing very well. They have reasonably good contribution to GDP as they have 18-20% weight. So that augurs well for GDP as well. Second thing is capital goods growth signals that corporates that had put their investment plans on hold are now coming back and placing orders for machinery for expansion.

We have indicated in the Economic survey a growth target of 8.5% plus or minus 25 basis points. Now I think revising beyond that is not appropriate at this stage when we are just three months into the year.

While growth is robust inflation continues to remain sticky. Do you see a case for a sharper interest rate increase?
Inflation is sticky. There is no doubt about it. But it is substantially because of supply-side problems. So interest rate hike is not going to have an effect on inflation. So you will only end up curbing growth. While RBI has to look at inflation, it also has to look at various parameters. To raise policy rates just because of inflation is not the most appropriate policy option.

But RBI has been saying that inflationary expectations are high and food inflation is becoming more genaralised...

We all are worried. We have to do our best in resolving supply side constraints, whether it is in wheat, rice or pulses, which are sticky items. The government has put out open market measures for wheat and rice. We are having stocks far more than we need by way of buffer. We would want that food grains go into the market so that prices are moderated. In any case prices are showing a downward trend. But I don't think we can expect miracles in next few months.

With the successful 3G and BWA auctions, the government is in a more comfortable situation on the fiscal front. How will you utilise these funds?

This is a bonanza that we have got. And the government and the finance minister are committed to fiscal consolidation. So, I am reasonably certain that a good part of it we will go to trim the deficit and consolidate the fiscal position further. But at this stage, it is very difficult to say precisely what will be the apportionment of this extra money that has come in. Because there is no doubt that there will be new demands or new needs that we had not anticipated. So , we'll have to see what is to be done about it. Fiscal consolidation remains a priority and this will certainly help in achieving it.

We are almost into the last leg of first quarter but there is no clarity yet on petroleum subsidy....

While eGoM will take a decision hopefully in the next month or so on this issue of how to handle the prices, I don't think every segment will be taken care of. That is not the recommendation of the Kirit Parikh committee. There certainly will be under recoveries of the oil companies that shall have to be met to some extent by the government and to some extent by the upstream oil companies.

Now what is the amount and what is the apportionment will be decided as we go along. But the fact is that we'll have to pay something for which we did not budget at the beginning of the year. So these things are always there. So get benefit on the plus side and something on the negative side.

Concerns have been expressed in various quarters on rupee volatility. What is your view?

I wouldn't say it has been volatile. If you see the movement over a period of time it has been around Rs 45 a dollar and there been a movement of plus minus 5%. So it works both ways. It helps somebody and does not help somebody. As long as it is not a continuous one way movement, I do not think it is that much cause for concern and RBI is certainly watching it.

How do you see the Greek crisis impacting us?

Global situation certainly impacts countries. But I think we get a lot of comfort from the coordinated action the G-20 brings to the table to address the issue. So the general sense we have is that the situation will not be allowed to go out of control with this group monitoring and taking action. For developing countries some impact will be there, but it will be marginal.

G20 discussed the currency volatility in emerging economies. There is a suggestion to have financial safety nets such as regional currency swap agreements. Is India planning to enter into such arrangements?

The issue is more relevant to a country that doesn't have adequate foreign exchange reserves. Reserves are the first level of buffer. We have the fourth largest reserve in the world. Conceptually there can be a possibility of regional swaps or multilateral arrangements through IMF. So these are three levels. So far as India is concerned, we are comfortable with the first level itself. Otherwise, we support the concept of financial safety nets so that suddenly if there is huge difficulty for some country then its knows where to go to get hard currency.

In the first five months of the current calendar year we have seen FII investments far more in debt than equity...

FII limit in debt has been revised in the past. So, I think it's a reasonably good limit. I don't think we need to take a call on it now. Certainly, not the limit on government bonds. These are periodic swings that happen between debt and equity based on where they are getting better returns. Today they are all running for cover to safe instruments for some return. So this is a temporary movement and because of that we don't need to substantially increase limits here. It's not appropriate also.

There still are issues preventing take off of corporate bond market. What is the government proposing?

Recently we had a meeting of the high-level coordination committee on financial markets only for a discussion on corporate bond market and what came out was that there are certain basic operational issues. There are some issues about stamp duty; that's one part, which we need to address.

We all say corporate bond market is not well developed. But numbers indicate it is not that market is non-existent. It also points to the fact that till today banks have been able to take care of the needs of corporates. But that's not to say that corporate bond market should not be there. We should have a robust corporate bond market, which would give another window to companies for raising good amount of debt.

The other point is if all the good corporates are borrowing from banks then it denies credit to smaller companies...

What should actually be happening is AAA borrowers should move to the other windows because their paper can sell. Everybody's paper cannot sell. You will not take paper of an unknown company. So those (AAA) should gradually move so that there is more space as you go along.

GST is looking difficult to crack...

No, I think it is looking suddenly doable. After finance minister's announcement that states will be fully compensated, there is a revival of spirit among states.

With the bonanza on account of 3G and BWA auctions there is a view that disinvestment may slacken. The markets are also volatile so do you see a change in the policy. Will we see big ticket sales? The disinvestment people are going hammer and tongs. They have some idea of the next few companies, but they may not have an idea of the entire lot. As these keep coming on the table. They are quite confident of achieving Rs 40,000 crore target.

Questions have been raised about the new norm of 25% minimum public holding...

Let me set the record straight. Any time when you have a major change there will always be huge response to it. Some good, some bad. Secondly, this is not something we have done overnight in a kind of knee-jerk manner. It has been announced, discussed at various levels and finally something has come out. But still we are not saying that since the government has gone through the process so it's cast in stone.

So, if there are issues which are impacting the corporates, or markets or stakeholders then we are certainly willing to look at those and make necessary changes. So we are now awaiting more specific responses or difficulties from corporates, from the public sector, private sector.

Will SEBI decide on a case to case basis on this issue...

No, the guidelines are there so SEBIi cannot decide on a case to case basis. We will see if the government needs to make some amendments or some change that will be made in the notification.

There is demand from some quarters on removing the minimum 5% dilution every year to reach 25%... We could, if that is one of the issues that is a concern. I have said we are willing to look at it.

On the Ulips , both SEBI and IRDA are yet to file a joint application in a high court. What is the status?

We are considering that. In today's complex world of financial instruments there can be and will be such issues. This happens in foreign countries also. That's what has happened in this case. Now we have to see this in terms of legal position. We also have to make sure that this does not go into a huge sort of process that takes a very long time and unsettles the markets, insurance companies, investors. We are handling that. I am sure you will soon see something in the next month or so.








Following the change in the charge structure, Aviva Life Insurance India has dramatically changed its strategy. The focus is now on increasing productivity and maintaining a tight leash on quality. In an interview with ET, MD & CEO TR Ramachandran speaks of the changes that have taken place:

The life insurance industry in India appears to be going through a tumultuous phase, given the regulatory changes. How do you see it?


I think it will fundamentally redefine the industry. Two things are going on. On one hand, there is this whole move to increase public disclosures. This means that the media and analysts will have access to much more nuanced data rather than just first-year premium. This and the build-up to IPOs will see companies focus more on other parameters than just new business premium. On the other hand, there is the direction that products are taking.

We have to increase the share of protection in our portfolio. That will mean not just change in products but change in the way distributors are trained and incentives. I don't think traditional products are the answer, it is not about replacing one type of product with another.

Do you see sales being hit?

Fortunately, the first quarter of the year is the weakest part. The way the cycle happens is that products are launched in the first quarter, start selling around the second quarter and sales picking up after Diwali, Dusserah. But volumes could take a hit if some of the issues are not resolved soon.

Maintaining status quo on Ulips is all right for the time being because one of the unintended consequences of the change in charge structure was that a whole lot of new products were launched in January 2010. But sooner than later, the situation has to change.

Aviva India was seen to be badly hit after it lost its bancassurance partners. How has that changed your strategy?

That was a couple of years ago. We can't ignore our strengths in bancassurance. Globally, Aviva's model is the bancassurance model. But the nature of the beast in India is that it is a multi-distribution model. Therefore, we have done a lot of stuff on the agency side. But with 3.5 million agents already in the market, hiring the next one lakh agents will not make a difference. Also, having a large agency force has a great significance on how your costs ratchet up.

We are now trying to do version 2.0 of what the agency channel should look like. We are applying much more analytics to find out who our successful agents are and we found a few interesting things. For instance, in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, people over 50 make better agents whereas in the Hindi heartland, females above 35 have a higher level of success. So rather than have a large number of agents, I am happier with 20,000 agents giving better productivity and being tightly monitored for quality. Our agents have come down from a peak level of 45,000 to around 22,000, but our sales have increased 40%. Last financial year saw our topline grow by 15% while expenses went down 30% and persistency improved.

Now there is pressure on margins because of the cap on charges, how do you plan to bring down costs?

If you keep all the expenses of an insurance company on one side and keep your people costs and distributor costs, the latter will be higher. There will be short-term pain for the industry but the cost of distribution will have to come down.

Do you see agency commission coming down?

It will depend on the new regulations. What the Life Insurance Council and Irda have been trying to convey to the public is that over the tenure of the policy, the charge structure is not high but the pain comes because of the front-loading of charges. I think the groundswell of charges is that because commission is front loaded, charges are front loaded and the customer who does not last out the tenure of the policy loses out.

Maybe, there is a case for spreading out over the life of the policy, but in order for that to happen, it is important that the insurance amendment bill goes through and Irda gets the power to change the rate of renewal commission.

How is Aviva doing internationally?

Last year, analysts were tracking capital conservation position of companies. The solvency surplus as per the EU Insurance Groups Directive rose to £4.4 billion. Aviva is in a strong position, having partially hived off its Delta Lloyd (a Dutch subsidiary) stake and sale of Australian business. The group is again looking to grow out.

Do you see any further capital infusion?

Our paid-up capital is Rs 1,880 crore. We are unlikely to need capital this year. If we do, it will be marginal. It will ultimately depend on how the charge structure changes.





Three years ago, Hans Wijers transformed Dutch firm Akzo Nobel from a mid-size drugmaker to the world's largest paints company by acquiring UK's ICI. The former civil servant, who dabbled as a business consultant before becoming the Dutch minister for economic affairs only to return to the corporate world and eventually became the CEO of Akzo Nobel, loves to ask questions. In an exclusive interview with ET , he says asking helps him build a logic as he prefers to ask how one is doing and what he is doing, rather than telling people what to do. But the task is cut out for the India team at Akzo Nobel with the top boss looking at more than fourfold jump in revenues to e1 billion by 2015. Excerpts:

Much before buying ICI you said a measure of great leadership is courage, citing example of IBM transforming from hardware to software firm. You did something similar, so was it planned years ahead?

Not exactly the timing and exact steps. But where we wanted to go, yes. It took me one year to think of the sequence of steps and then I followed that agenda.

How did you justify selling high-margin pharmaceutical business in favour of paints?

One of my teachers once said it is not good to be generally right, and you have to be specifically right. Pharmaceuticals is interesting but its high-risk and high-return business and needs scale. We had a nice business, but we were relatively small. We were already a big player in paints and I felt it was an underestimated sector with high-growth potential and if you become number one, you have a very attractive position. So, it was a counter intuitive move and we sold off pharma business and used that money to get ICI. Yes, the margin is not as high as pharma, but in 2009, despite the economic scenario, we still had a formidable margin. It's a very attractive business and less cyclical than what people thought. The deal also gave us a great platform in all growth markets, including the BRIC.

But in some of the emerging markets including India, you are not among the top two firms....

In mature markets like Europe and US, if I see a situation like this I would be concerned. But looking at the growth potential in India, its early days and markets are still in infancy. We are at number three position in India but it will change. We have just begun. India will see atypical pattern of growth, services first then industry will take over and we are going to benefit from this. The country has developed a better sense of direction over the past few years that I have been visiting India.

You have indicated Akzo Nobel is not chasing mega deals like ICI in the paints industry. What does it mean for consolidation and for Indian growth plans?

For very big companies, it is less likely to happen but there are still a long list of companies in the e2-2.5 billion sales mark. So there are lot of M&A opportunities, maybe not within the top five firms but we have aggressive growth ambitions in emerging markets including India. Now, we can do a lot via organic growth in India and the ambition is to upscale the business here in 4-5 years to a e1 billion euro company. That's basically organic growth. Our M&A strategy can be for three reasons. In mature markets, if it leads to consolidation where you can reach the top two positions. In emerging markets, which are at a certain stage of development, to establish a growth platform. ICI has us an entry into markets like India and China where we were too late in the game. Thirdly, if there are local players with excellent technology who do not have resources to go global, we can buy them.

Analysts say your China investment strategy has more clarity than that for India...

Until now, what we have done in India is on a relatively low scale beyond the cost of acquiring ICI India. We expect it to grow much faster now on the industrial side, which means performance coating business and specialty chemicals in the B2B segment that is small at present compared to our decorative paints business. We have got more ambitious and rather than taking step by step, we plan to accelerate growth in the industrial side. And that could also include acquisitions plus big investments in new plants across the country. For decorative paints business, we want to really outgrow the market primarily through organic expansion. If there are some attractive targets, we will look at them.

How do you attack emerging markets like India with a brand that is perceived to be relatively premium? Is there a second brand in the works?

Dulux is not just for the very high end and it has different offerings. We have a second brand in some markets and need to build on that. A typical mistake that companies from US and Europe make is focus on high-end products. Although you can grow that, you miss out on enormous opportunities in other markets. Our ambition is to participate in the mid-segment also. There is an existing brand in India and we will use it to serve the mass and mid-end market.

Sometime ago, you delisted from Nasdaq. Is it part of a strategy to exit from multiple stock exchanges and what does it mean for Indian arm where the public holding norms have just changed?

We were listed in Nasdaq and then we found what Sarbanes Oxley was about. We decided to exit after looking at the benefits and costs involved under the new regulations as international capital markets do not give any premium to have a dual listing in US and Europe. So we only saw the additional costs. If we would ever make a move again, we would not go back to Nasdaq and look at opportunities in Asia. For India, we haven't completely made up our mind and are currently majority shareholder. It's not the highest priority to bring operations directly under one roof. Besides, there's an advantage of being a listed company as it attracts more attention and even if we don't do it for the need for capital, it makes sense to connect with the people. So there might be an argument to stay listed on stock exchange.

You have made fairly interesting career moves swinging between public administration and corporate world...

I am a curious person and always interested in changes. Having a government experience has been useful to understand how government works and why public servants do what they do. As a consultant, I have learnt to digest lot of information at a very fast pace.

But you must be glad you are in the other side, given the state of European economy...

I continue to follow closely what is going on in Europe. Even as the growth markets are in BRICs, 40% of our business is in Europe. If you study the history of EU changes take a lot of time. They were never nicely done and Europe stumbles from one change to another and typically looks a bit awkward. But they get there. I guess this time also you will see it will take too much time, mistakes will be made but in the end it is an irreversible process for the European countries to unite further.








His rise within the organisation as well as in the fund management industry has been dramatic. But for the past few months, there has been speculation that Madhusudan Kela, head-equities, Reliance Mutual Fund, is quitting. Untrue, insists Mr Kela. In an interview with ET, he says that he is still bullish on the big picture India story. However, in the short term, global sentiment will prevail, he cautions.

How do you see the market playing out near term in light of global developments?

In the next 6-12 months, the market will still be ruled by global sentiment. The ongoing debt crisis in Europe can have a meaningful impact on markets globally as in India, if the situation worsens. If one or two Eurozone countries were to default or the euro as a currency breaks down, there will be chaos.

Similarly, if there is slowdown in China, the Indian market will be impacted. Currently, the Indian market is trading at a 25% premium to China. If China's earnings multiple contracts, there could be a valuation challenge for India as well. However, we have seen over the past six years that the market has produced significantly better returns than most countries in the world. The India story is getting stronger.

For instance, this year, you will see a significant fiscal consolidation, which was a major worry for the market. Over the next 2-3 years, the gas and oil reserves will materialise and this will further improve our fiscal position. And the real dark horse could be the UID project which can significantly prune the subsidies and improve tax collection. And hopefully, the pilferage will reduce. I believe a 8-9% growth with more reforms from the government looks real in the next five years.

How steep do you expect the correction, if it does come through, to be?

If the situation in global markets worsens, we could even see a 15-20% correction in Indian shares. But since India's fundamentals are only getting better, and viewed in the global context, overseas fund managers will be compelled to increase their exposure to India. Any meaningful correction will be a great buying opportunity for retail investors with a long-term view on equities.

Which are the sectors that interest you?

We continue to remain overweight on the pharma sector. We are bullish on companies which will benefit from the domestic consumption story in India. We like public sector banks. They have underperformed the market for a while due to concerns over rising bond yields and hence marked-to-market losses on the bond portfolio.

Our view is that PSU banks can grow their loan books 25% for each of the next three years, and they have the capital adequacy to meet the loan demand. The stocks are available at 1.2-1.5 times their book value, and you can't go wrong if you have a 2-3-year perspective.


There is a lot of pessimism about the telecom sector, more so after the recent 3G bids. Would you take a contrarian view?

Much of the bad news in the sector is behind us. If these stocks see any sharp correction, we would definitely buy them. The stock prices may have underperformed over the past couple of years, but the customer base has more than doubled during the same period.

What about mid-cap stocks in general? Would you still go for them in current market conditions?

Yes, if there are opportunities, we will continue to invest in companies with scalable business models, with earnings growth faster than large-caps, and available relatively cheaper to large-caps.

Your strategy of betting on mid-caps in a big way has been criticised by your peers. They accuse you of boosting portfolio returns by buying into firms with low-floating stock.

Companies like Siemens and Jindal Steel & Power were mid-caps when we first bought them. Not only have they delivered better returns, but are now ranked among the large caps. But I must admit that there have been some wrong bets as well. We have tweaked our mid-cap strategy a bit. We will not buy into very small companies, and would focus on companies with a minimum m-cap of Rs 1,000-1,500 crore.

Locally, what are the factors that could dampen sentiment for stocks?

Below average monsoon would rank high on that list. The reforms process needs to be accelerated. The government has shown resolve, but it needs to build on it, especially in terms of attracting more FDI flows. Rising instances of Maoist and Naxalite attacks could make foreign fund managers nervous. We are highly dependent on inflows at this stage, because there is not much money coming in locally.

How much cash on an average would you be keeping in your portfolio? Your strategy of aggressive cash positions last year was criticised in industry circles.

We will use it more as a tool to improve the portfolio mix. We will not shy away from keeping a higher cash level than our peers if market conditions warrant. But it will not be as high (25%) as was the case last year








California-based UTStarocom is betting big on the broadband and IPTV potential that India offers and is confident of maintaining its leadership in providing telecom gear in these segments. Foreseeing a strong business case, the company plans to start local manufacturing here to serve the Indian market, which accounts for nearly 50% of its global revenues. UTStarcom CEO, Peter Blackmore shares the company's plans with ET . Excerpts.

How do you perceive the Indian market with regard to broadband and IPTV?

Broadband and IPTV are the two main focus areas for us in India. There is huge opportunity here due to lower penetration for these platforms. The government has spoken about significant expansion in broadband and that ensures a lot of business for us. We already have a 30% market share in broadband. India has just close to 9 million broadband users and lags far behind other countries. Like the mobile revolution, India can have 100 million within next five years.

IPTV service has been in India for over two years now but has failed to take off compared with DTH. What kind of market do you see for IPTV in India?

IPTV is still a new technology and every technology takes time to be adopted. In the case of telecom, growth has come in the past one year or so. Initially, the wealthy part of the society will move to IPTV and this process has already begun. The technology has a huge potential because it is user friendly and very interactive. Once the infrastructure for IPTV is established, it will see a far greater adoption. The basic USP of the technology is that a lot of interesting applications and services can be offered through the medium of television. Currently, India has about a lakh users. China and Japan, too, have a modest user base. The next two-three years will be crucial for its growth. The challenge is to grow the market.

Where does India stand in UTStarcom's global scheme of things? What are plans for the market?

India is a very important market for us besides China and Japan. India accounts for nearly 50% of our global revenues. I see it growing or at least sustaining the current levels in the coming years. We have already established an R&D centre in Gurgaon for broadband. We plan to escalate it and recruit more people for IPTV. We are also looking at local manufacturing in India. It will cater to the Indian market alone.

The Indian government has raised security concerns against Chinese vendors operating in India and UTStarcom has its operations headquarters at Beijing, China. Does the government's reluctance have anything to do with your plans to manufacture locally?

The government's concerns should be respected, but that has nothing to do with our manufacturing plans. Having a local manufacturing unit will definitely help. It also reduces import costs. Customisation for local consumers in software is already being done.

India recently concluded 3G and BWA auctions. what kind of opportunity do you see in that space?

Yes, apart from broadband and IPTV, network transportation is another of our focus areas. Operators will now update their network. We are strong in packet transport network (PTN). We are talking to all the operators regarding that. The mobile operators would want to migrate to higher networks. We are targeting to lower the cost of network ownership for the operators and enable them to offer new services and newer applications. The benefits for the operators are significant.

UTStarcom recently went through restructuring, sold out few units and reduced headcount. Do we see more such activities from the company?

We have worked hard and reformed the company. The restructuring process is now complete. We have identified our key markets and focus areas, which are optical broadband and IPTV. We now have a strong balance sheet.







Sugar factories in Maharashtra are said to be sore at having lost market share in the east and northeast markets to Shree Renuka Sugars' new refinery in Haldia, which they say has been set up to import raw sugar, process and re-export it. However, Shree Renuka Sugars' MD Narendra Murkumbi tells ET that while the refinery has been built on an import model, its presence has curbed excessive price volatility and actually made sugar available at a time of crop shortage......

Your Haldia refinery is causing woes for Maharashtra's sugar co-operatives.....

For the first time after Independence, West Bengal has its own substantial sugar production and we have created more than 2,000 jobs directly or indirectly in the state. Thanks to the refinery, for the first time, the retail price of sugar in Kolkata is lower than that in Mumbai and Delhi even though these two cities are closer to major production centres. I believe this has been in public interest.

Cumulatively, the country has imported 6 million tonnes in two years, almost a million tonnes of which have been imported into Haldia port, processed and sold mainly in West Bengal and the north-east market. This has in fact dampened price volatility and created on-the-spot availability there. That's the reason we have a high market share there. We have filled a public need and a public gap.

For how long do you think the government will allow domestic sales of imported sugar?

Currently, there is 0% import duty on raw sugar up to December 31. Till then, we will continue to import and supply the Bengal market. Our refineries have been built on an import model and clearly they are meant to re-export ..... but that is a model when India is self-sufficient.

Do you think sugar prices will fall further considering the upbeat estimates for sugar year 2010-11?

The range of estimates is huge, from 20 to 26 mt. One lesson we learnt last year was that crop estimates even end of January turned out to be very wrong. If it had been known that the 2009-10 crop would be close to 18 mt initially, the whole speculative spike in India and the world market may not have happened.

We have seen how sharp the correction has been once the size of this year's crop was known (the price has fallen from an average of Rs 35-36 in the March quarter to Rs 27 currently). Generally, the industry, having got the crop too low last time, is tending to overestimate the 2010-11 crop. I think it is too early to tell.


Do you think the government will reimpose duty on raw as well as white sugar?

ISMA has asked for an immediate duty imposition on white sugar because we don't see it as having solved any problem. A bulk of imports have been of raw sugar that has been processed in the country and given the industry running at 60% capacity some additional business.

A bulk of the problems have been solved by imports of raw sugar whereas white sugar imports have not contributed much to the solution. Duty-free imports of white sugar are now creating a bearish sentiment to the extent where current domestic sugar prices have fallen below the world market price. Today, the landed price of imports is about Rs 27 a kilo whereas the ex-mill price in Maharashtra is about Rs 25.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



It was a brilliant coup in the world of communications technology: Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries can rightfully claim he will usher in a revolution in the way Indians communicate in the not too distant future. Imagine a scenario in which you can download an entire movie on the Internet in a few minutes or download all the encyclopedias in just a few hours. You won't need DVDs, which might soon get outdated. You will be able to have more data downloaded in far less time. More exciting still, you can use your computer to make phone calls very cheaply. The new 4G — or Wimax, or LTE (long term evolution) — technology will give you access through the Internet to both data and voice — a giant leap from 3G. Technology is getting obsolete faster than you imagine. The VCR, for instance, lasted a little over a decade, and the DVD is soon set to follow... Now 3G is in danger of getting outdated in just six months. After 4G, the next big thing will probably have to be something faster than the speed of light! Speed is the name of the game, and none of the other players who bid with such abandon for the 3G and broadband wireless access (BWA) spectrum licences have the pan-India spectrum that Mukesh Ambani's company now has. And he got it literally for a song — a far superior technology for a mere Rs 4,800 crores, compared to the Rs 10,000-crores-plus that some of the others paid. This is what he shelled out to acquire a 95 per cent stake in Infotel Broadband, that had bid for — and secured licences in — all 22 circles. The others had made BWA bids in just three or four circles. In fact, big names like Vodafone and Reliance Communications had dropped out of BWA bidding as they thought the price was too high and they had already bid a lot for 3G. It was considered by some that Infotel Broadband was acting unwisely in bidding for all 22 circles. Very few people could have had any idea of the much more exciting game being played behind the scenes. The cost of a pan-India BWA spectrum licence was considerably less than that for 3G. Mukesh Ambani must have been watching the bidding by big names at the auction with concealed glee — with hindsight, it almost appears like a Tom and Jerry show. It eventually emerged that the government and Mukesh Ambani were the two biggest beneficiaries of the first-ever 3G and BWA auction. As the RIL boss said later, 3G and BWA promise to be key drivers for rapid growth of advanced services. But 3G is limited to cellphones, while the 4G technology is extremely futuristic. A presentation by RIL noted that only 110 operators in 48 countries have so far committed to deploying LTE; and of these it is operational in only two — Norway and Sweden. Given RIL's petrochemicals track record, his company might well make India the third country after Norway and Sweden to deploy LTE.






The massive victory of the Trinamul Congress in the West Bengal municipal elections has changed the contours of political discourse in India and calls for "out-of-the-box" thinking. In this context, I am proposing that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) calls for an all-party government under the chief ministership of Pranab Mukherjee between now and the May 2011 Assembly elections.

The CPI(M) does not have to give up power as according to the Constitution they can continue to govern for five years. No one can push them out of power unless they themselves give it up or a huge law and order problem creates conditions for applying the President's Rule that is enabled by Article 356 of the Constitution of India. On the other hand, they can invite Mr Mukherjee to become the chief minister of a government still dominated by them on clearly identifiable issues of law and order and basic development, both of which are in jeopardy in West Bengal.

I suggest this because this is probably the only way the CPI(M) can extricate itself from the present mess in West Bengal. Clearly, people do not want them to rule any more. And to ignore this situation saying that these elections were only in urban areas and the rural Bengal still supports the CPI(M) is false. Anyone travelling to West Bengal today would clearly see that the CPI(M) has lost its support base throughout the state and every day as it clings on to power it loses more chances of a comeback.

The major problem that the CPI(M) is going to face now is a possibility of a total breakdown of law and order and the rise of fascist forces in different shapes and forms to devour the party faithful. The mastans or the lumpens — who were dominating the CPI(M) in West Bengal of late to control election machinery — will all desert them and go on a rampage throughout the state. An exactly similar situation was created in Indonesia when more than a million members of the Communist Party of D.N. Aidit were massacred by the fascists, most of them supported by the angry public. In Chile too, a similar situation was created when the Allende government was overthrown. The Left forces have always been decimated by the fascists when they had alienated themselves from the people.

I consider this to be the major danger facing not only the CPI(M), but also the country as a whole, where the fascist forces can destroy the basic structure of our democracy. The official law and order forces would join the lumpen elements and take revenge on the progressive forces. Everything must be done to stop that possibility which would turn history back. But the CPI(M) would find it extremely difficult to face this situation alone. It cannot give up the government as it will lose all its control over the state machinery. But trying to keep the mastans within its hold would make them even more unpopular among the masses. If a new government is formed under its patronage with Mr Mukherjee, known for his administrative skills, as the chief minister would not only ensure to maintain law and order, but also bring back the development agenda, which the CPI(M) has been trying to push for the last few years. A one-year respite from the turmoil would give the CPI(M) the breather which the party needs in order to reinvent itself.

Will the Trinamul Congress support this proposal for such an all-party government for the next one year? A dispassionate analysis shows that the Trinamul Congress has everything to gain from this unless it believes that it can push out the Left government in the next few months. The chances of that happening are very remote and an attempt to precipitate that situation through law and order problems will make the Trinamul Congress increasingly unpopular. A much better approach for the Trinamul Congress now would be to consolidate its position from its recent victory and come out with concrete constructive suggestions so that the people of West Bengal would believe that it is not just a party to bring about change or "parivartan," but is committed to a programme for carrying out the parivartan now in a most comprehensive and constructive way. The Trinamul Congress is not going to lose anything by waiting for one year and can only gain in image and popularity throughout Bengal. It is a challenge that only Mamata Banerjee could take up and win at the end. Even if she does not join the government, she should allow it to function with constructive opposition.

The Congress Party, of course, would gain from the suggested all-party government, as otherwise it will have to give up its turf totally to the Trinamul Congress. It is important for the Congress to realise a decimation of the Left is not in its interest and a revival of the alliance would be helpful at the Centre.

The person who would probably be most effective is Mr Mukherjee himself. He has now reached the pinnacle of his career and to take a new line may be too risky to sustain on a weak structure of his Congress Party. But he is also capable of turning the tables and instead of becoming dependent on the CPI(M), he can make the Left so much dependent on him that can see the beginning of a new face of Congress-CPI(M) partnership. If he succeeds in that process to save West Bengal, to uphold law and order and the development agenda, he will become a name in history comparable to B.C. Roy. If this proposal of mine is acceptable then the call for an all-party government should come from the CPI(M) itself, so that it does not lose the initiative and retain its control over the situation, and the law and order machinery can give it due protection and it can revive themselves fully with a genius Left programme of development and democracy. I very much hope that these suggestions of mine will be examined carefully by all parties concerned.

* Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament and former Economic Adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi







My friend, Mark Mykleby, who works in the Pentagon, shared with me this personal letter to the editor he got published last week in his hometown paper, the Beaufort Gazette in South Carolina. It is the best reaction I've seen to the BP oil spill — and also the best advice to US President Obama on exactly whom to kick you know where.

"I'd like to join in on the blame game that has come to define our national approach to the ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. This isn't BP's or Transocean's fault. It's not the government's fault. It's my fault. I'm the one to blame and I'm sorry. It's my fault because I haven't digested the world's in-your-face hints that maybe I ought to think about the future and change the unsustainable way I live my life. If the geopolitical, economic and technological shifts of the 1990s didn't do it; if the terrorist attacks of September 11, didn't do it; if the current economic crisis didn't do it; perhaps this oil spill will be the catalyst for me, as a citizen, to wean myself off of my petroleum-based lifestyle. 'Citizen' is the key word. It's what we do as individuals that count. For those on the left, government regulation will not solve this problem. Government's role should be to create an environment of opportunity that taps into the innovation and entrepreneurialism that define us as Americans. For those on the right, if you want less government and taxes, then decide what you'll give up and what you'll contribute. Here's the bottom line: If we want to end our oil addiction, we, as citizens, need to pony up: bike to work, plant a garden, do something. So again, the oil spill is my fault. I'm sorry. I haven't done my part. Now I have to convince my wife to give up her SUV Mark Mykleby".

I think Mykleby's letter gets at something very important: We cannot fix what ails America unless we look honestly at our own roles in creating our own problems. We — both parties — created an awful set of incentives that encouraged our best students to go to Wall Street to create crazy financial instruments instead of to Silicon Valley to create new products that improve people's lives. We — both parties — created massive tax incentives and cheap money to make home mortgages available to people who really didn't have the means to sustain them. And we — both parties — sent BP out in the gulf to get us as much oil as possible at the cheapest price. (Of course, we expected them to take care, but when you're drilling for oil beneath 5,000 feet of water, stuff happens.)

As Pogo would say, we have met the enemy and he is us. But that means we're also the solution — if we're serious. Look, we managed to survive 9/11 without letting it destroy our open society or rule of law. We managed to survive the Wall Street crash without letting it destroy our economy. Hopefully, we will survive the BP oil spill without it destroying our coastal ecosystems. But we dare not press our luck.

We have to use this window of opportunity to insulate ourselves as much as possible against all the bad things we cannot control and get serious about fixing the problems that we can control. We need to make our whole country more sustainable. So let's pass an energy-climate bill that really reduces our dependence on West Asia's oil. Let's pass a financial regulatory reform bill that really reduces the odds of another banking crisis. Let's get our fiscal house in order, as the economy recovers. And let's pass an immigration bill that will enable us to attract the world's top talent and remain the world's leader in innovation.

We need all the cushions we can get right now, because we are living in a world of cascading and intertwined threats that have the potential to turn the US upside down at any moment. We do not know when the next Times Square bomber might get lucky. We don't know how long the US and Israel will tolerate Iran's nuclear programme. We don't know if Pakistan will hold together and what might happen to its nukes. We don't know when North Korea will go nuts. We don't know if the European Union can keep financing the debts of Greece, Hungary and Spain — and what financial contagion might be set off if it can't.

"It is not your imagination", says corporate strategy consultant Peter Schwartz — there is a lot more scary stuff hanging over the world today. Since the end of the Cold War and the rise of the Internet, we've lost the walls and the superpowers that together kept the world's problems more contained. Today, smaller and smaller units can wreak larger and larger havoc — and whatever havoc is wreaked now gets spread faster and farther than ever before.

That is why we have to solve the big problems in our control, not postpone them or pretend that more lobby-driven, lowest-common-denominator solutions are still satisfactory. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste, but a reprieve and a breathing spell — which is what we're having right now — is a really terrible thing to waste. We don't want to look back on this moment and say: How could we have gone back to business as usual and petty political gridlocks with all those black swans circling around us? Then we will really kick ourselves.






Ministers on the catwalk

Karnataka's much hyped Global Investors Meet, which promises to change the face of the infrastructure-starved state with investments worth $25 billion, has also brought about a sartorial revolution. As dapper business magnates such as Mr Lakshmi Mittal, Mr Kumaramangalam Birla and Mr Vijay Mallya signed MoUs worth crores of rupees, state ministers also lined up when the two-day meet began at the sprawling Palace Grounds on June 3.

Most ministers were unrecognisable. Gone were the dhotis and the crisp khadi. In they came in nifty three-piece suits. Savile Row, no less. They offered tough competition to the high-flying corporate bigwigs. Not to be left behind, the Chief Minister and rising BJP star, Mr B.S. Yeddyurappa was also shown wearing a nifty black suit in the ad campaign for the meet.

On the big day, however he went native. But how! BSY, beaming like the cat that got all the cream, was sporting a stylish bandhgalla, designed by city boy Paresh Lamba!

How to plug the leaks

A little bird tells us that when the high-powered Cabinet Committee on Security met last week to discuss the government's anti-Naxal strategy, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, had a word or two to say about details of such meetings being leaked to the media. He reportedly asked how discussions at these meetings were being reported in the media when only the Union home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, defence minister Mr A.K. Antony and senior bureaucrats were present.

The Prime Minister wants the government to play its cards close to its chest vis-a-vis its anti-Naxal strategy. But he should realise that blocking the flow of information would not be easy. The concern he aired about leaks also got leaked out, didn't it?

Lalu's birthday style

The RJD chief, Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav is nothing if not an instinctive manager of complicated shows — be it the disputed high-profit saga of the Indian Railways, the RJD's riotous street protests in Bihar or even his own birthday parties attended by scores of unruly supporters.
So, when he threw open the green gates of his Patna residence for citizens to attend his 63rd birthday celebrations on June 11, there were fresh scenes from vintage Lalu on crowd control. "Hatiye..." (Keep aside) and "Chaliye" (Keep going ahead) were the words Mr Yadav kept uttering aloud in his characteristic mock indignation to find space for himself at the centre of swelling crowds. "Arre, wahan kahan ja raha hai? Khana idhar laga hai" (Where are you headed? The food is here), he kept yelling.

For over half an hour, Mr Yadav stood watching people eat lunch. And those who lingered after lunch got another directive in rustic accent: "Ab khana ho gaya to chaliye..." But everyone took it in the right spirit.

The Jethmalani effect

The BJP's decision to support the eminent lawyer, Mr Ram Jethmalani in the Rajya Sabha election has done what the leadership could not do for the past few years — stir party cadres into action.

When Mr Jethmalani contested the Lok Sabha elections from Lucknow as an independent supported by the Congress in 2004, he had mounted a vicious attack on his rival, the former Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee. Angry party workers in the state — who still owe allegiance to Mr Vajpayee — are preparing to embarrass the party leadership with "grim reminders" of Mr Jethmalani's statements against the former PM — some of them personal and unprintable.

Posters highlighting his "anti-BJP" and "anti-Atal'" statements and his legal support to terrorists are being printed and would be put up as soon an official announcement is made by the party. Though it may make the leadership red-faced, it will also prove that BJP workers are "alive and kicking".

Mamata's red dreams

After the Trinamul Congress won a landslide victory in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation election, an upbeat Ms Mamata Banerjee said that now that her party had captured the chhoto lal bari (small red building), it would also capture the boro lal bari (big red building) in 2011.

She was referring to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation building and Writers' Buildings, the state secretariat. Both are brick red edifices of Victorian vintage. However, dismissing her optimism as misplaced, the state CPI(M) secretary, Mr Biman Bose reminded her that in 2000 too, the Trinamul Congress had wrested the small red building from the Left Front but it had suffered a crushing defeat in the Assembly polls.

In layman's terms this means, "Don't count your chickens before they are hatched, especially in West Bengal".






In the first week of July falls the 27th night of Rajab, the day in the seventh month of the Islamic calendar in which the Shab-e-Miraj, Night of Ascension took place. The night Prophet Mohammad journeyed to meet the Lord. The ascension is spirituality at its highest for it carries clues on the secrets of the heavens. It gives us the remarkable news that the gulf between the finite and infinite can be bridged. Details of the celebrated event are found in countless hadith, transmissions of prophetic sayings.

This night journey of love forms the very foundation of the ultimate sufi experience; for we all have to follow Mohammad in making that ascension. This mystic voyage demonstrates that union with God is possible. Shams Tabriz, the 13th century Master of Mevlana Rumi, taught, "To follow Mohammad is that he went to the Miraj and you go behind him".

This ascension is a story of pluralism, where the Prophet travelled to the heart of the older Semitic traditions, the Temple of the Mount in Jerusalem. Here, Mohammad led all the previous prophets in prayer and then journeyed through the different layers of heaven, where the Prophet met Abraham, Jesus, Moses and some other prophets. They shared their stories, insights and concerns for humanity.

The journey illustrates the tale of love between Mohammad and Allah. In Mecca the Prophet often visited the Kaaba enclosure at night. Tired, one evening he went to sleep near the House of God. The Archangel Gabriel shook him gently, awakening him from a deep slumber. He escorted Mohammad to Al Buraq, the wonderous winged steed standing by to carry him to the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. Here, Mohammad led all previous prophets in prayer with the title of Imam-e-Ambiya, Leader of the Prophets.

Mecca is the city of Ishmael whereas Jerusalem is the city of Isaac; and this visit to Jerusalem closed the gap between the two great branches of Abraham's family. Masjid Al Aqsa, The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem remains Islam's holiest site after Mecca and Madina for it marks the place from where the ascension took place.

At that time the qibla, direction of Muslim prayer, was Jerusalem. It changed later during Mohammad's life when he was instructed by God to face the city of Mecca. Throughout Islamic history, Muslim scholars have reflected whether the ascension was of a physical or spiritual nature, with most agreeing that it was both. The narratives of the ascension are considered the most dramatic words spoken by the Prophet. They describe the gate of the lower heavens opening with the Prophet and Gabriel rising higher. In the successive heavens they encounter Isa (Jesus), Yahya (John the Baptist), Idris (Enoch), Haroon (Aaron), Musa (Moses), and Ibrahim (Abraham). Each one greets Prophet Mohammad before he reaches the climax of this journey.

The Quran testifies that Mohammad finally arrived at the highest part of the horizon, at the maqaam, the station of "Two Bows Length" with God — understood as the fine juncture where the two halves of an archer's bow are glued together, forming an almost invisible line of separation. It speaks of Mohammad's impeccable conduct, his eyes not swerving. The mystic journey finds another mention in the Quran: "Glory to Allah Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless — in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth all things". (17:1)

Muslims believe that time came to a standstill during the ascension, for Mohammad returned to find his bed warm and the pitcher, which had tumbled over, had not emptied out completely Prophet Mohammad returns to the world but not worldly, claiming: "Poverty is my pride". He returns with the assurance that God is pure Mercy and Goodness. The event of Shab-e-Miraj is celebrated in many countries with streets, mosques, houses and dargahs illuminated beautifully. It remains the subject of popular poetry and art throughout the Muslim world. Sarmad (d. 1661 AD) the martyred Sufi poet wrote:

"The Mullah says that Mohammad went to heavenSarmad says that heaven descended into Mohammad."

— Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at [1]






The battle with India's Maoists has begun, and it has become bloody. Maoists have ambushed and killed over a hundred security personnel in recent months. Media reports say Maoists have also engaged in reprisal killings of alleged informers and "class enemies". There is suspicion that the Maoists sabotaged tracks, leading to the train wreck that killed nearly 150 passengers in West Bengal last month. Government forces have also allegedly committed abuses — arbitrary arrests, rape, and torture — as they advance against the Maoists.

The debates too have become heated. The government has called upon civil society to condemn the Maoists and end any "intellectual support" for their cause. Groups providing material support to criminal acts should be identified and prosecuted. But a blanket suggestion that anyone who speaks openly about government failures or warns against human rights violations is a Maoist backer and anti-state will have very serious repercussions for free expression.

The Maoists, have a presence in almost 200 districts across several states. State governments, in India's quasi-federal structure, are responsible for law and order, and thus have primary responsibility for handling the Maoist violence.

The Indian government has said the Maoists pose the biggest threat to the country's internal security. To address this, it has provided Central federal paramilitary to state governments to assist local police forces. The Union Cabinet, while recently turning down a proposal to deploy the Army, agreed that it must assist with training. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government insists that winning public support is also crucial in this battle. In what it calls a "two-pronged" approach of security and development, the government has initiated several projects to address a serious lack of resources in these areas, which include some of the country's most marginalised communities.

A strong civil society can help the government deliver on its development goals and monitor progress. But just as important, the media and non-governmental organisations can serve as watchdogs to report abuses by both sides. Mistakes are likely to occur in any operation of this scale, and only with access to information can a democracy provide prompt and effective redress to those unfairly harmed, instead of allowing rage over injustices to compound the problem.

This is particularly important because the states, often driven by their own political imperatives, have not always subscribed to the Centre's approach. The Centre, for instance, has condemned the vigilante Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh, which forced villagers out of their homes into government camps, killing, raping and committing arson to enforce their plan. But this group continues to receive state protection as a strategic tool against civilian support for the Maoists, with special police officers (SPOs) and Salwa Judum members often blocking access to the area by journalists and human rights workers.

The Centre might want effective and well-trained police forces that use modern investigation and law enforcement methods, winning the trust of the people they serve instead of being despised and distrusted by them. But some state governments have yet to embark upon police reform, or in fact, even to recruit to fill vacancies. That leaves the police overworked and disgruntled, without the training to tackle the Maoist challenge, and prone to commit human rights abuses.

State government failures to end abuses by security forces only strengthen the Maoists' support base. In Chhattisgarh, there are repeated allegations of brutal attacks by these SPOs, including sexual attacks on women. In West Bengal's Lalgarh, support for Maoists increased because the police tortured and arbitrarily arrested local tribal residents after a failed Maoist attack targeting the chief minister. There was no effort to address complaints or to investigate the allegations of human rights violations.

The Centre's development efforts have met with mixed success in various states. Jharkhand, for example, is still at the bottom on development indicators, even as some of its politicians are accused of gathering enormous wealth through corrupt practices. The rush to pull in foreign investment has ignored the need for careful assessment of the impact on those displaced. Nor has there been any real effort to engage the affected communities and determine effective rehabilitation. This became apparent in Nandigram, West Bengal, where villagers cut off access to the area to prevent the acquisition of their farmlands for industry. When supporters of the state's ruling CPI(M), along with the police, committed rape and killings to enforce the government plan, local support for Maoists increased.

The Centre's agenda for security operations has also had failures. The Maoists repeatedly attacked security personnel, killing troops and escaping with arms and ammunition. A government-appointed committee investigating the death of 75 paramilitary personnel in Chhattisgarh in April found that the troops had ignored prescribed procedures.

If the security forces themselves are not being adequately prepared for these operations, standard precautions to protect civilians and prevent human rights violations are even more likely to be disregarded.

The government has a responsibility to contain an armed rebellion, but it also has an obligation to ensure that people's rights are protected and to deliver prompt and transparent action against abusers. A failure of justice can push people towards those who propagate extralegal methods. So it is crucial to have a vigilant civil society that can inform the policymakers and the government of human rights abuses, by both the Maoists and the government forces.

Silencing government critics might seem like an attractive option in the short term. But if the government wants a lasting resolution to this conflict, it should embrace its critics instead, and work promptly to address the concerns they raise.

* Meenakshi Ganguly works on South Asia forHuman Rights Watch








THE embroidery has been rechristened even before the first foreign university has set up campus in India. The Centre appears to have realised that "world class" is a presumptuous expression, one that must be open to subjective reflection. The tag is now to be substituted with the term "innovation universities". A decision has also been taken to keep these institutions beyond the purview of the proposed regulatory authority, the National Council of Higher Education and Research even before the draft legislation on the new entity has been finalised. The idea apparently is to accord these "innovation universities" a free hand in all spheres save the appointment of Vice-Chancellors. In the manner of Supreme Court judges, the VCs will be selected by a collegium from a national registry. However innovative, their style of functioning, to which the Centre appears to have acquiesced, precludes uniformity. Chiefly, the syllabus will vary from one "innovative" campus to another unlike the home-grown universities. And for the student, nothing can possibly be closer to the bone than the syllabus.  Going by the tentative scheme of things, every such university will be an entity unto itself. It could have as many fee and course structures as it pleases and fix its criteria for faculty appointments. A coordinating control is essential to fulfil the common search for learning. And the process can't be as varied as there are "innovation universities". The under-graduate and post-graduate course structures ought to be framed in tandem with the home-grown universities, still under the UGC's control.

It would be chaotic if these universities are to frame a multiplicity of course structures to justify the "innovation" tag. The courses must be relevant to Indian conditions, with an emphasis on conventional subjects with a utilitarian value. In other words, there has to be a measure of similarity with the course structures offered by universities here. It might be "innovative" to plan a "global knowledge hub" and think in terms of climate studies, city planning, design and animation. But are all home-grown campuses generally equipped for a multi-disciplinary, post-modern approach? That concern must deepen as many of the universities, intent on setting up shop, have a dubious record in their own countries. It isn't as if the currently innovative HRD ministry has been able to rope in the very best, let alone Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, MIT et al. At best, the country is likely to be saddled with mediocre foreign universities. A sharp disconnect is almost inevitable, and this can only hobble the quest for learning. An academic inflation is too unnerving even to imagine.







There may be nothing particularly novel in holding partyless elections. In an effort to establish Jayaprakash Narayan's perception of grassroots democracy, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh have already shown the way with the local bodies. It is a different issue though whether the exercise has been successful. No such underpinning influences Mayawati's decision to hold next year's civic elections on a partyless basis. Only Independents and no parties will strut the stage, which theoretically rules out the victory or defeat of parties. Ergo, the political class  per se has nothing to lose. Is the UP Chief Minister unnerved by her counterpart's predicament in West Bengal? For in the manner of the CPI-M, reports suggest that the Bahujan Samaj Party is likely to suffer a debacle in the civic elections, a year before the 2012 Assembly polls. There is little doubt that Mayawati and her BSP have moved away from the people by etching its leaders in stone through profligate spending. This alienation alone explains the party's decision not to contest any by-election before the Assembly polls. Second, despite the social engineering, the BSP is yet to build up a base in the urban municipalities. Yet as the ruling party, it is anxious to avoid the plight of the Bengal Left. A partyless civic election appears to be a convenient formula to protect the BSP at best; at worst it is an exercise in self-deception. Avoiding an election can only defer nemesis; it hardly deflects the people's focus from reality. It is Mayawati's conduct of the exercise that has raised hackles at the level of the Opposition. The parties were not taken into confidence; indeed, the plan to hold a partyless civic election was kept under wraps till the gazette notification. The mandatory requirement of following up the notification with adequate publicity was not followed. The method was anything but democratic. The voters and a large section of the political class are almost totally ignorant of the government's innovative local elections. It has been a calculated attempt by the state to present a fait accompli. Considering the mid-June deadline to file objections, there isn't much time to reflect, let alone express reservations in writing. Small wonder why this devious attempt by the ruling party to forestall a possible defeat has been furiously condemned by the principal players in UP's political court ~ the BJP, the Congress and the Samajwadi Party. Mayawati is ploughing a lonely furrow on a matter of tremendous import.









THE Left is being rather too presumptuous in its attempt to refurbish its fragile flank in Bihar ahead of the Assembly elections. And with the party and the panchayats having trashed Operation Barga in Bengal, the irony seems rather quirky. There is an element of blatant double-think as well in the decision of the CPI-M and the CPI to fight the elections in Bihar on the critical plank of land reforms. Pre-eminently, the plan is to buttress the recommendations of the D Bandopadhyay Commission. It was one of the primary initiatives taken by the Nitish Kumar government in 2005 to ensure an equitable agrarian economy in a state dominated by the landed gentry and the upper castes. It is a measure of the inconsistency of the political class that while Operation Barga, choreographed by Mr Bandopadhyay, has been relegated to the footnotes by the Bengal Left, Bihar's JD(U)-BJP dispensation has failed to implement the commission's recommendations in the face of robust opposition from the landed class. To the extent that the NDA won in barely five of the 18 constituencies in last September's by-elections. Since that debacle of the establishment over the land reforms issue, the commission's report has been kept on the backburner. 

After the serial setbacks in Bengal, the Left has placed itself on course to rediscover the virtues of land reforms in Bihar in an unstated variant of the emotive ma-mati-manush construct. Chiefly, the Bandopadhyay Commission had recommended a new Act in Bihar, one that would protect the sharecroppers and fix the land ceiling. A similar electoral campaign by the JD(U)-BJP would have led to severe churning at the social level. The Left can at best make a feeble impact given its minuscule strength in the present Assembly. Politically, the message is pretty much obvious. After the repeated debacles in Bengal, the CPI-M and CPI in Bihar are urgently desperate to keep their feet on the ground... and literally so. Hence the sudden importance of land-holdings and agrarian reforms, both reduced to irrelevance in Bengal. Indeed, the Nitish Kumar administration's failure to implement the Bandopadhyay Commission report is being highlighted as one of the failures of the NDA. The issue at the root of the Left's failure in Bengal is ironically being exploited in an attempt to improve the prospects of the CPI-M and CPI in Bihar. The Left has fallen back on the good earth. Its inconsistencies are complete.








There is no denying that the Dinakaran episode has tarnished the image of our judiciary. To the common man, justice is divine and the judge personifies righteousness and fairplay. People approach the courts with the belief that truth and justice will ultimately prevail through the judicial verdicts. 
Even George Gadbois, a foreign author, has realised that the people of India look up to the judiciary for the upholding of justice, constitutional principles and the Rule of Law. In his view, "The judges are highly esteemed by the public. More than any other segment of the elite, they are viewed as the examplars of honesty and integrity in public office. Indeed, the average citizen believes that the judges are the only group remaining in the political system in whom trust can be placed and whose activities are beyond reproach."
Political leaders may falter, but the judges are infallible. Some may be dishonest, but the majority of judges are upright. As M Hidayatullah, a former Chief Justice of India, once remarked, "The citizens expect the courts to rectify the deficiencies in our society. They certainly look to the courts for the redress of any grievance they may have."

THE Indian judiciary has, to a large extent, maintained a clean image. Charges of corruption have seldom been raised against the judges. Though the Constitution has provided for impeachment, no judge has been impeached since independence. In 1993, however, a motion was raised against Justice V Ramaswami of the Supreme Court for financial misdemeanour. But it was undermined by the Congress which abstained from voting.  Some years ago, a serious allegation of sexual perversion was levelled against a judge, but he immediately resigned in order to avoid constitutional steps against him.

Save certain rare cases, no serious allegation has been raised against the judges.  However, we are yet to reach a position where we can feel proud of an ideal judiciary.

Unfortunately, the recent case of  Justice PD Dinakaran has severely dented the public faith and respect in the judiciary. Mr Dinakaran, whose elevation to the Supreme Court was suddenly halted, faces serious allegations and a motion for his removal has been placed before the Rajya Sabha. His offences include the possession of wealth  disproportionate to his known sources of income, unlawfully securing five Housing Board plots in the name of his wife and daughters, entering into unlawful transactions, and acquiring agricultural holdings beyond the land ceiling. The other allegations relate to illegal encroachment on government property by depriving the Dalits and the poor, violation of human rights vis-a-vis the Dalits and destruction of evidence during the official inquiry.

All the charges are serious. Unless they can be proved to be totally baseless, he can have no moral right to deal with the faults of others.  Significantly, the Supreme Court collegium advised him to go on leave till the inquiry was completed. But as he was unwilling to go on leave for an indefinite period, he has been asked to take over as Chief Justice of Sikkim High Court. The Sikkim Bar Association has unanimously decided to boycott the CJ should he accept this new office. They have iterated that this judge has tarnished the image of the judiciary before the public eye. Thus, the issue has become complicated owing to procedural lacuna.
Those who framed our Constitution were aware of the possibility that some judges might be subject to human frailties and that, in such cases, they should be removed. But the grounds for and the procedure of such removal have been spelt out in the Constitution to guard against abuse of power or politicisation of  the issue. Article 124(4) reads, "A judge of the Supreme Court shall not be removed from his office except by an order of the President passed after an address by each House of Parliament supported by a majority of the total membership of that House and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of that House present and voting has been presented to the President in the same session for such removal on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity."  And Article 227(b) states that a judge of the High Court may be removed from his office in the same manner as provided in Article 124(4).

Thus, the ground for and procedure of such removal have been cautiously mentioned in the Constitution. A resolution for the removal of a judge can be raised for "misbehaviour" which may mean misconduct, corruption and  moral turpitude. He may also be removed because of "incapacity", either mental or physical. Whatever the ground, the allegation must be "proved". In other words, it must be substantiated by authentic evidence. Otherwise, a judge may be a victim of injustice.

Rigid and flexible

THE other aspect is the procedure. The resolution must be passed by both the Houses of Parliament by at least two-thirds majority. The framers of the Constitution thought that the difficulty of obtaining a special majority would ensure the security of service to the honest judges, but it would be easily available in the case of an early removal of their inept or corrupt colleagues.

But the procedure is actually both rigid and flexible depending upon the prevailing political situation. If the ruling party secures an overwhelming majority in both the Houses, then even an honest judge may have to pay the price for his integrity and honesty. However, in a different political situation, the motion for the removal of an unwanted judge would eventually be ineffective.

The charges levelled against Mr Justice Dinakaran are related to "misbehaviour", but it is difficult to say whether or not the motion for his removal will be passed with the requisite majority in Parliament. If it is lost in either House, then he will regain the right to settle others' disputes in spite of a tarnished personal image. Experience shows that impeachment, the only remedy prescribed by the Constitution to deal with such judges, is almost unworkable.

As such, we must seek an alternative. The impeachment mechanism may fail to serve its purpose and the Judges Inquiry Act of 1968 may shield the judges from allegations. But, according to the Constitution, everybody is equal in the eye of law and the Indian Penal Code is applicable irrespective of rank or status.  Why can't the government apply the penal law against a judge who is allegedly guilty of violating the law? The penal measure of the land should be equally applicable to his case because his status does not matter.
If a judge fails to maintain a clear image, he can by no means, be expected to do justice to others.  He morally forfeits the right to penalise others for their guilt.







The television screens are full of images of grown-up men running about in shorts and running after a ball like hyperactive kids. And if there is a country that has gone crazy about them, it is South Africa. Its children are running after anyone in shorts in the hope that he is a football star; many of the shorts-covered whites turn out to be just Argentinian fans bent on seeing their familiar team in a strange land. The children are blowing on big plastic cones making rude noises that might just pass for sporty music. It is a huge, chaotic street show; but before it ends, South Africa would have made a few billions out of it. It is the latest export industry — an industry that requires nothing more than a few stadia.


India has plenty of them — even in otherwise unknown places like Mohali. It has a game with an international following — cricket. It has a genius of an organizer in Lalit Modi. He organized a tournament whose turnover could rival that of football tournaments. And what happened to him? He was kicked out and accused of criminal acts. He was replaced by an industrialist whose normal occupation is running a chemical factory. A Central minister was accused of having invested in a cricket team; for some strange reason, he and his daughter have vehemently denied any connection with the team. Meanwhile, Indian cricketers have gone round the world and lost every game they could be expected to win. They have certainly won the race to the bottom.


Why is it that South Africa, a country that is perhaps run even less well than India, can do a decent job out of a game which it does not play all that well while India makes such a fine mess out of a game it claims to be good at? A facetious answer would be that every country gets what it wants. India is the world's biggest market for scandal, and will turn the most solemn event into a sensation. Bowlers dancing their way to the wicket and fielders diving for a catch are only props; the real action is in the toilets, where punters place bets on who will make the first boundary without hitting the ball and tip the toilet attendant to keep quiet about it. A more serious answer would be that Indians are more concerned with what others are doing wrong than what they themselves are doing right. Their abiding trust in their compatriots' corruptibility makes them superb individualists; but acting together is something they still have to master. Mr Modi may be a superb entrepreneur, Sharad Pawar a consummate politician and Chirayu Amin a good manager. But together, they fall. The World Cup will give Indians good training in watching. What they need now is for someone to come and train them in listening.








As if the cane by itself is not good enough, a school in Assam's Lakhimpur district now has an intoxicated headmaster who beats up students with a stick. Seven students were allegedly injured by their reportedly drunk headmaster while they were playing football during recess. This comes soon after a Class VI student died in Azara in Assam after being allegedly caned by two teachers. That death and grave injury caused by corporal punishment so often give rise to discussion and public dismay is in itself a disgraceful indicator of the level of India's values regarding children and their education. The Supreme Court directed the states in 2000 to ensure that children were not beaten up and were educated in an atmosphere of freedom and dignity. Other courts, too, have condemned corporal punishment. It is now illegal and can call forth severe penalties. All the national plans, policies and charters for children's education and their rights have prohibited corporal punishment since the Supreme Court's directive. So the far greater disgrace lies in the fact that beatings, kneelings and other forms of hurtful punishment continue to do as much harm as they used to, taking lives sometimes, damaging limbs at other times, and most often destroying trust, confidence, dignity and the desire to go to school.


Law does not change reality; it provides a reference point, raises awareness levels and offers the promise of recompense. In the case of corporal punishment, it is clear that the law has not been able to deter physically aggressive teachers or even make them aware of the boundary between disciplining and unchecked cruelty. Confusing matters somewhat, there is a strong current of opinion that children need to be punished or they will run amuck. It is the balance between firmness and violence that is lacking, showing up the inadequate training of the teachers. Their stubborn use of excessive violence shows how serious the latter problem has grown over the years.









There are many instances in the delivery of infrastructure services where it is economical only to have one carrier or transportation facility to move the service between two points. Examples are water pipelines, pipelines for oil and gas, railway lines, or wires for transmission and distribution of electricity. All have to use the one common carrier even if there are many different service providers supplying different customers. Economists call this "natural monopoly". Open access means that anyone who wants to use this transportation can do so if the capacity is available and they pay the price. If open access is mandated by law, the carrier has no choice but to make the carriages possible, subject to capacity being available and price of carriage having been determined.


Most transportation facilities in India — for electricity, water, oil and gas — have been under the control of the government. Interstate electricity transmission has been till recently the exclusive domain of the Power Grid Corporation of India, a Central government company; intra-state transmission, and most of the distribution wires, are state government-owned monopolies. Oil and gas pipelines are still a monopoly of the Gas Authority of India, a Central government enterprise. State governments own almost all pipelines for water supplies. Since governments were believed to take decisions that were neutral and objective, and there were no other suppliers, the issue of open access never came up in the past. In recent years, this situation has begun to change, first in electricity, then in oil and gas, and it will, over time, extend to other infrastructure services. But for a long time in the future, the suppliers will be dominated by government-owned providers, with a growing number of private providers who will want to use the available transportation facility. Rules for open access must be carefully considered, should be common for all services, and be rigorously enforced.


Open access is thus a means to curb the tendency of any monopoly to exploit its position by charging differential rates or indulging in other discriminatory or exploitative acts. If it is to be effectively implemented, the service provider (the electricity generating plant or the oil or gas field owner) should not also own the transportation facility, and the tariff for the transportation must be determined by an independent and neutral body. In India, this is circumvented by having different companies under common control that undertake, say, electricity generation, transmission and distribution. It is natural that sometimes they favour their own companies.


The concept of open access came into Indian law in the Electricity Act, 2003. The act, for the first time, recognized some new ideas: captive generation, electricity trading, markets and electricity exchanges, and, as a result, merchant power plants set up purely for trading purposes. These measures were expected to add to generation capacities, as investors chose the route that would give them best returns. The act mandated open access on the transmission and distribution wires so that any supplier could use the wires for transmission and distribution of electricity, subject to capacity being available and the price mutually agreed upon.


Later, the same concept was introduced (by the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board Act) in pipeline transmission of oil and gas. The owner of the pipelines had to allow all suppliers to use the pipeline. (The provision in the act has yet to be notified.) Wires or pipelines are natural monopolies; more than one such link may not be viable. In the absence of choice between alternative transmission operators available to the service providers, open access would prevent exploitation of a position of natural monopoly by the owner of the wires.


However, the choice of suppliers is relevant only when there is no shortage, and there is ample supply. The application of the concept of open access should have taken account of the fact that electricity in India is in short supply and will probably remain so for a long time. It should also have recognized that the concept could not override supply arrangements in vogue and made earlier. Such arrangements could have been made either formally in written agreements or by custom. The neglect of these two preconditions has led to the disputes that have arisen between distribution companies and suppliers and in interstate transmission between the different states.


A pre-existing supply arrangement to distributors that was in operation for decades could not be suddenly abandoned because open access makes better prices possible from sales to other prospective customers. This would disrupt the existing distribution arrangements based on that supply and suddenly raise the cost of electricity to the users there.


Many buyers are willing to pay higher prices, subject to transmission capacity being available. Political compulsions impel state governments to try and ensure adequate supply in their states and without sudden large increases in tariffs. When there is a shortage because of a sudden demand surge through monsoon failure, heat waves, breakdowns and so on, state governments are loath to allow electricity generated in their states to go on their wires under open access to customers not approved by them. The supplier is selling it to other customers because he gets a better price. The originating state is reluctant to match such higher price because it will mean a tariff increase and/or a fresh burden on state budgets.


The solution obviously is for the state to ensure adequate supply in its own area by entering into long-term supply contracts. If the contracts result in excess supply, the power can be sold elsewhere. All states must also fine-tune tariff arrangements to maximize earnings from those who can afford to pay, raising efficiencies in use, preventing theft, and adjusting tariffs for time of day and season.


Hence the provision for open access in the act must be modified to take account of the following:


It should not apply when there are pre-existing supply arrangements, whether entered into formerly or in practice for a long time.


It must require state governments, before they refuse permission for open access, to first take the actions for minimizing demand, maximizing earnings, improving efficiencies in use and not being too hesitant about raising tariffs. Any forbidding of open access must be approved of by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission.


The state electricity regulatory commission should avoid allowing consumer choice of the electricity supplier until it is assured of adequate supply needed to meet demand.


If supplies are ensured and choice is allowed by the SERC, the SERC must estimate the proportionate cross-subsidy costs and ensure that they are met by the new distributor.


If, however, the generating plant was set up for captive use and/ or merchant sales, neither state governments nor regulatory commissions must intervene to stop interstate sales and transmission through open access to the wires.


Open access gives freedom of choice to consumers, producers (for example, electricity generators), and helps establish trading and markets. But choice can be relevant only when there are adequate supplies and suppliers. When there is shortage and there is market dominance by one supplier — namely the government, and the wires are largely owned by the government, which also controls the load despatch centres — then choice has little meaning. It can become operational in instances of captive generation, and of merchant power plants. Regulators and governments should be careful about introducing choice in other situations.


The author is former director-general, National Council for Applied Economic Research








The United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, has called for an end to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Britain, France, Germany and Russia have done the same. After Israeli commandos killed nine peace activists recently aboard a ship that was trying to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza, even the secretary of State of the United States of America, Hillary Clinton, called the blockade "unsustainable and unacceptable." How can it be ended?


The atrocious attack on the aid ship has put the Israeli policy of blocking supplies to the Gaza Strip in the spotlight and raises two questions. Does it really give Israel added security at a reasonable cost to Palestinians? And if it is doesn't, then how can it be ended?


The blockade of Gaza began in 2007, after the Hamas, which does not recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli State, won a brief civil war and took control of the densely populated territory. It launched thousands of crude, home-made rockets against towns in southern Israel, killing 10 Israelis. So in early 2009, Israel attacked the Gaza Strip.


At least 1,300 Palestinians died, and only 13 Israelis. Since then, the Hamas has observed a ceasefire. Other Palestinian militants still launch sporadic rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, but only one person in Israel has been killed in the past 18 months. Yet the blockade continues unabated.


Only one-quarter of the normal volume of supplies makes it through the sole Israeli checkpoint. The 1.5 million people in the Strip have been reduced to abject poverty, and Israel seems determined to keep up the pressure until the people reject the Hamas (which they backed in free elections in 2007) and overthrow it. Just how they are to do that, however, is not clear.


Israel has the right to prevent weapons from entering the Gaza Strip, but it is hard to see how cement, macaroni, footballs, tomato paste and fruit juices (all banned) fit that description. In any case, the material to make the rockets has always come in through tunnels under the frontier with Egypt, and is unaffected by Israel's blockade.


Tactical change


The blockade is simply collective punishment, which is illegal under international law. It has not overthrown Hamas, but instead has strengthened its control over the population. It should be ended, but how?


The Israeli government is now on the defensive on this issue, and a cheap and effective tactic would be to send an aid ship or flotilla every week or so. The cargo should be inspected and certified as weapons-free by the port authorities in Greece, Italy, France or wherever they sail from.


The blockade-runners should not agree to go to an Israeli port, because then their cargo would fall victim to Israel's blockade rules. (Almost all of the aid ship's 10,000 tonnes of cargo was construction materials, and would have been blocked by the Israelis.) The ships should not surrender at the first challenge, but should sail on towards Gaza and compel the Israelis to conduct hostile boarding operations against them.


The crews should not physically resist the Israeli troops, but some of them would probably be hurt. Would some be killed? Possibly, though Israel will try to avoid another public relations disaster. Might they end up serving jail sentences in Israel? Maybe, if Benjamin Netanyahu's government is in a particularly self-destructive mood.


Volunteers can easily be found for these aid missions, and so can the money to pay for them. Carry out one operation a week for the next couple of months, and the blockade would almost certainly crumble. Netanyahu's government would either change its policy or fall. Either outcome would be greeted with pleasure in almost every capital of the world, including Washington.




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





With the Union Cabinet giving its nod to amendments of the Hindu Marriage Act and the Special Marriage Act, allowing for divorce on the grounds of irretrievable breakdown of marriage, an important obstacle in the way of couples wanting to free themselves from an unhappy marriage has been removed. Hitherto, divorce was granted on grounds like adultery, cruelty, desertion, conversion to another religion and insanity as well as if either spouse was suffering from a virulent and incurable form of leprosy or a communicable type of venereal disease. But there are many couples whose marriage breaks down with no hope of the relationship being repaired. And because their problem does not fall under existing legal grounds for divorce they have been unable to divorce. The Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010 will help such couples. Up until now, courts would in most cases grant divorce only if it was based on mutual consent. There have been countless cases of one partner not showing up in court to prevent a divorce from coming through. In such situations, divorce proceedings drag on, keeping the person wishing to end the marriage waiting endlessly, unable to get on with his or her life. The proposed amendments will change that.

The amendments will make divorce easier. It is likely to evoke criticism from those who believe that divorce is always wrong and that the law should not facilitate it. This is based on the flawed understanding that easier divorce will encourage couples to opt to split as the first option when their marriage is in trouble. While the hassle of tedious divorce proceedings does indeed deter many couples from choosing to divorce, making court procedures difficult and putting legal obstacles is not the way to keep couples together. While the process of divorce has been made easier it is not as if couples wanting to divorce can do so by the flick of a finger. Court procedures require them to undergo counselling. There is a waiting period that gives them time to think and rethink their decision.

Making irretrievable breakdown as a ground for divorce is in keeping with the worldwide trend of ending marriages that are not working. Social norms in India are changing as are gender equations and expectations of relationships. The way couples view marriage has transformed dramatically. Divorce is no doubt rising but this is because people are unwilling to waste their lives trapped in an unhappy situation. The proposed amendments are welcome.








The sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council on Iran were not as harsh as expected and what the US wanted, perhaps because China and Russia, which were all along against stringent measures, had a moderating influence on the decision. The fourth round of sanctions are directed pointedly against nuclear-related business and weapons programmes and do not constitute a wide-ranging economic blockade. But taken together with the existing measures, they will have a cumulative negative impact, more psychological than substantial. The sanctions regime has not deterred Iran in the past, and experience shows that such steps usually affect only the poor and vulnerable sections of people in targetted countries. Iran has the sanctions  will not impact  its uranium enrichment programme.

By announcing the sanctions, the international community has lost another chance to deal with the Iranian nuclear programme through diplomacy and negotiations. This was made clear in the Security Council by Brazil and Turkey which voted against the sanctions resolution and by Lebanon which abstained. These countries are not friends of Iran and in fact have better relations with the US and the western countries that want to put an end to the Iranian programme. Brazil and Turkey entered into a deal with Iran last month under which Iran would transfer half of its stock of enriched uranium to Turkey in return for fuel rods from Russia and France, which would meet the claimed requirements of its Teheran Research Reactor. Implementation of the agreement would have met the western concerns partly. It would also have  served as a confidence-building measure.  Sanctions have had not any serious impact on even North Korea, which is less resourceful and more isolated than Iran. To consider that they will bring Iran round is wrong. As seen from Teheran's response, they can only make it more stubborn. The space for accommodation will shrink and confrontation will grow, making a resolution of the issue more difficult.

India had opposed the sanctions and that may have helped to retrieve some ground lost in its bilateral relations with Iran after New Delhi's IAEA vote against that country. But it could have pursued a more active diplomatic policy, on the basis of principles and fairness, and in its own interest as it has economic and geopolitical stakes in a better relationship with Teheran. 







'The stain of shame began with Anderson's arranged escape in a government plane, but it was only the beginning'



Can you hear the silence above the rising anger over the betrayal of Bhopal? The three most powerful people in India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister-in-waiting Rahul Gandhi have not said a word through a week of national outrage after a first-tier judicial verdict on a mass murder 26 years ago.

True, silence is also a statement, but one besieged by questions. Perhaps they have much to be silent about. The Congress party is not used to so much silence at the top. Unsurprisingly, the second-tier players made a mess when confronted by the pressure of public opinion. Sycophancy is not necessarily synonymous with clarity. By the end of the week, Congress activists had only one prayer: that the quiet would speak up, and the loud-mouthed ordered to shut up.

Lip service is not the sort of service that always fetches you a complimentary tip. Jairam Ramesh, who loves his voice almost as much as his hair, thought he would help out by announcing that his proposed Green Tribunal would be located in Bhopal. It only served to remind media of the fact that on his only trip to Bhopal as environment minister, Ramesh had sneered at the anguish of the victims with a remark so utterly glib and insensitive that it fails comprehension. Ramesh said, triumphantly, "I held the toxic waste in my hand. I am still alive and not coughing. It's 25 years after the gas tragedy. Let us move ahead."

How fortunate for the nation that Ramesh was not sleeping in a slum on that night in December 1984 when methyl isocyanate seeped out of the Carbide plant, killing nearly 20,000 and maiming over a 100,000 more, before its eerie poison had exhausted itself.

We must be thankful to the Lord that Ramesh was not a foetus killed in unknown wombs; or that he had not reached the age of 26 with twisted limbs and dark, angry eyes while a mother covered her son with a protective shawl in a helpless gesture of love.

How fortunate that Ramesh never met Raghu Rai, the great and compassionate photographer who has done more for the helpless than the Government of India, with its mighty instruments of state, and the Government of United States, with its great commitment to human rights, have done.

But let us touch the toxic soil with a smile and move on!

The central truth is that Bhopal is a saga of contemptuous betrayal in which anyone who aided an American corporate interest over the anguish of Indians was rewarded. The stain of shame began with Warren Anderson's arranged escape in a government plane, but it was only the beginning of the story.

Culpabale homicide

The CBI chargesheet in 1987 sought a jail sentence for 10 years for culpable homicide, "not amounting to murder." Chief Justice A H Ahmadi watered this down; it is ironical that a Muslim chief justice should have been used for the ultimate compromise in a case in which most of the victims were impoverished Muslims. Ahmadi was given handsome post-retirement benefits.

Anderson was never unduly troubled by the thought of returning to face trial despite an extradition treaty between India and the US. His bond was only Rs 25,000, exactly the same amount that the guilty have been required to pay after 26 years. The first demand that the Government of India made on behalf of the victims was for $3.3 billion. It settled for $480 million.

Token crumbs have been thrown periodically before the poor. The latest is a reconstituted Group of Ministers, headed by P Chidambaram. Guess who was head of the previous GoM? Arjun Singh. And what is Chidambaram's claim to fame? As finance minister he lobbied, along with Kamal Nath, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Ronen Sen, on behalf of Dow Chemical, promising his prime minister rich rewards in the shape of American investment if Dow was forgiven. Why did Dow really want to return? To reclaim Carbide land in India, since it had bought Carbide but disclaimed Bhopal's liabilities. Dow had kept aside over $2 billion for asbestos-victim compensation for Americans in another case, but had no money for Indians.

Why should it? Indians had no money for Indians. Jairam Ramesh, of course, is a member of the new GoM as well. They would have probably kept Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi as well, if he had been a minister, since Singhvi was a lawyer for Dow, and sent his missives on Congress letterheads. Indians were unconcerned about the truth that Carbide knew of the danger of a leak, but did nothing. There is so much to be silent about.

The heroism of volunteers who have fought a powerful, sneering bipartisan system on behalf of victims, for no reward other than the calm of a conscience, is beyond words. Am I dreaming, or will there come a moment when every Indian conscience is touched by Bhopal?








Mahmoud Abbas has agreed to continue with the United States-brokered proximity talks.



The focus of the summit between US President Barack Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week was Gaza rather than the moribund peace process. Both leaders had no choice but to concentrate on Israel's harsh treatment of the 1.5 million Palestinians who live in Gaza. Their dire and desperate situation was highlighted last week when Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla of ships bound for Gaza carrying human rights activists and aid in a bid to break Israel's tight siege and blockade of the coastal enclave. Nine Turkish passengers on a cruise liner were killed, three dozen people were injured, and nearly 700 detained and deported. International outrage, has compelled the US, Israel's close ally, to reconsider its support for the blockade and look for means to ease its negative impact on Gazans.

But it is unclear what Obama intends to do. He has repeatedly said Israel's siege and blockade are "unsustainable," but he has offered no new thinking on how to end or ease it. Instead, he promised Abbas $400 million in aid, $10 million of which has been earmarked to build UN housing in Gaza. But Abbas has no means for transferring assistance to Gaza which is ruled by Hamas, branded a "terrorist organisation" by Washington at Israel's behest. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that Obama will produce the cash. Following Israel's devastating 2009 war on Gaza, the US pledged $900 million in aid but delivered only $200 million, very little of it to Gaza.  Cash is not the only problem. At the beginning of his term Obama pressed for a halt to Israeli colonisation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Palestinians demand for their state, but he now speaks only of curbing colonisation.

In spite of Washington's pusillanimity, Abbas has agreed to continue with US-brokered proximity talks because these so far unproductive exchanges are "the only game in town."

For Abbas, Obama and Israeli Premier Binyamin Netanyahu such talks are essential. Abbas needs to show his people that the peace process remains the sole means of attaining statehood. Israel has gained a great deal by talking endlessly to the Palestinians while colonising the occupied territories.

Dr Mahdi Abdel Hadi, head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs in East Jerusalem, said the US cannot afford to allow the Palestinians and Arabs abrogate the 1993 Oslo accords or withdraw the Arab land-for-peace initiative of 2002. Israel also understands the need to keep these agreements in play. They provide it with security and protect US regional interests. Washington is determined to keep Fatah in power. Over the past five years, the US has built up the security role of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority's police apparatus. 

"As long as Mitchell comes," Abdel Hadi observed, "Israel will observe a partial freeze in construction in Jerusalem and the settlements." This keeps "the idea of withdrawal to the 1967 borders alive," puts pressure on Israeli public opinion to accept this "solution," and "shakes" Israel's right-wing government. He said the policy seems to be: "If we can't change Israel's stance, the Israeli government will have to change," perhaps by bringing centrist elements into the cabinet.

Proximity talks

Obama does not want Israel to attack Lebanon, Syria or Iran. "Israel cannot have war and work for peace at the same time," Abdel Hadi stated. Finally, if proximity talks fail, Abbas hopes the US will convene an international conference which will seek to impose a two-state solution based on negotiations during the Clinton era and under previous Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Any solution would involve land swaps and the deployment of Nato forces, Hadi remarked.

So far, proximity talks have achieved nothing. Palestinian government spokesman, Dr Ghassan Khatib told Deccan Herald, contradicting US claims that they have been "substantive" and fruitful.

Khatib said the Palestinians are "building the institutions of the future state with the backing of the international community, encouraging a popular non-violent struggle against the occupation, and strengthening (their) international position." He pointed out that Europe and the US are far more engaged now than during the Bush administration. Khatib said the US now understands that peace is in its own national interest.

Khatib argued that if the peace process fails, the Palestinian Authority will go ahead with its plan to declare a state during 2011 and expects it will have the backing of the international community.  He does not believe Israel will launch new wars. "Israel was successful in its last two wars (against Lebanon and Gaza). Neither Hamas nor Hizbollah will provoke Israel because the price tag is too high. Hamas, which rules Gaza, is taking strong measures against anyone" trying to launch attacks on Israel. 







I called up the clinic to cancel the appointment and kept my tummy.



I woke up late to many things in life. Till the early thirties, I never felt the need to do anything that would amount to physical exercise like walking or jogging. It was three years ago when I discovered my lipids had resulted in tiny blobs of cholesterol and lodged themselves on my eyelids. My elder daughter asked me if I would go blind as a result of that and I realised I had to do something about being active.

In a frenzy of sorts, I joined swimming and yoga classes. After a few months, results began to show. My skin thanked me and my fat deposits showed signs of disappearing. Enthused, I wanted to make it better. Perhaps reverse time, if possible, to be able to run around with my children, just as they show in ads, I thought. Perhaps, I was not willing to accept the age, even if mid-thirties it was, had caught up with me too, just as it happened to everyone.

"Look akka, amma's smile doesn't fade away even after she stops smiling," my four-year-old girl told her ten-year-old sister. Just then, they started a game — counting the lines on my face and small protrusions that were to grow into warts later. Not to mention grey hair. Feverishly, I leafed through the telephone index and looked for doctors who could help me erase my lines. Age, I thought, I will reverse and fixed an appointment for few weeks later. I often dreamed of a Santoor ad, replacing the image of the girl who comes calling her mother, with my two daughters.

After face, it would be time to get a tummy tuck, I thought.

Truth dawned on me the day I was summoned to my elder one's school for a meeting. Even as I was getting down from the car, my daughter squirmed her face, and turned away. Aghast, I asked her the reason behind it. "Can't you come dressed in a simple manner, in a saree or chudidar without these danglers for earrings?

My friends' moms never dress like you," she said. I tried to fathom the truth and tried explaining to her that I had come straight from work and hence was wearing jeans, kurti and a stole. She wasn't convinced. "Amma, you don't look right. You must look like a mother," she insisted.

I came home, scouted for the number of the skin clinic, cancelled the appointment and decided to keep my tummy. My daughter had liberated me. She had told me the desperately-younger-looking-me was irrelevant. I was glad to play my role, that of a mother









If the World Zionist Organization is to remain relevant, it must recognize that the Jewish question has changed – and figure out how to answer it.


A few days ago, I ran a workshop for North American Jewish educators studying here on a two-year graduate program. We got to the matter of Israel-Diaspora relations and I asked them how they relate to the phrase "Next year in Jerusalem" if they have no intention of moving here.

The first to respond was offended by my question. "That's not about this Jerusalem," he said categorically, "but an end-of-days Jerusalem, when the messiah comes."

Silly me. Here I was thinking I had turned dream into reality, and now I'm informed my reality is but a dream. But who was I to argue with him? No one else did either. More than a century of Zionism dismissed without a flinch.

At best, I would count this young teacher among those who are still weeping by the rivers of Babylon, seemingly unmindful of the fact that today, El Al could gather them in from the farthest reaches of the earth in less than 24 hours if they would but dry their eyes and pack their bags. At worst, he belongs to a segment of our people who remain passionate about their Judaism but who are living rich and meaningful Jewish lives without obsessing over Israel. This "worst" may not be so bad. But it is a departure from our tradition.

Zionism, it would seem, has become essentially irrelevant to the American Jewish community, and to others as well. If, as the official platform of the World Zionist Organization proclaims, "the centrality of Israel in the life of the nation" is a basic tenet of Zionism, and study after study reveals that Diaspora Jews are becoming increasingly disinterested in the Jewish state, then it would appear that Zionism is no longer a basic tenet of Jewish life outside of Israel. How things have changed in the 43 years since the Six Day War.

STILL, THE WZO trudges along, doing its best to engage Jews around the world in the sacred task of Jewish state-building, and this week 1,500 of its members will converge on Jerusalem to participate in a Zionist congress, the 36th since the first was convened in 1897. Does the Zionist movement still matter, 62 years after its goal of statehood has been achieved? Bill Hess, president of the American Zionist Movement, believes it does. "It gives body to the spiritual yearning of the Jew for our place in the world," he says, adding that it also provides that "ideological nudge to strive for the ideals enunciated by Herzl."

Carlos Frauman, president of OSA, the Zionist Organization of Argentina, agrees.

"It is central to uniting the Jewish communities of the world," he maintains, and Benny Shneid, OSA director general, says that "the daily tasks it is involved in – of education, of engagement, of action – are essential to our continuity."

That is also important to Nelson Kuperman, a congress delegate from Brazil. "Zionism remains an important engine of Jewish life in the Diaspora," he explains, "inspiring the functioning of community organizations, impacting on the lives of families and individuals. It is a powerful factor in the establishment of Jewish identity."

And the congress? "It is the sole point of direct interaction between Israelis and leaders of world Jewry where a serious encounter can take place without the perceived sword of the donor's gift over head," says Hess. Antal Biro from the Zionist Federation of Hungary concurs.

"It provides the possibility for those living in galut to establish personal contacts with Israelis and Jews around the world."

Beyond that, Mayer Tropper of Costa Rica views the congress as an important "expression of the will of the Jews in the world to show their concern for, and demonstrate their interest in the State of Israel." And Dan Cohen, of the Zionist Federation in Holland, sees it as the "one forum to discuss all topics related to Zionism."

It is also the one forum in which representatives of the entire religious and political spectrum grapple cooperatively with issues confronting the Jewish people, a hallmark of the organization that will be tested this year with the inclusion of Shas.

But none of these delegates to the congress are starry-eyed about its efficacy, each in his own way echoing Hess' prognosis. "The future of the Zionist movement," he says, "is mostly dependent on the ability of the Israeli political parties to see beyond their limited interests and involve world Jewry in their activities in a meaningful way."

Too much of the time "is spent on fruitless and/or futile discussions," continues Cohen, who gives expression to widespread resentment about the dramatic shift in recent years from investment in the Diaspora to investment in Israel and the lack of involvement of those overseas in determining WZO priorities when he complains that "there is very little influence of volunteers from abroad."

Kuperman adds that while the gathering continues "to provide pleasant encounters between friends, it will lose its significance if it is not able to do more than facilitate political arrangements." Shneid agrees: "It must reorganize and generate new paradigms if it is going to respond to the challenges of today."

The greatest of these challenges is figuring out how to alter the present situation.


Right now, Israel has very little to do with the majority of young Jews abroad. So they, in turn, have very little to do with Israel. It is not a significant element in their self-identity; it is not an "insurance policy" in case the unthinkable should happen once again; it is not a fount of inspiration and culture; it is not a source of pride enabling them to hold their heads high as Jews. And precisely because of all these things that Israel is not, a vibrant Zionist movement is as important as ever.

If, in the past, Zionism was about establishing a Jewish homeland, today we must transform it into a tool for unifying the Jewish people and safeguarding its future – not only against the threat of anti-Semitism, but also against the threats of Jewish illiteracy, assimilation, apathy and the growing uncertainty about the very legitimacy of something called a Jewish state.

The Zionist movement was established by Theodor Herzl to offer an answer to the Jewish question. That need remain our objective today. But if the WZO is to remain significant and relevant, we must come to recognize that the Jewish question has changed – and so, too, must the way we answer it. Both in content and form.

With all our efforts to respond effectively to the flotilla disaster earlier this month, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube were there first, communicating with hundreds of thousands of young Jews in a language many of us have yet to learn.

Those attending the Zionist congress this year in Jerusalem (the real one) face the daunting task of making "next year in Jerusalem" a meaningful and resonant idiom for those who would otherwise never get here – whatever meaning they might give it once they have.

The writer is a Jerusalem educator and member of the Zionist Executive.








Are our leaders inventing a 'partner for peace' when none exists?


During the Yom Kippur War, Israel was almost vanquished because its leaders ignored an obvious danger and clung to preconceived notions.

Last week the commander of the courageous naval commandos, a man of great intelligence and determination, preferred again to overlook reality and act on a preconceived notion.

From his helicopter, he saw a club wielding mob of "peace activists" on the Mavi Marmara's deck. But rather than disperse the mob with water-cannons or smoke grenades before landing his small force, he clung to the intelligence concept that the mob was not likely to act aggressively. The commandos avoided certain death only because of their courage and fighting skills – and because of good luck.

In a conference of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs that dealt with the (putative) peace process and the country's security needs, two senior strategists Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, head of the National Security Council, and Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, director-general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, related with impressive candor their experiences during years of negotiations with Palestinian Authority officials.

The unavoidable conclusion was (though we must not say so publicly) that the "leaders" of the PA, past and present, do not seek true peace with an independent Jewish state. At most they seek an armistice until their ceaseless efforts to undermine Israel weaken it enough, and they will be able, with help from their Arab and Muslim brethren, and with the complicity of most European states and widening circles in the American administration, to get rid of "this cancer."


BUT EVEN if the leaders of this internally torn assembly of warlords called the PA desired peace, they are too inept and corrupt to sustain a serious peace initiative. The PA created a system of misrule, exposing its citizens to lawlessness and exploitation, and subjecting them to the most extreme human rights abuses. (a fact that the Israeli peace camp, oh so devoted to the protection of human rights, manages to ignore). They, of course, blame everything on the "occupation" because war with Israel is really their only raison d'etre, as it is for all other Arab dictators.

PA leaders have amassed millions of dollars from the generous aid that it received from many countries (often with help from accomplices among European politicians).

With the additional billions they extort from their citizens by imposing inflated monopoly prices on consumer goods that provide them with huge "rents" (some in cooperation with Israeli monopolies that have shared with Yasser Arafat's dozen or so security services the spoils derived from enforcing monopoly prices in the West Bank), these "leaders" have become the largest employers in the PA, making the population dependent on them for its livelihood. They are also the greatest "investors," so they totally dominate the dysfunctional West Bank economy. No one can own or manage a business without their consent and without paying them in economic and political coin.

By employing the vilest Goebbels-inspired anti-Semitic propaganda, the PA leadership also dominates the minds of the Arab population.

It is a miracle that its intense brainwashing and the perverse rage it generates resulted only in dozens rather than in hundreds of suicide bombers.

Yet despite the fact that our excellent strategists know precisely the nature and capabilities of this Palestinian Authority, they are making great efforts to come to terms with the "other side," to invent "solutions that will be acceptable to both parties."

When you enquire who precisely is this "other side" and whether it is capable of arriving at mutually agreed solutions or implementing them, you get very vague answers.

Again, a "concept" trumps reality.

It invents a "partner for peace" though none exists.

MOST DANGEROUS of all is the concept held by the US and its president, who is determined to establish within a year an independent Palestinian state living in peace, of course, side by side with Israel.

A determined American president can naturally force Israel to accept such an irredentist Palestinian state. But what will be the likely consequences? It is highly probable that within a few months after such a state is established, its "leaders" will be killed or chased away by a violent Hamas takeover as has transpired in Gaza. In its place Hamas will form a more radical and violent Shari'a state that will attack Israel's center with rockets and make life come to a standstill. Israel will have no alternative but to reconquer the West Bank, this time for real.

A campaign against terrorists who use a civilian population as human shields is necessarily very bloody, as we have learned in the recent Gaza campaign. Tens of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis will be killed or wounded, and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians will become refugees after fleeing to Jordan.

They will topple King Abdullah's regime. Iran will have another base east of Israel.

Despite President Barack Obama's good intentions and despite the fervent hopes of the Israeli "peace camp," a Palestinian state will not be a harbinger of peace. More likely it will bring about a war that will be a terrible disaster for many Palestinian Arabs and Israelis.

But what won't we sacrifice for a good concept?

The writer is director of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress.









Today sidewalks aren't just used by pedestrians, but also bicyclists, motorcyclists, skateboarders, baby carriages and shopping carts. The approval by the socioeconomic cabinet of a NIS 100 million bike trail covering 4,900 kilometers is yet another indication of the growing popularity of cycling, a recognition of the need for physical fitness and the desire to save on energy and pollution.

However there is a major problem – and it's getting worse.

Bicyclists and motorcyclists are usurping the sidewalks that were built for pedestrians.

It's bad enough when the sidewalk is wide, to have a two-wheeled mode of transport whizz past you from the back, or come at you full speed from the front – but when it's very narrow, the experience is sufficiently harrowing to give some people a heart attack.

A sidewalk, by its very name, is designated for walkers, but pedestrians today have to contend with shopping carts, baby carriages and strollers, tricycles, scooters, roller skates, skateboards, Segways, wheelchairs and, to top it off, motorbikes and bicycles.

Some of these means of transporting goods, infants, children and adults can obviously not be cast out into the road, but certainly motorbikes and bicycles, taking into account the speed at which they travel, the weaving by their riders, the fact that their riders travel in both directions without having to observe road rules on the sidewalk, constitute a mortal danger to people who are walking – especially elderly people with mobility problems, who can't jump out of the way fast enough.

It's a disaster waiting to happen.

TEL AVIV is way ahead of Jerusalem in marking its wider sidewalks with designated bike trails. This would be well and good if every cyclist observed the rules, but they don't.

Many cyclists, especially motorcyclists, weave in and out between pedestrians, creating a very scary environment.

It's terrifying when there's a group of cyclists racing each other on the sidewalk.

For some odd reason, cyclists also challenge themselves to see if they can ride past bus stops in which the bus shelter is very close to the curb, with only the narrowest stretch of sidewalk between it and the road.

This is where bus passengers stand to wait for the bus. Totally oblivious to the discomfort let alone the dangers that they cause, the cyclists ride across this tiny area, instead of behind the bus shelter where there is usually much more room.

Last year, while waiting for a bus in Tel Aviv, I was hit by a cyclist who couldn't control his bike. On another occasion, while waiting at the traffic lights to cross the road at a busy intersection, I felt myself being nudged out of the way by an impatient motorcyclist, who wanted to be first off the mark and had come up on the sidewalk behind me and other pedestrians.

When they're on the road, most motorcyclists are equally arrogant and aggressive, weaving between cars, ignoring traffic lights and taking the sidewalk option when the density of cars makes weaving difficult.

Daydreaming on the sidewalk has become a thing of the past. No pedestrian can afford that luxury any more. We all have to be constantly on the alert.

Not only do motorcyclists and bicyclists ride on the sidewalk, they also park on the sidewalk. Walk past almost any restaurant or coffee shop in Tel Aviv and you will see at least a dozen two-wheeled modes of transport parked outside. Most park at the edge of the sidewalk, but when there's no longer any room there, they also park in the middle and alongside the buildings, yet again taking away from the area intended for pedestrians.

We're not even going into the four-wheeled vehicles that park on the sidewalk, often in such a way that pedestrians are forced to walk on the road.

I must admit that I've often been tempted to slash the tires of such a vehicle, but that would be a pointless exercise because its owner would then have yet another excuse for not moving.

THE SITUATION is getting worse almost by the day, without advocacy groups rising to meet the challenge.

When pedestrians complain to each other, the conversation usually ends with the typical Israeli acceptance of what fate has to offer: ma la'asot – what can we do. It's not a question.

It's a statement.

But laws can be enforced. It's not all that long ago that people smoked in buses and taxis. One can't do that any more – and no one even tries.

It's time that our lawmakers started walking in clusters through city streets to experience the hazards that confront pedestrians daily, and then maybe by force of law we'll be able to reclaim the sidewalk.








Since last week, Israelis have been talking about what has been termed a discovery of large reserves of natural gas off the country's shores, valued at about $100 billion or more.


The reports led to euphoria by the owners of the company that's exploring the field, and some politicians saw the discovery as heralding a change in Israel's global status that would make the country stronger and more influential.


But before the chickens can be counted, they need to hatch. Therefore, it must be said that there's only a 50 percent chance of finding gas, and that pumping it from the depths of the seabed is hugely expensive.


It should also be recalled that not every gift serves those who receive it. For example, in the 1960s, the Netherlands discovered huge gas reserves in the North Sea, but the happy find generated a major economic crisis because growth in foreign-currency income caused an abrupt revaluation of the Dutch guilder, as well as severe damage to local industry and exports, unemployment and inflation.


We must be careful, then, about how we use any income from the gas field. But though the gas has yet to be discovered, a major argument is already underway over the royalties and taxes that the developers would have to pay to the state.


The owners of companies exploring gas fields oppose any change in the royalties and taxes set when the exploration license was granted. They say they have a contract with the state and that until reports of the discovery, they were the only ones prepared to risk their money to do deep offshore drilling. In contrast, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz says that the royalties on finding gas and oil should be raised even on existing contracts because "royalties in Israel are significantly lower than in other countries."


The problem is indeed complex and involves honoring contracts, encouraging development and maintaining business certainty and fair distribution of natural resources between developers and the public. There is room to clarify the policy on future royalties and taxes because now the level of risk in the search declines. But the state cannot change agreements it has already signed, except under the most extraordinary circumstances.


That is the dilemma that is now before the Sheshinsky committee, which is studying the subject. The government committee must show moderation and wisdom so as not to cause harm to signed agreements or foreign investments, and to fairly divide profits from the new natural resource.








The inquiry committee investigating the events aboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marama is of no importance to U.S. President Barack Obama.


It's just an obstacle that he needs to get past so he can meet his obligation and move on to achieve the real goal: his comprehensive Middle East peace plan, which will be presented to the sides and laid before the United Nations between September and November. It will be compiled by a one-man panel: the Obama panel.


Some 10 years ago, there was a panel of inquiry that included one Turkish member (former Turkish president Suleyman Demirel ) which tried to look backward and forward at the same time. It didn't work. The panel, headed by former U.S. senator George Mitchell, was supposed to determine who was responsible for the outbreak of the Israeli Arab riots in September and October of 2000 that had taken place three weeks earlier. In the months that went by before the panel submitted its report, Ariel Sharon defeated Ehud Barak and Bill and Hillary Clinton vacated the White House for George W. Bush. With its demise, the report bequeathed to the conflict George Mitchell the mediator and his aide Fred Hoff, who are holding talks with Israelis, Syrians and Palestinians.


Barak remembers how, as the Mitchell committee was being established, he was weighing a proposal by the leaders of the defeated Likud, Sharon and Silvan Shalom, to join his cabinet as the finance and interior ministers and save his government from collapsing. On the verge of agreeing, Barak recoiled, in case Yossi Beilin were to resign from the cabinet in protest and condemn him as an enemy of peace.


A decade has gone by, and Barak has become Beilin, with the ability to influence Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Barak knows that Netanyahu knows that Obama knows that the resignation of the chairman of the Labor Party from the cabinet would express a lack of confidence in Netanyahu's practical readiness to advance toward peace.


But Barak is one of the boys, not a leader. One of Bibi's boys. He is not a Chaim Weizmann or even an Ezer Weizman, just a Weizmann Shiri. Instead of combining forces with Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi to lead a new moderate and sober policy, he is battling the chief of staff.


In four more months, the freeze on construction in the territories ends. Obama could decide to submit his plan before that, or to hold back a little and wait until after the midterm congressional elections. Netanyahu, as is his wont, is trying to outflank him on the right, in an alliance with the Republicans.


The success is ephemeral. Yes, newly elected Massachusetts senator Scott Brown and Senate candidate Marco Rubio of Florida, two possible candidates in the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, have recently spoken out in favor of Israel and against Obama on the Mavi Marmara issue, but there is no argument on the diplomatic parameters bequeathed by Bush.


Obama's counter-flanking move against Netanyahu is not political. It is a direct and indirect security review of the Israel Defense Forces' positions, as gleaned from meetings with Ashkenazi, with Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel (who heads the IDF's planning directorate and is in Washington this week ), and with retired senior officers who are familiar with the way the wind is blowing in the General Staff and the Defense Ministry.


Obama has a great advantage over Netanyahu: He is not fighting for survival. Election considerations for 2012 will not necessarily guide his actions, not even when it comes to Iran. Obama is already president; he wants to be a great president, and ultimately - in accordance with his character and his experience and depending on whether the Democrats control the White House and the Senate - perhaps also chief justice. (He wouldn't be the first U.S. president later appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court, an honor enjoyed by William Howard Taft. ) Obama has a vision. Netanyahu does not. Let's assume the Iranian threat is removed. What then?


In a lecture in late May, Mitchell said the conflict can be solved and the parameters exist and are known; what's needed mainly is leadership. The Syrian element of the parameters was delivered at the time by President Bashar Assad, in an important interview with Charlie Rose. The supreme priority, Assad said, is a secular Syria. It will insist on the June 5, 1967 border, Israel will insist on security arrangements, and all that's needed is to find a way to bridge the two ideas. The infrastructure will be the Madrid Conference of 1991 (Obama sees George H.W. Bush as a good model for diplomacy ). Assad distinguishes between a contractual peace that will be implemented over time and entails a monitoring mechanism, and real peace - which depends partly on a solution to the Palestinian problem. And he knows that America means not just a president, but also a Congress, one that is attentive to Israel's wishes.


The distance between Charlie Rose and a signing ceremony at the Rose Garden can be bridged. Obama will try. And when Netanyahu acts to blow up that bridge, where will Barak be?








If the media is the battlefield , the soldiers are the photographers and reporters. Despite advances allowing photographs to be manipulated, their credibility as testimony is decisive.


Israeli policy-makers and shapers of public opinion were therefore quick to declare their intention of cloaking and impeding broadcasts from the flotilla in the hope of filtering the flow of material. And yet it was Al Jazeera that broadcast the first pictures from the Mavi Marmara at the critical moments of the takeover, and set the facts.


A short video shows the armed naval commandos on board. In the belly of the ship - chaos. Masses of people, two of whom are injured or dead, a woman carrying a blood-soaked stretcher. These pictures gave viewers the impression of a mass-casualty attack. The pictures were broadcast repeatedly on networks around the world.


Only many hours thereafter did the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman's Office release the first Israeli version: In contrast to the color and quality of the Al Jazeera footage, the only thing visible were faded distance shots, from high above, in black and white, of black dots running amok.


Very much later an improved Israeli version appeared. Here, once again in black and white, the same goings-on could be seen from another, still blurry, angle: The silhouettes of the commandos could be seen sliding down cables from a helicopter, surrounded by passengers. And then came the harsh scenes with the figure being thrown off the deck and the raised arms bashing away at someone with rods.


Dr. Udi Lebel, a political psychology lecturer at the Ariel University Center, explained that the pictures

strengthened the Israeli-Jewish self image of the few against the many, the weak against the strong, victims of hatred and violence. I have no doubt these pictures shocked other viewers.


The chronological order of the broadcast, first of all the Al Jazeera footage of the injured and dead and only afterward the pictures from the IDF Spokesman, is what set the global narrative: The violence of the soldiers was first.


When Col. Ofer Kol, in charge of the IDF's public relations unit, was asked why press photographers were not allowed to cover the events at close range, he explained that the IDF did not want to broadcast photos of soldiers fighting and being injured because their families might be watching. As if there is no such thing as editing or blurring faces.


Although the IDF did not release any stills and most of the material that was filmed by flotilla participants was erased or confiscated, still, the toughest and most terrible photos from our point of view, of injured soldiers, their faces exposed, bloody and humiliated, were released all over the world, and for lack of choice, in Israel as well. There is no way to prevent the leeching of photographed evidence. There is no way to censor more than 600 people, many of whom had cameras.


There are programs today that can recreate pictures that have been erased. The attempt to control information is not new to the security forces. If in the first years of the state every division commander wanted to have a photographer along to immortalize his heroism, today only "embedded" photographers, under the strictest supervision, are allowed into a conflict zone.


The people with the authority to decide what will be documented and broadcast to the people do not want a free press. The populist image of the leftist and Israel-hating media has sunk in everywhere. To the army - from the least of the privates at a roadblock who shouts "no pictures!" to the senior officer who signs, as if it were nothing, an order closing an area to the press by making it a military zone - to the police and the Shin Bet security service.


And every private security guard, every violent settler and every citizen is certain that it is his or her duty to block the camera's lens.


A press card, granted by the Prime Minister's Office after a security check, is not worth the plastic it's printed on, and often sparks hateful reactions.


More and more frequently we Israeli press photographers prefer to present ourselves as amateurs to avoid conflict. While in every Western democracy a press card opens doors, in Israel it opens only museums.


Not one organization sees to our rights. Not even the newspapers. Not even ourselves. Those who seek to cover the eyes of the people will find that they have made them blind.








The Bus 300 affair - which involved the killing of two captured and bound terrorists who tried to hijack the No. 300 bus on its way from Tel Aviv to Ashkelon in April 1984 - came to light thanks to a photograph by Alex Levac that was published in the now-defunct daily Hadashot. It culminated in the president granting pardons to those suspected of obstructing the subsequent investigation by giving false testimony. Yet it lived on in the national consciousness.


Now, more than 25 years later, it has been revived by Ehud Yatom's quest to become chairman of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority's plenum council. Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan wants to give Yatom the job, in light of his public activism in various fields, including protecting the environment.


However, the Justice Ministry reportedly opposes the appointment, for fear that it would be voided by the High Court of Justice should anyone petition the court against it on the grounds that Yatom, who was a senior Shin Bet security service official in 1984, has repeatedly admitted to being the one who killed the two terrorists on orders from the head of the service - in a statement to the police, in his pardon application and in a newspaper interview.


This affair led the High Court to lay down several new legal principles. In 1986, it confirmed that the president is authorized to preemptively pardon someone before he is even indicted, much less convicted. It therefore upheld the then-president's decision to pardon 11 senior Shin Bet officials, including Yatom, in the Bus 300 case.


The authority to issue preemptive pardons was upheld by then-justices Meir Shamgar and Miriam Ben-Porat, with Aharon Barak dissenting. In her fascinating new book "Through the Robe," Ben-Porat describes how she proposed to her colleagues that they also examine the reasonability of granting pardons in this particular case, but they insisted that the court has no authority to examine the reasonability of the president's decisions.


Then, in 1993, the court overturned the cabinet's decision to appoint Yossi Ginossar as director general of the Housing Ministry, because Ginossar, who was also a senior Shin Bet official in 1984, had confessed in his pardon application to committing perjury and obstructing an internal Shin Bet investigation of the affair. In a ruling authored by Barak, the court said that a senior office-holder such as a ministry director general must radiate "honesty and integrity" - which a man who has confessed to crimes of this nature cannot do, even if he was later pardoned by the president.


In 1998, Knesset speaker Dan Tichon sought to appoint Yatom as the Knesset's chief security officer. I wrote in Haaretz at the time that this appointment was unreasonable, and would dishonor the Knesset's ethics code, because the occupant of this senior office - who is equivalent to a major general in the police - is supposed to serve as an example to his subordinates. In the end, the appointment fell through and I was harshly criticized by Yatom's many friends, who suspected that I had helped to achieve that outcome.


Yatom did serve as city manager of Hadera, but still sought to earn a public amnesty by being appointed to a senior security post. And in 2001, 17 years after the affair first broke, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon indeed appointed him to head the government's Counter-Terrorism Bureau. But the High Court overruled the appointment later that year, due to the position's "direct connection" with the field of counterterrorism - the very field in which Yatom tripped up in 1984. Then-justice Eliahu Mazza also stressed the seniority of the position, whose occupant must direct and instruct others, and the moral authority that its occupant must consequently have. However, the court did not rule out Yatom's appointment to other public positions, or, since the law does not forbid it, his election to the Knesset - something that later took place.


The current appointment is to a post that is not especially high-level, and has nothing to do with protecting the state - only with protecting the environment. Moreover, there is no reason to persecute Yatom for eternity. The Justice Ministry ought to make it clear without delay that there is no barrier to his appointment for any reason related to an incident from his past. And it seems likely that the court would also so rule, should a petition be filed against the appointment. After a quarter of a century, the time has come for the Bus 300 affair to finally reach the end of the line.









"Since the school principal sexually assaulted her, abetted by physical and psychological threats, A., a 15-year-old girl from central Israel, has not left her home. She is suffering from insomnia and nightmares, her grades have declined, and she has lost touch with most of her friends. As in hundreds of other cases of sexual assault, A. was attacked by someone who was supposed to be responsible for her welfare but who abused the authority of his status and his physical strength in order to harm her. The damage caused by the physical and psychological abuse that the girl has undergone at the hands of the principal is likely to affect her soul for many years to come."


This quotation is not taken from any news report. Not because it is not accurate or because the incident never actually happened - of course it did; it happens all the time - but because such incidents are not described like this in the media. In most cases in the Hebrew press, pornographic phraseology is employed in reports of sex crimes, which provide precise descriptions of the setting, the body parts involved, and the use of literary-moralistic terms, such as "he reached satisfaction," "acts of sodomy," "sex-slave" and "he had his way with her." These are terms that are reminiscent of 19th-century pornographic literature, in which the moralistic background makes the sex more arousing, ostensibly for the protagonists, but actually for the readers.


This pornographic characterization amounts to a second victimization of the victim, particularly ugly because it is self-righteous. We know precisely what sex crimes are hiding behind this verbal curtain, and therefore using it is a kind of pretense. We pretend we are defending the victim by using a euphemism, whereas actually we are objectifying the victim in the verbal pornography we are producing.


However, the detailed sadistic reconstruction of the abasement of the victim, accompanied by verbal close-ups, does not help us understand the situation. The kind of details commonly used to describe crimes of this kind are of no use to people who want to know that a violent incident of a sexual nature has taken place. In order to be good citizens, we do not have to know if "an act of sodomy" was perpetrated or not. Such details are of use only if we wish to be sexually aroused. And if we consume information on sex crimes in a manner that arouses us sexually, we are identifying with the assailant and not with the victim.


There is an alternative way. It is possible, for example, to report that, in the school principal case as in most sexual assaults, the attack was carried out by a person whom the victim knew and who she considered an authority figure, making it difficult to resist his advances. Instead of focusing on the porn that the assailant showed his victim, for example, the reports could provide an extensive description of the problems the girl has been suffering from since the attack. If we describe, in minute detail, her depression, for example, or any suicide attempts she may have made, or a decline in her school work, perhaps it wouldn't arouse us so much.


Instead of being turned on by sex crimes, we could take advantage of the discussion about them to remind ourselves of how widespread they are, how much damage they cause, and how to detect them and help the victims. But for this to happen, we have to stop thinking about rape as violent sex and understand that it is sexual violence.




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




There are not a lot of good weeks in Afghanistan. But last week was particularly bad. At least 26 American or NATO soldiers were killed in attacks by insurgents. The commanding general, Stanley McChrystal, announced that his long promised offensive in the Taliban's home base of Kandahar would be delayed for months.


Then The Times reported that Afghan officials say President Hamid Karzai is trying to strike a secret deal with the Taliban and Pakistan and doubts that the Americans and NATO can ever defeat the insurgents.


General McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy still seems like the best chance to stabilize Afghanistan and get American troops home. His aim is to push militants out of key cities and towns and quickly build up effective local governments so residents have the incentive and means to help stop extremists from returning.


That theory ran into harsh reality the first time General McChrystal tried to apply it, in the city of Marja, a lesser Taliban stronghold. Four months after American troops drove fighters out of Marja's center, there is no functioning government, international aid programs lag, and the Taliban are coming back. A surge of assassinations of local officials in Marja and Kandahar has made Afghans all the more fearful about cooperating with the Americans and their own government.


We have not seen a full assessment of the Marja operation. General McChrystal said that he now plans to spend more time in Kandahar cultivating local support, improving public services and building up local governance. Building competent Afghan army and police forces has clearly proved far harder than expected. The same is true for fostering and protecting honest and committed Afghan officials.


Western officials and experts also say that the American military found it hard to read — and in some instances they misread — the complex tribal and societal relationships in both places. Nearly nine years after the Americans arrived in Afghanistan, American intelligence agencies, civilian and military, seem to be flying blind. That is intolerable.


Then there is the fundamental question of whether President Karzai can — or is interested in — building an effective government. Mr. Karzai got what he wanted from a recent national peace conference — a mandate to appoint a government commission to begin talks with the Taliban. That makes reports that he is trying to cut a private deal especially worrying.


We are also very concerned about his decision to force the resignation of two top security officials. Both were seen as competent and honest. And we found it bizarre that Mr. Karzai is telling aides that he believed the United States, and not the Taliban, might have been responsible for a rocket attack on the conference in Kabul.


The Americans still haven't figured out how to manage Mr. Karzai. Reviving a public fight with him isn't going to work, but they need to make clear that there's a limit to American patience — and that they will only support peace talks that have a specific set of red lines.


The basic civil rights of Afghans — particularly women and girls — cannot be up for negotiation. There can be no place in Afghanistan for Al Qaeda or the Taliban's worst abusers. It is way too soon for Mr. Karzai to be pushing to remove the Taliban from the United Nations terrorist blacklist.


We don't know if the Taliban leaders will ever compromise. But we are sure that they will consider it only under duress. General McChrystal is going to have to do a much better job in Kandahar. Mr. Karzai is going to have to drop his illusions and commit to the fight.






Cities and suburbs across America have tried to muscle immigrant day laborers off the sidewalk, passing laws that prohibit job solicitation in public places and enforcing them with ticketing and arrest sweeps. Federal courts have repeatedly struck down these laws, recognizing that the First Amendment protects all people who want to speak freely and assemble peaceably.


That streak of successes had a discouraging setback last week in California when a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a misguided ordinance from the Los Angeles suburb of Redondo Beach. The ordinance forbids anyone "to stand on a street or highway and solicit, or attempt to solicit, employment, business or contributions from an occupant of any motor vehicle." It forbids drivers to "stop, park or stand a motor vehicle" while trying to hire somebody.


The majority bought the argument that the law was a carefully written attempt to prevent men, cars and trucks from mixing dangerously in the middle of the street. It cited an earlier ruling on a law in Phoenix that prohibited members of the community group Acorn from approaching cars stopped at red lights to ask for change.


The problem, as Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote in dissent, is that the Redondo Beach ordinance isn't a narrowly tailored constraint to ensure smooth traffic flow. It is a broad, indiscriminate assault on all manner of legitimate speech and conduct.


It doesn't just ban soliciting on streets and highways, but also on "roadways, parkways, medians, alleys, sidewalks, curbs and public ways." "The plain language of the statute," Judge Wardlaw wrote, went unconstitutionally overboard; it could, as written, apply to a girl scout selling cookies or a restaurant employee passing out fliers.


Redondo Beach obviously wasn't going after girl scouts or restaurants. Like so many dozens of other places, including Oyster Bay and Suffolk County on Long Island, it was trying to drive away immigrant day laborers. Lack of immigration status does not strip away a person's basic constitutional rights.


The panel's deplorable decision is one the full circuit court should hear and overturn. Redondo Beach has perfectly justifiable laws that prohibit running into the street, jaywalking, driving recklessly and harassing drivers and pedestrians. It should enforce those, and leave the day laborers — and the Constitution — alone.








Washington too often looks the other way as state governments rob low-income victims of their fair share of federal disaster aid. The Department of Housing and Urban Development did the right thing recently in forcing Texas to revise a $3 billion spending plan for aid provided in the wake of the 2008 hurricanes Ike and Dolly.


The storms ravaged the coastal and near-coastal counties, especially Harris, Orange and Galveston. They destroyed thousands of homes, including a large number owned by poor families that didn't have the money to rebuild. Instead of directing the aid to the most-damaged regions and the people with the fewest resources, the Texas plan spread it across the state and gave local planning agencies near carte blanche on how to spend it.


Two prominent fair housing groups, Texas Appleseed and the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, filed a complaint with HUD charging that the plan did not adhere to the most basic condition of federal disaster aid, which requires that half of the money be used to benefit low- and moderate-income people. They also argued that it would violate federal civil rights and fair housing laws.


After the HUD secretary, Shaun Donovan, took the extraordinary but justified step of rejecting the initial proposal, the state negotiated an agreement with the advocates. The new plan will ensure that 55 percent of the money will be spent to help low- and moderate-income families. More than half the fund will be spent on rebuilding homes, with a fair share allocated to the poorest residents.


The state will rebuild all of the desperately needed public housing units that were destroyed in Galveston. Local opposition groups had pressured the city not to rebuild. As part of the agreement, Texas will also create new programs to help low-income and minority residents find housing in less-segregated or storm-vulnerable areas.


Thanks to tough bargaining by Secretary Donovan, hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent as Congress intended and fairness requires: helping to rebuild devastated communities and helping the most vulnerable residents rebuild their lives.







Teachers' unions around the country are realizing that they can either participate in shaping reforms or have others' reforms forced upon them. The latest example comes from Washington, where the union has wisely negotiated and ratified a contract that gives the city greater leeway to pay, promote or fire teachers based on performance.


The new contract will raise salaries across the board by about 20 percent over the next five years. But it also creates two categories of teachers.


Those who choose to remain on the traditional salary schedule will receive collectively bargained increases at the appointed times and get to a top salary, after about 20 years, of $106,000. High-performing teachers who opt into a performance-based system could see more rapid pay increases under a plan that is still being worked out and could potentially earn more than $140,000.


Washington already has a rigorous evaluation system. It rates its teachers based partly on how well they improve student learning from year to year, and partly on intensive classroom observation by their supervisors. Under the new contract, the ratings — which describe teachers as highly effective, effective, minimally effective or ineffective — will be put to use at several different points in the teacher's career.


Gone are the days when schools that experienced enrollment drops cut teachers based on seniority, beginning with the last hired. Under the new contract, minimally effective and ineffective teachers will be the first to leave. Those who do not find jobs elsewhere in the system within 60 days will be fired.


Washington's hard-driving schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, believes that the bonus system, which will be developed in consultation with the union, will allow the city to attract more high-performing teachers and keep them on the job longer. In addition to making the city a more attractive place to work, the new contract acknowledges something that unions have often denied: teachers are not all interchangeable and some deserve to be paid more than others.










Well, now: it seems our dear ally across the pond feels that a row has broken out over the intemperance of the American president toward mighty BP.


"Anglophobic spite," was the charge leveled atPresident Obama by a columnist for The Daily Mail, implausibly attributing the animus to Obama's Kenyan father. London's mayor,Boris Johnson, demanded an end to "anti-British rhetoric." He demanded it! Or else. And a leading Tory by name of Lord Tebbit branded Obama's conduct "despicable."


All of this came just before the extraordinary events on Saturday in South Africa, when the American boys — none of whom could make the British squad, it is said — played Her Majesty's finest to a draw in the World Cup's opening round.


"Brit Kneels Before America!" was the headline on the ever-subtle Drudge Report, with a picture of the poor English goalie on his knees.


The oil spill may long be forgotten in Britain before the English get over that single goal scored by the Yanks. Certainly, it was a gift. Even in American youth soccer leagues, where everyone gets a trophy, it's hard to imagine that dribbler getting by one of our undersized goalies with oversized self-esteem.


If the world's most popular sport is war by other means, then let's keep it on the pitch. For the other conflict appears to be a monumental misread on the part of the British. They should stick to arguing over the meaning of their unwritten constitution.


American anger has little to do with the island nation and everything to do with a multinational corporation that has appeared tone deaf and negligent. Obama tried to get that general idea across when he called Prime Minister
David Cameron over the weekend.


The insults across the water can be explained, in part, by that old line about two nations separated by a common language. When Americans hear the English speaking laudably of "BP's scheme" for making good, they wince. Scheme? Ponzi comes to mind over here, and a felony. The knights and earls, the barons and viscounts, the dodgy characters and cheeky gibes — so much of it is a muddle to the American mind.


I know what they think of us. I was describing a state fair in Montana once for a BBC audience when the producer urged me to cut to the chase. "Aren't they all fat? And heavily armed?"


In her book "The Anglo Files: a Field Guide to the British," my colleague
Sarah Lyall explained the gap this way:


"We look to the future; they look to the past. We run for election; they stand for it. We noisily and proudly proclaim our Americanness; they shuffle their feet and apologize for their Britishness. We trumpet our success; they brag about their failures. When they say they are pleased to meet you, they often mean nothing of the kind."


As to what specifically angers the Brits about the American response to the BP spill, they point to Obama's answer to a question about whom to hold accountable. They can't fathom that the pundit class in the United States thinks our leaders have been too timid, too cool, too restrained.


A sound bite to please the Washington magpies is hardly akin to stepping on the Union Jack. After all, the English burned our capital. And who can forget that headline in The Daily Mirror after
George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004: "How Can 59,054,087 People Be So Dumb?"


We love Dickens and Shakespeare, Hitchcock and Sting, Lennon and McCartney. Speaking of which,
John Boehner, the House minority leader, has demanded an apology from Sir Paul for saying "it's great to have a president who knows what a library is" when he was awarded the Gershwin Prize by the Library of Congress.


Boehner knows a breach in decorum when he hears one; he's the head of a caucus with a member who shouted "You lie!" at the president.


Most of the above is good fun. Special relationship and all that. But the oil spill is death to a way of life for thousands, and a high crime against nature. The anger is real. It's directed at a company run by a man,
Tony Hayward, who is a gaffe-o-matic. One day he says the oil is but a drop in a big ocean. Then he says he wants his life back.


This week, it's only going to get worse, when BP directors consider whether to suspend their dividend, and the company's executives are called to the White House. The president plans to ask them to set up an escrow account for those affected by the spill.


For diversion, there is a month of glorious soccer, often called a gentleman's game played by thugs, which is a good way to describe the politics of two democracies from the same family.








When historians set out to date the moment when the women's movement of the 1970s officially consolidated its gains, they could do worse than settle on last Tuesday's primaries.


It was a day when most of the major races featured female candidates, and all the major female candidates won. They won in South Dakota and Arkansas, California and Nevada. They won as business-friendly moderates (the Golden State's Meg Whitman); as embattled incumbents (Arkansas's Blanche Lincoln); as Tea Party insurgents (Sharron Angle in Nevada). South Carolina gubernatorial hopeful Nikki Haley even came in first despite multiple allegations of adultery.


But mostly, they won as Republicans. Conservative Republicans, in fact. Conservative Republicans endorsed by Sarah Palin, in many cases. Which generated a certain amount of angst in the liberal commentariat about What It All Meant For Feminism.


"Do you still cheer," Slate's Sara Libby wondered of Whitman's and Carly Fiorina's California victories, "if the [glass] ceiling is crashed by two conservative businesswomen?" On "Good Morning America," Tina Brown fretted that "it almost feels as if all these women winning are kind of a blow to feminism." Writing in The Daily Beast, Linda Hirshman declared that support for abortion rights and Obamacare were litmus tests for true feminism, as opposed to the "selfish" variety that triumphed on Tuesday.


These conflicted responses echoed a similar debate that broke out a few weeks earlier, following a Palin speech in which she repeatedly laid claim to the feminist mantle — praising the "mama grizzlies" currently running for office as conservative Republicans, and hailing an "emerging, conservative, feminist identity." Half the women in journalism, it seemed, weighed in on the address, with reactions ranging from "you've got to be [expletive] kidding me" on the Web site Jezebel to Meghan Daum's declaration in The Los Angeles Times that if Palin "has the guts to call herself a feminist, then she's entitled to be accepted as one."


The question of whether conservative women get to be feminists is an interesting and important one. But it has obscured a deeper truth: Whether or not Palin or Fiorina or Haley can legitimately claim the label feminist, their rise is a testament to the overall triumph of the women's movement.


What Tuesday's results demonstrated, convincingly, is that America is now a country where social conservatives are as comfortable as liberals with the idea of women in high office. More strikingly, they're comfortable voting for working mothers — for women publicly juggling careers and family obligations in ways that would have been unthinkable for the generations of female leaders, from Elizabeth I's Virgin Queen down to Margaret Thatcher's Iron Lady, who were expected to unsex themselves before being entrusted with the responsibilities of state.


This is a remarkable sea change. It's been less than two decades since 1992 — dubbed the Year of the Woman because a slew of female Democrats won Senate seats, but also a year when much of conservative America viscerally recoiled from Hillary Clinton's career-woman persona. Now Clinton has become many conservatives' favorite liberal, and Republicans are fielding a crop of female candidates that includes working moms like Haley (who has two kids under 13), Kristi Noem (a 38-year-old mother of three running for South Dakota's House seat) and Kelly Ayotte (the front-runner in the New Hampshire Senate primary, who has a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old).


Yes, female public servants still face a thicket of sex-specific challenges while running for office. (Fiorina walked into one last week, when a live microphone caught her making fun of the hairstyle of her general-election opponent, Barbara Boxer.) But these challenges no longer manifest themselves in predictable ways, as the peculiar left-wing misogyny that greeted Palin's candidacy emphatically demonstrated. And the models for feminine success in the political arena, from the Tea Party's Angle to Harvard Law's Elena Kagan, look almost as diverse as American women themselves.


In this environment, it isn't a surprise that women in the public square now disagree about everything from abortion to health care to foreign policy. If anything, it's a sign that feminism may be returning to its fractious, ideologically unpredictable roots. (As Kerry Howley noted recently, reviewing a history of late-Victorian female radicals, there was no such thing as a "typical" early feminist: "She might well support free love but think condoms a tool of the sex-mad patriarchy; she might want to socialize housework or smash the state.")


So however much heartburn Palin's "mama grizzlies" give to those who associate feminism with the policies and prejudices of American liberalism, circa 1973, they should recognize their emergence for what it is: not a setback for the women's movement, but a happy consequence of its victories.








When a CNN camera crew tried to talk to workers cleaning oil-drenched birds on the Gulf Coast last Thursday, it was turned away by a man from the Louisiana State Animal Response Team, a group that says it's working with BP to help wildlife. Never mind that the crew had federal permission to visit the site. "I make the final call," the man said brusquely.


Not far away, on Grand Isle, La., a reporter from New Orleans' WDSU-TV was barred from interviewing cleanup workers. "I can tell you where to go because I am employed to keep this beach safe," a private guard said, even though the beach is public.


And last month, according to the New Orleans' Times-Picayune, a man identifying himself as a BP contractor told a private charter pilot that he couldn't fly a reporter over the restricted spill area. "No media or press on any planes," the charter's owner said he was told.


BP maintains these are anomalies. But every such attempt deepens the impression that BP, having caused the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, is trying to manipulate what the public sees about it.


On one level, it's tempting to believe BP's denials simply because trying to hide embarrassing acts is so obviously futile when a company is caught in a spotlight this bright. What the news media don't find, government investigators and plaintiffs' lawyers will. Meanwhile, every attempt at secrecy raises suspicions.


But secrecy plainly has been part of the game plan since the disaster's earliest days in April. Although BP made feeds from itsunderwater cameras available to the government, it initially failed to open them to the public. The world didn't get its first glimpse of the gushing oil until late May, after Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., demanded that BP make the feed public. Scientists quickly recognized that BP was low-balling the spill rate.


In another controlling move, when BP signed up U.S. fishermen to help with the cleanup, the company's contracts barred them from talking to the news media. After much criticism, Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles proclaimed last week that BP wouldn't stop anyone from talking. But if the incidents since then are any guide, many workers haven't gotten the word.


Just as outrageous have been the government's controlling actions.


Some Coast Guard personnel claim to be enforcing a rule requiring a 500-yard buffer — nearly a third of a mile — around any vessel involved in the cleanup, the Associated Press has complained. At that distance, a camera can't document what's going on and reporters can't conduct interviews. Also, no private planes may fly below 3,000 feet for miles around the spill area — far too high to get meaningful photos. Do a few news media flights really pose a safety risk?


The bulk of coverage so far — and there has been a lot — has been by media "embedded" on government flights, which means the government controls what the reporters see. That's how wars are generally covered. But this is not war, nor even a fast-moving disaster like Hurricane Katrina, where lives are at stake. It's tough to see why so many restrictions are necessary.


The public will be living with the effects of this catastrophe for many years. Neither BP nor the government should be getting in the way of what the public sees as events unfold.








The Deepwater Horizon incident, and the oil spill that has followed, is a terrible tragedy for the families and friends of those who lost their lives, and for the people living in communities all along the Gulf Coast. It should never have happened. We're working around the clock to stop the flow of oil, protect the shore, clean up the damage and restore the Gulf Coast. We also want to ensure that a tragedy like this never happens again.


BP understands that our responsibility goes beyond stopping the flow of oil and making things right in the Gulf. We know that transparency and responsiveness go hand-in-hand with accountability. The people who have had their lives and livelihoods disrupted, and all Americans, deserve to know about the work being done and the effects of the spill.


From the beginning, we have tried to provide information, data and access to government officials, the news media and the public. But we always are striving to enhance and improve our lines of communication and our responsiveness.


BP is working side-by-side with our response partners and the federal government to execute an unprecedented response and to provide thorough briefings on developments in the Gulf. For example, we are working closely with the Coast Guard to provide daily progress updates. We're making extensive footage and data from the sea floor available to government scientists and the public. We are coordinating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and our contractors to provide the news media and others access to work sites and wildlife rehabilitation centers, while ensuring the safety of the visitors and preventing additional damage to the environment and wildlife.


We have made clear to our contractors and cleanup workers that we believe they have an important story to tell, and that they should feel comfortable sharing their personal thoughts and experiences with the media. But we know that in a crisis, better and more timely information is always desired, and we will continue to strive for openness and transparency in all we do.


Doug Suttles is the chief operating officer of BP Exploration & Production.








What comes to mind when I say moral blind spots? Abortion if you're a conservative? Gay rights if you're a liberal? But how can anything be "blind" if half the country is talking about it?


Mahatma Gandhi— viewed by many (including Martin Luther King Jr.) as one of the greatest moral leaders of the 20th century — opined that the moral fiber of a society is best gauged by how we treat our animals. So as a Baptist preacher who is interested in the morality of my country, I decided to check us out. What I found has alarmed me. Worse still is the fact that so few of us are talking about it. Eureka. A moral blind spot.


Let's start with the animals we profess to love: our pets. Many of us cherish our dogs, cats or other critters and consider them part of the family. We spare no expense when caring for them. Others of us just skirt by, particularly once the novelty of owning a pet wears off. Owner complacency becomes indifference; indifference becomes neglect. One of the saddest outcomes is a dog that is chained and left in the backyard. A tethered dog lives in utter misery without physical or mental stimulation. Owner neglect on a much larger scale results in 3 million to 4 million dogs and cats being euthanized each year. That's about 10,000 per day. Much of this results from pet owners simply failing to spay or neuter their animals. With free and discounted spay/neuter opportunities galore, that's inexcusable.


Responsible stewardship


And that's how we treat the animals we love. As for the animals we raise for food consumption, my guess is that few Americans have any inkling of the horror these poor creatures endure. For a glimpse into what it looks like, check out Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. It will fry your grits.


The book of Genesis says God gave humans dominion over the earth, including everything "that creeps upon" it. But here's the thing. Dominion does not imply the right to exploit or behave irresponsibly. The concept of responsible stewardship is implied in every delegation of biblical authority. And stewardship means being good caretakers of all that has been entrusted to us. Would you call packing animals shoulder to shoulder in their own excrement, or wiring them into cages where their personal space is smaller than a piece of printer paper, humane or responsible stewardship?


One can't help but wonder what Jesus would think of all this. Certainly, he was not a vegetarian. Jesus appears to have eaten fish routinely and once spoke of killing a fatted calf. But Jesus was not cruel. He came from a religious tradition that still has rituals and practices associated with animal slaughter that reflect a pervasive respect for all God's creatures. Jesus described himself as the "good shepherd" — one who lays down his life for the sheep. Does that sound like a factory farmer to you?


Here's what I think Jesus would have to say on the subject: If you're going to eat animals, raise and slaughter them as humanely as possible. That's what God had in mind when he made you caretakers of his planet. Consider the fact that these animals are giving up their lives for you, and respect that.


Easy as one, two, three


So how do we push back? First, become informed — painful as that might be. Second, you can join the growing list of cities and states that have banned or placed restrictions on chaining animals — such as Texas — or that have banned the most inhumane factory farming practices — such as Florida and California.


Third, eat less meat. I've had rabbis tell me vegetables are the favored diet for Jews. We Christians should follow suit. And get familiar with your local restaurants and grocery stores. Find out what's really free-range and what isn't.


The problem with moral blind spots is they're invisible. At least until someone points them out. And believe me, blissful ignorance has its benefits. Part of me wishes that I was still tooling down life's highway blithely munching my bacon-wrapped chicken nuggets.


Oliver Thomas, a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors, is the author of 10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You (But Can't Because He Needs the Job).








In the first quarter of this year, Fox News enjoyed its highest ratings in history at the expense of its two cable news rivals, CNN and MSNBC. CNN, once called the "most important network" by founder Ted Turner, has seen the ratings of its main anchors tank. Iconic host Larry King just celebrated his 25th anniversary, but his ratings plunged 50% in a year. He runs third behind Fox's Sean Hannity.


CNN has tried to remain non-partisan while news junkies have migrated to the more opinionated hosts at Fox and MSNBC. If CNN continues on its course, dinosaurs will be suing for copyright infringement. It's like watching the Sex and the Cityladies rocking to Bad Romance in orthopedic Jimmy Choos.


Fox's success must be affecting the bottom lines of its competitors. It's so bad you'd half expect one of CNN's executives to get caught in a sting trying to sell access to Sarah Ferguson.


CNN is so pressed, it might be tempted to bring back Turner in his own show stating his positions on politics, the economy, religion and time travel. It could be called Fair and Unbalanced. Or it could reprise Crossfire but in a different format, broadcast live from the Arizona-Mexico border.


The network could do a segment on how a homegrown terrorist can make a bomb in his garage using ingredients commonly found in Heidi Montag's face. It could combine investment tips with showbiz news and recommend a hedge fund that shorts Betty White.


MSNBC executives could try to humanize its anchors. Using BP technology, they could install a robocam 24/7 inside Chris Matthews' pants so viewers can spot new chills running down his leg.


CNN could broadcast an exclusive interview with writer Joe McGinnis asserting that Todd Palin's Alaskan husky chews a performance-enhancing rawhide bone.


In an upcoming investigative report, CNN might reveal the real reason Al and Tipper Gore separated: The marriage began to unravel when Al gained so much weight, Tipper made him wear a blowout preventer.


To corral the 18- to 49-year-old demographic, Wolf Blitzer might be replaced onThe Situation Room by Mike "The Situation" of Jersey Shore. Wolf could retain his day job as president of the Men's Wearhouse.


MSNBC could disclose the government's unorthodox plan to save energy: Once Elena Kagan is confirmed, the Supreme Court could install a batting cage in the chambers and harness the wind created when she swings from the heels.


Emulating the football Sean Hannity tosses when going to commercial, each night Larry King could throw an ex-wife at the camera.


As a worst case scenario, CNN will cut back to just one hour a day. Anderson Cooper will take the Fox blondes out for a dirty-martinis lunch, then have them reveal whassup on breaking news.


CNN's birth 30 years ago disrupted the news model of the time. Viewers were suddenly able to access news around the clock, rather than waiting for a dinner-hour summary from a menu of three network news anchors. Now Fox and MSNBC are finding disruptive models for a news cycle that is not only continuous but raucous. Viewers still seek news, but along with it analysis and debate from pundits with strongly voiced opinions on the events of the day. And they want to be part of the dialogue themselves.


Sometimes this leads to trivialization. But it also makes for a healthy forum, an around-the-clock national debate on what matters to Americans. Passive news networks are being left in its wake.


Raymond Siller is an Emmy-nominated television writer and a political consultant.









Fear of excessive federal debt and annual deficit spending can be a good thing. But when joblessness remains high and the American and global economy remains fragile, it would be foolish to suddenly slash government spending and sabotage a recovery that has barely begun. Yet Republican demagoguery and right-wing, tea party fear-mongering seem to be successfully steering the national political thinking toward making deficit reduction a larger priority than job growth and economic recovery. If pursued, that will lead straight toward a double-dip recession and an even longer economic swoon.


Europe's euro-zone countries, whose economies collectively are larger than America's, seem bent on the same path, even though Europe's biggest economic powers still enjoy lower debt ratios and more manageable unemployment rates than the United States. To make matters worse, some G-20 Asian economies are considering the same tack.


Behind the myopia


There's a reason for this myopia.


In America, it's because Republicans and their right-wing media talk jocks are determined to undercut everything the Obama administration tries. Painting the inherited budget deficit as a hallmark of an out-of-control White House is the easiest and most convenient way to make President Obama's administration a political target. It doesn't require a single constructive remark or job plan. Ironically, Republicans are also happy to tout tax cuts -- their cure for everything -- as a cure for the recession and joblessness, never mind that it would mushroom the national debt and attendant tax-revenue losses and deficit problems.


Stunning hypocrisy


The hypocrisy is stunning. Republicans and their advocates didn't blink when George W. Bush more than doubled the federal deficit, from $5.7 trillion in 2001 to more than $12 trillion in his final budget for 2009. They rode then-Fed chairman Alan Greenspan's pronouncement that he worried about the Democratic path of paying off the federal debt and accumulating a surplus every year -- the course that the Clinton-Gore had actually begun with three annual budget surpluses when Mr. Bush took office.


Further abetted by Dick Cheney, who famously said "deficits don't matter," Republican congressmen cheered the Bush II era's hallmark of two credit-cards wars and horrendously expensive tax cuts for mega-millionaires and billionaires that put us in the current hole. They also kept those costs "off-budget" so the administration's huge and increasing annual budget deficits wouldn't appear as high as they really were. Now that Mr. Obama has rolled those costs into the printed budget and applied some stimulus spending, pushing the overall debt up to $13 trillion, Republicans are suddenly amazed by the costs they long played down.


A euro-bailout phobia


European leaders are feeling debt-reduction pressure for different reasons. Citizens in rich European countries are worried that the euro-zone's weakest economies -- the PIIGS: Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain -- may require a wave of bailouts now that Greece has been granted an ice-breaking 700 billion euro (about $850 billion) bailout to stave off bankruptcy. The European bailout-and-debt crisis is fanned by fears that runaway sovereign debt will lead to a downgrading of their governments' bonds, and a resulting inability to pay public pensions and costs, and to lubricate business and consumer credit markets.


The problem with focusing more on federal debt than on economic recovery and promotion of job growth -- which is slow and would take new stimulus money -- is that the focus on government savings will force the drying up of the very consumer spending that lubricates modern economies. Such a policy would severely worsen the debt and unemployment problems in Europe and in the United States.


It's a virtue for individuals to increase personal savings. But if all citizens simultaneously were to focus on dramatic increases in savings, they would freeze the economy and spin it abruptly into recession by forcing plant closures, job losses and withered economies. When 70 percent of economic activity in advanced economies depends on consumer spending, a dramatic shift toward savings -- including governmental savings -- would be punitive in the extreme.


A dangerous premature shift


That's precisely why it would be wrong for Washington to seek sharp, near-term, dangerously premature reductions in the annual federal deficit to begin whittling down the national debt. Three-quarters of federal spending is locked up in entitlements -- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and such human services as unemployment benefits and food aid. Trimming those expenditures would generate brutal, economy-draining results, heighten unemployment, spur deeper tax revenue loss, enlarge deficits and retard recovery.


And rolling back savings in other areas, such as road building and public works, would have similar negatives. Considering the current state of the economy, such cuts would be akin to taking food away from a skinny man because he's almost too thin.


More stimulus needed


In reality, boosting economic growth will be exceedingly hard without an increase in federal stimulus spending. Indeed, most state governments are already begging Washington for an additional $24 billion in aid just for Medicaid, and forecasting widening unemployment and reduced tax revenues. Thirty states have already penciled-in their higher Medicaid requests in their budgets, and warn that thousands more lay-offs will follow if they don't get it.


It takes a steady growth rate of three percent just to add enough jobs to keep up with normal growth in the nation's workforce. With more than eight million people thrown out of work in the past two years, and a total of 15 million total unemployed, it will take a far higher (and unlikely) growth rate over several years to make a significant reduction in joblessness.


In the meantime, Washington will have to limp along on slow growth. And until jobs -- and depressed tax revenue -- come back, the federal debt is bound to keep increasing.


Fed chairman Ben Bernanke warned Congress of that dilemma last Wednesday, even as he agreed that work to trim the deficit must be done when the economy has improved satisfactorily.


When President Obama was installed in office, polls showed that Americans understood this economic conundrum: they widely agreed then that the president couldn't wave a magic wand, and accepted that he would need several years to begin to turn the economy around. The turnaround has begun. It shouldn't be aborted before it has a good foundation because of a feigned, newly discovered fear of the Bush debt hangover by the conservatives who laid it on us.


ime to smell and ... eat ... the roses






A headline in last Sunday's paper said, "Congress faces huge deficits."


But in a way, that's not quite "correct."


While Congress does "experience" huge deficits, Congress refuses to "face" the fact that it is piling up huge deficits.


Our national debt -- because of Congress' votes -- is $13 trillion!


That is 13 followed by 12 zeroes. Those zeroes mean we, the American people, owe a lot of money, on which we must pay a lot of taxes just to cover the interest.


Do you think our taxes are "too low"?


Or do you think our spending is "too high"?


There are too many demands from various interests for government to "do more" spending "for" us. But Congress can't yield to all those demands without taxing us more or running up more debt, or both.


While we have a $13 trillion national debt, we are adding $1.5 trillion in debt to it each year by irresponsible financing -- and we have to pay interest on that growing debt.


Nobody -- really, nobody -- seriously suggests any realistic plan for us to pay that national debt, or even reduce it. But shouldn't there be a serious and realistic plan not to continue increasing debt so recklessly?


There are some things our government "must" do. They are listed in the Constitution of the United States. But there are many things that Congress and the president spend lots of money for that were never contemplated -- much less authorized -- by the Constitution.


The members of the House of Representatives, elected every two years from "home" districts of limited size and numbers of people, have the basic responsibility to keep our government's finances sound and under control. But a majority of the members of the House don't do that. Nor do a majority of the senators or the president.


We are not far from owing as much as the whole economy of our nation produces in a year!


Though many people try to deny it, "pay day must come someday."


Wouldn't it be better to rein in our excessive, unnecessary and unconstitutional spending now, than to continue piling up debt that our children and grandchildren someday cannot escape?


Many like to spend. Few like to pay higher taxes. Hadn't we better use our current taxes more wisely, and cut our unwise spending, so we don't have eventual financial disaster?


Subscribe Here! Time to smell and ... eat ... the roses






Defenders of President Barack Obama bristle when skeptics label some of his policies "socialist." But it was, after all, Mr. Obama who said in 2008, "I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody" -- and he has pushed for higher taxes on "the rich."


Now it has come to light that the man whom the president has picked to run a large share of ObamaCare socialized medicine has stated his own socialist aims even more directly. Donald Berwick has been nominated to run Medicare and Medicaid. Speaking in Britain in 2008, he made this emphatic remark:


"Any health care funding plan that is just, equitable, civilized and humane must, must redistribute wealth from the richer among us to the poorer and the less fortunate. Excellent health care is by definition redistributional."


There is, of course, one huge problem with that theory: When government redistributes wealth, it makes everyone ultimately poorer. By seizing large shares of private income, it destroys the incentive that individuals have for creating wealth and economic growth in the first place.


British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, "The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money." Sooner or later, when enough wealth has been redistributed (or looted, if you will) from the people who earned it, the source of that wealth dries up along with the motivation to create more wealth.


But for Dr. Berwick, "excellent health care" is not just about improving health, it is about taking what belongs to "the richer" and redistributing it to "the poorer."


Just as disturbingly, Dr. Berwick enthusiastically supports the rationing of care. He said in a 2009 interview in the journal Biotechnology Healthcare, "The decision is not whether or not we will ration care. The decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open."


Supporters of ObamaCare claim the law will avoid the rationing of care. If the president also opposes rationing, why would he appoint someone who favors rationing to carry out a large part of our nation's health care policies?


The American people have been promised lots of "good things" with ObamaCare that will never come about -- while lots of "bad things" that were downplayed or ignored will sadly come to awful fruition.







There has long been a disconnect between the federal government and the public on the subject of illegal immigration. Consistently, the American people call for enforcement of laws against illegal immigration. Just as consistently, the political and media elite resist those measures, demanding a "path to citizenship" for illegals.


Well, the people of Arizona -- where illegal aliens number in the hundreds of thousands and consume taxpayer-funded benefits -- got fed up. State lawmakers there enacted a law to fight illegal immigration. And now, the contrast between the public's view on the issue and the federal government's view is even clearer.


The Obama administration and the liberal media have bitterly condemned the Arizona law, with the administration even calling for a federal probe of the law. "Civil rights" groups, meanwhile, want a boycott of Arizona. Yet a new survey by Quinnipiac University finds that by more than 6-to-1, the American people oppose boycotting the state. And 48 percent of respondents want their states to enact a law similar to Arizona's, while only 35 percent don't.


The poll found 51 percent approval of the law overall and just 31 percent opposition. And, the Los Angeles Times noted, "By 66 percent to 26 percent, those surveyed said they would like the nation to move toward stricter enforcement of immigration laws rather than integrating immigrants into society."


"The numbers are on the side of those supporting (the law)," Peter Brown, of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, told the newspaper.


Are our "leaders" listening?








The headline on a recent New York Times article told the story: "Looking to Avoid Voters' Rage, Democrats Forgo Town Halls."


Keenly aware of public anger over their votes for ObamaCare socialized medicine and other disastrous, costly federal programs, Democrats are opting for invitation-only meetings with agreeable constituents who won't "make trouble" in public forums.


"Of the 255 Democrats who make up the majority in the House, only a handful held town-hall-style forums as legislators spent last week at home in their districts," the newspaper reported.


In other words, they were happy to hold town hall meetings -- until the people started showing up and saying what was on their minds!


Liberal politicians can run from voters now, but they can't hide from them on Election Day.


Subscribe Here!


Time to smell and ... eat ... the roses








Laced through the analysis, assessment and thousands of reader comments in the past three weeks on the uranium swap-Gaza flotilla-Iran sanctions continuum of high stakes global drama has been a constant if implicit question: Where are we now?


In so many ways, a fast-changing world of new power balances and notions of alliance has come more clearly into focus. That Turkish-Brazilian diplomacy almost pulled off a deal to wrest one of the world's most vexing diplomatic challenges from old ways of geo-political thinking remains concrete evidence that the uni-polar world is no more. That the Gaza debacle has permanently recast world perceptions of both Israel and Turkey is indisputable. But as the events of recent weeks have molded themselves into one "changing axis" narrative, the new story is impaired by an overarching problem: There is no "hero."


Iran remains a theocratic police state, ruled by an anti-Semitic president who stole the most recent election through thuggery and fraud. Brazil's president is certainly successful at home but he has squandered his democratic capital in Latin America through his embrace of the most regressive regimes.


Amid two bungled wars in the region begun by the former U.S. Administration, the latest diplomatic bungling by the U.S. Secretary of State is as if to prove the assertion of one of our columnists that, "President Obama may be black but the House is still White." Hopes that Obama might signal a dramatic departure from the politics of arrogance were dashed when Clinton declared in the wake of the Turco-Brazilian swap deal: "We don't believe it was any accident that Iran agreed to this declaration as we were preparing to move forward in New York." It reminds us of her "I'm the secretary of state, not Bill" tirade in the Congo last August in response to a student's question. Simply dumb.


As hard as some try, it's hard to pin only virtuous labels on the IHH humanitarian foundation that has been center stage. We have no quarrel with its provocative flotilla; such drama is the stuff of citizen diplomacy. But its murky finances and opaque relations with Turkey's Justice and Development Party, or AKP, leave many justifiably cold. Nothing more need be said about Israel's boundless arrogance throughout.


And our enthusiasm for the AKP government itself, and its "strategic depth" vision that is the vessel for Turkey's new set of regional initiatives, would be greater if it did not involve such transparent mercantilism on behalf of a legion of party patrons seeking port-building deals, energy contracts, project finance and thousands of small-scale deals.


We are certainly at a new geo-political threshold. But any truly new notions of fairness, equity, human rights, democracy or justice in the region? In this realm, the world still awaits leadership.








It is one of the classic dilemmas in politics. As a politician, do you want to be right, full stop, or is your aim to be effective as well. I grew up in the seventies and eighties of the last century in a political tradition where being right was far more important than being effective. Our goal as radical leftists was to tell the truth. About the devastating effects of capitalism and the immorality of nuclear deterrence. We did not care too much about a strategy to turn our convictions into practical results. That was something we left to the sinful reformists of other parties, who put a lot of efforts into trying to make the world a little bit better. Even if that meant postponing most of their demands or compromising on some of their basic beliefs.


It still is the crucial difference between academics and columnists on the one hand and politicians, especially when they are in government, on the other. When your main task is making analyses and producing opinions, you do not need to bother too much about the effects of your comments. When you are a politician who wants to change things, you should.


In the last two weeks, it seems that many leading Turkish politicians have forgotten about this vital distinction. What do I mean? After the brutal Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla, the vast majority of world citizens understood perfectly well that the Turkish authorities were furious and lashed out at the Netanyahu government. The raid on the Mavi Marmara was an illegal act that got terribly out of hand. It is fully correct to demand apologies, and it makes perfect sense to critically look into the bilateral relations between Turkey and Israel.


But at a certain moment, politicians have to be able to go beyond their anger and think rationally about what they want to achieve. Is the aim to break ties with the state of Israel, a strategy that would totally contradict the official foreign policy of this government based on improving Turkey's soft power in the region in order to solve all longstanding problems, including that between Israel and the Palestinians? Or should the goal of all Turkish statements and actions be to end the Israeli blockade and to open up Gaza?


Leading AKP politicians claim they support the last option. But their ongoing inflammatory speeches and unwillingness/inability to create effective pressure on Israel is becoming extremely unhelpful. To lift the blockade, the Turkish government should engage in well calibrated efforts, behind the scenes, to build on the still existing willingness worldwide, even in Washington, to end the isolation of Gaza. Public anger should be replaced by diplomatic creativity.


Basically, the same applies to the international efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Many observers do understand why Turkey felt cheated by the United States after Ankara, together with Brasilia, managed to strike a deal with the Iranians that came very close to what the Americans had always been asking. Personally, I think that an abstention in the UN Security Council would have been smarter. But Turkey's not supporting the new sanctions is recognized as a sign of growing self-confidence and shifting global patterns. But again, continuing to behave as the insulted party is counter productive. If the aim still is to effectively control Iran's nuclear program, Turkey should move on now and use the international acknowledgement of its unique position to come up with new plans.

Being right feels good. At least for some time. Being effective is much more difficult. But that is, in the end, why politicians, are elected in power. It took me two decades to understand. Let's hope the present Turkish government is quicker in grasping this sometimes uncomfortable truth.








One of the perks of being (or pretending to be one in my case) a journalist is that you get to follow interesting conferences.


So when I heard that Financial Times Chief Economics Commentator Martin Wolf was in town to give a speech at the Garanti Future Summit, I was quick to sign up. At the IMF-World Bank Meetings in Istanbul, he had shared deep insights, not only during my interview with him and in the roundtables he was moderating, but also in the seminars where he was in the audience. Dr. Wolf was as brilliant and captivating as ever, but it was the second speaker who really stirred up the floor.


Go East…


A charismatic speaker himself, Prof. Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the National University of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, explained the reasons behind "The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East," as his latest book is aptly titled. According to Prof. Mahbubani, Asia is finally on the rise again because Asian countries are implementing the seven pillars of Western wisdom: free markets, science & technology, pragmatism, meritocracy, culture of peace, rule of law and education.


As Profs. Asaf Savas Akat and Fuat Keyman, two of the designated discussants in the conference, noted, it was interesting that democracy was not one of Prof. Mahbubani's seven pillars, especially given that recent empirical research has found a robust relationship between democracy and growth & development. When I asked him about this point during our interview, Prof. Mahbubani seemed to question the direction of causality, noting that all developing countries would eventually become democratic. As countries prospered, the booming middle classes would ensure a transition to democracy in his view.


Prof. Mahbubani also elaborated on the significance of his seven pillars for Turkey, underlining free markets, pragmatism and education as the most important ones. Having managed a year-long World Bank project on higher education and authored a report on university-industry relations, I find it impossible not to agree with his third pillar, but I am not sure his prescription of sending more students abroad is the right one, as Turks are already flocking to graduate programs in the U.S. As for his other two pillars, based on recent work on Turkey's binding constraints, in which I participated as well, rule of law and science & technology could have been better picks.


…For the West doesn't want you


Martin Wolf shared Prof. Mahbubani's optimism of Asia and pessimism of Europe, both of which came under heavy fire from most of the discussants. But, as a Beşiktas fan, I tend to see the world in black and white rather than black or white. While the East is definitely rising, as Morgan Stanley's Stephen Roach, who will soon join the faculty at my alma mater, underlines in the excellent essays in his recent book, Asia has quite a bit of challenges ahead. To his credit, Prof. Mahbubani is well aware of those challenges, which he discusses in his latest book as well.


Dr. Wolf also reinforced his long-running theme of correcting global imbalances during his presentation. Despite some recent research questioning his savings glut hypothesis as their cause, I, adopting Prof. Mahbunani's pragmatism pillar, am more interested in policy implications of correcting the imbalances. In other words, how do we get the Germans and Chinese to consume more? This question is of vital importance for Turkey as well, as increasing the savings rate is often given as a panacea-for-all. I have yet to find a convincing answer, not only for Turkey, but also for the world economy.


Last but not the least, Martin Wolf thinks the EU will never get Turkey in, but you'd have to get into my blog to learn why...


Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at








Over the last couple of months I have been frequently asked why the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government is so "enthusiastic" about the deterioration of relations between Turkey and Israel. I find such questions and the line of thinking behind them naive and prejudiced. In response I thus pose another question, which I believe is more explanatory: What would have been the state of affairs between the two countries if it were another political party in power in Turkey?


I believe, in contrast to the honeymoon of the 1990s, there still would have been a falling out. The only difference would have been in the style and tone of the rhetoric. There are a great variety of reasons for such an argument, but let me list only three of them, which I think are fundamental:


The first one is related to the prevailing conjuncture subsequent to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Traditionally,

Turkish foreign policy is based on three main identities, which have been shaped by the Turkish people's sense of belonging since the Ottoman times: Turkish, Western and Muslim. Depending on the parameters of the international system, at different times one of them might militate against the other, but the success of any ruling party in foreign policy during the republican era has been strictly contingent on the harmony of these three identities.


The negative consequences of the U.S. fiasco in Iraq have haphazardly forged a Muslim identity of the country. The possibility that Iraq might be split into three parts has been perceived as an existential danger to Turkey's national security. That the same annoyance has been felt by Iraq's Muslim neighbors has facilitated solidarity between Turkey and Muslim countries, particularly the Arab states of the Middle East.


In the meantime, there inevitably appeared a public dimension behind this rapprochement. For quite some time, the conduct of foreign policy has been becoming more democratized and participatory than ever. In today's world, governments, those in democratic systems in particular, cannot deny public opinion. If they do, the unavoidable result is the loss of ballots. The landslide election defeats of governments that were once a part of the George W. Bush administration's "international coalition" during the occupation of Iraq precisely exemplify that phenomenon.


The Turkish public is not immune to such developments. The turning point of Israel's image in Turkey goes back to the broadcasting of Israeli soldiers breaking a Palestinian's arm with rocks. Since then, the negative impact of "disproportionate" use of force by Israeli soldiers against Palestinians has grown like a snowball in the Turkish public. The murder of Turkish citizens during the latest aid flotilla crisis has been the final blow in that regard. That it coincided with the Turkish people's alienation from the West, which is first and foremost caused by the hypocrisy of certain European countries at a time when the Turks by and large enthusiastically supported Turkey's EU bid, provided the stage for solidarity with the Muslim world and thus the growing popular reaction against Israel.


The third reason is related to the recent change in vital security needs. In the 1990s what brought the two countries together was their need to contain Syria and Iran. Due to their support for the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, these two countries were perceived by the Turkish state as the main national security threats. You will well remember that Ankara and Damascus were even on the brink of war just before PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was forced to leave Syria.


However, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then. As of the present, there is a full common understanding with regard to the Kurdish question or the PKK between Turkey on the one hand, and Iran and Syria on the other. The three countries are now even conducting joint military operations.


In contrast, on the Kurdish question or the future of Iraq there has appeared a deep divergence of ways between Israel and Turkey. Israeli interest in the Iraqi Kurds goes back to the 1960s, which is well documented in a book written by Shlomo Nakdimon and titled "Broken Hope." In the 2000s, this interest seems to have revived. Undeniably, a Kurdish state in the region seems at present favorable for Israel from its security standpoint while the Turkish establishment sees it as an existential threat. It is in this regard that Turkish intelligence reports indicating that there is a growing contact between "retired" Israelis and the PKK are strengthening the Turkish establishment's further alienation from Israel.


In such a milieu, an eventual separation was indeed inevitable. I humbly believe that, from now on, both countries' political leaders must find out how to live as "friendemies." Because further damage in relations or populism will first and foremost hurt their political careers








The mountain labored for a year and a half and finally gave birth to a mouse. On June 9 the United Nations Security Council agreed on a fourth round of sanctions against Iran, for its alleged attempt to build nuclear weapons, which will cause Iran no grave inconvenience. But that's only fair, since the crime of which Iran is accused has not been proven either.


In November 2007, all sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies contributed to a National Intelligence Estimate saying that Iran had stopped work on nuclear weapons in 2003. It was a bureaucratic preemptive strike, intended to head off real air strikes against Iran by the Bush administration. And even now, the U.S. intelligence agencies haven't changed their view.


In March 2009, the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, and the Defense Intelligence Agency's head, Lt-Gen Michael Maples, told Congress Iran did not have highly enriched uranium for bomb-making and had not made the decision to produce any. They also testified that Iran's missile program was not related to its nuclear program.


True, two senior U.S. military officers testified to Congress this April that Iran could produce enough highly enriched uranium for one bomb in a year if it wanted to. They added that it would take Iran another three to five years to produce a "deliverable weapon that is usable" if that were its intention.


But they did NOT say that Iran was actually doing those things, just that it could. They also did not mention that you can say exactly the same things about Germany, Japan, Argentina, Brazil, and the Netherlands: that they could produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb in a year but that it would take them three to five years to produce an actual weapon. Belgium, Italy, Spain and Australia would take a little longer.


So why hasn't the UN Security Council brought sanctions against them, too? Because their enrichment facilities are perfectly legal under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which they have all signed - and because the United States trusts them.


Iran's enrichment facilities are equally legal, and it has also signed the NPT. However, the United States government does not trust the Iranians. Even more to the point, Israel does not trust them, and Israel can cause much trouble for Obama's administration both in Congress and abroad if he does not act against Iran.


So the United States demands that Iran stop enriching uranium even to the level (2.5 percent pure) that is needed for nuclear power reactors. If Iran can do even a little bit of enrichment, Washington argues, that gives it the capacity to enrich uranium all the way up to weapons grade (90 percent pure) and make nuclear weapons some time in the future.


That is technically true - not just for Iran, but for every country that enriches uranium. However, it is also legal under the NPT. Countries that exercise their right to enrich uranium just have to allow inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure that they are not enriching it to weapons grade.


Iran has abided by the letter of those rules although it has often been slow to report its actions. It explains its reluctance to disclose more than the legally required minimum about its nuclear work on the grounds that it has faced U.S. trade embargoes and attempts at sabotage ever since America's man in Tehran, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown in 1979.


That is why the United States moved its campaign to isolate and punish Iran for its alleged nuclear weapons ambitions from the IAEA, which will not convict on mere suspicion, to the UN Security Council, a more overtly political body. For the fourth time, the Security Council has bowed to Washington's demands and imposed more sanctions on Iran - but they certainly will not bring Iran to its knees.


In practice, the new UN sanctions just increase the severity of the existing ones by five or ten percent. They tighten the scrutiny of financial transactions made through Iranian banks, they impose more asset freezes on Iranian companies working in the nuclear sector and slap more travel bans on their employees, and they forbid the sale of helicopter gunships and offensive missiles to the country. Big deal.


Companies and people in Iran's nuclear industry got used to this kind of harassment long ago, as did Iranian banks. Iran makes its own missiles, for the most part. And the reason that the sanctions are so modest is not only (as the US government and media insist) that other countries are reluctant to damage their lucrative trade with Iran. They also just don't believe that the United States has made its case against Iran.


Other countries go along with some sanctions against Iran because they do not want to damage their relations with the United States, which matter far more than their relations with Iran, but they baulk at truly punitive measures. And last week, for the first time, two of the fifteen Security Council members, Brazil and Turkey, voted against the sanctions. (A third, Lebanon, abstained.)


The U.S.-Israeli obsession with Iran's alleged nuclear weapons will probably drag on for years, but it is ultimately just a distraction from more serious matters. The weapons aren't real, and neither are the sanctions








According to the Palestinian daily El Kudus, Israel's Foreign Minister Lieberman presented a formula that would ease the embargo laid upon Gaza. If Hamas allows the Red Cross to visit Israeli soldier Gilad Shalid who's been hold hostage since 2006, then Israel will loosen the grip on Gaza's neck.


Just imagine what would happen if he was released. But this is not as easy as it seems. For, Hamas wants about a thousand Palestinian detainees to be released and lifting the embargo in exchange for Shalid. Israel does not even want to meet with Hamas, which denies the existence of a Jewish State. What's more is that there is a "vendetta" between Hamas and Israel, whichkilled 1,300 people in an operation in Gaza.


So how will this "vendetta" end? How will the embargo be lifted? I wonder if the release of Shalid will be the first step in this issue.


Considering what went on in the past two weeks, there are many surprising developments. According to the Jerusalem Post, Erdoğan wants to help in the release of Shalid. Turkish sources have not yet confirmed, but it is known that Turkey has been involved in such endeavors before. Considering hurt relations between Israel and Turkey due to the İHH convoy and Iran, it may seem difficult, but I think there is no politician who wouldn't jump at this opportunity. Shalid is a symbol in Israel. The realization of his release would be a dream for those politicians who expect votes in elections.


Even if Hamas told El Fetih that there is no negotiator other than Egypt, it seems that its debt to Turkey has grown since the death of nine Turkish citizens and considering the government's statement. And especially here I think the government should use its power over Hamas. If necessary, it should evaluate this opportunity and prove that it is a powerful actor, not a puppet.


We should not forget that Gaza will benefit from peaceful, not angry, communication. The way is to take steps to lift the embargo, not to hurt it. Hamas, which has taken on the role of supporting Erdoğan, is keeping Shalit and its own people prisoner under the embargo. Erdoğan and Gül, please take the first step toward ending the "vendetta."








Government-sponsored or not, Israeli ultranationalists are planning to dispatch what they describe "reverse flotillas" to northern Cyprus and to Turkey. According to their published remarks, the organizers of the "reverse flotilla," as well as their probable political mentors, must have gone berserk with the