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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

EDITORIAL 15.06.10

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 media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month june 15, edition 000539 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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










































  2. HAITI 1, ITALY 0




  4. MORE THAN 100 DEAD, 1,500 HURT






  3. 'GO' FOR GAS








  4. 2010: A Space Odyssey Close To Home



























The BJP's National Executive meeting in Patna has proved to be a useful exercise for the party in more ways than one, raising the two-day conclave to a level higher than the humdrum of routine politics and review of organisational affairs. The three resolutions adopted by the BJP after elaborate debate, discussion and deliberation reflect immediate concerns of the people as well as the Opposition as a whole. The resolution on Maoist violence reiterates the BJP's position on Left-wing extremism which alarmingly continues to spread on account of confusion in the UPA Government on how to deal with the menace and the Congress leadership's fork-tongued response to what is essentially a national security issue. The BJP has rightly pointed out the divisions in the Government while unmasking propagandists of Maoists masquerading as civil rights activists. Similarly, the resolution on the UPA2's record of non-performance serves to provide clarity to both party workers and the people at large, underscoring the implications of the Manmohan Singh Government's abysmal failure on virtually every front and how the people are adversely impacted. However, it's the third resolution which is of great significance because it involves an issue that affects the people as well as the political class, excluding the Congress and its allies: The UPA's relentless assault on the federal structure of the Union of India in keeping with the Congress's inglorious tradition of riding roughshod over the States ruled by non-Congress parties and misusing official agencies to harass their Governments. This is best exemplified by the manner in which BJP and NDA-ruled States are being discriminated against by the UPA — really the Congress — with the ulterior motive of hobbling their Governments. From appointing Governors (who are prone to play an interventionist and activist role at the behest of the Congress leadership) to allocating funds for development projects; from sharing revenues to allotting foodgrains for the public distribution system; and, from initiating motivated 'inquiries' by the CBI to short-circuiting the legislative rights of State Assemblies, the list of misdeeds committed by the Congress under the watch of a Prime Minister who is obsessed with portraying himself as an honest and well-meaning person is endless. Not only does this attitude of the Congress-controlled Union Government militate against the key principles and basic structure of the Constitution, it also negates the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission on Centre-State relations.

The spiteful, hostile approach of the Congress-led UPA is in sharp contrast to that of the BJP-led NDA when every effort was made to not only protect the federal character of the Union of India but also implement, in both letter and spirit, the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission. By taking up the cause of the States against a cynical and manipulative Congress-dominated Centre, the BJP will not only do signal service to the nation but also be able to create a larger platform for others to join the party in raising their voice and making it heard. In the 1980s the BJP had played a key role in forging unity among parties opposed to — or not aligned with — the Congress to push for better Centre-State relations to ensure that federalism is not subsumed by a certain kind of unitarianism fashioned to promote the narrow political interests of the Congress. That had brought about unprecedented Opposition unity. Perhaps the time has come to revive the activism of the 1980s. This is not about returning to the past, but working for a future free from the thraldom of Congress.







The Maharashtra Police has arrested Moinuddin Shamsuddin Bagwan, the former Mayor of Miraj, Sangli and Kupwad Municipal Corporation, for masterminding the riots that erupted during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival in September 2009. The violence had disrupted the festival in Miraj and caused considerable tension across Maharashtra. Bagwan is a member of the Nationalist Congress Party and a close aide of the party's senior leader Jayant Patil, who was the State Home Minister when the riots occurred. Bagwan's goons instigated Muslims to protest against a pandal whose façade depicted Shivaji slaying Adilshahi commander Afzal Khan. The protest turned violent as Muslims, led by Bagwan's henchman Munna, ran amok. What added fuel to the fire was the desecration of Ganesh pandals by Bagwan's men which was a criminal act of provocation. Thankfully, the situation did not go out of control as the Hindu residents of Miraj demonstrated maturity and exercised restraint. However, ripple effects were felt in places like Sangli and Kolhapur. Fearing arrest and prosecution, Bagwan had gone into hiding soon after the riot but has had to give himself up following a manhunt. Bagwan had filed an application for anticipatory bail in the district court through his lawyer. Sensing he would not get any relief, Bagwan surrendered before the police last week. He was promptly arrested on charges of "committing acts for communal tension and encouraging destruction of peace". However, given his links with the NCP, which rules Maharashtra in partnership with the Congress, it is anybody's guess as to whether the police will actually prosecute him or let him go free through the expedient means of not opposing his bail application.

The Miraj riot was clearly engineered to polarise voters and mobilise Muslim votes for the Congress-NCP alliance before the Assembly election. It's an old game at which the Congress and its 'secular' allies excel. This is not the first time that communal violence has been instigated by our 'secularists' for collateral political gain. It's a pity that cheerleaders of the Congress tend to gloss over the company the party keeps to stay in power at any cost. This silence is explained by the fact that the Congress is not averse to the idea of using malcontents like Bagwan to incite violence for electoral gains. Be that as it may, the NCP stands exposed with the arrest of Bagwan and the shocking disclosure by his goons about how he cynically plotted the Miraj riot, unmindful of its consequences, at the behest of his party leaders.








Leaders of the Congress are scurrying for cover as the television and print media have begun bombarding the nation with hitherto unknown facts about the horrific environmental disaster that struck Bhopal in 1984. While a host of Congress leaders, including senior Ministers in the Manmohan Singh Government, and party functionaries have come in the media's line of fire, the real big story is the possible involvement of Rajiv Gandhi in the release of Union Carbide Corporation's then chairman Warren Anderson.

Sensing that the needle of suspicion could eventually point at Rajiv Ganhi, the Congress is desperately looking for scapegoats, reminding us all of the party's discomfort with the truth, especially when it pertains to members of the Nehru-Gandhi family. However, this time round there are not enough foot soldiers to defend the honour of 'The Family' because most of them are pre-occupied with saving their own reputation or whatever is left of it.

Tragically, for the country's oldest party and for India, what is emerging from the information blitzkrieg is that more than a dozen key functionaries and Ministers of the Congress have been batting not for the 15,000 who died and thousands of people who suffered serious disabilities consequent to the gas leak, but for Union Carbide and its successor company. Even more disturbing is the fact that in all probability then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi led the pack of pro-Union Carbide party men. So much for the party's concern for the aam admi!

Several bureaucrats and police officers have rendered signal service to the country by raising the issue of Warren Andersen's release on bail and subsequent escape from India.


The first among them was Mr BR Lall, a former Joint Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation. According to him, the Ministry of External Affairs did not want the CBI to press for Anderson's extradition. Mr PC Alexander, the Principal Secretary to Rajiv Gandhi when he became Prime Minister, has tried to put things in perspective but made no special effort to exonerate his former boss.

The then District Collector of Bhopal has recounted how Anderson was arrested and soon thereafter 'granted bail' and flown to Delhi. Meanwhile, a former bureaucrat of Madhya Pradesh has said that Chief Minister Arjun Singh told officials he was under pressure from Rajiv Gandhi to release Anderson. Lending credence to the theory that the then Prime Minister had a hand in his escape is the declassified document of America's Central Intelligence Agency which speaks of the Union Government's "quick release" of Anderson after his arrest by "eager" State officials.

From all these accounts, it is very clear that the Government treated Anderson not as a person accused of culpable homicide but as a 'VIP'. The authorities went through the farce of an 'arrest', quickly granted him 'bail' after he executed a worthless bond, and packed him off to Delhi on a special aircraft.

The Congress is keen to deflect the debate away from Rajiv Gandhi and to quickly pin the blame on some one else for Anderson's release. In this particular case, Mr Arjun Singh is the potential fall guy and that is why party spokespersons are fretting and fuming over his silence. In other words, they want him to not only speak up but also own responsibility for letting off Anderson.

However, even if Mr Singh obliges the Nehru-Gandhi family, it is simply not possible to believe that he acted on his own. Those who have watched the Congress and the Nehru-Gandhis while in power will consider such a confession, if it ever comes, as absolute hogwash. When the Nehru-Gandhis are at the helm, we have all seen how Congress Chief Ministers bow and scrape before them and only act on their explicit orders.

But all this effort to keep Rajiv Gandhi's name out of the controversy need not surprise us because, however daunting the task, it is the duty of loyal Congress leaders to protect the image of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

In order to do so, every effort must be made by them to blame others for all things that go wrong.

Thus, the whole truth about Ayodhya must never be told. It is enough to say that PV Narasimha Rao was the villain. Similarly, the whole truth about the Iraq oil-for-food scam need not be told. The Volcker Committee's conclusion that the Congress and Mr Natwar Singh were beneficiaries of Saddam Hussein's largesse must be kept away. It is enough to say that Mr Natwar Singh was the villain.

As regards Ayodhya, the narration must be limited to the events of December 6, 1992 when the Babri structure was pulled down by Hindu zealots when PV Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister. Some critical chapters of the story prior to this fateful event must be erased from memory. For example, it should never be known that the doors of the Sri Ram Temple at Ayodhya were unlocked when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister. Further, his disservice to the country's secular order and core constitutional values in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's udgement in the Shah Bano case must never be told.

Nor should it be known that Rajiv Gandhi searched for desperate measures to win back the support of the Hindu majority prior to the Lok Sabha election in 1989 and, therefore, despatched his Home Minister, Mr Buta Singh, to attend the shilanyas for the construction of the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya. In other words, the Rajiv Gandhi Government gave its tacit approval for the construction of the Ram Mandir and even participated in what was essentially a foundation-laying ceremony.

Yet, the Congress would like the country to believe that Narasimha Rao, who was Prime Minister in 1992, was solely responsible for the build-up of the Hindu movement and the fanatical enthusiasm of Kar Sevaks to demolish the structure that was standing in the way of the proposed temple. Historians and intellectuals who have received the patronage of this family have been working overtime to hide these facts about Rajiv Gandhi's involvement both in regard to unlocking the temple and the shilanyas ceremony.

The same network of committed intellectuals has once again been deployed by the Congress and the family which has proprietorial rights over it, to do a cover-up of the Bhopal scandal. Citizens beware!






This refers to the report, "Cong choking pluralist democracy" (June 14). To vote the Congress-led UPA back to power was not a judicious decision on the part of the voters in the last general election. It is laughable that we first crib about poor governance, corruption and unaccountable Ministers, and later give a clear mandate to a political party or a coalition that is an epitome of faults.

Along with the voters, the media must also be questioned for keeping its eyes closed despite being the watchdog of democracy. It is apparent that the so-called free and fair media tends to shield the Congress while its leaders get away with one blunder after the other. With total apathy towards human misery and justice, the grand old party has still been able to march ahead while leaving behind a trail of tragedies like the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom and the Bhopal gas tragedy. The sheer arrogance and false pride of Congress leaders becomes even more visible by the manner in which they respond to 'avoidable' disasters that have mostly happened under their party's rule.

No thinking person would ever disagree with the BJP national executive's recent resolution that "While paying lip service to democracy, federalism and Republican institutions, it (the Congress) privately desires that every Indian man, woman and child should behave like subjects under a monarchy." In fact, the Congress's internal set up, which is based on dynasty politics and sycophancy, tells a lot about its class and culture.

I am of the firm opinion that the culture of making false claims, retracting promises, breaking rules with impunity, promoting dynasty politics, misusing -supposedly autonomous organisations like the CBI, the Planning Commission, etc, must be put to an end if India wants to be a true democracy. In order to achieve this goal, a strong and relentless Opposition has to be forged under the leadership of someone as brave and robust as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who has been consistently performing despite being surrounded by detractors. The BJP must rise to the occasion.






Spin masters can help politicians only up to a point. What decides the outcome of an election is the mood of the voters and whether those aspiring to win are able to feel the pulse of the masses. Mamata Banerjee has succeeded where the Left has failed

In politics, what could be one's success mantra? Would it be based on what Mr Barack Obama did and Ms Hillary Clinton could not? On what Mr Tony Blair sold successfully that his successor Mr Gordon Brown failed to? Or closer home what Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, had in his jhola in 2006 but lost in the course of his tenure over the next four years? What went wrong in some public relations strategies but worked in some others?

A primary error in looking for a success mantra in politics would be generalisation. Every person is different and so is the same person at different times. When Ms Clinton contested the Democratic primaries, the mood in the US was for 'change'. Ms Clinton had the baggage of past association with the White House. She was seen as representing the torch that her husband, Mr Bill Clinton, once carried. In contrast Mr Obama was fresh with no baggage just as Mr Clinton had been in 1991. More importantly, he had the right skin colour. And what better change could an average American imagine than place an African-American President in the White House? Ms Clinton, too, would have represented change in the form of the first woman President of the US but she belonged to the White establishment. Mr Obama was an 'agent of change' given his family background, socio-economic milieu and, less obviously, his infrequently-used middle name. All he did in the campaign was to highlight the same, strongly or subtly, depending on the response.

At the time of the US presidential election of 2008, 'change' was the primary thought on the average American's mind. The question is, change for what? The most critical one was change so as to avoid World Trade Center-type strikes. The average American had, and continues to have, little interest in global supremacy or how the giant corporations of his country bring in much-needed resources (for example, oil) for their use. All they believe is that US corporations can and should have first rights over all resources on Earth and bring the same to them. But the attack on the twin towers was not the price they would like to pay for that. So bring in a President who would be best positioned to buy peace for them. Given his background, Mr Obama was the first choice, almost an automatic one. It did not require any spin doctor to position Mr Obama's claim to the White House, even an idiot could have done it. Everything — from his name and background to the voters' expectations — went in his favour.

Cut to Mr Gordon Brown who became Prime Minister at a time when Britain was passing through a particularly difficult phase. Managing a crumbling economy was a tough job, to say the least — given the anti-incumbency that had begun to set it. With the financial melt-down, like its first cousin, the US, Britain too was hit hard. When economic cataclysm of this kind happens the first casualty is the ruling party. Nobody could have saved Mr Brown, not even the smartest spin master.

The success mantra, it follows, lies in the condition of the country which

governs the mood of the electorate. The smart politician needs to sense the mood, coin a slogan and hit the campaign trail. Remember how Mr Clinton turned the tables on Mr George H Bush, a victorious President in the Gulf war. "It's the economy, stupid," was his mantra. For Conservatives in the UK there was no such inspirational thought, hence the hung Parliament and the lacklustre coalition of Mr David Cameron. He badly needed a spin doctor to chant the mantra effectively and without that he had to share No 10, Downing Street, with Mr Nick Clegg.

Take a look now at Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's jhola — what was there in 2006 that went missing? He sold a dream in 2006 — the dream of breaking away from the stagnation the State had witnessed for 30 years. With big money cajoling the Left both in Delhi and Kolkata, the service-oriented Bengali voter thought there would be investments and, therefore, jobs aplenty, post-election.

They overlooked two simple facts. First, if big money was busy wooing the Left the reason was the Left's hold over UPA1. It was out of necessity that investors began visiting the Gol-Market office of the CPI(M) and the Writers' Buildings in Kolkata. The same set of investors was the happiest when finally the Government parted ways with the Left with the support of Mr Amar Singh et al. The Left did not foresee this and lost its position of backseat driver. The mantra that saw the Left sweeping the State Assembly election in 2006 failed the moment the Left was left out in the cold by the UPA1. The second reason was the unavoidable prerequisites of industrialisation. To set up industry one needs land, a scarce resource in densely populated West Bengal. Protests over land acquisition erupted at Singur and Nandigram. The withdrawal of support in New Delhi in 2008 came when Left voters in West Bengal had mentally distanced themselves from Mr Bhattacharjee's mantra.

In contrast, Ms Mamata Banerjee stuck to her original theme of "Oppose Left at any cost" — disgusted with the neo-Left mantra. Voters, mostly poor or belonging to the lower-middle class, have moved away from the Left. There is a deluge of discontent with the mainstream pedagogues — Left or Right. Ms Banerjee has not been selling a dream but is merely assuring 'change' — change from those who have betrayed the faith of the electorate that trusted them for generations .No spin doctor can help the Left.

History has demonstrated that any 'change' whose time has come can never be stopped. All successful political leaders have gauged the mood of the people correctly and used it to their advantage. To that extent, Ms Banerjee is less canny than the others. She is there because she has been there from the beginning, even when the Left was viewed as right by West Bengal's voters.








The mountain laboured 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, that 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 16 US 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 US intelligence agencies haven't changed their view.

True, two senior US 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 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 per cent 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 per cent 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 to ensure that they are not enriching it to weapons grade.

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 per cent. 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.


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 15 Security Council members, Brazil and Turkey, voted against the sanctions. (A third, Lebanon, abstained.)

The US-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.

 Gwynne Dyer is a London-based indpendent journalist








A great deal was made of a statement by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to a closed meeting of Jews in Washington that there is a historical tie between Jews and the land of… well let's leave the name a blank for the moment. Mass media outlets made this sound like a big step forward in the Palestinian recognition of the right for a Jewish state of Israel to exist.

For example, Haaretz reported: "Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told US Jewish leaders on Wednesday that he would never deny Jews their right to the land of Israel, according to participants of the two-hour roundtable discussion." In the past, Mr Abbas has repeatedly ridiculed this idea.

(Mr Abbas also lied that he had proposed a commission to monitor and punish incitement but that Israel rejected it. Once I heard a high PA official publicly say something like that, went up to him and asked about how it could be arranged, and he laughed in my face for thinking he might possibly have been sincere.)

But now we know that all Mr Abbas said was that the Quran recognised that there were historic Jewish links to the land of...well, again let's hold off on the name for a moment. But this is now 2010.

As early as the mid-1970s, the PLO had a declaration saying Jews could live as a minority in a Palestinian Arab state. Mr Abbas is well known to be passionately attached personally to the idea that all Palestinian Arabs who lived in what is now Israel before 1948 and all their descendants should have a "right of return" to Israel.

So what Mr Abbas said is merely a slight advance over Yasser Arafat's denial at the 2000 Camp David summit that there was never any Jewish connection to Jerusalem and that the Jewish Temple there never existed. In political terms, it is meaningless.

Indeed, it means the exact opposite of the interpretation being given by those who want to be fooled. In 2010, the leader of the PA dare not say even to a closed meeting of Jewish doves in English in Washington DC that he is ready to accept Israel as a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian Arab Muslim state.

In other words, what Mr Abbas is saying is that the Jews, too, have a historic link to the land of ...Palestine (as the Romans named it since they didn't want to say "Judea" any more after conquering that land). But, of course, he will not close the door to saying to all belongs to the Palestinian Arabs.

- The writer is director of the GLORIA Center, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal.







Many laudatory commentaries have been made on the emergence of the phase of coalition Governments and the end of the dominance of the Congress party. It was felt that a coalition Government, unlike the centralised Congress system of governance, would be accommodative of the democratic aspirations of multiple social groups and diverse regions of the country.

An apprehension was also expressed that the coalition Governments would be unstable because unlike the Congress Governments of 40 years of independent India, the coalitions may break up because of inner contradictions among the partners. A few facts may be mentioned to demystify the reality and the inner story of the working of coalition Governments at the Centre. A new idiom was added in the dictionary of democratic politics when a party with a miniscule minority formed the Central Government with the 'outside support' of parties to manufacture a majority in the Lok Sabha.

It is a caricature of the parliamentary system of democracy where political groups form a Government with the support of parties which enjoy immense power over the Council of Ministers without owning any responsibility for the acts of omission and commission of the Government. The 'outside supporters' also get rewards by being close to the power-that-be.

Further, the coalition phase of the Government at the Centre has given birth to the phenomena of complete 'non-ideologisation' of politics. Groups with opposing ideologies have entered into a marriage of inconvenience and joined Governments led by the BJP or the Congress. George Fernandes, Ram Vilas Paswan, Nitish Kumar, Sharad Yadav et al have supported Right-wing forces while pretending to be socialist and secularist. Ms Mamata Banerjee, Mr M Karunanidhi and Ms Mayawati have not hesitated to be part of the BJP government, and on the drop of the hat, have joined the bandwagon of the Congress-led UPA Government without any embarrassment.

Thus the stark political reality of all coalition governments at the Centre has been that 'autonomous' political groups, without any commonality, joined together to form a coalition Government with the sole purpose of siphoning of public resources for their own specific constituencies and also with a view to win a few seats in the Lok Sabha for getting a ministerial berth. The coalition era of politics has witnessed the arrival of non-ideological, unprincipled, heterogeneous groups bound together with the sole goal of entering the corridors of power as Ministers and act as independent shareholders in a coalition Government. The Council of Ministers does not have any primary or controlling centre of authority because the Prime Minister is not even primus inter pares vis-à-vis Ministers as the representation in the Cabinet is quota-based and Ministers representing a political group are absolutely under the thumb of their leader.

If this hypothesis is nearly approximation to reality, the coalition Government at the Centre, whether of the BJP-led NDA or the Congress-led UPA consists of nearly 'autonomous' groups whose ministers because of their loyalty and commitment to their leader do not hesitate to exercise their ministerial power for the promotion of their own interests. Further, every political group represented in the coalition Government has to win elections on its own without any linkage with other members of the coalition. Hence, every political group has to exercise his power for the collection of funds for elections and in the process, Ministers bend public policies which can bring financial benefits for their own separate group. Mr A Raja, the Telecom Minister in the UPA Government, does not hesitate to collect funds for the DMK inspite of allegation that private funds were collected in the allocation of 2-G spectrum.

Ms Jaya Jaitley of the George Fernandes' Janata Party as a partner of BJP-led NDA coalition Government was caught collecting funds in the official residence of the then Defence Minister. Mr Madhu Koda and Mr Shibu Soren are a 'star performers' supported by BJP or Congress as Chief Ministers of coalition. Further, every political party is tightly controlled by a 'supremo.' The supremo is the sole controller of party funds. Coalition Governments consist of 'Little Napoleons' who control their little principalities by controlling "funds" on the basis of their power to distribute patronage. Every "partner" in a coalition colludes and cooperates with everyone else and even CBI investigations into corruption cases of political supporters are dispensed with.







MAIL TODAY ' S report about poverty strickenparents selling off their babies for measly sums in Tumkur district of Karnataka is a shocking comment on what economic hardship can induce otherwise sane people into doing. That this is happening not very far away from Bangalore which is tom- tommed as the face of the new India also highlights how the gains of economic growth have failed to trickle down to our hinterland which continues to be mired in poverty. In fact, the phenomenon represents one of the unknown effects of the economic downturn, with Tiptur taluk of Tumkur district being hard hit by the price collapse in the coconut market on which a significant section of its population is dependent.


In the last week alone, six families in Tiptur sold their children to prosperous families. As many as 20 children are supposed to have been sold off by below poverty line families in the past six months. It is all very well for the police to lodge cases against the parents concerned but taking a purely legal view of the matter will not redress the problem. For, while human beings are known to do many shocking things, it must be taking a lot of helplessness and desperation for parents to sell their own flesh and blood.


The phenomenon has its roots in the growing unviability of agriculture that often reduces those dependent on it to abject poverty. In that sense, it is quite similar to a large number of debt- ridden farmers committing suicide in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra every year. Tiptur, the epicentre of this racket, once had a booming coconut economy but several factors have combined to make the business unprofitable, causing job losses.


Unfortunately the only entity that could have arrested this decline, the state, has failed the farmers.


The authorities must certainly crack down on the middlemen who are allowing such a racket to flourish in Tumkur. But they must also spread awareness about the legal way of adopting children so that families desirous of a child do not resort to under- hand deals for the purpose. Above all, the episode is another call for our governments to address the problems of agriculture and rural poverty.







THE Batla House encounter in September 2008 was one of the most controversial operations mounted by Delhi Police's Special Cell. This newspaper has consistently highlighted the loopholes in the police version of the incident, and criticised the subsequent approach of the National Human Rights Commission while investigating whether the policemen did overstep the legal limits by shooting dead two students they claimed were responsible for the New Delhi serial blasts earlier that month. It has also pointed out on several occasions that the NHRC team set up specifically for this purpose did not even visit Batla House in the course of the investigation.


It has now come to light through an RTI that not only did the NHRC team not visit Batla House, it may not even have conducted an independent inquiry into the encounter.


The NHRC response is shocking, to say the least: " The NHRC did not send its team for a probe to the spot. This was because, to reach the conclusion, the various reports sent by the department concerned ( that is to say, Delhi Police) were found sufficient." Equally damning is the NHRC's admission that it could not provide the names of any person or witness it had contacted during the probe.


For an institution designated as the nation's top human rights watchdog that can be headed only by a former Chief Justice of India, the NHRC has shown a great degree of laxity in investigating one of the landmark events in India's fight against terror. It has, by admitting that it never sent a team to question the residents of Batla House and that it relied solely on police reports, proven that its clean chit to the Delhi Police in the case amounts to precious little.


The NHRC is one of the pillars of India's institutional democracy and its every action will always be under intense scrutiny. By making a hash of the Batla probe, it has furthered doubts about its credentials as an independent agency that keeps a tab on our human rights record. This also means that civil society's skepticism about the Batla House encounter is unlikely to be allayed.








THE Iranian nuclear issue is not any the closer to a denouement with UN Security Council Resolution 1929 of June 9 slapping additional sanctions on Iran, dismissed promptly as inconsequential by its President. The announced sanctions target Iran's nuclear and missile programmes, as well as entities, banks and individuals involved in these programmes, besides banning certain categories of military supplies. The energy sector has been excluded, but the US may unilaterally impose some additional restrictions in this area.


The US' attempt to maintain unanimity in the Security Council, necessary for its global leadership on non- proliferation issues failed, with negative votes from Brazil and Turkey. Inevitably so as Brazil and Turkey had tried unsuccessfully to stave off the sanctions and re- open the diplomatic track by getting Iran to belatedly agree to part of its low enriched uranium stockpile being exchanged with French/ Russian supplied 20 per cent enriched uranium for use in its medical radio- isotope facility.




Brazil and Turkey showed unusual political courage in attempting to preempt the US move in the UN Security Council and in backing Iran whose own actions and statements have been devious and confrontationist in many respects, even if on principle it has right on its side.


If Iran has obtained political support from some key nonaligned countries in the IAEA on the nuclear issue and could mobilise a weighty country like Brazil and a NATO member like Turkey to its side, it reflects both its diplomatic skills and widening differences on nuclear issues between the nuclear weapon states and others on the future shape of the global nuclear order, especially in the context of the projected " nuclear renaissance" driven by energy penury and climate change issues. The Iranian nuclear issue epitomises the defective nature of the Non- Proliferation Treaty, its discriminatory character and the inequitable global nuclear order it has created. It is an offshoot of the failure of the nuclear weapon states to disarm even as they have sought to impose increasingly tighter non- proliferation conditions on non- nuclear weapon states in order to keep the lid on the spread of nuclear weapon technology.


This has exposed them to accusations of double standards in treating nuclear issues.


It might also reflect the calculation that steady acquisition of a nuclear option under the cover of a peaceful nuclear programme, and eventual attainment of even a status of nuclear ambiguity, can provide a shield against external aggression and threat of regime change. The Iraq war and the contrasting manner in which North Korea's nuclear defiance has been treated could not have been lost on an Iranian regime locked in conflict with the West. As against this, it is precisely the example of North Korea that developed nuclear weapons clandestinely while being a signatory to the NPT— and withdrew from the Treaty legally— that makes the Iranian case particularly difficult to handle. Iran adheres to the NPT, its nuclear programme is under IAEA inspections and control, its enrichment activity is not debarred under the NPT— indeed it is asserting its legitimate rights to peaceful uses of nuclear energy under the Treaty— it denies any ambition to acquire nuclear weapon capability, with its spiritual leader going to the extent of declaring nuclear weapons un- Islamic, but the West remains extremely distrustful of its intentions, suspecting that it may have undeclared nuclear sites, and that it may be steadily acquiring the technical means to produce a nuclear weapon in not too distant a future. At that point, it is feared, it may withdraw from the NPT and declare itself a nuclear weapon state.




The Iraq war, justified for dressed up non- proliferation reasons, has made the international community much more resistant to use of force against states supposedly violating their non- proliferation obligations, and Iran is benefitting from this altered sentiment. Much stricter evidence is demanded, and the motives of those raising proliferation concerns are questioned. The search for a negotiated solution has been hampered by US refusal to talk directly to Iran— designated as part of an " axis of evil" etc— the not so veiled US threats of military action against it and open funding of Iranian dissidents for overthrowing its clerical regime. The situation is further complicated by Israel and the US Jewish lobby mounting relentless international pressure on Iran to cease its suspicious, but permissible, nuclear activity. Israel's touted readiness to militarily strike at Iranian nuclear installations, in a repeat of its strikes against Iraq in the past and Syria more recently, makes a negotiated settlement under duress less likely.


Worse, with Israel's own nuclear status being a matter of acute controversy in the larger West Asian region, the argument of US/ Western double standards in dealing with the reality of Israel's nuclear arsenal and its non- NPT status vis a vis Iran's as yet non- existent weapon capability and NPT status, acquires force.




There is no easy way out of the Iranian nuclear mess facing the international community. If the US/ Western credibility in dealing with Iran is suspect in the eyes of many because of diplomatic mistakes as well as political and nuclear double standards, Iran's own conduct merits censure. The Iranian regime is very difficult to deal with in any case; the decision making process in Iran's faction ridden polity is quite obscure. President Ahmadinejad has excelled in unsavoury rhetoric against Israel, his demagoguery on the Holocaust ill- befits the leader of a major country, his strident position on the Palestinian issue is unnecessarily provocative. Iran's nuclear intentions can legitimately be viewed with suspicion.


Many objective observers believe Iran is pursuing the nuclear option under cover of establishing a technological base for its as yet non- existent civilian nuclear energy programme. The enriched uranium it is producing is not meant to fuel any indigenous civilian nuclear power facility being built, as the Russian supplied Bushehr plant will be run with fuel provided by Russia. The views of experts differ on how far Iran is away from mastering the technology to build a bomb, but there is little dispute over the direction of its programme.


On this complex Iranian issue India has played its cards as well as it could. Barring its first vote in the IAEA when it could and should have joined Russia and China in abstaining, its later affirmative voting need not be faulted. India has rightly asked for clarification of issues between Iran as NPT signatory and the IAEA, while opposing the emergence of another nuclear power in the region. It was a show of confidence on India's part to state in Washington during the April Nuclear Security Summit, bearing in mind US determination to impose further sanctions on Iran, that sanctions were an ineffective tool and that ordinary individuals should not suffer on their account.


India has, as it should, tried to maintain its lines of communication open with Iran, but it makes no sense for India as a non- NPT state to wade into the Iran imbroglio. For over more than three decades India was alone in facing the consequences of its nuclear policy, suffered sanctions that continue even today in some areas, and got no support from Iran or our nonaligned friends. We should remember that.


The writer is a former Foreign Secretary( sibalkanwal@ gmail. com)









BIHAR chief minister Nitish Kumar has taken a calculated gamble by taking on Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi during the Bharatiya Janata Party's national executive meeting in Patna over the last weekend. The lastminute cancellation of the dinner he was scheduled to host in honour of the BJP's top brass, over the advertisement row, yet again underlines the fact that he does not want to be seen in the company of Modi— either in person or in a photograph.

Nitish's gesture clearly shows that he is not ready to compromise on the Modi issue.


He is ready to welcome all other BJP leaders but the Gujarat chief minister remains an anathema for him politically. This is why he became angry when he saw an old photograph taken at an NDA rally in Ludhiana last year which showed him holding hands with the BJP hardliner.


Even at that time, he had felt uncomfortable when Modi walked up to him on the dais and held his hand. The Janata Dal- United leaders had a nagging suspicion that Modi had done that on purpose. During the Lok Sabha elections, Modi was a star campaigner much sought- after by all the states ruled by the National Democratic Alliance.


But in Bihar, he was a persona non grata of sorts because of Nitish's dislike for him.


Nitish had apparently made it very clear to the BJP high command during the general elections last year that Modi's campaigning would antagonise the Muslims who were drifting away from Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya The Bihar CM's popularity gives him the luxury to act tough with his alliance partner Janata Dal in favour of the JD- U for the first time. Nitish was wary that Modi's visit would undo all the good work done by his government to woo the Muslims in Bihar. Modi subsequently stayed away from electioneering in Bihar even though he came down to neighbouring Jharkhand to address many rallies.


This sowed the seeds of distrust between Modi and Nitish. They have had no love lost for each other since then. It has left the BJP in a piquant situation.


It desperately wants Modi to come to Bihar to boost its prospects ahead of the assembly elections due later this year.


But it knows very well that this would antagonise Nitish.


The BJP apparently thought that its national executive meeting in Patna would pave the way for Modi's visit to Bihar, a state he had not come to in the past nine years.


The JD- U initially said that it had no problem whatsoever with Modi's visit for his party meeting. But that was easier said that done.


Nitish reacted strongly over his photograph with Modi in a newspaper advertisement which lauded the Gujarat government's help to Bihar during the Kosi floods.


He even threatened to return the money if it was unspent. Modi chose to retaliate subtly, thanking Bihar for all its help during the Bhuj earthquake of 2001.


LK Advani and NDA convenor Sharad Yadav are now trying to minimise the damage. Both asserted that their ties are too old to be shaken by such an issue. But the die is cast. Nitish has made it clear that Modi is unacceptable to him.


The BJP is now caught in a political cleft stick. If it invites its crowd- puller Modi for campaigning, it will further strain its alliance. If it does not, it will be seen as bowing to Nitish like the ' good, old second fiddle'. Nitish, on the other hand, has other options. He knows that Muslims, who account for 16.4 per cent of Bihar's voters, will be rooting for him if he severs ties with the BJP on the Modi issue.


He may then also have the backing of other ' secular' parties. He is obviously in a position to take a gamble at this juncture and hope for better dividends.


The BJP needs to weigh the pros and cons of its future moves in Bihar and tread cautiously if it has to retain both power and prestige in the state.



THE spokespersons of the BJP had the unenviable task of facing the media during the party's national executive meeting in Patna last weekend.

The party was put in a spot after chief minister Nitish Kumar cancelled the dinner that he was scheduled to host in honour of senior BJP leaders at the chief ministerial bungalow over his photo with Narendra Modi.


Thankfully for the saffron party, all the spokespersons — Ravi Shankar Prasad, Rajiv Pratap Rudy and Shahnawaz Hussain— were on their home turf in Bihar when they had to fend off the tough questions about the row.


Hussain was the first one to be at the receiving end of the media's bouncers about the last- minute cancellation of the dinner. But he did well to duck the questions with a deadpan expression. He explained at length how the party thought it wise to have dinner at the venue of the national executive meeting itself since it had pressing issues concerning the nation to deliberate on.


Rudy talked about the mature leadership of the party and stated that it would never compromise on its self- esteem. Prasad played a perfect host during the meet but did not oblige the media persons who were expecting fireworks from the BJP in the wake of the unexpected row with a seemingly trusted ally.



GIRLS have been ahead of boys in school examinations for several years in terms of percentage of successful candidates.


But in Bihar, they they have also bagged the majority of top ranks in this year's class XII examinations of the Bihar School Examination Board.


In Arts, girls account for all the top six positions. In Commerce, there are nine girls in the top 15 ranks with two of them getting the top two positions. The girls had a achieved similar distinction in the class X examinations.


Times are certainly changing in Bihar.



BJP stalwart LK Advani has revived the demand for renaming Patna as Patliputra. At his party's Bihar Swabhiman rally here, Advani said that Patliputra would be the ideal name for the capital given its glorious past. He said that the names of Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Benaras, Trivandrum and many other cities had been changed in recent years and it would be justified that Patna be given its historical name. Advani said that it was the former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir and Assam, Lt Gen ( retd) SK Sinha, who suggested that this issue be raised at the Patna rally as it was linked to the swabhiman ( self- pride) of Bihar.


The demand for renaming Patna, however, is not new. Sinha had spearheaded a campaign in the 1980s to press the Centre and the state governments. He procured signatures of one lakh persons supporting his demand. In fact, the then Congress government led by Bindeshwari Dubey had forwarded a proposal to the Centre in this regard. But the idea was abandoned later. Sinha wrote a letter to CM Nitish Kumar a few months ago, calling for restoration of its ' old and glorious name of Patliputra'. But there has been no response so far.


Lalu Prasad had earlier turned down the demand during his party's regime.


Others in favour of its existing name say that the name owes its origin to the shrine of Patan Devi, the presiding deity of the old city. Time will tell if Advani's support brings about the change in Patna's name.








JAPAN beat a lacklustre Cameroon 1- 0 in Bloemfontein on Monday through a Keisuke Honda goal to notch their first ever World Cup victory on foreign soil. It was also a belated birthday present for Honda, who had turned 24 on Sunday.


The Blue Samurai, struggling for goals in the run- up to the tournament, took the lead in the 39th minute and held on for the remainder of the match despite increasing pressure from the African side in the second half.


Neither side looked capable of breaking the deadlock in a scrappy first half in which clear chances were in short supply until Daisuke Matsui manoeuvred the ball onto his left foot and delivered an inswinging cross from the right.


The ball somehow eluded several Cameroon defenders and the unmarked Honda stabbed it past the despairing dive of Hamidou Souleymanou to give Japan the lead.


Four minutes after the re- start Cameroon went close to an equaliser when Eric Choupo Moting fired wide following good work on the right by Inter Milan star Samuel Eto'o.


It was the first significant contribution from three- time African Player of the Year Eto'o, who struggled to make an impact on the game after being deployed in a deep- lying role.


Despite a more open game in the second half, the goalkeepers remained relatively untroubled in the early stages.


As Cameroon continued to press for an equaliser they threw on Achille Emana, Mohamadou Idrissou and veteran Geremi but could still not find a way past the dogged Japanese defence. Japan came close to doubling their lead as time ran out, with substitute Shinji Okazaki, on for Matsui, hitting the post after a fierce shot by captain Makoto Hasebe was parried by Souleymanou.


With just five minutes remaining Stephane Mbia let fly with a thunderbolt from 25 yards that rattled the Japan crossbar but they could not find a way past Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima. Pierre Webo got his foot on a cross as the clocked ticked down but Kawashima made a fine scrambling save.


Earlier, in cool conditions at the high- altitude Free State stadium the crowd whipped up a lively atmosphere despite banks of empty white seats but neither side could settle into a rhythm.


Japan's goal came moments after Cameroon hit the first shot of the game on target, with Eyong Enoh hitting the ball straight at Kawashima.


" As a team we had very little good luck in our warm- up games going into this match,'' Honda said. " But as a team we were thinking: ' Don't be down. Be positive.


Go for it'." " When the game was over I felt great relief. In the last 20 minutes I knew I would be under tremendous pressure. Something was going to happen,'' Japan goalkeeper Kawashima said.


" The next game we will be up against the Netherlands so we have to go further. This is the first win for us on foreign soil, but this is not an achievement for us at all, what is coming next is the point," Japan coach Okada said.


" Today our players have done a good job but what we have to do against the Netherlands was the immediate thought that I had after the game," he said.












It's a pity that so much discussion has centred on former Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson and how he managed to give India the slip. The latest to step in is finance minister Pranab Mukherjee who has clarified that then Madhya Pradesh chief minister Arjun Singh let Anderson go due to the "law and order situation" in Bhopal. While that doesn't seem like a very credible excuse, the real problem lies in making Anderson a bogeyman. It's true that Anderson as head of the company where the Bhopal gas tragedy took place has plenty to answer for. But to make him central to the tragedy, which claimed several thousand lives, is to completely lose sight of the multiple institutional failures.

Everybody has come off badly in the aftermath of the tragedy the government of the day, investigating agencies and the judiciary. The Indian government had initially filed a claim of $3.3 billion in American courts against Union Carbide. After a US court transferred all litigation to India, the government in 1989 settled for a paltry compensation of $470 million. Moreover, the government did not even properly disburse this amount, with many victims having been left high and dry. The courts and investigating agencies were as tardy. Anderson was never tried by an Indian court. A little over a decade after the Bhopal tragedy, the Supreme Court reduced the charges against the accused from culpable homicide not amounting to murder to causing death by negligence, a considerably milder offence. In that sense, last week's trial court verdict sentencing seven of the accused to two years in jail was a foregone conclusion.

It is inappropriate that there is so much finger-pointing going on more than 25 years after the tragedy took place. Law minister Veerappa Moily has shifted the onus entirely on the judiciary blaming the Supreme Court for diluting the charges against the accused. Former chief justice A H Ahmadi, who delivered the verdict, has responded by saying that he had worked according to the laws of the country. But the fact remains that neither were victims properly compensated nor were the perpetrators adequately punished.

Let's not get carried away by the government's attempts to reopen the case against Anderson. Even if it were possible, extradition of the Carbide head, who is in his 90s, isn't going to heal the wounds of Bhopal. What could however late in the day is a fresh look at the compensation package for victims and tighter laws to prevent future Bhopals from happening.







The BJP surely had an eye on the upcoming elections in Bihar when it chose Patna for a public show. But rather than consolidating the gains of the past four years in office, the meet has only created fissures in the relations between the party and its senior partner in the state government, the Janata Dal (United). Not the best of outcomes, when the alliance eyes another term in office. The meet has brought out the contradictions within the JD(U)-BJP alliance and raises doubts about its durability. Though the JD(U) has been part of the BJP-led NDA for over a decade now, at least a section of the party is uncomfortable with the alliance. Leaders like Nitish Kumar see the alliance as one of convenience and aimed at keeping out Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal from gaining office. For them, it seems more of a temporary, tactical arrangement to consolidate the anti-RJD vote than a long-term ideology-based coalition.

Though Nitish speaks the language of governance, he has worked to build an independent social base of sections of backward castes, Dalits and Muslims for the JD(U). An ideologically assertive BJP could disrupt this process. Nitish has furthered his political agenda by refusing to align with the hardliners in the BJP leadership. His refusal to share a platform with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi was a clever ploy to protect his secular credentials. The BJP refused to play ball this time. Not only did the party field Modi as the star speaker at the Patna rally, he was also projected as a model administrator. Nitish was left with no choice but to disassociate with the BJP meet and reveal the chinks in the alliance. Modi's presence must have enthused the BJP cadre, but whether it'll help the coalition's prospects needs to be seen. The events are also a reminder that Modi could be a liability for the BJP.







In a highly charged informal meeting held just days before the host country for the 2010 World Cup was announced in Zurich, the South African representative did a very smart thing. He, it was reported later, hardly spoke. Rather, he put up a slide with a world map on the screen. In the map was marked in colour the host countries of 18 previous World Cups and the continents they represented. Only one continent, Africa, hadn't any colour it was deliberately left black as if to remind the delegates present of the evil of apartheid.

Was the world practising apartheid by not giving the World Cup to South Africa? The symbolism was powerful enough to ensure that on May 15, 2004, FIFA, by an overwhelming majority, awarded the hosting rights to South Africa, a decision that reduced the legendary Nelson Mandela to tears. The significance is best summed up by Ahmed Kathrada, a former political prisoner and Mandela aide for 26 years: "The scenes of jubilation, the spontaneous outpouring of celebration following FIFA's decision, the solidarity of pride and unity evoked by a sporting event should serve as a shining example to black and white alike."

It is worth analysing the possible legacy the world's second biggest sporting spectacle after the Olympics could leave behind in Africa in general and South Africa in particular. Will the benefits promised in terms of jobs and improved standards of living happen or will the World Cup render the already poor ordinary taxpayer poorer by turning into an elite bonanza? Also, will African football finally come of age?

Commenting on the World Cup's economic significance, a German sportswear company's CEO has argued that Africa is "a large market with growth potential". South Africa, he feels, will drive his company's growth in Africa. Reports indicate it expects sales in Africa to go up by 400 per cent. Furthermore, by 2008, with 24 months still to go for the mega event, FIFA had already secured $3.2 billion in corporate deals with national and global corporations. This was substantially more than the $2.8 billion raised during the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Read the statistic against the global meltdown, and its significance seems all the more profound.

The sector expected to benefit the most in the coming two weeks and in the immediate aftermath of the World Cup is tourism. Estimates have it that a staggering 2,00,000 foreign visitors have already descended on South Africa. This number is expected to double over the entire World Cup year, greatly benefiting hospitality and tourism in nine host cities. The Jacob Zuma government, facing the world's cameras, is under pressure to demonstrate that social integration and intercommunity harmony are no longer utopian dreams. With it decreeing that all tendering processes related to 2010 projects conform to the black economic empowerment policy, aimed at generating business for small and medium enterprises and black entrepreneurs, the World Cup is expected to redress South Africa's growing economic disparities and help meet UN Millennium Development Goals for 2014.

That such claims aren't empty political rhetoric is evident from the recent report published by the accounting firm Grant Thornton. It predicts that the World Cup will contribute 55 billion rand to South Africa's GDP and add 4,15,000 new jobs to the economy.

Also, hugely talented African players are finally expected to dazzle in home conditions. A process began by Roger Milla's Cameroon in Italy in 1990 and subsequently carried forward by the Nigerian Austin J J Okocha and the Senegalese El Hadji Diouf in 2002 is finally set to complete itself with Didier Drogba leading the charge. That Drogba, called 'God' in the Ivory Coast, is back in contention despite an injured hand is evidence of the burning ambition local stars nurture to make the Cup their own. The reaction following Drogba's injury bears testimony to this. With Ghana's Michael Essien out with injury, it is now upon Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o and Drogba to stand up to the Rooneys and Messis and give African fans a whole new world order.

In this atmosphere of optimism, a note of caution is important. South Africa's government has spent massive sums on building and renovating football stadiums with costs rising from an initial estimate of R2.5 billion to R8.4 billion by 2007 and to R10 billion by 2008. The Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban has cost the organisers an extra R2.5 billion when the existing rugby stadium across the road could have been upgraded at a fraction of the cost. FIFA's insistence that the stadium has Table Mountain as the backdrop has come at a high price.

Nonetheless, the World Cup, if staged well, constitutes South Africa's best opportunity to make a positive and powerful statement to the world. While a successful tournament, on and off the field, will enhance the country's reputation, a failed experience will add to murmurs that there remain masses of South Africans who still face pitiable conditions of existence, a stereotype championed by commentators intrigued by the move of the World Cup to the once 'forbidden' continent.

The writer is senior research fellow, University of Central Lancashire.






The FIFA World Cup currently taking place in South Africa might be the biggest sporting event in the world a global celebration of the beautiful game with much of the world's population watching the on TV but its administrators seem set on diluting the atmosphere surrounding it. Granted, there have been complaints about the vuvuzela horns being used by fans in the stadiums. Presumably, it isn't particularly pleasant for the players although to blame them for poor performance as the French captain did after a disappointing draw with Uruguay is more than a touch absurd. Nevertheless, the World Cup is as much about its carnival atmosphere as about the action on the field. To tone it down would be counterproductive.

Every four years when the World Cup rolls around, a unique, essential ingredient of the entire experience is the weaving of the host country's cultural ethos into the event. And as FIFA chief Sepp Blatter pointed out a few months ago, the vuvuzela, singing, drums and the like are all part of African culture. And given that the event is being held in Africa, it makes little sense to excise that. We have seen what happens when such attempts are made. During the 2007 Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean, the ICC in all its wisdom decided to ban all musical instruments and the like from stadiums. The result? A turgid, dull atmosphere at every match, contributing to making the event a disaster.

As for the broadcasters who complain that commentary can't be heard clearly above the vuvuzelas, the sport is about the fans, not about broadcasting companies. And those who watch the matches on television and grumble should perhaps consider simply lowering the volume. It's time to lighten up and enjoy the spectacle for what it is.





If there is one thing that is dampening the ongoing football World Cup experience it is the excruciatingly annoying sound of the vuvuzelas. The metre-long plastic horns, which are unique to South African football fans, are giving international lovers of the game a serious migraine. Following the matches on television doesn't help either as the collective chorus of thousands of vuvuzelas which sounds like the humming of an angry swarm of bees is enough to make anyone take recourse to the mute button. It would be in the best interest of all to enforce a ban on these irritating noise-making devices during the matches.

There are three main reasons for enforcing a ban. First, at nearly 130 decibels the vuvuzelas pose a significant risk to one's hearing. They are louder than drums or even a referee's whistle. The din of the vuvuzelas also makes listening to security announcements at stadiums difficult. Thus, the horns should be banned on health and safety grounds. Second, the vuvuzelas are a huge disturbance to the players. Argentina's Lionel Messi has said that the horns make it impossible for players to communicate while Spain's Xabi Alonso has complained that they hamper the players' concentration. There is reason to believe that the vuvuzelas are affecting the quality of the play on the pitch and this alone is enough to justify a ban.


Finally, the vuvuzelas are drowning out football chants and songs that have been traditionally associated with the game. In fact, such chants and songs are integral to the football watching experience all over the world. The organisers of the tournament have to remember that this is an international sporting event and not a local South African tourney. They must be mindful of the sentiments of international football lovers and ban the vuvuzelas immediately.





Just as new outfits redefine the notion of fashion, so do words. How you speak and what words you use mirror the times you are living in. Is that a good thing? The response would vary according to the generation you belong to, with the seniors having a difficult time while acclimatising to what is younger and modern. Generation gap, you see.

As someone from the era in which a handful of trendy language users addressed their loved ones as 'sweety pie' sounded horrible, but then i was never ever fashionable i can proudly say that most individuals during our youth did not copy such usages blindly. That is so different from today when new lingual concoctions are hurled with indiscreet nonchalance.

Hear this one. As i was ready to leave from work one day, someone walked up to me and said, "How are you Sweets?" "Sweets? Is that a short form for sweetheart, or are you talking to two people?" i asked. "Am talking to you. Doesn't Sweets sound, like, kewl?" the speaker responded. "Ah, oh," i responded in sighs, hoping to drown in a pool of comforting amnesia soon.

If 'sweets' is happening, so is 'babes', another seemingly plural form of addressing a single often, dismayed individual. "So, babes, where to?" If you ever face that question, you must know that the speaker is talking to one, not more people. The expression gets even more colourful when someone comes up to you and says, "Babes, where to? Party or what? Me too, to get absolutely chillaxed." Chillaxed, of course, is a creative merger of chill and relaxed!

Then, there are other fashionable expressions which include, "Dude, how is you?" If you respond by saying that 'how is you' is wrong grammar, don't be surprised if an overconfident person tells you, "You one. So is!" Similarly, some college campuses have introduced a dramatic answer to a basic question like, "Do you watch movies?" Pat comes a shocker, "Yes, yes. I does." Any question about poor grammar gets an obvious answer, "Man, it is too cool." Keeping your mouth shut is the right thing to do, lest you hear the emphatic statement, "I doesn't keep a damn."

Maintaining a straight face can get difficult when a departmental junior delivers this gem in a meeting, "Sir, i could not finish your assignment because major jhhol happened." In recent times, some youngsters tend to use jhhol Hindi slang which is used to describe anything that's gone wrong in bilingual sentences. In earlier days today, it seems, before the beginning of time meetings used to be sacrosanct affairs where no jhhol ever intruded. Not today, when language gets manufactured, and modified further inside the factory of shallow imagination.

Sincere apologies for saying this, but such mindless demolition of language is done by those who copy any and everything new without thinking twice. Such people are likely to wear the latest outfits without thinking whether or not they look good on them. They are the ones who 'wear' books as well; the thing to do, as one writes this, is to carry Phillip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ as an accessory.

Fashionably but badly dressed, carrying a book without a broken spine: this is the crowd for whom language used is language misused. What it does in the name of cool is pitiably dismal, but then few in the business of using such language are bothered to start with. As is the case with most other things in life, you can do nothing to change this. No, there is actually a good way. Whenever someone calls you 'sweets', smile back without saying why.






When you purify your centre, you become receptive to higher vibrations. Creativity happens in this space. Carnatic music composer Thyagaraja discovered a new raga by listening to a bee. A monk observing a snake and a crane fighting discovered the martial art, Tai Chi.

When your centre is full of impurities, your perspective and understanding are confused. This confusion tends to act as blockages and so there is no scope for the blossoming of creative ideas. Hence there is the need to set about clearing the obfuscation.

When purification happens higher vibrations flow in. New ideas become understandable. We should thus insulate ourselves from negativity and keep our centres pure and receptive, so that the higher states of consciousness can guide us.

There's a technique called the golden egg technique: Imagine that there is an egg and in it there exists gold. The gold is hidden inside the egg. Treat every problem you encounter as one such egg. Imagine that there is a golden opportunity hidden inside every problem. Whenever you are faced with a problem, don't lose hope. Instead of getting disheartened, try to understand that it is only an egg with precious gold tucked away deep inside. Delve deep into the problem and recognise golden opportunity. This attitude will invoke creativity in you.

There are many more ways of dealing positively with problems. Try this. When you come face to face with a problem, think of at least 20 ways of dealing with it. Play a game. Write down all the possible solutions. OK, now that you've written down 20 options, choose five out of the 20 and begin working on them. With those five kinds of solutions, find 20 ways of fulfilling them. Ask your friends to give ideas. The mother of creativity is the attempt to generate ideas. Play with it.

All these methods can be applied provided you remember not to view a problem as a pain. If you do so, then your hurt body will increase and you will pass on your pain to your children. Are you distressed that your son is lazy? Apply the golden egg technique. In the problem of your lazy son, there is gold hidden... an opportunity hidden. Treat it as a great opportunity to study the reason as to why he is lazy. Be an anthropologist and study the causes of his laziness. By doing this you are in a proactive state and this state of your being will motivate your son.

Next, apply the second method. See 20 ways to make your son active. Take help from friends, as this will help in expanding your ideas. Creativity opens up when there are ideas. Include your son in the game plan and make him your teammate. You will observe the inspiring energy that you create and as a result your family will have a meaningful goal.

Use transformational vocabulary. Use empowering language. There are no winners in an argument. Hence use words wisely. When someone expresses something, try and understand their point of view instead of branding and labelling them as something or other. The moment you brand them, you will see only the labels. As a result you miss seeing the person. Stop treating differences as conflicts. View them as points of view. Learn to appreciate variety. Appreciate differences rather than viewing them as pain. The moment you relate to differences as pain, you will experience them as pain. View differences as creative versions and you will feel positive energy flow through you.




If there is one thing that is dampening the ongoing football World Cup experience it is the excruciatingly annoying sound of the vuvuzelas. The metre-long plastic horns, which are unique to South African football fans, are giving international lovers of the game a serious migraine. Following the matches on television doesn't help either as the collective chorus of thousands of vuvuzelas - which sounds like the humming of an angry swarm of bees - is enough to make anyone take recourse to the mute button. It would be in the best interest of all to enforce a ban on these irritating noise-making devices during the matches.

There are three main reasons for enforcing a ban. First, at nearly 130 decibels the vuvuzelas pose a significant risk to one's hearing. They are louder than drums or even a referee's whistle. The din of the vuvuzelas also makes listening to security announcements at stadiums difficult. Thus, the horns should be banned on health and safety grounds. Second, the vuvuzelas are a huge disturbance to the players. Argentina's Lionel Messi has said that the horns make it impossible for players to communicate while Spain's Xabi Alonso has complained that they hamper the players' concentration. There is reason to believe that the vuvuzelas are affecting the quality of the play on the pitch and this alone is enough to justify a ban.

Finally, the vuvuzelas are drowning out football chants and songs that have been traditionally associated with the game. In fact, such chants and songs are integral to the football watching experience all over the world. The organisers of the tournament have to remember that this is an international sporting event and not a local South African tourney. They must be mindful of the sentiments of international football lovers and ban the vuvuzelas immediately.








The 2010 World Cup has created a buzz like no other sporting tournament. And we don't mean the enthusiasm coming from men bearing out their mid-life crises in the form of wearing football jerseys to the workplace and talking about 'last night's goals' after work.

The buzz is literal and emanates from that plastic wind instrument that plays the role of the good old Kurukshetra conch blasts before the Great War: the vuvuzela. Now it turns out that Fifa, which had been tut-tutting about early complaints from television channels, is considering putting a stop to the ritual blowing of the horns by spectators in the stadia in South Africa (thankfully, no complaints yet about hissing alliterations). That would be a pity.

Who can deny that the vuvuzela sound, variously described as the noise made by an approaching cloud of hornets and the migraine in its sonic manifestation, mirrors the sheer buzz of watching the Beautiful Game? Is the criticism against the instrument reflective of a bias against wind instruments — considering that loud drums and football chants have never come under scrutiny? We think so.

The wall-of-sound effect, so celebrated by legendary music producers like Phil Spector and aficionados of trance music alike, should incorporate the vuvuzela sound and run with it. The drone is that of a war being conducted by other means. There have been football matches where there has been a deathly silence — the game that India played against Afghanistan in Bangladesh in January as part of the South Asian Games that was attended by 300 spectators, for instance. It is amply clear that the overpowering noise of disinterested silence is far worse than raucous noise from the stands. This World Cup has a distinctive soundtrack. So why mute it?

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






I agree with virtually everyone out there who's complaining on camera and in print that our response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been just terrible. Except that by "our" I don't mean the government's or the country's but ours — the media's. Reporting on a massive technological breakdown that is having huge environmental consequences, our focus over the last week has been on whether the president is offering enough public display of emotion?

This demand for a show of presidential fury is not coming from a few obscure people. The New York Times columnists want to see Obama angry; the filmmaker Spike Lee is demanding that the president "go off"; Democratic strategist James Carville wants "rage." Whole cable shows have been devoted to the question. One Fox anchorwoman complained about what Obama was wearing when he visited the Gulf Coast. Reflecting the media frenzy, The Today show's Matt Lauer informed the president that his critics were saying, "This is not the time to meet with experts and advisers, this is the time to…kick some butt."

Have we gone mad? We face monumental engineering challenges: to plug a hole in the deep sea, separate oil from water, clean up the coastline, and restore the gulf. But let's forget about talking to experts and seeking technical solutions. That's for nerds. Let's put on battle fatigues and kick some butt. Commentators have been begging for some symbol of Obama's resolve, as when George W. Bush stood at the World Trade Center site after 9/11 and promised revenge for the attacks. If the president were to invade another country, would that show he cared?

The fact is that the federal government has a limited capacity to "plug the damn hole," as Obama reportedly said in his best effort to muster up some anger. When Admiral Thad Allen was urged at a press conference to push BP, the oil company responsible for the spill, out of the way, he responded with a question: "[And] replace them with what?... To work down there you need remotely operated vehicles; you need to do very technical work at 5,000 feet. You need equipment and expertise that's not generally within the… federal government in terms of competency, capability, or capacity."

The government can help protect and clean the coastline and coastal waters. And it has deployed people in force — 17,500 National Guardsmen, plus 20,000 other people and 1,900 boats that are helping in the effort. It's laid out 4.3 million feet of boom to protect the coastline, all of which adds up to the largest response to an environmental disaster in American history. What else should the government do? Calls for more government action are coming from the most unlikely quarters. Carville's wife, Mary Matalin, argues that the cleanup is very much the federal government's responsibility. Yet in response to the only comparable US oil disaster in recent history, the Exxon Valdez spill, the George H.W. Bush administration, for which she worked, specifically denied that the federal government bore any responsibility for the cleanup. In fact, Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner declared that government involvement would be "counterproductive." Conservatives who have long urged limits on the federal government are now suddenly discovering their inner FDRs.

To read and watch the coverage of the Exxon Valdez is to be transported back to a different time. There was no effort to implicate Bush in the accident, few calls for him to emote more, no great clamour that he magically "do something" to get the awful images off the television screen. In fact, he never travelled to see the oil spill. This time the president has cancelled a trip to Asia, has held more meetings on this topic than on any other since the Af-Pak review, and speaks almost exclusively about this tragedy. Government officials hold briefings on the topic daily, even when these are simply designed to convey the impression of action. It is government as theatre.

Meanwhile, the unemployment numbers are looking grim, the prospect of contagion from the European debt crisis grows, our allies in Asia are disheartened, the Taliban remains on the offensive, and tensions with Iran and North Korea loom. These are issues on which the federal government has specific and unique responsibilities. But what the hell. The president of the United States has now trash-talked against the CEO of BP, is wearing more casual clothes, and has announced that he intends to "kick ass." Thank goodness for the free press!

Fareed Zakaria is the Editor of Newsweek and the author of The Post-American World. The views expressed by the author are personal.






What is Yama, the red Yama? Commonly speaking, we known him as the 'Lord of Death.' But, it is not really a correct kind of translation. In Buddhism, its real meaning is that enlightenment can happen only when ignorance ends.

It signals the end of ignorance and the beginning of light. For example, tomorrow can happen when today ends. One can't have today and tomorrow together on the same day! Today happened because yesterday has ended.

Similary, this life has happened because the past life has ended. And the next life will happen as soon as this life comes to an end. One can't have this life as well as the past life, together. And that defines the very meaning and essence of Yama.

The death of ignorance is the manifestation of primordial wisdom itself, but it is not a true event. The end of yesterday and the beginning of today too is not a true event. Where do you draw the fine line? Is that the Greenwich meantime, 12 O'clock, that you know? Which one is the end of yesterday and the beginning of today? It depends where you are, of course. If you are in the Greenwich meantime area, then yes, that is the end of yesterday and the beginning of tomorrow. But you can't really pinpoint because it would be a split moment, and that split moment nobody can comprehend; we can only talk about it.

That is the way transformation takes place: Yesterday has transformed into today, the past life has transformed into this life. It is exactly like that that ignorance transforms into wisdom.

So, one has to understand the real and the deeper definition of Yama, in that sense. The literary meaning of Yama is quite scary, though. But actually, there is nothing like that. Our ignorance is our Lord of Death!

(Edited extracts from the author's book 'Nectar of Dharma: The Sacred Advice- Volume –II)








Two explorers are captured by a tribe that are, apparently, cannibals and appear, quite distinctly, African. One of them manages to get out of it by bribing them with a soft drink bottle. Laughs all round. Really? This week of all weeks especially, is that the relationship between Africa and soft drink companies we're expected to believe, instead of, say, multi-million dollar sponsorship deals for world-class sports tournaments? Forget for a moment the stodgily derivative nature of a story that replays classic Manhattan-for-a-string-of-beads and apartheid-era Gods Must Be Crazy clichés. Focus instead on the disturbing things this says about the society for which these ads have been tailored.


Racist humour, like sexist jokes, can hardly be proscribed. Prim disapproval only makes bad jokes funnier. But it is sometimes necessary to look closely at the unspoken, unexamined networks of belief and affinity that make those jokes possible. And the unpalatable truth is that many of us, in this country, nourish stereotypes about Africans that are blatantly, baldly racist. Nevertheless, for commercial advertising to pander to those stereotypes shows a distressing lack of imagination. The racist mockery in advertisements that, for example, follow African men in grass skirts as they struggle to find water but are unable to figure out how to work a tap, pivot on more just than a barely-veiled contempt for supposedly primitive Africans; they speak directly to, as well, the hidden biases of caste and ethnicity that separate the commercials' supposed target audience from castes and tribal communities and that are quite as Indian as they.


Those from Africa who come here, to learn, to live and to prosper, find such insidious imagery follows them everywhere, denying them apartments, refusing them entry to restaurants, making monkey noises on the street. While some of our companies callously try and profit off telegraphed racism, India's pretence to a soft, people- and private sector-driven leadership of the developing world can hardly be translated into anything real.






The Bhopal disaster and its long aftermath has been a miasma of misinformation and rumour. Once again, the fate of Warren Anderson has become the focal point for all redress. As the Congress finds itself slammed from all sides for allowing, even facilitating Anderson's getaway, its reflexes have been deeply problematic. Digvijay Singh leapt in first, claiming that US pressure had played a part in the release. Meanwhile, as some then in the CBI pointed at former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, the party has been focused on limiting liability by blaming the then chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Arjun Singh. Now, Pranab Mukherjee bolsters that case against the state government, but defends the action saying that "the law and order situation was bad and people's frenzy was at a high", and adds that the government would push every possibility of getting Anderson extradited. Worse, the law minister flings blame at the judiciary for having sold the Bhopal victims down the river.


Torn between the needs for compensation and retribution, Bhopal's biggest betrayals have been political. It was a case study in technical and social unpreparedness. After the event, law and public policy frameworks had to be fashioned on the fly, to deal with the gas disaster. India's tort system and compensatory principles, class action rules, etc, have evolved after the encounter with American law that Bhopal triggered. Today, as India confronts its imperfect settlement and its compromises, it deserves an open and honest accounting of what transpired.


Reducing the matter to a mechanical chant for Anderson's punishment, and scoring political points off it, only hurts the cause. After all, did Indian courts then have personal jurisdiction over the American "defendants"? That is, if India managed to convict Anderson, could penalties have been imposed? The Congress should have the courage to confront these questions, even as it confronts the mistakes of its own government then — obstructing legal effort with their inept documentation, failing to ensure immediate medical examinations and squandering relief money. Shifting political objectives have hindered the pursuit of a consistent relief and reconstruction programme for Bhopal. Now, as the nine-member group of ministers mulls "options and remedies", the least we expect is a sober assessment, untainted by considerations of political profit and loss.







Banks will now move from the prime lending rate system to the base rate model based on a directive from the Reserve Bank. The shift is expected to be operational on July 1. The objective of the base rate system is to bring in transparency as many banks were giving loans to corporates below the prime lending rate, thus rendering the rate irrelevant. It seems the RBI was troubled at the fact that customers had to pay higher rates. The base rate system would ensure that banks report to the RBI the minimum rate they are charging from customers. All loans would be then made at interest rates in reference to this rate.


While transparency is a noble cause, the new system should not reduce the flexibility of banks to charge different rates on loans depending on borrower creditworthiness and the maturity of the loan. For example, a short-term loan to a large corporation offers an investment avenue with low risk. If the base rate system makes such loans more expensive, and corporates turn to other sources of borrowing such as commercial paper where banks are dis-intermediated, this would mean banks lose that business. Similarly, if the new model allows risky lending by charging higher interest rates to small enterprises, there is merit in it. However, if the model does not allow for banks to earn more by charging for the extra risk that they are taking, it could prove to be loss-making for banks.


Conditions in the market are changing all the time, either due to changes in liquidity, demand for credit, business cycle conditions, or taxes and government borrowing and spending. The success of the new framework will depend on whether in it, banks are able to retain the flexibility to change the rate according to these conditions. One reason for the change away from prime lending rate system was that it tended to remain unchanged for months despite changes in these conditions. It was thus difficult for the central bank to assess the impact of monetary policy as the transmission through the banking system was unclear. In addition, the actual rate charged to a customer should correctly reflect borrower-specific costs such as credit risk, tenure risk, operating costs that may be product or industry specific.











Much has already been said and written about Israel's unprovoked, unnecessary and outrageous attack on a humanitarian aid flotilla heading to Gaza on May 31. Its most important repercussion, on the political dynamics of Turkey, is however less discussed. Turkey matters because its geography, history and politics tie it very closely to the biggest international relations/security challenge for the 21st century: the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the terrorism that accompanies it.


But the war on terror seems to be a battle between Western liberal democracies (and in our consciousness, India) and Wahhabi-inspired radicalism that extends from Gaza to Pakistan across West Asia. One can perhaps add Iran's own brand of Shia radicalism that also extends into the troubled Middle East.


Interestingly though, for more reasons that one, Turkey is in a position to bridge the "clash of civilisations" between the West and Islamic Asia, while also being in a position to present the Islamic world with a better role model for governance and prosperity than, say, theocratic Iran, authoritarian Saudi Arabia and Egypt and unstable Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Geographically, Turkey has, for more than a millennium, been the place where the mostly Christian West and Islamic East shared a border. Historically, the Ottoman empire, which preceded the formation of modern Turkey in the 1920s, also took on the role of the Islamic caliphate, leading the Islamic ummah for four centuries, from 1517 right up to 1923. Gandhi and the Indian nationalist movement were aware of the emotional importance of the Caliphate for Muslims all over the world — remember the Congress-backed Khilafat movement in the early 1920s in support of the defeated (in World War I) Ottoman sultans to mobilise support among Indian Muslims.


Of course, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, wanted to make a clear break from that past and converted Turkey into a staunchly and, some would say, fundamentalist secular state — even today, headscarves are not permitted at state functions. And so Turkey, over time, lost most of the influence the Ottoman caliphs had over the Islamic world. Ataturk's reforms led to the rise of a sizeable, influential liberal elite with western values, particularly in urban centres like Istanbul, but much of Turkey retained its devout Islamic values and symbols including the headscarf. The secular political establishment backed by the army and the constitutional court made every effort possible to block the rise of Islamist parties to a sustained spell in power, until 2002, when the right wing Islamist party AKP, finally came to power with a solid majority, largely because of the awful economic record of the centre-left secular party.


There were many fears at the time, expressed by the liberal elite, that the AKP would dismantle Turkey's secular state and turn it into a theocracy. And that it would abandon Turkey's traditional pro-West foreign policy. But for most of the eight years that the AKP has been in power now, a period which has only seen an intensification of Islamic radicalism globally, Turkey hasn't lurched away from the West towards Islamic extremism.


The AKP has been unexpectedly liberal. They have not tried to enforce their social conservatism on Turkey's population. They have taken some other admirably liberal positions, abolishing the death penalty, seeking reconciliation with Turkey's estranged Kurdish minority and even opposing the ban on YouTube imposed by the secular constitutional court. The AKP government has consistently been pro-US, pro-Europe and until the flotilla attack a fortnight ago had very good relations with Israel. Sure, there is criticism of the fact that the wives of the top leaders wear headscarves (something which would be quite acceptable in India's more open secularism) but then the men always appear in "Western" suits and ties, and do not compulsorily sport beards.


So here is a government in a predominantly Muslim country of 72 million people which can seemingly reconcile, over a longish period, supposedly Western, and clearly liberal values like democracy, secularism and modern free market economic thinking with a devout following of Islam, the religion. When all of this is combined with a foreign policy that promotes friendly relations with the US, Europe, Israel on the one hand while reaching out to the Islamic world on the other, you have a powerful ideal that can bridge the Islamic East with the West. It is also a perfect role model for Muslim dominated countries in Asia and as any ally for the West, it is crucial.


Unfortunately, external factors haven't dealt Turkey's moderately Islamic government a good hand in recent times. Europe hasn't quite reciprocated Turkey's earnest attempts at membership of the 27-member EU club. And this is when the AKP government has been more deeply committed to the EU project than their predecessors. The AKP got the economy in order. They abolished the death penalty. They talked to the Kurds. But Europe has been reluctant to let Turkey a door in, a grave mistake that it is now pushing Turkey into the fold of allies of Russia, Iran, and Syria hardly role models of any kind.


And then Israel, on May 31, destroyed its relations with the one government that could have played an honest broker between Israel and the Arabs. Turkey had famously facilitated talks between Israel and Syria in 2008. Israel has also put at risk its traditional defence ties with Turkey and the continued presence of a number of Mossad stations in the country used for surveillance on the Turkey-Iran border in particular. Israel's refusal to even acknowledge an error of judgment, let alone apologise, has simply enraged public opinion and allowed the hawks in the AKP to corner the secular Turkish army which has solid defence ties with Israel. Unfortunately, it also plays Turkey slowly but steadily into Iran's sphere of influence.


The US has always recognised the importance of Turkey in the context of the Islamic world. But its allies, Europe and Israel, will have much to answer for if Turkey moves away from a moderate path to radicalism. The battle against Islamic radicalism is as much about ideas as tactics and strategy. A modern, democratic, pro-West Turkey, efficiently governed by a moderate Islamist government is a powerful idea. Turkey's geography and history magnify the power of that idea. The West cannot afford to lose Turkey if they want to win the battle of transforming the troubled region that extends from Gaza to Pakistan.


The writer is senior editor, 'The Financial Express'








One afternoon a few weeks before the 1998 election, then Congress President Sitaram Kesri was scrutinising the list of ticket aspirants when an aide pointed to a name, saying he was a senior leader's "chela" (follower). Pat came the reply from Kesri, "Yahan Congress mein chela-wela koi nahin hota; yeh guruon ka mela hai (There are no followers in Congress; it is a congregation of teachers)."


Well over a decade later, Rahul Gandhi, who completes 1000 days in charge of the Indian Youth Congress (IYC) and the NSUI this Saturday, seems to be learning this the hard way as the party old guard undercuts his vision. Yes, this period has witnessed his emergence as a leader in his own right. In November 2008, then BJP President Rajnath Singh had called him a "bachcha"; he must rue that now. But these 1,000 days will also have been a lesson in realpolitik.


He had set out with the frank admission that he was the "symptom" of the ills of Indian politics — dynasty, patronage and money; but he would remove these ills and bring those who had neither money nor family background into political mainstream. Yet the IYC's internal elections he kickstarted have not been able to shake off the old guard, who managed to smuggle their own children or relatives or protégés into the new system. So far, the election process has been completed in Punjab, Gujarat, Puducherry, Tripura, Tamil Nadu, and Haryana. Look at the profile of leaders who have emerged: Haryana Finance Minister Ajay Singh Yadav's son Chiranjeev Rao was, last Wednesday, elected state Youth Congress head. M. Yuvaraj, said to be a protégé of Union Minister G.K. Vasan, was elected Tamil Nadu Youth Congress President last April, mere weeks after Rahul cautioned Vasan against interfering. The first elected President of the Punjab Youth Congress, Ravneet Singh Bittu, is the grandson of a former chief minister, Beant Singh; Bittu was said to have the blessings of another former CM, Amarinder Singh.


Gujarat Youth Congress President Indravijay Singh, a former NSUI chief who is known to be close to former Union Minister Shankersinh Vaghela, is an education baron. Puducherry Youth Congress President Shankar was reportedly a compromise candidate, picked up by CM V. Vaithilingam, after there was no consensus on Union Minister V. Narayanasamy's candidate. Tripura Youth Congress chief Sushanta Chowdhury is said to be a confidant of former CM and recently ousted PCC chief Samir Ranjan Barman. Last heard, the Kerala Youth Congress was abuzz about the candidates of Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala.


Rahul may have commissioned the services of an NGO run by ex-election commissioners to ensure free and fair polls, but Youth Congress leaders complain the process is being afflicted by money and patronage: the nominal membership fees, Rs 15 for general category candidates and Rs 5 for SCs/STs/women make Youth Congress elections vulnerable to manipulation.


Suppose an agricultural workers' son aspires to become a leader without any backing, as promised by Rahul. He may pay Rs 15 for his membership, but he may not have the resources to pay for the membership of his friends and supporters. That puts an end to his leadership dreams. He can be a Youth Congress member, but not a leader.


Not that Rahul is unaware of the problem. He had sent several teams of MPs and ex-MPs to Tamil Nadu to inquire into allegations of fake membership. They found massive irregularities, but the scale was too high to be rectified completely. A mere reprimand to Vasan was never going to be enough. There have also been complaints about delegates put up in hotels and offered all kinds of hospitality by patrons of those contesting the elections. If there are, say, 1800 voters to elect a state Youth Congress President, only those with resources could reach out to each of them.


Asked why delegates voted for Chiranjeev Rao in Haryana, a senior IYC member said, "they vote for those who can get their work done. A minister's son or somebody well-connected can call up a police station in-charge or any administrative officials and get things done. A nonentity cannot do it and so can't secure the votes."


Youth Congress leaders believe this will sort itself out after two or three elections. But the newly elected office-bearers show as much complacency as their old-system predecessors. They have not come out with any programmatic action plan, except old, hackneyed ones like yuva yatras here and there.


Much of the interest of the old guard in Youth Congress elections is because presidents of various IYC units could be strong contenders for party tickets in a future in which Rahul decides to assume a greater role for himself. Veteran leaders, contemplating the emergence of a parallel set of leaders to challenge them on their fief, have the jitters. Whatever they may do to scuttle it now, believe Rahul's lieutenants, the process will get crystallised and institutionalised sooner or later.







Shekhar Gupta: My guest today is India's most prominent African, Sunil Bharti Mittal. Wonderful to have you as an honorary African, just a week after we had President Jacob Zuma from South Africa.


Sunil Mittal:I am delighted that we are finally there in the continent of hope. I believe the next decade is going to belong to Africa.


Shekhar Gupta: What gives you that confidence? There is trouble even in South Africa. Look at any international publication, the news is all about trouble in South Africa — poverty, confusion and misgovernance. Sometimes, it looks like a story on India.


Sunil Mittal:Well, if you look at how the world is moving, the US, Europe and other more advanced economies are shrinking. India and China are driving the economy but where will it all move next? Africa is the next continent. Imagine Africa as India was 15 to 20 years ago. I sense that opportunity.


Shekhar Gupta: When did you get focused on Africa? Was it MTN or some kind of philosophical discovery of Africa?


Sunil Mittal:I think very early on I realised if we ever have to go out of India, it's not going be US or Europe but Africa or the emerging world. So, in 1997, I spent my 40th birthday in Botswana, bidding for a licence. We lost to some other bidder. Then we got Seychelles in 1998 and then we tried the famous MTN 1 and MTN 2, which, of course, never got through and now Zain.


Shekhar Gupta:Yet, what did you see in Africa? Do you have a memory, a recollection or something that told you this is it?


Sunil Mittal:Despite its growth, Africa is still the continent where tele-density is 35 per cent, which means to go to a point where India is today, you will be putting hundreds and thousands of phones in the hands of people in Africa. Secondly, our low-cost model in India gives us a hope that what we have is right as a recipe for Africa. Africa has a 20 cents average rate per minute and India has 1 cent. I think there is a very clear Africation of the Indian model.


Shekhar Gupta: But did it not become izzat ka sawaal? Once you did not get MTN, you had to be in Africa somehow.


Sunil Mittal:No, if Zain wouldn't have gone through, we probably would have gone a step back because the only two companies that in some sense were available were MTN, which was the largest, and Zain which was the second largest. It was never izzat ka sawaal.


Shekhar Gupta: What did the loss of MTN teach you?


Sunil Mittal:One, that if we have to be in Africa, we have to be brave, we need to be bold and we can't go bargain hunting. Africa is not for bargain hunting, you have to be brave and bold, because the opportunity is so large.


Shekhar Gupta: Were you also driven by a compulsion to acquire something overseas, because everybody else was doing it? So, just as I used the phrase izzat ka sawaal earlier, shall I use the expression, bhed chaal? Four or five of the top Indian corporates had done it, your peers had done it or are in the process of doing it, so, how could a Punjabi be left behind?


Sunil Mittal:No, I think what was driving us was that we had to diversify. We are the leaders of telecom in India. Unfortunately, the regulations have been unfolding in a very negative way for the established players in India. The company is strong today to diversify and it was important for us to add one more large piece outside India, So, for our shareholders, it is a diversification of risk in telecommunications.



Shekhar Gupta:And it is an entrepreneurial risk, because you have taken debt.


Sunil Mittal:This is true.


Shekhar Gupta: What kind of debt?


Sunil Mittal:It is a very large debt. For a company that is generally loathe to take any debt, we have taken a 9 billion dollar debt. In fact, we had cash on our books when we did this deal and now we have debt. The good news is we struck because of our strength of balance sheet. Our debt deal with banks is at a 2.25 per cent rate, which means at 200 million dollars of interest per year, we have secured Africa. I mean that's a big headline I would say. While the debt was 9 to 10 billion dollars, the outflow was very small.


Shekhar Gupta: I know you are a big tycoon now, but deep inside you have a middle-class outlook. And a

middle-class Indian doesn't sleep too well with debt on his head.


Sunil Mittal: You are absolutely right and it took me a long time to get used to leveraging to this extent to do a deal outside. We will not keep our debt too much for too long. We have plans to mitigate this, these debts will come down over the next few years.


Shekhar Gupta: But, this is an entrepreneurial leap of faith. You have gone and embraced something with the risk, given the environment in India, that you could lose it all.


Sunil Mittal:Well, in telecom you never lose it all. A bad job done will get your money back, a good job done will transform this company into a truly world-class telecom company. If you see in India, there were companies like Spice and Escotel. Even those companies which were down in the dumps finally got sold for huge premiums. In India, you see licences being sold.

Shekhar Gupta:With most of the promoters walking aro

und with cheque books hoping to buy other assets.


Sunil Mittal:So, I don't think there is a risk here. It's 15 countries, so again it is a diversified risk in Africa. Some are very large countries, some are small countries, but the good news is Zain is No.1 in 10 countries, No. 2 in four countries and struggling only in one country.


Shekhar Gupta: So, tell me when you deal with individuals, how are Africans different from Indians? How are Africans different from Punjabis?


Sunil Mittal:Culturally, there is a difference. In this particular deal, we dealt with Kuwaities, the Arabs, to buy over Africa. But, in MTN we were dealing with Africans. I must say I was quite surprised to see how western they were in their approach.


Shekhar Gupta: You talked about the regulatory scenario deteriorating in India, especially for existing companies. What exactly is this because, when I see a telecom story, I turn the page. I know there is a 2G, 3G, 5G, 4G, but I don't understand. I know there is the shadow of Mr Raja there. I see many usual suspects, but I understand nothing.


Sunil Mittal:You know, in the garb of having more players and more competition, we have been pushed to the wall and it has been very hard for us.


Shekhar Gupta: We as in Bharti, or all Indian players?


Sunil Mittal:I think all established players. People who have been serving the country for the last 15 years, providing telephony like nobody else in the world has provided. Bring competition, we are ready to fight everyone in the marketplace but do it on level terms, do it on terms that are fair to all. Spectrum is given in ration. I run 135 million customers here with such a small slice of spectrum and there are people who have similar spectrum with five million or two million customers. So, there is no equity in that. The second part is the charges of spectrum. There is a proposal to charge more from those who are established and are bigger players. Now, I can't run with too much weight around my neck. And that's precisely what the regulations are trying to do. The regulations are being geared towards hurting the large players but people who have got licences yesterday must pay nothing. I am happy if the country decides to have a punitive regime for telecom, but then let it be punitive for all.


Shekhar Gupta: How does the punitive regime work?


Sunil Mittal:Look at 3G for example. The price that we all are paying for 3G is atrociously high. This will result in high broadband rates.


Shekhar Gupta: Extortionist?


Sunil Mittal:Yes, but you can't blame the government. They are saying you guys bid for it. Now, our answer to it is when you create a scarcity and when you have 22 circles in India and the bidding keeps going until the last circle closes, you don't have a choice. It is a defective proposition—you have only three slots, but 10 buyers. It is expensive, but it is equally punitive for all. If I have paid more, somebody else has also paid more. I will deal with that in the marketplace.


Shekhar Gupta: So, ultimately consumers will have to pay?


Sunil Mittal:There is no question. If India wants cheaper broadband, that opportunity has been bypassed. We will not have cheaper broadband.


Shekhar Gupta:I was going through our last conversation in Ludhiana when you said that telecom is now on autopilot, farming is the next frontier. Over the past three years, you have discovered two new frontiers in telecom—new technologies in India, sort of spectrum jump, and Africa. So, is farming sort of stalling a little bit?


Sunil Mittal:I would tend to concede that point. We still believe the operations of telecom are on autopilot, however, the regulations need to be dealt with. Suddenly, we are faced with a barrage of regulatory recommendations, which have, to my mind, the potential of crippling this industry. So, one has to be vigilant, agile and talk to the right people and highlight the inconsistencies. So, there is work to be done. On farming, I think things have not come out the way we thought they would. There is an absence of a cold chain, in fact, there is no cold chain.


Shekhar Gupta: Share with us some of your most difficult moments when you said "how could this happen".


Sunil Mittal:I think if you look at the current recommendations (TRAI) on the table, should they get accepted, to my mind, we would have written off the chapter of telecom in India. So there is a frustration and there is a hope—that's why I say I remain calm. At the end of the day, this country has a process that if somebody has a deep angst or frustration, it gets sorted out. Somebody will look into it. I still have hope that we have people who will look into it.


Shekhar Gupta: Do you see yourself as a collateral beneficiary of the brothers' (Ambanis) patch up in Reliance?


Sunil Mittal:No.


Shekhar Gupta: Were you caught in the cross fire or did you suffer collateral damage?


Sunil Mittal:No, if you look at it, when we were in telecommunications, Reliance was launched and both the business sides of the family were together, then they went separate. One side had telecom and we competed with them. So, my view is that we will probably see Mukesh getting into telecommunications.


Shekhar Gupta: So, that's more competition to look at?


Sunil Mittal:We should not worry about competition. We are a product of competition. All we are saying is that the rules of the game should be the same for everybody.


Shekhar Gupta: You have known both the Ambani brothers. What do you find interesting about each of them?


Sunil Mittal:Well, I would say both have their own unique ways of delivering stakeholder value and I think both have been successful in their businesses. I am not regularly in touch with them but I admire what Mukesh has done and his vision and what he wants to do internationally and his skills of execution are, I would say, unparalleled. The way he organised his telecom business was quite breathtaking.


Shekhar Gupta: One more thing we talked about last time was when I asked you that does public life figure somewhere in your plans and you explained the degree of difficulty. But, then when I said will you never do it, you said you never say never. Where has our thought process evolved since then because we have the example of Nandan Nilekani.


Sunil Mittal:I think Nandan is doing a brilliant job.


Shekhar Gupta: So, you think you can do something without necessarily being in politics?


Sunil Mittal:I think he (Nilekani) has shown a way for many of us who desire to be in public life and yet, have decided not to cross the line and be in full-time politics. I think if we are in business, we can't cross that line. I am very clear we can't straddle both sides. But I do a lot of stuff in public life through my participation in the Bharti Foundation, the Carnegie Endowment and I was a CII representative too.


Shekhar Gupta: You have learnt some lessons the hard way in dealing with the public life aspect of being in business or political life where even one casual statement can chase you for a long time. You know I am referring to that so called statement on Narendra Modi. Tell us more about that.


Sunil Mittal:All I will say is that I was there on behalf of CII and I had to talk about his administrative capabilities. The state's economic activity was shaping up. As you know, it was an event where a lot of industrialists talk about their projects. So, I was talking about the administrative capabilities and the business opportunities that were available in Gujarat. It was nothing more, nothing less.


My only investment in Gujarat is what I do as a telecom company. I don't have any investments there, any factories there. I was just a CII nominee talking about the economic environment in the state.


Shekhar Gupta: I think you'll be doing a lot in Africa. All the best for your African journey.


Sunil Mittal: Thank you.


Transcribed by Abhineet Mishra








Indian laws regulating mining were enacted in the 1950s. They are long overdue for an overhaul and the government has been promising to introduce a new Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Bill for some sessions now. But inter-ministerial wrangling, not to mention differences between the Centre and states, have kept pushing back this event. As The Indian Express reported yesterday, it now appears likely that UPA-2 will set up a GoM to persuade different actors to come on a common platform so that the Bill can be introduced in the monsoon session of the Parliament. The challenge that such a GoM would face cannot be underestimated. To begin with the differences that need settling between central ministries, the mines ministry has pitched for doing away with the system of seeking the Centre's prior approval for allocation of leases of 'strategic minerals', while the steel ministry strongly favours retaining this system to ensure that their utilisation is in the 'larger public interest'. The mines ministry (rightly) considers the reservation of mineral bearing areas for PSUs as being an anti-competition practice while the steel ministry supports such reservation, discouraging exports (again) in the name of 'public interest'. The law ministry has entered the fray by suggesting that the legislation be rechristened the Mines and Minerals (Conservation, Development and Regulation) Bill. Here too, 'national interest' is being invoked. But, as we have been arguing in these columns, the protectionism being advocated by the steel and law ministries is far from being in public or national interests. If industries cannot pay competitive prices or harness efficient technologies, why should trade barriers or political gainsaying be deployed to support their uneconomic profits? In no way are such 'incentives' in the interest of the Indian people.


The goal of forward-looking legislation as well as the GoM under consideration must be to incentivise prospecting, create competitive bidding, maximise government revenue and provide fair compensation to those displaced by mining projects. All these goals have to be pursued against the backdrop of transparency, which demands that arbitrary nomination processes be replaced by auctions in all possible cases. This also calls for serious action against illegal mining, including by powerful political actors like the Reddy brothers whose Bellary empire's emasculation of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh administrations has been exhaustively documented in The Indian Express. With the global commodity outlook getting tighter by the day, India just cannot afford rampant illegality or patronage-driven mining leases any more. Acknowledging this reality, the GoM must bat for competition, efficiency and promotion of private enterprise.







Indian banks will have to migrate from the defunct system of benchmark prime lending rates to a new base rate system on July 1. As we have argued in these columns on occasion, this is an unambiguously good move. Under the BPLR system, there was little transparency in interest rates for borrowers—prime borrowers, mostly big corporates, borrowed at rates well below the PLR while small businesses and retail borrowers often paid rates well above the PLR. The point of a benchmark rate is transparency and on that criterion, BPLR needed a change. The base rate will be linked directly to the deposit rate with add-ons allowed for operating costs and risk premium. The new base rate will directly impact competition between banks as well, increasing the competitiveness of the system as a whole. The base rates are expected to range between 6% and 10%. SBI, the market leader, has indicated a base rate between 7.5% and 8.5%. At least some banks, perhaps even in the private sector, may offer a lower base rate.


In the medium term, of course, the change to base rate will favour those banks that have larger branch networks and thus gather more deposits. A high proportion of current account and savings account (CASA) deposits will give more flexibility in setting the base rate and ensure higher margins. One can reasonably expect public sector banks to more aggressively expand their CASA mobilisation. The private sector banks will respond by heavily scaling up their plans for branch expansion, too. That is good for inclusive banking. In the immediate future, of course, private banks with more limited deposit bases than many PSU banks will have to respond by earning more from their treasury operations to offset the advantage that will accrue to PSBs because of scale. RBI, as the banking regulator, will have to ensure that banks provide sufficient information to borrowers on the actual minimum and maximum lending rates charged to major categories of borrowers. Banks have already been instructed to review the lending rate every quarter based on the liquidity and credit offtake. For short-term corporate borrowers with a good credit history, however, the new base rate may raise borrowing costs, but unlike small businesses and retail borrowers, these companies can tap alternate sources of cheap funding, either through the issue of commercial paper or qualified institutional placements.









Lawrence Summers has several introductions. Right now, he is the director of President Obama's National Economic Council. He created controversy in Harvard. But an earlier controversy from 1991 is almost forgotten. That was when he was at the World Bank and signed a memo that was probably written by Lant Pritchett. The memo said, "The economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable." Environmental costs, wage costs and valuations of human life are lower in developing countries like India.


While Bhopal gas disaster and the consequent human tragedy is understandably an emotive issue, one can't get away from some facts. First, one can't compare compensation in India with compensation in the US, even if one adjusts for PPP. It is one thing to say that average final compensation for personal injury at Rs 25,000 is low. But benchmarking this against disaster compensation in the US, as media has been wont to do, is unwarranted. Second, tort law is relatively underdeveloped in India, despite social justice constituting a recurrent theme in the Constitution. In many instances, tort law isn't even codified, not uncommon in common law jurisdictions. Let's not forget the Environment Protection Act of 1986 was triggered by Bhopal.


Third, related to the second point, why have damages? For the wrong committed, there is an element of

compensation. This is static aspect of law. To prevent such injuries in future, there can be a punitive element. This is dynamic aspect of law. Punitive damages are rare (almost non-existent) in India and again, there is not much point making comparisons with the US. Fourth, our law is still hazy on liability of a parent company (UCC) vis-à-vis liability of its subsidiary (UCIL). We are on even weaker ground if UCC is subsequently bought over by Dow Chemical Company and let's not forget that Dow didn't purchase UCIL.


Fifth, contrary to popular perception, courts don't create law. They interpret it. At best, there can be deviation from this principle on constitutional issues. Therefore, if a Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act is passed in 1985, making the government sole representative of victims (inside and outside India), courts are bound by that legislation. Questioning this legislation is legitimate, as is the questioning of the out-of-court settlement figure of $470 million, compared to the original ask of $3 billion. Did government underestimate the number of people entitled to compensation? Was there a quid pro quo with UCC in 1989?


Sixth, we now know safety norms were violated and there were early warnings. But beyond the culpability of UCIL, enforcement of norms is responsibility of the Centre and the state government concerned. There have been other instances where legislation (interpreted as rules and regulations, in addition to statutes) has been flouted and this is a broader governance problem. If norms are below par, and such norms as exist are not enforced, it is unlikely there will be islands of exception for MNCs, though it is probably true that MNCs are generally more careful about standards and public perception. If those safety norms were indeed violated, why hasn't action been taken against central and state government bureaucracy? It is easy to point fingers and find scapegoats in MNCs. However, there is much that is endogenous.


Seventh, there is an endogenous problem with the justice delivery system, typified in the current instance by a criminal case that drags on for more than 25 years, with one of the accused dying while awaiting trial, not to forget possible appeals against sentencing. There seems to be shock at quantum of imprisonment and monetary fine. However, to repeat the point made earlier, judges have little leeway (usually) in determining this.


Under law, a minimum and maximum is prescribed, and judicial discretion is limited to choosing something within this range. In this instance, the maximum permitted is what has been imposed. While on this, how culpable should a non-executive chairman be? While on the criminal case, warranted questions are being raised about the circumstances under which Warren Anderson was allowed to leave and charges were diluted. Once he was allowed to leave, it is by no means obvious that there was a case for extradition, meaning we might ask for extradition, but it wasn't necessarily the case that we would be able to satisfy US requirements for extradition. Labelling Anderson a 'criminal' has been common in media after the criminal case judgment, but such appellations are contingent on definition of 'crime'.


Clearly, implicitly, we have question marks over the quality of the Indian judicial system, including over the quantum of punishment. Why else would we try to take both civil and criminal cases to the US? This hasn't worked, though some class action is still pending. In the entire reportage, the blame game has generally been on UCC. But most problems are internal and these haven't changed significantly since 1984.


The author is a noted economist








In the last few months, various patients' groups, community-based organisations and public health groups in India have been protesting against the government's negotiations over FTAs with the EU, Japan and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The EU is also negotiating similar agreements with other developing countries.


The movement has received support from international groups like the REBRIP, who have pointed out that such FTAs will reduce the impact of the good work being done by India as the acknowledged 'pharmacy of the developing world'. The reference is to the fact that 92% of people living with HIV/Aids in low- and middle-income countries use antiretroviral (ARV) medicines made in India.


The fear is that in their current form, these FTAs are likely to drastically reduce access to newer medicines for people living with HIV, cancer and other diseases, both in India and other developing countries.


The main clauses that are of concern, according to such groups, are those that seek to enforce data exclusivity of clinical data, extend the term of pharma patents from the current 20 years by an additional five years to compensate for delays in the patent application process, and finally the enforcement of intellectual property and border measures that will allow consignments of generic drugs to be branded 'fake/fraudulent' at international borders, as has already been happening. Industry lobby groups like the Ficci have also said the agreement, as it stands, is unacceptable.


Domestic firms like Cipla oppose the FTAs on the grounds that they supply ARVs to one in three Aids patients in Africa. MNCs like Novartis and Bayer counter these allegations in open letters to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The letter from Novartis says that they would like to expand the pharmacy of the developing world, not to close it. This is in reply to an article posted by Tido von Schoen-Angerer, executive director of Access to Essential Medicines Campaign, MSF, titled India: Will Pharma, Trade Agreements Shut Down the Pharmacy of the Developing World?. Novartis has criticised Section 3(d) of the Indian Patents Act on the grounds that it does not recognise incremental innovations. Novartis's stand is that India should support incremental innovation as many Indian companies excel at it, and it also benefits patients as it results in safer and better medicines.


Karel De Gucht, commissioner for trade, European Commission (EC), has reiterated that the EC is fully committed to ensuring that people in the world's poorest countries can access affordable medicines and has gone on to explain the EC's stand.


Gucht gives an assurance that nothing in the FTA will prevent India from using the compulsory licensing for manufacture and export of life-saving medicines to other developing countries in need. To ensure this, the EC has already proposed a legally binding reference to the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health stating that "nothing in this agreement shall be construed as to impair the capacity of the parties to promote access to medicines."


He confirms that the FTA will not interfere with the trade of generic medicines in transit. On data exclusivity and patent term extension, Gucht comments that "an adequate protection on IP in India is crucial to incite innovative industry for the development of new medicines and to enable EU generic companies to compete with Indian companies on a level playing field." He also admits that IP must take into account interests related to public health protection. The reference to EU generic companies competing with Indian companies on a level playing field would surely give some domestic generic players cause for worry.


On the data exclusivity issue, too, Gucht says that they are ready to "show the necessary flexibility here and fully take into account the specificities of the Indian legal system, the policy developments on this issue within India, its developing country status and the role it plays with regard to production of essential generics for the developing world." He specifies that "in case of public health needs, we would of course not object to exceptions to data exclusivity...."


The whole issue becomes more complicated as many domestic companies are today more open to see the issue in shades of grey. Many of them today collaborate with MNCs at various levels; either as contract manufacturers, research service providers, etc. These alignments are being seen as steady revenue earners as well as a learning experience on the R&D curve. But to balance all interests, the Indian government will have to build safeguards into the proposed FTAs with the EU.









The word 'tail' in 'retail' investors tells us a lot about this class of investors. They catch the bull market by its tail. When the going gets tough, they stay away and wait until the returns come back in abundance. And when they finally make investments, it is usually a bit too late. If historical data is any indication, retail investors hardly seem to learn from their mistakes. Perhaps, every market cycle brings a new set of novice investors with a similar investment mentality. The net result—mutual fund equity inflows suffer whenever the equity market vacillates.


Take the May equity inflow number, for instance, which was positive. While it turned positive after two months of negative flows, the fact that they have invested only Rs 1,256 crore indicates that retail investors are still grappling with market volatility. While one could partially blame the distributors for not pushing the product post entry load ban, it is also true that retail investors often get the timing wrong.


New fund offering (NFO) collection is one simple way to judge the investor sentiments. Past data shows that Indian retail investors have got the timing wrong in the last market cycle (April '03-April '09). They invested around Rs 1,22,000 crore of money into equity NFOs. FY06 was the first year when there were record collections of Rs 37,000 crore. It came after solid Sensex returns of 63% in FY04 and 18% returns in FY05—when the collections were lukewarm. The NFO collection figures were only Rs 1,646 crore in FY04 and Rs 15,308 crore in FY05. This implies that retail investors waited for two years before pulling out their cheque. Then, just when markets were about to tank (an year before the Lehman crisis), record collections of Rs 46,612 crore were made in FY08. In FY09, Sensex corrected 38%. When the equity markets rallied from early '09, almost all the retail investors missed the bus. Only Rs 1,996 crore came in the whole of '09, just a year before a sharp rally was witnessed in equity market when Sensex rallied 63%. In a sense, investment pattern of retail investors does suggest that when the equity market is turning, be contrarian.








A rational and progressive divorce law must strike a balance between two seemingly incongruous objectives. It should support and sustain the stability of the institution of marriage. But it should also enable couples to end their contract with the minimum fuss and acrimony once it is established that the marriage is beyond repair and no constructive purpose would be served in keeping it alive. The irretrievable breakdown of a marriage, a concept first recognised in New Zealand's matrimonial laws in 1920, is now widely accepted around the world as a condition for the grant of divorce. In clearing amendments that make irretrievable breakdown a ground for divorce in the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 and the Special Marriage Act 1954, the Union Cabinet has accepted longstanding recommendations made repeatedly by the Law Commission of India and the higher judiciary. The Delhi High Court struck an extremely sensible and pragmatic note as early as 1967 when referring to married couples in Ram Kali v. Gopal Das: "It would not be practical and realistic…indeed it would be unreasonable and inhumane, to keep up the façade of marriage even though the rift between them is complete and there are no prospects of their ever living together as husband and wife."


As things stand, the provisions relating to divorce in the Hindu Marriage Act and the Special Marriage Act (which provides for a civil marriage by registration, under which a couple may marry whatever be their religion) mainly relate to 'matrimonial fault' — or such things as adultery, cruelty, and desertion. The provision for divorce by mutual consent, introduced in the Hindu Marriage Act in 1976, also exists. While this requires both parties to cooperate on the terms of their divorce, irretrievable breakdown is a conclusion the court may reach if the facts before it establish that the marriage cannot be saved. It is important to stress that irretrievable breakdown was never envisaged as a painless, hassle-free way of arbitrarily dumping a spouse. As the Law Commission has recommended, aside from ascertaining that the marriage is wrecked beyond hope of salvage, any grant of divorce under this provision must ensure that adequate financial arrangements are made for spouses, whenever required, and children. The process of reforming Hindu matrimonial law has resulted in a situation where it is not substantially different today from that which governs civil marriage. The challenge in this connection is to persuade other communities — Muslims and Christians, in particular — to accept reforms in their marriage and divorce laws that are progressive, gender-equal, and in keeping with contemporary thought and practice.






According to a recent assessment by the International Monetary Fund, Asia will grow by 7 per cent this year, with its bigger economies, China and India, posting higher rates. But leadership in the global economic recovery casts special responsibilities on these countries. Their current strengths, and the policy choices they will be making from now on, will have a significant bearing on the fortunes of the global economy. The debt crisis in Europe has added to the problems created by financial market volatility. Economic recovery has been uneven across regions; and in many countries, it is still fragile. The outlook is much better for the world's most populous continent. Output in most of Asia is well above pre-crisis levels and, for the first time, its contribution to a global recovery is outstripping that of other regions. In a development that portends well for the sustainability of growth, domestic consumption rather than an overwhelming dependence on exports has become the growth driver in most Asian economies.


There are two sets of risks the global economy faces. First, many advanced countries have practically exhausted the fiscal space available for continuing policy support. Secondly, the financial sector continues to be vulnerable to external shocks. A key concern is that political leaders in the developed countries have so far not been able to deliver on the promised bank reform packages. Adverse developments in Europe could disrupt trade in Asian economies. But fortunately the financial linkages to euro area economies are limited. The biggest challenge India and a few other emerging economies face relates to capital inflows. Asia's bright prospects have attracted large inflows of capital from developed countries, which have very low interest rates. This could lead to overheating in some cases. On the other hand, portfolio capital is known to be fickle and can quickly reverse course. Policymakers need to strike a balance in the crucial area of unwinding macroeconomic stimulus and financial sector support packages. The correct time frame will depend on the specific circumstances of each country. A key lesson from the crisis is that financial sector reforms are indispensable for lasting financial stability. While the Asian financial system has been resilient, it is important for banks in individual countries to stay ahead of the curve. Asia is not immune from developments elsewhere but the continent is in a very strong position to tackle the risks. At a policy level, it makes eminent sense for Asian countries to cooperate and coordinate their approach to global economic issues.










Over 20,000 killed. Over half a million victims maimed, disabled or otherwise affected. Compensation of around Rs.12,414 per victim on average on the 1989 value of the rupee. ($470 million or Rs.713 crore. And that divided among 574,367 victims.) Over a quarter-of-a-century's wait. To see seven former officials of Union Carbide Corporation's Indian subsidiary sentenced to two years in prison and fined Rs.1 lakh each. Not a single person from the far more responsible parent U.S. company punished.


Yet, the notion that the main injustice to Bhopal is the failure to extradite then UCC chief Warren Anderson from America is mildly ridiculous. Trying to evade the lessons the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster threw up on the tyranny of giant corporations is completely so. Well over two decades after its MIC gas slaughtered 20,000 (mostly very poor) human beings, Bhopal still pays the price of Carbide's criminality. (Evident from the long-term impact on the health of the gas-affected. And from the poisoned soil and water around the former Carbide plant.) While the Indian government's appalling Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, if adopted, would give legal cover to such conduct across the country.


Bhopal marked the horrific beginning of a new era. One that signalled the collapse of restraint on corporate power. The ongoing BP spill in the Mexican Gulf — with estimates ranging from 30,000-80,000 barrels a day — tops off a quarter-of-a-century where corporations could (and have) done anything in the pursuit of profit, at any human cost. Barack Obama's 'hard words' on BP are mostly pre-November poll-rants. The BP can take a lot of comfort from two U.S. Supreme Court judgments in the past two years.


The first of these came in 2008. That was in the case of the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989 — till then the biggest recorded (or admitted to) oil spill in history. Simply put, BP's blowout is recreating an Exxon Valdez every eight days or so. And has been doing that since late April. In the Exxon case, a jury in 1994 imposed penalties of $5 billion on the company. In 2006, points out Sharon Smith in an incisive piece in, "an appeals court halved the punitive claim to $2.5 billion." And in June 2008, "the Supreme Court reduced that amount by 80 per cent, to roughly $500 million — an average of $15,000 per plaintiff." Exxon CEO Lee Raymond who fiercely fought the damages, retired with a $400 million package all for himself. While Exxon Valdez's victims, points out Smith, ended up with roughly the same amount — only, it was shared among 33,000 of them. That is about 10 per cent of the original award and roughly $15,000 per victim.


In September the same year, Wall Street's kleptocrats famously tanked the world economy. Their actions cost millions in America and elsewhere their jobs and livelihoods. Yet, U.S. CEOs took home billions in bonuses that very year. Even The New York Times felt the need to say in a lead editorial at the time: "Just weeks after the Treasury Department gave nine of the nation's top banks $125 billion in taxpayer dollars to save them from unprecedented calamity, bank executives are salting money away in billionaire bonus pools to reward themselves for their performance." (In that election year, Big Oil also drummed up support for offshore drilling with this cheery slogan: 'Drill, Baby, Drill.' What'll it be now? 'Spill, Baby, Spill?')


This year, barely three months before BP turned the Gulf of Mexico into a sludge pond, the U.S. Supreme Court further strengthened corporate power with its ruling in the Citizens United versus Federal Election Commission case. As Ralph Nader put it: "With this decision, corporations can now directly pour vast amounts of corporate money ... into the electoral swamp already flooded with ... [corporate] dollars ... corporations can [now] reward or intimidate people running for office at the local, state, and national levels." Mason Gaffney makes the point in the Counterpunch Newsletter that "The ideas behind this are that a corporation is a 'legal person,' with all the rights [if not all the duties] of a human being; that, as such, it has a right of free speech; and that donating money is a form of speech." So chin up, BP, there's still hope. Remember how many who make it to Congress and Senate get there on Big Oil's big bucks.


While on the BP spill, spare a thought for the victims of such disasters who are not American or white-skinned. As Foreign Policy in Focus columnist Conn Hallinan points out: "Nigerian government figures show there have been more than 9000 spills between 1970 and 2000, and there are currently 2,000 official spill sites." But then, what are African lives worth?


Seven years after Bhopal, Larry Summers, then chief economist at the World Bank, wrote his infamous memo. This said, among other things: "Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Less Developed Countries]?" Summers suggested that "the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that."


Summers was to later say that he was joking, being sarcastic, and so on. Few buy that pathetic plea. Still, he went on to become President of Harvard and is now President Obama's chief economic adviser. And his memo's logic holds in the real world. It is exactly what has happened since Bhopal.


The UPA's response to the Bhopal sentences shows the government's ethics to be as despicable as they were in 1984. To mourn Bhopal and ready the nuclear liability bill is a hypocrisy hard to match. Bhopal was a post-facto sell-out. With the nuclear liability bill, the government sells out in advance. Is it only governments that have something to hide from Bhopal 1984? Even at the time, newspapers gladly carried planted stories suggesting "sabotage by Carbide's workers" had caused the disaster. Four years later, a UCC-funded 'study' claimed to prove that the disaster was caused by a disgruntled worker at the plant. Carbide also ensured it could not be sued in U.S. courts. In December 1985, some of India's great legal luminaries, including Nani Palkhivala, helped persuade U.S. courts that Indian courts were the appropriate forum to deal with the case. (With results that we now live with.) That spared Carbide the relatively much higher damages the U.S. courts might have imposed.


Barely 10 years later, Enron emerged as the symbol of the new era of liberalisation. Top academics, 'experts,' and columnists worked hard to tell us what nice guys the Enron mob were. All this, after much initial criticism of the Enron deal. The change of heart was possibly a transplant funded by tens of millions of dollars set up by that company to "educate" Indian opinion-makers, lawmakers, etc. Advertising, too, flowed freely. One famous newspaper started out very critical of Enron, only to switch to being one of its cheerleaders. Many others, too, did the same. I guess that kind of fund buys a lot of education. For Maharashtra and India, it bought disaster. The once profit-making State electricity board piled up millions in losses. The State, in turn, slashed money from welfare projects and services. Enron, fraud that it was, collapsed in the U.S., some of its top guns turning fugitives from the law. The mess remains with us. The one chance of evading disaster vanished when the Supreme Court threw out a petition against the Enron deal brought by the CITU and Abhay Mehta, and that was that.


Meanwhile, Mr. Obama's rhetoric seems to have hurt British sentiments. The truth is that the U.S. has helped, even subsidised, BP in the past. In what Alexander Cockburn calls "the biggest bailout in history," the CIA staged a now infamous coup in Iran in 1953 to get rid of Mohammed Mossadegh's government. The Iranian Parliament had by unanimous vote nationalised the exploitative Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Mossadegh was toppled. Installed in his place was "Shah Reza Pahlevi, the creature of the West's oil companies, with full tyrannical powers. The AIOC got back 40 per cent of its old concession and became an internationally owned consortium, renamed — British Petroleum." The lists of corporate-sponsored coups in the third world would fill volumes.


All that the Union Carbide did and got away with in Bhopal is shocking. But not, alas, surprising. In the quarter-of-a-century since then, corporate power has only grown. Bhopals happen when societies privilege corporates over communities, and private profit over public interest. Curb corporate power, Indian or American, or it will rip you apart.


Remember too, that important thing Bhopal victims say over and over again: "we should see that this can never happen again." However, we seem to be ensuring quite the opposite. The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill in its present form ensures that U.S. corporations causing any nuclear accidents on Indian soil will get away with minimal damages. A compensation now seen as a crime in Bhopal could be a legal norm in the future. Welcome back, Larry Summers.










All those who are genuinely interested in higher education have articulated the core concerns of the sector often enough. Ever since the nation recognised the value of higher education for promoting economic growth and social development, the pressure for reforms has been escalating. This has been formally embodied in two eminent reports brought out in recent years, one by the National Knowledge Commission headed by Sam Pitroda and the other by the Committee on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education headed by Yash Pal. Unlike the tendency in the past to implement such reports in piece-meal fashion, efforts are on to provide legislative basis to usher in the reforms effectively. Notwithstanding the criticism that Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal is launching too many initiatives in too short a time, it is necessary to recognise the fact that disjointed efforts will not produce the necessary impact on the higher education system.


Specifically, the four Bills introduced in Parliament in April and the one on the anvil, if enacted with whatever changes Parliament deems fit, can provide a strong foundation to overcome the present aberrations and enhance the credibility of Indian higher educational qualifications among the nations of the world.


The four Bills are: Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill, 2010; Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical, Medical Educational Institutions and Universities Bill; the Educational Tribunal Bill and the National Accreditation Authority Bill. Of them, the Bill on the entry and operation of foreign institutions has created the most controversy.


Unfortunately, the criticism of the Foreign Institutions Bill is based on uninformed misapprehensions. Most of the critics tend to ignore the ground reality that more than 200 foreign programmes are offered in India in various modes. A majority of them is of substandard quality and value. Regrettably, no agency in India has an account of the number of foreign programmes, their mode of operation, nature of partnership, quality of instruction, fee structure and the protection of students' interest. Many of them put out glossy and misleading advertisements, enticing gullible students with false promises.


The basic premise of the Foreign Institutions Bill is that every foreign educational service provider engaged in offering programmes leading to degrees and diplomas, whether it already operates in India or intends to do so in future either on its own or in collaboration with an Indian partner, must register itself with a designated authority, giving all the necessary information. The apprehension that the legislation will open the floodgates to all kinds of foreign educational institutions is unfounded. On the contrary, the provision in the Bill against the repatriation of surpluses will effectively prevent the entry of commercially motivated institutions.


The requirement that these institutions must have a track record of 20 years in offering recognised and accredited degree programmes in their home country will help weed out fly-by-night operators. They have to comply with the relevant laws of the land. They should deposit Rs.50 crore to meet any liability to students, faculty and others in case they quit or their registration is withdrawn.


The concern for assuring the quality of higher education programmes has been acutely felt partly because of the unprecedented growth in the number of institutions. It is also because of the need to meet the ever-changing norms and standards of accreditation so that mutual recognition of programmes among institutions in India or abroad is streamlined. In less than 20 years, the accreditation system in India has been struggling to demonstrate its viability. In future, every educational programme may be subjected to mandatory accreditations, unlike the present voluntary process. In such an event, the total number of institutions and programmes requiring accreditation in a vast range of disciplines is mind-boggling. The approach suggested in this Bill is to license competent professional organisations to undertake the accreditation responsibilities, in accordance with norms and standards prescribed by a competent agency. There are sufficient provisions in the Bill to make the accreditation process transparent and reliable.


Malpractices occur on a large enough scale in Indian higher education to cause major worry about their cumulative effect on society. Many of these show wanton disregard for existing regulations and guidelines, which have loopholes that are large enough. Unfortunately, in quite a few institutions, the irregularities are abetted by those who are supposed to watch their proper implementation. The existing set of regulations and guidelines, designed decades ago, do not provide for any meaningful penalties to be imposed on offenders. Perhaps these norms were formulated, not anticipating the entry of a new class of educational entrepreneurs whose greed exceeds limits of decency and propriety. Such excesses have been seen in several deemed-to-be-universities, which came into existence with the connivance of power centres that are equally greedy.


The need for the legislation on malpractices should be viewed in this context. It lists all those (mal)practices that will attract the penalty of hefty fines and jail terms. The Bill requires prior announcement and publication of institutional facilities, faculty, procedures for admission and examination, fee structure and so on. Any wilful deviation will attract penalty.


As it happens so frequently, any attempt to correct the educational anomalies ends up in litigation, invariably prolonged. The Bill on educational tribunals at the Central and State levels can help ensure speedy disposal of such disputes.


Beyond the issues covered in these Bills, there are certain fundamental concerns in the reports of the National Knowledge Commission and the Yash Pal Committee which take a long-term view of the higher education scenario. They draw critical attention to fundamental academic weaknesses such as compartmentalisation and fragmentation of knowledge systems, absence of innovation in learning methods, disconnect with the society, and excessive emphasis on a multitude of harmful entrance and qualifying tests. These reports reflect concerns over the growing trend of loss of university autonomy damaging the prospect of healthy growth of the spirit of enquiry, creativity, and innovation.


To arrest these trends, a number of recommendations have been made which are sought to be incorporated in the overarching Bill on the establishment of a National Commission on Higher Education and Research (NCHER). Contrary to the prevailing impression, the NCHER is not a regulating or controlling or licensing or inspecting body. Its primary task is to evolve norms and standards for various aspects of higher education, including assessment and accreditation. Several of the regulating bodies dealing with academic norms for higher education will consequently stand abolished. It restores to universities the autonomy and responsibility to implement these norms and standards.


Among the other unique functions of the NCHER is one relating to the identification of academic-administrators of national standing who are eligible and qualify for appointment as Vice-Chancellors of universities or heads of central educational institutions. Considering the high degree of dissatisfaction that often manifests in the process of selection of the heads of such institutions, this function assumes special importance.


The members of the NCHER, who would be selected by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, will be free of control by any Ministry and will be responsible only to Parliament.


Another important feature of the NCHER Bill is a provision to review by a committee of eminent persons the performance of the Commission with respect to the extent of fulfilment of its goals and objectives and recommend suitable action. This is somewhat exceptional in the sense that the performance of institutions or organisations created by Acts and statutes seldom get reviewed in this fashion. Hopefully, the various consultative processes that are envisaged between now and its enactment will further enhance the distinctive role assigned to the Commission for the renovation and rejuvenation of higher education in India.


( The author, who was a member of the Yash Pal Committee, is the Chairman of IIT Kanpur.)









When the healthcare bill was passed by the United States Congress a few months ago, the triumphalism that accompanied it belied the extent to which the older, demonstrably flawed system would continue untouched.


Last week, a desperate plea from President Barack Obama to his Congressional opposition to not stall one of the many ongoing pieces of healthcare legislation revealed reform for what it really is — a slow, plodding process.


In a televised address, Mr. Obama called on Senate Republicans to stop blocking a vote to prevent a 21-per cent pay cut for doctors who see Medicare patients; a cut, he argued, "that will hurt America's seniors and their doctors."


This thorny issue dates back to more than a decade ago, when Congress created a formula to govern how doctors would get paid by the Medicare programme.


The original intention was in some ways farsighted, as lawmakers then worried about the fiscal burden that the healthcare system would impose on the economy. The formula annually reduced the reimbursement for doctors who cared for the elderly via Medicare.


A bit of history is in order here. Ever since the Medicare programme was established in 1965, several methods have been used to determine how much physicians are paid for their services.


In the early days, the programme compensated physicians on the basis of their charges and permitted them to bill clients for the entire amount above their Medicare reimbursement. As costs started to steadily climb, by 1975 caps were imposed on the annual increase in fees.


Even with the caps, costs continued to rise and between 1984 and 1991 the annual change in fees had to be determined by legislation. Thus, starting in 1992 a fee schedule was introduced. But, because the mechanism led to excessive variation in payment rates, Congress had to substitute it with what was called the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula in 1998.


Under the SGR, spending was controlled, according to the Congressional Budget Office, by setting an overall target amount for such items as physicians' services, laboratory tests, imaging services, and physician-administered drugs. In other words, the amount that Medicare spent on doctor fees for each beneficiary would not rise faster than the economic growth rate.


Yet again, the inherent cost-spiralling nature of the healthcare industry resulted in calls for cuts to the amount that doctors got for their services every year. With vociferous opposition from medical professionals' associations, Congress repeatedly passed temporary legislation to postpone these cuts.


Fast forward to the present day and these repeated postponements have led to a cumulative 21 per cent cut requirement — now a serious legislative headache for President Obama.


However, in today's context, where access to healthcare for relatively vulnerable groups has become a prime casualty, these pay cuts have reached a level where they now endanger "not only … our physicians' pay, but our seniors' healthcare", according to Mr. Obama.


Ironically, this issue had been a bipartisan rallying point since 2003, when Congress undertook legislation to halt the pay cuts. That cross-party bonhomie may be about to falter on the threshold of Congressional elections — set for November this year — as the massive 21-per cent reimbursement cut affecting Medicare-focused doctors looms over Capitol Hill this week.


If Congress were to pass such a pay cut, it would, said Mr. Obama, "undoubtedly force some doctors to stop seeing Medicare patients altogether."


But, the fact remains that the current administration is engaged in a high-stakes, tightrope act. Between making healthcare reform a reality through greater public expenditure and keeping the enormous fiscal deficit from ballooning, this government's resources are being stretched dangerously thin.


Mr. Obama appeared to recognise this. In his address, he said: "Now, I realise that simply kicking these cuts down the road another year is not a long-term solution to this problem ... I am committed to permanently reforming this Medicare formula in a way that balances fiscal responsibility with the responsibility we have to doctors and seniors."


The answer that the White House team appears to have come up with is to improve the overall cost coverage within Medicare by curbs elsewhere in the system. For example, the administration is taking some steps to slow the growth of Medicare costs through health insurance reform by "eliminating 50 per cent of the waste, fraud, and abuse in the system by 2012".


This is commendable. What may be less salutary, and less in keeping with the spirit of the hard-fought reform, would be any measures that punished the elderly who are almost entirely reliant on Medicare, or the service-minded physicians who treat them. As Mr. Obama said: "That's just wrong."







  1. Many delegates played down prospects of a new U.N. deal by the end of this year.
  2. U.N. climate talks have ended, with delegates speaking of an improved mood but with major gulfs remaining between various blocs.


A last-minute spat between Russia and Japan and the G77 bloc of developing countries showed the differing goals in play at the talks in Bonn. But six months after the fractured Copenhagen summit, some were relieved that the process remained alive.


Many delegates played down prospects of a new U.N. deal by the end of this year. The last day saw publication of a new document covering many of the most contentious issues, which may eventually form the basis of a negotiating text going forward to the next U.N. climate summit, to be held in Cancun, Mexico, at the end of the year.


"Fifty-fifty is what I'd give this last week," said Grenada's delegation chief, Dessima Williams, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). "We really revived a spirit here of wanting to work, of rebuilding confidence and trust," she told BBC News.


"But the [new] text did not accommodate sufficient views, and is very imbalanced in favour of developed countries."


Many other developing country delegates agreed; while on the other side of the coin, the U.S. said some elements were "unacceptable." Yvo de Boer, the outgoing executive secretary of the U.N. climate convention (UNFCCC), made one last plea to Western nations to raise their game.


"The fact remains that industrial country pledges fall well short of the 25-40 per cent range [from 1990 levels by 2020] that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said gives a 50 per cent chance to keep the global temperature rise below 2 {+0}C," he said.


"It's essential that current pledges grow over the next few years, otherwise the 2 {+0}C world will be in danger, and the door to a 1.5 {+0}C world will be slammed shut.''


Public disagreement


The meeting was prolonged many hours by a dispute concerning a proposed workshop to examine further emission cuts under the Kyoto Protocol, which involves all developed countries except the U.S.


Russia, with Japanese support, argued that the workshop should cover emission cuts by all countries.


What might appear a minor issue became a major sticking-point, with developing countries insisting that the rich countries had a historical duty to review and increase their emission pledges.


Such issues have dogged the U.N. climate process for years, and led Artur Runge-Metzger, the European Commission's chief negotiator, to ruminate on what might transpire in Cancun.


"The worst case is we would not see an outcome, we would not be able to conclude on the many items we are discussing," he said.


"What the chances are of this is hard to say, but there many be things that are pointing not to convergence [between blocs] but to divergence. We heard demands for example that 6 percent of our GDP should be transferred from rich countries to poor — these are extreme demands and... we only have two weeks negotiating time left before we meet in Cancun."


On Wednesday, there was an unusually public disagreement between developing countries over whether to commission a technical review of options for meeting the AOSIS-favoured target of keeping the global average temperature rise below 1.5 {+0}C — a move that the Gulf states blocked.


"The discouraging news is that even as the BP oil disaster continued to unfold in the Gulf of Mexico, some oil-exporting countries — including Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar — were so desperate to protect the oil industry that they blocked efforts to expand studies of the climate change problem," said Annie Petsonk, international counsel for the Environmental Defence Fund.


Mystery surrounded a subsequent incident in which Saudi Arabia's nameplate was apparently broken and placed inside a toilet bowl.


The Saudis demanded an investigation, a request to which the UNFCCC agreed, with delegations of all flavours condemning a serious breach of diplomatic etiquette.


But who was behind it remains unclear; and photos that are heavily rumoured to exist were kept under wraps. The U.N. process reconvenes in August for a week—long meeting in Bonn; there is likely then to be another preparatory meeting in China in October before eyes turn to the Cancun summit.


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






Indonesia has filed a lawsuit against the ban implemented by U.S. administration that bans the trade of clove cigarette in the U.S. territory, an Indonesian senior official said in Jakarta on Monday.


Gusmardi Bustami, international trade director general of the Trade Ministry, said that the lawsuit was filed to Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) last week, an agency under the control of the World Trade Organization (WTO), particularly tasked to settle trade dispute. The move was opted following the failures to obtain compromises in the consultation forums initially attended by delegations of the two feuding parties, Gusmardi said.


The other reason to file the lawsuit was that the U.S. agency did not respond to Indonesia's request to prove scientifically over the agency's statement that the cigarette with aroma and odor is more dangerous than the ones without them, he said.


"As of June 5, the deadline to our request was over, it did not send the explanation. It makes us go ahead to use our rights in the WTO," Gusmardi was quoted by the as saying. "We submitted the proof and facts that such a ban is not fit to the obligations regulated in international trade. A discrimination has already occurred here," Gusmardi said, adding that the discussion panel on this dispute is expectedly to conclude within three years.


Under an excuse that cigarette with odour and aroma has more hazardous content compared to the non-aroma ones, Tobacco Control Act, the U.S. code that regulates the tobacco and cigarette trade in the United States, has banned stores in the country from selling clove cigarettes.


Clove cigarette is cigarette produced particularly by Indonesian producers. Since it is seasoned with clove, the cigarette produces smoke with typical odor. It makes it different to the ones produced outside Indonesia. The U.S. agency's policy to ban trade of clove cigarette in that country would cost Indonesia significantly as 99 per cent of cigarettes supplied to the United States come from Indonesia. The ban may generate potential loss to Indonesian producers some 18.4 trillion rupiah (about $200 million).


— Xinhua







JD(U) leader and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has long been known to advertise his distance from Hindutva icon and Gujarat's BJP chief minister Narendra Modi even as he has run his administration in alliance with the saffron party. It's apparent that his hobnobbing with the BJP has not affected his chances with Bihar's Muslim voters. This was true in Bihar's last Assembly election five years ago, and again in the May 2009 Lok Sabha polls. All the same, Mr Kumar has been at pains to emphasise that any hint of proximity to Mr Modi might be the kiss of death for his standing with minority community voters in Bihar. The BJP leadership was expected to be sympathetic to this concern.

It was no secret that in the last Lok Sabha election Mr Kumar declined to have Mr Modi campaign in Bihar, so adverse is the Gujarat BJP leader's image in the eyes of Muslim voters. The BJP was careful to respect the sentiment. It is, therefore, inexplicable why the saffron party threw discretion to the wind and played the Gujarat CM big through an advertisement in Bihar newspapers during the BJP's recently-concluded national executive meeting in Patna. Nobody should have been in any doubt that showing Mr Modi holding hands with Mr Kumar in the offending advertisement would be red rag to the bull. It is not clear if the Bihar CM will carry out his threat of initiating legal action in the matter. If he does so, he will clearly be complicating his ties with the BJP in his state. The relationship has never been smooth, but both the chief minister and deputy chief minister — the BJP's Sushil Modi — have shown sufficient savvy to not let the boat capsize. Indeed, at present, the JD(U) does not have any serious problems with the state BJP. There was, then, no reason for the BJP to play the advertisement card only months before the Assembly election due in November this year. It may have been a miscalculation. Nevertheless, the matter was shoddily handled. The BJP was expected to be careful about the chief minister's political prickliness when he told them well in advance that he was not going to address their public meeting on the occasion of the national executive. But he had been gracious enough to agree to host a dinner for the BJP leadership as a demonstration that he was part of the NDA. He pointedly cancelled the dinner.

This amounts to paying back the BJP in its own coin, and has the potential to sour relations at the level of ordinary party workers on both sides which, in any case, have not been anything to write home about. But at the leadership level, it should be a surprise if Mr Kumar holds out prospects of a break on the eve of the state poll, that is doing a Naveen Patnaik, in effect. There might be three reasons for this. On its own, the JD(U) is not as strong in Bihar as the BJD is in Orissa. Two, the BJP does bring some upper caste votes to the table, although it is not a force in Bihar. And three, Muslims did not desert Mr Kumar in spite of his BJP alliance chiefly because for 15 years Lalu Yadav's RJD didn't do much for them — although Mr Yadav sang paeans to secularism — and the Congress alternative was not available. Some of this won't apply if the JD(U) breaks with the BJP. However, it is the BJP that has rocked the boat, and must work to restore the balance. The party could be knocked out clean if it fought in Bihar on its own.








In the wake of the widespread carnage in the Dantewada bus bombing and the Gyaneshwari Express derailment near Jhargram in West Bengal, both suspected to be the work of Maoists, an opinion poll by a media organisation found that 67 per cent of people believed that the government had no option but to use the Indian Army to tackle the armed Naxalites. Media reports indicate a buildup of similar opinion within the political hierarchy in the Central government, though their view is often contested by many across the public and political spectrum.

Counter-insurgency and internal security are thankless, immensely frustrating politico-military missions which, given a choice, professional armies would much prefer not to get involved in. The Indian Army has more experience than most of these interminable assignments where the objective is winning the "hearts and minds" of the people, but the desired end-state remains indeterminate with multiplying pitfalls, controversies and contradictions in the process. Also, historical experience from India's internal conflicts since Independence has shown that military deployment has almost never been backed up by a matching political consensus, and an accompanying "civilian surge". But professional armies nevertheless do not really have the luxury of choice in their employment, because the ultimate call remains the prerogative of the political hierarchy in office who, in all probability, were responsible for creating the situation in the first place and then allowed it to fester and deteriorate to an extent where military intervention became inevitable. It is therefore entirely understandable that the Indian Army does not look forward to involvement in the Naxalite situation which, like all such problems, has originated in decades of political and administrative mismanagement and neglect.
Let there be no doubt that if left unattended, the Naxalite situation presents a major threat to national security, not because of its ideological content per se, but because it bestrides a critically strategic "golden quadrilateral" in the country's heartland with enormous possibilities for exploitation by hostile external agencies, on the pattern of Jammu and Kashmir as well as the Northeast. A foretaste of this has already been experienced in the semi-isolation of the country's eastern region by interdiction of rail and road communications and civil infrastructure which have halted night movement of trains and road transport on the Kolkata-Mumbai and Kolkata-Chennai trunk routes.

The Army is aware of the trends developing towards its involvement, and has been reading the handwriting on the wall. As things stand, the Army is already imparting counter-insurgency training to police and paramilitary forces at its Counterinsurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJWS) at Vairangte, Mizoram, where some 47,000 police and paramilitary personnel have already undergone this programme, besides providing instructors to a similar institution established by the Chhattisgarh government at Kanker at the initiative of a former governor of the state, himself a retired senior Army officer with extensive experience of counter-insurgency as a corps commander in the Northeast. The Kanker institution is headed by a retired brigadier, a former commandant of CIJWS, and has reportedly trained about 7,000 police personnel of various states. In addition, an Army brigadier has been located with the ministry of home affairs to assist in planning anti-Naxalite strategy. A new sub-area level headquarters under a brigadier has been established at Raipur, Chhattisgarh, while there are reports that the Army's training centre for Special Forces is scheduled to relocate to Chhattisgarh, possibly as the core of a new Counter-insurgency School being planned there.
Counter-insurgency is a numbers game, where "boots on the ground" are the ultimate winning factor. Textbook ratios for winning superiorities are given as 10:1 in favour of the security forces, and it is worthwhile remembering that in Operation Pawan the Indian Army ultimately built up to force levels of four oversize infantry divisions, or about 80,000 troops, covering northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka, an area roughly equivalent in size to the Red Corridor region in India where prospective operations against Naxalites can be envisaged.
Each operational situation is undoubtedly unique in its specific environments, yet there are very often many underlying commonalities between them in background circumstances and lessons learnt. It is in this context that the military hierarchy would be well advised to revisit the operations of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) against the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) in Sri Lanka during Operation Pawan, 1987-1990, and revise its lessons often imbibed at great cost, because in many aspects these could be relevant to prospective operations against the Naxalites, who, like the LTTE of that time, are an entirely unknown entity, and about whom intelligence is scanty if not non-existent. A massive military surge in troop deployment is a time tested option which the Army is familiar and to an extent comfortable with, but that need not be the only one. An alternative could be a selective "hunter-killer" strategy based on Special Forces acting on accurate, actionable intelligence to specifically target the insurgent leadership and other critical elements, with police and paramilitary forces providing the bulk manpower for other aspects of counter-insurgency.
The Achilles' heel here is of course intelligence, a traditional shortcoming from which the Indian Army has repeatedly suffered, whether against the Chinese in 1962, or at Kargil in 1999. The IPKF was in an exactly similar situation at the commencement of Operation Pawan, where the initial estimates to bring the LTTE under control were confidently estimated to be a fortnight at best, while the external intelligence agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) was positive that the LTTE were their protégés who would not resist the Indian Army! Intelligence about the Naxalites in the Red Corridor appears to be following the same path, but whatever is the final decision, what the Army must avoid is limited piecemeal deployments in inadequate numbers, often under political pressure to maintain a false front of civil control.

The Army has a reputation for success to live up to, and if it is indeed eventually committed against the Naxalites, commanders at all levels must ensure in the best collective interests of the organisation, that the lessons of Sri Lanka and other past counter-insurgencies are absorbed and disseminated, so that errors and shortcomings of the past are not repeated.


Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament









For at least the past year, and probably more, media reports about West Bengal have generally been negative. There are many reasons for this, and the merits or demerits of those perceptions and arguments can be debated. But quite apart from the debates about land acquisition for industrialisation, there have been other accusations levelled by an increasingly strident and now more confident Opposition, about the various failures of the state government.

It is certainly true that despite some remarkable successes in land distribution, decentralisation and power to panchayats, and so on, various observers had identified lacklustre performance in health and education as major concerns.

The good news is that this picture has changed, especially for health in the past decade. Recent data from the office of the Registrar-General of India, using the Sample Registration System (SRS), shows that West Bengal is now one of the best-performing states in the country in terms of the most basic health indicators.
These show that the demographic transition in West Bengal has proceeded more rapidly than for India as a whole, and in a positive direction. In terms of both crude birth rates and crude death rates, the improvement has been significantly greater than for India as a whole, even though the state already had lower rates than the Indian average.

As a result, among the major states, West Bengal in 2008 had the fourth lowest birth rate (after Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Punjab) and the lowest death rate among the major states, even lower than that of Kerala. What is also noteworthy is that the state's rural-urban gap appears to have been closing with respect to the death rate. In 2008, the rural death rate in West Bengal was 6.1 compared to the urban rate of 6.6 (a gap of 7.5 per cent), whereas for India as a whole it was eight in rural areas compared to 5.9 in urban areas (a gap of 26.2 per cent). Even Tamil Nadu, the state that has otherwise performed very well in health indicators, shows a rural-urban gap in the death rate of 23 per cent.

The infant mortality rate (IMR) — expressed as the ratio of the number of deaths of infants of one-year-old or less per 1,000 live births — is often regarded as the single most important indicator of overall health conditions in a particular area. The relatively rapid decline in IMRs in West Bengal (by 57 per cent, compared to the all-India average decline of 34 per cent) has made it one of the best performing among major states with respect to this indicator. The IMR in 2008 in West Bengal was 35, putting it in fourth position after Kerala, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. The rural-urban gap in the IMR has also improved, from 26 per cent in 1997 to 21 per cent in 2008, compared to the all-India gaps of 42 per cent in 1997 and 38 per cent in 2008.

Further, throughout this period West Bengal has had a very low gender gap in IMR, thereby making it very different from several other states of the country. This is also confirmed by other survey data — for example, the various rounds of the National Family Health Surveys (NFHS) have found the gender gap in IMR in West Bengal to be either the lowest or among the lowest in the country.

The maternal mortality ratio (MMR) is the rate of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births among women aged 15-49 years. MMRs have been declining faster and are now lower in West Bengal (141) than the national average (264). The lifetime risk of maternal death (the probability that at least one woman of reproductive age of 15-49 years will die during or just after childbirth) was only 0.3 per cent in West Bengal in 2004-06, compared to 0.7 per cent for all-India and 0.2 per cent in the best-performing state, Kerala.
Obviously, while these improvements are praiseworthy, there is still a long way to go in terms of improving even these basic health indicators. The differences between West Bengal and the best performing state Kerala remain substantial, suggesting that appropriate policy interventions can continue to make significant improvements in these indicators.

But the question remains: what accounts for this recent improvement in health indicators, especially in relation to the rest of the country other than Tamil Nadu? A number of possible explanations can be considered.
First, there has been a general improvement in institutional conditions, especially in the West Bengal countryside, in terms of the number of hospitals and health facilities and the increase in access of women to antenatal and post-natal services. This has been enabled not only by increased public expenditure in certain areas, but also by a programme of more decentralised public health delivery, with greater autonomy given to local and village health committees in terms of spending and care systems. Thus, the NFHS have found that there was a gradual increase in the percentage of mothers who made at least three antenatal visits during their last birth in West Bengal, from 50.3 per cent in 1992-93 to 62.4 per cent in 2005-06. This compares favourably with the national averages, which were significantly lower.

Second, since health is intimately related to both sanitation and nutrition, some improvement in both of these variables is also likely to have played a positive role. The extension of better sanitation facilities to rural areas has accelerated, even though overall these facilities still remain inadequate. It is likely that the improvement in both IMR and MMR has been most marked in those districts where the sanitation programme has been more successful. Similarly, targeted schemes for maternal nutrition, implemented through the Integrated Child Development Services and other programmes, are also likely to have had positive impact.
Clearly, therefore, there are signs of substantial progress in basic health indicators in West Bengal in recent years. The question of why these have gone largely unnoticed in both the national and the state-level media is of course an entirely different issue.








The spat between Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and his Gujarat counterpart Narendra Modi is one more embarrassment for the beleaguered Bharatiya Janata Party, coming this time from the Janata Dal (United), a valued ally. Kumar has very strongly reacted to an advertisement released by well-wishers of the Gujarat government — ironically led by Bihari businessmen in Gujarat — thanking it for the help it gave Bihar during the Kosi floods. The advertisement had also mentioned Gujarat's fair treatment of minorities by depicting young girls in burkhas working on computers. In a ironical twist the girls in the picture come from UP, not Gujarat.


Kumar's ostensible anger is because he feels that "showing off" about generosity is "against Indian culture". Underlying that insult to cultural traditions is the fear that being too close to Modi will not go down well with Bihar's Muslims, and will only help his chief rival, Lalu Prasad Yadav.


While several of the BJP's allies have long been wary about being too closely associated with Hindutva, such a strong reaction has not been seen for some time. Kumar is a poster-boy for development he has undertaken and implemented in Bihar and is one of the success stories of the National Democratic Alliance. But he also made it clear that he prefers not to have the Gujarat strongman visit his state during election campaigns. Such an outburst may not lead to a split in the alliance but it does mean that the BJP has got itself into a bind with both Hindutva and Modi.


The problem is that Modi is also a poster-boy of sorts as far as the BJP's own track record with chief ministers goes. It cannot afford to lose either and it certainly will not help to have both Kumar and Modi at loggerheads.


Life for the BJP has not been easy since it lost power at the Centre in 2004, a loss compounded by a poor showing in 2009 as well. Since then, it has had problems with its party presidents and office-bearers and has also been cut down to size by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh which has taken to interfering in the party's running. As a result, the BJP has not been able to take full advantage of the weaknesses of the Congress, as a main opposition party might be expected to do.


Even if the cracks are papered over for now, the BJP is inching closer to being forced to find an answer to its Hindutva conundrum: can the party exist with or without it?






The lament of the ordinary citizen in north-eastern states like Manipur that they do not count in the powers of corridor in New Delhi is unfortunately too true. How else can one explain the two-month blockade imposed by the Naga groups in the Manipur state, causing untold suffering to the people in the state? It is only now that the home secretary, GR Pillai, announced that the chief secretaries of Manipur and Nagaland will confer and that the armed forces will break the blockade. Could not the central government have acted faster than they did?


It will perhaps be argued that the government was working the back channels and it was trying to find a solution. It is not, however, a convincing argument. While time is needed to defuse a crisis, it cannot be used a pretext to ignore the daily woes of the people. As a matter of fact, Manipur has almost become a basket case, where it is crisis situation all the time. If it is not the hill Naga groups then it is the Manipur dissident groups who cause havoc. The state and central governments are reduced to hapless spectators.


The present crisis developed from the central government's decision to allow rebel Naga leader Thuingaleng Muivah to visit the village of his birth in Manipur. The state government vetoed the idea, and this led to the blockade imposed by the Naga groups.


The home secretary has conceded that, perhaps in hindsight, the decision to allow Muivah to visit his village which, apparently, he had not visited in the last 40 years, was not right.


Of course, there are fundamental issues at stake here. Should the Manipur government have refused Muivah's request? Should the Naga groups have responded by imposing a blockade? On Monday, the Naga student groups met prime minister Manmohan Singh and later told the media that the Manipur government did not negotiate with them. It does not hold water.


The Naga leaders are arguing for a greater Nagaland. It is an issue that needs to be examined critically and a solution might not satisfy either of the party. But it is part of the democratic process.


What leaders on either side have to do is to show restraint and a sense of accommodation. No one side can have it all. The reason that hardened stances emerge is due to the slow response of the government. What should be nipped in the bud is allowed to fester. Procrastination, a tactical virtue, is not really the way to grapple with prickly issues.







There was shocking news recently about the collapse of the raja-gopuram of the Sri Kalahasti temple near Tirupati. This is no ordinary temple — it hosts one of the five important Saivite jyotirlingas, each associated with one of the elements (earth, wind, fire, air and ether). The gopuram was built by Krishnadeva Raya of Vijayanagar in 1516 CE, although the shrine itself is a millennium or two older. Most nations would treat such ancient monuments as a treasured part of its cultural heritage, but not India.


The 150-foot tower, a typical Southern-style vimana with intricate carvings, was damaged by lightning some years ago, yet absolutely nothing was done by the authorities. After the collapse, to add insult to injury, a report by a commission said the tower had "outlived its life". Would this same logic apply to, say, the Taj Mahal — has that outlived its life? It is the business of the state to maintain its cultural heritage and artifacts. There are reports of similar damage to other temple towers, eg at Srirangapatna near Mysore.


Then there was the news that the Kerala high court lambasted the Travancore Devaswom Board for being corrupt and inefficient. The court observed that Hindu temples are struggling "orphanages", poorly maintained and falling apart; Hindus are orphans.


Furthermore, a Cochin Devaswom Board official got drunk and vomited within the temple precincts at the Siva temple at Vaikom, necessitating elaborate purification ceremonies. This is also no ordinary temple — a major Saivite shrine, it is also historically important. It was the Vaikom Satyagraha in 1924 that led the way to the dramatic Temple Entry Proclamation in Travancore in 1936. And the official's 'punishment'? He was promoted to Vigilance Officer!


All these events point to an abomination in the allegedly secular Indian state — there is no separation of church (meaning religion) and state, as is the norm in modern nations. The state must be indifferent to religion, and it should not allow religious sentiments to colour its actions — the true definition of the term 'secularism'.
A Devaswom Board is an oxymoron. There should be no involvement of the state in religion, which should be left to individuals and religious groups. In fact, that is so with non-Hindu religions in India — they can run their own affairs with no interference from the government, except for largesse — such as haj subsidies for Muslims, and Andhra's own subsidies for Christians to travel to Palestine/Israel on pilgrimage.


On the other hand, Hindu temples are under the control of an interfering state, with disastrous results: they are being destroyed systematically by the rapine and pillage of a malign state. On the one hand, temple offerings are expropriated by the state; yet, the state does not even perform basic maintenance. The offerings, amounting to crores, from large shrines such as Tirupati or Sabarimala, are simply treated as general government revenue, and are not recycled to small, poor temples.


Traditionally, temples were the centres of the community, running cultural events, acting as a focal point for efforts such as water conservation, drought relief, famine avoidance, and so forth. This is in the racial memory of Hindus — and so we contribute whatever we can afford to the temple. The state has found it convenient to appropriate these funds. The pittance that a poor believer donates is grabbed and diverted by the government!


The malice is obvious in Kerala where the state controls most of the temples through the Devaswom Boards, which, it is said, are infiltrated by atheists and anti-Hindus. It can be seen in the difference between board temples and others. The latter, private temples belonging often to joint families, are thriving, while the board-controlled temples are impoverished, falling apart, and finding their lands stolen.


I found this, to my chagrin, at my own family's centuries-old temple, which we had handed over to the Travancore Devaswom Board about a hundred years ago. On my previous visit, about five years ago, the temple, while old, was thriving. Today, it is on the verge of being abandoned, thanks to indifference and possibly even malice on the part of the board: an alleged renovation has been totally botched.


This is, amazingly, a continuation of a colonial-era crime — a British resident named Munro, a missionary bigot, forced the Maharani of Travancore, circa 1819 CE, to commingle temple lands with government lands, with the result that a lot of those lands, essential to the income and running of temples, were alienated. Consequently, the 10,000-plus temples in Travancore then, have now been reduced to a mere 2,000.


Governments have no business interfering in religion. It is a crime against the people of India for the







It is easier to name the villains and chase rather than get the facts.


That is what the media has been doing rather effectively ever since the Bhopal judge convicted seven of the eight accused in the Bhopal gas leak case of 1984. Media headlines have been hogged by the former Union Carbide chief, Warren Anderson, now living in a posh New York suburb at the age of 90. There is, of course, no need to sympathise with Anderson because he has both moral and legal responsibility for what had happened on the night of December 3, 1984 and the early hours of the following days. Three thousand, two hundred and seventy-eight people died that day. Thousands more succumbed to the after-effects of the poisonous methyl isocyanate (MIC), and total is now placed at 20,000. As pointed out by Anil Dharker on this page on Monday, it is much too vague. There is need for a definitive figure, both for reasons of accuracy and for settling compensation claims.


Unfortunately, the media had not really followed the story of the victims, except asking a few of them whether they want Anderson be brought to book or not. The other trail that the media had followed is that of the politician responsible for letting Anderson leave the country. Was it the then Madhya Pradesh chief minister, Arjun Singh, or was it someone in the central government, including Rajiv Gandhi. Accusations and counter-accusations, innuendoes and denials are flying all around. It keeps the media buzz alive and kicks up enough political dust. There is nothing more to it.


The important and not-so-spicy questions remain. First, Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL), was a joint venture, in which the American parent company, Union Carbide, had a 50.9% share. The remaining 49.1% of the UCIL's holding was in the hands of private Indian investors. The Carbide plant was set up in 1969, and it is part of the much celebrated Green Revolution. Along with the high yielding varieties (HYVs) came the American pesticide companies like Carbide and American fertiliser companies like the Coromandel Fertilisers. The Carbide saga and the Bhopal gas leak tragedy need to be seen in a broader perspective.


The UCIL was not really a functioning unit between 1980 and 1984 when the gas leaks occurred. The question that has to be asked was what role did the industrial safety inspectors of the Madhya Pradesh government play. There were incidents of leaks and there was even a death due to the hazardous chemicals. But the attention even then was on getting the compensation out of Carbide, which is why no one bothered to look at some of the prosaic facts of the case.


The Indian government set itself up as the sole representative of the victims of the gas leak and came to a out-of-court settlement with Carbide for an amount of $470 million in 1987. In 1994, Union Carbide sold off its majority shares in the UCIL to an Indian company called McLeod Russel (India) with the permission of the Supreme Court. Then the Madhya Pradesh government took over the plant site. There are no details as to the terms on which the state government took over the site.


Dow Chemicals bought Union Carbide in 1999 after it had divested itself of its Indian subsidiary. In strict legal terms, Dow is not implicated in any way with the UCIL site in Bhopal.


Why, then, is Ratan Tata, in his capacity as chairman of the Investment Commission, pleading for Dow Chemicals in his letters to finance minister P Chidambaram, planning commission vice-chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and even prime minister Manmohan Singh?  Why is Mr Tata offering Rs100 crore on behalf Indian industry to clean up the former UCIL site? Is it not time for Mr Tata, the Madhya Pradesh and central government to declare the facts of the case?









With elections to the Bihar Assembly due later this year, it is not surprising to find political nerves in the state frayed and politicians edgy. The national executive meeting of the Bharatiya Janata Party , held at Patna over the week-end, was overshadowed by a petulant Chief Minister Nitish Kumar calling off a dinner he was to host for his allies from the BJP. While Kumar refused to break bread with Narendra Modi, the Gujarat Chief Minister basked in the controversy and went on to publicly compare what he managed to achieve in five years with what Nitish Kumar failed to accomplish during the same period. The 'cold war' of words led the BJP to criticise the Bihar CM for not being mature enough and also for over-reacting to newspaper advertisements promoting Modi. But even the latter, bent upon scoring a political point, reflected neither sensitivity nor maturity while taking a dig at Nitish or while praising the Deputy Chief Minister and maintaining a studied silence on the Bihar CM.


It is the timing of the advertisements that would have rattled Nitish Kumar more. A year ago it may not have mattered much but with the election round the corner, the advertisements threatened to upset the rainbow coalition and social engineering that Nitish Kumar had worked at creating during the last four and a half years. The BJP appeared far too keen to use the occasion to build up Modi because the advertisements were neither aimed at highlighting the UPA government's failures, which were to be deliberated upon by the national executive, nor at promoting brand BJP. It is an open secret that Nitish Kumar does not want Modi to campaign in the state, which, he is afraid, would give political rival Lalu Yadav a pretext to use the 'communal' card against him. But the advertisements seemed to indicate that Modi is being built up as a star campaigner for the BJP, which is unlikely to be acceptable to the JD(U) leader.


While the ' mature and self-respecting' BJP has little option but to swallow its pride and continue with business as usual, the crafty Bihar Chief Minister may have actually succeeded in sending out the message to his own constituency that he could not care less about the BJP's 'Hindutva' agenda. By present indications, the BJP could end up a loser either way.








WHEN there is death lurking everywhere, be it in air or water, one does not know where to hide. These two essential elements of life seem to have become poisonous in many parts of northern India. Water samples mainly from the southern Malwa region of Punjab have been found to contain shockingly high amounts of uranium and other heavy metals. When hair samples of 149 children and a few adults at the Baba Farid Centre for Special Children in Faridkot were sent to a reputed laboratory in Germany for testing, it was suspected that they were suffering from mental retardation and cerebral palsy because of arsenic exposure. But the test reports have revealed that 87 per cent of children below 12 years and 82 per cent beyond that age have uranium levels high enough to cause diseases. In fact, uranium level was 62, 44 and 27 times higher than normal in samples of three children from Kotkapura and Faridkot. The radioactive count in water being consumed was five to eight times more than the permissible limit.


That is intriguing because Punjab does not have any uranium mines. One strong possibility is that depleted uranium used by Americans as penetrator in armour-piercing tank rounds and bullets in Iraq and Afghanistan has travelled through air and reached the region as well as Delhi. That is a very serious development, putting the lives of millions at risk. Due to it, digestive, respiratory and nervous system disorders are common in Punjab. There is also an increase in erectile dysfunction in men, menstrual disorders in women, childless couples, spontaneous abortion, premature births, congenital abnormalities, death in early childhood and premature death.


Even otherwise, all kinds of toxic heavy metals like tin, lead, aluminum, manganese and iron have been found in the hair samples of children. That shows how badly water sources have been polluted due to indiscriminate use of pesticides and fertilisers. It is common knowledge that sewerage water laced with industrial pollutants is used at many places for irrigation. Allowing such poisoning of air and water amounts to mass hara-kiri. Drastic measures must be taken without even a day's delay.









That Pakistan has been clandestinely helping the Taliban survive in Afghanistan is a known fact. This has been pointed out off and on by those closely watching the scene in Afghanistan, but the US, which considered Pakistan as a "key ally" in the war on terrorism, refused to accept the reality. Now fresh and incontrovertible proof has been provided by a report of the London School of Economics (LSE). Not only that there is no change in Pakistan's policy on the Taliban, President Asif Zardari recently met senior Taliban leaders in a jail and offered them all kinds of help, including their release at the appropriate time. What the LSE report has pointed out has been confirmed by a former intelligence chief of Afghanistan, who recently resigned owing to serious differences with President Hamid Karzai on the question of dealing with the Taliban. How the ISI has been helping the Taliban's senior functionaries to escape the onslaught of the US-led multinational forces exposes Pakistan's double game. Islamabad has been falsely claiming to have launched a major drive to eliminate the Taliban and other extremist elements. The truth is exactly the opposite of it.


Pakistan, which has been scared of India's growing influence in Afghanistan, hopes to regain the position it had in that country before the US-led multinational military campaign began to stamp out the Taliban. Islamabad is quietly waiting for the withdrawal of the US troops, scheduled to begin in July 2011, so that it can start working again on its strategic depth idea. It will be easier for Pakistan to achieve success on this front once the Taliban get entry into the government as a result of President Karzai's strategy of buying peace by inducting the Taliban into the system. The Afghan leader is believed to have no faith in the US-NATO ability to establish peace in Afghanistan by decimating the Taliban.


This is a recipe for disaster. Allowing the Taliban to regain the ground they have lost must be opposed by all those who value peace. The US must see through the Pakistani game plan and punish it for its dirty role. Any leniency on the Taliban front may lead to dangerous consequences.

















The 19th century French intellectual Alexis de Tocqueville might have been speaking on present-day West Bengal when he said that "the most critical moment for bad governments is the one which witnesses their first steps towards reform". Considering that Buddhadev Bhattacharjee's motto was "reform or perish" before his party's reverses started in 2008, he was evidently trying to remodel his administration. But the electorate did not give him the time. Instead, his party had to pay a price for its bad governance.


The turnaround in the CPM's fortunes has been quite dramatic. When it celebrated the Left Front's 30th anniversary in power in 2007, the comrades did not know that they were about to go into a free fall. The Left's success in the 2006 assembly elections had convinced the Chief Minister that his grip on the state was firm enough for initiating his programme of reforms.


Any well-wisher of West Bengal would have wished him well. The state had suffered long enough from "rigid Marxism", a phrase used by Bhattacharjee himself about the party's earlier policies, which had led to the flight of capital. He wanted to reverse the process by seemingly acting as the state's Deng Xiaoping. "We are keenly studying China's policies", he said, "and we have learnt (that) don't stick to dogma, but change with the times". He was referring to Deng's advice: learn truth from facts, not from books.


The task which Bhattacharjee had undertaken was stupendous. It would have been a Herculean endeavour not only to undo three decades of dogmatism, but he was also trying to do so against the wishes of the party's Central leaders. If the latter chose to keep quiet, the reason perhaps was that West Bengal was some kind of a milch cow for the party because the value of being in power for so long was inestimable in a "bourgeois" society, where money talks.


It is only now that the Central comrades have started hitting back, blaming the Bhattacharjee government's wooing of the private sector for the setback. "The implementation of neo-liberal policies was responsible for the party's alienation from the people", according to Prakash Karat, the CPM general secretary, who is known to be a hardliner. Not surprisingly, the "erosion" in the party's "working class outlook" has also been blamed for the so-called rectification document, for Bhattacharjee was in the habit of telling the workers that "you have to change. If you fail to change, your company may fail".


Now that the Chief Minister is being openly criticised, Bhattacharjee may have realised that he was too half-hearted about the reforms. There is a hint that he understood this particular failing, for he had admitted to keeping quiet when his party called a bandh although he was "opposed to any kind of bandh, be it called by the Opposition or the ruling party. But, unfortunately, I belong to a party and when my party called a bandh, I kept mum. But I have decided to open my mouth next time".


But the "next time" never came, for he had lost his cue. It was imperative that when he decided to break the stranglehold of the dogma on the party, he should have gone the whole distance. It is obvious that capitalism cannot be practised while demonstrating against the joint exercises by the Indian and US air forces in Kharagpur. The one issue on which Bhattacharjee could have put his foot down was on the CPM's withdrawal of support from the Union government on the nuclear deal, for he would have received considerable support from within and outside the party. Jyoti Basu, for instance, was known to be against the decision to withdraw support, which was Karat's brainchild, and so was Amartya Sen, whose opinion carries considerable weight in West Bengal, and also outside the state.


Sen later said that the Left could have voted against the deal and "not pull the government down", adding that "if there is one place where the US government gets real respect, it is from the Left - that the Americans are so powerful that we need to be wary of them. Mostly people think of them as paper tigers". Following the defeat of the Left and the BJP in the parliamentary vote on the nuclear deal, he said, "I am disappointed with the Left parties. It is certainly a case that the Left has lost its voice". Somnath Chatterjee, too, said that the Left had become "irrelevant" after his expulsion from the CPM for defying Karat's diktat to step down from the Speaker's post before the debate on the deal.


Considering that the irrelevance was subsequently highlighted in the precipitous fall in the Left's tally of Lok Sabha seats from 61 in 2004 to 24 in 2009, Bhattacharjee would have been on a strong wicket if he had stuck to his guns on the reforms. He could have also effectively utilised mavericks in the party like the late Subhas Chakravarty, who had openly said that leaders at the central level should contest elections in order to gauge the popular mood. The reference to Karat, Sitaram Yechury and Co was evident. But, arguably, Bhattacharjee lacked the intellectual stamina to wage an inner-party ideological struggle.


Besides, his recourse to Deng's policies may have been no more than a tactical ploy and not based on a genuine reassessment of Marxism. He had merely noted how the state was stagnating in the absence of industries, especially when agriculture could no longer absorb the younger generation. The years of Jyoti Basu's reign were being compared within the party with the Brezhnev era of the former Soviet Union. That public sector could not be the preferred option for rejuvenating the industrial scene was also obvious because of its propensity for incurring losses and producing shoddy goods.


However, the Finance Minister in Basu's Cabinet, Ashok Mitra, wanted the party to follow that path. Mitra has now been approvingly quoted by Karat to disparage Bhattacharjee. When the latter turned to the private sector, a majority in the CPM and the Left Front had reservations about this dramatic u-turn from Marxism. The untimely death of Anil Biswas, who was the party's secretary in West Bengal, also deprived him of a close supporter, who had the persuasive powers to carry the party with him. Yet, Bhattacharjee gamely soldiered on, demonstrating that a chief minister cannot be easily overruled even if the CPM's Stalinism makes the party supreme.


This was the time when Manmohan Singh called Bhattacharjee a model chief minister that the latter should have laid down his markers on the road to reforms. But he was not bold enough to become a Deng. He remained the obedient party apparatchik, who did not hesitate to use the party's customary strong-arm methods to enforce his writ on the protesters in Singur and Nandigram. If he had broken from the party then by reiterating even more forcefully his objections to doctrinaire Marxism, Mamata Banerjee might have been reluctant to criticise someone who was confronting her main adversary after underlining its earlier flawed policies.


Now, Bhattacharjee has fallen between two stools. He has lost West Bengal and the hawks in his party have turned against him to give vent to their suppressed anger. The Chief Minister knows that they are wrong. Just as a return to Hindutva will not help the BJP, an assertion of dogmatic Marxism will not help the CPM. Bhattacharjee had found the remedy, but took only half doses of the prescribed medicine to make the disease worse.







Retirement, like death, is a certainty; a career will come to an end, as does life ultimately. But it suddenly dawned upon me that it scared the hell out of everyone, be it a bureaucrat, a judge or a journalist. When retirement was a universal truth, I wondered why the whole mankind feared and womankind dreaded it.


John Donne, a 17th century poet, wrote a poem: 'Death Be Not Proud" in which he tried to explain that a phenomenon like death was irreversible.


"Death Be Not Proud, though some have called thee


Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not soe"


Now I take the liberty of corrupting the opening lines of this sonnet, as 'Retirement, Be Not Proud though some have called thee parting and painful.' I have to check whether there is any poem on retirement.


A journalist, having worked for three decades peacefully, suddenly realised that his date of birth was wrong. He advanced weird arguments, saying since he came from a cyclonic region, his actual date of birth certificate was swept away by one such cyclone. The office found it a bizarre explanation. Ultimately, he retired into obscurity. In his attempt for extension he lost his gratuity called Grace.


Unfortunately, some retired souls are caught so unawares that even after quitting on a certain day; they reach the office, daydreaming, and even occupy the same seat. Then there are others, who keep lurking around the working place even after retirement.


But different people tackle retirement in different way. So a retired man asked his servant not to serve him pranthas any longer since he had lost his pay and perks. However, after a few days, the man noticed that the servant was still making pranthas for breakfast. When asked as to why he was doing so, the servant politely replied: Sir, I am making pranthas for myself. No doubt you have retired, I have not; I am earning as much as I did earlier.'


A bureaucrat, whom the loyal staff saluted day and night, now suddenly found himself workless and worthless. His family, worried at his plight, hit upon an idea. They employed a well-dressed person who would daily knock at the door of the bureaucrat and salute him. No wonder, in a few days, the bureaucrat was as bubbly as before. And thus happily he lived on — in retirement.


Remember, 'r' in retirement reads relief (from work), not relieved (from life).









The Gram Panchayat elections in Haryana's 13 out of 21 districts are just over. These could not be held in eight districts as Municipal Corporations are being created there and their boundaries are yet to be demarcated. As many as 2.52 per cent gram panchayats, 3.37 per cent Sarpanches and 40.36 per cent Panches were elected unanimously.


The voter turn out was a record 80 per cent — higher than the votes polled in the 2009 Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections. Significant differences were visible in the voting percentages for the general and reserved seats. It was higher in general male and female seats than in the reserved male and female seats. This shows that there was some degree of reluctance among the general caste voters to vote for the Scheduled Caste candidates. However, there was no such variation in the polling percentages for the general male and general female seats because women mostly remain proxy candidates for those males of their families who could not contest and their seats had been reserved for women.


There were three interesting cases of boycott in these elections. In Sangatpura of Jind district, people protested against inadequate development and the failure of district administration to address various problems, including the shortage of drinking water. In Sighhpura of the district, the boycott was to press the khap panchayats' demand to amend the Hindu Marriage Act and seek the release of those arrested for the lynching of a youth, Ved Pal, who had married a girl from this village violating the brotherhood norm.


In Bapora of Bhiwani district, the boycott was to protest against the Sarpanch post's reservation for the Scheduled Castes. Disturbingly, polling was boycotted by all the voters except two in Karora village of Kaithal district to which Manoj and Babli, who were murdered for having married in the same gotras, belonged.


The polling has been by and large peaceful except some stray cases of violence. Three persons were killed and many injured in group clashes in Mewat district. Members of the dominant caste in Beruki of Palwal district assaulted and torched the houses of a few Dalits. Though the Congress leaders and the state government have described it as a case of poll violence among two groups, the BSP Supremo and UP Chief Minister Mayawati has written to the President of India demanding dismissal of the state government and imposition of President's Rule in Haryana.


The elections remained Sarpanch-centric because the Gram Panchayats have been made more powerful than the Panchayat Samitis and the Zila Parishads under the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act, 1994. Moreover, all the rural development programmes of the Government of India and the Haryana Government as well as their programmes for the welfare and empowerment of women and the Scheduled Castes are implemented through the Gram Panchayats. Consequently, the Sarpanch election had been contested with greater zeal than that of the Panches and Panchayat Samiti and Zila Parishad members.


Though the political parties did field official candidates and the party symbols had not been used by the contestants, the local leaders of all the parties, particularly the Congress and the INLD, canvassed votes for the candidates supported by them for Sarpanch of Gram Panchayats and members of the Panchayat Samitis and Zila Parishads.


They were not given party symbols because their leaders did not want to lose face in the event of their defeat and could also woo the winners for backing their candidates for the chairpersonship of Panchayat Samitis and Presidentship of the Zila Parishad.


Far more important than the caste and sub-caste factor were the intra-caste and intra-sub-caste, personality and extended family-based, factions in the elections. The Scheduled Castes too were able to play an important role.


There was free flow of money and liquor for influencing the voters. Some voters openly declared that it was their turn to exploit the candidates for the office of Sarpanch as after the elections some of them would misuse their office to pilfer money out of the government grants they receive for development, poverty alleviation and employment generation programmes.


Most voters felt that many candidates contested elections not for serving the village community but for attaining Chaudhar (position of power), for serving their personal and family interest, and for developing political and administrative links for achieving their political ambitions.


The elections did provide an opportunity to the voters to directly participate in the grassroots democracy. These also converted our representative democracy into a participatory democracy for a short spell. But elections alone are not enough. The capacity building measures are needed. Mere training programmes are not sufficient for this purpose. There is need for genuine devolution of functions, functionaries and funds to the Panchayati Raj Institutions.


The institution of Gram Sabha, which constitutes the base of Panchayati Raj, will also have to be strengthened for making the Sarpanch accountable to people. The mechanism of social audit too needs to be made more effective for ensuring transparency in the working of the Panchayats.


The state government's decision to increase the financial powers, honorarium and daily allowances of Panchayati Raj representatives is welcome. But polls alone are no substitute for empowerment which not only requires political will but also a radical change in the mindset of the bureaucracy, official functionaries of Panchayati Raj Institutions and the officers of Line Departments. Otherwise, good governance will remain elusive.


The writer, a former Professor of Political Science, Kurukshetra University, is presently Consultant, Haryana Institute of Rural Development, Nilokheri








Of late, there has been a debate on organic farming. Critics question the scientific validity and feasibility of organic farming. In India, the so-called organic farmers preach a strange, two-pronged doctrine compounded mainly of superstition and half-truths.


The positive side of their thesis is a flat claim that organic matter alone is the answer to better crops and improved nutrition. Such "organically farmed" crops are supposed to yield more, to be free of insects and diseases, and to have wonderful health-giving qualities for the animals or humans who consume them. If this were true, it would be impossible for us to produce our food requirements because all of the manure, leaves, twigs, grass clippings and crop residues available would fall far short of meeting the need.


This faction has sought to appropriate a good word "organic", and has twisted its meaning to cover a whole crazy doctrine. These people apparently believe that by playing on words such as "organic" and "natural", they have the key to an immortal truth. The facts are that organic matter, in its true sense, is an important component of the soil. Ever since we have had soil scientists, they have recognised the values of organic matter.


The loss of soil humus through cultivation has long been a matter of concern. So these people have nothing new to offer on that score. Organic matter is often called "the life of the soil" because it supplies most of the food needs of the soil organisms which aid in changing non-available plant food materials into forms that are available to the plants, and contains small quantities of practically all plant nutrients. It is also a soil conditioner, bringing about beneficial chemical and physical changes. It has a tremendous influence on the soil and on its ability to absorb and retain water.


The chemical role of organic matter is particularly important as it is the storehouse for the reserve nitrogen supply. When soil nitrogen is not combined with organic matter it can be lost rapidly by leaching. Considerable phosphorus and small quantities of practically all other mineral elements in the soil are made available via the organic matter.


The fact is that plants absorb all the nutrients as inorganic ionic forms only whether it came from organic matter, or from commercial fertiliser. The plants don't and can't differentiate between the nutrients supplied through manures and fertilisers. Practically all plant-food elements carried by organic matter are not used in their organic form; they are changed by micro-organisms to the simple chemical forms which the plants can use — the same form in which these elements become available to plants when applied as chemical fertilizers.


The nutrients from the fertilisers are readily available as most fertilisers are water soluble while the nutrients supplied through organic manures would become available for crop uptake slowly and gradually but would be available for longer duration due to slow decomposition of the organic manures and gradual release of the nutrients into the labile pool. After being released into the labile pool, the nutrients from the fertilisers as well as the manures will behave and interact similarly. So, it is erroneous to say that nitrogen in commercial fertiliser is "poisonous" while nitrogen from organic matter is beneficial. The basic nitrogen is the same in either case.


In fine, agriculture on commercial and profitable scale cannot be sustained for long through total organic farming as we don't have enough organic manure for all our arable lands. Chemical fertilisers stand between us and hunger. True, total inorganic farming using fertilisers and agricultural chemicals alone may become hazardous in the long run. A feasible and viable alternative to sustain agriculture on commercial scale with quality produces is the integrated soil fertility management involving manures, fertilisers and bio-fertilisers in judicious combination.


The writer is Soil Scientist, Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Jammu








Last week clearly was a week of celebrations for the BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. First he will return to the Rajya Sabha. With the kind of confusion in the BJP, no one was sure if Naqvi would make it.


The second celebration for the Naqvi family was the wedding of their son Arshad Naqvi. The reception was at a five-star hotel. It was an elegant evening with a royal gathering of political bigwigs. The Prime Minister came to bless the couple and spent time chatting with other dignitaries.


Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Dr Karan Singh, BJP leader Rajnath Singh and Sachin Pilot were also present. Arun Jaitely and Rajeev Shukla spent the evening together most probably discussing the fate of the IPL and BCCI. The two new young faces of the Gadkari's crisis team in the BJP — Varun Gandhi and Vani Tripathi were also present. Abhishek Manu Singhvi did drop in to wish the new couple.


Fruits for VVIPs


Delhi is a place where leaders from different states carry small gifts to VVIPs, considered politically appropriate. Last week any top leader's house you went to, you were served syrupy-sweet Shahi litchis and Jardalu mangoes, admired for their size, aroma and pulp. Many VVIPs in New Delhi received 5-kg packets of both fruits colorfully wrapped with words, Bihar Ke Mukhya Mantri Nitish Kumar Se Saprem Bhent. They were sent from Bihar with special refrigeration facilities to New Delhi.


During the apple and cherry season, Himachal Pradesh leaders bring boxes to Central leaders. Some are transported from their personal orchards while some are bought from Khan and Bengali market here under the pretence of having travelled all the way from the hills in their cars.


From Mumbai, Maharashtra's leaders get Alphansos during the season; from Andhra Pradesh the most valued offerings are the special mango Begum Palli and the famous Shaarifa (custard apple). From Kashmir, it is either Kagazi Badams or the very rare Amri apple. We also have the special cashewnuts with skin sent by leaders who want to create a real impression. The miniature seedless papaya from the North-East as also pineapples are also a real big deal. From Bengal, its the special sweet dish Mishti Doi and Kerala's smoothies travel with the crispest coconut chips. Then, we have various leaders travelling abroad picking up chocolates, cheese and perfumes by the dozen to smooth their pathways in Delhi's Byzantine corridors.


Obsession with RS

Delhi's obsession with the Rajya Sabha is natural. It is one place where party leaders, the real rulers of Delhi, have complete sway. While the Congress uses the tactic of keeping its cards close to its chest, this time there was nervousness.


Though all sitting ministers have been accommodated, speculations about some of them like Mr Anand Sharma and Mr Jairam Ramesh kept them on tenterhooks. Comfortable cross-country berths were found to accommodate each of them and all is now well. The BJP pulled off some surprises and there were allegations of money bags against JD(U) and JMM. On the whole, the Congress circles heaved a sigh of relief.








The ball is round. The game is 90 minutes. All the rest is vuvuzela.

It's hard to imagine that a three-foot plastic pipe, with a trumpet horn at one end and an enthusiastic, tireless pair of lungs at the other, has become the mosttalked-about South African story this season — more than President Jacob Zuma's wife's alleged affair with her bodyguard, and more than striker Siphiwe Tshabalala's musical left-footer that assured the hosts would go through the next few weeks with the dignity they deserve.
   If you don't understand why this contraption is getting so much attention, tune in to tonight's match between Ivory Coast and Portugal, and turn up the volume. If the all-encompassing drone of a thousand gurgling aliens from Han Solo's sci-fi cafe doesn't bother you, please stop reading now and have a good World Cup. But if it does, give me a few moments to lament how the vuvuzela's exaggerated ethnic significance is playing its part in killing what many expected to be the most unique of all World Cups.

   In 2007, when I had gone to cover the Indian cricket team's tour of South Africa, my tiny boutique hotel in Cape Town was just across the park from the underconstruction Green Point stadium. As my taxi circumnavigated the stadium site before heading towards Newlands every morning, you could tell that the ongoing

 Test match was only incidental – a    pastime for a relatively more erudite    class disconnected from what the  real South Africa was busy preparing for.


  One World Cup is different from another only because of its look and feel. Mexico 1986 was grungygrimy, distinctive from the technical correctness of Italia '90, and then USA '94 was a sudden paradigm shift as football made inroads into a country where the word meant a completely different sport, played using hands by ivy-league jocks in grilled helmets.

This time, after the effervescence of 2002 and the efficiency of 2006, the Rainbow Nation was hoping desperately to present its own brand of football — a grinding, colourful, almost romantic version stemming from a land that may be tainted by crime, poverty and deprivation, but still has the extraordinary grace to forgive and move on.

 As the World Cup waka-wakas into Africa, however, the local flavour is lost somewhere in the haze of modernisation. On TV, the whole setting — stadiums, fan-zones, colours —looks as European as it gets. The uniformity that FIFA enforces in the garb of global standardisation seems to have hidden the genuine love that the South African masses have for football in a land where the whites and coloureds naturally gravitate towards rugby and cricket.

 So, as if to make up for that, the move to ban the vuvuzela as a nuisance this tournament must live without, is being portrayed as a battle for national honour instead of a small matter of curious travelling fans wanting to make the most noise. The vuvuzela is neither a symbol of the Soweto youth march of 1976, nor of the years Nelson Mandela spent in a tiny prison cell. It's just an interesting fad, started by Kaizer Chiefs fan Freddy Makke back in the 60s, that is now being allowed to spark a bogus argument about protecting the World Cup's South Africa-ness.

Sport, in any country, is never static. It's a movement that draws from local customs, that retains the basic values people of that country hold dear. It's a representation of both time and place, never exclusive of history or geography. What sport means to a nation is too large a subject to be captured within the plastic walls of an instrument that, in this case, happens to be irritating, hazardous, and completely impractical.

And if the cacophonous buzzing of 10 mosquitoes in each ear is the only local flavour that FIFA has allowed South Africa to retain in this World Cup because of 'global standards', there is really nothing to protect anyway.



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Union Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy has taken an important step in developing public opinion on urban transport along the right lines by supporting the idea of a congestion tax in cities afflicted by severe traffic woes. Making it clear that he is not seeking to impose the idea which state governments will have to buy into, he has nevertheless tellingly pointed out that Singapore, which is a model for India's upwardly mobile classes (those who own private cars), has such a tax. What needs to be clarified, however, is that a congestion tax on cars entering dense inner cities is not the first step but a subsequent one. Absolutely, the first goal for governments at all three levels (local, state and central) must be to create a clean and efficient mass public transport system which can be relied upon to get you where you need to go in reasonable comfort and in time so that you can leave behind not just your car but even the two-wheeler.

For this to happen, a key move which state governments must undertake, also underlined by Mr Reddy, is to set up unified metropolitan transport authorities for their cities which integrate and optimise the various modes of transport available — bus, bus rapid transit, monorail, light rail and metro — plus create the space for environment-friendly "non-motorised transport" like walking and cycling. For such a transport authority to formulate the right transport scenario, it has to work within the land-use master plan for the city. As many Indian cities have mushroomed without a land-use plan worth the name, not to speak of an integrated transport plan, the two have to be retrofitted, keeping in mind the massive urban explosion that is happening and will continue to happen for decades. An enormous amount of work has to be done by mostly the state governments (they have to empower the local governments) but it is at least reassuring that the Centre is acting as a thought leader, making the right noises, so that urban transport, as described by the urban development secretary, no longer remains an "orphaned child".

 Close on the heels of the overarching urban authorities have to come dedicated transport funds for cities as the investment needed is huge, calculated by the consultancy Wilbur Smith for the ministry in a 2008 report at a staggering Rs 4.35 lakh crore (almost equal to the GDP at current prices) for the country in the next two decades. A mixture of public, private and multilateral funding will have to be secured but the good news is that, if anything, global agencies are ahead of Indian states and car-owning classes in realising the central role of public transport in tomorrow's cities. Mr Reddy has just inaugurated a project funded by the Global Environment Facility, UNDP and the World Bank which will spend Rs 1,400 crore to train a thousand people who can undertake the urban projects needed. There is a long way to go as many cities do not have any kind of public transport. To begin with, they need a decent bus service whereas the middle class imagination has been fired by the desire to possess a costly metro rail system.








It is easy to think of the impressive 17.6 per cent increase in the April-on-April growth rate of the index of industrial production as the product of what statisticians call the base effect. Clearly, the low base of April 2009 did make the difference. However, the robust numbers for April 2010 do indicate a new trend in industrial activity. This is underscored by the fact that the capital goods sector has experienced a phenomenal 72.8 per cent growth, no doubt partly due to the base effect but also, and very clearly, because of a revival in investment activity in the country. The Indian economy has recovered from last year's global slowdown and the political uncertainties of mid-2009, as well as the impact of last year's drought and floods. There is an impressive rise in the savings and investment rates as well as in foreign capital inflows. It is entirely possible that the year may well end with closer to 9 per cent growth (finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had stuck his neck out and claimed this year the economy would grow at 8.75 per cent and he may well be proved right). Whether this revival of growth is driving inflation remains to be established. But it is clear that rising demand is beginning to impact on the price line. The higher than expected rate of inflation, as revealed by data released this Monday, may not yet suggest overheating but does point to that threat to growth. How the central bank will respond to these demand-side pressures remains to be seen.


While inflationary pressures have not yet been fully vanquished, one must not lose sight of the fact that an equally important part of the current macroeconomic story is the revival of manufacturing activity, fuelled by rising investment. The sustained rise in non-oil imports also points to rising investment activity in the economy. Interestingly, a significant part of the growth in capital goods output has been in the power sector, pointing to implementation of new power projects that have been in the pipeline for sometime. Expectations are that by 2011 there could be a perceptible improvement in the power supply situation. This would further ease the constraints on growth and contribute to its sustainability. If the government can remain focused on speedy implementation of infrastructure projects, especially roads, railways, power and urban services, the current growth acceleration could take the economy to double-digit growth rates sooner rather than later. Apart from the monsoons, the other imponderables that could yet spoil the growth party would be the global economic situation and the regional security situation. If Europe, Japan and the United States could improve their growth prospects and avoid a double-dip recession, the external environment would also be supportive. The challenge for policy-makers at home is to be able to deliver double-digit growth even if the external environment is not too supportive.








Financial meltdown has been averted in Europe — for now. But the future of the European Union (EU) and the fate of the eurozone still hang in the balance. If Europe doesn't find a way to reactivate the continent's economy soon, it will be doomed to years of gloom and endless mutual recrimination about "who sabotaged the European project".

Having suffered a deeper economic collapse in 2009 than the United States (US) did, Europe's economy is poised for a much more sluggish recovery — if one can call it that. The International Monetary Fund expects the eurozone to expand by only 1 per cent this year and 1.5 per cent in 2011, compared to 3.1 and 2.6 per cent for the US. Even Japan, in a deep slump since the 1990s, is expected to grow faster than Europe.

 European growth is constrained by debt problems and continued concerns about the solvency of Greece and other highly indebted EU members. As the private sector deleverages and attempts to rebuild its balance sheets, consumption and investment demand have collapsed, bringing output down with them. European leaders have so far offered no solution to the growth conundrum other than belt-tightening.

The reasoning seems to be that growth requires market confidence, which, in turn, requires fiscal retrenchment. As Angela Merkel puts it, "growth can't come at the price of high state budget deficits".

But trying to redress budget deficits in the midst of a collapse in domestic demand makes problems worse, not better. A shrinking economy makes private and public debt look less sustainable, which does nothing for market confidence.

In fact, it sets in motion a vicious cycle. The poorer an economy's growth prospects, the larger the fiscal correction and deleveraging needed to convince markets of underlying solvency. But the greater the fiscal correction and private sector deleveraging, the worse growth prospects become. The best way to get rid of debt (short of default) is to grow out of it.

So, Europe needs a short-term growth strategy to supplement its financial support package and its plans for fiscal consolidation. The greatest obstacle to implementing such a strategy is the EU's largest economy and its putative leader: Germany.

Even though its fiscal and external accounts are strong, Germany has resisted calls for boosting its domestic demand further. Its fiscal policy has been expansionary, but nowhere near the level of the US. Germany's structural fiscal deficit has increased by 3.8 percentage points of GDP since 2007, compared to 6.1 percentage points in the US.

What makes this perverse is that Germany runs a huge current-account surplus. Projected to amount to 5.5 per cent of GDP in 2010, this surplus is not far behind China's 6.2 per cent. So, Germany has to thank deficit countries like the US, or Spain and Greece in Europe, for propping up its industries and preventing its unemployment rate from rising further. For a wealthy economy that is supposed to contribute to global economic stability, Germany is not only failing to do its fair share, but is free-riding on other countries' economies.

It is Germany's partners in the eurozone, especially badly hit countries like Greece and Spain, that bear the brunt of the costs. These countries' combined current-account deficit matches Germany's surplus almost exactly. (The eurozone's aggregate current account with the rest of the world is balanced.)

The traditional remedy for countries caught in the kind of crisis that Spain, Greece, Portugal, and Ireland find themselves in is to combine fiscal retrenchment with currency depreciation. The latter gives the economy a quick shot of competitiveness, improves external balance, and reduces output loss and unemployment that accompany fiscal cutbacks. But the eurozone membership deprives these countries of this powerful tool, and depreciation of the euro itself is of limited benefit since so much of their trade (around 50 per cent) is with Germany and other eurozone members.

There are few other tools at hand. There is the usual call from international organisations and some economists for "structural reforms" which, in this context, largely means increasing firms' ability to fire workers. Whatever long-term benefits such reforms might bring, it is difficult to see how they would provide immediate benefits. Reducing the cost of firing workers will not increase demand for labour much when no one wants to hire new workers.

Short of dropping out of the eurozone, the only real option available to Greece, Spain and the others to boost competitiveness is to engineer a one-time, across-the-board reduction in nominal wages and prices for utilities and services. This is a difficult task under the most favourable circumstances. The European Central Bank's (ECB's) low inflation target (2 per cent) renders it virtually impossible as it implies requisite downward adjustment of 10 per cent or more in wages and prices.

So, Germany's refusal to boost domestic demand and reduce its external surplus, along with its insistence on conservative inflation targets for the ECB, severely undercuts prospects for European prosperity and unity. It virtually guarantees that Greece, Spain and the others with large private and public debts will be condemned to years of economic decline and high unemployment. At some point, these countries may well choose to default on their external obligations rather than endure the pain.

Germany's leaders may take comfort in lecturing other governments about their profligacy. And it is true that some, like the Greek government, ran too-high deficits during the good times and endangered their future. But what about Spain or Ireland, where the borrowers were not the government but the private sector? If others borrowed too much, doesn't it follow that Germans lent excessively?

If Germany wants the rest of Europe to swallow the bitter pill of fiscal retrenchment, it will eventually have to recognise the implicit quid pro quo. It must pledge to boost domestic expenditures, reduce its external surplus, and accept an increase in ECB's inflation target. The sooner Germany fulfils its side of the bargain, the better it will be for everyone.


Dani Rodrik, professor of political economy at Harvard University's John F Kennedy School of Government, is the first recipient of the Social Science Research Council's Albert O Hirschman Prize. His latest book is One Economics, Many Recipes: Globalization, Institutions, and Economic Growth


© Project Syndicate, 2010







French diplomat and wordsmith nonpareil Charles Maurice de Talleyrand remarked of the Bourbon dynasty — restored to power after the Napoleonic Wars and back to their old excesses — that "they had learned nothing and forgotten nothing". That withering observation accurately describes New Delhi today. After six decades of floundering through dozens of uprisings, including multiple insurgencies in the Northeast and proxy wars in Punjab and J&K, India's government is facing the Naxal challenge as incoherently as ever.

 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was wrong last month in calling the Naxal insurgency "India's greatest internal security challenge". He first used that description three years ago and, if it remains so even today, India's greatest internal security challenge is the strategic bankruptcy of its ruling elite.

The appalling absence of leadership is evident. Two months after the Dantewada debacle, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) is only now absorbing the reality that its traditional response to insurrection — passing the buck to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) — is not yet an option. Prompted by an overstretched military, Defence Minister A K Antony has blocked the MoHA's request for using the army's Rashtriya Rifles and elite special forces to "force the pace of offensive operations".

The accommodation then reached by the Cabinet — using the army only for training and "demining" — reeks of the compromise culture that shapes our answers to crucial questions of national security. Enough military steel has been sprinkled over the pot to deflect potential criticism that the Cabinet did not take firm steps, but not enough to generate criticism that the military was being sidetracked from the borders.

This step is hardly likely to rein in the Naxals, given the systemic ineffectiveness of police forces, both those of the states and the Centre. But the appearance of action was necessary; and criticism has been deferred to the next crisis.

That this will come before long is evident from the approach of Home Minister P Chidambaram. No Churchill in inspirational leadership, but rivalling that British wartime PM in verbal and ethical gymnastics, Chidambaram claims to have demanded a "wider mandate" for tackling Naxalism even as he sought army units for discharging the primary function of his own central police organisations (CPOs): i.e. reinforcing the state police in maintaining law and order.

His ministry, meanwhile, continues to pass the buck. This week, the MoHA is inviting the chief ministers (CMs) of Naxal-affected states (a term that is entering official lexicon!) to a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) "so that their suggestions on strengthening police and paramilitary forces can be sought".

Only Chidambaram can answer why those CMs — who are squarely blamed for the Naxal problem via home ministry leaks — are now being asked for suggestions. Clearly, the MoHA wishes to spread thin the blame for policing failure, riding on the fact that law and order is constitutionally a state subject. But what about the CPOs, which function directly under the MoHA and have long operated in Naxal-affected states?

Such is the MoHA's indifference to its CPOs — some 7.5 lakh armed policemen in the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force (BSF), the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), the Indo-Tibet Border Police (ITBP) and others — that even top MoHA officials refer to them as "paramilitary forces". A paramilitary force is, by definition, led by military officers on deputation. Only the Assam Rifles, which operates in India's north-eastern states, is a paramilitary force.

This difference is not merely academic, given that the Dantewada debacle and others before it stem from professional blunders by CPO units, which could hardly have happened under military officers. The MoHA has cynically stymied multiple proposals to stiffen CPO capability by inducting soldiers who have prematurely retired after just seven years in the military. The key reason proffered by the MoHA: this would damage the promotion prospects of directly recruited policemen.

Another reason that the Home Ministry cites in rejecting the proposal to laterally induct army jawans into the CPOs is the military's institutional orientation towards overwhelming force, which would be unacceptable in dealing with Indian citizens. This logic, while cruelly ironic for the CRPF jawans who faced a hail of Naxal bullets in Dantewada, has been fully disproved in J&K where regular army units have been no less restrained than their CPO counterparts.

Given the MoHA's stance on guarding CPO turf, and the MoD's minimalist stance on direct involvement in anti-Naxal operations, the compact on army training for CPOs is doomed to failure. Over the last five years, one of the army's most experienced trainers — Brigadier (Retired) B K Ponwar of the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School in Mizoram — has trained more than 10,000 Chhattisgarh policemen at the state's Jungle Warfare College in Bastar. The vast majority of them have gone on not to fight Naxals, but to soft jobs on the personal security details of state police officers. A policeman can be trained easily, but changing police culture is far more difficult. The same is true of the CPOs.

Do not write off the possibility that our leaders in North and South Block might have read Talleyrand. The Frenchman also said, "Since the masses are always eager to believe something, for their benefit nothing is so easy to arrange as facts." That is all that New Delhi has done so far in confronting Naxalism. 







There are numerous debilitating factors that disallow Indian agriculture from growing to its potential. The most critical of them, which, ironically, are not receiving due attention, are related to land. Not only is the availability of land for farming shrinking, but its quality and fertility are also waning. Agricultural holdings are getting smaller and turning uneconomical to operate.

The much-hyped land reforms have, right from the beginning, been misdirected. These have focused primarily on enforcing the ceiling on land holdings, whereas the real issues have been the steady decline in the average farm size and an unabated fragmentation of agricultural holdings.

 Official numbers indicate that the average size of operational agricultural holding in the country shrank from 1.69 hectares in 1985-86 to a mere 1.33 hectares in 2000-01. Worse still, the proportion of marginal landholdings (less than one hectare) rose from 57.8 per cent in 1985-86 to 62.3 per cent in 2000-01. Besides, about 19 per cent other holdings fall in the "small farms" category, measuring between 1 and 2 hectares. Thus, the small and marginal holdings together constitute a whopping 81.3 per cent of the total land holdings.

Most of these small and marginal holdings are further divided into tiny pieces of land. Some of the pieces are so small that even a plough cannot operate there. The farmers owning such lands have little incentive to invest in land development measures, such as creation of irrigation facility, land levelling, and curing soil abnormalities like salinity or alkalinity.

Therefore, the most urgent land reform that is needed today is consolidation of land holdings. It needs to be borne in mind that it was the consolidation of land holdings in the 1950s and early 1960s in Punjab, which then included Haryana as well, that had resulted in the mushrooming of tubewells, paving the way for the fertiliser- and irrigation- dependent green revolution technology to take root there.

The inheritance laws in most states are such that they result in division of land not only among the brothers but also the sisters, including married sisters, whose husbands normally live and till lands elsewhere. This is not only accentuating the process of fragmentation of land holdings, but is also swelling the number of absentee landlords.

Apart from this, the policies governing absentee landlordism and, more importantly, land leasing, are far from conducive to agriculture. A sizeable chunk of absentee landowners is wary of leasing out its lands to tenants for cultivation. These landowners fear that the tenants may get the land "pattas" (ownership rights), depriving them of their land. The result is that such land often remains uncultivated, needlessly sacrificing the output that could have been obtained from these lands.

This particular issue can be addressed by legalising land leasing, thereby protecting the interests of both landowners and tenants. However, the issue of inheritance is somewhat tricky. Some farmers' organisations have suggested that the inheritance laws be amended to give a married woman the right to the agricultural land belonging to her father-in-law, instead of her father. With this, the land inherited by her husband and by her would at least remain in the same village, maybe as contiguous plots as well. However, the social implications of such a move need to be considered and, perhaps, debated as well, before finalising a policy option. But the issue can no longer be left unaddressed.

Moreover, there is a policy vacuum on some other critical land-related issues. Besides being unfair to farmers, the current policies concerning land acquisition, rehabilitation and compensation are not framed to suit agriculture. There are a lot of instances where good agricultural lands are acquired for non-agricultural purposes. This is reducing the overall availability of land for farming, besides forcing the farmers to extend crop cultivation to the pieces of land that should, at best, be left for agro-forestry or grazing.

There is an urgent need to adopt a land-use policy based on the capability of the land concerned. Much of the country's total land mass has already been surveyed and classified into different agro-climatic zones. The results of soil surveys are available for knowing the quality of land and its suitability for different purposes. Only the lands that are unfit for crop production should be allowed to put to non-agricultural use. Unless we guard the land, the future of Indian agriculture cannot be secure.






In the fifteenth year of the Orange Prize, the debate over the world's first literary prize exclusively for women has shifted. It used to be about men grumbling that women didn't need a prize of their own; now the complaints sound suspiciously as though the Orange is working so well that the men would also like a prize just to themselves.

Tough, since even today the Orange, by spotlighting five to six brilliant and often overlooked books by women each year, underlines how much publishing and literary prizes are still a man's domain. Here are five great Orange winners who should be essential reading:

 Carol Shields (Larry's Party, 1998): Shields won her gong in the third year of the Orange Prize. She was well-known for The Stone Diaries, and the sweetly funny Larry's Party wasn't her best — but winning the Orange made her work accessible to a new generation of readers. Unless, her last novel, didn't win the Orange but it forms the best argument for the Prize, arguing that tiny, domestic themes are just as much the stuff of literature as larger, more "masculine" subjects.

Andrea Levy, (Small Island, 2004): Levy's The Long Song, a slave's-eye-view, came out this year to respectful reviews, but it's Small Island that really captured our imaginations. Set in post-World War II England, it's a look at that time through the eyes of Caribbean migrants. Levy's fourth book was her big breakthrough, both in terms of finding her audience, and finding her voice as a writer.

Lionel Shriver, (We Need to Talk About Kevin, 2005): There has seldom been such a controversial novel in the history of any prize. Shriver's tale of school shootings and an alienated, monstrously difficult child took on our last contemporary myth — the myth that maternal love is unconditional and natural. It is also perhaps the best novel ever to be written about the peculiarly 21st century dilemma of surviving a personal tragedy that's playing out in full public glare.

Marilynne Robinson, (Home, 2009): The companion novel to Home, Gilead was a surprising omission from the 2004 Orange shortlist — but Home made Robinson an icon. Through the lives of the Boughton family — a preacher father, an alcoholic son — what Robinson brought to her writing was craft; but it was also wisdom. These remain among the best, and best-loved, novels of the 21st century.

Barbara Kingsolver, (The Lacuna, 2010): The Lacuna is Kingsolver's most ambitious novel — her best would probably still be The Poisonwood Bible. Kingsolver's fierce political views and her revisioning of history run through the novel. Hillary Mantel's Wolf Hall, the much-lauded historical novel about Thomas Cromwell, was considered the front runner for the prize, and Wolf Hall remains the more entertaining, gripping book. But The Lacuna is a reminder that a really great writer often brings her conscience to her writing.

The Davidar case: David Davidar's exit from Penguin Canada, after sexual harassment charges were filed against him by a colleague, is one of the biggest, and messiest, publishing stories of the year. Here's a timeline of events:

Early 2004: Davidar, then CEO of Penguin India, leaves to join Penguin Canada as publisher.

2007: Lisa Rundle is promoted to rights and contracts director, Penguin Canada.

2009: Davidar named CEO of Penguin International and president of Penguin Canada.

October 2009, Frankfurt: According to Lisa Rundle's statement of claims, Davidar comes to her hotel room and sexually assaults her after she rejects his advances. She does not file charges at this time.

May 2010: Lisa Rundle leaves her job; it is unclear whether she resigns or is asked to quit.

June 8, 2010: Penguin Canada announces that David Davidar will be leaving to pursue his writing career.

June 9, 2010: Lisa Rundle files a $100,000 suit for sexual harassment charges against Davidar personally and a $423,000 suit for wrongful termination claims against Penguin Canada.

June 11, 2010: Davidar issues a statement saying he is "utterly shocked" by the allegations, acknowledging that he was asked to quit, and stating his intention to fight the charges.

At present, those who've worked with Davidar and know him well are in shock —HarperCollins CEO Karthika V K echoes the Indian publishing industry's view when she says that nothing in David's personal or professional record indicates that he would be capable of sexual assault, and she finds the charges "very hard to believe". Rundle's trauma is also intense; as her lawyer stated, it takes a lot for a woman to file sexual harassment charges. It would be improper to speculate on the facts of the case at present — Rundle's charges are available, but Davidar is not free for legal reasons to tell his side of the story.

Whatever the verdict, this is a saddening, unpleasant story, and it will leave a residue on the lives of both protagonists. This column will offer a more detailed analysis when the case comes to court.







The double-digit rise in the wholesale price index for May (10.16% from a year ago) is less than shocking, but the sharp revision of the March figure to 11.04% from the previously reported 9.9% comes as a surprise.

Driven essentially by commodity prices, manufacturing prices have moved up 6.4%. The saving grace is the moderation in food inflation. However, fears of entrenched inflation should not galvanise immediate Reserve Bank of India action to tighten monetary policy. The rise in prices is clearly not on account of increased money supply, rather it is more a fallout of inadequate availability of various goods.

Money supply in the economy has been rather tightly reined in by the central bank, its growth being only 14.5% as of 21 May, from a year ago. Credit growth to the commercial sector is negative . So is the wider measure of total accommodation provided by banks to the commercial sector, which includes , apart from credit, investments in commercial paper, equity and bonds. The only thing that has gone up is bank investment in mutual funds.

Even if you assume all of this got funnelled to the corporate sector, the overall flow of bank resources to the commercial sector remains meagre. So, rushing to tighten money supply while global growth remains fragile would not be a good idea.

The sensible course would be for the RBI to stick to its measured pace of reversing the extra accommodation provided as a result of the global financial crisis.

A one-time revision in sugarcane index delivered a shock, that partly explains the sharp upward revision of the March index. However, what is heartening is that the pace of month-to month rise has come down in May for primary food articles, to 0.75%, from 2.81% in April.

Prices of basic items of consumption such as cereals, potatoes and onions have softened. So have sugar prices. The sharp pickup in investment has produced supply strains in metals, jacking up their prices, even as global prices moved down.

Efficient capacity expansion is the solution, and that means reducing transaction costs, faster and transparent administrative and environmental clearances, lower protection and full pass-through of energy costs to induce lean energy use.






Instead of delivering on the promise contained in the President's inaugural address to the 15th Lok Sabha , to expand citizen's access to information on public affairs, the government now seeks to curtail such access by amending the Right To Information Act.

It plans to make a dozen or so amendments, to prevent disclosure of Cabinet papers, shield the office of the chief justice of India and to empower officials to classify any request for information as trivial or vexatious. This is wholly regressive.

It is, in fact, a move to curtail openness and transparency and to re-establish a culture of unaccountability and secrecy. The impact the RTI has had is to do with opening up the process of governance. The colonial idea of the state and its workings being opaque to the people informs the conduct of governance even today.

The RTI Act has been a significant blow against that culture. The sole possible reason to seek these amendments can only be that the bureaucracy and the political class want to restrict information so as to cover up their malaises and prevent any knowledge of wrongdoing.

Another indication of mala fide intentions has been the lack of movement on the government's promise that it would consult all the stakeholders before bringing in the changes. The proposed change to Sec 7 is the most dangerous one, as it would leave it entirely up to the state to determine what application can be deemed frivolous.

If anything, data contradict the notion that frivolous or vexatious requests are numerous enough to become a problem.

The government is, in effect, trying to change a progressive piece of legislation. Even the move to exempt the CJI would go against the January ruling of the Delhi High Court that the office of the CJI comes within the purview of the RTI Act and that details of a judge's assets should be revealed under it.

In general, access to information is key for democratic governance, as it reveals the principles and reasons that inform policymaking, thereby making people participate and determine governance . Any move to curtail that must be resisted






It's definitely a marriage gone sour: one partner says the junior is fine, but he just cannot tolerate the significant other in the relationship — even a past picture of the two holding hands in happier times becomes a source of friction. This is the stuff of yesterday's movies and today's television serials: pati, patni aur woh (man, wife and the other one).

Such a turn of events is only to be expected when one partner's eyes begin to wander and settle upon a coy someone who makes no secret of a long-held dislike for the partner who no longer commands undivided attention.

We're , of course, talking about Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and his violent allergy to the quintessential BJP leader, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, even as he is quite ready to put up with BJP's Bihar leader Sushil Kumar Modi, whose own norms of decency fetch him the label, BJP-lite.

The third corner of this triangle is occupied by the Muslim voters of Bihar, who account for 16% of the state's electorate.

Now, the Gujarat leader and the BJP could have chosen to pacify ally Nitish, who likes them close, but not too close. They could have explained away the picture of Nitish and Narendra holding hands as one of those errors to which their publicity wing is prone.

They could have cited, as proof, the happily tech-savvy picture of a Muslim girl from UP that Modi's spinmeisters tried to pass off as the face of the minorities in Gujarat. But they chose, instead, to praise Modi further. As they say in Bihar, vinashakale viparitabuddhi (whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad).

The Centre recently liberalised the grounds for divorce . You no longer have to prove desertion, cruelty, denial of conjugal rights or domestic violence. Irretrievable breakdown of marriage is sufficient. Is that a hint aimed at the estranged political partners of Bihar?







Two days before the prime minister was to arrive in Srinagar, summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir , the city went into virtual lockdown.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, leader of a movement that believes that Kashmir should go to Pakistan, had called for a bandh and the administration had responded by clamping a curfew on most of the old city. So on June 7, Manmohan Singh was welcomed to town, not by a red carpet, but by rolls of razor wire.

Singh's speech, interspersed with phrases in chaste Urdu, promised financial aid for the state, jobs for the unemployed and dialogue with any party that shunned violence , which could mean any of the dozens of political factions that want Azad Kashmir. His audience, comprising mainly politicians, bureaucrats, security and other establishment types, cheered politely.

Everywhere else, the only topic of discussion was the complete shutdown of the state's mobile phone network while the PM was in town, paralysing communications , businesses, healthcare and media services.

It wasn't that Singh's retinue was using signal jammers over a limited area: all mobile operators had been told to switch their networks off.

Why was this done? Local media said that military spooks had warned that the PM could be attacked by a suicide bomber and had thought prudent to take phones off the hook. This claim was robustly denied by the local police. An executive of state-owned BSNL told newspapers that bombs could be triggered remotely with mobile phones, so it made sense to switch the network off.

Huh? Manmohan Singh lives, works and commutes in New Delhi, where nobody's ever thought to switch mobile phones off for extra security. Indeed, if that had been done, Delhi wouldn't have been one of India's largest cellular markets .

Nor are networks switched off when Singh travels to Mumbai, which has been bruised by horrifying terror attacks. So when the phones went on the blink in Srinagar, I was forced to conclude, unhappily , that Kashmir was indeed a 'special' state — at least in the eyes of the military and their spooks.









When the Congress leadership sidelined Arjun Singh, the BJP camp was gleeful given its pathological hatred for the veteran RSS-basher . So, it's quite ironical that the BJP is now hoping against hope that Arjun will play ball by naming ex-PM Rajiv Gandhi in the 'Warren Anderson safe passage' episode.

The BJP knows the Bofors issue could become a heady political cocktail only because a Congress insider — V P Singh — agreed to turn against Rajiv Gandhi. Though their shared electoral/political misfortune brought about a sort of tactical BJP-Left tango in Parliament, the absence of a credible leader and a spicy national issue remains a vacuum in creating a Bofors-like brew.

Sure, even an ageing and ailing Arjun might ignite a dharm yudh within the Congress. But those who know Arjun feel he is certainly not going to burn his life-time 'loyalty card' to reinvent himself as a utility player for the saffron camp. No wonder, the seasoned Pranab Mukherjee chose to demonstrate Congress' confidence in Arjun's DNA even as the BJP is waiting to rally behind a 'secular rebel' .

Emperor's robes

Nitish Kumar thinks visuals of his Ludhiana tango with Narendra Modi can't be shown to his Muslim audience in Bihar. This desire for a state-specific blackout is, certainly, the kind of stuff that even champion censor V C Sukhla could not think of. But Nitish's 'apolitical development constituency' is more upset about their tech-savvy CM behaving as if he did not know the abc of how fast news move these days.

But Nitish's touch-me-not-inpublic posture did amuse the seasoned political gallery in Delhi. So they jokingly recall how the same Nitish did not suffer any agony in BJP's company when Gujarat burnt under Modi's rule. He had chosen to remain in the NDA Cabinet even when Paswan quit it. So, after living with the BJP for the full tenure in Delhi and now in Bihar, Nitish gets the 'Modi itch' . An emperor in electoral robes.

Tricky choreography

If the BJP is furious with Nitish's Patna spoiler act, a section of the saffron party also thinks Narendra Modi too contributed to the mess. After all, an inquiry has established the eventful Nitish-Modi ad was not released by the BJP but by some Modi well-wishers .

Now the whisper in BJP circles is that this was the culmination of the choreographed acts so-called Modi fans have been putting up. It is that said ahead of every major BJP event, these "Modi fans' descend on the venue in advance to launch a PR exercise to prop up a larger-than-life image of the Gujarat CM. BJP whispers have it that these fans also craftily set up the atmospherics when Modi begins to speak. Overkill for the 'Hindutva poster-boy' ?

Thinking alike

The CPI(M) polit bureau may have endorsed the isolated Kerala unit's pre-poll line that Christian and Muslim minorities are asserting their communal agenda under Congress-led UDF patronage. This desperate tactical line is designed to appease the Hindu community after every Christian and Muslim political outfit deserted the LDF a year ahead of assembly polls.

But none of the CPI(M) allies are showing any enthusiasm to chant Big Brother's new mantra. The CPI, RSP, JD(S) and Congress (S) are extremely unhappy in pursuing the CPI-M plot which is being dubbed by UDF and other critics as 'pro Hindutva' and 'anti-minority' . No wonder the state BJP has welcomed the new CPI(M) line with advice that the Marxists should practise it with conviction and not as a mere electoral ploy.








consider the question: is zen overrated? people unfamiliar with the practice , who've only heard of its cult status among the apparentlyauto-enlightened counter-culture which includes some well known but iffy luminaries, will probably say gee, I don't know, it's hard to tell.

On the other hand, those familiar with it, those who are otherwise rooted in more ordinary unassuming belief or unbelief systems boasting simple one-size-fitsall principles will say, yes, I think so. (Though inwardly they might be wondering , what the hell is it trying to say anyway?) But ask a Zen master the same question and he or she will probably come up with something like "Look, the rain is coming over the mountains" or "Clean the pots and sweep the courtyard" .

One kind of interpretation of such an unconnected answer would be that the question was unimportant, irrelevant or — perhaps — itself overrated to begin with.

If, however, the master was a slightly less honest person who actually took time off to consider ratings as a sort of meaningful activity to be indulged in, he would say Zen was not only overrated, it was a pile of hyped up glorified waffle. Why the disconnect? Why should one have to move away from sincerity to proffer a response that seems to make sense to some?

The reason is, sincerity is not yes or no; rather, it's both or neither . Whereas the overwhelming majority of us function somewhere along the continuum of "either" .


Which is why it can make sense to say that some movies , disciplining children or having red wine on a regular basis, for instance, are overrated because we can immediately assess such things on a polar value system arrived at by experts who are considered authorities .

The simplest example of this kind of measurement is "good is good, bad is bad" . It seems so self-evident as to be laughable to deny. Yet when we come across the various dimensions of moral relativity and ask ourselves "good for whom? bad for whom?" we could get stuck if we think about it.

Wumen Huikai, the 13th century Chinese Zen commentator who urged his disciples not to form a relative conception of "is" and "is not" also wrote "thinking good and bad is hell and heaven ... neither progressing nor retreating , you're a dead man with breath." Breathing is very sincere . It's neither good nor bad and it can never be overrated on any scale. Unless one is already dead.








The world's biggest company has no factories and doesn't manufacture a thing. US-headquartered Wal-Mart Inc is the largest global chain of shops selling the basic stuff of everyday life. More than 200 million customers visit its 8,000 stores every week.

At the nano end of the scale, your favourite kirana shop sells goods identical to 10 near by. Yet, you prefer it. Obviously, Wal-Mart and the kirana shop have us hooked. Their secret: they understand how we shop. And given the number of padlocked departmental stores these days, this magic ingredient may be the key to success. ET helps you join the dots.

Understanding how we shop starts with a basic insight: we are bargain-hunters at heart. Rich or poor, we hate being ripped off. We become devoted loyalists of any shop that guarantees a good deal. (Until a better one comes along, of course). But a bargain is not about reading price tags.

Its pleasure lies in comparing them. That's why for a successful shop, offering the lowest prices is never enough. It must actively encourage customers to compare prices at rival outlets. They will anyway. Price transparency is the game.

British retail chain Asda, now a Wal-Mart subsidiary, has lifted bargain-hunting to a new level. Under the world's first automated price guarantee, if you punch in your Asda receipt number at a website, it scans the day's prices at rival chains for that basket of goods. If you paid more at Asda, you get instant refund. It's been an amazing success.

We hate being disappointed by quality. This is especially true for the unbranded food and meat we buy. Private-label goods — so called because they are selected and packaged by the retailer himself — are about shelf-edge trust and consistent quality. That's not easy when he usually has little control over standards in wholesale markets. Get it right and you don't need loyalty cards.

For everyday products, we are creatures of habit. So, when your kirana owner recommends an alternative he thinks we might like, it can be a delightful and wonderfully bonding experience.

Insightful and confident shopkeepers thrive on it. They expand our boundaries by helping us try new things. The downside: if we don't like their recommendation once too often, we start questioning their discernment.

Going Green is the new buzzword. From LED bulbs and solar panels to save energy, to less packaging and recyclable bags are all excellent moves. But guess what — these efforts genuinely touch us only when they help reduce grocery bills. It's not enough to save energy.

To win brownie points, smart retailers have to pass on those savings to us. Customers are invariably in a hurry. Whether quick bicycle home delivery or efficient billing, we want shopping over fast.

Since stores are getting larger, navigating the cart, reading the list, spotting the shelf, the right brand and size, comparing prices, while tracking the kids is more multi-tasking than we need. At that point, a clueless/nervous/inept shop-assistant can kill the proverbial shopping experience.

Wal-Mart knows this well. It has put its two million store assistants, called associates, at the helm of global growth. Most senior managers have shopfloor experience. As associates physically create the atmosphere (friendly/efficient/honest) and generate $405 billion in annual sales, Wal-Mart has a new rallying cry, 'We are merchants'. The idea is to make each associate behave as if he owns the place.

Finally, we all hate wasted trips. Petrol is expensive. Parking is hellish. To discover our items are out of stock can be exasperating. A rival better-stocked, albeit more expensive, shop starts appearing like a better option. For any shop, managing inventories is critical.

If you over-stock, you exhaust working capital. If you don't, you lose customers. That's why Wal-Mart and other leading retailers are spending top dollar on technology and suppliers for just-in-time delivery. It's their most important investment in these cash-strapped times.

Consumers everywhere like to shop in efficient, attractive, well-stocked stores where they can be sure of a bargain and discover something new. Our favourite kirana shop may need to get right only a few of these. But we are not so forgiving of modern retail. Indian chains that did not understand us are folding up.

They forgot that only a clever mix of marketing, intuition, transparency, technology, merchandising, imagination and convenience can keep us returning for more. Wal-Mart Inc is the world's biggest factory for this formula. It's just not sold in any store.








Kalanithi Maran , owner of the Sun TV empire, stunned the aviation sector by beating out well-known names in Corporate India to emerge victorious in the race to buy SpiceJet. Mr Maran, whose Sun Network is one of the dominant names in the Indian television entertainment scene, has no experience in aviation. Nor has he partnered with somebody in the aviation business to do the deal. In this interview with ET, he explains the reasons behind his interest in the sector and his plans for SpiceJet. Excerpts:

Currently, you're running a company with perhaps one of the best profit margins in the media and entertainment space and now you're getting into a sector where profitability is hard to come by. Why aviation?

I look at the opportunity, at what's going to happen in the future. Currently, the industry carries four million passengers per month, growing at the rate of 15%. We are seeing the purchasing power percolating to smaller cities. I strongly believe that if you have affordable pricing, you can do mass transportation in India, with infrastructure and new airports also coming up.

But people are sceptical of your entry into this space without past experience or core competency.


I am the chairman of the company, not the CEO. It is the CEO who requires core competency. The chairman requires foresight. I don't believe in industry's perception, I believe in creating trends.

When I started satellite television, people laughed at me saying Tamil cannot be in satellite television, it's too costly. When I started radio, they said television has come, radio is a dead business. When I started DTH, they said there are too many big players. We are now 5.5 million subscribers strong. If I'm going to follow the herd, I'll be one among the crowd. Let me be clear. All my steps are calculated, I am not going blindly with intuition. I never wanted to do it when oil prices were at $140 per barrel.

What kind of moves can we see on the pricing front? Also, aviation is a loss-making industry. How will you ensure that SpiceJet keeps its head above water?

Right now, SpiceJet and IndiGo are the only two profitable airlines. We picked up one company that is making profits. So it disproves your theory that it's a loss-making industry. EBITDA for SpiceJet is 19% for FY10. The aviation sector hit rock bottom two years back. Now, it can only go up. That's how we see it. We have been studying SpiceJet only for three months. Next couple of months, we will consolidate this acquisition.

Do you see your latest venture as a financial investment? How much time will you spend on aviation from now on? Currently, all your time goes to Sun TV. How will you divide you time between aviation and entertainment?

I am not an FII. Whatever business I do, I am an active player. If I wanted to be a financial investor, I would have stayed at 10%. I am not like that. If you see what we've done, over a period of three years, we have brought in professionals. We have got one of the best teams for Sun, it is all professionally managed. It is a board-run company.


Do you think your timing is right?

Rather than a full-fledged carrier, we went to Spice at the right time when the promoter (Kansagra family and investor WL Ross) wanted to exit. So, the timing was right. We got 25% less than the market price, so it has to be right. The pricing that I did was the correct price. Lesser than the market price, even if you take a six months' average. Deal was struck at Rs 47.25 per share.

But did you prefer the acquisition strategy rather than starting a new airline?

Starting from scratch is painful. Spice is a very strong brand up north. And its one of two airlines making profits. Spice has 20 aircraft and now they've also applied for international routes — Dhaka and Colombo.

What about your growth targets?

Spice's current EBITDA margin is 19% and my target would be to take it to 25-30%.

How will you do that?

It will happen through better volumes. Not disruptive, it will be something constructive for my passengers. I am not competing with full-fledged carriers. At least for the next five years, I am not looking at changing the low-cost model. Worldwide, if you see, low-cost carriers are the ones doing well — RyanAir or EasyJet or SouthWest in the US. They are the ones who escaped the recession. So I am going to stick with that.

You already have Raja Vaidyanathan who helped you firm up your aviation plans. Will Spice CEO Sanjay Agarwal continue? Any management changes in the offing?

I am happy with what Spice has got. From what I have learnt, the Spice management has done a great job during the recession. They are doing well. What do you mean my own men? Anybody who is working for me is mine. Sanjay was not the promoter's man because the ownership was fragmented. And he has done a good job. So, honestly I don't see any changes I'm going to do with the management. Maybe, a new team will come. Maybe at the marketing level. All this will happen once I consolidate. This year itself, they have plans to take 5-6 aircraft. We may look at more (routes) in the south. Spice actually is less represented in the south.

Any immediate plans to rename the brand?

As of now, that is not going to change. Spice has a very strong name in the north.

Would you consider enhancing your current stake of 57%?

It all depends on the company's requirements. From what I've seen, they don't need funds. Internal accruals are enough. One of the reasons I picked them is that it is literally a zero-debt company.

What support mechanism do you anticipate from the government?

The industry's main concern is the removal of the 30% tax that states levy on fuel. Worldwide, airlines are not treated as a luxury the way it is in India. Even in a continent like Europe, the major mode of transportation is aircraft. In third world countries too, in countries in Latin America, the population of aircraft and number of carriers is going up. If you start saying it's luxury, you're in trouble. The airline business should be thought of as a mode of transport. If I'm able to convert first-class passengers travelling in train into fliers, you're looking at a huge potential.

Which other sectors are you looking to invest in?

I'm not going to comment on that. Right now, my focus is only on consolidation of this acquisition. Maybe towards the end of the quarter. We have some plans. Not telecom, its too over-crowded. Not going to comment on others.

Given your political lineage, did you use any connections to firm up your aviation foray?

This is a question that I've been asked from the day I started my business. Out of 15 years of existence, half the time I have been in Opposition. Either I have been fighting with somebody or the Opposition is in power. In fact, political connections put me in trouble also. Whatever I've done, it's open. If that is the case, then every politicians' son should have made it big. I am proud of my heritage, my family is in politics, I am not going to say no to that. But that and this is different. I have never been part of the political system.








ABB investors were stunned last month when it offered to buy back a substantial stake from shareholders and take its stake to over 70%. Investors saw it as a prelude to delisting the company and taking it private. In an exclusive interview with ET , Biplab Majumdar , vice-chairman & managing director, ABB India, rubbishes talk of an exit, but acknowledges challenges such as margin pressures and cut-throat pricing.

What is the reason behind the buy back offer?

ABB had mentioned in a recent conference call that they are only reiterating their long-term commitment of India as a market. ABB has always been a very strong player in transmission & distribution as well as automation in India. So they wanted to increase their stake with a desire to invest more in this country and use this as an export hub for R&D, engineering and manufacturing. This step is in the right direction.

What about the thinking and the timing behind the announcement?

Anytime is a good time. In my opinion, this should have happened last year when the share prices went down to Rs 360. But anyway, the point is one has to start somewhere.

Given the multinational companies in India, a lot of them have increased their stake and have delisted the company. Is it a kind of prelude to delisting the company at a later stage?

That is more of an exception than a general trend. ABB and its parent Asean and Brown Boveri were known in this company for almost 100 years. First Brown Boveri turbine supplied in 1920 is still in operation and first electrification between Mumbai and Thane railway link was done by Asean Electric in 1932. From that day to today, we stay invested in this country. We have increased our presence here and put more in-depth manufacturing in India. We are listed in the stock exchange and have shareholders who are holding shares for 50-70 years.

So the purpose is to invest more in the company?

Among emerging markets, India has a pre-eminent position after the recession. As a market, it turned out to be much more stable. We have an ever increasing demand for energy as the electricity consumption is at a very low level and the rural economy is growing. Anything that adds to the standard of living of our rural population, which is 60-70% of the total, will require energy. So, there is a steady market.

ABB's capex is the highest in some of the emerging markets. Can you tell us a little bit about this?

I do not have the number for China. In India, we just finished $200 million in 2008 and had invested almost Rs 180 crore last year. We continue to invest in new technology and products. We have a huge workforce employing almost 8,000 people in India. ABB has a long-term view for India as a resource base for engineering and a deep down manufacturing hub for supplying high technology products in electric automation from here to other countries.

Are you supplying such products to other countries?

We are sending products from India to other countries. Some of our factories are global. We have also exported some brakers and motors to Europe. We plan to expand, modernise and put new establishments.

Is ABB doing something similar in other markets?

No, we are doing similar work in India, China and Poland and in some high-cost countries such as Finland, Sweden and Switzerland, where very high-end power electronic products are manufactured. Some of these works are also getting shifted to India and China. We are setting up a cable factory in the US, where transmission and distribution infrastructure is extremely old and this market will reduce dependence on oil, and will focus on renewable energy. We have also increased our spending in power electronics in Switzerland. ABB is investing heavily all over the world, and as part of the overall strategy for emerging markets, India is pride of place.

Is it possible to quantify any likely investment by the company in India?

It is difficult as it will be influenced by the global and local market forces. There has not been any let up in the capital investment. In fact, even in 2009, recessionary year, we invested Rs 180 crore.

What are ABB's future capex plans?

There will be more investment in the next two years. We are investing heavily in training people on large project sites and manufacturing locations in other geographies. We are hiring more people with specific background. Every year, we recruit 150 people.

There are a lot of concern on your Q1 numbers, where profit has been impacted by forex costs.

All our imports and exports are hedged on the same day when the contracts are signed, so there is no profit or loss impact on any of the contracts or in the cash flows. But according to AS11 of the accounting norms, every quarter, one has to restate all the derivatives, taking into account the currency fluctuation and one has to state that in the profit and loss. So when the euro declines there is a notional loss as we are a net importer. This notional loss is not a loss in any projects or for the company in terms of cash. It is only an accounting standard that one needs to follow. Of course, our profit has declined 35% but the revenue has gone up marginally. The order also fell.

Is the forex loss likely to be a regular feature in your financials?

This is nothing to do with ABB. The Indian currency is gaining strength and euro is taking a beating. This is a challenge on the other side of export where realisation is less. But then in one way, it is good as our net worth is increasing. We will disclose this every quarter whenever it happens.

What is the outlook for power products and power system business?

Power systems did not do well due to exit from rural electrification. With power products and automation, there was a price dip in the market. The market price is under pressure but we still have a strong position in both power products and power systems business. In power product, we are avoiding loss-making orders as we develop very high end products and are not prepared to compromise. The market is still there and will grow faster. We are waiting for certain things to be in line. Most of the utilities are getting bankrupt and such projects are very difficult to touch, rural electrification is one such example.

But that will only leave you with private developers?

No, we have the biggest order from PowerGrid (PGCIL). We are very comfortable working with NTPC, PGCIL, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. But we are not comfortable working with many state utilities as their coffers were empty and there are challenges of late realisation of money and pricing.

How do you tackle pricing issues?

We have to be competitive. In 1990, we had cut-throat competition. If we could survive those days, we can survive this. ABB always develops new technology to bridge the barrier of pricing mindset. The next stage of innovation will beat the pricing psyche and it has always been the case. We bring another set of products that make other obsolete.








Manulife Chief Philip Hampden-Smith says if new regulations come in and the co progresses in its talks with India, it can start looking at distribution models that reflect the new paradigm

In the decade since the insurance industry was opened up, Canadian insurer Manulife has stayed away. The North American giant, one of the world's five largest life companies, is now showing interest both in life insurance and mutual fund.

The company has appointed Mukul Gupta (ex-CEO Birla Sun Life MF) as its chief representative in India. Philip Hampden-Smith, executive vice-president & general manager, heads Manulife's six operations in ASEAN, namely Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam and also has oversight for the development of Indian and Korean markets. In an interview with ET, he speaks about the company's plans for India.

Why have you stayed away from India so long?

We have a significant presence in Asia and our Asian franchise has been around for over a hundred years. We spent the last 20 years in putting a lot of effort to get where we are. We account for 25% or so of Manulife's earnings. Perhaps if we hadn't had the history we had, we would have looked at India differently.

We are now reviving our position. The timing of the review is because there is lot of upheaval in the market and it may be a period when having no legacy is an advantage. If new regulations come in and we progress in our talks in India, then perhaps we can start looking at distribution models that reflect the new paradigm. We are reviving our position in respect of all the changes that are going on. We will take a decision but we are not there yet.

Manulife appears to eschew having a minority stake. Was the cap on foreign direct investment keeping you away?

That has always been one of the issues. In Manulife, we believe that we understand insurance business, and therefore, having management control on a day-to-day basis is very important to us. Our track record bears out our strategy. I am told that the outlook (for increase in FDI) is very positive. But the fact is we are where we are.

How do you see this debate over Ulips?

I have read a lot of reports of what is happening in India. Quite a lot of the conversation that has been happening here has happened in other countries as well. I think the real issue here is where do these products sit. I guess it doesn't really matter so long as the product delivers value to the customer.

I believe that there is a cost of distribution. If there is no value in distributing something, it won't get distributed. I have read an article in your paper where state-owned India Post has stopped selling mutual funds because they can't afford to pay commission.

There is a feeling that insurers have moved too much away from protection to investment products?

One of the problems in Asia over the years is that there has been a huge migration into wealth markets. The insurance industry controls distribution. Because the mutual fund industry is not developed, the insurance companies have filled the gap. There is nothing wrong with that because if they hadn't then who would have done it? There wasn't any mutual fund industry and banks were doing what banks do. Insurance companies have played a major role in savings.

I think the key thing is to have a balanced business. In most Asian countries, protection has been undersold and underbought. Even in developed countries like Singapore, if you look at the broad sum insured, individuals are grossly underinsured. But conversely if you look at the savings, they have great savings. There is a great opportunity to redeploy resources to grow the protection side of the business. The issue around investment products is really how they are sold and why they are bought.

You also have a mutual fund business. Are you looking at setting up an AMC in India?

In addition to reviewing the insurance side, we are also looking at the wealth management space where we have a significant presence. Even in locations where we do not have asset management companies, we have a good core team of investment professionals.

In Vietnam, the fundamental basis of our business is insurance but we also have a closed-end fund. We are developing our expertise so that when the markets come on stream, we are in a very good position. In Indonesia, we have a mutual fund whose products are sold by our insurance agents which give them the ability to have a holistic relation with the customer.

How has the sub-prime crisis hit Manulife?

Manulife is in very good shape and extremely well capitalised. We enjoy high level of capital on a comparative basis with our industry peers. We are definitely in a position of strength but that does not mean that we rush into things. The financial crisis has opened up lot of opportunities in the markets that we are already. There are parting players. We are also attracting a lot more calls from banks who like the idea of tying up with a company of Manulife's standing. Like any operations, we have to dedicate our resources where we can get the best results.







Manulife Chief Philip Hampden-Smith says if new regulations come in and the co progresses in its talks with India, it can start looking at distribution models that reflect the new paradigm

In the decade since the insurance industry was opened up, Canadian insurer Manulife has stayed away. The North American giant, one of the world's five largest life companies, is now showing interest both in life insurance and mutual fund.

The company has appointed Mukul Gupta (ex-CEO Birla Sun Life MF) as its chief representative in India. Philip Hampden-Smith, executive vice-president & general manager, heads Manulife's six operations in ASEAN, namely Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam and also has oversight for the development of Indian and Korean markets. In an interview with ET, he speaks about the company's plans for India.

Why have you stayed away from India so long?

We have a significant presence in Asia and our Asian franchise has been around for over a hundred years. We spent the last 20 years in putting a lot of effort to get where we are. We account for 25% or so of Manulife's earnings. Perhaps if we hadn't had the history we had, we would have looked at India differently.

We are now reviving our position. The timing of the review is because there is lot of upheaval in the market and it may be a period when having no legacy is an advantage. If new regulations come in and we progress in our talks in India, then perhaps we can start looking at distribution models that reflect the new paradigm. We are reviving our position in respect of all the changes that are going on. We will take a decision but we are not there yet.

Manulife appears to eschew having a minority stake. Was the cap on foreign direct investment keeping you away?

That has always been one of the issues. In Manulife, we believe that we understand insurance business, and therefore, having management control on a day-to-day basis is very important to us. Our track record bears out our strategy. I am told that the outlook (for increase in FDI) is very positive. But the fact is we are where we are.

How do you see this debate over Ulips?

I have read a lot of reports of what is happening in India. Quite a lot of the conversation that has been happening here has happened in other countries as well. I think the real issue here is where do these products sit. I guess it doesn't really matter so long as the product delivers value to the customer.

I believe that there is a cost of distribution. If there is no value in distributing something, it won't get distributed. I have read an article in your paper where state-owned India Post has stopped selling mutual funds because they can't afford to pay commission.

There is a feeling that insurers have moved too much away from protection to investment products?

One of the problems in Asia over the years is that there has been a huge migration into wealth markets. The insurance industry controls distribution. Because the mutual fund industry is not developed, the insurance companies have filled the gap. There is nothing wrong with that because if they hadn't then who would have done it? There wasn't any mutual fund industry and banks were doing what banks do. Insurance companies have played a major role in savings.

I think the key thing is to have a balanced business. In most Asian countries, protection has been undersold and underbought. Even in developed countries like Singapore, if you look at the broad sum insured, individuals are grossly underinsured. But conversely if you look at the savings, they have great savings. There is a great opportunity to redeploy resources to grow the protection side of the business. The issue around investment products is really how they are sold and why they are bought.

You also have a mutual fund business. Are you looking at setting up an AMC in India?

In addition to reviewing the insurance side, we are also looking at the wealth management space where we have a significant presence. Even in locations where we do not have asset management companies, we have a good core team of investment professionals.

In Vietnam, the fundamental basis of our business is insurance but we also have a closed-end fund. We are developing our expertise so that when the markets come on stream, we are in a very good position. In Indonesia, we have a mutual fund whose products are sold by our insurance agents which give them the ability to have a holistic relation with the customer.

How has the sub-prime crisis hit Manulife?

Manulife is in very good shape and extremely well capitalised. We enjoy high level of capital on a comparative basis with our industry peers. We are definitely in a position of strength but that does not mean that we rush into things. The financial crisis has opened up lot of opportunities in the markets that we are already. There are parting players. We are also attracting a lot more calls from banks who like the idea of tying up with a company of Manulife's standing. Like any operations, we have to dedicate our resources where we can get the best results.







From a young lad in the dusty streets of Kanpur, to the spic and span Sunnyvale alleys, Shashi Seth is always in search of something. He prefers to call it the great search experience. This Pune University alumnus, once headed the Google's search monetisation business and worked with Nasa. Now as the senior vice-president (SVP) for search products at Yahoo!, he plays a key role in the alliance of Yahoo! Search with Microsoft's Bing. ET tries to search Mr Seth's mind for the future of search experience, and how the alliance will benefit Yahoo! users. He also talks about the search through voice, gestures and visuals. Excerpts:

What does the alliance with Bing mean for Yahoo! users?

Our search alliance with Microsoft can be explained by an analogy of car making industry. If we liken search box to a car, then Yahoo had been developing the car's engine for about 12 years now. We wanted to outsource the same and concentrate more on making the car and improving user experience.

Microsoft was the best engine maker and partner we could find. The company was willing to make those investments. We wanted to transfer the technology for a long time, but got delayed because of some queries by the US department of justice. We had already developed the car's engine, quite a lot.

Now we want to make the car's front look more beautiful and easy to use. The deal will involve transitioning Yahoo!'s algorithmic and paid search platforms to Microsoft. Under the terms of the agreement, which was announced in late July 2009, Microsoft will provide Yahoo! with the same search result listings available through Bing.

Yahoo! search brand asset will remain Yahoo's, but the engine will now power both Yahoo and Bing searches. Yahoo! users will get a better search experience and a great front look and feel for Yahoo! search.

How has internet search changed over the years?

Web search experience has not changed in the last many years. The internet, on the other hand is changing — from a web of pings to a web of things (or nouns). Web search will also not remain as a sea of blue links anymore.

It does not matter to users if you serve them a billion blue links, or 10 blue links. They are just looking for that one information page. Only 15% of users scroll beyond the first web search page. About 99% of the results are actually not needed.

So, serving them a billion links doesn't make any sense. Better user experience, to help a person find that relevant information within one click is needed. For that, Yahoo is now moving towards verticalised search (web search within categories) — like movies, sports, business etc.

What is the future of search?

The future of search seems to be interesting. Search is all about information. You might like to find it from wherever you are.

Search engines might be incorporated in a whole range of devices – from cars and phones to TVs. Visual search – like you click a picture – and search by it, is already present. Voice search – like searching for a place, etc by just saying its name – is also being improvised. We plan to make the keyboard redundant in a web search. Gesture-based search is in the labs now.

How is Yahoo! search experience better than its larger rival Google?

We plan to offer all options in all our search queries. For instance, if you type a query on Sachin (Tendulkar), you might be interested in his records, biography, news, or his restaurant. We have created a navigation that you see on the search bar. Some people copied it from us. Search Assist is available on every property across the Yahoo! network.

Our mobile search includes location-based technology and voice search. We have incorporated Twitter data feed in our search. The Tweets are loaded in our search on a topic whenever you search something about it.

We are focused on increasing the quality of our searches. We are also incorporating visual search. Video and image search is already present. You can also search in vernacular languages. We also offer search via sketching it in a map.

What is the revenue arrangements as part of the deal with Microsoft's Bing?

As part of the deal, we have offered a section of our team here (in Bangalore) and in Sunnyvale to move to Microsoft. Search is a big property for us. About 60% of our net profits come from search. About $3 billion (or about 50%) of our revenue, comes from monetisation of Yahoo! Search. It will be a joint sales effort to customers led by Yahoo!. It will be a revenue sharing agreement. (Experts peg the arrangement to about 88:12 in Yahoo's favour).

Yahoo! and Microsoft will each represent and provide customer support to different advertiser segments. Yahoo!'s sales team will support high volume advertisers, search engine marketing agencies, and resellers and their clients. Microsoft will represent and support self-service advertisers.

What are your views on filtering of search in countries like China?

We have a partnership with in China. But I can't provide an answer to that question.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



JD(U) leader and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has long been known to advertise his distance from Hindutva icon and Gujarat's BJP chief minister Narendra Modi even as he has run his administration in alliance with the saffron party. It's apparent that his hobnobbing with the BJP has not affected his chances with Bihar's Muslim voters. This was true in Bihar's last Assembly election five years ago, and again in the May 2009 Lok Sabha polls. All the same, Mr Kumar has been at pains to emphasise that any hint of proximity to Mr Modi might be the kiss of death for his standing with minority community voters in Bihar. The BJP leadership was expected to be sympathetic to this concern. It was no secret that in the last Lok Sabha election Mr Kumar declined to have Mr Modi campaign in Bihar, so adverse is the Gujarat BJP leader's image in the eyes of Muslim voters. The BJP was careful to respect the sentiment. It is, therefore, inexplicable why the saffron party threw discretion to the wind and played the Gujarat CM big through an advertisement in Bihar newspapers during the BJP's recently-concluded national executive meeting in Patna. Nobody should have been in any doubt that showing Mr Modi holding hands with Mr Kumar in the offending advertisement would be red rag to the bull. It is not clear if the Bihar CM will carry out his threat of initiating legal action in the matter. If he does so, he will clearly be complicating his ties with the BJP in his state. The relationship has never been smooth, but both the chief minister and deputy chief minister — the BJP's Sushil Modi — have shown sufficient savvy to not let the boat capsize. Indeed, at present, the JD(U) does not have any serious problems with the state BJP. There was, then, no reason for the BJP to play the advertisement card only months before the Assembly election due in November this year. It may have been a miscalculation. Nevertheless, the matter was shoddily handled. The BJP was expected to be careful about the chief minister's political prickliness when he told them well in advance that he was not going to address their public meeting on the occasion of the national executive. But he had been gracious enough to agree to host a dinner for the BJP leadership as a demonstration that he was part of the NDA. He pointedly cancelled the dinner.

This amounts to paying back the BJP in its own coin, and has the potential to sour relations at the level of ordinary party workers on both sides which, in any case, have not been anything to write home about. But at the leadership level, it should be a surprise if Mr Kumar holds out prospects of a break on the eve of the state poll, that is doing a Naveen Patnaik, in effect. There might be three reasons for this. On its own, the JD(U) is not as strong in Bihar as the BJD is in Orissa. Two, the BJP does bring some upper caste votes to the table, although it is not a force in Bihar. And three, Muslims did not desert Mr Kumar in spite of his BJP alliance chiefly because for 15 years Lalu Yadav's RJD didn't do much for them — although Mr Yadav sang paeans to secularism — and the Congress alternative was not available. Some of this won't apply if the JD(U) breaks with the BJP.






In the wake of the widespread carnage in the Dantewada bus bombing and the Gyaneshwari Express derailment near Jhargram in West Bengal, both suspected to be the work of Maoists, an opinion poll by a media organisation found that 67 per cent of people believed that the government had no option but to use the Indian Army to tackle the armed Naxalites. Media reports indicate a buildup of similar opinion within the political hierarchy in the Central government, though their view is often contested by many across the public and political spectrum.

Counter-insurgency and internal security are thankless, immensely frustrating politico-military missions which, given a choice, professional armies would much prefer not to get involved in. The Indian Army has more experience than most of these interminable assignments where the objective is winning the "hearts and minds" of the people, but the desired end-state remains indeterminate with multiplying pitfalls, controversies and contradictions in the process. Also, historical experience from India's internal conflicts since Independence has shown that military deployment has almost never been backed up by a matching political consensus, and an accompanying "civilian surge". But professional armies nevertheless do not really have the luxury of choice in their employment, because the ultimate call remains the prerogative of the political hierarchy in office who, in all probability, were responsible for creating the situation in the first place and then allowed it to fester and deteriorate to an extent where military intervention became inevitable. It is therefore entirely understandable that the Indian Army does not look forward to involvement in the Naxalite situation which, like all such problems, has originated in decades of political and administrative mismanagement and neglect.

Let there be no doubt that if left unattended, the Naxalite situation presents a major threat to national security, not because of its ideological content per se, but because it bestrides a critically strategic "golden quadrilateral" in the country's heartland with enormous possibilities for exploitation by hostile external agencies, on the pattern of Jammu and Kashmir as well as the Northeast. A foretaste of this has already been experienced in the semi-isolation of the country's eastern region by interdiction of rail and road communications and civil infrastructure which have halted night movement of trains and road transport on the Kolkata-Mumbai and Kolkata-Chennai trunk routes.

The Army is aware of the trends developing towards its involvement, and has been reading the handwriting on the wall. As things stand, the Army is already imparting counter-insurgency training to police and paramilitary forces at its Counterinsurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJWS) at Vairangte, Mizoram, where some 47,000 police and paramilitary personnel have already undergone this programme, besides providing instructors to a similar institution established by the Chhattisgarh government at Kanker at the initiative of a former governor of the state, himself a retired senior Army officer with extensive experience of counter-insurgency as a corps commander in the Northeast. The Kanker institution is headed by a retired brigadier, a former commandant of CIJWS, and has reportedly trained about 7,000 police personnel of various states. In addition, an Army brigadier has been located with the ministry of home affairs to assist in planning anti-Naxalite strategy. A new sub-area level headquarters under a brigadier has been established at Raipur, Chhattisgarh, while there are reports that the Army's training centre for Special Forces is scheduled to relocate to Chhattisgarh, possibly as the core of a new Counter-insurgency School being planned there.

Counter-insurgency is a numbers game, where "boots on the ground" are the ultimate winning factor. Textbook ratios for winning superiorities are given as 10:1 in favour of the security forces, and it is worthwhile remembering that in Operation Pawan the Indian Army ultimately built up to force levels of four oversize infantry divisions, or about 80,000 troops, covering northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka, an area roughly equivalent in size to the Red Corridor region in India where prospective operations against Naxalites can be envisaged.

Each operational situation is undoubtedly unique in its specific environments, yet there are very often many underlying commonalities between them in background circumstances and lessons learnt. It is in this context that the military hierarchy would be well advised to revisit the operations of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) against the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) in Sri Lanka during Operation Pawan, 1987-1990, and revise its lessons often imbibed at great cost, because in many aspects these could be relevant to prospective operations against the Naxalites, who, like the LTTE of that time, are an entirely unknown entity, and about whom intelligence is scanty if not non-existent. A massive military surge in troop deployment is a time tested option which the Army is familiar and to an extent comfortable with, but that need not be the only one. An alternative could be a selective "hunter-killer" strategy based on Special Forces acting on accurate, actionable intelligence to specifically target the insurgent leadership and other critical elements, with police and paramilitary forces providing the bulk manpower for other aspects of counter-insurgency.

The Achilles' heel here is of course intelligence, a traditional shortcoming from which the Indian Army has repeatedly suffered, whether against the Chinese in 1962, or at Kargil in 1999. The IPKF was in an exactly similar situation at the commencement of Operation Pawan, where the initial estimates to bring the LTTE under control were confidently estimated to be a fortnight at best, while the external intelligence agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) was positive that the LTTE were their protégés who would not resist the Indian Army! Intelligence about the Naxalites in the Red Corridor appears to be following the same path, but whatever is the final decision, what the Army must avoid is limited piecemeal deployments in inadequate numbers, often under political pressure to maintain a false front of civil control.

The Army has a reputation for success to live up to, and if it is indeed eventually committed against the Naxalites, commanders at all levels must ensure in the best collective interests of the organisation, that the lessons of Sri Lanka and other past counter-insurgencies are absorbed and disseminated, so that errors and shortcomings of the past are not repeated.

- Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament







Well, now: it seems America's dear ally across the pond feels that a row has broken out over the intemperance of the American President towards mighty BP.

"Anglophobic spite", was the charge levelled at US President Barack 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 UK 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 apologise 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 soundbyte 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.







For at least the past year, and probably more, media reports about West Bengal have generally been negative. There are many reasons for this, and the merits or demerits of those perceptions and arguments can be debated. But quite apart from the debates about land acquisition for industrialisation, there have been other accusations levelled by an increasingly strident and now more confident Opposition, about the various failures of the state government.

It is certainly true that despite some remarkable successes in land distribution, decentralisation and power to panchayats, and so on, various observers had identified lacklustre performance in health and education as major concerns.

The good news is that this picture has changed, especially for health in the past decade. Recent data from the office of the Registrar-General of India, using the Sample Registration System (SRS), shows that West Bengal is now one of the best-performing states in the country in terms of the most basic health indicators.

These show that the demographic transition in West Bengal has proceeded more rapidly than for India as a whole, and in a positive direction. In terms of both crude birth rates and crude death rates, the improvement has been significantly greater than for India as a whole, even though the state already had lower rates than the Indian average.

As a result, among the major states, West Bengal in 2008 had the fourth lowest birth rate (after Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Punjab) and the lowest death rate among the major states, even lower than that of Kerala. What is also noteworthy is that the state's rural-urban gap appears to have been closing with respect to the death rate. In 2008, the rural death rate in West Bengal was 6.1 compared to the urban rate of 6.6 (a gap of 7.5 per cent), whereas for India as a whole it was eight in rural areas compared to 5.9 in urban areas (a gap of 26.2 per cent). Even Tamil Nadu, the state that has otherwise performed very well in health indicators, shows a rural-urban gap in the death rate of 23 per cent.

The infant mortality rate (IMR) — expressed as the ratio of the number of deaths of infants of one-year-old or less per 1,000 live births — is often regarded as the single most important indicator of overall health conditions in a particular area. The relatively rapid decline in IMRs in West Bengal (by 57 per cent, compared to the all-India average decline of 34 per cent) has made it one of the best performing among major states with respect to this indicator. The IMR in 2008 in West Bengal was 35, putting it in fourth position after Kerala, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. The rural-urban gap in the IMR has also improved, from 26 per cent in 1997 to 21 per cent in 2008, compared to the all-India gaps of 42 per cent in 1997 and 38 per cent in 2008.

Further, throughout this period West Bengal has had a very low gender gap in IMR, thereby making it very different from several other states of the country. This is also confirmed by other survey data — for example, the various rounds of the National Family Health Surveys (NFHS) have found the gender gap in IMR in West Bengal to be either the lowest or among the lowest in the country.

The maternal mortality ratio (MMR) is the rate of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births among women aged 15-49 years. MMRs have been declining faster and are now lower in West Bengal (141) than the national average (264). The lifetime risk of maternal death (the probability that at least one woman of reproductive age of 15-49 years will die during or just after childbirth) was only 0.3 per cent in West Bengal in 2004-06, compared to 0.7 per cent for all-India and 0.2 per cent in the best-performing state, Kerala.

Obviously, while these improvements are praiseworthy, there is still a long way to go in terms of improving even these basic health indicators. The differences between West Bengal and the best performing state Kerala remain substantial, suggesting that appropriate policy interventions can continue to make significant improvements in these indicators.

But the question remains: what accounts for this recent improvement in health indicators, especially in relation to the rest of the country other than Tamil Nadu? A number of possible explanations can be considered.

First, there has been a general improvement in institutional conditions, especially in the West Bengal countryside, in terms of the number of hospitals and health facilities and the increase in access of women to antenatal and post-natal services. This has been enabled not only by increased public expenditure in certain areas, but also by a programme of more decentralised public health delivery, with greater autonomy given to local and village health committees in terms of spending and care systems. Thus, the NFHS have found that there was a gradual increase in the percentage of mothers who made at least three antenatal visits during their last birth in West Bengal, from 50.3 per cent in 1992-93 to 62.4 per cent in 2005-06. This compares favourably with the national averages, which were significantly lower.

Second, since health is intimately related to both sanitation and nutrition, some improvement in both of these variables is also likely to have played a positive role. The extension of better sanitation facilities to rural areas has accelerated, even though overall these facilities still remain inadequate. It is likely that the improvement in both IMR and MMR has been most marked in those districts where the sanitation programme has been more successful. Similarly, targeted schemes for maternal nutrition, implemented through the Integrated Child Development Services and other programmes, are also likely to have had positive impact.

Clearly, therefore, there are signs of substantial progress in basic health indicators in West Bengal in recent years. The question of why these have gone largely unnoticed in both the national and the state-level media is of course an entirely different issue.





Aruna Roy, a Magsaysay award winner, resigned from the Indian Administrative Service many years ago to take up public causes. She helped lay the foundation for a national RTI movement and has been an active campaigner for the Food Security Act.

Ms Roy was in the National Advisory Council (NAC), led by Congress president Ms Sonia Gandhi, which conceived rural employment for the poorest sections. Although dissatisfied with the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), Ms Roy agreed to be on the second edition of the NAC, which has just kicked off. In this interview with Amit Agnihotri. Ms Roy offers a detailed critique of the NREGA, and also speaks of the failure of the Indian state "to deliver basic development over the years".

Q. The NREG Act continues to suffer from implementation bottlenecks and has not reached the entire country, as desired.

A. The NREGA is one of the largest employment programmes in the world, and its logistics would baffle any government. In the Indian scenario there have been both good and bad experiences. The most important amongst those is that despite many shortcomings more poor people have got employment than ever before. In some cases, legal battles have been won for unemployment allowance, and compensation for delayed payment have been paid.

We still have to deal with the fact that several basic entitlements are not common coinage yet:

w The right to 100 days employment a year for every rural family has not been achieved, and the average rate of person days (54 days for 2009-10) falls very short of the intent.

w The right to a job card is largely realised though in some states this may be a problem, like in Bihar.
w The right to demand work and get it in 15 days, or unemployment allowance in lieu of this, is patchy. People are mostly unaware that NREGA is demand-driven, and that they can apply for work and must get it within 15 days, and a stamped receipt to prove their entitlement to an unemployment allowance. This is not always forthcoming.

w The right to select the work in the gram sabha exists only on paper. Efforts to put this in place do not seem to be on the radar of any state government.

w The right to minimum wages has been impinged upon by the decision of the ministry of rural development (MoRD) to make Rs 100 the maximum wage for NREGA country-wide. This matter is still under debate, and is a critical issue. Minimum wage will have to be raised because of spiralling prices.

w The right to payment within 15 days, or else compensation, is not working satisfactorily. There are massive payment delays on account of inefficiency of departments and banking institutions.

w As for the right to work-site facilities — water, medical kits — the system has responded to some degree. But what have been almost absent are the crèches and shade.

w The right to transparency and proactive disclosure of all records has hardly been realised. There is great resistance to pro-active transparency within the system. The battles with governments to put these in place are still met with stiff resistance.

w As for the right to audit works and expenditure of social schemes, this is the most critical and valuable innovation in terms of accountability of all government expenditure. The concept of social audit, begun with NREGA, has been institutionalised in some states like Andhra Pradesh. But in many states like Rajasthan, anti-social and corrupt elements have got away with intermittent opposition to the social audit processes. The MoRD has also managed to further complicate the social audit process with an amendment to the Act. Despite repeated demands from all quarters, including state governments, it is dragging its feet over setting that amendment aside to rationalise the process.

Q. What are the main hurdles in the Food Security Act?

A. The first hurdle is that there is no universal entitlement. Everyone is not going to avail of the Food Security Act — only the very poor and needy. There should be food security for every individual and it should not be restricted to a targeted PDS but to a universal PDS. We have to ensure people don't die of hunger. We also need to bring down malnutrition levels.

Q. Have you raised these above issues with NAC chairperson Sonia Gandhi? Are there assurances from her or from high levels in government to address these concerns?

A. The agenda for the first meeting of the new NAC, held a few days ago, pertained to terms of reference and the plan for the year. NREGA implementation was included. There was no time for any detailed discussion.

Q. What are your priorities for NAC 2?

A. The priorities for NAC 2, broadly speaking, are social sector policy and implementation. The law itself is just the beginning. It is in the implementation that it stands or falls.

Q. As the government attempts to mix economic growth with social welfare, judicious exploitation of mineral resources in tribal areas had cropped up as a big challenge.

A. Nothing justifies the oppression of a people, and no democracy can countenance the denial of people's right to decide what development they want. The right to livelihood and life is the most fundamental of rights. That cannot be denied without dismantling the Constitution and the democratic system. This struggle has to be seen by the state as its own failure to deliver basic development over the years.






During summer while many young people might have taken up courses in different disciplines which need training, such as swimming, driving, computers, painting, cooking and so on, some others must have spent sufficient amount of time worrying about their results, college admissions, jobs, how to make more money or, even, mend relationships.

Worrying about the future and being anxious about a situation that one can do little about or indeed regretting something that went wrong is often a pastime for many, including the older, mature ones amongst us. Interestingly, worrying is the one art that requires no training or trainer whatsoever.

Worry is nothing but a state of insecurity or fear that may sometimes be real, but is often about imaginary future events. Despite having heard "today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday" hundreds of times, most of us just cannot stop worrying. No wonder then that "worry" and "anxiety", which put huge stress on our psyche, are the main culprits for many of our modern day illnesses. These often lead to deep depression which is invariably followed by pricey sessions of endless counselling.

It is to people such as these, those who rather easily slip into the tendency of "worrying", that Jesus exhorted:

"Therefore I say to you, 'do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?... Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble'" (Math 6:26-34).

While Jesus gives examples from nature to stop us from worrying, the great apostle Paul asks believers to find help in prayer. He says, "Don't worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand… Fix your thoughts on what is true and honourable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise" (Philippians 4:6-8). Similarly, the Psalmist in the Bible says, "Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you…" (Psalm 55:22).

One other thing that can help us get over our worries is what the Zen masters have been telling us for ages: "This too will pass". This is based on the irrefutable reality that nothing in this world is permanent. In other words, the thing you are worrying about wasn't there sometime ago, it is here now but soon there will come a time when it will have no choice but to disappear.

For those who are more pragmatic and understand the language of modern gadgets like mobile phones and may be less inclined to prayer and meditation, Edith Armstrong's recommendation may come handy, "I keep the telephone of my mind open to peace, harmony, health, love and abundance. Then, whenever doubt, anxiety or fear try to call me, they keep getting a busy signal — and soon they'll forget my number".

— Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church. He was awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008 by the Government of India.








IT is of lesser moment ~ even premature to speculate ~ whether Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar are eyeing the premier slot at the Centre in 2014. The Bihar chief minister has reacted with a sense of indignation out of proportion to the deemed provocation of an advertisement showing him in the company of his Gujarat counterpart. The cancellation of the dinner in honour of the BJP's national executive delegates was in poor taste. Not that the advertisement was conceptualised on the basis of morphed images; it used a spot photograph of the NDA's rally in Ludhiana in May 2009. Has the equation between the coalition partners ~ BJP and JD(U) ~ soured dramatically over the past year? Five years after ruling Bihar in league with the BJP and four months before the assembly polls, Mr Kumar's anxiety to distance himself from Mr Modi is unmistakable.
  As must be the anxiety to keep his secular credentials intact and not ruffle the feathers of Bihar's Muslims by appearing too close to the alleged mastermind of the post-Godhra riots. By the same token, the present Chief Minister must also reflect on his deafening silence at the time of  the 2002 pogrom ~ the worst communal riots since Independence. Indian politics bears witness to the ephemeral nature of seasonal flirtation. It bears recall that Mamata Banerjee, when a constituent of the BJP-led NDA, had after a point drifted away from the Jamat Ulema-e-Bengal, when Nandigram was on the boil. Disenchantment probably lies an inch beneath simulated bonhomie.

Nitish Kumar has doubtless indulged in a contrived bout of over-reaction. He may have managed to queer the pitch for the BJP's national executive meeting, but this hasn't accrued a single political brownie point. Narendra Modi may have skirted any reference to Bihar in his address, but he did convey the implicit message ~ and to all chief ministers ~ that genuine development is more important than vote-bank politics. And if the Gujarat CM is generally regarded as one of the more effective chief ministers, it is primarily on account of the development plank. The camera didn't lie as it panned on the Nitish-Modi bonhomie last year. To make the Chief Minister of one state feel unwanted in another is infra dig and more so in a federal structure. Nitish Kumar has done just that.








IMPASSIONED is the current debate on the "price" of life. The angst over inadequate punishment after a pittance as compensation at Bhopal was reflected in the annual "remembrance" of the Uphaar theatre blaze in the Capital. And fresh in the mind is the death of over 150 passengers in the railway sabotage in West Midnapore. In the specific context of that most recent catastrophe, there is cause for relief at the aversion of another disaster ~ again rooted in extremist violence ~ near Villupuram when the prestigious Rockfort Express was speeding towards Chennai. The efficiency flowing from three decades of experience of the guard of the Salem-Chennai (Egmore) Express running ahead of the Rockfort initiated an effective preventive mission. Hearing an "unusual sound" and experiencing a "heavy jerk", he used his walkie-talkie to alert the Station Master at Mundiambakkam, who in turn cautioned the loco-crew of the Rockfort who decelerated, proceeded carefully and brought their train (it carried over 1500 passengers) to a halt short of the spot where a section of the track had been blasted away. Professional ~ perhaps even heroic ~ was the response of Guard T Rajasekaran, Station Master A Tukaram, Driver B Gopinath and Assistant Driver D Rajkumar: "in the best traditions of the Southern Railway" old-timers would assert with pride. Their showing has not gone entirely unrecognised. Mamata Banerjee may be excused for virtually ignoring the incident since it has no electoral implications for West Bengal, the Chairman of the Railway Board came up with a king's ransom ~ all of Rs 5,000 to each of the four life-savers. Motivating or demoralising?

What disturbs is not the niggardly amount, but that it betrays the manner in which the burra sahibs in New Delhi consistently undervalue those who actually "work" the railway: drivers, guards, station masters, permanent way inspectors, gangmen etc. Remember that Mumbai's motormen (operators of EMUs on suburban services) struck work recently because they are not given a driver's emoluments. Time was when the "boots on the ground" were accorded priority, their critical role was appreciated, they were made to "feel important". Today Rs 20,000 (for four men) is all that is offered by way of reward ~ less than the cost of one of the several air-conditioners jutting out of the windows of Rail Bhawan! 









ETHNICITY has seldom been so bloody. The turmoil in Central Asia has deepened over the weekend with the confrontation between the Kyrgyz and the Uzbeks escalating to the worst ethnic riots since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Whether or not it is genocide, as the Uzbeks claimed on Sunday, the bare facts are chilling enough ~ an estimated 500 killed, hearth and home set on fire and the fact that 75,000 ethnic Uzbeks, predominantly women and children, have fled to escape the killings in the city of Osh in Kyrgystan. The Citizens Against Corruption, the Uzbek human rights group, has appealed to the United Nations and Russia to "send in the peacekeepers to end the slaughter". It has turned out to be a killing spree with a political dimension. The Uzbeks, whose number is legion in Kyrgystan, have been at the receiving end for the past four days. Fears that the Kyrgyz group is intent on scuttling the possible formation of an Uzbek party and consequent demands for separate elections are not wholly unfounded.

Beyond the bloody strife, it is politically an intricate issue. Which explains why the Uzbeks' frantic appeals for help have thus far elicited no response from Russia. Even the appeal from the interim authorities of Kyrgystan, urging the Russian army to restore order in the south, has been ignored.

Confusion has been made worse confounded in the absence of a stable government in Kyrgystan after the ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April. The ethnic cauldron has been stirred in a country where the centre doesn't hold. The Kremlin appears to be driven by a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of a former Soviet republic. Thus far its initiative has been limited to protecting its own defences, notably the airbase in northern Kyrgystan. Just as America's appeal for the "immediate restoration of order" stems from the anxiety to defend the supply chain to Afghanistan. The life of the Uzbeks is no less precious, and this turbulent segment of Central Asia awaits a response from the comity of nations as it teeters to chaos. For now, the UN must intervene to end the slaughter.








THE Supreme Court judgment, delivered on 7 May, on the issue of removal of Governors by the President on the advice of the Union Council of Ministers, is being viewed in some quarters as a landmark verdict. It has been stated that it will ensure a secure term of five years for the Governor and enable him to discharge his functions fearlessly. But is this view correct? Will the judgment cause any material alteration in the prevailing practices?

While considering the key questions involved in this case, the Supreme Court has laid down four basic tenets of constitutional law on the removal of Governors. First, the Governor holds office "during the pleasure of the President", and this "pleasure" can be withdrawn at any time, without assigning any reason and without giving even a show-cause notice. Second, withdrawal of "pleasure" can be effected only on valid and compelling reasons and not in a capricious or unreasonable manner. Whether or not compelling and valid reasons exist in a particular case will depend upon the facts and circumstances of that case. Third, the fact that the Governor has lost the confidence of the Union government or is out of sync with its policies or ideologies will not constitute a valid or compelling reason for the removal of the Governor. Fourth, the President's decision to "withdraw pleasure" would be open to judicial review but only to a limited extent. The court could not go into the reasons for withdrawal but could examine that the decision is neither arbitrary nor tainted by malice or malafide.

Position denuded 

FOR bringing out the practical implications of the four tenets, it would be necessary to first go into the background of the matter and indicate how, contrary to the intentions of the framers of the Constitution and the assurances held out by them, successive Union governments have over the years, debased the high constitutional office of the Governor to attain their narrow political ends.

When the draft provisions with regard to the mode of appointment of the Governor and his tenure were being debated by the Constituent Assembly, some members expressed their misgivings over the proposal of making the Governor a nominee of the President without a secure term of five years. KT Shah said: "We must not leave the Governor entirely at the mercy or pleasure of the President." Expressing similar concerns, Shibban Lal Saxena argued: "When once a Governor is appointed, I do not see why he should not continue in office for his full term of five years and why you should make him removable by the President at his whim." These apprehensions were allayed by TT Krishnamachari, a senior member of the drafting committee. He assured the members: "I would at once disown all ideas that we in this House want the future Governor who is to be nominated by the President to be in any sense an agent of the Central government. I would like that point to be made very clear, because such an idea finds no place in the scheme of Governor we envisage for the future."
Subsequent events, however, showed that the fears expressed by the likes of Shah and Saxena were more in tune with the practical realities that subsequently emerged on the Indian political scene than what TT Krishnamachari and many other members of the Constituent Assembly had thought. Those who gave the assurances and those who accepted them were products of the times dominated by Gandhian ethics and high constitutional idealism. They were inclined to believe that healthy conventions, which "make the legal constitution work and provide flesh to the dry bones of law", would soon be established. But their belief was misplaced. After the first few years of the working of the Constitution, petty politics, and not high principles, became the guiding stars for most of our leaders. The norms of constitutional morality were forsaken with impunity and the Governor's office began to be treated like a "political football".

No single leader or party could, perhaps, be faulted. The governance-ethos of the country in general were getting polluted by the politics of expediency. The Sarkaria Commission, which submitted its report in 1988, noted that between 1967 and 1986, only 18 out of 88 Governors completed their full term of office. When Indira Gandhi was in power at the Centre, the Opposition parties used to criticise her for manipulating the office of Governor. But the attitude of the Janata government (1977-79) was by no means elevating. The National Front government of VP Singh removed, en masse, almost all the Governors appointed by the previous regime. The Chandrashekhar government's decision to dismiss the DMK government of Tamil Nadu without even obtaining a report from the Governor of the state showed the extent to which the Union government could go to undermine the institution of Governor. The record of the NDA government (1998-2004) was equally dismal. It secured the resignation of a number of Governors and Lt-Governors. The UPA government, which came to power in May 2004, followed the same negative route. One of its first acts was to dismiss the Governors of four states and it is this dismissal which became the subject matter of the writ petition with regard to which the Supreme Court gave its verdict on 7 May.

Given this backdrop of ethos and attitudes, entrenched in the mindscape of those who wield political power, it is doubtful whether the principles that have now been laid down by the Supreme Court will place the Governor on a more secure pedestal and enable him to discharge his functions independently and impartially. The sword of Damocles would continue to hover around his head. If the President's withdrawal of pleasure is challenged on the ground that there are no valid or compelling reasons to do so, the Union government could advance some plea or other in justification of its stand. The adjudication of disputed contentions would take several months. Even if the challenge succeeds, it would, in practice, amount to nothing but an exercise in futility. By that time, the Governor's tenure, in all probability, would have ended.

Political expediency

AS early as May 1977, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, in Hargovind vs Raghu Kul Tilak, had ruled: "The appointment of the Governor by the President and his holding office during the President's pleasure does not make the Government of India an employer of the Governor." Despite this categorical ruling, various Union governments have been violating its spirit without an iota of hesitation. Given the rising graph of political expediency in our country, there is little likelihood of any respect being shown to the spirit of the principles enunciated by the Supreme Court in its judgment delivered the other day.
The current sorry state of affairs could improve if the Constitution is amended and the Governor is given a fixed term of five years. If there are specific and serious charges against him, he could be made to go on leave till an open public inquiry has been held into the allegations by a judge of the Supreme Court and its report obtained by the President. The Governor should be removed only in case of proved misconduct.
The true and lasting remedy, however, does not lie merely in the rulings of the Supreme Court or in the amendment to the Constitution. The levels of constitutional morality and political conduct will also have to undergo a radical upgradation. In his speech, made at the time of adoption of the Constitution, Dr Ambedkar had rightly underlined: "However good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it happen to be a bad lot."


(The writer is a former Governor of J&K and a former Union minister)







Last month, I went to visit Chongqing, a city that is now getting very prosperous having grown despite the global financial crisis that hit exports which hurt the Chinese coastal cities quite badly. Being a large city in the Western and inland region, Chongqing is less dependent on exports and more on domestic consumption and investment. Having invested in good infrastructure, the city's priorities are now to tackle crime and make the city more green. All the ugly advertising that used to block the best views in the city have been removed and you can actually enjoy the greenery. When I was there, the archeologists discovered the late Song Dynasty old fort that defended Chongqing from the Hun invasions.

Recently, the city has begun to attract electronic factories from the coastal areas that assembly PCs and other high value items. This is particularly clever, because PCs, handphones, e-books and tablets are high value items and as long as there is good airfreight that connects to the major overseas markets, the factories need not be located in the coastal areas. A small difference in wage rates would induce the electronic companies to shift production location, because they operate with low margins. What they need most of all is lots of good engineering graduates and critical mass in supporting industries.

It is very clear that Chongqing Municipal Government understood the importance of geography in the global supply chain and has gone out to attract all the key factories into Chongqing. What I thought was amazing was that Chongqing has begun to understand that supply chains operate not only in private sector manufacturing, but also government service as part of the supply chain.

As we all know, the assembly line was invented by Henry Ford, who found that training workers to work in a supply line and specializing in one part of the operation could make manufacturing cars more efficient. Very soon, manufacturing companies also began to integrate upstream and downstream to dominate the supply chain and to control the distribution chain. The largest food companies in the world are agri-food companies like Nestle, who control the key brands and are global in production.

The Japanese car makers like Toyota perfected the just-in-time car manufacturing, using robots, computers to control inventory ordering and high quality testing to produce cars quickly and efficiently with low inventory. A car manufacturer has many associated component manufacturers, so that they get critical mass and cluster effects. From manufacturing, these car makers also go into the dealer distribution chain, so that they control the supply chain. Once they have the scale, it is much more difficult for smaller car manufacturers to compete.
The supply chain demonstrates the importance of networks in global trade. Cities are simply nodes in these trade, manufacturing and distribution networks. The cities in the coastal areas invented the idea of the one-product city, such as specialists in batteries or lighters, because the cities realized that if production was specialized and clustered together, you get economies in scale from design, production, assembly, research and ultimately distribution.

What most people did not realize was how important the government is in the design and construction of the supply chain. Supply chains do not grow spontaneously. They grow and extend in geography because East Asian cities found it beneficial to attract specific industries through special development zones that reduce transaction costs, have superior infrastructure and also critical mass in cheap labour and talented management. Chinese supply chains prospered because of cheap labour, but also very high technical and managerial skills because of good university education.

Through competition between cities to attract industries, Chinese global supply chains became more efficient because city governments understood that they can increase the efficiency of the supply chain through not just superior infrastructure, but also reducing government intervention and bureaucratic costs that slow down the supply chain. By ensuring that there is ample skilled labour supply, cutting down taxes and improving customs clearance, licensing and even inspection or enforcement action, they can improve efficiency of the supply chain so that both the private sector and public sector wins. For example, if it was critical that ex-factory, high quality products can reach the airport and clear customs in 24 hours for direct airfreight to export markets, Chinese supply chains can beat most competitors because of superior delivery times.

The success of supply chains comes from the fact that products are rapidly designed, manufactured and delivered to the customer in style, quantity and quality that the market wants. Those supply chains that do not have enough customers cannot compete and simply die.

But in addition to supporting and encouraging the growth of private sector supply chains, I believe that there is increasing awareness that government services are also a supply chain, with the citizen as customer. The issue is how can government services can be delivered to the citizen quickly and efficiently, with minimum transaction costs, high transparency and reliably?

The answer is in good feedback mechanisms that monitor what the citizens want. Clearly, Chongqing understood that what the citizen wants is good public security/less crime and also a better living environment.
Education and life-long training is also a supply chain. Many education systems fail when they fail to understand that education is not about giving out certificates, but training people to meet the job market on a continuous basis. In other words, the curriculum must meet market needs. If you train a student only in a language that only 10,000 people use in the world, your market is limited to 10,000 customers. If you train him in Chinese, you have 1.4 billion customers. But if you train him in Chinese and English, you can reach nearly 2.3 billion customers. But language training is not enough. You must train the student or worker in subjects that are needed by the market place. Hence, it is important that the employers have a say in the development of curriculum of universities, technical colleges and training institutes. Development is all about people, so if you have the right talent that is needed by the market supply chains, your economy will have low unemployment and high growth.

Well done, Chongqing.

The writer is author of the book From Asian to Global Financial Crisis. He is also Adjunct Professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing and University of Malaya and was formerly Chairman of the Securities and Futures Commission, Hong Kong

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The Security Council has imposed new sanctions against Iran with slight delayed in voting by Turkey, Brazil and Lebanon. The Council voted on the US-backed resolution (1929) of 2010 with 12 votes in favour while non-permanent members Turkey and Brazil voted against, and Lebanon abstained. Five permanent members – US, China, Russia, France, and Britain voted in favour.

The voting was delayed at the request of Turkey, Brazil, and Lebanon which asked for more time in order to receive instructions from their capitals on whether to vote against the sanctions or abstain.
The new sanctions resolution includes travel bans and financial restrictions against individuals and entities linked to Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile activities, including the Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Iran's Shipping Lines. It expanded UN arms embargo against Tehran and targeted the Tehran banking sector.
The sanctions prohibited Iran from buying heavy weapons including attack helicopters and missiles and bans Iranian investment in activities such as uranium mining.It imposed sanctions on 40 Iranian companies to a list of those that will have international assets frozen. Some 15 of those are owned or controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and 22 involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities and three linked to the Iranian Shipping Lines.

The resolution singled out one scientist for an asset freeze and travel ban: Javad Rahiqi, 56, head of the Isfahan Nuclear Technology Centre. It has put a travel ban on 41 officials already blacklisted.

It called on all member states to cooperate in cargo inspections which must receive the consent of the ship's flag state if there are "reasonable grounds" to believe the cargo could contribute to Iranian nuclear programme.
The sanctions would seek countries to block financial transactions, including insurance and reinsurance, and to ban the licensing of Iranian banks if they have information that provides "reasonable grounds" to believe these activities could contribute to Iranian nuclear activities. The resolution includes freezing Tehran's ability to conduct financial dealings and trade key supplies.

US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told reporters earlier that "This is not a resolution comprised of voluntary measures. There are many serious and binding measures in this resolution and we feel pleased with its content it is strong, it is broad-based and it will have a significant impact on Iran."

She said the sanctions were not aimed at the Iranian people, but at the nuclear ambitions of government that chose a path to further isolation.

Brazil ambassador to the UN Maria Ribeiro Viotti said that sanctions would lead to "suffering" by the Iranian people, delay dialogue on the its nuclear programme, and would endanger an agreement brokered by Brazil and Turkey under which Iran would send some of its uranium to Turkey in exchange for reactor fuel.
Chinese ambassador Zhang Yesui said after the vote that the sanctions were aimed at curbing non-proliferation and would not affect "the normal life of the Iranian people" nor deter their normal trade activity.
Cuba visit: UN independent expert on torture Manfred Nowak expressed his frustration that he will not be able to visit Cuba to carry out a fact-finding mission this year because the Cuban authorities declined to consent to any of the dates he had proposed for the mission. "I regret that in spite of its clear invitation, the Government of Cuba has not allowed me to objectively assess the situation of torture and ill-treatment in the country by collecting first-hand evidence from all available sources," said Manfred Nowak, whose mandate expires on 30 October.

The Cuban government issued an invitation to the Special Rapporteur in February 2009 to conduct a fact-finding mission to the country before the end of this year, he noted.

Despite several attempts by Mr. Nowak to propose mutually acceptable dates, no agreement was reached with the government. His visit would have been the first mission to Cuba by an independent expert mandated by the Human Rights Council to specifically monitor torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Mission posts: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed Augustine Mahiga, Tanzania's ambassador to the UN to serve as top envoy for Somalia, according to a statement issued by UN associate spokesman Farhan Haq in New York. Mr Ban said that the new envoy and head of the UN Political Office for Somalia will bring many years of both government and UN experience, including in conflict management, mediation, and humanitarian and recovery/development activities.

He also named Roger A Meece of the US as his special representative for the DRC and Head of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC. Mr Meece will succeed Alan Doss of Great Britain.
Mr Ban has picked Youssef Mahmoud of Tunisia as his special representative for the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad, effective 1 June 2010.

Talks on Myanmar : UN associate spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York that Chef de Cabinet, Vijay Nambiar arrived in Singapore for consultations with the Singaporean authorities as special adviser to the Secretary-General on Myanmar. Mr Nambiar will visit Beijing for further consultations with the Chinese authorities, Haq said. This followed by the consultations in New Delhi with the Indian authorities. He met with Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon, spokesman added.
Flotilla probe: The Secretary-General demanded Israel that agree on international investigation into a raid of flotilla aid convoy that was heading to Gaza, stopped by Israel, which resulted in nine deaths and dozens casualties. Associate spokesman Farhan Haq said that Mr Ban wants to underscore that "credible international involvement is crucial to a prompt, credible, impartial and transparent investigation" which the Council called for after Israel's 31 May raid.

"The secretary-general understands that Israel is still considering how and if to bring an international element into the investigative process," Haq said.

Palestinians and many Arabs want the probe to be "independent."

Israeli ambassador to Washington opposed to it, said that any probe by international community will be biased and that it Israel can do its own independent investigation.

Female police: UN police adviser Ann-Marie Orler said in a news briefing that UN is stepping up its efforts to boost the number of female police officers serving in its peace-keeping missions around the world, as she highlighted that women can play a unique role in certain areas, in responding to sexual- and gender-based violence. The number of female blue helmets is climbing and the world body seeking to double the proportion of women comprised UN Police to 20 per cent by 2014.

"The continuing growth and complexity of our police components underlines the central role of promoting the rule of law in post-conflict environments," Ms Ann-Marie Orler said.

UN launched a Global Effort to increase the number of female police officers in serving with peacekeeping missions. There are 17,407 UNPOL serving in 17 missions, 8.5 per cent of which are women.

Childbirth deaths: Mr Ban has called for greater efforts to end what he described as the "scandal" of women dying in childbirth and said even simple clinical procedures such as clean delivery rooms and the presence of a trained midwife could greatly reduce pregnancy-related deaths.

"Some simple blood tests, consultation with a doctor and qualified help at the birth itself can make a huge difference," he said in his remarks at the international conference in Washington to find solutions to problems affecting women and girls worldwide. "Add some basic antibiotics, blood transfusions and a safe operating room, and the risk of death can almost be eliminated," he told delegates at the gathering "Women Deliver" conference.

Offices in Nepal: UN human rights office in Nepal will continue to work out of Kathmandu for a year, but will close down its field offices outside of Kathmandu, according to an agreement announced today with the Nepali Government. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a press release issued that without the extension, all offices in the country would have had to shut down.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay welcomed the agreement, added that OHCHR acknowledges "the end of the conflict in Nepal and the process the country has made towards a peaceful political transition''.

Anjali Sharma







Bomb Thrown Into Ex-Police Inspector's house On Friday morning information reached Calcutta that a bomb had been thrown on the previous night in the little village of Masagram, near Memari, in the Burdwan district.

From the very meagre details to hand it appears that on Thursday night a bomb, said to be similar to those used at Indian marriage ceremonies, except that it was filled with screws, was thrown into the house of an ex-police officer named Shashibhusan Chowdhuri, at Masagram. The bomb exploded, and the occupants of the house rushed out into the street in alarm. So far as is known no one was injured. The news of the outrage quickly spread through the village, and a search was made for the culprit, but he could not be found, and so far no arrests have been made.

Inquiries made at the Bengal CID offices yesterday tend to show that the outrage was not perpetrated from politcal motives. The man Sashibhusan Chowdhuri has not been connected in any way with political investigations, nor was he employed in the CID. He was formerly an Inspector of Police in the District, but is said to have been dismissed from that post. It is believed that some one who bore him a grudge threw the bomb.

The District Jute forecasts (preliminary) for 1910 will, so far as received at the time, be exhibited, as usual, in a glass case in the arcade of Writers' Buildings, Dalhousie Square, Calcutta, at 11, 1 and 3 o'clock on Monday, the 4th July, and the following week days.







The scale, swiftness, agony and hideousness of the Bhopal gas tragedy make it unforgettable. Yet the verdict in the case has come almost after a quarter of a century, arousing deep unhappiness, discontent and anger. But many of the causes of this discontent spring from particular conditions in India. The delay in the delivery of justice is hardly unusual; every case drags on for years. Delay blunts justice. The pity is that it may have blunted the edge of the Bhopal case too, yet that is, ultimately, a separate problem. The upsurge of emotion over the sentence passed on seven former officials, however, ignores the logic of the law. It is a sentence fitting the charge against them, changed from culpable homicide to "causing death by negligence" by order of the Supreme Court in 1996. Also, the demand for the arrest of Warren Anderson, the Union Carbide chief in 1984, is charged with emotion — and blinded by habit. India allows arrests at the drop of a hat, violating its own laws, especially when the arrest is in the interest of a powerful person or party. Had a direct connection been proven between the chief and the gas leak, or had the Central Bureau of Investigation been able to prove that he was responsible for a "flawed" design in the factory in order to cut costs, the matter would have been different. But law has its due process; the outcome depends on what has been brought to it.


The issue of compensation, too, remains a raw and sad one. Passionate activism over the years has no doubt helped the victims' cause, but merely protesting that the compensation is inadequate is not enough. That may well be the case, but it has to be properly established to hold water in a court of law. Moreover, the logical way to penalize the company would have been to ensure earlier that it was stopped by the courts from selling its assets in India to pay off compensation claims. And that it would not be able to sell its assets elsewhere either, before it had recompensed the victims of Bhopal. That India does not have a system of class action suits as the United States of America does, or even laws to deal specifically with corporate negligence, is something that also affects the amount of compensation. Without changes in this sphere, with a lessening of political interference and a strengthening of investigative agencies, victims of corporate negligence or industrial disasters will continue to feel despair.








Bihar under Nitish Kumar has almost fallen off the familiar map. It is difficult to remember when the last caste riots rocked the state. The various caste 'armies', which virtually held the administration to ransom for years, seem stories from the past. If Bihar has been in the news recently, it has been mostly for a long-unheard story of a turnaround in economic growth. All this should have given a big boost to Mr Kumar's confidence in the run-up to the assembly elections in October. But the chief minister's worst fears are not about his political foes, but about his ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party. That is why he was so upset about an advertisement that showed him holding hands with the BJP leader and his Gujarat counterpart, Narendra Modi. Mr Kumar's public expression of anger over the advertisement has a dramatic element to it, but it basically shows how uncomfortable he has been about his partnership with the BJP. The saffron brigade's response to his anger and its defence of Mr Modi are predictable. Its rhetoric about not compromising the party's "self-respect" is familiar stuff of election-eve bargains between partners.


However, what the BJP seems to be unwilling to face is the fact that the fundamental nature of its politics makes the party a rather risky partner anywhere. Naveen Patnaik realized this before Mr Kumar, took the bold step of ending his alliance with the BJP before the last assembly polls in Orissa, and was hugely rewarded for his judgment. The political equations in Bihar are very different from those in Orissa, where the main opposition party, the Congress, has long been in a state of decline. The caste line-ups of political parties also make the electoral scene in Bihar rather complicated. But both the electoral arithmetic and the larger political issues make it increasingly clear that only inclusive politics can win polls and ensure good governance. The problem with the BJP is that its politics is fundamentally exclusivist. An alliance with the BJP is thus always an uncertain affair for another party because it carries the risk of alienating not just the Muslims but also large segments of secular voters. Mr Kumar will surely weigh his electoral options before he snaps his links with the BJP. But he has already expressed his lack of confidence in the alliance in no uncertain terms. The end of the affair may now be only a matter of time.









A belief has pervaded the United Progressive Alliance government that it must aim at tangible improvements and must monitor its achievements. This was the idea behind the outcome budgets introduced by P. Chidambaram when he was finance minister. They died out when he handed over to Pranab Mukherjee. But the idea survives in the form of the UPA's report to the people. It is beautifully produced, and reads well. But it tells another story if we read between its lines.


It is now June 2010; till now, the government has no data on most things later than 2007-08. The report tells us that by April 2008, 8,700 primary health centres and 19,000 subcentres were functioning. It does not tell us that the government had laid down a standard of having a health centre for every 30,000 people in the plains and 20,000 in the hills as long ago as in 2003. So it should have at least 30,000 PHCs and 180,000 subcentres. It had roughly a quarter as many PHCs and a tenth as many subcentres. They had delivered 83,000 babies. Supposing that was over just one year, I reckon that somewhere between 10 and 15 million babies are delivered every year in villages. So the subcentres had served less than one per cent of pregnant women. The government has doubled rural sanitation coverage — from one to two households? One to two crore households? It could be anything.


For cheap medicines, the government is reviving Hindustan Antibiotics and Bengal Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals. Both were so inefficient that they went bankrupt; they are hardly the companies to choose to make cheap medicines. Since the government is satisfied with what it has done, it certainly does not tell us when, if ever, it is going to reach its own standards. Since it has set up so few centres, it must have chosen the locations; it does not tell how. Incidentally, the idea of health centres was given by the Bhore committee in 1953; the idea was so incompletely implemented by 2007! That is how fast our government works.


The government has increased freedom fighters' pension from whatever it was to Rs 10,000 a month. Assuming that the last freedom fighter went to jail in 1945 and the youngest was 20 then, freedom fighters would be 85 and over. I wonder how many are still alive. The government was giving Rs 600 a month to their eldest daughters and Rs 350 to other daughters if they were unmarried and unemployed. That caused jealousy amongst the various daughters, so the government has raised their rewards to Rs 1,500 a month. That is what a domestic servant gets today in a city. The youngest of the daughters must be 35, so not many can be unmarried.


The government announced that it would give a lakh of rupees and a letter of appreciation to every member of Arzi Hukumat, the ragtag army under the leadership of Shamaldas Gandhi that invaded and annexed Junagarh in 1947. It forgot that Shakeel Ahmad, its own minister of state, had gone to Junagarh in 2008 and announced the award of Rs 100,000 to the same people. Assuming that they were 20 then, they would be 83 today; not many of them can be alive either.


The government boasts that it has allowed old people income-tax rebate on health insurance premiums. It should ask the insurance companies if any of them provide the old with health insurance, and what premiums they charge. When I go abroad, I take health insurance for a week or two. Only one insurance company offers it, and it charges the earth for it. None of them would sell me life insurance in my seventies.


The government waived loans of Rs 60,000 crore to farmers — the entire loan if the farmer had less than two hectares, 25 per cent of it if he had more. It does not tell us whether any farmer declared having more than two hectares, or whether all subdivided their holdings to get the full waiver. Having given the signal that loans will eventually be written off if farmers forget to repay them, it gave another Rs 225,000 crore in agricultural loans in 2007-08, and planned to give 280,000 crore in 2008-09.


The government tells us that work on the east-west corridor is on the way. It belongs to the national highway development programme of the Bharatiya Janata Party; Atal Bihari Vajpayee laid its foundation stone on January 6, 1999. The BJP finished the north-south corridor, but lost before it could complete the other corridor. Maybe it will get a chance to complete it when it comes back in 2020.


The prime minister laid the foundations of the 3,000 megawatt Dibang project and a 750 MW gas-fired project in Tripura. The report does not mention that most of the power supply systems are owned by the state governments, which have neither the money to expand the systems to keep up with the demand nor the guts to charge electricity prices which would attract private investment.


The government is building 5,000 two-room flats for those whom it calls migrants from Kashmir; it shies away from calling them Pandits, four lakh of whom left the valley between 12 and 20 years ago. It shows that the government will do something for any victimized group if it waits long enough, and that it will do something for only some members, not all; that way it can choose favourites.


The report says that legislation to introduce limited liability partnerships is about to be introduced in Parliament. The government does not know what it has been doing. Actually, the act was passed long ago, and was notified on March 31, 2008. But it is pretty useless because the government notified only a few sections.


My list could go on forever. But assuming that the government wants to do good for the nation and tell the nation what good it has done, the report should be framed differently. The government should be less impressed by big figures and sums, and should look instead for quantitative indicators of whatever it is trying to achieve. If it is trying to send girls to school, it should find out what proportion of them do not go to school; more importantly, what proportion of girls over 16 can read a book, write an essay, go into a shop and work out if they are being cheated, or write a tolerable love letter without grammatical errors. Second, it should get an idea of how much needs to be done, how much of it has been done, what it would cost to do the rest and when it would be finished. It is obvious from the figures I gave above, for instance, that the government would simply not have the money to set up health centres for every 20,000 people. Finally, the questions I am asking should not come from outsiders; the government should have people within itself who would question what it is doing. The government is full of well-intentioned do-gooders; but they have no idea how to do good, or how to find out how much good they are doing.








Watching the verdict convicting the chairman and other members of the Union Carbide family who were at the helm 26 years ago when the Bhopal tragedy took away thousands of innocent lives and destroyed many futures, one was convinced that justice needs to be delivered quicker and faster. Cases being dragged on for years in court make a mockery of the judiciary, and convince people that wrong acts will never be brought to book. This has been one of the prime factors corrupting modern India, and there is zero reform in the area. Men and women in power, who can initiate and lead the reformation, look the other way and thereby condone the despicable.


If the chairman of a company, sitting far away and presiding over a board of directors, can be made accountable, then why can political leaders and administrators not be made the same? Why are separate rules applicable to prime ministers, chief ministers, cabinet and state ministers, secretaries to the government of India and the states, public sector and municipal chiefs, and suchlike? Convictions galore should be grabbing our attention in newspapers and on screen. No one should be 'safe' from true justice. Municipal heads would be in the coolers if one is to go public with the horrors and corrupt practices they have inflicted on our habitat. Ministers would be jailed for irregularities and corruption. Prime Ministers, much like the Keshub Mahindras of the world, would be 'convicted' for presiding over the various other versions of the Bhopal tragedy that engulf India every moment. There is no difference in the glaring irresponsibility of governance, be it in politics, the corporate sector, the administration or the law enforcement departments.


Negative reactions


It is true — India burns and bleeds, and those responsible are never made to account for the assaults on the citizens of India and Bharat.


The Red Sari has been unravelling all over media this last week. Whatever the reason for which Congress leaders might have had to send legal notice to the author and publisher, the way their lawyers engaged in endless press chats (thereby enhancing the interest in the contents of the book, making it a potential bestseller for no reason) was wholly unnecessary. All that Abhishek Manu Singhvi's public declamations have done is to trigger negative reactions about Sonia Gandhi and her party. Helen Mirren playing the reigning queen of England did not bring in its wake this kind of highpitched vocal response and, closer to home, nor did Shyam Benegal's Zubeida, based on a real-life story about the 'other' woman who married the father of the Maharaja of Jodhpur, whose mother is still alive. Both 'stories' caused no controversies and were forgotten in the shortest possible time.


Singhvi's approach is a sure way of encouraging and ensuring unauthorized translations in cheap editions that would be sold at traffic crossings across India. Sadly, he did not calibrate his mandate. Instead, he did what he did with the heavy hand of 'authority', attracting the worst reactions possible. The ensuing unnecessary 'publicity', with pictures from personal family albums adorning the small screen, took place, thanks to this bull-in-a-China-shop posture. Surely it is mala fide to reveal the brief of a client to the public, talk to the media and issue press releases on the subject?Fear of criticism is incurable and painful. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru had surmounted this unpleasant 'obstacle', and that made them global statesmen. They pursued the values they believed in, and were able to transcend all the gossip and loose talk around them. They were not manipulated by feeble advisors. We have lessons to learn from both these great men.







The Old Boys of La Martiniere, Calcutta, must work together with the State to salvage the prestige of the institution, writes Suhel Seth


Major General Claude Martin founded the La Martiniere schools to celebrate knowledge, where the poorest of the poor or, for that matter, the richest of the rich would come together and sit at the table of learning so that they would improve their lives and the lot of their countries. That is the value architecture that once governed La Martiniere, Calcutta, too. An architecture which bred competition where valour and courage, and not deceit and immorality, were the birthmarks of progress, where we as students were taught the enduring contributions of truth and correctness, where the mind, in Tagore-speak, was held high without fear or favour. Where the board of governors would contribute meaningfully so that the ultimate object of the school, its students, would benefit manifold and in turn provide succour to the school they belonged to. Our school song, which 'hailed the founder', went on to talk about the virtues of compassion and welfare, of giving back to society and being essentially good human beings.


The irony today, however, is that in its 175th year, La Martiniere, Calcutta, has forgotten these very tenets that were part of its glowing history. Today we see schoolteachers and principals shamed, we see a 13-year-old student of the school extinguishing his own life. This is where La Martiniere is today. The rot began, where it normally does, right at the top. Under the principalship of Donald Alney began the steady decline of the boys' school: we sold playgrounds to create office buildings for wretched new business maharajas, where we could no longer play football in the strictest sense since the goalposts had shrunk and, in a strange twisted way, so had the goals. The school shot into infamy when a popular weekly magazine carried a devastating article on the raids on Principal Alney.


But then we were all to blame. We lacked the courage and the determination to ask questions. The school and all that went with it had dumbed us into silence. A school which was meant to set our spirits free so that we could soar in the real world had actually begun shackling us: this was a school in decline and it has perhaps remained so to this day.


What went wrong? The age-old principle of too much power in too few hands. The then chairman of the board was K.K. Dutt, whose sole business was being the chairman of the board, and school governors can have no business: their business is to be the custodians of the school, its legacy, and the values it stands for. Today, when you ask someone about the values of La Martiniere, Calcutta, most people would stumble to find even one. That is the hallmark of a declining brand.


The silence of the Old Boys is understandable. They had (and still do) vested interests only because some still had their children in the school and, in times like these, when admissions are few and far between, no one in their right mind wants to take a school on. The tragedy is that neither did the Old Boys want to fight nor did the establishment want to question. In today's age, which politician would want to risk taking the bishop on? But then what have you done in the bargain?


Though the present matter is sub judice, there is a larger system of justice that must be brought into play and that revolves around the manner in which legacy institutions in this country need to be run and preserved. This is the bigger question. No individual or set of individuals can hijack the agenda of education, no matter what the temptation. The State and the Old Boys must work together to protect that. All of us (me included) have failed in this very primary duty of ours and the result is for all to see. The school today stands defeated: a symbol of everything that is wrong with our education system. We cannot hold legacy institutions to ransom only because we are afraid to question the status quo of schools that wear the minority badge on their sleeves only to protect rather than correct their follies. This is the nub of the issue.


No bishop must be allowed to influence education, which has less to do with theology and more with the liberal, commercial world as we all know it. There is a danger, when this is allowed, that we will further polarize the last bastion of secularism in this country, which is education. More than that, there is also the issue of abiding corruption, and when too many people say too many things about money in exchange for admissions, one needs to worry. They said it about La Martiniere when we were in school and we all thought those were rumours, until one day someone asked me why there was never a whiff of a scandal on Don Bosco, Calcutta, or for that matter, St Xavier's, Calcutta?


But even this can be overlooked as we begin to justify an increasingly immoral world. The real question is how do you get rid of student apprehensions? What lessons in life are you teaching a present Martinian? What values does he imbibe? What is the path that he needs to tread when it is littered with innuendos and immorality to a large part? This is the real question that begs an answer. Today, every Martinian must stand shamed: not because the principal's name has been sullied or, for that matter, two governors have been thrown out: the shame must arise from mutual culpability stemming out of our own insecurities and unwillingness to question the wrongs not just of today but those of the past. Our silence has been our fatal flaw. Our willingness to tolerate the rot has been our collective failing.


No matter what the outcome of the investigation, it is clear that Rouvanjit Rawla had no business to die. He had no business to feel so humiliated and outraged by his own school. He had no business to fear his teachers. He had no business to walk back home that fateful afternoon feeling dejected and unwanted by the world. He had no business to leave behind grieving friends and a grieving school. I am saddened by the departure of Messrs K.S. David and Neil O'Brien from the school board. But why did it take them so long to raise the flag of protest? Why did they tolerate an errant system for so long? Many questions but few answers, as is typical in situations such as these.


Atonement rests in how quickly we can course correct, in how quickly we can start living the aspirations of Claude Martin, how meaningfully we can follow the words of the school song that we sang every morning with stars in our eyes and a smile on our lips: "All his martial deeds may die;/ Lasting still his charity.../ Firm of hand against the foe/ Soft of heart to succour woe./ This then our song shall be." Hopefully, this will perhaps be the La Martiniere we can all be proud of. All over again.


The author is an anguished ex-Martinian.








The power of speculative capital is such that it can destroy even a healthy economy


Too much money has been floating around in a world that is searching for quick profit since the beginning of globalization. This has proved to be the bane of the institution that is known as the market. It also caused the markets to crash in southeast Asia in 1997. Now it seems to be Europe's turn.


Some major economic trends have emerged on a global scale over the last two decades. For instance, the opening up of trade in goods and services. This has been greatly facilitated by a sharp fall in transport and communications costs and by the reduction in the time taken to transfer goods and services. Another development has been the manner in which some countries in a region are forming trade blocs to reduce or remove trade barriers and to have a separate set of rules for trade with others. Finally, capital account opening, de-regulation of the financial market and privatization of public enterprises have emerged as concomitant features of globalization that have enhanced capital mobility.


The most important factor, internationally, has been capital account opening imposed by the International Monetary Fund as a condition for loans. This has enabled the colossal capital of financial institutions to move about freely in search of profit.


Sadly, it has mostly been used for currency speculation, which was estimated to be around $1.5 trillion per day in early1999. This, along with capital account opening, was the main factor that precipitated the financial crisis in Southeast Asia. In Europe, just three years back, nations like Spain, Portugal and Greece were not in crisis. Spain actually ran a budget surplus. Portugal's budget deficit was less than three per cent in 2008. Till September 2008, foreign capital was flowing freely into these countries on the assumption that their euro membership ensured safety. After September 2008, the funds stopped flowing and the countries were left facing high costs.


Their bonds have been downgraded by the rating agencies because the market perceives these economies to be weak. It shows the irrationality inherent in the market, which is dominated by speculators. Since the latter only look for quick profit, their perception of a country's economic health is essentially superficial. Unfortunately, financial liberalization has legitimized the worldwide free-flow of immense speculative funds.


Hedge funds speculating in various markets played a crucial role in the 1997 crisis. According to IMF's estimates, in1997, six major hedge funds could mobilize 900 billion dollars against any currency they perceived to be weak. At that time, the foreign exchange reserves of the "stronger Asian economy", China, was 128 billion dollars. On February 20,1999, the then US treasury secretary stated that "there is no practical way to achieve currency coordination in a world where $1.5 trillion is traded each day in currency markets". Speculative capital can destabilize even a strong economy.


Just how damaging such speculation can be is clear from Britain's case. In September 1992, Bank of England fought to defend the pound — under attack from speculators — and failed, forcing Britain to exit the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. Bank of England, reportedly, lost more than 7 billion sterling pounds.




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





The Congress party is at sixes and sevens over the government-aided exit of Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson from Bhopal after his short visit in the wake of the gas leak in the company's plant. The party is at a loss of explain the VIP treatment he received from the state government when the governments in the state and at the Centre were controlled by the Congress. There are credible reports that the then chief minister Arjun Singh was directed by the Centre to release Anderson. It is impossible that Arjun would have taken the decision on his own and the direction could only have come from the Central government headed by Rajiv Gandhi. The fact that there was US pressure on India on the matter has become known from recently declassified CIA documents.

The various explanations made by Congress leaders are conflicting and show only the keenness to shield a deified Rajiv Gandhi from any blame. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's version that Anderson was allowed to leave Bhopal on law and order considerations could only be a cover-up and fire-fighting argument  from the party's trouble-shooter. It is a decent excuse that could be sold to the public but completely unconvincing.  Law minister Veerappa Moily's take that the then principal secretary to Rajiv Gandhi was responsible for the decision is even ridiculous. The party is only looking for scapegoats in order to protect the image and reputation of a holy cow. Honesty demands that the Congress leadership come out with a full and clear statement of responsibility and apologise to the nation for the lapse.

It is more important to make amends for the legal and administrative failures that have marked the official response to and handling of the Bhopal tragedy. A review petition can still be filed against  the supreme court order that diluted the charges against the gas leakage case accused. The argument that Dow Chemicals, which took over Union Carbide, is not responsible for UCC's liabilities can also be challenged. It should be held to account for the losses and the contamination and made to pay for rehabilitation and clean-up which have not yet taken place. The injustice in Bhopal becomes clear from a comparison of UCC's compensation payment of $ 470 million with the British Petroleum's likely bill of about $ 15 billion for the oil spill in April on the US coast in which 11 people were killed.








The state government's decision to initiate criminal proceedings against former vice chancellor of Mysore University, J Shashidhar Prasad for alleged violation of rules and regulations in the recruitment of teaching and non-teaching staff when he was heading the hallowed university, is much delayed, but still welcome. The controversial former vice chancellor is alleged to have flouted the government and University Grants Commission rules in the  appointment of 162 persons made to the posts of professors, readers, lecturers and other non-teaching positions during his tenure in 2006-07. A one-man commission headed by retired high court judge H Rangavitalachar, which inquired into the allegations, had confirmed in September last that the selection committee chaired by Shashidhar Prasad had given a go-by to the rules regarding educational qualifications, the prescribed experience and reservation norms while making these appointments. Apart from directing the university to file criminal charges against the former vice chancellor under Section 8(4) of the Karnataka Universities Act, the state government has also decided to issue notices to the appointees, who may have to be proceeded against for illegalities.

The fact that it has taken over three years after these appointments were made and over eight months since the inquiry commission submitted its report for the government to act, does not speak highly of the government's commitment to probity in public life. The 94-year-old Mysore University, which had such eminent vice chancellors as H V Nanjundayya and Kuvempu and such distinguished faculty as S Radhakrishnan and R K Narayan in the past, should now have become a den of corruption, is a matter of great pity. Apart from punishing the guilty, the government should mercilessly initiate steps to clean up the university of the elements that are polluting it.

Another scandal lurks in the Karnataka Veterinary and Fisheries University, Bidar, where the vice chancellor and a former registrar have been accused of indulging in malpractices in appointments and promotions. The divisional commissioner of Gulbarga in her report to the governor and pro chancellor, has pointed out serious irregularities in the appointment and promotion of assistant professors. There should be no delay on government's part to drive home the point that it will not allow the universities to be misused by unscrupulous elements for personal gain.







A 26-year trial is an absolute travesty. The law, often antiquated in letter and intent, has time and again been shown to be an ass.


We have got so used to the stench that we live with it not realising how foul it smells. The trivial Bhopal verdict is a grim reminder of this truth. The title I gave to Raajkumar Keswani's essay on the Bhopal gas tragedy, in a book I later edited, was 'An Auschwitz in Bhopal.'

 Keswani, then a small-time journalist in Bhopal, was among the first to alert the nation to the looming tragedy of the ill-maintained Union Carbide pesticide plant that showed signs of becoming a gas chamber. That was in 1982 and 1983 after the first gas leaks and fatalities, when the company cut down maintenance on this loss- making plant that it was negotiating to sell to one or other of its  associates in Brazil or Indonesia. The warnings were ignored. 

Twenty-six years and more than a generation later, a judicial magistrate in Bhopal has pronounced a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment under the revised offence charged in 1996: negligence rather than culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

 Bhopal was no 'accident.' If at all, with prior warnings, it was an accident waiting to happen. Nine Indian officials have been found guilty. The UCC Chairman, Warren Anderson was arrested in December 1984, bailed out and officially assisted to flee the country as he could not be charged with vicarious liability.

The Bhopal plant was later sold to Dow Chemicals with no liability even to clean up the still toxic plant site. The watchword both in India and the US was promoting investment, not justice. 

An estimated 20,000 to 25,000 have died as a result of the gas leak in Bhopal. Approximately half a million more suffer the agonies of continuing ailments, deformities and continuing genetic deformities. Medical research on the effects of the lethal methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and its long term treatment have been faulty. People continue to suffer and remain exposed to unknown risks.

 The $ 470 m compensation awarded was clearly meager and its disbursement delayed. Confusion, incompetence, cover-up and procedural delays all played their part in dealing with the greatest industrial disaster the world has ever seen.  

The US was quick to cover its back and its response was quite different from that to the soon-to-follow Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska or, currently, to the BP blow out while deep-drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Without minimising either event and its ecological implications, the two combined do not add up to anything like the magnitude of the human tragedy in Bhopal and its continuing effects. In both cases, the US response to corporate liability has been very different to that in Bhopal, despite admitted differences in these cases.
A most unsavoury blame game and loud name calling has started in India with the usual absurdities like demands for a joint parliamentary inquiry being touted to score political points. To what end? Such antics will only delay action to mend the systemic failures that Bhopal and other events have exposed, expedite justice and bring closure.

A 26-year trial is an absolute travesty. The law, often antiquated in letter and intent, has time and again been shown to be an ass. The administration and investigatory agencies can be bent and lack the independence expected of them as democratic bulwarks.  Compensation norms have not been standardised and vary from case to case, agency to agency and state to state. 

There is also a clear class bias in all of this. The well heeled are treated differently and sometimes get away with murder. Take the string of recent cases of drunken driving and its toll of humble victims. A two-year prison term after years of traumatic delay is poor solace to families who lose their breadwinners and loved ones.

Exemplary punishment

The permissible punishment should be exemplary, especially when the culprits go missing, prevaricate, and delay justice. Parents and guardians should not be immune so that the spoilt-brat syndrome is checked. Similarly rape and run or rape and murder criminals should be punished not only for the crime, if found guilty, but for their conduct after the event such as when BMWs become trucks.

It is understandable that many are demanding a fresh look at the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill so as to ensure that criminal negligence cannot be disassociated from accountability. Accidents may happen and the corporate owner or equipment supplier should not be burdened with crushing liabilities unless criminal negligence is proven.

Insistence on anything more onerous than that could turn away suppliers and investors to the detriment of the greater common good. The right balance must be struck between total liability and no liability irrespective of circumstances.








The weight of marriage for any man is much too much for his poor little manly heart to carry.


My doctor has been nonplussed. There seemed no explanation for my medical situation. Here is a person, who runs half marathons, who jogs 12 km at crack of dawn everyday and still has high lipid profile. Here is a patient, who lives on boiled vegetables, meal after meal and still has high cholesterol. And here is a person who never misses a glass of red wine in the evenings to keep his heart in good shape and still has many diagnostic parameters well outside the bracketed safe zone.

The doc scratched his head and finally declared that I would need a much closer examination to get to the bottom of things. To cut the story short, as the cliché goes, the specialists put me on medicines for damage containment but had no answer to my 'why me' questions. Now I know. Because I am married. It is the lot of married men to have higher blood pressure and a less favourable lipid profile. I am not making this sweeping statement without any basis. A recently published report by the American Heart Association (AHA) brings out that the married men look older and heavier and consequently suffer from heart related problems mentioned above.

To a lay man like me, it reads as if heartache is a part and parcel of a married man's life. The weight of the marriage is much too much for the poor little manly heart to carry.

Now some sociologists have got into the act and concluded that for women to live and live well, they need strong, weather proof punching bags. And the husbands are inexpensive, reusable and eventually expendable raw material to make the punching bags with. Their study concludes that hubbies serve the purpose well for tension abatement of the fair sex — a kind of rental for the favours granted.

Being a lover of Urdu shairi, I should have known this. Whether it was Ghalib, Iqbal, Gorakhpuri who have been warning us men of the dard to dille-nadaan - the young and innocent heart but would the dille nadaan listen? No, it still kept falling in love, ignoring the advice by Ghalib, who said, dille naddan tujhe hua kaya hai, akhir is dard ki dawa kya hai (O you innocent heart, what has happened to you? What after all is the cure for this pain?) Finally, he puts it down to dard-e-mohabbat. Aches of love. And it is the mohabbat of marriage that AHA has scientifically put the blame on man's natural inclination to heart diseases.

When I presented my shairi hypothesis, now scientifically supported by medical research to my wife, hoping for some empathic response to my heart-rending condition, here is what she said, "there are no free lunches in life. There is a cost attached to all benefits." And then she added and this might become a quote in the future, "For every ecstasy of marriage, there has to be agony of heartache." She usually has the last word in such matters. And I am left munching my medicines.







Turkey's shifting foreign policy is making its PM, Erdogan, a hero to the Arab world, and openly challenging the US.


For decades, Turkey was one of the United States' most pliable allies, a strategic border state on the edge of the Middle East that reliably followed American policy. But recently, it has asserted a new approach in the region, its words and methods as likely to provoke Washington as to advance its own interests.

The change in Turkey's policy burst into public view last week, after the deadly Israeli commando raid on a Turkish flotilla, which nearly severed relations with Israel, Turkey's longtime ally. Just a month ago, Turkey infuriated the US when it announced that along with Brazil, it had struck a deal with Iran to ease a nuclear standoff.

Turkey's shifting foreign policy is making its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a hero to the Arab world, and is openly challenging the way the US manages its two most pressing issues in the region, Iran's nuclear programme and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Turkey is seen increasingly in Washington as "running around the region doing things that are at cross-purposes to what the big powers in the region want," said Steven A Cook, a scholar with the council on foreign relations.
From Turkey's perspective, however, it is simply finding its footing in its own backyard, a troubled region that has been in turmoil for years, in part as a result of American policy making. Turkey has also been frustrated in its longstanding desire to join the European Union.

"The Americans cannot get used to a new world where regional powers want to have a say in regional and global politics," said Soli Ozel, a professor of international relations at Bilgi University in Istanbul. "This is our neighbourhood, and we don't want trouble. The Americans create havoc, and we are left holding the bag."

Turkey's rise as a regional power may seem sudden, but it has been evolving for years, when the world was a simple alignment of black and white and Turkey, founded in 1923, was a junior partner in the American camp.

Twenty years later, the map has been redrawn. Turkey is now a vibrant, competitive democracy with an economy that would rank as the sixth largest in Europe. Unlike Jordan and Egypt, which rely heavily on American aid, it is financially independent of the US. And, paradoxically, its democracy has created some problems with Washington: Members of Erdogan's own party defected in 2003, for example, voting not to allow the Americans to attack Iraq from Turkish territory.

Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, said in an interview that economics was at the heart of the new policy. "In the 1990s we had severe tension all around us, and Turkey paid a huge bill because of that. Now we want to establish a peaceful order around us," he said from Ankara last weekend.

Friction over Iran

But that vision has led to friction with Washington, particularly over Iran, Turkey's only alternative energy source after Russia.


"They are ambitious, and this gives them a major role on the world stage," said a senior American official. "But there is a risk that Americans won't understand what Turkey is doing, and that will have consequences for the relationship."

It is Erdogan's confrontation with Israel, which he accused of 'state terrorism' in the flotilla raid, that raised the loudest alarms for Americans. Many see his fiery statements as a sign that he has not only abandoned the quest to join the EU, but is aligning himself with Islamic rivals of the West.

Shafeeq Ghabra, a political science professor at Kuwait University, argued that Turkey had stepped into a vacuum left by a failed peace process, and that it was trying to "save the Palestinians from becoming desperate again and save Israel from itself."

That may be so, but Erdogan's tough talk eliminates Turkey's place at the table as a moderator with Israel, analysts said, and also boxes in the Obama administration, forcing it into a choice between allies that the Turks are sure to lose.

Turkish and American officials may play down their differences, but certain viewpo
ints do seem to be throwing up insurmountable obstacles, and some see the Turkish stance as ignoring the realities. "The world hasn't changed in 48 hours just because a boat was raided," said Asli Aydintasbas, a columnist for the Turkish daily Milliyet. "Ankara thinks it is remaking the world, but in the long run this could backfire." NYT








Medieval sage Maimonides ruled, "One who replaces work with Torah study and lives from charity profanes God's name, disgraces the Torah."  The state, ruled the High Court on Monday, can no longer give special treatment to students of the Torah when it hands out welfare payments. Men who devote their lives to the study of Judaism's most holy texts can no longer expect inordinate support from the public purse.

As was expected, haredi parliamentarians were quick to denounce the court. The chairman of the Knesset's Finance Committee, Moshe Gafni from United Torah Judaism, accused the judges of discriminating against haredim. Shas chairman Eli Yishai vowed to pass legislation that would bypass the ruling. In the present political environment, Yishai might succeed.

However, critics of the ruling would do well to look to the same sacred Torah texts that they rightly revere. So should the approximately 11,000 men who, according to the court, may no longer receive a total of NIS 121 million a year in the form of "assured income" transfers. With a bit of intellectual honesty, they might reach the conclusion that Judaism looks unfavorably upon a man who uses his status as a Torah scholar to receive special benefits. The Talmud, for instance, tells how the greatest sages all worked for a living. Hillel the Elder, before being appointed to the position of president of the Sanhedrin, supported himself as a woodcutter; Rabbi Shimon Hapakuli worked with cotton; Rabbi Yohanan was known as "the cobbler" due to his vocation repairing shoes; Rabbi Meir was a scribe; Rabbi Pappa planted trees.

Medieval sage Maimonides ruled, "One who replaces work with Torah study and lives from charity profanes God's name, disgraces the Torah, extinguishes the light of the law."

In short, Judaism implores the faithful Jew to support himself. The rabbis knew the devastating effect that relying on charity can have for a father's self-esteem, how it can undermine his ability to command the respect of his wife and children. They also wanted a man to be a constructive member of society.

TRUE, THROUGHOUT the ages, communities, no matter how destitute and poverty-stricken, supported gifted Torah scholars. And Maimonides's businessman brother David helped him make ends meet until his untimely death. But these arrangements were voluntary and limited to a select few. In fact, six decades ago, when Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, reached an agreement with the haredi rabbinic leadership and its most dominant figure – Rabbi Yeshayahu Karelitz (the Hazon Ish) – to exempt yeshiva students from military service, there were only a few hundred. It seemed at the time that haredi Judaism, nearly decimated by the Shoah, was on the verge of extinction. Perhaps Ben-Gurion acted out of pity, or out of a feeling of guilt for his own departure from tradition, or out of a conviction that at any rate the remnant of haredi Judaism would soon be gone, or perhaps to maintain that tradition of the most gifted Torah scholars being enabled to study full-time.

Today haredi Judaism, both in Israel and abroad, is enjoying a new resurgence. Its leaders are seen as representatives of "true," "authentic" Judaism. At a time when other Jewish communities suffer the ravages of assimilation and intermarriage, haredim have not only maintained their own numbers, they are growing and convincing others to join them through intensive outreach. But it is no longer only the most gifted who are being subsidized to study full-time.

The time has come for the haredi community to reassess its standing. It is no longer the weak, embattled minority that it was in the aftermath of the Holocaust. The haredi leadership can no longer justify devoting all of its energies to the singular endeavor of preserving tradition and insulating its flock from "evil" outside influences. It must now rise to new challenges. First and foremost among these is ensuring that while an elite few continue to carry the torch of tradition, others receive the skills needed to integrate into a dynamic labor market.

With or without Monday's High Court decision, that change is taking place. Thousands of haredi men and women have enrolled in academic institutions with sensitivity to their unique needs. As the IDF becomes more flexible and accommodating and the Tal Law is more aggressively implemented, more haredi men are serving in the military. This is a blessed process that would have made Hillel and Maimonides proud. The High Court ruling accords with it. The likes of Yishai and Gafni should embrace it, not fight it.







The last month of the academic year is the conference season. Just look at the university Web sites and the adverts in the newspapers and one will find a plethora of workshops and conferences which have been planned throughout the year and are coming to fruition before the teaching year ends. The topics are varied and cut across the entire diversity of academic disciplines. Unfortunately, the pressure to hold all of the conferences in the remaining time schedule is so great that many clash with each other and it is impossible to hear even a small fraction of the interesting papers delivered by both local and international faculty.

If I had to give a prize to the most original conference, it would surely be to the one which is taking place today and tomorrow at Ben-Gurion University, entitled "Food, Power and Meaning in the Middle East and the Mediterranean." What better topic than food, and what better way to end an academic year than by discussing the culinary delights of the region in which we live, with its mixture of cultures and histories reflected in the diverse cuisines that we see on our plates on an almost daily basis.

Serious discussions will deal with the relationship between food and power, and food and ethnic identities. The conference will conclude with a public panel where the academics will be replaced by the practitioners – as seven food writers and chefs from throughout the country will discuss cuisine and food here, under the title of "And We Have Felafel."

BRITISH EXPATRIATES are not the best people to discourse on food. The Politics and Government Department at our university was founded jointly by an ex-Londoner and an ex-Parisienne, and it was agreed from the first day that all matters of receptions and food would be the prerogative of my French colleague. Cuisine and culinary delights are certainly not one of Britain's specialities. Most of the tasty food in the UK has arrived in the country from elsewhere, brought by many different immigrant groups in a process of counter-colonization after the demise of the empire.

But there are British culinary specialities, notably fish and chips – tasty, full of oil and cholesterol, unhealthy and to be particularly recommended just before the start of a soccer game or other sporting event. It has even been argued that fish and chips is of Jewish origin. Anyone who has visited a Jewish synagogue or community occasion in the UK will know that one of the unique delicacies to have at the Shabbat morning kiddush is fried fish balls – a delicacy which is almost impossible to find in Israel outside the Anglo-Jewish enclaves of Netanya, Ra'anana and Jerusalem.


Fried fish, so it appears, was brought by European Jewish immigrants to the shores of Britain in the mid-19th century. Deep fried potatoes – chips (the thick variety, not the matchsticks which go under the name of French fries) are supposed to have been tried for the first time in Scotland. As fried fish migrated northward from London, and fried chips moved southward, they met each other in Manchester (now the second largest concentration of Jews in the UK) and the fish and chip combination was born.

In an article published in the Observer in 2003, columnist Jay Rayner states that "the great British chippie is all thanks to Jewish immigrants," and that the first fish and chip shop was opened in London by Jewish proprietor Joseph Malin in 1860. The authoritative Oxford English Dictionary notes that the earliest mention of "chips" in this sense is in Charles Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities (published in 1859) – where he writes: "Husky chips of potatoes, fried with some reluctant drops of oil."

Chips did eventually find their way to Israel. But as contrasted with the Dickens description of chips, most Israeli proprietors have changed the balance of ingredients, best described as consisting of "deep pools of oil fried with reluctant pieces of potato."

The idea of adding chips to the felafel or shwarma is probably the Israeli equivalent of what is known in British working class areas as a "chip butty," a sandwich consisting of bread and (more often than not cold) chips – a peculiar British culinary delicacy.

And in recent years, small portions of fish and chips have even found their way into the annual reception hosted by the British ambassador in honor of the queen's birthday at his residence in Ramat Gan.

THE CHIP butty shares its British uniqueness with that of Marmite – a yeast spread which, if not mastered by the age of three, will never pass your lips. At home, we neglected the education of our four sabra children, born to two British immigrants, none of whom will touch Marmite. My Israeli colleagues believe that this is the ultimate in culinary deviation. Marmite's Jewish connection is to be seen on the day before Pessah. It is hametz and the afficianados among us finish it off with the last toast before the eight day regime of matza kicks in.

Israel is, indeed, a country of diverse foods – ranging from the oriental through the Mediterranean and to the European. It is when they all come together, that it starts to become complicated. The definition of multiculturalism is, for many Jews, defined in terms of food. For those readers who attend Shabbat morning services, or go to mixed Sephardi-Ashkenazi weddings, there is surely no more intriguing cultural mix than seeing herring and humous on the same table. I have lived in this country for almost 30 years, but have never been able to eat the two at the same time and, dare I say, unlike my sabra children, my preference remains with the fish rather than the chickpeas.

There is one important component missing from this conference – the obligatory field trip into the kitchens and restaurants so that the food doesn't just remain a topic discussed in the seminar room, but is translated into the reality of the world outside the university. My informants tell me that there might be a secret couscous orgy for some of the participants. We are all prepared to suffer the guilt pangs of too many calories and cholesterol for the sake of the advancement of science. It is a sacrifice that few would turn their backs on.

The writer is professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics.









By backing the terrorist group against Israel, western countries are backing Hamas against Fatah and Islamist states against ME moderates.

Since the navy's May 31 takeover of the Turkish-Hamas flotilla, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his advisers have deliberated around the clock about how to contend with the US-led international stampede against Israel. But their ultimate decision to form an investigatory committee led by a retired Supreme Court justice and overseen by foreign observers indicates that they failed to recognize the nature of the international campaign facing us today.

Led by US President Barack Obama, the West has cast its lot with Hamas. It is not surprising that Obama is siding with Hamas. His close associates are leading members of the pro-Hamas Free Gaza outfit. Obama's friends, former Weather Underground terrorists Bernadine Dohrn and William Ayres participated in a Free Gaza trip to Egypt in January. Their aim was to force the Egyptians to allow them into Gaza with 1,300 fellow Hamas supporters. Their mission was led by Code Pink leader and Obama fund-raiser Jodie Evans. Another leading member of Free Gaza is James Abourezk, a former US senator from South Dakota.

All of these people have open lines of communication not only to the Obama White House, but to Obama himself.

Obama has made his sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood clear several times since entering office. The Muslim Brotherhood's progeny include Hamas, al-Qaida and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Last June, Obama infuriated the Egyptian government when he insisted on inviting leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood to attend his speech at Al Azhar University in Cairo. His administration's decision to deport Hamas deserter and Israeli counterterror operative Mosab Hassan Yousef to the Palestinian Authority where he will be killed is the latest sign of its support for radical Islam.

Given Obama's attitude toward jihadists and the radical leftists who support them, his decision to support Hamas against Israel makes sense. What is alarming however is how leaders of the free world are now all siding with Hamas. That support has become ever more apparent since the Mossad's alleged killing of Hamas terror master Mahmoud al-Mabhouh at his hotel in Dubai in January.

In the aftermath of Mabhouh's death, both Britain and Australia joined the Dubai-initiated bandwagon in striking out against Israel. Israel considers both countries allies, or at least friendly and has close intelligence ties with both. Yet despite their close ties, Australia and Britain expelled Israeli diplomats who supposedly had either a hand in the alleged operation or who work for the Mossad.

It should be noted that neither country takes steps against outspoken terror supporters who call for Israel to be destroyed and call for the murder of individual Israelis.

For instance, in an interview last month with The Australian, Ali Kazak, the former PLO ambassador to Australia, effectively solicited the murder of The Jerusalem Post's Palestinian affairs correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh. Kazak told the newspaper, "Khaled Abu Toameh is a traitor."

Allowing that many Palestinians have been murdered for such accusations, Kazak excused those extrajudicial murders saying, "Traitors were also murdered by the French Resistance, in Europe; this happens everywhere."

Not only did Australia not expel Kazak or open a criminal investigation against him, as a consequence of his smear campaign against Abu Toameh, several Australian government officials cancelled their scheduled meetings with him.

AND OF course, this week we have the actions of Germany and Poland. They are considered Israel's best friends in Europe, and yet acting on a German arrest warrant, Poland has arrested a suspected Mossad officer named Uri Brodsky for his alleged involvement in the alleged Mossad operation against Mabhouh. Israel is now caught in a diplomatic disaster zone where its two closest allies – who again are only too happy to receive regular intelligence updates from the Mossad – are siding with Hamas against it.

And then of course we have the EU's call for Israel to cancel its lawful blockade of the Gaza coast. That is, the official position of the EU is that an Iranian proxy terrorist organization should be allowed to gain control over a Mediterranean port and through it, provide Iran with yet another venue from which it can launch attacks against Europe.

For their part, the Sunni Arabs are forced to go along with this. The Egyptian regime considers the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood took over Gaza a threat to its very survival and has been assiduously sealing its border with Gaza for some time. And yet, unable to be more anti-Hamas than the US, Australia and Europe, Mubarak is opening the border. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa's unprecedented visit to Gaza this week should be seen as a last ditch attempt by Egypt to convince Hamas to unify its ranks with Fatah. Predictably, the ascendant Hamas refused his entreaties.

As for Fatah, it is hard not to feel sorry for its leader Mahmoud Abbas these days. In what was supposed to be a triumphant visit to the White House, Abbas was forced to smile last week as Obama announced the US will provide $450 million in aid to his sworn enemies who three years ago ran him and his Fatah henchmen out of Gaza.

So too, Abbas is forced to cheer as Obama pressures Israel to give Hamas an outlet to the sea. This will render it impossible for Fatah to ever unseat Hamas either by force or at the ballot box. Hamas's international clout demonstrates to the Palestinians that jihad pays.

THERE ARE three plausible explanations for the West's decision to back Hamas. All of them say something deeply disturbing about the state of the world. The first plausible explanation is that the Americans and the rest of the West are simply naïve. They believe that by backing Hamas, they are advancing the cause of Middle East peace.

If this is in fact what the likes of Obama and his European and Australian counterparts think, apparently no one in the West is thinking very hard. The fact is that by backing Hamas against Israel, they are backing Hamas against Fatah and they are backing Iran, Syria, Turkey, Hamas and Hizbullah against Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. They are backing the most radical actors in the region – and arguably in the world – against states and regimes they have a shared strategic interest in strengthening.

There is absolutely no way this behavior advances the cause of peace.

The second plausible explanation is that the West's support for Hamas is motivated by hatred of Israel. As Helen Thomas's recent remarks demonstrated, there is certainly a lot of that going around.

The final plausible explanation for the West's support for Hamas is that it has been led to believe that by acting as it is, it will buy itself immunity from attack by Hamas and its fellow members of the Iranian axis. As former Italian president Francesco Cossiga first exposed in a letter to Corriere della Serra in August 2008, in the early 1970s Italian prime minister Aldo Moro signed a deal with Yasser Arafat that gave the PLO and its affiliated organizations the freedom to operate terror bases in Italy. In exchange the Palestinians agreed to limit their attacks to Jewish and Israeli targets. Italy maintained its allegiance to the deal – and to the PLO against Israel – even when Italian targets were hit.

Cossiga told the newspaper that the August 2, 1980 bombing at the Bologna train station – which Italy blamed on Italian fascists – was actually the work of George Habash's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Eighty-five people were murdered in the attack, and still Italy maintained its agreement with the PLO to the point where it prosecuted and imprisoned the wrong people for the worst terrorist attack in its history.

Cossiga alleged that the deal is still in place today and that Italian forces in UNIFIL have expanded the deal to include Hamas's fellow Iranian proxy Hizbullah. It isn't much of a stretch to consider the possibility that Italy and the rest of the Western powers have made a similar deal with Hamas. And it is no stretch at all to believe that they will benefit from it as greatly as the Italian railroad passengers in Bologna did.

True, no one has come out and admitted to supporting Hamas. So too, no one has expressed anything by love for Israel and the Jewish people. But the actions of the governments of the West tell a different tale. Without one or more of the explanations above, it is hard to understand their current policies.

Since the flotilla incident, Netanyahu and his ministers have held marathon deliberations on how to respond to US pressure to accept an international inquisition into the IDF's lawful enforcement of the legal blockade of the Gaza coast. Their deliberations went on at the same time as Netanyahu and his envoys attempted to convince Obama to stop his mad rush to give Hamas an outlet to the sea and deny Israel even the most passive right of self-defense.

It remains to be seen if their decision to form an investigative panel with international "observers" was a wise move or yet another ill-advised concession to an unappeasable administration. What is certain, however, is that it will not end the West's budding romance with Hamas.

The West's decision to side with Hamas is devastating. But whatever the reasons for it, it is a fact of life. It is Netanyahu's duty to swallow this bitter pill and devise a strategy to protect the country from their madness.









The government yesterday authorized the creation of an independent committee to examine the events surrounding the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla last month. Unfortunately, neither the committee's membership nor its authority is suited to meet the challenges posed by the affair.


The committee should have been asked to examine the facts and hold responsible those who caused the incident to end as it it did, thereby allowing Israelis and their government to implement the lessons that need to be learned. Instead, the cabinet created a panel aimed at appeasing the world, in particular the United States. Its authority is too limited to conduct a real investigation, and its makeup raises the suspicion that it is designed more as a public-relations tool than to properly examine the events and reveal the responsible parties.


A panel that is not a state commission of inquiry will be unable to bring justice to bear on those found responsible for the operation's failings. And no matter how esteemed the committee members may be, all have for decades been away from events in both the military and government, and will thus not be able to reach the necessary conclusions. Committee chairman Jacob Turkel's observation ahead of his appointment that certain people must not be found at fault raises a question mark over whether he was selected precisely because of that remark.


Stopping the flotilla has already caused Israel immense political damage. Stopping a real investigation by appointing a committee with such limited powers is liable to lead to further damage not only to Israel's image abroad, but also to its capacity to avoid similar imbroglios in the future. It is hard to believe that the newly appointed committee, even though it includes two international observers, will convince the world that Israel is seriously investigating the raid's operational failures.


The government had an opportunity to try to control the damage it brought on itself by conducting an audacious and comprehensive investigation. Yesterday the government missed that opportunity. The strange hybrid that emerged instead - both its puzzling membership and weak mandate - bodes ill for Israel. A committee whose makeup and authority are perceived as predetermined will be unable to satisfy international leaders and their constituencies abroad who demanded the inquiry in the first place. It would therefore have been better if the Turkel committee had never been born, sparing us the deceptive appearance of a real investigation.









What has come over Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz? Perhaps beyond the pleasant-looking facade lurks a man guided solely by careerist considerations? Or just maybe behind that smiling persona lies someone motivated by public relations? Do we have a Steinitz A who is jousting with Steinitz B?


This is how the story unfolds. On April 11, the finance minister appeared before the Knesset to respond to a number of queries from Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich over royalties the state will collect from offshore discoveries of gas and oil.


According to Steinitz, the state should not alter the existing permits in any way. Steinitz, however, added that the state should examine royalty fees for new permits, but must do so quietly so as not to risk the financing of the drilling operations at the Dalit and Tamar fields. That way, Israel's supply of gas would not be hindered in 2013.


For the sale of gas, Steinitz explained that the state collects taxes and royalties at a rate between 35 and 45 percent, with royalties alone accounting for 12.5 percent - "a royalty rate that is standard for democratic countries operating in natural gas exploration via the licensing method."


He added that the tax level "is considered somewhat high for reserves found deep beneath the water where the process of development and production is extremely complex." It is known that the exploration fields in the Mediterranean Sea are very deep: three kilometers into the seabed under two kilometers of water.


The minister responded to another query by saying that the discovery of large natural gas reserves off the Israeli coast reduces the risk borne by future investors, thus making it worthwhile to consider modifying "the method of taxation for future discoveries." Just to remove doubt over the possibility that he planned to levy taxes against people who have already received exploration licenses, Steinitz added: "It is important to note that a retroactive change in permits that have already been issued and that have yielded investments would be problematic from a legal and ethical point of view."


Yitzhak Tshuva, a senior partner in the Dalit and Tamar projects, came away satisfied. But by June the minister's position reversed. Suddenly Steinitz said royalties should be raised, even retroactively, since "royalty rates in Israel are significantly lower than in other countries." During another appearance he declared animatedly that "natural resources belong to the people, our children and grandchildren, who need to benefit from the discovery." He then proceeded to blame all successive Israeli governments that behaved "clumsily or neglectfully and did not take up the matter since 1952."


But it is Steinitz who has acted "clumsily or neglectfully" because he could have "taken up the matter" when he was appointed finance minister rather than wait until discoveries were made.


The simple truth is that successive Israeli governments were quite pleased with the status quo ante. They did not invest even one agora in searching for oil and gas. Rather, a few lunatics poured in the money for those governments, among them Tshuva. The government was certain they wouldn't find anything, so what did they care about royalty rates?


Steinitz's about-face raises the question of whether we are dealing with a man of reversals. Once he was an ardent activist with Peace Now, but now he's on Likud's extreme fringe. Perhaps an explanation for his flip-flopping can be found in the public relations campaign he is now waging.


It is an open secret that Steinitz's standing in public opinion polls is at an all-time low. He is simply ignored. Everybody views Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the person responsible for charting the state's economic course, while Steinitz is viewed as his Sancho Panza. Now, however, the battle over natural gas has catapulted his name into the headlines as the man at the vanguard of a fight against the evil tycoon Yitzhak Tshuva.


Much like his army of media advisers, Steinitz understands that the most popular move he could make is to "stick it to the tycoons" and act "on behalf of the people." This apparently is the reason behind the myriad yet hopeless "reforms" he has inundated us with recently. One day he has a plan to encourage start-ups, while the next he is touting a communications reform that would lower prices. Another day he is flooding the state with affordable land for young couples, and now he has his war against Tshuva.


This is because Steinitz B so badly wants to defeat Steinitz A.









The rise in support for Benjamin Netanyahu after the flotilla affair, as reported in a survey published in last weekend's Haaretz, should not surprise anyone. It reflects what is known in modern leadership discourse as "open brand strategy." The term comes from the building of Barack Obama's leadership model; its practical implication is that the preferred leadership style in 21st century democracies is that of a head of state who communicates with his citizens at eye level. It also allows for deliberation on the part of the leader and views exchanges of opinion, as accepted in the public sphere, as a possible source of empowerment of personal leadership.


From the "closed brand" of the 1990s that was designed for him by American consultants, the Netanyahu of 2010 has become a leader whose public image embodies a more complex synthesis of open, sharing leadership. More than any other political leader in Israel today - and this is absolutely an unfashionable compliment, but one that can explain the survey's results - Netanyahu is operating on two levels that combine to constitute the correct mixture expected of the prime minister in the current imbroglio.


Beyond the specific crisis, there is a consensus that this is an era in which governmental efficacy is almost impossible, because the situation is so replete with crises, risks and uncertainty. Netanyahu is coming up with the leadership complexity that is called for, while his main adversary, Tzipi Livni, brands herself as the alternative mainly in gossip columns and prefers to refrain from formulating a clear-cut alternative political message, along with cloaking herself in silence for long periods.


On the one hand, Netanyahu uses upright patriotic-nationalist rhetoric - reflecting an attitude that was correctly described in an Economist cover story last week as "Israel's siege mentality." But along with the language of national identity that Netanyahu uses with great manipulativeness vis-a-vis the Israeli public, his actual deeds broadcast full compliance with the rules of international diplomacy and understanding that they must be accepted and applied to the Israeli reality.


It was Netanyahu who decided to release the passengers of the Mavi Marmara although in his eyes they were terrorists, and it was he who agreed to a panel to investigate the flotilla affair under international supervision. The media may criticize him and see his behavior as dithering and devoid of leadership, but this is Netanyahu's new leadership style and it is the opposite of the impulsiveness that characterized his first term. Even the strenuous struggle against the prime minister being waged by Yedioth Ahronoth is apparently yielding the opposite results to those desired, a phenomenon known to researchers as "the spiral of silence." The broad public, which usually remains silent, responds in a different way from that expressed by the elite guardians of mass communications.


Netanyahu has also succeeded in separating himself politically from the flotilla affair, in the correct fashion. According to polls it is Defense Minister Ehud Barak who is directly identified with the operation's failure, while Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is firmly fixed in the public consciousness as someone not accepted in the world as a figure of authority when it comes to protecting the democratic character of the Jewish state. Netanyahu's frequent consultations with the "forum of seven" senior cabinet ministers also strengthen the pattern of "sharing leadership" that is part of the new leadership discourse, which describes the Obama administration in terms of "a corrective experience." All this may not necessarily attest to Netanyahu being a great leader, but he is clearly better than any other political brand now on the shelf.


The writer conducts research on political leadership and New Media.









The blame game between the political and military establishments is revealing the same characteristics that led us to the Yom Kippur War, and the same subsequent spats over who was responsible and who must be held accountable. Then, as now, the chief failure was that of intelligence. Then, as now, the military was full of itself, sure that we'd "break their bones," in the famous words of then-chief of staff David Elazar on the second day of the Egyptian-Syrian assault.


How did Israel's prime minister and defense ministers think the interception of the "humanitarian" aid ship would be perceived in the eyes of the world? As a sort of latter-day Entebbe? Hardly. In effect, it came off as a heavy-handed operation: The vessel approaches, is seized and towed to Ashdod Port, just as in the days of the pirates of yore.


After the Yom Kippur War, the defense minister at the time, as his successor today, claimed that his role was to redirect "ministerial counsel" - that is, that the chief of staff himself would be directing the war. Now, however, there is no doubt that those responsible for this rather unfortunate affair are first and foremost Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Together, the two leaders planned the violent reception for the supposedly compassionate fleet, but are now placing the burden of responsibility on the chief of staff. Why was he not at IDF operational headquarters during the raid on the Mavi Marmara? Why was the Israel Navy commander so near the ship at the time? Veteran combat soldiers claim that with today's advanced information and surveillance systems, military leaders could have made their decisions from a desert island just as well.


The current round of blame-casting is reminiscent of the frenzied search for a scapegoat in the dark days following the 1973 war. Netanyahu was in Canada when the naval commandos launched their raid under embarrassing circumstances, chief among them the intelligence failure to notify troops they would be met by a motley crew of terrorists. Now that we've seen the lynch committed against our soldiers, it's difficult to avoid recalling the troops caught under fire along the Suez Canal more than three decades ago and their desperate radio messages back to headquarters. This time, the initiative to intercept the vessel was taken by us alone, so it's unclear what considerations led Barak to give the order just hours before Netanyahu's scheduled meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama.


In any case, it's clear Netanyahu and Barak authorized the operation down to the last detail, and that the responsibility should consequently fall entirely on their shoulders. In a well-managed country they would be called on to go home; in a properly run country one hears the term "accountability," a word the political establishment here doesn't seem to know.


As after the Yom Kippur War, a debate has erupted over what kind of commission of inquiry to establish. The difference between past and present is that then, public pressure was applied to create a commission of inquiry to examine the conduct of those responsible for the military surprise Israel suffered and the lack of preparedness it showed in facing it. The fact that the commission did not address responsibility within the political echelon led to a public outcry that culminated in the resignation of Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan, the prime minister and defense minister at the time.


And there is another small difference between then and now. Several years after the war, Egypt's Anwar Sadat, Israel's Menachem Begin, as well as Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger of the United States turned the conflict into a path for forging a peace agreement. Now we face a U.S. president not particularly friendly to Israel and a hostile Europe that fears an Islamic takeover at home. This is the first time we can cry "the entire world is against us" without being accused of suffering from a persecution complex.


The blockade we have imposed on Gaza doesn't portray us in a positive light, but as an uncompassionate, blockheaded nation, one that supposedly "starves" Gaza's children. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Obama that the two-state vision is dissipating, a statement tantamount to placing a loaded pistol on the negotiating table ahead of Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks.


Anyone who doesn't want an international commission of inquiry for fear of another Goldstone Commission is now forced to accept a "public independent committee to examine the events surrounding the raid," one that will include international observers. Though its description sounds harmless enough, it's important that Netanyahu and Barak have a good look at the Agranat Commission's report of 1974, which didn't deal directly with the conduct of either Meir or Dayan, but ultimately led to the resignation of both.


The flotilla raid won us the battle but lost us the war - the blockade on Gaza is now finished.










The latest enterprise to be launched by Google, combining the most popular search engine in the world with television, highlights the dramatic change that has occurred in what it means to be literate today. Once it was enough just to know how to read for a person to understand what governments demanded and to be able to pray independently. Then came the need to know how to write and to respond to the never-ending font of information.


The literacy of the 21st century is different. It takes for granted not only the ability to read and write, something possessed by nearly everyone in the Western world, but also the ability to distinguish between what is relevant and what is extraneous, between what is correct and what is erroneous, and between what is appropriate and what is spurious.


For if it were not so, how would information consumers cope with the abundance that has been spread out before them?


If Google TV flourishes, it will transfer the age of inundation that has beset written materials in the past decades onto the screen. A press of the button today gleans data that it once took many hours or days, and sometimes overseas journeys, to obtain.


There are, however, built-in disadvantages that detract from having the world at your fingertips. One is the volume of information that a search on Google produces. Search "the State of Israel" (in quotes ) and you get 14,300,000 results in 0.23 seconds. Can you imagine anyone checking all of these, right up to the last page? What can they possibly contain, beyond multiple repetitions and items like inarticulate notes for high school civics exams?


A second disadvantage is the order in which the search engine displays the results, based on a formula dealing with the number of entries each site has registered, with the more popular listed first and the less popular at the end. This highlights yet another essential disadvantage: Those who have enough money and who can develop a search engine optimization formula can gain more hits and climb over more worthy sites on the results pages.


In this way, what at first looked like a marvelous tool for people wanting to learn has turned into an instrument manipulated by the powerful, who can use it to promote the information they produce.


These are mostly state bodies, large media organizations or willful participants who force Wikipedia - and I am speaking here of the Hebrew version - to maintain limits of expression.


The digital age has given people in the West the misleading impression that all the information in the world is at their fingertips, available for use at all times. Will young schoolchildren who have become accustomed to searching and quickly sifting through the mass of material to glean the correct answer be able, once they grow up, to distinguish between high and low culture, between what is important and what is popular, between what is a genuinely valuable asset and what is merely "cool"?


The new literacy differs from its predecessor in its demand for agile maneuvering through a flood of data. The technical mastery of reading and viewing is taken for granted. What is not is the new scale of values and the ability of Web surfers to decipher the information they have gathered and to use it wisely.


Also still unclear are the ways of overcoming the obstacles presented by the flood of information. It may be that technological progress will underline the need to stick to old methods, and familiarity with the cultural canon will accompany the leap into cyberspace that begins even before a child starts going to school.


It is possible that the most important subject in 21st century schools will be schlepping from bookstore to bookstore, theater to theater, concert hall to concert hall, and art show to art show. This may be the way to nurture the ability to distinguish between what is meaningful and what is merely popular.




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




Equity is an elusive legal concept that occasionally allows some leeway in applying the rules of the law and is often unappreciated by judges who insist the law means only what it says. That was clear in 2008 when the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit refused to allow federal courts to consider a death-penalty conviction of Albert Holland because his lawyer had inexcusably let the filing deadline pass. Fortunately, seven members of the Supreme Court proved less rigid in their thinking on Monday and reversed that blinkered decision.


Mr. Holland, who was convicted of first-degree murder and is on Florida's death row, continually asked his court-appointed lawyer about the paperwork deadlines and pressed him to keep all options of appeal open. But the lawyer barely communicated with his client and missed the filing deadline set by Congress in 1996.


In giving Mr. Holland a second chance to make his case, the Supreme Court acted in the highest legal tradition and demonstrated why society invests so much hope in the wisdom of justices — and not just their knowledge of legal principles. Writing for the court's majority, Justice Stephen Breyer said that a hard and fast adherence to absolute legal rules could impose "the evils of archaic rigidity."


That was not enough for Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who dissented. They provided a clear illustration of what happens when jurisprudence is stripped of all human empathy — that recently vilified but still vital heartbeat of the legal system. Justice Scalia wrote that while it is tempting to tinker with technical rules to achieve a just result, the Constitution does not give judges the discretion to rewrite Congress's rules. The law is the law, in other words, and tough luck if your incompetent lawyer leaves you hanging.


It was heartening to see that Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito Jr. refused to subscribe to that philosophy, just as they have broken with Justice Scalia in other criminal justice cases.


The full court demonstrated that same spirit of understanding in another opinion issued Monday, when it ruled that a minor drug offense did not justify deporting a legal immigrant. The case was brought by Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo, an immigrant from Mexico found in possession of a single tablet of Xanax, the anti-anxiety drug, without a prescription. Overruling the lower courts and disagreeing with the Obama administration, the court said that the possession did not qualify as a serious felony, even though Mr. Carachuri-Rosendo had a previous misdemeanor conviction.


The decision gives hope to other immigrants fighting deportation on minor charges that are taken far too seriously by the government. Taken together, the outcome of Monday's cases suggests that even on a conservative court, the letter of the law has its limits.






Tuesday is the anniversary of what may be the greatest day in the history of Haitian sports. On June 15, 1974, at the World Cup in Munich, in the 46th minute of the first game of its first appearance in the World Cup, Haiti scored a goal against Italy.


The Haitians ended up losing, 3 to 1, as expected. They lost the next two games and were eliminated, and Haiti has not qualified for the World Cup since. But they scored that goal — a goal against one of the world's best teams and one of the world's best goalkeepers, Dino Zoff, who, until then, had not given up a point in more than 1,000 minutes of play.


As national sports milestones go, Haiti's is pretty modest. The joy of it still resounds today with Haitians, and the man who scored the goal — Emmanuel Sanon, known as Manno — remains a national hero.


Mr. Sanon, who went on to play professionally in the United States, died in 2008. His greatest moment lives on in the memories of Haitians and on YouTube — now and forever Manno is running, taking a pass from Philippe Vorbe, outrunning a defender, zipping past Zoff, shooting and — goal! "Buuuuut!! But d'Haitiiii!" roars the announcer, the Haitian version of Goooooaaallll!


Today in Haiti, as in the rest of the world, people will be watching the World Cup. They will watch in bars and in restaurants and in tents set up in camps for displaced people. They will watch on screens in a stadium in Port-au-Prince. And as they root for other teams, many of them will pause to remember a day the rest of the world has long forgotten.


On that day, of course, reality roared back. Goliath vanquished David, the world moved on and Haiti went back to being a small country with a lot of problems. But it has that game, the memory of those fleeting minutes 36 years ago when it was on top of the world — Haiti 1, Italy 0. And nobody can take that away.








Giving $3 million annually in prize money for scientific achievement is an excellent idea. It is irredeemably tarnished when the benefactor is a corrupt and repressive dictator.


After 30 years of ruling Equatorial Guinea, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo apparently decided that he needed to do something to burnish his unsavory reputation. So he promised Unesco, or the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, $3 million a year for five years to finance the Unesco-Obiang prize.


Half the money would go to five award winners and half to cover the costs of choosing the winners. The goal: to honor achievements that "improve the quality of human life." However, Mr. Obiang's behavior mocks all that Unesco is supposed to stand for, as well as the prize's stated rationale.


He is charged by human rights and anticorruption activists with embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars from his tiny oil-rich state, while most of his people — 77 percent according to one measure — live in abject poverty. In its 2009 human rights report, the State Department cited a pattern of abuses there, including unlawful killings by security forces, torture of detainees and prisoners and official impunity and arbitrary arrest.


The Unesco board should have had the good sense to decline Mr. Obiang's donation from the start. Its plan to award the first prize this year has now stirred a wide international protest. Among those demanding that the board overturn its decision to award a prize in Mr. Obiang's name: seven recipients of Unesco's prestigious World Press Freedom prize; a global coalition of more than 170 anticorruption organizations; and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.


The board has another chance to avoid further embarrassment and damage to Unesco's reputation when it meets on Tuesday. African members should take the lead in rejecting Mr. Obiang's self-aggrandizing largess. Instead, he should be encouraged to spend the money at home to reverse the abysmally low levels of health care and education, establish the rule of law and "improve the quality of human life" of his own people.







Since June 1, when federal unemployment benefits began to expire, an estimated 325,000 jobless workers have been cut off. That number will swell to 1.25 million by the end of the month unless Congress extends the benefits. The Senate, so far, has failed to act.


Some senators, including Democrats, have balked at an unrelated provision that would begin to close a tax loophole enjoyed by some of the richest Americans. You heard right. Desperately needed unemployment benefits have been held hostage to a tax break for the rich, and the Senate's Democratic leadership has had to delay and finagle to get its own caucus in line.


State-provided unemployment benefits generally last for 26 weeks, and the federal government picks up the tab after that, provided Congress approves the extensions. There is no disagreement over the need: 46 percent of the nation's 15 million jobless workers have been unemployed for more than six months — a higher level than at any time since the government began keeping track in 1948.


There is not even any genuine debate about how to pay for extended benefits. An extension through November would cost about $40 billion. But unemployment benefits are correctly considered emergency spending — they are a vital safety net, and the money is crucial to supporting consumer demand in a weak economy — and exempt from pay-as-you-go budget rules.


Nonemergency provisions in the bill do need to be paid for, including renewal of several generally useful

business tax breaks, like the research-and-development tax credit, totaling $32 billion over 10 years. To help cover those costs, Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate started out with the sound idea to close an egregious tax loophole that allows wealthy fund managers at private equity firms and other investment partnerships to pay a top tax rate of just 15 percent on much of their earnings — versus a top rate of 35 percent for all other higher-income Americans.


Closing the loophole would raise an estimated $25 billion over 10 years. Many private equity mavens, venture capitalists and other partnerships have lobbied to keep as much of the loophole as they can. Most Republicans and some Democratic senators — including John Kerry of Massachusetts, Mark Warner of Virginia and Maria Cantwell of Washington — are doing their bidding.


In its version of the bill, the House closed part of the loophole: fund managers would retain the special low rate on 25 percent of their privileged earnings. The loophole measure was watered down even more in the Senate. And investment partnerships are still lobbying.


Senators aren't likely to vote on the bill until the end of this week. Then it would need to be reconciled with the House-passed version. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands more jobless Americans will lose benefits.


The Senate bill is also urgently needed because it includes a provision to provide $24 billion in emergency fiscal aid to states, which is vital to preventing further mass layoffs and damaging budget cuts on the state and local levels.


The right thing to do is obvious. The House and Senate should immediately extend unemployment benefits and aid to states and close the fund-managers' tax loophole — completely.


That so many senators have balked is a bad sign for the economy and for the most vulnerable Americans. The fact that lawmakers are not willing to ask the nation's wealthiest to pay their fair share of taxes also makes a mockery of all their talk about deficit reduction.












IN 1985 — when no case officer could even dream of widespread pro-democracy demonstrations in Tehran like those that occurred a year ago this week — I first arrived on the Iran desk in the C.I.A.'s Directorate of Operations. One of my colleagues was an older man who had entered the agency in its early days, when liberal internationalists and hawkish socialists ran most of America's covert-action programs.


Intellectually irrepressible, softhearted (for an operative) and firmly on the political left, my colleague did not recognize national boundaries when it came to promoting human rights. He could talk for hours about why the Austrian philosopher Karl Popper, the author of "The Open Society and Its Enemies," was the answer to Iran's religious tyranny. He was nearly alone within the directorate in his enthusiasm and plans for doing something to help Iranians against Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's theocracy.


As it turns out, many of the intellectual heavyweights who've driven Iran's ever-growing pro-democracy Green Movement also love Popper and his defense of liberal democracy. The former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, who is fascinated by (and a little fearful of) Western philosophy and the economic dynamism of liberal democracy, can't stop writing about Popper. And the much more influential Abdolkarim Soroush, an Iranian philosopher of religion who may be the most important Muslim thinker since the 11th-century theologian al-Ghazali, also pays his respects to the Austrian in his efforts to create a faith that can thrive in a more open, democratic society.


As I consider the changes in Iran over the last year, the people who come quickly to mind are my covert-action-loving colleague, Karl Popper and the army of pro-democracy lay and clerical Iranian intellectuals who've been transforming their country's culture and ethics. They are our guides to what the United States ought to be doing vis-à-vis Iran; they are also a reproach to how President Obama has so far conducted Iran policy.


Whereas the Reagan administration in the 1980s could do little to help Iranians (Ronald Reagan's determined efforts to engage the clerical regime over the hostages in Lebanon certainly didn't strengthen "moderates" in Tehran), Mr. Obama could do vastly more. By throwing in his lot with the freedom movement, he would surely increase the odds that we won't have to live with a nuclear bomb controlled by virulently anti-American and anti-Semitic clerics. Democrats, once the champions of promoting pro-democracy movements, need to understand that the good that they can do for the people of Iran far exceeds the great harm that comes from doing nothing.


Yet for the United States to help, we need to first see clearly what's been happening in Iran since Ayatollah Khomeini's death in 1989 and over the last year. In the 1980s, when Iran's youth were enthralled by the charismatic Khomeini, it would have been difficult to imagine that in two decades the same Muslim society would engage in the most damning critique of dictatorship ever seen in the Middle East.


One reason for this shift is the intellectual stagnation of the regime. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's spiritual adviser, Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, is influential in part because he is all that remains of a legion of first-rate minds who sincerely believed that man and God were coming together in an almost perfect union in the Islamic Republic.


The Green Movement, which is an upwelling of Iran's enormous cultural and political transformation, is what America has long wanted to see in the Middle East, especially after 9/11: a more-or-less liberal democratic movement, increasingly secular in philosophy and political objectives, rooted in Iran's large middle class and even larger pool of college-educated youth (a college education in Iran, where the revolution zealously opened universities to the poor, doesn't connote any social status).


The movement is similar in its aspirations and methods to what transpired behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s. It aims to incorporate the spiritually dispossessed, the free thinkers, the poorly paid, the young (more than 60 percent of Iran's population is now under 30), the dissident clergy and, perhaps most important, the first-generation revolutionaries of the 1970s who have been purged by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Khomeini's charisma-free, paranoid successor as supreme leader. The movement is also the most recent manifestation (the first being Mr. Khatami's presidential victory in 1997) of widespread anger by women over their second-class citizenship in the Islamic Republic.


The movement is unique in Islamic history: an intellectual revolution that aims to solve peacefully and democratically the great Muslim torment over religious authenticity and cultural collaboration. How does a proud people adopt the best (and the worst) from the West and remain true to its much-loved historical identity?


The millions who voted in 1997 and 2001 for Mr. Khatami, a clerical apostle of cultural integration, were telling us that for them, this is really no longer a big problem. Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who ruled from 1941 until the revolution, failed in his dream of turning Iranians into Germans. Yet 30 years of theocracy have done an astonishing job of Westernizing Iran's culture and political preferences.


While the riots of last June did not topple the mullahs, the Islamic Republic is now permanently unstable. Every national holiday has the potential of turning into a day of protest, and the regime must send out hundreds of thousands of security forces, as it did in the days leading up to the anniversary on Saturday.


The brutality that Ayatollah Khamenei unleashed against the Green Movement last summer — government forces have been accused of murder, torture and, most shockingly, rape — has probably cost the regime dearly among the country's devout, the bedrock of the supreme leader's power.


Mir Hussein Moussavi, the most prominent leader of the democracy movement, is alive and out of jail undoubtedly because the regime fears the shock waves that could come with his imprisonment or death. While many in the West casually dismiss the movement because it's been unable to maintain huge street demonstrations, Ayatollah Khamenei has an acute grasp of how numerous his enemies are and how volatile the country remains.


Yet President Obama — who only slowly came to recognize the Green Movement as a protest against tyranny — would probably ignore Iran's democracy movement completely if Mr. Khamenei would just deign to talk to Washington about his nuclear program. The president seems irretrievably wedded to the idea of "engagement."


The administration is playing up the sanctions it pushed through the United Nations Security Council last week. In the White House, sanctions are seen as a calibrated and reversible form of pressure tied to Tehran's actions. Embracing the Green Movement would be politically and morally much more problematic. The movement is no longer just about liberalizing the state: it is now all about regime change.


But this is an instance in which playing power politics offers the United States tremendous upside. Ayatollah Khamenei is far more likely to compromise on nuclear weapons if he feels he's about to be undone by the Green Movement. Common sense — let alone a strategic and historical grasp of what is unfolding in Iran — ought to incline President Obama to back the movement's repeatedly made request of Washington: communications support.


More specifically, the opposition needs access to satellite-fed Internet connections across the country. Unlike landline connections, satellite-dish communications are difficult for the government to shut down. Just monitoring them would be a technical nightmare for the regime. The opposition needs more access to the wide array of satellites that are accessible from Iran — including Arabsat, which was founded by the Arab League in 1976, and France's Eutelsat.


THE democracy movement also needs a large supply of digital-video broadcasting cards, which function much like prepaid telephone cards and allow downloading and uploading of digital content from satellites. The Green Movement's technology experts have done back-of-the-envelope calculations: just $50 million per year could open the entire country to the Internet. Millions less would still allow the diverse range of pro-democracy groups to communicate with each other and more effectively counter the regime's security forces. Compared to what the United States peacefully did to help anti-Communists during the cold war, such aid would be a pittance, financially and operationally.


Just a week before Iran's elections last summer, Mr. Obama gave his speech to the Muslim world from Cairo. In it, he spoke about "the harmony between tradition and progress" in Islam by juxtaposing Egypt's oldest center of religious learning, Al Azhar University, with Cairo University, once one of the region's finest secular institutions. But these two universities, and what they represent, have been in a tug-of-war for over a century.


It was this lack of harmony — the constant tension between the Muslim search for authenticity and the Muslim love of Westernization — that destroyed Mohammad Khatami's reformist presidency in Iran. The principal battle is not between "us" and "them," but within Islam itself. Yet President Obama doesn't seem to grasp that the United States is unavoidably part of this increasingly violent struggle. And we really do want one side to win: the friends of Karl Popper.


Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is a former Middle Eastern specialist in the C.I.A.'s clandestine service.








Imagine that you've got the gas pedal to the floor (or almost to the floor) as you try to get your vehicle to the top of a mountain, where the road will level off. You've made real progress, but the vehicle is straining and wheezing. You're not there yet.


Why in the world would you lift your foot off the gas and risk rolling back down the mountain?


Something like this is happening in the fight to haul the United States out of the depths of the worst recession since the Great Depression. The deficit hawks — policy makers from the very same crowd whose crazy theories and rampant irresponsibility got us into this terrible fix in the first place — want the United States to step off of the stimulus gas, a move that might very well stall the current, extremely fragile recovery.


The latest struggle on this front has to do with the crucially important issue of federal relief to state and local governments, which are facing nightmarish budget scenarios. Consider the following comment from General Davie Jr., the chief of the Natomas Unified School District in Sacramento County, Calif.:


"We made the decision to close our eight elementary school libraries with a heavy heart, but our budget situation is so dire that we had no choice. We've also cut all of our health aides, eliminated busing, shortened our school year by five days, increased K-3 class sizes to 30 to 1, and issued layoff notices to about 30 percent of our teachers, classified staff and administration."


Similar decisions, potentially devastating to the lives of individuals and families and poisonous to the effort to rebuild the economy, are being made by state and local officials from one coast to the other. State and local governments are obliged by law in nearly all cases to balance their budgets, but their revenues have fallen off a cliff because of the long economic downturn. Thus, they are slashing away at important government services, laying off workers and raising fees and taxes.


For the federal government to stand by like a disinterested onlooker as this carnage plays out would be crazy.


President Obama has called on Congress to provide substantial relief to these localities to ward off the harmful impact of the budget cuts. In a letter to Congressional leaders of both parties, he said he was concerned that "the lingering economic damage" of the financial downturn "has left a mounting employment crisis at the state and local level that could set back the pace of our economic recovery."


He urged quick action to prevent the budget cuts from leading to "massive layoffs" of teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public employees.


Congress had already been considering legislation that would provide something approaching $50 billion in aid to states: $24 billion to offset increased costs in the states' share of Medicaid payments and $23 billion for teachers' salaries. But the constant chatter from Republicans and increasing numbers of Democrats about rising federal budget deficits has stymied those efforts.


The concerns about the effect that this aid might have on long-term federal deficits are misplaced, because the effect would be barely noticeable — if at all. But if Congress doesn't act, the impact in the here and now will be both powerful and painful. The secretary of education, Arne Duncan, has warned that the nation could face an "education catastrophe" if the federal government fails to provide assistance to prevent the loss of 100,000 to 300,000 public school jobs.


Nicholas Johnson, the director of the State Fiscal Project at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told me in an interview on Monday: "We've already seen in the first quarter of this year that state budget actions lopped half a percentage point off of G.D.P. growth, knocking it from 3 1/2 percent down to 3 percent. To put it in terms of jobs, the actions of state and local governments right now are taking a little over 20,000 jobs out of the economy each month. That's what it was in May, and there is every reason to believe it will continue unless the states get some assistance."


When you put people out of work, you cripple the quality of life of their entire families. When you start dismantling the public schools and driving teachers from the classrooms, you damage — and in many instances cripple — the lifetime prospects of untold numbers of pupils. When you undermine a recovery that is as fragile as this one, which is as fragile as a crate of eggs, you undermine the economic health of the entire nation.


These are the kinds of disasters that the deficit hawks, secure in their ideological dream world, are quite happily prepared to live with.







These days we are transfixed by the struggle between BP and the U.S. government. This is a familiar conflict — between a multinational company trying to make a profit and the government trying to regulate the company and hold it accountable.


But this conflict is really a family squabble. It takes place amid a much larger conflict, and in this larger conflict both BP and the U.S. government are on the same team.


The larger conflict began with the end of the cold war. That ideological dispute settled the argument over whether capitalism was the best economic system. But it did not settle the argument over whether democratic capitalism was the best political-social-economic system. Instead, it left the world divided into two general camps.


On the one side are those who believe in democratic capitalism — ranging from the United States to Denmark to Japan. People in this camp generally believe that businesses are there to create wealth and raise living standards while governments are there to regulate when necessary and enforce a level playing field. Both government officials like President Obama and the private sector workers like the BP executives fall neatly into this camp.


On the other side are those that reject democratic capitalism, believing it leads to chaos, bubbles, exploitations and crashes. Instead, they embrace state capitalism. People in this camp run Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela and many other countries.


Many scholars have begun to analyze state capitalism. One of the clearest and most comprehensive treatments is "The End of the Free Market" by Ian Bremmer.


Bremmer points out that under state capitalism, authoritarian governments use markets "to create wealth that can be directed as political officials see fit." The ultimate motive, he continues, "is not economic (maximizing growth) but political (maximizing the state's power and the leadership's chances of survival)." Under state capitalism, market enterprises exist to earn money to finance the ruling class.


The contrast is clearest in the energy sector. In the democratic capitalist world we have oil companies, like Exxon Mobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell, that make money for shareholders.


In the state capitalist world there are government-run enterprises like Gazprom, Petrobras, Saudi Aramco, Petronas, Petróleos de Venezuela, China National Petroleum Corporation and the National Iranian Oil Company. These companies create wealth for the political cliques, and they, in turn, have the power of the state behind them.


With this advantage, state energy companies have been absolutely crushing the private-sector energy companies. In America, we use the phrase Big Oil to describe Exxon Mobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and others. But that just shows how parochial we are. In fact, none of these private companies make it on a list of the world's top 13 energy companies. A generation ago, the biggest multinationals produced well more than half of the world's oil and gas. But now, according to Bremmer, they produce just 10 percent of the world's oil and gas and hold only about 3 percent of the world's reserves.


The rivalry between democratic capitalism and state capitalism is not like the rivalry between capitalism and communism. It is an interdependent rivalry. State capitalist enterprises invest heavily in democratic capitalist enterprises (but they tend not to invest in each other). Both sides rely on each other in interlocking trade networks.


Nonetheless, there is rivalry. There is a rivalry over prestige. What system works better to produce security and growth? What system should emerging and struggling democratic nations aim for? There is also rivalry over what rules should govern the world order. Should countries like Russia be able to withhold gas from Western Europe to make a political point? Should governments be able to tilt the playing field to benefit well-connected national champions? Should authoritarian governments like Iran be allowed to nuclearize?


We in the democratic world tend to assume state capitalism can't prosper forever. Innovative companies can't thrive unless there's also a free exchange of ideas. A high-tech economy requires more creative destruction than an authoritarian government can tolerate. Cronyism will inevitably undermine efficiency.


That's all true. But state capitalism may be the only viable system in low-trust societies, in places where decentralized power devolves into gangsterism. Moreover, democratic regimes have shown their vulnerabilities of late: a tendency to make unaffordable promises to the elderly and other politically powerful groups; a tendency toward polarization, which immobilizes governments even in the face of devastating problems.


We in the democratic world have no right to be sanguine. State capitalism taps into deep nationalist passions and offers psychic security for people who detest the hurly-burly of modern capitalism. So I hope that as they squabble, Obama and BP keep at least one eye on the larger picture.


We need healthy private energy companies. We also need to gradually move away from oil and gas — the products that have financed the rise of aggressive state capitalism.








One of the most troubling social trends in recent years has been the pension gap between state and local employees (who can retire early — often very early — with instant, guaranteed, taxpayer-paid benefits) and the private sector workers whose taxes pay for those pensions. Their retirement benefits are largely self-financed and subject to market upheavals.


Now, through a combination of fiscal necessity, changed accounting rules and realization that millions of public workers have become a kind of privileged new class, the politics of public pensions appear to be changing.


Last month, Michigan enacted a teacher pension reform that Gov. Jennifer Granholm says will save about $3 billion over 10 years by, among other things, increasing the amount workers must contribute. Illinois has raised its retirement age for newly hired public workers from as low as 55 all the way to 67.


In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has tried for years to enact pension reform in his financially troubled state, believes that the ground has shifted and that he can succeed in his final months in office. And several other governors, most notably Chris Christie of New Jersey, have decided that bruising clashes with public worker unions can be both economically necessary and politically advantageous.


These developments could not come soon enough. States, without the federal government's ability to print money and with limited ability to borrow, are facing disturbing questions about how they are going to pay for worker pay and benefits, along with their share of Medicaid.


According to the Pew Center on the States, state pensions and other retiree benefit programs are underfunded by $1 trillion. And that estimate was madebefore the stock market swoon of 2008.


That number is an aggregate of all states, some of which are in relatively decent shape, and some of which are courting disaster. Too many states and localities created pension plans that are way too generous, allowing some workers, particularly those in law enforcement and other emergency response areas, to retire as early as their 40s, to "double dip" by collecting a salary and pension at the same time, or to manipulate pay in a way that inflates their pensions. In New Jersey, for example, a local lawyer and Democratic Party official cobbled together some part-time work for local government to claim a pension of more than $100,000.


The shortfall is made worse when cash-strapped governments make unrealistic projections about investment returns or underfund their plans by failing to make adequate annual contributions.


The obvious long-term solution is for states to shift to 401(k)-type programs, which the federal government has partially accomplished. For Americans to maintain their faith in government, they can't have civil servants easing into comfortable and early retirement while private sector workers toil away. And even if that problem didn't exist, what sense does it make to encourage able-bodied people to retire early?


The vast majority of private companies long ago recognized the problem and addressed it. For governments, pensions invite abuse. Candidates find that they can mollify demanding public-employee unions by making future promises that won't come due until long after they leave office.


In the short run, it is at least encouraging to see some states grapple with their existing pensions. Many more need to follow suit before America becomes a nation of pension haves and have-nots.







States come to grips with pricey pension promises ...


Usually, the correct answer is "true." But in the case of employee pensions, "false" is the right response. The federal government, profligate in so many other areas, has been relatively responsible in this one. And for that you can thank Ronald Reagan.


Apart from the military, where veterans can start collecting a pension in their late 30s after 20 years of service, federal pensions are modest compared with those offered by many states and localities. What's more, they are not a particularly large portion of a budget dominated by spending for such things as Medicare, Social Security and defense.


Considering Reagan's role in driving up federal deficits, he's not the likeliest person to credit with fiscal responsibility. But he shepherded through changes in 1986 that created a much more affordable pension plan for new federal workers. In return, federal employees were put on Social Security, which they were not on before, and could participate in a new 401(k)-type program.


That legislation isn't as heralded as some of the other things Reagan accomplished. But it shows what lawmakers can achieve when they think long term.


These days, a case can be made that even the modest, fixed-benefit civil service pension should be phased out, or that the cost-of-living increases should be eliminated. Back in 1986, private sector pensions, more generous in many cases, were still fairly common. Now they are not, and COLAs are virtually non-existent. As a matter of fairness, it is hard to see why public workers should be treated differently from private sector ones.


But it's also hard to make a case that the federal retirement plan is lavish when compared with some state and local plans. A federal worker who stays on until age 62 gets a pension equal to 1.1 times the number of years worked, times the average of his or her last three years of pay. So someone working 30 years would get 33% of what he or she was earning shortly before retiring. Early retirement can be had at a reduced rate, but only at age 57.


Members of Congress get a slightly higher accrual rate of 1.7 times years served times salary (which is hard to justify based on recent performance). Federal judges and presidents get the sweetest deals, which is perhaps justifiable on the grounds that their salaries are a fraction of what they could make in the private sector with their skills.


In any event, though, federal changes made two dozen years ago provide a road map for states and localities looking for ways to get out of unaffordable pension promises.








As soon as Arizona passed its recent immigration law, some reporters and commentators were quick to cast the story with the usual actors: "Tea Partiers," race activists, conservatives and liberals. Like our politics, much of our news media coverage has become a clash of caricatures — easily categorized groups with one-dimensional motives for mass consumption. Some commentary even suggested that supporters of the law are either open or closeted racists. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., recently called the law both "fascist" and "racist."


Though I am a critic of the Arizona law, I do not view its supporters in such one-dimensional terms. Indeed, I do not view the public response in purely immigration terms. Whether it is illegal immigration or the mortgage crisis or corporate bailouts, there seems to be a growing sense among many citizens that they are expected to play by the rules while others are exempt.


With polls showing about 60% of people supporting the Arizona law and almost half supporting similar laws in their states, it is implausible to suggest that all these people are racists or extremists — let alone fascists. Notably, a majority of Americans also opposed the bank bailouts and mortgage forgiveness. In each of these controversies, there is a sense that the government was stepping in to protect people from the consequences of their actions.


In the mortgage crisis, tens of thousands of people accepted high-risk, low-interest loans while other citizens either declined to buy homes or agreed to higher monthly payments to avoid such deals. When Congress intervened with mortgage relief, some of those who had acted responsibly wondered whether they acted stupidly by rejecting low rates and later federal support.


Bailouts and immigration


Then there were the corporate bailouts. For citizens to secure a loan, they have to meet exacting terms and disclosures. Yet, when banks and firms concealed risks or engaged in financial wrongdoing, Congress bailed them out and allowed their executives to reap fat bonuses. The laws on fraud and deceptive practices simply did not seem to apply to them. Just as several companies were declared "too big to fail," many of their executives appeared too big to lose money — unlike the millions of citizens burned by their business practices.


Those prior controversies coalesced with the immigration debate. The last time Congress granted amnesty to illegal immigrants was 1986 — and it was criticized at the time for rewarding those who had evaded deportation. Complaints over the lack of federal enforcement had been percolating for years but exploded along Arizona's long desert border. When a law mandated state enforcement of federal laws, the Obama administration moved to block it.


Indeed, high-ranking Obama officials such as John Morton, head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, have suggested that they might refuse to deport those arrested under the Arizona law. While we continue to tell millions around the world that they must wait for years to immigrate legally, Congress and the White House are considering a new amnesty proposal to benefit an additional 11 million illegal immigrants.


In each of these areas, the perception is that the law says one thing but actually means different things for different people. It is a dangerous perception, and it is not entirely unfounded. Such double-standards have become common as Congress and presidents seek to avoid unpopular legal problems.


•Torture: While acknowledging that waterboarding is torture and that torture violates domestic and international law, President Obama and members of Congress have barred any investigation or prosecution of those crimes.


•Pollution: While citizens are subject to pay for the full damage they cause to their neighbors and are routinely fined for their environmental damage for everything from dumping in rivers to leaf burning, Congress capped the liability for massive corporations such as BP and Exxon at a ridiculous $75 million. Though BP is likely to spend much more in litigation (particularly if prosecuted criminally), the current law requires citizens to pay the full cost of their environmental damage while capping the costs for companies producing massive destruction.


•Privacy: When the telecommunications companies found themselves on the losing end of citizen suits over the violation of privacy laws, Congress (including then-Sen. Obama) and President Bush simply changed the law to legislatively kill the citizen suits and protect the companies.


An arbitrary system


The message across these areas is troubling. To paraphrase Animal Farm, all people are equal, but some people are more equal than others.


A legal system cannot demand the faith and fealty of the governed when rules are seen as arbitrary and deceptive. Our leaders have led us not to an economic crisis or an immigration crisis or an environmental crisis or a civil liberties crisis. They have led us to a crisis of faith where citizens no longer believe that laws have any determinant meaning. It is politics, not the law, that appears to drive outcomes — a self-destructive trend for a nation supposedly defined by the rule of law.


Jonathan Turley, the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.









HAVANA — Nancy Morejon says she doesn't want to get into a war of words with Cornel West. While all-out combat might be avoidable, a bruising skirmish has already occurred.


In many ways, Morejon and West are kindred souls. One of Cuba's best known contemporary writers, she champions the rights of women and blacks in this island nation. He's a Princeton University professor and an irascible public intellectual whom President Obama once called "an oracle." The two are at the center of a festering debate over racism in Cuba, a country that thought it long ago escaped the swamp of racial bigotry and discrimination.


"I don't want to look arrogant, especially with Cornel West. But I believe he sat on the side of something he doesn't actually know," Morejon said of the open letter West and 59 other African Americans sent to Cuban President Raul Castro late last year. In it, they accused his government of mistreating civil rights activists and a "callous disregard" for its black population.


But underlying the American letter and the Cuban response is the more subtle question of the role racism and racial prejudice play in Cuba, a nation whose social mores once mirrored those of America's Jim Crow era. Surprisingly, even as Cuban intellectuals dismiss the attempt of their African-American counterparts to stand up for them, they talk openly about Cuba's racial problems — and the solutions that are needed.


Despite the Castro regime's public pronouncements against racial discrimination, the signs of racial disadvantage, if not outright racial prejudice, are easy to find. The best jobs in Cuba's growing tourism industry are overwhelmingly held by whites. Hotel doormen, chambermaids, tour guides, translators or restaurant waiters can earn more tips in a day than a doctor or government bureaucrat is paid in a month.


"Yes, there is racism in Cuba," Tomas Fernandez Robaina, a prolific writer about the social condition of black Cubans, told me. The country "engaged in romanticism" when Castro ordered an end to racial discrimination nearly a half-century ago, Fernandez said. "Now we understand it will take more than goodwill to get rid of it, something Americans should know better than Cubans."


That's an amazing level of frankness in a country that its critics say has little tolerance for painful introspection. Out of this openness has come talk of a solution that sounds surprisingly like the affirmative action programs that continue to divide Americans. Cuba cannot simply give blacks new track shoes and expect them to compete with the nation's most gifted runners, said Heriberto Feraudy Espino, president of the National Committee on Racial Discrimination and Racism. They will need some special help to catch up.


Cuba's struggle for racial equality dates back more than a century. It is rooted in the changes wrought by the U.S. occupation of Cuba (1898-1902) and the brutal annihilation in 1912 of the leaders of a black movement for racial justice. It predates the Castro regime but has survived its condemnation.


Morejon said West should have spoken to some of Cuba's leading blacks before signing a letter that mischaracterizes their struggle. "I believe that this dialogue that we haven't had is necessary," she said yearningly.


And I think it's not too late for that conversation to take place.


DeWayne Wickham writes on Tuesdays for USA TODAY.








WASHINGTON — With Americans more negative about the federal government's response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico than they were at a comparable time after Hurricane Katrina, President Obama speaks to the nation Tuesday night facing four questions that could define his presidency.


Obama will give his first Oval Office address at 8 p.m. ET. The speech will come on the heels of his fourth Gulf Coast visit since the April 20 explosion on an offshore drilling rig that killed 11 workers and resulted in one of the worst environmental disasters in recorded history.


Obama faces four key questions:


1. Is anyone in charge?


Obama has said that the buck stops with him as far as the federal government's response is concerned, but there has been widespread criticism that his administration was slow to respond, played too much of a political blame game early in the crisis, and still hasn't summoned the best minds and armies of volunteers to address the crisis.


In a Gallup Poll last week, the president's job approval was 47%, but approval of his actions in the Gulf was 40%. Former president George W. Bush's response to the Katrina disaster was a significant factor in the erosion of his job approval to below 30%, crippling the latter part of his presidency.


2. Is the federal government up to the task of ending the oil spill and seeing that oil is cleaned up?


Americans are highly dubious, and that's dangerous to Obama's long-term standing.


In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released last week, 69% of respondents said the government had acted poorly in its response to the spill. Two weeks after Katrina, 62% of Americans said Bush's government had reacted poorly.


The public already had a dim view of government's competency. A Pew Research Center poll released the day before the spill found that nearly eight out 10 Americans didn't trust the government and had little faith it can solve the country's problems.


3. Who pays?


The ABC-Post poll found that 81% of Americans viewed BP's response negatively and that 64% want the government to pursue criminal charges against the energy giant.


Obama is expected to announce that he will require BP to set up an independently administered escrow fund to pay for damage claims.


A group of Democratic senators on Sunday said BP should set aside $20 billion to pay for the cleanup and reimburse the fishing, tourism, oil exploration and other industries affected by the disaster. But some fear even that won't be enough.


Earlier this month, the Swiss bank Credit Suisse estimated that BP's cleanup costs could hit $37 billion. With fishermen, tourism workers and oil company employees all out of work, it may be months or years before the disaster's ripple effect on the economy is fully realized. But with the federal deficit and concerns about it rising, Obama is limited in what he can ask taxpayers to do.


4. Will BP bashing cool the relationship with Great Britain, so important in the wake of 9/11?


As BP's stock hits 13-year lows, some British politicians are urging Prime Minister David Cameron to more forcefully defend the company. British newspapers have editorialized against what the Daily Mail termed "Obama's inflammatory rhetoric" against BP.


More than any time since the financial crisis of his first weeks in office, Obama's expressions of confidence and competency will matter greatly in this speech, both for his presidency and for the resolution of this crisis.


He tried to appear more assertive and channel Americans' anger when he recently said he thought BP's president should be fired and that he was asking questions so he knew "whose ass to kick."


But Obama also faces the reality that his government has not yet summoned the expertise to fix the problem, and that the ultimate solution may still lie with the company that caused the crisis in the first place.


Chuck Raasch writes from Washington for Gannett, publisher of USA TODAY. Contact him at, follow him at or join in the conversation at







A great many Chattanooga taxpayers -- and City Council members -- have been shocked by the proposal to raise Chattanooga property taxes 64 cents per $100 of assessed property value -- from $1.94 cents to $2.58.


Why is such a big tax increase suggested, especially in a time of general economic crisis?


It is explained that more than one-fourth of the suggested big tax rise would be needed to provide $8.9 million to cover the rising cost of maintaining existing city employee and retiree health and pension benefits.


Everyone surely wants to provide adequate pay, medical care and promised retirement benefits for city employees. But when promises are made, the ultimate costs may be overlooked.


It is reported that the health and retirement benefits for city employees would require about 17 cents of the suggested 64 cents of the proposed property tax increase.


That would leave 47 cents of the tax increase for "other things" in the city budget. What might City Council members whittle away to lessen a horrible tax increase blow?


They have an unenviable job explaining in detail and selling the taxpayers on any big tax increase. What might be cut?


There is no "easy time" for a big increase in local property taxes. It's harder during recession and high unemployment.


City Council members face a very difficult job deciding what to spend and what not to spend -- and convincing taxpayers, who have similar personal choices to make. Our officials should give taxpayers some very detailed discussions and explanations. It may not be satisfying, but at least it could be informative.







Soon after the murderous Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, British Prime Minister Tony Blair delivered a stirring speech in solidarity with America.


Speaking of those who killed nearly 3,000 Americans, Mr. Blair declared, "There is no compromise possible with such people, no meeting of minds, no point of understanding with such terror. Just a choice: Defeat it or be defeated by it."


He directed his comments both to the al-Qaida terrorist network that committed the vicious acts of 9/11 and to the radical Muslim Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which sheltered al-Qaida and its leader Osama bin Laden.


More recently, the Taliban illustrated anew that they are not a force with whom the United States or any nation may work reasonably toward peace and stability in Afghanistan.


A few days ago, the Taliban accused a 7-year-old boy of acting as a spy for U.S. and NATO military forces in Afghanistan. They took him from the garden in which he had been playing, and murdered him by hanging him from a tree nearby.


As it turns out, the child's grandfather is an elder in a village and had spoken out against the Taliban thugs who control that village.


"That's why the Taliban killed his grandson in revenge," an Afghan official told The Times of London newspaper.


There is reasonable, honest disagreement about how best to stabilize Afghanistan, where many U.S. soldiers are courageously carrying out their duties. But there can indeed be no "meeting of minds" or "compromise" with those who are so deranged as to use such cruel tactics to enforce their will.


Subscribe Here! Time to smell and ... eat ... the roses







Many people like adventure. Fine. But sometimes being adventuresome can extend into just plain foolishness.


Sixteen-year-old Abby Sunderland had the goal of being the youngest girl to sail around the world alone in a very small boat. (What were her family members thinking?)


She left Los Angeles County in a little sailboat and got as far as the southern Indian Ocean. Then she encountered waves three stories high, 2,000 miles west of Australia.


Her mast broke!


Almost miraculously, she was picked up by a French fishing boat -- and is on her way home, safely.


Sailing is a wonderfully pleasant, and sometimes exciting, sport. But it can be a very dangerous one, too.


We hope Abby keeps on sailing -- but that she will have "smoother sailing" from now on.







With all of the countless tragedies in our world, we tend to react to them most when they are "close to home." So there has not been much reaction to the bad news that soldiers in Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian former part of the Soviet Union, have killed more than 100 people and injured more than 1,500 in several days of clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbek ethnic groups.


But then we are reminded of the classic words of John Donne, 1572-1631:


"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."


You may recall that Ernest Hemingway borrowed Donne's words for the title of Hemingway's famous novel on the Spanish Civil War, "For Whom the Bell Tolls."


There are, indeed, many terrible things in our troubled world -- many close to home, many far away. But as Donne said, we all are "involved in mankind," and for that reason, tragedy is to be lamented, no matter upon whom it may fall.







One of the greatest mass murderers in history was Communist Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who caused the deaths of millions of his own people and others.


So it is astonishing to learn that a bust of Stalin has been installed at America's National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va.


Many brave Americans perished in the June 6, 1944, D-Day assault at Normandy, and later in France and Germany. The Soviet pressure in the east surely helped U.S. and Allied forces ultimately gain victory in Europe in World War II. It is also true that the Communist Soviet Union suffered the worst casualties battling Nazi Germany during the war. No one should minimize the valor of individual Russian soldiers, who helped defeat the Germans and who might not have shared their own nation's totalitarian aims.


But the Soviets under Stalin seized control of vast swaths of Europe and Asia, imposing brutal Communist rule and setting off the Cold War with the United States. The built-in inefficiencies of the Communist system doomed the Soviet Union to eventual collapse. But that, tragically, did not come about before millions had died needlessly.


The D-Day Memorial Foundation has said the bust of Stalin is simply intended to point out his role in World War II, The Washington Times reported, but the Soviets did not participate in the D-Day assault.


Residents of Bedford -- the U.S. city with the highest per-capita number of men who died in World War II -- have strongly protested the image of Stalin at the D-Day memorial, as has the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.


Studying and recognizing the Soviet Union's huge role in the war is appropriate. But implicitly honoring dictator Josef Stalin with a statue on U.S. soil is not appropriate.








A certain adversarialness is to be expected from political life, encouraged even. The clash of ideas and ideologies, within a framework of reasonable dialogue, has been the basic value sought in every treatise on the virtues of democracy since Plato's "Republic." Of course Plato concluded that only a system of "philosopher kings" could conquer divisiveness. That idea has been out of fashion in most circles at least since the Enlightenment. Since then, progressive societies have sought to build systems of parliaments and elections and basic rights, Turkey included.


But now we find ourselves in a society quite literally split down the middle on almost every major issue of governance. This has been discussed and lamented for some time. But now, as if to resolve any doubt, this has been empirically demonstrated by the research company Konda, as we reported yesterday. On constitutional reform, the state of the judiciary, the import of the three-year-old "Ergenekon" investigation, "polarization" is the order of the day. Basically, it's a 45 percent 55 percent split across the political landscape.


Perhaps this is just modern politics and there is nothing to be done. America is now neatly divided into "red states" and "blue states" with the only competitive space on the margins. President Barack Obama promised to fix all this. But the evidence is that he's having a rough go, with health care reform, banking reform and now the finger-pointing over a Gulf of Mexico oil spill just reinforcing the paradigm.


The European Union is hardly better. Since January, virtually all the institutions and actors have been split on what to do about the Greek financial crisis, threatening to spread to other economies such as Spain and Portugal. Greece's stance is basically that the "solidarity clause" will make things right. EU paymaster Germany turns further inward and angry. A 110 billion-euro loan to Greece and other provisions roughly five times that may help. But the steady collapse in the value of the euro does not inspire a great deal of hope that the fundamental divide can be healed.


Read our story on Belgium today. Or the growing Kurdish-Alevi divide. The same drift into divisiveness.


But America's or Europe's fate, we are convinced, does not need to be that of Turkey. Do we expect miracles? No. But even a minor stand-down on the incendiary rhetoric employed by Turkey's party leaders would go a long way to restore a few bridges of communication so urgently needed. Quarreling over Israel, the EU and other tertiary issues robs our political life of relevance.


It is time for our leaders to tell us a bit about what they agree on. It is time for a broad consensus on the national interest. We don't think this impossible. We might not even be as divided as it seems. Let's prove Plato wrong








It is an undeniable fact that both the National View and the Gülen Movement are the most important movements that have played critical roles in the political and social history of Turkey.


They have been in play for years and we see no sign of exhaustion in their struggle. Both are eager to reach the grassroots and in this sense have been more successful than leftist and laic circles.


The essence of this success is to serve people and understand people rather than political disclosures. From health services for the needy to education in almost every area, they come to help people and stand for people in bad times. Both pay utmost efforts to do so.


As the "laic" satisfies with rhetoric, these movements spend money from the pocket and do their best to help the needy.


I write by adapting political science jargon. Disciples of both the National View and the Gülen Movement establish an ideological bond among themselves applicable in every area of life.


A voluntary submission, a total submission is at issue.


To me there are differences between the two. They are, I believe:


First, the National View in essence is a political organization having political preference and objectives openly addressed.


But the Gülen Movement is a social structure active in economic areas, disdains politics yet their political objectives are shaped up by global objectives all the time.


The National View has national/regional objectives as the Gülen Movement has universal goals.


Second, the National View neglects scientific developments — to the contrary, it perceives the world through a static frame of thought.


But the Gülen Movement follows the footsteps of Bediüzzaman Said Nursi and tries to evolve in science and religion together and pays a great deal of attention to education. Even more so, the New Asia Movement as a new branch of the Nur, or Light, religious path, exerts efforts to mingle science and philosophy, too.


Another difference is the National View regards political consensus as a tactical way and believes the necessity of tough stances at times and conceives that differences of faith are critically important.


But the Gülen Movement looks at Turkey from the world perspective in the last 10-15 years, paying attention to eliminating differences and consensus, put away tough impositions and sees co-habitation as a key part of life.


Furthermore, Fethullah Gülen's adventure in 10 years has brought the Gülen Movement closer to the United States, yet the National View has not looked for any alliance in the West. Friends of the National View are rather from Islamist political organizations giving fight to the Middle East in particular.


Until recently, the Gülen Movement put a distant with political entities of the National View and they have survived like two rivals in a way.


Following the 2007 general elections, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, officials of which come from the National View background, built closer relations with the Gülen Movement that I do not understand. A coalition is formed between the National View and the Gülen Movement within The AKP government.


Tomorrow: Split in the coalition?








To write about, talk about and listen to the same topic for days and days is always boring, but sometimes useful. Presently the attitudes of rich countries facing recession and unemployment appear rather inte