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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

EDITORIAL 16.06.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month june 16, edition 000540 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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
























































































It is difficult to justify President's rule, the suspension of democracy and the abrogation of popular Government, however distorted, in a State. Yet, if the removal of Mr Shibu Soren's largely discredited Government in Jharkhand can ensure the Union Home Ministry, now in charge of the State's administration, is able to take on the Maoist challenge determinedly and without obstacles being raised by local politicians, then it may be worth it. The first stage of India's Maoist war is taking place in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha. While the Chhattisgarh Government and the Union Home Ministry are working in coordination, and side-stepping both political differences and bureaucratic confusion, the other State Governments have not been half as responsive. That it took so long to destroy the Maoist camp in the Porahat forest area of West Singhbhum is only an indication of the delay in Jharkhand. From generators and solar panels to 300 kg of dried fish, from a munitions factory to elaborate communication systems, this camp was representative of the organised insurgency that Maoism is. After going through the list of what has been recovered in Porahat, and after hearing of the 2,000 rounds fired and grenades thrown by the Maoists during 72 hours of intense, non-stop fighting, only the horribly naïve will believe these are a 'bunch of boys' fighting for tribal rights in the jungles. The combined force of the Jharkhand Police and paramilitary units such as the Central Reserve Police Force had to fight inch for inch before defeating the terror militia and liberating Porahat and that part of West Singhbhum from Red terror. It is to be hoped this will be first of many rapid successes and the security forces will use the respite of President's rule and the break from Jharkhand's irresponsible politics as demonstrated by Mr Soren's reluctance to take on the insurgents — which the Maoists deftly exploit, by playing off one group against the other or resorting to crude threats and attacks on those politicians who stand up to them. Before Jharkhand goes back to its voters and seeks a new mandate, which will probably happen in the coming winter, the Union Government needs to free it of the noxious influence and fear of Maoist guerrillas. Only then are genuine democracy and a real, honest attempt at economic development possible.


While the Maoists are being seriously combated in Chhattisgarh and now Jharkhand, and pockets of Odisha, the real problem remains the original homeland of Maoists' bloodlust: West Bengal. A State without a Government — the CPI(M) and its authority have withered away in the rural vastness — West Bengal has now become a sanctuary for Maoist hordes escaping from neighbouring States, particularly Jharkhand. It is also increasingly the locale for blockbuster attacks simply because these are far easier to execute in a State where the Union Government has not rolled in its war machine and where the State police and political administration are compromised, comatose and unsure whether they should be battling the Red terrorists or embracing them. If the heartening progress in Jharkhand continues, then it is very likely that West Bengal will become the last bastion of the Maoists — the State to which the defeated armies of desperate, ideologically perverted insurgents will migrate for the final, defining battle. That is, of course, a matter for the future. For the moment, India needs to press on and win back all of Jharkhand.







After several months of persistent efforts to get Islamist leader Abdul Nasser Madani, whom many see as Kerala's fountainhead of jihadi terror, the Karnataka Police has come closer to its goal with the Metropolitan Magistrate's Court in Bangalore issuing a non-bailable warrant for his arrest in the 2008 bombing case. The charge against Madani, whose political party PDP was an ally of the CPI(M) for more than four years and a supporter of the Congress-led UDF before that, is of inciting anti-national activities carried out by LeT's south India boss Thadiyantavide Nazeer and his henchmen. There are those who believe that the court had ordered his release from prison in 2007 in the Coimbatore serial bombings case as authorities had botched up the case against him and due to the unanimous support he received from the Kerala Assembly. Nazeer, the mastermind behind the terror bombing of Bangalore and other places, has confessed that he had discussed the plot with Madani, the 31st accused in the case, over phone and in person repeatedly though he and his party have been consistent in their denial. Police had even discovered that Madani's connections with the terrorists' gang was so close that his wife Sufiya, a key accused in another terror case in Kerala, was the local guardian in Kochi of the daughter of Abdul Sattar, LeT's explosives expert and one of the perpetrators of the Bangalore bombings.

Reconciled to the fact that there is no other alternative at this stage, the Kerala Government, led by the CPI(M), has announced that it will extend the requisite assistance to Karnataka Police to arrest Madani. It will now have to do the needful to enable the police to produce him before the Bangalore court on or before June 23. Eager not to be seen as backing an Islamist whose support it has received for several years, the Indian Union Muslim League, an ally of the Congress, has accused the CPI(M) of protecting Madani. As the wanted man's lawyers continued their efforts in Bangalore to secure anticipatory bail for him, PDP leaders are busy issuing threatening statements while party workers are trying to create communal trouble at Anvarssery in Kerala's Kollam district, his operational headquarters. Madani's deputy in the party and close relative Poonthura Siraj said the repercussions of his impending arrest are unpredictable, thus indicating clearly the course of action the PDP is planning to adopt. However, the Karnataka Police, unlike its Kerala counterpart which takes orders from its Marxist masters, seems to be determined to take the case against Madani, who is viewed by many as the architect of jihadi campaigns in Kerala and other southern States, to its logical conclusion.









When a nation approaches a fresh apogee in its destiny, it must review its own narrative, no matter how bitter. For growth, not just economic, but an overall enhancement of stature, which could lead to greatness, demands the shedding of inappropriate baggage.

But, almost axiomatically, there is the anxiety at the prospect of casting off from familiar shores. It calls for changes: For an end to navel-gazing and decisive action against enemies of the state, but also to let bygones be bygones. It calls for not only the ruthless elimination of security threats and the relentless pursuit of national interest, but also for the forging of new ties and alliances, sometimes with unequal and powerful partners that have not always done the right thing by us.

India is rapidly and inexorably approaching that hallowed threshold, that long desired entrance to the portal of resurgent leading nations, with the appropriateness of our candidature held beyond dispute, and is called upon to make ready to seize its moment.

Part of the reason for arriving at this juncture is attributable to our innate virtue. Our Hindu/Buddh- ist/Sufi/Jain influenced pacifism and philosophical moderation, and the capacity to absorb different strains and viewpoints into our body politic. In a troubled world perplexed by the mayhem let loose by Islamism, our nuanced responses, our seemingly paradoxical embrace of opposing viewpoints, seems wise after all, and no longer wily or effete — no more the object of derision and contempt.

And other reasons, such as the upheaval in a settled world order, caused humiliatingly by self-inflicted implosion, not external aggression or sabotage, is climactic. An order undisturbed since before the fall of the Berlin Wall, perhaps unchanged from the first Bretton Woods Conference after World War II.

The hard reality is that Europe and America, large as their economies are, will, evidently, not grow at more than one or two per cent per annum for years, if not decades. And this too is dependent on mercantile and political cooperation of the sizeable fast-growing nations such as India and China.

A mirror held to the changing world reflects news of China looking at buying Newsweek put on the block by its owners, The Washington Post, struggling to survive as a broadsheet in the Internet age. But why does China actually want Time's feisty competitor? Could it be to get its worldview out more clearly to the target audience, and without inherent Western bias and prejudice?

India, recent purchaser of iconic British automotive brands Land Rover, Range Rover and Jaguar through the Tata Group, is now moving towards making its engines in India. This move would have been deemed a sacrilege a few years ago; but now, it has been prompted not by a jingoistic Indian manager but by the European CEO of Tata Motors. So the erstwhile financially troubled brands will be transformed, becoming more profitable and affordable. The engine design team will still be from the British Tata-owned operation, but the luxury vehicle's engines will henceforth be made in India.

Meanwhile, Press reports state Beijing and Mumbai are pleased at the windfall discounts available on their high-end Mercedes Benz, BMW and Audi car purchases, occasioned by the persistent weakness in the Euro. This is probably good in the long run also, because the buying demand these days is in these and suchlike places.

The prompting to resize our ambitions is coming in from various sides, some positive some negative in their impetus. The intensifying of terrorism and internal insurgency is a measure, if backhanded, of both our democracy and our success. Nobody is whisked away at midnight in India for railing at the state, however misguidedly. Treason is not a term used to gag dissent and make political opponents disappear. Nor is the Indian state put out at suggestions that it is the greatest terrorist of them all. This state, now seen as a contender, is subject to efforts from certain quarters to hinder its progress and sap its strength. Ergo, it is necessary for us to find the modern wherewithal to prevail, and thwart such designs.

But even left to itself, India's economic growth is posing challenges to our somewhat bullock-cart and buffalo-gazing political leadership. Besides, no politician or political party is able to hoodwink the people anymore. In the Internet age, the control over information is innately slippery. It is not just a matter of secrecy and leakages, but the transparency, including the hackery, engendered by the possibilities of technology available. It is this technology that is proving harder and harder to outwit. Every side of the fence is affected, the heroes and villains, and all those of us betwixt and bemused.

And the ideological narrative too has changed drastically. We are no longer Socialist. Perhaps neither is China. But ideology to the Chinese has become an internal matter for them to interpret as they see fit. Because China realised its priorities in the now seemingly distant 1980s. And today, having paid its dues, is indeed in control of its metamorphosis.

So to do this thing we are now called upon to do, we too must ignore the scars of recent centuries, must let go the post-colonial angst, as well as more recent geo-political biases against us.

We need instead to focus and not be distracted by rear-viewing cacophony and narrow parochialism. It is not wrong to jettison that which is spent. Since independence, through 40 years of a Socialist India, we worked obliquely to undermine the authority and power of the West. So it should come as no surprise that they did nothing to help us either.

But now all is different. We have a shot at reforming global trade talks and international institutional financing in our favour. We could be in the UNSC soon, not just as a temporary but permanent member. We could be taken off all the presently inaccessible high-technology lists. Our nuclear programmes could go forward unfettered. We could address our regional concerns with Pakistan and China with much greater confidence.

However, first we have to drop the burden of history and cast our fate to this favourable and prevailing wind.






Amidst a thickening controversy, let us not fool ourselves by buying the cover-ups being advanced by senior Congress leaders in defence of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. While there is no smoke without fire, the recent revelations by declassified CIA papers, former Principal Secretary to Prime Minister PC Alexander and Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh have put the controversy in perspective.

It would not be wrong to say that Rajiv Gandhi ensured Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson's safe exit and helped him dodge legal action following the Bhopal gas tragedy in December 1984, while Mr Arjun Singh only danced to his tune by flying Anderson out of Bhopal on an official aircraft. Under whose pressure did the former Prime Minister take this decision remains shrouded in mystery.

It is no one's case that the Bhopal gas disaster was a result of a mere accident. News hawks were quick to smell the rat in 1980 itself. While they brought to light facts about lethal gas leakage incidents, shoddy security norms as a measure to cut costs and the impending chemical disaster in Bhopal, Anderson slept.

But lost in the rising clamour for 'justice for Bhopal' is the point that the Americans, as also their Government, believe that they cannot be held accountable for mass murder committed by them anywhere in the world. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Bhopal gas tragedy are good reminders of how cheap a non-American life is for those who don't pause to bemoan even once.

It is interesting to note the ease with which American authorities have said that the Bhopal chapter is closed and refused to extradite Anderson because it is 'too late to act'. It is clear that the 15,000 Indian lives lost in the tragedy caused by the indifference of an American multinational have no value vis-à-vis 3,000 lives that were lost on 9/11 and for which the US Government has has been moving heaven and earth.

But it is we who have let others take Indians non-seriously. Be it a two-year sentence for the Bhopal tragedy convicts, inadequate compensation for its victims, and now the diluted Civil Nuclear Liability Bill, the Government of India has always let India's citizens down.








The clashes which occurred between the Israel Defence Forces and a group of "humanitarian activists" aboard the Turkish ship MV Mavi Marmara on May 31 resulted in the deaths of nine activists and scores of injured, including IDF personnel.

The international condemnation was swift and forceful, arriving from stalwart allies in the European Union and the United States. Significant among the condemnations was that of Turkey, five of whose nationals were killed. Turkey had been the unofficial backer of the flotilla. Among the countries to have denounced Israel is India and this article attempts to deconstruct the folly of the Indian establishment in giving a blanket condemnation to Israel.

Gaza, a coastal strip in the south-west of Israel, has been in the news in recent years owing to a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt since the takeover by Islamist party Hamas in 2005. The Israeli blockade has been singled out as being the cause of a severe humanitarian crisis in the strip. Regular military incursions into the strip have resulted in the deterioration in standard of living in the one million people populated region. Israel has argued that the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas, a designated terrorist outfit, from developing further its rudimentary rockets to reach the Israeli hinterland and also to push forward for the release of an abducted Israeli soldier in Hamas' captivity. Israel argues that since Hamas' charter explicitly promotes the destruction of the state of Israel, there can be no negotiations with the group and that its fragile regional security environment dissuades it from providing any concessions.

India has been among the many countries which have called for the lifting of the blockade in Gaza. It was among the most vocal critics of Operation Cast Lead, an Israeli offensive aimed at weakening Hamas in response to years of rocket attacks, and supported a Human Rights Council mandated report which unfairly criticised Israel vis-à-vis Hamas. The Goldstone report was created by an organisation which has an unhealthy obsession with Israel, while turning a blind eye to atrocities committed by other states including its founding members Saudi Arabia among others. India would have done its reputation a world of good had it decided to study the report more critically before supporting its findings.

An example of the biases shown in the report is that reportedly at no stage of the conflict were medical services shown to be used as civilian shields by Hamas, when documented video evidence exists to prove the contrary. In the flotilla incident, video evidence suggests that the Israelis did not go in guns blazing as alleged, and were significantly outnumbered by a violent mob which attacked them. The Israelis fired in self defence after having determined credible threat to life.

The tradecraft of diplomacy involves the deft use of language in defusing tensions between allies. However, India seems to have taken a position wherein Israel is trumpeted as a friend when needed and decried when left alone. Israel's contribution to the Indian war on terrorism has been significant, through military hardware sales, joint working groups discussing terrorist groups in the region and support from Jewish lobbies in the United States for proscription of terror outfits working against India. The list is endless. However, India seems to pay mere lip service in memory of the Israelis killed in India, and to Israel's war on terror which is in strategic context an existential conflict for the state.

The blame lies not only on the official establishment but also the fourth estate and civil society in India which has done precious little to understand the background behind a conflict/incident before rushing in to condemn Israel. In an illuminating piece by security expert B Raman, the organiser of the flotilla — the Turkish organisation IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi) — had close ties with "International Islamic University in Pakistan, which has been providing ideological motivation to the jihadis fighting in Afghanistan". Furthermore, the IHH has also worked with the Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h even during the time when the organisation was called the Markaz Dawa al Irshad. Based on the links of the organisation to jihadi groups, further elucidated in a declassified Central Intelligence Agency document, the international community should have monitored the members of the ship and its contents, not leaving Israel stranded in having to conduct the operation by itself.

The operation was unsuccessful because of the fatalities, which would weigh heavily on investigations into the intelligence gathered and tactics adopted by Israel. India would have done itself better by not exposing its hypocrisy towards terrorism, by acknowledging that the terrorism which Israel is threatened with is the same which threatens India.

A blanket condemnation would do little to reassure a military ally of the importance that Israel holds. Condemnation from unbiased countries has been tempered with the understanding that Israel found itself in an awkward situation once its security personnel had boarded the ships, following the due course of established norms. India should have waited for the facts to emerge, especially since none of its nationals were affected.








As an insurgency as well as a terrorist organisation, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is dead. So is most of its leadership at the higher levels, including Prabhakaran, its head. One cannot say with equal confidence that all its trained cadres, either killed or captured, have been fully accounted for. Top-ranked leaders who died have not left detailed documentation of their set-up giving details of the number of recruits, casualties and those still alive towards the end of their fight with the Sri Lankan Army.

Not much is known about their deployment, capabilities and weaponry. As a result, it is difficult to assess with some accuracy the risks of a revival of the Tamil militancy in some form or the other in Sri Lanka as well as Tamil Nadu.

One can assert with some confidence that there is little likelihood of the revival of a Tamil insurgency. The losses in trained personnel and capabilities suffered by the LTTE at the hands of the Sri Lankan Army will rule that out. The enhancement in deployment of the Army in Tamil-dominated areas — already under way — will ensure that the Tamil insurgency cannot stage a comeback in Sri Lanka like the Taliban did in Afghanistan.

However, one cannot rule out the danger of the revival of a terrorist movement by the unaccounted for remnants of the LTTE in Sri Lanka as well as in Tamil Nadu. The LTTE had trained an unspecified number of cadres — both men and women — in different kinds of terrorist operations, including suicide terrorism. One does not know how many were trained, how many were killed or captured by the Sri Lankan Army and how many have managed to evade capture and are biding their time in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. They have a high level of expertise in the use of terrorism as a modus operandi as well as in the fabrication of explosive material by using substances easily available in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu.

So long as these remnants with the required expertise are available, a determined and motivated Tamil leader can rally them round and create sleeper cells for a new Tamil militant movement. A new generation of Tamil militant leadership is not yet on the horizon a year after the decimation of the LTTE. However, there is still anger in pockets of Tamil communities in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu over the manner in which the Sri Lankan Army carried out its counter-insurgency operations and over what is seen as foot-dragging by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in carrying out his assurances for a fair political settlement made to the Tamils before the LTTE was crushed. Now that the LTTE movement has been decimated, he is no longer showing a sense of urgency in addressing the problems and grievances of the Tamils.

The fact that this anger is present not only in the Tamil community of the neighbouring nation but also in Tamil Nadu became evident recently from the protests in the southern State over an Indian film festival held in Sri Lanka, which was boycotted by Tamil actors. The protest demonstrations in New Delhi during the recent visit of Mr Rajapaksa and the unsuccessful attempt by some unidentified persons, believed to be sympathisers of Prabhakaran, to derail a train with locally-procured explosives in Tamil Nadu in the early hours of June 12 are also proof of this discontent. The Kumbakonam-Chennai Rockfort Express escaped what could have been a tragedy only due to the alertness of its driver and the driver of a train that passed on the line before the Rockfort Express who noticed a possible terrorist attempt to cause a derailment. According to media reports, pamphlets purported to have been drafted by supporters of Prabhakaran claiming responsibility for the attempt were found on the spot. Only a police investigation can establish whether the attempt was made by Prabhakaran's supporters as claimed in the pamphlets or by Maoists as a mark of solidarity with the LTTE. In the past, when Prabhakaran was alive, there were unconfirmed reports of contacts between the LTTE and the Maoists.

Anger is often the mother of militancy and terrorism. The LTTE is dead. Most of its senior leadership is no more. But anger in sections of the Tamil community is still alive. Motivated individuals, who are prepared to give vent to this anger by using terrorism, are available. Only the leadership to rally them around is not there. The post-September 11 history of terrorism shows that the absence of a leadership capable of uniting the terrorists and orchestrating their activities does not mean the end of terror. Autonomously operating individuals itching to give vent to their anger have been behind many recent acts of terrorism. Terrorism analysts have been speaking of an emerging phenomenon of leaderless terrorism consisting of acts of angry individuals. Till the cause of the anger of the Sri Lankan Tamils is satisfactorily addressed, the danger of the revival of terrorism in sections of the Tamil community will remain.

The writer is retired Additional Secretary, Government of India, director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies








What is common between Afzal Guru, Khalistan Liberation Force terrorist Davinder Singh Bhullar, three assassins of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and four associates of Veerappan, the slain forest brigand? Their pleas are among a pile of 28 mercy petitions involving 40 persons pending clearance with the President of India.

Unfortunately, even those unfettered by ideological compulsions and political bias have been unable to put their cases in the correct perspective. Psychologists and behavioural science pundits have an inkling of the terrible suffering borne by these convicts. Why must they endure such unbearable anguish for years only due to a delay in decision making? Why can't decisions on their pleas be taken within a fixed time frame of, say, four to six months?

The file on Afzal Guru's petition stayed in cold storage for four years. Those responsible for holding it deserve exemplary punishment. Only a morally bankrupt polity can permit such avoidable cruelty to its prisoners. When bureaucrats become pliant to political bosses at the cost of rules, regulations and moral values, they sow the seeds of a decline in democratic values while making their pay master — the common man — undergo untold hardship. The inability to take decisions stems from the Government's compulsions to weigh each and every act in terms of its electoral import.

At the face of such continued decline and the resulting erosion of ethical standards in public life, even the most die-hard optimist would appear perplexed. The citizen is made to rue lack of adequate governance practically on a daily basis. The education system is no exception. For the last one year, falling standards of quality in educational institutions and failure of regulatory bodies, which exist only for this specific function, to ensure the same have come to fore. The all-pervading corruption in All-India Council of Technical Education, Medical Council of India and Dental Council of India is now public knowledge.

Crimes such as possession of assets disproportionate to known sources of income have spread so wide that one is now almost resigned to their occurence. Public sector undertakings have come to be known for colossal wastage of funds on one hand and sharp deterioration in work culture on the other. Air India currently ranks the foremost among them. The top management appears busy in cornering more and more facilities for themselves. The plane crash in Mangalore shocked the entire nation. Apparently, it had little impact on the conscience of the Air India staff who went on a flash strike even before the identification of the dead bodies was complete and relatives were able to receive them for conducting last rites. Many family members of the victims needed to travel resulting in huge costs to the company. In this particular instance, the ends of justice could be met only if the resulting financial losses to the company are recovered from those who went on strike.

No critique of corruption in political and public life would be complete without a mention of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Mr Shibu Soren. Mr Soren and three other JMM MPs accepted illegal gratification of Rs 3.5 crore in lieu of voting for the P V Narsimha Rao Government during a no-confidence motion in 1993. In the legal battle that ensued, he was saved on technical grounds. Subsequently, Mr Soren became the first Union Minister to have been held guilty of murder. He received a life sentence for the murder of his personal secretary but was acquitted later. He went on to become a Chief Minister, without being a member of the State legislature. Mr Soren has been the darling of the ruling alliance at the Centre and the leading national party tried its best to cling to him in order to remain in power.

What a change from the 1950s when democracy was just taking roots and the values of the freedom struggle still dominated public discourse and the conduct of politicians and officials! The first two decades in independent India drew the attention of the entire world. When the first democratically elected Communist Government took oath of office in Kerala, it reflected a victory of democratic values. Its dismissal in 1959 while it was still enjoying a majority in the Legislative Assembly on the recommendation of the Governor was against the letter and spirit of parliamentary democracy and set an unhealthy precedent. The rot had begun.

The new generation of political leadership does not have the ideological moorings of their predecessors. Not many are ready to swim against the tide. The results lie before us.








THE first GoM on the Bhopal gas tragedy which killed over 15,000 people and maimed thousands more, besides physically and mentally debilitating lakhs more due to the residual pollution, was set up in 1992. It met 17 times between January 1992 and June 2008, and it has produced precious little. On May 27 this year it was reconstituted, and now, after a nationwide uproar following a Bhopal court judgment awarding a mere two- year bailable sentence and a Rs 25,000 fine to the eight accused, the Prime Minister has asked it to submit a report within 10 days. Just what is it expected to achieve? At the outset, there are several questions that need to be asked of the Prime Minister, and indeed, the re- empowered GoM. What are the terms of reference for the GoM to work upon if it has to produce a report in 10 days? Since the GoM is not a judicial body and the conviction by the court was apt given the charges under which the accused were on trial, what would the GoM do to ensure " justice" is done, even if 26 years late? The two other core issues are of compensation and rehabilitation. The Supreme Court had already decided upon a final compensation of $ 470 million to be provided by Union Carbide to the victims. According to that judgment, the company is not liable to pay any more damages; in which case, will the government of India step in provide additional compensation to all the victims. If that happens, it is the Indian taxpayer who would be footing the bill that should rightly have been paid up by a US- based multibillion dollar global firm responsible for the deaths and the maiming.


As far as rehabilitation goes, a GoM was set up in 1998 and it took 16 years for the Madhya Pradesh government to even present a plan.


No action has been initiated so far.


On all these counts, therefore, the current GoM seems to be headed towards a cul de sac.

In any case, the record of all of the previous GoMs has been pathetic. The plan for the cleaning up of the factory site has yielded no results for 10 years and a matter as basic as clean drinking water has been hanging fire for 12 years. Should we be surprised if this GoM, too, heads down the same route ?



BY threatening to starve the national capital of water and causing a humanitarian crisis in Manipur, the respective blockades by the Jats and the Nagas are in no way a harmless means of political protest. Much like the Gujjar agitation of 2007 and Jammu blockade during the Amarnath agitation of 2008, this means of protest usually against the government, makes the ordinary citizen's life difficult, if not actually endangering it.


In many instances, the protestors may have a legitimate cause of a grievance. But their protest or ire needs to be targeted at the powers- that- be. By holding the ordinary citizens hostage, they are merely behaving like insurgents and terrorists who do not hesitate to target non- combatants and civilians to highlight their respective cause.


The acute shortage of food and life- saving drugs in Manipur due to the blockade brought great misery to its citizens. The citizens of Delhi narrowly escaped a great deal of hardship because the blockade was called off before the affect of the water shortage began to be felt. Such acts only exacerbate social tensions and create the space for political violence. The cause of dialogue and reconciliation is also done irreparable harm, as is apparent in Manipur.

It reflects a political culture in which social and ethnic categories shape state policies and also serve as means for collective bargaining vis- à- vis the state. Political parties are partly to blame as they foster such fissures for their political ends as can be seen from the BSP's support to the Jat agitation, the Ibobi Singh government's use of the blockade to squash legitimate dialogue with the Nagas, and the BJP's role in the Amarnath agitation.


More than anything, such blockades expose the fragility of the state, or, more often than not, the ineptitude of its political leadership.


Confronted with such a challenge, the political class need to seize the initiative to negotiate with the protestors, and, if necessary, confront them through the authority of the state.


Doing nothing should never be an option.








THE fundamental law of politics is that rulers act and the ruled react.


This truth has held in all hitherto existing societies: it is carbon dated, weather proofed and tropicalised.


The difference democracy makes is that it lets the people judge its leaders, but only after they have already acted. When an elected leader advocates a policy in the name of popular will, it nearly always is a big lie. By using people as a cover, ugly politicians have found happiness in parliaments everywhere.


The sentiments of the people count when they are asked to judge a policy on Election Day. While votes do matter, they are always cast after the political act has taken place; never before it. A good democracy is that democracy where the electorate can take informed decisions while voting. They are never the architects of policy though clever politicians often use them as a foil.




When Tony Blair took Britain to war in Iraq he paid no heed to the voices in the streets. On the contrary, he claimed he was listening to voices in his head, and they were clearer. Soon the masses came around and he won the elections again.


Going by the popular mood in London in February, 2003, who would have thought this possible? Closer home, when mixed economy and non- alignment were the pillars of our national policy, nobody consulted the people.


Nehru, in fact, went against many Congress members in pushing the Hindu Marriage Act. Come judgment time, the voters seemed to prefer this mix over others on offer and that is why the Congress kept getting elected. Nehru was not just asking grown- ups to eat their vegetables, he was giving them a lot more to chew on.


His grandson, Rajiv Gandhi did not consult Panchayati Raj representatives either when structuring the 74th Amendment Bill. Did the BJP listen to the people of India before demolishing the mosque? It did not; it only hoped to capitalise on the reactions to its destruction. Is the NREGA scheme in place because of popular will, or is it there as a test of administrative will? In a true democracy the outcomes of all such initiatives are tested in elections, but they do not begin their careers in town squares, bus stops and tea shops; not even in village chaupals . Interestingly, when a policy goes well then the credit for it redounds on the leader. Yet, popular will and too much democracy are blamed for every piece of botched politics and administrative inaction.


When Rajiv Gandhi neutered the court judgment on Shah Bano, it was because of the popular will of Muslims ( those other people); when the lock in Babri Masjid was broken, it was on account of the will of the majority; when riots in Gujarat happened, it was the nation exercised.


Or take the Commonwealth Games.


People of Delhi were never consulted about its feasibility, yet when preparations fell behind schedule, the blame for it was on the excess of democracy. The truth is that when slums have to be demolished and the price is right, then it gets done right away- sometimes even to step up private schools. A quick look of the map of Delhi will show re- settlement colonies miles away from the centre of the capital.


Not just slums, if it is in the interest of politicians and the price is right then even better off people are not spared.




When it comes to caste politics the tendency to blame the people is the greatest.


The main reason why politicians get away with this lie is because most intellectuals believe it to be true. But once again, politicians have set the stage and all the props to conceal the fact that in terms of pure numbers no caste has enough votes to win an election to the Legislature or the Parliament.


Caste might work at the Gram Sabha level, but not in larger constituencies where there are just too many jatis , of roughly the same size, jostling for power.


Yet, as this simple empirical detail is little known it allows the likes of Rajiv Pratap Rudy to say with a straight face that when it comes to politics, caste is the hero.


Sadly, many Dalit leaders flog this poster image as well. In the case of ethnic killings, too, politicians put the onus on the people, but not as convincingly as in the case of caste. This is because there is a mass of evidence, collected by national and international scholars, that reveals how religious riots in India begin their innings in political pavilions.


What separates colonialism from democracy is not that the former doesn't consult the people while the latter does. In both cases, it is the rulers that act. What, however, sets the two apart is that under foreign rule subjects cannot choose between leaders.


This is where democracy makes a difference.


Further, in a democracy there is at least another political dispensation, the opposition, both in fact and theory. In colonialism such a situation would be a contradiction in terms. But make no mistake: in neither case are people consulted.




Remember the tales of Panchatantra and those of Akbar and Birbal. Recall also the fables of the Ramrajya when the king listened to his subjects. The fact that these are fables is simply because such cuddly things never happened. The king consulted his ministers, but as in all such arrangements, it was ruinous to oppose the monarch. Every advice had to be aligned to the sovereign's will. That courtier did the best who understood the mind of the throne better than others. No prizes for guessing why this should sound familiar in India today. Human beings have identical failings across time and space.


Democracy forces us to think differently.


This is why democracy has to be treated very carefully for it goes against all previous forms of governance in history. Here leaders take the responsibility for their decisions leaving the people to judge how good or bad those decisions were. That is why it is said that democracy is the least flawed of all systems of governance.


While leaders in a democracy set the pace and the agenda, their respective policies are always on trial and could be voted out. This is why if any advance is made in a democracy it is always because of the leaders, never the people. If leaders come up with bland policies, masses can do little about it. Therefore, if some countries have gone ahead and beat poverty, while others have failed to do so, then the blame should fall squarely on the rulers and not on the backwardness of the people.


When certain progressive policies were inaugurated in modern times, from the abolition of slavery to the rights of minorities, it was not because people were screaming for them. Leaders took the initiative, subsequent politicians tried to better them, and that is how advanced countries moved from strength to strength.


This shows, above all, that we do not get the leaders we deserve. As we can only choose between what is available, the leaders must deserve us. That is the true test of a democracy.


The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library









THE VISION of Chandigarh— that the master architect Le Corbusier incorporated in the conceptual maps on the drawing board— has disappeared, literally. Some of his seminal ideas, notes and sketches have been put on auction in France and the US. MN Sharma, the man who had carried Le Corbusier's legacy forward, is anguished.


Sharma had taken over as the first Indian chief architect of Punjab and Chandigarh after Corbusier to complete the pending work. He is pained to learn that the Chandigarh administration did not care to preserve many of the original maps and drawings bearing the signatures of the French architect and planner.


The Chandigarh administration does not possess various items of historical importance including the architectural drawings and wooden carvings of Le Corbusier's sketches anymore.


These items— which stood testimony to the making of Chandigarh— have found their way to auction houses in the US and France.


Sharma has been spearheading a movement for action against the lackadaisical officials who failed to preserve the city's heritage. The valuable drawings were taken away from the chief architect's office without any official record, by a few persons working at the Heritage Cell at Chandigarh College of Architecture ( CCA). These drawings were shifted by the administration on the pretext of digitisation for publication.


There was also a " fire" at the chief architect's office in Chandigarh and the " authorities have been assessing the loss to the heritage items." Sharma wants the administration to at least register an FIR and probe how Corbusier's documents were auctioned and who sold these items.


Ashwani Sabharwal, who was a senior architect in the Chandigarh administration from 1997 to 2005, also holds that most of the drawings lying in the office relating to old buildings— including government houses, the secretariat, Vidhan Sabha, High Court and the Master Plan of Chandigarh— were taken to Chandigarh College of Architecture for the purpose of documentation.


He states that the record was not under his control. He had learnt that some girls from the college took away documents from the central record.


Generally, no proper record of the drawings being taken away and returned was kept in the office.


Strict procedure had not been adopted since the college was under the Administration. He however says he does not have any authentic paper or proof to supplement his statement. This is all what he can remember.


SHARMA BELIEVES that Chandigarh does not have any patron now. The creation of the city was patronised by the first prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru and then by his daughter Indira Gandhi.


It was a " handmade" city developed in three years, despite limited resources. The masters ruling the city— a home to various modern architectural marvels— have been playing with its original fabric, which is criminal.


Uncontrolled— and in some cases illegal— expansion of the city's periphery has put pressure on its infrastructure. The modern bureaucrats conceive projects without a proper rationale.


Sharma is worried that people, who are not even remotely connected with design and architecture, have been deciding projects for the city. He has also taken up the issue with Congress president Sonia Gandhi.


The city's plan conformed to the principles of the International Congress of Modern Architecture of dividing urban functions, conceiving an anthropomorphic plan form and a hierarchy in the road network.


MN Sharma, who worked with Corbusier, is sad that a dream creation is being " destroyed" towards the fag end of his life.



NOTED environmentalist Balbir Singh Seechewal is not sparing his own department when it comes to protecting the natural resources of Punjab. A nominated member of the Punjab Pollution Control Board ( PPCB), he took on the government for not implementing the anti- pollution laws against industries in Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Phagwara causing air and water pollution in these towns.


Seechewal— who was participating at a seminar in Bathinda— said harmful chemicals were flowing from these factories into the sources of drinking water. He also expressed anger at the PPCB for allowing these industries to come up without the installation of effluenttreatment plants, thereby causing health hazards for the public.


He also presented bottles containing extremely polluted water from the Kala Sangha drain and the Budda Nullah in Ludhiana to highlight the alarming level of contamination.


A large number of villages in the Malwa region of the state have been suffering from contamination of ground water.



SOME activists against cruelty to animals have spearheaded a move for banning animal sacrifice in religious ceremonies.


Members of the International Organisation for Animal Protection ( IOPA) and the Haryana chapter of the People for Animals ( PFA) have decided to present a petition to President Pratibha Patil on June 23 in New Delhi. Naresh Kadyan, representative of the IOPA — an NGO associated with the UN Department of Public Information— said that they had been seeking the government to do away with Section 28 from the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. The section permits the killing of any animal in a manner required by religious beliefs. Kadyan said that they would approach the leaders of all religious communities to come forward for an amendment in the law to save animals.


" No religion ever preached violence or ordered the death of any living creature," Kadyan said. According to him" If one were to believe in the sanctity of sacrifice, it would be based on the fact that God would not want humans to perform a random act of violence or murder.


But rather that man should sacrifice something he loves." He added that sacrificing animals has been abandoned by most modern societies.







One trillion dollars worth of mineral reserves being found in Afghanistan make for good headlines. And if reports of the quantum of resources – including lithium, used in the production of a number of electronic items such as laptops, beryllium, gold and other precious metals and gemstones – are accurate, it might indeed have significant long-term consequences for Afghanistan's economy and future. But there are several caveats. One is that these deposits seem to be far from new discoveries. Several follow-up reports have pointed out that geological surveys carried out by the US over the past decade have remarked on the country's mineral riches. Secondly, and more importantly, the existence of the resources is in itself no guarantor of Afghanistan's economic security and development. That depends entirely on the manner in which these deposits are utilised.

The problems start right from the first stage of accessing and extracting these minerals. A dangerous security environment with the Taliban presence in the southern and eastern regions proving difficult to roll back is not an ideal scenario for setting up largescale extraction industries. Neither does the wartorn country have anything like the kind of infrastructure needed for processing and transport. Given how capital-intensive setting up such infrastructure is liable to be and how high the risks are likely to be – both because of the security environment and because of how long it would take to get returns on the investment – securing investment might not be as easy as US officials claim it will be.

And that brings up another major hurdle. If these deposits are to be a game-changer for the Afghan people as the Pentagon is stating, just who the stakeholders are becomes vitally important. The presence of natural resources does not necessarily mean a better life for the people of the region. The controversies over mining operations in India and blood diamonds from numerous conflict zones in Africa – and any number of other examples from around the world – go to prove this.

Hyperbole aside, these finds may indeed prove crucial in transforming the Afghan economy from its current crippled, narcotics-fuelled state to one that helps lift its people out of the cycle of violence that has plagued the country . But for that, scrupulous care must be taken not to let Afghanistan become a mere resource bank for foreign corporations with all the economic benefits channelled into the hands of an oligarchy drawn from the current corrupt administration. Looking at Afghanistan as the "Saudi Arabia of lithium", as a Pentagon memo apparently states, is exactly the wrong way to go about it.







An end to the crisis in Manipur seems near. With the Centre ordering paramilitary troops to clear the two-month-old blockade of two national highways to Imphal, prices of essential goods should ease up. The Naga Students' Federation (NSF), taking a cue from the Centre's move, has declared that they'll temporarily suspend the siege. The chief secretaries of Nagaland and Manipur are to meet in New Delhi to review the situation. Welcome steps, surely. But why did it take so long for officials – at the Centre and in states – to step in? It'll now take a while before ethnic relations in the region are repaired. And, the blame rests squarely on unimaginative and insensitive politicians and public officials who let the crisis grow.

The blockade was the fallout of identity politics in the region. Within Manipur, the divide between tribes, especially Nagas, living in the hills and people in the Valley has widened. The state government in Imphal must hear out the Naga groups and their fears regarding dilution of the powers of autonomous district councils. Imphal fears that the demand for autonomy could shore up the claim of the NSCN, the Naga rebel group led by Th Muivah, which wants a greater Nagaland by including parts of Manipur. The Centre must assure Manipur that the state's boundaries will not be tampered with. But Imphal should also realise that various ethnic communities have to stay together if Manipur's interests are to be protected. The immediate task for the state government is to facilitate reconciliation between various communities in the state that stand divided. Political groups must desist from championing exclusivist identities. It is possible, and necessary, in this increasingly globalising world for people to have multiple identities. The autonomy of a Naga identity can surely coexist with Manipuri and Indian identities. And, of course, a person need not necessarily subscribe only to these state or community-centric identities.







Nothing succeeds like success. This old saying could not be truer than in the case of Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee. It has to be conceded, grudgingly or willingly, that the Mamata juggernaut looks unlikely to be checked and that she could very well hold the key to Bengal's future.

After the West Bengal civic election results were declared recently, the laughs that Mamata's whimsical ways have often provoked were silenced. Indeed, she has become even more of a force to reckon with. The Congress's Pranab Mukherjee hastily summoned a press briefing, accepting his party's drubbing and congratulating Mamata. Both Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi called her up to congratulate her. Nonagenarian Siddhartha Shankar Ray, a former Bengal chief minister, went a step further and called Mamata the "true" Congress. Keshava Rao, Congress general secretary in charge of Bengal, was also not to be left behind. In fact, Sonia Gandhi's emissaries have been trying to win Mamata back into the Congress fold.

Mamata's victory is welldeserved . Three consecutive triumphs in a row – panchayat, parliamentary and civic polls – have reinforced the perception that Writers' Buildings could be the culmination of her war against the Marxists. The trend as of now looks irreversible though there's still nearly a year to go before the assembly poll bells ring in Bengal. The election may well see the beleaguered Left bow out. In 1994, Mamata had taken on the task of uprooting the Left. Her dream could finally come true in 2011.

Many, including Mamata, Ray and even the Congress, would like the assembly polls advanced to build pressure on the state government and also to cash in on the anti-Left wave that's sweeping Bengal. Interestingly , some partners of the Left Front themselves feel that chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee should see the writing on the wall: the Left has lost its mandate in Bengal. Clearly, the pressure is building up on all fronts.

The general perception that "nothing works" in Bengal is deepened by the fact industrialists have been shying away from the state. The results of the assembly elections could well reflect a voter backlash. But there's always that slip between the cup and the lip when the voter gets to have the last word. If the Trinamul's green blitzkrieg has to keep its momentum till the assembly polls, a lot would depend on the level-headedness and maturity of the party leadership, which has to spell out a clear political and economic agenda. Muscle power, belligerence and theatrics cannot be a counter to a long-term stable government.

Therefore, no one can yet be completely sure of the circumstances that will lead up to the polls. Mamata was herself surprised by the municipal poll results . She did think she would win but not as emphatically. Setbacks and surprises are part of the political game, although given the Trinamul's current form and the strong anti-incumbency sentiment among voters, it is unlikely the people would miss this opportunity to overthrow the Left. But the year of the run-up to the polls is crucial. The lady thought to be the chief minister-in-waiting could use this period to groom herself in the art of governance. The promises she has made to the people will have to be delivered . To fulfil high expectations, she will also have to confront the Left backlash, especially in the districts.
As much as Mamata would like to wish it away, another stark reality to be faced is the Maoists in the backdrop. Whenever 'allies' turn foes, it can prove counterproductive. Bengal, however, looks forward to resurgence under a new regime, and not bloodbaths and blockades. In this context, Mamata has already scored a few brownie points by reviving Burn Standard and Braithwaite, two PSUs transferred by the Centre to the Railways.

While Mamata is viewed by the common people as an instrument of transition, even her most acerbic critics admit she has achieved the impossible : shaken up the red fortress by promising change. However , anti-Mamata sentiments also run high. Some predict the fall of a Mamata-led government within a couple of months of its formation followed by mid-term polls, on grounds that she would not be able to deliver. But that's for time to tell, and dependent on a number of factors such as how well she is able to hold her flock together, control intra-party squabbling as well as keep her own famed caprice in check.

In the final analysis, Mamata cherishes a dream for Bengal and she has the good of the state at heart (to quote her, she wishes to "convert it into shonar Bangla"). And she would rather be full-time in Bengal than in Delhi. However, while she is a strategist par excellence, she has to understand that being the voice of the opposition and being the leader of a popularly elected government are two different propositions. So, the pre-poll phase could well be a 'dress rehearsal' and a learning process. It will also hopefully give voters time to decide if this is the alternative they want in place of the Left.






From Pallavi Anu Pallavi in Kannada in 1983 to Raavan in Hindi in 2010, it's been a long and fruitful journey for Mani Ratnam . Critics regard him as one of the most significant voices of Indian cinema. Straddling the world of aesthetics, mass orientation and, some say, simplistic politics, Mani has created a body of work, which resonates across the world of Indian cinema. Mani, who turned 54 recently, speaks to Subhash K Jha :

How do you see the journey from Tamil films to Dil Se, Yuva and now Raavan in Hindi?

Tough, hard journey. The terrain we shoot in are nothing compared to this path. It just doesn't get easy. The struggle has increased because you don't have excuses to fall back. You can't claim it is the first film and therefore errors and omissions are expected. You can't hide behind your own cliches that you have exhausted by now. And world cinema is growing at such a clip that you've got to keep changing to stay within reasonable distance. It is not so much the film or the logistics but your own creativity you battle.

Would you say Raavan was the most difficult film you have made?

Ah, let me think. Yes, it could be, but that's the way i felt about the last film and the one before that. When i did my first film, i said to myself just a film or two and you will know enough about filming and then it would be a piece of cake. And i believed it. And i love cakes. But, no. It is still as tough and has got worse.
As a storyteller, you try to use every tool at your disposal to tell the story better, to stage the scenes effectively. The terrain and the climate are the stage on which the drama is mounted. They help you transport the viewer to the character , to the action and gives the actor a pre-set stage on which he or she can perform. So the location and the climate are not hindrances, we seek it. We planned Raavan in the monsoons, so that we could benefit from the helping hand of nature.

You suffered a health scare during the shooting. Did that experience change your perception of art and life?

Ha! The scares are just reminders to stay fit and healthy. Once this 10-headed Raavan is out of my system i shall be back on course and fitness.

The second part of your question... How does it affect art and life? Well, it is romantic to think that when you go into an ICU, you come out with a changed perspective on everything . But it's not true. What it did was it made me make Raavan meaner and fitter. What i did not do to myself i did to my script. Cut the flab and got it leaner.

Would you say shooting a film in a studio is far more manageable, even if less authentic?

When i watch a film, i have never bothered how difficult it must have been for the filmmaker to put it together. That's the problem of the director. As a viewer we just see if the film connects. Finally that's the only thing that counts. And makes the distributor count. So when you make the movie, where you shoot does not matter as long as you are able to make the connection.

What next?

What next? Honestly, i don't know. At the beginning of Raavan, i thought i would retire after this film and settle in Kodaikanal and play golf everyday. At the end of the film i am ready to start my next one soon. So let's see.







 (The piece is a comment) On the same day when the blame game was being played in political circles as to who let Warren Anderson escape after the Bhopal gas tragedy, on the streets of the capital an 11-year-old boy watched his eight-year-old brother bleed to death as a result of a hit-and-run accident when two policemen argued about the victim's condition and refused to take him to hospital. When a passer-by , a magistrate, urged the constables to get the injured child medical attention, one of the policemen held up the victim's arm and said "See, there is no life in him. He's already dead." In a written complaint the magistrate has alleged that when he told the policemen that they were not qualified to diagnose the condition of the victim, the constables abused him. By the time the injured boy could be taken to hospital, after a call on the police helpline, he was brought dead.


The horrifying feature about this incident is not its unusual nature, but that it is all too common. All too often the representatives of the sarkar – from cops on the beat to bureaucrats and those elected to political office – betray a total callousness where the safety and well-being of the common citizen is concerned.
Life in India is cheap. And those who have made it so are not exploitative foreigners but we ourselves. Even as the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan was sending a letter to Barack Obama saying, "Your tough stand against British Petroleum for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is worthy of emulation by other governments around the world and the same yardstick should be applied to the Bhopal gas tragedy involving a US company," a frontpage report in this newspaper detailed how Punjab – the acclaimed pioneer of the Green Revolution – has become a 'toxic hotspot' , its famously fertile soil and its water lethally poisoned with uranium, arsenic, cyanide and cancercausing nitrates. Surveys conducted by national and international agencies have revealed that industrial and chemical pollution has resulted in an 'ecological crisis' in the state. Chronic overuse of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers and untreated effluents from industrial centres like Jalandhar and Ludhiana flowing into water bodies have been identified as the villains, with successive state governments, who have turned a wilfully blind eye to the flouting of anti-pollution laws, acting as accomplices. If Anderson is to be held culpable for what happened in Bhopal – and he ought to be – who is to be held guilty for what has happened, and is happening, in Punjab?


How are these people – whoever they are, from rapacious industrialists to conniving bureaucrats and politicians – to be identified? How are they to be punished, and by whom?


It is not just Punjab that has been put in peril by our own misdeeds, with little if any foreign help. The mass displacement of tribal and other rural populations in the name of development has been a stain on India's success story long before Singur and Nandigram became battle cries for increasingly marginalised communities.


The Bhopal tragedy, which took a toll of 20,000 lives, happened overnight. The Maoist menace – which is holding the whole country to ransom and which has been described as an even bigger threat to national security than foreignsponsored terrorism – has been a home-grown tragedy unfolding over years of malign neglect and exploitation. Who is responsible for turning the Maoist cadres – mainly tribals and landless peasants – into murderers? A handful of leftist ideologues? Or a brutal and brutalising system that has progressively devalued human life and which is the ugly underbelly of the world's most populous democracy?


Extradite Anderson for trial? Sure, if we can. But who's going to try whom for the many unknown Bhopals that we daily inflict on ourselves, often without even knowing it?






On the spiritual path there are three factors: Buddha, the master or the presence of the enlightened, sangha, the commune or group, and dharma, your true nature. Life blossoms naturally when there is a balance between the three.

The Buddha is a doorway, and the doorway needs to be more charming than what lies beyond so that people come to the doorway. If you are out in the street and there is rain and thunder, or scorching weather, you feel the need for a shelter. You look and find a doorway. Have you noticed that then, the doorway is more inviting and joyful than anything else in the world?

Similarly, the closer you get to the master, the more charm, newness and love you feel. Nothing in the world could give that much peace, joy and pleasure. It's like depth without a bottom. This is a sign that you have come to the master.

Once you enter the door, you see the world from there, from the eyes of the master. Then in any situation you will think: How would the master handle this? See the world from the eyes of the master and the world looks so much more beautiful as a place filled with love, joy, cooperation and compassion.

Looking through the doorway there is no fear. From inside your home, you can look at the storm and the bright sun too; yet you can be relaxed as you are in the shelter. Such a sense of security, fullness and joy comes. That is the purpose of having a master.

Sangha is charming from a distance, but the closer you get, it pushes all your buttons and brings out all the unwanted things from within you. If you think a group is good it means you are not yet completely with the group. When you are totally part of that group, you will find that some bickering will come up. But you are the one who makes the group so if you are good, your group will also be good.

Sangha has a reverse nature to Buddha. Buddha makes your mind one-pointed; sangha, because it is of so many people, can scatter your mind, fragment it. Once you are used to a sangha, it loses its charm. This is the nature of sangha. Still, it is very supportive. If it were repulsive all the time, then nobody would be part of sangha.

Buddha uplifts with Grace, love and knowledge, Buddha pulls you up from above, and sangha pushes you up from below.

Dharma is to be in the middle. Avoiding extremes is your nature to be in balance, to smile from the depth of your heart, to accept entire existence totally as it is. Often you crave for Buddha and are averse to sangha, and you try to change; but by changing sangha or Buddha, you are not going to change.

The main purpose is to come to the centre deep within you, which means to find your dharma. A sense of deep acceptance for this moment, for every moment, is dharma. All problems and negativity are generated from our mind.

The world is not bad; we make our world ugly or beautiful. So when you are in your dharma, your nature, you will blame neither the world nor the Divine.


Dharma is that which puts you in the middle and makes you comfortable with the world. It allows you to contribute to the world, be at ease with the Divine, to feel part of the Divine.








The law empowering the Indian government to represent Bhopal's gas victims was unconstitutional. In effect, two guilty parties negotiated with each other, says Aman Hingorani.

Law Minister Veerappa Moily's reported statement on introducing a bill in Parliament to help people claim compensation from companies for disasters like the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy can only be met with incredulity. Twenty-five years ago, the government introduced the stand-alone Bhopal Gas Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985 to do just the opposite. By becoming the representative of the Bhopal victims, the government denied them their right to take the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) and its subsidiary, Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), to court for compensation. But could the government have represented the victims when it was as guilty and liable to the victims as UCC and UCIL?

We can't ignore the fact that at the time of the disaster, various Indian investors, including Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC), the Industrial Development Bank of India Limited (IDBI) and other public sector institutions, owned 49.1 per cent of UCIL. Further, by granting a licence to manufacture pesticides, the government made the collaboration agreement between UCC and UCIL subject to Indian laws, which include the Insecticide Act of 1968 that regulates the import, manufacture and use of insecticides with a view to safeguard human life from danger. Many central and state agencies, empowered under various acts like the Factories Act 1948, regulated at all times Carbide's operations, which were approved by the government.

Despite the Canadian government asking UCC in 1972 to shut down its Bhopal operations for fear of damage to life and environment, the Indian government let the plant set up in the heart of the city. Further, authorities had permitted the area around the plant to be used for dumping of hazardous chemicals for years. Successive tests on soil, water and vegetables from the residential areas around the plant confirm their contamination by toxic heavy metals and chemical compounds.

It's difficult to understand how the executive in India escaped its liability towards victims both as a joint tortfeasor (wrong-doer) with UCC and UCIL and for failing to discharge its constitutional obligations of providing pollution-free air and water to people. The novel way out was to enact the Bhopal Gas Disaster Act. It was challenged before the Supreme Court, which regrettably upheld it in 1990 on the ground that it was passed in exercise of the sovereign power of the State and in recognition of the right of the sovereign to act as parens patriae (parent of the nation). However both the Supreme Court premises in such a reasoning are fallacious. The full bench of the apex court, in the 'Privy Purse' case, held in 1971 that there is no such thing as 'sovereign power of the State' under the Constitution. It held that in India, the executive can't exercise sovereignty over citizens, as legal sovereignty vests in the Constitution and political sovereignty lies with the people of the country. So the statement 'India is a sovereign State' implies that people (political sovereign) or the Constitution (legal sovereign) are sovereign — not that the State enjoys sovereign powers.

The Indian State, as a representative of sovereign people, may be sovereign in relation to other countries. But it can't be sovereign qua its own people from whom it derives its 'sovereignty'. Also, the doctrine of parens patriae has its roots in the common law concept of the 'royal prerogative' of the British Crown. It includes the right of the British Crown to take care of its subjects under disability, which the Indian State cannot surely claim.

The executive is as guilty as UCC and UCIL. Unsurprisingly, Parliament came to its rescue by enacting the aforesaid Act and the Supreme Court upheld it. As a result, one guilty party negotiated with another for the compensation due to victims who were precluded by law from even asserting their claim against the State or Union Carbide. The law empowering the government to represent the victims was unconstitutional. Had the Supreme Court not reviewed its earlier order and set aside the settlement that quashed criminal prosecutions, the recent two-year sentence awarded to the convicted Indian officials of UCIL wouldn't have been there. We are yet to hear about criminal action being taken against State officials for their culpability in the entire affair.

And now, the government feels that the existing laws have failed to hold companies financially responsible for man-made disasters and there is a need for a stand-alone law to encourage citizens to claim damages from companies. What's perhaps been overlooked is that it's not the laws that have failed us, but the men and women who run the Indian State.

(Aman Hingorani is Advocate, Supreme Court of India. The views expressed by the author are personal)






So it's kinda official: India won't be able to make slums disappear in the 'next five years'. When in June 2009, President Pratibha Patil told Parliament that 'her government' was planning to make the country slum-free in half a decade through a new scheme, not much attention was paid. However, like the eradication of poverty being subliminally linked to the eradication of poor people, some of us did register Ms Patil's statement as a vague notion of a Jagmohan-type steamrollering of jhuggi-jhopris. It's been a year since that announcement, and perhaps fearing that the same misconception of conflating slums with people who live in slums will be made, an expert committee formed by the central government has said, 'Nope, making India slum-free is unrealistic.'

Apart from romanticising people living in inhuman conditions, there's the more mundane matter of wondering whether slum-dwellers can be shifted to non-slum habitations or not. Like beggary, there's a tinge of alternative lifestyle tag to slummery. But for a country that has a sizeable population of people without any kind of home, making around 61.8 million slum-dwellers move into habitations that don't have tarpaulins as walls, open communal drains as toilets and shared tubewells and 'stolen' electricity might be more than just daunting. So as always, if you can't do it, romanticise the 'non-doing' of it.

The plan now is to give property rights to ex-slum-dwellers, upgrading existing slums (to sub-houses or supra-slums?), creating new houses etc. We needn't worry too much about jhuggi-jhopris being converted into nice, decent trailer parks in a hurry. In any case, we can't quite see Danny Boyle or the Oscar jury getting all excited over a film about dreams and aspirations of a young boy living in a cheap, government housing two-room flat. So...





When the topic of terrorism-related threats is discussed, most of us think of Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The scene of activity is the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are visions of Predators stalking the region to search and kill. When this is not the scene, then it is the threat to the US from the likes of Times Square wannabe-bomber Faisal Shahzad, their mindsets and their mentors.

When an angered and frightened US speaks of retaliation to this, it speaks of the wrath of America the next time around. Pakistan's rulers pretend anger and insult, and they let loose their leg men on the streets shouting 'Death to America!'. The Americans are in a dilemma. They cannot attack their favourite ally and justify to Congress that they need to give more arms and financial assistance to it. Pakistan's rulers feel they have a winning game — of threatening to lose the match and country if they are not given steroids. Pakistan's battle is not only on its western frontiers; it is now in the Punjabi heartland.

Since the Lal Masjid episode in Islamabad in 2007, the murderous terrorist attacks on the Marriot Hotel, the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Special Service Group establishments as well as the police show the reach of the terrorists. The twin attacks on the Garhi Shahu and Model Town Ahmadiya masjids in Lahore on Friday, May 28, the attack on Jinnah Hospital on the night of May 31 and the June 9 attack on the Nato convoy outside Islamabad are manifestations of a virus that is radicalising Pakistani society faster and deeper than we realise — or Pakistan's rulers care to admit. The recent ban on social websites YouTube and Facebook by the Pakistani government indicates its nervousness in dealing with radicals.

True, there is a section of Pakistani society that finds events like violence in the name of religion, or medieval practices foisted upon it by self-styled guardians of the faith, abhorrent. The other truth is that these hordes have muscle power, are financially well-endowed and — what has become increasingly evident — there is either benign neglect by the State or active connivance most of the time. One does not have to go too far back to the Zia years to see what has been happening to Punjabi society even in the post-Zia years.

President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq had left in place not only the madrasa system of obscurantist education, but he had also mainstreamed this. So while the ISI diverted its experience and jihadi hordes from the Afghan front to the Kashmir one, Pakistan's military rulers also created new terrorist outfits in the 1990s for specific action in Jammu and Kashmir. These were all Punjabi in origin and base. Recruitment has continued for the 'jihad' from various parts of Pakistan, notably from southern Punjab.

All these terrorist organisations have become interlinked and inter-dependent and an estimated 3,000-8,000 Punjab-based jihadis do service jointly alongside the Punjabi Taliban in Fata and Punjab. The Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) are also suspected to be linked with al-Qaeda. Politicians being politicians, the Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif brothers have been flirting outrageously with the SSP in Punjab to queer the pitch for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Sheikh Akram, an opposition MP from Jhang, fears that there could be ten Swats in Punjab if the extremists are not checked.

So, today, we have a situation in which powerful terrorist organisations like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT), the JeM and others, along with Sunni sectarian outfits like the SSP and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), have recruits from the same village, district or area. Recruits for the mostly Punjabi Pakistani army also come from the same region and possibly from the same madrasas. Punjab is also the province that has many of Pakistan's formidable troop concentrations against India — and it is here that all of Pakistan's vital nuclear facilities are located.

Should Punjab get destabilised by Islamic radicals, this will have devastating consequences for Pakistan. Many wonder how the young and educated are getting affected by jihadi philosophy. Even today the curriculum established during the Zia years for the mainstream schools has not changed. In the Punjab University campus too, there is greater stress on Islamic tenets. The Daily Times, in its column 'Campus Window' (April 11, 2007), noted that while the world "heads towards modernisation and scientific knowledge, Punjab University, which is one of the oldest educational institutions in South Asia, is rapidly turning into a hub of Islamism".

There are innumerable examples of attempts to introduce extreme religious ideologies in the discourse and in outward symbolism. These range from some very regressive and muscular moral policing on the campus to the downright ridiculous — like seeking to ban Alexander Pope's poem 'The Rape of the Lock', as the title was considered vulgar.

Leading the campaign so far has been the students' wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, the Islami Jamaat Tulaba, a rabid Sunni organisation. Its monopoly is now being challenged by an equally rabid students' organisation, the new Tulaba Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the students' wing of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the mentor of the LeT. When two extreme organisations compete, the result can only be increased radicalisation, as each is competing against the other to establish its Islamic credentials.

What has been apparent for long to many of us here — but is clearly emerging now — is that Afghanistan will have a chance at peace only if the virus in Pakistan is eradicated. The next few months are going to be a major challenge for Pakistani Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, if the declared intention is to take military action against the SSP, the JeM and the LeJ. Pakistan must fight its own demons urgently and not selectively. This will depend upon how long Pakistan's rulers remain in denial about the home-grown existential threat to them and their country.

(Vikram Sood is former Secretary, Research & Analysis Wing. The views expressed by the author are personal)





Dear Mark Zuckerberg,  


Let me confess that in this nearly half-a-century of existence I have managed to befriend only a handful, much to the disgust of my juniors who think I am unsocial since my Facebook account has not scored a century.

I wonder when did the social networking site become a benchmark for amiability? If it has, hats off to you for redefining one of the most beautiful relationships in the world — friendship. While removing the 5,000 cap on the number of friends on your social networking site recently, you have made it into a numbers game instead of a tugs-at-the-heart, emotion-filled word that it evoked till a few years ago. How can anyone have 5,000 'friends'? A recent research reveals that our brain cannot accept more than 150 friends.

In our growing up years, I don't remember competing with my friends on the popularity front. For us, a friend was one whom you met once in a while, if not everyday, instantly remembered his/her birthday and at least knew what s/he looked like. But your Facebook has clearly thrown those definitions to the wind. My juniors now think that if one does not have a few hundred friends then s/he is a recluse or a social pariah.

In the race to make innumerable 'friends', some of my colleagues have even befriended people whom they have not even met. So they don't know what they look like (you can put up any picture as your profile picture), leave alone developing a certain kind of fondness for a certain person before you consider him to be your buddy.

To give the devil its due, Facebook is an excellent networking platform. But it puts everyone — from PR representatives to fellow professionals who have befriended you for some vested interests — under the 'Friends' category. This is an insult to those who have stood by you through thick and thin.

In today's world when everything is getting more complex by the day, it is difficult to explain to the young ones that acquaintances are not confidants and that chatting or posting pictures on the site cannot guarantee a life-long togetherness.

My humble request to you, Mr Zuckerberg, is please introduce more categories like associates, co-workers or contacts on your site and limit the number of members on the 'Friends' category to just 50 so all of us will know our worth and disillusioned youngsters will not be heart-broken when their Facebook chums are not there in their hour of need.






Nowadays, especially in the West, the business of self-confidence has become a big fad. Everybody wants to know how to be confident. Everybody tells you, "believe in yourself." When people believed in God, they did enough horrible things on the planet. Now they believe in themselves, and this is going to produce far more horrible things!

Confidence is not a solution to life. If you did not have confidence, you would gently feel your way through the world. But the combination of stupidity and confidence makes one walk blatantly on this planet. The whole of humanity is walking very blatantly on this planet — with terrible confidence.

A man can work in many dimensions in this world. One is by using his body and mind, and the other is by using his inner clarity. It is only through clarity that one can gain ultimate strength.

One way, one can cultivate this space of inner clarity and balance, is through the practice of yoga. The word yoga itself means "union". The ultimate goal of yoga is to become one with everything.

If we balance the energy system, we will find that the body, mind and emotions will function perfectly well. Through yogic practices, one's energy attains a state of balance that naturally becomes tuned with the body and the mind, allowing one to reach a state of inner clarity.

Even simple practices can go a long way in creating this. Every day when you wake up in the morning, sit up on your bed, sit cross-legged, sit with your hands open, eyes closed and just look at everything you are not. Appreciate all that you have gathered and be thankful.

At the same time, identify everything that is not you as "this is what I have gathered" and mentally keep it aside. What you gather can be yours, but it can never be you. Spend 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes in the night every day. This will bring clarity.

If one is properly initiated by a Guru, this particular process can take on a new dimension.








Inflation numbers have shown a sharper increase than expected by most observers. According to government data released on Monday, inflation based on the wholesale price index was 10.16 per cent for May 2010, compared with 1.38 per cent a year ago. This has led to a clamour for the Reserve Bank to raise rates. However, the decision to raise interest rates should depend on the forecast for inflation and output gap for the Indian economy. Unless the data released indicates that our expectations for the future have changed, there is no reason to change track on monetary policy. There is no data which suggests that the world is moving sharply towards a higher inflation path. Indeed, there is turmoil in Europe and indications are that the world economy could remain in trouble. The world business cycle recovery is one of the key variables in our forecast of inflation and the output gap. None of that has changed with release of the latest data.


The current stance of monetary policy is one where the RBI is slowly moving towards a neutral rate with small rate hikes, from which it may be possible to loosen policy if and when required. The statements by the finance minister and his chief economic advisor that no immediate increase in interest rates is required as a consequence of the latest inflation hike should be seen in this context. For the last few months, policy-makers have been expecting headline inflation numbers to keep rising till July. The new data fits well with this view. Inflation has risen as expected. It, therefore, doesn't warrant a sudden or sharp change in path, or mid-term hike.


What should the RBI do? The slow move towards a neutral stance is justified. This would mean a perhaps, 25 basis point rise in interest rates in the July or October policy. Given the difficult situation in


Europe, that by most accounts is not yet solved, there must be a wait and watch approach to any tightening of monetary policy. There could be difficulties with tightening too much when money supply growth is still below 15 per cent, when the world economy is unstable and when investment is just picking up. The RBI is correct in not moving towards a tight monetary policy stance in the last few months. This stance, and only the gentlest move towards neutrality, is required for growth and stability of the economy.






News that the Pentagon has valued Afghanistan's mineral wealth at around $1 trillion shouldn't come altogether as a surprise. However, for reasons of its turbulent history through most of the past century, proper geological surveys could not be undertaken and the news should alter some of the despair that informs perceptions about Afghanistan's future. Dark jokes have for long captured the hopelessness of the country's economy. This is why confirmation that one of the world's poorest areas possesses the resources to change the lives of its people — not least through, for the first time in history, giving it the potential to pay for an effective centralised state — marks an opportunity to reimagine Afghanistan. And, too, the incentive to develop a strong government, capable of policing the extraction of these mineral resources and using the revenue for the greater common good.


But if the discovery, if it can be so called, offers the chance to transform Afghanistan from a country dependent primarily on its strategic location on trade routes to one that also trades, the obstacles to developing the country remain the same. Afghanistan needs a peace that will hold. There's a severe infrastructure deficit in Afghanistan, a deficit that India too is trying to bridge with its efforts in highway-building. All those with a stake in Afghanistan's stability and well-being must accelerate this. Afghanistan is a landlocked country, with all that it implies. It is dependent on its neighbours, and on stability and cooperation in the broader region, to sustain trade and transit routes. Iran is hit by sanctions; the Durand Line that divides it from Pakistan is riddled with insurgencies. China plans a road, but it'll have to pass through some very difficult, volatile territory. Thus, as Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said this week, "Afghanistan's neighbours and regional partners will need to be in the picture... ensuring that it thrives as a trade and transit hub for the region."


This is a reminder of the need for India, Pakistan and Afghanistan to see the strategic and economic wisdom in cooperation.







The recent judgement of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court regarding the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme, or MPLADS, will evoke mixed reactions. To the votaries of decentralisation and multi-level governance, the judgment is yet another nail in the panchayati raj's coffin. To those concerned about accountability, the government's claim that the scheme has a built-in accountability arrangement will cause some amazement. The court's finding that the MPs' role in the scheme is only "seemingly executive" is also baffling.


According to the 2008-09 annual report of the ministry of statistics and programme implementation, which handles this scheme, Rs 18,327 crore have been spent on it since its inception in 1993-94. Initially Rs 1 crore per year, the allocation per MP is now Rs 2 crore. There are strident demands already that this provision be increased. Now that a certification on the legality of the scheme is available, are the flood gates of discretionary funds likely to be thrown open?


The MPLADs case has gone on for well over a decade.


(In 2006, a three-judge bench referred it to a Constitution Bench.) While some issues, like the separation of powers and whether an appropriation bill forming part of the budget process is an adequate substitute for a separate enactment, might not interest everyone, the factual matrix on which the Constitution Bench relied which raises some important questions.


One is the court's view that though MPs have been given a "seemingly executive function", their role is limited only to recommending works. The responsibilities for scrutiny, as well as technical, financial and administrative sanction rest with the district authority. It is respectfully submitted that this is a distinction without difference. The choice of the scheme, its location and priority are decided by the MP as part of the recommendation. The district authority is responsible only for its implementation. Though the ministry's guidelines of November 2005 provides that a district authority should inform an MP within 45 days in case it is found that the scheme is not implementable, there is no information as to how many such cases were returned, if at all.


The second finding is that the panchayati raj and municipal institutions have not been denuded of their jurisdiction. The bench held that according to the guidelines, these bodies have been given their due role in the implementation of the schemes; and therefore, it can't be said that the MPLADS undermines the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments. The guidelines suggest that MPs may choose works for creation of durable assets for drinking water, sanitation, roads, education and public health. The first three items, at least, clearly fall within the domain of panchayats and municipalities — but they are not the ones who are choosing the location of the work recommended by the MP. Taking away a part of the functional domain of the local bodies, whether on the recommendation of an MP or at the instance of a district authority is bad enough; but treating local bodies, constitutionally recognised, as "institutions of self government" and offering them a role in implementation is an affront.


The Court has also held that a regime of accountability does exist within the MPLADS. A study of the guidelines shows that the accountability procedures described do not relate to the MP but to the district authority. It is the district authority which is responsible for maintenance and audit of accounts, utilisation certificates and various other requirements. The procedures are essentially the same as the enormous compendium of accounting instructions pervading every government-sponsored scheme.


If indeed, it is a district authority which is responsible for sanctioning of the scheme and also be accountable for its implementation and performance then what is the point in calling this MPLADS? If, as according to the court, the MP's entire responsibility is only recommendation, there are ample platforms for making such recommendations at the district and the municipal level. In most states, the MPs and MLAs are honoured members and invitees to these platforms. What sets the MPLADS apart is the strong element of personal choice and discretion.


Toilets and tube wells, bus stands or community halls, animal shelters or libraries are not discoveries of the present generation but long regarded as part of local body activities. Previously, citizens needing such facilities would approach the local bodies or seek the generosity of a local raja or a zamindar. Today, the citizen is expected to run to the MP or the MLA, rather than the panchayats or the municipalities which he has elected. In the process, a people's representative, elected by them, becomes a baron of patronage.


Notwithstanding its legalities, the real effect of the verdict will be to further undermine a self-government system heralded until recently as a decentralisation dream come true.


The writer is chairman of the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi











After the recent cold war between Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and the BJP in Patna, with Nitish even withdrawing his dinner invitation to BJP leaders, it would appear that the two allies are on the brink of a messy divorce. But, despite the sound and the fury, the 15-year-old partnership could survive the public spat.


With an assembly election due at the end of the year, both allies have a lot at stake. Nitish needs the upper caste voters which the BJP could bring to the table. The BJP desperately needs to be on the winning side in a state election, after a string of electoral defeats which belie its claim to be a national alternative to the Congress. Such public hostility between the two camps may look like political hara-kiri, but not everybody in the BJP and the JD(U) is discomfited by the turn of events. The two political parties are not exactly natural allies and each wanted to send a strong message across to its supporters. Nitish has to prove to Muslims that his ties with the BJP are out of necessity, not affection. The BJP wants to establish that it is not simply the junior partner which can be pushed around by the chief minister, that it had to protect its self-respect.


Caste is the major currency of Bihar's politics and the partners in the JD(U)-BJP alliance draw their strength from diametrically opposite ends of the social spectrum. In fact, the JD(U)-BJP combine has been termed an alliance of opposites. Nitish has carefully cultivated the most backward sections of the caste pyramid, which till his chief ministership had been largely kept out of the state's power structure. Nitish's strategy of focusing on the EBCs (extremely backward OBCs) and mahadalits (the most deprived sections of the Scheduled Castes) was not just to end social inequalities but also to counter his arch-rival, Lalu Prasad. Bihar's former chief minister had for years emerged victorious on the back of a formidable Yadav-Muslim votebank. By empowering the EBCs and the mahadalits, even instituting quotas for them at the panchayat level, Nitish has upset not just Lalu's constituency but also the upper castes, Bhumihars and Thakurs, who in the last election had voted for the NDA.


There is bound to be a conflict of interest between supporters of Nitish and the BJP. A government commission even suggested a radical land reform, bestowing rights on the land to the tillers of the soil rather than to the original legal owners. Nitish hastily put the commission's proposal, known as the "batwara bill", into cold storage when he saw the outrage it evoked among the landed classes. But for the Bhumihars and Thakurs, the "batwara bill" remains a threat. As a consequence, Nitish has alienated not only the BJP's voters — the BJP is of relatively minor consequence in Bihar — but also eroded his own upper caste support. Two prominent JD(U) members, Rajiv Ranjan Singh (Lallan Babu) and Prabhunath Singh, quit the JD(U) because of Nitish's slant towards EBCs and mahadalits.


Lalu, meanwhile, is trying to reclaim his Muslim support base. Muslims constitute 16 per cent of the population and Lalu has been citing Nitish's alliance with the BJP to question his secular credentials. The photograph of Nitish and Modi joining hands at the Ludhiana election rally of 2009 has become a powerful propaganda tool for Lalu. Which is why the short-tempered Nitish lost his cool with the BJP and made every effort to distance himself from Modi, even suggesting that the money from Gujarat for Kosi flood victims could be returned.


It is not just Nitish's Muslim backers who need reassurance, but also the BJP's followers. Over the last four-and-a-half years, they have felt neglected and accuse the BJP of forsaking their interests. A common grouse is that Nitish ignores MLAs and MLCs and runs the state as his fiefdom with the help of powerful bureaucrats. Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi, an OBC, is not exactly popular with his own party for playing second fiddle to the chief minister. He has survived only because of support from the BJP's central leadership. The BJP fears that its potential voters could switch to a somewhat rejuvenated Congress because of their dislike of Nitish. The only thing that could hold the upper caste voters back is the prospect of Lalu's return as chief minister.


Lalu's record as an administrator was dismal, but he blames his poor governance on a shortage of funds, accusing the Central government of step-motherly treatment. In the caste cauldron of Bihar, Nitish's excellent performance as chief minister, showing visible improvement in law and order and several other spheres, appears not to be the overriding concern for voters.


Apart from the spat between the BJP and Nitish, there was another significant development at the BJP's national executive. Narendra Modi practically hijacked the Patna meet. Modi is clearly positioning himself as the BJP's prospective prime ministerial candidate. A carefully calculated strategy has been put in place to project Modi. The mild-mannered BJP president, Nitin Gadkari, was a bemused observer to the unfolding drama. Although the advertisement which offended Nitish was ostensibly brought out by a group of Gujarati businessmen based in Bihar, it was okayed by Modi, and the concept and copywriting were done in Gujarat. To be acceptable at the all-India level, Modi knows he has to somehow overcome the stigma of being an untouchable for potential allies. To which end, he has launched a media campaign citing statistics from the Sachar Committee report to establish that his government has a far better record of looking after minority welfare than most other state governments. This, however, is not going to cut much ice among Muslim voters who have not forgiven him for the post-Godhra violence in Gujarat. Nitish's infuriated reaction at being linked with Modi indicates that the Gujarat chief minister will find it difficult to live down his past.








It is a truth universally acknowledged that India, Pakistan and Afghanistan share bonds and linkages that transcend the immediacy of the present. Often, we are also treated to the refrain that India-Pakistan issues have impeded the collective progress of the region. There are those who maintain that for peace and stability in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan should resolve all their differences. The complexities in such equations are not resolvable through the application of simple formulae, although it can be conceded that peace between the two largest countries in South Asia would have a salutary impact on the destiny of the entire region. Of course, the issue of peace and stability in Afghanistan needs to be addressed separately and comprehensively and not within the matrix of India-Pakistan relations.


I believe that the issue of peace and stability in Afghanistan has facets to it which concern governance, which concern issues of grass-roots level administration and deliverance of public goods like transport, trade, health, education and women's empowerment, the mitigation of the culture of the gun, the eradication of terrorism, the creation of a strong Afghan national army and police, and structuring the role of regional countries in ensuring that long term peace and security in Afghanistan cannot be a bridge too far...


When the searchlight is turned on what we — as India — do in Afghanistan, the vista is clear. India is engaged in developmental and humanitarian work to assist the Afghan people as they build a peaceful, stable, inclusive, democratic and pluralistic Afghanistan. The landscape of destruction must change. India neither sees Afghanistan as a battleground for competing national interests nor assistance to Afghan reconstruction and development as a zero sum game... Our $ 1.3 billion assistance programme is aimed at building infrastructure, capacity building in critical areas of governance, health, education, agriculture etc. and generating employment. We have paid a heavy price in terms of the lives lost of our citizens who work in Afghanistan, as we are targeted by those whose agendas conflict with the emergence of a strong and stable Afghanistan. Last year, over 300,000 Afghans — mainly women and children — trekked long distances to avail of free medical treatment from the Indian medical missions in Kabul, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif. The economy of battle-scarred Nimroz province was transformed with the building of the Zaranj-Delaram highway and the homes of the people of Kabul have been lit after more than a decade by the Pul-e-Khumri transmission line from the Uzbek border. These are by no definition, activities that are inimical to the interest of the people of Afghanistan or its neighbours. We have sought to assist Afghanistan within our means. In fact, the international community as a whole has made great contributions in terms of diplomacy and development, in assisting Afghanistan to stand on its feet...


We seek a stable, peaceful, economically progressing Pakistan. Secondly, we sincerely desire peace with Pakistan. Thirdly, we have to learn to live with the asymmetries in our sizes and capabilities. Such differences of scale should not deter us from working with each other. Pakistan should shed its insecurity on these counts. Fourthly, India is a neighbour which has exhibited true restraint despite misguided and serious provocations. Fifthly, the entry of radical ideology into the domain of religion, and, the consequent implications for peace and security between India and Pakistan, making differences over Kashmir even more difficult, must be prevented. Radical, terrorist forces are also increasingly battling for larger space in a deathly struggle that seeks to overwhelm moderate, democratic forces in Pakistani civil society...


There is agreement today on both sides that dialogue is the only way forward. Consequently, our prime ministers have charged the foreign ministers and foreign secretaries with the responsibility of working out the modalities of restoring trust and confidence in the relationship and thus paving the way for a substantive dialogue...


For bridging what is called the "trust deficit" between the two countries, we are ready to address all issues of mutual concern through dialogue and peaceful negotiations. Let me however, pose a question, here. The progress in our Composite Dialogue especially from 2004-2008, and the frequent references to the deliberations of the back channel during the same period, do not diminish the import of one dilemma. How do we deal with the persistent threat of terrorism?... Every terrorist attack, including the one in Mumbai, hardens Indian public opinion, making our task more difficult. Terrorism as a continuation of war by other means, and the use of terrorist groups selectively, as strategic assets against India, cannot and must not, continue. As an intrinsic part of the long-term vision of relations it desires with India, Pakistan must act effectively against those terrorist groups that seek to nullify and, to destroy the prospects of peace and cooperation between our two countries.


The Composite Dialogue, which was resumed in June 2004, was predicated on the solemn commitment given by Pakistan that it would not allow any territory under its control to be used for terrorism directed against India. Four rounds of the Composite Dialogue were completed. During the 5th round, the dialogue process was paused after the terrorist attack on Mumbai. We appreciate the relevance and achievements of the Composite Dialogue, particularly in the period 2004-2008. During this phase, all issues of mutual concern, including Jammu & Kashmir, were discussed. Amongst the achievements, we can cite a number of Confidence Building Measures related to peace and security, such as agreements on pre-notification of flight testing of ballistic missiles and reduction of the risk from Accidents relating to nuclear weapons, hotlines between various officials on both sides; enhanced people to people contacts through bus/truck and train services; revival of the Bilateral Joint Commission after 16 years; setting up of the judicial committee to look into the humanitarian issue of civilian prisoners/fishermen held in each others jails and growth in bilateral trade by 550 per cent between year 2003-04 and 2007-08 from US$ 344.59 million to US$ 2.23 billion.


On Jammu & Kashmir, progress was made based on the common understanding that boundaries could not be redrawn but we could work towards making them irrelevant; and people on both sides of the LoC should be able to move freely and trade with one another. Towards this goal, a number of cross-LoC CBMs were put in place, which included the opening of five crossing points on the LoC; introduction of triple entry permits; increase in frequency of Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-


Rawalkot bus services; starting of cross-LoC trade on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakote routes through movement of trucks, etc.


On the way forward, we have to build on these achievements. We also have to reaffirm the progress made through complex negotiations and dialogue through patient and unsung effort whether in the composite dialogue or back channel diplomacy, during this period. We must seek creative solutions.


Excerpts from a talk at the Delhi Policy Group, June 13.








Second thoughts


Yes, Washington is getting ready to review its Afghan policy, all over again. A number of recent developments are forcing open the debate even before President Barack Obama's current Afghan strategy is implemented in full.


Toughening resistance from the Taliban in southern Afghanistan has begun to stir anxieties in Washington that Obama's military surge may not work. The US Senate and House have called for separate hearings this week to assess the progress in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Gen. David Petraeus, the head of the US Central Command that oversees the American military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the under-secretary of defence for policy, Michelle Flournoy, are expected to testify and make the case for giving more time for the strategy to work.


There is a growing public perception that the Marja operations in Helmand province planned by the commander of the US forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, have been less than successful. Gen. McChrystal's decision to postpone the Kandahar offensive have reinforced the view that the American troops may not be able to reverse the recent momentum behind the Taliban.


The Congress, then wants to know where the war effort is headed and whether it should simply back Obama's strategy or demand major changes in it.


The anxious public debate is bound to put on the defensive those in the administration and the military who have made the case for a patient strategy of counter-insurgency rather than simple counter-terrorism. Sections of the administration and the Democratic Party that have demanded that the US cut its losses in Afghanistan are steadily gaining ground.


Third review


President Obama is already committed to a review the Afghan strategy in December, the third since he took charge of the White House in January 2010. Within weeks after being sworn in as president, Obama completed a comprehensive assessment of the situation and announced a new Af-Pak strategy in March 2010.


During the summer and autumn of 2009, Obama embarked on an extended review of the military strategy to announce last December a plan that called for an immediate surge in troop numbers and to start scaling them down from July 2011. Mounting troop losses in Afghanistan, the international forces lost thirty soldiers last week alone, are not the only factor compelling the US to rethink its plans.


The Europeans, who were supposed to help boost the American military surge, are nowhere near meeting their commitments, even on providing military trainers. There is no sign of NATO replacements for the large contingents of Canadian and Dutch troops which are expected to be withdrawn this summer.


Meanwhile Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai appears to be losing faith in the ability of the United States and its allies to defeat the Taliban. Not surprisingly, he may be striking out on his own. Meanwhile, the recognition that the Pakistan army may not be a reliable partner in achieving American objectives is casting a shadow over the very logistical basis of the Western strategy in Afghanistan.


Four ideas


As Washington begins to consider a different approach to Afghanistan — more modest political objectives, a reduced combat footprint and an engagement with sections of the Taliban — Delhi must go beyond its complaints about a premature American withdrawal and possible handing over of Afghanistan to the Pakistan army.


During the Obama administration's previous review of its Afghan policy, India was largely a bystander. This time around, India must take the initiative to come up with new and workable ideas on how to stabilise Afghanistan.


In an address on Monday to a conference regional cooperation between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has underlined four important elements of India's evolving approach to Afghanistan.


One is that India is not opposed to the re-integration of the Taliban rank and file if they give up violence and agree to respect the Afghan constitution. Two, the internal peace process must be complemented by a regional framework. Three, Afghanistan's neighbours and partners adhere to the "principle of non-interference in the country's affairs".


Finally, India wants to ensure that Afghanistan "thrives as a trade and transit hub for the region". These are indeed sensible ideas. What Delhi needs now is purposeful diplomacy that can translate these principles into reality by mobilising much needed regional and international support.







These days we are transfixed by the struggle between BP and the US 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 US 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 analyse 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 (maximising growth) but political (maximising 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 per cent of the world's oil and gas and hold only about 3 per cent 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 nuclearise?


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 decentralised 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 polarisation, which immobilises 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.







As far as the Left is concerned, the global financial crisis is far from over, and Europe's sovereign debt crisis is the second stage of the meltdown. It also claims that the possibilities of revival of the Indian economy are likely to fizzle out because of this. "The socialisation of private losses and fiscal laxity aimed at stimulating economies in a slump have led to a dangerous build-up of public budget deficits and debt. So the global financial crisis is not over, it has instead reached a new and more dangerous stage," an article in CPI mouthpiece New Age says.


In the context of the "deepening economic crisis in the developed capitalist countries", it notes that India requires a "radical review and revision of its economic policy and management to restructure its economic, political, cultural and strategic ties within the country and with other developing countries."


"India should indeed pursue growth based on the domestic efforts to raise financial resources, labour and market demand, rather than opening its market for foreign investment, transfer of manufacturing by multinational and retail trade by foreign suppliers which is bound to cater to the interest and demand of a small upper stratum of population," it said.


Winging it


That the crisis in Air India is due to the "highhanded policy" adopted by its chairman, and the very existence of the public sector undertaking is at stake if this situation is allowed to continue — this is the CITU's take on the national carrier.


CITU has been discussing the parliamentary standing committee reports on transport and tourism as well as those of the committee on public sector undertakings, which have held the ministry of civil aviation and the Air India management responsible for the "present malaise".


A report in CPM mouthpiece People's Democracy quotes CITU leader M.K. Pandhe saying that the prime minister should find out why the civil aviation ministry and Air India management were not taking action on these reports. "If a high powered inquiry were conducted, one would find that both the minister for civil aviation and the Air India chairman are doing everything to promote private sector companies in civil aviation and damaging the interest of Air India. The present chairman of Air India is openly promoting communal elements in the organisation and suppressing the well-established and recognised unions in it," Pandhe says.


Oil float


With the government undecided on the freeing of petroleum pricing, an article in New Age links it with the recovery from the financial crisis. It says the recovery would be slow if steps are not taken to strengthen the domestic sector and points out that opening and liberalising the process of growth for the multinationals is not the answer. "The popular slogan of caring about the aam aadmi is silenced the moment it is suggested that the price at which the refineries sell the product to oil marketing agencies and the prices at which these agencies sell it to the consumers has to be market determined," it says.


Arguing that the freeing of prices would mean greater share of burden to greater share of population, it compares the prices of petrol in India with that countries like Pakistan and Malaysia. "In Pakistan, it is Rs 16 and in Malaysia it is Rs 18. Keeping in view the economy of these countries, we in India should have fared better," it says.


Compiled by Manoj C.G.








The latest data from the government shows that inflation, as measured by the wholesale price index, has crept up to double digits at 10.16% in the month of April. The revised estimate for April shows that inflation was, in fact, in double digits in that month also, at 11.04%, higher than the original estimate of 9.9%. Does this data require a swift response from RBI's monetary policy? On balance, no. Of course, inflation has been a source of concern for a while, but the finance ministry is right when it says that at least food inflation, the main driver of overall inflation, has stabilised. In fact, a good kharif crop will result in a further fall in the rate of food inflation. Core inflation, which excludes the prices of food and fuel, stands at 5.8% in April, and is not alarmingly high. The chief economic advisor has said that core inflation should ideally be at 5%. But that does not necessarily call for a monetary tightening right away.


The main argument for retaining a relatively easy monetary policy stance for the moment is the continued uncertainty in the global economy. If Europe slides further into the crisis—and there is little evidence of even a modicum of stabilisation there—it will have a spill-over effect for the rest of the world, including India. Already credit flow from European financial institutions to Indian companies is slowing down. There is plenty of discussion of the possibility of a double-dip recession in the West, especially of big banks that are caught out by the sovereign debt crisis in Europe's periphery. Of course, there is absolutely no danger of recession in India. But it should be the goal of RBI policy to at least sustain the 8% growth momentum that the economy has just about climbed up to. Inflation may yet come down because of a good monsoon in India and commodity prices may decline further because of a continued crisis in the West. Growth, on the other hand, may take a double hit if there is a global double dip and if RBI raises rates now. We went through a process of monetary tightening in the summer of 2008, only to end up being choked when the real crisis came after the collapse of Lehman. In the medium term, monetary tightening is of course inevitable as growth returns on a more solid footing, but what matters most is the timing. Since crisis clouds continue to loom, it would be best for RBI to wait and watch for a while longer before it takes a call on its next hike.







The GDP of Afghanistan is only about $12 billion. So, it's big news that the country may be sitting on $1 trillion of untapped mineral deposits—of gold, iron, copper, cobalt, niobium, etc. Around a $223 billion chunk of these Aladdin reserves may be in lithium, oil and gas. This is as per a Pentagon assessment, but based on geological data processed by the Afghans, Brits, Americans and Soviets over time. Afghanistan's new-found riches could very well mitigate its historical inability to support a modern centralising state that could generate economic growth as well as impose political order. If this comes to pass, the country's neighbourhood as well as the world at large would have much cause for thanksgiving. Sure, the war-ravaged country has failed to make much of even proven mineral deposits—like iron ore at Hajigak and copper ore at Aynak—over the last few troubled decades. But signs of change are already in the air. Consider that China is now committed to developing the Aynak copper mines. Even at the time China won this project in 2007, its development amount was around 35% of all the development money spent in Afghanistan since 2002. Capitalising on mineral resources can clearly prove a game-changer in this agriculture-dependent country with few service strengths. Indian investments in Afghanistan are not insignificant either. We have been participating in varied infrastructure projects ranging from agriculture, roads and dams to health, telecom and education. Like all other countries that may begin vying for Afghanistan's newly announced mineral treasures, India, too, will have to factor in certain risks. But given the great potential, this will be a risk worth taking.


Afghanistan is beset by sorrows at present. There is the lack of infrastructure (education, roads, mining know-how, lack of a strong contract law) and there is the lack of security, which makes the business of building infrastructure fraught with risk. But if the country's mineral wealth is allied with proper reconstruction work, then we could see the country transform. There will, after all, be new incentives for building all sorts of bridges. New industries will also demand a new, modern workforce. A more evolved workforce will have bigger stakes in peace and reconciliation. Stronger, triangular cooperation between Kabul, Delhi and Islamabad can both contribute to and benefit from such a progressive prospect.








Traditionally, securities regulators globally have regarded the exchanges as the front line regulators with primary responsibility for market surveillance. As a result, regulators have traditionally not invested in the computing resources and the human capital required to perform real time surveillance themselves. A number of developments are making this model unviable in the developed markets and the same factors are at work, a little more slowly, in India as well.


I think it is time for Indian regulators like Sebi, FMC and RBI to develop in-house real time market surveillance capabilities rather than rely on the capabilities that may currently exist at the exchanges or exchange-like entities that they supervise (NSE, BSE, MCX, NCDEX, NDS).


I believe there are two key factors that make this regulatory shift necessary. First is the dramatic change in the nature of exchanges themselves. In the past, exchanges were regarded as 'utilities' providing key financial infrastructure and regulatory services. In recent years, they have evolved into businesses just like any other financial services business. Many observers in India (including some of the exchanges themselves) have been concerned about this transformation, but this is a global phenomenon and it is delusional to deny this reality. Concomitantly, there has been a blurring of the line between exchanges and brokers. Globally, alternative trading systems and dark pools have gained market share in recent years, and the operators of these systems are half way between traditional exchanges and large broker dealers, in terms of their business models and regulatory incentives.


In India, too, we have seen the blurring of the line between exchanges and non-exchanges. Examples include the subsidiaries of regional stock exchanges that trade on national exchanges; the exchanges in the commodity space whose promoters had or have large trading arms; and RBI regulated entities that perform many functions of an exchange but are not legally classified as exchanges.


The second and even more important factor is the rise of algorithmic and high frequency trading that links different exchanges together at much shorter time scales than in the past. Each exchange looking only at the trading in its own system has only a very limited view of what is happening in the market as a whole. It becomes very much like the story of the six blind men and the elephant.


The best example of this is the flash crash in the US on May 6, 2010. The US SEC, which like other regulators had never dirtied its hands with real time surveillance, found itself struggling to figure out what happened in those few turbulent minutes on that day. In an interim report, the SEC stated: "To conduct this analysis, we are undertaking a detailed market reconstruction, so that cross-market patterns can be detected and the behaviour of stocks or traders can be analysed in detail. Reconstructing the market on May 6 from dozens of different sources and calibrating the time stamps from each source to ensure consistency across all the data is consuming a significant amount of SEC staff resources. The data are voluminous and include hundreds of millions of records comprising an estimated five to ten terabytes of information."


This is what happens when a regulator leaves it to others to do its job, but is forced one day to do the job itself. Is it not scandalous that a systemically important institution like an exchange or a depository is not required to synchronise its clocks to a standard time (say GPS time) with an error of not more than a few microseconds at worst? Exchanges are willing to spend a fortune to bring down the latency of their trading engine to a millisecond or so to attract trading volume, but are unwilling to spend a modest amount to synchronise their clocks because nobody asked them to.


There is another important hidden message in this. Modern finance is increasingly high frequency finance and those who do not dirty their hands with it become increasingly out of touch with the reality of financial markets. Doctoral students in finance today, for example, have to learn the econometrics of high frequency data and grapple first hand with the challenges of handling this data.


Unless regulators collect this high frequency data and encourage their staff to explore it, they risk becoming progressively disconnected with the reality that they are supposed to regulate. Interestingly, the US derivatives regulator, CFTC, is moving rapidly to develop this capability. They already collect all trade data on a T+1 basis and run their own surveillance software on that data. Over the next year, they hope to enhance this to receive the entire order book data from the exchanges that they regulate. All regulators worldwide need to move in that direction.


It is true that this will be difficult, expensive and time-consuming for Indian regulators. That is all the more reason to start immediately.


The author is a professor of finance at IIM Ahmedabad








The leaders of the G-20 are meeting in Toronto at the end of this month. This is the fourth in a series of summits after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, organised with the original objective of building "a stronger, more globally consistent, supervisory and regulatory framework for the future financial sector, which will support sustainable global growth and serve the needs of business and citizens." Given our experience in the previous three, there is not much to expect from our leaders, and by the end of June the world will continue moving at two different speeds: the fast pace of the US regulatory reform versus the lack of coordination and inaction of European leaders.


A year ago in London, the G-20 members defined the agenda for a worldwide regulatory reform. The pillars of the new era of financial regulation would be new regulations for systemically important financial institutions—hedge funds; oversight and registration of credit rating agencies; the end of bank secrecy; tough new principles on pay and compensation; reduced reliance on complex and inappropriately risky derivatives; improved accounting standards; and regulation to prevent excessive leverage. New rules—it was agreed—required coordination, as leaders realised that unless all countries move in the same direction, economic agents would take advantage of differences in legal regimes, as the crisis had just shown.


Those well-intentioned objectives have now been forgotten. For the Toronto summit, the focus will be on recovery from the global crisis, and the implementation of commitments from previous G-20 summits. Alas, the only commitment that came out of the last summit (Pittsburgh), was to 'reach agreement on an international framework of reform', that is, to agree to coordinate on how to coordinate.


Where do we stand as the new summit is about to begin? Impressively, the US has now produced, in record time, the most radical regulatory reform since the Securities and Exchange Act of 1933. Already in December 2009 (only seven months after the London summit), the House of Representatives passed, by a partisan vote of 223 to 202, the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009. This has been amended and finally approved by the Senate. The Wall Street Act perfectly corrects the failures that led to the 2008 crisis. In particular, it imposes shareholders' approval of executive compensation (say, on pay), thoroughly regulates over-the-counter derivatives, imposes for the first time in history the participation of consumers in the control of financial institutions, makes registration of hedge funds mandatory, regulates rating agencies and strengthens investor protection.


What about Europe? What have Germany, France, the UK, Italy and the like achieved? Well, in the old continent ideas are not that clear. France and Germany have made the regulation of hedge funds and private equity their primary objective, while the UK naturally opposes it. The European Parliament is about to discuss the Alternative Investment Fund Management Directive proposal, which wipes out hedge funds and private equity firms from Europe. There have also been some important agreements with 'tax havens' such as Luxembourg and Switzerland against bank secrecy. And that's about all. Europe has missed the amazing opportunity that the crisis gave it to become the financial centre of the world, after the failure of what President Sarkozy called 'anglosaxon capitalism'. By the time Europe cleans up the mess, the US will have established its dominance in financial markets again.


So, the US is coming to Toronto with its homework done. European leaders come together again with the hope that someone else will do the work for them. The Wall Street Act teaches us a simple lesson: the need to change financial regulation was obvious. Lehman Brothers and AIG collapsed because they heavily relied on derivatives that were not regulated and their trading was not centralised. Accounting rules created the pervasive effect of allowing financial institutions to book the same asset three, four or a thousand times. Investors were not protected because markets lacked transparency. Understanding these problems would have just required a little bit of finance education for our leaders. But, the last summit of the G-20 in Pittsburgh ended up with a clear determination on Iran's nuclear capabilities.


Even worse, the G-20 has stated in all previous meetings that their ultimate objective is to lay the foundation for sustainable and balanced growth. Such a beautiful mission is enlightening, but also idealistic and just a declaration of intentions. I bet the Toronto summit will end up with the same statement, so as to appease the electorate in the respective countries and to provide an excuse for the next meeting. I truly hope this one is the last and we truly start working on what matters.


The author is professor of finance at IMD, Switzerland










The first meeting of the working group on agriculture was held recently. The group comprising the CMs of Haryana, Punjab, West Bengal and Bihar is one of four such working groups constituted by the PM to offer tangible solutions to the entire gamut of issues concerning food prices. It has proffered various suggestions to bridge the yield gap in key crops (particularly oilseeds and pulses, which have been the main drivers of runaway food inflation), strengthen input delivery mechanisms, deliver marketing reforms, address issues related to labour and land and so on.


While most suggestions pertain to broad policy initiatives to boost output, what stands out is the emphasis on genetic breakthrough in pulses and oilseeds and the emphasis on encouraging private companies to shop for land in countries like Canada, Myanmar, Australia and Argentina to grow crops under long-term supply contracts. Arrangements with Asean countries for securing oilseeds supply have also been suggested. The objective is to guarantee at least 2 million tonnes of pulses and 5 million tonnes of edible oils on a long-term basis. The suggestions are significant, given that land for agricultural purposes is shrinking every year. So, scouting for land is a good idea as local pulses output falls short of consumption by 25% and the difference between production and consumption is almost 50% in the case of oilseeds.


Some companies have been looking for land outside India to grow edible oil bearing crops and there are reports of Indian firms signing commercial contracts through leasing of land for commercial agriculture purposes in Africa. The big bottleneck that these companies face is bank funding, as these projects are not classified as investments in a foreign country in the strictest sense. In fact, a group of edible oil processers have been lobbying hard for a slight change in the banking rules, which would enable them to get easy finance to purchase farmlands abroad as prices have moved up in the last few years because of competition from other countries. This is a fact that the working group needs to consider in the future.








Inflation is spoiling the government's celebration of India's quick recovery from the effects of the global crisis. The Wholesale Price Index (WPI) figures for May point to three worrying trends. First, for the fifth month now, the aggregate annual rate of inflation as reflected in the month-on-month increase in the WPI has been near or well above double-digit levels. The figures for May put inflation at 10.2 per cent over the year. Secondly, the current inflation is particularly sharp in the case of some essential commodities, as a result of which the prices of food articles as a group have risen by 16.5 per cent and of foodgrain by close to 10 per cent. Finally, there are clear signs that what was largely an inflation in food prices is now more generalised, with fuel prices rising by 13 per cent and manufactured goods prices by 6-7 per cent.


The government's response is that while this is a matter for concern, the trend is likely to reverse itself with the onset of the monsoon. To the extent that any policy response is being spoken of, the reference is mainly to a tightening of credit and an increase in interest rates by the Reserve Bank of India. This ignores important structural influences on the pace of price increase in the current conjuncture. One is the long-term neglect of agriculture, which has affected the level and pattern of agricultural production to an extent where supply-side constraints are leading to inflation every time growth picks up. The sudden and sharp hike in the support prices for pulses announced recently is an acknowledgement of this problem by the government. However, given the likely lag in output responses, the immediate fallout of that price increase could be an aggravation of inflationary trends. A second structural influence is the effect the policy of reducing subsidies, raising administered prices, and dismantling price controls has on the costs of production. Even when inflation is ruling high, the government is contemplating deregulation of the pricing of universal intermediates such as petroleum products. Finally, inflation is high and persistent, despite expectations of a normal or good monsoon, because the decision to give private trade a greater role in the markets for essentials has provided the basis for a new bout of speculation, which the government seems unable or unwilling to control. It is to corrections in these areas that it must turn when looking for a solution to the inflation problem — rather than merely look for relief from monetary policy adjustments.






The Schengen area, associated in this part of the world with a single travel visa — valid across several countries in the European Union (EU) and beyond — is now 25 years. It symbolises an arena of relative success in the grand project of regional integration. It is hard to make a similar claim with equal confidence, many would argue, with respect to the other visible sign of transnational integration — the decade-old single currency — in the wake of the handling of the impact of the financial crisis in the 16 countries that constitute the eurozone. The Schengen area, now comprising 22 of the 27 EU states besides Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway, entails the absence of internal barriers in a territory along a 42,673 km external sea and 7,721 km land borders. The freedom of movement thus guaranteed to more than 400 million people constitutes one of the EU's founding goals, complementary to the other objectives related to the movement of goods and services. During the early days of the elimination of national boundaries, the Benelux three decided to dispense with border checks in the 1960s. Their attempt blossomed into something more substantial when the big two EU founder members, France and Germany, joined forces in the historic agreement at the Belgian town of Schengen in 1985. When the Schengen Convention entered into force a decade later, Spain and Portugal had already been roped in.


A distinguishing feature of the Schengen zone is that its evolution has defied the general logic of EU expansion wherein each new impetus to closer integration comes from Brussels rather than from below. Accordingly, the easing of controls was an inter-governmental initiative among individual member states until it was adopted into the EU's legal and institutional framework under the 1999 Treaty of Amsterdam. However, the steady expansion of the internal borderless domain has necessitated deeper cooperation among states to combat organised crime, trafficking in drugs, and illegal migration and to enforce the counter-terror strategy effectively. Paradoxically, to the extent the member states are anxious to retain national jurisdiction over such highly sensitive areas, the scope for cross-border cooperation is varied and generally limited. The decision of Ireland and the United Kingdom to keep out of the most prominent feature of Schengen policy, the provision for a common visa, exemplifies the degree to which national reservations influence particular policies. A revision of this stance may not be a major priority for either country any time soon. But continued insularity from the general direction of progress in the EU is hard to imagine.











As one of only two countries to run a nuclear power programme without any statute dealing with the possibility of an accident — the other is Pakistan — India has done well to finally recognise the importance of enacting a liability law. With ambitious plans for 20,000 MWe of nuclear power generation capacity on the anvil, liability legislation, especially if it helps internalise the risks associated with this expansion, can lower the probability of accidents. A good law would also ensure speedy and adequate compensation to victims.


The shabby manner in which the Indian system has dealt with the Bhopal disaster is a reminder of the need to place the victim at the centre of legislative action. Unfortunately, the international framework for nuclear liability is designed to favour nuclear suppliers. Despite this constraint, the Manmohan Singh government has managed to frame a law with some positive features. It includes two provisions that are not to the liking of the U.S., which wants to grab a share of the huge Indian market without accepting liability for any accident its products may cause. At the same time, the bill has some definite weaknesses.


The international regime on civil nuclear liability suffers from a serious flaw. By excluding the supplier, channelling liability for a nuclear accident to the operator and capping this liability, it leads to underinvestment in safety. This is because potential tort-feasors optimise their behaviour on the basis of artificially low damages they would have to pay in case things go wrong.


As Michael Faure and Karine Fiore have argued, any legal regime governing civil liability must aim to push the industry towards the prevention of accidents. "A basic notion is that the injurer should be fully exposed to damage costs in order to provide him with the necessary incentives for prevention" ("An economic analysis of the nuclear liability subsidy," Pace Environmental Law Review, 2009). As a corollary, all those who can contribute to accident risk should be forced to internalise the costs of the damage they might cause. If all treaties on nuclear liability — including the Convention on Supplementary Compensation to which India is planning to accede — stand the economics of torts on their head, this is because of the nuclear suppliers' lobby. Right from the 1950s, when nuclear power was in its infancy, down to today, U.S. contractors have contended they cannot do business abroad if there is a danger of being exposed to law suits.


Under U.S. influence, international conventions dealing with nuclear liability have thus embodied three concepts of dubious merit from the efficiency perspective. First, legal channelling of liability for accidents to foreign operators, second, giving operators an extremely limited right of recourse against suppliers in the event of an accident and, third, setting aside ordinary tort law and disallowing fault-based claims by victims against operator or supplier.


All of this was done in the name of speedy compensation for victims since the quid pro quo of channelling was the rule of 'strict liability' under which the operator is liable even if he is not at fault. Victims benefit from this rule since there is no ambiguity about who must pay. But as Tom Vanden Borre has argued, channelling was "not introduced to protect the victims of nuclear accidents, nor to reduce the insurance costs, but to protect the American nuclear industry." The irony is that even as it has pushed the regime of legal channelling on the rest of the world, the U.S. system of economic channelling of liability allows tort claims as well as an unrestricted right of recourse for the operator. That is how, for example, Metropolitan Edison, the operator of the Three Mile Island reactor, sued its supplier, Babcock & Wilcox, after the 1979 accident.


Supplementing these layers of protection for nuclear suppliers is a fourth: legal jurisdiction belongs to the courts of the country where the accident takes place. Bhopal, where Indian victims approached a U.S. court, is the ghost that looms large. "While ultimately the court declined to take jurisdiction", Ben McCrae, legal counsel for the U.S. Department of Energy, notes, "this was not because it doubted its capacity to do so: it basically waited to ensure that there was an adequate remedy available in India."


In the wake of the Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement, therefore, getting India to accede to the CSC has been Washington's priority. That would effectively bar Indian victims from approaching an American court in the event of an accident involving a U.S.-supplied reactor. Of course, this in itself cannot be an argument against India adopting a liability law. Rather, the challenge is to embed nuclear liability in a set of legal and administrative measures that can ensure the payment of speedy and adequate compensation to victims as well as force everyone in the nuclear business — suppliers and operators — to internalise the costs of an accident. Indeed, the legislative challenge is to ensure that Indian victims get the same degree of protection from Indian courts as U.S. victims would from their courts.


In a recent article, Evelyne Ameye has confronted the flawed logic of channelling, making a safety-cum-engineering argument in favour of suppliers remaining liable for accidents their products may cause. ("Channelling of nuclear third party liability towards the operator," European Energy and Environmental Law Review, 2010). This can be done in two ways. Liability for an accident can still be channelled on to the operator but his right of recourse in the event of supplier negligence is left unrestricted. The Russian Federal Act on Atomic Energy, for example, does not impose a limit upon the operator's right of recourse. (Alexander Matveev, "The Russian approach to nuclear liability," International Journal of Nuclear Law, 2006). South Korea's liability legislation also allows operators to recover damages from suppliers in the event of negligence. A second way would be to allow victims to sue suppliers for fault-liability under tort law so as to win damages over and above what the operator pays through strict liability. Thus Germany, a party to the Vienna Convention on nuclear liability, entered a reservation stressing its right, under national law, to hold persons other than the operator liable for nuclear damage. Besides, several conventions on environmental damage — such as the 2003 Kiev Protocol on industrial accidents in transboundary waters — now explicitly provide for strict as well as fault-liability to run side by side.


Ameye argues that channelling can no longer be justified on the grounds of nuclear power being an infant industry. Nor is it healthy to exclude suppliers from the liability chain when nuclear technology is rapidly evolving. "Given the increasingly complex designs of the new generations of nuclear power plants, it is… both legally and realistically incorrect to maintain the heavy burden of legal channelling upon the nuclear plant's operator … To the extent that design knowledge becomes more hermetic, it will be hard to sustain the operator's liability for risks he is not aware of or, even worse, for risks he cannot perceive". This is especially so when all major nuclear accidents in the past — Windscale, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl — have occurred, in part, because of design flaws.


Turning to the Indian bill, the inclusion of strict liability is a positive feature. The bill also legally channels this liability to the operator, thus eliminating any ambiguity about who must pay. On the positive side, too, is the additional 300 million SDRs (approximately Rs. 2050 crore) Indian victims would be entitled to from pooled contributions by state parties to the CSC, as and when it enters into force.


On the negative side is the cap placed on the operator's no-fault liability. The bill sets this at Rs. 500 crore, a figure that is low by international standards and by the requirement of safety incentivisation. In case the operator is private — a key qualification since the bill is not limited to public operators — this cap amounts to a subsidy as the government will assume liability for damages up to a maximum of 300 million SDRs. Private operators must not get such a benefit. Even if the operator is a public entity, the liability cap will distort the true cost of running a reactor and lead to a higher than optimal share of nuclear power in India's energy mix.


Where the original Indian bill is innovative is in allowing operators a right of recourse against suppliers in the event of gross negligence (Section 17(b)). Also, the bill would appear to allow victims to sue for fault-liability, though the ambiguous wording of Section 46 leaves unclear whether tort claims can be pressed against only the operator or any other person whose negligence leads to an accident.


Since both provisions undermine the principle of channelling, U.S. suppliers want them deleted. Not only must that pressure be resisted but steps should be taken to clarify their provisions.


Also, in the light of Bhopal, it is cold comfort to be told that victims can use existing laws to pursue compensation. As the Merlin case in England showed, courts can treat tort claims for nuclear damage with scepticism. In India, where the law of the torts is not well developed, it is essential that the nuclear liability bill provide mechanisms to allow victims to effectively press their case.










If English nationalism was in full cry in South Africa last week as England played their opening World Cup match against America, back home, the entire nation (not just England) was seized by a wave of anti-Americanism over what was seen as "anti-British rhetoric" coming out of Washington in the wake of the BP oil spill crisis.


"USA vs Britain'' /England vs USA" read the front page of a leading British newspaper on Saturday as, in Rustenburg, England limbered up for their match against America and, in London, pressure mounted on Prime Minister David Cameron to launch a "fight back" against American "assault" on BP.


Over the past week everyone — from British businesses and the political class to the media — has been raging with fury against alleged "Britain-bashing" by Americans. And, in a sign that Britain's honeymoon with the Obama presidency may have started to wane, much of the anger is directed against Barack Obama himself. He has been accused of using "undiplomatic" language to "beat" BP while ignoring the failings of his own regulators.


The President's remark that his administration would not hesitate to put the "boot on the throat of BP" is seen to have diminished his reputation for "civility and eloquence," as The Times put it saying that such language was "more reminiscent of Lyndon Johnson than John F. Kennedy."


A screaming headline in the right-wing Daily Telegraph read, "Obama's boot on the throat of British pensioners" blaming the fall in BP's share price on President Obama's "aggressive rhetoric" and highlighting its impact on British pension funds who have invested in BP.


Even liberal pro-Obama commentators feel that his choice of words has been "uncharacteristic" of a man respected for his eloquence. Writing in the Left-wing Independent, a self-confessed admirer of President Obama said she felt "let down" by his "unattractive, undignified and, more importantly just plain unfair" attacks on BP.


The Financial Times called Washington's response "crudely populist" and "faintly xenophobic" saying the President "should stop treating BP as a hostile and alien entity."


American "double standards"


Business leaders have attacked President Obama for being "prejudicial and personal" in dealing with BP. There have also been allegations of American "double standards" with the furore over BP being contrasted with America's "silence" when its own companies have been involved in criminal negligence abroad, such as the Bhopal gas tragedy and numerous "accidents" in Africa.


Newspapers have been deluged with letters from angry readers complaining that there is a nasty "anti-British" mood prevailing in America, fuelled by American Government's hostile comments. One Times' reader suggested that BP should change its name to Amoco, an American oil company it bought some years ago.


"That might put an end to the BP bashing that is taking place," he wrote. Another pointed out that while BP was being attacked there was "no mention of the U.S. companies involved — Transocean, which owns the rig; and Halliburton, which was responsible for the sealing; or of the U.S. authorities responsible for overseeing offshore drilling."


Politicians of all hues were quick to jump on the anti-U.S. bandwagon warning that America's "aggressive" attacks on BP could damage British-U.S. relations. London's Tory Mayor Boris Johnson called for an end to "buck passing and name calling" telling the BBC: "It starts to become a matter of national concern if a great British company is being continually beaten up on the international airwaves."


Others were even more outspoken. One senior Tory MP accused President Obama of turning an accident into an "anti-British issue" while the Tory chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Richard Ottaway, urged the White House to ponder whether it was right to "interfere in the operations of an international overseas company."


So, is the supposedly rock-solid British-U.S. "special" relationship in danger of hitting the skids?


Mounting pressure


Barely four weeks into office, the last thing that the new British government wants is a diplomatic row with its closest ally and Mr. Cameron is trying hard not to be bullied into picking a fight with Washington so early in the innings. But, faced with mounting pressure, he was forced to raise the issue with President Obama in a telephone conversation at the weekend.


From the sanitised official version, according to which Mr. Cameron "stressed the economic importance of BP to the U.K., U.S. and other countries," it is not clear how exactly (if at all) he conveyed to the President British anger over his "anti-British rhetoric." Understandably, Downing Street was more keen to publicise the President's "assurance" that American "frustrations about the oil spill had nothing to do with national identity [of BP]." But, then, he would say that, wouldn't he?


Meanwhile, Britons must decide once and for all whether or not they regard BP as a British company. Britons have objected to the U.S. administration, including President Obama himself, "pointedly" referring to BP as "British Petroleum" though this has not been its name since 1998 (guess what it calls itself? "Beyond Petroleum"!). It is claimed that BP is a multinational company, employing more workers in America than it does in Britain, and by insisting on referring to it as "British Petroleum" Americans are deliberately fuelling anti-British sentiment.


The question is: if BP is not a British company then why this angst over "BP-bashing" and such intense pressure on the government to defend it? The fact is that a change of signboard notwithstanding BP remains very much a British company deeply embedded in British economy and the country's political establishment.


Why this coyness then?








There is a nagging, uncomfortable question that must be addressed despite the optimism rightly created by the implementation on April 1 of the Right to Education Bill: it is not simply "can we get all of India's children into school?" but rather "will they learn something when they get there?"


The current system of state education in Tamil Nadu is vital in helping to provide an answer to this second question. One of the leaders in the "silent revolution" in Indian primary education, since 2007 it has introduced the progressive Activity Based Learning system (ABL) for standards 1-4, and Active Learning Methodology (ALM, a sort of big brother to the ABL system) to standards 6-8. These new teaching methodologies stress greater inclusion and interaction of children in the learning process, aiming to bring variety and enjoyment back into the classroom.


The state government, the SSA ("the government's flagship programme for delivering universalisation of Elementary Education") and UNICEF have all been delighted with the impact of these reforms in Tamil Nadu. They have seen a marked improvement not only in the academic capabilities of primary school children under the new system, but also in their levels of confidence and their willingness to be involved in the learning process. Following the success of the Tamil Nadu reforms, nearly all other states have followed suit, or are planning to, in implementing similar methodologies.


However, success in the state primary sector also serves to highlight the existing failure at secondary level, where teaching methods remain archaic. The learning experience for these children is passive and uninspiring. Frequently, the onus is placed overwhelmingly on passing exams, for which they need only memorise the contents of their textbooks, rather than actually teaching them the skills they need.


As an illustration of the outdated model, take the current system of English language teaching in the Tamil Nadu secondary sector, where the government directly runs 61 per cent of all schools.


Reading the IX standard English textbook provided by the state board is like travelling back in time. Students are instructed to match everyday words like "philatelist", "numismatist", and "ornithologist" to their correct meanings (I only managed one). One chapter explains at length the exact steps that need to be followed when sending a telegram, almost as vital a skill for the 21st century as knowing how to ride a penny farthing.


The book even refers to black people as "negroes" in one exercise, without providing adequate context for the uninitiated English learner, who would not know that the term is now widely considered a racial slur in the Western world (and has been for the past 20 years).


Supplying six million students every year with such outdated, error-strewn learning materials (even their title pages contain typos) is lazy and unacceptable, particularly when you consider that the 2009-2010 budget for secondary education in the state is a hefty Rs. 4,27,211 lakh. These textbooks are, after all, the predominant teaching resources which are intended to prepare schoolchildren for their X and XII standard public exams — tests considered of such great importance that 2008 alone counted 264 exam-failure-related suicides across all state and private schools in Tamil Nadu.


The questionable benefits of the Tamil Nadu examination system call to mind the story of Dr. Yip, a Malaysian who has committed to memory the entire 57,000 word Oxford English-Chinese dictionary. The fascinating thing about Dr. Yip is that although he knows many more words than the average native speaker of English, he can't actually speak the language any better because of it.


The same logic can be applied to the average Indian secondary student. Instead of memorising a dictionary, they memorise a textbook. Learning the meaning of a "philatelist" (a stamp collector in case you're still guessing), and being able to recite poems and stories by heart in no way guarantees, or even makes it more likely, that you will end up being able to communicate in English. A recent ASER study backs up this conclusion: it found that a quarter to a half of 8th standard children in Tamil Nadu could not read or understand even very simple English sentences. However, in failing to test the actual language skills of children, state exams do little to flag up these huge shortcomings.


Of course, the problems of the secondary system, and this includes matriculation and Anglo-Indian schools, extend far beyond the teaching methodology alone. Many, but by no means all teachers, simply do not have the required level of training that is necessary to handle a more interactive, inclusive teaching style. Deviating from the textbook is a frightening prospect unless you are completely comfortable with your subject.


As the lingua franca of the international community, and as the only language that links all the states of India together, the benefits of teaching Indian children to speak English are huge. The ever-increasing BPO sector, the largest employer in the private-sector economy, constantly bemoans the insufficient English language skills of Indian graduates, an elite minority themselves, claiming that only 15 per cent have the required level to work in business services without first undergoing major additional training.


If it is to really mean something, The Right to Education Act must include in it the Right to Decent English Teaching, given the social, educational and career benefits that proficiency in the language can bring.


In a very promising recent development, the Tamil Nadu government has drawn up fresh plans to collaborate with the SSA and The British Council in providing English language teacher training for all state schools across standards VI-VIII. This would be in addition to the English language project already underway for the V standard, for which 60,000 teachers have already been trained up (training for the next 60,000 will be undertaken this year).


Tamil Nadu is finally starting to eschew the archaic and ineffective approach to language teaching that has prevailed for so long. It is now looking to replace it with one which concentrates on communicative as well as literary aspects of language, and so better addresses the modern educational needs of Indian schoolchildren.


The next step is for it to extend these changes once again, this time all the way up through the secondary system. If it does this, Tamil Nadu will become a paradigm for how English language teaching should be carried out in India. If quality English teaching can permeate the Indian school system, the economic and social benefits for the country will be incalculable. India will be able to capitalise on its youthful population, and leave the rest of the world behind in its tracks, gasping for breath.








The maternity ward in the Mayange district health centre in Rwanda is nothing fancy. It has no running water, and the delivery room is little more than a pair of padded benches with stirrups. But the blue paint on the walls is fairly fresh, and the labour room beds have mosquito nets.


Inside, three generations of the Yankulije family are relaxing on one bed: Rachel, 53, her daughter Chantal Mujawimana, 22, and Chantal's baby boy, too recently arrived in this world to have a name yet.


The little prince is the first in his line to be delivered in a clinic rather than on the floor of a mud hut. But he is not the first with health insurance. Both his mother and grandmother have it, which is why he was born here.


Rwanda has had national health insurance for 11 years now; 92 per cent of the nation is covered, and the premiums are $2 a year.


Sunny Ntayomba, an editorial writer for The New Times, a newspaper based in the capital, Kigali, is aware of the paradox: His nation, one of the world's poorest, insures more of its citizens than the world's richest does.


He met an American college student passing through last year, and found it "absurd, ridiculous, that I have health insurance and she didn't," he said, adding: "And if she got sick, her parents might go bankrupt. The saddest thing was the way she shrugged her shoulders and just hoped not to fall sick."


Rwanda's coverage is no fancier than the Mayange maternity ward. But it covers the basics. The most common causes of death — diarrhoea, pneumonia, malaria, malnutrition, infected cuts — are treated.


Local health centres usually have all the medicines on the World Health Organisation's list of essential drugs (nearly all are generic copies of name-brand drugs) and have laboratories that can do routine blood and urine analyses, along with tuberculosis and malaria tests.


Rachel Mujawimana gave birth with a nurse present, vastly increasing the chances that she and her baby would survive. Had there been complications, they could have gone by ambulance to a district hospital with a doctor.


"In the old days, we came here only when the mother had problems," her mother said. "Now the village health worker orders you not to deliver at home."


Since the insurance, known as health mutuals, rolled out, average life expectancy has risen to 52 from 48, despite a continuing AIDS epidemic, according to Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, permanent secretary of Rwanda's Ministry of Health. Deaths in childbirth and from malaria are down sharply, she added.


Of course, many things that are routine in the United States, like MRI scans and dialysis, are generally unavailable. Cancer, strokes and heart attacks are often death sentences. The whole country, with a population of 9.7 million, has one neurosurgeon and three cardiologists. (By contrast, New York City has 8 million people; at a national softball tournament for neurosurgeons in Central Park 10 days ago, local hospitals fielded five teams.)


(In another contrast with the United States, obesity and its medical complications are almost a non-issue. Visitors to Rwanda are quickly struck by how thin everyone on the street is. And it is not necessarily from malnutrition; even the president, Paul Kagame, a teetotaling ascetic, is spectral.)


General surgery is done, but waits can be weeks long. A few lucky patients needing advanced surgery may be treated free by teams of visiting doctors from the United States, Cuba, Australia and elsewhere, but those doctors are not always around. Occasionally, the Health Ministry will pay for a patient to go to Kenya, South Africa or even India for treatment.


With rationing this strict, how can any nation offer so much for $2 a year?


The answer is: It can't. Not without outside help. Partners in Health, the Boston-based health charity which runs two rural hospitals and a network of smaller clinics in Rwanda, said its own costs ran $28 per person per year in areas it serves. It estimated that the government's no-frills care costs $10 to $20.


According to a study recently published in Tropical Medicine & International Health, total health expenditures in Rwanda come to about $307 million a year, and about 53 per cent of that comes from foreign donors, the largest of which is the United States. One big donor is the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which is experimenting with ways to support whole health systems instead of just treating the three diseases in its name. It pays the premiums for 800,000 Rwandans officially rated as "poorest of the poor."


In a nation of poor farmers, who is officially poorest is decided by village councils. They weigh assets like land, goats, bicycles and radios and determine whether a hut has a costly tin roof or just straw.


"People know their neighbours here,'' said Felicien Rwagasore, a patient coordinator at the Mayange clinic. "They do not make mistakes."


Making every Rwandan pay something is part of Kagame's ambitious plan to push his people toward more self-reliance and, with luck, eventually into prosperity. The country has been called "Africa's Singapore." It has clean streets and little crime, and each month everyone does one day of community service, like planting trees. Private enterprise is championed, and Kagame has been relentless about punishing corrupt officials. In the name of suppressing remarks that might revive the hatreds that spawned the 1994 genocide, his critics say, he suppresses normal political dissent, too.


Practical obstacle


A more practical obstacle to creating a health insurance system, however, is that most of the world's poor, including Rwanda's, resist what they see as the unthinkable bizarre idea of paying in advance for something they may never get.


"If people pay the $2 and then don't get sick all year, they sometimes want their money back," said Anja Fischer, an adviser to the health ministry from GTZ, the German government's semi-independent aid agency.


The co-pays can also be overwhelming. Even $5 for a Caesarean section can be too much for people as close to the edge as the Yankulijes, who live by growing beans and sweet potatoes and wear American castoffs (Yankulije's T-shirt read "Wolverines Football").


Many live by barter and cannot scrape together even $2 in coins, said Dr. Damas Dukundane, who works in a poor rural area. Since the government accepts only cash, he said, his patients sometimes go to traditional healers, who could be dangerous quacks but will take goats or chickens. As a result of all these factors, Rwanda is a patchwork of small clinics, some richer or better-run than others. Mayange's, for example, gets donations and guidance from the Access Project founded by Josh N. Ruxin, a Columbia professor of public health who now lives in Kigali.


For example, the computer that prints the insurance cards has a Webcam on it. Previously, Ruxin said, for insurance costing $2, villagers had to bring in photographs that had cost them $1 or more.


A clearer example of how the system overburdens the poor, he said, was the fact that the wealthiest Rwandans pay the same $2 that the rural poor do.


"It's totally insane that my mother pays the same as the woman who cleans her house," Binagwaho said. "That law is being changed."


Still, Binagwaho said, Rwanda can offer the United States one lesson about health insurance: "Solidarity — you cannot feel happy as a society if you don't organize yourself so that people won't die of poverty." — New York Times News Service








Inflation touching the double-digit mark sent ripples of concern through the government and the country at large, even though the government tried to play down some of these concerns, and in fact some sections in it felt it was time that fuel prices were raised. If only the price of petrol is raised it might be understandable: petrol is, after all, used primarily by car owners, thought to be far better off than the average citizen. But to lump it together with diesel, kerosene and LPG appears politically foolhardy — if only because the government has proved totally bankrupt when it comes to laying down a protective net for the economically weaker sections. It has totally abandoned the public distribution system (PDS) only because it cannot maintain it properly. This is unbecoming of a government which claims to act on behalf of the aam aadmi. It constantly reiterates its faith in the "inclusive growth" mantra, but does very little about it in practice, and even dismantles elements of what already exists — such as PDS. It is then left to the Reserve Bank to literally armtwist banks into making "inclusive growth" a reality. Government officials at the village and district levels — who should be at the forefront of the "inclusive growth" effort — are instead busy lining their pockets and illegally amassing wealth.
The Union finance minister hopes to see inflation calming down by July, when the behaviour of this year's monsoon will become clear. It remains a constant puzzle how the $1 trillion-plus Indian economy, heralded worldwide as the second fastest growing on the planet, is still so dependent on something as unpredictable as the rains. The government had said last year that food inflation would cool once the rabi crop arrived. Now that it has, the latest inflation figures still came as a surprise: having jumped to double digits in May to 10.16. What's even worse, the March inflation figure has now been revised to 11.4 per cent from 9.9 per cent. Food prices moderated but negligibly, and remain high. The price of pulses is rising unabated, while vegetable prices show no signs of declining. The government's record on pulses is shocking: it was aware the per capita consumption of pulses was falling year after year as prices kept rising aggressively. In the last Budget, the finance minister announced a special scheme to target production — but the bureaucracy was so slow, and the 21 per cent increase in minimum support price announced so late, that farmers could not take advantage and shift to pulses cultivation. And these are still the only source of protein available to the poor.

Finally, though, inflation figures are just a numbers game, with little meaning for the ordinary citizen, particularly homemakers who have to keep the kitchen fires burning and families fed. Prices of manufactured items are also moving upward while global commodity prices are cooling down. The reason is that when global commodity prices went up last year, India could not increase prices as there was a lack of demand. Now that demand has increased, manufacturers have started pushing up prices. Industry must become more cost-conscious and improve productivity to meet the rising demand.

The government and India's privileged classes must start thinking "out of the box" while making plans to provide for the have-nots. They can think of food kitchens and of supplying at least one proper meal a day to those who are starving. Builders and real estate developers, for instance, could be required to provide at least one substantial meal a day to their construction workers and their families. There are a million things that can be done once the haves readily accept their responsibility to provide for the have-nots.








When Kapil Sibal was elevated to Cabinet rank and assigned the crucial portfolio of human resources development (HRD), many people had great expectations from him about reforms in the education sector — a sector that has suffered due to the misplaced priorities of some of his predecessors. Since Independence, education, perhaps, is the one issue which has had the largest number of commissions and committees for reforms. Therefore, a wealth of material is readily available for use by any minister with sound vision and reforming zeal. However, most who had expected substantial reforms from Mr Sibal were disappointed when he appeared to be in a haste to announce his plans for changes within a few weeks of taking charge. He did not devote adequate time to study why some reforms had got stuck in the past or proved to be counterproductive.
Above all, the new HRD minister, in his various statements on bringing about changes, appeared to have ignored the basic fact that in our federal system education is a state subject and that many state governments are very sensitive about any dilution in their constitutional responsibilities relating to education. Certain aspects pertaining to higher education have been included in the concurrent list in the Constitution, but very few among the larger and well-administered states in India would be willing to part with their responsibilities relating to appointment of vice-chancellors of state universities. Strong protests were audible when indications were given about the Centre taking the lead role in the selection and appointment of all vice-chancellors in the country.
Let us examine some of the reasons for resentment towards the idea of having one central panel of persons found eligible by the Centre for appointment as vice-chancellors.

No doubt that the intention behind this proposal was to ensure that the standards of qualification for the post of vice-chancellor were kept very high and the procedures for selection were transparent. However, adequate thought was not given to the problems involved in putting together such a national-level panel. Even under the present system of selection of vice-chancellors, when both the state administration and state governors, in their capacity as chancellors, are actively involved, the process takes about six months. If an all-India panel of prospective candidates is to be the source of all selections and appointments, it is bound to take much longer.
There is also no guarantee that the Central list will have enough qualified names on it to meet the special needs of certain state universities, like research on some of the ancient state languages.

I should mention here that some of us serving as governors had the opportunity to study the legislative procedures in different states when we were appointed as members of a committee of governors in 1996 by the then President Shankar Dayal Sharma to make recommendations on "the role of the governor as chancellor of universities". I had the privilege of being appointed as its chairman. During the deliberations of this committee it was found that the methods of selection of candidates for consideration for appointment as vice-chancellors in state universities varied not only from state to state, but sometimes within the same state itself. Also, in the course of our work we found that some governors were not inclined to take up the responsibility of selecting vice-chancellors as governors, in their capacity as chancellors, were often being drawn into litigation even in junior courts. They felt that this would not be in keeping with the high prestige associated with the office of the governor.

In some states, in spite of clear provisions in the relevant University Act, the governments in power appeared to be keen that the governor should not have an active role in the constitution of the selection committee or the final appointment based on the recommendations of this committee. Sometimes differences had arisen between the state Cabinet and the chancellor on the appointment of vice-chancellors because of the insistence of certain states that the governor, even when s/he functions in his/her capacity as chancellor of a university, shall act only on the advice of the council of ministers. Such problems are likely to get aggravated if the selection is to be restricted to one central panel.

Apart from these considerations, a single panel valid for the whole of India may not be a desirable arrangement. After what has been revealed about the manner in which a very important central council, i.e. the Medical Council of India, had been functioning, the Central government should not be under the illusion that people will have implicit faith in the competence and fairness of all centrally-constituted councils.

What is required is to allow the states to manage the institutions of higher education according to the provisions of their own acts and not impose any rule or regulation which brings centralised administrative control. Based on the working and reputation of some of the universities in the states, one may claim that they are much better administered institutions than some of the centrally-managed higher education institutions. Certain states have evolved very good legislative procedures to manage their universities. I venture to suggest that the Maharashtra University Act, 1994, can provide some useful guidelines for states intending to introduce reforms in the system of selection and appointment of vice-chancellors.

Falling back on the experience of selection and appointment of vice-chancellors in some well administered states, I would suggest that it would be very useful for the chancellor if s/he interviews the candidates recommended by the selection panel of the state and personally assesses their relative suitability.
Some people may hold the view that all this will give the chancellor almost a full say in the selection of vice-chancellors and may lead to differences of opinion between the chancellor and the chief minister, particularly if the latter has the reputation of being a "strong administrator". I should, however, add that during my fairly long tenure as governor in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, there was not a single case of any appointment made to the post of vice-chancellor that had been disagreed to by even "strong administrators" like Sharad Pawar or M. Karunanidhi.

Whether states adopt some of the good provisions of the Maharashtra University Act or not, it would be advisable that the idea of having an all-India selection panel for vice-chancellors is not pursued any further by the Centre in any shape or form.


P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra








Even as Burma's military junta prepares to address the issue of the forthcoming elections in October 2010, a documentary aired on Qatar-based TV news channel Al Jazeera, about the possibility of Burma developing a nuclear weapons programme, brings a deafening silence to the voices that were urging engagement with the Burmese junta.

The documentary's "source" is from within the Burmese military junta and the footage shown on Al Jazeera was acquired from a defector within the military. The documentary, compiled over a period of five years with the help of a Norway-based independent group in exile called the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), had images and documentary proof of tunnels and nuclear facilities — evidence that showed the extent of the development of these facilities being pursued by the junta in connivance with North Korea, which is said to be providing the technology. Speculation suggests that assistance includes both weapons technology and ballistic missile capability.

While the documentary's source and evidence lends some credibility to the matter, it is still not conclusive enough to say with surety that the Burmese government does intend to acquire nuclear weapons capability.

The news of Burma's nuclear ambitions is not really new. This issue has been in the public domain for more than a decade. The Burmese search for nuclear capability began as early as 2000 when Russia was engaged to build a 10-megawatt nuclear capable reactor to assist the process of acquiring fuel technology. However, the project did not take off as planned and for nearly seven years the issue was forgotten.

In 2007, news reports alluding to Burma's nuclear ambitions appeared again, this time in the context of Russia supplying technology and low-grade uranium to assist with research for peaceful uses in the fields of medical and agricultural science.

Though there were some passing references to scientific and technological training being provided by Russia, Burma's plan to seek assistance from the Russians for a nuclear reactor did not materialise.

However, 2008 onwards there have been several reports about growing ties between North Korea and Burma. Given that the North Korean technology is widely seen as a threat to the entire region, there has been speculation on two parallel lines — one is about Burma actually acquiring the technology for weapons capability, the other is that Burma is being used by the North Korean leadership as a dock for piling its own weapons and using it as an ally. Given that the two regimes have been increasingly isolated, this spectre does not seem very far fetched.

Increasing international condemnation of the Burmese military junta and the growing perception that Burma is being forced to reconsider its approach to a democratic setup are critical issues that may have given the necessary push towards closer ties with states like North Korea.
In fact, Burma's diplomatic ties with North Korea remained suspended till 2007. In 2008, a defence MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) was signed between the two countries with specific reference to nuclear technology and ballistic missile capabilities.

What needs to be borne in mind is that increased isolation from the international community has only enhanced the threat perceptions of the Burmese leadership. Over the years the leadership has become more and more intransigent and allowed itself little engagement with the rest of the world. This isolation will only push Burma towards greater dependency on countries that have a clear record of proliferation — i.e. China, Pakistan and North Korea.

Support for Burma from within the region has been growing — its integration into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has been one of the factors that has allowed for the economic gap between Burma and its other Southeast Asian neighbours to be reduced. Also, China has remained Burma's critical ally, with India and Russia establishing clear ties. This degree of engagement with Burma has in some ways been more effective in bringing more international focus upon Burma. But the engagement policy needs to be nuanced — keep the junta engaged while maintaining a focus on issues of human rights and democracy.

Isolating Burma would push it further towards the North Korea example. Given the political instability within Burma and the fact that their technical know-how for maintenance of nuclear capability is very low, the Burmese leadership would be shortsighted to follow the dangerous example of North Korean. Moreover, as concerns of terrorist related sabotage of nuclear facilities are mounting, Burma should not risk its political survival by following the modus operandi of the North Korean leadership.


Burma going down the nuclear road has several wide-ranging implications. For the Asean there is likely to be a serious imbalance given that the 10-member regional grouping clearly endorses the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (SEANWFZ). This was the outcome of deliberations that emerged as early as 1995 and was called the Bangkok Treaty. The Asean has been trying to reign in its dialogue partners to come on board this treaty. Both China and India have endorsed it, but the US has used its presence in the Korean peninsula to remain outside the SEANWFZ.

During the Monks' Revolution in 2007, the Asean voiced its concerns over the deteriorating political conditions within Burma but stopped short of suspending it. But now, considering that Burma is a signatory to the SEANWFZ and its intent to acquire nuclear weapons technology will impact the regional security order, the Asean cannot use the non-interference provision. It must be more concerted in its action against Burma.
A three-pronged strategy could be followed to deal with Burma — First, push the agenda on a special international forum on Burma; the forum must include the Asean, China, India, Russia and the US. Second, clearly set aside the non-intervention in domestic affairs clause which Asean follows and ask Burma for transparency as a signatory to the SEANWFZ. And finally, let there be clear incentives in place for moving forward with the process of national reconciliation and elections.

A country that has been isolated for nearly 60 years and has been consistently testing the patience of the international community, is now on the verge of pushing those limits again, this time by acquiring nuclear capability. Under these circumstances the Asean and its partners in the wider region, including both India and China, cannot remain mute spectators.


Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU







The latest figures of general inflation — 10.16% — and food prices inflation — 16.1% — remain causes of  concern. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has expressed the view that food prices will go down after the monsoon.


It is more an expectation than a prediction. But economic advisor in the finance ministry, Kaushik Basu, has sought to play down the fears by pointing out that the drivers of inflation based on the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) were iron and steel, which accounted for 3.64%, and raw cotton, sugar cane and jute, and not exactly food prices.

He said that the food price index has remained constant between November 2009 and May 2010. He is right, technically speaking. But that is the economist's sleight-of-hand in action. The high food prices have not gone down, they just did not go higher. That is not much of a solace to people who are forced to pay more from constrained domestic budgets. The decrease in food prices in real terms is now dependent on the monsoon, something that both the finance minister and his economic adviser have acknowledged.

That is why, Basu sought to explain away the double digit inflation rate in two ways. First, he said that the May figure of 10.16% is lower than the revised inflation rate of 11.04% in March. Second, he said that the core inflation rate — after taking away fuel and food prices — actually stands at 5.8% and it should go down below five% by the end of the financial year. The proverbial silver lining is the figure for Index of Industrial Production

(IIP) standing at 17.6% for April 2010, led by manufacturing growing at 19.4%.  

It would seem then that the inflation will settle down at lower levels in due course and that this would not hopefully necessitate hike in interest rate on the part of Reserve Bank of India (RBI). Of course, the finance ministry stays politically correct by saying that it is the call of the central bank.

It could be that the intricate ways of determining inflation could keep the fears of inflation down and that monsoon would come to the aid of an economy that is still crucially dependent on agriculture. Of course, this is betting on hope but there are good enough reasons for doing so.  Also, it is another way of keeping inflation blues at bay.





A high profile Kolkata school has found itself in the news over the suicide of a student, ostensibly because he had been repeatedly humiliated and caned by the school's teachers and principal. The school seems to have held some sort of an internal inquiry and absolved all the staff of any wrongdoing. The boy's father has since taken up the matter and the school now finds that it is being questioned.


The progress of the case over the culpability of La Martiniere for Boys, Kolkata and the pain of the parents of Rouvanjit Rawla is now a matter of investigation. The school's principal has admitted to the caning and even conceded to newspapers that the incident was regrettable.The West Bengal government has taken note of the case as has Union human resources minister, Kapil Sibal. This unfortunate episode brings up the question about corporal punishment in schools in India — in spite of it being forbidden by law — and how difficult it is for parents and guardians to take action against such schools.


The fear that their child will be thrown out or victimised often stops parents from demanding action against that very victimisation. The concern for a "good education" is so strong that schools all too often find it very easy to get away with illegal behaviour. Very often, schools follow archaic systems and ideas about discipline and operate as closed and insular societies which refuse to allow any external scrutiny. Corporal punishment is rampant across schools in India and this particular Kolkata school was, it can be argued, only following the norm.


However the dictum of "spare the rod and spoil the child" is no longer accepted as the correct way to discipline children. The idea of the rights of the child has developed over the 20th century and bodily harm to ensure discipline is either frowned upon or banned by law in most civilised nations. But schools in India possibly find it very hard to keep up with changing times and laws and find it easy to fall back on old, established patterns of behaviour.


The Right to Education Bill makes its views on corporal punishment very clear. Perhaps, as we have started to take education more seriously in this century, we can find ways to enforcing such laws and augment state education departments with enough manpower and funds to take on erring schools. Parents must also have a greater say in the way schools are run and the manner in which their children are treated.







The nation has had to relive the gruesome memory of the aftermath of that fateful night of December 3, 1984 of Bhopal. Those heartrending cries of helplessness and the spasms of the deadly end that people met — men and women, children and the infirm which outraged the nation and our people — are being played out again to disturb our cozy little cocoons.


The long wait of 26 years for justice in the gas leak disaster has come to a shameful end.This has caused a sense of tragedy and betrayal no less in magnitude than the original disaster itself. It was not confined to the country.In most parts of the world, public opinion and media have castigated the judicial outcome in Bhopal.There seems to be a sense of outrage at allowing Union Carbide's top brass to get away, particularly the chairman at the time, Warren Anderson, who continues to lead an extremely comfortable life of retirement in an upmarket neighbourhood of New York state.


People are asking questions.Why have the families of the 25,000 and more dead not received the compassionate consideration of the executive and the judiciary whose Constitutional obligation it was to protect them?Why did the CBI conduct the investigation and prosecution in such a manner that corporate delinquency amounting to culpable homicide went unpunished?Why did the CBI not file a review petition when charge of culpable homicide was being diluted by the Supreme Court to accidental deaths?


Did the government in 2005 persuade itself to go slow on Anderson and the Union Carbide at the instance of several high level officials and the then Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, on the specious argument that this will undermine billions of dollars of investment?Did the External Affairs Ministry write to the CBI not to pursue extradition of Anderson and did the Indian ambassador in Washington put this assessment in black and white as revealed in the media?Whether it is a fact that soon after Anderson was arrested in Bhopal in the wake of the disaster, the government facilitated his bail and he was escorted out of the prison and the city by the state government machinery itself?


People want to know the truth.But there is no official answer.There is also no answer as to whether the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal which had undertaken the production of the deadly pesticide 'Savin' had the essential safety features which would eliminate the possibility of the production of methyl isocyanate (MIC), the lethal gas that took so many lives and which is responsible for the birth to malformed babies even today?


Marx wrote in Das Kapital: "With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 per cent will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 per cent will produce eagerness; 50 per cent, positive audacity; 100 per cent will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 per cent and there is not a crime that it will scruple, nor a risk it will run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged".The truth is Warren Anderson and the Union Carbide acted much in the way that Marx has described.But the tragedy is that they have been allowed to get off the hook by the obnoxious collusion of the Indian executive and judiciary.


That is why in the nuclear liability bill, which is in Parliament, in the event of a future nuclear accident, there will be virtually no onus on the foreign nuclear reactor supplier companies which may be culpable.If, as in the case of Bhopal, the government had to manipulate to undermine the legal possibilities to pin down the perpetrators, in case of future nuclear plant accidents, the government wants to legally disempower themselves and the citizens to force accountability and compensation.

Meanwhile there is intense pressure from the Americans, which is reflected in what the US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley has observed in the wake of the Bhopal judgment — " Our economies are increasingly closely connected. So I certainly would hope that this particular case does not inhibit the continuing expansion of economic, cultural and political ties between our two countries".


The UPA government — as it does so often — when it is confronted with a tricky situation — has formed a group of ministers with Chidambaram at its head.Obviously, the government wants to play out a further waiting game for the sense of outrage of the nation to die down.


We have to speak out against the machinations that led to a human disaster of the magnitude as happened in Bhopal.We have to speak out against creating legal space for future Warren Andersons in the event of nuclear disaster.Issues of such serious import cannot be left to the government to handle.








The nation has had to relive the gruesome memory of the aftermath of that fateful night of December 3, 1984 of Bhopal. Those heartrending cries of helplessness and the spasms of the deadly end that people met — men and women, children and the infirm which outraged the nation and our people — are being played out again to disturb our cozy little cocoons. The long wait of 26 years for justice in the gas leak disaster has come to a shameful end. This has caused a sense of tragedy and betrayal no less in magnitude than the original disaster itself. It was not confined to the country. In most parts of the world, public opinion and media have castigated the judicial outcome in Bhopal. There seems to be a sense of outrage at allowing Union Carbide's top brass to get away, particularly the chairman at the time, Warren Anderson, who continues to lead an extremely comfortable life of retirement in an upmarket neighbourhood of New York state.

People are asking questions. Why have the families of the 25,000 and more dead not received the compassionate consideration of the executive and the judiciary whose Constitutional obligation it was to protect them? Why did the CBI conduct the investigation and prosecution in such a manner that corporate delinquency amounting to culpable homicide went unpunished? Why did the CBI not file a review petition when charge of culpable homicide was being diluted by the Supreme Court to accidental deaths?

Did the government in 2005 persuade itself to go slow on Anderson and the Union Carbide at the instance of several high level officials and the then Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, on the specious argument that this will undermine billions of dollars of investment? Did the External Affairs Ministry write to the CBI not to pursue extradition of Anderson and did the Indian ambassador in Washington put this assessment in black and white as revealed in the media? Whether it is a fact that soon after Anderson was arrested in Bhopal in the wake of the disaster, the government facilitated his bail and he was escorted out of the prison and the city by the state government machinery itself?

People want to know the truth. But there is no official answer. There is also no answer as to whether the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal which had undertaken the production of the deadly pesticide 'Savin' had the essential safety features which would eliminate the possibility of the production of methyl isocyanate (MIC), the lethal gas that took so many lives and which is responsible for the birth to malformed babies even today?
Marx wrote in Das Kapital: "With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 per cent will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 per cent will produce eagerness; 50 per cent, positive audacity; 100 per cent will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 per cent and there is not a crime that it will scruple, nor a risk it will run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged". The truth is Warren Anderson and the Union Carbide acted much in the way that Marx has described. But the tragedy is that they have been allowed to get off the hook by the obnoxious collusion of the Indian executive and judiciary.

That is why in the nuclear liability bill, which is in Parliament, in the event of a future nuclear accident, there will be virtually no onus on the foreign nuclear reactor supplier companies which may be culpable. If, as in the case of Bhopal, the government had to manipulate to undermine the legal possibilities to pin down the perpetrators, in case of future nuclear plant accidents, the government wants to legally disempower themselves and the citizens to force accountability and compensation.

Meanwhile there is intense pressure from the Americans, which is reflected in what the US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley has observed in the wake of the Bhopal judgment — " Our economies are increasingly closely connected. So I certainly would hope that this particular case does not inhibit the continuing expansion of economic, cultural and political ties between our two countries".

The UPA government — as it does so often — when it is confronted with a tricky situation — has formed a group of ministers with Chidambaram at its head. Obviously, the government wants to play out a further waiting game for the sense of outrage of the nation to die down.

We have to speak out against the machinations that led to a human disaster of the magnitude as happened in Bhopal. We have to speak out against creating legal space for future Warren Andersons in the event of nuclear disaster. Issues of such serious import cannot be left to the government to handle.









The 'temporary' withdrawal of the two-month old blockade of highways to Manipur by Naga groups would come as a relief to the people of the beleaguered state. Forced to live with shortages and compelled to pay exorbitant prices for food, fuel, medicines and transport all these weeks, they would be hoping for an early end to their misery so that they may resume normal life. The withdrawal was announced immediately after a delegation of Naga students met the Prime Minister in New Delhi and hours after the Union Home Secretary confirmed that central forces were indeed being rushed to secure the highways. The Naga groups were possibly left with few options but to end the blockade. They of course gave the impression that their decision was prompted by the 'good meeting' they had with the Prime Minister, who apparently listened to them patiently and assured that he would look into their demands. If the solution to the impossibly long stand-off were to be so swift and simple, one wonders why the PM's intervention was delayed; or for that matter why it took the Union Home Ministry two months to finally flex its muscles.


Road blockades are a common form of popular protest that one now encounters across the country and over grievances ranging from the trivial to the grave. It is, almost always, symptomatic of poor and unresponsive governance and signals a breakdown of the local administration at ground level with people demanding intervention, or just a hearing, from the 'top'. But even by our own standards, the two-month old blockade of the main highways connecting Manipur to the rest of the country must rank in a class of its own.


The threat of the Naga Students Federation to resume the blockade if their demands are not met, cannot be dismissed lightly. The stand-off in the Northeast has demonstrated how fragile the region continues to be and how feeble the authority exercised by New Delhi or the state governments. The uncomfortable truce will be short-lived unless steps are taken urgently to resolve the volatile cocktail of political and ethnic issues that triggered the trouble in the first place.








The support extended by Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena to the Congress in getting a Congress-backed candidate elected in the recent Legislative Council elections at the cost of a Shiv Sena nominee has soured the already-strained relations between the MNS and the Sena. Indeed, the 13 MNS legislators were the major factor that led to the victory of all seven candidates belonging to the Congress and the NCP. This is a repeat of the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in which MNS' support had given the Congress-NCP alliance the crucial edge. This time around, while the MNS has spoken openly that its aim was to placate the Congress to secure the revocation of suspension of four of their members from the assembly, the Shiv Sena has been alleging that Raj and his men fell victim to Congress monetary inducements.


As things stand, the chances of the Shiv Sena and the MNS coming together in elections to the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation in 2011 appear bleak. While Sena supremo Bal Thackeray has mocked at his nephew Raj by calling him 'Dhanajirao' (wealthy man) in the context of his 'underhand' deal with the Congress, the MNS chief has told the Shiv Sena to mind its own business. The Congress on its part, while being elated over the growing chasm between the Shiv Sena and the MNS, also has something to worry about. The Congress has been distancing itself from the migrant-attacking MNS to avoid an embarrassment at the national level, as elections in Bihar and U.P. are due soon. Any revocation of the suspension of the MNS legislators will strengthen the feeling in those two states that the Congress is hand-in-glove with the MNS.


There is no denying, however, that the MNS has emerged as a key factor in Maharashtra's political chessboard. It may not win many seats, but its potential to harm the Shiv Sena is indeed substantial. For the Congress-NCP alliance it is a boon to see the Shiv Sena and its offshoot at dagger's drawn in the State.









Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati's proposal to amend laws for holding party-less polls to urban civic bodies and election of mayors and municipal chairmen not by voters but by corporators and municipal councillors has kicked off a major controversy. Though the BJP, the Congress and the Samajwadi Party have questioned the propriety of her going ahead with the amendments without giving them the mandatory one-month time to give their opinion, she is proceeding ahead with her move. Party-less election to local bodies is nothing new. Bihar and Madhya Pradesh have been following this. Under the Constitution, the state governments are empowered to amend laws on urban civic body elections. But what is being objected to is the surreptitious way by which Ms Mayawati is trying to amend the legislation by keeping the notification under wraps.


Apparently, Ms Mayawati has quietly initiated the move so that every candidate in the local body elections is an Independent, implying that no party can technically be a winner or loser. She apparently fears that if the BSP loses the urban civic bodies elections in 2011, it could adversely affect the party's prospects in the 2012 Assembly elections. As it is, the BSP doesn't have much of a following in the urban local bodies today. So, if the 2011 polls were held on the basis of party tickets, it would heap as much humiliation on the ruling BSP as the CPM is facing now in West Bengal.


A bigger worry is the fallout of the party-less elections. These may increase the role of money power, encourage horse-trading and make it easier for the ruling party to buy councillors, it is feared. Union Urban Development Minister S. Jaipal Reddy has reportedly threatened to hold up funds to the tune of Rs 15,000 crore under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) for Uttar Pradesh if the Chief Minister goes ahead with the amendment. It is a moot point whether Ms Mayawati will finally succeed, but it does not come through as a fair move.

















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 the 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 then 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 20,000-25,000 have died as a result of the gas leak in Bhopal. Approximately half a million more suffer the agonies of continuing ailments, deformities and 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 million compensation awarded was clearly meagre 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. 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 also 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.








Are you a Muslim"? This is the first question that everyone always asks me. At first I am defensive. Then I would also feel a little embarrassed trying to claim my non-Muslim identity. Being a Muslim is not at all a crime but because of recent terrorist acts and Muslim propaganda, the religion itself is under scrutiny.


So the moment I would say, "I am a Sikh", I am attacked with another question. How come you don't have a turban? This, in many cases, would be more embarrassing and make me question my identity myself. But then I would content myself assuring that it's just a belief that is built up by society. I should not have to tie a turban and keep my hair to do all the good deeds as Sikhs and claim my religion. Well, that's a separate topic about which even I am confused and don't have any definite answer.


Last week I was looking to rent a place somewhere in Toronto which was close to my work and was a good neighbourhood. Looking at different houses I came across a beautiful house which also happened to be owned by an Indian. I called to set up an appointment and I was asked to come and see the place following morning. In all excitement I also called up my sister asking her to accompany me.


The landlady greeted us with a cheerful smile. She was living in a pretty costly area and she seemed very classy herself. After initial introduction we came to know that she belonged to the state of Orissa and had recently lost her husband. All the house expenses and her daughter's university education fell upon her shoulders and this was the main reason she was renting her ground-floor apartment. The house was huge and was very well decorated with lots and lots of pictures. I could see some prominent Indian musicians and politicians on her walls too.


As we walked through her cathedral entrance she confronted me with two usual questions. Since she was an Indian herself I was confident of not being subjected to any discrimination. I very calmly explained to her to that it was just my name that was Muslim but I was a Sikh. I was very sure of not having any further conversation on my name or religion as Sikhs were well established in Canada and were very happily received all over. But I almost lost my ground when she pointed at the picture of her daughter and remarked, "She was killed in 1985 Air India bombing". She was then 14. I did not know what to reply or how to react. This was first time in my life I was not sure if I was proud being a Sikh.


My silence conveyed my apology and sense of shame. She was intelligent and she quickly responded, "Of course, everyone is not the same". It was then when I realised that not only having a Muslim name can make me uncomfortable but even my own religion can do more hurt. I also experienced an important lesson; how an individual action may raise questions against the entire community or religious group.









The pressure of the market forces in the era of globalisation has brought home one fact that in the absence of educated and skilled manpower it is not possible to expand the existing domestic market nor the tempo of high gross domestic production is sustainable. However, the quality of higher education is largely dependent upon the quality of students available at the entry level.


A sound school education system, therefore, is a pre-requisite to the performance of academic institutions at the level of higher education. The right to education, in a highly inegalitarian Indian society where half the population jostle for two square meals a day would not solve the problem of quality education unless it is complemented with the right to food and the right to work.


With a view to providing quality education, efficient administration and greater accountability and transparency in the institutions of higher learning the Union Human Resource Development Ministry introduced four new Bills in the Lok Sabha on May 3, 2010 though only the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill has attracted attention in the entire debate on the future of higher education.


The country took over four decades to realise the importance of quality education in building indigenous social capital. Most problems India is facing today in the field of education were first documented in detail by the Kothari Commission as back as 1966. Nobody took the recommendations seriously and let the system of education slowly decay from top to bottom. It suddenly dawned that the country has failed even in achieving universal literacy what to talk of quality education to compete in the global market.


There is a widespread belief within the government that the panacea for all its failures lies in the mantra of market and hence allowed mushrooming of private universities and professional institutions that have caused almost a glut of 'professionals' in the market who usually fail to produce anything except a laminated certificate.


The same worry prompted the HRD Minister to rush to the United States and hunt for foreign universities that can save us from the ongoing crisis. In fact, he went a step further and proposed to constitute Indo-US education council so that the target to achieve 30 per cent gross enrolment ratio in higher education by 2020 could jointly be achieved.


There is also a proposal from the Government of India to open up 700 new universities and 35,000 new colleges besides many new IITs, IIMs and specialised institutes in science. But nobody has any cue whatsoever: where are the competent teachers to man these upcoming institutions of higher learning?


So far, three American universities have shown interest in India. American University ranked 84th on a scale of zero to 100, Virginia Tech ranked 71st and Georgetown ranked 23rd. The ranking of first two universities shows that they are not preferred by American students. The Georgetown University was basically founded by the Catholics and Jesuits in 1789 with the aim of educating theology. There are still compulsory papers on theology that each student has to clear as a part of the curriculum. It is not difficult to imagine the types of universities showing interest in higher education in India.


The challenges before higher education in India are multifaceted. Though there is no dearth of funds in the country, we never achieved budget allocation equal to 6 per cent of the GDP as recommended first by the Kothari Commission and subsequently in the National Education Policy, 1986. The funds for education always hovered around 3 per cent of the GDP in contrast to the other developed countries, including Japan, where it is 10 per cent and above.


For quality higher education, the most important factors are: supply of competent students at the entry level, massive production and recruitment of competent teachers, modern teaching and research facilities, and a curriculum directly addressing the social, economic, political and other developmental needs of the country.


Therefore, more than asking foreign universities to start their campuses in India, it is worth importing their highly successful idea of neighbourhood school system (US included) whereby no child can join school other than what is earmarked for the given locality. Neighbourhood schools would result in the cultural enrichment of the students across castes and classes and put a check on the mushrooming of the so-called 'English' schools creating hierarchies and 'exclusion' right from early childhood.


It is time to introspect and implement National Education Policy in letter and spirit where common school system and neighbourhood schools have been prescribed in so many words. Unless we check massive desertion from government schools by students belonging to relatively well off parents, it would not be possible to rejuvenate school education. Left to the market, school education system is going to crumble sooner than later, thanks to the new policy of 'No Exam' till 12th Standard.


Parents pay heavily to private academies/ coaching centres that promise to groom their wards to grab highly paid jobs in the market. This tendency has divorced education from its basic purpose of developing complete individuals, enabled to maintain delicate balance between the individual needs and the collective good. Consequently, humanities, social sciences, music, art and architecture all are pushed to the back burner. If the school system is going to be in shambles, it is futile to stake high hopes from the institutions of higher learning, whether in the private or public sector.


Education system cannot be imported as it is a historical process of cultural evolution and not limited to technical expertise. Therefore, instead of running to the West to meet our educational needs we have to overhaul our own education system right from the top to the bottom. There is no dearth of talent, will and human resources within the country. The real challenge is how to tap them in the best interests of the people.


The writer is a Professor, Department of Sociology, Panjab University, Chandigarh








On the one hand the government is trying that justice is delivered in the Bhopal gas tragedy even after 26 years, on the other hand it is all set to pass the Nuclear Liability Bill that is soft on safety aspects. There has been a lot of debate on the repercussions of passing the Bill in its present form.


The Bill decides who would be held "liable" in case of a nuclear disaster. US firms are ready to erect nuclear plants and eagerly await the Bill is passed by Parliament. The Bill makes the victims literally handicapped in case of a nuclear disaster as it limits them to file claims only before the compensation commission rather than courts and no appeals are to be taken up beyond 10 years.


Another objectionable point in the Bill is that the foreigner reactor supplier has no legal liability even if it supplies faulty equipment. This shows that the government has not learnt any lessons.


The chairman and CEO of the Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, was let off by the Indian government. He had addressed the US Congress on December 14, 1984, stressing the company's "commitment to safety" and promised that a similar accident would not happen again. To ensure justice the Indian government passed the Bhopal Gas Leak Act in March 1985. However, no action has yet been taken against Anderson. He was arrested and released on bail in Bhopal on December 7, 1984, six hours after the arrest. He was then flown out of Bhopal on a government plane to Delhi from where he fled the country.


When the industrial catastrophe took place in 1984 at the UCIL pesticide plant the government was not prepared to tackle such a disaster. Twenty-six years since then, the government is till not ready to tackle a tragedy similar to the one that took place in Bhopal. At that time UCIL was an Indian subsidiary of the US Company Union Carbide Corporation (UCC).


We are again ready to sign the Bill with the minimal liability in case of a disaster on the companies that will erect nuclear power plants here. The Government of India is yet to learn from its mistakes. Barely any preventive measures have been taken in 26 years. The Nuclear Liability Bill doesn't hold the foreign equipment suppliers liable to the extent desirable.


The financial liability in case of a nuclear accident is about Rs 2142.85 crore. Out of this the liability of an Indian operator of a nuclear plant like the Nuclear Power Corporation of India is fixed at just Rs 500 crore. The balannce of Rs 1,642 crore is to be paid by the government (read the tax payers) while the Bill exempts foreign suppliers from nuclear reactors of legal liability even if they provide faulty equipment.


The victims of the Bhopal tragedy are yet to get relief and the government is still to prepare itself for such industrial disasters and we are signing the N-Bill. In fact, the Paris and Vienna nuclear liability conventions provide better protection to victims in case of a nuclear accident.


Since the day the gas leaked, that is, the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984, the victims have been running from pillar to post for justice. Pronouncing the judgment the court imposed a two-year imprisonment on those who were responsible for the deaths of thousands of persons. If the imprisonment under various other Sections is totalled it comes to four years nine months. However, the judge has stated that the sentence runs concurrently, making it to two years.


As per Section 31 of the Cr. PC, the normal rule is that punishments run one after the other "unless the court directs that such punishments shall run concurrently." With the passage of time, however, it appears that the "normal rule" has become an "exception" and the "exception" has become "the rule".








Union Social Justice Minister Mukul Wasnik is a busy man these days. Appointed the new AICC general secretary in charge of poll-bound Bihar, he has his hands full with political engagements. But despite his schedules, the minister exhibited unusual promptness in damage control the other day when six disability rights leaders from across the country camped outside the Shastri Bhavan compound which houses the office of the Social Justice Minister, among other social sector ministry offices.

They were on an indefinite hunger strike to protest the non-inclusion of the disabled in the government appointed committee to rework the obsolete disability law of 1995. Gathered at the entrance to the Bhavan, the leaders gave bytes to all TV and print reporters who came by. They were so strategically located, no one could miss them. An embarrassed Wasnik was quick to concede to the protestors' demand of including the disabled nominees in the government panel. The irony, however, is this – for over a week before he granted the concession, the minister had been looking the other way. As one disabled activist put it, "Politicians can ignore issues only as long as such issues don't affect their image."


Only in Patna


However much the media might try to sell Bihar as the new happening place, in essence Patna and the good people of Bihar remain the same old laid-back lot, taking all the time to react to anything, except say politics. For all the development Nitish Kumar and his deputy Sushil Modi may claim, the place is as sleepy as it has always been before Lalu Prasad came into the picture and much after he is out of reckoning.


The best hotels are rather untidy, the crockery not up to the mark except that the tariff is no less than that in any other state capital. The taxi driver takes his time preparing his 'khaini' while you may be sweating inside waiting for the vehicle to move. The room service is equally tardy and leisurely in best of the hotels. But there is also a positive side to this rather laid-back non-competitive side of the city and its dwellers. Can one imagine a posh hotel offering the services of its business centre completely free of charge to its occupants? This does not happen in Delhi, Mumbai or Ahmedabad. It happens only in Patna.


Come clean: SC

Think twice before approaching high courts with unclean hands! When a person approaches a court, he should go "not only with clean hands but also with a clean mind, a clean heart and a clean objective," a Vacation Bench of Justices BS Chauhan and Swatanter Kumar ruled in a verdict recently.


  What prompted the SC to make the remark was the failure of a statutory authority and other individual litigants in a case to disclose to the HC concerned the fact that the land in dispute fell in the commercial category, and not in a residential area. The apex court felt this amounted to committing criminal contempt of court as the parties succeeded in misleading the HC by not disclosing the true facts. It, however, clarified that it did not intend to initiate contempt proceedings as it involved wasting the court's time!


Contributed by Aditi Tandon, Faraz Ahmad & R Sedhuraman









Have you ever looked carefully at the little fruit shop jutting impossibly out of the corner down your street ? Or the paan wala perching precariously on a tiny piece of real estate sandwiched between a bus-stop and a compound wall? Or the condensed universe of a cobbler in a tiny crevice in an invisible part of the city seemingly impossible to inhabit? What unifies them all are the most astonishing design elements that have evolved over practice by the concerned artisans or street traders, who have managed to sculpt space for from thin air.


As often happens we take these things for granted – unless you are part of the design and architecture world in which learning from these practices makes you watch carefully. However few allow themselves to learn from these moments – because prejudices come in the way. Instead of appreciating the creative modes of survival we dismiss them in a larger story of encroachment. Even though everyone knows that the real culprit are often the extortionists who collect hafta and keep the hawkers on a tight leash of uncertainty.

 Once when you are driving down the empty roads (relatively speaking) late at night to the airport or railway station, pay some attention to these spaces – tiny cupboards hanging from walls and trees, tool-boxes tucked away between street corners and buildings and plastic bags containing entire worlds.

When Llorenc Boyer and George Carothers – urban practitioners working in the city – decided to follow up on suggestions about these amazing spaces and learn more from them, one was not quite sure where this would lead. But weeks of conversing with street vendors of all kinds, documenting and networking with them translated into a most unusual workshop series inaugurated last week in Dharavi. Christened the DIY Dukaan – ( Do It Yourself) the series saw residents like Shaukat Ali and other traders from the neighbourhood to improvise existing design needs responding to new ideas and suggestions.

What followed was a most intriguing day in which steel pallet racks, bamboos, pieces of plywood, wire meshes, nuts and bolts were brought together to morph into the most unexpected models for street vendors to use. What seemed to be in great demand were portable structures that could fold up so they could escape the municipal vans harassing their perfectly legal activity. Or ones they could store their stuff and take home in. Participants got to know that there are legally permitted structures measuring 2 by 3 feet which the BMC allows anyone to use to trade goods, provided the space is proportionate to public use of pavements.

Eventually the very act of taking that little structure seriously opened up many questions about trading on the street, balancing needs of public spaces and the creation of legitimate networks free from state extortion so that the city's millions of entrepreneurs can do their thing in a way that helps the city at large.

 At the end of that hot, humid but exhilarating day two neat little models emerged – one that was a simple foldable table that could be hung on shoulder straps and the other a box that could store material, open up into a structure to sell goods and which could grow into taller spaces allowing for protection from rain and sun.

 The sheer explosion of ideas and energy that preceded and followed the creation of these little artisanal wonders convinced all observers that this could well be the start of a new journey to make the city and its special needs the basis for practical and effective interventions. There are certainly many waiting for the next session in the workshop series!


Rahul Srivastava, a PUKAR associate and co-founder URBZ, specialises in urban issues, and writes on traffic, trains, illegal construction, Mithi, monsoon... in short all things that make Mumbai go grrr



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While it may appear paradoxical that at a time when the government is fighting inflationary pressures, it has chosen to hike the minimum support price (MSP) for foodgrains, the reality is that prevailing market prices for almost all foodgrains, oilseeds and cereals are way above even these newly announced prices. Therefore, despite the substantial hike in MSP for kharif crops, especially for pulses, the impact on both market and farmers' sentiment may not be significant. Prima facie, the increase in the support prices of pulses, ranging between Rs 380 and Rs 700 a quintal, is truly unprecedented. But this raise is on an absurdly low base, that is the last year's MSPs, and, therefore, still keeps the official prices far below the ruling market rates. Even after the hike, the MSPs of the three main kharif pulses — arhar (tur), moong and urad — range between Rs 2,900 and Rs 3,170 a quintal, while none of these pulses is being traded at below Rs 6,000 a quintal in wholesale markets.

The new prices will provide only cold comfort to farmers for another reason as well. There is hardly any arrangement for providing market support for pulses. While government agencies do not procure pulses, cooperative agencies, which have been entrusted with this task, do not have the required infrastructure or the wherewithal for the purpose. While pulses production is expected to go up this season, that would be mainly in response to the prevailing high market prices and anticipated normal monsoon rainfall. The impact of the hiked MSPs would be marginal. Where paddy, the main kharif crop, is concerned, though the MSP has technically been stepped up by Rs 50 a quintal, the effective procurement price remains at last year's level. All that has been done is to merge the bonus of Rs 50 a quintal, given in view of last year's drought, with the MSP. This, in fact, is being viewed as a signal to the farmers not to grow more rice, given the overflowing official stock-holding. Indeed, if the government thinks that such a move will help contain the prices of this staple cereal, it seems mistaken. For, thanks to its policy of open-ended procurement and levy on rice mills in the major rice-surplus states, it is again likely to end up cornering a bulk of the marketed rice surplus, needlessly constraining supplies to the open market. This may keep market prices high.

 The case of commercial kharif crops, chiefly oilseeds and pulses, is no different. While the prices of major kharif oilseeds have been jacked up by narrow margins, averaging 4 to 5 per cent, those of different varieties of cotton have been kept unchanged. The country's deficit in edible oils (read import dependence) is as high, if not more, as in pulses. Though it may be argued that, unlike pulses, edible oils are easily available in the international market and their prices, too, are currently ruling steady. Any setback to palm oil output in Malaysia and Indonesia, the main suppliers of this cheaper edible oil to India, can change the scenario. The need for raising the indigenous production of oilseeds is, therefore, as pressing as that for pulses. A short-sighted policy on this front is good neither for producers nor for consumers.








The national executive committee meeting of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Patna over the weekend, climaxing with a large public rally, was supposed to be a kind of coming out party for the junior partner in the Bihar government. In the event, it turned out to be a setback resulting from a self-goal. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who had taken pains to maintain the secular credentials of his Janata Dal (United) with the substantial Muslim population of Bihar by keeping Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi out of campaigning in the state (assembly elections are a few months down the line), was forced to react violently to newspaper advertisements picturing him and Mr Modi clasping hands as "unethical". The alliance is still there but with a greatly reduced legitimacy. The coalition partners will be quite embarrassed by each other on their way to the polling booth when they should have been basking in the glory of the turnaround in the state achieved by the government. In a way this is a further blow to the authority of the new BJP chief, Nitin Gadkari, who did not exactly cover himself with glory in the earlier fiasco over ministry-making in Jharkhand with the unpredictable JMM leader Shibu Soren. Dissident rumblings, no longer alien to the BJP which was once known for its discipline, are likely to grow in the absence of a firm hand on the rudder. All this raises doubts on the party's strategy for coming in from the cold. What is quite clear, however, is that Mr Modi remains the only "mass leader" yet in the BJP's emerging pantheon. If there is a "leader-in-waiting" who has not yet revealed her potential, it is Sushma Swaraj. She could yet be the Atal Behari Vajpayee to a future "Advani-like" Mr Modi. If the BJP's new duo is to be Ms Swaraj and Mr Modi, the party must evolve a strategy that will enable them to work together.


While the sorry state of the main Opposition party should have made the ruling Congress party confident of going ahead with a bold agenda, the irony is that its own mood is not very purposeful. Other coalition partners of the UPA, with their own agendas, are either routinely difficult, as is the Trinamool Congress, or a plain embarrassment, as are the DMK and the NCP. But that is not all. A party with a long history has perforce to carry a heavy baggage, causing ghosts from the past to come and haunt it periodically, as is now happening with the Bhopal gas tragedy. Thus, UPA-2 is in many ways a throwback to the Congress party of the Rajiv Gandhi era when it did not have to worry about parliamentary numbers but still lost sleep over factional feuding. The Congress party was then de facto, as the UPA is now de jure, a coalition of forces whose ability to move forward decisively had nothing to do with its formal licence to do so. Thus, despite its massive majority in Parliament, the Rajiv Gandhi government was unable to deliver much by way of economic performance and good governance. That danger faces UPA-2 as well.








The first week of June saw two major developments which may help determine the direction of India's foreign policy in the coming months and provide some room for manoeuvre in an uncertain world. The first Indo-US strategic dialogue in Washington saw the US pull out all the stops to assuage Indian anxieties over President Barack Obama's perceived lack of enthusiasm for the Indo-US strategic partnership. On the other side of the globe in Singapore, there was, almost simultaneously and perhaps not coincidentally, a very public spat between China and the US at the annual Shangrila Dialogue. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates decried Chinese reluctance to engage the US in a high-level defence dialogue and the lack of transparency in its security posture. China also found itself on the defensive on the issue of North Korea's alleged sinking of a South Korean naval vessel. The senior Chinese representative present, General Ma Xiaotian, responded with considerable rancour, decrying hostile actions by the US, in particular its arms sales to Taiwan.

In recent weeks, the US has been at pains to assert its role as a pre-eminent Asia-Pacific power. It has reaffirmed its intention not only to maintain, but also to upgrade the network of bilateral military alliances, security arrangements and partnerships that it has built up over the years in the region. Nevertheless, both the US and its allies and partners are mindful of and increasingly concerned over the steady build-up of Chinese naval forces in the region, and the recent propensity to use this new-found strength to pursue what China refers to as its "core interests". What is particularly worrisome to countries in South-East Asia is the recent addition of Chinese territorial claims in the South China sea to the category of core interests.

 It will be recalled that China had taken the initiative to allay concerns over its expansive territorial claims in the region by concluding a code of conduct in the South China sea with Asean in November 2002, in effect shelving territorial disputes in favour of joint collaboration and activities in the region. This phase is now over and there is pervasive concern over the ability of the existing US-led security architecture of being able to resist Chinese activism on this score, particularly when the US is still preoccupied with two ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its economy is still in deep recession. It is, therefore, no surprise that the countries in the region, in particular Asean, are pursuing their own version of a hedging strategy to safeguard their security as well as economic interests.

On the security side, the Asean search for an appropriate regional security architecture in which the regional association retains its pivotal role, has led to the establishment of the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus Eight (ADMM+8) forum, the first meeting of which will be convened in Hanoi in October this year. This forum will have Asean plus the six members of the East Asia Summit — China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand — and now the US and Russia as key stakeholders. This will be a much more compact body than the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) and will enable a more focused dialogue on regional security issues. What is not stated but is implicit in the proposal is the expectation that it will also provide a collective countervailing constraint on China.

Interestingly enough, there is a parallel move to expand the East Asia Summit to include the US and Russia as well. At a subsequent Asia-Pacific Round Table in Kuala Lumpur, there was much talk about the need to have an "open, inclusive and multi-layered" economic and security architecture in the region, thus echoing terms that India has been using for the past couple of years in its own policy articulations regarding the region. There were arguments why the US and Russia must be part of the East Asia Summit process and the US itself declared its interest in being a participant. Thus, in the days to come, we may well see the creation of a symmetrical economic counterpart to the ADMM+8.

For India, these developments should not only be welcomed but also be proactively promoted. They are entirely in line with our own oft-repeated preference for an open, multipolar, inclusive and loosely structured economic and security architecture in Asia. This suits our interests best without entangling the country in arrangements that may be seen as the containment of China. Therefore, India should welcome the ADMM+8 initiative and also pronounce itself in favour of both the US and Russia joining the East Asia Summit process. We should contribute to the ADMM+8 initiative by recommending cooperative measures to serve convergent interests such as maintaining the security of sea lanes, dealing with maritime emergencies and observing a code of conduct that reduces the risk of conflict among the stakeholders. This is critical to maintaining peace in a region that is already crowded with expanding naval forces and is witnessing increasing density in sea-borne commerce, particularly in the Indian Ocean theatre. Both at Singapore and at Kuala Lumpur, it was clear that India was seen as a major and essentially benign actor in the region but one which was not fully engaged with countries of the region, in particular the Asean. Even on the economic front, the general perception was that India was a potentially important partner but currently it ran way behind China. India's Look East policy must be refocused to take the latest developments into account and launch a much higher level of engagement with the region than has been the case so far. And that includes China.

The author was India's foreign secretary and until recently the prime minister's special envoy








CFO, TATA Capital Ltd

The move facilitates greater price discovery and will dampen market volatility, providing incentives for more retail participants to enter the market


The public listing of a company is perhaps its most significant rite of passage. It symbolises the willingness of its owners to allow others to participate in their journey of entrepreneurship, at a price. By accepting public money, a company binds itself to a governance code. One cannot make the argument that divesting just a smaller shareholding allows one to somehow operate within a more lax code of governance or to treat minority shareholders differently. Unfortunately, even with good intentions, minority public shareholders currently have virtually no say in the management of a large number of companies, as promoters who hold between 75 per cent and 90 per cent of the shares can effectively operate the company as they choose. It is in this light that the recent guidelines of the finance ministry which require companies to achieve a 25 per cent free float over a three-year timeframe should be viewed. There is now a greater likelihood that the majority promoters will operate within certain bounds of acceptable corporate behaviour. One is not suggesting that with 74 per cent, promoters will become lily-white overnight, but, undoubtedly, a 25 per cent public stake will be materially more influential than a 10 per cent public stake. This regulatory change, therefore, serves the cause of good governance.


In addition to the customary commercial arguments for increasing depth in the equity market, there is an overriding moral consideration that needs to be kept in mind for a more liquid equity market. India is moving to a phase where there is a general desire to enable consumption and investment as opposed to saving, something that is now reflected in a general desire to keep interest rates low. As a result, many people, especially pensioners, are now having to eschew fixed-income investments and look elsewhere for returns. While investors need to be willing to accept market risks, they need to be partly insulated from unnecessary risks caused by illiquid and shallow capital markets as is the case with many stocks today. The new rule provides greater price discovery and will dampen market volatility, thereby providing incentive for more retail participants to enter the market. This can only be beneficial to companies and investors.


One can argue that the government has been reasonable by providing three years to promoters to reduce the percentage of their shareholding. It is not easy to support the claim that by forcing promoters to dilutes their stakes, one is somehow depriving them of fair value. At some point over this period, the markets will presumably provide a reasonable valuation. What is perhaps true is that wealth created by means of an artificial scarcity in a stock will disappear. This will perhaps reduce the super-normal profits of the past, but it seems illogical to believe that in a savings-rich country, investors will turn away opportunities to make a 12-15 per cent equity return over a three-four year period, when fixed income instruments earn less than 8 per cent. The increased price discovery caused by a greater free float will mean that those seeking to make quick profits based on manipulation or scarcity will have to work harder to get the same. This cannot be a significant disadvantage when the converse is the creation of liquidity and better price discovery. Increasing the free float in three stages will reinforce the need to perform well. The second and third tranches of divestment will naturally take place at prices that reflect the performance of the first tranche. This is excellent from a governance perspective as it will induce discipline in the company's operations. If a share is originally over-priced, the public will have an opportunity in the near term to invest at a fair price.


In the light of all these benefits, the proposal would have to be hugely impractical. This is far from the case. Practicality can be questioned if the market does not have enough depth to pick up the newly created shares. This is a circular argument because one can only create depth in the market by having a substantial float available for people to acquire. While it may appear that the market may not be able to absorb all Rs 1,60,000 crore of offerings, what will really happen is that investors will divert their investments from the least attractive ones to better ones. The men will be separated from the boys, and that cannot be bad for the markets per se.


No doubt, like any regulatory change, this will also require various qualifications and perhaps some fine-tuning. However, for a country that is deeply starved of capital and is at the cusp of growth, any measure that improves liquidity, price discovery, depth in the market and governance can only be seen as highly desirable.


Abizer Diwanji

Executive Director, Corporate Finance, KPMG India


The move will work only if the right fiscal infrastructure is in place. Unless certain enabling conditions are present, the rule is impractical


Public listings have been a good avenue to raise capital, given the value discovery and liquidity that they bring, subject to certain enabling conditions. This would require listed companies to have diversified shareholdings through a higher public float as it would enhance transparency and accountability, enable value discovery and provide good exit options to investors. However, one needs to understand the kind of fiscal infrastructure needed to make this happen.


The government's move to raise public shareholding (rightly excluding American Depository Receipts) to 25 per cent for new issues and a gradual target of 25 per cent for listed companies should be seen from this perspective. But some introspection is necessary.


Indians basically invest most of their savings in bank deposits. But, given the capital market exposure norms of banks and life insurance companies, the amount that flows into the stock market is very low. For example, the cumulative deposit base (savings and term) of banks is around Rs 35,00,000 crore while the capital market exposure of all banks is a fraction of this: approximately Rs 21,000 crore in equities and Rs 42,000 crore in debentures. Life insurance companies have a cumulative premium income of Rs 2,22,000 crore. LIC, the largest insurer and the collector of the maximum renewal premiums (incremental investments), invests only Rs 55,000 crore of this in listed equities. Other insurance firms invest Rs 39,000 crore although the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority allows 60 per cent to be invested in equities. Mutual funds have an assets under management (AUM) of approximately Rs 74,000 crore, of which exposure to equities would be around Rs 40,000 crore, assuming that 60 per cent of premium is invested in equities. Accordingly, of the total savings of Rs 38,00,000 crore, only Rs 1,55,000 crore hits the equity markets. Most of the money available with public (or M3) is invested in corporate government debt.


The total market captialisation of the National Stock Exchange is approximately Rs 62,00,000 crore. Let's assume the Indian public float today is over 20 per cent and Rs 2,00,000 crore to Rs 3,00,000 crore is required just to fund existing listed companies at current capitalisation. In that case, we would need our capital market allocations to grow five times to be able to meet the exit norms along with incremental equity raising. By no means can we achieve that. An increase in banks' capital markets exposure may not help much but could prove risky for the banking system.


Mutual funds are struggling to garner AUM because of lack of incentives at the broker level and it may take some time before this situation improves. Foreign institutional investors, which dominate our markets, may not be the best way for incremental capital given that any global turmoil would impact our equity markets significantly as in 2008.


The need of the hour is to innovate to attract investors to equity markets through M3 allocations. We do not have to follow foreign regulation as our issues are different.


Mutual funds need a different outlook. A higher capital requirement for mutual funds would help give the requisite confidence to investors to attract funds. We should also consider bank deposits where funds are swiped into mutual funds daily or for fixed tenures. Such deposits should only use banks as agencies and hence not be part of banks capital market exposures (more like default swaps where banks maintain capital to protect investors).


Life insurance should be allowed to mature as an industry in order to get the much-needed long-term funds into the market. This, however, needs to be regularised through a pension rider.


Setting up of a sovereign fund to partly fund overseas and domestic businesses is important. Sovereign bonds to fund private sector equities would also be a good long-term source of capital. It needs to be run independently on commercial terms. This would provide the necessary capital for infrastructure as well as overseas growth for Indian companies.


Therefore, the 25 per cent public float move is not practical unless these measures are introduced. A series of regulatory initiatives is also necessary.


The author is also the head of financial services, KPMG India








The trend is too obvious for anyone to miss. Almost without exception, all ministers belonging to the non-Congress coalition partners of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government have been behaving as though they are a law unto themselves. Worse, they appear to be unmindful of their failings as ministers and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has invariably treated them with kid gloves.

 Take for instance Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee. Her record of attendance at Cabinet meetings has been dismal. When she did attend the Cabinet meeting last Thursday, a few days after her party Trinamool Congress' thumping victory in the civic elections in West Bengal, she made sure that UPA's declared policy on disinvestment of government equity in public sector undertakings (PSUs) had some new hurdles to overcome.

Merchant bankers are a disappointed lot since even as late as Thursday morning, they were busy preparing for state-owned Coal India Limited's initial public offer, which was touted as one of the largest by any Indian company in recent months. For them, it is a loss of business and opportunity, but for the Indian economy, it is a bigger setback for obvious reasons. A day prior to the Cabinet's decision to defer the disinvestment move, the government had even announced its plan to mobilise Rs 1,50,000 crore through sale of its equity stake in PSUs over the next five years. With ministers like Mamata Banerjee around, such goals appear very distant.

Why should we talk only about Mamata Banerjee? Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is the agriculture minister, but it will be hard for anyone to list any meaningful and significant initiatives that Mr Pawar has launched for Indian agriculture in the last six years he has been in charge of the portfolio. There is a long list of pending reforms in the agriculture sector, but Mr Pawar is visible to the media more for his involvement in cricket than in agriculture. Yet, he continues to be a key minister in Dr Singh's Cabinet.

Praful Patel, also from Mr Pawar's party, began his tenure as the civil aviation minister with great promise. He initiated major reforms in the airport infrastructure sector, even though many of those moves were embroiled in controversy. However, he was solely responsible for the manner in which he mishandled state-owned civil aviation companies — Indian Airlines and Air India. He may blame the government's reluctance to take bold steps such as privatisation, as recommended by him, but at the end of the day, he failed to find a viable solution to the problems that engulfed the two companies.

Communications Minister A Raja of the DMK has also been involved in many controversies over the manner in which the telecom sector got spectrum and licences. The prime minister recently admitted that government agencies were investigating the manner in which the communications ministry took certain decisions on the allocation of licences and spectrum. That was not a clean chit to Mr Raja. Nor did it show that the prime minister was unhappy with his colleague's performance and conduct.

Indeed, Dr Singh's soft approach towards ministers belonging to smaller parties in the UPA has become evident on more than one occasion. And this soft approach has been attributed to the Congress' political need for keeping them in good humour and retaining their support to continue running the government. In other words, the Left is no longer part of the UPA in its second term, but there are other alliance partners like the Trinamool Congress, NCP and DMK, who continue to remind Dr Singh of the Left and pose hurdles in the effective and efficient performance of his government.

Why do the prime minister, and indeed the top Congress leadership, tolerate the tantrums of ministers from smaller coalition partners? If Shashi Tharoor could be sacrificed for his involvement in the controversy over the Indian Premier League, why shouldn't Dr Singh drop from his Cabinet a few of his troublesome and ineffective ministers from smaller coalition partners, or at least force those coalition partners to nominate alternative names?

Senior Congress leaders have an explanation for the continued tolerance of such behaviour of non-Congress ministers of the UPA. The Congress has only around 206 seats in the Lok Sabha. If the UPA government has to survive, it has to retain the support of the smaller coalition partners. If the non-Congress ministers fail to perform and that becomes obvious, the Congress party can go around and seek a larger mandate from the people in the next elections, arguing that it can offer better governance if it has the required majority in the Lok Sabha to form the government on its own.

In other words, allowing the inefficient ministers from smaller coalition partners to remain ineffective may be a subtle message to the electorate that if it wants better governance, it should send an adequate number of Congress members to the Lok Sabha to obviate the party's need for stitching together a coalition. This would also eliminate the Congress need for depending on smaller parties for its survival and even tolerating their ineffective functioning and tantrums. This may sound a reasonable electoral strategy. But in politics, executing a strategy is as important as conceiving one. That is the real big challenge for the Congress party.







Victims of crime or rash and negligent acts are often so consumed with rage that they cry for the blood of the guilty and fail to rebuild their lives. The judges in criminal courts also suffer from tunnel vision and focus on the sentence to be given to the offender. If they are sensitive, they can award compensation to the victim while sentencing the lawbreaker. But it is rarely done, and the Supreme Court has often wondered why.

The issue came up before the Supreme Court last month in a case of bounced cheque (K A Abbas vs Sabu Joseph). The person who issued the cheque without sufficient balance in the bank account was held guilty under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act. He was sentenced to simple imprisonment for one year. In addition, the magistrate directed him to pay Rs 5 lakh as compensation to the payee. This power is conferred on the magistrate under Section 357(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code. The convict appealed to the Supreme Court but did not succeed. bh bn

The magistrate in this case used the power bestowed on criminal courts but scarcely used. The authority has been there since 1955 when the code was amended. However, the usual sentence for a crime is imprisonment and a meagre fine. In the Bhopal gas tragedy case, the guilty were given the same kind of sentence. But instead of a fine, the court could order payment of compensation to the victims. Though this may not be practical in a mass disaster case, in a large number of cases, an equitable sentence would be short imprisonment plus heavy compensation to the victim of the crime.

The relevant rule says that "when a court imposes sentence, of which fine does not form a part, the court may, when passing judgment, order the accused person to pay, by way of compensation, such amount as may be specified in the order to the person who has suffered any loss or injury".

The joint select committee, which recommended this amendment to the criminal procedure, argued thus for this provision: "When death has been caused to a person, it is but proper that his heirs and dependents should be compensated in suitable cases by the person responsible for it. This will result in settling the claim once for all by doing away with the need for further claim to a civil court and avoid needless worry and expense to both sides."

Lawmakers have left the amount of compensation open to variations. Though there is a limit on the power of magistrates to impose fine, sometimes limited to a few thousand rupees, if they prefer to order compensation, there is no ceiling on the amount. They can go by the nature and degree of injuries caused by the crime and the capacity of the offender to pay. A top executive directly in charge of a factory can be fastened with heavy liability if noxious gas or effluents escape from the unit and cause death and destruction in the neighbourhood.

At least in two leading judgments, the Supreme Court has called upon criminal courts in the country to make "liberal use" of the provision to help the victims restart their lives. In the Hari Singh vs Sukhbir Singh (1989) case, the court stated that "the quantum of compensation may be determined by taking into account the nature of the crime, the justness of claim and the ability of the accused person to pay. If there are more than one accused, they may be asked to pay in equal terms unless their capacity to pay varies considerably". The same sentiments were reiterated in the Suganthi Suresh Kumar vs Jagdeeshan (2002) case.

In the latest case of invalid cheque, the Supreme Court further explained: "Sometimes the situation becomes such that no purpose is served by keeping a person behind the bars. Instead, directing the accused to pay an amount of compensation to the victim or the affected party can ensure delivery of total justice."

The jails in this country are overflowing, with each one taking more than twice its original capacity. Imprisonment in such inhuman conditions would be counterproductive. The government recently released thousands of prisoners, mainly "under trials", because the prisons just could not take them. Therefore, the courts should exercise their discretionary powers to find alternative sentences which would help the victims and society in general. Criminal courts should take the call of the Supreme Court and impose shorter jail terms and heavier compensation which would help the victims of crime.

In several judgments in the past, the Supreme Court had recommended open jails, yoga and community service to reform criminals. Recently, the Delhi High Court imposed a quota of free legal aid cases on the lawyers who went on illegal strike. Instead of blindly sending convicts to long jail terms, it will be more constructive if they are ordered to pay back what they owe to the victims and society.







The revised direct taxes code released by the government for a fresh round of public comment departs from the original draft in many ways that can be consolidated in one phrase: back to square one. Well, almost.

The direct taxes code (DTC) was proposed not just to replace the cumbersome income tax law with its thousands of amendments with a clean new law, but also to embody a principle: low rates of tax on the broadest possible tax base, so that the burden on individual taxpaying entities is low even as the government cumulatively raises the resources it needs to govern the country well.

The revised tax code is a workman like construct with no time for principle. The result is that many of the existing exemptions that keep the tax base low and restrict tax revenues to around 12% of GDP for the Centre will continue.

One consequence of this switch to pragmatism from principle is that the tax base would shrink from the comprehensive level envisaged in the DTC, making it virtually impossible for the government to retain the reduced rate of corporate tax (25%) proposed in the Code or the significant hike proposed in the threshold levels of personal income for the progressive rates of tax to kick in.

The net result would be increase the tax burden on individuals from the level proposed in the DTC, that is, for the individuals who do pay their taxes. It is noteworthy that many of the radical suggestions of the DTC have been abandoned on the ground that these would be difficult to administer.

Such official fear of administrative complexity is a slap in the face of India's vaunted capability in information technology.

The DTC had envisaged that income tax would meet information technology on the same paradigm-shifting scale as on which holding and trading securities had met information technology when the United Front government, with P Chidambaram as finance minister, had mandated dematerialisation of all shares.

That said, some of the proposals of the DTC did deserve reconsideration. While the tax on assets had been welcomed in principled at the outset, its implications were unsettling from many dimensions. There is still scope to clarify matters before the code is finalised







The High-Level Co-ordination Committee on Financial Markets is reportedly toying with manmdatory disclosure of loan defaults by listed companies. The move, if approved, is of a piece with the broad trend of ensuring greater transparency, especially for publicly listed companies. To that extent, the move will empower both potential investors and existing shareholders.

Naming and shaming is a powerful tool used in many countries; not only in the context of companies seeking to raise money from the public even while defaulting in paying their bank loans, but also public figures!

In the US, for instance, Regulation FD (Fair Disclosure) compels companies to make public any material non-public information given to securities industries professionals or shareholders.

Thus, selective disclosure is an absolute 'no-no.' In India, however, public disclosure is mandated only where a suit has been filed in court for non-payment of dues. Information on defaulting companies was, till fairly recently, known only to the financing bank and, perhaps, the RBI in the case of large loans.

Others were largely in the dark. Fortunately, that position has now changed. Following the establishment of Cibil, India's first credit information bureau, reasonably comprehensive data on the credit history of borrowers is available.

However, this information can be accessed only by member banks and financial institutions, state financial corporations, nonbanking financial companies, housing finance companies and credit card companies.

This veil of secrecy would be lifted if companies are compelled to disclose whether they have defaulted on their bank dues as part of their public prospectus.

Potential/existing investors would be better placed to decide whether they wish to invest/stay invested in such a company. This paper supports any move to empower investors. The present mandate to disclose debt default does exactly that. Raise a toast!







The World Cup 2010 has been taken over by a onemetre-long blowing horn called the vuvuzela. With thousands of South African spectators blowing vuvuzelas in every stadium where World Cup matches are played, the cacophony has been compared with the stampeding of noisy elephants, the deafening swarm of locusts and the angry buzzing of a billion bees.

Leading players like Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, Argentina's Lionel Messi and Spain's Xabi Alonso have stated that the non-stop noise makes it difficult for teams to concentrate and communicate. The noise has been described as irritating by matchcommentators like BBC's Ian Dixon who covered England's opening tie against the USA.

Dutch team manager Marwijk has called for a ban on vuvuzelas. French captain Evra has attributed his side's poor performance in its opening game against Uruguay to the vuvuzela.

However, the international football federation (Fifa) has refused to ban the vuvuzela. Fifa president Sepp Blatter says that the blowing of the vuvuzela is an integral part of South Africa's football-watching culture. South American fans, particularly in Brazil which has won the World Cup five times, also blow something similar to the vuvuzela, called the corneta.

It has even acquired overtones of voodoo, with South African football fans blowing vuvuzelas to finish the opposition! German engineer Clemence Schlieweis says that fans watching telecasts of games can cancel out the noise of the vuvuzelas by creating a sound wave of the same amplitude but with the peaks and troughs reversed and playing it in an MP3-file form on a computer or iPod kept near the TV.

However, the British newspaper The Telegraphhas quoted University of Salford professor of acoustics Trevor Cox as saying that this might not work since the thousands of vuvuzelas are not being blown at exactly the same time. Meanwhile, back in South Africa, manufacturers of plastic vuvuzelas are now also selling earplugs. Simultaneously marketing both the problem and the solution is good business, if nothing else!







An interview with David Bohm, the renowned quantum physicist, began with a quotation from his mentor Robert Oppenheimer. This was many moons ago, when your columnist worked with a science monthly produced by The Times of India group.

For Oppenheimer mankind's fall from grace did not happen in Biblical times. It occurred during the Manhattan Project, which he headed to build the world's first atom bomb.

The US military referred to the bomb , later used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, as a 'fission device' . But Oppenheimer was too clear-headed to be led by euphemisms .

Hence his famous quote: "Physicists have now known sin." That served as an epigraph to our encounter with Bohm (who began his brilliant but blighted career as Oppenheimer's graduate student) in the columns of Science Today. He was interviewed by Dipankar Home, then a promising young theoretical physicist, in Urbino, Italy, on the eve of a historic conference to celebrate 50 years of the Einstein-Bohr debate on quantum mechanics.

When Home asked Bohm (no pun intended) if Oppenheimer ever talked about his involvement with the atom bomb project, the physicist replied, "We never discussed this directly... He got interested in politics because of Hitler.

He felt that it was most important to combat the menace posed by Hitler; he was convinced that western civilisation would be destroyed if Hitler won; so when the Manhattan Project started , he felt the (only) effective way to combat Hitler would be to fabricate the atom bomb, because he was genuinely apprehensive that Hitler would get it first."

In Oppenheimer's own mind, the moral dilemma of fighting a just war (dharam yudh) with an unconscionably destructive device was exactly similar to the agony Prince Arjuna faced at Kurkukshektra.

He had learnt Sanskrit at Berkeley and read the Bhagavad Gita, which he later cited as one of the most influential books that shaped his life's philosophy.

While witnessing the world's first man-made nuclear explosion at a site he called Trinity, from one of John Donne's Holy Sonnets , he recalled a verse from the Gita, "If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky..." He later said he thought of Krishna's words "I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds," to Arjuna.

Like the latter, he had to choose whether to fight or flee. He chose like Faust, but to fight Satan.








V Anantharaman, MD & Senior Adviser, Credit Suisse

The recent amendment to the Securities Contracts (Regulation) Rules that requires all listed companies to have a minimum 25% float is a positive move in the long run. Investors will benefit from increased liquidity.

The move will reduce the scope for price manipulation and improve market governance. It will also depoliticise the divestment process and help lower the country's fiscal deficit. Another spinoff, particularly for the mid-cap segment, is that if a stock is relatively liquid, it would make it easier to raise more capital from the market as investors are comfortable about their ability to enter and exit the stock. However, implementing the new rules is challenging because of several factors.

The supply of paper over the next 12 months, following the new rules, coupled with the existing backlog of equity issuance, would be more than twice the historical maximum equity issuance volume in India, recorded in 2007. What is more, market volatility could make it hard to attract investment in the amounts required and it would be unfair, even to minority shareholders, to force dilution at sharp discounts.

The government should consider a few aspects when it reviews the rules. One, companies with market caps higher than a certain level could be allowed a longer timeframe to meet the 25% threshold.

This would mitigate the supply issue. Two, the timing of dilution or fresh external capital infusion could be determined at managements' discretion rather than forcing 5% each year. This would provide a larger window for companies to transact at better terms than in a forced sale.

Three, ADRs and GDRs may be considered as part of the 25% public float. Four, diluted ownership may be considered in cases where there are Esops and FCCBs outstanding. In parallel, the existing delisting guidelines should be reviewed.

The reverse book-build method of price discovery in a delisting tender offer invariably sees arbitrageurs step in and make it prohibitively expensive for companies to delist. Along with the minimum float requirement of 25%, a fixed-price tender offer for delisting appears a practical step forward for the capital markets.








D R Mehta, Former Chairman, SEBI

The amendment to the Securities Contracts (Regulation) Rules, 1957, requiring a minimum threshold level of 25% for public holding in listed companies is a welcome and positive move.

It will increase the floating stock, deepen the market, making public limited companies more public and reduce scope for price manipulation. For companies with a small shareholding, the amendment should not pose an operational problem. For large non-PSU companies also, there may be no real difficulty.

The general impression is that even when the promoters of such companies have substantially increased their holdings, part of this has been done through their associates, not covered by promoter's definition.

This phenomenon is specific to India only. The change in the rule, therefore, is apt. However, in some jurisdictions across the world, the emphasis is on the number rather than the percentage of shares for public.

But, at the present level of development of market in India, the changed rule should be applied to non-PSUs even if some promoters get hit. It seems that the rule is aimed at PSUs; they should become more public and the government should get more money for budget.

But the real problem will arise in the case of the large listed PSUs with huge capital, mostly with the government. If they offload their shares to comply with this rule, the valuation may be questioned, leading to inquiries. On the other hand, if follow-on offers are made, the sizes of the issues may be unwieldy and the total amount to be raised of all PSUs may be beyond the capacity of the market to digest.

Further, the required repeated yearly offers for sale would generally reduce the earnings per share, creating a disincentive even from the first issue. Many first and later issues under the changed rule may even fail.

The government could modify the changed rule so that more time is given to PSUs and repeated offers are not made mandatory. The PSUs may also like to give employee stock option, by making employees part-owners. This will improve industrial relations and will also be partly in compliance with the rules.








Earlier this year, IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard suggested that countries should raise their inflation targets from a typical 2% per year to 4%. His suggestion was greeted with hoots of derision.

Yet in a world where there are no good solutions to the European debt crisis, inflation could be the best of bad alternatives.

Blanchard said that if 2% inflation was the norm, and interest rates were around the same level, central banks could not cut interest rates by more than 2% in a slump: they could not go below zero.

This greatly restricted the power of monetary policy as an anti-recession tool. Besides, it was politically difficult to cut wages in a highly indebted country requiring structural adjustment, but a wage freeze was easier. If 2% inflation was the norm, then a wage freeze would lower real wages by only 2%.

But if 4% inflation was the norm, a wage freeze would cut real wages very substantially and produce sizable structural adjustment. The Sukhamoy Chakravarty Committee in 1985 came out with the same 4% inflation target for India. Chakravarty did not worry that the RBI would not be able to cut interest rates below 0%.

But he did emphasise that 4% inflation was "acceptable", providing flexibility for relative prices and wages to adjust without causing a backlash from voters or trade unions. Blanchard's proposal to raise the western inflation target from 2% to 4% was regarded as brave by some.

Yet he funked highlighting one of the most important advantages of 4% inflation: it will slash the real debt of countries with excessive debt overhangs, and could help revive growth sustainably. Europe, Greece, Italy and Belgium already have national debts exceeding 100% of GDP, and so does Japan.

Ireland and Portugal are not far behind, and Britain's debt is galloping upward. Their debt/GDP ratios look like rising much higher, given the grim outlook for European growth (and hence government revenues), and the huge welfare entitlements they are politically committed to.

The interest rate on their debt is also rising fast. Markets have already concluded that Greek default is inevitable. The danger is that other European countries could also been seen to be headed for default, leading to a major new financial crisis.

Blanchard and other analysts now regret that European countries did not run budget surpluses in the preceding boom years, creating fiscal headroom for deficits in the inevitable recession that followed. But that's crying over spilt milk. How does one proceed forward from the existing sorry mess? There are five ways forward. One is a grim austerity drive that slashes public spending, inducing a deep recession.

This can in the medium run reduce the debt/GDP ratio, but in the short-run may increase it as the recession sinks tax revenue. The second option is debt default. Bondholders will have to take a "haircut". This can take many forms — lower interest rates, longer maturities, or a reduction in redemption value.

All haircuts cut real debt. The big disadvantage is that the banks holding government bonds will suffer a sharp fall in assets, making many technically insolvent and in dire need of additional capital to survive. THEthird option is devaluation. This reduces the real value of bonds held by foreigners.

However, devaluation will not reduce real debt if the bonds are owned entirely (or almost entirely) by local institutions and investors. Nor will devaluation work if the debts are denominated in euros or dollars, as is the case with most European countries.

In such cases devaluation will increase the nominal value of debt as fast as it increases nominal GDP. The fourth option is for governments to force their banks to hold a big chunk of their deposits in gilts. India already does this through its statutory liquidity ratio.

In the West this would be condemned as financial repression, that subsidises government debt. It will be a hidden form of taxation that squeezes lending to the productive sectors of the economy. This could worsen rather than revive a recessionary economy in the short run.

The fifth option is inflation, which cuts the real value of debts. This will be a haircut by other means. A temporary surge in inflation may not have too much effect, but a doubling of long-term inflationary expectations from 2% to 4% will hugely depress real debt.

Inflation is often called hidden taxation, but it is more than that — it benefits all debtors, private or public, at the expense of all creditors. It temporarily boosts profitability, and so can help revive a flagging economy, and revive tax revenues. Now, inflation is not a panacea for all ills.

In the 1970s, many governments sought to use inflation to accelerate growth, and instead got stagflation (high inflation without growth). The poor people with fixed incomes (like retirees with fixed pensions) suffered most. Rising inflationary expectation kept raising wages and interest rates, not output.

This is what finally led to the Reagan-Thatcher war on inflation, going for sky-high interest rates and a deep recession to squeeze inflationary expectations out of the economy.

Most people said "never again" to inflation as a recipe for growth. However, the stagflation of the 1970s was due in substantial measure to the power of trade unions, which could bargain for higher and higher wages as inflationary expectations rose.

That was possible because import barriers were still substantial in those days, and foreign competition did not wipe out industries with high wages. But trade unions have now lost their old power because of freer trade and cheap imports. To that extent, inflation has greater potential to raise growth rather than prices.

It would not help if inflation targets were raised first to 4%, then to 6%, and then to 8% in an unending search for haircuts.

All creditors would simply disappear. But a once-and-for-all rise in inflation targets in the West to 4% might be the least risky of the five ways forward. It is by no means an ideal solution. But neither are the alternatives.








Revenue secretary Sunil Mitra is a satisfied man . Having kept his word on finalising the DTC draft within the month, he is sure that this time around stakeholders will be a happier lot. And the bill will be introduced in the monsoon session. He spoke to ET explaining the finer details. Excerpts:

What were the main objectives behind redrafting the direct tax code?

We went through feedbacks from all stakeholders before zeroeing in on the relevant changes. The proposed changes are primarily in the minimum alternative tax, capital gains, SEZs and exemption on savings .

What guided the changes?

It is difficult to have a common principle behind the changes because each of them relate to different stakeholders. What is important is that the aim was to make it easy, transparent so that it is easily compliant. Coupled with the GST, this will give us a huge upside and we should have a buoyant revenue system.

Why are you reverting to MAT on book profits?

There were several objections to moving MAT on asset base and we were convinced that there is a case in putting the base on book profits instead of asset base. The rate has not been specified. This is the basis on which MAT will be applied. But the final rate will depend on the legislation.

Laws are made in context of socio-economic consensus right so laws have provisions for amendment by people who approve of legislation. Various rates, for instance have been changed over time because the economy is evolving. So theres nothing saying that there'll be one fixed rate. The earlier proposal of 2% on gross assets too was only an illustration and was not.cast in stone. This should come as a major tax relief to India Inc as the proposal on MAT was one of the biggest bones of contention.

You have decided to continue with the exemptions for the existing SEZs.

Yes. This was in line with the push to promote investment led growth. Investments that come in SEZs have come in with the assumption of a certain tax structure. Existing plants until March that would number 111 to be precise would get these benefits. Future investments in these SEZs or new units in these zones too would be given the same tax exemption.

On exemption on savings...

We have decided to go back on the EEE regime where all redemption on savings would be given the tax relief. But there is rider. We have restricted this exemption to a smaller number of instruments. For instance provident fund, pure life instruments etc. Its for sure but there is a rider. The rider is that the products will be fewer.

If you are talking about the tax of savings it would be the GFF, the PFF, recognized provident funds, pension scheme, pure life insurance products, annuity schemes, also maybe other schemes that have operated would not qualify. But it also clarifies that investments made before the date of commencement of the direct access code in instruments that enjoy EEE method of taxation would continue. So its prospective in nature and not retrospective. The other upside for the individual tax payer is that the tax waiver on housing loans for Rs 1.5 lakh continues.







With inflation inching up again, there is pressure on the central bank to act. At the same time sections in the government are outspoken that an increase in interest rates would imperil growth.

But Reserve Bank of India deputy governor Subir Gokarn makes a strong case for getting out of the accommodative phase. According to him, countries like India where growth has returned need to normalise their monetary policy fast in order to create the capacity to deal with the next crisis.

In an interview with ET, Mr Gokarn speaks of how the pressure on liquidity is likely to be a temporary one and why capital flows are not as big a concern given that the absorptive capacity of the economy has increased substantially since 2007.

The latest set of economic data and the higher-than-expected inflation number seems to reinforce the belief that there is not going to be a pause on rate hikes.

Well, I think the direction of policy has already been established. We can go back to last October, when we started with the rollback of some special measures to deal with the crisis. Starting in January, we used some conventional instruments- we have effected two interest rate and two cash reserve ratio (CRR) hikes.

All of this is consistent with the gathering growth momentum as well as the increasing inflationary pressures. So, the direction of policy is very clear and it is really a question of pacing. The pacing is determined both by internal and external factors. On the internal front, we are watching to see how stiff the inflationary pressure is versus the growth momentum.

On the external front, there are concerns about developments in the global economy and volatility in the global financial markets and what impact these will have on the real economy. That's clearly a risk factor, as we have seen that global instability can act through various channels. And, right now, the particular concern is about capital movements and their impact on liquidity. So, that is one more factor we have to keep in mind when we chart the course of monetary policy.

Are we back on the normalisation path?

We are very much back on the normalisation path. Even now, we recognise the fact that the actions taken during the crisis took our policy position far down the road and the current level of the policy instruments is not fully aligned with the state of the economy. So, there is definitely a normalisation motive in our policy actions as well.

There has been a fair amount of criticism that the Indian central bank has been behind the curve on the interest rate cycle.

When you use the term like a curve, there is sort of a predictability or determinism to the path. If everything was hunky dory globally and the recovery was going as it is, we might have had a stronger justification for acting more firmly and our actions would have reflected them.

But, while the domestic economy is moving along quite well, the external situation is still quite fragile. One of the constraints that we operate under is that once the policy course has begun, we would not like to t reverse it. Unless we are managing a crisis, this is very damaging in terms of the signals being sent to the markets, to companies, to individuals.

So, we have to be careful when we act, and there is a danger in overreacting. With the kind of uncertainty that we still see, we prefer to be more cautious. The term `baby steps' is being used to describe this process. So, I certainly don't accept that we still are behind the curve because I have not seen the curve as a curve. The curve is actually reflective of a range of scenarios and we try and account for all the risks.

Will domestic factors take precedence over external factors in determining the course of policy action?

I think it is a question of balancing things. It is not as though we have not taken steps in response to domestic recovery and inflationary pressures. The question is of magnitude and whether the domestic momentum is so strong that external factors don't matter at all. I think we are not at that point as yet.

As we have seen in 2008, which is a scenario that shapes our thinking and which will continue to shape our thinking for a long time, the rapid drying up of liquidity can be quite disruptive. That risk still exists. Massive capital outflows are a risk. They may be a relatively low probability event, but they are still a risk. Now in the domestic economy, we are seeing unanticipated claims on liquidity through auction realisations.

That's another source of pressure. When we balance all these things, the intention of being non-disruptive is very important. We have to balance out our actions on rates and liquidity, taking into account all of these factors. So normalisation, the recognition that the recovery is consolidating, the recognition that inflationary pressures are mounting are all inputs into our calculation.

There has been criticism regarding the failure of fiscal and monetary policy makers to combat inflation. When do you think prices will cool off?

I think the headline inflation is really a function of how food prices behave over the next few months and that, in turn, is contingent on how the monsoon performs. I have no claims to meteorological expertise. I just go by what the Indian Meterological Department (IMD) and what other forecasters are saying.

As of now, there is a view that the monsoon will be normal. I think by mid-July, we will have a sense of what economic impact the monsoon will have on food prices. So, over the next four-six weeks, we will be able to make a fair assessment of food prices.

That is one side of the story over which we essentially have no control. The other side of it is demand pull or core inflation, which has clearly been rising and our actions taken from January onwards have been consistent with that rise. Monetary policy acts with a lag. So, we would expect that as the lag effect starts to work, this number would also start coming down without doing any harm to the recovery. If the monsoon is normal, these two trends will reinforce each other.

Based on this, we see a 5.5 per cent number on overall inflation by the year-end. But, if either of these trends behave differently from our expectation, that may cause us to change our forecast either up or down. In food, clearly it is the next four-six weeks that are critical.

Looking at the recent data which includes the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) numbers, the last quarter gross domestic product (GDP) figures and latest inflation figure -- is it a given that the central bank will revise its outlook on growth and inflation.

We do that on a quarterly basis. There is a fairly elaborate process that we follow on a quarterly cycle. We go through the whole analytical exercise once every three months and, if we feel the need to revise the numbers, we will do that in July. But, it is too early to say as the process has not begun yet.

After the liquidity squeeze some time ago when the 3G auction payment took place, there is a similar scenario now playing out. Are the concerns relating to such a squeeze overblown and how does RBI propose to address this?

Pressure always comes from unanticipated developments. The quantum of money that the auctions raised was far above what was budgeted. The budget number went into the government borrowing schedule. The actual realisations have changed the balance and we are now in conversation with the government to make sure that this does not translate into significant pressures.

This is going to be a temporary situation in any case because the government is ultimately going to spend the money. It is just the lag between the pay-in and the pay-out, but during the lag, because this situation was unanticipated, it could create some pressures. We are aware of this and we will make sure that no undue pressure develops.

When do you reckon that the government will start spending again?

I don't think this lag will be more than a few weeks. Ultimately, the government has a spending programme. Also it will spend the money in line with the programme. Obviously, the spending programme was calibrated to the budgeted schedule. Now, suddenly the extra sum has come in and it will take them some time to push it back into the system. But, it shouldn't be more than a few weeks at the most.

The government is now a recipient of a bonanza in terms of the higher-than-expected realisations from the 3G auction and WiMax receipts. Should these receipts be used for pruning fiscal deficit further or should it be channelised for investment?

That's a call that the government should take. Speaking from an analytical perspective, given the kind of commitment that the finance minister has shown towards fiscal consolidation, using this to speed up that process will add credibility and will appease many of the concerns that people have about the difficulty of bringing deficit under control.

But, that has to be balanced against other compulsions which will require large commitments to programmes that so far have been suffering from under-commitment. Those are the decisions that the finance ministry has to take. From our side, we obviously will have to factor in whatever decisions the ministry takes into our calculations and manage this liquidity versus growth and inflation balance as quickly as we can.

Will the uncertainty caused by the sovereign debt crisis in Europe trigger further capital flows?

I think there is a time dimension to it. It is not just the European situation, it is the whole global scenario. We have seen that in the immediate aftermath of concerns about European stability that there was a movement out. Since then, as these concerns have been allayed by what appear to be reasonable strong policy responses, that movement has been reversed. I think the immediate response to instability is this extreme volatility.

But over time, if you are looking at the likely scenario for capital movements, not just out of the European scenario, but because of the fact that there is an uneven recovery... the combination of high liquidity in matured markets and high returns given by the emerging markets- there is a strong basis to believe that capital inflows will actually strengthen. Once immediate volatility is resolved, then I think we should anticipate significant capital inflows.

What is your assessment of capital flows this fiscal, given the uncertainty now after the sovereign debt crisis in Europe?

In terms of both magnitude and impact, it is not like the dramatic situation we saw in 2007. The amount itself is smaller. Meanwhile, the absorptive capacity of the economy has increased; trade volumes have increased, there have been overseas acquisitions and various ways in which more forex has been used. So, we do not expect it to be a disruptive force in this situation.

There's been a broad agreement on sequencing of the exit from stimulus packages by different countries. Given the robust growth numbers here, is there a case to fully exit without waiting until next year, as the government had indicated earlier?

That is already in progress. Everything we have done since October 2009 can be considered an exit, including the October action which marked the first steps to move away from the ad hoc measures that were taken in terms of special lines of credit.

From January onwards, we have been exiting on conventional instruments. Similarly, the government has started the exit by reducing the deficit by 1.3 per cent of GDP -- which is a significant number. This is not something that a slow growing economy would consider. We are clearly recognising that inflationary pressures that have accompanied rapid growth are what we should be focused on.

But, at the same time, we cannot forget that we are inter-linked. What 2008 has taught us is that we are not decoupled from the global economy. What happens outside affects us. So, we have to keep one eye open for what's happening globally and factor that into our calculations.

So, it is really a balancing act at one level between growth and inflation domestically and, at another level, between domestic momentum and external risk. For other countries that balance may tilt in favour of growth – the domestic indicators are simply not strong enough to justify exit or normalisation in these countries. That is the pattern we see globally.

In some countries, recovery has been strong, so policy has been moving towards a normal situation because if you do not do that and another crisis hits, you do not have the capacity to respond. You need to move quickly to have that capacity. On the other hand, other countries have to continue to manage the abnormal situation and cannot initiate exits because the circumstances do not justify it.

The rupee has been weakening against the dollar for some time. Does it add to the challenges for inflation management?

Keep in mind that of all the blueprints that we have of financial sector reform, a floating rupee is at the heart of it. Let the market determine what the exchange rate is. Whether it is going up or down should be of no concern. That's if we take that blueprint. However, we do watch it. We do it for two reasons. One is that volatility is damaging. So, we attempt to manage volatility when we feel it is appropriate.

Two, as we said in our April statement, a disruption to the real economy caused by massive exchange rate movements is something we might want to look at.

But, these reflect unusual or extreme circumstances, not normal conditions. The exchange rate is essentially being determined by market forces in the current situation. As there has been an outflow in response to the external conditions, it has weakened. The short way of saying this is that exchange rate per se is not a policy instrument. We are not using it as an instrument for inflation management.

The RBI has been on the sidelines in the currency market even during this current bout of volatility where one is seeing two-way hedging by market participants. Could you elaborate on this.

Two-way hedging is very good. In fact, I would say that it is a very significant development in the forex market because the whole strategy for foreign exchange markets is to move towards market determined rates while, at the same time, creating the capacity for people with exposures to hedge effectively.

So, if you tell me that there is a two-way hedging, to me it is an indication of the market mechanisms for hedging maturing, which I see as a positive development. It is precisely because of this, we don't see currency management as a policy instrument. It is now a market determined price.

What are the signals the market should look out for from the central bank?

This is a regime where exchange rate is predominantly market determined and alongside, we have tried and created mechanisms that allowed people to hedge against that risk. That's the direction where our financial sector reforms are heading. So, we need to see both happen.

The new base rate system will be in place in a couple of weeks. How do you see this impacting the transmission of monetary policy?

From a monetary policy perspective, the important contribution the base rate will make is that it will make the transmission visible. The BPLR was intended to be the visible benchmark – the best rate that banks will offer. As it happened, because banks had the capacity to lend below BPLR, they used it as a screening mechanism and they negotiated with some borrowers to lend below PLR.

But, the BPLR remained relatively high and insensitive to policy rates. So, actual lending was sensitive to policy rates, but this was not visible to us, because the BPLR remained wherever it was and it was different across banks. Consequently, we did not quite know whether our policy actions were actually being transmitted. They may have been, but we couldn't see this. In order to make the transmission more visible, we have to create a situation where the banks have no choice but to visibly respond to our policy rates.

So, we introduced literally a base rate – below which banks cannot lend. Now, if the policy rates change, a bank will have to revise its base rate, otherwise it will lose its profit opportunities. In spirit, this is what the BPLR was supposed to be, but because of certain lacunae in the framework, it stopped being that. We have now tried to plug the gaps and created a mechanism which should make the transmission really visible.

From the monetary policy perspective, this is the most important motivation for the base rate system. There are other benefits as well, transparency to customers being particularly important. It is indicating to all borrowers what is the minimum rate at which banks are lending. On top of that, individual characteristics contribute to a higher interest rate. It could be because of risk, or the tenure of the loan or something else. But, the borrower will now know exactly why he is being charged the rate that he is, which was not visible in the old system.

This time around, we have seen more foreign money or capital flowing into debt rather than equity. Is that a worry?
We have to deal with this at two levels. At one level is the issue of what these inflows are financing. And to the extent these are financing investment in infrastructure, it is obviously something that fits in the overall development strategy. We are looking at substantially increasing private flows to infrastructure and this has to be one channel for that.

This has to be offset against the overall macroeconomic impact of large inflows. So, that's been a dilemma we have been dealing with all along... managing the macro versus desired end use.

These are all issues we are constantly debating. We do not have a readymade menu of options because we have to look at the circumstances. So, any policy option is always on the table. We are trying to make sure that the money that is coming is coming for the best and the most effective utilisation. We do have prioritisation.

We would like most of money to create capacity in infrastructure. Then there is equity, where the investor bears the risk. It is really keeping these priorities in mind that we will look at the issue. But, overall there may not be a need to use any control because the magnitude of flows may not be large enough to warrant it.

Over the last few months, despite a strong show by industry, bank credit has not picked up, indicating that there is greater disintermediation now. How does it affect the conduct of monetary policy?

It is not correct that bank credit has not picked up. Non-food credit growth has accelerated from 10.3 per cent (y-o-y) on October 23, 2009 to 18.7 per cent now. The targets on growth and inflation are essentially end products of the process. What happens in between is something that is subject to judgement on whether it is relevant to a particular situation or not.

We do look at credit flows to see whether they are consistent with our projections for growth and inflation. We also look at them in terms of their implications for liquidity. The concern you are expressing is whether we know where the money is coming from and therefore do we have any problem? But, that I don't think is an issue. But are we concerned about this as a process?

No, I don't think so, as long as it is coming through channels where appropriate recognition of risk and return is being done. If it is not coming through the banking system and is coming through internal resources, we have no problem. If it is coming from banks, is it coming in legitimate end-use; is it coming against secured collateral – these are concerns that we might have. Those are not so much issues for the monetary policy process as for banking supervision. At the macro level, it is really about knowing how much money is flowing into the system.

You made a presentation on the corporate bond market at the last meeting of the HLCC. What are the next series of measures that policy makers plan to unveil to foster the growth of the local bond market?

What the presentation tried to do was to take an inventory of actions that need to be taken based on recommendations from range of authoritative committees and groups and what actions have already been taken. So, it was essentially a gap assessment. This assessment pointed out the fact that a number of agencies need to work in co-ordination to close the gap.

That purpose was accomplished and we are now prioritising action to be taken by various entities. When we have a plan of action coming from this exercise, we would also want to validate it from the markets and look at the capacity of each stakeholder to act.

Banks for the last year or two have been the predominant financiers of infrastructure. That is not the best way to fund long-term projects and we want to create a parallel debt market channel. As the demand for funds increases and the conditions for issuances of bonds improve, we hope that we will be able to create this parallel channel for infrastructure financing.

There are supporters of the inflation targeting approach, including Raghuram Rajan. Is the RBI yet to be convinced of this approach?

There are two issues here. One is having an inflation rate to target. That is a technical issue. Second is the principle itself. There are issues of accountability and management. You can hold the central bank to account if you have a single target, as opposed to multiple targets. I don't think the evidence is compelling to say that every country which has implemented inflation targeting has had dramatic success and every country that has ot has had dramatic failures.

If that were the case, then obviously there would be a strong argument to think about it. But, ultimately there are countries that are not inflation targeters that have a pretty strong track record of inflation management. We think we are in that category and can benefit from the flexibility that comes from not being locked into a single target.








An alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad, CK Venkataraman is the chief operating officer (COO) of Tanishq, the jewellery arm of Titan Industries. ET spoke to Venkataraman, who has a ringside view of the Indian jewellery industry, about the recent rally in bullion prices and related issues. Excerpts of the interview:

The recent rally in bullion has caught many by surprise. You think there is more upside left for the yellow metal?

I would say that this (rise in bullion prices) is not unusual. We are seeing a repeat of what happened about two years ago. Once again, it's the same reason — now with reference to Greece and Ireland. As investors divert their monies and demand for bullion rises, the prices go up and there is a pullback for about a week or 10 days. Definitely the rise (in bullion prices) has to do with the non-industry demand. I can't say anything about how prices would move.

Would you say that consumers are now attuned to the idea of seeing a rise in gold prices?

Consumers are comfortable if there is stability in prices for a little longer. One clearly sees the consumer down-trading on the quantum of gold they are able to purchase. So, where they would buy say about 300 grammes, the consumer is now buying 250 grammes. And this is a trend which is not restricted to the large metros but across the board — even in tier-II and tier-III cities.

Since the last few years, we have seen the introduction of gold exchange traded funds (ETFs). How do you think this has impacted demand for gold?

Gold ETFs are a niche market. I would say the toss-up for a consumer is between investing in a coin or in ETFs. The only difference is that there is a cost of processing for the coin besides a storage/holding cost. Remember, bulk of jewellery-buying in India is for wearing purposes. Also remember that jewellery is good for gifting purposes as it is more tangible.

Over the last two years, the real estate market has seen a dip in values. Do you think that some of the monies has gone into the jewellery/bullion sector?

It's difficult to say as one needs very sophisticated research to establish the shift from one category to another. As you would know, the market for Indian gold ETFs is extremely small. Globally yes, there would have been flows into ETFs from divestments in the real estate sector, which in turn have an influence but not with the Indian real estate.

Effective April last year, you changed the method of valuing your closing inventory to a first-in-first-out method (FIFO). Did you have any inkling about the rally in gold to undertake this change?

As a jewellery company, we are impacted by the cost of acquisition and the sales realised leading to a mismatch. Overall, every quarter our margins either spiked or hit a trough but this got smoothened out on a yearly basis. By adopting the FIFO method, we are seeking to even out this issue. Our EBIDTA margins currently are around 7% that we believe would touch 10% over the next five years.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



Inflation touching the double-digit mark sent ripples of concern through the government and the country at large, even though the government tried to play down some of these concerns, and in fact some sections in it felt it was time that fuel prices were raised. If only the price of petrol is raised it might be understandable: petrol is, after all, used primarily by car owners, thought to be far better off than the average citizen. But to lump it together with diesel, kerosene and LPG appears politically foolhardy — if only because the government has proved totally bankrupt when it comes to laying down a protective net for the economically weaker sections. It has totally abandoned the public distribution system (PDS) only because it cannot maintain it properly. This is unbecoming of a government which claims to act on behalf of the aam aadmi. It constantly reiterates its faith in the "inclusive growth" mantra, but does very little about it in practice, and even dismantles elements of what already exists — such as PDS. It is then left to the Reserve Bank to literally armtwist banks into making "inclusive growth" a reality. Government officials at the village and district levels — who should be at the forefront of the "inclusive growth" effort — are instead busy lining their pockets and illegally amassing wealth. The Union finance minister hopes to see inflation calming down by July, when the behaviour of this year's monsoon will become clear. It remains a constant puzzle how the $1 trillion-plus Indian economy, heralded worldwide as the second fastest growing on the planet, is still so dependent on something as unpredictable as the rains. Food prices moderated but negligibly, and remain high. The price of pulses is rising unabated, while vegetable prices show no signs of declining. The government's record on pulses is shocking: it was aware the per capita consumption of pulses was falling year after year as prices kept rising aggressively. In the last Budget, the finance minister announced a special scheme to target production — but the bureaucracy was so slow, and the 21 per cent increase in minimum support price announced so late, that farmers could not take advantage and shift to pulses cultivation. And these are still the only source of protein available to the poor. Finally, though, inflation figures are just a numbers game, with little meaning for the ordinary citizen, particularly homemakers who have to keep the kitchen fires burning and families fed. Prices of manufactured items are also moving upward while global commodity prices are cooling down. The reason is that when global commodity prices went up last year, India could not increase prices as there was a lack of demand. Now that demand has increased, manufacturers have started pushing up prices.

The government and India's privileged classes must start thinking "out of the box" while making plans to provide for the have-nots. They can think of food kitchens and of supplying at least one proper meal a day to those who are starving.







Henry Kissinger called me, which does not happen often, but does happen on the eve of World Cups — a reflection of a shared obsession and a fair indication that soccer (football, actually) will trump the global battle for treasure and influence over the next month, or rather transfer it to the pitch.

On the US team, one of whose attractions is that it has not yet mastered the professional foul, Kissinger was laconic: "We're better but we don't have a national style that I've been able to figure out. We're a work in progress, just as we are in managing international affairs on a global basis."

It's true that adjusting to 21st century shifts in global power is proving arduous for the United States — much less room for the cynical diplomatic foul — and that there's still a naïve quality to the American game, despite its opening 1-1 draw with England high in the South African veld and its second-place finish last year in the Confederations Cup.

Recurrent dreams had surfaced about England's prospects before that dismal draw — the world has few more insistent illusions than those surrounding English football. They soon gave way to what a commentator called "the usual mixture of hope and horror" attendant on Rooney and company.

The horror — and what horror! — came in the form of a schoolyard error from England's goalkeeper Robert Green, allowing a feeble 20-yard shot from Clint Dempsey to squirm through his fingers and level the score. That's a disaster with a history: In the 2002 quarter-final it was goalkeeper David Seaman allowing a 40-yard free kick from Brazil's Ronaldinho to sail over his head.

It's a tough thing to face, and England has never gotten around to it, but pedigree tells in international football as surely as mediocrity.

Given BP and the environmental and political pollution still gushing from the gulf, perhaps a draw was the best result for a strained special relationship.

The fact is the game is written in the blood of only a few nations, who have stamped their genius on it, and then there are the also-rans. Of the 18 World Cups played, half have been won by just two teams — Brazil and Italy. Another three went to Germany. The teams have been studies in contrast. Kissinger said: "Brazil has played the most beautiful football, while Italy has specialised in breaking the hearts of its opponents, and for Germany everyone attacks in a way suggestive of Erich von Falkenhayn's huge flanking movements in World War I — and everyone defends".

Brazil, five times champions, has been all about attacking flair — Garrincha, Pelé, Ronaldinho and Robinho inventing the unimaginable. Italy, four times champions, has known how to shut games down like no other team — Gentile, Scirea, Baresi and Cannavaro turning defensive play into a suffocating art (sometimes known as "Catenaccio" or "door-bolt") and breaking with rapier speed.

Like playing Rafael Nadal on clay at Roland Garros, playing Italy drives opponents mad. You see them begin to crack. You see them run out of ideas. You see them unravelling. As Jean-Paul Sartre once observed, "In football everything is complicated by the presence of the other team".

In this it resembles diplomacy and war. The best-laid plans scarcely survive the first contact with the enemy.

Kissinger told me, rather to my surprise given their political views, that he and Nelson Mandela were close, that Mandela had studied his shuttle diplomacy in prison and became fascinated by it to the point that, when he visited the US after his release from prison in 1990, he requested a meeting with Kissinger.

"Mandela's conduct has been extraordinarily wise", Kissinger, who will attend the final rounds of the World Cup, told me. "He is one of the great men I have met".

This World Cup, the first in Africa, is tribute to that conciliatory greatness. It's safe to say the home team won't win, but Africa will surely benefit, and that's important for this nascent century. We may also get a new name, Spain, on the trophy, but first a word on Brazil's odd inversion.

Brazil has never had a better defence, yes defence. Its goalkeeper, Júlio César, is the world's best. So is its right back, Maicon (they both play for European champions, Inter Milan, as does the buccaneering centre back, Lucio). A Brazilian victory — always a distinct possibility — would be based this year on the part of the game it has traditionally neglected.

So things do get turned upside down. Perhaps the chronic World Cup underperformer, Spain, will play to its full potential — it's been defeated just once in its last 45-plus games — and triumph. In David Villa and Fernando Torres, they have two of the most thrilling strikers in the world, and in Iniesta and Xavi midfield magicians.

My own prediction? The winner, in order of likelihood, will come from: Spain, Brazil, the Netherlands, Argentina, Italy, Germany. Possible surprise? Ghana. And if America does well, President Obama will benefit. As Kissinger knows, US indifference to soccer has long been a source of intense global suspicion.







When Kapil Sibal was elevated to Cabinet rank and assigned the crucial portfolio of human resources development (HRD), many people had great expectations from him about reforms in the education sector — a sector that has suffered due to the misplaced priorities of some of his predecessors. Since Independence, education, perhaps, is the one issue which has had the largest number of commissions and committees for reforms. Therefore, a wealth of material is readily available for use by any minister with sound vision and reforming zeal. However, most who had expected substantial reforms from Mr Sibal were disappointed when he appeared to be in a haste to announce his plans for changes within a few weeks of taking charge. He did not devote adequate time to study why some reforms had got stuck in the past or proved to be counterproductive.

Above all, the new HRD minister, in his various statements on bringing about changes, appeared to have ignored the basic fact that in our federal system education is a state subject and that many state governments are very sensitive about any dilution in their constitutional responsibilities relating to education. Certain aspects pertaining to higher education have been included in the concurrent list in the Constitution, but very few among the larger and well-administered states in India would be willing to part with their responsibilities relating to appointment of vice-chancellors of state universities. Strong protests were audible when indications were given about the Centre taking the lead role in the selection and appointment of all vice-chancellors in the country.

Let us examine some of the reasons for resentment towards the idea of having one central panel of persons found eligible by the Centre for appointment as vice-chancellors.

No doubt that the intention behind this proposal was to ensure that the standards of qualification for the post of vice-chancellor were kept very high and the procedures for selection were transparent. However, adequate thought was not given to the problems involved in putting together such a national-level panel. Even under the present system of selection of vice-chancellors, when both the state administration and state governors, in their capacity as chancellors, are actively involved, the process takes about six months. If an all-India panel of prospective candidates is to be the source of all selections and appointments, it is bound to take much longer.

There is also no guarantee that the Central list will have enough qualified names on it to meet the special needs of certain state universities, like research on some of the ancient state languages.

I should mention here that some of us serving as governors had the opportunity to study the legislative procedures in different states when we were appointed as members of a committee of governors in 1996 by the then President Shankar Dayal Sharma to make recommendations on "the role of the governor as chancellor of universities". I had the privilege of being appointed as its chairman. During the deliberations of this committee it was found that the methods of selection of candidates for consideration for appointment as vice-chancellors in state universities varied not only from state to state, but sometimes within the same state itself. Also, in the course of our work we found that some governors were not inclined to take up the responsibility of selecting vice-chancellors as governors, in their capacity as chancellors, were often being drawn into litigation even in junior courts. They felt that this would not be in keeping with the high prestige associated with the office of the governor.

In some states, in spite of clear provisions in the relevant University Act, the governments in power appeared to be keen that the governor should not have an active role in the constitution of the selection committee or the final appointment based on the recommendations of this committee. Sometimes differences had arisen between the state Cabinet and the chancellor on the appointment of vice-chancellors because of the insistence of certain states that the governor, even when s/he functions in his/her capacity as chancellor of a university, shall act only on the advice of the council of ministers. Such problems are likely to get aggravated if the selection is to be restricted to one central panel.

Apart from these considerations, a single panel valid for the whole of India may not be a desirable arrangement. After what has been revealed about the manner in which a very important central council, i.e. the Medical Council of India, had been functioning, the Central government should not be under the illusion that people will have implicit faith in the competence and fairness of all centrally-constituted councils.

What is required is to allow the states to manage the institutions of higher education according to the provisions of their own acts and not impose any rule or regulation which brings centralised administrative control. Based on the working and reputation of some of the universities in the states, one may claim that they are much better administered institutions than some of the centrally-managed higher education institutions. Certain states have evolved very good legislative procedures to manage their universities. I venture to suggest that the Maharashtra University Act, 1994, can provide some useful guidelines for states intending to introduce reforms in the system of selection and appointment of vice-chancellors.

Falling back on the experience of selection and appointment of vice-chancellors in some well administered states, I would suggest that it would be very useful for the chancellor if s/he interviews the candidates recommended by the selection panel of the state and personally assesses their relative suitability.

Some people may hold the view that all this will give the chancellor almost a full say in the selection of vice-chancellors and may lead to differences of opinion between the chancellor and the chief minister, particularly if the latter has the reputation of being a "strong administrator". I should, however, add that during my fairly long tenure as governor in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, there was not a single case of any appointment made to the post of vice-chancellor that had been disagreed to by even "strong administrators" like Sharad Pawar or M. Karunanidhi.

Whether states adopt some of the good provisions of the Maharashtra University Act or not, it would be advisable that the idea of having an all-India selection panel for vice-chancellors is not pursued any further by the Centre in any shape or form.

- P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra







Mystical verse is about the burning quest, the joy of union and pangs of separation and final reunion is in annihilation with the beloved. Within these awe-inspiring landscapes of high and lows, bewildered and wonderstruck, the mystic poet lives through his imagery. In his poetry are moments of saturation and vacuum; the valleys of despair and peaks of marvel; the ruins of the heart yearning for spring for the arrival of the beloved, and then the fragrance of love pervading the gardens of paradise with arrival of that beloved, and the final annihilation in Him…

In Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi's poetry, every shade of such a journey is visible. In Shams Tabrez, his mystic friend and mentor, who took him on the divine path, he saw what was not visible to the naked eye. He saw the hidden meaning of life. Secrets which, after the burning within, could only find reflection in poetry. When Shams disappeared it was one kind of poetry... passionate, irresistible, beautiful, so much so that it seemed truly designed for each word and its combination to have a magnetic draw.

And such passion has always found a way of reaching the divine realm and finding the beloved, wherever He maybe. It reached Shams thousands of miles away and drew him back to the desolate Rumi. The joy was overwhelming... His life had returned with all its celebration and glory... His poetry changed. Shams had returned.

Shams o qamaram aamad, sam e be saram aamad,

Wan seembaram aamad, wan kaan e zaram aamad

(My sun and my moon have come, what my mind wanted to say has come, My illumined beloved has come, my mine of gold has come)

Masti e saram aamad, nur e nazaram aamad,

cheez e digar ar khwahi, cheez e digaram aamad

(My ecstasy has come, the light of my eyes has come,

If you had wanted more something more, that something more has come)

Aan raahzanam aamad, tauba shikanam aamad,

Wan Yusuf e seemeen bar, nagaah babaram aamad

(Who robs me has come, who causes to break of my vows has come,

That gleaming Joseph, has unexpectedly come)

But once again, to his dismay, Shams disappeared never to return. The second disappearance shattered Rumi again, but this time there was a difference. For Shams had finally prepared Rumi to polish the mirror of his heart clean to receive the Nur-e-Mohammadi.

Rumi had cut across all barriers of religion. Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, all were present at his funeral. Each had seen in him qualities of whom they revered most in his own faith. The reflection of the same Nur-e-Mohammadi made him Christ-like for Christians, for Jews, he was the living Moses of the time... and today maybe nearest to Kabir for the vast population of Indians... In his life and his poetry he had proved that all came from the same source and to that source they will all return.

Thee I choose, of all the world, alone;

Wilt thou suffer me to sit in grief?

My heart is as a pen in thy hand,

Thou art the cause if I am glad or melancholy.

Save what thou willest, what will have I?

Save what thou showest, what do I see?

Thou mak'st grow out of me now a thorn and now a rose;

Now I smell roses and now I pull thorns.

If thou keep'st me that, that I am;

I thou would'st have me this, I am this.

In the vessel where thou givest colour to the soul

Who am I. What is my love and hate?

Thou wert first, and last thou shalt be;

Make my last better than my first.

When thou are hidden, I am of the infidels;

When thou art manifest, I am of the faithful.

I have nothing, except thou hast bestowed it;

What dost thou seek from my bosom and sleeve?

— Rumi translated by Reynold Nicholson

— Muzaffar Ali is a filmmaker, painter, and he the Executive Director of the Rumi Foundation.

He can be contacted at [1]






Even as Burma's military junta prepares to address the issue of the forthcoming elections in October 2010, a documentary aired on Qatar-based TV news channel Al Jazeera, about the possibility of Burma developing a nuclear weapons programme, brings a deafening silence to the voices that were urging engagement with the Burmese junta.

The documentary's "source" is from within the Burmese military junta and the footage shown on Al Jazeera was acquired from a defector within the military. The documentary, compiled over a period of five years with the help of a Norway-based independent group in exile called the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), had images and documentary proof of tunnels and nuclear facilities — evidence that showed the extent of the development of these facilities being pursued by the junta in connivance with North Korea, which is said to be providing the technology. Speculation suggests that assistance includes both weapons technology and ballistic missile capability.

While the documentary's source and evidence lends some credibility to the matter, it is still not conclusive enough to say with surety that the Burmese government does intend to acquire nuclear weapons capability.

The news of Burma's nuclear ambitions is not really new. This issue has been in the public domain for more than a decade. The Burmese search for nuclear capability began as early as 2000 when Russia was engaged to build a 10-megawatt nuclear capable reactor to assist the process of acquiring fuel technology. However, the project did not take off as planned and for nearly seven years the issue was forgotten.

In 2007, news reports alluding to Burma's nuclear ambitions appeared again, this time in the context of Russia supplying technology and low-grade uranium to assist with research for peaceful uses in the fields of medical and agricultural science.

Though there were some passing references to scientific and technological training being provided by Russia, Burma's plan to seek assistance from the Russians for a nuclear reactor did not materialise.

However, 2008 onwards there have been several reports about growing ties between North Korea and Burma. Given that the North Korean technology is widely seen as a threat to the entire region, there has been speculation on two parallel lines — one is about Burma actually acquiring the technology for weapons capability, the other is that Burma is being used by the North Korean leadership as a dock for piling its own weapons and using it as an ally. Given that the two regimes have been increasingly isolated, this spectre does not seem very far fetched.

Increasing international condemnation of the Burmese military junta and the growing perception that Burma is being forced to reconsider its approach to a democratic setup are critical issues that may have given the necessary push towards closer ties with states like North Korea.

Burma's diplomatic ties with North Korea remained suspended till 2007. In 2008, a defence MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) was signed between the two countries with specific reference to nuclear technology and ballistic missile capabilities.

What needs to be borne in mind is that increased isolation from the international community has only enhanced the threat perceptions of the Burmese leadership. Over the years the leadership has become more and more intransigent and allowed itself little engagement with the rest of the world. This isolation will only push Burma towards greater dependency on countries that have a clear record of proliferation — i.e. China, Pakistan and North Korea.

Support for Burma from within the region has been growing — its integration into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has been one of the factors that has allowed for the economic gap between Burma and its other Southeast Asian neighbours to be reduced. Also, China has remained Burma's critical ally, with India and Russia establishing clear ties. This degree of engagement with Burma has in some ways been more effective in bringing more international focus upon Burma. But the engagement policy needs to be nuanced — keep the junta engaged while maintaining a focus on issues of human rights and democracy.

Isolating Burma would push it further towards the North Korea example. Given the political instability within Burma and the fact that their technical know-how for maintenance of nuclear capability is very low, the Burmese leadership would be shortsighted to follow the dangerous example of North Korean. Moreover, as concerns of terrorist related sabotage of nuclear facilities are mounting, Burma should not risk its political survival by following the modus operandi of the North Korean leadership.

Burma going down the nuclear road has several wide-ranging implications. For the Asean there is likely to be a serious imbalance given that the 10-member regional grouping clearly endorses the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (SEANWFZ). This was the outcome of deliberations that emerged as early as 1995 and was called the Bangkok Treaty. The Asean has been trying to reign in its dialogue partners to come on board this treaty. Both China and India have endorsed it, but the US has used its presence in the Korean peninsula to remain outside the SEANWFZ.

During the Monks' Revolution in 2007, the Asean voiced

its concerns over the deteriorating political conditions within Burma but stopped short of suspending it. But now, considering that Burma is a signatory to the SEANWFZ and its intent to acquire nuclear weapons technology will impact the regional security order, the Asean cannot use the non-interference provision. It must be more concerted in its action against Burma.

A three-pronged strategy could be followed to deal with Burma — First, push the agenda on a special international forum on Burma; the forum must include the Asean, China, India, Russia and the US. Second, clearly set aside the non-intervention in domestic affairs clause which Asean follows and ask Burma for transparency as a signatory to the SEANWFZ. And finally,

let there be clear incentives in place for moving forward with the process of national reconciliation and elections.A country that has been isolated for nearly 60 years and has been consistently testing the patience of the international community, is now on the verge of pushing those limits again, this time by acquiring nuclear capability. Under these circumstances the Asean and its partners in the wider region, including both India and China, cannot remain mute spectators.

Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor ofSoutheast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU






These days Americans are transfixed by the struggle between BP and the US 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 US 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 US President Barack 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 analyse 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 (maximising growth) but political (maximising 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 per cent of the world's oil and gas and hold only about three per cent 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 nuclearise?

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 decentralised 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 polarisation, which immobilises 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.







OBVIOUSLY chafing at the constraints under which it is functioning, the Central Bureau of Investigation has drafted and submitted to the government fresh legislation to govern its conduct. Rightly so, for the Delhi Police Special Establishment Act (1946), which spells out its present mandate, is not only obsolete but never envisaged the role now assigned to what is perceived as the premier investigative agency. The basic rationale, as conveyed to government, is "there is a lack of an independent, unified, central government agency to undertake prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of offences related to subjects in the union list of the Constitution". In keeping with that, the CBI has sought nationwide extension of powers and jurisdiction pertaining to 53 categories of offences covered by some 300 enactments. At present it is heavily dependent on the cooperation and assistance of state governments and local police in pursuing some of its investigations ~ not always forthcoming. It has sought the kind of empowerment enjoyed by the Narcotics Control Bureau and the fledgling Serious Frauds Investigation Office. There will be some Constitutional hurdles to clear ~ the states will resist any central encroachment on their authority over law and order ~ yet the post 7/11 realisation that some criminal activity has to be tackled on a national plane might help convert the CBI's dream into reality. Previous proposals with the same general objectives have met with little success.

While few would quarrel with what the CBI has sought, many would point to limited stress on the independence and autonomy of the agency. Merely seeking a system for appointing its chief on lines that the Supreme Court spelt out in the Vineet Narain case of 1997 is at best a token effort. Ideally the Director of the CBI should have status almost akin to Comptroller & Auditor-General or the Election Commissioner, but no government, regardless of its composition, will muster the political will to go down that road: it would be deemed clout-crippling. Yet until the Bureau acquires and displays true autonomy (as opposed to denying interference) there will be no change in the public perception that it lends itself to political abuse. Remember that most of the criticism of the CBI is directed not at presumed professional ineptitude, but at its competence being employed only selectively.






THE loss of face couldn't have been more disgraceful. Britain's Department For International Development (DFID), since last month under the Conservative-LibDem dispensation, has commissioned an inquiry into what it calls the "disappearance of millions of pounds of aid" advanced to India for the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan. The coalition has taken the lid off a pretty kettle of fish, an almost incredible offshore fiddle. It is a shocking legacy inherited from the Labour government which had sanctioned the assistance. And there is a distinct indication of a huge public sector scam when the British authorities allege that the "money has disappeared into the depths of corruption without any benefit to the poor children". The high-minded objectives of universal primary education, officially touted as the UPA's flagship initiative, have been trashed. The decision of Andrew Mitchell, secretary of state for international development, to "launch an immediate inquiry" is a sorry reflection on the pursuit of public policy in India, whether it relates to guaranteed rural employment or primary education. Apparently, the setting up of schools and the pursuit of learning rank rather low in the pattern of expenditure. Either a fair amount of the aid has "vanished" or the money has been spent on items that had nothing to do with schools. If the preliminary audit by British authorities is any indication, the heads of expenditure are too astonishing for words ~ on schools that do not exist, on new cars, luxury beds and on air-conditioners and television sets for schools in areas without electricity. Well may the DFID authorities be flabbergasted at the extent of the fiscal foozle, scarcely realising that this a feature of the country's public policy furniture.
Truth to tell, DFID assistance has been frittered away in the sphere of rural governance as well, and acutely so in West Bengal.  The increasing tribal disenchantment confirms that little or nothing has been achieved by the DFID pump-priming for the rural sector. It would be useful to recall the then British High Commissioner, Sir Michael Arthur's resounding advice to the state in November 2005: "Decentralisation will deliver on poverty outcomes only if local governments are accountable and responsive to the rural poor". The message was to utilise fruitfully the 130 million pounds that had been advanced till then. On a national scale, it is a bitter irony that the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan warrants a CAG probe even before it has taken off. In the net, India may not be trusted with even a single pound of development assistance.








WE would like to believe that disciplinary action against a district leader of the CPI-M in Hooghly is part of the rectification programme suggested by the central committee after the reverses suffered in the parliamentary election. Biman Bose has mastered the art of evading embarrassing questions so all that had emerged after the last Politburo meeting in Delhi, which the chief minister chose not to attend, was that rectification was a "process'' still being debated. Now in the first act of nabbing party functionaries who have abused their positions, the party's zilla parishad chief has been asked to resign for financial irregularities running into crores of rupees. The action has been taken on the basis of a single discovery of funds allotted for district hospitals being diverted on the basis of inflated bills. It can only suggest a long history of corruption not only in Hooghly but in districts where the CPI-M had been in absolute command till it suffered a political jolt. Hooghly, in particular, has reflected the changes where the CPI-M headed by the fire-spitting former MP, Anil Basu, had virtually held the district administration to ransom but now sees the party's tally in the 12 municipalities coming down to one from eight in the last election.

The more important question is whether the CPI-M will apply the same standards relentlessly at all levels. It would be pointless to make scapegoats of cadres at the block level who have made a killing from extortions and influence exerted on local administrations. Public wrath against the local lords was evident in Lalgarh where a house belonging to a CPI-M leader was set upon. While violence cannot be a solution to the evils of corruption and musclepower on which the party has thrived, Alimuddin Street would have to demonstrate in no uncertain terms that it means business in its cleansing operation. The Hooghly scandal can only raise suspicions on how bigger fish have amassed enormous wealth. The CPI-M state secretary would be deceiving himself with token actions in the hope that public memory will be short. The failure to attempt serious introspection and make real amends could make the chances of a comeback that much more difficult.









CONSIDER what is happening in India right now, as this is being written. Law Minister Moily says that the existing laws are inadequate to deal with big national disasters like the one created by the Bhopal gas leakage 26 years ago. So in consultation with experts he intends framing a new law and present it to Parliament. Meanwhile, the PM appoints a Group of Ministers to explore remedies.

Members of the Jat community go on the rampage to choke off the supply of water to Delhi in protest against their exclusion from caste-based reservation of jobs in the government. The Jat leaders say that if the Gujjars could be given reservation, why should they be denied? Reservation on the basis of caste is explicitly disallowed by Article 16 (2) of the Constitution. However, the government to circumvent this law did verbal juggling and the Supreme Court in its supreme folly allowed it to do so. As a result, the spirit of the Constitution was mangled beyond recognition. The law now promotes caste-based reservation which continues to spread among the 3,000 castes in India . The minorities understandably are attempting to similarly distort the Constitution to also obtain reservation.

In its national executive meeting in Patna the BJP complains that the Central government is discriminating against state governments ruled by the Opposition. The party complains that the Central government continuously ignores norms by not consulting the state governments while appointing the Governor or the Chief Justice in Opposition-ruled states. This complaint by various Opposition parties has long been festering. The Constitutional provision for setting up the Inter-State Council as a mechanism to resolve all differences between the Centre and the states has yet not been given teeth six decades after it was written.

President's position

ACCORDING to one Supreme Court judgment the Union cabinet can exercise no control over the Governor. That leaves the President to exercise control. According to another Supreme Court judgment the President can only act under the advice of the Union cabinet! The Supreme Court affirmed that the elected Indian President is a titular head like the British sovereign. Nowhere in the Indian Constitution is this written. India has the world's longest written Constitution. It is a mystery from where the Supreme Court got its divine inspiration to come to this conclusion,Law Minister Moily says that the current system of appointing judges to the Supreme Court and High Courts by a collegium of judges is not satisfactory. He assures that the government is committed to the independence of the judiciary. The current system was determined by a Supreme Court advisory. According to the Constitution, the judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts are appointed by the President after consulting the Chief Justice of India. By the present system there is no check on the decisions of the collegium regarding judicial appointments. To rectify this should a check be exercised by Parliament or by the Union cabinet? Or neither Parliament nor the Union cabinet should exercise check. Only the President as is written in the Constitution should exercise it. But ~ oops!  The Supreme Court has ruled that the President can never act without the advice of the Union cabinet!

Public demonstrations, stone-throwing, and police reprisals are continuing in Kashmir against alleged high handedness of the army and police. This has continued for decades. Over 60,000 protesters have died in Kashmir  Four hundred thousand Kashmiri Hindus have been forced to flee their homes. During the last six decades the government has not once come up with any tangible proposal to address the demands of the Kashmir protesters. It has not come up with one tangible proposal to rehabilitate the Kashmiri Pandits in their homeland. As this is being written the day's newspaper carries an article by veteran journalist Inder Malhotra that describes how Junagadh became part of India after Independence. Princely states had the option to cede to India or Pakistan. Junagadh had a Hindu population ruled by a Muslim ruler. Junagadh's accession to Pakistan became untenable because of its rebellious population. Therefore, the state was compelled to cede to India after a referendum. Kashmir Valley had a Muslim majority population ruled by a Hindu ruler. The Hindu ruler's desire for independence was thwarted by Pakistan's military action. Subsequently, Jinnah wanted a referendum in Kashmir. too. Events disallowed that. On principle, should not Junagadh and Kashmir Valley been given similar treatment? Perhaps that was why Pandit Nehru while accepting Kashmir's instrument of accession said that it was subject to the approval of the people. Does not the status of Jammu and Kashmir deserve reappraisal in the light of history and the continuing unrest?

A Group of Ministers is grappling with how to deal with the Maoists. There is insufficient coordination between the Centre and the states. There is no unified command structure or a single unified force to deal with any kind of terrorism.Federal forceTHE proposal to create a federal force to counter all terrorism was aborted because the states feared that the Centre would misuse it as it has been misusing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Meanwhile, the CBI which has a deplorable record of securing convictions because of political interference has sought a new draft law whereby it could function more autonomously. It seeks to replace the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act under which it is presently governed.

All these and more similar events are occurring simultaneously on one single day. Do not these events indicate a most serious questioning of the system? Does this not call for a holistic reappraisal of the system? India has the world's longest Constitution. It has the greatest number of amendments of any Constitution. The basic structure of the Constitution cannot be changed. It does not need to be changed. The system needs to be changed. For that the Constitution needs to be implemented in the manner in which its founding fathers conceived it. If necessary it can be amended. If that is not done now, when will it be done? Or do we await decline of our democratic system to reach the point of no return?







Two years ago an ethnic conflict arose in a small town called Barsora in East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya, a north-eastern Indian state. The Khasis, who are a majority in the state that has other indigenous communities like Garos and Jaintias, started evicting Nepalese migrant labourers who toiled in the coal mines there. A group of leading Nepalese migrants from Ladrampai, the commercial hub of neighbouring Jaintai Hills district, went there to hold talks with the locals. The locals had four complaints against the migrants: (1) you steal our jobs; (2) you consume alcohol and create a nuisance at public places; (3) you are involved in terrorist activities; (4) you marry our women and help destroy our culture.

"The land here belongs to you; the mines are yours, the men from your community need cheap labour and they hire poor Nepalese," the migrant leaders replied, according to Toplal Bhandari, chairman of the Ladrampai unit of Mool Pravaha Akhil Bharat Nepali Ekata Samaj. "No Nepalese are allowed to sell liquor here. It is men from your community who own and run the liquor shops. Why don't you blame them? No Nepalese are involved in terrorist activities and terrorism is not ethnicity-specific. In fact, Nepalese secure your borders, let alone the thought of harming India. As for Nepalese men destroying your culture by marrying your women, why don't you look at the issue from this angle that yours is a matriarchal society where men have no ownership of property, therefore, Nepalis never get hold of any of the property that your women own. Instead, they serve your women till they become old and one day they are kicked out of their 'homes' to go back to Nepal where they have nothing. They are treated as if they are date-expired medicine."

In the family of the matriarchal Khasis and Garos (another ethnic community of Meghalaya with whom Nepalis enjoy relatively warm relations), women are the authority. The youngest daughter inherits the property from the mother. The child bears the mother's surname and in some cases the husband, who moves into his wife's house after marriage to look after the family, changes his surname to his wife's. If the man is a Hindu, like many Nepalese and Gorkhas, he will have to convert to Christianity. (They are usually given the surname Dkhar, a Khasi word that also means foreigner. "A Nepalese Brahmin has become Burman," said a Gorkha.)
Some Khasi men complain of "female hegemony" just as women do of male supremacy in patriarchal societies like in Nepal. In his New York Times article of Feb. 18, 1994, Syed Zubair Ahmed had written that a men's rights organisation had been founded in Meghalaya to look after the interests of men. Alleging that the women were overbearing and dominating, according to the article, the men complain, "We are sick of playing the role of breeding bulls and babysitters. We have no lines of succession. We have no land, no business." On the other hand, women say that they prefer to marry outsiders -- like Nepalese -- because their own tribesmen tend to be irresponsible in family matters. The only domain that completely belongs to men in Meghalaya is politics and governance. No woman has ever become chief minister of the state.

Against the said background, the Nepalese argument seems convincing (a Nepalese man was recently kicked out by his Khasi wife from her home); but, to be honest, that is not the only truth. There are many instances of cunning Nepalese using marriage with Khasi women as a means to enter into business and make money. In some cases, Khasi women, on their part, take a commission from the Nepalese husband. "I wanted to get into the timber business," said an elderly Gorkha in Shillong who didn't want to be identified as the issue was too embarrassing for him. "I had no option but to marry a Khasi woman." A few years after the marriage, the Meghalaya government banned extraction of timber that rendered the marriage useless for this Gorkha. He then married a Nepalese woman. He has a daughter with the Khasi woman and some more kids with the Nepalese wife. He said he didn't stay for long in his Khasi wife's home. "We still keep in contact," he said. "But we hardly meet. She is happy with her own life and I am happy with mine."

Many Nepalese or Gorkhas who are staying in their Khasi wives' homes in Meghalaya find it very difficult to admit so. To admit that they are living the life of a ghar jwain under the authority of a woman is a matter of humiliation for them who were born and raised in a patriarchal setup, some Gorkhas and Nepalese of Meghalaya who haven't married Khasi women told me.

But not all become ghar jwains. The opposite has happened in Kul Bahadur Magar's case. Magar, a coal mine labourer from Morang, married Dyang, a local Khasi woman, 13 years ago. The couple has been living since then in a shack near the coal mine where Magar works. Dyang, in fact, is just a nickname, not her formal name which is Goma. And she is a Hindu. She herself is a cross between a Nepali man (a Tamang from Ramechhap) and a Khasi woman. Her mother's too poor to keep her in her home, so she moved in to the shack with Magar who lost his left eyesight in early childhood. "I liked her, she liked me," said Magar. "We were both young, and one day we got married."

Some Nepalese have taken their Khasi wives to Nepal where they are living a peaceful life. One such woman, by the way, wrote to me after reading my Meghalaya Diary in the Post last week calling herself a daughter of Meghalaya and a daughter-in-law of Nepal. Just as Nepalese mistakenly brand all Khasis and Jaintias as gaikhane (beef eaters), she said, Khasis also wrongly put migrant Nepalese and Gorkhas in the same basket.
When Khasis become angry with migrant Nepalese or Gorkhas, they don't differentiate between those who are married to Khasi women and those who aren't. That is why the Magar couple is thinking these days that they can't live all their lives in the shack here while the situation worsens. "Our daughters are growing," said Magar. "It is becoming difficult for them to live here. Khasis target them as they are children of a woman who didn't marry one of her own but went for a dakhar." Because of growing insecurity that was highlighted in the recent crisis, Goma, who speaks fluent Nepali but appeared to have limited knowledge about the details of Nepalese traditions, is also insisting that the family, including herself, go back to Nepal where Magar owns ancestral land. "I didn't think I would return to Nepal any time soon," said Magar. "But now I am thinking very much of returning as early as possible."

The Kathmandu Post/ANN Comments (0)






Pakistan's notorious spy agency provides crucial funding and training to Taliban fighters operating inside Afghanistan and is represented on the movement's leadership council, according to a new report that says links between the two are deeper than previously believed.

Such is the importance of the relationship, says the report, that President Asif Ali Zardari recently visited Taliban prisoners, assuring them they would soon be released and telling them: "You are our people."
While links between the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and the Taliban have been known for many years, the report by the London School of Economics, based on interviews with Taliban commanders inside Afghanistan, suggests it is the "official policy" of Pakistan, which sees the fighters as providing strategic depth.
"The ISI orchestrates, sustains and strongly influences the movement," said its author, Matt Waldman. "(Taliban commanders) say it gives sanctuary to both Taliban and Haqqani (their allies in north Waziristan) and provides huge support in terms of training, funding, munitions, and supplies. In their words, this is 'as clear as the sun in the sky'."

The ISI developed relationships with various militant groups, among them the Taliban, whose fighters received funding and training from Islamabad enabling them to sweep to power in Afghanistan in the mid 1990s. Just last year, Mr Zardari said the ISI and the CIA "created them together".

The US, India and Afghanistan have accused the ISI of continuing those links. In the summer of 2008, the CIA even accused elements within the ISI of helping Taliban-linked fighters to bomb the Indian Embassy in Kabul.
But the report by Mr Waldman suggests an ongoing relationship, approved by the highest levels of the military and political establishment. It is so important that the ISI is officially represented on the Afghan Taliban's 15-member leadership council, the Quetta Shura, which is believed to meet in the west and south of Pakistan.
It also claims that Mr Zardari travelled with an ISI official in March to a secret jail where 50 Taliban prisoners were held. He reportedly told them they had only been arrested because of US pressure and said: "After your release we will, of course, support you to do your operations."

Mr Waldman said: "I was surprised by the (depth of the relationship). I kept hearing it from people who were in no way connected with each other."

Since the aftermath of 11 September, when the US demanded Pakistan end its support for the Taliban, Islamabad has received billions of dollars in military aid to confront militants. Yet Pakistan's military has sought to draw a distinction between militants responsible for attacks on targets inside the country, and those who mainly strike at US and Western troops in Afghanistan. It is a policy that causes deep consternation in the West.

Mr Waldman said that if what Taliban commanders had told him was true, Pakistan was pursuing a dangerous strategic game. He said he believed Islamabad remained genuinely anguished by the threat presented by India and that the Taliban were considered a counterweight to this. "It's important that we appreciate the depth of that concern," he said.

Officials in Islamabad have dismissed Mr Waldman's report. Senator Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Mr Zardari, said that while the government believed in dialogue with militants who had given up violence, "there was no question of the president having met with Taliban prisoners". He added: "The president, the government and the Pakistan People's Party has always maintained the Taliban is seeking to impose its agenda on the people of Pakistan through violence."

The Indpendent








When we were children, parents had little time for their offspring. I grew up in the company of family help, rather like Rabindranath Tagore, although my family was enormously middle-class.

Amongst my early mentors was Motilal-da, a tall bony man in his fifties. He was always in a clean white half-sleeve shirt and dhoti, but was a colourful person otherwise. A vegetable vendor in the morning, he was my father's handyman for the rest of the day. He read, wrote in a neat hand, bought our provisions, maintained accounts, and fudged them. He lived in a tiny one-room hut but often talked about his other house in the village, which was a mansion. He also talked about the fish that were aplenty in his pond, his fields, and glorious cows. Besides, he was in intimate terms with some leading film stars.

With the benefit of hindsight, I don't think he lied. Rather, he lived in two worlds. And who can say that the world that can be touched and seen is the only real world? Motilal-da enlightened me on many things, from Yuri Gagarin's visit to space to how people lived in villages to how biscuits are made.
Balai-da was a fish vender from whom we would procure fish every day. The supply was on credit. Balai-da would jot down the amounts in a small notebook and come to our house once a month to collect his dues. The man whom we normally saw in a dirty short dhoti, a singlet and with a bunch of amulets around his left arm, would transform himself into a different person by wearing a fine shirt and a crisp dhoti during visits to his clients.

A carpenter, whose name was possibly Sukumar, was a regular visitor to our house. Father was fond of tinkering with whatever little furniture we had. Sundays would come alive on our terrace with the sound of sawing and hammering. What had been a cot before turned into a partition one day courtesy Sukumar-da. A few months later, the same thing might turn into a bookshelf. Sukumar-da was hard of hearing. While working, at times he would imagine someone was calling him and would shout back, "Eije, aami jachchi!''
Sukumar-da forgot everything else while he worked. I watched with fascination sweat dripping from his brow and the deep concentration in his eyes. I would often volunteer to hold a piece of wood he was working on. Over time, Sukumar-da took me as an apprentice and would allow me to first scrape things with sandpaper and later, to use the plane to smoothen a surface, and so on. Later, when I had to learn carpentry in high school, I found it easy.

But more than training me how to use a chisel or saw, he silently taught me to respect manual labour. Booker T. Washington (1856 - 1915), the American African leader once said "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem." Gandhi tried to spread the same message through his life, but failed. There is little doubt that in our country, educated people's aversion to hard work - a hangover of a caste based social order - keeps pulling us backwards.

Rajen-da too could read and write. He would read aloud poems of Rabindranath. If he came across an unknown word, he would say there was a printing error and replace Tagore with a word he knew. Rajen-da was fond of speaking English. Elders often had a hearty laugh - behind his back of course - at his many malapropisms. But my English being more or less at the same level as his, I couldn't appreciate what was so funny about them.
Once, when I was slightly bigger, I hurt my leg while playing football. The last three toes of my right leg got slightly bent and I couldn't wear shoes. The injury was not considered serious enough to be reported to parents. Rajen-da massaged my right foot for months with hot oil and brought everything back to the right slots. Neither the patient nor the physiotherapist had heard about dislocation of a bone. Or maybe, the therapist knew, but didn't utter the word in order not to frighten the patient.







Nothing excites a country's possessive ire more than culture. Greece made quite a nostalgia industry out of the Elgin Marbles, whimpering and moaning about them till the world took note. Melina Mercouri, an actress past her prime, not only took centre-stage again but also rose to be Greece's culture minister by simply riding on the crest of the marble wave. Indians are no different. Whether it is the plume worn by Guru Gobind Singh, or the memorabilia of Mahatma Gandhi, or the 12 paintings by Rabindranath Tagore put up for auction by Sotheby's in London, Indians feel fiercely possessive and patriotically anxious in case some other country gets its hands on them.


The poorer the country the greater its desire to hold on to its own culture. So it is a little surprising to find some Indians so put out by the sale of Tagore's paintings. After reforms, there has been a sea change in India's growth rate and, therefore, its confidence. That Tagore's paintings are out there being auctioned in the world art market is a remarkable indicator of that change. Before India had graduated from its Hindu rate of growth to its present growth rate of close to double digits, Indian art went a-begging, with artists requesting the government to make it mandatory for interior designers to commission their work. But now a widely circulated financial paper advises its readers to invest in Indian art — among other things — in order to become billionaires quickly. With so much more disposable income flowing through Indian pockets at home and abroad, the country is producing its own big buyers. The global art market is being powered by India's growing prosperity, as the world, busy discovering the depth of its markets, gets increasingly interested in its art. Perhaps a poor second to China, India is still a considerable player of the game: not quite a Nadal on the clay court, yet a Federer. Indians are now going ahead to get what they want, whether it is a place on the list of richest businessmen or the Jaguar car company. They can buy Tagore's paintings too if they feel so strongly. Acquiring cultural objects that belong to their history has always been a token of pride for them. Perhaps they need to discover, too, that they are not at all short of cultural treasures, which can be bought and sold in the world market as precious collectibles. And that Indian art is not just for Indians.








The slew of pacts signed between Sri Lanka and India during President Mahinda Rajapaksa's recent visit to India marks the changed contours of the nations' bilateral ties. The cooperation pledged by India in security matters, power and rail linkages, oil exploration and cultural exchange is expected and designed to deepen India's involvement in Sri Lanka's economy and development. The focus on furthering mutual economic and strategic interests is what has kept the interaction going between the two nations since the 1990s, when India consciously rolled back its self-destructive policy of intrusion. The seven pacts signed in New Delhi reaffirm India's self-conscious stand of allowing Sri Lanka to handle its internal politics and concentrating on areas of mutual concern that would invite the least discord between the two neighbours.


The limiting of discord with Sri Lanka is important to India. That is one way of countering China's ever-growing influence in the Indian Ocean region and restraining Pakistan's strategic ambitions. Sri Lanka, which has bought the support of both China and Pakistan, besides a host of other countries, for its war against the Tamil rebels in exchange of promoting the strategic interests of its backers, is aware of India's concern. It is not without reason that Mr Rajapaksa found himself in a bargaining position with India during his recent trip, which came after Sri Lanka's crucial break with its past and his own stupendous victory in both the presidential and parliamentary elections. While India re-stated its commitment to the welfare of the Sri Lankan Tamils by pledging Rs 500 crore and assistance in the construction of 50,000 homes, it could not get Mr Rajapaksa to commit to the implementation of the 13th amendment, although he did promise to create the "necessary conditions" for the resolution of the country's ethnic problems. It goes without saying that Sri Lanka has only begun discovering the benefits that may accrue to it if it is able to balance the strategic interests of its neighbours in the region. Its assent to India to set up a consulate in Hambantota, where China is building a port, is perhaps an indication of this effort. Once the pressure from the West on human rights violations builds up and begins to hurt its economy, Sri Lanka may find this balancing act to be a saving grace as well.









Any development in the relations between India and the United States of America is preceded by great hype. This has been the pattern ever since Bill Clinton's visit to India as president, the first such visit of a US president in decades. It is hardly surprising then that the recently concluded first strategic dialogue between the two countries should generate great expectations. That it was more hype than hope should have been clear from the very composition of the foreign minister's delegation, which contained no one from the security establishment. Considering that many of the hurdles to deepening Indo-US relations relate to issues of security, this absence was by no means incidental.


At the end, all we got were good atmospherics, a gesture of the president driving up to attend the dinner hosted by the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, his soothing words for India and announcement of his visit to India. Answering questions at the conclusion of his visit to the US, the external affairs minister is quoted to have said, "Our concerns should be addressed by the US and their concerns should be addressed by us. This is the ground rule on which we proceed and this is the ground rule on which the strategic dialogue took place." Hardly the concepts on which tectonic international strategic partnerships are founded.


The perception that under the new administration of President Barack Obama some of the sheen in the much heralded strategic partnership was wearing thin has been gaining ground. Given that not every US president could be expected to be as effusive and open about the importance of such a relationship between the two democracies as was George Bush with his typical 'either you are with us or against us' approach, it was only natural that Obama, with a different style of leadership and vision, would bring in change. But the hope was that the change would be more in style than substance.


Viewed from India's perspective, Obama brought a different substance to the White House, committed as he was to bringing his troops back from two overseas operational theatres. It was AfPak that was on his immediate radar and India had to be pacified through diplomatic niceties. Manmohan Singh being the first head of State to be given a State dinner by the new president was one such. Signals emanating from the president's special envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, and General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the International Security Assistance Force and US forces in Afghanistan, however, indicated softness towards Pakistan's desire to see India end its development work in Afghanistan. When not long after the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in October last year, in which the Taliban had claimed responsibility, a senior White House official in Washington indicated official thinking that the Taliban did not pose a direct threat to the US , India should have got the message. Whether the Indian government was listening is a moot point.


The David Headley case brought out to starry-eyed Indians that even with all the cooperation in intelligence-sharing and counter-terror operations, the US, like all nations, first safeguarded its own national interests. To successive governments which have shied away from clearly defining India's strategic interests and goals, this may appear a contradiction in terms, but in the world of international diplomacy and relations, this is given.


Chastened by two recent terrorist attempts on US soil and ahead of the strategic dialogue, US officials made a series of statements to reflect the president's view of India's growing regional and global relevance. For the first time it was suggested that Pakistan and India can put the Kashmir issue on the backburner and address confidence-building measures, including advancing trade and commerce — an approach favoured by India. Speaking at a joint press conference with President Hamid Karzai, the US president said that Pakistan was afflicted with the cancer of terrorism. Officials, too, once again endorsed New Delhi's role in Afghanistan and privately rubbished Pakistan's allegations of a subversive Indian role in Afghanistan and its overheated rhetoric on water issues. Clearly there was a strong message of changing perceptions on the US's part, possibly driven by recent attempts at terrorist attacks in the US and continuing obduracy on Pakistan's part.


But there also appears to be a sense of frustration as the US attempts to initiate a strategic partnership with India. In a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, the under-secretary of state, William J. Burns, indicated that the US wanted an India that doesn't think small and that "self-hyphenates". He further lamented that "India sometimes has a hard time realizing how far its influence and its interests have taken it beyond its immediate neighbourhood", and its ambivalence about its own rise in the world makes it still torn between its Group of 77 and Group of 20 identities.


Further sensing that there were bloated expectations from the outcome of the first strategic dialogue which would largely remain unfulfilled, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, stated that "the purpose of this dialogue is really to think strategically and again to get the key people who work on these issues together to think ahead to the US President's visit and to think strategically about what we can do".


Taken together, all this suggests that the US was preparing India to have the self-confidence and graduate to a higher level of strategic thinking and planning. Whilst India has announced some kind of strategic relationship with many countries, it does not have a strategic culture to engage in in-depth strategic analyses with respect to the relationship with each and arrive at its own strategic vision and security interests. As is our wont, even any limited exercise is done within the confines of the government, with little involvement of outside intellectual inputs like those from universities and think-tanks. What is more, in a democracy such as ours, all such issues degenerate into a political slug fest at the slightest opportunity. The government of the day then resorts to secrecy and part-information as a tool. Compare this to the US, which is mandated by law to periodically declare its national security strategy, the first of Obama's administration being released only days before this strategic dialogue commenced.


One also needs to bear in mind that there are other agreements that the US would like to enter into with India in furtherance of its own international foreign policy and security objectives. These have been under discussion for a long time, being the communications interoperability and security memorandum of agreement, logistic support agreement, container security initiative, among others. All these continue to lie in limbo as India is not clearly articulating its national security strategy, within the confines of which all such commitments can then be negotiated and finalized.


In an international environment that is dynamic and somewhat insecure, the purely tactical approach that India often favours over safeguarding its larger strategic interests is bound to suffer from serious shortcomings. This undermines the long-term interests of the country as issues of strategic interest do not receive the advantage of wider cost-benefit analyses. Such an approach also weakens national resolve to negotiate international partnerships from a position of confidence and strength.


India must recognize that the US is the only superpower, and if it desires closer strategic partnership with India, it is because this serves its interests. There is little doubt that as interaction between the strategic, security, diplomatic and political communities increases and there is greater familiarity with each other's practices, strategic interests and outlooks as the relationship matures, the path will become smoother. But there is hard work to be done.


India's interest is not going to be served if this partnership progresses secretively, as this creates doubts and results in unnecessary and infructuous debate. It is important that the issues are debated openly so that both democracies share the challenges, opportunities and compromises that need to be made. It is only then that this strategic partnership will grow over time to the mutual benefit of the two countries, the region and, indeed, of international peace and security. If it appears to the Indian people that the US is not looking for a partner, but a client state, then the relationship is in for a turbulent ride.


It was during the US visit of the former prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in November, 2001 that he famously said in his opening remarks at the meeting with the speaker of the House of Representatives, "I have long believed that the United States and India are natural allies." These were profound words from a leader deeply rooted in the Indian ethos and a distinguished Hindi poet to boot. The challenge for India is to convert this natural alliance progressively into a partnership of strategic significance. For this to begin, India must come out with its own national security strategy, which should be debated both in public and in the Parliament and have the endorsement of the people of India. These then will form the "true ground rules" to which the external affairs minister refers.


The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian Air Force








Politics in Jharkhand continues to be a nauseating affair. A former chief minister who wanted to curry favour with the ruling dispensation at the Centre for a berth in the cabinet ditched his ally in the state in the Lok Sabha. The angry ally decided to pull the rug out from under his feet in Ranchi. The man developed cold feet, begged the ally not to withdraw support, and offered the chief ministership on a platter. The ally — the Bharatiya Janata Party — relented but could not quite decide on a successor. The former chief minister's son insisted that the BJP must share its term in office with his father's party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. Thereafter, things took a predictable turn. Owing to the differences, the BJP withdrew its support and the state came under president's rule yet again.


Things are so hopeless in Jharkhand that on one occasion, it was even ruled by independents for quite a while. It is the only state in the country to have been run in this manner. This is not the only record that Jharkhand boasts of: it is also the only state whose representatives in the Lok Sabha bailed out a prime minister in return of handsome largesse. One of the richest states in terms of mineral wealth, its people are the poorest in the country, thanks to the quality of political leadership.


Its creation had led to a lot of excitement around the country. Those who believe the adivasis to be god's chosen people had hoped that having got their own state, the tribal people would set a model for the rest of the nation to follow. They had shut their eyes to the vast gulf that separates the poor adivasis from their leaders who were quick to make hay while the sun shone. It could not have been otherwise. Industrial activities in south Bihar had inevitably given rise to the contractor class. Moreover, there was plenty of easy money floating around and the political class was drawn to it. This happens everywhere, but in Jharkhand the leaders have always displayed more than the usual disregard for propriety.


Failed politics

Perhaps Jharkhand's politicians thought that the people being mostly impoverished and unlettered, they would be able to get away with their shenanigans. And they have got away with their crimes, taking advantage of the conditions of their ethnic brethren in the most shameless manner. It is this shamelessness, this monumental cynicism, that makes Jharkhand's political life distinct from that in the other states, a distinction it could have done without. Even a party like the BJP, which talks of principles in the field of politics, behaves differently in Jharkhand. This has been evident in recent times.


All the players in Jharkhand are firm believers in democracy. Irrespective of what happens, an elected ministry must be in office. However, what is never asked is ministry for whom, and for what purpose. The crying need of the hour is to put in place a stable administration in Jharkhand. Since politicians in the state have clearly failed in this aspect, it is time the bureaucrats stepped in to tide over the crisis.


President's rule is not desirable, but a basket case requires special treatment. Even at the cost of shocking the supporters of democracy, one must examine the possibilities of creating and implementing a new law that will allow for the continuation of Central rule for a longer period in the state. This, of course, is an unlikely possibility as all political parties would want a share of the pie. When Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar, the latter looked set to be doomed. But in the last five years, the rot has been stemmed in Patna. No such good fortune seems to be in the offing for Ranchi.



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





India's longstanding contention that Pakistan's support to the Taliban and other extremist outfits is part of that country's official policy is finding increasing international endorsement. The latest is a study by a Harvard University scholar at the London School of Economics, which says that the financial, logistical and other support that the Taliban gets is not random help from a few sympathetic ISI and military officers but the outcome of official policy. The support is not 'limited' or 'occasional' but systematic and 'very extensive,' the report says. Pakistan is helping the Taliban with funds, arms, sanctuary, even tactical and strategic input. Meanwhile, a report in a British newspaper has drawn attention to a visit that President Asif Ali Zardari made earlier this year to meet 50 high-ranking Taliban prisoners in a Pakistan jail to arrange for their release. Following that visit, several Taliban leaders were freed. For over two decades now, India has been drawing the world's attention to the Pakistani establishment's close links with terrorist organisations. But the west has preferred to believe that it is rogue elements in the ISI or a few fundamentalists in the army that are supporting the Taliban, accepting Pakistan's white lie that it is firmly committed to the war on terrorism. The two recent reports shatter such delusions. They clearly indicate that the line of support for the Taliban runs right to the top.

The US has been providing high-tech weaponry and funds to Pakistan for carrying out military operations against Pakistan-based al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives. Since supporting the Taliban is Pakistan's official policy it is highly likely that American military largesse is being diverted to the Taliban to implement that policy. For decades, India has warned the US that its military aid to Pakistan was encouraging Islamabad's military adventurism vis-a-vis India. The US ignored those warnings. Now American arms are in all likelihood being used against the American troops in Afghanistan. It is time the US government woke up to the fact that its flawed strategy of supporting Pakistan militarily is keeping the insurgency in Afghanistan alive.

As for Pakistan, clearly its political and military leaders have learnt no lessons from the past. Propping up the Taliban might seem an attractive way to regain influence in Afghanistan again. Its long-term implications are disastrous for Pakistan. The policy has already begun to backfire.








Corporal punishment meted out by school authorities to a 13-year-old in Kolkata appears to have driven him to suicide. Rouvanjit Rawla, a student of an elite school in the city was apparently caned by his teacher for bunking classes and hauled up subsequently for bursting 'stink bombs' in class. It appears that humiliation over the punishment drove the boy to take his life. While admitting to caning the boy, school authorities deny that this pushed him to take the extreme step. Even so, corporal punishment is wrong. It was banned by the supreme court in 2000 and under the Right to Education Act recently. Why were school authorities then still indulging in it?

Rouvanjit's tragic fate is not an isolated incident. Use of corporal punishment in schools is rampant in this country, despite the court ruling. Children are routinely beaten, made to stand for hours in the sun or run several times around the playground, all in the name of 'disciplining' them. Parents are reluctant to take timely action, as they fear their child will be expelled from the school. It is only when the punishment leads to a suicide as in Rouvanjit's case that the continuing use of corporal punishment captures the media spotlight and stirs the government out of its slumber. Last year, 11-year-old Shanno Khan died after she was made to squat in 'murga position' with bricks on her back for hours for failing to recite the full English alphabet string. Public outrage over the incident was followed by many grand promises by the government to end corporal punishment. But Rouvanjit's case indicates that precious little was done.

Banning alone will not end the problem. Errant teachers who beat children should be taken to task. Violence against children is a crime. More importantly, public awareness should be created. Many in this country still believe that sparing the rod will spoil the child. But studies show that corporal punishment harms more than it helps. Not only do victims suffer physical pain and disability but also, they are often damaged psychologically. Some like Rouvanjit end the trauma immediately; others carry the scars for years unable to build normal relationships later in life. Monitoring of schools across the country is important to ensure that more children do not suffer the fate that befell Shanno and Rouvanjit.







Since reality is a perceptional problem, there is no one reality, but many realities that occur to our senses at the same time.



The socio-psychological school of research and training is fast growing across the world—particularly in the USA and Europe. This school is focusing on mind change and personality development. The modern technology is pushing people into enormous amount of  stress. Mind is the most critical organ that needs updating and training so that it can adopt to changes that pose challenges. In this context the psycho-analytical schools are working on several mind adjustment agendas that are gaining a lot of importance.

Recently I was in Seattle, Washington state where there is an institute called the Pacific Institute. It is working on developing a mind change curriculum and disseminating it through lectures, videos and other teaching aids. The co-founder of this institute is Lou Tice, a psycho-analyst. He has developed a curriculum for training the people to focus the mind on adapting to changes of life.

Lou Tice's training has acquired global attention in government circles, education institutions, corporate companies and teachers who believe in helping to develop a focused mind and achieving higher targets or to develop a mind to 'bounce back' from failures.

About 15 members of the Truthseekers International group, including this author, recently visited his institute for three days. He took us by his jet to his ranch located in a beautiful valley of mountains on the borders of USA and Canada. Living at this ranch was itself is an experience.

To our pleasant surprise, he not only offered a free flight in his  luxurious small jet aircraft, but he and his wife Diane Tice were with us all the three days. At 74, Lou Tice takes each session for four hours at a stretch to teach the principles of mind change. His teaching was a treat.

He starts with a detailed explanation of fundamental principles as to how the mind perceives things. He takes the participants through a journey of conscious, sub-conscious and creative sub-conscious process of mind. He says that the fundamental problem of mind is formulating pictures and translating those pictures into reality.

Since reality is a perceptional problem, he says, there is no one reality but there are many realities that keep occurring to our senses at a time. Because of scotomas ( mental black spots) some times many minds do not perceive what they see. Overcoming scotomas is possible only through a systematic training of the mind.

The mind change principles are based on the cognitive science and social psychology. Lou Tice applies them to day-to-day process of perception and explains quite lucidly that human beings' perception of reality is based on his/her status and confidence levels.

Overcome backwardness

As an Indian group we were interested to learn how the caste mind could be changed and a country like India could overcome the backwardness; we were keen to locate that theory in Indian caste context. I discovered that his teaching focuses more on achieving targets in business and executive operations.

Social inequalities and training of mind to overcome such inequalities is, though not part of his teaching exercise, he thinks that once the lower castes of India overcome their low esteem they do not tolerate iniquitous treatment.

 If we apply his theory to our context one could, perhaps come to a conclusion that the upper castes and lower castes suffer from several scotomas, hence cannot perceive what they see around them as reality and also its changeability.

At yet another level though the caste or the structures of subordination of social forces are conditioned by social violence and the theory of scotomas may not explain it. Lou Tice, however, thinks that if his principles of 'mind change' are made part of Indian school curriculum and the children of the oppressed castes are made to overcome their inferior status they would move from a position of caste to castelessness. But that is not an easy proposition. However, it is good that India tries this curriculum.

For every thing he tries to find out solutions through his theory of mind change, thus undercutting the role of violence in change.

All theories involve a principle of mind change in one form or the other. For example, even Marxism also deals with mind change but that change is seen as possible through a mass struggle against oppression. Lou Tice operates within the capitalist paradigm of socio-psycho analysis and does not approve of violent transformation or mass action. His theory of mind change is individualistic. Though Mahatma Phule and Ambedkar were not cognitive psychologists they too wanted to change the Indian social system through a process of mind change.

Perhaps India should operate at two levels of mind change—-individual and collective. Though Lou Tice recognises the role of collective consciousness he does not approve of mass action—agitations, strikes or of violent wars. If a modern theory produces a model for peaceful transformation, we should welcome it. After all there is nothing that science cannot achieve.








Cities suffer from the legal ambiguity, rampant corruption, political infighting and institutional inertia.


By virtually any measure, the quality of life in Indian cities is abysmal. Only 60 per cent of municipal waste is collected. Just 30 per cent of urban sewage is treated. According to a recent government study of 127 cities, 80 per cent of them had at least one pollutant that exceeded air quality standards.

A few decades ago, when the vast majority of Indians lived in the countryside and when agriculture represented around a third of national income, all of this would perhaps have been cause for less concern. But today, with India rapidly urbanising, moving to an economy where services represent more than half of GDP, cities matter a lot more. They represent both the tremendous possibility of India, but also potential bottlenecks in its development.

A study released last month by McKinsey, the consulting firm, does a good job of capturing the critical role played by Indian cities. The report,  titled "India's urban awakening: building inclusive cities, sustaining economic growth," contains an acute analysis of the opportunities and challenges presented by urban India.

As one would expect from a McKinsey study, the number-crunching is impressive — and the numbers themselves staggering. Between now and 2030, the report estimates, 250 million Indians will migrate to the cities, a figure that exceeds the current total population of all but three countries (China, India and the United States). As a result, India will have 68 cities with populations of more than one million (compared with 35 in all of Europe today).

Migration on that scale represents tremendous economic opportunity. The report's authors calculate that, over the next 20 years, 70 per cent of new jobs in India will be in urban areas and that the cities' share of GDP will rise to 70 per cent from 58 per cent. Fulfiling that potential, however, depends on managing the transformation well. And, given India's abysmal record when it comes to even relatively modest rates of urbanisation over the past few decades, the coming urban wave could just as well spell disaster as opportunity.

Shirish Sankhe, the report's lead author, told me that the overarching message of the report was this: "India can basically take two paths. One path is the urban reform path, and one is the status quo path. One path leads to chaos and urban gridlock. The other can add up to  1.5 per cent to GDP" In Sankhe's view, there are two main challenges to the 'reform path' — governance and financial. Perhaps surprisingly, the financial challenges appear less daunting. Although the sums of money required to modernise Indian cities are huge (around $10 billion a year, more than three times current levels of investment), the report argues that many of these funds can be generated by cities themselves through more efficient property taxes, unlocking the value of land assets and raising prices for things like water supply, mass transit and sewage treatment.

Better governance

Putting into place such policies, however, relies on institutional and political reform — in other words, better governance. Here, the prospects are more uncertain. India's urban crisis is in many ways a reflection of a more general crisis confronting the nation. Like much of the country, cities suffer from the legal ambiguity, rampant corruption, political infighting and institutional inertia.

For example, although the country's 74th constitutional amendment, passed in 1992, devolves a gamut of powers to urban bodies, in practice many of those powers are ill defined and limited by the reluctance of state officials to cede authority to their urban counterparts.

The report concludes on an optimistic note, arguing, based on international experience, that cities can be turned around in 10 years. Maybe so, but I actually found the cautious tone that runs through the bulk of the report more convincing — and, in a paradoxical way, more hopeful.

In 2003, in a widely noted report on Mumbai, McKinsey argued that the chaotic, gridlocked metropolis could be transformed into a "world class" city by 2013. That report, and particularly a section that listed 23 "quick wins" toward that goal, was derided as Panglossian in some quarters, a reflection of a general and often simplistic euphoria sweeping India at the time.

Seven years later, the nation is more sober, and perhaps a little more realistic. Its promise remains huge, but there is growing recognition, too, of the many obstacles that remain.

In fact, there are no quick fixes. But, with perseverance, with a little honesty and clear analysis, Indian cities (and India itself) can ultimately live up to their tremendous possibility.







Rather than the run itself, the anxiety was more hurting than physical pain.


Notwithstanding the need for the army in general and the infantry in particular to be always fighting fit, the most dreaded order the company havildar major read out every alternate Friday evening in my infantry battalion was "paltan ka kal do meel daud hoga." (Tomorrow two mile run is scheduled for the platoon).

The message was feared by the rank and file of the platoon, not because anyone was unfit to complete the run but because they were reminded of the gruelling pain that was in store the next morning. On cue, my orderly would start preparations like polishing the web equipment, jungle boots and readying a set of uniforms followed by a light dinner.

The evening before the run was more tortuous than the run itself, since the anxiety and apprehension was more hurting than the physical pain. We would forgo our evening entertainment, watching only the news on TV.

Freshening up with a bed tea, we'd don the uniform labelled scale 'B' and get ready for the Battle Proficiency Efficiency Test (BPET). On these mornings we'd always feel things amiss - the jungle boots, otherwise perfectly fitting would be found ill-fitting; one boot would feel unusually loose while the other would be a tad too tight; some times there'd even be an imaginary stone hurting the little toe.

Despite all these setbacks, we would land up at the start line ready for the ordeal. When the rifle was fired after the cautious 'ready…' the BPET would begin.

Each would take about five minutes to set one's own pace and rhythm. During this 400 - 500 yard run we would get to hear a great many vows and promises of abstaining from cigarettes and alcohol, from officers and jawans

The administrative staff and pointsmen comprised of sportsmen with established reputations of fitness or of personnel of low medical category. Some sportsmen would be sprinkled with water all along the route, who would be the pace setters for the tail-enders. The pointsmen and pace setters would coax or coerce and some times hurl abuses on the tail-enders to finish the run in time.

During one of these runs, long ago when I was 26 and six years in service, I had finished the run among the first few and was back on the running route to encourage the tail-enders. A pointsman remarked, "Oy mundyo tusi kyon aastha daur rahe ho, vekhya nahi buddna Major saab daur khatam in karke aye hain tusi to bachchhe ho" (You boys! Why are you running slowly, haven't you seen the old Major Saab finish the run?)
 The onlookers were amused at this remark tagging me, the young major as old, not knowing that in army parlance, every commander was called an 'old' man, by the subordinates.







The Treasury's program will make it more difficult for intransigent tenants to stop new projects and make it easier to rezone fallow land.

In yet another attempt to solve Israel's chronic housing shortage, the Treasury this week launched a program aimed at making more land available. The goal is to spark a resurgence of housing construction by issuing 140,000 new building permits in 2011 and 2012.

The Treasury's program will make it more difficult for intransigent tenants to stop new projects and make it easier to rezone fallow land once used for agriculture. The Treasury's is just one of many building reform initiatives that have been launched in recent months by the Interior Ministry, Bank of Israel governor and the Construction and Housing Ministry.

All aspire to solve an endemic market failure: Housing prices have steadily risen, yet demand continues to exceed supply. Housing prices are up 40% since the end of 2007 and 21% in the last year. This should have translated into a building boom as contractors scrambled to cash in. But building starts have remained static at about 30,000, lower than the natural annual growth of households, which is 35,000 to 40,000. This has been going on for at least five years.

WHILE THE different reforms deal with the myriad ailments of Israel's housing market, they ignore one important component. Who precisely will build those 140,000 new housing units in the Treasury's plan?

The Association of Contractors and Builders (ACBI) has been complaining that there is a shortage of workers in the most labor-intensive aspects of construction, such as pouring concrete and laying floor tiles, fields presently dominated by foreign workers and Palestinians. As a result, instead of it taking 12 months to build a house, it now takes 30 months. And the situation is about to get worse.

At the end of the month, the 8,000 limit on foreign construction workers – most of whom come from China – will be cut to 5,000. The plan is to phase them out altogether by 2012. Contractors say that stiff fines and government crackdowns have practically eliminated illegally employed foreigners.

Back in April, meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced that by the end of the year Palestinians must stop working in settlements in the West Bank – defined to include Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem – or face up to five years in prison and a fine of $14,000. In 2009, there were about 25,000 Palestinians legally employed in the building sector; many thousands more are employed illegally.


Obviously, the easiest solution to these shortages would be to ease restrictions on foreign workers. That is precisely what the ACBI is demanding. In the short run, the government has no choice if it takes seriously the Treasury's ambitious program. But in parallel, more must be done to encourage Israelis, particularly young men just out of IDF service, to work in construction.

The Zionist ideal of "Hebrew labor," which predates the state, posits that all honest labor is honorable. Sadly, this ideal was brushed aside by contractors when, in 1967, cheap Palestinian labor from the West Bank became available.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, the intifada and suicide bombings led to a shift from Palestinian to foreign workers. Often these laborers were exploited. And their influx further acerbated high unemployment among less educated Israelis.

A concerted effort must now be made to encourage Israelis to replace foreigners. The time is ripe. Contractors are desperate for new workers. A Histadrut-backed collective labor agreement signed in January provides better working conditions. The Defense Ministry, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry and the ACBI have put aside millions of shekels to encourage Israelis to work in construction.

And there seems to be a readiness on the part of Israelis as well, at least in theory. Over 3,000 applied to a pilot program launched in 2009 offering a monthly gross salary of NIS 7,000 to young men willing to work in the most difficult construction jobs that are also the most vital to contractors. But only 50 completed the six-month course: 43 of whom found work, but only 35 of them were still working six months later.

This is just a drop in the bucket. But the figures suggest at least a chance that the stereotype of the spoiled Israeli who shirks physical labor can be challenged. A return of Israelis to construction will revive a Zionist ideal, and help solve the housing shortage.








In light of the recent NPT Review Conference results, Israel should rethink the value of all US promises, regardless of how or where they were made.

Talkbacks (15)


The term "reassessment" entered the diplomatic discourse between Israel and the United States in 1975. Secretary of state Henry Kissinger sought to pressure prime minister Yitzhak Rabin into an "interim agreement" with Egypt, by which IDF forces would withdraw from the Yom Kippur War cease-fire lines to the Mitla and Gidi passes in Sinai. Kissinger froze US arms shipments and hinted that more drastic measures would follow. Rabin was unfazed and took his case to the Senate. President Gerald Ford and Kissinger relented.

Even at the height of that crisis, the US did not dare to endanger the heart of its strategic understanding with Israel: its ambiguous nuclear policy. President Lyndon Johnson and prime minister Golda Meir set the policy in 1969 that has been followed by all the presidents and prime ministers since. This policy has often been articulated in written agreements between them, but occasionally simply by mutual understanding.

"Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East," said prime ministers Levi Eshkol and Shimon Peres, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin, and all who followed. US presidents have come and gone; sometimes they had questions, sometimes they asked for clarifications, but ultimately they all accepted the formula and agreed to abide by it. Until Barack Obama.

After his election, Obama promised Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to maintain the ambiguity. Two weeks ago he betrayed that promise.

On May 28, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, which meets once every five years, called unanimously – with America's support – for Israel to sign the treaty and open its nuclear installations to external supervision. Israel is not a signatory to the treaty; Iran is a signatory, yet Iran is rushing toward production of nuclear weapons. Syria and Libya are signatories, but their signatures have not prevented them from building uranium enrichment plants for military purposes.

North Korea built a bomb and tests nuclear weapons, mocking the entire world supposedly opposed to it. Pakistani scientists, led by the "father of the Pakistan's nuclear bomb" Abdul Qadeer Khan, sold nuclear secrets and technology necessary for the building of nuclear weapons to Iran, Syria, Libya and possibly North Korea. In the face of this burgeoning industry, the US gave in to an Egyptian initiative and agreed to single out Israel as the country the world should be worried about. Israel alone was mentioned in the NPT Review Committee's report. Apparently only its installations need to be examined.

THE TIME has come for a reassessment of US-Israeli relations. Israel may want the billions of dollars it receives in military aid from the US, and in the event of a long war, it may need the US munitions reserves currently stored here and resupply lines for the IDF; the US market is also of great importance for the economy; and US intervention often limits our international isolation. But the fact is, we can no longer rely on US support.

We must reassess the value of all American promises, whether they be in writing, made ceremoniously at public festivities or whispered privately in a room of the White House. He who, without batting an eyelash, betrayed us on the nuclear issue, a matter whose existential importance to the Jewish state is obvious given the Iranian dash for a bomb, will not hesitate to deny other commitments.

Obama is currently pressuring Israel to accept dictates that would lead to a Palestinian state in the heart of its country. In return, he offers to guarantee our security, preserve our technological advantage and ensure the Palestinian state will be demilitarized. Why would anyone be willing to take existential risks while relying on the commitment of an American president who has betrayed and denied the commitments of his predecessors and forgotten even his own?

One might think that as our military and political situation worsens, our ability to maneuver opposite the US decreases. But with our back to the wall and knowing full well that we have no one to rely on, we can turn this lack of maneuverability into resoluteness and the dearth of options into strength. When doubts are resolved, fortitude may emerge. The knowledge that American promises are without value is of itself quite valuable. Even a pauper will not agree to give the little he has in exchange for a guarantee openly declared to be worthless.

Obama is no more frightening than Ford. Hillary Clinton dislikes us no more than Kissinger did. The sea we are threatened with being thrown into is the same sea. The Arabs are the same Arabs. But the wall our backs are up against is much closer and more dangerous. The depth of Obama's betrayal must be made known to the American public today. As the November elections approach in the United States, Netanyahu has the opportunity to replicate Rabin's achievement of 1975.

The writer is a National Union MK.








A private Christian school system educates the Arab, mostly Muslim, elite in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The best schools among the Arabs of Israel and the Palestinian territories are the private Christian schools. It may seem a strange irony of history, but the educated elite among the mostly Muslim Palestinians, and to a lesser degree among Israeli Arabs, is almost all a product of a private Christian education. The Christians among these two Arab groups are about two percent of the population. Christian schools provide the tiny minority of Christian students an education, ensuring that they remain among the most cultured members of society (Israeli and Arab), and the schools increasingly cater to Muslims.

Forerunners of the current school system can be found in the 19th century. The first of these was Bishop Gobat's school which was founded in 1853 on Mount Zion. It was an Anglican school established at the initiative of Samuel Gobat, a Swiss-born German and Anglican bishop in Jerusalem (1846-1879). His intention was to bring the light to Orthodox and Catholic Christian Arabs in place of the former policy of his Protestant precursors who had concentrated on converting the Jews.

The school was a success, in the sense that it was Jerusalem's best boys' school, but it was also a political success and an incubator of extremism. Abdel Khader al-Husseini, the commander of local Arab units around Jerusalem in 1948, briefly attended the school. Israel's two leading Arab communists from the 1950s, Tawfik Toubi and Emil Tume, were both students. Edward Said's father and uncle were graduates. St. George's school at the Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem played a similar role (Emil Ghuri, prominent Christian politician and briefly military commander in Jerusalem and Ibrahim Touqan, a nationalist poet, were graduates).

Another well known school in the region is the Ramallah Friends school, a Quaker institution founded in 1869 and extended in 1919 to include a girls' school. Famous graduates include Hanan Ashrawi, the female politician, and Raja Shehadeh, the Palestinian writer. Many of the graduates of these schools during and after the British Mandate period would usually continue their studies at the American University of Beirut, which was founded by American Protestant missionary Daniel Bliss in 1866. Graduates of this institution included such notables as the PFLP terrorist, and Arab Christian, George Habash along with Ashrawi.

The German-Catholic Schmidt school and its cousin Lutheran institution, Talitha Kumi, pioneered education among Arab Christian women in Jerusalem. Kumi was founded in 1860 outside today's Hamashbir department store at the top of Rehov Ben-Yehuda. After 1948 it was transferred to Beit Jala near Bethlehem.

BUT THE premier institution for Arab women in Jerusalem is the Rosary Sisters school in Beit Hanina.

The Rosary Sisters is a unique institution. Founded in 1880, its origins were local. Soultane Ghattas Danil, a Christian Arab woman from a prominent Jerusalem family, was, according to a biography written in 1952, the first Palestinian woman to become a nun. She took the name Sister Marie Alphonsine and was active in founding institutions for poor and married women. Together with Don Joseph Tannous, a Nazareth-born Catholic priest, they realized that a local Catholic school for women run by Arab female clergy could reach out to Arab women and educate them better than foreign born nuns.

Sister Alphonsine died in 1927 at 84 in a convent in Ein Kerem, but by 1952 her order, the Rosary Sisters, had 32 houses and 150 sisters, all Arab born. Today it has 44 properties and 166 nuns. The schools are located primarily in the West Bank and Jordan, with a few in Israel (Haifa, Jaffa), and outposts scattered in such far off places as the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. The flagship school is in Beit Hanina, a wealthy Arab community that has developed in the last 50 years between Jerusalem and Ramallah and is within the municipality of Jerusalem.

The Rosary school in Beit Hanina educates girls from four through 18. By my estimate, it is less than 15 percent Christian. Until 2000 the curriculum was based on the Jordanian system, meaning that graduates had a tough time getting into an Israeli university. Christians and Muslims attend separate classes on religion once or twice a week. The graduates of Rosary Sisters are of the highest caliber and most attend university, which is certainly a departure from the norm among Palestinian women. Several have become important personalities, such as Guevara al-Budeiri and Shireen Abu Akla, the fiery reporters for Al-Jazeera. The general trend is for women to study science (pharmacy and medicine).

The Christian schools have been incubators of Arab nationalism. They have mostly sacrificed their secular and currently nonsectarian stance to please their constituents, who today tend to be Muslim and nationalistic.

A deeper question is why the Muslim community has failed so clearly to create an elite school network, instead relying on others to educate its best and brightest. It's not charity, the Muslims attending Christian schools pay for the privilege. According to my sources, the east Jerusalem school system that caters to local Muslim children is run by Arab functionaries from Israel who do little for the schools they are asked to administer.

Almost all the Christian children in the West Bank and east Jerusalem attend private Christian schools along with the wealthiest most well-connected Muslims. In Israel the pattern is similar, Haifa's best school from a standpoint of matriculation was, in 2004, the Nazareth Nun's Catholic school (established 1858) and the third best was the Orthodox School, with 95% matriculating (the national average is 52%). In second place was the Jewish Leo Baeck school. While the private Jewish school Reali charges NIS 10,000 a year, the Christian schools charge only NIS 1,200. The Orthodox School is 50% Muslim.

The Christian school system in the region has provided an education to the Arab elite for generations now. They foster love and pride in the Palestinian nation alongside an excellent education. The Jews, in this respect, could learn something from the nuns at Rosary Sisters: How to create an atmosphere where the cultured elite are devoted to their country and its people.  

The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.







To survive, Palestinians needs an election system that will result in true representation, rather than the failed one that has sputtered on and off.

Parliamentary systems do not really work in the Arab world. It definitely doesn't work in Palestine, where coalitions are hard to establish and people vote not on the basis of issues but on ethnicity, religion, tribes and clans.

To survive, Palestinians need a real election system that will result in true representation by the people and for the people, rather than the failed system that has sputtered on and off since 2003.

There is nothing successful about any of the elections in Palestine, from the 2005 municipal and presidential elections to the 2006 legislative elections. International observers like former president Jimmy Carter can claim they were fair, but they are talking about the casting of the votes, not about the process of the election itself.

In fact, the history of Palestinian elections is one mess followed by another, with a minority of voters controlling the government. The 2005 municipal elections were supposed to be completed over several election dates. Voters were to select from two ballots, one a list of parties, the other a list of individual candidates. The election cycle was never completed.

Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in that same process on January 9, 2005, with 62 percent of the vote. But despite the majority, the system was unfair. State run media coverage was denied to his challengers.

After Abbas's election, Hamas continued to act as a shadow government, engaging in foreign policy and suicide missions against Israel to further destroy the ailing peace process.

Built on the failed municipal elections, the legislative elections went ahead anyway on January 25, 2006.

A real election results when the majority of the voters chooses its leadership. That's not what happened. Hamas won the election but never won a majority of the votes.

Hamas won 76 of the 132 parliamentary seats with Fatah winning only 43 seats, later increasing to 45. The remaining seats were won by smaller splinter groups which were less coalitions and more parties set up by individuals who had no real grassroots support.

The voting system was confusing. People voted on two ballots, again to select a "party" and then to select individuals. It was intentionally confusing, I think, because the powers that be wanted to undermine Hamas and strengthen Fatah. That backfired.

Hamas won a majority of parliament's seats, but again, it only won 44 percent of the votes cast on the party lists. More than 50,000 of the 1.1 million votes cast were thrown out. Hamas candidates also only won 41% of the votes on the individual lists, while Fatah candidates won 37%.

Instead of embracing the peace process that brought the elections, jubilant Hamas leaders immediately declared their intention to undermine the peace process. That should not have been surprising as Hamas, and the left-wing rejectionist groups like the Jabha and extremist activists in the West, spent most of the prior 13 years using suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks to block peace.

PRIOR TO the election and the expansion of the parliament from 88 to 132 seats, Fatah held a solid majority, 68 of the original 88 seats. What went wrong? Well, Fatah had the votes. But while Hamas offered no choices, Fatah offered too many choices. That divided its base. Long time Fatah leaders were engaged in an internal battle with young rebels who sought to change the leadership of the party. That should have been decided outside of the election, not during the election.

Rather than challenge the corrupt election system, the ruling Palestinian leadership, including Ahmed Qurei, who was appointed prime minister in 2003, too quickly accepted its fate.

What Palestine needs is a Western-style democratic system where elections are held in two distinct rounds of voting. The first vote represents the process by which party supporters decide who will be their candidates. In the West, that is called a "primary" election.

The winners of the primaries then become the candidates who run for office in the final round, called the general election. Only when a candidate wins more than 50% of the votes cast in a general election is that candidate declared the winner.

Because this election process was flawed and there was no clear majority, Palestine was destined for turmoil. Abbas was supposed to run for reelection in 2009 but that never happened because of the Hamas "victory." In response, the PLO suspended elections and extended Abbas's term in office. Israel responded by imprisoning many in the Hamas government. Rather than weaken Hamas, Israel's policies empowered it even more.

Recently, elections have been again delayed, but without offering a real alternative. That only makes matters worse. Instead of simply delaying the elections, Abbas should reconstitute the election system. Throw out the parliamentary system. Replace it with a primary-general election process. Require that every office holder be elected by a majority of votes cast. Replace the office of prime minister with a vice president and keep the power in the hands of the president.

In the event that there are more than two parties in an election and more than two candidates, then if no one gets more than 50% of the vote, then the two highest vote-getters would run-off with the winner taking the majority.

Without a new election system, there can be no democracy in Palestine. The turmoil of the failed elections in 2005 and 2006 will continue to undermine Palestinian democracy and prevent the nation from emerging as a whole.

The collapse of secular government in Palestine is not only Israel's biggest concern, it will also be a nightmare for the Palestinians.

The writer is an award-winning Palestinian columnist. He can be reached at and






Slovenia marks 19 years of independence, 'Post' journalist Ruth Eglash honored by UN and HU gets eighth Ginges computer center.

  FEW PEOPLE would argue with the contention that of all the heads of foreign missions here, Russian Ambassador Petr Stegny and his wife Margarita have the largest constituency of expatriates. Never is this more evident than at the annual National Day celebrations of the Federation of Russia, where many Russian immigrants, some of whom live a hand-to-mouth existence, become VIPs and rub shoulders with cabinet ministers, business leaders and cultural icons. The Russian National Day reception is always distinguished, not only by the massive attendance, the incredible amount of food and the cultural offerings, but also by the former heroes of the Red Army who wear their medals and ribbons with pride.

This year, as Russia marked the 65th anniversary of its triumph over the Nazis with major commemorative events in the motherland as well as here, the display of battle decorations was greater than ever, in many cases taking up the whole width and length of both sides of suit jackets. Some of the former heroes of the Red Army maintained the trim figures of their youth, and came in uniform, which made the display of medals and ribbons all the more impressive.

From a cultural standpoint, members of the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra provided the musical background, as they have done for more than a decade, but the real treat was 10-year-old musical prodigy Daniel Pruzanski, who has an amazingly rich and powerful voice for a boy his age, and absolutely delighted the audience, including Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, with his rendition of three popular Russian songs. Though shy and modest off-stage, on-stage Pruzanski, dressed in a tuxedo and bow tie, has tremendous professional presence.

Usually, when it comes to the official part of the event, there are three people in the vicinity of the microphone – the master or mistress of ceremonies, the ambassador and the representative of the government. Sometimes, there's also a translator. On this occasion there were the MC, the ambassador,Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov who represented the government, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, Immigrant and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver and political affairs counsellor and press attache Anatoly Yurkov, who is also an excellent translator from Russian to Hebrew. The presence of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was acknowledged. Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, was summoned to the stage for photo opportunities when the speeches were over, but organizers apparently didn't catch sight of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, so his name was not mentioned from the podium.

Stegny, speaking in Russian with Yurkov translating into Hebrew, spoke of today's disquieting world "in which we face new challenges." He stressed that to meet and overcome these challenges there was greater need for solidarity and cooperation. While acknowledging that there had been occasional differences between Russia and Israel, Stegny said: "Today, we are on the same front."

Misezhnikov's opening remarks were in Russian. He explained that protocol required him to speak in English, though he could just as easily deliver his address in Russian. In fact, his English has improved enormously in recent months. Whereas he used to stumble over his speeches, his delivery this time was fluent, with the right emphases in speech and only one mispronunciation. He said that as a former resident of Moscow, he felt privileged to address so large a gathering of native Russians, and noted that next year Israel would mark the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation after decades of hostility.

There is good political dialogue, he said, noting the exchange of high level representatives of both countries. During the past year, President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Lieberman have twice been to Russia and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been once. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who has been here on previous occasions, is due to come again at the end of this month. There are hopes that President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will also come, along with other high ranking Russian officials. Misezhnikov expressed Israel's eternal gratitude to the Red Army for its vanquishing of the Nazi evil and for what it did to rescue the Jews of Europe. Many Red Army veterans and their families live here today, he said.

Livni declared that the fact that she was present with other members of Kadima was indicative that when it comes to relations with Russia "there is no coalition and no opposition. We are all together." Israel is facing difficult days she said, especially because there is a gap between what Israel is, and the image of Israel outside. She believed that Russia understands the true nature of the State of Israel.


  IT'S ALWAYS edifying to be on the ball in predicting the future. In the April 20 Grapevine column the question was raised whether British Ambassador Tom Phillips, who winds up his current posting in July, was in line for a knighthood. It was noted that the idea was not far-fetched, given that with only one exception all his predecessors over the past 15 years have been knighted. Thus it was with no small degree of satisfaction that the news was received this week that he had been listed in the Queen's Birthday honors. At the recent Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association farewell event for Sir Tom, Yigal Levine, senior trade and investment adviser at the embassy, described him as a wonderful boss.


  IT WAS definitely a family affair when Slovenian Ambassador Boris Sovic and his wife Ana hosted a reception at their residence in Herzliya Pituah to mark the 19th year of Slovenia's independence. Their daughter Nives Sovic, playing the flute, accompanied singer Jelena Ettinger in the performing of the anthems of Slovenia and Israel.

The occasion was also used to bid farewell to First Secretary and Deputy Head of Mission Tanja Miskova, who is completing her tour of duty after four and a half years. The government was represented by Michael Eitan, minister for improvement of government services.

Some 250 guests including diplomats, representatives of government ministries, mayors, leaders of the business community and Slovenian expatriates gathered in the house and the garden.

Slovenia is no less a miracle than Israel, having been under the rule of many different countries over the centuries, yet never losing its true cultural identity. Most recently, Slovenians began working towards independence from Yugoslavia, and in a December 1990 referendum overwhelmingly voted for independence, which was declared on June 25, 1991.

Slovenia and Israel established diplomatic relations in April 1992. The Republic of Slovenia opened its embassy in Tel Aviv in August 1994, followed by a consulate in April 2002, headed by honorary consul Adi Rosenfeld; and a second consulate in Tel Aviv on May 6, 2007, headed by honorary consul Eival Gilady, which covers the consular region of central and southern Israel.


  ISRAEL'S DIPLOMATS abroad have been working overtime in an attempt to repair the cracks in the country's image. The next generation of diplomats may have to work even harder to contend with ever increasing negativism. With this in mind, the Foreign Ministry is giving its current 28 member cadet corps, which includes five representatives of minority communities including one Druse female, more in-depth training, and greater exposure to facets of the country that they might otherwise not come across.

A few weeks ago they attended a ceremony for the presentation of credentials by new ambassadors at Beit Hanassi and were permitted to sit in on the private meeting between each ambassador and President Peres. More recently, they went to Tefen and met with industrial park innovator Stef Wertheimer, who took them on a tour of a production plant, the Tefen Museum and other parts of the park, which they said was definitely value added to everything else that they learned.


  CONGRATULATIONS ARE in order to Ruth Eglash, the Social Affairs correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, where she has worked in a variety of positions over the past 11 years. Together with a Jordanian journalist, she became the first co-recipient of the United Nations Alliance of Civilization and the International Center for Journalists' X-Cultural Reporting Award. Their work was honored at a recent ceremony at the UN Alliance of Civilization Conference in Rio de Janeiro. Eglash and her partner researched and reported on the dismal state of relations between their respective countries 16 years after the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.

The two researched educational efforts in both countries to disclose what each nation was really learning about the other. However, the disappointing results of their findings failed to comply with the goals of the competition, which were to find common ground between different nations. This spurred the two journalists to use the material at their disposal to write a joint op-ed on how the current status quo in both countries has to change to fulfill the aspirations of their peace treaty.

Their opinion piece "Why we can't write this story..." was published by numerous media outlets, including The Jerusalem Post, the on-line newspaper The Huffington Post, Jordanian news Web site AmmonNews.Net and The Palestine Note. It was also translated into seven languages, including Arabic, by the Search for Common Ground News Service. The two journalists were also interviewed on Radio Chicagoland by US-based Palestinian journalist Ray Hanania, who offered to make the two a permanent feature on his syndicated show.

The competition was launched at a conference on "Freedom of Expression in the Digital Age",  held in Alexandria, Egypt, in February. The conference was sponsored by the UN Alliance of Civilizations and the Anna Lindh Foundation and administered by ICFJ, with the support of the Alexandria Library.

Prior to her current beat at the Post, Eglash was arts and entertainment editor for five years and also worked as a feature writer and columnist. Previously, she worked as assistant editor at Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle in the US, and before that she worked at Jerusalem Capital Studios.


  THERE ARE some people who simply love to give. Among them are Australian philanthropists Berel and Agnes Ginges, who 10 years ago donated a state-of-the-art computer center to the Hebrew University, at the suggestion of former HU president Hanoch Gutfreund, who had seen one at Columbia University and had been impressed. Since then, in addition to their other gifts to the university, the couple has made a habit of donating computer and information centers to HU campuses. Last week, they donated their eighth a day before Berel Ginges's 80th birthday, and announced they would be back next year for the inauguration of a ninth at the HU's Rehovot campus.

Proceedings at the inauguration of the Ginges Library and Information Center for the Sciences at the Edmond J. Safra campus were delayed because a busload of their Habonim friends from northern kibbutzim and surrounding urban areas had not yet arrived. Every time there is a dedication of a Ginges project here, it is accompanied by a reunion lunch, bringing together people who have known each other for some 60 years. Hotelier Michael Federmann, who is chairman of the HU International Board of Governors, said that his parents had also been members and leaders of Habonim in Germany, and he recalled that as a child he had frequently been taken to Kibbutz Galed where many of his parents' friends from Habonim had settled.


  LANDMARK CELEBRATIONS are usually held on round number or quarter century anniversaries. But in superstitious and gematria-conscious circles, 18 – which translates as life – is an equally important number. Public relations executive Aviram Balzar celebrated his 18th anniversary in business and the opening of luxurious new offices in Ramat Gan by inviting past and present politicians, business leaders, people from the communications field and other well known personalities to his housewarming or rather office warming.

Literally hundreds of them turned up, including Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, who affixed the mezuza and wished the enterprise continued success, Bank Mizrahi chairman Jacob Perry, former government minister Ophir Paz-Pines, Club Hotel CEO Roni Pivco, former ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval and his wife Kena, Jewish National Fund chairman Efi Stenzler, broker Roni Mena, lawyers Yehuda and Tami Raveh, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan and numerous MKs, among them Amir Peretz, Danny Danon and Daniel Ben-Simon.


  AUSTRALIAN DELEGATES attending the World Zionist Congress and Jewish Agency Assembly will participate in a commemorative event for Frank Stein, the long-time, highly esteemed director of the Zionist Federation of Australia's Israel office. Working above and beyond the call of duty, Stein was a father figure to hundreds of Australians who moved here or who were here on volunteer or study programs. He was the person to whom they turned with all their problems, and most of the time he was able to provide solutions. He also invited many of these people to dine at his home.

Stein, who died nearly 15 months ago, following a losing battle with cancer, will be honored by the Jewish Agency at its campus at Kiryat Moriah in Jerusalem, where a memorial plaque has been placed on a wall near what used to be his office. Speakers at the memorial event on June 22 will include Jewish Agency director-general Alan Hoffman, Zionist Federation of Australia president Philip Chester and his predecessor Ron Weiser, who was a close friend of Stein's.


  THE OPENING of Jerusalem's annual Festival of Light was yet another clear demonstration of one man's meat being another man's poison. While there were several thousand people in attendance, there were nonetheless huge blocks of empty seats. A packed block in the center of the stands began booing within five minutes of the opening, but not because of any flaw in the performance by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. The booing was a herd mentality protest against the speeches, which were neither that prolonged, nor many, but nonetheless met with the loud disapproval of that sector of the audience.

However when Mayor Nir Barkat delivered a very brief speech in which he announced that there would be more than twice as many summer events in Jerusalem this year as last, the sector of the crowd that had booed everyone else, especially Eyal Gabai, the director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, gave him a lusty cheer. Neither the concert nor the light effects appealed to everyone, and quite a surprising number of people walked out long before the concert ended. Although neither the concert nor the lighting effects were particularly inspiring, the opposite was true of lighting effects throughout the Old City. Jerusalem Development Authority director Reuven Pinsky announced that next year's Festival of Light will be held June 15-22.







Turks' attitude toward Israelis has little to do with Operation Cast Lead or the flotilla. It stems from the disrespect that we have shown them.


It has been more than two weeks since we have been engaged in a media and public outcry in the aftermath of the flotilla incident and Turkey's reaction to it. The notion that the Turks should be punished, either by means of denying them the commerce from Israeli tourism, or by a diplomatic offensive, such as reminding the world about their crimes against the Armenians during World War I, is heard more frequently. As a travel guide, I visit Turkey very often. Today, encouraging Israeli tourism to Turkey may be met with the accusation of not being in touch with reality, or in extreme cases, of encouraging something anti-Israeli.

The Israeli media is waving flags of hatred: Turkey is a Muslim country; Islam intoxicates its followers with fanaticism, aggression and passion of hatred towards Israel. They should be hit hard, they insist, because that is the only language they understand. But I cannot help but wonder – who does this fueled hatred serve? What motivates people to suddenly be caught in a passionate craving for revenge towards the Turks who suddenly "hate us?"

My encounters with many Turks, even in recent times, in various airports, confirmed clearly to me that most Turks do not know they need to hate us, and they would not stand behind the words of some of their politicians.

Modern Turkey is in a position that requires quite a bit of maneuvering. The West's attitude towards it is characterized by duplicity, and arouses wonder and indignation. On the one hand Turkey has done something that is unmatched in the Muslim world: Since the days of Ataturk, there has been a separation between religion and state, and the Turkish Republic has been a secular state since 1923.

The West, Israel included, enjoys having Turkey as a close ally, as well as a member of NATO. It is a good base of operations for activity in Iraq, its vast territories are seen as a blessing for Israeli Air Force training and the country's fertile market is inviting to entrepreneurs.

For decades, Turkey has taken impressive steps to get closer to the West, and strived to join the EU. Among Arab countries, Turkey's attraction to the West generated a wave of hatred and anger at what they perceiped as a betrayal. The Western world, in turn, remained aloof and withdrawn from Turkey. Time after time, the EU refrained from adopting Turkey on various pretexts. First it was required to admit its guilt in the massacre of the Armenian people athe beginning of the 20th Century, then it was required to handle the Kurdish rebellions gently and hopefully by then, maybe, it would win its place as a second-rate among equals in the EU.

The Turkish people see their nation as one being squeezed by opposing forces, being pushed in all directions in the international arena. What wonder is it then, that given the West's constant disapproval and the strengthening of radical Islam among the weak and poor classes, that certain entities would try to rise up and try to "return" Turkey's former glory and regain its place as the flagship among the Arab countries.

MOSTLY, TURKEY is called upon not to disclose its Muslim face publicly, a face that does not bode well in the Western world's eyes since 9/11. The media's position and the public's opinion can be encapsulated in the simple equation Islam = Problem. True, Muslim terror exists, so does Muslim extremism, as well as malice and violence, but would that summarize the Muslim world? What about the beauty of the Suleiman Mosque and the Taj Mahal, built by Muslim deities? What about the depth of Sufi teachings and the beauty of the Sufi whirling? The Hadith sermons? The unity of faith reflected in the poems of Kabir?

What about the fact that for hundreds of years it was the permissive rule of Islam that made the presence of a stranger in his land possible, with all that entails?

Over the past decade, I have guided many Israeli groups to Turkey. During these years, I could not help but notice the drastic change in the attitude of the people living in the more remote areas of Turkey toward Israelis. How easy it is to say, "Well of course, everyone here is an Israel-hating Muslim," and go on to the next destination, releasing ourselves from any responsibility?

The reason for this change, as I saw it unfolding in front of my eyes, did not stem from our being Israelis nor from anti-Semitism, and it also had nothing to do with the recent war in Gaza or with the flotilla incident.

It stems, in my opinion, from the disrespect that we, the Israelis, have shown the Turkish people.

Some examples: Many of our tour operators charge the Israeli tourist for tip fees, but the tips are not passed on to the locals. Many of the Israeli travel agencies bypass Turkish law by avoiding hiring local guides, even where it is necessary to have local guides; Israeli jeep convoys are known for their total disregard of Turkish traffic courtesies; Israeli travelers pick fruit from private orchards without permission; Israelis bargain in aggressive ways even though in rural Turkey, this is not a standard practice.

Excuse my focus on these almost petty examples, but I believe that these seemingly minor infractions are precisely what shape impressions, which then go on to create a generalized attitude.

Of course the flotilla event was not a simple humanitarian endeavor. It was clearly an ugly, narrow-minded provocation. But in our relationships with the Turks, we must not choose to see and remember only what has been chosen for us to see and remember. How can we transcend these stereotypes that Turkey and specifically Islamic Turkey, is the problem? Turkey is a Muslim country and to this day, we have shared a fruitful relationship resulting in multiple channels of mutual benefit. We need to ask ourselves what part we have played in the recent divide. Have we invested enough effort toward understanding the trap-like situation that Turkey finds itself?

So, what is the meaning of the notion that we have lost Turkey and on what basis do we justify boycotting Turkey? It would seem that such an attitude will lead to only more hatred and aggression.

The writer is a tour guide and a regular contributor to travel magazines.








Since countries that banned the practice also have hunting "traditions," maybe we can get them to recognize kosher slaughter as "Jewish ritual hunting?"


One morning, when I was a child suffering from one or another of those children's illnesses, our family doctor stopped by to see how I was faring before he left for a brief vacation. "Where are you going," my mother asked. "Hunting," the doctor replied. And in that lack of politically correct tact so typical of youth, I blurted out: "Jews don't hunt!"

I was reminded of that recently, when I read of the decision of the New Zealand government to ban kosher slaughter – shehita –  under the Animal Welfare Commercial Slaughter Code. I wondered if we, as Jews, should not be more understanding of New Zealand's sincere desire to address the issue of cruelty to animals. The requirements of kosher slaughter are intended to minimize suffering. If stunning or some other method might reduce suffering even by a minute amount, should we not try to find ways to address that positively?

Clearly, New Zealand's motives are pure. New Zealand is not Switzerland, where the hypocritical ban on shehita was prompted by historic anti-Semitism. Indeed, around the time the Swiss first set about outlawing kosher meat, they also began the process of creating forty-one federal hunting reserves so the compassionate Swiss could kill animals for sport.

But we are not concerned with the Swiss, but rather with New Zealand, which has admirably followed in the concerned footsteps of Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Spain.

Well, actually Spain should not be in the list at all. Spain only prohibits shehita of cattle. It would seem that Spanish sensibilities require that you first stun cattle before slaughter, unless you wish to torture the beasts in the corrida de toros.


As for Iceland, well, the Icelandic Hunting Club will be glad to help you hunt reindeer and seal, and boasts that its clients have achieved 100% success. Maybe Iceland isn't a good example of a shehita ban that is not hypocritical. Maybe not Norway, either. In addition to offering the opportunity to hunt such big game as moose and reindeer, Norway offers the thrill of watching dogs chase deer to exhaustion.

I GUESS this leaves Sweden. Now, according to the official website, Sweden views hunting as "a wise, long-term use of renewable natural resources."

Sweden recommends that people who wish to shoot moose first visit a moose-hunting training range. To ensure that a maimed animal does not suffer unnecessarily from a poorly placed shot, hunters of hoofed animals are required to have a trained tracker dog available on two-hour notice. After all, we wouldn't want a wounded moose to suffer more than a few hours before it is dispatched by a conservation-minded hunter.

It would seem then that New Zealand stands alone in its sincere desire to prevent cruelty to animals by banning kosher slaughter. At least so one might suspect until one Googles "hunting New Zealand" and discovers "the ultimate New Zealand red stag trophy hunting experience."

New Zealand Fish and Game describes game bird hunting as "one of the great social recreational sports where rewarding friendships are made and maintained for many years." New Zealand sells hunting licences to adults over 18, to juniors between the ages of 12 and 18, and even offers hunting licenses for children under 12. It would seem that for the squeamish New Zealanders, kosher slaughter of chickens and cattle for food is more morally repugnant than taking children out for a day of fun and camaraderie, shooting animals with a bow and arrow so that they can hang antlers over their beds.

In looking at the laws and policies of the countries that ban kosher slaughter, one gets the feeling that there must be one of two underlying motivations: either anti-Semitism or a desire to regulate hunting and collect hunting license fees.

I am sure that all would loudly deny any anti-Semitic motive, even despite historical evidence to the contrary. That, of course, leaves only the desire to regulate hunting. And so I would like to suggest a proposal for solving the kosher slaughter problem.

I would recommend that Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Iceland and Norway recognize kosher slaughter as "Jewish ritual hunting."

Spain can simply refer to kosher slaughterers as matadors. By so doing, shehita will become an integral part of the sporting culture of each nation. It will contribute to the wise, long-term use of renewable natural resources and encourage camaraderie. Compassionately slaughtered kosher meat will become as socially acceptable as the venison cut from hunted deer, decorative antlers or the meat of bulls ritually tortured in the ring. If this modest proposal will not mitigate suffering, at least it may serve to lessen hypocrisy.

The writer is a rabbi and a lawyer.







On a trip to Israel, we South African journalists found an extraordinary number of individuals and groups actively striving to make peace a reality.


Blessed are the simple minded, for they believe they understand the Holy Land, although its complexity has vexed humanity for millennia.

Last week, a group of South African journalists were visiting. We were exposed to a plethora of viewpoints. Among others, we talked to government representatives, Zionist organizations, the PLO, the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, Jewish West Bank settlers, Palestinian and Israeli journalists and high-powered archeological and historical guides.

We were taken to holy places central to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We visited Ramallah and spent much of our time in Jerusalem. We went to the high security wall that divides parts of this ancient city from Palestinian-controlled territory.

Frankly, it's too much to take in. However, there was a glaring gap in our itinerary and interviews. Gaza was not on our list, nor was Hamas, although not through any lack of will on our part.

Disturbing as the idea is to many, if invited by Hamas or its backers I would visit to try to understand their world view. There is a vast difference between learning about a situation through the media and actually walking among and talking to people experiencing the daily realities.

TO SAY there are two sides to the story would be simplistic, whether discussing the broader question of Israel or the geographically narrower one of Jerusalem. In politics and in religion, Israel is not united. Coalition politics, which Britain is grappling with, has long been practiced in Israel, where it is almost unheard of for any one party to command a majority in the Knesset.

Jews make up 76.5 percent of the population of 7.4 million, Muslims 16%, Christians 2% and Druse 1.5%. Yet Israeli Jewry spans a vast range from totally secular to ultra-Orthodox. An old joke is that if you ask any two Jews a question you'll hear at least three opinions.

Debate and dissent seem to be part of the Jewish makeup, going back to Esau and Jacob. These grandsons of Abraham, to whom Jews trace their ancestry, "quarreled violently among themselves," according to Jewish historian Cecil Roth. So, too, did the offspring of David, the king who, just over 3,000 years ago, founded a city within what is now the Jewish capital Jerusalem.

No doubt Jews have an historical claim to Israel, but it cannot be the only claim. David did not set up camp on vacant land. Jerusalem was occupied by Canaanites, whom the children of Israel were commanded by their god to erase, "to completely wipe out their culture and to inherit their land," according to Avigdor Shinan, editor of the tome Israel: People/Land/State.

We did not meet anyone who told us they now hold this view, which in the modern age sounds extreme.

What we found, without denying any of the hate or violence from any side, was an extraordinary number of individuals and organizations not only willing to share this troubled land, but actively striving to make peaceful cooperation a reality. These are not political leaders at the highest level but effective community leaders, people of goodwill.

ALTHOUGH ISRAEL bristles with intensity, and security is a deadly problem in what world media portray as a vortex of territorial disputes, terror and hate, that is not the whole picture. There is also good news.

There are many examples of Jews and Muslims working together. One of the most touching is the Jerusalem Peacemaker project run by Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari and Eliahu McLean. Bukhari says its first meetings attracted few people, but "now we have thousands."

One initiative it is involved in, the Hug of Jerusalem, which started modestly four years ago on the June 21 summer solstice, attracted more than 2,000 last year. People of different faiths gather to circle the Old City, preaching unity, accompanied by drumming and singing.

Bukhari has encountered hostility. "I have been called bad names, had chairs thrown at me and been spat upon." His lament is "the media never mention our achievements."

McLean believes Jerusalem is "the most contested piece of real estate in the world." Equally, he says, it can serve as a bridge to bring people together; if folk here can get along, anyone can.

There's also the Abrahamic Reunion, a group of 25 spiritual leaders of the main faiths deriving from the prophet Abraham.

Goodwill is also evident in such diverse places as the Jerusalem Music Center, where Jewish and Arab youngsters learn together in harmony.

There is Jerusalem's Hadassah University Medical Center, which reaches out to all. Its pediatric cardiology unit treats at least 50 Palestinian children a year, including from Hamas's volatile Gaza Strip.

Close to Gaza, at much-rocketed Sderot, we encountered the mixed Israeli-Palestinian peace team of teenage soccer players, boys and girls, who will be playing in South Africa during next month's FIFA World Cup.


Even among maligned West Bank Jewish settlers, we encountered one community that sought cooperation rather than the security wall.

Each example, and others, can be countered with harsh realities and cynicism.

Palestinians who don't resist are stigmatized as "normalizers." Some non-journalist South African Jews on our tour regard these initiatives as too political and contrived.

There are terrible tensions between the PLO's Fatah, which appears to be a bloated, donor-dependent bureaucracy, and radical Hamas. One benefits from the status quo, the other wants to wipe Israel off the map.

It's not naïve to look for positive signs in this bleak landscape. It is not impossible that goodwill can grow until it gathers unstoppable momentum.

If enough people believe and hope, and take positive action, you never know what might evolve.

The writer is the editor of The Citizen.











Jenny Baruchi, the college student who is on the verge of completing a master's degree in social work from the Hebrew University, the same institution in which her mother worked her entire life as a janitor, is deserving of a permanent place in the public consciousness as a symbol of unyielding civic struggle.


Ten years ago, Baruchi petitioned the High Court of Justice demanding the reinstatement of state stipends that were stripped from her - the same stipends that ultra-Orthodox students in yeshivas and kollels continued to receive. She is a paragon of the values which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu champions constantly: a single mother with limited financial means who worked two jobs while pursuing a university degree, thus enabling her to enter a profession whose very essence is to contribute to society.


The High Court ruling on Monday, which came in response to the petition filed by Baruchi and the late Jerusalem city councilman Ornan Yekutieli, is an important milestone in the campaign against religious coercion. It delivers justice to university students who have been discriminated against on account of those enrolled in yeshiva.


A panel of six justices headed by Court President Dorit Beinisch decreed that the discriminatory policy should be abolished in the name of equality, a principle that is anchored in the laws governing the formulation of the state budget. Justice Edmond Levy offered the lone dissenting opinion, arguing for rejecting the petition on the grounds that it is the government and the Knesset - not the court - that should wield power over issues relating to the budget.


Now the court decision will be put to the political test. Shas and United Torah Judaism, for whose benefit and narrow interests the government and Knesset violated the equal distribution of unemployment benefits, have already stated their intention to draft a bill to bypass the court and nullify "the evil verdict." Interior Minister Eli Yishai assailed the court for "harming the spiritual status quo of the people of Israel."


Thus the High Court ruling places the prime minister and his cabinet before an important test. If Yishai and his friends succeed in pulling the rug from under the court decision, the premier, his finance minister, justice minister, education minister and welfare minister will not only need to explain to the public why they failed to prevent the erosion of the court's standing, but they will also need to clarify the reasons for their preference of yeshiva students over students who will soon come to represent the pillars of Israel's economy and academia.


In other words, they will have to explain why they are turning their backs on citizen Jenny Baruchi for the second time.







Once every few years, someone suggests writing a constitution for Israel. Now, the would-be politician Yair Lapid has joined them, saying he promised his son Yoav "some sort of state," and wants to keep his promise before he dies. As usual, Lapid is playing it safe: The generic call for a constitution is very popular among the populists of the centrist parties, who can pretend they are conducting a public campaign without actually saying a thing.


Nearly every country in the world has a written constitution, and the absence of an Israeli constitution is depicted by those who favor drafting one as a fundamental flaw in our system of government. It is portrayed as yet another expression of the improvisational style that is our typical substitute for order, organization and waiting in line. "There is no country without a constitution," screams the Web site of Constitution by Consent, which is backed by the Israel Democracy Institute. Promoting a constitution is viewed by its supporters as an expression of normalcy, as something good and desirable - what the Americans describe as "motherhood and apple pie," or like the world peace that beauty-pageant contestants promise to promote if they win the crown.


But the question is not whether we need a constitution, but what will be written in it and how will it be implemented. A constitution entails decisions on fundamental questions of national identity, and for the most part serves the interests of society's stronger groups, under the cover of noble values. The existence of a constitution does not ensure that the regime will be democratic or that it will preserve citizens' rights. The Syrian constitution, for example, is far more committed to freedom of expression and freedom of the press than Israeli law, but it is still better to be a journalist in Tel Aviv than in Damascus.


David Ben-Gurion gave up on a written constitution in the state's infancy. This decision stemmed from three factors: a surrender to the religious parties, which have always opposed a secular constitution; the founding father's desire to include everyone under the same national tent, instead of imposing the majority's positions on minorities; and his assessment that the absence of a constitution would serve his Mapai party and keep it in power better than a liberal document committed to citizen rights would.


However, the result has not been bad. The improvised system that Ben-Gurion established developed into an open and raucous democracy, despite its shortcomings of discrimination against minorities and the military's excessive power - which would have existed even with a constitution.


In recent years, various proposals for an Israeli constitution have been published. They fall into two categories: those that take sides in the debates between religious and secular and between Jew and Arab - "who is a Jew?" and "who is a citizen?" - and those that try to offer a compromise.


But what constitution does Lapid want? The Adalah draft, which wants to do away with the land laws that enabled the state to take over millions of dunams of land that belonged to Arabs before 1948? The Institute for Zionist Strategies draft, which calls for more land to be given to Jewish settlements? Does he prefer Constitution by Consensus, which seeks to preserve the status quo against the pressure of social change and the growing strength of the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs? Or perhaps he does not care, so long as there is a document called a constitution?


All the alternatives are problematic and dangerous to democracy. A constitution that decides fundamental questions of national identity will cause internal divisions, especially in the current political climate, in which the right is trying to crush the Arab community's power. But a constitution that seeks a broad compromise will at best not change a thing, and at worst will bolster the status of the religious and Jewish law.


Constitution by Consensus, backed by former Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar, promises "stability, public transparency, equality and unity." To get there, its authors offer the religious a deal: closing down malls on Shabbat and preserving the rabbis' control over marriage and divorce in exchange for "civil unions" - a second-class form of civil marriage. If this is the constitution they are offering, it would be best to give up and stick with Ben-Gurion's tradition of no constitution. This was also Ariel Sharon's position.


Instead of the empty process of talking about "writing a constitution," Lapid would do better to prepare a draft and clarify what he plans to fight for. How will the state he has promised his son Yoav look? What will its borders be, who will its citizens be and what rights will they enjoy?


If he offers answers and fights to achieve them, there will be a point to him joining politics. If he makes do with empty slogans, it would be best if he stuck to his television program.









Here is a story known to only some of the citizens of Israel. A few weeks ago a 43-year-old lecturer in sociology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who serves as a member of the prestigious academic journal Sociology, packed a suitcase and went to Ben-Gurion International Airport. From there he was supposed to take off for the journal's annual editorial board meeting in London. He stood in line, showed his passport and his ticket and was immediately directed to a separate line.


The lecturer, whose name is Nabil Khattab and who lives in Beit Safafa, was not surprised. He says he accepts with understanding the lengthy security check, including the opening of his suitcases and rummaging in his carry-ons and laptop computer. He even accepts the detailed questioning (Where is he going? With whom will he meet? Where is the invitation? Who is the person who invited him? Give names of people. Are there representatives of enemy countries there? Who? ), though the connection between that and the security of the flight is not clear to him.


In recent years the security check has become a severe and exhausting hassle, which reaches its climax in the side room. The person being investigated is taken to the room and there he undergoes a thorough body check - head hair, ears, neck, armpits, every centimeter down to the soles of his feet, including private parts. Even this humiliating check Khattab accepts submissively.


This time, however, the examiner probed the lower part of his body with a cloth-covered stick and began to insert it under Khattab's trousers.


"That was already intolerable," he said. "I couldn't keep quiet. With the greatest possible restraint I asked the examiner to stop. This has no connection to security, I said to him. If there is a suspicion that I am carrying explosives or metal on my body - let me go through the metal detector and if the machine beeps I will come back for examination."


The examiner replied that if he did not agree to the examination with the stick he would not be allowed to board the plane. Khattab explained that he represents The Hebrew University on an important academic journal and that he cannot be absent from the meeting.


In vain. Angry and insulted, he took his suitcase and left. Ten minutes later, Khattab changed his mind but when he tried to go back to the side room he was told that because he had left the passenger terminal he would have to go through the whole check again, from the beginning. When he finally reached the room the examiner demanded he remove his trousers. "I will take them off only if they demand this of all passengers," he said, and went home.


His wife persuaded him not to give in. He found a seat on the next flight to London, paid the difference and went back to the airport. The check was completed relatively quickly and included a body check. Without a stick.


The question arises as to whether an intrusive check with a stick is necessary. If so - why didn't they do it the second time? If not - why did they want to do it?


However, even without sticks, the security check of Arab citizens of Israel is markedly different. Even the authorities in the United States, who have gotten carried away with paranoia since 9/11, have realized that it is impossible to do security checks by "profiling" and have determined to carry out random checks of all passengers. In Britain and Germany they do a thorough check of everyone: This is more expensive and it takes more time, but it avoids violations of civil rights.


At this time it is hard to convince the Jewish public in Israel that what happens at Ben-Gurion International Airport is a systematic injustice, if not worse. The ethnocentric panic undermines the principle of civil equality. Perhaps if they also opened the Levys' suitcases and the Cohens' suitcases, asked them innumerable personal questions and probed their bodies with a stick, the system would have to reexamine the security check.


Today there isn't a Knesset that will decide this. Perhaps the High Court of Justice, where there is a petition pending on this issue, will be able to do so.








The decision to appoint a committee to examine the international-law aspects of the events surrounding the Gaza-bound flotilla is to be welcomed, but it is not sufficient. The decision avoids the need to examine the causes of the full extent of Israel's political, diplomatic and moral failure in handling the flotilla. The Israel Defense Forces' examination of the action's operational aspects is also inadequate to answer the questions troubling Israelis regarding the decision and why it was taken.


Nor is it sufficient to heap praise on the soldiers - who acted correctly in difficult circumstances - or blame Turkey's prime minister, who deserves all possible criticism. The decision-makers' willingness to examine everything except themselves is grave from the perspective of democracy and morality. This is a disgraceful evasion of responsibility. The following must be examined.


The decision to stop the flotilla in the way it was executed was taken neither in the cabinet nor in the security cabinet. Similarly, the members of the forum of seven senior ministers were apparently not aware of the details. It appears that the matter was decided between the prime minister and the defense minister.


Decisions of this sort must not be made this way. As director general of the Foreign Ministry, I was partner to the discussions and decisions before Operation Entebbe. The operation was discussed and approved at several levels: in discussions between prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, defense minister Shimon Peres and foreign minister Yigal Allon, and in the presence of the chief of staff, the head of the Mossad, the head of Military Intelligence, the prime minister's adviser on terror issues and others. Afterwards the issue was presented to the full cabinet for discussion and authorization, and the prime minister informed the head of the opposition (Menachem Begin ) and the chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee (Yitzhak Navon ).


The fact that the hijacking of the Air France plane to Entebbe came as a complete surprise to everyone, that there was an immediate threat to the lives of hundreds of Israelis and that the preparations for the operation took place in total secrecy did not preclude detailed discussions and decision-making at various levels, without leaks and while successfully deceiving the hijackers.


The flotilla, however, was a public event whose date was known in advance, and the IDF, navy and police had been preparing for weeks. The media were fed operational details, intended perhaps for self-glorification, but this certainly did not make the operation any easier.


Israelis are entitled to know whether the decision-makers considered the strategic implications for relations with Turkey involved in the takeover on the high seas of a ship flying the Turkish flag and carrying Turkish civilians. Was this discussed at all? Was conferring with the Turkish authorities considered? Did someone ask what would happen if Turkish civilians were killed?


Was the National Security Council a partner - as mandated today by law - in the consultations and preparations? Did the decision-makers have information about who had boarded the boats, and if not, who is responsible for this intelligence failure?


Was there a discussion on whether the ships would be stopped when approaching the exclusion zone, or nearly 100 kilometers from the shores of Israel and the Gaza Strip, which is what occurred? After all, from the perspective of international law, this question has crucial significance - this is the difference between a legitimate action and piracy.


Was the prime minister's trip abroad on the eve of the operation an error of judgment? During the preparations for Entebbe, Rabin canceled an important trip to Tehran for a secret meeting with the shah of Iran.


After what was said in the Winograd Committee about the way decisions are made in Israel, it is impossible to escape these questions. It's not "who is guilty," but rather "who is responsible." When in the background very much more difficult challenges might be facing us, Israelis have the right to know how their leaders made their decisions and whether we can rely on their judgment. It is not the decision-makers' fate and future that lie in the balance, but rather the fate and future of the State of Israel.









Israel is finding it more difficult than ever to explain the righteousness of its actions to the world. No matter how hard it tries, the world refuses to believe our reasons for keeping Gaza under a blockade for so long. We explain that the Gazans are not suffering from a humanitarian crisis, and that if they are, it is their own doing. But those goyim, feeble-minded as they are, refuse to believe us. We prepare ‏(particularly for our guests from across the sea‏) full companies of soldiers dressed in white, reflecting our desire for peace and our inherent hospitality in the very color of their uniforms. Yet they, through a complete lack of understanding of our noble goals, find reason for condemnation even in that.


And it is not only with regard to Gaza and the flotilla: The folly of Israel-haters extends into every corner. We explain, simply and clearly, that most of the land in the West Bank is inhabited by our settlers, that they are the pillar of fire advancing before the camp, that the lands were not taken from their owners but are "state lands" − that is, areas that were ours from the beginning, promised to Abraham by God Himself. And if they were not ours from the beginning and were not promised to us by the Almighty, they were purchased from their owners with full payment, with deeds and receipts.


But the goyim, they of little faith, persist in believing what they wish.
We pave roads for the benefit of those who enjoy a higher standard of living under our rule, but they, blockheads that they are, refuse to understand why we must then make those roads unavailable for their use. We build separation fences along the safest, shortest routes available, and they, idolaters that they are, become locked in an idée fixe about segregation and apartheid, as if those terms had ever cropped up in our darkest dreams.


They are not even intelligent enough to understand our most private, intimate lives. Out of a love of cleanliness and order, we separate our white, kosher girls from our less kosher Mizrahi cousins. For generations we have maintained racial purity in matters of marriage, protecting ourselves from every evil, and they, small thinkers, swallow all this chatter fed to them by those who are not even circumcised, while expecting us to hurt the feelings of Israel's keepers of the faith.


We have always known how to look in the mirror with directness and courage. We must therefore admit that we sometimes appear − to a superficial, naive glance − a bit less attractive than we would like, certainly than we are entitled to look. Still, we wisely explain, with reference to the Brothers Grimm story, that something that looks, on first, distorted glance, like a frog, is to the penetrating eyes of the enchanted princess a prince. But they, with their bottomless hatred of our nation, reinterpret the story to mean that frogs live in this swamp who have never seen a royal palace, but were born in the swamp and will remain there forever.


The writer is a law professor at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.






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




Americans have been anxiously waiting for President Obama to take full charge of the gulf oil catastrophe. On Tuesday, in his first address from the Oval Office, he vowed to "fight this spill with everything we've got for as long as it takes" and declared that "we will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused."


Mr. Obama and his team will have to follow through — with more energy and dedication than they have shown so far.


We know that the country is eager for reassurance. We're not sure the American people got it from a speech that was short on specifics and devoid of self-criticism. Certainly, we hope that Mr. Obama was right when he predicted that in "coming weeks and days," up to 90 percent of the oil leaking from the well will be captured and the well finally capped by this summer. But he was less than frank about his administration's faltering efforts to manage this vast environmental and human disaster.


Fifty-six days into the spill and it is not clear who is responsible — BP, federal, state or local authorities — for the most basic decisions, like when to deploy booms to protect sensitive wetlands. It's not even clear how much oil is pouring out of the ruptured well. On Tuesday, a government panel raised the estimate to as much as 60,000 barrels a day.


Responding to legitimate fears that BP might run out of money or find ways to dodge its obligations, Mr. Obama said that he would order it to "set aside whatever resources are required" to compensate individuals and businesses. Mr. Obama also said the fund would be run by an independent third party to ensure that all legitimate claims were paid out in a fair and timely manner.


He did not, however, say how much money BP must set aside. And it is not clear if the president is also demanding that BP reserve many billions more for the huge cleanup and restoration.


We hope those questions will be answered on Wednesday when the president meets with BP's chairman and other top officials of the company. There can be no doubts about the company's liability — or about Mr. Obama's determination to press it to pay.


Mr. Obama vowed that he would do all that was necessary to ensure that a disaster like this does not happen again. He repeated his pledge to strengthen federal oversight of the oil industry. That, too, will require determined, indeed relentless, follow-up.


Because of a mixture of philosophy, incompetence and negligence, federal regulators have failed for years to do their jobs. Left to its own devices, industry blithely insisted that deep-water drilling was safe and that it had the means to deal with any possible accident. The blowout on the Deepwater Horizon rig has shown that both statements were flat-out untrue.


Even now, after the worst environmental disaster in American history, industry is unbowed. In Congressional testimony on Tuesday, top officials of Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and ConocoPhillips insisted that this spill was an aberration and that their companies couldn't possibly make the same mistakes. Representative Edward Markey noted, pointedly, that the response plans of all four companies were virtual carbon copies of BP's.


In his address, Mr. Obama pressed the Senate to move ahead with a long-stalled comprehensive energy and climate bill, a necessary first step to reducing this country's dependence on fossil fuels and tackling the problem of global warming. Time is quickly running out for Congress to act before the midterm elections. There is no chance at all unless Mr. Obama takes full charge of that fight as well.






The Supreme Court's refusal to consider the claims of Maher Arar, an innocent Canadian who was sent to Syria to be tortured in 2002, was a bitterly disappointing abdication of its duty to hold officials accountable for illegal acts. The Bush administration sent Mr. Arar to outsourced torment, but it was the Obama administration that urged this course of inaction.


In the ignoble history of President George W. Bush's policies of torture and extraordinary rendition, few cases were as egregious as that of Mr. Arar, a software engineer. He was picked up at Kennedy International Airport by officials acting on incorrect information from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He was sent to Syria, to which the United States had assigned some of its violent interrogation, and was held for almost a year until everyone agreed he was not a terrorist and he was released.


The Bush White House never expressed regret about this horrific case. There was only then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's bland acknowledgement to a House committee in 2007 that it was not "handled as it should have been." Since he took office, President Obama has refused to fully examine the excesses of his predecessor, but surely this case was a chance to show that those who countenanced torture must pay a price.


In Canada, the government conducted an investigation and found that Mr. Arar had been tortured because of its false information. The commissioner of the police resigned. Canada cleared Mr. Arar of all terror connections, formally apologized and paid him nearly $9.8 million. Mr. Arar had hoped to get a similar apology and damages from the United States government but was rebuffed by the court system.


Amazingly, Mr. Obama's acting solicitor general, Neal Katyal, urged the Supreme Court not to take the case, arguing in part that the court should not investigate the communications between the United States and other countries because it might damage diplomatic relations and affect national security. It might even raise questions, Mr. Katyal wrote, about "the motives and sincerity of the United States officials who concluded that petitioner could be removed to Syria."


The government and the courts should indeed raise those questions in hopes of preventing these practices from ever recurring. The Canadian police continue to investigate the matter, even the actions of American officials, though their counterparts here are not even trying.


The Supreme Court's action was disgraceful, but it had stepped away twice before from cases of torture victims. There is no excuse for the Obama administration's conduct. It should demonstrate some moral authority by helping Canada's investigation, apologizing to Mr. Arar and writing him a check.








Over the next few days, the public will find out if markets can be made safe for ordinary Americans. The conference committee on financial reform will be discussing the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is supposed to ensure that markets are fair and transparent, but failed like other regulatory agencies in the years leading up to the financial crisis.


In the 17 months since President Obama made her the chairwoman of the S.E.C., Mary Schapiro has begun to rebuild the agency, focusing on its investor protection mission, replacing top personnel, ramping up examination and enforcement and identifying ways in which the agency has not kept pace — technologically and organizationally — with today's fast-moving markets.


Congress needs to ensure that Ms. Schapiro has the resources to accelerate and reinforce her efforts and that the agency will remain well financed, even after memories of the financial crisis have faded.


Under current law, the S.E.C. is subject to annual appropriations from Congress, and the result has been inconsistent financing. Through most of the 1990s, its staff barely grew, even though the volume and value of securities transactions exploded. In the boom years of the past decade, it had flat or declining budgets. Financing and staffing have increased during the Obama administration, but even with the boost, the number of new employees and the agency's capacity to spend on new technology is far short of the need.


A must-pass provision in the Senate version of regulatory reform would allow the S.E.C. to finance itself through fees it already imposes on securities transactions and corporate filings. The agency collected $1.5 billion in 2010, but it was turned over to the Treasury and the agency was allotted only $1.1 billion.


The appropriators who currently control the S.E.C. budget argue that Congress will lose important oversight of the agency if it is self-financed. That argument is intended to protect turf, not investors. It ignores the abysmal job that appropriators did in overseeing the agency before the crisis. It also overlooks the fact that the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate banking committee have jurisdiction over the S.E.C. and should hold regular hearings on the agency's activities.


Self-financing is key to reinvigorating the S.E.C., and a reinvigorated S.E.C. is essential to restoring investor confidence. If lawmakers decide otherwise, investors have reason to doubt both the safety of markets and the ability of Congress to put the public interest first.







Nearly 40 years after British troops opened fire on protestors in Northern Ireland — sparking decades of bitter sectarian violence — a British government inquiry has finally rendered a credible verdict worthy of a democracy. As Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain announced: "What happened on 'Bloody Sunday' was both unjustified and unjustifiable."


Then Mr. Cameron did something that politicians almost never do, he apologized. "On behalf of the government," he said, "I am deeply sorry."


The decision by former Prime Minister Tony Blair to order the investigation in 1998 and Mr. Cameron's forthright embrace of its conclusions should be an example for countries and leaders around the world. The inquiry determined that British soldiers fired without provocation or warning on the civil rights march in the city of Londonderry on Jan. 30, 1972. It said that the 14 people killed and 13 people wounded were unarmed.


That should discredit once and for all an earlier whitewash investigation that, weeks after 'Bloody Sunday,' exonerated the soldiers, saying they were fired upon first. This latest inquiry lasted 12 years, took evidence from nearly 2,500 people and produced an exhaustive 5,000-page report.


The findings are understandably dredging up raw emotions on all sides. With the 1998 Good Friday agreement, Northern Ireland has come a long way on a very difficult path toward peace. The hard truth of this inquiry and Mr. Cameron's ringing apology should help move that process and the cause of peace forward.










Of the many exciting things about Barack Obama's election, one was the anticipation of a bracing dose of normality in the White House.


America had been trapped for eight years with the Clintons' marital dysfunction disastrously shaping national events and then trapped for another eight with the Bushes' Oedipal dysfunction disastrously shaping international events. And before that, L.B.J. and Nixon had acted pretty nutty at times.


President Obama was supposed to be a soothing change. He had a rough childhood. Michelle once told a friend that "Barack spent so much time by himself that it was like he was raised by wolves." But he seemed to have come through exceptionally well adjusted. "His aides from the Senate, the presidential campaign, and the White House routinely described him with the same words: 'psychologically healthy,' " writes Jonathan Alter in "The Promise," a chronicle of Obama's first year in office.


So it's unnerving now to have yet another president elevating personal quirks into a management style.


How can a man who was a dazzling enough politician to become the first black president at age 47 suddenly become so obdurately self-destructive about politics?


President Obama's bloodless quality about people and events, the emotional detachment that his aides said allowed him to see things more clearly, has instead obscured his vision. It has made him unable to understand things quickly on a visceral level and put him on the defensive in this spring of our discontent, failing to understand that Americans are upset that a series of greedy corporations have screwed over the little guy without enough fierce and immediate pushback from the president.


"Even though I'm president of the United States, my power is not limitless," Obama, who has forced himself to ingest a load of gulf crab cakes, shrimp and crawfish tails, whinged to Grand Isle, La., residents on Friday. "So I can't dive down there and plug the hole. I can't suck it up with a straw."


Once more on Tuesday night, we were back to back-against-the-wall time. The president went for his fourth-quarter, Michael Jordan, down-to-the-wire, thrill shot in the Oval Office, his first such dramatic address to a nation sick about the slick.


You know the president is drowning — in oil this time — when he uses the Oval Office. And do words really matter when the picture of oil gushing out of the well continues to fill the screen?


As Obama prepared to go on air, a government panel of scientists again boosted its estimate of how much oil is belching into the besmirched gulf, raising it from 2.1 million gallons a day to roughly 2.5 million.


The president acknowledged that the problems at the Minerals Management Service were deeper than he had known and "the pace of reform was just too slow." He admitted that "there will be more oil and more damage before this siege is done."


He appointed a "son of the gulf" spill czar and a new guard dog at M.M.S. and tried to restore a sense of confident leadership — "The one approach I will not accept is inaction" — and compassion, reporting on the shrimpers and fishermen and their "wrenching anxiety that their way of life may be lost." He acted as if he was the boss of BP on the issue of compensation. And he called on us to pray.


Testifying before Congress on Tuesday, Rex Tillerson, the chief of Exxon Mobil, conceded that the emphasis is on prevention because when "these things" happen, "we're not very well equipped to deal with them."


Robert Gibbs on Tuesday continued the White House effort to emote, saying on TV: "It makes your blood boil." But he misses the point. Nobody needs to see the president yelling or pounding the table. Ronald Reagan could convey command with a smile; Clint Eastwood, with a whisper. Americans need to know the president cares so they can be sure he's taking fast, muscular and proficient action.


W. and Dick Cheney were too headlong, jumping off crazy cliffs and dragging the country — and the world — with them. President Obama is the opposite, often too hesitant to take the obvious action. He seems unable to muster the adrenalin necessary to go full bore until the crowd has waited and wailed and almost given up on him, but it's a nerve-racking way to campaign and govern.


"On the one hand, you have BP, which sees a risky hole in the ground a couple miles under the sea surface and thinks if we take more risk, and cut some corners, we make millions more. In taking on more risk, they're gambling with more than money," said Richard Wolffe, an Obama biographer. "On the other hand, you have Obama, who is ambivalent about risk. What he does late is to embrace risk, like running for president, trebling troops in Afghanistan and health care. But in deferring the risk, he's gambling with his authority and political capital."


By trying too hard to keep control, he ends up losing control.









Turkey is a country that had me at hello. I like the people, the culture, the food and, most of all, the idea of modern Turkey — the idea of a country at the hinge of Europe and the Middle East that manages to be at once modern, secular, Muslim, democratic, and has good relations with the Arabs, Israel and the West. After 9/11, I was among those hailing the Turkish model as the antidote to "Bin Ladenism." Indeed, the last time I visited Turkey in 2005, my discussions with officials were all about Turkey's efforts to join the European Union. That is why it is quite shocking to come back today and find Turkey's Islamist government seemingly focused not on joining the European Union but the Arab League — no, scratch that, on joining the Hamas-Hezbollah-Iran resistance front against Israel.


Now how did that happen?


Wait one minute, Friedman. That is a gross exaggeration, say Turkish officials.


You're right. I exaggerate, but not that much. A series of vacuums that emerged in and around Turkey in the last few years have drawn Turkey's Islamist government — led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party — away from its balance point between East and West. This could have enormous implications. Turkey's balancing role has been one of the most important, quiet, stabilizers in world politics. You only notice it when it is gone. Being in Istanbul convinces me that we could be on our way to losing it if all these vacuums get filled in the wrong ways.


The first vacuum comes courtesy of the European Union. After a decade of telling the Turks that if they wanted E.U. membership they had to reform their laws, economy, minority rights and civilian-military relations — which the Erdogan government systematically did — the E.U. leadership has now said to Turkey: "Oh, you mean nobody told you? We're a Christian club. No Muslims allowed." The E.U.'s rejection of Turkey, a hugely bad move, has been a key factor prompting Turkey to move closer to Iran and the Arab world.


But as Turkey started looking more South, it found another vacuum — no leadership in the Arab-Muslim world. Egypt is adrift. Saudi Arabia is asleep. Syria is too small. And Iraq is too fragile. Erdogan discovered that by taking a very hard line against Israel's partial blockade of Hamas-led Gaza — and quietly supporting the Turkish-led flotilla to break that blockade, during which eight Turks were killed by Israel — Turkey could vastly increase its influence on the Arab street and in the Arab markets.


Indeed, Erdogan today is the most popular leader in the Arab world. Unfortunately, it is not because he is promoting a synthesis of democracy, modernity and Islam, but because he is loudly bashing Israel over its occupation and praising Hamas instead of the more responsible Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which is actually building the foundations of a Palestinian state.


There is nothing wrong with criticizing Israel's human rights abuses in the territories. Israel's failure to apply its creativity to solving the Palestinian problem is another dangerous vacuum. But it is very troubling when Erdogan decries Israelis as killers and, at the same time, warmly receives in Ankara Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the bloodshed in Darfur, and while politely hosting Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose government killed and jailed thousands of Iranians demanding that their votes be counted. Erdogan defended his reception of Bashir by saying: "It's not possible for a Muslim to commit genocide."


As one Turkish foreign policy analyst said to me: "We are not mediating between East and West anymore. We've become spokesmen for the most regressive elements in the East."


Finally, there is a vacuum inside Turkey. The secular opposition parties have been in disarray most of the decade, the army has been cowed by wiretaps and the press has been increasingly intimidated into self-censorship because of government pressures. In September, the Erdogan government levied a tax fine of $2.5 billion on the largest, most influential — and most critical — media conglomerate, Dogan Holdings, to bring it to heel. At the same time, Erdogan lately has spoken with increasing vitriol about Israel in his public speeches — describing Israelis as killers — to build up his domestic support. He regularly labels his critics as "Israel's contractors" and "Tel Aviv's lawyers."


Sad. Erdogan is smart, charismatic and can be very pragmatic. He's no dictator. I'd love to see him be the most popular leader on the Arab street, but not by being more radical than the Arab radicals and by catering to Hamas, but by being more of a democracy advocate than the undemocratic Arab leaders and mediating in a balanced way between all Palestinians and Israel. That is not where Erdogan is at, though, and it's troubling. Maybe President Obama should invite him for a weekend at Camp David to clear the air before U.S.-Turkey relations get where they're going — over a cliff.







FIFTY-SIX years ago today, a Bell System manager sent postcards to 16 of the most capable and promising young executives at the company. What was written on the postcards was surprising, especially coming from a corporate ladder-climber at a time when the nation was just beginning to lurch out of a recession: "Happy Bloom's Day."


It was a message to mark the annual celebration of James Joyce's "Ulysses," the epic novel built around events unfolding on a single day — June 16, 1904 — in the life of the fictional Dubliner Leopold Bloom. But the postcard also served as a kind of diploma for the men who received it.


Two years earlier a number of Bell's top executives, led by W. D. Gillen, then president of Bell Telephone of Pennsylvania, had begun to worry about the education of the managers rising through the company's hierarchy. Many of these junior executives had technical backgrounds, gained at engineering schools or on the job, and quite a few had no college education at all. They were good at their jobs, but they would eventually rise to positions in which Gillen felt they would need broader views than their backgrounds had so far given them.


The sociologist E. Digby Baltzell explained the Bell leaders' concerns in an article published in Harper's magazine in 1955: "A well-trained man knows how to answer questions, they reasoned; an educated man knows what questions are worth asking." Bell, then one of the largest industrial concerns in the country, needed more employees capable of guiding the company rather than simply following instructions or responding to obvious crises.


In 1952, Gillen took the problem to the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a trustee. Together with representatives of the university, Bell set up a program called the Institute of Humanistic Studies for Executives. More than simply training its young executives to do a particular job, the institute would give them, in a 10-month immersion program on the Penn campus, what amounted to a complete liberal arts education. There were lectures and seminars led by scholars from Penn and other colleges in the area — 550 hours of course work in total, and more reading, Baltzell reported, than the average graduate student was asked to do in a similar time frame.


At the same time, the institute's curriculum provided for the sorts of experiences that were once the accidental concomitants of a liberal education: visits to museums and art galleries, orchestral concerts, day trips meant to foster thoughtful attention to the history and architecture of the city that surrounded the Penn campus, as well as that of New York and Washington.


Perhaps the most exciting component of the curriculum was the series of guest lecturers the institute brought to campus. "One hundred and sixty of America's leading intellectuals," according to Baltzell, spoke to the Bell students that year. They included the poets W. H. Auden and Delmore Schwartz, the Princeton literary critic R. P. Blackmur, the architectural historian Lewis Mumford, the composer Virgil Thomson. It was a thrilling intellectual carnival.


When the students read "The Lonely Crowd," the landmark 1950 study of their own social milieu, they didn't just discuss the book, they discussed it with its author, David Riesman. They tangled with a Harvard expert over the elusive poetry in Ezra Pound's "Pisan Cantos," which had sent one of the Bell students to bed with a headache and two aspirin.


The capstone of the program, and its most controversial element, came in eight three-hour seminars devoted to "Ulysses." The novel, published in 1922, had been banned as obscene in the United States until 1933 and its reputation for difficulty outlived the ban. The Bell students "found it a challenging, and often exasperating, experience," Baltzell wrote.


But, prepared by months of reading that had ranged from the Bhagavad Gita to "Babbitt," the men rose to the challenge, surprising themselves with the emotional and intellectual resources they brought to bear on Joyce's novel. It was clear as the students cheered one another through their final reports that reading a book as challenging as "Ulysses" was both a liberating intellectual experience and a measure of how much they had been enriched by their time at the institute.


At the end of the 10-month course, an anonymous questionnaire was circulated among the Bell students; their answers revealed that they were reading more widely than they had before — if they had read at all — and they were more curious about the world around them. At a time when the country was divided by McCarthyism, they tended to see more than one side to any given argument.


What's more, the graduates were no longer content to let the machinery of business determine the course of their lives. One man told Baltzell that before the program he had been "like a straw floating with the current down the stream" and added: "The stream was the Bell Telephone Company. I don't think I will ever be that straw again."


The institute was judged a success by Morris S. Viteles, one of the pioneers of industrial psychology, who evaluated its graduates. But Bell gradually withdrew its support after yet another positive assessment found that while executives came out of the program more confident and more intellectually engaged, they were also less interested in putting the company's bottom line ahead of their commitments to their families and communities. By 1960, the Institute of Humanistic Studies for Executives was finished.


As the worst economic crisis since the Depression continues and the deepening rift in the nation's political fabric threatens to forestall economic reform, the values the program instilled would certainly come in handy today. We need fewer drifting straws on the stream of American business, and more discontented thinkers who listen thoughtfully to both sides of our national debates. Reading "Ulysses" this Bloomsday may be more than just a literary observance. Think of it as an act of fiscal responsibility.


Wes Davis is the editor of "An Anthology of Modern Irish Poetry."








LAST week, lawyers for almost 10,000 policemen, firemen and other workers agreed to a $712 million fund to compensate these rescuers for illnesses sustained while responding to the devastation at the World Trade Center after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The settlement now needs the support of 95 percent of the plaintiffs to be approved. (Should it pass, I will be deciding appeals from plaintiffs disputing their awards.)


Unfortunately, the 9/11 compensation story is far from over. There is also legislation in Congress that would reopen the original Victim Compensation Fund to those who missed the previous filing deadline, a group that includes many of the plaintiffs in the proposed settlement. But by signing onto the new settlement, the plaintiffs would forgo the opportunity to participate in a new 9/11 fund if the legislation should pass.


It is doubtful they would do better by waiting for the proposed legislation. But hope springs eternal, and some plaintiffs are being told that it would be preferable to wait. If more than 5 percent agree, last week's settlement is off.


The 9/11 responders shouldn't be put in this position. Simple changes to the legislation would allow them to benefit from both programs, and thus finally receive the compensation they deserve.


The new settlement is a clear instance of justice delayed. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, thousands of rescue workers performed the terrible but necessary task of sifting through the rubble and twisted metal in search of victims' remains. Almost 2,000 of these workers, who became ill as a result of their exposure to ash and airborne chemicals, were promptly paid by the federal Victim Compensation Fund, which Congress created just 11 days after the attacks. But others did not qualify because their physical injuries manifested themselves years later, after the statute authorizing the payments had expired.


This settlement rectifies that wrong. It will no longer be necessary for each plaintiff to spend years in court to prove that his or her illness was the direct result of exposure to ground zero debris.


The settlement isn't the only attempt to address unanswered 9/11 claims. The bill before Congress — which has been voted out of a House committee but has not been considered by the full House or the Senate — would reopen the original fund to any eligible person who claims a physical injury from exposure to the dust and debris at the World Trade Center, including Lower Manhattan residents. The legislation could affect thousands more people claiming respiratory injury because of their proximity to the site.


The plaintiffs in the settlement thus face a tough choice: accept the offer on the table or gamble that the bill will pass and they'll get a better deal.


Congress shouldn't make them take this unnecessary gamble. As with the original fund, the legislation should simply require that any money received as a result of the settlement be debited against any additional funds he or she might get from the re-opened fund.


That is the approach I followed when I administered the original 9/11 fund. In determining awards, I offset life insurance proceeds, health insurance and disability payments and other sources of income paid to victims and their families.


The 9/11 responders have waited long enough. They should be able to accept the settlement and move forward with their lives as best they can, without having to worry that they might miss out on something better.


Kenneth R. Feinberg was the special master of the federal compensation fund for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.








Like the oil industry, President Obama was caught off guard by BP's disastrous spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In the assessments of Obama's performance, however, far too much attention has been paid to theatrics. Is the president angry enough? Has he traveled to the Gulf enough times to show concern? Has he met with enough "real" people?


Such things only matter politically and in the psyche of the region. In the aftermath of the first Oval Office address of his presidency, Obama should be judged less on his stagecraft and more on how he handles five key aspects of the crisis:


•Stopping the spill. Unless you subscribe to the president-as-Superman theory of government, Obama has little ability to shut off the well's raging tap. He has organized scientists to look for innovative answers, which is worthwhile, but the engineering expertise lies with the industry, and BP already has enormous motivation to end the spill fast.


The best the president can do is provide the sort of adult supervision BP has shown itself to need. The company has consistently overestimated its own competence and underestimated the flow rate. One useful administration move was to demand the drilling of two relief wells to intercept the runaway hole, instead of the one the company was planning.


•Cleaning up the oil. When the nation is struck by an unprecedented event — 9/11 for instance — it's a given that the response will be imperfect, not a happy circumstance for Obama in a political age that seems to judge anything short of perfection as failure. That said, the government did a dreadful job of making sure the oil industry had the means to plug a deep-ocean gusher. In his speech Tuesday night, Obama again blamed this on the Bush administration, and with plenty of cause. The cozy relationship between the industry and its regulator was well documented long before the spill. But for that very reason, the current administration also shares the blame. It didn't apply any substantive fix.


What the president did do, though, was assemble massive forces quickly to fight the spill. Obama quantified the effort Tuesday night: The cleanup has marshaled thousands of ships and nearly 30,000 workers. The inevitable result is some degree of chaos, but the level of complaints about ineffectiveness is troubling. Plainly, there is a need for clearer lines of authority.


The administration was also slow to drop its illogical objections to foreign aid. Booms, skimmers and other vital tools are being shipped to the Gulf from Canada, Norway, the Netherlands and other countries with expertise at combating spills.


•Helping people and businesses harmed by the spill. Tens of thousands of people who make a living from the Gulf have seen their business dwindle or dry up, a human and economic disaster that will last long after the well is plugged. BP has a responsibility to make them whole, and the president has not been shy about saying so. But that's the easy part. BP is a friendless political punching bag. The trick will be to get help to people who need it quickly and steadily without killing off the revenue stream by bankrupting the company.


That won't be easy. Setting up an escrow fund with BP's money, as the president suggested Tuesday night, is a good idea, as long as an impartial third party rapidly and fairly adjudicates claims. Any disaster sees a rush of scam artists along with those who are really suffering; whoever administers the fund will have to separate out the crooks from the legitimate claimants.


•Preventing a repeat. Obama is expected to ensure that a blowout like this never happens again — which, of course, is impossible to guarantee as long as human beings and their potentially faulty judgments are involved. Even so, more than verbal reassurances are needed before deep drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, now on hold for six months, resumes.


Because delay means lost jobs, this is not as politically appetizing as beating up on BP. But nothing could be more obvious than the need for new protections. Before drilling starts again, Obama should certify that the industry is far better able to control a runaway well and much more ready to contain any spill. He also needs to continue overhauling the Minerals Management Service, the federal agency responsible for drilling regulation and oversight, which became a captive of the industry. The challenge is to do this quickly — again, a far tougher task than just asking that it be done.


•Taking the nation beyond petroleum. There's not much to add to Obama's compelling dissection Tuesday of the nation's decades-long failure to address its deepening addiction to foreign oil. Whether Obama can break that pattern could be the true test — one that will matter long after the spill is cleaned up.


This nation already imports two-thirds of its oil, often enriching hostile nations. Even with aggressive action, it will take decades to supplant the liquid fuels that power the more than 254 million cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles now on U.S. roads. The investment will also be expensive, which makes it politically poisonous. Even so, it's the best way to create some lasting good from this disaster.


First, though, let's clean up the oil.








Our perennial national debate over how to interpret the Constitution will soon be renewed, as the Senate considers the Supreme Court nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan.


In fact, former Justice David Souter set the discussion in motion last month in a Harvard commencement address— arguing that seeking to resolve difficult constitutional questions based on an honest effort to construe that document's words (whether broadly or narrowly) "has only a tenuous connection to reality" and leads to bad decisions.


Souter's candor is commendable but also genuinely troubling — the practical equivalent of a retired cardinal announcing that religion is an opiate for the masses. Even judges who quietly believe that the Constitution is an irredeemably reactionary document, which they must pull and push into the 21st century, are not generally so bold, preferring instead to cloak their innovations with references to the Constitution's text.


Souter, however, argues that the Constitution is too full of ambiguous language and competing imperatives to sustain a textual approach to its interpretation. Like the people it serves — who throughout their history have demanded security and liberty, liberty and equality — the Constitution tries to have it both ways and is too often irreconcilable.


It is, therefore, the courts (and the Supreme Court especially), that Souter believes must "decide which of our approved desires has the better claim," and this cannot be done simply by reading the Constitution's words. Put differently, we all must trust in the judges to find our way through the morass, to make the right choices between competing constitutional imperatives, and we cannot accuse them of making up the law when they make choices we do not like. It is their job, not ours.


When judges rule


It would be difficult to articulate a decision-making model more antithetical to American democracy and the Constitution's own design. It is often said — by the Supreme Court among others — that we have a "government of laws and not of men." Judges are people, not the living embodiment of the law. When a judge makes the choices Souter suggests, without regard to the Constitution's words and their original meaning, it is the judges who rule and not the law.


The Constitution's drafters understood this very well and, whatever mistakes they made along the way, they manifestly did not empower the courts to choose freestyle among constitutional values. Their judiciary was to be, as Alexander Hamilton explained at the time, the "weakest" branch of government that could exercise only "judgment," not the awesome congressional power of the purse or the president's control over the military.


Indeed, the Supreme Court itself did not claim the right to invalidate actions of Congress and the president as unconstitutional until 15 years after the Constitution was ratified.


This is not to say construing the Constitution is easy; it is not. To the extent there are competing values and ambiguous provisions in our founding document, the Constitution itself prescribes how choices ought to be made. To be sure, as human beings, every judge brings a lifetime of personal experiences, beliefs and prejudices (good and bad) to the task of judging. Wading into the Constitution may well seem like walking through a museum of medieval art, which speaks to us in fundamentally different ways than to our ancestors. But the judge's job, his or her sacred trust, requires disciplining these personal experiences and beliefs toward a faithful interpretation of the Constitution's text.


Moreover, it is possible to rise above personal preference to fairly interpret that text. No better example can be found than in one of the precedents Souter himself discussed at Harvard, to buttress his core claim that reliance on constitutional text causes bad decisions. In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the Supreme Court upheld the principle of "separate but equal," establishing the legal basis for generations of racial segregation. But there was a dissent.


The Harlan model


Justice John Marshall Harlan ("the Elder") was a man who passionately believed that the "white race" was superior to all others. Yet, as Justice Clarence Thomas likes to point out, Harlan looked into the Constitution and could not find there, in its words as fairly construed, any basis for separate but equal. The Constitution, Harlan wrote, says the government must guarantee the equal protection of the laws to all. That is what it said, and that is what it meant. Harlan was, of course, vindicated in 1954, when the Supreme Court overruled Plessy and rejected the notion of "separate but equal" in Brown v. Board of Education.


The bottom line is that bad constitutional decisions, far from being the result of the Constitution's frailty, are caused by the frailties of judges who depart from it. It is to be hoped that, if the Senate confirms Kagan's nomination, she will give an ear to Justice Harlan rather than Justice Souter.


David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey are partners in Baker & Hostetler LLP and served in the Justice Department under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.








What does the U.S. have in common with countries in sub-Saharan Africa?


Both waste large, obscene amounts of food. Better knowledge and technology would reduce food waste, deter environmental damage and, especially in that region of the African continent, reduce the number of people who go hungry each day.


In sub-Saharan Africa, at least 265 million people are hungry, heightening the travesty of the food waste problem. More than a quarter of the food produced in Africa spoils before it is eaten. Farmers battle post-harvest losses caused by severe weather, disease and pests, or poor harvesting and storage techniques. Annual post-harvest losses for cereal grains, roots and tuber crops, fruits, vegetables, meat, milk and fish amount to some 100 million tons, or $48 million worth of food.


Preventive measures


To prevent these losses in Africa and elsewhere, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is trying to provide the information and technology to begin turning this tide:


•In Kenya, the FAO partnered with the Kenya Ministry of Agriculture to train farmers to take steps to reduce corn crop loss to mycotoxin, a devastating result of fungi growth.


•In Afghanistan, the FAO recently provided metallic silos to roughly 18,000 households to improve storage of cereal grains and legumes, protecting them from the weather and pests. Losses have dropped from 15%-20% to less than 1%-2%.


Americans, of course, are blessed by an abundance of food. But that fact makes our waste all the more inexcusable.


Every day, the average American throws away about one-and-a-half pounds of food. Slightly wilted lettuce, half-eaten cheeseburgers, bruised apples end up in the trash instead of our stomachs. Better to buy and cook less food, and compost the rest. Although it doesn't sound like much, those nearly one-and-a-half pounds add up —31 million tons end in landfills or incinerators each year. That's roughly equivalent to the weight of 74 Golden Gate bridges. These dumps are not only unsightly, they produce 34% of the methane in the U.S. — a greenhouse gas more than 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide.


U.S. household waste


The waste goes well beyond households. Four percent to 10% of food purchases become waste in restaurants before ever reaching the customer.


Although, unlike sub-Saharan Africa, the United States has the technology to preserve harvested crops, too much of a harvest is left by farm equipment on the field to rot. To feed the hungry in the U.S., organizations such as the Society of St. Andrews recruit volunteers to visit farms after a harvest to glean, or pick up, the perfectly good produce left behind. In 2009, they were able to save and distribute 15.7 million pounds of produce.


Groups such as Food Runners, a non-profit in San Francisco run entirely by volunteers, deliver an estimated 10 tons of food each week to hungry people; otherwise, it would have been wasted. Taken from coffee shops, restaurants and supermarkets, this salvaged sustenance is used in shelters, soup kitchens, senior centers and other locations.


The U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa, now that they are catching up with other countries in this regard, can serve as models for the rest of the world when it comes to food waste. We can show the world how to feed its people while protecting the earth, too.


Danielle Nierenberg is co-project director of the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet project ( Abby Massey is a research intern who will be an M.A. candidate in American University's Global Environmental Politics program.









Everybody -- from the U.S. president down -- can say some justified "bad things" about the horrible oil spill at one BP well in the Gulf of Mexico that has been fouling water, sea life and shores, killing many jobs and causing inestimable economic damage for nearly two months -- so far.


And no end is in sight. Many are placing "blame." But despite frantic efforts, there is no prospect of early solution. The mess is likely to increase for months, at least, with damage lingering for years.


Oil and other industrial "experts" are trying "lots of things," with little progress. Many talk about "who will pay." But some of that can wait. We need a solution.


Surely, practical engineers have many ideas. But simple "non-experts" wonder why some kind of "inverted funnel" can't be placed over the rampaging oil well to collect much of the oil and pipe it into tanker ships, keeping the potentially valuable stuff from causing such great environmental damage.


While about 3,000 Gulf of Mexico oil wells are trouble-free, just one well is damaging several states and thousands of people -- with no solution in sight.







With many people pinched by economic recession, this is a good time not to increase financial burdens on families, businesses and governments.


Signal Mountain obviously has gotten that message as its local officials have decided to make a $6.1 million town budget with no tax increase.


Nearly all governments could "use" more tax income. But individuals and families have the same needs. So it is good news when public officials recognize the financial pinch and don't increase tax burdens on the people.


The big problem with the federal government, however, is that it just keeps on spending too much, running up more than $1.5 trillion in red ink this year alone, despite tight times. Local governments can't do that.


Those who hold the tax line should be commended for their sensible response to economic reality.







We would like to offer a hearty "Hooray!" to two elementary schools in nearby Walker County, Ga. They are not letting the financially disadvantaged backgrounds of many of their students stand in the way of making sure those students get a good education.


The schools are Stone Creek and Cherokee Ridge elementary schools. Both have been added to a list of 35 schools across Georgia that have a higher-than-average rate of students from families living in poverty, but that still meet the academic standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind law.


As a matter of constitutional principle, we do not believe the federal government should set academic standards for the states. But with the standards having been set, the performance at Stone Creek and Cherokee Ridge is simply remarkable.


About 73 percent of pupils at Cherokee Ridge are from families living in poverty, and that is true of about 75 percent of pupils at Stone Creek. Those rates are far higher than the state average. And yet, judging from test scores among their fifth-graders, they are in the top 10 percent to 20 percent statewide.


That wonderful achievement got them on the list of "No Excuses Schools" compiled by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.


Coming from a family of very limited means may not be the easiest way for a child to start out in life. But educators at these Walker County schools have obviously made up their minds that students from all kinds of backgrounds can learn with the right combination of determination and involvement by students, teachers and parents.


They deserve congratulations and support.







President Barack Obama has begun making the rounds to promote his ObamaCare socialized medicine law and try to convince senior citizens in particular that it's a "good deal" for them.


He started out with a trip to Wheaton, Md., proudly proclaiming the $250 checks that will be sent to millions of Americans on Medicare to help pay for prescriptions. The checks -- which add to our $13 trillion national debt -- will be mailed over the next few months to try to shore up Mr. Obama's popularity with seniors, who are rightly skeptical that ObamaCare is good for them or the country.


The president was misleading when a listener calling in from Illinois asked whether senior citizens in Medicare Advantage plans will lose benefits. The fact is, the Congressional Budget Office says Medicare Advantage clients will lose some benefits under ObamaCare, which steers hundreds of billions of dollars out of Medicare. But Mr. Obama declared, "What you need to know is that the guaranteed Medicare benefits that you've earned will not change." That's simply false.


It does not appear that senior citizens or the American people as a whole are taking Mr. Obama's claims at face value.


In a recent Rasmussen Reports survey, 63 percent of senior citizens said they favor repeal of ObamaCare. That is remarkably strong opposition, considering that they are a key group whom ObamaCare supposedly will help the most. Overall, 56 percent of those responding to the survey favored repeal, with only 39 percent opposed. Most said the law will increase federal budget deficits and the cost of care, and half said it will harm the quality of care.


We can see why Mr. Obama is making an all-out push to sell the American people on the supposed "benefits" of deeply unpopular ObamaCare. He is fearful of losing lots of Democrat seats in Congress in the November elections. But most Americans have grave reservations about the law. Adding to our catastrophic national debt by sending out $250 checks to some senior citizens is not likely to change many minds.


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Among the enormous cost of $1.2 billion that TVA estimates it ultimately will pay to clean up the devastating Kingston ash spill, the $11.5 million fine levied Monday by Tennessee's environmental regulators seems relatively insignificant. Compared to the damage the spill caused, it is barely a slap on the wrist. But in this case, the symbolic value counts.


The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation hardly could let TVA off the hook. Even though it's apparent that TVA will have to roll the costs of the fines, as with all other cleanup costs, int o the electric rates that TVA's customers must pay, it is essential that TVA be held accountable by both the state and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which has yet to levy any fines.


TVA's management -- which is clearly responsible for the spill -- must be required to acknowledge its management failures and negligent oversight of operational procedures and standards that led to the spill. The fines help establish that sense of responsibility, accountability and fault, and reasonably so.


We're aware that TVA's management has moved gradually since the spill to acknowledge the scope of its failure. But its initial response was to attempt to minimize the extent and toxic nature of the spill. Then it seemed ready to bury any blame -- any notion of its own apparent causal incompetence and negligence as factors in the spill -- by seeking and controlling the range of multiple consultants' studies to assess how the spill might have happened.


In fact, one of the studies still made clear that TVA's regular dam inspe