Google Analytics

Thursday, June 17, 2010

EDITORIAL 17.06.10

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: 


media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month june 17, edition 000541 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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




















































































It is increasingly evident that a political decision was taken at the 'highest level' of the Union Government, which means by the Prime Minister, not to arrest and prosecute Warren Anderson, then chairman of Union Carbide Corp, for the enormous number of deaths caused by the world's worst industrial disaster after deadly methyl isocyanate leaked from the ill-maintained storage tanks of the American multinational corporation's pesticides factory in Bhopal during the intervening night of December 2-3 in 1984. The sequence of events has been established: Anderson came to Bhopal four days after the tragedy; he was arrested but not taken into police custody; a couple of hours later then Chief Minister Arjun Singh instructed senior officials to arrange for his bail and fly him out on the State Government's aircraft to Delhi. Strange as it may sound, Anderson met then Home Minister PV Narasimha Rao and had tea and sandwiches with then President Zail Singh at Rashtrapati Bhavan before catching a flight to the US and disappearing from India forever. And before he fled the law of this land, he told newspersons: "House arrest or no arrest and bail, no bail, I am free to go home... There is a law of the United States... India, bye, bye!" The man who should have stood trial for the crime committed by his company in Bhopal — Union Carbide Corp had instructed a cutback in expenditure on plant safety and failed to inform Union Carbide India Ltd about the potential hazard on account of storing methyl isocyanate in excess of a storage tank's capacity — had come to see the tragic consequences of the disaster only after being assured that he would not be arrested or harassed. The assurance was given to the American Embassy by the Ministry of External Affairs, but given the scale of the tragedy, the decision was clearly taken by the Prime Minister who then happened to be Rajiv Gandhi. What were the compulsions for according such privilege to Anderson? Mr Arjun Singh had then said, "There was no intention to prosecute anyone or try to, sort of, harass anyone. Therefore, Anderson was granted bail and he agreed to be present in court when the charges are made." That's pure bunkum, as is proved by what Anderson had to say on the same day and what has been disclosed by the US diplomat who had secured immunity for the Union Carbide chief.

Subsequent actions of the then Government headed by Rajiv Gandhi further demonstrate that an extraordinary effort was made to gloss over the role of Union Carbide Corp and exonerate Anderson, apart from reducing the culpability of senior executives of Union Carbide India Ltd. The settlement that was reached as compensation for the victims of Union Carbide's abominable crime was by itself an unwarranted compromise that mocked at the value of human life in this country. The story of the Congress's collusion with those who should have been given exemplary punishment to deter others from cutting corners on safety measures at hazardous factories, however, does not end with letting off Union Carbide without so much as a dent on its ill-gotten profits; it has continued by way of assuring Dow Chemicals, which has since purchased the company, that it will not have to pay the $ 100 million required to detoxify the factory site. The Congress wants the past to be forgotten. But with such knowledge, what forgiveness?







A Class 8 student is caned by the principal of his school. The child allegedly feels humiliated and commits suicide. This is a tragic story that could have emanated from any one of the millions of schools in the country. After all, there have been equally tragic instances of children being beaten black and blue by their teachers; in one incident that occurred in the national capital, a child was made to sit out in the summer sun for not being attentive in class — the child collapsed in the heat and died. More often than not such incidents are reported by the media, talked about in the fashionable drawing rooms of our cities, and then forgotten. It is presumed that such awful things do not happen to the children of the affluent and the middle classes. This presumption has now been proved to be entirely baseless with Rouvanjit Rawla, a student of Kolkata's well-known La Martiniere School reportedly committing suicide after being caned by the principal for being what boys of his age usually are: Naughty and mischievous. The boy's father has since held the school responsible for the death of the child and levelled charges against the principal. With media highlighting the incident largely because an up-market school with a glorious history is involved, the West Bengal Government has ordered a criminal investigation, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights is conducting its own inquiry, and Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal has lashed out at the school's authorities. If all this leads to something good by way of schools becoming gentler towards students, Rouvanjit's tragic death would not be in vain. But that's unlikely to happen. Corporal punishment was long ago banned in our country. It has not stopped teachers from brutalising children. Many teachers have been arrested for assaulting students. None of them has been punished.

The law and its enforcers are treated with contempt, and not without reasons, by most schools. Mr Sibal can express horror and rights organisations can express shock. But the simple truth is that we have created a situation where there is no system worth its name, and no accountability either. Education reforms are not merely about tinkering with examinations and changing syllabi. It's about reforming schools and their teachers; it's about ensuring that schools follow the law of the land; it's about preventing schools from becoming sausage factories; and, it's about restoring the primacy of knowledge above commerce. Is anyone willing to take on this onerous task? Treacly sentiments and crocodile tears are neither a palliative nor a cure for the multiple afflictions from which India's schools suffer. Sadly, nothing will change after the death of the child in Kolkata, just as nothing changed after the death of children elsewhere.






It was July 2000. I was on my maiden visit to Beijing en route to Mongolia. China had recently bid for the 2008 Olympics (it became an official 'Applicant City' in August that year). The International Olympic Committee's decision would be known only a year later in July 2001, after an exacting inspection by the IOC Evaluation Commission which would go on to attest Beijing's "high quality" application.

This bit of detail is relevant in the context of the Beijing one saw in action from the moment we left the airport to the time we checked into our hotel because in July 2000 it had not even become an official Applicant City for the Olympics; it had merely bid. Yet, the city was in full-throttle preparation. News reports talked of how, regardless of the bid outcome, China was going in for the "largest construction projects ever since the construction of the Great Wall". This ambitious plan was in plain evidence.

Beijing was indeed getting ready, for the Games and beyond. Buildings wore tell-tale mesh shrouds; huge shopping malls and residential quarters were coming up across the city. Beijing's municipal committee had decided to enhance the existing 216-km expressway to more than 700 km by 2008. The city's public transport system was to be enlarged; additional ring roads and expressways would link the city to its satellite towns; 40 km of subways would be added to the existing 53 km which, along with the city's light rail system, would encompass 140 km, linking central Beijing to the Olympic Park on the city's northern outskirts. The Olympic Park itself would have 37 competition and 59 training venues for 28 games.

Subsequently, projects to improve the city's traffic, water and energy systems were announced. Parking lots were planned to provide space to every motor vehicle in the city. A massive gas-fired thermal power plant would come up to satiate this energy-guzzling city's ever-increasing demands. Lakes and rivers would be cleaned to address the water situation. And finally, the city would boast of the world's largest and most advanced airport in the world. All this was to be done at an investment of nearly $ 60 billion.

What was impressive was both the vision informing the infrastructure ambition and the record time China took to deliver the goods. Since 2000, one had the opportunity to visit various towns and cities of China frequently, Beijing being a regular transit point. Each visit saw the city's complexion change and in a record time of six years, by 2006, this Olympic host was ready and waiting for its visitors, two years ahead of the actual Games.

By way of parallels, around the time China was preparing for the 2008 Olympics — 2003, to be precise — India won the bid for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. As aspirations go, this was a legitimate bid. After all, India was the world's second fastest-growing economy after China and was vying with it to be a global power by 2020. Therefore, if Beijing was to be China's calling card, India had every right to showcase New Delhi as a global destination. In fact, many felt the CWG would enhance India's chances of winning the 2020 Olympic bid, a truly international opportunity to reveal the country's economic potential.

To see where the parallel ends, pan to New Delhi three months short of the CWG. While Beijing was battle-ready two years ahead of its global tryst, Delhi looks a city upturned. Admittedly, one cannot argue against infrastructure development, but surely there is something to be said for deadlines, and more importantly, vision. Seven years since India made the CWG bid, one is seriously skeptical on both fronts. Already, deadlines for infrastructure projects not falling on the Games' route extend well beyond 2010. All four phases of Delhi's ambitious Metro project, under construction since 1998, will be completed only by 2021. Despite the anticipated rush on the Metro, six-coach trains to replace the four-coach ones have been ordered only this January. The city's pavements are all dug-up; flyovers remain under construction; and, enhanced construction activity has meant the attendant problem of slums which will clearly not disappear overnight.

Again, at a time when Beijing was building world-class expressways and ring roads for its growing vehicular traffic, Delhi started work on an insane road project, the Bus Rapid Transport System, in 2005. The Government's own findings point to an irreversible ground reality: Delhi accounts for 17 per cent of the country's private-run cars, admittedly a factor of the lack of efficient mass transport facilities.

In a warped attempt to address the matter, however, a disaster was born. Initially projected as part of the CWG preparation plans, the BRT inaugurated its pilot project two years ago with the bus-lane running down the middle of the road, an infrequently used cycle lane on the extreme left sides, the car/two-wheeler corridor sandwiched in between. Predictably, the bizarre idea meant excruciatingly long jams on a constricted corridor which had the maximum number of vehicles while the bus-lane in the middle endangered, and often claimed, the very lives the project was meant to ease — people who could not afford cars. To make matters worse, the Delhi Transport Corporation, which earlier planned to procure 6,600 low-floor buses, cited financial ill-health to reduce this number to 3,775.

Therefore, we now have a transport system in the national capital that is a nightmare for private vehicle drivers and public transport users alike. With the vision gone horribly wrong, work on the BRT stands postponed even on the first of the 16 planned corridors till the Games are over. This a sorry tale compared to the state-of-the-art transport infrastructure Beijing acquired ahead of the Olympics, the kind that could address Delhi's burgeoning traffic problem long after the CWG baton has passed on.

New Delhi may still pull off the CWG and for at least 10 days the city may successfully pretend to 'look' world-class. However, having personally observed the massive and qualitative difference between Beijing 2008 and New Delhi 2010, one is seriously worried about the infrastructure divide — with its attendant ramifications — widening further by 2020, this one not between two cities but between two vying global powers.

Last heard, China had started work on a $ 300 billion cross-country rail project, the world's biggest high-speed train system, to be completed by 2020, signalling its meteoric rise and arrival as a global economic superpower. India is supposed to be competing in this race.






It is not in India alone that minorities are able to corner disproportionate benefits by projecting themselves as backward and through manufactured victimhood that evokes a sense of guilt in the majority community. Other countries, too, have also been victims of this fraud.

Agence France-Presse reported recently that a suspected Muslim polygamist has been charged with welfare fraud following a two-month police investigation. Lies Hebbadj, an Algerian-born French butcher and meat shop-owner, has married four times and fathered 15 children. Two of his 'wives'are also in the family way.

Polygamy being an offence under French law, his claim that the additional wives were only 'mistresses' has been rejected by authorities. Hebbadj not only cashed in on benefits to which he was himself entitled but also that his 'wives' received as French citizens. Two of his 'companions' lived in Dubai for a year while he continued to receive social security payments on their behalf. The cash he received on account of his relationship with the women equals 1,75,000 euro. Many of the women and children lived under the same roof. Hebbadj used his 'companions' debit cards to access the funds from their accounts.

Hebbadj is also charged with hiring 13 foreigners and foreign students to work in his shop sans visa. The employees were paid below-minimum wages. A lucky accident led to his arrest. On April 2, one of his wives was stopped by a traffic inspector and fined 22 euro on the ground that her niqab restricted her view and was not conducive to safe driving. This led to Hebbadj's frauds being exposed. He has been sent on judicial remand and ordered to hand in his passport and pay fine worth 10,000 euro.

Many Muslim countries carry on propaganda against the West and its values. Yet there is a rush to settle abroad and enjoy social welfare benefits even while the emigrants revile the same countries that provide shelter to them and carry on ceaseless conspiracy to disturb their peace. Why then do they continue to receive charity from the 'infidels' while biting the very hand that feeds them?








The last time that an Indian demanded that he be treated with respect by a foreign invader was when Porus battled Alexander on the banks of Jhelum in 326 BC. Legend has it that Porus lost (although some historians dispute this). Legend also has it that when Alexander asked the defeated Porus how he wished to be treated, the valiant Porus said, "Treat me like a King." So he was. The moral is that others will treat you the way you want to be treated. Sadly ours has been a history of perfidy, treachery and surrender — at Terain, Panipat, San Thome, Plassey, with our Jai Chands and Mir Jaffars, or Seringapattnam where Tipu Sultan was betrayed to the British by the Nizam and the Marathas. And now Bhopal.

There has been considerable debate in India in recent days on the aftermath of Bhopal 1984. Most of it sounds like a personalised whodunit and about vested interests which misses other essential issues. Surely, Union Carbide was aware of the lethality of the chemical being used to produce the pesticide in its Bhopal factory. Unproven technology had been sent to India and the deadly methyl isocyanate arrived in huge quantities even when the mother company was aware that there could be a catastrophe should things go wrong at the factory. A warning to this effect had been issued in the parent company in the US but was never communicated to Bhopal. Added to this is the fact that the Bhopal unit was on a dollar-saving spree to cut costs by minimising safety measures. This makes both the companies culpable. It is Union Carbide that is responsible and it should be made to pay.

Once the gas leaked in Bhopal and the fatalities occurred, as a nation we did precious little to ensure that the victims got the relief that they needed and deserved. We ourselves diluted the case to the level where the US company could say that $500 per victim was "plenty good for Indians". This reminds us of what the great Winston Churchill had said about using lethal gas: "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes." He wrote this in a War Office memo in May 1919 in the context of West Asia. The same attitude prevails when we are fobbed off with loose change, but then we have been willing conspirators in this ugly reality.

In contrast, the British have offered billions of dollars as compensation for the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Muammar Gaddafi was forced to pay five million pounds per family for the 270 who died in the PanAm Flight 103 bombing at Lockerbie. The Libyans will pay another two billion pounds for having supplied Semtex to the IRA who then used this in terror strikes in the UK. A total of 800 million pounds will be paid to the 147 families affected by these attacks. One might argue that Bhopal was not about terrorism; but surely it was about criminal and wilful neglect. No compensation will bring back the dead, but surely there has to be some sense of fair play, however hardnosed a country's business and profit instincts might be.

A substantial upward revision of the compensation is the least one can expect. There have already been veiled threats that should the Indians get too demanding, US-India trade and commercial interests will suffer. So be it. We should remember and remind the US that it is offering us commercial deals for its military aircraft, there is no friendship price. It is also packaged in obnoxious preconditions like the EUMA. So we should feel free to shop around in the open market for the best deal that suits our national security interests.

Finally, while we may debate whether or not Dow Chemicals carries the liability to clean up the toxic factory site, we have done precious little either to clean up or force Dow to do it.All these years as files got tossed around nothing was done to clean Bhopal of the toxic hazard. Even now, groundwater tests show that the carbon tetrachloride (a cancer-causing chemical) content is 2,400 times in excess of the safety level. Carbon tetrachloride is used in pesticides and has been banned in most countries.

Meanwhile, collective and continued apathy and indifference has meant that apart from the estimated 15,000 who have died (figures vary) there are about 5,00,000 who suffer from chronic diseases. Maybe we should now take up Mr Ratan Tata's suggestion that Indian industry should detoxify Bhopal — perhaps as belated penance because Government seems frozen into inaction.

It is worthwhile to look around to see how other countries protect their perceived interests. US President Barack Obama thumps the desk and vows to 'kick ass' when confronted with the oil spill. The Israelis have used force to prevent an attempt to break the Gaza blockade. The Iranians hunker down and refuse to give in to global demands about their nuclear programme. This is not a value judgement on the correctness of their interests. This is a comment on the willingness of the state to protect its interests.

We, on the other hand, seem over eager to look good and rationalise even on behalf of an adversary. Consequently, we end up with the short end of the bargain. Ultimately others will respect us and listen to us if we are prepared to defend our interests, come what may. Greatness will be not gifted to us; we will have to stand up and fight for it.

Bhopal is about our national failure; it is also about our national tragedy. Do we have the courage and ability to say "Never again?" The next test will come shortly when the Nuclear Liability Bill comes up for consideration in Parliament. The fear is that given our track record we might agree to terms less favourable to us.

The writer, a security and strategic affairs specialist, is former chief of Research & Analysis Wing.










Through providing sanctuary and support to the Afghan Taliban, and arresting those who step out of line, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence appears to be able to exert significant influence on Taliban strategy. As a Kandahari political figure summarised: "The ISI have some control (over the Taliban). They have influence in strategic decision-making. Sure, they have dominated the Taliban movement, but they (the Taliban) have some independence." Likewise, a political analyst in Kandahar said: "The Taliban is obliged to accept Pakistan's demands — it needs their support, but is not their puppet."

The Taliban-ISI relationship is founded on mutual benefit. The Taliban need external sanctuary, as well as military and logistical support to sustain their insurgency; the ISI believes that it needs a significant allied force in Afghanistan to maintain regional strength and "strategic depth" in their rivalry with India. As a former Taliban minister put it: "The ISI are helping the Taliban a lot, but they only give for their own gain. There is a reciprocal issue: Kashmir. The root of the problem in Afghanistan is the Pakistan-India competition."

Pakistan's fundamental strategic calculus does not appear to have altered significantly since the 1970s. According to Steve Coll (The New Yorker, May 24, 2010) earlier this year Pakistan submitted a briefing to the US on its national interests in the Afghan conflict, which reportedly, "reflects one overriding concern: India." Indeed, in February 2010, the US Director of National Intelligence confirmed: "Islamabad's conviction that militant groups are an important part of its strategic arsenal to counter India's military and economic advantages." As Steve Coll explains (The New Yorker, March 1, 2010): "Pakistan's generals have retained a bedrock belief that, however unruly and distasteful Islamist militias such as the Taliban may be, they could yet be useful proxies to ward off a perceived existential threat from India. In the Army's view, at least, that threat has not receded."

Many in the Pakistan establishment believe that India has significant, and increasing, economic and political influence in Afghanistan. India enjoys close relations with the Karzai administration, has four regional consulates, and is providing substantial reconstruction assistance, including rebuilding the Afghan parliament, and construction projects on the Pakistan border (Tellis and Mukharji 2010; Sullivan 2010). Senior Pakistani officials also believe the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, scheduled to commence from July 2011, could open up a power struggle from which India could benefit (Tellis 2010) — a major incentive for Pakistan to maintain, or even strengthen, its Afghan allies (Wilkens 2010).

Pakistan's support to the Afghan insurgency is reinforced by its aspiration for influence among the Pashtuns that are divided by the disputed 'Durand Line', which separates Afghanistan and Pakistan. It thus seeks to subdue the 'Pashtunistan' cause and quiescent Afghan claims to territory in north-west Pakistan, including in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA.

But how is Pakistan's strategic influence manifested in practice? As noted above, analysts dispute whether ISI support to the insurgency is officially sanctioned, and whether it is carried out by serving or former officers. Some analysts speak of the "collaboration of elements within the ISI" with the Taliban (Johnson and Mason 2008). Antonio Giustozzi argues there is evidence of the involvement in the insurgency of "advisors with long-standing experience of Afghanistan, such as current or former ISI operatives" (Giustozzi 2007).

Seth Jones has argued: "There is some indication that individuals within the Pakistan Government — for example, within the Frontier Corps and the ISI — were involved in assisting insurgent groups" (Jones 2008). He has also reported that by mid-2008, "the United States collected fairly solid evidence of senior-level complicity (in ISI support to the insurgents)." (Jones 2010) In an organisation up to ten thousand strong (Bajoria 2009), with cross-service membership (Cohen 2004:100), and extensive partitioning of operational responsibilities, there is inevitably the possibility of recalcitrant elements. However, interviews strongly suggest that support to the Afghan insurgency is official ISI policy. It appears to be carried out by both serving and former officers, who have considerable operational autonomy.

The supreme council of the Afghan Taliban is properly known as the 'Rabari' or 'Markazi Shura' (leadership or central council). However, most of the insurgents interviewed for this research referred to it as the 'Quetta Shura'. (They distinguished it from another Quetta Shura, which is the military command council for Taliban operations in southern Afghanistan.) Therefore, unless otherwise stated, references to the Quetta Shura in this paper are intended to mean the leadership or central council.

It is not clear to what extent the membership and activities of the Quetta Shura are regimented or formalised. However, it is widely believed to comprise around a dozen or so members who meet several times a year; while certain members and sub-committees may meet more frequently. Interviews strongly suggest that the ISI has representatives on the Shura, either as participants or observers, and the agency is thus involved at the highest level of the movement. Significantly, even a limited ISI presence on the Shura would allow the agency to monitor the Shura's decisions and take steps against members who are not perceived to be acting in Pakistan's interests.

One individual who was a deputy minister under the former Taliban regime and who frequently liaises with the Taliban, said that three to seven ISI officials attend the Quetta Shura as observers. He believes that the ISI has responsibility for organising the meetings and that it exerts pressure on individual participants beforehand, especially if major decisions are to be taken. As one commander put it: "We heard that the ISI were on the Quetta Shura, but we don't follow their orders. They are observers, not making decisions." An Afghan conflict analyst, with years of experience in southern Afghanistan and contacts with the Taliban, concurred, pointing out that the ISI, "use people who have the same appearance, language, behaviour, and habits as Afghans. They wouldn't be strange to the Talibs, who seem to them to be Muslims, also fighting infidels." In fact, both he and other interviewees suggested that the ISI observers could be Afghans, possibly even Taliban leaders who are working closely with, or for, the ISI.

Almost all the Taliban commanders interviewed believe the ISI are represented on the Quetta Shura. One senior southern commander said: "Every group commander knows the reality — which is obvious to all of us — that the ISI is behind the Taliban, they formed and are supporting the Taliban." He also explained why it was not widely known: "Every commander knows about the involvement of the ISI in the leadership but we do not discuss it because we do not trust each other, and they are much stronger than us. They are afraid that if they say anything against the Taliban or ISI it would be reported to the higher ranks — and they may be removed or assassinated ... Everyone sees the sun in the sky but cannot say it is the sun."

An ISI presence on the Shura is consistent with the agency's heavy involvement in the movement's inception and augmentation, as noted above. Indeed, a detailed assessment of the history and composition of the Quetta Shura indicates that the ISI, "maintains a hand in controlling its operations" (Tribal Analysis Center 2009:6).

In addition, the ISI may be able to exert influence by exploiting tribal fractures within the Shura. It has limited representation of Zirak Durrani tribes, members of which tend to occupy senior positions in the Afghan government (the Karzai family, for instance, is from the Popalzai Zirak Durrani tribe). Instead, it comprises mainly Ghilzai Pashtuns (the Zirak Durranis' historic rivals) and, increasingly, members of the Panjpai branch of the Durrani tribe (that are smaller, more disbursed and tend to have less government power than Zirak Durrani tribes).

Reportedly, two members of the Quetta Shura (Mohammad Hassan Rahmani and Abdul Razaq) are from the Achakzai tribe, a Zirak Durrani sub-tribe, which has been internally divided, manipulated by other groups or tribes, and, unlike other Zirak Durrani sub-tribes, excluded from political power. It is also principally located in Pakistan. Thus, as the Tribal Analysis Center argue: "It is entirely possible that ISI has some positive influence, if not actual control, over one or both of the Achakzai members of the Quetta Shura" (Tribal Analysis Center 2009).

The ISI may also be able to exert influence through exploiting other fissures, and significant levels of mistrust, in the Taliban leadership. Indeed, interviews suggest that there is currently a rivalry or latent power-struggle between, on the one hand, the newly-empowered Qayyum Zakir, military commander of the movement, his deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour, and his close associate, now believed to be head of the Quetta Shura, Mullah Abdul Raouf Khadem, and, on the other hand, the old guard figures of Amir Khan Muttaqi, Mullah Mohammad Hassan and Mullah Gul Agha. Although the extent of this dissension is not clear, it may well have generated opportunities for manipulation.

Excerpted from THE SUN IN THE SKY: THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PAKISTAN'S ISI AND AFGHAN INSURGENTS. Carr Center for Human Rights Policy Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University / Development Studies Institute, London School of Economics)








IF ever there was a prize for perfectly bad timing, then the Government of India must win it for its attempt to dilute a key clause in the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill. The clause which sought to hold foreign suppliers accountable for any disaster at a nuclear site has a special resonance at a time when the Bhopal gas tragedy is being hotly discussed.


Let's be clear that we do need a statute dealing with the possibility of a nuclear accident.


India and Pakistan are the only two countries operating nuclear reactors which lack such a law. But the legislation must be crafted in a manner that it encourages suppliers and operators to build the safest systems, as well as ensure speedy and adequate compensation to victims in the event of an accident.


The Bhopal gas tragedy is the worst ever industrial disaster the world has seen, and it is the response and the apathetic attitude of the government, the law enforcement agencies and indeed the justice delivery system for 26 years that has fuelled the nationwide anger.


The civil nuclear liability Bill was the ideal means for the government to assuage the feelings of an angered nation by placing the needs of possible victims at the core of the legislation.


But instead of thinking about the needs of possible victims, the Union government seems to be more concerned about the need to attract multi- national corporations to build nuclear power plants in the country.


There is great irony in the fact that the government's efforts to dilute the legislation were allegedly pushed by American interests. On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama's tough speech demanded the maximum possible restitution from British Petroleum for the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.


Following the Opposition's hostility to the dilution of the clause, the government would have to answer two fundamental questions: one, what will it do to ensure that the mistakes of Bhopal, 1984 are not repeated when it comes to compensation, rehabilitation and criminal or civil liability; and two, will there be enough financial protection provided by the government to taxpayers to ensure that they are not burdened in the case of the liable company being unable to provide that compensation? Understandably, the US companies are putting tremendous pressure through the Obama administration as well as their own lobbying firms. But the Indian government must realise that its constituents are its citizens, not operating companies.


Responsibility on taxes


THE revisions to the proposed new direct tax code ( DTC) mark a significant shift in the government's attitude to policy making. By reacting quickly to concerns expressed by various stakeholders, and coming up with reasonable solutions to address them, the government has shown a welcome flexibility and a willingness to listen to reasonable demands.


This is a signal change from the practice of yore, when policy decisions were taken in ivory tower isolation, and changes could be wrought only by those with the ability to penetrate the corridors of power and politics.


The finance minister needs to be congratulated for bringing in a more transparent and democratic system of consultation. The relief given to the ordinary taxpayer by way of not taxing retirement benefits and long term savings like pensions, insurance and provident funds, as well as the decision to continue with the tax incentive given to home buyers, will bring cheer to the common man. Concerns of corporate tax payers on the issue of how the Minimum Alternate Tax ( MAT) regime was to be administered have also been addressed.


One now hopes that the new DTC will be presented before Parliament as promised in the forthcoming monsoon session, and passes into law.


The new DTC itself marks the first significant overhaul of India's Byzantine Income- Tax Act, which will realign it better with the new contours of the economy. It is moderate in its approach to taxes and modern in its construct and will, hopefully, improve compliance.


So far, the burden of income taxes has fallen largely on the organised corporate sector and the salaried class. They have shouldered more than a fair share of the burden of financing India's growth story. Now, the government's larger responsibility lies in ensuring efficient utilisation of taxpayer money and delivery of good governance.








I NDIA has targeted a 10 per cent medium- term growth rate. India has managed to achieve that 10 per cent mark. Unfortunately, it is not in GDP, but inflation.


The pestilential shadow which has dogged the footsteps of the economy as it struggled up the growth path has been inflation.


We have had reasonable periods of calm, when that menacing shadow sometimes appeared foreshortened or lighter. But it has never quite gone out of sight.


Now, it is looming large. By this stage in our development, inflation was expected to be tamed and housebroken at a moderate rate of 4 to 5 per cent, but is currently an out of control beast rampaging in the double digits.


Inflation is a ' poverty tax' of the worst kind. It hits the poor the hardest, putting essential commodities out of reach and reduces the quality of their lives.


But the upside of growth is the presence of a large middle class, which doesn't quite have to worry about inflation in quite the same desperate way as the millions who live at, or around the poverty line.




Oh, the middle class will complain about the price of rice or dal or vegetables, or the unreasonable expectations of the rehri- wallah selling mangoes. But it does not stop them from consuming any of this stuff. For the poor, even a small rise in food prices may mean the difference between going to bed on a full stomach, or hungry.


Besides, the middle class will say, the economy is growing, isn't it? Jobs are back, pay hikes and bonuses are making a comeback, and as long as we all have jobs, and work hard and get rewarded reasonably for our efforts, there is no need to worry about inflation, right? This, in fact, is the sub- text of the message beamed at us by those who manage our economy. Whether it is our Oxfordeconomist Prime Minister, or the equally distinguished economist head of the Planning Commission, they have consistently reiterated that growth — sustained and inclusive growth — is the solution to our economic challenges.


Yes, they have also expressed concern about inflation. " Prices continue to be a matter of deep concern. The government has attached the highest priority to containing inflation so that there is no distress to the common man," the Prime Minister said in his recent national press conference.


The point is, while they have certainly done several things about growth — India's navigation of the turbulence


caused by the global financial crisis is set to become a textbook case study of how to handle a crisis — they have done precious little about tackling inflation.


Food inflation continues in the high teens. Months have elapsed since the food minister promised a fall in the prices of essential commodities, edible oils and sugar. But there has been little impact on prices at the consumer level.


Now, it is back to that trusty solver of knotty problems, the hand of God, to resolve the crisis. The food minister, the finance minister and even the Prime Minister have all expressed the hope in recent days that the monsoons will, at last, help bring down food prices.


God, willing, we will have a good monsoon, and this will actually happen. But if we don't, and food prices do not come down, do we have a plan B? Actually, even that is not the most worrying question. The bigger issue is that we do not as yet even have a clear idea of the price situation in real terms. We do not have any kind of a reliable price index, which reflects the price situation on the ground accurately, and can provide reasonably accurate trends to forecast future price movements.


India calculates inflation differently from almost all of the rest of the world.


What we have is a Wholesale Price Index ( WPI), which tracks the price movements of 435 items.




This gives a ' headline' inflation level of price movements, which is unsatisfactory on several grounds. One, it tracks prices at the wholesale level and not what is actually paid by consumers. There is a huge difference between the two, given our inefficient markets and high number of intermediaries. Two, any ' headline' index includes prices of food and energy items, which are subject to volatile and seasonal fluctuations, and hence, does not work well as a reliable tool for predicting future price rise trends. And three, it is hopelessly out of date.


India's WPI is one of the oldest such indices in the world, having been started by the British in the early half of the previous century. By now, it does not track many goods which are important in a radically altered economic landscape, and does not bother about services at all, which account for more than half the GDP. While the new WPI series, with around 600- 700 items, is expected soon, this is only a half measure and not a substitute for an accurate consumer index. Besides, we also need a reliable ' core' inflation figure, which reflects trends in prices of non- food, non- energy items, and which, by leaving out the stuff which is subject to sharp ups and downs, works as a much better indicator of long term price trends.


Of course, we have a reasonable approximation by way of the sub- index ( a component of the WPI) of manufacturing, but that too is only an approximation, for the same reasons that the WPI as a whole is not a reliable measure.




While food prices have been hogging the headlines, the ' other' inflation is growing at a fast enough pace to make even the navel- gazing middle class start worrying. Manufacturing inflation stood at 6.4 per cent — compared to 5.2 per cent in March and a negative rate towards the end of 2009.


That translates into higher prices in a number of different ways. Car prices are up. Property prices have risen more than 50 per cent from the trough of 2008- 09 and are rising. Cooking gas went up 20 per cent last year and is set for another hike.


And then there are services. The price of a three- day holiday in a three star hotel in Goa this month is, in many cases, about the same as the return airfare there from Delhi. This is back to school time and parents are feeling the pinch. School and college fees are up, so are notebooks and textbooks. A coffee shop chain has hiked the price of a cup of cappuccino by 25 per cent. It all adds up.


This time around, the traditional remedies — cutting the money supply and raising interest rates — may not work, since there is an acute shortage of lendable funds. Between funding 3G bids and financing advance tax payments ( at a record high), banks have already pumped out Rs 1,50,000 crore. There isn't much left to finance industry, exports and consumers. Any monetary measure, therefore, runs the real risk of derailing growth.


But even growth brings its own problems.


Growth also means increased demand — not just at home, but for the same resources from reviving economies across the globe. Which means more inflation.


To tackle which requires something a little more concrete than pious intentions.








ONCE while travelling, one got tempted to make a shopping halt at a farmer's market in Koppal. Spread on the ground were black sandals made from worn out tyres.


Spartan and eco- friendly, a pair would have made a fashion statement in Bangalore.


This week, reading M AIL T ODAY ' S front page story about impoverished farmers selling their babies in Tumkur, one is reminded of another pair of sandals. It is a grim story set in north Karnataka in 2003 at the height of the farmers' suicides. One man's family had kept his sandals under a tree, the spot where he had left them before his ultimate act. The sandals made his suicide look like an extreme act of voting with one's feet.


" Voting by foot" is a figurative term for exit, leaving the scene when one has


no more voice or options. The late farmer was deep in debt, losses mounting as pests decimated his crops and pesticide shots getting too costly or going dud. There was a huge pesticide can hung on the porch wall— another grim reminder. Tiptur is another case of pests, debts and bad markets driving farmers to extreme acts.


' Tiptur' used to be another brand name for good coconut.


But a mite ( aceria guerreronis ) that has been plaguing south India over the past decade, has devalued the brand. The mite sucks sap from the soft tissues of the flowers, leaving ugly brown patches on the coconuts that later become warts and then splits that ooze a liquid.


Nobody buys such coconuts.


Remedial measures are still inadequate, according to scientists, though the Coconut Development Board says the farming and markets are back on track.


In Tiptur the mite attack is even worse as there is no summer irrigation so coconuts remain smaller and deformed.


" Tiptur farmers suffered on both counts— by the mite and a loss of market; many are uprooting their palms," says Dr MB Rajegowda, agrometeorologist at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore. Local farm industries have closed shop.


The story is part of a larger, stark mosaic. Safety nets are not good enough for farmers, and many are hungry. " I have found small farmers often skipping meals and having a meal in rotation, sometimes the father, sometimes the mother," says Vijoo Krishnan, joint secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha, who used to be a Bangalore based lecturer and researcher.


The Public Distribution System often fails farmers. Families that move in and out of poverty find it difficult to prove themselves to be below the poverty line and claim benefits. You can own a motor bike and still starve.


Krishnan notes that banks withdrew from rural India in the 1990s, focusing more on cities, and farm support remained dismal.


Expenditure on rural development was cut sharply and farm imports hit many cultivators.


This coupled with environmental and social dynamics yielded tragic consequences for farmers.


The suicide rates among farmers is higher than others. Across the country, about two lakh farmers have committed suicide in the past 12 years as can be inferred from the figures of the National Crime Records Bureau figures. Obviously, not all cases had a farm- related reason.


B UT the disturbing fact is that in the ' big five' states of farmer distress ( Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Goa and Madhya Pradesh) the suicide rate among farmers was 70 per cent higher than the general population.


Writing off farm loans did not make the desired impact on the ground as larger issues of private money- lending and skewed markets were not addressed.


" The impoverishment of the small and marginal farmers is happening not by accident but through a set process which can be reverted through policy,' says Prof RS Deshpande, director of the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore. The landholding size is getting reduced. " Every year more farmers are joining the ranks of small and marginal farmers and many are sliding down to agricultural labour," he points out. Others migrate.


" The resource basket required to stay put in agriculture requires large cash inputs and that is hard to come by at the time of sowing," Deshpande argues. Many farmers cannot afford to send their children to school. Many work for their own parents or in others' farms— the biggest sector that employs children.


It is this strong impact of poverty that compels parents to consider the sale of children.


" Addressing these, needs to be our priority," Deshpande notes, adding that the state alone has the control and the resources.


Meanwhile farmers are leaving farms en masse. Census records show that about 80 lakh farmers have quit between 1991 and 2001. More would have voted with their feet as the new census will reveal.



THE government came up with a dampener for pub- goers with the announcement that pubs will not be open beyond midnight despite demands.


Home Minister VS Acharya made it clear that the police do not want to deal with late night crimes.


However, people who frequent pubs and bars and a senior scientist at NIMHANS, who studies their brains for a living, say that associating drinking with crime is an upper- caste notion. Like saying vegetarianism is purer.


People have always drank and made merry, and there were social controls on such activities, the scientist argues.


Such practices still remain among certain castes and tribes. When such practices are dubbed illegal or indecent then elements that thrive on illegal activities take over.


That is what happened with prohibition in the USA— the mob took control with their moonshine.


A word of caution: The scientist did not advocate latenight drinking.



RAINS have cooled down Bangalore once again. But when it rains heavily, Bangaloreans cross their fingers. Old trees get uprooted, drains get choked and some walls fall. A 17- year- old girl named Sanjana Singh died in a wall- collapse this time. Investigations suggest that shoddy construction was to blame. Last year a young boy, Abhishek, got washed away in an overflowing drain.


Bangalore has seen quick growth the last 20 years— more growth than in any other Indian city. But its infrastructure has not kept pace. There are trees and transformers in the middle of some roads, and drains are often choked. Repair work starts too close to the rains— so they never get finished.


Bangalore's civic authorities follow the city's most favourite line—" Swalpa adjust madi" ( Adujst a little please). The phrase can work wonders in human relationships, but in civic affairs it could lead to utter chaos.









THE West Bengal Police have arrested three Maoist sympathisers, including a scientist and a college teacher from Mathurapur village in West Midnapore district.


Acting on a tip- off, a joint team of police and CRPF personnel raided Mathurapur village, 12 km west of Lalgarh under Salboni police station, on Tuesday evening where a meeting of the Maoist front organisation, the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities ( PCPA) was being held.


By the time the joint force team reached the village from the Dharampur camp, the gathering had dispersed. The team of police and CRPF personnel cordoned off the area and picked up 60 people from the village after a subsequent search.


Everyone was brought to the Pirakata outpost, Manoj Verma, the SP of West Midnapore district said. " After interrogation, 10 members of the PCPA and the three intellectuals from Kolkata were arrested," Verma said.


The three intellectuals from Kolkata have been identified as Nisha Biswas, Kanishka Chowdhury and Manik Mondal.


Biswas ( 51) is a senior scientist at the Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute at Jadavpur.


Chowdhury ( 50) is a lecturer of political science at Behala College in south- west Kolkata, while Manik Mondal ( 30) claimed to be an author, Verma said. All of them have been arrested for their links with the Maoists, he added.


R. S. Antil, a senior official with the Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute, confirmed that Biswas is an E1 scientist of the institute and they had no reports of her arrest by the police. " We don't know her as a Maoist member or a sympathiser," he said.


The three intellectuals from Kolkata are visiting villages in and around Lalgarh since Saturday.


" They even attended a kangaroo court of the Maoists where villagers were beaten up for violating the diktats," a police officer said.


They are members of the Lalgarh Sanghati Mancha, an overground arm of the Maoists. Biswas and Chowdhury have been signatories to various petitions against the mobilisation of paramilitary forces in Lalgarh.


" There are also reports that the trio has been raising funds for the Maoists," a police officer claimed. The scientist and her two friends are being interrogated by a team of state police, the IB and CRPF personnel.


Biswas and the two other intellectuals from Kolkata have reportedly confessed that they had been to the Salboni area on the invitation of the Maoists. All of them are likely to be booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, the officials said.




EIGHT Maoist guerillas, including three women, were killed by a joint team of the West Bengal Police and the CRPF in the Ranja forests of Midnapore district on Wednesday.


Manoj Verma, superintendent of police of West Midnapore district, said they had information that a large number of Maoist rebels had gathered in the forest. The joint team, under the cover of darkness, surrounded the area and mounted an attack in the early hours.


The Maoists using automatic weapon fired at the joint team. The gunbattle continued till 10 am on Wednesday, the police officers said. The security team did not suffer any casualty.


After the operation, the joint team carried out an extensive search operation in the area, and recovered eight bodies of the Maoist. One injured Maoist was arrested. A huge cache of arms and ammunition was also been recovered.


" This is a big success," Bhupindar Singh, the state DGP, said. Though the police have not released the names of the slain militants, sources said, a dreaded squad- member called Arjun has been killed. However, two ' wanted' Maoist — Bikash and Nirmal — managed to escape.



What PM reads

THE Prime Minister's Office ( PMO) subscribes to almost every prominent newspaper and magazine in the country. Its annual expense on this count is pegged around Rs 12 lakh.


Three foreign newspapers — The International Herald Tribune, Asian Wall Street Journal and The New York Times — also land in the PMO every day. But journalists of Hindi papers such as Rajasthan Patrika, Nai Duniya and Prabhat Khabar are an unhappy lot because their daily work is not scanned by the country's most important people. Incidentally, the list of subscribed publications includes three popular women's magazines, one on films and a surprisingly large number of IT and computer journals.


RTI applications


THE human resource development ministry receives an abnormally high number of RTI applications with ' babus' often left befuddled as to how to respond to some strange queries.


One elderly applicant wanted the minister concerned or even the President to intercede and grant him admission to the educational course of his choice, despite an age bar. He claimed it was an infringement of his right to freedom. Another applicant persisted in ranting against a certain academic appointment. Though his query had been dismissed on at least seven occasions by various state and central authorities, the applicant reworded his application every time. Another application ran into five pages, accompanied with 24 questions.


Cracking the whip


WITH the organisational elections on, Congress leaders in Kerala have engaged in public mudslinging.


Embarrassing the central leadership, the KPCC leaders, including MPs and senior office- bearers, started taking sides. Many of them are using press conferences to vent their anger against rivals. The high command is struggling to control the warring leaders. AICC general secretary Mohsina Kidwai, who is in charge of the state, has issued a gag order, saying no leader should speak in public on the forthcoming polls. It is to be seen whether this has the desired effect.


Charmed by Mallya








Any model direct taxes code (DTC) would seek to reduce people's tax liability and give them greater choice on spending their money. The trade-off would naturally be removal of unnecessary exemptions. While this is unexceptionable, a few of the original draft code proposals needed modifying, less because they were radical or controversial than because of their relative unsuitability in the Indian context. For instance, India lacks a universal social security system. So, it's misplaced to cite global practices as an argument against making social security investments tax-exempt on withdrawal.

The revised code rightly sticks with the exempt, exempt, exempt (EEE) model for provident fund and other long-term savings instruments. The tax-on-withdrawal exempt, exempt, tax (EET) formula would demoralise the working population apart from discouraging savings or taxing forced savings, as in PF's case. Meant to attract low-income, long-term savers, the New Pension Scheme coming under EEE is especially welcome. There'll be many more takers for an initiative seeking to broaden the social safety net while also boosting people's participation in the equity market. By not taxing employers' contribution to retirement or pensions funds, the revised DTC recognises the importance of retirement planning. Another people-friendly measure is reinstated interest rate tax relief on home loans. Yet, while home ownership needs incentivising, home-buying decisions are increasingly being influenced by interest rates and property prices. So the issue could be revisited in future.

The decision to apply the minimum alternate tax (MAT) on book profits comes as major relief to companies. MAT on gross assets would adversely impact loss-making, capital-intensive or long-gestation businesses apart from disincentivising private sector investment, a key growth driver. Though some may criticise it, bringing capital gains under graded income tax will prevent artificial distinctions between income and gains from asset sale from being unfairly exploited. Again, making a new DTC supersede all bilateral tax treaties was a blunt instrument in the first draft. It didn't distinguish between genuine double tax avoidance and tax dodges. The revised draft removes the blanket rule. The need here will be to guard against making specific conditions too complex or discretionary.

Overall, while taxpayers will gain from the revised DTC, they might have to accept that tax rates on incomes, personal or corporate, may not alter radically. But, whatever the final rates and slabs, a reformed DTC will be far simpler to understand and implement than the existing maze of rules. More, it will have been the fruit of participative decision-making. Urgency is now required to get the DTC up and running. The same goes for GST. The faster India's direct and indirect tax systems are revolutionised, the better it'll be for ordinary taxpayers, businesses and revenue generation.







With India's industrial sector predicted to grow by leaps and bounds, it is important that existing environment safety rules are enhanced and stringently enforced. For, it has been the experience the world over that a surge in industrial growth is often accompanied by environmental and health problems. Hence, it is a matter of serious concern that recent reports from Punjab - which has become a toxic hotspot - clearly highlight institutional apathy with regard to toxic waste management and environmental safety. The Malwa region of the state has recorded extremely high levels of chemical, biological and radioactive toxicity, including uranium contamination. The region's groundwater and food chain have also been contaminated by industrial effluents flowing into fresh water sources used by people for irrigation and drinking purposes. As a result, the region has seen a massive rise in neurological diseases, cancer cases and kidney ailments. In Muktsar district alone, 1,074 people died of cancer between 2001 and 2009.

Whether it's the Ganga Action Plan or solid waste management efforts, our approach has been piecemeal at best. With each passing day, India's rivers continue to transform into open drains while toxins poison our soil and water. Proper implementation of the law to ensure treatment and safe disposal of industrial waste along with a change in perception is the need of the hour. Instead of the present 'collect and dispose' approach, industrial waste needs to be treated as part of the cycle of production, consumption and recovery. Then only can we formulate policies that strike a balance between industrial growth on the one hand and environmental and public safety on the other. For inclusive development, the two must go together.







A lot has been said and written in the media about the mismanagement of Indian sport. The IPL controversy spread a dark cloud of potential scandal that could cause a deathblow to the IPL saga, and make BCCI answerable in many ways. The crisis proved that autonomy without accountability and commercial abuse of sport can only spell disaster for sport.

The protest of national sports bodies against the government's recent decision to restore tenure limits on their office-bearers must be seen in this context. While the principle of autonomy in sport is indisputable, it can't be an end in itself. The Olympic Charter mandates the National Olympic Committee (NOC) to gain autonomy through financial independence and to exercise that autonomy for the betterment of sport and sportspersons. Unfortunately, our national sports bodies, except BCCI, have failed miserably on both counts, but still claim autonomy as their birthright. Surely the meaning of autonomy as enshrined in the Olympic Charter is very different from what our sports administrators seem to be making of it.

Tenure cap is a widely accepted norm in sports bodies across the world. A number of international federations, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC), have adopted such restrictions. The logic is simple. Unduly long tenures create vested interests detrimental to sport. Instead of emulating international best practices, our national sports bodies seem to question government's competence to prescribe rules for granting recognition to such bodies. Surely, the IOC can't prescribe rules for government recognition.

If sports bodies don't want government recognition, they should learn to survive on their own. The reality is that almost all of them are dependent on government funding. Even if they were to become financially independent, they would still have to be accountable, as sport is a public good, sport development a public service and selection of the national team a public function.

In Europe, the birthplace of modern sport, autonomy of sport was derived through national legislation. The model differed from country to country. In France, the government literally delegates public authority to sports federations and maintains close supervision through legislative measures. A few other countries like Belgium, Spain and Portugal are akin to France in their approach to sport but less state-controlled. At the other end, countries like Germany, Austria and Sweden give full autonomy to their federations but these, in turn, reciprocate with the highest standards of good governance. In between, countries like the UK, Netherlands and Ireland provide a high degree of autonomy to federations subject to compliance with certain good governance principles.

The US Olympic Committee was empowered to represent US sporting interests through the Amateur Sports Act of 1978. The Act lays down dos and don'ts for the committee to ensure good governance. It stipulates minimum 20 per cent voting rights for amateur athletes, strict maintenance of a not-for-profit character, appointment of an ombudsman to give independent advice to athletes at no cost, and disallowing candidacy of persons holding public office. The committee is also required to place before the US Congress, once every four years, a report on its performance and accounts.

In Asia, Malaysia passed a legislation on the eve of hosting the 1998 Commonwealth Games. It empowers the sports minister to prescribe regulations for the proper functioning of sports bodies. Without government recognition, no sports body can use the name of Malaysia or claim to represent it in any international competitive event. They can't even organise domestic sports tournaments. But none of these countries have attracted any threat of suspension from the IOC. Rather in February 2008, IOC organised a seminar on 'Basic Universal Principles of Good Governance', which accepted the need for sports bodies to cooperate with government bodies, as the best way to secure and preserve their autonomy.

This begs the question: can India be suspended from the Olympic Movement for prescribing good governance measures for recognition of national sports bodies? Going by past NOC suspensions, the answer is no. Afghanistan's NOC was suspended in 1999 because the then Taliban government disallowed women from participating in sport. In 2003, Iraq's NOC was suspended mainly for torture of athletes. In 2008, Iraq's NOC was again suspended because it was dissolved by the government and an interim body was set up under the sports minister. In January 2010, Kuwait's NOC was suspended after giving the government over two years' time to reverse a legislation that permitted it to interfere with NOC elections. Equating India's situation with that of Afghanistan, Iraq or Kuwait seems ludicrous, to say the least.

The government has merely restored the tenure restriction introduced in 1975 but never followed. Being a good governance measure, it comes within the ambit of IOC's direction to NOCs to cooperate with government bodies. Securing autonomy through good governance will further, not violate, the Olympic Charter. Hopefully good sense will prevail upon our sports administrators and they'll voluntarily adopt good governance practices instead of taking the retrograde step of moving the IOC for India's suspension. Let them not forget that the entire country and the world are watching them.


The writer is a civil servant.






Another auction of historical or cultural items with Indian antecedents, another round of protests by self-designated guardians of Indian heritage. It has become a well-rehearsed routine - from Tipu Sultan's sword to Mahatma Gandhi's spectacles to, now, a Sotheby's auction of Rabindranath Tagore's paintings. A faction, including West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, has chosen to object with the CM writing to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking him to stop the auction. Their logic? The paintings are a part of India's national heritage. Fortunately, the government had enough sense to ignore these pleas.

This sort of activism is tedious and displays a complete lack of understanding of the universality of art. To begin with, Tagore gifted the auctioned paintings to his friend, British missionary Leonard Elmhirst. If the successors to Elmhirst's estate chose to auction the paintings, they were entirely within their rights. More importantly, art cannot be bound by geographical constraints; there is no prerequisite of Indian citizenship to appreciate Tagore's writing and painting. The emphasis should instead be on preserving and displaying his work in the most effective manner possible. And going by past record, that is something the Indian state is not particularly capable of doing. One only has to look at the theft of Tagore's Nobel prize medal or of the decay of any number of monuments of immense historical significance.

If the state were instead to back museums and galleries that wished to arrange exhibitions of Tagore and other Indian greats and petition foreign collections to loan their works, it would be an admirable endeavour. But succumbing to nationalist sentiments is a waste of time.






As a nation, India has utterly failed in securing and protecting its priceless historical and cultural heritage, which can now be found scattered across the world in various museums and private collections. Whether it is the Kohinoor diamond, the Sultanganj Buddha or the memorabilia of Mahatma Gandhi, many iconic artefacts are now housed outside India. The same story was repeated when paintings by Tagore were auctioned in London. What adds to the agony is that this year is the 150th birth anniversary of the Bengali poet and the government is planning to commemorate it with great fanfare. Without these priceless paintings the celebrations will lose much of their lustre.

The government needs to devise ways to secure India's priceless heritage, especially the works and items belonging to iconic personalities such as Tagore and Gandhi. They are figures who are very much a part of the idea of India and it is only fitting that we have the first right to their works. The same applies for historical items associated with India.

There are some who will dismiss such sentiments as chauvinism. They are mistaken. Every nation has its icons and there is good reason why the government should try its best to keep their works and artefacts in the country. In the case of Tagore there is already an institution - Visva-Bharati in Shantiniketan - devoted to preserve and perpetuate the poet's legacy. It would have been in the order of things to get back the auctioned paintings to Shantiniketan.

Since the government has been found wanting, some private collectors have taken the initiative to bring back antiques from outside. It's time the government learns from them.







Diversity is our USP till you meet the United States of All-over. All the world's people, and experiences to match. From the high-octane Women Deliver conference in DC, i had flown into Atlanta to reconnect with No 1 Son and his newish wife. One late afternoon, we traversed a span of time, space and ethnicity.


Barely an hour out of the city of Coca-Cola and CNN, we purred into Serenbe, a serendipitous enclave of Earthcraft houses, eco-conscious farming, and fragrant stores with racks of crushed-cotton kurtis and stacks of antique American kursis. We lunched on a pot-pie of free range chicken, a hillock of backyard lettuce and a carrot cake whose key ingredient had been 'grated right here in the restaurant kitchen'. In this land of the pre-packed, this was a big deal, and scrubbed-face Celia announced it with all the solemnity of the Declaration of Independence.


If Serenbe was forward-wind to the past, our next stop was rewind to the future. Julie, managing editor of the Atlanta Business Chronicle where No 1 Son works, had married into a family which had bought not a historic mansion, but a historic parkland, and, almost like digging an archaelogical site, they had painstakingly uncovered octagonal pools, sacred native American grounds, a rose garden, a patio, even an amphitheatre. Also, a gold-plated toilet seat which they found crowning a creepered branch. Hattie Dunaway (no relation to Faye), a silent era movie actress, had arrived here as a young bride in the early 20th century and had proceeded to turn it into a mystery place of hang-outs, hide-outs and look-outs to amuse her artistic circle. So, there was a Japanese garden, viewing galleries, a Blue Bonnet terrace for afternoon tea under the spreading magnolias, their fragrant, thick-petalled flowers the colour of cream and the size of a round pound cake.


Then age, arthritis and taxes took their toll, and the place fell to weeds and wilderness, till it was chanced upon by the Fisher family. They were able to salvage only one stone cottage, but have revived the amazing variety of azaleas and native trees, and the birds, the bees, the butterflies have come back. So have the brides. The place is being discovered as a way-out wedding venue, veils sweeping down the mossy steps and vows in magical nooks.


Then, from this resurrected era of Southern belles we landed up amidst the samosas of Chatpata. My born Gujerican d-in-law has led me through the binary roots of the immigrant experience. Her Mumbai aunt was about to arrive in Atlanta after a six-week tour, and Anisha knew that while Sudha masi may have plunged with gusto into the Alaskan cruise, Canadian Rockies and Vegas casinos, she would now be craving for the tastes of home. Which is why we walked into Mr Patel's cafe and takeaway.


We did a repeat order on past-meets-future the next evening. The plush Cobb Performing Arts Centre was packed to its recessed lights with a selection of Atlanta's 80,000 pardesi desis. The party theme was 'Proud Parents'. Anisha's niece, Rhea, was doing a Rajasthan Roomal number at the Kruti Dance Academy's 15th annual concert. Bharatanatyam and Bollywood announced by kids in American accents. In the foyer, Bhupeshbhai, flanked by his daughters still in their Kanjeevaram costumes, sighed in relief at being posted back to Coke HQ. "It was so difficult to get a classical Indian dance teacher in Brussels. We finally found a Russian guru." Yes, the immigrant route is spelt r-o-o-t.








Super outages. That irritating thing that residents of south Delhi faced on Tuesday? That moan-inducing phenomenon that is making a revival in Kolkata? That headache that rain-pelted Mumbaikars are dreading? Nope, we're talking about the catastrophic, civilisation-regressing two-and-a-half hour shutdown of Twitter. We don't quite know how the twitterati reacted to the trail of devastation left behind by the temporary problem of tweeting silence, but the fact that life may have to do without Twitter has been driven home.

The outage was reportedly caused by the website's failure to upgrade the system for the purpose of enhancing 'Twitter places', by which users would have been able to highlight tweets around a specific geographical location. Luddites and religiously-inclined nuts have already blamed an unhealthy reliance on technology and people living in sin being a prime cause for the perilous shutdown. Trauma centres have already reported the 'Crusoe Syndrome' affecting thousands. Symptoms range from feeling 'utterly alone in this universe' to 'nausea at the thought of not being able to tweet about not being able to tweet'.

Thankfully, Twitter is up and running again. Unsurprisingly, top topics on the microblogging site since its revival have been angry tweets against Twitter. The beached whale icon, the dreaded 'beach whale', has already become akin to the inverted swastika, and industry-watchers are now awaiting something far more apocalyptic: the belief that Twitter was not always present in our lives. As the saying goes: that would be the beginning of the end of communication within 140 characters.






The UPA has regressed a bit by diluting a code for direct taxes that held out the promise of a rules-based system India has been in crying need of for most of its independent history. The politically acceptable version of former Finance minister P. Chidambaram's brainchild is a throwback to decades of discretionary taxes so riddled with exemptions that it becomes well nigh impossible to lower rates or widen the net. India's tax revenue has never exceeded 13 per cent of its national income. Meagre pickings for a country that needs to take a third of its people out of poverty, provide them rudimentary healthcare and equip them with the basic skills needed to survive in a modern economy. Lower taxes, spread across a bigger chunk of the population have demonstrably yielded higher revenue to the exchequer, it is a pity lobbying has claimed a principle-driven approach that could have delivered.

Individually, though, the revised provisions are not without merit. The absence of a social security net sets a premium on precautionary savings, which can be incentivised by preferential tax treatment. Likewise, the original proposal to tax assets, and not profits, of companies paying the minimum alternate tax would be a drag on investment decisions. The securities transaction tax and the wealth tax in their present form are policing measures to keep funny money out of asset classes, these needed to morph into effective taxation of capital gains. The clarification on a sunset clause for tax giveaways in special economic zones remains true to the spirit of the code to do away with the jungle of exemptions that has grown around the Income Tax Act, 1961.

The Centre reckons it lost 6.5 per cent of the GDP last year in taxes foregone through exemptions. If it can arrest this haemorrhage India's tax to GDP ratio could rank alongside the economies that comprise the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. It will also meet the European Union's club membership rule on the size of its fiscal deficit. Although we are far from the tax apparatus available in the West, where rates change rarely, if at all, India needs to get there if it is serious about becoming a well-regulated free market. The direct tax code, even in its watered-down form, tries to limit giveaways and, therefore, is a return to horizontal equity. The withdrawal of exemptions is not a painless process, as the UPA has discovered, but is well worth the effort if tax revenue afterwards is less leaky and thus not exerting a continuous upward pressure on rates.






Politicians love photo-ops. So I wasn't very surprised to see Uttarakhand's Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal take a dip in the Ganga during the Maha Kumbh and then hold a Cabinet meeting on its banks. He apparently wanted to raise awareness about Ganga pollution and demand a 'world heritage' tag for the national river.

But at Srinagar, a small town on the banks of the Alaknanda in Pauri Garhwal district,  Uttarakhand, Pokhriyal's dip hardly created a ripple. Many see his concern for the river as a sham as they feel Uttarakhand's dam-building spree on the Bhagirathi, Alaknanda and Ganga will eventually 'kill' the nation's lifeline. The Bhagirathi and Alaknanda meet at Devprayag to form the Ganga. According to a 2009 government list, 558 dams are under construction or being surveyed in the state.

Their fears and concerns have been corroborated by a recent Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report. Yet to be placed in the Assembly, the report is severely critical of the bumper-to-bumper dams and state that large stretches of the river will dry up if these hydroelectric power projects (HEP) are built. The issue has become controversial. The CM's  protocol officer Ajay Bisht told me, "I can set up an interview with CM-saab if you want to discuss the Kumbh Mela. But he won't talk about the HEPs." The CM considers the 'successful completion' of this year's Mela a feather in his cap.

But the irony is that while Pokhriyal wants positive press for his Kumbh management, he is missing (or is he?) the link that exists between the Ganga's health and its associated religious congregations like the Kumbh. In fact, for the first time, religious leaders at the Mela this year protested against the HEPs.

According to the CAG, some projects, outrageous as it may sound, have gone to cycle manufacturers, paan masala firms and garment manufacturers who have no prior experience in building any HEPs, leave alone building them in seismic zones like the Himalayas. The state, too, a senior CAG official said, has lost out on revenue. According to its power policy, HEPs generating 100 MW and above will have to pay a royalty of Rs 5 crore a year. Any project less than that will pay Rs 5 lakh only. As a result, the CAG official added, most of the 55 power projects are below 100 MW.

Uttarakhand's power policy of 2006 also benefits the project developers. It allows a private player to divert up to 90 per cent of the river water to power the turbines, leaving only 10 per cent to flow in the natural course of the river. The worldwide norm, the official added, is to divert a maximum of 75 per cent of water from a river to prevent it from drying and to maintain its natural course.

The fact that corners were cut to make way for certain companies became clear once again on May 20 when the government removed its power advisor and Chairman of its Jal Vidyut Nigam, Yogendra Prasad. Prasad later told PTI that he was removed because he refused to be a part of the "irregularities being done by the government" in the allotment of HEPs.

The people fear that the dams will affect their access to water and livelihood resources. Others have complained about night blasting, cracks appearing in their houses and also of the dubious environmental impact assessments (EIAs) that were done to get clearances. With the retreating Gangotri glacier and now the dams, the struggle for water, they fear, will become acute. A study done on the impact of Maneri Bhali 1 project, that has been functioning for 30 years, shows that the fields, which once grew cash crops, are now dry.

And then, there is always the probability of an earthquake. "Post Muzaffarabad-Kashmir earthquake [2006], geologists and seismologists agree that the area between Kashmir and Kathmandu will see a major earthquake (8-plus on the Richter scale) as the 'seismic quiets' indicate a build-up of seismic pressure," says Sreedhar R, a geologist.

Proponents of HEPs always use the 'power-for-development' logic. In 2009, the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People conducted a study of 208 large HEPs and found that 89 per cent were operating below capacity and about half generated less than 50 per cent of the planned power output. Economist Bharat Jhunjhunwala, who has conducted

a cost-benefit analysis of dams, says, "Hydropower sometimes looks a cheaper and greener option because the social costs are not factored into the costs."

The jury is still out on HEPs. But why is there such a rush in clearing HEPs in the bio-diverse states of India? The CAG report needs to be placed in the public domain for proper discussion. Questions need to be asked about how and why the Ministry of Environment and Forests cleared some of these projects.

Because the next time Pokhriyal takes a dip, he surely doesn't want to be covered in muck — the riverine kind.






* A thirsty African bushman digs a hole, digs out a root and tries to wring water from it. He squeezes out a drop and just when it's within reach, his friend distracts him. The drop falls to the floor and they end up chasing each other around a straw hut.

* It's the two bushmen again, this time digging frantically for water with their hands. They see a water tap, yank it out and start digging with it instead.

'Lemon, lemon, lemon,' goes the punchline of a series of advertisements now playing on television screens nationwide.  

The loincloth-clad bushmen were flown in from Africa, and the ad for Parle-Agro's LMN lemon drink was shot in Thailand. A good example of globalisation. "These short adverts have a different grammar of humour," says Sajan Raj Kurup, chief creative officer of Creativeland Asia in CampaignIndia, an advertising industry publication. "They are strikingly bold and edgy. And definitely a departure from the regular humour we are used to. Whether you love them or not, I'm sure no one can ignore them."

The Coca-Cola Company is running another prominent campaign for a competing drink: Sprite. Made by multinational ad agency Ogilvy and Mather (O&M), this, too, involves Africans, this time in grass skirts. They grab two Gen Y Indians. One of the Indians unsuccessfully tries to win them over with some frantic dancing. The other simply offers them Sprite.

In interviews, O&M's group creative director Ajay Gehlaut defends his ads as 'good humour' and the use of Africans as 'regular people'. Other agencies, too, use humour and the we-treat-them-like-us argument.

The issue isn't the use of African tribals per se. The issue is the use of African tribals as a metaphor for backwardness. It reflects an ignorance that reinforces the bigotry many Indians betray in their dealings with Africans. I do not say Gehlaut and his people are bigots; just that the stereotypes they portray are, at best, terribly inappropriate in a globalised world. At worst, these ads perpetuate and strengthen the widespread, outright racism that Africans face in India.

Would they create humorous situations involving 'regular people' from India's scheduled castes and tribes? Would they use Africans in other garbs — say, doctors or engineers? Would copywriters make an advertisement like this for Western markets? I doubt it.

This is not to say advertising in the West has not used racism, subtle or otherwise. Stereotypes are a human failing. But in an increasingly multicultural world, it is important to acknowledge and correct mistakes. About four years ago, German automaker Volkswagen released an advertisement for Polo, a car just released in India. It showed a terrorist blowing himself up in a Polo, killing only himself because the blast could not penetrate the car. 'Small. But tough.' It was funny. It was also a stereotype. Volkswagen yanked the ad and banned its release worldwide.

Advertising works at a subliminal level. It plays on joys, fears and other human feelings. It reinforces these feelings to prompt an action, usually a purchase, of a product or an idea. In 1998, the US witnessed the success of a racist ad issued to support the candidacy of George H.W. Bush. Using the picture and story of Willie Horton, a murderer sentenced to life — he raped and robbed during a weekend release programme — the ad made Democrat nominee Michael Dukakis seem powerless, as black convicts raped women. Dukakis had nothing to do with the prison-system lapse, but the ad played into racist fears. The Republican Party has a history of racially offensive campaign ads, and so it's no surprise that African-Americans tend not to trust the party.

Even if you argue that the Sprite and LMN ads are not mean, they reinforce a mocking manner that many Indians use with Africans, who swiftly get to know what 'kalu' ('blackie') means. News of the racism that Africans face in India — from housing and restaurant discrimination to monkey hoots on the streets — spreads fast through the wired, global village.

"LMN, Sprite ads creators, no creative thinkers, outright bigots," is the headline of a bitter post by a Ugandan student in Bhopal on the home page of, a site popular with Africans. He talks of growing up with Ugandans of Indian origin at home and then being shocked — despite prior warning — at the racism he faces in India: "For the first time in my life, I offended people, not with actions, reactions or anything closely such, but by virtue of the colour of my skin." He makes the point that I do: that these ads "provoke racial stereotypes", that they are just plain wrong in this day and age.

The negative effect of such ads and attitudes could prove especially damaging to India Inc as it prepares a big push into Africa, the world's next emerging market. The purchase of telecom conglomerate Zain Africa by Bharti Airtel is a significant opportunity to regain some of the ground lost to China in the relentless tussle between the two countries for new markets, sources of raw material and influence. With a growth forecast of nearly 5 per cent, Africa is where Indian business is headed. "I believe the next decade is going to belong to Africa," says Airtel Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal, who sees the continent as India was 15 to 20 years ago. Let's hope in 20 years Africans don't end up mocking us as we do them.







Lok Sabha members often privilege their membership of Parliament over that of their Rajya Sabha colleagues. Theirs is, goes the argument, the more meaningful selection, with election directly by constituents serving as a deeply democratic astringent. They would, however, concede that election to the Rajya Sabha can often test a candidate's ingenuity and capacity for political mobilisation of an entirely different order.


Before the Representation of the People Act was amended in 2003 to introduce open ballot for election to the Rajya Sabha, and to do away with the requirement that a candidate be domiciled in the the state she was seeking to represent, cross-voting was almost the norm. (The amendment was subsequently, and unsuccessfully, challenged in court.) The election could be a test of persuasiveness, and many politicians would announce their networking skills by netting votes disproportional to their party's presence in the assembly. Now decision-making stops with the party leadership. An MLA could technically have her vote count even if she defies the party's diktat and votes for another aspirant, but that could also cost her membership of the assembly.


It is therefore odd to see the lengths some political parties are going to in order to keep their MLAs from infidelity. The BJP checked its contingent in the Rajasthan assembly into a resort on the outskirts of Jaipur. Rather disingenuously, the party said this is part of training them for the task of casting their vote. The BJP's crisis in Rajasthan has been obvious: the election is so tight that if the BJP wants both candidates to win, every vote matters. But the way the BJP resorted to the unseemliest of ways to try to pull off the election of its candidates shows how insecure it was about its MLAs.






After months of controversy, Rabindranath Tagore's set of twelve paintings have been sold at Sotheby's. These paintings had been gifted by Tagore himself to Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst, who set up the Dartington Trust that now auctioned the artworks. However, that did not deter those who fancied themselves custodians of the Tagore flame, including West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and other Kolkata-based intellectuals, from opposing this sale. Bhattacharjee even requested prime ministerial intervention to ensure that Gurudeb's paintings, "priceless treasures of Indian culture" could be brought home to India. That was further complicated by the fact that the standard legal instrument in such cases, the Antiquities Act, does not apply to Tagore's relatively young artworks.


This kind of clinginess about "our" cultural artifacts has become standard-issue in India, but it seems particularly absurd when it centres on a famously cosmopolitan figure like Rabindranath Tagore. He was curious about the world, and he cared about the connections between a sense of national identity and a common humanity, and he would never allow one to constrict the other. Tagore travelled to England and the United States in 1912-13, Japan and the United States in 1916, Europe in 1921, China and Japan in 1924, Latin America in 1924-25, Europe in 1926, Southeast Asia in 1927, Europe and the United States in 1930, Iran and Iraq in 1932, and Sri Lanka in 1934. Though he was a fierce and inspiring anti-colonial activist, he was resolutely universalist, eager to discover the cultural hinges between India and East Asia. He might have written Jana Gana Mana, but his was not a narrow representation of anthem and flag.


However, Tagore's legacy has been confined not only by such nationalist-retentionist cultural property ideas,

but also by his own Visva Bharati University, which had wanted to extend copyright past its fifty-year-mark and more, and block any publishers from reprinting, translating and annotating his writings. That clamp was lifted nearly a decade back, and now Tagore translations abound in the market, are freely available online, and he is more widely read and loved than ever before.






The finance ministry has released the second, revised version of its proposed direct tax code. The revised version is open to comments from the public — which need to be sent in

before the end of the month — continuing a process that has been commendably transparent. However, transparency, while valuable, doesn't always ensure efficiency. The new version of the DTC has diluted, considerably, the original attempt to ensure a clear and uniform set of rules — with minimal exemptions, which only encourage gaming of the regulations by the more energetic and well-informed taxpayers.


The most notable problem of this sort is in the acceptance of what is known as an "exempt-exempt-exempt" or "EEE" tax regime — in which, for long-term savings instruments such as a provident funds, no taxes are imposed at any point: not at the initial time of saving, not when the funds you've saved are invested or reinvested, not even when the returns from those investments are withdrawn. The original and laudable attempt at simplification that the first DTC was supposed to bring in replaced the EEE with "EET": where the first two steps won't trigger taxation, but withdrawing the money in order to spend it will cause you to be taxed. This was not only a simplification, but would have preserved the incentive to save (which enhances growth), while taxing the extra income when it is eventually transformed into consumption, when the growth-enhancing effect vanishes. That this has been taken out of the draft is disappointing. And it will result in higher tax rates all round.


Indeed, the entire approach to long-term investing shows a certain unfortunate schizophrenia. There's also the issue of the dilution of any difference in the incidence of taxation between long-term and short-term capital gains. This means that individual investors who choose to go in for the long term will suffer in comparison to institutional investors — and we increase their incentives to think in the short-term rather than over longer, more value-driven horizons. It is certainly true that mutual funds, for example, are bulk movers of investment. Yet consider this: every time an individual adjusts their portfolio of shares, they might have to pay capital gains tax, but if they'd had a mutual fund doing it for them, the taxes wouldn't apply. The original purpose of this far-sighted reform was to make things easier for individuals to save, invest and pay their taxes. Is that purpose served by encouraging exemption-gaming, or by discouraging individual initiative?









Not strangely, there is very little support for the Maoists in Chhattisgarh. Not among the tribals, and definitely not among the local population in the heavily industrialised belts of Raipur and Bilaspur. The level of support increases as one travels further away from the state. It is quite similar to the trend in North Bihar. The lowest castes in the flood affected Kosi plains are clear that they have no use for Maoist ideologues. Till the middle of this decade, one saw them instead travelling to Punjab en masse to work as agricultural labourers, a trend that has now eased with NREGA employment providing succour nearer home. Police officers find very few of them ever attending Maoist camps. Some city kids however, do.


The classic expression of how revolutionary forces can be weakened by commerce is visible in Surguja district of Chhattisgarh. The same refugees from erstwhile East Bengal who were bottled up in camps near Kolkata to stoke various electoral and revolutionary fires, have become a model of entrepreneurship in this back of the beyond district in central India. Acres of barren land parcelled out to them by the state have become centres for huge vegetable trade. In an interesting twist to the tale, these people have also sold off portions of their land that abut the highways to the local Marwaris for shops. So you get the quaint scenario of a long line of hardware and textile shops on the Varanasi road leading away from Ambikapur, with acres of farmland stretching just behind them. The district collector told me the local tribals now want a piece of the action. The Naxal menace in this area has sharply come down.


Travelling across the Maoist heartland of Bastar, at the other end of the state, the story is therefore familiar. People near Jagdalpur are only concerned if the mega Tata or the NMDC projects will come to life. Both have become frozen due to the Naxal threat — the euphemism is "delay in land procurement". The only other subject they are animated on is corruption. Since I wasn't in a government vehicle, people were willing to talk about what they wanted. And all they wanted was to join the growth story.


In essence, the Naxal uprising in central India has often drawn upon this very longing and then brutalised it. The state administrations have of course often pointed to the long years since the Eighties, when these people assembled their force, but there is an absolute one to one correspondence with the explosion of the growth of the economy since 2003-04, and the flare up in the Naxal menace in the so-called strongholds across the affected states.


But since it has got crystallised into a clear dogma whose basis is the overthrow of the state, there is no question these Maoists have to be cleaned out from central India. To believe such a force can be offered placebos of development crumbs to make them turn around is a hopeless mistake. The Maoists have already taken over a large percentage of those development grants, in the areas where they dominate — the expenditure network in states like Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh for panchayat-led development. This includes control of the tendu leaf and the sal seed trade too, wherever the states have formed village level cooperatives. The Central government transfers serious funds to the panchayats and so for all those who wonder how the Naxalites get access to funds, this is food for thought.


The reason why they succeeded is because they too have exploited the same corrupt delivery system that has been the bane of the governance system.


In fact one suspects that even in cities, it is corruption that blocks segments from accessing the India growth story, which makes people often praise the romantic view of the Naxalites as the stormtroopers against corruption. Since they are nowhere near the reign of fear that the Maoist story essentially is, they are happy to believe in the chimera.


An example of the ground conditions that lead to such misplaced correlation is the aftermath of the Bhopal gas disaster. Large swathes of the old city, until a few years ago, were scarred by tales of misappropriation of the not-so-meagre funds available to be distributed as compensation. When the state seems to connive with such corruption, the hunger for a false alternative takes hold. But as the villagers of the Maoist-dominated areas will tell you, they have had enough of such promises and instead want the state to do two things: get rid of the reign of terror, and then give the locals a chance to showcase their entrepreneurship.


In Jagdalpur, the headquarter of Bastar, the first set of billboards that greet you as you enter the town from NH 43 are those for schools and assorted institutes. While it is hard to come by clear data, local television channels in the state carry possibly the longest series of ads for management institutes and schools, anywhere in the country.


Yet, the waffling on the Naxalite issue by the states and parts of the Centre has confused local officials. I don't want to take his name as it would seriously compromise his position, but a very senior government officer blanched when I made a gaffe and told him that the Maoists would not dare touch him. My reasoning was that a person at the helm of affairs, even in a troubled region like Bastar, carried the stamp of the central government's authority. The officer, after he recovered, told me he hoped the Maoists meant him no harm as he was not executing any development programme they had objections to. Another one: The district administration in at least one of the five districts of the Bastar region usually informs the Naxalites in Bijapur of their movement plans so that they are no "surprises". But the best: the top cop of the state, in all seriousness, explained that the Naxals have sat in internet cafes to acquire military training and that he has evidence to back it up. It is no surprise that one of the state's senior police officers has sent his family away to shield them, even as the local IAS chaps in the state cadre tend to successfully avoid getting posted to places where are there is "left wing extremism". To bear this out, just look at the names of the collectors and commissioners of the region.


writer is Executive Editor (News), 'The Financial Express'







After months of controversy, Rabindranath Tagore's set of twelve paintings have been sold at Sotheby's. These paintings had been gifted by Tagore himself to Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst, who set up the Dartington Trust that now auctioned the artworks. However, that did not deter those who fancied themselves custodians of the Tagore flame, including West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and other Kolkata-based intellectuals, from opposing this sale. Bhattacharjee even requested prime ministerial intervention to ensure that Gurudeb's paintings, "priceless treasures of Indian culture" could be brought home to India. That was further complicated by the fact that the standard legal instrument in such cases, the Antiquities Act, does not apply to Tagore's relatively young artworks.


This kind of clinginess about "our" cultural artifacts has become standard-issue in India, but it seems particularly absurd when it centres on a famously cosmopolitan figure like Rabindranath Tagore. He was curious about the world, and he cared about the connections between a sense of national identity and a common humanity, and he would never allow one to constrict the other. Tagore travelled to England and the United States in 1912-13, Japan and the United States in 1916, Europe in 1921, China and Japan in 1924, Latin America in 1924-25, Europe in 1926, Southeast Asia in 1927, Europe and the United States in 1930, Iran and Iraq in 1932, and Sri Lanka in 1934. Though he was a fierce and inspiring anti-colonial activist, he was resolutely universalist, eager to discover the cultural hinges between India and East Asia. He might have written Jana Gana Mana, but his was not a narrow representation of anthem and flag.


However, Tagore's legacy has been confined not only by such nationalist-retentionist cultural property ideas, but also by his own Visva Bharati University, which had wanted to extend copyright past its fifty-year-mark and more, and block any publishers from reprinting, translating and annotating his writings. That clamp was lifted nearly a decade back, and now Tagore translations abound in the market, are freely available online, and he is more widely read and loved than ever before.









This time for soccer. And thank God India wasn't at the World Cup. Judging by what happens when the Indian cricket team loses a match, Warren Anderson gets away with impunity, the Maoists execute a well-planned attack, etc., the outrage would have been louder, shriller and infinitely more irritating than the vuvuzela.


Times Now would have declared it a national betrayal. Arnab Goswami would have kicked butt and demanded an explanation: "tell your channel how you could not kick a ball past one man and into the gaping hole behind him?" If our imaginary goal-keeper had done a Robert Green on the grass and allowed the football to get away from him and roll into the goal mouth, he would have fulminated: "Let me put it to you, Mr Golmaal, that your defences were poor, your ability to counter attack nil and you lost the battle in the air and off the ground. You don't deserve to be defending the national goal post, you butcher of the ball. At your feet, the beautiful game is a national shame!".


There would have been prime time discussions consisting of 11 players, sorry, panelists. Each would have been shooting from the mouth, trying to rise above the others, rather like footballers do when a corner is taken. Free kicks would have landed on the players, the coach, the administration and a few cricketers. Come to think of it, this is all their fault: if they didn't play well enough to win tournaments, the sponsors would have flocked to Indian football, the game would have prospered and we would have been tackling the opposition in South Africa right this minute, waka, waka.


One illustrious TV anchor — not necessarily Goswami — would have thundered, "Lalit Modi, booted out of the IPL chairmanship, has to answer for India's failure to make it to the soccer World Cup!" Well, weirder and more outrageous things have been said on the tube.


If the soccer World Cup did not totally overwhelm TV news coverage, don't blame it on India's non-appearance at the tournament. Blame it on Warren Anderson, the "Butcher of Bhopal" (Times Now). Alternatively on Arjun Singh. If the former chief of Union Carbide or the ex-chief minister of Madhya Pradesh had revealed themselves and their actions, TV news would not have had to chase down every single official — including the pilot who had flown the plane that took Anderson out of Bhopal — who had played a role in the events after the gas leak.


As it was, all we saw of them were the gates to their residences. In Anderson's case, the enterprising Times Now reporter managed a "World Exclusive" (huh?). She got inside the compound and rang the doorbell; after what seemed a lifetime, a frail old lady (Mrs Anderson) opened the door and muttered something we couldn't catch because the din of the traffic drowned out her voice. What we heard her say was pretty tame for a world exclusive: "nothing to say. It is all over". Door closed.


Once again, television news played the conscience of a nation. Since the court judgment on the gas leak case was delivered in Bhopal last week, a bulletin has not passed on any news channel (only a mild exaggeration) without an exclusive on the chemical disaster. The coverage has helped take the issue forward: it has galvanised the governments — Central and state — it has orchestrated public outrage, it has reopened the entire case as well as old wounds. People who did not know what happened almost 26 years ago, now know.


But TV news has has reduced a complex human tragedy to a one-point agenda: get Anderson. Let's get him by all means, but let's also get a balanced coverage that re-examines all angles. TV news has focused exclusively on Anderson. And then it beats him to pulp .


Isn't it time someone blew the whistle and stopped the game?






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, stabilisers 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 EU membership they had to reform their laws, economy, minority rights and civilian-military relations — which the Erdogan government systematically did — the EU leadership has now said to Turkey: "Oh, you mean nobody told you? We're a Christian club. No Muslims allowed." The EU'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 criticising 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. 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. At the same time, Erdogan lately has spoken with increasing vitriol about Israel — 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 US-Turkey relations get where they're going — over a cliff.







The RSS is leaving no stone unturned in campaigning against the implementation of the Ranganath Mishra Commission report, which recommends reservation for minorities. So much so that the latest edition of its mouthpiece Organiser says the report has drawn sharp reactions even from Christians and goes on to quote a booklet brought out by the Poor Christian Liberation Movement. "The Poor Christian Liberation Movement which represents majority of the Dalit Christians in India for whom the Commission basically recommended reservation, outrightly rejected the report saying that the implementation of the report would have serious impact on the growth and survival of Christianity in India," a report in the Organiser says.What is interesting is that the RSS, which has always opposed religious conversion is now using a Dalit Christian body to argue its case against religion-based reservation. "The report is contrary to the principles of Christianity and will legalise caste system in Christianity. Reservation is being given on the basis of 'religion' which is nconstitutional as the caste is not recognised under the Canon laws," it quotes the booklet as saying.


Sharia banking


Another article talks about a book on Islamic banking which carries the views of former Union Minister Dr Subramanian Swamy, who had filed a petition in Kerala High Court against the state Industrial Development Corporation's moves to join hands with some groups from the Middle East to launch Islamic banking in the state.The book's take on Islamic banks is in line with the broad RSS view. It contests the belief that Islamic banks do not charge interests. "The truth, however, is that like all banks, sharia banks do charge interest — they just give another name — and that the clerics supervising the banks have ties to extremist, even terrorist groups, which work towards the Islamisation and word dominance," it says.


Swamy argues that a financial services company set up with government participation which would follow the canon law of a particular religion is a clear instance of the state favouring a particular religion and "this violates Article 27 of the Constitution." The real danger, as far as Swamy is concerned, is that such banks would trigger religious conversion.


How? Swamy argues that the banks would give loans to Muslim youth while the Hindus would be denied on one technicality or another. "Word will be spread that if the Hindu converts to Islam he or she will get the loan easily. Given the high unemployment of educated youth in Kerala, and that Hindus are just 52 per cent of the state population it will be in no time that economic pressures will force the state to become Hindu minority," he says.


Degrees of difference


The lead editorial in the Organiser once again clarifies RSS opposition to the foreign education bill. "Allowing foreign universities into India, who mostly operate on the motive of profit, would divide the youth further vertically into those who can afford foreign degrees and those who cannot and needless to add that those with foreign degrees would get preference in the job market," it says.


The article seeks to debunk the argument that once foreign universities come to India, their Indian counterparts would be on their toes and would maintain standards for survival. "We have heard similar arguments before on allowing foreign business into India. And see what happened, in the consumer sector, be it the soft drinks, the detergents or toothpaste. The Indian companies have been nearly wiped off," it says.


"As such, the government has privatised large sections of education in India, with the result that there is an enormous difference in the quality of education at the primary and secondary level. In the higher education level also, private, profit-motivated colleges are run, which give a raw deal to the students. The multiple levels monitoring system of the government has not been effective in checking the standards of these institutions, largely due to corruption," it argues. In a scenario like this, how does the government propose to vet, verify and allow foreign universities to open centres in India, it asks.


Compiled by Manoj C.G.







The revised discussion paper on the direct taxes code (DTC), which seeks to address major issues raised by the various stakeholders in response to the first draft, indicates that the effort to whittle down the enormous complexities of the Income Tax Act of 1961 will be no easy exercise. The new proposals, unfortunately, dilute the primary objective of a reformed DTC to reduce the number of exemptions and preferences provided to income and corporate tax payers. Implemented in this form, the DTC will lead to a reduction in the tax base and nullify, at least partially, the efforts to remove distortions and restore equity in the tax system. While the government can claim greater sensitivity to public sentiment as the reason for these roll backs—most of the revised proposals pertain to concerns of individual tax payers—the fact is that the new proposals go against the seminal principles embedded in the DTC: low tax rates, voluntary compliance and improved tax flows.


Income tax payers, who have been promised a substantial reduction in taxes, will now have to settle for slightly higher rates to compensate for the restoration of many of the tax incentives on savings, retirement benefits, perquisites, income from house property, capital gains and wealth tax. However, most of the gains will be disproportionately larger for a small group who are employed in the organised sector and account for most of the inflows in the savings schemes and retirement funds, and enjoy perquisites; and those who have income from property or come under the purview of wealth tax. One gain in the bargain would be its positive impact on the financial and housing markets, which do play a substantial role in accelerating growth. Gains to the corporate sector will come mainly from the revised proposals to restore the minimum alternative tax (MAT) on book profits. But a better way is to tax book profits in line with normal tax rates. Today, half the 7.86 lakh registered companies pay no taxes as the provisions for accelerated depreciation and tax incentives allow them to get away with showing very little corporate tax liabilities even while they have reasonable book profits. So there is not much rationale for attempting to correct this anomaly by levying a MAT, even while allowing such disparities to continue. Unless, of course, the MAT rate is exactly aligned with the rate of corporate tax.






The government's decision to put PSU mining giants Coal India Limited (CIL) and Hindustan Copper Limited (HCL) on the divestment block, despite continued volatility in the stock markets, shows its seriousness about meeting its divestment target for this financial year. The stake sales of CIL and HCL, via the stock market, are expected to garner the government around Rs 17,000 crore. The government's move suggests that it senses an opportunity to cut the fiscal deficit by a significant amount this year. The 3G and BWA auctions have fetched a bounty of Rs 1 lakh crore; divestment, if it continues to proceed without political impediments, is targeted to raise Rs 40,000 crore. This will bring the fiscal deficit down to between 4% and 4.5% of the GDP, from 5.5% in the previous financial year. However, the government cannot afford to be satisfied with its efforts, largely because the revenue from the auctions is one-off. A sustained reduction in the fiscal deficit will require the government to commit to further expenditure reform.


The government did take an important step to curb fertiliser subsidies with a move to a nutrient-based regime. But on oil subsidies, the government continues to dither, despite the window of opportunity that the recession in Europe has provided—oil prices are probably at the lowest level that they are likely to be at for some time. If the government waits for complete global recovery, it will find it politically harder to decontrol at a higher price. And if it doesn't decontrol, all the gains on the fiscal front through auctions and divestment may be lost. The government has all the expert committee reports that it would possibly need to back up a decision to decontrol. Politically, this may be a good moment, given that there are no major states except for Bihar, which are due for an election. In Bihar, the Congress and its allies in the UPA have comparatively less at stake than, say, in West Bengal and Kerala next year. The formation of the NAC is also an indication that the government will be under pressure to legislate on the food security Bill. That, too, will add to fiscal pressures. The UPA must, therefore, also look at trimming unnecessary food subsidies given out to above poverty line families. Of course, on the revenue side, an early implementation of the GST and DTC will help shore up the government's coffers. The second year of the UPA-2 in office will be crucial in terms of major fiscal reform. The government must deliver.








It is now a habit to over-react a month before a credit policy is announced. There is speculation about whether or not RBI will increase rates before July 27. This kind of hype is commonplace and while it should be ignored, it is serious business because often the revealed RBI response is to do so before the policy. Therefore, the markets may be right in a way.


If we look at the monetary situation today, it is quite interesting. There is a liquidity issue, as surplus funds deployed in reverse repo auctions towards the end of May have now changed to borrowing by banks from RBI through the repo route. Then, there was pressure on banks' liquidity on account of higher borrowing by telecom companies. Therefore, RBI opened the window of allowing more borrowings by banks, which has been tantamount to an SLR reduction of 0.5%. Further, to ease pressure on banks, the size of the T-bills auctions has been reduced for June. As this is a temporary development, RBI did not opt for a CRR cut that would have induced around Rs 25,000 crore (based on a 50 bps reduction). Therefore, June is to be a month of RBI providing support to banks through liquidity easing measures.


Now we are concerned with inflation. But are the inflation numbers any different from what they were a month ago? The answer is no. A double-digit number is high but it doesn't matter whether it is 10.16% or 11.04%, except if you are a statistician. Where is this inflation coming from? Primary products continue to display a number of above 15%, while fuel is also in the 13% region. Both these numbers have little to do with RBI. Food prices will remain high until the new harvest comes in and, even if it is good in October-December, prices may not fall sharply as the equilibrium has settled at a higher level. Anecdotal evidence suggests that prices do not revert to the 'mean' for commodity prices and instead create a new 'mean' at a higher level. Hence, if tur dal rose from, say, Rs 40 per kg to Rs 100 per kg last year, a good harvest may make it come down to Rs 60 per kg, but it would be unlikely that it would go back to the Rs 40 level. The same holds for sugar, pulses or edible oils.


Fuel prices are a function of the ministry of petroleum, and RBI cannot bring down prices by increasing rates. In fact, higher rates will push up the costs of petroleum companies, which can then argue for additional increase in the prices of their products. The government, probably keeping in mind high inflation, decided not to increase fuel prices, as a hike of, say, 10% in diesel and petrol has a direct inflationary impact of around 0.5%.


A closer look at the manufactured goods category reveals that the inflation rate for this category came down from a 7% range in January-March to 6.4% in May. This is the area that monetary policy can address. The heating up of this sector may be attributed to higher prices, which is also visible in the high IIP numbers. Food products and chemicals, with a combined weight of 23.5%, have shown a sharp declining trend. Metals, non-metallic minerals and textiles have witnessed a substantial increase in prices. Paper, rubber, leather products, transport equipment and machinery segments have displayed stable prices. Juxtaposing these numbers with the IIP growth numbers, the metals segment is the only one that has high growth in production and prices—a case of overheating. Here, too, the influence of global trend of increasing prices is distinct.


What does this mean for RBI? The central bank surely has to be concerned about the increase in prices of manufactured products, which broadly speaking is what core inflation is all about. There is definitely the possibility of pre-empting inflation, which is what monetary policy is all about, through interest rate intervention. However, there may not be justification for the monetary authority to intervene right now and increase rates. It could be reserved for the policy time when a clearer picture emerges on the monsoons.


RBI has indicated in its earlier policies that inflation would be the main variable to monitor. As stated earlier, the inflation numbers are high but do not carry an element of surprise today to warrant a response. Besides, it would also be odd that RBI should be supporting liquidity while hardening interest rates simultaneously. More importantly, RBI should ideally move away from surprises in its policy moves although, admittedly, hype and excessive discussions often do turn out to be self-fulfilling.


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








The climate change mini-summit at Bonn has ended with a whimper, in sharp contrast to the storm that was raised over Copenhagen six months ago. If we consider the sum total of developments in the interim, the prognosis for the Cancún summit that takes place in another six months from now is clear—it sure won't be celebrated with fireworks. Outgoing UN chief negotiator Yvo de Boer, after determinedly maintaining an upbeat front in the face of repeated setbacks, has been forced to admit, "The 2-degree world is in danger. The door to a 1.5-degree world is rapidly closing." Stepping into his worn-out shoes, Christiana Figueres has chosen to downplay rather than build up expectations of what can be delivered by way of an international consensus. She does not believe that a final agreement on climate change will be achieved within her lifetime. Still, while the battle looks lost, there are reasons to suggest that the war may yet be won.


Nothing symbolised how the world had changed between the Kyoto and Copenhagen summits than the fact that while the former had only one head of state in attendance, the latter boasted over 160 of the breed. The US President made a personal, dramatic push to bring developing and developed countries towards an Accord. But things appeared back at square one at Bonn, with trust issues once again raising their ugly head. For example, the Chinese lead negotiator was once again reiterating the principles of common but differentiated responsibility. As for all those financial resources, technology and capacity-building that developed countries had agreed to provide at Copenhagen, they began to look like chimera. Their non-binding aspect began to draw increasing, depressing scrutiny. And it became evident that if rich countries can use loopholes spread from forestry to carbon credit zones invidiously, they can keep increasing emissions in the foreseeable future, rendering the entire UNFCCC process farcical.


The other big news out of Copenhagen was that small countries like Tuvalu won solid windows of attention. This aspect, too, devolved into farce at Bonn. While a number of poorer countries were battling a perceived bias in favour of richer countries, difference within the ranks took a PD James turn when the Saudi Arabian delegation was 'vandalised'. The Saudis (not the usual suspects) aroused so much ire on account of their 'sabotaging' tactics against island states, that someone took their nameplate, dunked it in the men's lavatory, then the women's lavatory, then worked up some graffiti and finally logged photographs of the entire desecration on the Internet. The pranksters have yet to be identified or booked. This probably made more global headlines than all the minutes of the Bonn summit. You could be cynical about citizen's attention spans or you could be real about what the action at Bonn was worth.


There is also all sorts of depressing survey data flowing in from the US, the UK and other parts of the economically troubled West, showing that global warming is losing its political punch over there. Had economic factors not taken their toll, it is almost certain that a catastrophe like the Gulf oil spill may finally have moved the Americans to treat their energy addiction with some harsh medicine. That's far from being the case at present. Depressed employer and employee sentiment has meant that the President, who was striding large at Copenhagen, has a limited appetite for substantive caps on greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, Obama is unlikely to deliver what he promised the world six months ago.


So, what's the upside? In the most rosy scenario, consider that as the oil majors look to how the oil spill has driven down BP's market valuation by 48%, even they will start looking at cleaner options with fervour. In a more pragmatic frame, there is the fact that, even as the climate talks have trundled from one international forum to another with little to show for themselves, individual countries' investments in sustainable development and alternative fuel streams have marched forward at a much faster clip. Nothing to inspire complacency, but plenty to suggest that innovative and independent measures can offer a strong substitute to that elusive global treaty.


Just look at the ongoing World Cup. Just ask if Cancún can fork out the Johannesburg fruit. The host cities boast street lights, traffic lights and billboards running on solar power. Public transport is being encouraged. At least 11 teams will be offsetting the emissions caused by their Cup participation. The administration is trying to ensure a green legacy for the Cup. The next host, Brazil, is already aiming for the greenest football tournament ever. Financing for all construction projects will be prefaced by environmental certification.










The government's attempt to ease FDI in the hotel and tourism sector bodes well for the real estate industry. The government aims to remove the minimum capital and area requirement for hotels as well as exclude them from the purview of the three-year lock-in clause that governs real estate activities. This move comes at an opportune time as India is facing a huge demand-supply mismatch in the availability of rooms. It is expected to give a fillip to the plans to increase the number of hotel rooms in the country manifold, besides enabling domestic realty majors to induct foreign partners in their projects.


According to tourism ministry estimates, there are about 1.2 million hotel rooms in the country. The requirement for 2020 is estimated to be 6.6 million. If the target of 5 million tourists has to be achieved by 2012, we require a total of 80,000 more rooms to be added. A captive investment of Rs 40 lakh per room will entail investment of about Rs 32,000 crore. The increasing number of airlines and foreign tourists is creating a huge shortage of rooms in the country. Naturally, when there is a mismatch between demand and supply, the average rates go up. Hence, this attempt will also bring about the rationalisation of prices.


India is one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in the world, second only to China. At present, India accounts for 0.5% of world tourism. Strong GDP growth, improving infrastructure, confidence in the country's economic prospects, open sky policy and the 'Incredible India' campaign have improved the outlook for India. This positive outlook would increase the tourist arrivals in the country and the hotel industry is expected to be the major beneficiary. Even domestic tourism is gaining momentum. Rising disposable incomes, cheaper airfares and better connectivity would continue to increase the demand for rooms. The hotel and tourism industry recorded FDI inflows of only $950 million from January 2000 to March 2009, which exacerbates their need for FDI to build hotels.


In the light of these prospects, the government's move to relax foreign investment entry restrictions will stoke a huge interest among foreign investors to invest in mixed-use format as they have been hesitant because of the minimum size and capital commitments.








Last June, the Bharatiya Janata Party's national executive meeting at Delhi was held under the shadow of defeat in the 2009 Lok Sabha election. The mood, reflected in the speeches as well as the resolutions, was introspective, with references to the party's "shortcomings" that needed to be "rectified." This year, the BJP — which has since acquired a new President with Nitin Gadkari replacing a somewhat ineffectual Rajnath Singh — would have liked to project a more united and assertive face. Indeed, the three resolutions — on the growing Maoist threat, the United Progressive Alliance government's performance, and the Centre's "assault" on federalism — bear a combative stamp. But this year's party jamboree, held in Patna with an eye on the Bihar Assembly election due later this year, was overshadowed by unanticipated developments which deflected attention from the BJP's fierce criticism of the UPA and ended up creating a strain between the BJP and its senior partner in the State government — the Janata Dal (United).


Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's outburst about newspaper advertisements sponsored by Narendra Modi's admirers (one of which showed the Gujarat Chief Minister and Mr. Kumar hand in hand in an expression of solidarity) and his abrupt cancellation of a dinner he was to host for BJP leaders seem to have been calculated moves. With elections round the corner in a State with a 16 per cent Muslim population, the JD(U) needs to retain the traditional support it has enjoyed among the backward or pasmanda Muslims. By vociferously distancing itself from a hardliner in the BJP such as Mr. Modi, the JD (U) is at once stressing its secular credentials and underlining the fact that its relationship with the BJP is forged by expediency rather than ideology. While Mr. Kumar's flare-up has led to speculation that he could be doing a Naveen Patnaik – the Orissa Chief Minister dumped the BJP just before the 2009 election – the political arithmetic in Bihar is stacked differently. It is unlikely the JD(U) will risk challenging its principal enemy, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, on its own; also, the RJD would be even harder to beat in the event there is a revival of its alliance with the Congress. The 'Nitish-Modi controversy' exposes more than just the gulf between the BJP and the JD(U). At a different level, it draws attention to a deep-seated internal contradiction within the National Democratic Alliance, which is made up largely of regional partners who are with the BJP only because they are principally opposed to some other party (usually, the Congress). The instability of the NDA, which has witnessed at least 10 parties leaving it since it was founded in 1998, is a reflection of this very contradiction






The ethnic violence in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan is a worrying development in a world already struggling to cope with numerous other flashpoints of conflict. It has claimed more than 180 lives so far and caused a massive humanitarian crisis spilling over into neighbouring Uzbekistan. The roots of Kyrgyz-Uzbek hostility reach far back in history, but the current outbreak of violence along this old fault line appears linked with the sudden ouster in April of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The new regime, an interim government of 14 opposition political parties headed by former diplomat Roza Otunbayeva, holds him responsible for orchestrating the riots. The anti-Uzbek riots are taking place in the southern region, where the deposed leader retains a strong following among the Kyrgyz population. The region is home to large numbers of ethnic Uzbeks, whose loyalties lie with the political set-up that replaced the corrupt and nepotistic Mr. Bakiyev. In mid-May, barely a month after the upheaval that saw the exit of the old order, more than 80 people were killed when Bakiyev supporters clashed violently with groups allied to the new dispensation. That was in the same southern cities consumed by this new round of violence. That the country is led by an unelected and fractious coalition has only complicated matters. With the violence said to be abating, President Otunbayeva's plan for a June 27 referendum on a new Constitution and democratic elections later in the year will hopefully remain unaffected. But her urgent appeal to Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev for military help as the crisis threatened to overtake the country of 5.5 millon people highlighted Moscow's crucial role in a region of strategic importance where several regional and international players, including the United States and China, wield considerable influence.


Despite its support to the new Kyrgyz government, Russia's cautious decision to put the matter before the Collective Security Treaty Organisation of seven Central Asian republics underlined the complexities of intervention in a high-stakes region. The CSTO decided to send logistical help such as helicopters and fuel, but no troops. Such caution, possibly born out of the international experience in Afghanistan, is heartening. But the instability in Kyrgyzstan is unlikely to disappear soon, and poses a new challenge for the region, especially to Russia. It is to be hoped that international powers will resist the temptation to exploit the situation for individual strategic advantage, and instead think of pitching in with responsible and constructive help.










The Delhi High Court ruled recently that a woman can also be held liable under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005. This the court did on the basis of the interpretation that 'relatives' included not only male but also female members of a family. The absence of such a provision, it felt, could encourage men to instigate women members of a family to commit violence.


The Act came about in response to decade-long pressure from international organisations and activists in India. But five years later, despite noble intentions, it remains an unviable proposition. Little thinking has gone into understanding the context in which spousal abuse overwhelmingly occurs in India. The ground realities have been ignored and the implementation aspects left woolly and unprovided for.


A senior lawyer in the Supreme Court, K.K. Rai, who is conversant with matrimonial cases, says: "The law just does not take into account the realities of the joint family system where female members of the family heap both physical and emotional aggression against a woman. We need guidelines and mechanisms which ensure continuance of the joint family ethos, yet cushion the woman against violence."


Whereas domestic violence takes place in all social, economic and cultural settings worldwide, in India the difference is that families are conditioned to tolerate, allow, even rationalise domestic violence. Most of the violence takes place inside homes which should offer the woman maximum security. The 2005 law focusses on the prohibition of marital aggression, the issue of protection and maintenance orders against husbands and partners who abuse a woman emotionally, physically or economically. This sounds fine on paper, but a one-size-fits-all approach ignores women who need such protection the most.


The National Family Health Survey-3 (NFHS) shows that the prevalence of violence increases sharply in the absence of education and reduces by half in the case of women who have acquired 10 years of schooling. Both physical and sexual violence are highest among women in the poorest wealth quintile, and it declines steadily with increasing wealth. Given the scarcity of resources, the legislation should have initially focussed on the conditions in which illiterate and uneducated women reside in joint families. Instead, it has painted the subject with one broad brush, seeking to rely on the efficiency of the courts to decide such matters within 60 days.


Administratively, the Act requires each State government to appoint protection officers, register service providers and notify medical facilities for the implementation of the Act. While the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Ministry of Home Affairs have issued advisories to State governments, with the exception of West Bengal and Delhi no State is known to have appointed independent protection officers even five years hence. Most States have fobbed off the requirement by giving "additional" responsibility to existing functionaries. Rajasthan, a high-prevalence State for domestic violence, has entrusted the already overburdened anganwadi workers who are striving to ensure the supply of nutrition to infants, children and lactating mothers, with the responsibility.


In Delhi where at least an attempt has been made to recruit independent protection officers, Yasmin Khan, a member of the State Women's Commission, laments that it is just not possible to appoint dedicated staff on a salary of Rs. 15,000 a month. "How can a newly recruited MSW [degree-holder], even if she agrees to join, visit homes, draw up reports, seek protection orders from magistrates, create and maintain legal documentation and pursue court directions when she has no help, no transport, no office and no training?"


Tabling figures regarding protection orders issued so far, Parliament was recently given information only in respect of a handful of States and Union Territories. Even here, nothing is known about what the majority of them are doing. The numbers, which have not crossed four figures in five years, are too sparse to inspire confidence. Looking to the findings of country-wide surveys that have shown that over 40 per cent of all married women had experienced physical or sexual violence, the Act does not touch even the fringe of the problem.


The experience of Rajasthan is vividly described by Kavita Srivastava, who represents the People's Union for Civil Liberties and who has been pursuing women's causes. According to her, while the protection officers are in acute need of legal training, the magistrates before whom the cases are presented also need orientation. She feels that scant regard is paid to the 60-day limit, and domestic violence matters are treated in a most routine manner — thus defeating the purpose for which the Act was made. Every case decided against the husband automatically goes up in appeal, and it becomes an unending story. Lawyers get busy converting practically all domestic violence cases into maintenance matters, in the process missing the point of preventing immediate assault and violence against the woman. In some instances, magistrates have issued contempt orders against the very protection officers who stand as a bridge between the woman and her aggressor. In such a climate, how can women expect immediate and sustained protection?


Unlike in the U.K. and the U.S., domestic violence has not been on the radar of the political executive, politicians in general, the police or the media in India. Such cases would seem to lack the sensationalism or ghoulish appeal of murder or rape cases. Repeated surveys have shown that in Indian society, both men and women believe that domestic violence can be tolerated in certain circumstances. These include being rude to the in-laws, not caring for children, preparing food badly or going out of the house without permission. If the vast majority of people accept that this is cause enough for domestic violence, it is doubtful if even the most rigorous protection officer would ever succeed in making inroads into a battered wife's household, leave alone haul up the husband before a district court.


The 2005 Act is impractical and consequently non-implementable in favour of those that need protection the most. Looking at the size of the country and the problem, it would be better to have a law that targets the poorest and the most uneducated and illiterate among women to start with, at least until the mechanisms to implement this nuclear family-lawyer dominated law are in place, if that is what the legislature wants. Until then, the plight of the poorest women — both rural and urban — who get repeatedly thrown out of their homes in the dead of night should be confronted. In the full knowledge of neighbours, thousands of the really poor and uneducated are repeatedly subjected to slapping, kicking, being dragged by their hair; twisted by the arm, forced to have sexual intercourse, even threatened with knives and household implements, as NFHS-3 surveys have vividly shown.


There is no use having a law that is meant for the whole country when there is no one to implement it. Until full-time and properly oriented protection officers are recruited — which seems to be an unattainable target now — a more practical way would be to prescribe summary disposal of cases through weekly courts organised at the tehsil or ward level. The protection officer's responsibility should be confined to giving a report before a mobile magistrate citing two witnesses from the neighbourhood. For every case where a protection order is issued, the protection officer and the witnesses should be compensated in recognition of having successfully brought forward the case for intervention. At the village level, the panchayats as well as the health, education and social welfare fieldworkers and non-governmental organisations could be permitted to voluntarily take on the role of protection officials, to be compensated for every case that ends in favour of a battered woman.


The U.K. took several years to train its police, its health workers and its judicial magistrates on handling the domestic violence law. Such a process has hardly happened in India. The mindset of those who deal which domestic violence has first to be changed before the law can subserve the interests of those for whom it was primarily intended. Until then, it is essential to protect those who have no voice and whose situation is well known to the entire neighbourhood. If the National Rural Health Mission's Accredited Social Health Activists can be compensated for accompanying a pregnant woman to hospital, why not those who accompany a battered woman and present her case before a magistrate? A separate section in the law that addresses the special needs of the most vulnerable would help change the focus of the Domestic Violence Act in their favour.


(Shailaja Chandra is a former Chief Secretary of Delhi, and Secretary to the Government of India. She was the first Executive Director of the National Population Stabilisation Fund set up by the Government of India.)]










In the recent interview with Asko Parpola published in The Hindu (April 15, 2010), readers were made aware of the lasting contributions by Professor Parpola to Indological studies, especially in the field of the Indus Civilisation and its script. Having known him personally for four decades and having closely watched his great contribution to the study of the Indus script, I am in a position to amplify the information provided in the interview.


Professor Parpola's contributions to Harappan studies are truly monumental, and these are not confined merely to the study of the Indus script. He has published a long series of brilliant papers to establish the fact of Aryan immigration into South Asia after the decline of the Indus Civilisation. As a Vedic scholar-turned-Dravidianist, he has the best academic credentials to prove that the Indus Civilisation was pre-Aryan and that its writing encoded a Dravidian language. In addition to his linguistic skills and deep scholarship of Vedic Sanskrit and the Dravidian languages, he has harnessed the computer in one of the earliest scientific attempts to study the structure of the Indus texts through computational linguistic procedures. Professor Parpola has produced the first truly scientific concordance to the Indus inscriptions. His concordance is accurate and exhaustive and has become an indispensable tool for researchers in the field.


Equally impressive, and again truly monumental, are the publications inspired and co-authored by Professor Parpola, of two volumes of the Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions. These volumes reproduce in amazing clarity and detail all the Indus seals (and their newly-made impressions) and other inscriptions. I happen to know personally the enormous difficulties Professor Parpola faced in publishing these volumes, nudging and goading the slow-moving bureaucracy in India and Pakistan to make available the originals, most of which were photographed again by the expert whom Professor Parpola sent from Finland for the purpose.


He published his magnum opus in 1994, Deciphering the Indus Script. The book contains the best exposition of the Dravidian hypothesis relating to the Indus Civilisation and its writing. Even though the Indus script remains undeciphered, as Professor Parpola readily admits, his theoretical groundwork on the Dravidian character of the Indus Civilisation and the script, and the fact of Aryan immigration into India after the decline of the Indus Civilisation, have been accepted by most scholars in the world.


Most of the Early Dravidian speakers of North and Central India switched over to the dominant Indo-Aryan languages in Post-Harappan times. Speakers of Aryan languages have indistinguishably merged with speakers of Dravidian and Munda languages millennia ago, creating a composite Indian society containing elements inherited from every source. It is thus likely that the Indus art, religious motifs and craft editions survived and can be traced in Sanskrit literature from the days of the Rigveda, and also in Old Tamil traditions recorded in the Sangam poems. Professor Parpola is aware of the Harappan heritage of both Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages, the former culturally and the latter linguistically. His profound scholarship in both families of languages enables him to mine the Indian cultural heritage holistically in his search for clues to solve the mysteries of the Indus script.


It may be asked: What has Tamil to do with the Indus script that Professor Parpola should be honoured with the inaugural Classical Tamil Award? Tamil happens to be the oldest and the best-documented Dravidian language. It is mainly for this reason that the Dravidian Etymological Dictionary of Burrow and Emeneau accords the head position to Tamil entries in the dictionary. That this distinction is well-deserved is also proved by the fact that Old Tamil contains the most archaic features of Dravidian phonology and morphology, like for example, the retention of the character aytam and the sound zh. Dravidian linguists have also established that most proto-Dravidian reconstructions are in close accord with words in Old Tamil. The earliest Tamil inscriptions date from the Mauryan Era. The earliest Tamil literature, the Sangam works, are from the early centuries of the Common Era, but record oral traditions from a much earlier time. It is for this reason that Professor Parpola and other Dravidian researchers consider Old Tamil to be a possible route to get at the language of the Indus inscriptions.


Professor Parpola speaks for himself in the following excerpt from his message of acceptance of the Classical Tamil Award. He says: "When the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu's award is given to me for a Dravidian solution of the Indus enigma, this award will inevitably be interpreted by many people as politically motivated. Nevertheless, I am ready to fight for the truth, and in my opinion, the Tamils are entitled to some pride for having preserved so well the linguistic heritage of the Indus Civilisation. At the same time, it must not be forgotten that though their language has shifted in the course of millennia, people of North India too are to a large extent descended from the Harappan people, and have also preserved cultural heritage of the same civilisation."


Professor Parpola's work on the Indus script will prove to be as important and as long-lasting as U.Ve. Swaminathaiyar's resurrection of the Tamil Classics from decaying palm leaves. He richly deserves the honour of being the first recipient of the Classical Tamil Award instituted by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister.


( Iravatham Mahadevan is a noted epigraphist and Tamil scholar.)                                             









After heading for eradication in the 1950s and 1960s, malaria has had a resurgence in India. Now a study that has just been published suggests that the most dangerous form of the disease could be at levels much higher than previously estimated.


In 1953 when a national eradication programme was launched, some 75 million malaria cases and eight lakh deaths were estimated to be occurring in India which then had a population then of about 360 million. With the eradication programme in full swing, incidence of the disease dropped rapidly. By 1965-66, there were just one lakh cases and deaths were completely eliminated.


But malaria, instead of being wiped out from the country, made a comeback. Obstacles such as insecticide resistance, changes in mosquito behaviour, drug resistance in the malarial parasites and lack of adequate resources to fight the disease characterised the return of malaria in India, observed V.P. Sharma in a journal paper. Dr. Sharma was the founder-director of the Malaria Research Centre, now the National Institute of Malaria Research, in New Delhi.


Infection by Plasmodium falciparum has also risen. This single-celled organism is responsible for much of the severe cases of malaria and deaths from the disease. Worldwide, it is among the leading causes of death from a single infectious agent, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).


According to figures published by the Union Government's National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme, there were over 1.5 million cases of malaria, more than half of them caused by P. falciparum, and 1,068 deaths in 2009.


"It is now well accepted that the reported incidence of malaria at the national level on the basis of surveillance carried out in the primary health care system at best reflects a trend and not the true burden of malaria," observed scientists at the National Institute of Malaria Research in a journal paper published in 2007.


Studies had pointed to deficiencies in coverage, collection and examination of blood smears for signs of infection and in reporting systems. Consequently, the actual incidence of malaria in the country was "definitely far more than presently known," they remarked.


Deaths due to malaria too were likely to be higher than reported.


Estimating the true disease burden of malaria in the country is a challenge, considering its varied epidemiology and dynamics of transmission, said one Indian scientist working on malaria.


In its World Malaria Report 2008, the WHO estimated that there had been 10.6 million cases of malaria and 15,000 deaths from the disease in India during 2006. (The Government figures put the number of malaria cases at nearly than 1.8 million and deaths at about 1,700 for that year.)


Now scientists from the 'Malaria Atlas Project' have used a map-based approach to estimate the global burden of P. falciparum malaria.


Their paper, which has just been published in the open-access journal PLoS Medicine, puts the extent of disease caused by P. falciparum in India at about 102 million cases in 2007. But with the uncertainty associated with the estimate, the figure could range from 31 million cases up to 187 million cases.


"India remains a massive source of uncertainty in our cartography-based estimates, contributing over three-quarters … of the uncertainty range in the global incidence estimates," said the scientists in their paper.


"Clearly we need to collect more information to 'tame' the uncertainty in these predictions and understand the true extent of the malaria burden in India," remarked Simon I. Hay of the University of Oxford, the first author of the paper, in an email to this correspondent.


After India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar were estimated to have next largest clinical burden of P. falciparum malaria. But there were large uncertainties in the estimates for these countries too.


A national survey of prevalence in these four countries would "transform the information we have available in each and by extension improve dramatically our ability to estimate clinical burden at the global scale," observed Dr. Hay.


In India, P. falciparum infections are particularly high in forested areas inhabited by ethnic tribes in the states of Orissa, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. There is also malaria caused by Plasmodium vivax, which is usually less deadly than P. falciparum. P. vivax is said to account for almost half the reported cases of malaria in the country.


Getting a true picture of the burden of malaria in India would enable priorities to be set in the planning and resource allocation for its control, observed scientists at the National Institute of Malaria Research in a paper published in the Journal of Biosciences in 2008.


(The web site of the Malaria Atlas Project can be found at and of PLoS Medicine at )








The Green Revolution of the 1960s raised crop yields and cut hunger — and also saved decades worth of greenhouse gas emissions, a study concludes. U.S. researchers found cumulative global emissions since 1850 would have been one third as much again without the Green Revolution's higher yields.


Although modern farming uses more energy and chemicals, much less land needs to be cleared. The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


"Converting a forest or some scrubland to an agricultural area causes a lot of natural carbon in that ecosystem to be oxidised and lost to the atmosphere," said Steven Davis, from the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University in California.


"What our study shows is that these indirect impacts from converting land to agriculture outweigh the direct emissions that come from the modern, intensive style of agriculture."


The researchers constructed alternative scenarios for how global society might have developed since the 1960s had the new, high-yielding Green Revolution varieties of rice, maize and other crops that raised crop yields in Asia and South America never existed. These new varieties turned countries such as India, which imported food in the best of times and needed emergency aid in the worst, into major exporters.


Without the new crops — but with the growth in the human population and all the other socio-economic trends seen since the 1960s — feeding the world at current levels would mean the use of more than twice as much land as is currently used for agriculture, the researchers found.


Farming this way would have required less energy and use of chemicals such as fertilisers, whose production involves emissions of CO {-2} and whose use generates nitrous oxide, another greenhouse gas. However, additional emissions from the extra land clearance, releasing carbon stored in trees and soil, would have been the more important factor by far.


Meeting extra food demand this way would have released about 160 Gigatonnes (billion tonnes) of carbon (GtC) over the decades — which, the researchers note, "corresponds to 34 per cent of the total 478 GtC emitted by humans between 1850 and 2005."


"That's about 20 years of fossil fuel burning at present rates," observed Dr. Davis.


Modern gains


Modern intensive agriculture is often criticised over its relatively heavy use of chemicals, which can impact insects, larger animals and plant life in the vicinity of the farm. In addition, the run-off of excess fertilizer into rivers and lakes can generate blooms of algae and "dead zones" of water where nothing can survive.


However, strictly from the point of view of greenhouse gas emissions, intensive farming appears to be significantly the better option.


"Our results dispel the notion that industrial agricultural with its petrochemicals is inherently worse for the climate than a more 'old-fashioned' way of doing things," said Dr. Davis.


He and his team suggest that policymakers keen to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should look towards further increases in crop yields, which they say might be more economical than other innovations.


Existing research shows that curbing production of meat — which is an inefficient user of land and water — would by itself have some impact on emissions, though by precisely how much is debated.


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







The obituaries are in. All the hopes of the German government now rest on Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller. They aren't members of the cabinet, they're the new stars of the national football team. If anybody could, they might turn the destiny of Chancellor Angela Merkel's hopeless coalition. If they win the World Cup in South Africa, the whole country will party relentlessly and nobody will worry any more about the disastrous government. At least that's a possibility. It has worked before: poor governments have carried on thanks to a wave of football fever. "Drink beer, watch football," said one Christian Democratic Union member of parliament the other day, when he was asked by a journalist how to survive the following weeks.


Germany has a similar coalition to Britain's: an agreement between the conservative CDU and the liberal Free Democratic party. But, unlike Britain, there was never a honeymoon in Berlin. From the start, last September, there has been constant infighting, disagreement — chaos. Cabinet members refer to each other as " Gurken" (cucumbers) or " Wildsau" (wild boar). Merkel's once ideal partner, the pro-business FDP has turned out to be a nightmare.


While the CDU has become a modern conservative party with a strong interest in social equality, gay rights and environmental protection, the FDP is stuck in the 1980s and is a single-topic party: it wants to cut tax, or at least block tax rises. Under the guidance of its erratic leader, Guido Westerwelle, the foreign secretary, its members happily ignored the pressing problems of the international financial crisis.


And up to now, the coalition has managed to disagree on everything — the budget, health reform, how to help the struggling carmaker Opel.


The most recent low point was last week, when Merkel and Westerwelle presented what they called a "saving package." They want to save €80bn by 2014, mainly by cutting social spending, and support for poor parents and the long-term unemployed. It read like the wish list of the FDP. There was an immediate cry of outrage — and not only from the opposition. CDU members found the package socially imbalanced, they said, claiming that wealthier people do not contribute at all. About 20,000 people demonstrated at the weekend against the proposed cuts in Berlin, and the papers published obituaries of the coalition government. " Aufhoren!" ("Stop!") reads the cover headline this week of the German news magazine Der Spiegel, above a picture of a troubled-looking Merkel and Westerwelle.


Merkel was once dubbed the Queen of Germany because of her presidential style. In the grand coalition with the social democrats (SPD) she was able to remain less hands-on, and merely moderate the process of governing. She had strong counterparts like finance minister Peer Steinbruck. But confronted with a very different coalition partner she appears remarkably weak — almost paralysed, and unable to control the constant arguing of the coalition members. The electorate wait in vain for some inspiration or explanation of how to go on. Merkel herself does not appear to know what the purpose of her government is. She has made uncharacteristic mistakes: she did not go personally to persuade the president Horst Kohler to stay, before he threw his job away. Instead she talked to him on the phone. She also humiliated important allies such as the work and labour minister, Ursula von der Leyen.


Merkel's weakness is felt in Europe, too. With the currency in crisis, previous German chancellors would have taken a leading role. She, on the other hand, seems uninterested. Her actions are lacklustre; she's happy to leave the initiative to France's Nicolas Sarkozy to agree new rules for the European Central Bank. At the most recent meeting of Sarkozy and Merkel, the differences were emphasised — both talked about a common European business policy but they seemed to be referring to different things. Merkel just wants better co-ordination and tougher punishments for countries who spend too much; Sarkozy demands more solidarity from Germany — in the past he has criticised German spending cuts. The unity once shown by Francois Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl has long gone.


The crunch day will be 30 June: that day the new president will be elected. If Merkel's candidate, Christian Wulff — the bland CDU first minister of Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) — doesn't get enough votes, it will be the end of this coalition government and new elections would have to be held. But it is unlikely to happen, since many MPs would lose their jobs in that process. They're likely to grit their teeth and hope for 11 July. That's the day the World Cup final takes place.


( Sabine Rennefanz is an editor at the Berliner Zeitung.)


— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








The revised draft of the proposed direct tax code that was made public on Tuesday is certainly music to the ears of India's burgeoning salaried middle-class population. It will benefit them tremendously. It is certainly far more citizen-friendly a document than the earlier draft, which included proposals for some stringent new levies — including taxes on withdrawals from employee provident fund and public provident fund accounts as well as from pension funds, retirement benefits and life insurance schemes on maturity. People were naturally perturbed at the prospect of seeing their hard-earned savings being further depleted by way of taxation at the time of withdrawal or maturity — which invariably would come at a time when the individual was no longer in the income-earning bracket. It is not surprising, therefore, that this provisio met with tremendous opposition ever since the first draft was put up for discussion in August 2009. The new 35-page version that has been put up for discussion till June 30 was redrafted after extensive consultations with several groups and industry representatives. There were around 1,600 suggestions from across the country, and the new draft incorporates quite a few of these. Another clause which has been restored in the new draft is retention of the exemption of interest payments on home loans upto Rs 1.5 lakh per annum for self-occupied premises.

There are, of course, several things that the government can do to encourage savings and investment. There is a view, for instance, that the existing ceiling of Rs 8 lakhs and above that attracts 30 per cent tax should be increased to Rs 20 lakhs. In the case of mediclaim policies, there is a demand that the non-taxable limit of Rs 15,000 should be raised to at least Rs 25,000. Claims will be endless, but if they are rationalised the government will be able to attract more people into the tax net. As it is, India is now one of the lowest taxed nations in the world. Due to the recent global financial crisis, the West is resorting to heavy taxation to make up for burgeoning deficits. One hears that India, in comparison, looks almost like a tax haven.

The new code has something for everyone. The demand that the minimum alternative tax (MAT) should be imposed on the book profits of a company, and not its assets, has been accepted. This seems fairer as loss-making companies and those that have a long gestation period will not come under the purview of MAT. One very good provision in the new draft code is the level playing field envisaged between Indian investors and foreign institutional investors (FIIs). The FIIs are of course going to be upset as the new code envisages that capital gains made by FIIs on sale or purchase of securities will be taxed. Earlier, some FIIs used to make a distinction between their stock market income as "business income" without a permanent establishment. This way they could save a lot on taxes. The new regime will eliminate a considerable amount of litigation. There is still some confusion over the securities transaction tax as both short-term and long-term capital gains will now be taxed at the applicable rates. The confusion is on whether the STT will become redundant — though for now it appears that it is there to stay. The controversial unit-linked insurance plans (ULIPs) will invite tax on maturity or withdrawal, showing the government's clear preference for mutual funds over ULIPs (investment plans tagged with an insurance plan). The final draft tax code will be presented in the Monsoon Session of Parliament, and the brand-new Income-Tax Act, replacing the 1961 I-T Act, is set to come into force from April 1, 2011.







Synthia, the nickname given to the first synthetic bacterium created recently, has stirred up a global debate. Is it new life or just an efficient copy of life as it exists? As research prowess goes, the latter is nothing to scoff at. What Craig Venter's group has done is a technological breakthrough. The researchers have created what they call "artificial life" by creating a newly synthesised genome using off-the-shelf biological reagents. They then put this artificial genome into the shell of a bacterium from which most of the genetic material had been scraped out. The artificial genome revived the bacterial shell and made it functional. Venter announced his group had created "synthetic life". This claim immediately became controversial.

While Venter says this is the first ever synthetic cell that's been made and the first ever life form on the planet "whose parent is a computer", others in his team have been more modest and said that they had only taken "baby steps" toward custom-making an organism. Scientists too have had differing responses — some say that the new bacterium could not be called artificial life, that science does not as yet know enough about biology to really create new life. Others called this an epochal breakthrough in biology. As a biologist myself, I would say that the new research is dazzling but it's not quite creating life. The newness is that the new DNA has not been created by replicating the DNA of an organism but by reading the code of the organism stored in a computer and creating the DNA spelt out by that code using store-bought building blocks (nucleotides). That, I would say, is a brilliant mimicking of life, not creating it de novo.

Whatever the nature of the breakthrough, one thing is certain, the trigger for it is overwhelmingly commercial. Venter and his partners stand to make a huge amount of money on the patents that are already being taken out on all the processes and products associated with synthetic biology. The same thing had happened when Francis Collins and he had announced in 2000 that they had mapped the human genome, a full three years ahead of the international Human Genome Programme being managed by a consortium of scientists from several countries. A spate of patents on human gene sequences and even parts of genes followed. Many of these were not accepted as patentable subject matter because the function of the genetic material was unknown, but many were. For a patent to be granted, the invention must have demonstrable utility. If the function of the DNA sequences was unknown, it could not have utility. Despite these minor bottlenecks, Venter sits on a heap of patents which will spin gold when the time comes.

Speculation is rife about all that synthetic micro-organisms could do for the benefit of mankind. Custom-made bacteria and algae to produce whatever you want, creating drugs and vaccines, cleaning water and effluents, trapping carbon in cultures serving as carbon sinks, even novel foods, energy and fuels, industrial chemicals, paints and varnishes… almost anything. Venter has already mentioned a $600-million deal with Exxon to create "synthetic" algae to produce bio-fuels; another deal for an undisclosed amount has been struck with the British petroleum giant BP. Despite this promising wish list that synthetic biology appears to offer, there are also immense ethical and security implications associated with this new technology.

The US system is gearing up to look at synthetic biology to identify ethical boundaries and minimise identified risks. US President Barack Obama has asked the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to examine the new technology in this context. It will be interesting to see the outcome of this review, particularly in the backdrop of how genetic engineering, another contested technology, was reviewed. In that case, despite there being outstanding ethical and security issues associated with recombinant DNA technology, not dissimilar to the current situation with synthetic biology, it was commercial interests that ultimately prevailed. Transgenic technology was not considered violative of fundamental ethical principles and the security concerns were countered by the argument that there was sufficient vigilance and the benefits far outweighed the risks.
How should Indian science respond to the new developments? There is good potential for first class biological research in the country, even if some of it tends to be copycat. Indian labs will undoubtedly want to connect with this new technology domain. But before engaging with the field of synthetic biology, or any of the transformative technologies on the horizon, there should be a public debate involving Parliament on the desirability of this technology and, more than that, the ability of our regulatory systems to cope with its more than considerable potential risks. The track record on regulating AgBiotech has been abysmal. Our regulatory bodies lack technical competence and are riddled with conflict of interest, lack of transparency and accountability.

In spite of sustained demands from a wide variety of people, to improve the regulatory system, vested interests are succeeding in maintaining a weak and ineffective regulation that does not get in the way of product release. The more radical the breakthroughs in biology, the more they upset the equilibrium achieved through evolution and the greater the danger of damage. By inference, therefore, the greater the need for caution and, perhaps, for abstinence. It does not stand that just because scientists can do something, society should endorse that it be done. We do after all have a self-imposed ban on sexing a foetus, on human embryonal cloning and on germline therapy (doing genetic changes to the human germ cells which will allow the changes to be passed on to the next generation).

Proceeding with radical technologies that will alter, perhaps inalienably, many facets of our existence, needs the cautious and considered endorsement of society and its stewards.

If the decision is to move forward on synthetic biology, a new and effective regulatory system that has the confidence of the public must be put in place before the first test tube is picked up or the first culture plated.


Dr Suman Sahai, a genetic scientist who has served on the faculty of the Universities of Chicago and Heidelberg, is convenor of the Gene Campaign








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








The admission by Maharashtra's director general of police D Sivanandan that the state's Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) has made a mistake in the arrest of Samad Bhatkal for his involvement in the Pune German bakery blast case is shameful but not completely unexpected. Bhatkal, who was arrested for a 2009 arms seizure case, has been given bail by a Mumbai sessions court.


Meanwhile, it now appears that the ATS had no evidence to link Bhatkal, the younger brother of Indian Mujahideen member, Ahmed Darar aka Yasin Bhatkal, to the German Bakery case. The lack of evidence, however, didn't stop them from announcing Bhatkal's involvement which led to the Union home minister P Chidambaram congratulating it for the good work.


Sivanandan's admission of error is enlightening. He said, "The ATS will have to study the case properly and collect evidence in a scientific manner and then identify the group involved in the crime." The clear inference is that the ATS had not studied the case or collected evidence in a scientific manner nor indeed had come close to identifying the group involved in the crime. Instead, they had picked on the nearest, easiest target and then patted themselves on the back.


As an integral part of the Maharashtra police force, the ATS is also a victim of the politicking, cliques and factions which hamper police work in the state. The fact that a DGP has to apologise shows the dismal depths to which the force has plunged.


Had there not been for the overwhelming evidence against Ajmal Kasab in the November 2008 terror attacks, that case too would still be under this sort of shoddy investigation and would not have stood up in court. Since Maharashtra is a constant target of terrorist attacks, the police force here needs to be doubly alert.
Proper intelligence is vital when it comes to pre-empting terrorist attacks and proper forensic methods are vital after they occur.


There is clear failure on both counts. Courts need evidence, not just hunches of individual police officers.


If we are to ever find out who was responsible for the German bakery blasts — or any of the other pending cases — then we need our police force to stop jumping to conclusions and picking up anyone who looks suspicious to them and instead get down to some real, hard, police work.






The proposed direct tax code (DTC) is supposed to remove the complicated web of exemptions and make the tax regime simple and direct. The revised draft paper placed in public domain by the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) does not reflect the simplification process. The exemption regime has not been done away and that seems to bring a note of cheer to the middle class tax-payer. The exemptions on house loans as well as on various pension schemes remain. This does not however go far enough on the path of simplification.


The problem with the existing tax regime, dating back to 1961, is that it has too many exemptions subject to conditional clauses and sub-clauses. This has only spawned tortuous litigation but it has also encouraged tax-payers to look for the many ways to seek tax exemptions.


When the idea for the DTC was mooted last year, it was meant to do away with the forest of regulations of the 1961 Income-Tax Act. The revised draft shows that the goal remains elusive. The issue of tax slabs has also not been addressed in a satisfactory manner. For example, the proposal to increase exemption from Rs1.5 lakh to Rs3 lakh for housing loans in case of living in one's own house is attractive indeed but it does not seem to make things simpler. Similarly, the idea to keep the exemption-exemption-exemption (EEE) regime in case of pension schemes instead of the exemption-exemption-tax (EET) system is good news indeed but it is not clear whether this would make the big picture of the tax system clear and simple, which was the aim of the DTC.


There are two views of the existing Indian tax regime. First it is too complicated and clumsy. Second, compared to many of the developed countries, the tax rates are really on the lower side.


There is more than an element of truth in the two views. It is not so much the amount of taxation but the manner in which the tax is calculated and the exemptions worked out that makes it a mind-boggling affair. The question on lower tax rates is not as outrageous as it may seem. It is indeed the case.


What is outrageous about the Indian tax system is that it does not provide the safety net in the form of social security. Neither the poor nor the rich can look to minimalist support when the chips are down. The DTC is not merely about how much tax exemptions that the middle and rich classes can hope to gain.







The rising trend in urbanisation has boosted stress levels throughout society. This can be seen in the soaring demand for yoga and meditation classes, apart from periodic cries for a better work-life balance. The last-named idea won't work. As an ideal, one can try to seek a better balance between our working lives and the time spent on nurturing relationships, personal growth and enjoying leisure, but true balance is unattainable. Why? One reason is simple: life is about competition, learning and survival.


The global economy and corporate life are structured to be competitive, and competition always leads to work pressures. But, equally important, work is life.


If we accept this two-fold reality, the best way to balance life is to choose an area of work that rejuvenates you rather than just saps your energy. This means balance has to be embedded in work itself, and not seen as something separate from it. By this I don't mean you should try to cut down on eight hours of restorative sleep or abandon your annual vacations with spouse and family.


The point is useful, stretch work is essential for happiness.

Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, author of a 1990s book called Flow, has delved deep into the psychology of optimal experience. "The best moments usually occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile". Work becomes pleasure by our ability to transform the work experience into something we want to do. The balance happens as a byproduct because  work provides its own rewards unrelated to the money you make.

Smart managers believe that a happy workforce may be more productive. Smarter managers know that the reverse is true: only a productive workforce can be truly happy. Not for nothing did Gandhi say "work is worship"; Nehru coined the slogan "Aaram haraam hai."


A counter-point also needs to be made: many people would not be happy with balance. Or else why would so many people migrate to bigger cities in their prime, despite higher rents, more work pressures, and difficult commutes? They could have had better work-life balance in smaller cities, but they choose to move to successful metros. The reason, as Tim Harford argues in The Logic of Life, is that successful cities tend to attract talent and support innovation. Cities are places where smart, well-educated people learn from one another, network and grow rich. And work is the only way to do it.


Modern metropolitan lifestyles ensure that work plays a larger role in life than anything else. If you exclude sleeptime, we will be spending more time at the office or in employment-related activities (including commuting to and from work) than anything else. The basic premise of competition is that people who work more for less will be more successful than others who do the opposite. The US is losing IT jobs not because it has less qualified professionals; it is losing them because its professionals charge more and work less. Conversely, our IT professionals have to work more and charge less. We are, thus, unlikely to ensure work-life balance in our workforces in the foreseeable future. The country's competitive edge depends on it.


Most of western Europe and Scandinavia is losing out on jobs because of an overgrown welfare state, which makes Swedish companies look elsewhere for growth and cost reduction. Work-life balancing is better in Sweden — where parents get 13 months of paid leave, including two specifically for men — but one can rest assured that till the whole world adopts this standard, Sweden is going to lose out on competitive edge. There can be no work-life balance when survival depends on our ability to compete.


We can see this happening at the gender level. Feminists may dislike this statement, but one reason why women are becoming more employable everywhere is because they get paid less and work more than men who think of work as entitlement. Women who rise to the top would have worked harder than most men — and are thus less likely to have had proper work-life balances.
Given this scenario, it is less useful to talk about work-life balance than about the nature and quality of work we are up against. When people today talk about restoring work-life balance, they are probably talking about job dissatisfaction rather than just the fact that they may be getting less time with baby or spouse.


However, given the nature of modern life — where the pace of change and competitive forces can no longer be dictated by an individual —  real work-life balance happens in chunks and over a longer timeframe. It is possible to recoup from a month of hard work with a small break, but you can't balance work-life daily or even weekly. It happens over a lifetime.







In spite of the furious protests and lamentations of art lovers, intellectuals and politicians, a set of 12 paintings by Rabindranath Tagore gifted by him to Leonard Elmhirst was auctioned by Sotheby's in London this week.


Having just launched our year-long celebration of the poet's 150th birth anniversary, we are screaming ourselves hoarse to claim the paintings as 'national art treasures' and bring them back to India. Presumably to lock them up forever within the dark, bottomless, red-taped padded cell of the inscrutable sarkari system.


The irony is that even after a century of worshipping Tagore we have failed to understand what he stood for. That we are trying to bind within crass national boundaries the art of one who belonged to the whole world, one who longed for a haven of freedom "where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls".


Tagore very staunchly believed in a world of knowledge and ideas where national boundaries were irrelevant. He believed in opening doors and windows to other cultures, in promoting the free exchange of thought. He would probably have been aghast at the idea of dragging back his art from foreign shores and locking it up at home, much like illiberal parents drag back and lock up their adult children who appear to have too liberal a life elsewhere. They don't do it out of love — since they often kill their offspring to make a point — but out of an entirely misplaced sense of ownership. I am afraid our attempt (which failed, thankfully) to claim Tagore's art and lock it away in the deep dungeon of national art treasures is not far from that.


It's a bit of a curse, this sarkari stamp of 'art treasure'. It trusses up dead artists in reams of red tape, reducing not just the visibility, mobility, and commercial value of their art, but also their worth in general as the poor national treasure sinks helplessly into oblivion.


Our sarkar has steadily become grotesquely incompetent in handling matters of art and ideas, as they clasp the life-breath out of their treasures, rocking drunkenly between defunct rules, illogical customs, corrupt officials, negligent babus, ignorant power-brokers and the lowest bidders for every venture.


No, I am not being mean. Tell me, how many of you have actually seen Tagore's paintings outside of a book or a poster? Visva Bharati, the 'World University' that Tagore founded in Santiniketan, has about 1,500 of his paintings and sketches, Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata has hundreds, and the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi has a substantial number. We could have popularised his art if we wanted to.


And why are we so stunned that a set of 12 paintings by India's best-known and most versatile intellectual with an unparalleled influence on Indian culture, who still largely represents Indian literature to the world, sold for about Rs11 crore (£1.6 million) 70 years after his death? A couple of days earlier, just one painting by SH Raza sold for almost Rs16.5 crore (£2.4 million) at Christie's.


Besides, Tagore's works are not looked after well even in Santiniketan. The museum at Rabindra Bhavan has been a mess for ages. Visva Bharati has twisted itself into knots over the years and is far from the open, liberal, humanistic centre for learning that Tagore set up. Tagore's manuscripts and personal artefacts are often stolen and lost. His paintings were so badly damaged that last year INTACH had to restore many of them.


And we have also lost his Nobel medal. The prize was stolen from Rabindra Bhavan in 2004, and the case closed in 2007. When we can't protect even a small, hard, metal object, what right do we have to claim his fragile art that is far safer in private collections?









The revised draft of the Direct Taxes Code is bound to please the individual and corporate taxpayers as it has dropped the two contentious proposals contained in the original code – tax on post-retirement benefits and charging companies the minimum alternate tax (MAT) based on their assets. Following the principle of EET (exemption on contribution, exemption on accumulation but tax on withdrawals), the first code had proposed to tax all dues that employees get on retirement. This had naturally angered the retiring employees who, in the absence of a social safety mechanism, have personal savings alone to fall back upon in their sunset years. Even the Prime Minister had put in a word in their support. Hence the tax relief on the PF as well as gratuity, pension and house loans.


On MAT, that the government has succumbed to corporate pressure is obvious. The August 2009 Direct Taxes Code had proposed that it should be calculated on the basis of a firm's assets and not profits. The MAT is levied on firms that make profits but do not pay any taxes due to various tax-saving instruments available under the Income Tax Act. Since companies often scale down their profits for obvious reasons or divert cash from profit-making companies to their loss-making sister concerns, the MAT on the basis of assets made good sense. The proposal was opposed by India Inc on the ground that this would result in a tax on even loss-making companies. The new code has also benefited foreign institutional investors (FIIs) registered in tax havens that gain from double tax avoidance agreements.


The new draft of the tax code will partly hurt the aim of the tax reforms to simplify India's complicated tax structure. It had scrapped cumbersome tax exemptions for being a source of needless litigation. The government will not be able to corner tax evaders who usually take shelter behind exemptions and cut the aggregate tax realisations. It is a pity that only 3 per cent of the billion-plus Indians pay income tax. 








Wherever an Indian may be settled, his heart always beats for the homeland. He or she constantly pines to come back to the roots, and if that is not possible, do something for the "motherland". Some decades ago, the trend was to do up gurdwaras and temples, but now the endeavour is to spend on community projects. If it is sewerage in some villages, it is piped-water supply in others. Elsewhere, it is educational institutions. However, it is not unusual to see many of these well-meaning schemes gradually lose steam. That is what is also happening to the "Golden Heart" scheme started six years ago by Punjabi University, Patiala, with the help of Punjab NRIs to provide technical education to rural students who had studied in government schools. Donations have been drying up and even the enthusiasm of the university seems to be waning.


So, why is it that the initial pace is rarely maintained in NRI-related schemes? Both sides have different stories to tell. NRIs allege that apathy and bureaucratic approach of government officials are frustrating, forcing most philanthropists to develop cold feet. The government drags its feet on releasing its share of the funds while officials, especially at the lower level, raise too many objections and ask thoughtless questions. Officials on the other hand say that the NRIs try to bypass the "established procedure" and do not want to conform to the level of diligence required.


What the latter refuse to acknowledge is that the prevalent method of auditing and verification of work is too tedious and counter-productive. The government ought to fix standard norms for work done by NGOs, considering the fact that it is labour of love. The government must be thankful that they are bringing in money, talent and expertise and doing the work which is essentially the government's responsibility. Even if it cannot lend a helping hand, it must not become a hindrance. Unfortunately, that has become the standard operating procedure in many of the sarkari departments.









The manner in which Asha Saini and Yogesh Kumar (both 19 years) were bludgeoned and electrocuted to death by Asha's family in North-West Delhi's Swaroop Nagar area on Sunday night needs to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. The fact that the so-called honour killings occurred in the National Capital is all the more shocking. Asha's parents opposed her marriage with Yogesh, a cabbie. She was not only engaged with another person against her wish but was forced to stay with her uncle in Swaroop Nagar. (Asha and Yogesh belonged to Delhi's Gokulpuri area). Deplorably, even after their arrest on Monday, Asha's father, Suresh Kumar Saini, and her uncle, Om Prakash, expressed no regret and defended their brutal action. Surely, the ends of justice will be met only if they are tried on fast track and handed out the death sentence.


The horrifying nature of the Delhi killings make one wonder how we can claim to be in a civilised society. Though the National Crimes Record Bureau doesn't list deaths due to honour killings, their number is on the rise. The problem arises when both the girl and the boy defy antiquated traditions and attitudes and decide to marry rather than let their parents decide. The punishment they get is no less than death. In view of the increasing honour killings, there is need for a tougher legislation, prescribing fast track trial of the culprits and death sentence. Recently, the Sessions Court in Karnal, Haryana, has sentenced to death five persons and given life imprisonment to one for the murder of Manoj (23) and Babli (19) of Karora village in Kaithal district. But this is not enough.


We need a special law like the one against Sati to tackle the menace of honour killings and the notorious khap panchayats. These killings are invariably premeditated and the perpetrators deserve stiff punishment. In one case of honour killing (Mayakaur Baldevsingh vs the State of Maharashtra, 2007), the Supreme Court ruled that the convicts deserved to be given death penalty. At the same time, politicians like Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Kurukshetra MP Naveen Jindal should condemn such killings unequivocally and advocate death penalty for the culprits to send the right message to society.

















Uneven development in different parts of a country and iniquitous distribution of the gains of development among different segments of the population are two important features of the market-oriented strategy. India has achieved the second highest rate of economic growth after China in the world. India has the largest dollar billionaires in Asia. But there is a flip side of the picture too.


As per the findings of the Unorganised Enterprises Commission set up by the Central Government under the chairmanship of Dr Arjun Sengupta, 77 per cent of the Indian population lives on less than Rs 20 a day. According to the report of the Expert Group set up by the Planning Commission to review the methodology for the estimation of poverty, 41.8 per cent rural households are below the poverty line.


Haryana, a small, compact unit, often presented as a model progressive state, too, is not free from the bane of skewed development. The Planning Commission in 2003 adopted three parameters to identify backward districts — low wages, low productivity and high SC/ST population — to launch a backward development initiative (BDI), and its task force drew a list of 447 districts , ranking them on the Index of Backwardness.


As per the criteria laid down by the Planning Commission, none of the Haryana districts can be counted as backward, and least of all Sirsa. Yet Sirsa was rated as the most backward district in the state in 2003 when the NDA government was in power at the Centre and its ally the INLD ruled Haryana. It seems to be a purely political decision to divert more funds to Sirsa under the BDI as it happened to be the home district of the then Chief Minister. Taking Haryana as a unit, districts like Narnaul, Mahendragarh, Bhiwani and Jhajjar and, more so, the Mewat area (now a distict) deserved greater attention in the matter of development than Sirsa.


Haryana has yet to have the ruling elite which takes a holistic view of development, considering the state as an organic unit, paying more attention to those parts which are lacking in basic facilities. Every Chief Minister pays utmost attention to his home district to develop it as a rocky citadel which can give him shelter even in the worst of times. Now the boot is on the other foot. What was true of Sirsa during the INLD regime is alleged to apply to Rohtak district, the home turf of the incumbent Chief Minister.


During the last assembly poll, there was a virulent propaganda by the Opposition that old Rohtak district — now comprising Rohtak, Jhajjar and Sonepat districts — was privileged over the other parts of the state in the matter of development and providing employment. Rohtak and Jhajjar were decaying towns and badly needed a facelift. Secondly, as argued by the ruing dispensation, old Rohtak district, being a part of the National Capital Region, received more attention. However, all this did not offset the voters' perception and harmed the ruling party. Secondly, the notion of Rohtak's "chaudhar" (hegemony), fostered by a section of the ruling party supporters, proved quite crucial in alienating the electorate elsewhere. Old Rohtak distict stood solidly behind the Chief Minister but the performance of his party in other parts of the state was quite dismal and the government had to be formed by using methods Haryana is traditionally credited with.


Old Rohtak district has been more advanced in the matter of education, political consciousness, solidarity and assertiveness of its people and thus has always acted as the epicentre to galvanize the periphery in socio-political movements in the state.


However, this time the construct of "chaudhar" coupled with the grouse of the electorate in a large chunk of Haryana on grounds of being marginalised in the matter of development and employment created tension between the centre and the periphery which eventually developed into antagonism.


This has led to the emergence of miniature sub-regionalism in the state — the Deswali belt comprising old Rohtak district; "Baagar" comprising Fatehabad and Sirsa districts; "Baangar" comprising Jind and Kaithal districts; "Khaadar" comprising parts of Karnal, Kurukshetra and Panipat districts adjoining Western U.P.; and Ahirwal consisting of Mahendragarh and Narnaul districts. Then the areas in the state bordering Punjab have the influence of Punjabi culture while Palwal district and its adjoining areas have the influence of Braj culture. Residents of Mewat distict have a close affinity with the Meos of the adjoining areas in Rajasthan. People of Sirsa, parts of Fatehabad and Bhiwani districts have strong influence of Rajasthani culture. Though Haryana is a comparatively small state, it is a curious melange of multiculturalism.


So far sub-regional identities were kept under wraps when the centre acted as a unifying force, but during the last assembly elections the tension between the centre and the periphery triggered the emergence of miniature sub-regionalism. This is a pernicious development in the state when the larger Haryana identity has yet to take a concrete shape. One comes across Jats, Brahmins, Ahirs, et al, with the odd formation of "locals" versus "Punjabis" in the state, but it is difficult to meet a Haryanvi in Haryana.


The Tamils, the Telugus, the Malayalis and people having many other such identities have a sense of belonging to their respective states and feel proud of it. It was the hurt feeling of the Telugus which led to the emergence of the Telugu Desam Party under the charismatic leadership of the late N.T. Rama Rao.


An individual in society has multiple identities — one's family, caste, community and religion, occupational pursuits and deep attachment to one's country characterised as nationalism. Haryana, already stuck at the lower rung of the trajectory of identity formation, has suffered regression, which is an ominous development.


The people could acquire a larger identity at the state level through mass mobilisation around larger issues, taking the state as an organic unit. This strategic thrust, already dormant in the Haryana polity, was virtually knocked out in the last assembly poll, making the periphery fall from the centre. The INLD was seen as the only viable tool available to the electorate in a large part of Haryana to checkmate the ruling party.


The emergence of miniature sub-regionalism is a dangerous portent in the Haryana polity today. The process, if not checked in time, would leave the field free for political predators, slick demagogues and hot-headed rabble-rousers to make the state a playground to serve their partisan ends by whipping up mass frenzy on localised issues. This would push the process of formation of Haryana identitiy, already in limbo, into deep freeze. This poses a challenge for the democratic forces in the state who stand for an egalitarian and equitable set-up.








I used to marvel at her ability. She almost always sensed it when I was stressed, as if she could scan my mind. But that was when she was intuitive enough before cancer ravaged her colon and gradually destroyed her liver and other vital parts.


My mother was a homemaker at heart, for whom home and the family took precedence over all other things. But there was an activist side to her as well, when she took a stand on issues, whether concerning the area we were living in, herself or her children.


Our home was a perfect example of a mini-democratic setup and mom always used to discuss every minute point. She was expressive and well informed and for us in the family, she was the pillar of strength.


But cancer changed all that in the last three years of her life. Though she tried every bit to be as lively as she could be in those years, she had wandered to a far-off space and time we could not fathom, to another world, where we did not belong.


As the disease progressed, every day brought in changes in her personality, some alarming, others agonising to watch, but all those took away the charm and the bubbly smile from her face.


The doctors had prepared us for a time when her movements would be restricted because she would not have much stamina left in her body. But when that did happen and she was just lying on her bed staring at me with emptiness in her eyes, it crushed me, to say the least. It was a moment of complete helplessness.


I have yet to come to terms with the loss of that beautiful relationship, which I have realised could never be matched. I miss the ardent chats that we had, our stirred up arguments and the countless times I would turn to her for her view on topics.


I tried desperately to read her mind. As I sat by her bed and watched her gaze vacantly at me, I searched for that tender smile that flashed across her face and was gone in a split second. It spoke a thousand words to me.


What was unbearable, however, was to see the woman once always in charge, who could outstrip anybody with her wisecracks, bound to her bed and not comfortable to give voice to her needs. Her basic functions were taken care of by us in the last months of her life.


When I fed her, bathed her, dressed her up and tucked her into bed, I grieved over the role reversal - of acting as mother to her. Memories rush past my mind like snapshots. I could recall her rock-solid presence in my life, fostering and empathising and sometimes warning me of the troubles, as I slipped into adulthood. And then came her distress and despair as her life was perturbed due to cancer.There was an air of dignity about her. Though she was restricted to her bed, she battled the disease with fortitude and no resentment. It was a life-changing experience for me. I learnt calmness and drew inspiration from her trust in God as she withered away.

My mother lost her battle against colon cancer that ranks fourth worldwide in occurrence and deaths. Last year, we tearfully bade adieu to her.









There are two ways to produce more food for the burgeoning population — either by increasing the area under cultivation or by enhancing the yield per unit area. Globally, about 95 per cent of the production gains since 1961 have come from increasing yields, except in Africa, where nearly 40 per cent of the gains have come from expanding the cultivated area. Yields of major cereals have more than doubled in the past five decades. In fact, the area under cultivation has begun to decline in some regions because of urbanisation, road construction, mining and industrialisation and agricultural mismanagement such as water erosion, wind erosion and soil salinisation.


The wonder of the past five decades is that today the farmers are feeding almost twice as many people far better from virtually the same cropland area. In case of India, while the area under cultivation increased 30 per cent between 1960-61 and 1998-99, the production of grains and oilseeds was more than 180 per cent. This has been possible due to the introduction of high-yielding varieties, use of fertilizers and pesticides along with the application of water. Though having 1.4 per cent area of the country, Punjab contributes more than 50 per cent of wheat and rice to the central pool, mainly because the state's 94 per cent area is under some kind of irrigation. A cut in irrigation by 10 per cent can make a substantial difference as it happened in the recent harvest of the wheat crop when the yields dropped by 10-20 per cent.


Also since the Green Revolution, the area under irrigation has doubled and the amount of water drawn for farming, which approximates 90 per cent of the total abstraction, has tripled since 1965. Besides growing food, water is required for the production of hydroelectricity, cooling thermal power generation, extracting oil, making microchips and steel girdles too. In the domestic sector 50 litres of water is required per capita per day for bathing, cooking and drinking. Though, the total industrial and domestic demand of water in India is about 10-12 per cent, it is growing twice as fast as that of farming. In future, therefore, intense competition is foreseen in the farming, domestic and industrial sectors.


The amount of water on earth has, however, not changed. Water used by our ancestors millions of years ago is the same that we use today. About 97.5 per cent of the water on earth is salty and cannot be used for irrigation at the present technological level. Only 2.5 per cent of the earth's water is fresh, about two-third of that is frozen in glaciers, at the poles or in permafrost. Thus about 0.75 per cent mostly as groundwater in aquifers or surface water falling in rain, sitting in lakes and flowing in rivers is available to cater to all human needs.


Though this amount of fresh water is sufficient for a country's requirements, its uneven distribution and seasonal variation adds to the woes. The average rainfall in the North-east is more than hundred times than the western Rajasthan. There is plenty of water at some places at sometimes, but not enough at others. There may be floods and droughts simultaneously at different places. It is therefore the local availability that makes its proper use possible. India has tried to manage water through building multipurpose projects, dams and reservoirs to divert water to the plains mainly for agriculture but in the past 15 years from 1991-92 to 2006-07, though the government has spent Rs 1.3 lakh crore on major and medium irrigation projects, the total canal-irrigated area has remained more or less the same. In fact, we are pushing new irrigation projects without taping the full potential of the existing ones and respecting the hydrological cycle.


According to a 2005 World Bank report, the annual maintenance bill for India's canal network comes to a whopping Rs. 17,000 crore. As the canals become old, the wastage through seepage rises as high as 20 per cent, sometimes water rarely reaching the tail-ends. In the process, some areas have become over-irrigated, causing water-logging, salinisation and degradation of soil, knocking off field productivity. In other areas, farmers, to compensate the shortage of water, resort to pumping groundwater. The latest official figures show that more than 60 per cent of India's 62 million hectare irrigated land is fed by groundwater. We have about 21 million tubewells drawing 230 cubic kilometres of water each year which is the highest amount of water drawn by any other country. There is no harm in extracting more water as long as it is replenished as fast as it is withdrawn. In the 75 per cent of blocks into of which Punjab is divided groundwater is reported to be overdrawn.


Pumping has its own perils. One tubewell exhausts the water of a dozen other tubewells around. As the water level goes further down, the farmers hooked on irrigation bore deeper and deeper. The falling yields, higher electricity costs, greater debts are the socio-economic consequences of overdrawing groundwater. In many districts of Punjab, water being pumped is salty and high in concentration of naturally occurring poisons like arsenic, fluorides etc. which are proving great health hazards like arthritic and bone deformities or even cancer. But the government does not know who is extracting for what purpose and how much, as water pumps are not metered, let alone paid for.


Time has come "to monitor, demystify and thus manage" groundwater. Farmers must be educated about matching their withdrawals with recharging of aquifers, sowing crops that do not guzzle water, adopting irrigation techniques that use water efficiently, budgeting water bearing in mind that over half will go in evapotranspiration. Experts, therefore, advise that if true savings are to be made either evaporation must be cut (by storing water underground or by delivering water to plants' roots) or food must be produced with less transpiration. Efficient irrigation that cuts evaporation losses rather than lining irrigation canals is more important as water that seeps into the soil ultimately recharges the aquifers and that is not an actual loss.


The yields can be increased a little by giving plants only as much water as they need and no more. Israel, Jordan and the U.S. have already shown the increase of crop yields by 20 to 90 per cent and saving water by 30 to 70 per cent by drip irrigation compared to flooding methods of irrigation. China is looking beyond this where a high-tech project that involves not just drip irrigation and condensation-trapping green houses, but that also provides evapotranspiration readings to farmers through satellites has been launched, so that farmers can plan irrigation without affecting the ground water. In America and Australia, farmers get information straight on their mobile phones to enable them to take decisions about how, when and where to grow their crops using less and less water. In Andhra Pradesh farmers of 41 villages have started monitoring groundwater after recording rainfall, water table and estimating the availability of water to decide after eventual agreement which crops to grow and how much water they will use. The future growth of agriculture lies in to grow more food with less water. 








Whenever the Prime Ministers visit Jammu and Kashmir in the backdrop of armed militancy, hopes rise in both the government as well as the political arena of mainstream and separatist organisations. It goes back to the historic visit of Atal Behari Vajpayee, who at the very first public meeting of any Prime Minister since the eruption of militancy, offered a hand of friendship to Pakistan. In his public address at the Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium on April 18, 2003, Vajpayee also offered dialogue with the separatists to settle the Kashmir issue, however, on the condition that they should shun violence.


The subsequent visits of the Prime Ministers, particularly Dr Manmohan Singh, have focussed on not only the dialogue process but also on development of the State. During the early years of the armed militancy the State had witnessed a heavy damage to the basic infrastructure, derailing economic institutions, education and healthcare.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent visit is significant in the backdrop of "quiet dialogue" and "quiet diplomacy" envisaged by Home Minister P Chidambaram late last year. These channels had suffered a setback with the attack on senior APHC leader Fazal-ul-Haq Qureshi on December 4, 2009.


In his speech the Prime Minister indicated that the government was keen on addressing both the issues of development and political process. Even as his address at the fifth convocation of Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology did not offer much in terms of dialogue for the separatist organisations, it has provided a refreshing link.


"We feel that the people of the State are not only interested in financial assistance and development projects but also desire a political process that meets their aspirations, the Prime Minister said. The government wanted to carry forward the political process saying it was ready to carry forward the dialogue process (with separatists), while the Indo-Pak dialogue process is already on the path of resumption. On the development front, the Prime Minister, during his convocation address and review meeting with the state government, touched almost all major issues.


With the focus on strengthening people-to-people relations and trade between the two sides of the line of control (LoC), the Prime Minister hoped that the neighbouring country would help in "creating an environment in which people from both the sides can live in peace and harmony and work together". At the same time he had made it clear that the government was ready for talks with those against violence, thereby asking the militants to shun the gun.


The separatist Hurriyat Conference, which had had a few rounds of talks with the central government earlier, is now of the view that a "composite political package" is needed. However, the nature of this political package is not defined though the APHC has been in favour of talks both with the central government and Pakistan.


While the coalition parties, the Congress and the National Conference, have asked the separatists and militant organisations to respond to the offer of talks, the separatists have cold-shouldered the move. Senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad remarkably said that the PM's offer was only for the militants, while a senior National Conference leader and State minister Ali Mohammad Sagar asked the Hurriyat to come forward for talks.


But in view of the prevailing security scenario, APHC Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, describing the Prime Minister's views on human rights violations as "disappointing", has sought to clear the ground for a meaningful dialogue with strong Indo-Pak relations. 









The Punjabi and Kannada languages are like chalk and cheese but Pandit Rao, a person of Karnataka origin who teaches sociology in a Chandigarh college, has taken it upon himself to bridge the gap. He was in Bangalore recently where he performed one-act street plays in Punjabi. Rao told this reporter that back in Chandigarh he spent his time familiarising people there with Kannada literature.


Rao was honoured in the Ulsoor gurdwara in Bangalore. He then headed for his hometown Bijapur in North Karnataka where he again talked to schoolchildren about Punjabi literature. "I am trying to bring Punjab and South India closer in terms of literature and religious feelings. I have published a book in Punjabi and have also written several poems in Punjabi. I am working now on the translation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in Kannada", Rao said.


Rich wives


Among the seven candidates (two were later rejected) who filed nominations for the four Rajya Sabha seats from Karnataka, liquor baron Vijai Mallya is, indeed, the richest. However, the same cannot be said about Mallya's wife, Rekha. The wives of at least three other candidates – Venkaiah Naidu of the BJP and Oscar Fernandes and T V Maruti of the Congress – comprehensively dwarf Rekha Mallya in terms of personal wealth. While Rekha Mallya has jewellery worth over Rs 1 crore, besides Rs 64,242 in cash, Usha Naidu, Blossom Fernandes and Sunanda Maruti are each worth Rs 5 crore or more.


A novel protest


Shigli Bassya, a hardened criminal, recently took his protest to a new height, literally. Bassya, an inmate of the prison at Dharwad, climbed on a tree on the prison premises and refused to get down unless the cases against him were re-investigated. More than 250 cases are said to be pending against him. After remaining at the treetop for about four hours, Bassya, who did not pay any heed to the implorations of jail officials, got down only after extracting a promise from the Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) that his demand would be conveyed to the higher authorities.


CM's favourite


Shobha Karandlaje, a favourite of Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa, is poised to make a comeback as a minister. The Reddy brothers of Bellary, Karunakara and Janardhana, both ministers in the Yeddyurappa Cabinet, had forced the Chief Minister to drop her from the Cabinet as they were furious with her for trying to wield too much power by taking advantage of her proximity to the CM. Of late Yeddyurappa has been noticed warming up to the two Bellary mining barons and the brothers, too, are responding well. Political observers are interpreting this development as a prelude to Shobha's return to the Cabinet.









 There seems to be a growing interest in the poetry scene of the 70s. At least two younger poets are doing some research in the area. Some of the poets they contacted were surprised to find themselves part of, not "history history" as they say in these parts, but history, the history of post-Independence poetry written in English in India.

 The poets who founded the publishing cooperatives in the 70s saw themselves as doing what had to be done, given the dearth of serious publishing houses for poetry. Adil Jussawalla, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Gieve Patel and Arun Kolatkar founded Clearing House. They published their own books and a couple of others. Newground was created by Santan Rodrigues, Melanie Silgardo and Raul da Gama Rose. They too published their own book, Three Poets and a couple of others. These were brave enterprises, started on "a wing and a prayer", (a line from a World War Two song about hoping that a plane, damaged by enemy fire, will arrive safely). The books were beautifully produced, and are now virtually collectors' items.

I discovered a bit of history about the period myself when looking for something else in a multi-coloured trunk I found down the road. It was a couple of letters from the painter F N Souza written to me in the late 70s. I have no recollection of talking about my poems to him, sending him the manuscript, asking whether he would be interested in doing some drawings to accompany the poems. He was, but he wanted a more substantial manuscript. The project didn't work out. Ultimately, it was Newground that published Fix.
   Santan Rodrigues and a few others started the poetry magazine Kavi. Again, this was an enterprise which took a great deal of stamina to keep it going. It's sad that Santan is no longer around to savour this revival of interest in the work of that time. There was A D Gorwala's Opinion which sometimes published poems, and the Opinion Literary Review, edited by Kersy Katrak and Gauri Deshpande, which first published Arun Kolatkar's Jejuri.

We had some very well-attended poetry readings in the canteen area of St Xavier's College. Arun's songs which were taped were played at one of them. Santan organised readings in other colleges, as I recall, and Kamala Das held her "salons."

 Penguin asked me to write a preface to my collected poems, A Necklace of Skulls, published last year, talking about the poetry scene when I began writing. Among other things, I mentioned the poets I met at the time. met some through Nissim Ezekiel, others through Adil Jussawalla. A very strange, even grotesque version of these facts appeared in a review by an academic in a prestigious paper. "She has had the advantage," he writes, "of getting to know, rather intimately, her contemporaries, poets who helped shape her poems, offering suggestions and putting her on the right track…Arun Kolatkar and Adil Jussawalla had their bit of role (sic) in promoting her poems." Nissim of course is the leading "pathfinder."

It sounds as if we had writing collectives along with publishing collectives! Don't get me wrong. The fellow praised the poems. But, as he misread every poem he quoted, and got all his facts wrong, it is impossible to be gratified by such praise. He's even decided that the complacent, cliché-spouting Francis X D'Souza, father of seven children, in the poem "Catholic Mother" is my father! Sorry guys. I was an enchanting baby, but the only one!

A great deal of Indian academic literary criticism is at this level. Unsurprisingly, it's been left mainly to poets to write with insight about other poets.



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





The much-awaited revised version of the direct taxes code (DTC) has been widely welcomed with relief. Clearly, the government has been smart to have released a tough version first and followed it up with a softer one, thus earning plaudits! Among the more widely welcomed proposals is that of dropping the one to levy a flat 2 per cent tax on assets in favour of the present regime to levy tax on book profits. The rate determination has, however, been left out and one hopes that the rates are brought to a more reasonable level than the present 18 per cent. The finance ministry has fudged any expression of a view on the proposed 25 per cent rate for corporate income tax. This is an important issue for the corporate sector that needs further clarification. The idea of subjecting corporate tax rates to an annual review and revision does not make economic and business sense. Perhaps the finance ministry has good reasons for not taking a view, but it should do so sooner than later. The omnibus powers given to tax administration for overriding the terms of tax treaty convention have been rightly diluted keeping in mind the Vienna convention. Though, this comes with a rider that domestic law can override in circumstances where General Anti-Avoidance Rules (GAAR) or Controlled Foreign Corporations (CFCs) provisions are invoked or where foreign companies are paying branch office tax. The last provision is tricky and can subject all foreign companies to a treaty override other than in situations where they earn passive income in the nature of royalties, fees for technical services, dividends and interest which are subject to fixed rate of withholding tax. Though the GAAR provisions have been diluted, one has to read the supplementary law which would prescribe guidelines since the brief published text on this important piece of legislation does not clarify matters.


Indian companies will, however, resent the provisions relating to CFCs. These would certainly prove to be a dampener for Indian companies going global. Indian firms which were otherwise not paying domestic tax on the non-repatriated part of their offshore earnings will now have to do so. Though such laws are prevalent in many countries, it is premature in the Indian context as Indian companies have gone global only in the past decade. If this legislation is passed, it can only be hoped that suitable foreign credit mechanisms are put in place to reduce the impact of profit after tax ( PAT). As for individuals paying tax, the finance ministry has shown seriousness about implementing the EET (exempt, exempt, tax) scheme and has done away with the EEE (exempt, exempt, exempt) system for all categories of savings except for government and public provident funds, statutory PF and pension schemes approved by the regulator. It would have been beneficial to continue with EEE in the case of long-term saving instruments, such as life insurance policy and infrastructure bond, along with PF products. In sum, the government has succeeded in calming nerves and comforting tax payers after having created alarm with the original DTC. Hopefully, it will pay equal attention to the feedback on the revisions now published and bring changes in the tax code to Parliament in the monsoon session itself. It is best to take all views on board and move carefully on the tax reform front since neither should the government suffer on account of lost revenues nor the taxpayer take the hit on account of lack of clarity and inconsistency.







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.








Two months ago, this column ("The Indians we forgot", April 15) had dealt with the challenge of Maoist insurgency in Central India. In that context, it referred to the great tribal leader from the pre-Independence days, Jaipal Singh Munda. Today he is a forgotten man and several readers, intrigued by my reference, have inquired to find out more about him.

Jaipal Singh was a Munda from Chotanagpur. He was sent by missionaries to study at St John's College in Oxford. He was an extraordinarily talented man who excelled at his studies, at sports, particularly hockey, and at debating. He was selected for the ICS but interrupted his training to captain the Indian hockey team that won the gold at the Amsterdam Olympics in 1928. Because of the interruption, he was asked to repeat a year of his training (babudom was the same even then!) which he refused to do.

 Jaipal Singh became a voice for tribal rights in pre-Independence India and formed the Adivasi Mahasabha in 1938 which asked for a separate state of Jharkhand, to be carved out of Bihar. His finest hour came in the Constituent Assembly where he argued eloquently for affirmative action in favour of tribal India. The tone of his politics is captured well in the following quote from his speech on the Objectives Resolution in the Constituent Assembly on December 19, 1946:

"Sir, if there is any group of Indian people that has been shabbily treated, it is my people. They have been disgracefully treated, neglected for the last 6,000 years. The history of the Indus Valley civilisation, a child of which I am, shows quite clearly that it is the new-comers — most of you here are intruders as far as I am concerned — it is the new comers who have driven away my people from the Indus Valley to the jungle fastness... The whole history of my people is one of continuous exploitation and dispossession by the non-aboriginals of India punctuated by rebellions and disorder, and yet I take Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru at his word. I take you all at your word that now we are going to start a new chapter, a new chapter of Independent India where there is equality of opportunity, where no one would be neglected."

The Maoist insurgency has arisen because we failed to keep our word. The central challenge of the insurgency is not law and order or development but the lack of political space for the young, disgruntled tribals who are taking to arms either out of conviction or peer pressure. And why would you expect them to do anything else but take to arms when confronted by the mafia of illegal mining and forest contractors, land-grabbers, corrupt officials and policemen and venal politicians?

A more effective law and order approach and a real effort at delivering development are certainly worthwhile. But that is not enough. The most important need now is to create a political environment that allows political expression for tribal concerns and gives tribal communities the power of self-government so that they can themselves fight these local mafias.

We also have to recognise the special constitutional position of the tribal areas that are a part of the Fifth Schedule which applies to nine states outside the North-East. In these states, the Constitution states that "the executive power of the Union shall extend to the giving of directions to the state as to the administration of the said areas". Why does the central government not use this provision instead of moaning about how their hands are tied by state governments? Why are the governors failing in their constitutional responsibility to give an independent report on the administration of these scheduled areas?

We also need to look beyond the state level. Leaving aside the North-Eastern hill states, there is no state with a majority tribal population. Even the so-called tribal states, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are only 26 per cent and 32 per cent tribal, respectively. So, at the state level, even if there are some tribal leaders, political (and economic) power rests in the hands of non-tribals.

We must begin at the geographical level at which effective control can be exercised by tribal groups. The Forest Rights Act is a useful first step. But more needs to be done to empower panchayati raj institutions and joint forest management committees in the Central Indian tribal belt. They should become the vehicles for delivering development rather than the discredited state machinery. These local institutions can be run by local tribal youngsters and leaders who can become the allies of development functionaries.

But development administration, however well-run, is not enough. We need a full-fledged political engagement of tribals. The history of dissent and how it has been accommodated shows that violence only stops when more constitutional means of political expression become accessible to the dissidents. This is how the Dravidian movement and insurgencies in the North-East were contained and provided with political space for the aspirants to power. In a different way, the same process was at work in accommodating the various caste-based groups that sought political power with the emergence of OBC- and Dalit-based political parties.

This has not happened with the tribal population. There is no tribal leader from Central India comparable in his or her national influence to Jayalalithaa or Karunanidhi or Mulayam Singh Yadav or Lalu Prasad or Mayawati. In the cacophony of voices that compete for attention on Raisina Hill, Race Course Road and Janpath, the tribal voice is altogether lost.

Given the numbers, the tribal voice will remain marginalised in national politics. Hence, we may do better to begin at the grass roots by creating a political process that inducts young political workers from schools and colleges into a structure that connects the national and local political process. This political outreach to engage tribal youth in local politics is far more important than more money for development or more forces for counter-insurgency operations. Rahul Gandhi is trying to do that in the Gangetic heartland with his reforms in the Youth Congress. He now needs to extend his remit to tribal India and provide young people there with a political option that is more promising than the Maoist gun. He must redeem the promise that his great grandfather implicitly made to Jaipal Singh Munda. Only then will this insurgency end.







A recent piece on the impending glut of MBAs in India apparently struck a chord with many who have recently graduated with an MBA degree and are still looking for a suitable job. While a few chose to remain in a state of denial, some others want to know what their options could be. The good news is that India offers extraordinary opportunities for those who are reasonably well educated and are enterprising.

 There are many things going on in India for the enterprising and the determined. To start with, the country's economy is not only one of the fastest-growing ones in the world, but at about $1.37 trillion in 2010, it is already one of the top-10 in the world. It is expected to grow at 8 per cent or more for many years to come and hence, by the end of the next decade, it could well double from the current size in real terms, making it one of the top-five or six in the world. Further, and very fortunately, India's growth is coming from both services and manufacturing sectors. While agriculture is lagging behind, there is every reason to believe that even agriculture/food and food processing sectors will see significant growth in the coming years. Further, with India poised to spend upwards of $500 billion in infrastructure alone in the next five-seven years, the country's growth will be reasonably well-spread geographically since new power plants, roads, ports, airports and new urban centres will be established all across India creating new hot spots of economic activity in just about every region. And finally, India's economic growth has been reasonably equitable. While there are many hundreds of millions still below the poverty line, it is also true that more than 250 million have been pulled out of the poverty trap during the last 20 years, thereby creating a broad-based, strong and sustainable private consumption story with more than 500 million middle- and upper-income consumers of all kinds of goods and services.

Notwithstanding the many challenges that India currently faces — endemic corruption, creaking infrastructure, runaway real estate prices and, in some parts of the country, internal security and law and order issues — in this very fertile economic environment, there are countless opportunities for entrepreneurs in just about every area of private consumption and public investment. Contrary to popular perception and preference, such entrepreneurial opportunities do not exist only in technology/Internet domains. They range from as basic as affordable and good quality/well-served fast food such as that pioneered by Ray Croc at Macdonald's and personal care and grooming products and services such as those pioneered by Estee Lauder (or even a Vinita Jain of Biotique, and Mira Kulkarni of Forest Essentials, affordable clothing such as Donald & Doris Fisher's Gap and Ortega's Zara, and Kamprad's affordable furniture chain IKEA) to the thousands of not-so-glamorous but equally promising ventures relating to urban or industrial waste management, vocational training, professional security services etc. etc. etc.

The legions of newly minted MBAs (and engineers and even graduates with basic non-professional degrees) should seriously contemplate starting up simple but innovative entrepreneurial ventures. Almost all successful entrepreneurs, including those who made it to the ranks of billionaires and globally iconic tycoons, started with something exceptionally basic and really small — a first shop, a first restaurant, a first range of products sold at a sales counter of a retail outlet, a first training "shop", a first pick-up truck for moving merchandise or even collecting and moving waste etc. And many of them did not necessarily start from New York or London or Mumbai or Delhi. In a geographically large country like India, while the top six-eight metros certainly offer many more opportunities, the cost and competition there are also more intense. Hence, the prospective young entrepreneurs should untether themselves from the comfort of their own family homes or the allure of the more glamorous mega-cities and reach out to smaller towns and even rural India to build their fortune. Indeed, generations ago, the pioneers ventured out on the high seas to unknown lands and continents, and many of them successfully spotted entrepreneurial opportunities there.

Hence, dreaming entrepreneurially and then thinking and starting small (even if ambition is big), differently, and innovatively may be more productive than polishing up CVs and waiting for that interview call!  







One of the many "visionary" things Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee has promised to accomplish if her party comes to power in West Bengal is to turn Kolkata into London. Well, as visions go that's laudable, indeed, but, as mankind moves irreversibly into a rapidly urbanising world with worsening living conditions, visions alone won't ease the urban pressure.

 Of course, Mamata is being euphemistic. No city can be a clone of another unless it's an artificial copy dropped from heaven. We take it, therefore, that her reference to London stands for what a good, liveable city should be like: clean, green, orderly, commuter-friendly, aesthetic, harmonious, and well maintained, with lots of open areas, well-laid roads, and a balanced integration of spaces for business, work and leisure.

In Kolkata's case, it would also mean banishing hand-pulled rickshaws and hand-pushed carts, permanent vendor occupation of sidewalks, festering slums — London doesn't have any of these — and everything else that contributes to urban chaos and unhealthy living conditions. If that's the case, her city would require massive, bold, and often unpopular reconstruction of its image. Would Mamata have the political courage to take such measures?

Kolkata's ills are true of most of India's cities. London or not, they all need massive redevelopment, and the same question must be asked of all who are charged to save our cities from degenerating into urban rat holes. It's all the more urgent since we seem blithely oblivious of the magnitude and complexities of the urban challenge while the rest of economically dynamic Asia is continuously reshaping its urban future.

Singapore we all know. Hong Kong is an amazing example of how to stay alive and thrive within narrow geographical limits. Kuala Lumpur has wonderfully preserved its picture-postcard image by developing a new and equally picture-perfect administrative centre, Putrajaya. Seoul has improved its look dramatically simply by relocating its business and government districts and turning the giant former centre-city traffic intersection into a park. Bangkok isn't a nightmare anymore. Even Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are transforming so nicely as to earn the world's attention. Both cities have moved out thousands of people to make room for inner-city redevelopment while building new, well-connected suburban centres to balance out the distribution of populations and activities.

But it's in China, more than anywhere else, that Asia's urban history is being rewritten. Beijing is a shining example of how a whole new city can rise on its old foundations when action blends with vision in equal proportions. Based on the concept of "one street, one centre, and four parks," downtown Shanghai has thoroughly reconfigured its residential space and created a more harmonious balance between various urban functions. Seventy other major cities around China are spending scores of billions of dollars to build a brighter urban future.

Obviously, such changes can't come from patchwork and tinkering. They involve drastic demolitions, massive rebuilding, and large-scale relocation of affected people. Beijing's old quarters, for example, are being knocked down to make room for new roads, flyovers, high-rise residential complexes, and greenbelts.

Of course, such drastic facelifts can't always be popular, and, in the face of frequent popular outbursts against such changes, the authorities have been obliged to frame new rules to make it harder to seize property and turn it over to developers without full compensation. Demolitions can't start until sales, compensation and relocation details are approved by two-thirds of affected homeowners. But, if anything, the new rules only reflect the government's willingness to mend its ways wherever necessary in order to reach its desired goal, not any inclination to step back from its course.

True, China's urban programme stems from its intense craving to present to the world a dynamic, captivating, modern face. But it's also born of a clear realisation that the future city must be a place where people and their activities can exist in a healthy balance. The Germans have a new word for it — "balancity" — which is how they describe their presentation at the ongoing Expo 2010 in Shanghai on the theme "Better City, Better Life". Unless there's a balance between renewal and preservation, innovation and tradition, urbanity and nature, community and individual development, and work and leisure, a city can't be a good place to live in.

The Chinese have taken this concept to heart. One may not like the radicalism of their approach, but we'll be kidding ourselves if we think we can transform our cities by simply tinkering with them.

How will cities expand without encroaching on outlying rural areas? How are we going to build wider, straighter, newer roads unless we demolish obstacles coming in the way? How will the environment improve if there's no space to put in additional greenery? Our urban future will depend on how bold are we about answering these questions.






The use of the ubiquitous mobile phone for financial services is akin to e-payments on steroids.

Since it does take time to actually get a service to the market in any meaningful way, it is early days yet for this new alternative channel. But a litmus test indicates four things:

Run rate

While experience so far of mobile banking is that the run rate for mobile transactions has grown six times, pure banking,i.e. customer-related transactions, in Nepal and India has grown 10 times — the latter growing at more than 100 per cent a month! With additional policy fillips being given to financial inclusion, I foresee a further 100 per cent growth by mid-2010 by us. It must be noted that although the base is obviously low since this is a recent market space, and volumes are, therefore, relatively low, the growth factor has been remarkable. Nonetheless, by the middle of this year, the monthly run rate for all types of mobile-related transactions will exceed that of any well-established top travel portal in the mature travel market space (a few hundred thousands).

As a benchmark, look at State Bank of India which has the largest number of active customers. It hopes to hit a million customers shortly. And with about 10,000 transactions a day this is proving to be an integral part of its strategy — and for that matter of every bank — to move a large part of its hygiene-banking transactions to electronic channels.

At the end of the day, any financial product is about three key attributes: trust, faith and benefit; and this is reflected in perceptions and actual riskiness of using this channel. Our experience indicates that the chargeback rate has been zero since February 2009 — a far cry from standard norms which apply to credit card transactions. The repudiation risk on a mobile is one-tenth of what it is on the Internet and probably many times lesser than on the other instruments. So, clearly, the overall perception of risk of using a mobile is matched by its actual performance.

The fact is that brand perception is important for any financial product or service, and reputation is key to consumer connect. To facilitate reuse, the brand must leverage the felt benefit and must have some element of innovation to justify its use and velocity of usage. This is validated by the fact that in an AC Nielsen study done in 2009, PayMate was a preferred brand with about 40 per cent of market share and was ahead of other players in the generic category. This was done when we had a dozen banks in our ecosystem and in the early days of the post-regulation guidelines. Today, there are over 30 banks within our ecosystem!

Regulation is often seen as a bane for any market space. Regulation tends to follow market creation, and with 20:20 hindsight, everyone claims to have got it right. When dealing with innovations around technology, this more often than not creates new market spaces, like the World Wide Web, Google, Twitter, Facebook or the latest eavesdropping gizmos — the law always plays catch-up but even then remains ambiguous.

The advent of mobile payments is no exception. It is not on account of any forward-looking framework but due to innovation and risk-taking abilities of small domestic firms. They spotted the opportunity inherent in using the ubiquitous mobile for financial services — and put their money where their mouth was. What guidelines and directives do is to subsequently attempt to create an enabling environment, not by a complicated jump-through-as-many-hoops approach. Other than mobile banking guidelines, there have been other facilitating measures, such as prepaid guidelines, directives and permissions related to security, definition of merchant cash, transaction limits, etc. Arguably, these have given a fillip to mobile payments.

Several more policy and operational dispensations are needed — and are in the pipeline — to create the proverbial hockey stick growth (a la mobile recharge). But the intuitive appeal, ease of use and the facility of basic logistical dispensation by telcos to enable mobile recharge (top-ups) have created the lucrative top-up market, which is more than 80 per cent of all telecom revenues. Mobile financial services have the potential of setting off a similar trend.

In summary, it is clear that the success of this electronic channel will depend on the 4 R's, and one expects this channel to exceed the Internet banking channel as the preferred option in a period far shorter than that taken for credit card and Internet banking.

While e-commerce and payments are limited to computer users with Internet connection and bank account, m-payments can use technologies as simple as SMS and interactive voice response (IVR) among other things. With mobile penetration 10 times that of computer and expected to become 1 billion by 2014 (the overall cards market is growing at a 30 per cent compound annual growth rate), it won't be long before India becomes a very large player in the m-commerce (mobile-commerce) space. This is why many people see m-commerce as being akin to e-commerce on steroids!

The author is co-founder, PayMate







The smart rebound in India's external trade draws attention to our shipping policy. Despite buoyant growth, the share of Indian bottoms in the country's exports and imports barely touches 30% in volume terms.

Worse, in value terms, the domestic share is just over a tenth of India's total annual overseas shipping bill of over $5 billion. The ratios seem likely to worsen in the foreseeable future, given the lowly presence of Indian shipping companies in such high-value segments as general cargo and containers.

We need comprehensive policy focus to augment vessels and tonnage. It is true that there's been a welcome spurt in Indian shipping capacity in the last few years; the total Indian fleet had been stagnant at around seven million gross tonnage for donkey's years. Domestic shipping companies now collectively own about 704 vessels, adding up to 8.3 million gross tonnage or around 13.75 million deadweight tonnage .

But there's clearly a huge backlog in shipping capacity which needs to be made good, and sooner rather than later. As the economy globalises and there's sustained momentum in trade, it would be thoroughly suboptimal indeed to make do with decreasing use of Indian bottoms. It would be at huge, and rising, national cost.

The recent surge in domestic shipping capacity, albeit from a low base, is due to the "remarkable" turnaround in global shipping demand earlier in the decade, plus supportive measures initiated by the Centre such as the introduction of tonnage tax and easing of procedures for acquiring second-hand vessels.

Yet government policy on shipping remains mostly unchanged, such as the 30% ship-building subsidy on offer since circa 1971, with the scheme extended, yet again late last year.

After all, a domestic subsidy regime on global tenders would not count for much if commercial ship-building is not globally competitive, as seems very much the case in India what with our 27 shipyards and much fragmentation of capacity.

We need to revamp upstream and downstream linkages for proper coagulation of resources in shipping, and put in place proactive financing solutions for the domestic industry to emerge shipshape.







Even though the more than two month-long blockade of Manipur seems to be ending now, reports suggest trucks carrying essential supplies are yet to fully reach the state.

The Naga Student's Federation (NSF) declared it would temporarily lift its siege after the Centre ordered paramilitary forces to clear the roads. And around 20 companies of the CRPF and the BSF have been deployed to clear National Highways 39 and 53 into the state.

But that it took so long for the blockade to end suggests the complicated and complex nature of the problem in the Northeast. It also posits the failure of the central and state governments to first control the situation and then intervene much earlier to end the blockade of two national highways to Imphal.

The result wasn't just the scarcity of essential goods, with attendant massive rice in prices of what was available, and the immense hardship ordinary people had to face, but a further deterioration in ethnic relations in the region. With perhaps that in mind, Union home secretary G K Pillai has convened a meeting with the chief secretaries of Nagaland and Manipur in New Delhi.

But the wider problem in the region is antagonistic ethnic politics entrenching itself to the point where the positions of the two camps are completely mutually exclusive — the idea of Naga integration, which means a greater Nagaland that includes parts of Manipur, leaves no room for the idea of preserving Manipur as it is.

The reason for the blockade wasn't just the Manipur government's decision to not let NSCN leader Th Muivah visit the village of his birth within Manipur, but also Naga opposition to 'toothless' autonomous district councils, and the fears within Manipur that demands for such autonomy would bolster the claims for a greater Nagaland.

The area is almost a classic example of the formation of nationalism's , and the concurrent emergence of competing identity politics. For now, the Centre must, along with the state governments, work to reduce polarisation . Inclusive politics, ultimately, has to erode the notion that multiple ethnic identities cannot coexist.







It could have been a scene from a Bollywood film noir but Prakash Jha is not amused. He is quite incensed that a bunch of lawmakers — BJP MLAs hurriedly corralled in a five-star hotel outside Jaipur — did not think twice before breaking the law. Given the tenor of most of his films, that detail should hardly have caused him shock.

But, clearly, the nature of the MLAs' most recent criminal act took him utterly by surprise. Had the MLAs done the usual stuff that powerful political players do to get their own way in Jha's films — murder, rape, pillage, assassinate, subvert, bribe, torture, transfer, etc — the gritty director would surely have been unfazed.

That's what Jha's portrayed them to be, time after award-winning time, after all. But the lawless political class's latest infraction is something else: they watched his latest and typically cynical take on prevailing heartland politics, Rajneeti, on a pirated DVD.

Rather than carp about the loss of revenue from this particular criminal act, Jha should actually be thrilled that his target (if not his audience) has an abiding interest in his oeuvre; they could have watched an Election Commission documentary on Rajya Sabha polls instead, considering the MLAs were reportedly incarcerated for that very purpose.

The greenhorns among them, at least, would have emerged informed and enthused by the great democratic exercise they were to take part in. Now they have undoubtedly come away with a rather colourful presentation of how conflict resolution in a state can be achieved in the shortest if not the neatest or most democratic manner.

That should give the BJP high command some food for thought, as Jha's films rarely end with the bad guys getting their comeuppance. And that could give the sequestered MLAs something to mull over as they mark time in their hotel rooms!






Speaking to members of the Planning Commission at the first anniversary of UPA-II , Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called upon them to reform the role of the commission.

The commission should be a 'systems reform commission' to address the systemic problems of the 21st century, he said. Not only India, but the whole world is facing systemic problems that are endangering the sustainability of economic growth and human development. These systemic issues cannot be resolved with prevalent, non-systemic and compartmentalised approaches to planning and policymaking. Indeed, these approaches have contributed to the growth of systemic problems.

A systemic approach requires fundamental changes in the way we think and act. A cartoon to teach systems' thinking shows a boat whose one end is sinking into the water with the other end lifting into the air. Some people are bailing furiously in the sinking end. In the other end, two men are gloating: 'Thank goodness the hole is not in our end of the boat!'

'No man is an island entire to itself' , poet John Donne said. We cannot be safe within our man-made compartments because systemic problems cross state and national boundaries.

Climate change and terrorism cross national boundaries. The rich cannot be secure within their gated enclaves when there is poverty around. They cannot be smug about the future if only their children are well educated and well fed when hundreds of millions of poor children are not. Because those masses of children are supposed to give the demographic dividend on which the country is relying to sustain its economic growth.

Another cartoon makes another point about systems' thinking. The essence of systems is that many things are interconnected in ways we may not realise.

The cartoon shows a man sitting securely on a chair, and also shows what the man cannot see. He confidently pushes away a slab on his left that is about to fall on him. With his pushback that slab will fall onto another behind it, which will drop on to yet another in a long circle behind the man, ending with a slab on his right which will then drop on him.

He has solved an immediate problem, but has set in motion a chain of events which will hurt him later. In a rush to solve problems, without appreciating interconnections, trains of events can be set off that can create even worse problems . The US Army's gung-ho dash to Baghdad detonated a series of political problems from which the US has still to extricate itself. Systemic problems require many causes to be addressed simultaneously.

They are not amenable to 'silver bullet' solutions. For example, child malnutrition in India cannot be addressed only by nutritional supplements when children also suffer from disease and diarrhoea which washes out the nutrition . Many ministries and specialists must cooperate to make a difference.

A new set of gauges is required for systems reforms. India's economy has weathered the global economic crisis better than most countries, and could be looking ahead to double-digit growth. However the condition of India's sociopolity is causing concern.

Human development indicators are not improving fast enough. And the so-called Maoist cancer is spreading. Policymakers know that economic growth is not sustainable in these conditions. Therefore they must develop a more holistic approach to development and a dash board in which GDP growth is not the only indicator of how well the country is doing.

The inadequacy of GDP as a measure is known. Alternatives such as Gross National Happiness are too vague as yet. Perhaps one should not search for an overall indicator. Rather there should be several on the dashboard because systems' management requires several conditions to be managed simultaneously.

A skilful driver keeps track of several conditions of the car, such as speed, engine RPMs, and fuel supply. All the critical elements must be tracked to know what is happening.

If all the conditions were converted into a single indicator on the dash board, the driver would not know where the problem was when that indicator began to decline.

Similarly, at least three gauges are required to track the health of a country. One is for the economy, for which fairly sophisticated measurements are available . The others must be for the quality of inclusion and the condition of the environment , for which good and timely indicators are not yet developed.

The four Ls for systems action: Systems action must follow systems thinking. Frustration with the slow pace of development often causes policymakers to revert to a theory of action they are familiar with — centralised, and top down.

They see good results here and there, and want to 'scale them up' . So programmes are planned in detail and monitored from the top. But this cannot work in large, diverse, and decentralised systems such as India. Systemic development requires a very different theory of action based on four 'Ls' : Local action, Lateral connections, continuous Learning, and empowering Leadership.

The necessity of local empowerment is being appreciated in India. The people know best what they need. If they become the agents for change they want, then desired changes will happen. Therefore, policy actions must be directed to building local capabilities. Silo thinking and silo action cannot produce systemic action.

In systems many aspects must be coordinated as mentioned before. Therefore lateral connections must be built into the system for cooperation and sharing knowledge. The speed of learning, through the multiple experiments that a diverse system can undertake, and the speed with which that learning spreads across the system, will produce the 'scale' required.

Finally, systems reform requires systems leaders. Passing down power goes against the grain of insecure leaders. By dividing the system into silos, they become the point of coordination that all must look up to. And by keeping people dependent on them for wisdom they increase their power.

The prime minister wants the Planning Commission to be 'an essay in persuasion' . 'Carrots and sticks' are adequate incentives for donkeys perhaps. Whereas people can be powerfully persuaded by ideas that touch their hearts. Systems leaders, and the Planning Commission, must persuade and lead, not only with the money and permissions they dole out, but with the power of their ideas too.

(The author is member, Planning Commission)








Drop-gates and concertina blockades emerge on most of the city roads, especially in the so called down town, whenever there is a possibility of public protests . Civilian movement is brought to a halt, so much so that even ambulances and journalists have a tough day out.

Police and paramilitary men rule the lanes. The routine justification for these oft-repeated exercises is that it helps in containing escalation of tensions. Otherwise, officials say, angry protesters will attack security men leading to casualties on both sides.

But the problem in Kashmir is that while a curfew is imposed, it is not declared officially. The local newspapers describe the strange law and order management as an 'undeclared curfew' or 'curfew like restrictions' .

Curfew is not new to Kashmir, as the turbulent nineties have seen some of the longest and worst ones. Undeclared curfew, however, is a new trend, started by the 'uncontroversial' N N Vohra soon after he replaced S K Sinha as governor at the peak of the Amarnath land agitation in 2008.

While Ghulam Nabi Azad government crumbled under the weight of the agitation, Vohra managed his days with the innovation. Paramilitary men beating early birds in the city became the routine method to announce an undeclared curfew. People expected the practice to go away with the civilian government taking over in January 2009. But the young CM seems to be at ease with the practice.

Barring occasional statements, the civil society has been unable to stand up against this violation that not only takes the population hostage but also adds an element of uncertainty to life. This is not the only instance of Kashmir suffering on account of law and order implementation. Even the laws in vogue seem to be loaded against the people of the land.

The Public Safety Act (PSA) introduced by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah after returning to power in 1975 is one of the most misused laws. Abdullah had justified the law then, saying it would be used against timber smugglers, but it continues to be the major way out to keep people behind bars without a reason.

The act provides for detention of two years without a trial, and in practice authorities have slapped PSA repeatedly on people to keep them locked for as long as 14 years, and in most cases repeated it as soon a court quashes a PSA.

The section 10(a) of the Act, which may not have parallel anywhere in the civilised world says that the order of detention (under PSA usually signed by the district magistrate) cannot be deemed to be invalid even if the grounds of such detention are vague, non-existent , not relevant and not connected with the person to be detained.

That essentially means that a person can even be detained on vague, irrelevant grounds or even if he is not connected to anything at all. Last year, when a lawmaker told the state legislature that the turbulence in the state owes much of its origin to "misuse, abuse and overuse of the PSA" and sought its amendments , the law minister replied the law was required for "running the affairs of the state" !

Along with the undeclared curfews the government is trying to quell street protests by booking alleged stone pelters under PSA and, concurrently , murder charges were also levelled. A good number of teenagers including some minors were booked under this law. Recently a young boy was booked under PSA apparently for being in love with a police officer's daughter.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA ) makes another bleak reference to the laws that make contemporary J&K . Offering absolute immunity to securitymen, this law has converted counterinsurgency into a lucrative business in which blood sell cheap. Soldiers get innocuous individuals, kill them far away from their homes, dub them militants to claim cash and promotions. This is a standard practice with all forces that operate in Kashmir and the recent expose is just tip of an iceberg.

Politicians across Kashmir's ideological landscape agree that this law must go as early as possible. Recommendations by many federal government committees also advocate its removal . Nevertheless, there are tough laws that will help fight militancy in absence of AFSPA. But things are unlikely to change given the strong resistance from the armed forces.

Lt Gen B S Jamwal, who leads the prestigious Northern Command, recently drew parallel between the AFSPA and the religious books and described it as a holy law for the armed forces. And when its comes to the central government, it also has a record of preferring the security set-up over the people in Kashmir. Welcome to paradise!







Martin Gardner, who died at 95 recently, became synonymous with recreational math with his column in Scientific American. But he also had a remarkably prolific literary career: he wrote fiction, books on philosophy, physics, religion and magic. He also became renowned as a debunker of pseudoscience despite having started out with Christian fundamentalist beliefs in his teenage years.

That might explain his 'regression' or belief in God that came in his later life. To those who only knew him as an impeccable sceptic that belief came as a profound shock. But there was too much whimsy in him to be entirely under reason's goad. He was, for instance, a world authority on Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and a celebrated prestidigitator and amateur magician.

His faith, he said, was based on an "emotional turning of the will" , unsupported by logic or science . He said he was neither an atheist nor an agnostic. Instead he described himself as a philosophical theist — in the tradition of Plato and Kant, among others.

He was critical of organised religion but believed in a personal God not because He intervened mysteriously to perform miracles or communicated directly with human beings but because he believed that people simply lead happier lives through prayer and faith.

Although he also believed in a hereafter, he would not speculate about it. "It was like speculating about attributes of God," he said in an interview.

"It was in a transcendental realm : one just believed by hope and a leap of faith that there was that possibility, but one could not say anything about it because obviously nobody knew anything about it." Thus his philosophical theism was entirely emotional , which he compared to Kant's , who "destroyed pure reason to make room for faith" . It also sounded a lot like the negative assertion of the Brahman (Neti Neti) advanced by the Vedantins.

That did not stop him from ridiculing emotional beliefs of others such as noted physicist David Bohm's flirtation with 'panpsychism' , the belief that all matter is in some sense alive with low levels of consciousness.

But he was open-minded enough to conclude that Bohm's eastern metaphysics should not be held against the potential fruitfulness of his pilot wave theory . Just as Isaac Newton's Biblical beliefs and his alchemical forays do not demean his colossal contribution to physics.







NO. Cinema advertising (in film, ad-screening and co-branded promotion) had a 0.6% share of the Rs. 23000 cr. Indian advertising pie in 2009. For a medium which has had more than 90 years of presence in the country and has the most celebrated film industry status, after Hollywood, this number is a tad shameful.

The advertising on cinema stands at Rs. 146 crs and was stagnant in 2009, while print grew at 17% and TV at 6%. Advertising revenue accounts for less than 1% of the industry's earnings of Rs. 15300 cr for 2010. The single biggest reason for this is that the industry still largely remains unorganized inspite of corporate players like Zee, Big, UTV and Percept getting into the game.

The average producer still believes that box office collections, music and satellite rights are the key sources of revenue. While they have learnt to market themselves well thanks to advertising and marketing savvy directors and actors like SRK, Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar, Anurag Kashyap etc. their openness to advertising has been

limited to static and dialogue led product placement in films.

To give the industry their due credit, the primary two reasons for this are

1. Creative minds feel that their creativity gets diluted if it gets associated with brands to be promoted, as then they need to weave in the brand story/association with their creation. A valid point.

2. This is one industry that earns money from the end user who consumes their product. Which I personally think is really good. Look at the state of our Television industry currently. It is totally dependent on advertising revenue, and there is hence so much extra pressure on their financials. Because of DTH still having limited reach of about 10million households, currently homes are getting their satellite connection through cable operators, who collect subscription money from the households, but do not pass it on entirely to the channels. So, in my view, earning from the end consumer is a sound business practice.

Having said that, there are many more opportunities of monetizing their product. If the industry manages to unite and think about moving their films from commodities to brands to franchises (Star Wars, Shrek etc.) half the job would be done. This would then need to be supported by advertisers who need to move from the equivalent of TVCs on TV. This is not a pipe dream with traditional media stagnating and fragmenting from a consumers perspective, engagement will be the only way forward in the next decade or so.






YES.It needs no further emphasis that Indian consumers are passionate about Bollywood and cricket. So these properties make for ideal platforms for brand promotion and as marketing tools. Films are an easy way for marketers to reach out to more consumers.

Having actors as brand ambassadors gives instant visibility and establishes credibility. In that sense, Bollywood is also a great influence and can be a good purchase motivator. After all, when consumers see an actor using a particular product, more often than not, they tend to follow. In our case, the Samsung Mobiles' association with Aamir Khan worked because the values that the brand and the actor stand for, matched perfectly. Needless to say, there has been greater equity built thanks to this association, apart from an obvious gain in market share.

As far as product and brand promotions within films go, there are a few precautions that marketers need to take. For example, we need to ensure that the story of the movie provides the right fit for the product. The movie per say should get the product good visibility. There should be a connect between the film and the brand values. Further, the film should also show the product in the correct light, as an enabler of things.

At Samsung, we have been fairly active with in-film marketing and promotions, leveraging the popularity of movies like Krishh and Ghajini, over the years. The success of a movie also has a positive impact on the brands promoted through it.

It is our experience that using the Bollywood platform judiciously has its dividends and that this medium has indeed come of age as a successful promotional platform. Marketers need to use it in a manner that is in sync with their respective marketing strategy.








Union Carbide

Atomic bombs claimed nearly 340,000 lives in Hiroshima and Nagasaki , large parts of the towns were burnt to cinder and radiation poisoning maimed the lives of those who survived and their descendants.

They have not forgotten the past: memorials testify to the horror they experienced, but the past does not shackle them. They have put the bombing behind them. Bhopal, however, stays stymied in a disaster whose mitigation has been as horrendous as the disaster itself. The primary concern of the group of ministers on Bhopal should be to help Bhopal move on.

This should be self-evident . But the media focus has been on the political capital that can be made out of the tragedy which claimed nearly 4,000 in the early hours of December 3, 1984 and claimed around 16,000 more lives later on.

There are three parts to helping the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy move on: compensation, punishing the guilty and cleaning up the accident site.

The government of India initially sued Union Carbide for $3 billion, and settled for $370 million, and obtained the stamp of the Supreme Court of India on that settlement, discharging Union Carbide of any further obligation in the matter. This sell-out was in 1989.

The number of victims was far in excess of initial estimates, but the compensation amount remained the same. Only depreciation of the rupee and the interest accrued on the original deposit, as the courts decided to whom and how the money would be disbursed, enhanced the corpus.

But the compensation received by the victims from the sum obtained from Union Carbide was paltry. Since the Union government messed up the settlement with Union Carbide, it should cough up the money needed to offer the victims decent compensation.

If the government were to spend 1% of GDP to bring comprehensive closure to Bhopal, that would be acceptable, in terms of public finance prudence, investment stimulus and political morality. And that would, in the current year, amount to about Rs 70,000 crore, equal, by coincidence, to the amount the government received in excess of its estimates for spectrum auction receipts.

This is a lot of money. If the 20,000 dead are compensated at the rate of Rs 10 lakh each, that would use up Rs 2,000 crore. If the five lakh other victims are compensated at the rate of, say, Rs 3 lakh each, that would account for another Rs 15,000 crore.

That would still leave Rs 53,000 crore to be spent on cleaning up the toxic site of the defunct Union Carbide plant at Bhopal and to build a new, model town nearby.

Fast growing India needs not so much urban renewal as about 17,000 sq km of new urban space, meaning new towns, to accommodate the 20 crore plus population that will augment the current urban population over the next 15-20 years.

These towns should embody new urban planning to minimise their carbon footprint: they should be vertical and have residential buildings abutting commercial ones, so as to minimise commutes.

They should use energy-efficient architecture and lighting, deploy extensive public transport and, unlike Chandigarh, provide for low-income housing interspersed throughout middleclass colonies, to prevent the formation of slums and ghettos.

Build such a model town, to house new industry and services that fuel India's growth, and it would, among other things, resettle the gas victims, create jobs for them in the provision of urban amenities and services to the residents of the new town.

Can the guilty be brought to book? Even if Justice Ahmadi's 1996 decision to not charge the Union Carbide management for culpable homicide not amounting to murder can be challenged, by the time India's courts finally punish the guilty beyond appeal, they would have died of natural causes. But new laws can be framed to take care of future accidents , including reformed tort laws to enable swift and just compensation.

Who should take the political rap for letting Anderson leave, for reaching that paltry settlement? The Congress should. In the wake of Indira Gandhi's assassination, the anti-Sikh riots, mutiny in the Indian army, rampant separatism in the northeast and the northwest and decline of India's ally, the Soviet Union, if the government led by Rajiv Gandhi felt that it could not take any further pressure from the US, that would explain its decision , if not justify it.

But no political party is in a position to sling mud on this count. Every major party has ruled the Centre since, and no one has paid Anderson's extradition or Bhopal relief anything more than lip service.

That leaves Dow and the US government . They might not have any legal responsibility (Dow's liability is being examined by a New York court), but they certainly have a moral obligation to Bhopal's gas victims . Let them come forward and contribute to the government's efforts to bring closure to Bhopal.

They are today at the receiving end of the visceral hostility of the wronged. Goodwill will replace that, should they show sense and magnanimity.








India has shut its open cotton economy in the name of "fibre security". But while food security helps us all, fibre security would only protect the textile industry's margins, with no obligation to pass on its savings to consumers.

When incomes fell last year in the US, the world's largest clothes market, Americans bought fewer clothes and bargained hard. In Tirupur, hub of India's garment export, mills could either sign contracts at deep discounts or risk losing their top customers to rivals Bangladesh and Vietnam.

As Indian mills have high labour, finance and energy costs, cheap yarn is virtually the only factor that lets them survive cutthroat global competition.

So when yarn prices jumped unexpectedly, it created panic. Export contracts became a noose round the garment industry's neck. In a free market, spinners had the right to sell yarn to foreign textile mills offering top dollar. As textile industry believes cheap yarn is virtually a natural right, they thought belligerence would cow spinners into reducing prices.

For once, it didn't work. Tasting profits after several years, spinners refused to back down. Textile companies ran to government, howling in fury. At such times, livelihood of the industry's large army of labourers is an invaluable bargaining chip. But with Tamil Nadu's elections next year, not many arguments were needed.

Instead of asking the industry to independently handle market risk, government brought the boot crashing on spinners by removing export incentives for yarn. A yarn price stabilization fund, to check "rent-seeking" by spinners, is also on the cards.

Spinners are no novices at this game. They too urgently needed a scapegoat. Chief raw material cotton was handy. They blamed expensive cotton and its rising exports. That higher yarn prices were in fact pulling up cotton prices was conveniently overlooked. Garment companies and spinners had suddenly found a common enemy.

Now India has indeed been briskly exporting cotton because the world market is willing to pay more than local spinners. That is a good thing because farmers get a share of export profits. Foreign buyers also pay on time in cash, instead of demanding credit and nitpicking over quality.

As user industry, spinners too are equally free to import duty-free cotton and they do so regularly. In such a free market, both spinners and cotton traders should rightly be buying and selling at globally competitive rates, with neither solely dependent on the other.

But while cotton doesn't fear foreign competition, industry is desperately seeking protection. Spinners too are keen on cheaper raw material. Their combined demand for ban on cotton exports got a Pavlovian response. Exports are closed with no new contracts being approved for now.

It doesn't end here. Though garment exporters are certain to get new profitable orders soon, government wants the new cotton marketing season (October 1) to start with unsold 5 million bales to keep prices low.

Small ginners and farmers are expected to bear the cost of storing it. But no similar stocks-to-use ratio targets have been fixed for yarn or cloth. The cotton export window will open only after government is satisfied the textile industry is satiated.

What of cotton farmers? As they weren't even in the room when policies were decided, let alone sit at the table, they will lose their shirts.

By freezing minimum support prices for last two years (obviously farmers live in a parallel inflation-free economy) to beat down prices, and halting exports that directly raised incomes, government has deliberately left farmers at the mercy of mendacious local industry. It's a sorry reward for India's biggest farm success in recent times that made us world's number two cotton producer and exporter.

Any one would turn suicidal. Or shift to another crop. Indian cotton's exit from the world market shows that when it comes to interest group politics, it pays to be small. Then the cost of whatever favour you wrangle out of government is spread over a large, unorganised segment of the population.

In countries where farmers are few, such as USA and EU, governments hugely subsidise agriculture. In India, protection goes the other way. Farmers are forced to sell crops at below-market prices so that industry can get raw material cheaply.

Economics tells us companies shielded from competition don't grow stronger; they grow fat and lazy. Politics tells us once an industry is protected, it will always be protected. We need an urgent solution. Barring ministers from portfolios linked to their constituency would be a start.







A closely-held public limited company and part of the Tata group, Tata Housing Development Company, has established itself as one of the key players in the real estate segment, developing residential, commercial as well as retail projects across the country. Tata Housing MD & CEO Brotin Banerjee shares his views on the group's future plans, launch of premier lifestyle housing complexes including Eden Court — Primo at New Town, and the national realty market with ET. Excerpts.

What is Tata Housing's future growth plans?

Brotin Banerjee : During the 2009-10 fiscal, Tata Housing constructed a total area of 1.23 million square feet (sq ft) across a variety of housing formats ranging from low cost housing to luxury housing across India. With existing presence in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Gurgaon, Chandigarh, Pune, Lonavala and Kolkata; we are now in the process of expanding our projects to other parts of India across tier I and II cities.

This fiscal year, we plan to construct a total area of 4.5 million sq ft. Of this, 45-50 % will be affordable and mass housing and the balance will be premium, luxury and super luxury residential complexes.

Tata Housing not only develops spaces dedicated to single-uses such as residential, commercial and retail, but also aims to develop projects encompassing residential, commercial and retail facilities that will create a sustainable and integrated mixed use community.

How serious is the group about the real estate business?

Brotin Banerjee: We were the first corporate to enter the real estate sector in India as early as 1984. Since then, Tata Housing has established itself as one of the key players in real estate development in India. We have developed India's first IT park and the first green IT park in Bengaluru.

We are definitely looking forward to develop the huge parcels of land owned by the group across the country. The current portfolio of around 4.5 million sq ft is completely acquired or jointly developed by the Tata Housing team. The business plan is to expand our operation to tier 1 and tier II cities as well.

Is the group looking to enter into alliances with national or international players? Do you prefer developing projects through the joint venture route or is the group also looking to buy land and develop mega-scale projects?

Brotin Banerjee: At this point, we do not have any such plans. We have a balanced mix of properties built jointly as well as through acquisition of land. This enables us to de-risk ourselves and thus, maintain a positive cash flow. Our future developments will be mixed land use with focus on residential segment.

Do you think the country's real estate sector is poised to witness consolidation and merger? What, according to you, is the future of the industry?

Brotin Banerjee: India's real estate segment is in a growth phase, but the sector is yet to witness maturity or consolidation. Immense shortage of dwelling units coupled with a demand-supply imbalance indicate that there is tremendous scope for further growth in the residential segment. We see real estate market moving up in the short term, as the demand for residential sector across different cities is huge.

Tata Housing is one of the key players in the Indian real estate industry with a customer-focused and customer-centric approach. Every residential or commercial project is being developed after an in-depth analysis of consumer needs based on focused consumer and market research. As part of Tata Housing's green responsibility and commitment to conservation, our properties are constructed as sustainable green developments under the guidance of Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) and certified for Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED).




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



The revised draft of the proposed direct tax code that was made public on Tuesday is certainly music to the ears of India's burgeoning salaried middle-class population. It will benefit them tremendously. It is certainly far more citizen-friendly a document than the earlier draft, which included proposals for some stringent new levies — including taxes on withdrawals from employee provident fund and public provident fund accounts as well as from pension funds, retirement benefits and life insurance schemes on maturity. People were naturally perturbed at the prospect of seeing their hard-earned savings being further depleted by way of taxation at the time of withdrawal or maturity — which invariably would come at a time when the individual was no longer in the income-earning bracket. It is not surprising, therefore, that this provisio met with tremendous opposition ever since the first draft was put up for discussion in August 2009. The new 35-page version that has been put up for discussion till June 30 was redrafted after extensive consultations with several groups and industry representatives. There were around 1,600 suggestions from across the country, and the new draft incorporates quite a few of these. Another clause which has been restored in the new draft is retention of the exemption of interest payments on home loans upto Rs 1.5 lakh per annum for self-occupied premises. There are, of course, several things that the government can do to encourage savings and investment. There is a view, for instance, that the existing ceiling of Rs 8 lakhs and above that attracts 30 per cent tax should be increased to Rs 20 lakhs. In the case of mediclaim policies, there is a demand that the non-taxable limit of Rs 15,000 should be raised to at least Rs 25,000. Claims will be endless, but if they are rationalised the government will be able to attract more people into the tax net. As it is, India is now one of the lowest taxed nations in the world. The new code has something for everyone. The demand that the minimum alternative tax (MAT) should be imposed on the book profits of a company, and not its assets, has been accepted. This seems fairer as loss-making companies and those that have a long gestation period will not come under the purview of MAT. One very good provision in the new draft code is the level playing field envisaged between Indian investors and foreign institutional investors (FIIs). The FIIs are of course going to be upset as the new code envisages that capital gains made by FIIs on sale or purchase of securities will be taxed. The new regime will eliminate a considerable amount of litigation. There is still some confusion over the securities transaction tax as both short-term and long-term capital gains will now be taxed at the applicable rates. The confusion is on whether the STT will become redundant — though for now it appears that it is there to stay. The final draft tax code will be presented in the Monsoon Session of Parliament, and the brand-new Income-Tax Act, replacing the 1961 I-T Act, is set to come into force from April 1, 2011.






Synthia, the nickname given to the first synthetic bacterium created recently, has stirred up a global debate. Is it new life or just an efficient copy of life as it exists? As research prowess goes, the latter is nothing to scoff at. What Craig Venter's group has done is a technological breakthrough. The researchers have created what they call "artificial life" by creating a newly synthesised genome using off-the-shelf biological reagents. They then put this artificial genome into the shell of a bacterium from which most of the genetic material had been scraped out. The artificial genome revived the bacterial shell and made it functional. Venter announced his group had created "synthetic life". This claim immediately became controversial.

While Venter says this is the first ever synthetic cell that's been made and the first ever life form on the planet "whose parent is a computer", others in his team have been more modest and said that they had only taken "baby steps" toward custom-making an organism. Scientists too have had differing responses — some say that the new bacterium could not be called artificial life, that science does not as yet know enough about biology to really create new life. Others called this an epochal breakthrough in biology. As a biologist myself, I would say that the new research is dazzling but it's not quite creating life. The newness is that the new DNA has not been created by replicating the DNA of an organism but by reading the code of the organism stored in a computer and creating the DNA spelt out by that code using store-bought building blocks (nucleotides). That, I would say, is a brilliant mimicking of life, not creating it de novo.

Whatever the nature of the breakthrough, one thing is certain, the trigger for it is overwhelmingly commercial. Venter and his partners stand to make a huge amount of money on the patents that are already being taken out on all the processes and products associated with synthetic biology. The same thing had happened when Francis Collins and he had announced in 2000 that they had mapped the human genome, a full three years ahead of the international Human Genome Programme being managed by a consortium of scientists from several countries. A spate of patents on human gene sequences and even parts of genes followed. Many of these were not accepted as patentable subject matter because the function of the genetic material was unknown, but many were. For a patent to be granted, the invention must have demonstrable utility. If the function of the DNA sequences was unknown, it could not have utility. Despite these minor bottlenecks, Venter sits on a heap of patents which will spin gold when the time comes.

Speculation is rife about all that synthetic micro-organisms could do for the benefit of mankind. Custom-made bacteria and algae to produce whatever you want, creating drugs and vaccines, cleaning water and effluents, trapping carbon in cultures serving as carbon sinks, even novel foods, energy and fuels, industrial chemicals, paints and varnishes… almost anything. Venter has already mentioned a $600-million deal with Exxon to create "synthetic" algae to produce bio-fuels; another deal for an undisclosed amount has been struck with the British petroleum giant BP. Despite this promising wish list that synthetic biology appears to offer, there are also immense ethical and security implications associated with this new technology.

The US system is gearing up to look at synthetic biology to identify ethical boundaries and minimise identified risks. US President Barack Obama has asked the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to examine the new technology in this context. It will be interesting to see the outcome of this review, particularly in the backdrop of how genetic engineering, another contested technology, was reviewed. In that case, despite there being outstanding ethical and security issues associated with recombinant DNA technology, not dissimilar to the current situation with synthetic biology, it was commercial interests that ultimately prevailed. Transgenic technology was not considered violative of fundamental ethical principles and the security concerns were countered by the argument that there was sufficient vigilance and the benefits far outweighed the risks.
How should Indian science respond to the new developments? There is good potential for first class biological research in the country, even if some of it tends to be copycat. Indian labs will undoubtedly want to connect with this new technology domain. But before engaging with the field of synthetic biology, or any of the transformative technologies on the horizon, there should be a public debate involving Parliament on the desirability of this technology and, more than that, the ability of our regulatory systems to cope with its more than considerable potential risks. The track record on regulating AgBiotech has been abysmal. Our regulatory bodies lack technical competence and are riddled with conflict of interest, lack of transparency and accountability.

In spite of sustained demands from a wide variety of people, to improve the regulatory system, vested interests are succeeding in maintaining a weak and ineffective regulation that does not get in the way of product release. The more radical the breakthroughs in biology, the more they upset the equilibrium achieved through evolution and the greater the danger of damage. By inference, therefore, the greater the need for caution and, perhaps, for abstinence. It does not stand that just because scientists can do something, society should endorse that it be done. We do after all have a self-imposed ban on sexing a foetus, on human embryonal cloning and on germline therapy (doing genetic changes to the human germ cells which will allow the changes to be passed on to the next generation).

Proceeding with radical technologies that will alter, perhaps inalienably, many facets of our existence, needs the cautious and considered endorsement of society and its stewards.

If the decision is to move forward on synthetic biology, a new and effective regulatory system that has the confidence of the public must be put in place before the first test tube is picked up or the first culture plated.

- Dr Suman Sahai, a genetic scientist who has served on the faculty of the Universities of Chicago and Heidelberg, is convenor ofthe Gene Campaign








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 West Asia 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 (EU). 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, stabilisers 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 EU membership they had to reform their laws, economy, minority rights and civilian-military relations — which the Erdogan government systematically did — the EU leadership has now said to Turkey: "Oh, you mean nobody told you? We're a Christian club. No Muslims allowed". The EU'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 criticising 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 US-Turkey relations get where they're going — over a cliff.








To talk about this is to state the obvious. After five years of running a successful government in Bihar, with the cordial cooperation of a long-trusted, mature ally like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Mr Nitish Kumar certainly needs the BJP to win hugely in the forthcoming Assembly polls, and return to power.

In a coalition government, success springs from the healthy functioning of every link in the chain. We in the BJP are proud to have contributed whole-heartedly to the historic success story of Bihar's National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, and place it on the path of getting Bihar out of the list of "Bimaru" states. Mr Kumar and his Janata Dal-United (JD-U) have always been appreciative of the BJP's concrete support.

Although JD(U), a regional party, and BJP, a national party, are two distinct entities with ideological differences, it is their coalition that has won the hearts of Bihar's people. The empathetic coordination and understanding between them has made our two parties almost inseparable.

Without the BJP, it is unimaginable for Mr Kumar to return to power. That is simply because it was as much the BJP's solid network of committed cadres across Bihar as the JD(U)'s regional appeal that ensured victories of candidates of both the parties in the past elections.

Shortly after Bihar's 2005 Assembly polls, it was the BJP that played a crucial role in making Mr Kumar the Chief Minister in the face of stubborn internal bickering among JD(U) leaders who were unwilling to accept him as head of the JD(U)-BJP government.

It is completely incorrect to describe the BJP as a weakened political force in Bihar. This impression is partly caused by the media's projections of the NDA government in Bihar. Just because the face gets better visibility, and becomes the recognition point, it does not mean the rest of the body is defunct. The BJP is a cadre-based party. It functions in Bihar at the grassroots levels with the help of several cultural organisations working actively with a nationalist zeal. Our people are active in each of Bihar's 54,000 polling booths and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh runs 32,000 schools across Bihar. The Chief Minister understands this.

The BJP has never compromised with its self-respect anywhere, including Bihar. With its sheer cadre strength, proven commitment, and greatly widened appeal in Bihar, the party's future is very bright in this state.

— Giriraj Singh, senior BJP leader and Bihar's minister for cooperatives

Success in Bihar is Nitish's work

Shivanand Tiwary
Bihar needs Mr Nitish Kumar. His government's epoch-making achievements have placed him in a class apart, making him the man that Bihar needs more than anything else.

Being a leader who is naturally acceptable to every section of society, regardless of caste and religion in a fiercely identity-driven state, Mr Kumar is going to be the natural choice for Bihar's electorate. Although he ran a coalition government, he strived hard to put the good of Bihar over everything else in the past five years. His successes are visible across the state after the long darkness of the 15 years of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-Congress misrule.

The JD(U) and the BJP in Mr Kumar's coalition government have assiduously stuck to their common minimum programme so as to create development milestones in the face of obstacles by Opposition parties. But behind every success story written by this government stands the towering leadership and vision of the chief minister. To deny this is to falsify facts.

While the minorities and the dalits of Bihar had got almost nothing other than lofty promises and resounding pronouncements of secularism from previous governments, Mr Kumar's vision and action gave them solid benefits and raised their self-confidence. It is Mr Kumar who, as the face of the JD(U)-BJP government, inspires faith and hope in Bihar's Muslims. Bihar has been free from any communal tension in Kumar's regime. Its dalits who wonder why other parties, involved in dalit politics did so little for them.

The JD(U), the senior partner in the state government, is on a superbly solid platform today. Last year's Lok Sabha poll results bore ample evidence of this. While alliance with the BJP helped the JD(U) to come to power in the 2005 Assembly polls, the JD(U)'s reach has penetrated remote corners of the state due to the chief minister's leadership, and the attention paid by his government to implementation of welfare projects. No other chief minister has visited as many villages and spoken to as many ordinary people individually as Mr Kumar.

Any comparison between Mr Kumar and Orissa's Mr Naveen Patnaik (in the context of relations with the BJP) — however facile — must not overlook the fact that Mr Patnaik gained strength and legacy from his legendary father, while in Bihar Mr Kumar built his strength brick by brick. The people of Bihar are wise enough to decide for themselves.

— Shivanand Tiwary, senior JD(U) leader and Rajya Sabha member






Of the many exciting things about the US President, Mr 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, LBJ (Lyndon Baines Johnson) and Nixon had acted pretty nutty at times.

President Obama was supposed to be a soothing change. He had a rough childhood. Ms 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?

The bloodless quality about President Obama's emotional detachment is 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", Mr Obama, who has forced himself to ingest a load of gulf crab cakes, shrimp and crawfish tails, whinged to Grand Isle, Louisiana, 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 (MMS) 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 MMS 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, Mr 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. Former US President 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 adrenaline 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 Mr 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 healthcare. 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.








AS Delhi gears up for a bout of international fun and games this October and an ascendant political class signals its intent to transform Kolkata into London, civil society stood unabashedly blighted on Monday. And the wound has been self-inflicted. The crimes in Delhi and Kolkata were no less repugnant than the "honour killings" ordered by the khap panchayats against same gotra marriages. The facts are barely stated. A courting couple in Delhi was allegedly murdered by electric shock by the woman's family in an honour killing to forestall an inter-caste marriage. At another remove, Kolkata was witness to an attempted honour killing; a doctor father is reported to have injected his daughter with poison at the marriage registrar's office! A more criminal mark of objection to an inter-community marriage is difficult to imagine. The 'Dr' handle to the absconding physician's name ought immediately to be scrapped. Clearly, it isn't only the same gotra that has raised the hackles of a bizarrely conservative section of northern India. Even the enlightened urbanite society has its reservations.  

The social stratification goes beyond the gotra even within the urban ambience of Delhi and Kolkata. Conservatism in an India on the roll has assumed mortal manifestations, going by Monday's instances of the two families' response to inter-caste and inter-religion affairs. Yes, they could be two isolated aberrations of the mind. But they do mirror the dominant mindset, and astonishingly enough not merely in rural India. As often as not, the anguish of a certain caste or religious denomination is suppressed, when it doesn't turn murderous. And a change in social mores is not conditional to an amendment of the Hindu Marriage Act. Brutal expressions of ego-driven conservatism are not confined to the khap panchayats of Haryana and Rajasthan.The centuries-old traditions of caste and community are almost as pronounced as in 19th century India. The electrocution in Delhi and the poisonous injection in Kolkata mark the underbelly of Indian society. London door aast. 








PILOTS whose planes crash are seldom hailed as heroes. Yet that was the immediate accolade from residents of the township of Raikot for Wing Commander Sandeep Singh. His MiG-21 (Type 96) developed technical problems on a routine sortie out of Pathankot, he tried diverting to Halwara but could not make it because his jetfighter was ablaze. He was most professional, steered his falling aircraft away from built-up areas towards open fields before ejecting. That averting damage on the ground was no accident was evident when the first thing he asked local folk who rushed from the fields was if the town was safe. As is customary in Punjab, there was no holding back when hailing a military hero: the pilot was helped out of his parachute, given rudimentary first-aid, offered snacks etc until an IAF team transferred him to hospital. That's not all, the president of the Raikot municipal council announced its intention to formally felicitate their "saviour" on Independence Day. A "people's honour" that could mean as much as any of the medals on his tunic. If the pilot lived up to the IAF's standards by minimising potential civilian damage so too did the folk in Raikot reconfirm Punjab's special relations with the defence services. 

It is, therefore, all the more regrettable that the tale of heroism should leave a bitter after-taste. Admittedly controlling the crowds that gathered around the crash site could have been difficult, but that is no excuse for IAF personnel attempting to prevent the media from photographing/filming the wreckage, manhandling them, snatching away three cameras and not returning them for hours. Under what law? Is wreckage "classified"? They tried to get the police to act against one journalist, the cops displayed better sense. This cannot be written off as an aberration: it reflects a shortcoming in training. Defence officers have not come to terms with an active, quick-reacting media. The brass still believe that the only role of the media is to blow a trumpet for the forces, give top priority to coverage of parades, ceremonials etc. Will the Court of Inquiry into the accident examine this aspect too, it has brought the IAF into disrepute. And when will versions of the MiG-21 ~ other than the modernised Bisons ~ be withdrawn from operational service?









THE stubborn resistance being witnessed in East Midnapore over the recruitment of primary teachers is a symptom of more serious confrontations likely to occur as a result of political changes. It is no secret that thousands of primary schools have been the means of providing jobs to full-time cadres who are not even qualified to teach. The reverses suffered in the panchayat elections couldn't undo the damage done to schools where dropout rates are substantial and basic facilities remain pathetic. West Midnapore has a problem of its own where the Maoist menace makes it impossible to recruit teachers in about 150 primary schools. There simply are no applicants. It is a different story in East Midnapore where the ruling party's monopoly has resulted in the scandal of providing sympathisers with a means of livelihood. The resistance comes when the district primary school council, whose term has expired, proposes to recruit 4,000 primary teachers on the authority of a "nominated'' council. The objectives are clear. While the party had been exerting its influence on the local administration all these years, there is now public resistance that goes beyond a challenge posed by those who aspire to dislodge the Left. 

More than the question of political changes, it is a matter of rescuing the education system from sectarian interests. It may be too much to expect the district primary school councils to perform without political bosses breathing down their necks. The least that can be done is to set up a convincing method of recruitment where the most deserving are appointed. Teachers' associations in the state are already sharply divided. It is worse in East Midnapore because there is a court order on irregular appointments and there is such tangible evidence of corruption that primary teachers who disgraced themselves after being appointed in 2005 have been asked to appear for a fresh written test. With assembly elections less than a year from now, the Left is obviously in a hurry. But the scandal of the PTTI students who suffered immensely as a result of being misled into irregular courses should deter the Left from indulging in further misadventures in primary education. There are few offences more serious than appointing unqualified teachers to destroy the foundations of social growth.








THE CPI-M is in serious crisis. It has never faced such a threat to its supremacy since  it assumed power in Bengal in 1977. Its record of being the longest serving Marxist government in a parliamentary democracy ~ embracing Lenin's concept of united front ~ is likely to be consigned to the pages of history in a year from now.
In so critical a situation, the party is not going to curtail the tenure of its government,  and incur greater misfortune. The party leadership is, therefore, not expected to advise the Chief Minister to resign as a mark of respect to the people's mandate. And then seek a fresh mandate before the elections scheduled for May 2011. A change in the leadership of the government, as well as the party, also appears rather remote. There is no alternate line of command, comprising leaders with greater stature and influence. 

The best course of action will be to try and revamp the organisation and the administration during the period leading to the election. The party has rightly decided to conduct another round of soul-searching to ascertain the factors behind the electoral reverses. Based on the findings, it ought to take political and organisational steps to win back the support of the core constituents, disillusioned with the party  in recent times.

Minority electorate

THE last two election results have shown that large sections of the Muslims, women and youth have moved away from the party. They have veered towards the Trinamul and the Congress. Mamata Banerjee has inspired far greater confidence among these important segments of  the electorate than the CPM-led Left Front. The minority electorate has once again proved that it prefers to be on the side of the party or a combination likely to win. They seem to have conveniently forgotten the Trinamul's past alliance with the BJP-led NDA.
The Marxist decline began with the panchayat elections in 2008. It was accentuated by the adverse fallout of  Singur and Nandigram. Both the party and the government lost balance and appeared too weak and inept to deal with the problems.  This resulted in a serious setback to the Chief Minister's policy of  industrialisation.
Before the government and the party could recover from the setback, they were put on the mat by the worst poll debacle ~ the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. With the lowest number of MPs in Parliament in recent times, the party lost the clout it had enjoyed as a force to reckon with at the national level. The civic poll struck yet another severe blow. Despite the split in the alliance with the Congress, the Trinamul gave a spectacular account of its electoral prowess. This has left only a figleaf for the CPI-M to cover the scars of reverses. The prospect of restoration of the alliance with the Congress in the 2011 mahayudha sounds ominous for the CPI-M. 

In so perilous a situation, it would be in order for the CPI-M to launch the second round of the Rectification Campaign. The first, undertaken in the aftermath of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, had come a cropper. Its major drawback was the lack of focus on malgovernance, the main cause of the downfall of the CPI-M, precipitated by poor work culture. Instead, the emphasis was on the organisational and political weaknesses with aberrations that afflicted the party right from the grassroots. The campaign didn't reflect on whether Communism, as a political philosophy, had lost touch with the current social and political dynamics.  It is also imperative to ascertain whether there is an urgent need for ideological corrections to retain the party's relevance to the people.

I wonder if the Indian Communists have a tradition of an open-house debate on the flaws, if any, noticed in the party philosophy and practice like their European counterparts. I do not recall the CPI-M conducting inner-party brainstorming sessions on Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalinism, the invasions of Hungary and later of Afghanistan by Russia, the Maoist brutalities in China, the end of the Cold War with the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolising the eclipse of Communism at the international level. The Indian Communists neither questioned the developments nor did they draw any lessons from them. But people do hold the view that in the face of globalisation and the forces of market economy, the state control has been  responsible for the atrophy of the economy. Individual creativity has been sapped for the lack of freedom of thought and expression. These factors have been overlooked and infirmities allowed to fester. Marxists are averse to any periodical evaluation of the health of the party and the image of the government, let alone take timely measures for correction.
Within the Marxists at home, sections of the party cadres and leaders do not approve of  the manner in which the Central leadership has acted in recent years. They lay the blame for the poor performance of the CPI-M in the 2009 elections and in the recent civic polls at the doors of both the central and state units. They describe the withdrawal of support to the Congress-led UPA on the question of  the nuclear deal as a clear repudiation of the party line delineated at the Coimbatore congress in 2008. It was a call to defeat the communal forces while strengthening secularism by supporting the Congress and persuading it to adopt more and more pro-people policies. According to them, the rupture in relations with the Congress and the Third Front floated before the 2009 elections led to the resurgence of the Trinamul and its alliance with the Congress in West Bengal. It is now for the CPI-M to ponder if these issues merit any discussion under the Rectification Campaign, 2009.

Politics of confrontation

ON the political front, the politics of confrontation is the primary reason why the party has lost contact with a significant section of the masses. It has given rise to the politics of arrogance and divisiveness along political lines. None, including the seniors, both at the state and national levels, had the courage to acknowledge that the people  resented the  strong streaks of insolence and intolerance at all levels of the party hierarchy. Far worse has been  the growing incapacity of the leaders to listen and respond to different views with an open mind. 
This virus of indifference and loss of civility has infected the Opposition as well. It has  refused to share any platform with the ruling party to even discuss issues of public interest. The culture that has grown over the years is one of brazen high-handedness. Intimidation and coercion have become the instruments to force subordination to the party. The party brooks no room for dissent and the leaders  want others to say what they want to hear. Those who violate this culture are branded as dissidents and revisionists and isolated. The emphasis has been on staying in power at all cost.

The party has mastered the art of manipulating the electoral machine with the direct connivance of the administration at different levels. The fact that the party had won successive elections over three decades had made the leaders believe that everything was in order. The party failed to realise that the malaise had become malignant. It is now a grave situation that cannot be set right in a year's time.

More than the Rectification Campaign, which tends to become cosmetic in nature, the party needs to firm up a five-year plan to undertake a cleansing drive while sitting in the Opposition. It must work in a constructive manner to emerge as a party of relevance in today's world.

The writer is former Director, Intelligence Bureau, Government of India, and former Governor of Nagaland







It is of course extremely shocking that the culprits of Bhopal have been let off so cheaply - in fact the culprit-in-chief has been left entirely untouched to continue his luxurious life in a US mansion. What is even more shocking and even less excusable is the unending tragedy of the lives of the gas victims. As a result of official blunders, they've been deprived of billions of rupees worth of compensation which could have contributed to better medicare, nutrition and overall support of families whose bread-winners, if they survived at all, were deprived of much of their capacity for physical work.

While the tragedy witnessed on the night of the Bhopal gas disaster is almost beyond words, it needs to be emphasised that medical investigations over the next few months also made it clear that the serious health impact suffered by the people are likely to be long-lasting and also may spill over to the following generations in many cases.

According to the report of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), referred to as the ICMR Report, titled Health Effects of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy (April, 1986), "It must be recognised that while the eyes and respiratory system showed striking disturbances from the beginning, widespread multi-organ involvement in the exposed population was also observed. There were cases of coma, a striking feature in the acute phase, gastrointestinal disturbances were common, there were significant lesions in the central nervous system; above all psychological trauma and behavioral disturbances continued to be a dominating feature without abatement to this day. Both sexes, all ages from the conceptu in utero to old age were affected. There were early indications of immunological disturbances with as yet unforeseeable effects on host susceptibility to environmental infections and other hazards; chromosomal abnormalities were noted in the early acute phase; their significance and persistence in the future is under study. Abortions were more frequent and intrauterine growth was retarded in a proportion of babies born to exposed mothers. It is clear that monitoring of ill effects and care of the afflicted have to be carried out for years."

In respect of common ailments relating to lungs, this study says, "A longitudinal follow-up of large groups of patients has revealed that in the initial four months the lung function showed partial recovery in severely affected cases after which, however, there was no change for the better.... It is feared that in patients with severely impaired function, complications would lead to severe or even total disability and shorten the life span."

The document noted on eye ailments: "A community based study on 85,000 population showed that about 95 per cent of persons residing in the severe/moderately and mildly exposed areas reported suffering from eye problems such as burning lacrimation, photophobia and blurring of vision immediately after exposure to the gas."

Regarding the study on new births in gas-affected areas this study said, "The study was conducted on 2,566 women who were pregnant at the time of gas leak with last menstrual period prior to 18 November 1984. The spontaneous abortion rate was 24.2 per cent. This rate is almost three times that of the national average of 7-8 per cent. An additional 1.2 per cent women had late fetal expulsion (21-27 weeks). The stillbirth rate was 26.1/1000 deliveries. There were 33 new-born with congenital malformations giving a rate of 15.3/1000 deliveries. The perinatal mortality rate was 68.3/1000 deliveries and neonatal mortality rate was 59.1/1000 live births. The comparative national figures for urban areas are 7.9 for stillbirths, 35.3 for perinatal mortality and 39.1 for neonatal mortality."

"The infant mortality rate among babies born to exposed mothers and who have completed one year of age on 1 March 1986 is 110/1000 births. The national figure for infant mortality in urban areas is 65.2".
The reason for quoting these statements by officially recognised sources is to establish this fact very clearly that the government was fully informed about the many-sided, serious, long-persisting health problems and ailments of the gas tragedy victims. Despite this recognition, the government could not put in place an adequate and caring medicare system to meet this enormous challenge.

As for the situation which prevailed till 14 months after the tragedy, D Raghunandan reported the Economic and Political Weekly (22 February 1986), "A variety of drugs has been administered without appropriate dosages schedules or instructions to the largely uneducated population, without any proper medical records, prescription or follow-up, vast sections also obtained such random medicines from multiple sources including several quacks and unscrupulous private practitioners. To complete the horror picture, most medication is, of course, taken on empty stomachs rendered emptier by the drop in incomes."

In a memorandum to the chief minister dated 14 October, 1989 Mr Abdul Jabbar, co-ordinator of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan, an organisation of gas affected people alleged that a large number of gas-affected people had not been medically examined yet, and of the 3,41,000 medical examinations done yet, most examinations have not been done properly.

Anil Sadgopal and Sujit K Das reported (EPW 28 November, 1987): "Freshly available medical evidence recently submitted to the Supreme Court of India shows that the poison from the Bhopal gas leak may still be persisting in the bodies of gas victims. This finding would have major consequences on the very nature and quality of the compensation case against Union Carbide Corporation U.S.A. (UCC). Although this investigation was carried out under the aegis of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the premier medical research organisation of the country the ICMR authorities failed to see the profound significance of this new evidence and terminated the project prematurely. Consequently the toxicological status of gas victims could not be monitored beyond March 1987."

On 14 February, 1989 came a court judgement limiting compensation payment to less than one-sixth of what the Government of India had conservatively claimed. A lawyer of the Union Carbide commented on this judgement's impact on Carbide executives, " A few hundred bottle of champagne must have popped around the world."

In fact, as even the $3 billion claims made by the govrnment of India had been regarded as a low claim, the agreement reached on $470 million took away $2,530 million from gas victims at one go (Rs 3,000 million - Rs 470 million).

The final outcome, according to some recent estimates, is that after 25 years on average a gas victim has got as little as Rs 12,000. This is shocking keeping in view the seriousness of the distress suffered by many of them over such a long period of time.

This is why it needs to be emphasised that while steps to ensure punishment for the culprits in the Bhopal gas tragedy are certainly needed, even more important are satisfactory arrangements for medicare of gas victims and overall support for their families.

The writer is a social activist, currently a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi (0)







Gunships growl above the city and a radio programme passes a dismal verdict on Afghanistan's deepening troubles. In a car stuck in Kabul's traffic, an impish-looking man gives his prognosis: "Everywhere there is fighting, you know," Taj Malik says. "The solution of all the problems is – cricket!" And then he doesn't so much laugh as gurgle with joy.

Mr Malik is the coach of the Afghan national team, and he has spent much of the last few years dragging his squad on a quixotic mission to qualify for the ICC World Cup. On the way, the group has given a country doing a brisk trade in bad news a real-life fairytale.

A documentary about their rise, Out of the Ashes, is being premiered at the Edinburgh film festival. But while the film opens with Mr Malik's paean to his beloved sport in a Kabul snarl-up, his team first grew in far less hospitable circumstances. Go back to the side's early days and you'd have to travel to the refugee camps outside Peshawar, near Pakistan's north-west frontier. It was on these stony, rubble-strewn plains that many of the players first picked up bat and ball. Even at an early age Malik was living and breathing the sport, playing truant to play cricket.

In the aftermath of the 2001 invasion, the notion of a national cricket team began to coalesce as millions of Afghan refugees returned from exile. The team swapped the pitted concrete wickets of the Kacha Gari refugee camp for four nets and a temperamental bowling machine in Kabul – known collectively as the Afghan National Cricket Academy.

The facilities in Kabul were so bad, in fact, and Afghanistan still so insecure, that the team had to travel eight hours back to Pakistan to play practice games. Many of the players still live in Pakistan. But there was a sense among the players, the film-maker Tim Albone recalls, of "a sense of national pride and a need to show their commitment to their fellow countrymen".

By 2008, the team was en route to Jersey for the first in a series of qualifying tournaments that would ultimately see them climb 76 places in the world rankings. Except in the most fervent believer's heart, there was no sense of the things to come – and it was a complete surprise when they won their group, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in a game against the hosts. Minutes earlier, as a batting collapse threatened to dash their hopes, tension mounted and tempers frayed. But in the end they defied spectators who had predicted they would "be back in Afghanistan by Saturday". Along the way the team also showed the passion and sense of wonder that have made their story all the more compelling – and that the film-makers Tim Albone, Lucy Martens and Leslie Knott captured with a lingering eye for detail, whether this is Mr Malik stepping gingerly on to an escalator for the first time at Dubai International airport, or creasing up when he spots blue-rinsed pensioners line-dancing at a hotel in Jersey.

Malik is the team's heartbeat – a bundle of nerves who cries when his team wins, cries when they lose and smokes two packets of cigarettes in a game. He claims his players remind him of Australia's cricket team.
Three of Mr Malik's brothers have played at different points, the most prominent being Karim "boom boom" Saddiq, a big hitter currently opening the batting, and the team's delinquent prodigy. When he isn't punching windows or making his views on team selection known in the Afghan press – as was the case when his brother Hasti Gul was dropped – he's keeping wicket, bowling and vice-captaining the side.

Then there is Nowroz Managl, the captain, who would rather have been an engineer if only he'd been academic enough – but is so dedicated to his team that he skipped the birth of his son to attend a cricket training camp.
There is Raes Ahmadzai, who has co-founded an NGO running cricket training across Afghanistan, and is mobbed by dirty-faced children in the street in Kabul, chanting "Ahmadzai, give me a bat! Give me a ball!"
And there is Gulbadeen Naib, the rookie with a body-building regime to make Schwarzenegger blush, and behind his boyish good looks a sad personal story that involves a disappeared father and a terminally ill mother. When he was dropped from the team, he said the hardest thing for his family to grasp was "how one who has flown so high can fall".

Almost as inspirational as the cricket team's improbable success is that of the Out of the Ashes crew. The three initial members, relatively inexperienced, followed the story for over two years, doing bit jobs and borrowing money for plane fares to whichever continent the ICC qualifying matches were taking place on. Even though the narrative was easy to follow, "it was such a complicated project because we were always broke", Martens says. "Everyone was always somewhere else." Knott was in Canada trying to find a buyer for the footage. Albone had gone to Iraq to report on the war. At the last minute, the three of them flew out to Tanzania to track the team's progress, and after that "it was clear we couldn't go back anymore; we had to continue".
Now the Oscar-winning Hollywood director Sam Mendes has thrown his weight behind the project. He persuaded Albone, Martens and Knott to finish the narrative by following the team for one last adventure that would see Afghanistan take on the giants of the game at the World Twenty20 tournament in the West Indies. The team was bundled out quickly enough in matches against India and South Africa but perhaps the best measure of their success is the number of cricket games taking place in the streets of Kabul – and in rural districts blighted by poverty and war.

If Malik ever needed vindication for his impossible dream, this is it. "If we win, I think people will understand that the Afghan people are not only famous in war," he said early in the qualifying campaign. "They can win in sport as well."

The Independent







We are glad to see that the Special Committee of the Calcutta Corporation appointed to consider the hackney carriage service are now taking a more sensible attitude towards the problem they have been set to solve. The idea of abolishing the third-class gharries has been abandoned, rubber-typed phaetons are to be confined to the first-class, and the second-class will consist exclusively of bund-gharries. We trust also that the proposal to promote some of the present second-class phaetons into the first-class has also been abandoned. In regard to fares for the first-class the opinion of representative public bodies is to be taken, and the fares of the other classes will remain as they are with the exception that the second-class will be permitted to make an extra charge for luggage, which seems reasonable enough. The best recommendation, however, is that standard model gharries should be built and that no vehicle should be sanctioned which does not come up to this standard. This carries us a few steps on the path of reform, and the only suggestion we have to make is that an opportunity should be given for a public expression of opinion on the merits of the "model" vehicle, before it is adopted.
A correspondence is passing between the Government of India and the Secretary of State on the subject of strengthening the Excise staff in Burma, and increasing the number of Europeans in the service with a view to bringing the opium consumption in Burma under closer control and reducing the consumption of the drug amongst the general population, and gradually advancing towards the total prohibition of it, so far as the Burmese themselves are concerned.







Concerns over inflation, in the government, the corporate world and among the urban public at large, may have been moderate up until now, but the latest figures — a 10.16 per cent increase in the wholesale price index in May — suggest that inflation is no longer benign. To add emphasis to that feeling, inflation for March was revised upwards from 9.9 per cent to just over 11 per cent; it can be expected that the numbers for May would be revised upwards accordingly some time later. But here is the scarier thought: policy actions may be able to do very little to rein it in. If anything, some analysts believe that past policy measures may actually be responsible for keeping inflation stubbornly high. All the factors that helped India manage the credit crisis may now be feeding the inflation beast. First, take agriculture. Here and globally, supplies have been low, across several categories, including in India. Wheat crops in Australia and oilseeds in Malaysia — to name just two instances — have impacted the food supply situation adversely. Measures to provide incentives to consumption, such as the national rural employment guarantee scheme, have been introduced when supply conditions have been under stress, raising prices in the open market. Then, the government raised its minimum support price for pulses to farmers after the sowing season which may have pushed prices up for consumers even further: the timing of that measure is questionable at the very least.


Next, commodity prices were affected by rupee depreciation. In May this year, when metal prices had moderated, they continued to be high in India; futures contracts that companies entered into are in dollars and for delivery beyond May. Consequently, the depreciation of the rupee and the strength of the dollar kept prices firmly higher; now metal prices in global markets are beginning to catch up, so a reduction in inflation from lower commodity prices seems difficult.


Then, gas prices were hiked by the government, the impact of which was most evident in the settlement of the dispute between the Ambani brothers following the Supreme Court verdict on the subject. That adds more than a little fuel to the fuel price component of the WPI, and increases input costs. The evidence strongly suggests that supply side factors have influenced inflation the most, and it is on the supply side that we must look for solutions. It would be a grave mistake to raise interest rates now (and the finance minister, to his credit, has said he is not in favour of any such increase as a reaction to inflation concerns); it would be not just wrong, but bad policy.







When politicians play their games, the people usually suffer. But what the people of Manipur have suffered for over 65 days because of a political stand-off is quite extraordinary. The long blockade of the highway that links the state to other parts of India made life miserable for the people, making essential items scarce and pushing up prices abnormally. But all that did not seem to bother either the administration or the politicians too much. Imagine this happening to a big state or city elsewhere in the country and the furore it would have sparked. That the blockade has been allowed to continue for so long shows how cavalier New Delhi can be about the people and the issues in the Northeast. True, local politicians and groups patronized by them were behind it all. But both New Delhi and Kohima should have done much more to end the impasse and save innocent people from the long ordeal. Such insensitivity on the part of the administration has been the primary reason for the growing sense of alienation among large sections of the people in the region.


Hopes of an end to the blockade have brightened after the prime minister's meeting with the Naga Students' Federation. But Manmohan Singh's intervention also points to the failure of the Union home ministry. In its anxiety to not derail the Naga peace talks, the ministry may have preferred a soft approach on ending the blockade. But that clearly was a wrong approach as the people of Manipur not only suffered because of it but also felt abandoned by New Delhi. The issue of the integration of Manipur's Naga-majority areas into a 'greater Nagaland' is a complicated one and would require extremely tactful handling. The lesson from the blockade, however, is that the Naga peace process must not be allowed to disrupt normal life either in Manipur or in Nagaland. Hopefully, the Naga groups will honour their commitment to the prime minister to lift the blockade. However, what the administration does now is more important. A government's anxiety to not precipitate a crisis is understandable. But that cannot be an excuse for inaction.









Responding to a question in Parliament, the defence minister, A.K. Antony, recently reaffirmed the government's stance on the Henderson Brooks report. The report was the outcome of an army inquiry held in 1963 into the military debacle against China the previous year. The defence minister claimed that the report could not be declassified, for its contents "are not only extremely sensitive but are of current operational value". Antony's statement was entirely in keeping with the refusal of successive governments to make public the contents of the report. In an egregious ruling issued last year, the Central Information Commission held that "no part of the report might at this stage be disclosed" under the provisions of the Right to Information Act.


This refusal to unwrap the shroud of secrecy is justified on seemingly reasonable but wholly untenable grounds. In its submission to the CIC, the army headquarters contended that reports of internal inquiries are "not even submitted to the Government", never mind declassification for public consumption. Furthermore, declassification of the report would be tantamount to "disclosure of the army's operational strategy in the North-East". Finally, the contents of the report had a direct bearing on the question of demarcating the line of actual control with China. The CIC agreed after inspecting the report that declassifying it would "seriously compromise" India's security and its relationship with China. Would it?


For a start, the claim that the findings of a military inquiry are not forwarded to the government is jejune. The Indian military is very much answerable to the political leadership. The government can requisition any such report. Indeed, the Henderson Brooks report was forwarded by the army chief to the defence minister in July 1963, who in turn sent it to the prime minister.


The key operational findings of the report have been well known for the last four decades. Neville Maxwell's book, India's China War (published in 1970), tore a gaping hole through the wall of official secrecy. Maxwell was able to access the main body of the report running into 222 pages. In an article published in the Economic and Political Weekly in 2001, he confirmed as much. The operational aspects of the 1962 war have also been discussed threadbare in a host of memoirs and historical studies. Most importantly, the official history of the war commissioned by the ministry of defence draws on the Henderson Brooks report and has been available on the internet for some years now. So much for the secrecy of the army's operational strategy.


To be sure, it may be inadvisable to reveal some of the details of tactical deployment. But the government could have adopted a more forthcoming stance. For one thing, it could have released those portions of the report whose contents are already public knowledge. For another, it could have redacted sensitive details and declassified the report — a procedure routinely followed in many Western democracies.


The argument about the report's relevance to the demarcation of the LAC is equally specious. The LAC is supposed to divide the areas that have been under Indian and Chinese control since the end of the 1962 war. It was not, however, mutually agreed upon by the two sides. In the Arunachal Pradesh sector, both India and China claim that the LAC follows the McMahon Line. The problem is that since 1959, India and China have differed on just where the McMahon Line actually runs. There are grey areas, which lie north of the McMahon Line as marked in the original treaty maps of 1914, but are actually south of the highest watershed. India's position — which China does not accept — is that the line was intended to run along the highest range of mountains dividing Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh, and, despite discrepancies, the boundary had to be accordingly interpreted.

The fact that prior to 1962 there was discussion on the Indian side of this aspect of the McMahon Line is rather well documented. It is also known that the Indian government decided unilaterally to give effect to its understanding of the line. Jawaharlal Nehru revealed this in Parliament as far back as late 1959. It is not clear how declassification of the Henderson Brooks report can complicate current diplomatic efforts. What's more, China has made it amply clear over the last many years that it is not interested in demarcating the LAC. It feels that such a step would be prejudicial to its avowed territorial claims and negotiating positions.


Declassifying the Henderson Brooks report, then, can hardly impair India's security or its foreign relations. For the historian, the chief interest of the report is not so much in what it may tell us about the war as in what it reveals about the impact of the war on the Indian security establishment.


In the aftermath of the war, the political leadership was vociferously criticized by the Opposition, press and public opinion. In response, the government instituted an inquiry into the army's operational performance. On instructions from the defence minister, the army chief appointed a two-member "operations review committee" comprising Lieutenant-General Henderson Brooks and Brigadier Prem Singh Bhagat. The inquiry was far from perfect. The committee was unable to access documents from the ministry of defence or the foreign office. Its hearings were unsystematic; key military players like the chief of general staff and IV Corps commander, Lieutenant General B.M. Kaul, were not invited for questioning.


The committee's approach and findings reflected the dominant view in the military regarding the reasons for the debacle. Among other things, the report told an admonitory tale of meddlesome politicians, a timorous military, and the ensuing but avoidable catastrophe. Determined to trespass beyond its remit, the report concluded that the higher direction of the war was "out of touch with reality". This was, it bears emphasizing, a judgment passed by two not-so-senior military officers on the elected political leadership of the country.


This narrative, at best radically incomplete and at worst downright false, was congenial to the military and soon became a morality pageant. The central lesson drawn from it was the importance of 'standing up' to politicians who intruded in professional matters. In the loss of nerve induced by the war, civilians too came to believe that the military must be given a free hand. So, following the defeat against China, a convention was established whereby the civilian leadership restricted itself to giving overall directives, leaving operational matters to the military. As the then defence secretary later observed, "In the view of the public outcry since the 1962 debacle about the relative role of politicians and the Services and their chiefs", the military leadership was given "a long rope". This institutional pattern of civil-military interaction persists to date and has served us ill.


The government's stonewalling over the Henderson Brooks report, however, is merely a specific instance of a wider problem: the absence of a system in which the 30-year norm for declassification is scrupulously followed by the ministries. The claim that documents pertaining to a 'live' issue cannot be declassified simply does not wash. The American and British governments have released hundreds of important documents pertaining to the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even Israel has followed the 30-year norm for declassification and has opened up records pertaining to past conflicts that have a direct bearing on contemporary issues: the expulsion of Palestinians during the 1948 war, for instance.

Robust and well-informed debates on contemporary history are crucial in a democratic system. Unlike States that are self-consciously ideological or religious, democracies do not have the luxury of falling back on abstract principles or systems to guide their behaviour. They can only scrutinize their own history for illumination if not instruction. The greatest strength of a democracy is its capacity for self-correction. But this hinges on its ability both to come to terms with its past and to understand how the present was shaped. Calcified notions of State secrecy should not be allowed to vitiate this vital task of self-understanding.








As soon as the Rajya Sabha passed the women's reservation bill, ensuring 33 per cent reservations for women in Parliament and state legislative assemblies, the issue of backward and Muslim women jigged to the centre of the debate. Earlier, whenever Muslim women managed to come into the limelight, it was all grabbed by the Imranas and the Gudias, not to forget the Shahbanos — supposed to be living in the dark ages, oppressed by their own men. But all of a sudden, something changed. Everyone started searching for a leader in them, or making one out of them if possible.


A couple of self-made leaders may have emerged from the grassroots, but who can deny that since Independence there has been largely symbolic politics around Indian women, especially Muslim women? Why else could that community not produce even a single Sushma Swaraj or Mayavati in the last 60 years? Paradoxically, in the debate on Muslim women in and outside Parliament, the women themselves are completely missing. So disempowered are they that they need others to represent them even to the public and the media.


In the last 15 parliamentary elections, a total of 549 women went to the Lower House; only 18 of them were Muslim. At least six Lok Sabhas did not have a single Muslim woman.


The people of India sent three Muslim women to Parliament in the last elections (the highest number in a Lok Sabha so far). Looking at their backgrounds, one finds that the member of parliament from Malda, Mausam Noor, is the niece of the former Union minister, A.B.A. Ghani Khan Choudhury; the Kairana MP, Tabassum Begum, is the widow of the powerful Bahujan Samaj Party MP, Munawar Hasan; and the parliamentarian from Sitapur, Kaiser Jahan, is the wife of Sitapur's sitting BSP MLA, J. Ansari. It is nearly impossible to assume that these women would have still made it to Parliament without the support of their male family members.


Number game


According to some, if and when this bill becomes an act, it will be the biggest socio-political event since Independence. They say it will not just change the picture of Indian Parliament but the overall approach of Indian society towards its women, as also that of the world towards India.


The Sachar committee in its findings outlined that a shockingly low number of Muslim women go to university to get a graduation degree. Non-Muslim women are much better off. Compared to other societies, Muslim society, due to the hijab and other prevailing practices, largely does not motivate its women to venture out of home. A flashback of the last 15 elections has made us astute enough to apprehend that it is almost impossible for a Muslim candidate to get elected from an area that is not dominated by Muslims. We will be hoodwinking ourselves to think that gender will transcend caste and religion — a non-Muslim majority will elect a Muslim woman just because she is a woman. If gender could change so much, then why was there not a single woman parliamentarian who could go against her party line to speak her mind?


That a number of Muslim-majority areas have been reserved for Dalits is also one of the reasons given by the Sachar committee for the political under-representation of Muslims. In its present form, there is no provision in the women's reservation bill that forbids reserving more such seats for women candidates only. So the general seats available for Muslim male candidates would be only 45 per cent. Even if we are to believe that Muslim women leaders will emerge from unexpected quarters, and that their numbers will multiply, they are still set to bring down the overall figure of Muslim representatives reaching Delhi.







A literary festival that started this year in Bhutan brought together an amazing mix of ideas, individuals and experiences, writes Malvika Singh


It was poetic, lyrical and most unusual. There was none of the hype, the pushing and shoving, the endless public relations jig. Instead, there was a sense of camaraderie and of a gracious respect for one another. For me, it was a privilege to attend the first ever literary festival in Thimphu, with the Queen as its patron. The inauguration of Mountain Echoes by Her Majesty, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, at the auditorium of the Indian embassy, hosted by the ambassador, Pavan Varma, was charming, replete with happy welcomes and poetry readings from both the nations, Bhutan and India.


Her Majesty lit the lamp, and welcomed the participants, establishing Mountain Echoes as an event that will bring writers and poets together in Bhutan every year. This was followed by an address by the prime minister, Jigme Y. Thinley, on Gross National Happiness and Bhutan's quest for an inclusive governance of the kingdom where growth is marked on indicators of happiness. As a young nation that functioned as a 'democracy' even under its much-loved monarch, Bhutan is experimenting with a way of life that could become the mantra of the future in a fast globalizing world. We all have a great deal to learn from its chosen path, particularly in a greedy and strife-ridden world. This was followed by a series of readings that set the mood for the days ahead.


Varma hosted a wonderful evening at his place, spilling onto his garden where dinner was served under decorative Bhutanese canopies with the dramatic backdrop of a pristine, lush green mountain rising up high from the banks of a crystal clear river. It was a magical setting with the prime minister, some members of his cabinet, leader of the Opposition, former and present diplomats, scholars, writers, poets, and all the participants getting acquainted with one another. The India-Bhutan Foundation, with Siyahi, the Tarayana Foundation and others, had calibrated this event with care and dedication: that much was clear from the moment the lamp was lit by Her Majesty.


All the sessions thankfully lacked the predictable pomposity of the 'celebrated', exclusively packaged authors who trapeze from festival to festival, actively pushing their 'envelopes' forward. In sharp contrast, this was a non-pretentious exchange of work, ideas, compulsions and camaraderie. It was comparatively small and therefore people attending were able to connect with one another in a fruitful way, letting down their guard as they shared their experiences with one another.


The author and organizer, Namita Gokhale, in conversation with Pavan Varma in his avatar as a prolific author, was the first intervention. A return to roots — culture and identity. It was a riveting exposition with Varma at his eloquent best, speaking out with nuanced restraint but saying it all. His ease with words, his turn of phrase as he emphatically established his strong point of view, had the audience mesmerized. This was followed by "Words as Arrows: Poetry and Archery", a fascinating dialogue between a young poet and writer from Shillong, Kynpham Sing, and Jigme Drukpa. Sing's poem, "Shillong in Haiku", summed up the urban horror of India graphically. Drukpa, a folk performer and ethnomusicologist, explained the songs sung at archery competitions, and played an exquisite string instrument as he danced and sang a special song. Resounding applause.


Then there was Kunzang Choden, a Bhutanese writer of stories, expert on food and social mores, in conversation with the publisher, Urvashi Butalia, on the theme, "Of women, by women". Bulbul Sharma and Dorji Penjore on folktales and shared stories; Chetan Bhagat, popular with the young in Thimphu, talking about young writers and young readers; the poet, Gulzar, reciting poems about nature with Pavan Varma translating them for the audience, an extraordinary and memorable jugalbandi.


Patrick French was there in dialogue with Sadanand Dhume on the "Quest for Younghusband"; Omair Ahmad, author of A Storyteller's Tale, and Dasho Karma Ura talked about "Bhutan — the inner self" and then did another session with Mitali Saran on encountering the Himalaya. Namita Gokhale and Pavan Varma had a lively exchange, moderated by Sadanand Dhume, on "Ancient epics, Modern Times". Finally, Pek-Dorji, who heads the Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy, Ravi Singh of Penguin, Choki Tshomo, the managing director of Kuzoo FM radio, Dasho Kinley Dorji, the managing director and editor-in-chief of Kuensel (Bhutan's national newspaper), Leila Seth and Namita Bhandare, Shekhar Pathak on "Mapping the Himalaya", and many others made Mountains Echoes a grand success.


Lunches and dinners, one hosted by the home minister with an array of unusual Bhutanese cuisine from yak skin to wild boar curry, a rock music concert at the Clock Tower, an audience with His Majesty at the Indian embassy, where Gulzar sahib and Pavan Varma gave us the pleasure of another jugalbandi, much sharing and laughter, added a special dimension to this extraordinary experience in the magical kingdom, tucked away in the high and formidable, stunning and protective Himalaya.


As Gulzar has written about books in his poem dedicated to them: "They peer from beyond/ Glasses of locked cupboards,/ They stare longingly/ For months we do not meet/ The evenings once spent in their company/ Now pass at the computer screen./ They are so restless now, these books —/ They have taken to walking in their sleep/ They stare longingly...." And he goes on, ending with: "But what of/ The pressed flowers and scented missives/ Hidden between their pages,/ And the love forged on the pretext/ Of borrowing, dropping and picking up books together/ What of them?/ That perhaps, shall no longer be!"


This literary festival organized by Mita Kapur of Siyahi, and the many others that she conceives of and puts together with deft professionalism, helps to push the envelope and keep books alive and kicking; authors, both aspiring and established, excited with their creative juices flowing, despite the sound-bite culture that has overwhelmed us all; and most importantly, these events are the oases of sanity that nurture and propel flights of the imagination to reach beyond the Himalaya and the skies. At Mountain Echoes it was the young, high-school audience, interspersed with the predictable 'types' like us, that silently, but firmly, endorsed the importance of such encounters.


The grace, dignity and hospitality were unforgettable. Three cheers.



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





The steady rise of inflation, which touched double digits in May, has belied all talks of moderation and containment. The just released figures show that headline inflation has surged to 10.16 per cent, the highest in the last 18 months, in spite of claims  made by the government that the price pressures are waning.  The actual figure could be higher, as it has been seen from the revision of the provisional 9.9 per cent to a final 11.04 per cent for March. Various authorities, including the prime minister, had projected a fall to a benign rate of around 5 per cent by the end of the year. That seems to be unrealistic considering the relentless spiralling of prices and inability of the measures undertaken by the government and the Reserve Bank to keep them down. The rabi crop was expected to exert a moderating influence but now the hope has shifted to a good monsoon and a good kharif harvest.

What is of greater concern is that inflationary pressures have  widened and have now extended from food items, including grains, pulses and vegetables to manufactured goods too. The prices of pulses have risen by as much as 32 per cent and those of foodgrain and vegetables by 5-8 per cent. Manufacturing prices have increased by over 6 per cent. This was despite the fact that there was no substantial increase in money supply. Credit growth is not high and money is actually being drained out of the system. Therefore the price hikes could possibly have come from the shortage of goods for various reasons. It is here that a higher agricultural output and increased availability of manufactured goods becomes important. But they do not present an immediate solace for the people struggling to manage  their budgets. 

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has said that the present rising rising trend might continue till July but has ruled out any hike in interest rates. The wider expectation is that the RBI should resort to more monetary tightening and may act even before the policy review in the last week of July. But the tight liquidity in the market may make it difficult for the central bank to take immediate action. The failure on the price front has been the UPA government's biggest failure. Percentages of economic economic growth do not make any sense to the common man if the prices, where the economy touches him, give him only distress.









The national executive meeting of the BJP which has concluded in Patna was expected to fortify the alliance between the party and the JD(U), its ally in Bihar, but has actually widened the cracks in the relationship. Patna was selected for the meet because the state will go in for assembly elections later this year and a show of solidarity between the two parties was important, especially for the BJP. To respect the sensitivities of the JD(U) leader and chief minister Nitish Kumar, the BJP had de-emphasised its contentious hindutva issues and focused on matters of common concern like the Maoist threat and inflation. But a controversy over an advertisement featuring Gujarat chief minister Modi and his role brought to the centre-stage the minorities' issue and led to a standoff between the two parties.

The focus on Modi was enough provocation for Nitish who has always projected his party as secular and has relied on Muslims also as a major source of support. The JD(U)'s apprehension is that the invocation of Modi's name would alienate the Muslims and it would be exploited by Lalu Prasad and even the Congress which are going to be the party's rivals in the elections. Nitish has nurtured a social combination of backward castes, Dalits and Muslims which was successful in the last assembly polls and the parliament elections and therefore an association with the hindutva face of the BJP could only be risky. Nitish wants to be counted as Bihar's development icon in view of the remarkable economic growth registered by the state during his chiefministership. That was clear from his comment that Bihar is not so weak as to need guidance from Gujarat. For a person who has refused to be seen in public with Modi and did not want Modi to campaign in Bihar, the splashing of a photograph in which both held hands could have been only offensive.

 In spite of efforts to play down the impact of the controversy, some damage has been done to the coherence of the alliance.  There have been talks about Nitish parting ways with the BJP, especially when the party has been weakened after the Lok Sabha elections. It may or not happen but the alliance will be on test in the coming months







In Delhi's art circles, one meets all sorts of people but there are some one would like to know more about. Anjolie is in latter category.



Meeting Anjolie Ela Menon, the brilliant painter, reminded me of the numerous off-beat characters who were once part of my life.

But, Anjolie first: The conversation glides past Genet and Ionesco. Inevitably, Paris looms large. "Oh! How I kick myself for not drinking all that marvellous French wine those days." Next moment she is cradling a bleating baby goat just outside the Nizamuddin shrine with the expert ease of goatherds. In fact it is impossible to arrest Anjolie Ela Menon in one defining phrase.

In Delhi's art circles one meets all sorts of people but there are some one would like to know more. Anjolie is distinctly in the latter category, always fluent, unaffected with those candid, sharp eyes.

But my image of her, for reasons unknown, was one of snooty cosmopolitanism until a TV interview took me to her studio located in the most cavernous bylanes which zig zag their way to the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia. "Of course the spirit of Sufism influences me greatly." Then after a pause, "I don't believe in religion in the conventional way."

When she hears of famous Qawwals singing at the shrine, she does turn up for attendance clapping and swaying. How do you square this with her passion for jazz? Just when you begin to lazily notice in her a touch of restrained bohemianism, she take you by surprise all over again.

After studying art in Paris, galavanting around the world with friends, escaping Francis Newton Souza's advances, "I returned to marry my childhood love," distinguished Naval officer, Raja Menon "the most well read man I know."

The bleating goat Anjolie is playing with in the torrid sun by the side of Nizamuddin's largest Madarsa is no artistic affectation. Walk into her studio and the nudes, the Russian priest, figures in oil are all interspersed with people carrying a goat or leading one. There is this inexplicable interest in the bleating herd.

Since Anjolie places Husain at the lofty, iconic height as one of her early influences, one wonders if Husain's earliest studio in Jama Masjid's Naaz hotel conditioned the choice of her studio. But this suggestion of imitativeness would be unfair. It would not do justice to this creative free spirit who straddles several worlds.

As I have said at the outset, she triggers old memories which ferret out other unconventional characters in such short supply these days. Anjolie is a success story; others are not. But they share one thing: they are off the beaten track.

Two westbound streams

In my formative years, there were two westbound streams. One lot, creatures of civil lines and the cantonments (other than the princes) sought admission at Oxford or Cambridge. The more unconventional went not to England but to Hampstead to mingle with struggling writers, poets, playwrights, painters, politicians and professional dilettantes.

Long years ago, Yen for the off-beat led me to the high decibel invective which passed for intellectual banter in Hampstead's populous pubs. Among the loudest was a short man with a goatie beard ranting for attention. This was my friend Sashti Brata. He was a writer of exceptional talent but short on themes.

His search for a place in the sun manifested itself in ways that constantly found him on the wrong side of the law. One of his irrepressible desires was to have a London street named after him. To realise this dream, he had carved in brass, about six inches tall, the following legend: 'Brata's corner.' Every night this legend was nailed on the wall behind his house on Savernake Road.

The phrase 'every night' in this narrative has poignant relevance. Because every morning, after having drunk a carafe of black coffee and smoked nearly a box of cigarettes, when Brata clothed himself to go behind the house to examine his immortality attached to the wall, he discovered that the bobby on the beat had pulled out the brass letters, nail by nail. Sisyphus-like, Sasthi would embark on the project again, touched not the slightest by intimations of mortality the next morning.

City of nawabs

My hometown Lucknow, was of course, God's own nursery for off beat people, stone broke but laughing. If you were prosperous you had to pretend to be otherwise to find entry. Lucknow had taken its cue from classical Brahminism: intellectual life was anti wealth.

But Lucknow was a city of nawabs, you might ask. Yes, but the nawabs themselves were more broke than most. As I have said elsewhere Lucknow's decline began in 1856 when Wajid Ali Shah was transported to Matia Burj near Calcutta.

Among our dearest friends was one Safdar, a wit, amateur poet, racouteur who talked incessantly of the rising cost of living because his monthly budget of Rs 20 (twenty) had been exhausted ten days before the month's end!

You had to book a table for a meal with Safdar weeks in advance. He was in such demand for his scintillating company. The most succinct observation on Safdar came from my friend Vinod Mehta, editor of Outlook. "The fellow doesn't know where his next meal is coming from; all he knows is it will be a terrific one."








Brazil, China, India and S Africa are the 'new kids on the block' and can no longer be excluded.


An editorial in a renowned French newspaper recently predicted that May 17, the date of the 'Declaration of Tehran' on Iran's nuclear programme — negotiated by Brazil and Turkey with Iran — will make history books. A commentator of a respected British daily suggested that the efforts put together by the two emerging countries challenged the primacy of UN Security Council's permanent members over issues of international peace and security — and that this was not received without discomfort.

Indeed, until recently all global decisions were made by a handful of traditional powers. The permanent members of the UNSC— Britain, China, France, Russia and the US, who are incidentally the five nuclear powers recognised as such by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — had (and still claim to have) the privilege of dealing the cards on matters of international peace and security. The G-8 was in charge of important decisions affecting the global economy. In questions related to international trade, the 'Quad' — the US, the European Union, Japan and Canada — dominated the scene.

Countries like Brazil, China, India, South Africa and a few others are the 'new kids on the block' among global players that shape international relations. They legitimately aspire to greater participation in international institutions, which still suffer from a 'democratic deficit.' Global decisions can no longer be made without listening to their voices.

At the ministerial meeting of the Doha Round in Cancún in 2003, Brazil, India, Argentina and other developing countries chose not to endorse a decision taken by the traditional stakeholders, especially the US and the EU, which disregarded their interests, mainly as far as agriculture was concerned. The creation of the World Trade Organisation G20 transformed the pattern of multilateral trade negotiations for good.

The financial crisis highlighted even more the coming of age of new actors. The financial
G-20, which is composed of both rich and developing countries, replaced the G-8 as the prime forum for discussions the world economy.

On climate change, emerging nations have always been important players. But at the 15th Conference of Parties of Copenhagen, the 'Accord,' however insufficient, was reached in a room where the president of the US negotiated with the leaders of BASIC — Brazil, South Africa, India and China.

On April 15, Brasilia was host to two consecutive meetings at the highest political level: the second BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) summit and the fourth IBSA Dialogue Forum (India, Brazil and South Africa). Such groups show a willingness and a commitment from emerging powers to redefine world governance. Many commentators singled out these twin meetings as more relevant than recent G-7 or G-8 gatherings.

Lack of practical result

Discussions on trade, finance, climate change and even global governance have begun to welcome developing countries. It is understood that without the presence of countries like China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico, no practical results could be obtained.

Paradoxically, issues related to international peace and security — some might say the 'hard core' of global politics — remain the exclusive territory of a small group of countries. The fact that Brazil and Turkey ventured into a subject that would be typically handled by the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany) — and, more importantly, were successful in doing so — disturbed the status quo.
The insistence on sanctions against Iran — effectively ignoring the Declaration of Tehran, and without even giving Iran time to respond to the comments of the 'Vienna Group'— confirmed the opinions of many analysts who claimed that the traditional centres of power will not share gladly their privileged status.

In football, the most universal of all sports, developing nations such as Brazil and Argentina have always been major players. It is time that in matters of war and peace, emerging nations such as Turkey and Brazil and others, such as India, South Africa, Egypt and Indonesia, have their voices heard. This will not only do justice to their credentials and abilities; it will also be better for the world.

(The writer is the foreign minister of Brazil)







Many designer homes churn on the strength of these remarkable ladies.


Not the one in the swanky car, though she is as much a working woman. But to the one who symbolises the other India. The working woman who plays both roles with such aplomb, that of the provider, the succour, the saviour and the caretaker at home. And the bai, the amma, the behn or the didi at work.

Sitting idly on a beautiful morning in the corner suite of a Mumbai hotel, I was looking out of the glass windows at the many high-rise buildings across, in posh Cuffe Parade. In balcony after balcony, I saw the ubiquitous bai step out of the windows dexterously in her neatly tied Maharashtrian style sari, to hang out washed clothes on the myriad balcony lines strung outside the window, in the typical metro Mumbai style. There were others vigorously dusting sea-facing windows or laying out to sun, washed utensils from probably a relaxed evening meal.

The wheels of so many of our designer homes churn on the strength of these remarkable ladies. So many gender diversity programmes in corporate India would go so out of the window without them. They, who in the early morning hours battle long queues for water, fight with air to get their choolas burning or jostle on land and in buses or trains to get a little space. And still walk in smiling into our homes, daily, wishing 'Good morning, Ma.'

Surveys and statistics say that women spend 10 times more time on household work than men. Also, they sleep on an average 2 hours less than men. This is apparently true even in families where women work full time. That bit of statistics will sound ridiculously off the mark when one thinks of the hours these beautiful behns spend working in their homes and in others homes.

My mother always said that the most beautiful sound in the morning was the one of the gate clicking open or the door bell ringing to herald the arrival of the household help.  Working women as also women of leisure, everywhere in the world will second that I am sure -  whether it is the much anticipated weekly arrival in bustling San Francisco or the more muted daily ritual in namma Bengaluru.

So even though it is not March 8th, even though it is not the annual International Women's Day or even the Year of the Woman, here's saluting these great women, who have made so many dreams possible for all of us! For whom work is imperative to keep their life in balance!









The Terkel Committee set up by the Israeli government to probe the Gaza flotilla raid would not have been established were it not for heavy international pressure. The government had already authorized other panels to probe the failures and learn the vital lessons of the affair. So the committee's primary purpose is to somehow help Israel counteract the concerted campaign of demonization being waged against it globally – a campaign for which the flotilla fiasco has provided a new impetus.

Unsurprisingly, the committee is drawing heavy fire from Israel's international critics, who were, and still are, hoping to empower another Goldstone-style commission. More surprisingly, the committee is drawing fire at home – especially via unprecedented attacks against its chairman, retired Supreme Court Justice Jacob Terkel.

It's fair to judge that in his 38 years on the bench, Terkel never attracted such attention.

TERKEL, 75, and his fellow panel members have criticized by Yediot Aharonot and Maariv for being too old (though Eliyahu Winograd took on the mammoth task of investigating the Second Lebanon War at age 80).

And the chairman has been attacked both for his perceived political orientation and ostensible professional unsuitability.

Terkel may not be identified with the Supreme Court's liberal inclination, yet it's disingenuous to accuse him of right-wing bias. In 2004 he was the justice who ruled against demolishing the Kisufim Junction building from which terrorists later murdered Tali Hatuel and her four daughters. And he is renowned as a defender of free speech, which led him to argue for the exoneration of the late Binyamin Kahane from sedition charges and also of the journalist Muhammad Jabarin, who was tried for supporting terrorist organizations.

Nevertheless, in a recent editorial, Haaretz rushed to slam Terkel as "part of the whitewash" and urge him to "return his mandate to the prime minister and demand that Netanyahu establish a government committee of inquiry with real powers."

Meanwhile, Hebrew University Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer lambasted Terkel on the Knesset Channel as "lacking experience in international law, which is the relevant specialty. He lacks the international standing of former justices Meir Shamgar or Aharon Barak. He was also appointed by the government."

Kremnitzer, who said he preferred "a state judicial inquiry commission whose members are picked by the Supreme Court's chief justice," noted Terkel's own advocacy (before his appointment) for a state inquiry.

The loudest anti-Terkel outcry followed his remarks last week on Army Radio in which he stated that he is "not a fan of personal conclusions. Foremost, to my mind, is the heart of the matter – preventing failures and shortcomings from reoccurring in future. Whether a given person is removed from office or whether someone's promotion is halted is secondary, in my view."

These comments, taken out of context, were subsequently misrepresented as indications of an undesirable predisposition which should disqualify Terkel from conducting any probe. The head of the Ometz watchdog organization, Aryeh Avneri, argued that with the above words Terkel had essentially already formulated his rulings, before any investigation had even gotten under way. Numerous anonymous "legal sources" were quoted both in the print and broadcast media as castigating Terkel.

But Terkel did not, in fact, rule out "personal conclusions," even though his committee was not formed to sack, censure or demote the powers-thatbe.

Rather than being regarded as a sign of prejudice, Terkel's lack of lust for political blood might actually signify fair-mindedness.

Those impatient to see heads roll would obviously be unhappy with any impartial candidate helming the probe and with its members. The issue here is plainly not Terkel. He is the pretext.

Caring primarily about the prevention of future failings is not an unacceptable premise. Indeed, it is an admirable imperative.

Moreover, given Terkel's record, there can be little doubt that if he discovers gross incompetence on anyone's part, he will expose it.







What impels people of this caliber to contribute to self-deprecating outbursts in the foreign media?

Talkbacks (16)

It is surely ironic that simultaneously with the emergence of a broad consensus endorsing a centrist position and the marginalization of extremist left- and right-wing factions, a number of Israeli intellectuals – mainly writers and academics – are intensifying their public condemnation of their country at a global level.

I am not relating to post-Zionists or demented lunatics who hate their country, but to those with a track record of genuine Zionist endeavor, national icons like Amos Oz, one of our most gifted writers, who, one assumes, loves Israel.

There was a time when Oz would resolutely refuse to condemn Israel to the global media or when he was in a foreign country. I recollect while visiting Australia 20 years ago, his response to media questioning his attitude to the Shamir government was "I am a proud Labor Zionist and while in Israel I can passionately criticize my government. But when I travel abroad, I regard myself as an ambassador for my country and leave political differences behind me."

This contrasts starkly to the approach Oz currently adopts. With the country isolated as never before and the entire world applying double standards and pouring venom upon us, Oz, who shares the frustration of most Israelis with the botched Gaza flotilla imbroglio, contributed an op-ed to the Guardian and The New York Times which extended far beyond the issue of the flotilla. He told Americans and British readers that "power has intoxicated us," that we are "fixated by the concept of military force" and that we abuse this power not for reasons of self-defense but to "squash ideas and smash the problems" confronting us with brute force.

In a widely circulated US blog, his daughter, Fania Oz-Salzberger, a distinguished professor of political science at the University of Haifa and Australia's Monash University, conveyed similar sentiments. She said, "Every true Israeli patriot ought... to apologize very humbly to the dead and injured of the 'Free Gaza Movement' flotilla, to the Turks, to the international community. And while we are at it, also to the innocent majority of Gazans." Her message to the international community was "your almost unanimous condemnation is spot on. As a private citizen, I join it. As a habitual Israeli patriot, I am ashamed."

A SIMILAR article appeared in The Guardian by David Grossman, another outstanding writer, who lost a son in the IDF during the Second Lebanon war. Last week, the German Book Trade honored him with the same "peace prize" it had awarded Amos Oz in 1992. In his column, Grossman stated, "No explanation can justify or whitewash the crime that was committed" and "there are those here who seek to spin the natural and justified sense of Israeli guilt into a strident assertion that the whole world is to blame. Our shame, however, will be harder to live with."

What impels talented people of this caliber, who consider themselves devoted to the welfare of Israel, to contribute to such self-deprecating outbursts in the foreign media at a time when the nation is united in fending off the most vicious global defamation since its birth? Indeed, aside from Haaretz, even the habitually masochistic Israeli media have been echoing the bitterness of most who feel that notwithstanding errors or operational blunders that were committed, the country is being singled out, demonized and delegitimized in an unconscionable manner.

The call for "ending the blockade" implies that a government should sit with folded arms while the Iranians flood Hamas with missiles and other weapons. Even the principal opposition party, Kadima, is calling on the government to stand firm and maintain the blockade. Could one possibly visualize any country not blockading a neighbor which openly proclaims that its primary objective is to annihilate it, rains missiles on its civilian population and abducts a soldier, boasting that it intends to launch further kidnappings? As to "ending the occupation," we are still reeling from the fallout from our unilateral Gaza disengagement.

In fact, despite frequently being accused of heading an extreme right-wing government, Binyamin Netanyahu has been remarkably successful in achieving a national consensus. There are no fundamental ideological differences between Likud and Kadima. The truncated Labor Party is in the government and the far-left Meretz party has been reduced to an all time low of three out of 120 elected Knesset members. The bitterly hostile remarks conveyed to the foreign media by these intellectuals thus find little resonance among the public and generate much anger.

Why then, do intellectuals and writers like Amos Oz, who love Israel and have no desire to be associated with the loony anti-Israeli extremists, express such rabid criticism against their country knowing that their words will be exploited by our fiercest enemies? THE TRUTH is that being educated or intellectually gifted does not necessarily bestow political wisdom.

For example, throughout history, in antiquity, the Middle Ages and especially in modern times, the genesis of anti-Semitic movements could usually be sourced to intellectual elites rather than originating from the grass roots.

However, the prime motivating factor encouraging liberal Israeli and Diaspora intellectuals to distance themselves from Israel is a desperate passion to be recognized as rising above the parochial interests of the tribe or the nation. Since emancipation, the constant struggle for Jews was to find a balance between particularism and nationalism. Until recently, despite considerable internal opposition, Zionism was accepted as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. As long as Jews suffered and were perceived as underdogs, liberals had few inhibitions in supporting the Jewish state.

However, with the dramatic growth of postmodernism after the Cold War and the emergence of the New Left (which also impacted on Labor Zionism), many liberals began adopting a negative attitude toward all forms of nationalism, including Zionism. The combination of the suffering of the Palestinians, even if self-inflicted, the military power of Israel and the romance of the left with Islam, led to the Jewish state being portrayed as the global epicenter of evil. That was massively reinforced by the explosion of Jew hatred, in which "Zionist colonialism" assumed the role of a surrogate for traditional anti-Semitism.

Today, this has culminated with condemnation of Israel becoming a major prerequisite for being considered a liberal. Thus, many Jewish intellectuals, for whom liberalism was akin to a secular religion and who were desperate to remain within the "progressive" fold, consciously or unconsciously felt impelled to dissociate themselves from the "negative image" of the Jewish state, especially one led by a "right"-wing government.

Needless to say, many Israeli liberals with legitimate criticisms of their government manage to express their opposition without defaming the country in the foreign media or providing ammunition to the global enemies of Zion.

One can only express profound regret that the hubristic inclinations of some talented Israelis have encouraged them to employ their gifts to damn their own without regard to the consequences of their actions.








You probably don't remember but before June 1967 there was peace in the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. There were no fedayeen, no terror attacks, no PLO. Only after it was "colonized in the 20th century" by Jewish immigrants from Europe who took "the land of Palestine from a majority of its inhabitants at gunpoint" did things go sour.

First came the Nakba, the catastrophe that was the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, followed 19 years later by the "illegal" occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

That's the view the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) will be asked to endorse next month when it meets in Minneapolis to consider a report by its Middle East study committee.

Peace could again prevail over the land if the Israelis would only withdraw from all the lands occupied in 1967.


To that end, the report calls for the US to halt all military and economic assistance for Israel.

"If there were no occupation, there would be no Palestinian resistance," says the report.

The Israeli occupation is "the major obstacle to regional stability" and is "an evil that must be resisted and removed." The authors show they understand "resistance" is a euphemism for terrorism, but say it is the Israelis' own fault for inflicting so much suffering on the Palestinians.

"Resistance is a right and a duty for the Christian."

IT WOULD be too easy to dismiss such unreality as terminal naïveté, but there is something much more poisonous here.

The 172-page PCUSA report says the "primary" cause of the Middle East conflict is "the ongoing Israeli occupation...

and American complicity in this unjust enterprise."

You can read it at pdf/middleeastpeace- fullreport.pdf. It also includes a lengthy Kairos Palestine document, by an affiliated group of Christian Palestinians, that further pushes the demonization and delegitimization of Israel.

Taken together, the contempt for Israel is so blinding that it not only justifies Palestinian terror against the Jewish state but is little bothered by the avowed goal of Hamas and Hizbullah, like their Iranian mentors, to wipe Israel off the map.

But that may be because the authors question whether Israel should be on the map in the first place. The report insists "we support the existence of Israel," but that is unconvincing in the context of the entire document.

This document ignores Arab refusal to recognize the Jewish state, the attempts to destroy it at birth and the threats to drive it into the sea. It was the Jews' own fault for being there in the first place. The report reaches back to biblical times to delegitimize Jewish claims to the land. Jacob, aka Israel, stole the birthright from his brother Esau and refused later entreaties to combine their interests and dwell in the land together.

(Proof those Jews can't get along with anyone.) It denies that the Jews have "rights" to the land as Abraham's descendants, only "responsibilities... for what is being done in and with it."

Abraham's covenant applies equally to Jews and Christians.


The ancient Hebrews under Joshua took the land illegally from the Canaanites by "holy war." In a very revealing footnote (p. 21), it says: "The phrase 'the right of Israel to exist' is a source of pain" for authors of the report, "who are in solidarity with Palestinians who feel that the State of Israel has denied them their inalienable human rights."

While questioning Israel's Law of Return for Jews, it insists there must be a "right of return or compensation" for Palestinians "to Palestine- Israel."

National Jewish organizations, which the report accuses of "complicity in the excesses of Israeli policy," have unders t a n d a b l y denounced the document.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism has said it is "distinctly onesided, traffics in troubling theology, misr e p r e s e n t s Jewish history."

ADL has called it a "toxic mix of bad history, p o l i t i c a l l y motivated distortions and o f f e n s i v e attacks on Judaism and Israel." The Jewish Council of Public Affairs has called it "blatantly anti-Israel and reduces the Arab-Israeli- Palestinian conflict to a caricature of right and wrong."

"It's a highly-selective use of text, history and circumstances to form an anti-Israel narrative," said JCPA's Ethan Felson. "They give significant voice to anti-Zionists, condemn companies that sell to Israel and allow for the demonization of Israel. That's several red lines."

AT ITS 2004 meeting PCUSA voted for divestment from Israel but was forced to back down two years later when many members objected, but this latest report leaves little doubt its authors endorse the policy. The group promised to take a more balanced approach but so far there the evidence points in the opposite direction.

Next month's PCUSA meeting in Minneapolis has an opportunity to reject the anti- Israel, anti-Jewish excesses of its study committee or to inflict further damage on the church's relations with the Jewish community.

"The church has a choice to make," Felson added. "There is much valid witness for Palestinians that does not call into question the church's integrity or endanger its relationship with Jews, or they can choose this brand of witness with all its toxicity."


The Presbyterians say their goal is peace, but their heavily biased assessment can only make peace harder to attain by reinforcing the growing skepticism by an Israeli public that sees delegitimization, not a twostate agreement, as the goal of the Palestinians and their supporters – and give fuel to those Palestinians who believe the time is coming when the world will force Israel to, in the immortal words of Helen Thomas, "get the hell out of Palestine."








The only way to convince the world to maintain the blockade is by moving to true Palestinian statehood in the West Bank.

There are off-the-record sources saying West Bank leader Mahmoud Abbas told the Americans he wanted Israel's blockade of Gaza to continue. Abbas denies it, of course, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were true.

After all, if Israel lifts the blockade, Hamas will be able to tell Palestinians: "We chased the Zionists out of Gaza with resistance, with jihad, and look at the West Bank – they're everywhere, taking our land, standing over us with their guns. The collaborators Abbas and Fayyad have to beg 'Mr. Bibi' to lift a few checkpoints, and then they're expected to say thank you."


Which Palestinian will be able to argue with Hamas? In principle, I want the blockade of Gaza to end. I'm not worried about shiploads of weapons coming in – there are shiploads of weapons coming into Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. and we do just fine. At any rate, Hamas has already brought in thousands of rockets through the tunnels, some can already hit Tel Aviv, and there are lots more on the way.

No, what worries me most about lifting the blockade is that we will also be lifting the Hamasniks even higher, while undercutting Abbas and Fayyad even worse than we've been doing already for years. This is the stupidest, most self-defeating strategy anyone could invent.

We're looking at a line of "freedom flotillas" as far as the eye can see, and each one is going to do wonders for Hamas's cause – in the West Bank and east Jerusalem as well as Gaza.

Meanwhile, we're leaving Abbas and Fayyad with a handful of nothing.

Our prime minister tells them, "Come on and negotiate," yet the "Palestinian state" he offers them comes with so many restrictions that it's actually no more than local autonomy with a flag. He goes back on a decade of territorial offers, from Ehud Barak's to Ehud Olmert's, then pretends to wonder why Abbas doesn't jump at the chance to talk peace.

ISRAEL HAS never faced Palestinian leaders even remotely as moderate, as businesslike, as demonstratively anti-terrorism as Abbas and Fayyad.

The alternative to them is Hamas.

And by offering Abbas and Fayyad nothing, Israel is helping Hamas win.

This is worse than missing an opportunity. This is dodo bird time.

There is only one way Israel can convince the world to let it maintain the blockade on Gaza, and only one way Israel can justify it morally: By moving as urgently as possible to true Palestinian statehood in the West Bank under Abbas's and Fayyad's leadership, with the ultimate goal being for them to take over Gaza, too.

And after 43 years of occupation, moving urgently means starting the process of relinquishing settlements on the far side of the security barrier right now. It means recognizing Palestine on the basis of the '67 borders with land swaps and a capital in Arab east Jerusalem – but without the right of return – and negotiating the details, including international custody over Jerusalem's "holy basin," with Abbas.

The governments of the democratic world, and many of the nondemocratic world, will support this goal because it's been the international consensus solution to the Mideast conflict since the Six Day War.

Ending the occupation in the West Bank is the only answer to the Iranian and Lebanese aid ships sailing for Gaza, and the others to follow.

Empowering Palestinian moderates is the only answer to Hamas.

There is no other alternative to the blackening future that's staring this country in the face.

The choice is Hamas or Abbas. If we don't choose very soon, the choice will be made for us.








The flotilla events are an ideological dividend to the green money propping up Erdogan's government since 2003.


The political joint venture by Iran and Turkey has achieved its intended goal of painting Israel as the aggressor and the so-called humanitarian mission to Gaza as the innocent victim. In fact, the suspicion is that the two sponsoring countries and the NGOs expected a greater number of casualties to help rev up the propaganda machines and may not have had quite the outcome they expected.

In a world where Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is perceived as a humanitarian and Israelis are perceived as war-mongering infidels, one must take a moment to take stock of reality. What is driving the change in Turkey's relationship with Israel? It isn't as simple or transparent as it might look to those who are looking for black and white answers.


How the Turkish government is managing its relationship with Israel raises a number of questions, and there are an even greater number of questions about the future of this once great empire. Is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's current posture towards Israel the natural evolution of the situation we have been witnessing since his rise to power in 2003? Erdogan has distinguished himself during the past several months as a defender of Palestinian human rights and all things just in the name of Islam. He worked his way from slamming Israel at Davos, during a conference with Shimon Peres and Ban Ki-moon, to actively supporting the use of an organization with questionable intentions and a checkered background, the IHH, to challenge Israel's security and policy regarding Gaza.

Through strengthened bilateral relations with Iran, state visits and brokering the Iran-Brazil-Turkey uranium enrichment deal, Erdogan has recently become much closer to his eastern neighbor and particularly to the Iranian leadership. Silent on how Iran has addressed internal dissent on its streets, he appears to be at ease with hundreds killed and thousands in Iranian jails.

Equally significant was the Turkish cancellation of a joint NATO-Israeli military exercise in favor of holding military maneuvers with Syria.

Among other signs of Turkey's change of direction is Erdogan's defense of the Sudanese President Omar al- Bashir against charges brought by the International Criminal Court. This would be the very same court in which he wants Israel to be tried for the war in Gaza. When he said, "It's not possible for a Muslim to commit genocide," reading between the lines it simply means that the religion provides for such treatment of non-Muslims and mass conversion or pogrom.

So, why would Erdogan and his government risk the country's status by getting into bed with Iran and a questionable NGO, especially one that is by some accounts funded by questionable practices and sources? Why risk membership in the EU and NATO? Why risk its friendship with Israel? Why would partnership with Ahmadinejad against Israel be more attractive to Erdogan than facing the Turkish nationalists accusing him of treason and sellout? Is this simply because he wants to be reelected? Or has Turkey been swayed by statistics that seem to say that this is simply how the Middle East and southern Asia are shaping up. Erdogan could simply be responding to the increasingly popular and populated Islamic movement? BUT IT is never that simple. There are two distinct factors that may be contributing to shift Turkey further into the Islamist camp.

First, to sustain the economy and keep the population happy, Erdogan needs more "green money" (Islamic green, not environmental green) from various Islamic markets, businesses and economies. It is thought that this money brought his party to power and is still critical to keeping it there. As a result, Erdogan's policy toward Israel requires significant adjustment.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have made their foreign aid to the AKP (Erdogan's Justice and Reconciliation Party) dependent on Turkey's continued adjustments to domestic and international policies, including the country's position toward Israel.

The combination of foreign aid to the Islamist party and expectations by Islamic markets present in Turkey has pressured Erdogan to alter the country's foreign policy. The events orchestrated around the flotilla are an ideological dividend to the green money market that has been propping up Erdogan's government and Turkey since 2003.

Second, it is interesting that Erdogan's increased interest in foreign policy coincided with Iranian uranium enrichment. Turkey enjoys a close relationship with the Saudis, who are very concerned about the rise of Shi'ites in global Islamic power. Iran is a particular concern since it is on the verge of acquiring an atomic capability that would overshadow the entire Sunni Arab dominated Gulf.

One could speculate that Erdogan's role is not only to ensure that the Iranians are controlled, but also to turn Turkey into a state that could compete with the Iranians in the global Islamic milieu.

There are those in Washington and Brussels who have started to have serious concerns about Turkey's direction. Much like most myopic Western policy decisions, Washington and Brussels were in favor of the purging of the nationalists from positions of power across all Turkish institutions. The nationalists were opposed to many legislative and constitutional changes put through by Erdogan's government to meet the EU requirements for Turkey's accession.

However, the purge didn't stop with the nationalists, who were mostly secularists. It expanded to include those who supported a secular Turkish nation.

Both nationalists and secularists are being marginalized by the Islamists as they slowly take control of the Turkish economy. The control is coming from the billions of dollars of unknown origin that are funneled into the Turkish economy through what is essentially an Islamist moneylaundering machine. While economists can't say for sure where these billions of dollars have come from, the evidence of an economy built on green money is very visible in the country and in its economic statistics.

Turkey is not an island. Much like the rest of the region, it has been swept up in the Islamic fundamentalism fervor.

While select countries in the region have been able to control this tide, Turkey's Erdogan has read the tea leaves and his actions speak volumes about where he thinks the Islamist movement is heading.

The dynamics of the global Islamist movement are changing. For Iran, which rode the first wave of the Islamist movement, that era may be coming to an end within the next five to 10 years. Turkey, with a population similar to Iran, one foot in the EU and the second largest army in NATO, could certainly not resist joining such a popular movement. Indeed Turkey is a late bloomer in the Islamist movement. Historically an adversary of Iran, it is the Sunni version of its Shi'ite rival, now poised to move into a limelight that Iran might have hoped to keep for itself. Its Sunni majority makes it more palatable to other Islamic nations as well as its ties with Europe and NATO, along with a more acceptable leadership.

Turkey may decide to be pragmatic in the short term and continue some aspects of collaboration with Israel at the national level, but the long-term relationship is very much in danger and does not look promising.

Turkey can easily live without the Jewish state, while Israel could have used Turkey's continued support. It will be difficult and painful in the short term for Israel to manage some of its relationships in the region without Turkey, but there are still many options on the table. Perhaps this will ultimately pave the way for Israel to establish more direct relationships with key regional stakeholders, including its adversaries.

The writer is using a pseudonym to protect his/her identity.







Though few lost sleep when Elvis Costello or the Pixies caved to anti-Israel pressure,their decisions merit a second glance.

Though few lost sleep when Elvis Costello or the Pixies cravenly caved to anti-Israel pressure and cancelled their scheduled appearances in Tel Aviv, their decisions merit a second glance in light of future boycott threats yet to be wielded against other artists. Not only did they disappoint loyal fans and break formal contracts, but the precedent set and message conveyed were immoral, mean-spirited and just plain wimpy.

Leonard Cohen, on the other hand, came and gave what was acclaimed the best concert in Israel of the year this past fall. Stars like Madonna and Phil Collins have come in recent years and Elton John, who has already appeared here twice in the past, is scheduled to play Ramat Gan on Thursday night. What makes some icons turn up to perform while others brazenly renege on their commitments? I can answer that question from the inside at least insofar as the Leonard Cohen visit is concerned.


It is instructive to understand the dynamics of "cultural boycott," since this is one predictable and time-tested dagger in the arsenal of Israel-bashers worldwide.

COHEN WAS not a typical case. Following an extended stint in a Buddhist monastery in California and larcenous loss of much of his life-earned fortune by white collar "friends," he actually decided to circumnavigate the planet in a quixotic effort to replenish his coffers, probably not something many 70-year-olds would elect to do. In short: His concert tour was both necessary and somewhat removed from current trends, since he had removed himself from that scene for some time.

It was only natural to add Israel to his itinerary. Jewish thought envelopes much of his poetry and some of his best known songs ("Hallelujah," "Who by Fire"), and he rushed to perform for the IDF during the Yom Kippur War. Moreover, he has a large, fervently committed fan base here.

I was somewhat surprised by my first conversation with the concert tour's top organizers. Rather than discussing the routine who-what-how of media interest in his upcoming concert at the Ramat Gan Stadium, the conversation bore an entirely different tenor.

Here the model was raised that has been and will continue to face top performers whenever Israel pops up as a possible performance venue. The organizers had barely announced the likelihood of Cohen's touring Israel when Israel bashers immediately orchestrated a drumbeat of "boycott Israel or else!" Internet protests spread and veiled threats of disruptions at other concerts were shamelessly raised as leverage in the campaign.

The Cohen people were understandably concerned.

The poet-musician wanted to conduct a positive, successful tour – and who needed the injection of politics, Middle Eastern cacophony and threats. Who needed keffiyeh-wearing street demonstrators outside of concert halls, or disruptions within them, in Berlin or London? Such concerns undoubtedly weighed in on the decisions of Elvis Costello and the Pixies (15,000 people planned to attend the group's performance here). A Pixies statement averred, "The decision was not reached easily, and we'd like to extend our deepest apologies to the fans, but events beyond all our control have conspired against us."

They, as did Cohen, faced the same threats – yet why did some surrender while others stood firm? EVERY TOP artist thinking about playing here must realize in advance that the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel will put him or her clearly into its propaganda sights, as it's done since 2004. The artists will be called all manner of names under the sun and will face threats and slander if they do not instantly cancel their scheduled appearance in Zion.

The Cohen folks were not necessarily impressed most by my calls to morality. How dare they give in to proterrorist coercion? How dare they consider betraying tens of thousands of lifelong loyal fans here? But I clearly remember they sat up and listened attentively when I fell back on one specific example: "If Paul McCartney actually ignored death threats along with the boycott pressures to play in Israel – as he did in September 2008 – then how could Leonard Cohen possibly do anything other than follow in Sir Paul's principled footsteps?" That rhetorical question led to a request for my firm to prepare an unusual research document entitled "Sir Paul McCartney's Israel Concert," which delved in detail into the nature of the threats and to the astute manner in which Paul ignored and overrode the boycott threats, concluding in a 40,000 sellout crowd and $6 million in income generated. The puffed up boycott shouters were shown to be nothing more than shadow boxers filled with hot air.

I understand that Leonard Cohen reviewed my analysis and drew his own conclusions. Later we advised on the theme of this special appearance which took on a charitable character in support of Israel-Arab reconciliation, elevating it to still a higher plane.

Hopefully, other top performers will hearken to Leonard Cohen's vision and values. His concert here demonstrated, truly, "I'm Your Man."

And Cohen's Priestly Blessing to his audience, in Hebrew, at the conclusion of the concert – days before Yom Kippur – was no less meaningful for those attending than the hours of sublime music that preceded it.

The writer is a public relations expert based in Jerusalem.








The discrimination in Immanuel contains in a nutshell the essence of the clash between the rule of law and separatist interest groups.


The affair of the Haredi education system's discrimination against Mizrahi girls in Immanuel has, over the past few days, become a locus of aggression that puts the government, the education system and law enforcement to the test.


The discrimination in Immanuel contains in a nutshell the essence of the clash between the rule of law and separatist interest groups. Such groups include Hasidic sects and extreme, insular ultra-Orthodox communities that demand state funds to strengthen the independent education system that serves their children, but are unwilling to give in on even a single convention that governs their lifestyle.


Step by step, every government has allowed Haredim to foster an independent education system that keeps inspectors away and refuses to accept any dictates about the curriculum. With each passing year, the graduates of these institutions, boys and girls alike, adhere less and less to the norms of a modern, tolerant and liberal society that is committed to its citizens and their rights. The government has withdrawn from this trend in fear, surrendering to explanations about "cultural differences" and "differences in academic levels" that the Haredim use to excuse callous discrimination. Now, promising they will go to jail singing rather than implement a High Court of Justice ruling requiring Ashkenazi students to study in the same classes as their Mizrahi peers, they have managed to further weaken the already debilitated government.


Israel's Haredim did not invent the friction that pits the state against religious and other groups that wish to separate themselves from society but lack the means to do so themselves. In the United States, France and other places, the state insists on differentiating between public and private education, though even private schools aren't allowed to violate the laws of the country.


Discrimination in Immanuel is a clear example of such a violation, as the High Court has ruled. It is now up to the government to implement the court's verdict. Any compromise the government makes with discriminatory institutions will only erode its autonomy further still.









Two or three times a week Defense Minister Ehud Barak's bureau receives a telephone call from the White House. On the line is Biden - Vice President of the United States Joe Biden. The conversation between Joe and Ehud is almost always friendly, almost always solving difficult problems amicably.


Joe is what America used to be and Ehud is what Israel used to be. Together they're trying to restore the American-Israeli alliance to what it used to be.

The frequent telephone calls between them constitute the alliance's lifeline. When the president in Washington and the prime minister in Jerusalem can't tolerate each other, the vice president and the defense minister function as the responsible adults. This is the strategy between two states, whose close relations have become frosty.


Barak's close relationship with Biden is one of the main reasons Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu treats his defense minister with great respect, almost reverence. Here are the other reasons. Netanyahu knows that without Barak his government will become a repulsive right wing government that wouldn't survive for long. Without Barak, Netanyahu knows Israel will become a pariah state, ostracized from the community of nations. The prime minister also knows that without Barak nobody will stand beside him when he makes a decision about Iran. Politics, policy and strategy all make Barak the central pillar of Netanyahu's government. Without Barak, Netanyahu has no future.


The opposite is also true. Without Netanyahu, Barak has no future. Barak knows that without the unique status afforded him by the partnership with Netanyahu, his party would eat him alive. Without Netanyahu, Barak knows his political status is in critical condition. He also knows that without Netanyahu no peace process can make progress in the near future. He understands that without Netanyahu it is hard to make a responsible, rational decision regarding Iran. Politics, policy and strategy all make Netanyahu vital for Barak. Consequently the defense minister feels something about the prime minister he rarely experiences - respectful veneration.


For years people have been talking about Netanyahu and Barak as if they were twins. But the truth is that only mutual dependence between the two has turned them in the past year into a pair of twins, the likes of which were never seen among Israeli leaders. David Ben Gurion and Moshe Sharett had a complex relationship, as did Levi Eshkol and Moshe Dayan as well as Golda Meir and Dayan. Relations between Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres were poor, and those between Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon were terrible. Yitzhak Shamir, Netanyahu during his first administration, Barak, Sharon and Ehud Olmert didn't really have partners. So the goings on between the prime minister and defense minister now are unprecedented.


The twins spend three, four or five hours a day in each other's company. There are no intrigues, tricks or leaks between them, no bad blood or petty politics. Even when they fail together, like in the Gaza flotilla incident, they stand together. This alliance is the axis upon which today Israel's politics, policy and strategy revolve.


But the Siamese twins are not identical. Although conjoined, each has different genetics. Netanyahu's inner circle believes that any concession is suicide. Barak's inner circle believes that the status quo is suicidal. Thus, when the twins sit alone in the room, two opposing world views accompany them.


For the twin alliance to survive, one of the two will have to change. One of them will have to turn against the ideological and identity-based DNA that forged him.


The flotilla and NPT crises have made this situation perfectly clear. Israel is losing its freedom of action. The country is on the brink. So the twins don't have much time. Only if they succeed in bringing themselves to take substantive action, can they save themselves and their country. If they don't do that soon, even Biden will stop calling. The two, who are hanging together, will find themselves hanging separately, politically, in the square of disgrace.








I'm for Yair Lapid. That wasn't always the case. Once, in the distant past, I was mean to him in a local Tel Aviv paper. Years later, I attacked him for turning from a journalist into a front man after he starred in a Bank Hapoalim campaign, in violation of the prohibition against engaging in advertising that is part of the code of ethics for journalists. In response, Lapid wrote that I envied him for the "wads" of money he was getting - and yes, that remains true to this day. Apparently I don't have a shot at getting onto Lapid's party slate. He's an optimist and I'm a pessimist. He'd have to be an optimist in order to promise his son Yoav "some sort of state." Promises to children must be kept.


It's said that television adds five kilos (10 for the newest flat screens ), but only Knesset members seem to look better on the small screen than in person. In their case, the television camera seems to add a certain gravity, and it's only in the virtual world that they become real. It's a pity, though, that no one has developed Audioshop (as opposed to Photoshop ), that would render comprehensible the likes of MKs such as Miri Regev, Anastasia Michaeli, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Yaakov Litzman.


And that's my first reason for supporting Lapid. He looks great, he's articulate and his messages are clear - not only on the tube but in person, too. The second reason is that he, it seems, actually wants to serve in the Knesset. Lapid, we must remember, doesn't stand to profit personally from his term in parliament. Unlike many MKs he already has a job, a few in fact, and is highly successful in all of them. He's rich, and becoming an MK could actually reduce his income. He doesn't need to become a Knesset member or even prime minister to prove to himself that he is loved or to make friends with tycoons. He has plenty of those already.


By my lights, the only possible reason for Lapid to want to be an MK is that he takes the role of the Knesset seriously, so much so that he believes he will have more public influence there than he has now.


Some people say that his rather dilute agenda is a problem. Lapid, they say, is a populist who sticks to what's safe, panders to the lowest common denominator and is borne on the same wave of hatred for the ultra-Orthodox cultivated by his father, Yosef (Tommy ) Lapid. But aren't these rather ambiguous messages preferable to unambiguous messages of racism and backwardness?


The argument that Lapid, as a journalist, must not consider moving into politics, strikes me as utter nonsense. First, journalists have at least a working knowledge of democracy, not to mention the ability to read and write Hebrew and familiarity with math, English and other core curriculum subjects - which is much more than can be said of most MKs. Second, as Lapid once told me himself, he is not only a journalist but also an entertainer, actor, writer and ad man. Does MK Ronit Tirosh want to keep out of the Knesset anyone in any of those professions, too?


But my main reason for supporting Lapid is the fact that the MKs are afraid of him. In the absence of significant new political figures we vote not for those we like but for those we despise slightly less. Lapid, as the great white hope, stands a chance of being voted in because people actually like him. And in any case, I'd really hate to disappoint little Yoav.







The similarity is striking: two insular and arrogant population groups, different and at times peculiar, powerful minorities with authoritative leaders, both with their own laws and norms. The settlers and the ultra-Orthodox - the former is some 300,000 strong, not counting settlers in East Jerusalem, and the latter numbers about 700,000, including Haredi settlers.


In the Israel of 2010, these are the two most energetic and determined groups among the complacent and somnolent Jewish populace. Both wreak ruinous damage to the state, and both cost it vast amounts of money. And, lo and behold, while the campaign against the Haredim is gathering momentum - a campaign that is just in principle but is accompanied by ugly hatred and racism - the attitude toward the settlers fluctuates between apathy and sympathy, and even compassion.


Compassion? A member of the panel investigating how Israel handled evacuees of the disengagement from Gaza, Yedidya Stern, this week described them as no less than the victims of "the gravest infringement of human rights in the history of the State of Israel." Not Israel's poor, not the immigrants who were dumped in development towns, not the children at risk, not the children of migrant workers, not the Arabs who were driven out in 1948 and 1967, and not the Palestinians under occupation, but settlers who were evacuated and compensated, according to Prof. Stern's remarkable ethical code.


Unlike the settlers, the Haredim are an easy target. There is no greater consensus in secular Israeli society than hatred for them. Criticizing the settlers is controversial, it has a price and it takes courage. Populist politicians build careers on spreading hatred of Haredim, but it is the courts rather than the country's leaders that are taking the lead in changing the norms regarding them.


Without having made any previous attempt to draw closer to them, the courts laying down one ruling after another. The Supreme Court ruled that state-funded stipends for yeshiva students are unfair; it ruled there is intolerable racism in Immanuel; and the army wants to conscript thousands more yeshiva students. All these decisions were right and they were inevitable, but what in tarnation about that other recalcitrant group?


Racism? The settlers are more racist. Violence? The settlers are far more violent. Blatant disregard for the law of the land and maintenance of a separate legal system? More so among the settlers. Enormous budgets? The settlers cost us more, and the Haredim are poorer. Damage to society and state? That caused by the settlers is much more catastrophic, a weeping for generations to quote the Talmud and Ben-Gurion.


The self-isolation of the Haredim within their own world at the state's expense is indeed something in need of change, and manifestations of racism among them must be eradicated. But where are public opinion and the state and its courts, when it comes to the settlers? The Haredim milk the budget, as we so often complain, and the settlers don't?


According to Peace Now, the settlers cost us NIS 2.5 billion per year. For what? For their efforts at thwarting all prospects of peace. That's not more harmful than a yeshiva boy? That's not more dangerous than a Torah student?


The Ashkenazi Haredim treat the Mizrahim abominably. It is racism. But at least it is not violent, like the racism of the settlers toward Palestinians. The Haredim put their women at the back of the bus; the settlers not only bar Palestinians from their buses, but from the entire road at times. The Haredim erect barriers between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim in their schools; the settlers carry out ethnic cleansing under the state's aegis, like that of 25,000 residents of Hebron.


So who's the real racist here? Compared to the settlers' hilltop youth, the yeshiva boys are models of morality. But who gets castigated? The Haredi of course. When will the courts come out against settler racism as they have against Haredi racism? They themselves maintain different systems for penalizing Jews and Arabs. When will we hear about the thousands of fictitious civil service positions held by settlers - a salaried security official in every mobile home - in the same way that we hear about the Haredi parasites? And what about the thousands of soldiers who have to guard the settlers, the superfluous roads that have been built to serve them, the electricity and water supplies laid for illegal outposts? All of it, everything, paid by us, more than we pay for Torah study as a Haredi occupation.


So let's call this evil by its true name: a double standard. Cowardice works too.








At first glance, two stories in Haaretz this week contradict each other. One, on Tuesday's front page, dealt with the decision of the High Court of Justice to deny government stipends to married yeshiva students because such practice amounts to discrimination against other students; the other story, in yesterday's pages, revealed the findings of Cornell and Tel Aviv University law researchers to the effect that the chances of having success in appeals against the state in civil and criminal cases are slight, as the state enjoys overwhelmingly superior power before the Supreme Court.


A layman might think that the case involving subsidies for yeshiva students contradicts this finding. Ostensibly, the court was reaching out its hand to help the weaker citizen, in the face of the state that has been discriminating against him. But a deeper examination of the case reveals that the court in fact betrayed its original function as the defender of the weak and behaved instead like the servant of a powerful government.

The story of Jenny Baruchi, the petitioner in the case, will make it clear. At the age of 17, while still at school, she got married. After giving birth to two daughters, she was divorced and believed she was then a free woman. As a single mother, however, she was able to earn very little and had to get a National Insurance Institute income supplement. She still did not make do with that, but somehow managed to study and earn a matriculation certificate.


When she was accepted into a university, she was incredibly proud. After gaining total exemption from tuition fees, she was able to continue studying thanks to the income supplement. But then she was informed that, by law, a student at an institute of higher education is not entitled to the supplement and the reductions that go with it. All of her complaints about the folly of a law, which compelled her to give up on acquiring education - the true key to empowerment - fell on the deaf ears of the officials.


In the face of this predicament, she petitioned the High Court, represented by attorney Gilad Barnea. She requested the annulment of the above mentioned legal prohibition and that she been given equal status to that enjoyed by yeshiva students, who continue to receive stipends. The first hearing was set for June 2001, a year after the petition was submitted. Then another year went by before the next hearing, when then-Supreme Court president justice Aharon Barak suggested to Baruchi that she withdraw her petition. But she swallowed the slight, and persisted. The case dragged on. The justices apparently had more important matters before them than Baruchi's burden.


Barnea's repeated requests to expedite the case didn't help either. Meanwhile, accumulated debts got the better of Baruchi and she dropped out of university. Only after a three-year absence did she return to her studies, graduating with honors. Since then, she has been proudly providing for her family, but her impressive achievements did not heal the pain of the contempt with which she believed the justices had treated her.


This week, more than 10 years after she filed her petition, the judgment was delivered - but it was also disappointing. Instead of paving the way for people like Baruchi by granting them the same status as yeshiva students, the High Court preferred to abolish the arrangement they had enjoyed, consigning them into the same poverty trap Baruchi had found herself in the past. Instead of closing up that legal trap, the court widened it to allow another deprived population group to fall through the cracks. Thus, even if the state formally lost this case, in practice its coffers gained. And once again, at the expense of the poor.


The supercilious foot-dragging of the court, as well as the substance of its actual judgment, only bolster the trend revealed by the research project: The High Court, which was supposed to be the last protector of the oppressed and the downtrodden, the exploited and the persecuted, the weak and the deprived, long ago abandoned that role. Anyone who doesn't believe the research findings, just ask Jenny Baruchi.









The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, not  all former foreign officials living in the United States can claim immunity from prosecution in U.S. Courts.  Its decision could have an immediate impact on Israelis.


'Sovereign immunity' offers states protection from lawsuits in another country's courts, based on the principle that disputes between nations should be resolved by diplomacy, not litigation.


Victims of the Somali regime recently filed a civil lawsuit against Mohamed Ali Samantar, who 20 years ago, had served as Somalia's prime minister, vice president, and defense minister.


The plaintiffs claimed that Samantar had been responsible for their torture, as well as other human rights violations. Their allegations included torture during interrogations, imprisonment for years without trial and rape by their prison guards. They based their suit on federal laws aimed at protecting foreign torture victims, allowing foreign citizens to claim for damages in American courts.


In his defense, Samantar claimed that as he was a minister in Somalia's cabinet at the time of the alleged crimes, he was immune from civil lawsuits in the U.S. A district federal court upheld his argument, and the suit was thrown out.


The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act did not apply to specific foreign government officials, effectively revoking Samantar's immunity.


The former Somali PM was then granted a rare second appeal from the Supreme Court, questioning whether or not the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act could in fact be applied to individual officials.


But the Supreme Court effectively rejected Samantar's claims, leaving only a narrow opportunity to gain immunity nonetheless. From the ruling's wording, it seems the court did not feel that this loophole would benefit Samantar's cause.


In recent years there have been two failed attempts to prosecute Israeli officials in the U.S. In 2007, Palestinians filed a lawsuit against former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter, claiming he was responsible for the deaths of their relatives after an Israeli plane dropped a one-ton bomb on their Gaza home. A  federal court said  Dichter had functioned within his official duties, ruling him immune.


Another 2007 lawsuit accused former Israel Defense Forces chief Moshe Ya'alon of war crimes over the 1996 bombing of a United Nations camp in the Lebanese town of Kfar Kana, in which a number of civilians wer killed. But Ya'alon too was ruled immune from litigation, with appeals at federal level also rejected.


This week's ruling could now result in a wave of lawsuits against foreign officials. So far, 36 separate civilians lawsuits have been filed in the U.S. against various foreign officials, all of which were denied. The list of counties whose officials had been prosecuted includes Israel, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Jordan, Japan, and France.


Israeli officials could conceivably defend themselves from civil lawsuits in the U.S. by claiming their actions should be considered an "act of state" - a defense relying on the principle that each country may handle affairs within its jurisdiction without intervention from foreign states.


The problem with this line of defense is that as opposed to relying on the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, the claim of a "state act" recognizes the court's authority while seeking protection regarding a specific claim. The risk of that is that senior officials would have to explain their motivation for their actions to the court.


Haggai Carmon is an international lawyer who also provides legal representation to foreign countries.









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.










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.










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




Given the size of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, we suspect that $20 billion may not be enough to compensate all of the people whose lives and futures have been derailed by the spill. But it's a good start.

It took days of very public pressure from President Obama and countless hours of private negotiations, but BP finally agreed on Wednesday to put $20 billion in an independently managed compensation fund. After meeting with the company's top executives at the White House, Mr. Obama stressed that the amount is not a ceiling on BP's obligations, which by some estimates could exceed $40 billion when the costs of cleaning the spill and restoring the gulf's damaged ecosystem are also factored in.


"The people of the gulf have my commitment that BP will meet its obligations," the president declared, adding that the agreement would not pre-empt any claims in court. BP did not publicly address the issue of a cap, but its chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg, did apologize "to the American people" and vowed to "look after the people affected" and "repair the damage to this region and the economy."


There are a lot of reasons, of course, not to trust BP.


The company insisted for years that it was ready to deal with a huge oil spill in the gulf, and it was completely unprepared. After the blowout on the Deepwater Horizon rig, it downplayed the size of the spill, starting with 1,000 barrels a day, then moving to 5,000, then — as its tallies became less and less credible — turning over the job of estimating to government scientists. Their present estimate is as much as 60,000 barrels a day.


When President Obama first started pressing for an escrow fund, and a suspension of dividend payments to BP's shareholders, the company pushed back hard, rallying British politicians to argue that they were being unfairly roughed up by the Americans.


Mr. Svanberg appears to have decided that fessing up and anteing up is now the best course. On Wednesday, BP also announced that it would suspend dividend payments of about $7.5 billion over the next three quarters — in effect giving gulf residents higher priority over its own stockholders. It also agreed to set aside an additional $100 million to pay workers idled by Mr. Obama's suspension of deep-water drilling in the gulf. This should relieve the pressure on the president to resume that drilling.


Having $20 billion in guarantees should reassure the spill's victims, and all Americans, that BP will not be able to walk away from its responsibilities. It is also reassuring that the fund will be managed by Kenneth Feinberg, a veteran administrator who won high marks for overseeing the 9/11 victims' compensation fund.


Mr. Feinberg's task then — determining the value of a life, in nearly 3,000 cases — was extraordinarily daunting. This one will involve many more claims from many more people. There is not a lot of time for Mr. Feinberg to get up to speed. BP is currently handling individual claims and has been criticized for uneven treatment and not responding quickly enough to people who could be weeks or even days away from losing their businesses.


The White House will need to keep pressing BP hard. The agreement gives the company several years to deposit the $20 billion in order to manage its cash flow and not scare off investors. It must be held to that timetable. And it must begin making provisions to ensure a full payout of the billions more in cleanup and restoration costs and civil penalties under the Clean Water Act that are also its responsibility.


We would like to think the battle is over. It is not. Claims in the 1989 Exxon Valdez case were not finally adjudicated until two years ago, and there is still oil on the rocks of Prince William Sound.







The National Rifle Association has managed to carve itself a nice loophole in a bill that seeks to counter the Supreme Court's disastrous decision to give corporations free rein to dominate American politics. We wish lawmakers had more spine, but the House still should approve the measure, which would impose disclosure mandates on the shadowy propaganda drives that will likely flood the hustings from deep-pocketed corporate, labor and special-interest groups.


We keep hoping the Democratic majority in Congress will muster the courage to rise above callow survival politics and stand up to the gun lobby in the cause of public safety. It ought to happen in the final House deliberations on this new bill. But even if it does not, the overall legislation offers a greater good the nation dearly needs.


The pending "Disclose" reform requires transparency from the powers financing the expected wave of heightened attack and support ads — even mandating fat cats to identify themselves in commercials indulging their new freedom to spend without limit. Spending would be restricted for corporations that have major government contracts or foreign controls. And disclosure would be mandated for political front groups and money megamachines already being set up by such operatives as Karl Rove, the Bush campaign guru.


None of these protections will be enacted if opponents succeed in using the N.R.A. exemption as an excuse to not act at all. The exemption defines a handful of nonprofits, including the AARP retirement group, that are at least 10 years old with more than one million active members, no more than 15 percent corporate support and no corporate or union money behind campaign spending. At that, the N.R.A. would still have to identify authorship of its ads, if not donors.


Fearful lawmakers, including pro-gun Democrats, insist that denying the N.R.A. this exemption would prompt the gun lobby to fiercely oppose the bill and their re-elections. It's pitiful that Republicans are nearly unanimous in fighting any manner of real reform and hypocritically denouncing "back-room dealing" for the N.R.A. Lacking the courage to dismiss the N.R.A. gamesmanship, Congress must still protect voters by mandating transparency in time for the next election.








After UBS was caught red-handed in the United States offering tax evasion strategies, the Swiss government agreed last year to give the Internal Revenue Service the names of Americans on 4,450 accounts where their riches were secretly stashed with the bank. Swiss leaders appear determined to comply, but they are not finding it easy.


First, a Swiss court declared the deal illegal. This week, the lower house of Parliament approved the handover but gave Swiss voters the opportunity to put the issue to a referendum. That would delay a decision until 2011 — long after the deal's August deadline.


We sympathize with the government. Still, the problem is of Switzerland's making. Tax evasion abetted by Swiss bankers and bank secrecy rules cost the United States Treasury billions in lost tax revenue. At one point, just the 4,450 secret UBS accounts held $18 billion in assets, according to the I.R.S.


If Switzerland does not meet the deadline, the I.R.S. must proceed with a legal case against UBS. That would force the bank to choose between handing over 52,000 names and breaking Swiss law or not handing them over and being found in contempt of court here.


Governments around the world are losing patience with tax evaders and the banks and countries that abet them. UBS needs to move on and repair its tarnished image. And the Swiss government needs to help the bank — the country's biggest — to do that.


UBS is by no means the only Swiss bank that makes a lot of money providing a safe haven to wealthy tax cheats. It used particularly outrageous tactics, sending undercover bankers with encrypted computers to the United States. After it was caught, UBS paid a $780 million penalty and handed over hundreds of client files to American authorities.


There is still time — barely — to make this right before Parliament adjourns on Friday. The lower house's decisions must be reconciled with the vote in the upper house that approved the American agreement but did not allow for a referendum. The Swiss government has two days to press legislators to approve the deal without any strings attached.








There's a trick to filling sandbags. Usually one person stoops over and holds open the bag while another shovels sand into it. That is back-achingly slow and inefficient. The better way is to insert a section of pipe into the bag and shovel sand into the top of the pipe. In Fremont County, Wyo., where the Popo Agie and Little Wind Rivers are flooding, volunteers are using white irrigation pipe, the kind you see tracing the high contours in pastures and hayfields across the state.


This was a long winter in Fremont County. Snow stacked up high in the Wind River Mountains, and the cold rain seemed to fall all spring, pausing only for high school graduation two weeks ago. The creeks that flow down from the Winds seemed to be cresting, just on the brink of blowing out beaver dams and ranch bridges. Since then, there has been more rain, more snow and flooding downstream.


This flood has a Facebook page, with photos of the work being done, hydrographic readings and the back and forth of a community at full alert. The Lander residents I talked to are mindful of the difference between this flood and the Arkansas deluge that killed 20 people last week. That was the result of cataclysmic rainfall and a sudden rise of 20 feet on the Little Missouri River. There was no time to prepare or escape. In Lander, the flooding has been a trial run of sorts, a chance to fill sandbags and build berms and even blow up failing highway bridges, all of it ahead of the more severe flooding expected as the warm weather sends still heavier runoff roaring down from the mountains.


Only major earthmoving has kept some of the low-lying houses in place. On the river's edge, there is the deep, grumbling sound of boulders being washed downstream. Parts of the Wind River Reservation have been turned into islands.


Just a few days ago, ranchers were kicking up red dust on the high slopes of their hayfields and thinking about irrigating. Now they're hoping the rivers and creeks don't wander away, in new beds, from the headgates that channel water into the irrigation systems. They've had their minds, too, on a predicted invasion of grasshoppers. That is a worry they can save until later, when the runoff draws down and the Popo Agie and the Little Wind look again like modest Western streams. VERLYN KLINKENBORG










No more neckties!


Sunday is Father's Day, and we dads will be overwhelmed with neckties and wrench sets. We will feign ecstasy, and our loved ones will pretend to believe our protestations of pleasure.


But for a really nifty Father's Day gift, how about sponsoring a rat? Specifically, an African giant pouched rat, about 30 inches long including tail. These are he-man rats, the kind that send cats fleeing. What's more, we're not talking about just any giant rat, but an educated one with the rodent equivalent of a Ph.D.


A Dutch company, Apopo, has trained these giant rats, which have poor sight but excellent noses, to detect landmines in Africa. The rats are too light to set off the mines, but they can explore a suspected minefield and point with their noses to buried mines. After many months of training, a rat can clear as much land in 20 minutes as a human can in two days.


In addition to earning their stripes as mine detectors, the giant rats are also trained in health work: detecting cases of tuberculosis. Possible TB sufferers provide samples of sputum, which are then handed over to the rats to sniff out. This detection process turns out to be much faster than your typical microscope examination. A technician with a microscope in Tanzania can screen about 40 samples a day, while one giant rat can screen the same amount in seven minutes.


What man wouldn't pass up a necktie for the chance to be associated with an educated, supermacho giant rat? For just $36, you can buy a year's supply of bananas to feed one of these rats. Or, for a gift more on the risqué side, $100 will buy a "love nest" for a breeding pair of rats.


Both options are at, a site that allows donors to browse aid projects around the world and make a donation on the spot.


Father's Day tends to be less a celebration of fatherhood than a triumph of commercialism. The National Retail Federation projects that Americans will spend $9.8 billion on Father's Day this year. To put that in perspective, that's more than enough to assure a primary education for every child on the planet who is not getting one right now.


In fact, we could send every child to primary school and have enough left over to get each dad a (cheap) necktie. And if we skipped store-bought cards (almost $750 million annually) and offered handmade versions, the savings alone could make a vast difference to great programs that help young American men escape poverty.


Think of the National Fatherhood Initiative,, which works to support dads and keep them engaged in their children's lives. There's some evidence that absent fathers create a vicious cycle: boys grow up without positive male role models, get into trouble and then become absentee fathers themselves.


Another group is the Black Star Project,, which seeks to get families in low-income communities more involved in the educational lives of kids. Or there's World of Money,, which coaches kids in poor communities on financial literacy and business skills.


For gadget lovers, how about a donation in dad's name to the National Urban Technology Center,, which helps low-income youths gain computer skills?


Or for those into automotive accessories or tools and appliances (almost $1 billion a year, by the way), why not rev up instead a motorcycle used to bring medical care to people in remote areas? An aid group called Riders for Health,, provides motorcycles and cars to health workers in Africa, along with rigorous training on maintenance and repair. Health workers end up reaching roughly five times as many patients as they would on foot.


And if you give dad a stake in a motorcycle at a clinic in Zambia, you can be pretty sure he won't crash it.


Wouldn't most dads feel more honored by a donation to any of these organizations than by a donation to commercialism?


I think so. My hunch is that family members, manipulated by commercial messages, think that they aren't showing dad enough love if they don't buy him something expensive. But give us some credit! The friend who suggested this column, Sam Howe Verhovek, noted the huge sums spent on cuff links and Best Buy gift cards and said: "I don't know about you, but I don't really need any of the above. A handwritten, 'Thanks, Dad!' note from my kids would mean more than anything Hallmark's poets could come up with."


That's the truth. But if you must pull out the credit card, this is my sincere advice: It's a rare dad who would choose a store-bought card over a homemade card; or for that matter, a necktie over a gigantic, bomb-sniffing rat.







On Monday night in Ohio, a 62-foot-tall statue of Jesus got hit by lightning and burned to the ground. (The adult bookstore across the street was unscathed.) Less than 12 hours later, Gen. David Petraeus — who is not God, although certain members of Congress have been known to worship at his altar — semifainted at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.


Then Bravo announced that the White House gate-crashers were getting a TV show. Al and Tipper remained in Splitsville. And the oil kept on spilling.


So you sort of knew from the portents that President Obama's big Oval Office speech was not going to be a terrific game-changer. The way things had been going, the president was lucky that a man-eating pterodactyl didn't come crashing through the window during his opening remarks.


Still, it was a disappointment. I was hoping for a call to arms, a national mission as great as the environmental disaster that inspired it. After the terrorist attack, George W. Bush could have called the country to a grand, important new undertaking in which everyone sacrificed personal or regional advantage for the common good. The fact that he only told us to go shopping was the one unforgivable sin of his administration.


O.K., also attacking the wrong country. And creating the deficit. But I digress.


All we got from President Obama was a vague call for some sort of new energy policy. Plus a Gulf Coast Restoration Plan, an oil spill study commission, a reminder that the secretary of energy won a Nobel Prize in physics and 17 references to God, prayer, blessings or faith.


We wanted him to declare war on the oil companies! Every day it becomes clearer that these guys are even more feckless than we imagined. At the ritual Congressional lashing of C.E.O.'s this week, we learned that none of the major oil companies have any idea how to control a spill like this, and that their faux plans for handling one in the gulf were made up of boilerplate so undigested that several had sections on protecting walruses — mammals that have not been seen in the area since the Ice Age. "It's unfortunate that walruses were included," admitted Exxon Mobil's chief.


The way things have been going, you can't be too careful. If the portents keep piling up, it's easy to envision a headline like: "Lone Tourist in Pensacola Eaten by Visiting Walrus Herd."


Obama held back on Tuesday. Then, on Wednesday, he and the BP chairman announced that the company — which is, in theory, only liable for $75 million in economic damage payments — was forgoing its dividend and setting up a $20 billion fund to compensate the workers and businesses who have been harmed by the spill.


In the negotiations, Obama said, he had stressed that for many of the small business owners, families and fishing crews "this is not a matter of dollars and cents, that a lot of these folks don't have a cushion." His brief remarks were more effective than his 18-minute effort the night before, particularly when coupled with all that cash.


"He is frustrated because he cares about the small people," said the chairman of BP, who is Swedish. The word choice made the president sound as if he was working on an environmental disaster in Munchkinland.


We are frustrated, too, and it's possible that Obama may never be able to give the speech that will make us feel better. He may never really lace into the oil companies or issue the kind of call to arms on energy that the environmentalists are yearning for.


That's because it won't get him anywhere. Unlike Bush, he has no national consensus to build upon. He'd barely finished his muted remarks on Tuesday before the House minority leader, John Boehner, accused him of exploiting the crisis "to impose a job-killing national energy tax on struggling families and small business." Michael Steele, the Republican Party chairman, claimed that the president was "manipulating this tragic national crisis for selfish political gain." And the ever-popular Representative Michele Bachmann denounced the BP restitution fund as "redistribution of wealth" and "one more gateway for government control."


As a political leader, Barack Obama seems to know what he's doing. His unsatisfying call for a new energy policy sounded very much like the rhetoric on health care reform that used to drive Democrats nuts: open to all ideas, can't afford inaction, if we can put a man on the moon. ... But at the end of that health care slog, he wound up with the groundbreaking law that had eluded his predecessors for decades. The process of wringing it out of Congress was so slow and oblique that even when it was over it was hard to appreciate what he'd won. But win he did.


Ironic. The man we elected because we hoped his feel-good campaign speeches might translate into achievement is actually a guy who is going to achieve, even if his presidential speeches leave us feeling blah.







Olympia, Wash.


FORTY years after the first true no-fault divorce law went into effect in California, New York appears to be on the verge of finally joining the other 49 states in allowing people to end a marriage without having to establish that their spouse was at fault. Supporters argue that no-fault will reduce litigation and conflict between divorcing couples. Opponents claim it will raise New York's divorce rate and hurt women financially.


So who's right? The history of no-fault divorce may provide some answers as the New York State Assembly takes up its versions of the divorce legislation passed by the Senate on Tuesday. Before no-fault, most states required one spouse to provide evidence of the other spouse's wrongdoing (like adultery or cruelty) for a divorce to be granted, even if both partners wanted out. Legal precedent held that the party seeking divorce had to be free from any "suspicion that he has contributed to the injury of which he complains" — a pretty high bar for any marital dispute.


In 1935, for example, reviewing the divorce suit of Louise and Louis Maurer, the Oregon State Supreme Court acknowledged that the husband was so domineering that his wife and children lived in fear. But, the court noted, the wife had also engaged in bad behavior (she was described as quarrelsome). Therefore, because neither party came to the court "with clean hands," neither deserved to be released from the marriage.


As the Maurer case suggests, such stringent standards of fault often made it easier for couples who got along relatively well to divorce than for people in mutually destructive relationships. Cooperating couples would routinely fabricate grounds for their divorce, picking one party as the wrongdoer.


This strategy was so common in the 1950s that divorce cases seemingly gave the lie to Tolstoy's famous observation that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. "Victim" after "victim" testified that the offending spouse had slapped him or her with exactly the same force and in exactly the same places that the wording of the law required. A primary motivation for introducing no-fault divorce was, in fact, to reduce perjury in the legal system.


Initially, some states limited no-fault divorce to cases in which both partners wanted to dissolve the marriage. In theory, limiting no-fault to mutual consent seemed fairer to spouses who wanted to save their marriages, but in practice it perpetuated the abuses of fault-based divorce, allowing one partner to stonewall or demand financial concessions in return for agreement, and encouraging the other to hire private investigators to uncover or fabricate grounds for the court. Expensive litigation strained court resources, while the couple remained vulnerable to subjective rulings based on a judge's particular opinion about what a spouse should put up with in a marriage.


Eventually every state except New York moved to what is in effect unilateral no-fault, wherein if one party insisted that his or her commitment to the marriage had irretrievably ended, that person could end the union (albeit with different waiting periods). New York has been the holdout in insisting that a couple could get a no-fault divorce only if both partners agreed to secure a separation decree and then lived apart for one year. Otherwise, the party who wanted the divorce had to prove that the other was legally at fault.


In every state that adopted no-fault divorce, whether unilateral or by mutual consent, divorce rates increased for the next five years or so. But once the pent-up demand for divorces was met, divorce rates stabilized. Indeed, in the years since no-fault divorce became well-nigh universal, the national divorce rate has fallen, from about 23 divorces per 1,000 married couples in 1979 to under 17 per 1,000 in 2005.


Even during the initial period when divorce rates were increasing, several positive trends accompanied the transition to no-fault. The economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers of the University of Pennsylvania report that states that adopted no-fault divorce experienced a decrease of 8 to 16 percent in wives' suicide rates and a 30 percent decline in domestic violence.


Social changes always involve trade-offs. Unilateral divorce increases the risk that a partner who invests in her (or more rarely, his) marriage rather than in her own earning power, and does not engage in "bad behavior," may suffer financially as well as emotionally if the other partner unilaterally ends the marriage. When courts have not taken this sacrifice into account in dividing property, homemakers have been especially disadvantaged.


Fairer division of marital assets can reduce the severity of this problem. And fault can certainly be taken into account in determining spousal support if domestic violence or other serious marital misbehavior has reduced the other party's earning power.


Still, the ability of one partner to get a divorce over the objections of the other may create an atmosphere in which people think twice before making sacrifices that will be costly if the marriage ends. Professor Stevenson found that in states that allow unilateral divorce, individuals tend to be slightly less likely to invest in marriage-related capital, like putting the partner through school, and more likely to focus on building individual, portable capital, like pursuing their own education or job experience.


Unilateral divorce has decreased the bargaining power of the person who wants the marriage to last and has not engaged in behavior that meets the legal definition of fault. On the other hand, it has increased the bargaining power of the person who is willing to leave. So while some marriages end more quickly than they otherwise would, other couples enter marital counseling because one partner's threat of divorce convinces the other that it is time to work seriously on the relationship.


Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is more often the wife than the husband who is ready to leave. Approximately two-thirds of divorces — including those that come late in life — are initiated by wives. Paula England, a senior fellow at the Council on Contemporary Families, found that surveys that separately ask divorced wives and husbands which one wanted the divorce confirm that more often it was the woman who wanted out of the marriage. This jibes with research showing that women are physiologically and emotionally more sensitive to unsatisfactory relationships.


It's true that unilateral divorce leaves the spouse who thinks the other's desire to divorce is premature with little leverage to slow down the process or to pressure the other partner into accepting counseling. It allows some individuals to rupture relationships for reasons many would consider shallow and short-sighted.


But once you permit the courts to determine when a person's desire to leave is legitimate, you open the way to arbitrary decisions about what is or should be tolerable in a relationship, made by people who have no stake in the actual lives being lived. After all, there is growing evidence that marital counseling can repair some marriages even after infidelity, which New York has long accepted as a fault sufficient to end a marriage. But that does not mean New York should reduce its existing grounds for divorce even further.


A far better tack is to encourage couples to mediate their parting rather than litigate it, especially if children are involved. In a 12-year study of divorcing couples randomly assigned to either mediation or litigation, the psychologist Robert Emery of the University of Virginia and his colleagues found that as little as five to six hours of mediation had powerful and long-term effects in reducing the kinds of parental conflict that produce the worst outcomes for children. Parents who took part in mediation settled their disputes in half the time of parents who used litigation; they were also much more likely to consult with each other after the divorce about children's discipline, moral training, school performance and vacation plans.


Paradoxically, people who went through mediation were also more likely to express regret over the divorce in the ensuing years than those who litigated. But New York legislators should face the hard truth that there are always trade-offs in the imperfect world of intimate relationships. To my mind it is better to have regrets about the good aspects of your former marriage because you were able to work past some of your accumulated resentments than to have no regrets because you had to ratchet up the hostility to get out in the first place.


Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history at Evergreen State College, is the author of "Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage" and the forthcoming history "A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s."








The U.S. government prints money, distributes it, replaces it when it gets old and guards against counterfeiters. No matter how many times a dollar changes hands, the government never charges a transaction fee.


But in an increasingly cashless society, banks have found a way to undermine the government's costless money idea. By joining together under a few brands, most notably Visa and MasterCard, they have figured out how to take a cut of about 1% to 3% from retail transactions occurring in stores, restaurants, repair shops and other businesses, as well as online.


All told, banks collect about $48 billion per year in "swipe fees," according to the National Retail Federation. Visa and MasterCard take a small cut of this. The rest goes to the banks that maintain the cardholder's account.


Here's how it works. When you pay for something using a debit or credit card, the card issuer reimburses the merchant only 97 cents to 99 cents on the dollar. (Debit cards tend to charge closer to 1%; credit cards, particularly premium ones, cost more.) To cover these transactional costs, merchants hike their prices by about 2% across the board.


That means consumers pay more. More perniciously, it means that they generally have no way to avoid these costs. Banks make it all but impossible for merchants to give discounts to people who pay in cash. So even if people do pay with cash, or with a debit card that has lower transaction costs than a credit card, they pay the same inflated merchandise costs.


Thankfully, that might be about to change. The Senate's version of financial reform would allow merchants to give discounts to people who pay with cash, checks or low-fee debit cards. It would also stipulate that debit card transaction fees have to be "reasonable and proportional" to their underlying costs.


When debit cards were first introduced, they came with little, if any, transaction fees. That's because they saved banks money by eliminating the cost of processing checks or maintaining large amounts of cash. But over time, by blurring the distinction between debit cards and credit cards, and by having Visa and MasterCard negotiate on behalf of banks, the banks gained enormous leverage to dictate terms to merchants.


Whether this violates antitrust law is in dispute. One thing that is not disputable, however, is that this system has allowed banks to, in essence, set up toll plazas on the highways of commerce. An airline ticket or television bought with a debit card earns a bank several dollars, even though the cost of transferring money from a cardholder's account to the merchant's is minimal.


The Senate language, which banks are fighting to keep out of the final legislation, amounts to a first step in tearing down the toll booths. If a merchant could pass along savings to consumers, that would lead to lower prices for everyone. And, because it would encourage consumers to pay with cash and debit cards, it would reduce the number of people in trouble with credit card debt. With a maxed-out nation still recovering from the bursting of a massive credit bubble, that can only be a good thing.


Unless you're a bank, the benefits of moving away from convoluted and confiscatory transaction costs are many. Congressional negotiators shouldn't let financial lobbyists swipe victory from the jaws of defeat.








Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist. Bob Beckel is a liberal Democratic strategist. But as longtime friends, they can often find common ground on issues that lawmakers in Washington cannot. View the video version of this column at at USA TODAY's YouTube channel at


Today: Why Israel matters.


Bob: I suppose many Americans wonder why they should pay attention to what happens between Israel and a bunch of rabble-rousers trying to deliver aid to Gaza.


Cal: I'd tell them to take a trip to the nation's capital to spend an afternoon walking through the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. And then I'd remind them that history too often repeats itself.


Bob: I have to say, though, it's hard to imagine a greater self-inflicted wound than the one Israel received by attacking that aid flotilla destined for Gaza. To understand the depth of anger around the world, especially in the Muslim world, is to remember how Americans felt when our hostages in Iran were humiliated on a daily basis. Remember our rage? To Muslims, 1.5 million Gazans are their fellow citizens held hostage.


Cal: Any humiliation Gazans face is due to their real occupiers, the terrorist group Hamas, which has vowed to exterminate Israel and sign no peace settlement with what it calls "the Zionist entity." Let's not get lost in the weeds on this. America and Israel are the good guys. The Iranians — in 1979 and now — and Hamas are the bad guys. Sure Israel could have handled this situation better, but Israel's enemies are the ones trying to smuggle weapons into Gaza to attack Israeli towns.


Bob: I understand the terror Hamas has rained down on Israel from Gaza, and why she needs to defend herself. But 1.5 million people crammed into an area 25 miles long and 6 miles wide without sufficient food, water and medicine is a breeding ground for even more terrorists.


Cal: Agreed. I've been to Gaza, and it's a horrible place. When Israel unilaterally departed, it left behind agricultural equipment and vegetation which, had it been properly managed, would have provided food and income for Gazan farmers. But Hamas doesn't care about farming food. It creates misery, hoping, as you say, to "farm" more terrorists.


Bob: This particular aid flotilla departed from Turkey, the most secular pro-Israel Muslim country in the region. Even before the incident, Turkey was showing a disturbing trend away from an evenhanded broker between Israel and the Muslim world. After this, it'll take a miracle for either the U.S. or other NATO partners to convince Turkey (also a NATO member) to play the mediator role.


Cal: Turkey was already heading toward a more militant form of Islam. The Turkish government turned a blind eye as a flotilla that included people who called on Jews to return to Auschwitz and who celebrated 9/11 geared up for battle.


Bob: Let's face it, in a battle between reality (that Israel has gotten unfairly portrayed by many European and Muslim countries) and perception (that Israel is a bully), perception has won.


Cal: I can't help believing that much of the Muslim world is reacting to a lack of U.S. leadership by the Obama administration, which seems increasingly to be adjusting its foreign policy in a pro-Arab direction. Rather than bringing peace, it seems to be inviting a new boldness by Israel's enemies.


Bob: That just isn't the case. This administration has paid far more attention to the region than the previous administration, including installing former Maine senator George Mitchell as a full-time peace negotiator. The problem has been that virtually every agreement the U.S. has brokered has been rejected by the Palestinian leadership. Remember, it wasn't that many years ago that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had a deal in hand but walked away from the negotiating table.


Cal: And what does that tell you? It tells me that Israel's enemies will settle for nothing less than all the land.


Bob: Not all Israel's enemies have rejected a two-state settlement. But I concede U.S.-Israeli relations have been strained in recent months, as they have been numerous times in the past few decades. But in the end, the security and stability of the relationship is essential to both sides if terrorism is to be effectively confronted.


Cal: That's the crux of the issue, because terrorism is a worldwide threat. A former Iranian diplomat claims Islamic cells are in the U.S. awaiting instructions, and I don't doubt it. Tom Clancy's novel The Teeth of the Tiger gives us a fictional picture of terrorists blending in with Mexican immigrants slipping across our southern border and on cue shooting up small town shopping malls, causing panic and economic collapse. I fear his fiction may soon become reality if we don't fight this war like we intend to win it.


Bob: At the same time, the U.S. can't be blindly pro-Israel or anti-Muslim. If we ever want a two-state solution, we must be the honest broker.


Cal: There will be no "two-state" solution until the Islamic radicals get a message from their god that he no longer wants to destroy Jews, Christians and everyone else who doesn't practice their "peaceful" religion. Israel's enemies want a one-state solution that doesn't include Israel.


Bob: I'm not willing to concede that all of Islam is committed to wiping Israel off the map. Iran and Hamas do not represent the views of the entire region. There is still a "side" that Israel can forge an agreement with. But as it is, the parties have shown little interest in standing by even the limited interim agreements reached to date; the burden here is squarely on the Palestinians. At times, it has seemed that they make agreements for the sole purpose of breaking them.


Cal: You have made my point. There can be no deal without reciprocity.


Bob: Any final agreement must have the strong backing of the international community, including most Arab/Muslim nations in the region. Forget about Iran, though. I wouldn't trust them if they swore to agreement over the body of the long-deceased Ayatollah Khomeini. But without a committed Turkey, no Mideast agreement is worth the paper it is printed on.


Cal: You mentioned the Iranian hostage situation in 1979. You were in the Carter administration then. What did you learn about the intransigence of Ayatollah Khomeini? Didn't you find him completely unreasonable as well as impossible to deal with?


Bob: Of course I did, but let's remember it was the brutality of Iran's Shah directed at his own citizens that paved the way for the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The United States and Israel are still dealing with the consequences. But the Shah — who came to power by way of a CIA coup — is only one of many excuses by radical Islam to wage war against Israel and the West.


Cal: We can't forget that this is going to be a very long war. It is a clash of civilizations. We must know our enemy better than they know us. So far they have the advantage.








With President Barack Obama calling the current oil-well spill in the Gulf of Mexico "the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced," the president's Tuesday night speech gave no more encouragement for solution than have the BP oil rig spokesmen, whose estimates of the volume of gushing oil have risen dramatically over the past two months.


Everyone agrees there is a major problem. No one offers a major solution.


When millions of gallons of crude oil are pouring from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, nearly a mile below the surface of the water, there obviously is no simple way to put in a stopper.


What's needed, of course, is a way to seal off the rampant oil flow, or to capture it and pipe it into oil tank ships. But whatever has been tried hasn't been very effective. So the damage has been huge, and continues.


Just consider the effects of millions of gallons of thick, sticky crude oil in salty Gulf water -- heading to shore.


* There is no way to estimate the adverse effect on all sea life. Pelicans are soaked and soggy and can't fly or eat.


* The Gulf shrimp, oyster and fish fleets are idled by the disaster.


* The tremendous Gulf beach and tourist business -- at the beginning of the normally big summer season -- has been greatly discouraged, not only at seaside but far inland.


* The environment, at sea and along the shore, has been damaged tremendously, and will not recover for many years.


* The whole economies of the people who live and work in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and far inland have suffered varying degrees of serious interruption.


The total cost surely will rise beyond current estimates.


BP, normally pumping huge quantities of oil and earning big economic rewards, is not only losing production, but will be responsible to pay billions of dollars in damages to those who have suffered -- and will suffer for a long time to come.


It has been estimated that BP soon may be capturing 90 percent of the escaping oil. But whatever the percentage, consider the huge continuing losses, not only to BP, but also to the people and businesses along the Gulf beaches, and to fisheries and the rest.


The destructive effects of the spill from a single undersea oil well will damage the lives of millions of people and stagger the whole coastal economy in untold ways for decades.


The present damage is tremendous -- and the end is not in sight. When will the destructive oil flow be ended?


No one except the unfortunate people who are personally adversely affected by the oil spill can ever understand its worst dimensions.


Subscribe Here!


Providing a gift of life





President Obama's promise Tuesday to make BP pay claims for damages caused by the Gulf oil-spill disaster was bolstered mightily Wednesday when the administration reportedly forced agreement by BP executives to place $20 billion in an escrow account for such payments. The account, to be funded by two BP payments this year and subsequent payments quarterly over the next several years, would be administered by Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw payments to victims of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on New York's twin towers.


The escrow fund would be used to relieve the financial burdens imposed by the spill on Gulf Coast workers and companies in the fishing and tourism industries, and likely in related areas in the business food-chain as well. Such payments are desperately needed by the people and businesses already put out of work by the spill, and by those who will follow them as the economic ripple effects inevitably widen.


Though specific numbers are yet to be tallied, the costs of the spill are already broad, and increasingly nightmarish for many families and businesses. In fact, the seemingly unending spill -- now estimated to be up possibly to 60,000 barrels a day -- seems likely to cause a blanket wave of renewed recession in communities across the Gulf.


Certainly the fishing industry, tourism and related businesses -- and the myriad businesses and service industries sustained, in turn, by the everyday spending of workers in these core Gulf industries -- are being hammered. And they will continue to be hammered, by the loss of jobs and local tax revenue long after the blown-out well is contained.


It will take many months once the gushing well is capped to skim the oil off the ocean's surface and clean the shores. But the worst damage -- the underwater damage to the fisheries, reefs and ecosystems -- will haunt the Gulf economically for decades, as research into the long-term effects oil spills in aquatic ecosystems has shown.


Given the daunting challenges to restoration of the aquatic and coastal environments, it was appropriate that President Obama on Tuesday described the spill and the work ahead in almost war-like terms. He said the spill was an "assault" on coastal communities and residents' way of life, and he promised that he would "fight this spill with everything we've got for as long as it takes."


He appointed Ray Mabus, the Secretary of the Navy and a former Mississippi governor, to develop a comprehensive Gulf Coast restoration plan in cooperation with local governments, states and virtually every affected constituency in the Gulf.


Still, there remain substantial questions. One is whether the administration will also hold BP liable for the cost of restoration work in the Gulf ecosystem in the long-term. Another is whether the company's $20 billion commitment will be adequate for economic damages.


That sounds like a big number, but the scope of the damage caused by BP's recklessness, and possible malfeasance, may easily exceed that amount. The bulk of the nation's 10 largest banks, for example, received more than $20 billion each in the Troubled Relief Assets Program (TARP) bailouts. Those banks subsequently repaid the loans, mainly to escape TARP rules that curtailed their lucrative market trading activities.


It is easy to imagine that the direct economic damages related to the spill, resulting economic losses and restoration costs could easily surpass $20 billion in damages. The administration must make it clear to BP that it will be on the hook for all those costs.


Such a demand nevertheless puts even BP under fiscal duress. Though the company earned $17 billion in profit last year and is the world's third largest oil company, its stock has plummeted as the Obama administration has made it clear that BP would be required to establish an escrow fund for damages.


Regardless, the company's officials reversed course Wednesday on its refusal to compensate Gulf oil-industry workers laid off in the wake of the spill, agreeing also establish a $100,000 million fund for them. It also decided to forego its quarterly dividend to stock holders, and it issued an apology for causing the spill.


These developments are promising and just. So is Mr. Obama's call for action, in the wake of the spill, to focus more broadly on the fundamental need for the nation to embrace energy efficiency and renewable power in order to sharply reduce use of oil.


The president is on the right track. But until BP, or the government, can find a way actually to shut down the gushing leak that is ruining the Gulf Coast, and that threatens to spread on looping currents up the east coast of Florida, Americans will continue to have a hard time looking beyond the spill itself. Stopping the leak remains the first priority; it's a battle that BP and the administration will lose every day until the spill actually is stopped.







The high temperatures and humidity plaguing the region aren't unprecedented, but they are a widespread topic of conversation given their arrival before the official start of summer. With temperatures at 90 and more, heat indices near or above triple digits, and predictions for the same for the next week or more, the forecast that matters is easy to make: It will be miserably hot and generally uncomfortable.


Stepping outdoors now delivers instant confirmation that the misery index is high. The only relief, it seems, comes with the passage of a thunderstorm. In locales where a storm strikes, the air does cool, but that sometimes comes at a price -- damaging lightning, winds and heavy rains. Besides, when the storm passes, the heat and humidity return. There is, it seems, no escape.


There is an official explanation for the current weather pattern. A meteorologist at the U.S. Weather Service office in Morristown, Tenn., said Wednesday that high pressure will continue to produce temperatures in the lower to mid-90s through at least the middle of next week. The only bit of fresh air, so to speak, that he could offer to sweltering residents is that while temperatures will stay in the 90s, the humidity might decline in the Tennessee Valley in the next few days as a front brings drier air to the region. That will be welcome, but it will be short-lived.


"The air," the meteorologist said, "will moisten up early next week."


There are some coping mechanisms available. People stay relatively comfortable by moving from centrally cooled homes to air conditioned-vehicles to air-conditioned places to work and play. Then, they retrace their steps. Unfortunately, not everyone can do so.


Some must work outdoors and others find the cost of air conditioning and fans prohibitive. The latter often includes the aged and infirm who are unwilling to open doors and windows for safety reasons. Their health subsequently depends heavily on networks of family, friends, neighbors and social service agencies that willingly check on those most vulnerable to the heat. Such assistance often is the only thing that prevents serious illness and even death when temperatures and humidity soar.


It won't make us feel more comfortable, but the Weather Service spokesman says that the heat of the last week is not unusual. Temperatures are about five degrees above seasonal norms but below record levels. There's some comfort, too, in his assurance that high temperatures now do not portend even more heat later.


The truth, it seems, is the same now as it always has been when it comes to the heat. We can try to stay cool and hydrated. We can take care of those at highest risk during prolonged hot weather. And, complain as we may, we must wait until the cooler temperatures of fall arrive for real relief







Anyone who has seriously made a budget, balancing income and outgo, surely is aware of the difficulties. Making personal, business, city, county or national government budgets can be very challenging.


Consider the current job of Chattanooga officials.


Mayor Ron Littlefield has proposed a budget that would require a property tax increase of 64 cents, from the current $1.94 to $2.58 per $100 of assessed property value.


City Councilwoman Deborah Scott has offered an alternative budget plan, calling for no tax increase.


Ultimately, the budget that is adopted and the tax rate required will reflect some items that must be financed and some that can be left out. Some services are essential. Some are desirable. Some are optional. Some are objectionable.


Our city officials have the tough job deciding, in an economic crisis, "which are which" -- and convincing "us," the taxpayers.


Subscribe Here!


Providing a gift of life







The political world has been scratching its head since the bizarre June 8 primary election in South Carolina. Voters of that state gave the Democrat nomination to a barely known candidate who faces serious legal problems. They rejected the candidacy of a much better-known former state lawmaker.


The newly picked nominee is Alvin Greene. He is an unemployed 32-year-old who acknowledges he was involuntarily discharged from the Army. In addition, he was arrested back in November and faces a felony obscenity charge. A college coed says he showed her a pornographic website and discussed going back to her room. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison.


News accounts say Mr. Greene seems to have done almost no campaigning, nor to have set up a campaign website -- practically a necessity for any candidate seeking high office nowadays. And yet he stunned South Carolina by handily defeating Vic Rawl, who had been heavily favored.


Lots of conspiracy theories are now floating about, with Democrat U.S. Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina suggesting that somehow the GOP is responsible for Mr. Greene's victory in the Democrat primary. He said the nominee may be a "Republican plant," The New York Times reported.


But with hardly anyone having known anything about Mr. Greene prior to the primary, his victory over an apparently much stronger opponent raises big questions not only about him but about the voting public. Would even modestly informed voters have selected such an individual as their party's nominee for a seat in the United States Senate?


Alas, we cannot simply point fingers at South Carolina. While Mr. Greene's case is extreme, American voters have made a number of astonishingly unwise election picks for decades -- at the federal, state and local levels.


We may not like what those politicians have done once they got in office, but doesn't it say something disturbing about us voters that we put them there?

Subscribe Here!

Providing a gift of life






It's amazing -- and troubling -- that some countries believe they can achieve prosperity through Marxist policies that have been shown time and again to create poverty.


Down in South America, the nation of Venezuela has vast oil reserves. But instead of letting the free market guide the production of that oil, Marxist dictator Hugo Chavez exerts heavy government control, using oil proceeds to prop up his oppressive rule rather than permitting real, free-enterprise economic growth.


In consequence, Venezuela -- which should be rich -- has 30 percent inflation, the highest rate in all Latin America. Its economy has all but collapsed. There is a lack of some basic foods. And with all its oil supplies, it has major power shortages.


Yet Chavez is not backing down. He has been taking over one industry after another, and recently his government began seizing 18 distributors of food and retail goods. Many businesses seized in Venezuela have been accused of "hoarding" their goods, which is the pretext the government uses to take them over.


But it never seems to occur to Chavez to wonder why a company might not put its products on the market. The fact is, he has imposed price controls on many goods. In some cases, the controls are so strict that a company cannot recoup its production costs. So what reason would it have to put its wares up for sale? That would be a losing proposition.


For that matter, Marxism itself is a losing proposition.









In its general principles, we have consistently supported the so-called "strategic depth" policies of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government. We think it right and appropriate that Turkey has stepped up to fill the leadership vacuum in our region, seeking the role of mediator and conciliator in such cases as Iran's nuclear capacity development. While we have advocated more measured language from the government in the ongoing standoff between Israel and Gazan Palestinians, the disproportionality that defines Israel's stance — specifically including the assault on the Gaza flotilla — justifies Turkey's own firm stance and condemnations.


We also look skeptically on the "shifting axis" camp of analysis that explains Turkey's regional assertiveness narrowly with a lexicon based on "turning toward the East and away from the West" assumptions.


But we cannot escape the conclusion that the execution of this new set of policies is carrying a heavy and unnecessary cost, and this cost is not the offense taken by U.S. or European diplomats and journalists that Turkey is no longer minding its Western table manners. The slow-footed, half-hearted and totally inadequate provision of support and cover to Kyrgyzstan, whose political turmoil has ignited brutal ethnic violence in the southern city of Osh, demonstrates the need for "strategic breadth" as well as depth in our fast-changing region.


This is not to suggest any dreaming on our part along with the starry-eyed Turanists who have envisioned for more than a century a grand Turkic confederation stretching across Central Asia. Turkey is a country with its own deep ethnic complexity and we reject calls for some version of Germany's "jus sanguinis" laws that codify ethnic ties beyond Germany's borders.


But Turkey's linguistic and cultural capital is a resource that has been squandered in recent years in our relations with the Central Asian republics. More than 1,000 Turkish firms operate in the region, more than 18,000 students from these countries have studied at Turkish universities and TIKA, the foreign aid agency, was specifically created in 1992 to help these nations in their transition to developed democracies. But while our "axis" may not have shifted, our priorities have.


"The Turkish government has no weight in the region at all," Ahat Andican, the former minister for the region told us. His successor, Faruk Çelik, is virtually unknown in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.


There are many reasons for the decline in relations, and it can hardly all be laid at the feet of the AKP. But this is a critical and vital region where Turkey has many legitimate interests and many unique contributions to offer. Our failure in Kyrgyzstan should wake us up to our regional responsibilities










In the first half of the year, terrorist activities have escalated remarkably.


The outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, believing that they could force the government on the Kurdish initiative through terrorist activities, seem to have been applying the same method.


At the beginning of the initiative process, the PKK demanded the following:


Constitutional guarantees for the Kurdish identity, amendment or annulment of an article on Turkish identity, autonomy in Southeastern Turkey, education in Kurdish, recognition of the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan as the interlocutor, general amnesty, and end to military operations.


While Kurdish refugees were let into Turkey at the Habur gate, the PKK-BDP duo tried to create a victorious impression that the Turkish government had no choice but to sit with them for talks. The government changed direction immediately, realizing that such an image could bring a heavy political cost.


At the moment, Turkey is preparing to enter an election period.


And the PKK is trying to control politics in the southeast by escalating terrorist activities.


Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has adopted tougher stance against the PKK-BDP and called them murderers. The BDP was quick to fire back in heavy criticism of the government.


The BDP seems to follow a policy based on the PKK road-map.


Terror will not stop unless the PKK achieves the aforementioned political objectives.


The BDP will keep blaming the government and the state during the election period.


We see that nothing has changed on the PKK-BDP front.








For two days, I've been trying to bring forth similarities and differences between the National View and the Gülen Movement. Although the two have set similar objectives, methodologies applied are quite different. The National View, relatively remains more local/regional as the Gülen Movement acts universally. As the National View seeks rather "tough" solutions for others, the Gülen Movement approaches others for "conciliatory" terms.


But I keep questioning for two days how these two opposite brothers, especially after 2007, have managed to come under the roof of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP; how they have allied.



The "Alliance" has a crook now following the Israeli marines' raid on the Mavi Marmara (Blue Marmara) ship in the Mediterranean. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davudoğlu, whom I believe is just living in a dream world, made announcements in line with the nature of the National Views. However, Fethullah Gülen, as the leader of the Gülen Movement, openly criticized the method applied by commanders on the ship.


On that day, I couldn't help myself but to think:

If you dare to direct politics, politics will steer you!



I believe Gülen's move should be evaluated in two aspects:


1) In a conjuncture perspective, Fethullah Gülen acted on purpose to protect his resident status in the United States. Besides, his statement is in line with the objective look outside from Turkey by nature.


2) In a philosophical perspective, Fethullah Gülen completely acted in accordance with the understanding of "living together in harmony". The maxim of the Gülen Movement has always been "solving the problems in a peaceful manner". Even more so, Fethullah Gülen suggested sobriety and calm even in the Feb. 28 post-modern coup period in which he was subjected to such unfairness. In that period, he also suggested girl students to take off their headscarves in order to continue university education as the headscarf ban in university had become an issue.


Gülen's reaction to the Blue Marmara incident is consistent with who he really is and it also a critical move separating the Gülen Movement from the National View.




I hope that the Gülen Movement comes back to its old yet accurate position and returns to the old political stance which is to remain neutral to all political parties.


The perception, in particular among religious laics, is that the Gülen Movement supports the AKP's both national and foreign policies, has to be eliminated.


This is what suits for the Gülen Movement and this is also what makes the Gülen Movement universal!


However, political parties should also create necessary atmosphere in order for the Gülen Movement to regain its position and remain at an equal distance to all political parties.


And this goes for the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP.


Stance of the former CHP chairman Deniz Baykal was worth praises.


I have no idea what needs to be done at this point, but if the new CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu tends to thaw the historic ice between his party and the Gülen Movement, both Turkey and the CHP will have a great deal of benefits from the situation.


And in this period I expect new steps from both the Gülen Movement and the CHP








On Tuesday, Thomas Friedman delivered a speech in Istanbul. The world-renowned columnist for the New York Times is known for his ability to find the pinnacle of any debate and form opinions about it before anyone else, thus affecting intellectuals worldwide.


He was the first person to talk about the Golden Straightjacket of Western civilizations and the term "super-empowered individual." The Golden Straightjacket refers to the conditions that any country must abide by if they want a place in the new global economy. He claims in his book, "The Lexus and The Olive Tree," that in order to fit into the Golden Straightjacket a country must either adopt, or be seen as moving toward, the following golden rules: making the private sector the primary engine of economic growth; maintaining a low rate of inflation and price stability, shrinking the size of its state bureaucracy, maintaining as close to a balanced budget as possible, if not a surplus, eliminating and lowering tariffs on imported goods, removing restrictions on foreign investment, eliminating quotas and domestic monopolies, increasing exports, privatizing state-owned industries and utilities, deregulating capital markets, making its currency convertible, opening its industries, stock, and bond markets to direct foreign ownership and investment, deregulating its economy to promote as much domestic competition as possible, eliminating government corruption, subsidies and kickbacks as much as possible, opening its banking and telecommunications systems to private ownership and competition, and allowing its citizens to choose from an array of competing pension options and foreign-run pension and mutual funds.


Once a country wears the Golden Straightjacket the ability of governments to move in other directions is diminished but wealth flows into the country, which makes the jacket a golden one.


Friedman also says that computer geeks love this because they love freedom and the free flow of goods and services, thus he claims creative minds will strive in the countries that put on the jacket.


I believe that Turkey was wearing the jacket for almost a decade but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is trying to get rid of it nowadays. That's why Friedman talked about how Turkey had changed over recent years in a negative way from a secular Western republic to a country at the radical Islamic front. He says that if Turkey does not abide by the rules mentioned above it will lose its momentum. Currently there is a reverse brain drain in favor of Turkey but this will also change if Turkey chooses to become part of a number of countries with closed societies.


Friedman's second most-famous term is the "super-empowered individual." It refers to the fact that individuals are much stronger against bigger powers such as governments and multinational firms, thanks to broadband Internet. He says that any individual with a great idea in mind can spread it almost freely across the globe. Therefore Internet has become a very strong tool for those who fight against injustice and oppression. It was not surprising for Iranians to use Twitter, popular across the globe, when they posted firsthand impressions about the clashes during the time of elections. That was the first time that I heard about Twitter. Turkish people have also been reaping the benefits of Internet through many applications. The foundation for Friedman's idea of a super-empowered person is in the fact that in the Internet realm people will always find a way. The Chinese are trying to control the content of the web pages that their citizens see with thousands of inspectors and billions of dollars worth of intervention technologies, and yet, even they are unable to monitor it completely.


In Turkey, with hundreds of websites banned, the underground web movements are gaining power. And this is not happening only on the political front. More than half of the websites banned in Turkey have regular porn content because authorities can ban a website without a court order if it is not in line with "Turkish family values." I don't exactly know what those values are and I don't think that there is a clear definition. Therefore while the rest of the world enjoys regular pornographic content, Turkish people cannot. At least that's what the authorities think.


While Friedman was talking about how Turkey has changed, Turkish police officers arrested 60 women and a number of men for organizing strip shows on MSN. According to the story, women were stripping for people in exchange for 100 mobile phone credits without showing their faces. In this way, men who enjoyed the shows didn't leave a credit card trail. The Turks can be very creative with technology. Even in this little news we see that trying to oppress and ban results in a worse situation.


I know that in our age it is an unnecessary burden to oppress people. It is my humble advice to the government to wear the Golden Straightjacket and let people be. Next week I will write about another important point Friedman discussed about what it means to go green.








Whatever we may say we may not prevent discussions in the media.


There is a new article or column produced almost every day.


Persistently they are looking for an answer to the same question over and over:


What is wrong with Turkey? Is it changing the direction of its external politics or is it changing its priorities?