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Monday, June 21, 2010

EDITORIAL 21.06.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month june 21, edition 000545 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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



  7. 38 years after Bloody Sunday - Gwynne Dyer
























  4. BEWARE, 2010 IS NOT 2004! - CHETAN AHYA


























































It is unfortunate that Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (U) leader Nitish Kumar should have taken the extreme step of returning to the Gujarat Government the money it had contributed for relief work during the devastating Kosi floods a couple of years ago. That contribution of Rs 5 crore, by itself not a big amount, was a genuine gesture of solidarity and was meant to convey the message that the people of Gujarat stood by their brothers and sisters of Bihar in their hour of ordeal. Indeed, Gujaratis, who have not forgotten how others came to their aid during the devastating earthquake of 2001, collected large quantities of relief material that was sent to Bihar in special trains and distributed among the victims of the unprecedented flood. In all fairness, it must be said that the people of Bihar had accepted that assistance gracefully, as is only natural. Yet, Mr Kumar has thought it fit to snub Gujaratis — for that is what returning the money amounts to — out of sheer pique and cussedness over something as trifle as an advertisement that appeared in Patna's newspapers during the recent BJP National Executive meeting in that city, mentioning, among other things, how Gujarat had stood by Bihar at its moment of crisis. Mr Kumar is also offended by the visual in another advertisement which shows him holding hands with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, a photograph that dates back to an NDA rally during the 2009 general election. Apparently he believes that such portrayal of camaraderie between him and Mr Modi is not good for his 'secular' image.


Mr Nitish Kumar's reaction to the advertisements — his angry utterances before the media even while the BJP's National Executive was in session caused more than discomfort and disquiet — and his subsequent action of returning the money which Gujarat had contributed for flood relief raise three points that merit comment. First, as a senior and astute politician whose party has been an ally of the BJP for nearly a decade-and-a-half, perhaps Mr Kumar should have been more circumspect. Second, it is a pity that he should have allowed himself to be pushed into reacting in this manner by a self-serving media which was cynically trying to manufacture a story out of nothing during an otherwise staid National Executive meeting. Third, it is doubtful whether the people of Bihar endorse Mr Kumar's decision to return the money that was contributed by not Mr Modi but by the people of Gujarat: Indians see themselves as an extended family that comes together when times are tough. There is, of course, the other issue of Mr Kumar not wanting to be seen in close proximity with Mr Modi. That's unacceptable because if the JD(U) can join hands with the BJP, there is no reason why Mr Modi should be treated as politically untouchable. Muslim voters in Bihar, or for that matter elsewhere, would not be persuaded by such vacuous 'secularism'.

The BJP must desist from any impetuous response. It is neither in the party's nor in the NDA's interest to allow this unseemly episode to degenerate into a tit-for-tat slanging match. With Assembly election scheduled for later this year, the BJP should focus on keeping its alliance with the JD(U) intact and winning as many seats as possible to strengthen its position in the State. It would be a shame if the entirely uncalled for spat were to allow discredited politicians like Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav to make political capital and secure electoral advantage over his rivals. That would harm the BJP — and the JD(U) too.







At long last there is some good news from Down Under. Two teenagers have been arrested by Victoria Police and charged with the gruesome murder of Nitin Garg, a 21-year-old Indian student, on January 2 this year. Nitin Garg, who worked at a fast food outlet to supplement his resources, was brutally stabbed while walking through a park on his way to his work place late in the evening. He managed to stagger to the fast food outlet, where he collapsed and was rushed to hospital. Unfortunately, he died before doctors could do anything to save him. It was a tragic story by itself, but what made Nitin Garg's death particularly shocking was the fact that it came in the wake of a series of attacks on Indian students in Melbourne which appeared to be racist in nature and evoked images of the past when racism was integral to Australian policy. Understandably, there was outrage across India, and the Government had to respond by using harsh language to remind the Australian authorities of their responsibility towards foreigners studying in that country. The dip in India-Australia relations, though undesirable, was inevitable, although to its credit the Australian Government went out of the way to assuage hurt sentiments in India and to reiterate its commitment towards ensuring the safety and security of Indian students. Of course, it was in Australia's interest to do so: Not only do foreign students fetch huge revenues for Australian universities but no law-abiding progressive society can afford to be perceived as being lenient towards racist violence.

Thankfully, the attacks have ceased and it would seem that Australia has kept its promise to step up vigilance and crack down on offenders. Last week's arrests should serve to further strengthen this view. Perhaps much of the bitterness that followed the attacks on Indian students could have been avoided if Victoria Police had shown greater sensitivity and not been brusque to the point of being offensive in its initial statements. It is nobody's case that urban crime is unique to Australia; that would be a ridiculous suggestion, not least because India's cities, like those elsewhere, witness varying degree of a variety of crimes. But what Indians wanted to hear during those days of repeated attacks on Indian students was missing from statements emanating from Australia. It required the intervention of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his senior colleagues to calm public opinion here and restore confidence in the Australian Government. It may be added that the Australian High Commissioner in New Delhi was not helpful in this task: His insensitive and sweeping comments only served to raise hackles. Hopefully, India-Australia relations will not face similar strains in the future.







It is now well established that the critical command for the fast track release of Warren Anderson, among the prime accused in the 1984 Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, came from none other than then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Anderson, listed as prime accused in the case that was decided two weeks ago — 26 years after the world's worst industrial disaster left at least 15,000 people dead and over two lakhs maimed for the rest of their lives — was chairman of Union Carbide Corp, the US-based parent company of Union Carbide India Ltd from whose pesticides factory in Bhopal lethal gas had leaked on the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984, with catastrophic consequences.

Former Madhya Pradesh Government functionaries in Bhopal, the surviving Secretary who was part of the crisis management team set up by the State administration, the then Collector of Bhopal and even the pilot who flew the official aircraft that was used for transporting Anderson from Bhopal to Delhi to enable his immediate exit from the country, have all spoken to the media and provided revealing details of what happened on that day.

Subsequently, other senior officials of the Government of India, including the then Foreign Secretary, have spoken on the issue. Going by the sum and substance of what they have had to say, it is clear that the orders not to detain Anderson and provide him with safe passage came from Rajiv Gandhi and were implemented by then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh and senior Congress leader Arjun Singh.

The Congress and its 'secular' allies continue to target Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for the 2002 post-Godhra violence. But the death toll in that violence is nothing compared to the number of lives lost in the Union Carbide disaster. In fact, the number of people who died in the Bhopal tragedy was many times more than those who died in Gujarat in 2002. claimed over six times that figure in deaths. At least two lakh people have been maimed for life or are suffering from one or another ailment on account of the lethal gas leak. Many of them have died in the past 26 years. There was little that could have been done to save their lives by way of medical aid alone. These thousands must also be added to the toll. Then there are hundreds of abortions and physically deformed babies owing to the effects of the gas that leaked from the Union Carbide factory.

Where is the pack of human rights activists that has been working overtime to haul Mr
Modi over the coals for the past eight years? Will they force the Congress to stand up and accept liability for the deaths and injuries to so many innocent men, women and children and for letting the guilty go free? What has the Congress got to say in its defence for the inadequate relief and rehabilitation measures and that its State Government could not even prepare a list of victims?

On December 6, 1984, Rajiv Gandhi was in Madhya Pradesh addressing an election rally. There is no record of his visiting the survivors of the disaster. If those who have recalled events of the time are correct, he was more eager to get Anderson, who had been arrested on arrival in Bhopal, out on bail, and is believed to have conveyed this to Mr Singh. Where was all the purported sympathy for the poor and the suffering masses that is attributed to Rajiv Gandhi by the Congress?

Mr Singh's silence barring his cryptic comment that he "did not have any locus standi in the matter", his party colleague Digvijay Singh's rushing to the media with his version of events and the Congress spokespersons' calibrated move to absolve the party and its departed leader of all responsibility fall into a pattern if we were to juxtapose the sequence of events with what declassified CIA documents have revealed about the brief arrest and prompt release of Anderson. Union Carbide Corp at that time was a top American corporate entity representing the country's prowess in the field of heavy chemicals.

The CIA documents are there for anyone to peruse as they have now been placed in the public domain. The media has carried excerpts from them. The CIA documents show that Anderson was released not because the US President pressurised Rajiv Gandhi to do so but because there was apprehension in his Government that any action against Union Carbide at the corporate level would jeopardise American investment that was just beginning to flow into the country.

The Congress reaction in 1984 to protect projected American investment inflow even at the expense of helping a criminal escape the clutches of Indian law is not a one-time affair. An analysis of the rule of Congress-led Governments over the decades since the 1980s expose this uncalled-for sensitivity to perceptions regarding what business and Governments in the US would think of Indian policies.

Even in Mrs Indira Gandhi's tenure, this trend was evident. In the 1980s, Mrs Gandhi overruled the proposal of HN Sethna, then chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, to ignore US protests and try thorium derivatives in the Tarapur nuclear facility along with spent uranium that would make India independent of imported uranium required as fuel for the atomic power plant. Under Rajiv Gandhi, India agreed to humiliating conditions to get access to an American super-computer. Though the Janata Party Government that came to power in 1977 had booted Coca-Cola and IBM out of the country, they returned with the 1991 economic reforms. Pepsi arrived, followed by Coke, the god of all soft drinks and America's calling card. The Indian soft drinks industry just closed shop. The UPA Government's eagerness to strike a civil nuclear deal with the US is recent history.

But there is more to 1984 than the Bhopal gas tragedy. To the list of the victims of the gas tragedy should be added the number of Sikhs who died in the October 31-November 4 carnage following Mrs Gandhi's assassination. The cases against at least some of the perpetrators of the carnage — all Congress leaders — have been dragging in the courts for years.

In case of the Union Carbide disaster, the judiciary took 26 years to determine punishment for the guilty. The 1984 carnage of Sikhs during the Congress regime is still in the courts. Will the secularists' brigade show the spine to fight for justice for these victims with the same determination that it has demonstrated about the Gujarat violence?








This refers to the editorial "A conspiracy unfolds" (June 17). In the face of a growing pile of disclosures by responsible and authoritative sources on the alleged collusion of the then Congress Government at the Centre headed by Rajiv Gandhi in the release and exit of Union Carbide's then chairman Warren Anderson from India, Congress spokespersons continue to tie themselves up in knots in a ridiculous attempt at denial.

Under a relentless onslaught by television news channel anchors, reinforced by the latest evidence of a British journalist representing Financial Times who covered the Bhopal disaster, the US Embassy's then acting head's statement on the agreement on Mr Anderson's safe passage to and from India and a BBC television clip on the Union Carbide chairman's visit to North Block and his "Bye, Bye, thank you, India" remarks, the Congress spokesman, Mr Manish Tewari, clearly failed in his attempt to convince anyone with his assertion that it was a "systemic" failure or that the latest statements of the British correspondent and the acting head of the US mission in New Delhi were pure "conjecture".

By acknowledging the blunders of the Rajiv Gandhi regime, the Congress could have deflected public anger by explaining the tragic circumstances under which the young, inexperienced Rajiv Gandhi came to power. The immediate aftermath of the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi was the horrendous massacre of Sikhs in Delhi and other places in November followed within a month by the world's worst industrial disaster. It was the worst of times for any administration to have dealt with.

Understandably, our rookie Prime Minister, who was also the External Affairs Minister, was overwhelmed by events. Given that Mahatma Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi's own grandfather Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru made grave mistakes in the Khilafat movement, the Partition parleys and the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962, Rajiv Gandhi's compromise vis-à-vis Anderson and the Bhopal tragedy could have been treated with a measure of forgiveness. By saying sorry and enhancing compensation for the victims of the Bhopal tragedy, the Congress can still redeem a measure of its lost stature.







Sri Lanka may be one of our smaller neighbours, but it has played a disproportionately larger role in India's foreign policy. The degree of positive change in India-Sri Lanka relations, especially in the wake of the state visit by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, needs to be evaluated in a dispassionate manner.A two-fold criterion recommends itself.

First, most space in India's narrative on neighbourhood policy has traditionally been consumed by Pakistan, leaving very little room for others except in times of crisis. Of late, this seems to be changing as it is realised that relations with important neighbours such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are witnessing a transformation of long-term significance.

Second, in order to appreciate the change, it is essential to recall how difficult and complex the relations with Sri Lanka were during the 1980s and early 1990s. Under both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi Governments, India followed a muscular approach in order to safeguard the interests of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka, which culminated in the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 and the induction of the IPKF. India's policy did not succeed largely due to the LTTE's resistance and Colombo's steadfast refusal to accept the stand of the Big Brother. This was perhaps at the back of President Rajapaksa's mind when he suggested recently to an Indian interviewer that India should look at Sri Lanka as its "little sister."

During the 1990s, I helped Foreign Secretaries JN Dixit and (later) K Srinivasan in managing relations with several neighbours, including Sri Lanka. This was the time when memories of the IPKF debacle were very fresh; hence the focus was on normalising relations. President Ranasinghe Premadasa's penchant for undertaking frequent trips to India, ostensibly to visit Buddhist sites but also to hold dialogue in New Delhi, was

fully encouraged and utilised by both sides. Investments made then and later seem now to be paying off.

There was in those days a widely shared view in the strategic community that Sri Lanka's central problem — the Tamil question — would be resolved only after the Prabhakaran-led LTTE was vanquished. This finally came about in May 2009. Almost on the first anniversary of the historic victory, the Sri Lankan President came calling. Both the timing and the outcome of the visit were important, demonstrating how closely the two countries have worked together in recent years.

The LTTE may have gone, but the Tamil question remains. In the immediate term, rehabilitation of internally displaced persons continues to demand attention. Colombo has faced criticism on account of delays and inadequate arrangements. Its claim that only 50,000 out of 3,00,000 refugees are in camps, has been disputed. It was, therefore, a deft move on part of Mr Rajapaksa to meet with a delegation of MPs from Tamil Nadu, talking to them candidly and assuring them that rehabilitation would be expedited. Now that India has decided to step up its assistance for this cause, quicker progress should be expected.

The more serious issue is the devolution of powers to the northern and eastern regions within the framework of a united and unitary state. A close reading of the joint declaration indicates the distinct possibility of a gap between the two Governments. Our PM stressed the need for "a meaningful devolution package" which builds on the 13th Amendment and creates conditions for "a lasting political settlement". On the other hand, the Sri Lankan President spoke of his determination to evolve a political settlement "acceptable to all communities". He also shared his ideas on conducting "a broader dialogue with all parties involved".

In effect, he was reminding New Delhi that, apart from the Tamil minority community, there was the Sinhala majority community whose concerns would have to be factored in. Reconciliation would be a challenge, especially as diversity of views and interests exists in both communities. Clearly, both countries would have to do their own balancing acts: For Colombo, it involves the majority and min ority groups; for New Delhi, the balancing would be between Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu.


A major gain of the visit was to deepen the bilateral relationship through "greater economic integration, enhancing connectivity and other linkages and closer development cooperation". Decisions were taken to upgrade the railway infrastructure with India's credit assistance amounting to $800 million as well as to rehabilitate the Palay airport and the Kankesanthurai harbour. In addition, a joint venture in thermal power sector with Indian assistance of $ 200 million and starting a feasibility study for inter-connection of electricity of the two countries were significant steps.

Economic relations have been progressing well, with bilateral trade having crossed the $ 2 billion mark in 2009 and FDI having reached $ 500 million. But much more needs to be done to ensure expansion and diversification. The decision to move towards "a more comprehensive framework of economic cooperation" is noteworthy, but in view of continuing Sri Lankan concerns, India Inc will need to identify new opportunities and leverage them, guided by mutual benefit.

Defence cooperation represents an important dimension. Discussions resulted in a joint decision to enhance high level military exchanges and training programmes and to institute an annual dialogue on defence matters. On countering terrorism and India's case for the permanent membership of UN Security Council, Sri Lanka is firmly on our side. Seven agreements were signed during the visit.

Policy-makers and managers of the bilateral relationship should, however, consider two important suggestions. First, both sides need to work more aggressively to augment people-to-people links in the fields of culture, education, tourism and the civil society.

Second, the 'China factor' remains relevant. On return from his "highly successful" visit to India, Mr Rajapaksa received the Chinese Vice-Premier, which was followed by signing of a package of six agreements. Whether it was a planned signal or showed poor timing needs to be probed.Nevertheless, confident of our substantial gains and while remaining watchful, India should now focus on effective implementation and consolidation.

A retired Ambassador, the writer has handled relations with Sri Lanka in the Ministry of External Affairs.








A consensus across various academic and intellectual circles now states that violent entities such as the Pakistani Taliban and assorted sectarian organisations are the pitfalls of policies pursued by the state through its intelligence agencies to safeguard Pakistan's 'strategic' and ideological interests.

The supposed ideology was constructed by the ruling establishment many years after the painful birth of Pakistan. It has since been used by the state apparatus, political parties and media men to justify the patronisation and formation of brutal reactive outfits and groups. But whose ideology is it anyway? Pakistan seemed to have had a simple answer till about 1956. This answer, it seems, did not suit the political and economic interests of the early Pakistani ruling elite.

Till about the late-1960s it was normal to suggest that Pakistan was carved as a country for Muslims of the sub-continent who were largely seen (by Jinnah and his comrades in the Muslim League), as a distinct cultural set of Indians whose political, economic and cultural distinctiveness might have been compromised in a post-colonial 'Hindu-dominated' set-up. As Jinnah went about explaining his vision of Pakistan, there was no doubt whatsoever in the historical validity of the notion that he imagined the new country as a cultural haven for Muslims of the sub-continent where the state and politics would remain separate.

The state was to be driven by modern democracy that incorporated the egalitarian concepts of Islam such as charity, equality and inter-faith tolerance. According to Prof Ayesha Jalal, Jinnah's view of Islamic activism in the sub-continent was akin to his understanding it as a phenomenon that "derided the false and dangerous religious frenzy which had confused Indian politics and the zealots who were harming the national cause".

However, Jinnah's death in 1948 reduced his Muslim League (from being a dynamic organisation of visionary action) to a rag-tag group of self-serving politicians. It became a pale reflection of its pre-independence past. Gone too was the party's ability to bring into policy Jinnah's modernist Muslim vision. The idea got increasingly muddled and shouted down by the once anti-Pakistan Islamic forces, who now started flexing their muscles in the face of a disintegrating Muslim League, and the erosion of the ideal that its leader stood for.

The Jamaat-e-Islami went on a rampage in 1953 in Lahore, hungrily overseeing the country's first major anti-Ahmadi riots. Of course, by now the famous speech by Jinnah in which he underlined the idea of religious freedom in the new country was conveniently forgotten as the ruling elite grappled confusingly with the crises of its own creation. Eventually, it capitulated to the demands of the handful of vocal Islamist leaders by officially declaring the country an 'Islamic Republic'. It was classic ostrich behaviour; the sort a number of Pakistani leaders continue to demonstrate whenever faced with the question of Pakistan and its relationship to political Islam.

Misunderstanding Islamist activism as mere emotionalism, the ruling elite gave the Islamists a bone to play with, without bothering to explain to the rest of the people exactly what an Islamic republic really meant in the Pakistani context — a country buzzing with a number of ethnicities, minority religions and distinct Muslim sects. A democratic order should have been a natural answer to the state's crisis. But for Islamists, democracy meant the emergence of ethnic and religious plurality that would encourage secular politics and further undermine the notion of the new-found Islam-centric Pakistani nationhood.

Many years and follies later, and in the midst of unprecedented violence being perpetrated in the name of Islam, Pakistanis today stand more confused and flabbergasted than ever before. The seeds of ideological schizophrenia that the 1956 Constitution sowed followed by the disastrous doings of the Gen Zia-ul-Haq dictatorship in the 1980s. These have now grown into a wicked tree that only bears delusions and denials as fruit.

As Islamic parties and reactionary journalists continue to use the flimsy historical narrative of Pakistan's Islamic republicanism, consciously burying the harrowing truth behind the chaos the so-called 'Islamic ideology of Pakistan' has managed to create, whole new generations grow up lapping up this synthetic narrative. While it has continued to alienate not only the religious minorities — Muslim and non-Muslim — it has also stoked intolerance among the very vocal and assertive, puritan Muslims.

A recent example is the way many puritan Islamic groups have reacted to the conservative Nawaz Sharif's statement sympathising with the plight of the Ahmadis. Also, one of Pakistan's outstanding, moderate Islamic scholars, Mr Javed Ahmed Ghamdi, has had to fly out of the country into a self-imposed exile. According to an executive producer at a popular Urdu-language TV channel, Mr Ghamdi was facing a number of threats from certain puritan and violent Islamic groups.

His sin? He stood out as a mainstream Sunni Muslim scholar who banked on reason and an interpretive take on the Quran, eschewing the myopic literalism of the puritan groups that espouse a violent, political view of Islam.

The writer is among the most popular Pakistani columnists. He writes for Dawn. Courtesy: Dawn.





38 years after Bloody Sunday

Gwynne Dyer

The British inquiry into the massacre that shocked the world has brought a closure of sorts to the victims' kin. Will other countries take a cue from this?

In the aftermath of the bloody events on the aid ship Mavi Marmara, where nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed by Israeli commandos on 31 May, Israeli has set up a judicial inquiry into the affair. Since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who chose the members of the inquiry, has already described the victims as "violent Turkish terror extremists" on a "ship of hate", some people doubt that the investigation will be impartial.

On 15 June, the second inquiry into 'Bloody Sunday' in the Northern Irish city of Derry, where 14 civil rights marchers were killed by British paratroops on 30 January, 1972, delivered its report. The first people to see it were the relatives of the victims. On the whole, they seemed satisfied.

The British inquiry was chaired by Lord Saville, a former High Court judge. Since the inquiry involved the British Army, the other two members were senior judges from New Zealand and Canada, not from Britain. And the Saville inquiry's report was utterly damning.

It said that none of the casualties had guns, and that there were "no instances where it appeared to us that soldiers either were or might have been justified in firing." The paratroops gave no warnings before they started shooting, and a number of soldiers afterwards "knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing."

The report also said bluntly that the soldiers had lost their self-control, "forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training, and failing to satisfy themselves that they had identified targets posing a threat of causing death or serious injury…There was a serious and widespread loss of fire discipline." Neither their commanders nor the British Government wanted to kill innocent people, but they were to blame for it nevertheless.

If a similarly impartial tribunal inquired into the events that occurred aboard the Gaza-bound aid ship last month, it would probably come to identical conclusions. We know enough about confrontations where none of the soldiers or police die, but lots of the rioters do, to understand the psychology and crowd dynamics of it.

That impartial inquiry would probably conclude that there was a "serious and widespread loss of fire discipline" among the Israeli commandos (five of the nine dead civilians were shot in the back or the back of the head). It would also probably find that few if any of the activists had lethal weapons, or acted in ways that justified killing them.

All of this may well come to pass in Israel — in 2048, 38 years from now. Because that is how long it took the British Government to get from the Widgery report, the original whitewash that was produced only months after the Bloody Sunday massacre, to the Saville report.

Lord Chief Justice Widgery's report in 1972 was a shameless cover-up that blamed the victims: "There is a strong suspicion that some (of the dead and wounded) had been firing weapons or handling bombs in the course of the afternoon." And, of course, it exonerated the soldiers: "There is no reason to suppose that the soldiers would have opened fire if they had not been fired upon first."

Those lies stood for 38 years, which is why the first people to be shown Lord Saville's report this week were the victims' families. It won't bring the dead back to life, but it is a reckoning of sorts. The British Government is a slow learner, but it does learn.

Israel has appointed ex-Supreme Court judge Mr Yaakov Tirkel, retired Israeli army officer Mr Amos Horev, and Mr Shabbtai Rosen, an Israeli professor of international law, to the current inquiry, but the only two foreign members are observers who have no vote, so this will probably be Israel's Widgery report. There may be an Israeli version of the Saville report eventually, but not this year or next.

Sovereignty means never having to say you're sorry. Or at least not for a long, long while.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist







The parts of the world hit hardest by the best-known Afghan business — the drug business — are Europe, Russia, and Iran, which absorb some 80 per cent of the drugs produced in Afghanistan. Currently the country is responsible for 90 per cent of the global narcotics output. Russia's drug control agency chief Mr V Ivanov outlined the situation at the international forum, Drug Production in Afghanistan: A Challenge for the International Community.

The US-led invasion of Afghanistan bred unprecedentedly favourable conditions for the country's drug business which is currently flourishing in the Nato-controlled oasis. While the Taliban used to ban poppy cultivation, the Western coalition brought unchecked freedom to Afghanistan, the result being that the opium production in the country has grown by a factor of more than 40 over the past decade.

To justify its inaction, the US claims that for the Afghan farmers poppy cultivation is the only way to make a living. In practice, the justification translates into ever greater licence for various drug lords who amass fantastic riches at the cost of the lives of Russian and European young people. Allegedly out of compassion for the disadvantaged Afghans, the US and its allies have turned Afghanistan into a giant drug factory. It has to be realised that at the moment countering the US presence in Afghanistan and fighting the global treat posed by the drug business mean roughly the same.

"We cannot defeat the evil alone — efforts have to be made by the international community, by all the interested countries," said Afghan Counter-Narcotics Minister Mr Zarar Ahmad Moqbel. It is clear which countries are interested and just as clear that the US is not one of them. Opium from Afghanistan does not reach the US, unlike the drugs from Columbia where Washington — evidently unconcerned about the well-being of Latin Americans — is ready to wipe out coca fields by bomb strikes. The US would rather not do the same in Afghanistan and leave it to Russia and Europe to face the consequences...

Currently Afghanistan supplies twice the amount of drugs the whole world produced a decade ago. Most of the cultivation takes place in the Kandahar and Helmand provinces. In 2010, Afghanistan also became the champion in the production of hashish — this year the corresponding crop totaled some 3,000 tons. It is easy to guess where the drugs will land as the shortest supply routes run north, via Central Asia to Russia. The spread of drug consumption and addiction in Russia ranks among the most serious threats to its national security. It is an open secret that Afghanistan has a completely transparent border with Central Asian republics, most of the drug traffickers arrested in Russia being their citizens. Last week two policemen were injured in Moscow during an anti-narcotics raid against a group of ethnic Tajiks who put up resistance and attacked the policemen with knives and iron rods.

Russia is the country with the world's third largest group of drug addicts (after Afghanistan and Iran). A decade ago, Russia officially counted 369,000 drug addicts; by 2009 the figure topped five lakh. The reality is even more frightening than the healthcare statistics reflects — tentatively, 2-2.5 million Russians are drug addicts, the people thrown out of normal life. It is a significant dimension of the problem that some 20 per cent of the drug addicts in Russia are schoolchildren, roughly 60 per cent are aged between 16 and 30, and 20 per cent are people over 30. Russia's drug control agency estimates that narcotics kill around 1,00,000 people across the world every year.

The plan for joint struggle against the drug threat addressed at the forum to the Western coalition occupying Afghanistan included seven points: Countering the threat posed by the drug production in Afghanistan should be given the same priority as maintaining peace and international security, at least two million jobs must be created in Afghanistan considering that currently on the order of three million Afghans are cultivating drug crops, poppy crops in Afghanistan must be ruthlessly eradicated, the UN should compile a blacklist of land owners renting out fields for poppy cultivation, Nato forces deployed in Afghanistan must actively eradicate drug crops, intelligence agencies should step up cooperation and regularly swap the pertinent data, Russia and the Western coalition countries should jointly train Afghan anti-drug forces.

Elena Pustovoytova is a political scientist and a Strategic Culture Foundation expert








GIMMICKRY is something even the better of our politicians cannot avoid taking recourse to every now and then. Why else would Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar go to the extreme length of returning the money that Narendra Modi's Gujarat government had donated for the Kosi flood victims? Also, Kumar's pompous claim before the media that the people of Bihar did not need help from any source to take care of their needs is simply not true and, in any case, at odds with his longstanding complaint about the Union government having been niggardly in allocation of funds for the rehabilitation of the flood victims.


The whole episode triggered by the appearance of an advertisement that showed Kumar and Modi holding hands reeked a little of grandstanding on the Bihar CM's part. It is difficult to avoid the impression that Kumar took umbrage to the advertisement that appeared on the eve of the Bharatiya Janata Party's national executive meet in Patna merely to send a message about his secular credentials to the electorate in Bihar that goes to the polls later this year.


If Kumar's regime has not been tainted by communal colour due to the presence of the BJP in the coalition government, the credit for this must go to the secular Kumar. But if the chief minister has tried to carry all sections of the population along in the development exercise, the people, especially the minorities, must have already become aware of this fact over his considerably long tenure.


Kumar doubts the intelligence of the voters if he thinks that his very public stance on the advertisement issue will decide which way the minorities vote.


Kumar mustn't forget that while he has every right to distance himself from Modi, his government in Bihar is still propped up by Modi's party. There has been talk in the past of Kumar's Janata Dal ( United) severing ties with the BJP but the political situation in Bihar is such that Kumar can return to power later this year only with the support of his coalition partner.


The Bihar chief minister's stature may have seen the BJP playing second fiddle to the JD( U) in the state government, but Kumar can fool no one by trying to convey the impression that he has little to do with the party.


No doubt, like every politician, Kumar would like to have his cake and eat it too. But, the seasoned politician that he is, he must realise that it is not easy to do that.




PREDICTABLY, in this era of lax party discipline, party bosses in the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party were subjected to humiliation by their MLAs in Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Rajasthan. Fortunately for them, this did not make any substantive difference to the outcome, except in unruly Jharkhand where the BJP candidate Ajay Maroo was defeated, and Orissa where the third Biju Janata Dal candidate won in a more comfortable manner than he should have.


The BJP did manage to keep its honour intact in Rajasthan where it successfully kept its flock together and ensured the victory of Ram Jethmalani against a moneybags Independent supported by the Congress, Santosh Bagrodia.


Indeed, it is the Congress which has been embarrassed in Rajasthan when an estimated 17 of its MLAs cast their second preference votes for BJP candidates, defying the party whip. Fortunately, the results were finalised on the basis of the first preference votes and so there was no need to count the second preference votes.


Bihar, too, was hit by cross voting when BJP legislator Banwari Ram and three BSP legislators, including Sita Sundari, admitted to voting for Rashtriya Janata Dal's Ram Kirpal Yadav despite party whips.


This put an end to the expectations of BG Uday, a Bangalore- based carpetbagger and realtor. The RJD, in turn, has expelled two of its legislators — Rajesh Kumar Singh and Pappu Yadav for voting for the ruling Janata Dal ( United). In any case, there has been no significant change in the balance of power in the Rajya Sabha.


The Congress won just three seats out of 17 in the elections. This means that the party remains in a minority with a total of 74 MPs in the 250- member Upper House. This may crimp its plan to push legislations such as the nuclear liability or communal violence bills.







SO MUCH has been said and written about Rahul Gandhi turning 40 that it must seem little else is left. Yet the landscapes of the future remain unknown to anyone but the crystal ball gazer. This is even more so in the case of a country as vast, varied and rich in diversity as ours.


What is indeed possible is to look not ahead as a fortune- teller might but backwards as a historian must. How successions are decided and what has transpired about those who got the chance, is known.


But it is possible to stop and reflect on the past that it might better illumine the paths that take us into the unknown that lies ahead. All did not change because of who became Congress president or Prime Minister but much did flow from how the choice was made.


The most telling intervention on the issue of succession was made not by the founder of the most significant clan in Indian politics, Motilal Nehru. It is well known that it was Mahatma Gandhi who was to write in August of 1929, " The crown must be worn by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru". But what he then said or rather wrote was equally telling. It shows why he was not a mere leader of men and women but one who could give what those younger than him had lacked till he came along: a vocation. " Older men", said Gandhi ji , " should yield with grace what will be taken by force if they do not read the signs of the times." There has all along been a strong criticism of his choice not just in 1929 but in 1938 when he opposed Bose and in the 1940s when he made an even more telling remark. When he was gone, he stated emphatically, it was Jawaharlal who would, " speak my language".




BUT it was not due to Nehru being in his own words " a truant and errant child" that he chose him. He was fully aware of how " vast and radical" a gap lay between them. Unlike Mahatma Gandhi, the younger man did not have an aversion to textile mills and modern machines.


But the Congress if it had to evolve needed someone who could " read the signs of the times". In a telling comment, the scholar- journalist Rajmohan Gandhi likened Nehru to a younger son and Patel the brother. When the torch would pass it would be the son and not the brother who would have to step forward.


It is important that the succession to Nehru himself was looming large on the horizon in the early 1960s. Ambassador B. K. Nehru who received him in Washington found him a pale shadow of his former self. Only later did the diplomat realise what a strain that long distance travel must have been on the now septuagenarian Premier.


But it was the aftermath of the Chinese attack that brought the collective leadership of the Congress to the fore. More than any other single individual in its post independence past, it was the new Congress president Kamaraj Nadar who tilted the scales not once but twice.


Shankar's Weekly had a cartoon of the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu playing the piano while the Congress men and women played musical chairs.


It was this logic that led to the resignation of key figures such as Morarji Desai from the government, paving the way for the man waiting in the wings.


Minister without Portfolio, Lal Bahadur Shastri was to return to the cabinet unlike his peers. When he became PM, no less than the brilliant Vijayalakshmi Pandit openly excoriated him in the House.


Yet, she had the grace at a later date to praise his leadership.




YET he took the first steps to ease the shortage of consumer goods, shifting the emphasis to light industry and most critically, inducting the man who would be the architect of the Green Revolution into the place that mattered: the Ministry of Agriculture. If Kamaraj was the architect of succession, it was Shastri's choice of C Subramanian that would be epochal.


Shastri's demise was sudden but the struggle for succession broke out even before his cremation. In a sensational interview to a newsman, Morarji Desai said, " My hat is in the ring", a miscalculation that was to cost him dear.


Yet, it was a historic contest. It was the last time that a ruling party in India allowed a free vote among its elected Members of Parliament for a leader.


Indira Gandhi backed by Kamaraj won.


It may have been a coincidence but the Congress party split within four years of this date.


It is this as much as the projection of Sanjay Gandhi during the Emergency as the ' youth leader' that was a turning point in its history. So all- pervasive was this aversion to election that even the Janata party that came to power in March 1977 preferred to leave the choice to two wise veterans, JP and Acharya Kripalani.


Be that as it may, election by acclamation was not an old Congress tradition.


It came to be one after 1969, when the party split. Fearful that leadership contests would let loose divisions, the party preferred to paper over cracks. The monolith was born before the Emergency.


This detour through history matters more than it otherwise would because of the man who gives voice to the absence of inner party democracy: Rahul Gandhi.


As general secretary, he shows the impatience of the young with the older order.




UNLIKE his late father who was the first ( and so far the only) Indian to succeed a parent as Congress President and Prime Minister, he has had a longer tutelage in politics. He has been witness to violence that has claimed two lives in his family alone.


And he has seen the party reduced to a pale shadow of its former self, dust itself off and revise radically its strategies in order to return to office and power.


But Rahul Gandhi is right on one count. Access to political office at least in major political parties is eased if not assured for those who are from political families. Prof. André Beteille observed that the family is an invasive presence in public institutions. That is true but how will it be prised apart? Whatever strategy works, open and fair elections have to be a part and parcel of them.

The hold of a family is more recent on the Congress than many suppose. For nine decades of its existence till 1975, no less, there was no system of projecting a younger family member. Posts were open to those with the talent, drive and energy. Lineage did help but it did not clinch matters.


Congress has had a long tradition of a strong leader at the helm. But it allowed for diversity and debate, even open elections for the leadership of the legislative party, not once but twice. It has two traditions of debate and deference, and Rahul Gandhi will soon have to choose which one he prefers.


His own hold on the top may be secure due to the intervening decades. But which tradition he adopts is crucial.


Once again as in the past, the Congress is close to crossing a Rubicon. It may look like roses but as Gandhiji warned Nehru, a crown it is, but one all of thorns









DESPITE being Prime Minister of the world's largest democracy for more than six years now, Manmohan Singh is yet to make the transition from economist to politician.

But there is no doubt that he has taken several important steps on his way to becoming an international statesman. Global leaders have been fulsome in their praise for the manner in which his government steered the economy at a time when most developed countries were reeling under the worst economic downturn in over 40 years.


At the last G- 20 meeting in the United States, Barack Obama led the tributes, hailing the Prime Minister as a " visionary and a marvel". Of course he doesn't get, nor does he expect, such praise back home, where Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and the many senior ministers take care of the rough and tumble of domestic politics. The contrasting images could not have been more stark and that perhaps explains why Manmohan is devoting a disproportionate amount of time to international diplomacy as compared to domestic issues. So what does Manmohan really want? My hunch is that by the time he finally demits office at the end of the current term, he wants to leave a mark on two issues that are dearest to him: Indo- Pak relations and India's deserved seat on the high table that is the United Nations Security Council ( UNSC).


The first has always been on blow- hotblow- cold mode. When things go from bad to worse, symbolic initiatives are taken.


The visits of P. Chidambaram later this month for the SAARC interior ministers' meeting in Islamabad and foreign minister S. M. Krishna to Pakistan in July are to be seen in this context.


But it is the UNSC seat that Manmohan eyes as the prize catch and he is leaving nothing to chance. From President Pratibha Patil who recently toured China, to vice- president Hamid Ansari, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and many sundry ministers, they are all flying around the world to seek support for India's bid.


It may be a coincidence that two retired IFS officers are now presiding officers of the two houses of Parliament. But it is no coincidence that the combination has been chosen to champion India's cause. The tours undertaken by the two since UPA2 came to power over a year ago gives us an indication.


The Lok Sabha speaker has been to New York, Rome, Geneva, Hungary, Luxembourg and Bhutan as head of parliamentary delegations where she tapped her hosts to support India. Ansari has been even more active. He has been to Kuwait, South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Botswana, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan with the same objective. Back home, Ansari has been in touch with many heads of states and governments whom he knows personally.


In Delhi, he has also been meeting the local heads of the foreign missions in the presence of the secretary concerned in the foreign office.


Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee travels to the United States next week and is taking with him a large contingent from among the titans of industry who are scheduled to take their minds off business matters for a while to indulge in matters of diplomacy with their American counterparts.


That apart, the government has launched a new offensive in economic diplomacy with commerce minister Anand Sharma leading from the front.


With the post- meltdown scenario still worrisome and much of Europe caught in a fresh financial crisis, the Middle east, Africa, Latin American and the CIS countries are the places where India is seeking increased trade and investments. The commerce ministry recently did a road show in Dubai in which most of the top 100 companies in India participated, and I am told it was such a big hit that the ministry is now planning more such road shows in the months to come.


India will almost certainly become a non- permanent member and chairperson of the UNSC for 2011- 12, for which elections will be held this October after the two other candidate countries, Thailand and Kazakhstan, withdrew and India's candidature was endorsed by the Asian group.


Chinese president Hu Jintao told Pratibha Patil last month that Beijing was committed to India's bid for a non- permanent seat in the UNSC for 2011- 12 and there was hope that this would lead to Chinese backing for a permanent seat.


If the government can win that, Manmohan will leave office knowing that he deserves greater credit than he has got.





CHIEF Election Commissioner Naveen Chawla is due to retire next month and the UPA government has a tough task filling the vacancy, considering that there is a torrent of names being forwarded to the powers that be. Until T. N. Seshan came along in 1990 and started a badly needed clean- up of the electoral system, the office of the CEC was just like any other constitutional office. Since then, it has acquired a higher profile and is now among the most coveted jobs.


While S. Y. Quraishi, the Haryana cadre IAS officer who joined as a commissioner in 2006, will take over as the new CEC, V. S. Sampath, a 1973- batch IAS officer of the Andhra cadre, will remain commissioner.


There is much speculation about who will fill the third slot and regional and gender pressures are being mounted on the Congress leadership, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and law minister Veerappa Moily.


Among the front- runners are finance secretary Ashok Chawla and agriculture secretary T. Nanda Kumar, while an officer from the North East is said to be a dark horse.


But there is an influential section in the UPA which feels that it is time for a woman to be appointed to the high constitutional office.

If this opinion prevails, the choice could be between Shanta Sheela Nair, a former home secretary of Tamil Nadu and currently secretary in the ministry of mines, and Sushma Nath, expenditure secretary.


As UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi has helped smash several glass ceilings by giving the country its first woman president as well as the first woman speaker of the Lok Sabha. If Sonia puts her might behind either Nair or Nath, the Election Commission, considered to be the last of the male bastions, may fall and get its first woman commissioner. If that happens, in about four years time, the country will have its first woman CEC.








THE CONGRESS party's comeback in Uttar Pradesh politics has not only given the BSP and the Samajwadi arty something to think about, but also made the BJP edgy.The party's recent poster antics targeting Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi's 40th birthday shows howseriously the BJP has taken the rise of the Congress in the politically crucial state.


Party workers were seen on Saturday putting up posters in eastern Uttar Pradesh linking the Congress with the BJP's pet issues — Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru and terrorism.


One such bizarre poster read: " Whose son- in- law is Afzal Guru who had attacked Parliament?" And the reply below read: " The Congress Party." There were slogans on terrorism, which read: " The five terrorist sons of the Congress — terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, terrorism in Punjab, terrorism of LTTE, terrorism of Naxals and terrorism of ULFA." Putting the onus on the Congress, the poster further read: " The Congress must answer." BJP vice- president and state leader Vinay Katiyar featured prominently alongside the writings. Though Katiyar has denied his hand in the poster campaign, it is unlikely that publicity materials targeting the Congress would have been released without his involvement.


Apparently, the party's poster outburst had twin objectives.


First, attack the Gandhi They were released on Rahul's birthday scion and draw people towards its ' Janata Jago rally' ( public wake- up rally) in Ambedkar Nagar on June 25. Second, it is a show of strength by Katiyar within the BJP. For the record, Rahul had launched a fresh round of attack against the Mayawati government from the same area on April 14.


BJP insiders claim this was part of a desperate move by Katiyar and former party president Rajnath Singh to " show their strength and importance" to current party president Nitin Gadkari.


" They want to kill two birds with one stone. It is a show of strength planned by Rajnath and Katiyar. They have not invited Gadkari and are in favour of going soft against chief minister Mayawati and attack the Congress only," a senior BJP leader said.


Subodh Srivastava, UPCC chief spokesperson, has his own theory.


" The Congress is attacking the misrule of the Mayawati government. So the BJP has launched a campaign against the Congress to save the chief minister. After losing all hope in the state, the BJP has become the BSP's Bteam," Srivastava said.




FOLLOWING the Bengal civic polls, the political stock of Mamata Banerjee have gone up several fold.


Rebel JD ( United) leader and Independent Lok Sabha member Digvijay Sinh of Banka has been seen in Banerjee's company.


The buzz is that the Trinamool Congress may field many candidates in Bihar where assembly polls are due later this year. In return, there is a possibility that Banerjee would push for Digvijay's induction in the Union council of ministers.


The Banka politician fancies himself as a minister of state in the external affairs ministry — a post he has held in the past. Moreover, after Shashi Tharoor's exit, there is a vacancy in the ministry.


Aerial route


IS THE way to the Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) through air journeys? First Jaswant Singh travelled with L. K. Advani to attend Bhairon Singh Shekhawat's funeral paving the way for his homecoming.


Now Sadhvi Uma Bharti has travelled with former BJP chief Rajnath Singh and Advani. Will Uma, too, take the aerial route to the BJP?


Crying foul


AICC general secretary B. K. Hari Prasad and Janata Dal ( Secular)' s Danish Ali have been exchanging SMSes lamenting the " blatant use of resources" during the recently held Rajya Sabha polls in Karnataka.


It so happened that Prasad was initially tipped as the Congress- JD ( S) common candidate, but former Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda suddenly decided to oppose him.


In a letter to Sonia Gandhi, Gowda suggested that the Congress should support Ali. By the time the voting took place, many JD ( S) MLAs had hoisted industrialist Vijay Mallya to victory.


Litchi diplomacy


HERE'S some good news for the Congress- led UPA government.


Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee have patched up.


The rapprochement is said to have taken place at Mukherjee's behest.


As a sign of goodwill, the finance minister, who is also the Bengal state Congress chief, sent a box of " litchis" to her. In return, Banerjee sent loads of " mudi" — puffed rice flakes known for its nutritious value.


US warns of Iran sanctions

impact on Pak gas




PAKISTAN should be wary of committing to an Iran- Pakistan natural gas pipeline because anticipated American sanctions on Iran could hit Pakistani companies, the US special representative to the region said on Sunday.


While sympathetic to Pakistan's energy needs, the US special representative to the region, Richard Holbrooke, told reporters that new legislation, which targets Iran's energy sector, is being drafted in the US Congress and that Pakistan should wait and see.


" Pakistan has an obvious, major energy problem and we are sympathetic to that, but regarding a specific project, legislation is being prepared that may apply to the project," he said, referring to the pipeline. " We caution the Pakistanis not to over- commit themselves until we know the legislation." US Senator Joseph Lieberman said last week he expects Congress to finish shortly legislation tightening US sanctions on Iran that will include provisions affecting the supply of refined petroleum products to Tehran, and add to sanctions on its financial sector.


Lieberman, an independent, is a member of a House- Senate committee of negotiators working on final details of the bill and said it could pass by July 4.


The $ 7.6 billion natural gas pipeline deal, signed in March, doesn't directly deal with refined petroleum products and was hailed in both Iran and Pakistan as highly beneficial.


The US has so far been muted in its criticism of the deal. But the legislation could be comprehensive enough to have major implications for Pakistani companies, Holbrooke said.









With the Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani currently in China to discuss defence cooperation and with the official statements that have been emerging from Beijing in recent months regarding its plans to establish two civilian nuclear reactors in Pakistan some manner of nuclear deal between China and Pakistan now seems inevitable. Washington has bestirred itself, objecting to the deal, but it may be too little, too late. And as far as New Delhi goes, it has thus far been adroit enough in dealing with the issue, conveying its concerns clearly to Beijing, but in a measured manner. Of as great concern as the establishment of the reactor is what the upcoming deal says about Beijing's policies. If, after the beginning of a rapprochement after tense exchanges over the past year or so, Beijing gives short shrift to New Delhi's security concerns, it does not bode well for future dialogue.

As it stands, there is little chance that the deal can be put on hold. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is meeting in a few days and the issue is likely to be taken up there, with Beijing's stand being that the details of the deal were worked out prior to its joining the NSG in 2004 and thus are not bound by NSG strictures. But the issue will hinge more on geopolitical realities than technicalities. Washington may have objected to the deal but that is about the extent of what it is likely to do. When it comes down to it, it is unlikely to antagonise Beijing too much, given their economic co-dependency and the need for its cooperation on Iran and North Korea.

That the deal is likely to go through, however, does not mean that New Delhi should not continue to make its concerns abundantly clear. The US-India nuclear deal may have established a precedent of sorts but there is no real equivalence here. For one, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guidelines and safeguards built into the US-India deal do a far better job of addressing proliferation concerns. Second, Pakistan's poor proliferation record and its turbulent internal security environment do not do much to inspire confidence.

The NSG does not have legal authority as such; therefore, its strictures forbidding trade in nuclear materials between NPT member and non-member states cannot be enforced. But if enough noise is made about the entire issue, it might compel Beijing to work better safeguards and IAEA oversight into the deal at least. That is something New Delhi can and must work towards.







Buildings commercial, industrial and residential account for about 40 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. Governments everywhere are exploring ways to tackle this. The task involves incorporating energy-efficient measures in various aspects of construction. To ensure India doesn't lag behind, the prime minister's council on climate change cleared the Urban Habitat Mission under the National Action Plan on Climate Change. This will make it mandatory for new office buildings to conform to energy-saving codes in three years' time. Since only 700 buildings have so far implemented these norms, it's clear all builders won't voluntarily go green. This is not surprising, since many tend to flout even basic fire safety norms. The Centre's decision will require states to amend municipal bye-laws to qualify for JNNURM funds.

India's construction industry is growing at an annual rate of over 30 per cent. For this growth to be sustainable, energy-efficiency is a must. This is all the more so given inadequate power and water resources in the country. Though initial investment is high, green buildings mean substantial savings in energy in the long run. Green design norms including use of right materials, appropriate orientation, insulation and shading can help conserve up to 50 per cent of buildings' energy costs. As a developing country, India needs to create urban infrastructure using precious resources in energy-efficient ways. It's already ahead of Australia and close behind the US in adopting green building designs, with future opportunities to export green-building technologies. Finally, the process of certifying green buildings mustn't turn into a regulatory maze that creates scope for corruption. To help the green building initiative, cut the red tape.







Rahul Gandhi's birthday, which went by last Saturday, will be followed by organisational elections within the Indian Youth Congress (IYC). Both events are significant for young Indians. Youth had all but abjured 'politics' completely, following the tumult of the 1980s and the temptations of the 1990s.

These decades brought political assassinations with shameful scandals, corruption scams with messy manipulations of caste and creed, the confusions of global citizenship fuelled by wealth and mobility, alongside ideas of Indian citizenship, tolerant and accommodating, taking heavy blows. A medieval mosque was torn down to make a sacred temple, the names of beloved cities changed and citizens were often hunted by manic but precise mobs, bearing lists of names, addresses and the blessings of politicians.

'Politics' came to represent a sphere of terrible murkiness for the average Indian youth. The word 'politician' represented a figure of greed and ruthlessness while 'politics' symbolised gross manipulations for power with violence, perpetrated via mobs directed by political leaders. Many young Indians stopped following political news, preferring to sink into the comforts of consumption and the thrills of aspiration instead of wrangling with the daily disappointments of what politics produced.

Rahul changed this scenario. Amazingly for someone who holds the country's most famous political surname, by reaching out through talent hunts, membership drives and student meetings, he managed to make many young Indians believe in politics as a realm that could extend beyond the narrowness of nepotism. He persuaded young Indians to imagine politics as a sphere that could offer decency, development and discourse as opposed to dadagiri, sleaze and manipulation. He even managed to induce young Indians to think of politics as a career option which would use their capacities as individuals, not deploy them as mobs for sycophancy and violence. Considering the backdrop, this is a rather extraordinary achievement.

While accomplishing this turnabout in public perceptions, Rahul demonstrated his understanding of the importance of symbolism in politics, combined with a sharp awareness of local realities. His visits to Dalit homes and meals, his stays at peasant huts, his travels by train and his distaste for obsequiousness have managed to permeate the consciousness of young Indians, nestling there amidst images and senses of cappucinos, cricket and visas, the internet and malls, work, traffic, power cuts, mobiles, gyms, family, credit rating and dating.

In representing India to the world and vice-versa too, Rahul displayed confidence. When David Miliband, foreign secretary of the previous Labour government in Britain, visited India in 2009, Rahul took him to rural Uttar Pradesh, making the dapper David spend a night in a cold village hut, observing the mists spreading over the vast, flat land as well as the telecommunications linking such villages to the world. When the Indo-US nuclear Bill came up for its stormy passage through Parliament, Rahul argued for it with a conviction that mirrored the belief many young Indians hold, of India's capacity to withstand foreign domination and negotiate the best for itself on the global stage.

It is now important for Rahul to ensure his message does not become overwhelmed by mediums alone. The substance to his work, based in communities and confidence, should emerge clearly and consistently; an example is his raising the case of Kalawati, a Vidarbha villager who would benefit from the electricity produced by nuclear energy. There were reports thereafter of Kalawati seeking to stand in local elections but being browbeaten by unnamed groups to withdraw. Rahul's team needs to follow up on such instances and make sure the issues of access and development his work highlights reach ideal ends instead of becoming loose and vaguely-disturbing threads.

Another strategy that needs consistent follow-through is Rahul's encouragement of activists arising from genuine political engagement. The young leader should continue supporting the political rise of Real Young Turks as opposed to Privileged Young Jerks who even accept lynch mob diktats to protect their own seats.

This June, Rahul turned a youthful 40, and the Indian electorate should also celebrate its own maturity. Although he has been the most refreshing arrival on the political block since decades, the Indian media has not displayed an obsession with Rahul's private life. This relates to the lack of public demand for details of politicians' personal lives. Despite everything, the Indian electorate believes politicians are public functionaries appointed to develop the nation and, unless their private lives grossly hamper public interest, there is little need to probe. This wisdom stands in marked contrast to the tabloid investigations and feverish readership of the West.

Rahul appears to appreciate these aspects of the Indian public. Perhaps this appreciation drives his desire to institutionalise an identity card system for Youth Congress members, beginning with the IYC elections. The massive undertaking emphasises system and order, recognising the distinct identity of each member, treating activists as individuals, not a mob.

It is a strange irony that the 'people's prince' is today encouraging the people to challenge established ideas and shake up set notions about politics and politicians. Following the New Deal slowly emerging between Rahul and the young electorate of India, as both mature and progress and learning what this politician truly stands for grows increasingly intriguing and essential.

The writer is a social anthropologist.







Anoop Kumar , a Dalit social worker from Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh, started Insight, a Dalit student magazine, in 2004 with friends. Insight Foundation, with a grant from Ford Foundation, has now launched a telephone helpline (09999484249) and a portal ( for Dalit students. Kumar, 33, spoke to Shreya Roy Chowdhury:

What are the problems faced by Dalit students?

I was first exposed to the problems of caste at an engineering college in Kanpur. Dalit students were marked as weak students who didn't deserve to be there. The students lost confidence and there was no support system to help them. On my first day a professor said, 'those from SC/ST background need to work hard. Mayawati will not mark you, i will'.


When you enter higher education, your name is displayed under the schedule caste category and that becomes your identity. Caste abuse is very open, very blatant. Friend circles are formed based on a common background - fluency in English, dress-sense, food habits, caste and class. Dalit students are not articulate. They shy away from approaching others. We know they'd want to know our last names, where we come from, the merit number, which category we took admission under. We want to avoid those questions; we don't want to get identified. The upper castes do both the harassing and the complaining. They can have your opinion about reservation but a comment is taken personally.

You get information about education from social circles, family etc. But i'm the first in my family to come to Delhi. Most Dalit students have a similar background.

When and why was Insight started?

I came to Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2001 for a master's degree. I was already reading Ambedkar, Phule. I realised that what i thought of as a personal matter was a much bigger problem and that there's been an entire movement against it. I wanted to be a part of that movement. I found myself in a very different environment in JNU. In the politicised atmosphere there, you have space to say and do things. It had the kind of environment we lacked in small towns. I was groomed at the United Dalit Student Forum, which was active but without a platform for interaction. I wanted something concrete; a process by which a student is exposed to Dalit studies and issues and where a student can contribute. In 2004, i started Insight.

What was the response?

We started getting a lot of queries from other universities and within a year Insight was reaching 50 universities. We got articles from different parts of the country. We were creating space for ourselves within the system. That was lacking in the Dalit movement.

Tell us about the Helpline.

It was launched on May 27 (2010) and is funded by a Ford Foundation grant. Most of the information on education is available online, but most Dalit students lack access to internet. But they have access to mobiles and telephones. We target students from smaller towns who want admission in elite institutions like Delhi University, JNU, medical or other professional colleges. The idea is to provide information in Hindi and English about admission, courses, scholarships and also career counselling. Our national network has more than 1,000 Dalit and Adivasi student and faculty members. We also have a group of about 100 teachers and professionals who have volunteered to mentor aspirants.






Until recently, my encounters with mules were largely non-existent. Over the years, i have met many humans whose pronounced mulish tendencies have caused me great frustration and anguish. But i knew very little about the real animal, except that it is a cross-breed between a female horse and a male ass (feminists may consider this a redundant expression, since in their lexicon every male is some kind of ass anyway).

Last month i finally met a mule at close quarters during a visit to Uttarkashi. My wife, teenage daughter and i were returning from the riverside ghats in this small Himalayan town. We were walking down a narrow path along the river Bhagirathi, enjoying a splendid view of the mountains and glacier-fed waters. Suddenly, we noticed that our path was blocked by a mule.

At first sight, it appeared to be a gentle mule, bobbing its head slightly, engrossed in eating bramble. Its jaws were munching hungrily, eyes closed in bliss. Sometimes it shook its ears and swished its tail. Yet, it soon became abundantly clear that this mule was in the early stages of its meal, hence would not budge at all. We waved our hands and said "Shoo" many times, but it ignored us and continued to block our path. We contemplated jumping over it, but better sense prevailed as soon my daughter observed how dangerous the kick of a mule could be.

A local Garhwali man walking down the same route with a bag of vegetables attempted a resolution of this deadlock. He gave the mule a gentle push, then a firm shove, yet it did not move an inch. In fact, immediately thereafter, the animal began giving us hostile stares and baring its ugly teeth. We backed away but the man was made of sterner stuff. He stepped down to the riverbed, picked up a clump of grass and threw it at the mule, also shouting a few local swearwords simultaneously. I must confess that i encouraged his effort by declaring that this animal was a stubborn fool. The attack took the mule by surprise. It jumped with a start and fell completely on its backside with a thud, legs waving wildly in the air.

However, within a moment, the mule had picked itself up, its legs fine. It now focused its efforts on the perpetrator of the assault. He took to his feet, dropping his bag in haste. When we last saw them, the mule was chasing the man down the pebble banks, and we are yet to know how precisely that unfortunate episode ended. I felt relieved that the mule had spared me, but in hindsight this was a premature conclusion.

On the brighter side, the path was now open and we walked ahead, but not before a heavily ash-covered mendicant who had seen the entire episode warned us in a grave tone. "If you cause a mule to fall down, it brings a fall from the heights and great pain within", he said cryptically. "You must undertake a small penance and i can organise everything for you." We had been advised to steer clear of these pseudo-religious types trying to make a quick buck, so we turned a deaf ear and hurried away.

The next day, the mendicant's prophesy came true and a far more significant point was also made as i went walking down the dark Uttarkashi hills after dinner. Typical of strong and adventurous men, i had obstinately refused my wife's requests that i should not venture out into unfamiliar mountain territory at night. I slipped on a loose rock, fell and twisted my ankle completely, shooting spasms causing great pain. As i sat down in distress and contemplated a few bedridden days ahead, i imagined i saw our mule in the distance. "Who's the stubborn fool out here ?" I thought i heard it guffaw and say.








Locker room talk, personal remarks and unsolicited advances will all get the official stamp of disapproval if the draft bill on sexual harassment is passed by the Cabinet next month. This comes 13 years after the Supreme Court framed the Vishaka guidelines on sexual harassment at the workplace. The draft bill based on these guidelines has been around since 2001 — an alternative one was framed in 2004 — but so far, few employers have complied with even the minimum requirement of having a workplace committee to look into women employees' grievances. The draft now also covers the unorganised sector where women workers have been most vulnerable as well as students.

The fact that there are safeguards against false complaints will make it more acceptable all round. It is worrying that even government institutions have so far been tardy in setting up committees to look into cases of harassment despite the Supreme Court ruling that their word would be final. This suggests that employers don't treat this as a priority. The challenge will be to make the bill effective in the unorganised sector. Many units in this sector aren't even registered, have casual labour and operate beyond the purview of the law. A woman who is harassed in the agricultural sector isn't likely to have recourse to a committee that can address her complaints. The main stumbling block in this very welcome bill is the lack of awareness of its existence in a majority of workplaces. A concerted effort must be made to make women aware that the law is on their side when they face sexual abuse at the workplace.

The other problem is that men, who are generally the harassers, don't view lewd remarks or improper suggestions as harmful or demeaning to a woman's dignity. The attitude is that 'boys will be boys' and that this goes with the territory. In an age when more women are rising to supervisory positions in the workplace, it might also be worthwhile to ensure that sexual harassment isn't viewed through a gender-specific prism. But these flaws will get ironed out in due course of time. The positive aspect is that the law recognises sexual harassment as a crime against women and has taken measures to make the workplace safer for them. Once the bill is passed, it's

crucial that a mechanism is evolved to ensure that its provisions are complied with. Otherwise, like so many well-meaning legislations aimed at empowering women, this too will remain on paper.






The fictional American ranter-in-chief Archie Bunker was prophetic when he said, "I got a lotta friends. Some o' them I don't even hardly know." In a world where everything is up for sale, friendship is the latest on the shelf. If you're feeling in need of someone to yammer to who won't give you advice that you don't want, is just a click away.

To many of us who cherish the lifelong bonds we have nurtured with our buddies, this may seem gross. But, this could just be the answer in a world pressed for time.

Take a close look at your friends. You have to spend large parts of your life listening to their troubles, picking up their pieces when they fall apart, have the mandatory bonding sessions every week and, worse, find it hard to shake them off when you've outgrown them. Rentafriend gets rid of all this because when you pay the pal, you call the tune.

If you are looking for someone to stand by you through thick and thin, then maybe you'll have to shell out a bit more. If you still think we are being cynical, here's another scenario for you. You have planned a day out with your best friend. You'd like to get your teeth into a kebab or two while your refined friend wants health food. You want to see a romantic tearjerker but your friend wants to see an Estonian documentary.

When you've rented a pal, the pal pretty much likes what you like. For those paying criminal charges to psychoanalysts, the hired friend might be a cheaper option. Rented friends will not be able to steal your spouse/partner because they won't be around long enough. And you can forget their birthdays without getting the cold shoulder for months afterwards. Come on, aren't you just a little tempted at the thought of friendship without strings? If you're known by the company you keep, at least ensure that for a few dollars, you get it right.






The speculation about the future relationship between the BJP and its ally, the Janata Dal (United) continues to make news after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar publicly snubbed the saffron brigade following the publication of his picture alongside that of Gujarat CM Narendra Modi. While many analysts feel this was the first step taken by Nitish Kumar to sever his party's association with the BJP, JD(U) president Sharad Yadav has reiterated that the two parties continue to be allies. The advertisements in Patna newspapers on the day of the BJP National Executive meeting had upset Nitish since being pictured alongside Modi would have irked his Muslim votebank.

This is something the Bihar CM cannot afford with the state going to the polls in October. He made his displeasure felt cancelling the dinner he was to host for the BJP National Executive members sparking off speculation about their future relationship. He has since returned Rs 5 crore given by the Gujarat government for the Kosi flood relief work.

Sharad Yadav is a pragmatic politician and knows that if the BJP and the JD(U) part ways, Lalu Yadav's RJD will be the biggest beneficiary. The break-up of the alliance will hurt not only the BJP but also the JD(U) even if Nitish feels that he can win the elections on his own on the strength of his popularity among the backward castes, particularly his own community of Kurmis.

If the JD(U) goes it alone, the upper castes will favour the BJP and the media support, which had helped the Bihar CM achieve an almost iconic status, will be diluted. The BJP, on its own, will lose many seats that it can win only with the support of the JD(U).

The Congress could have exploited the issue but it seems that it has spoilt its chances by replacing a Bhumihar president Anil Sharma with Mehboob Ali Kaiser, a weak Muslim face. In addition, it has assigned Mukul Wasnik the task of overseeing the strategy to target the Dalit votes. Wasnik is not an acceptable Dalit face for the state. The party would have done better by having an upper caste leader as the president and someone like Beni Prasad Verma from UP, a Kurmi as the party in-charge.

There is also another dimension to the Nitish-Modi face-off. Both leaders are among those who can be projected as the NDA's prime ministerial candidate in 2014. Nitish's claim will be very strong if he leads the alliance to a victory in the assembly elections. Sushma Swaraj, as the leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha should be an automatic choice for the post

though Modi's supporters who have no love lost for her feel that the Gujarat CM will make a better candidate. In the unpleasantness between the allies in Patna, Modi showed signs of immaturity while addressing a public rally in which he praised deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi and other party colleagues and pointedly omitted

Nitish Kumar's name from the state government's highlights. He would have emerged on a stronger wicket had he complimented his counterpart for the achievements.

The BJP, as a senior partner in the national alliance with parties like the JD(U), has to understand that without the support of regional outfits, it cannot return to power at the Centre. Even at the peak of its glory under an acceptable leader like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP could never go beyond 182 seats in the Lok Sabha. It is hard to imagine that any other leader can improve on that. Therefore, if the saffron brigade wants to be a serious player at the national level, it would do well to keep its alliance partners happy. Between us.




Has China's more turbulent British colonial history and India's more `civilising' one given the former the edge over the latter in the 21st century? THE BRITISH WOULD OFTEN POMPOUSLY DESCRIBE THEIR RULE AS ONE WHICH `CIVILISED' INDIA; IT HAS TO BE ADMITTED THAT THEY `ADOPTED' INDIA AS A SUBORDINATE STATE, TRANSFERRING SEVERAL INSTITUTIONAL STRENGTHS



On December 31, 1600, a group of London businessmen banded together to create a quaintly named company, Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies. A royal charter gave it all privileges of trading in that part of Asia. Little did these gentlemen realise that their British East India Company (known better under this popular shorthand) would unleash a dynamic whose reverberations would ripple across the world 300 years later.

The Company became the common womb from which two stepchildren, British India and colonial China, sprang to become non-identical Asian twins.

There were few buyers for British broadcloth and other European goods in Asia, but large buyers in Europe for tea, silk and porcelain from the East. In China, the Company ran into another problem; Chinese traders were unwilling to sell unless they were paid in silver. British merchants had to move with devil's speed to plug this one-sided drain of gold and silver. They devised an elaborately devious plot to trade opium at auctions in Calcutta, mix it with tobacco, smuggle it across the seas into China, and finally use these illicit earnings to pay for Chinese exotica.


Since opium imports were banned in China, Emperor Daoguang sent a polite but firm protest to Queen Victoria.
Unfortunately, the letter was whisked midway and it never reached the Queen; history may have been different if an informed Queen had clamped down on the British East India Company's illegal intentions. In 1839, after a decade of abort- ed anti-opium campaigns, the Chinese monarch ran out of patience. He confiscated and destroyed 20,000 chests of ill- gotten opium and detained an entire foreign community.


The events escalated into the world's first drug war -- the First Opium War (1839-42) – between the Qing dynasty and the British East India Company. The Chinese were pummelled into submission and forced to sign the first of many unequal treaties which rankle ordinary citizens to this day. The 1842 Treaty of Nanjing granted an indemnity of 21 million dollars to the Company and opened the ports of Canton, Amoy, Foochow, Ningpo and Shanghai to opium imports.


Ultimately, the burden of humiliations became too heavy to carry for the Qing rulers; led by Sun Yat-sen, the Chinese Revolution of 1911 put paid to the monarchy.


Surprisingly, the British East India Company authored an utterly different edition of colonial rule in India. Perhaps the two situations were not comparable to begin with. In China, one dynasty was ruling over the entire country, and several colonial powers vied to carve the `single' melon on offer. India's situation was a mirror image of this: Britain was the single colonial power, but India was carved up into hundreds of intrigue-ridden, weak `kingdoms'. It was a lush but unguard- ed orchard of ripe `cherries', easy to sweep away into a tidy political basket.


The British East India Company rapidly expanded, pluck- ing more `cherries', annexing territories and small princely states. In the 1830s, Macaulay created a new charter for the British East India Company which completely transformed India's legal edifice. An all-India legislative council replaced regional legislatures. Law-making powers were taken away from the provincial governments in Bengal, Bombay and Madras Presidencies. One set of laws and courts were estab- lished for everybody. In his other task, Macaulay's famous Minute on Education (1835) brought English out of its impe- rial closet; with one stroke of his powerful pen, he made English the official language of India and the medium of instruction in all educational institutions.


By 1882, over 60 per cent of the primary schools were teach- ing the Queen's language. English was called the `milk of tigress', creating a new energy and opportunity for the natives.

Even the Indian National Congress, which led India to inde- pendence, conducted most of its proceedings in English!


Over the Himalayas, the Chinese Civil War broke out in 1927 -- Mao Zedong's Communists orchestrated the Long March, a military revolt against Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang Nationalists. The Japanese army jumped into this cauldron in 1937; ultimately, Chiang's Kuomintang was defeated; Chiang fled to modern Taiwan, politically separating it from main- land China. l- Thus it came about that China's and India's destinies con- e verged, for a fleeting moment in history, in the late 1940s. The d British parliament passed the Indian Independence Act, 1947, d and royal assent was granted to free India from colonial rule al on August 15, 1947. Barely over two years later, on October 1, 2 1949, Mao founded the People's Republic of China at a mas- s sive rally in Beijing.

y, But history's tangential moment was all too brief. China became a totalitarian State. India became a parliamentary y democracy. Once again, these ancient civilisations -- the non- e identical twins -- were flung irretrievably apart. The British would often pompously describe their rule as one which n `civilised' India; it has to be admitted that they `adopted' India e as a subordinate State, transferring several institutional a, strengths.
al On the other hand, China's colonial history was far more 's turbulent under several rapacious rulers, without a similar le `institutional osmosis'. But could this also explain China's of stout confidence and India's self-doubt? Did centuries of wars d- and strife make China's leaders tougher, more martial, big- y ger risk-takers? As against this, have the `civilising' niceties of British domination made India's leaders more timid and k- less confident? As the British themselves would say, it's worth ly a thought, old chap!


e d Raghav Bahl is founder and editor of Network18. He will be d writing his column, Superpower, once a month.


y His book Superpower: The Amazing Race Between d China's Hare and India's Tortoise (Penguin Allen Lane), b- will be published in August s The views expressed by the author are personal







There is a heightened drama to penalty shots in football that other sports are understandably eager to appropriate. But recall the sudden death that an India-Pakistan match in the inaugural Twenty20 world championships in 2007 went to, and you can see why the magic is not so easily imported. Having tied in normal time, the two teams had to nominate players to hit the stumps by turn. And while the contest was nailbitingly tense, it was just a game of chance, not football's hyper-focus that tests even the viewer's concentration. And since then T20 has found other ways of settling a tie.


But even by World Cup football's rich record of penalty drama, last week's spectacle of a German player missing a penalty against Serbia was a moment for the record books. A German, Lukas Podolski, had failed to net a penalty in regular time at the World Cup for the first time in 36 years. Let's be clear what we are discussing here. Germans are the masters of efficiency, and it is to their accomplishment analysts have looked these past weeks as they rolled in the advice to footballers — especially, it has to be said, the penalty-phobic English. A penalty in football, some point out, is as close as it gets to testing a player's capacity to put himself "in the zone" — that state of total concentration untouched by thoughts on what the repurcussions of how it goes may be. It's essentially a mind game.


German footballers are not meant to lose it from here. But the fact that Podolski did what he did — and that, unlike 36 years ago, his teammates did not efficiently rise to the occasion and pull off a victory anyway — may be a heartening sign. Could it be that the Germans have finally succumbed to the globalisation of the game?






China's central bank said on Saturday that it would allow China's currency — officially known as the renminbi, but denominated as the yuan — to become "more flexible", ending its 23-month-long peg to the dollar, in which the yuan's value closely tracked that of the dollar. The peg was introduced mainly to aid that country's huge export sector deal with the global slowdown; the reason given for ending it was that the economy has "improved". That and subsequent statements did, however, rule out the one-time revaluation that many worldwide were urging and expecting: they announced no timeframe for implementation, and said both that the daily limits on currency trading would stay, and that the yuan should remain "stable" because there was "no basis" for a sharp appreciation — something most economists disagree with. (The last time a peg to the dollar was abandoned, five years ago, the yuan appreciated 21 per cent in the three years that followed.)


Critics of China's currency policy are far from assuaged. US legislators might still move on attempts to censure Chinese firms, even though the White House issued a statement calling it a "constructive" move. And while it has been persuasively argued that international pressure on Chinese authorities will only get their back up, making ending their intervention in currency markets less likely, the timing of this step — just before the G-20 is due to meet — is significant.


China's decision-makers have long been admired by some for their speed and their policy common-sense. Yet the yuan debate demonstrates there are limits to their action — limits perhaps to their willingness to displease interest groups, or even limits to their ability to push through the acceptance of policy change at higher levels, much like problems we occasionally face in India. It is clear, however, that most in authority in that country recognise the perilous consequences of a currency undervalued by perhaps a third: an economy too geared to export, in which proper domestic markets are not allowed to develop, leaving it dangerously subject to the vagaries of external demand. China will hopefully translate this statement into real action, for its own sake, sooner rather than later.







The British Home Office denied a visa to self-styled "Islamic scholar" Zakir Naik, who runs the Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation and Peace TV, calling his behaviour "unacceptable". Wielding an exclusion order, British Home Secretary Theresa May added that "coming to the UK is a privilege not a right, and I am not willing to allow those who might not be conducive to the public good to enter." However, by disallowing Naik from delivering his lecture in Birmingham, Britain has simply made him a cause and handed him a megaphone, ensuring that his voice is amplified on blogs, social networks and other forums where disenfranchised and angry Muslims gather.


This is not to say that Zakir Naik's televangelism is not entirely free of objectionable or sometimes plain ridiculous content. Indeed, many have joined issue with his analysis of 9/11 and the roots of terrorism, as too his view of gender rights. But this is exactly what makes the British invocation of a provision to secure public order mystifying. Naik is simply one corner in a larger field, and his ideas have been debated, endorsed or demolished, as the case may be, on very public platforms. In fact, he has been solidly and eloquently taken on in these very pages by liberals like Javed Anand. Islamic authorities, including the Darul Uloom Deoband, have issued fatwas against his preachings. And it must be noted that Naik himself has energetically participated in this back-and-forth on panels along with figures like Shah Rukh Khan, on television.


Words must be fought with words alone, not clumsy state action. Such provocation is inevitable in the complex, variegated democracies we live in — in both India and Britain, we could bump up against people whose positions worry us, and we are free to debate, mercilessly mock, or ignore that opinion. But to declare it unsayable is highly dangerous. Salman Rushdie, who has himself been singed by such logic, has warned Britain of the danger of walling off religious matters, saying that "the defence of free speech begins at the point when people say something you can't stand." Zakir Naik talks of ideas that some might abhor, but some others take all too seriously. Not permitting open discourse is to constrict the free play of disagreeement and disputation.









As India seeks to re-launch its dialogue with Pakistan this week, Delhi must come to terms with the enduring geographic significance of our special neighbour to the west and the unfolding contest for the control of its territory and political soul.


China's decision to expand its nuclear cooperation with Pakistan in defiance of the international norms and the American reluctance to vigorously challenge it, underline the unique value of the Pakistan army for Beijing and Washington.


Further, the many challenges of our time — the changing relationship between a China that believes in its own unstoppable rise and a United States that is brooding about its relative decline, the spread of nuclear weapons, and the challenge of violent religious extremism — all come together in Pakistan.


The American and Chinese stakes in the relationship with the Pakistan army headquarters in Rawalpindi are high and rising amidst the expectations of a rapid political evolution in the Af-Pak theatre in the near future and gathering confrontation between Iran and the West. Whichever great power can shape the politics of the territories along and across the Indus that the Pakistan army holds will gain a decisive influence over the developments in the subcontinent, inner Asia and the Persian Gulf and the orientation of violent religious extremism.


India's problem with the Sino-Pak nuclear deal is not that it might add to the strength of Pakistan's atomic arsenal. The Pakistan army is well on its way to rapidly expand the size and sophistication of its nuclear deterrent. India's difficulties do not lie in the numbers of Pakistani nuclear weapons or the kind of delivery systems it has; they are rooted in the fact that the Pakistan army has used the constraining effects of its nuclear deterrent on India to pursue a sub-conventional war that Delhi is yet to find effective ways to cope with.


The Sino-Pak nuclear deal is only in part about the non-binding guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group that Beijing has chosen to disregard. Beijing has bet, correctly, that Washington has no stomach to challenge it and the rest of the international community will simply give in after a bit of grumbling. The technical discussion of the Sino-Pak deal, if there is one, at the NSG meetings this week in New Zealand could mask the strategic nature of China's nuclear partnership with Pakistan.


Beijing well understood the strategic consequences of the Subcontinent's Partition and the perennial value of Pakistan as a trip-wire against India's great power ambitions. It is no surprise then China went to such extraordinary lengths — including the supply of a nuclear weapon design that had already been tested — to help Pakistan acquire an atomic arsenal.


Worse still, some in Delhi would argue that without a Chinese backed nuclear deterrent, the Pakistan army would not have dared to sustain the provocative support to anti-India terror groups. Ever since India and the United States announced the civil nuclear initiative in July 2005, Beijing has signaled that it will either prevent the grant of a special exemption to India from the global nuclear rules of the global nuclear order or will try and win Pakistan a similar concession.


South Block's challenge is not about stopping the sale of Chinese reactors to Pakistan. It is about finding ways to address the source of the problem — Beijing's belief that it needs to contain India in South Asia and that its support to Rawalpindi has no costs in Delhi.


If Delhi cannot get Beijing to redo its sums on the subcontinent, there will be a lot more than civilian nuclear technology flowing from China into Pakistan. China's capacities today to strengthen Pakistan are larger than ever before. As a consequence, Beijing's ability to leverage its Pakistan connection in dealing with the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and India is also growing. Amidst the prospects of American withdrawal from Afghanistan, Beijing probably senses a defining moment at hand in South-west Asia and values the alliance with Pakistan army to enhance Chinese weight in this pivotal region.


India is aware that China's interests in Pakistan are enduring and strategic, while American focus on Pakistan is transient. Not surprisingly the Pakistan army complains that Washington uses it when necessary and discards when inconvenient; in contrast, Rawalpindi never stops celebrating its "all weather partnership" with Beijing.


Instead of objecting to the Sino-Pak partnership, India must begin a frank dialogue with China on the future of Pakistan and Beijing's oft-stated fears of a possible Indian hegemony over the subcontinent. While addressing China's genuine concerns and offering to work with it in stabilising Pakistan, Delhi must leave Beijing in no doubt that India will do all it can to prevent or undermine outcomes in the north-western subcontinent that are inimical to its interests.


To change the policies of Beijing and Washington towards Rawal-pindi, India must necessarily intensify its own outreach to Pakistan — its army, civilian government and the full spectrum of political forces across the border. Delhi's main objective should be to try and alter the internal and external environment of Pakistan in order to change the cost-benefit calculus of its army which has acquired a long-term lease on one of the world's most important pieces of geopolitical real estate.


This in turn means developing a serious dialogue with both Beijing and Washington on the future of Pakistan and on how India might contribute to it. In the past, India has tended to deal with Pakistan, China and the United States separately and on a strictly bilateral basis. The time has come for Delhi to turn that approach on its head and get a grip on the interconnections among its ties with Rawalpindi, Beijing and Washington.








Large Indian cities are doing reasonably well. Ahmedabad, where I stay, has been voted one of the ten most attractive towns in India and once the adjoining panchayats became a part of the municipal corporation, it's a great place for a morning walk. The same is true for many other metropolises work might take you to. But I go to smaller towns, when the economics fraternity calls me; I travel to rural areas in Maharashtra, UP and Punjab, to name a few places where my work carries me. Invariably some of the small towns I stay in, were a few years ago, large villages whether Kim, Rahata, or a taluka place between Lucknow and Barabanki.


They have grown from a population of around 20,000 to 1 lakh or more. The growth is usually around the industrialisation of a metro or a large town, or agro processing/marketing, as in Surat, Nashik, Ahmednagar or central UP. The household size is not large, for there is a large migrant population. The migrants are happy, for even with a little skill they would get around Rs 300 a day, in post-NREGA India. So are the local traders, well-off farmer families, the college principal — for everyone loves prosperity and rising capital values.


But life is bad. There is no public water supply. In fact in most such places, even in the "good" local hotel, it is quite common for muck to come in the bathroom tap that's fed from groundwater. There is a networked input-output system; there is no drainage and open defecation is common. Housing is coming up apace and the BOD — a polite name for shit — goes back in the open plots and percolates through in time. It is sometimes pumped back into the aquifer. Apart from the traders and farmers the local doctors are also obviously happy. If you raise these issues you are considered grumpy.


The Eleventh Plan has a very sage sentence on the "coverage of urban population with water supply facilities had not been very impressive". Ahem. It is also unhappy on sanitation and, living up to the planners' reputation for being practical, gives some statistics to show that the smaller a town is the worse off it is. They say that in 1994 there was an accelerated water supply programme for small towns.


The plan now is in a PPP mode. There does not seem anything special seen for small towns. I suspect what is called the viability gap is much larger there. Everybody is so happy making money for the first time in their civilisational history that I am not quite clear who will lead the PPP brigade. Where is the water going to come from anyway? Land use planning in the sense that transport and other infrastructure should be built up where it is possible, and habitations around it — is infra dig, being relegated to "socialist mindsets". In some of the towns I went to and raised these questions asking for initiatives (PPPs), I get a mouthful: "You know sir, the real problem is that those who come from outside are not interested. When they come they say they are vegetarians and don't drink, but soon spoil our culture."


The problem is in a sense getting more acute. This column has argued that urbanisation has moved much faster than anticipated: 1.1 million persons in Gujarat, for example, live in places which have all the characteristics of towns in 2001, but are not declared as such. This was happening slowly; now it is an avalanche. It is of some importance that we anticipate the movement of workers from villages to cities. The process may not be benign as I want it to be, but it should at least not be cruel. I am an unrepentant admirer of NREGA and food security, but when that poor mother comes to a small town with her girl child she must have the conditions where what she gets from the food she earns go to her vitals.


There is the environmental angle too, but we can't push too many things at one time. Suffice it to say that many of the lakes and rivers which gave towns small and big, water for drinking and sanitation are now drains, as the pollution guys tell us every year with frightening data. And like me if you love to go to the backwaters at least every odd year, here is what Dr S. Anbumani and his gang at the Indira Gandhi Centre of Atomic Research have to tell us on the cytogenetic damage in "fishes" inhabiting the backwaters of Kalpakkam: "DNA damage due to chronic low dose exposures to chemicals and other environmental mutagens through erythrocyte cytome assay." They too have the


Bengali failing of saying that the plural of fish is fishes, but don't say they did not warn us.


The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand







When anonymous graffiti appears on the walls of Karachi, it's a sign of bad things to come. This started happening some two months ago. Walls across the city were chalked with warnings that read: "Karachi belongs to us. We will not let you 'occupy' it"; "Get out or we the people of Karachi will throw you out". No one was addressed by name, nor was the warning signed off by anyone. Then came the chorus of protests by rival politicians who


accused one another of patronising gangs of drug dealers and land grabbers. Then came targeted killings.


Accusations by rival political and religious parties fly in every direction as the spate of targeted killings haunts Karachi once again. Dozens belonging to ethnic and sectarian groups have been gunned down in the preceding weeks, sparking protests here and there, but no one has been apprehended, let alone brought to justice. The government's response has only been administrative: impose the notorious colonial-era Section 144 to bar a gathering of more than four persons at a given spot to thwart a protest.


And just the day after the Sindh home minister announced the measure, on Tuesday, Sunni Tehrik — a Sunni-supremacist group whose leaders have been victims of targeted killing and whom others accuse of involvement in the same crime — took out a massive protest rally in Karachi. The event passed off peacefully because the government buckled; instead of being confrontational, it arranged police and army rangers to escort the angry marchers, ostensibly protecting them against an attack from a rival group.


That's how seriously Section 144 can be enforced in Karachi. The same is the case with the ban on pillion ride on two-wheelers or indeed that on extremist outfits. Interior Minister Rehman Malik flew into Karachi to show how seriously Islamabad was viewing the violence in the city and he too just ended up warning the extremist groups in words to the effect: "If you re-emerge under a new name, we'll ban you again!" (Gee, that really scared them.) The warning was sounded more to appease the PPP's shaky coalition partner, the MQM, rather than as a means to do anything concrete to address the




Pakistan's economic hub, Karachi has long been the scene of turf wars between all and sundry to establish their "writ" as against their rival's or the government's. Urdu-speaking Mohajirs fight the Pashto-speaking Pathans and Sindhi/ Balochi-speaking old-time natives; Sunnis clash with Shias and followers of Sunni Barelvi sect fight their rivals of the Deobandi sect.


Then there are fissures among the ruling coalition parties: MQM accuses the PPP and the ANP of targeted killings, and vice versa. Karachi's free for all to fight their battles — endlessly, it seems.


It is a city that does not take kindly to any highhandedness on the part of the law enforcement agencies. The police can come under attack if they are seen as being rigorous in enforcing the law; the government is not taken seriously and a ban imposed on just about anything is flouted with complete impunity; here traffic jams are caused because drivers often do not observe the red light in rush hours and the police dare not book the violators for fear of a backlash. Any individual or a number of citizens could be found armed, most illegally, at any random check anywhere if one were to be carried out. The law enforcers do what the rest of the citizens are forced to do: fend for themselves.


The tragedy is that it is not only the so-called extremist elements that are out to kill their ideological rivals. Mainstream political and religious parties are equally guilty of maintaining their killer squads of sorts or patronising gangs of hired hit men. Behind it all lies a high level of social intolerance in general; more so among those with any power at their disposal. Abuse of power and corruption and utter disregard for the law further erode the moral fabric. Throw in the lack of authority and accountability, and you get the lethal mix that can really plague Karachi, a city of multiple cultural, religious and linguistic identities.


The PPP-led government's decision to wind up the city district government system that General Musharraf had given to Karachi, and which the MQM presided over through public representation, has left Karachi more rudderless. While the city government was popular and seen as doing a good job, the PPP could never hope to control such a local government through the vote and thus it had to be dismantled. Unfortunately, Pakistan has a bad precedent in this area. Every elected government has sought to erode and dismantle local government institutions while every dictator has reinvented and strengthened this grassroots level democratic institution.


For a politically volatile mega-city like Karachi, a strong, representative local government may be the only answer. Coercive and ad hoc administrative measures such as the imposition of Section 144 or giving extra powers to law


enforcement agencies can only breed more unrest.


The writer is an editor with 'Dawn', Karachi








Watch the most famous (or infamous) penalty-kick of all time, and the minute details tend to stand out. Roberto Baggio places the ball slowly, with meticulous precision. The crowds blur into the background and the ambient sounds go mute. The Italian takes a deep breath, as he follows every wave of Claudio Taffarel's movement from the periphery of his vision, but his complete concentration stays within the circumference of the 28 inch sphere. The run-up is carefully calculated, every step anxious to strike the back of the net, before his right foot chooses the direction of ultimate glory. Baggio even manages to guess the correct side — to the right of the Brazilian goal-keeper — before he watches the ball sail high over the crossbar, in disbelief.


Watching a replay of the 1994 World Cup final, as Baggio slumps in despiar, it is impossible for a viewer to not take sides unless s/he is clinically dead. The moment regularly features in the various "top five football moments" and "greatest sporting moments of the twentieth century" lists , but as it unfolded live on the black and white television screen back in the summer of '94, the image was powerful enough to make us feel empathy, while giving many of us an identity. The bond was drafted almost instantly. At the fragile age of nine, I was bestowed a title of utmost importance, that of being an Italy fan.


A little more than fourteen years have passed since the day Baggio's demeanour begged for forgiveness after his gaffe led to Brazil winning the 1994 World Cup. Like me, millions around the world pardoned the striker, and most had remote or absolutely no connection with his team or the foot-shaped European country.


But what makes us identify with a sport that has little or no grounding in our own country? The answer lies in the fact that football isn't burdened and restricted to complicated rules and regulations like many other sports, neither does it cost a substantial amount of money to play the game. With 202 countries registered with the governing body FIFA, football has the uncanny knack of transcending all borders. For some, watching sport has always been a recreation, something to do while having plenty of time to kill. For others, scores and statistics possess their very existence. But football has never been so banal. It is neither a game obsessed with numbers nor a leisurely pastime; its primitive instincts make it a lot more universal. As John Lanchester, a British journalist, wrote: "Golf writing is about playing


golf; cricket writing is about cricket and baseball writing about baseball;


but most football writing is about being a fan."


Football fans in our country are also resigned to the fact that the Indian national anthem is not bound to play in a World Cup match anytime in the near future(although India did qualify for the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, but pulled out of the tournament). While only 32 countries are represented at each World Cup, and with our country of birth never within the realms of qualifying, adopting one of the participating states as our own is the next best choice. In the quest for the elusive fan status, we beg, borrow and steal from the great football nations.


The Brazilians — with their much hyped liquid style of football — are by far the most popular side in the world, and it is no different in India. Major portions of West Bengal and Kerala — our footballing powerhouses — watch in a trance-like state, pledging their unconditional support. Goa swears by its former colonisers, Portugal, while the metropolitans of Mumbai and Delhi lend their support to west European countries such as England and Spain, whose club football is a major attraction on weekends. The collective "we" is used when these teams are discussed in public.


Rinus Michels, also known as "the General," coach of the Dutch team that narrowly lost to Germany in the 1974 final, famously said, "Football is war." Two US defence strategists even suggested in the Armed Forces Journal in 2003 that soccer, with its "dispersed and decentralised leadership and autonomous units capable of individual acts", was the paradigm for twenty-first century war.


On the night of 2006 World Cup final between Italy and France, my hometown of Mumbai lay in a semi war-zone. The Shiv Sena had brought the city to a standstill by burning taxis and buses, after one of their statues was allegedly dishonoured, which led to widespread riots. The silence and the tension was shattered, when a large group of football fans stormed Shivaji Park — the home of the statue and the cradle of cricket — a little after midnight. "Forza Azzurri," they screamed and chanted in unison. Italy had attained salvation by winning the World Cup in penalty shoot-outs. And somewhere in Mumbai, another nine-year old began worshipping a country he had never visited.







I leave Istanbul with four questions that Turks asked me echoing in my head. One: Do you think we are seeing the death of the West and the rise of new world powers in the East? Two: Tom, it was great talking to you this morning, but would you mind not quoting me by name? I'm afraid the government will retaliate against me, my newspaper or my business if you do. Three: Is it true, as Prime Minister Erdogan believes, that Israel is behind the attacks by the Kurdish terrorist group PKK on Turkey? Four: Do you really think Obama can punish Turkey for voting against the US at the UN on Iran sanctions? After all, America needs Turkey more than Turkey needs America.


The question about the death of the West is really about the rise of Turkey, which is actually a wonderful story. The Turks wanted to get into the European Union and were rebuffed, but I'm not sure Turkish businessmen even care today. The EU feels dead next to Turkey, which last year was right behind India and China among the fastest-growing economies in the world — just under 7 per cent — and was the fastest-growing economy in Europe.


Americans have tended to look at Turkey as a bridge or a base — either a cultural bridge that connects the West and the Muslim world, or as our base (Incirlik Air Base) that serves as the main US supply hub for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Turks see themselves differently."Turkey is not a bridge. It's a centre," explained Muzaffer Senel, an international relations researcher at Istanbul Sehir University.


Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Turkey has become the centre of its own economic space, stretching from southern Russia, all through the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia, and down through Iraq, Syria, Iran and the Middle East. So Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sees himself as the leader of a rising economic powerhouse of 70 million people who is entitled to play an independent geopolitical role — hence his UN vote against sanctioning Iran. But how Turkey rises really matters — and Erdogan definitely has some troubling Hugo Chávez-Vladimir Putin tendencies. I've never visited a democracy where more people whom I interviewed asked me not to quote them by name for fear of retribution by Erdogan's circle — in the form of lawsuits, tax investigations or being shut out of government contracts. The media here is rampantly self-censored. Moreover, Erdogan has evolved from just railing against Israel's attacks on Hamas in Gaza to spouting conspiracy theories — like the insane notion that Israel is backing the PKK terrorists — as a way of consolidating his political base among conservative Muslims.


Is there anything the US can do? My advice: Avoid a public confrontation that Erdogan can exploit to build more support, draw US redlines in private and let Turkish democrats take the lead. Turkey is full of energy and hormones, and is trying to figure out its new identity. There is an inner struggle between those who would like to see Turkey more aligned with the Islamic world and values and those who want it to remain more secular, Western and pluralistic. Who defines Turkey will determine a lot about whether we end up in a war of civilisations.


This struggle is for Turks, and they are on it. Only two weeks before the Gaza flotilla incident, a leading poll showed Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, trailing his main opposition for the first time since the AKP came to office in 2002.


That is surely one reason Erdogan openly took sides with one of the most radical forces in the region, Hamas — to re-energise his political base. But did he overplay his hand? Up to now, Erdogan has been very cunning, treating his opponents like frogs in a pail, always just gradually turning up the heat so they never quite knew they were boiling. But now they know. The secular and moderate Muslim forces in Turkey are alarmed; the moderate Arab regimes are alarmed; the Americans are alarmed. The fight for Turkey's soul is about to be joined in a much more vigorous way.








While Western economies struggle to come to grips with the problems at hand, emerging market economies, particularly those from the Asian region, continue to move ahead at a robust pace.


The years 2008 and 2009 were tumultuous for global trade. The simmering sub-prime crisis in the US in 2007, which triggered the global financial crisis in September 2008 spread its tentacles, leading to a full-blown global recession resulting in an unprecedented fall in global trade. World trade volume (goods and services) grew by only 2.8 per cent in 2008 compared to 7.3 per cent in 2007, with trade growth tumbling down month after month from September 2008 onwards.


The deepening world recession had profound impact on world output and trade, with growth of world output and trade volume of goods and services falling to (-) 0.8 and (-) 12.3 per cent respectively in 2009 according to the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) World Economic Outlook (WEO) January 2010.


The crisis seems largely to have petered out in the second half of 2009 and beginning of 2010 with global trade recovering from the troughs and the appearance of green shoots, and the IMF in April even projecting a better-than-expected growth in world trade volume of 7.0 per cent and 6.1 per cent for 2010 and 2011 respectively, which is also a reflection of the higher-than-expected world output growth projections of 4.2 per cent and 4.3 per cent in 2010 and 2011 respectively. India and China have weathered the crisis with great dexterity and spearheaded the recovery. Recently, there seems to be signs of slowdown in China, but India's growth is surging ahead.


India's greater integration with the world economy was reflected by the trade openness indicator, the merchandise trade to GDP, which increased from 20.0 percent of GDP in 2001-02, to 34.2 in 2006-07 and further to 40 percent of GDP in 2008-09. If services trade is included, the increase is higher at 52.4 percent of GDP in 2008-09 from 26.4 percent of GDP in 2001-02, reflecting greater degree of openness.


The Indian economy is estimated to have grown by 6.7 per cent in 2008-09 following a growth of 9.2 per cent in 2007-08. The global financial crisis led to a slowdown in the Indian economy with quarterly growth at around 6 per cent in the third and fourth quarters of 2008-09 and the first quarter of the current fiscal. According to the revised estimates, GDP at factor cost at constant (2004-05) prices in the year 2009-10 has grown by 7.4 per cent, (as against 7.2 per cent in the advance estimates) over the quick estimates of 2008-09. Growth in 2008-09 was 6.7 per cent (quick estimates).


The growth rate in Q4 2009-10 GDP, estimated at 8.6 per cent, (as against the growth rate of 5.8 per cent in Q4 2008-09) shows the momentum in growth recovery. The runaway growth in capital goods, as per the IIP, during the second half (H2) of 2009-10 (in excess of 30 per cent year-on-year) indicated that the investment activity is gaining momentum.


Exports during April 2010 registered a growth rate of 36.2 per cent over April 2009. Exports witnessed a positive growth from November 2009 onwards, and for the month of February and March 2010, it registered a high growth of 34.8 per cent and 54.1 per cent respectively. Imports during April 2010 registered a high growth rate of 43.3 per cent compared to April 2009. Import growth in December 2009, January 2010 and February 2010 was 27.2, 35.5 and 66.4 per cent respectively. In March 2010, imports grew by 67.1 per cent over March 2009.


Judged by the rates of savings and investment, India is now completely a part of the world's fast-growing economies. In 2008-09 gross domestic savings as a percentage of GDP were 32.5 per cent and gross domestic capital formation was 34.9 per cent. Since these indicators are some of the strongest correlates of growth and do not fluctuate wildly, they speak very well for India's medium-term growth prospects. As the demographic dividend begins to pay off in India, with the working age-group population rising disproportionately over the next two decades, the savings rate is likely to rise further.


In the medium term it is reasonable to expect that the economy will go back to the robust growth path of around 9 per cent. Indian exports have recorded impressive growth since November 2009. Further, infrastructure services, including railway transport, power, telecommunications and, recently but to a lesser extent, civil aviation, have shown a remarkable turnaround since the second quarter of 2009-10. The favourable capital market conditions with improvement in


capital flows and business sentiments, as per the RBI's business expectations survey, are also




The services sector (financial and non-financial) has attracted highest FDI inflows of 21 per cent of total FDI inflows. Computer software and hardware, telecommunication and housing and real estate accounted for nearly 8-9 per cent of total FDI inflows respectively. Increasing foreign institutional investment shows the growing confidence of investors in India. FII investment was US$ 20.3 billion in 2007-08, declined to US$ (-) 15.0 billion in 2008-09 due to global financial crisis and recession. However in 2009-10, it bounced back to US$ 29.0 billion.


Given the way our savings and investment rates are moving, we are sure that we will cross over to double digit growth rates in the next four to five years and in the process, surpass China as the world's fastest growing economy.


In the last four years, FDI flows have totaled almost US$ 130 billion. 2006-07 (US$ 23 bn), 2007-08 (US$ 34.8 bn), 2008-09 (US$ 35.1 bn), 2009-10 (US$ 34.2 bn). Portfolio investment too have moved up from US$ 7 bn in 2006-07 to US$ 32 bn in 2009-10. The country's exposure to toxic assets is almost nil. Indian banks and financial institutions are robust with strong prudential norms.


The writer is Union minister for law, justice and company affairs








UK's new chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, announced a major overhaul of the financial regulatory apparatus last week. Significantly, the body responsible for regulation of the financial sector, Financial Services Authority (FSA), is to be abolished with most of its powers transferred to the Bank of England. Interestingly, like in the US, there will be a new agency to deal with consumer protection, presumably to curb predatory lending practices, which many believe form the core of the subprime crisis. More broadly, this overhaul in the UK reverses Gordon Brown's celebrated separation of financial regulatory powers from the central bank in 1997. The UK model, where the central bank focused solely on monetary policy, while another independent agency was responsible for regulation, was a role model for many countries and was considered best practice in mainstream economics. Now the overhauled UK system will more closely resemble India's, where RBI not only sets monetary policy but also regulates vast tracts of the financial system. Is this reason for RBI to feel completely vindicated about the role it has played in regulating the financial sector? The simple answer is no.


For one, it is not at all clear whether a central bank with greater powers will be in a better position to identify a potential crisis than an independent agency. Sure, the FSA failed to see many signs of crisis, but the US regulatory system, where the Fed has always had more regulatory powers, also failed to see the crisis coming. RBI, of course, does not even fit into this larger debate. The Indian financial system is safe because RBI doesn't allow extensive financial liberalisation. And while this autarkic approach to finance may keep us safe, it also imposes a heavy cost—the Indian financial system is unable to deliver the kind of cheap finance that is necessary to power the real sector and the economy into double-digit growth. The real debate in India ought to be about how to take financial sector reform forward. In theory, this can happen even if regulation remains in the domain of RBI. But in practice, RBI has seemed reluctant to let competition even in plain vanilla banking flourish, leave aside the more complex domain of securitised assets and derivatives. The overhaul of regulatory structures in the US and the UK do, of course, provides valuable blueprints on how financial reform and regulation can be appropriately combined. But the same should not be used as an excuse to keep the Indian financial system closed for the foreseeable future.







The UPA government has been a reluctant reformer in both its first and second innings. As we have argued in these columns, India needs a dose of significant economic reforms, in product markets, in labour markets and in land markets, if growth has to touch double digits. But there is one crucial area of reform where it seemed that the government may achieve some success—tax reform. Now, even that is looking uncertain. The revised version of the direct taxes code (DTC) dilutes the original draft and allows a number of exemptions in response to pressure from special interests. The government's surrender to vested interests on DTC is a missed opportunity for lower tax rates, greater compliance and more revenue for the government, all at the same time. But that is only the DTC. The other half of tax reform lies in the overhaul of an unnecessarily complicated and cascading structure of indirect taxes. Unfortunately, as reported by The Indian Express on Friday, the government is veering around to a less than optimal compromise on the issue of a single goods and services tax (GST) regime as well.


An ideal GST regime would involve only one rate of tax (divided, of course, into Centre and state components), at a rate that is reasonable and not too high. The entire purpose of the GST is to increase compliance and that will not happen unless the rate is reasonable. The importance of one rate stems from the fact that two rates will encourage lobbying and rent seeking, with various interests trying to get their products and services included in the lower rate category. Now, it seems that the government is ready to accept two rates—one for standard goods and services and another for 'essential' goods and services. Worse, states have put pressure on the government to consider granting exemptions from GST to commodities like fuel and alcohol. Once a precedent is set for exemptions, any number of commodities will seek to be put outside the ambit of the GST under some pretext or the other. States also continue to pressure the Centre to have a rate higher than the 12% recommended by the Finance Commission. That will defeat the purpose of GST. The Centre must, even at this stage, resist demands from vested interests. This is likely to be the only opportunity to overhaul taxes completely for a long time. The government cannot afford to distort it.









The brilliance of China's often underrated soft power diplomacy was in full display in Athens last week. On the very day that Standard and Poor's downgraded Greece's sovereign debt rating to junk, a clear vote of no confidence, China's Vice-Premier Zhang Dejiang signed at least 14 different agreements across sectors like shipping, telecommunications and tourism, committing billions of dollars of Chinese investment in Europe's most stricken economy. For good measure, the Chinese Vice-Premier added an explicit vote of confidence from the world's fastest growing major economy when he said, "I am convinced that Greece can overcome its current economic difficulties."


Will China's intervention help solve Greece's debt crisis? Only to the limited extent that this investment will eventually boost growth. In the short term, however, Greece's fate remains dependent on EU and IMF aid and its own ability to cut government spending. But what


China's commitment to invest billions of euros does is to earn it a lot of goodwill in Greece. Compared with the many tough conditionalities that accompany IMF and EU aid, China's investment has no-strings attached. It puts China firmly into the 'good guys' category, while the EU and IMF—the real saviours—are seen as the villains.


Needless to say, China is not doing this as charity for Greece. Getting a foothold for Chinese firms in Greece opens up for them a vast market across Eastern Europe. The timing is what is important; in the midst of a crisis, Chinese firms will get a bargain price. The more intangible goodwill factor is not unimportant either—when the Chinese company Cosco took over the management of cargo at Greece's largest port of Piraeus last year, the local unions opposed it strongly. Now, they are welcoming the additional investment committed by Cosco at a time of dire crisis. The goodwill thus garnered by China's commitments now both in the government and with public opinion, will smoothen out the path for future Chinese investment as well. Incidentally, as icing on the goodwill cake, China announced that it would import significant amounts of Greek olive oil.


China's intervention in Greece fits into the broader pattern of the way it is expanding its footprint globally. The government is very conscious of the fact that China's rise is viewed with suspicion in large parts of the world. The top leadership of the Chinese government doesn't usually miss an opportunity to downplay China's global ambitions. At an Asian security summit in Istanbul earlier this month, state councillor Dai Bingguo had clearly stated that China will never seek to be a superpower or hegemon. A realistic interpretation of such statements is that China does not intend to use its military prowess to expand influence in the world. It doesn't even want to be seen as aggressively expanding its economic interests at a significant cost to other countries. Rather, as its intervention in Greece shows, and indeed its continued foray into Africa indicates, China will be ruthless in accessing new markets, but it would like to project itself as a 'benefactor' rather than a 'predator'.


In Africa, China has committed to building infrastructure—roads and schools—while exploiting natural resources. That wins goodwill with public opinion. Also, unlike Western powers, Chinese investment usually comes with few strings attached for governments—China never bothers about whether a country is democratic and whether it respects human rights or whether its rulers are corrupt. That gets it goodwill with Africa's most powerful politicians.


And if soft power, backed by China's vast surpluses and foreign exchange reserves, can bring so much access and goodwill, there is little need to project hard power ambitions for the moment.


Ironically enough, India, the world's second fastest growing major economy, whose comparative advantage vis-à-vis China ought to be in soft power hasn't been quite as successful in acquiring similar influence across the globe. To be fair, India has two constraints that China does not.


For one, India's foreign exchange reserves, solid as they are, are made up largely of foreign portfolio flows that can reverse easily. China's reserves are earned through exports and foreign direct investment. That makes a difference in terms of ability to spend those reserves.


Second, Indian firms are not as closely aligned to government interests as their Chinese counterparts are. Indian firms have made their forays abroad but independent of what the government may or may not have wanted. Unfortunately, many Indian firms went overseas in boomtime rather than waiting for the bust to buy out companies cheap like their Chinese counterparts are now doing.


Despite these constraints, there is certainly a case for Indian diplomacy—with cooperation from Indian industry—to leverage India's relative economic strength to garner influence and goodwill in different parts of the world. India's foreign policy establishment in the ministry of external affairs, though, tends to be singularly focused on a more traditional view of power and influence, obsessing about security and border issues most of the time. The Africa and Eastern Europe desks, for example, would not command the same prestige as the Americas, West Europe, Pakistan and China desks. That needs to change if India wants to catch up with China in extending its influence to those corners of the world that are looking for powerful 'benefactors'.








The laudable Leaders' 20 (L20) initiative, promoted by former Canadian PM Paul Martin, was started but never matured to his original design. He persisted and Russia and the UK announced an invite to India and China. On this subject, in my work, I talked about nations using concentric circles of influence as strategy and methods—developed by Rajiv Gandhi—to pursue their objectives. It must be recognised that the G8-plus is one such method and must be strengthened.


However, there are two riders. The first is that the networks currently available are not strong enough to bring global ideas to the fore in a business-like manner such that the G8-plus can address them; and the WTO is not discussed as an alternative in any meaningful way. Second, although an initiative for self-help groups was taken in 2005, it leaves out most of the big financing reform issues, both globally and in national policies on empowerment of organisations for the poor, for rural development and agricultural growth. The energy initiative also fell short. China engaged, but was sceptical. India was also sceptical. Our Prime Minister said that India was there to solve problems, not petition, but that the structure of the forum did not provide for it. At present, the force of Brazil in opening up world markets is not fully unleashed. Mexico occupies a strategic position geographically but also as a bridge to the OECD. South Africa and its revolutionary concepts of egalitarian change do not get a hearing.


In terms of the great global debates, Indira Gandhi's Stockholm Conference on 'poverty is polluting' was written by Pitamber Pant of the Planning Commission. India's pioneering stand at the Budapest First Population Conference linking population policy with development, the precursor to the UNDP's MDGs, was crafted by Sukhomoy Chakravarti of the Planning Commission. But I am told that the Perspective Planning Division that did all the thinking has shrunk to a non-entity. Delhi's think-tanks, living off consultancy contracts from foreign capital, contribute little that is original. The Chambers of Commerce are essential but don't really go beyond the interest groups they represent. The government is perfectly entitled to honour NRI economists who toe its line, but in the global bazaar we also need to develop and market our own experience and strengths. It was not the CIA or Goldman Sachs reports, which first said that India is, in PPP terms, the fourth largest economy of the world, but some of us and John Kirton, a Canadian economist.


In writing for Reforming from the Top: A Leaders' 20 Summit, the global think-tank CIGI's pioneering book for the presence of the third world in the G8, I was not being facetious in saying that in addition to the 'sherpas' you also need the 'coolies', recognised by Anne Marie Slaughter, advisor to the US President, Andy Cooper, Colin Bradford and Ramesh Thakur. Arguing for energy, water and trade from the Indian perspective, the main point was that the language of the other has to be understood. India is ideally placed to explain and advocate this language.


The pursuit of our national interest abroad has to be a part of a larger campaign of our designs for the globe.


The nuclear debate put India on top but the not-so-good part was the erosion of the bipartisan aspect of its foreign policy that gave it grandeur. This column had always targeted critics and asked them to take the larger view of history but was obviously not convincing enough; although it is strange for Marxists to be critical of technological frontiers for the larger good. The G20 debate in the world is again on that grand scale but as India shrinks inwards and lets bureaucrats call the shots, its voice may also shrink.


For India, I argue that the decade before the setting up of the G20 saw major changes in India's perception of its role. While strangely unnoticed in the world then, it started growing fast and defined, in a more concrete sense, its interest as a growing power. These experiences conditioned India's responses in global forums. In the G20, multilateralism is the way for India to define its destiny, if the goal of pursuing concentric circles of influence is to be met. This defines India's position in the WTO, where it won the intellectual debate, in showing that gradualism won't work on energy, water, MDGs, democratic governance and financial collateral for removing poverty through energising institutions to back up local initiatives. Later this month, we need to show that our time has arrived.


The author is a former Union minister










There are significant differences, both in terms of accounting principles as well as additional disclosure requirements, between IFRS and the Indian GAAP. The disclosures are expected to improve the quality of financial information. Although there are a host of disclosure requirements under IFRS, the focus is on key disclosures relating to financial instruments as envisaged under IFRS 7. IFRS 7 requires an entity to disclose information—market and liquidity risk—that enables the users to evaluate the nature and extent of risk, given the firm's current exposure to financial instruments.


Most enterprises in India are exposed to foreign currency risk and interest rate risk, which fluctuate over time. Such entities are required to disclose the effect of a reasonable expected variation in the foreign exchange rate or interest rates for domestic/foreign currency borrowings. Internal preparation to put into place a system for obtaining the desired data to facilitate the disclosure is required. This may become quite critical for large entities that are highly geared or have significant exposures to foreign currencies and active treasury operations. Generally, entities hedge their foreign currency and interest rate risks through derivative products. This poses an additional challenge as the entity will have to ask the dealer, with whom the derivative is contracted, for the impact of the sensitivity test on these products.


In addition, an entity is also required to disclose how it manages its significant risks, e.g. credit, liquidity or capital. Therefore, it is imperative for an entity to have an approved risk management policy that deals with monitoring debt-equity, managing liquidity risk to overcome impediments in meeting short-term and long-term obligations.


Furthermore, IFRS 7 also requires the disclosure of fair value of each financial instrument beside its carrying value, hence providing better information on financial instruments to their users. This entails determination of fair value of each component at every balance sheet date. There is no doubt that IFRS would catapult India, Indian entities and its finance and accounting professionals to much greater heights. Given that it is a new subject with a host of new requirements that corporate India was ignorant of, only proper planning, laying down a detailed conversion plan and putting the required systems in place, will ensure a smooth convergence with IFRS.


The author is a senior professional in Ernst & Young Global








it has been a ghastly summer. Temperatures soared in March and April, and May too was exceptionally hot. Heat waves swept through large swathes of the country and claimed many lives. Besides, the summer rains were below par. There was much relief when the India Meteorological Department announced that the cooling rains of the monsoon had reached Kerala on March 31. The monsoon's progress thereafter was tardy for several days. Matters were not helped by the powerful Cyclone Phet that sprang forth in the Arabian Sea. But the monsoon then bestirred itself and resumed its march across the country. That its advance has not matched the idealised 'normal' depicted in meteorological maps should not be a cause for concern. It must be remembered that the vast bands of rain-bearing clouds wend their way north in fits and starts. Over half the country has already received normal or excess rainfall, and nationwide rainfall currently shows a deficit of just three per cent. However, the monsoon is said to be entering a weak phase and its further progress could be temporarily slowed.


It is a far cry from last year when the monsoon ended in a severe drought. Then things went wrong from the start and the rainfall in June was close to half of what it ought to have been. Scientists say that the surface waters of the Bay of Bengal being warmer than the equatorial Indian Ocean is crucial for the advance of the monsoon. Last year that was not the case and the June rains suffered as a result. This year, on the other hand, the temperature difference is favourable for the monsoon. Last year, the coup de grace was delivered by an El Nino, a warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean that generally retards the monsoon. Consequently, both August and September rains were badly affected. The El Nino has dissipated and many models are now predicting the likelihood of a switch in the coming months to a La Nina, El Nino's cool sibling that is good for the monsoon. The eastern equatorial Pacific has already begun displaying below-average temperatures. Climate models have responded to this change and are indicating plentiful rains in the months ahead. Even if that prediction is correct, it does not mean that all parts of the country will uniformly get such rain. Inevitably, as happens in any monsoon, some places and regions will get too little and others too much. Nevertheless, the current outlook for the country as a whole is in favour of a good monsoon. Just recently, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee declared that the Indian economy could achieve a growth rate of 8.5 per cent this year if the monsoon played its part. The monsoon, it seems, is inclined to oblige.







The human safaris promoted by some tour operators in the Andaman Islands — offering their customers a glimpse of the Jarawa tribal community — are not only an outrageous insult to human dignity. They are also a symptom of the larger problems facing the 300-odd members of this indigenous community. For hundreds of thousands of years, the tribe lived life on its own terms, hunting and gathering food within the boundaries of its pristine forest home. Despite the coming and going of the Europeans and then the settlers from mainland India, the creation of a Reserve in the 1950s, and the construction of the Andamans Trunk Road cutting through their homeland in the 1970s, the Jarawas maintained a hostile distance from outsiders until 1997. Since then, their interactions with settlers and tourists have had a mixed bag of consequences, which include two measles epidemics, and encounters with curious tourists doling out food and snapping photographs. Many NGOs feel the damage can be limited if the government follows the Supreme Court of India's 2002 order to close down the Road. While this could mean a serious inconvenience to a few thousand settlers, the very survival of the indigenous peoples may lie in the balance. In any case, the development of a water transport infrastructure may be better for an island system lying in an earthquake-prone area than a highway. The administration must also intervene actively to protect the Reserve against illegal coastal incursions by poachers and hunters.


The wider question of what the future of this tribal community should look like — and more importantly, who should determine that future — has few easy answers. In an earlier era, it was simple enough to say that the Jarawas must be left strictly alone, and construct the dubious safety of a Reserve around their lands. But if they foray out of the forests on their own, if they do not want to be left alone, the isolation paradigm holds no relevance any more. However, any attempt to 'civilise' the Jarawas, or yank them into the modern era, is fraught with danger. Other indigenous tribes on the Islands have already been wiped out, largely due to diseases caught from outsiders. This year has already seen the death of the last Great Andamanese speakers of the Bo and Khora tribal languages. The tribes who remain, including the Jarawa, hover on the brink of extinction. A dossier on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands released by UNESCO last month suggests that self-determination by the Jarawas must be the ultimate aim, "to help them negotiate with a rapidly changing, predatory world that exists around them." This is a world that has tourists ogling at them as if they were on a wildlife sanctuary.










Last week's large-scale communal violence in Kyrgyzstan has pushed the impoverished Central Asian state to the brink of collapse and put to the test Russia's ability to project power and guarantee stability in the most trouble-prone region of the former Soviet Union.


Bloody clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities in the south of the country were reportedly triggered by a brawl between two groups of young people in a local café on June 10, and they spread like fire across the region. However, evidence suggests that violence was deliberately provoked and stage-managed. Organised gangs riding jeeps and armoured vehicles looted and set on fire houses and shops in Uzbek neighbourhoods and killed their residents. They also targeted Kyrgyz residents to set the two ethnic groups against each other.


The provisional government of Kyrgyzstan accused the family of the ousted President, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, of organising and financing the riots in the south — its base and stronghold. Mr. Bakiyev has denied any role but in a tapped telephone conversation, posted on YouTube in mid-May, two members of his family discussed plans to provoke inter-ethnic clashes to bring down the government.


A United Nations spokesman, too, said there was evidence indicating that the violence began with five simultaneous attacks in Osh by armed men wearing masks. Authorities say organised crime groups, especially those involved in Afghan drug trade, played an active role in the unrest.


Four days of rioting left an estimated 2,000 people dead and some 4,00,000 displaced, of whom about 1,00,000 fled to neighbouring Uzbekistan. Seventy per cent of the buildings in Osh, second largest city of Kyrgyzstan with a population of 2,50,000 people, were torched.


When the fighting broke out, interim President Roza Otunbayeva desperately appealed to Russia to send troops to help her quell the violence. The plea posed a dilemma to Moscow — to intervene or not to intervene. When its interests in Northern Caucasus came under military attack from Georgia two years ago, Russia struck back without hesitation, thrashing the Georgian army and dramatically reinforcing its positions in the region.


Many expected Moscow to respond with the same resolve to the crisis in Kyrgyztan, where it has a military base and which is its ally in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a defence bloc of seven former Soviet states, which also unites Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. However, Moscow acted with extreme caution, redirecting the request to CSTO, where Russia holds rotating presidency. A relatively low-level meeting of the member-states' national security secretaries deferred the question of sending peacekeepers, recommending instead the supply of helicopters, trucks and other equipment to Kyrgyz law-enforcement agencies.


Simultaneously, President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a battalion of paratroops to reinforce the garrison at the Russian airbase in Kyrgyzstan. Moscow thus held the door open for intervention if the situation deteriorated.


The Kremlin has good reasons to be wary of getting drawn into the Kyrgyz crisis. To begin with, Russia lacks a legal basis for intervening in Kyrgyzstan in contrast to the situation in North Caucasus, where it had a peacekeeping mandate from the United Nations and the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States. Theoretically, it could do so under a CSTO mandate but the legal basis for the bloc's intervention in an internal conflict is shaky. In recent years, Russia has sought to expand CSTO capabilities through the creation of a standing rapid reaction force that could perform peacekeeping missions, but this is still a work in progress. Russia's Central Asian partners in CSTO would hate to create a precedent for interfering in the internal affairs of a member-state.


Another problem is the absence of a legitimate government in Kyrgyzstan. The provisional government headed by Ms. Otunbayeva is a motley assortment of opposition leaders who came to power in a bloody popular revolt that toppled President Bakiyev in early April. They made a big mistake, disbanding Parliament, the last remaining legitimate institution. The ethnic violence may now derail their plans to legitimise their standing by holding a referendum on a new Constitution on June 27, to be followed by new parliamentary elections in October as hundreds of thousands of Uzbek refugees remain displaced. The crisis showed that the interim government does not command much authority, with police and the army initially refusing to execute its orders to enforce curfew and open fire at the rioting mobs. Moreover, elements of the military took part in assaults on Uzbeks.


The Ferghana Valley, where the violence occurred, is a tinderbox of ethnic conflicts. The borders of the three Central Asian states — Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan — that converge in the fertile valley were arbitrarily drawn by Joseph Stalin more than 80 years ago. Thus, the historical Uzbek cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad ended up in Kyrgyzstan. According to various estimates, there are between 7,00,000 and 10,00,000 Uzbek residents in the 5.5-million strong Kyrgyzstan, but in the Ferghana Valley they form the dominant and fastest growing ethnic group, prompting Kyrgyz fears of another Kosovo in the valley. Kyrgyz residents resent the fact that their enterprising Uzbek compatriots dominate the local economy, while the Uzbek community complains of discrimination in official jobs and language rights.


In June 1990, ethnic tensions in Osh erupted into Kyrgyz-Uzbek clashes over land and water sharing that claimed hundreds of lives before Moscow sent troops to restore order. At that time, Kyrgyzstan was still part of the Soviet Union. Sending Russian troops to Kyrgyzstan today could stir up a hornets' nest of rivalries and hostilities in the region.


The former Soviet Central Asia is teeming with smouldering conflicts and disputes over territory and resources. Tajikistan claims the Uzbek cities of Samarkand and Bukhara, and Uzbekistan has territorial disputes with Kazakhstan. Tensions are running high over sharing of river water between upstream Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan — which are keen on building more hydropower projects — and downstream Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, which need water to irrigate their crops. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan fight for the role of a regional superpower and are apprehensive of Russia getting militarily involved in the Kyrgyz crisis.


After four days of anti-Uzbek pogrom, the fighting in the Kyrgyz south died down, partly because the majority of Uzbek residents fled their homes and partly because the Kyrgyz security forces finally got their act together. But the calm is shaky and violence can erupt anytime.


The mass slaughter of Uzbeks was probably just the first act of a bloody drama unfolding in the heart of Central Asia. Even if the worst case scenario of civil war is avoided, the government in Bishkek in the north will find it hard to control the Uzbek-dominated Ferghana Valley, 600 km to the south and separated by the high Tian Shan Mountains. Uzbekistan, craving to become a regional superpower, may see this as an opportunity.


Instability may also spur a revival of jihadism in the region. In 1999 and 2000, when the Taliban was still in power in Afghanistan, Islamist guerrillas infiltrated the mountainous region of southern Kyrgyzstan using it as a staging ground for attacks in Uzbekistan. Mr. Medvedev warned in an interview that Islamist extremists could grab power in Kyrgyzstan if the government failed to gain control. "When people lose faith in the ability of the civil authorities to bring law and order … we can end up with a Kyrgyzstan that would develop along the Afghan scenario, the Afghan scenario of the Taliban period," the Russian leader said.


While nobody has a ready recipe for stabilising Kyrgyzstan, all eyes are on Russia. China has voiced grave concern over the Kyrgyz violence but made it clear that it leaves the job of dealing with it to Russia-led CSTO, voicing "appreciation" of the bloc's decision to re-equip the Kyrgyz security forces. The United States, which has a key transit centre in Kyrgyzstan running supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan, denied reports that it could unilaterally or jointly with Russia send troops to Kyrgyzstan. The U.S. burnt its fingers when it helped to stage the "tulip revolution" there in 2005, which set in train the events that led to the mayhem last week. This time, Washington urges a collective response with Moscow. "We are not in any way framing this as a zero-sum game," a senior U.S. administration official explained at the height of the Kyrgyz crisis. "On the contrary, we are very closely coordinating our actions with Moscow."


Is the "reset" in U.S.-Russia relations extending to the former Soviet space? If this is indeed so, the U.N. Security Council may give CSTO a peacekeeping mandate in Kyrgyzstan if the crisis deepens. But Russia will anyway have to play the leading role, because Kyrgyzstan is its zone of responsibility. As a Moscow-based foreign policy analyst said, "If Moscow does not find a way to respond to challenges such as Kyrgyzstan, any later claims it might make to a special role in the region will be unconvincing."











Before the Indian Parliament votes on limiting the liability of nuclear operators due to accidents, it should carefully consider the much higher limits that the United States has set for itself — about $11 billion per incident industry maximum (under the Price-Anderson Act). The liability of the operator of the plant would be just Rs. 500 crores, about $110 million, which is just one per cent of the U.S. limit, and about $450 million per accident. The proposed law allows an adjustment of this upwards or downwards to a possible lower limit of just Rs. 300 crores, or about $65 million. But more than that, Parliament should consider that the actual damages could be far greater than the U.S. liability limit.


A 1997 study by the U.S. government's own Brookhaven National Laboratory, on Long Island, New York, found that the severe spent fuel pool accidents could result in damages from somewhat under $1 billion of up to $566 billion, depending on a how full and hot the pool is at the time of the accident and the intensity of the postulated fire. The high-end figure would amount to over $700 billion in 2009 dollars. Vast amounts of land — up to about 7,000 square kilometres in the worst case — would have to be condemned. Large numbers of people would have to be evacuated. Further, the maximum estimated monetary damages do not take into account some critical elements. For instance, the Brookhaven amount does not include excess cancer deaths, estimated to range from 1,500 to more than 100,000. Worst case nuclear reactor accident cancers and condemned area were estimated to be generally comparable to the upper end of the spent fuel accident estimates. ( R.J. Travis, R.E. Davis, E.J. Grove, M.A. Azarm, A Safety and Regulatory Assessment of Generic BWR and PWR Permanently Shutdown Nuclear Power Plants, Brookhaven National Laboratory, 1997 (NUREG/CR-6451). See Tables 4.1, 4.2, and 4.3.)


Both the U.S. and Indian governments seem to be secure in the idea that such a severe nuclear power plant disaster is so unlikely that it can be disregarded. For instance, that is the response of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission in response to the Brookhaven study. Like the proposed Indian bill, the United States government is supposed to cover the excess damages above the corporate limit. Yet, neither country has any practical financial provision to cover damages in anything like the amount of estimated damages.


The ongoing disaster of the petroleum volcano caused by blowout of the BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico should provide a sobering object lesson. Thinking that does not consider high-consequence but low-probability events borders on folly. BP also considered an uncontrolled blowout to be very low probability. As it turns out, BP, as one of the world's largest corporations, can provide the tens of billions of dollars of damages. But no nuclear company in the United States has the financial muscle to compensate a significant fraction of the maximum officially estimated damages.


India would be ignoring its own tragic history of the 1984 Bhopal disaster, still unfolding with the health and lives of tens of thousands of people ruined, as well the ghastly BP drama that has reduced the United States to a heap of frustration in the face of a powerful oil industry. The Price-Anderson Act in the United States limiting liability to $11 billion is bad enough. But the Civil Liability Nuclear Claims Bill of 2010 is much worse for two reasons. First, $110 million cap for the operator, or even higher $450 million total cap, would not cover even one-tenth of one paisa per rupee of damage in a worst case accident. Second, by setting a liability limit that is so far below even the unsatisfactory U.S. level, the Indian government would be proclaiming its agreement with the lamentable long-held imperialist view that "life is cheap in India."


The bill should be amended to include an explicit provision that says there would be no operator liability cap, and that an initial payment of $20 billion (about Rs. 92,000 crores) would have to be put in escrow in a worst case accident. That is approximately the arrangement that BP has agreed to (with no cap) in the United States in the case of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. Worst case nuclear accident damages are likely to be more severe and long-lasting. If the Civil Liability Nuclear Claims Bill of 2010 it is not amended as above, it should be withdrawn; if it is not withdrawn, it should be soundly defeated.


( Arjun Makhijani is President, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Takoma Park, Maryland, U.S. Email:










However loudly you protest, you still have to check your gun at the restaurant's door. (Customers take valet tickets in return.) Guards in tight jeans and tighter shirts patrol the entrance, toting that ubiquitous paraphernalia of authority here: a walkie-talkie. Even cavalier guests cast leery glances down the road for a car that could be rigged with a bomb.


Antoine al-Hage, capitalism's equivalent of a soldier of fortune, smiles at it all — the danger, the risk and, of course, the payoff of bringing nightlife to Iraq.


"Where there's war," he said, "there's lots of money."


A slew of new restaurants have opened in Baghdad this year, from Tomorrow and Tool al-Lail to Toast and City Chief, offering a respite for a city spectacularly bereft of nighttime destinations. All have evolved to the conditions of contemporary Baghdad, a city that teases with hints of the ordinary but remains a barricaded warren of blast walls and barbed wire. Namely, nearly all boast of having thick shatterproof glass.


But there is a special buzz about al-Hage's establishment, which opened last month. The question often heard around town these days is this: "Oh, that Lebanese restaurant, have you seen it?"


The Lebanese Club is part Beirut, part Dubai, part Miami lounge circa Scarface, without the cocaine. "A classy place," al-Hage says, and though there is a suggestion of maternal praise in his estimation, he is right that the club has no peer in Baghdad, in its scale, ambition or, most certainly, decor.


Red, golds and browns accent the chrome, leather, glass and faux alligator skin on the columns. The marble came from Lebanon, the parquet from Dubai and the furniture from Indonesia. A big-screen television is fastened to two-story windows that open to a triple-decked patio. There, patrons gaze on a view of the Tigris that was once the preserve of the palaces for Saddam Hussein's wife and brother-in-law.


At night, al-Hage mingles among the clubgoers, ever the host.


"I prefer to speak French, myself,'' he volunteered.


Al-Hage, who is Lebanese, proudly so, exudes a somewhat self-conscious panache that celebrates shatara — the Arabic word for cunning and guile with a hint of deception. (An example of shatara once overheard in Beirut: "I'm not going to cheat you," a landlord told a prospective tenant. "Well, I am going to cheat you, but not a lot.") He also has a knack for making money wherever he goes, however failed the state may be.


One of the Iraqi partners in the club, Jumaa al-Musawi, seemed to appreciate al-Hage's verve. The restaurant, he worried rightfully, was a hazardous adventure, but he said it was worth trying.


Compare that to al-Hage's take. "There's too much money here," he exclaimed. "Too much! Really a lot!"


Al-Hage, 51, is the most updated version of an old Lebanese story, that of a diaspora known for its willingness to follow commerce where it leads. Simply put, for a decade, he has trailed America's imperial pursuits. After helping build an airport in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, he stopped in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. For six years, he has come into and out of Iraq, where so many fortunes were made, via the American government, in construction and services. "Wherever the Americans are, we are," he said.


Then he smiled, flirtatiously. "Next," he said, "we're looking to go to Iran."


It cost $2.5 million to build the Lebanese Club, and its investors, Iraqi and Lebanese, suspect they can make their money back in a year. Even on a weekday night, the place is doing brisk business, as al-Hage manages to direct a staff of 150, 25 of them Lebanese. (The Lebanese chef earns the highest salary, $72,000, all expenses paid.)


"Take your time," someone told him, as he rushed from task to task."I will take. Don't worry," came his retort.


His cell phone rang, he bellowed into it.


"There's no electricity?'' he asked someone calling from his house, darkened by yet another power failure. "No electricity? Why? Send someone down to go check the breaker."


He complains about the hassles of exit visas — essentially, permission required for any visitor to leave Iraq _ and the temperatures (the forecast for Sunday was 114 degrees). The neighbourhood, he reluctantly admits, is too conservative to allow alcohol here. But for a man who says he works 17 hours a day, al-Hage manages to retain, and flaunt, his charm.


"Bonjour!" he shouted to six newly arrived Lebanese employees. He turned to an assistant. "See if they want something to eat! See if they want something to drink!"


Playing on speakers was an oldie from the Egyptian singer Abdel-Halim Hafez. "It's a long journey," the song went, "and in it, I'm a stranger."


Baghdad these days seems to crave a respite from dreary years of curfews, when locales shut down before nightfall and streets were deserted by dark. There is still a sense of crisis here, months having passed since the election in March with no new government in sight.




But ever resilient, the city shows signs of life. Teenagers do wheelies on their motorcycles down busy streets, and restaurants stay open till midnight. "Frere Jacques" played from a toy ride at one. Fish swam in the fountain at another.


By far, the fanciest cars — the Toyota Land Cruisers, Jeep Commanders and Hummers — are parked outside the Lebanese Club.


Since the club opened May 27, the ambassadors of France and Lebanon have dined here. So has the government spokesman, as well as the governor of Baghdad, the head of the committee charged with purging Baathists from the government and the national security minister. Some have even avoided the VIP room, with an annex for bodyguards, to mingle with the clientele.


"Baghdad is changing," said Amir Razzaq, drawing deep on a water pipe near the big-screen TV. "It's really changed. Now if they would only form a government." — New York Times News Service








Long before he learned to dunk on warped wooden backboards, Awet Eyob nursed a dream: to play basketball in America. He is 6 foot 8, built like an oak tree and seems to have mastered a behind—the—back dribble and crisp passes from the corner of his eye. But one big problem stood in his way: his homeland, Eritrea, an isolated, secretive nation in the Horn of Africa that is refusing to let its young people leave.


Eritrea, which fought its way to independence nearly 20 years ago, is ruled by hard-as-nails former guerrilla fighters who have held firm to their revolutionary Marxist policies and who demand that all young people work for the government, sometimes until their 40s. Anyone who tries to buck this national program, according to human rights groups, is subject to cruelly inventive tortures.


So this January, in great secrecy, Awet gathered four pairs of boxers, two pairs of socks, his high school transcript, his Air Jordans and some cash to pay a gang of human traffickers (or coyotes, as he calls them).


"I remember that first call," he said. "The coyote said: 'Hello, this is Sunshine.' I answered, 'This is Thunder.'"


Awet, 20, who is now living in Amman, Jordan, is the embodiment of Eritrea's lost generation. This tiny country is spawning more refugees per capita than just about anywhere else in the world, according to U.N. statistics, and most of them are young men, and often the country's most promising ones at that.


The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says that hundreds of thousands of people have fled Eritrea in recent years — the total population is less than 5 million — and nearly every day, 100 new Eritreans risk their lives to cross into Sudan, which is hardly a Shangri-La.


Some of these defections have been hard to miss. In December, the entire Eritrean national soccer team absconded to Kenya during a tournament. In 2004, some Eritrean refugees being sent home from Libya were so desperate not to return that they hijacked the plane.


Awet was lucky. Dressed in an extra, extra large gallebeyah (a long flowing gown common in the Muslim world), he sneaked through Sudan and then on to Kenya and Dubai. He is now camped out in the basement of an American family's home in Amman, Jordan, doing push-ups, working on his jump shot, playing on a Wii set with the family's children and trying to get into an American college or prep school.


A big reason why he has gotten this far is Matthew Smith, a gregarious, athletic American diplomat who befriended Awet a couple years ago on a basketball court in Asmara, Eritrea's capital, where Smith was working. Smith was impressed by the young man's game, but more than that, he was moved by Awet's burning ambition to break out of his hermetically sealed world.


"He wanted more and I could relate to that," said Smith, whose father was a taxi driver in Brooklyn. "Who would've ever thought the kid of a cabby and nanny could be a diplomat?"


Smith matched up Awet with an American basketball coach in Amman who is now training him.


"His skills were better than I expected," said the coach, Robert Taylor, who was sitting next to Awet on a stack of exercise mats in a high school gym. "No offence, Awet, but Eritrea isn't exactly known for its basketball."


If Eritrea is especially well-known for anything these days, it is for being a troublemaker in a very volatile neighbourhood. The nation has been accused of invading Djibouti in 2008 and fuelling chaos in Somalia by arming insurgent groups, prompting sanctions from the U.N. Security Council.


But Eritrea has a proud history, fighting a grueling 30-year guerrilla war to break away from Ethiopia.


Awet's name, in fact, means victory. He was born at home, by candlelight, in February 1990, on the eve of independence, right after a legendary battle. He was always big. He was selected to play for the national basketball team when he was 15, and earned the nickname King A. By Eritrean standards, he had an enviable life, with a wealthy merchant father, good grades, a touch of fame and several pairs of $100 Nikes.


But Dan Franch, his high school literature teacher, could tell Awet was not happy. "I knew he wanted to leave, and I didn't blame him," Franch said. "This place is becoming inert. You encourage students to apply to college overseas but their chances of going are one in a gazillion."


On the surface, life for young Eritreans does not look so bad. Asmara is littered with chrome—lined Art Deco cafes where young people sip cappuccinos and munch on pizza. But many young people complain (quietly) of being chained to dead-end government jobs. By law, mandatory national service is supposed to last 18 months. In reality, it is often indefinite, and few can get permits to exit the country until they are done serving. The government justifies this because of a highly militarized, unresolved border dispute with its neighbour, Ethiopia, nearly 20 times its size.


Awet says he probably will not see his parents for years because now that he has escaped, it will be dangerous to go back home.


At night, when he cannot sleep, he takes out a tiny prayer book his mother gave him — the cover is literally the size of a postage stamp — and thinks of her. Or he stretches out on a single bed with his feet nearly dangling off, listening to rap songs on his MP3 player and nurturing his dream.


"I used to dream about the money and the cars and the girls," he sings. "But now I see, because I'm sitting on top of the world." — New York Times News Service







With a former Chairman of Union Carbide India Limited, Keshub Mahindra, and seven others convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment by a trial court, the 26-year-old Bhopal tragedy case has reached a new stage.


The long wait for the families of thousands of victims who were either killed or seriously injured by toxic gas that leaked from the Union Carbide's chemical pesticide plant has not brought justice to these people, most of who are poor. This is a heart-rending case of justice delayed, justice denied. The subject therefore is back in the arena of public discussion.


Moves are on to take the issue to higher courts, either in India or the United States or both. Meanwhile questions are being raised and discussed over the whereabouts of Union Carbide Chairman Warren Anderson, the principal accused in the case and a proclaimed absconder. A hot question raised is who facilitated the escape of Anderson who visited Bhopal a couple of days after the disaster after being assured of "safe passage." He was arrested along with a few other executives of Union Carbide but freed and allowed to return to the United States.


The main issue


The key issue, as it often happens, is being sidetracked: it is the accountability and culpability of those in Bhopal and New Delhi who made the critical decisions preceding and following the calamity.


Going back to the archives of The Hindu to discover how a newspaper of record covered the Bhopal tragedy, poring over 26-year-old files, was an enlightening and moving experience. Readers below the age of 40 may benefit from this because most of them could not have read the news and analysis published in the first week of December 1984.


The first report on the tragedy, headlined "350 killed as poisonous gas leaks from Bhopal plant," was the lead story on page 1 of the issue dated December 4, 1984.


The opening paragraph reads: "At least 350 persons were killed and 2,000 badly affected when they inhaled poisonous gas, which leaked from an insecticide plant of the multinational Union Carbide company here early today." The 1,500-word story, compiled with Press Trust of India and United Press of India reports as input, said that 20,000 people were treated at hospitals. The factory was ordered closed after methyl isocyanate, stored in an underground tank of the plant located near the railway station, began leaking some time after midnight.


According to first reports, 2,00,000 people in Bhopal (25 per cent of the city's population) inhaled the killer gas and it affected them one way or another. The gas had spread over a 40 area and caught the sleeping population unawares.


The lead story provides comprehensive information related to the calamity — the treatment of the injured at different hospitals, the arrival of the Central Bureau of Investigation team, the house arrest of five senior officers of Union Carbide, the appointment of an enquiry committee, and the disruption of traffic. All that is expected in a report on a calamity is there in the report.


But although informative, the first report somehow fails to convey the enormity of the event, possibly because it looks like a patchwork of agency items. The supportive box has a lot of information on methyl isocyanate. A front page report carried an announcement that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had released Rs. 40 lakh for rehabilitation of the affected people.


The December 5 issue of The Hindu gives more information on the reasons and factors behind the tragedy and also cautions against the threat from a number of chemical units. It reveals that Union Carbide had stopped production of lethal gas worldwide. The lead story in the issue by a staffer revises the estimated death toll upwards to 1,000.


The leader, "The Bhopal tragedy", adds to the value of the paper's comprehensive coverage. It leaves nothing unsaid. However, it ought to be mentioned that pictorial coverage of the calamity was quite inadequate. There were only three photographs in all: one, Rajiv Gandhi consoling the victims, the second, a photograph of an injured family, and the third, a picture of the chemical factory.


Shocking failure


Characterising the "horrendous" tragedy as "the worst environmental disaster in history" and emphasising that treating the injured, rehabilitating them, and providing relief to the affected families was the immediate priority, the editorial was both comprehensive and precise. It honed in on "the fact that the highly toxic methyl isocyanate continued to leak for nearly an hour and turned the neighbourhood into a virtual gas chamber, made it clear that there had been an inexcusable failure to discharge the responsibility on the part of those engaged in an inherently hazardous activity."


The editorial noted that the State Government, which had been entrusted with the task of inspection and enforcement of regulations and of ensuring safety in factory operations, could not escape blame. It pointed out that it would be a worthwhile exercise for the State and Central teams engaged in examining the safety standards in the factory "to find out if these matched the safety standards built into a similar plant of the company in the United States" and whether the maintenance and operations were sound.


The leader made a pointed reference to the accident at a nuclear power plant in Three Mile Island in the United States, where, in contrast to the Bhopal case, "the safety systems came into play to prevent a major disaster and loss of lives." This led to a re-examination of the design, operations, and safety features in nuclear stations across the world and, as a result, the dangers associated with nuclear power plants have been drastically reduced. (The Three Mile Island accident, which occurred in March 1979, was the most serious in the commercial nuclear power plant operating history of the United States, though it did not cause any loss of life or injury.)


The editorial drew a lesson from this: "The Bhopal tragedy should trigger such an evaluation in the chemical industry, particularly where highly toxic and hazardous materials are involved."


It questioned the wisdom of building such industries in thickly populated areas. It called for "a close look at the regulations covering the production, handling and use of dangerous chemicals" and demanded that "in a matter affecting the lives and the health of the people, no slackness and no compromise should be allowed on such considerations as cost." The editorial concluded by stressing "the need for greater awareness and alert among the people" while sounding a caution against "allowing a hysteria to be built up against the chemical industry or any other."


The estimates of the death toll were rising by the day: from the 350 of December 4 to 2,500 by December 8. The Hindu's coverage picked up after December 6, with more staff journalists deployed to broaden and deepen the coverage of the calamity.


Insightful articles


Within a week, long reports and insightful articles began to appear from staff journalists, including veteran Political Correspondent G.K. Reddy and Washington Correspondent R. Chakrapani. These articles covered various aspects relevant to the calamity such as neutralisation of the poisonous gas, payment of compensation, legal initiatives, and the filing of cases seeking compensation in Indian and U.S. courts.


After verifying the details with his unmatched insider sources, G.K. Reddy reconstructed the arrest and release of Warren Anderson in Bhopal on December 7, 1984, which has become highly controversial now. In his report, "Union Carbide chief arrested and released" (December 8, 1984), he noted: "After the Central Government's intervention, it was stated that Mr. Anderson and others were only taken into protective custody and lodged in the company's guest house to save them from mob violence."


He interposed this comment: "But the arrest and release of Mr. Anderson, despite safe conduct assurances given to him, indicated the deplorable lack of coordination between the Central and State Governments." The Hindu's chief political correspondent offered this surmise: "It is quite possible that Mr. Rajiv Gandhi was not aware of the safe conduct assurance given to Mr. Anderson before he left the U.S. for India, since the Prime Minister had been away from Delhi campaigning in different States. So his Principal Secretary, Dr. P.C. Alexander, brought the facts to his notice today [December 7, 1984] while he was still in Madhya Pradesh, before the Centre intervened to secure Mr. Anderson's release and arrange for his flight to Delhi later tonight [December 7 night]".


Can there be a better example of fair, factual, and sober coverage of a calamity and the responses to it?








The proceedings of the Empowered Group of Ministers does not inspire much confidence that the lakhs of victims of the catastrophic Bhopal gas leak will get justice. In fact, it almost seems as if a second betrayal is on the cards. There are reports that the EGoM wants the Madhya Pradesh government to bury and clean up the toxic waste. This is shocking at a time when, following a petition in the high court, a technical subcommittee of the task force for removal of toxic waste has placed the onus on Dow Chemicals USA, which bought Union Carbide in 2001. It said Dow should take the entire toxic waste to the US for remediation.

While compensation and the rehabilitation of victims are important, it is equally necessary that all those in Union Carbide India Ltd who were responsible for this outrage be brought to book. Warren Anderson is not the only culprit who has gone scot-free. It is important to bring Warren Womar, who was UCIL's works manager, as well as Robert Kennedy, who succeeded Mr Anderson as chairman of Union Carbide Corporation, to stand trial in India. Mr Womar had shut down the Bhopal plant's refrigeration system — used to cool the methyl isocyanate (MIC) — in 1982, two years before disaster struck. The only time he used to switch on the refrigeration was when this extremely volatile and noxious chemical MIC was being transferred into the scevin pot for preparing the pesticide. The operation manual, on the other hand, clearly mandates that MIC should be kept below freezing point at all times. When the disaster took place, there was no safety system in place. Mr Kennedy took key decisions on to the plant's design, and he was aware that its safety system was substandard.
The CBI, in a chargesheet filed in December 1987, had said it wanted to investigate the American officials involved as well as inspect UCC's pesticide plant at Institute in West Virgina. It wanted to demonstrate that UCC had used double standards: that the Bhopal plant had inferior safety systems. The CBI team, accompanied by a leading scientist, went to the US in November 1988, but was told by the US justice department to first obtain permission from West Virginia state. The state authorities did not permit the visit. The justice department later granted permission, but it was too late. Coincidentally, on that day — February 14, 1989 — suddenly there was a Supreme Court-assisted $470 million compensation settlement between UCC and the Indian government. One of its conditions was quashing of all criminal cases, and due to this the inspection could not be carried out. The settlement — which incidentally was less than one-sixth of the $3 billion that the Indian government had initially demanded — was not the issue before the court. The issue was the Rs 350-crore interim relief granted by Bhopal's chief metropolitan magistrate, challenged by UCIL in the high court, which reduced it to Rs 250 crores, which in turn was challenged by both the Union of India and UCIL in the Supreme Court. This betrayal of Bhopal's victims by both the Indian government and the US multinational must now be undone by the EGoM.

Equally urgent is for the EGoM to get Dow Chemicals to accept responsibility for cleaning up the Bhopal plant and its surrounding area, or to get out of our country. Dow bought UCC in February 2001 and it cannot be released from its liability. Both the Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti and the Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sanghathan had in February 2001 asked the Bhopal magistrate to serve notice on Dow to appear on behalf of UCC in the ongoing criminal case. The magistrate's notice was, however, stayed by the MP high court in Jabalpur in January 2005, and Dow managed to get away. Instances of betrayal and scuttle in favour of the American company are too many to mention here, but now it is up to the EGoM to undo these and ensure real justice is delivered to the victims of Bhopal, who have had to wait far too long.








The Eighth Review Conference (Revcon) of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at New York narrowly eked out a victory from the jaws of defeat before it closed recently. Cheerleaders have been busy extolling this success which, however, consisted of little more than producing a 28-page declaration which marked no real advance over past positions.

But it would not be fair to sniff at even this. It was felt that a show of unity would at least start the process of rehabilitating the NPT. The breakout of North Korea and the defiance of Iran were seen as demonstrations of the impotence of the NPT. The last Revcon in 2005 had collapsed without an agreed statement due to Egypt's outrage at the failure to move forward on its West Asia nuclear-arms-free zone proposal and developing nations' anger at the United States for refusing to reaffirm disarmament pledges made in 1995 and 2000.
A repeat of the 2005 collapse would simply not do. Neither the nuclear weapon states (NWS) nor non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS) were prepared to be held responsible for another breakdown.

Another factor working in favour of the 2010 Revcon was the considerable goodwill for US President Barack Obama on the nuclear issue, and the widespread feeling that he needed a successful NPT Review to encourage him to travel further along the road to the vision of a nuclear weapon free world that he had laid out in his Prague speech in April 2009.

Under the NPT transfers of nuclear materials and technologies to NNWS were to be confined solely to "peaceful purposes" under a system of agreed safeguards and inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In return, Article VI of the NPT requires that the five nuclear-weapon states should pursue nuclear disarmament negotiations in good faith with the ultimate goal of "general and complete disarmament".


Dissatisfaction of NNWS at the persistent refusal of NWS to live up to their side of the nuclear bargain progressively sharpened acrimony.

An innovation of the 2010 Revcon was to separate the final declaration into two parts — the first a review of the operation of the NPT, which was merely noted, and the second, the conclusions and recommendations for follow-on action, which was adopted by consensus. While this made for a tedious document, it allowed steam to be let off by reflecting stronger positions in the preambular review, while more measured formulations which could command consensus were used in the operative part.

On nuclear disarmament, the NWS dug in their heels against any new commitments. Russia, France and Pakistan made clear that they saw a role for nuclear weapons well beyond deterrence.The NNWS were not able to extract a clear endorsement of working towards a nuclear weapons convention to outlaw nuclear weapons, as has been done for chemical and biological weapons. But the price the NWS had to pay for their hard-nosed attitude was inability to obtain endorsement of additional IAEA safeguards protocols, the crown jewels of the IAEA for targeting undeclared nuclear facilities, as the new minimum standard for nuclear trade.
There was also no agreement, as many NPT ideologues had hoped, on measures to hobble NPT members like North Korea from bolting from their NPT obligations under the withdrawal clause after benefiting from nuclear transfers as NNWS under the NPT. Instead of these central issues, the major focus of attention was on the concept of a nuclear weapons-free zone in West Asia, based on the unrealistic hope that this could constrain Israel to dismantle its nuclear arsenal and join the NPT as NNWS.

The idea had been proposed by Egypt in 1995 and became one of the essential parts of the deal to extend the NPT indefinitely. But the US has prevented any progress on this for the last 15 years. To its consternation this time, Israel found that the US did not block the proposal to hold a conference in 2012 on setting up the zone, and to appoint a facilitator. In addition, Israel was criticised by name for not being a party to the NPT, and for not placing its nuclear activities under international inspection. The US has since tried to placate Israel by pulling back from full endorsement of the conference proposal. So the Egyptian-led move may well turn out to be a pyrrhic victory.

Iran scored a diplomatic victory by getting off without being mentioned by name for non-compliance with IAEA safeguards. The reason was that Iran was prepared to wreck the conference on this issue, while the US and others were not. The Brazil-Turkey deal with Iran, which is attracting increasing support, has also blindsided the "Iran Six" and thrown the US off balance.

The importance of securing the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and starting negotiations on the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) was strongly emphasised at the Revcon. There was considerable frustration at Pakistan single-handedly holding up the start of negotiations on a FMCT in the Conference on Disarmament (CD).

Today only Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea are outside the NPT. Without being physically present, the shadow of these " outlier" countries hovered like Banco's ghost over the Revcon. NPT members are at their wit's end on how to deal with them. Israel was sought to be pressurised with the West Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. North Korea was roundly condemned and told it could never be designated a NWS. India and Pakistan are asked to join the NPT as NNWS in the preambular review but interestingly not mentioned in the operative conclusions and recommendations.

There have been periodic suggestions from international nuclear experts to recognise reality by co-opting non-NPT states with nuclear weapons through a separate protocol, with treatment akin to NWS without necessarily designating them as such. There is considerable resentment at the preferential treatment handed out to India, expressed most loudly by Iran.

The India-US civilian nuclear agreement and the endorsement of its provisions by the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the IAEA have brought India back into the international nuclear mainstream. Our civilian and strategic nuclear programme are now hardly affected by the NPT, with whose overall objectives India actually agrees. The regret is that the improved environment for nuclear disarmament was not utilised to make genuine progress at the Revcon.


Dilip Lahiri is a former ambassador to France








The public outrage over the shockingly inadequate punishment handed out to some of those responsible for the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984 has finally forced the government to sit up and take notice. After the initial shock was over, Bhopal appeared to have shifted to the backwaters of our public consciousness and was ignored as events overtook us.


In the interim, the number of victims has grown distressingly large and the compensation deal worked out by the government with Union Carbide has been exposed as shamefully small.

It is evident that without this sort of public pressure, our governments are slow to respond. Protected for years by a small middle class, a disinterested wealthy upper sliver of society and a large, ignorant and backward population, our rulers, leaders and public servants, have become arrogant and complacent.


A changing world, growing economic wealth and an information explosion has however made democracy a more answerable form of government. As Indians become aware of their rights, freed from the feudal mindset of the past, questions are being asked and answers demanded.

The confusion within the Congress party at the anger which it has faced for its apparent neglect of the gas victims, of the easy passage offered to Union Carbide with a minuscule compensation deal and the release of its chairman Warren Anderson demonstrates just how difficult political parties and government find this new form of participatory democracy.

Opposition parties are pressured by the same compulsions of their political rivals and cannot therefore fulfil their primary role.

The alacrity with which a Group of Ministers (GoM) has been organised to re-look at compensation and its disbursal, to hold Union Carbide responsible and re-consider prosecution of then chairman Anderson shows just how shaken the UPA government at the Centre is by public opinion.

As the GoM deliberates on its course of action, it could look to the $20 billion escrow account set up by BP following pressure put on it by US president Barack Obama over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. One of the many problems post-Bhopal is that the company was let off lightly on the presumption made then that India was a poor country and compensation was decided on that basis. That is in question now.






The alarm and dissent expressed by India's representative, Hardeep Singh Puri, at the United Nation on Maoist-affected areas as zones of armed conflict in a special report of the secretary-general's office is perhaps justified on legal grounds. Puri told the UN Security Council that it does not conform to the strict definitions of international law.

The alacrity was necessary before UN peace-keeping forces are dispatched to Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. But the heart of the matter in the report prepared by RathikaCoomaraswamy for the secretary general's office is the recruitment of children into the militia groups. She said that she was not looking at legal definitions but there was information about children being pressed into these militias.

The UN report need not be accepted on its face value. There are enough inaccuracies and even exaggeration in many of them. There is enough reason to be skeptical about much of what these reports might have to say. But there is need to sit up and take note of this particular issue and check out whether it is true, or partially true. It is a fact that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam, the terror group in Sri Lanka, had used child soldiers. And so do many of the rebel armies in central Africa. So, it is very much possible that the Maoists are recruiting teenagers from the villages in tribal belts to serve in the armed groups.

Puri had also informed the UN that the Indian government was addressing the issue. Is it? There is a need to know all about it. It is surprising that the government never let this bit of information into the public domain in the country, and it is not clear what action it is taking to protect children. In the tribal belts, adolescent boys and girls are considered young adults and they are allowed to take part in the community activities.


It is also learnt that these adolescents are not just part of the Maoist groups, but that they are also recruited by counter-insurgency groups like the Salwa Judum, backed by the security forces. The fact that strict definitions of under-aged youngsters do not count in the rural hinterland has to be reckoned with.

It does not however mean that it ceases to be an issue for that reason. If young people between the ages of 14 and 19 are being drawn into the vortex of violence by the Maoists as well as the security forces, then there is a crying need to address the problem appropriately and effectively.








The absence of a sense of national pride with the resolve that I will do my job to the best of my ability, come what may, is perhaps at the root of what's holding India back in the comity of nations.


Our penchant to blame politicians for all their shortcomings is one part of the story. The larger blame lies with each of the 300 million well-fed, well-educated Indians, who will demand benefits but not deliver to their fullest ability. Whether serving in the government, the public or the private sector, they will blame the "system" for all the ills.

All the law and order agencies, utility services and government administrative services where licences, ration cards, domicile and other certificates are issued, collectively make the "system" where harassment of the public and non-performance of duty is the norm.

If you compare India with the developed Western world and East Asian countries, you'll find that a genuine spirit of service and national pride is missing in Indians. What exist in its place are false notions of superiority. We become unstoppable when we speak of our ancient civilisation. 

The system is made up of the common man — the public "servant" (who sees himself more as lord and master), the bank clerk, the telephone operator and officials in any capacity — public or private. It will change for the better only when these common elements become conscious of national pride.

The way the red carpet was rolled out for the then Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson in the aftermath of the Bhopal gas tragedy is not just a prime example of our sense of inferiority before the white man, but also a systemic failure. Had the system worked, at every stage, the chief secretary and all his deputies would have cited procedures and advised the CM and the PM that Anderson cannot be released "because of the system".  

Realistically speaking, the India of 1984 was very different and backward and what was also missing was the shrill television journalism of today which would have made life hell for Anderson, Arjun Singh and Rajiv Gandhi.

Arresting celebrities for misdemeanours such as traffic violations — leave aside graver crimes — is a common occurrence in the US because even the lowest police official there takes pride in his work.

In that sense, a janitor (disparagingly called a  jamadar), who self-admires a toilet block that he's cleaned to perfection, has done more for the country than all the high-caste IAS bureaucrats and others who plead helplessness in bringing change in their spheres of influence.

A girlfriend who recently returned from China says that when offered a tip, the courteous cabbie there indicated that all he had done was his duty and the tip was unnecessary. My worst sight of "extracting" tips was at the Sahar International Airport's rest room, two decades ago, where attendants had removed toilet paper rolls and were handing them to foreigners for a tip of one dollar.

In Bangkok, a pleasant hotel employee was seen removing bags one after the other from the tourist bus, unmindful of the torrential rains. He had his job to be done and there was no time to wait for the rains to subside.

Each monsoon, the same spots and the same arteries in our metros get water-logged. It's the same blame game of why the storm water drains were not cleaned.  There are obviously isolated examples in all our cities, of people who inspire us by going out of their way to make a difference.

Fixing our system needs to be given paramount importance, because that's what's holding India back. The policies are fine but they don't work because a spirit of service and a sense of national pride which ought to shine in every Indian are missing.








Some months ago, listening to a talk by the Dalai Lama, I was struck by one of his remarks: "Paying attention to one's own needs is a producer of suffering; cherishing others (is) a giver of happiness." His emphasis on acting solely out of concern for others rather than from self-interest stayed with me because altruism has had a troubled place in the reigning climate of modern thought. 

Economic theory, based on the premise of homo economicus — economic man — acting rationally out of self-interest and selfishly, is uneasy with altruistic behaviour while the influential notion of  the 'selfish gene' in biology has been commonly misunderstood to mean that selfishness is essential to evolutionary success. Much of modern psychotherapy, too, believes that a 'healthy narcissism' is essential for mental health, maintaining that a person can love others only if he first loves himself.

Was the Dalai Lama, I wondered, like all religious-spiritual sages, talking about human nature as it should be and not as it is? Mahatma Gandhi, too, had considered altruism "a test of true spirituality. All our prayers, fastings and observances are empty nothing so long as we do not feel a live kinship with all life." Were they both talking of the few spiritually evolved people and not us ordinary mortals who rarely take off the armour of self-centredness that encases us?

Yet, further exploration and reflection convinced me that this dichotomy between egotism and altruism is false. It seems that doing good to others is doing good to yourself. Altruism and narcissism are not in conflict but complementary; indeed, they are inextricable, the former being a significant contributor to the raising of an individual's self-esteem.

This advocacy of altruism is not an ideological stance, underlined only by the authority of great souls or wise sayings which may or may not be true, but very much a matter of empirical fact. And here I am not only talking of psychological well-being and happiness, which some may consider as vague categories, but of concrete, physical health. The benefits of altruistic, helping behaviour are so large that they even show up in improved health and longer lifespans.

In a large, longitudinal study from the US, those who reported giving more help and support to spouses, friends and relatives went on to live longer than those who gave less, whereas the amount of help that people reported receiving showed no relationship to their longevity. In other words, it is indeed more blessed to give than to receive. Since this particular study also studied the effect of specific altruistic actions, it might be of interest to give some details regarding these.

As we all know, aspirin is often prescribed as a preventive to those at risk of heart attack. However, helping another person has a five-fold greater positive effect on longevity than the ingestion of aspirin. Just to listen to another person is twice as good as aspirin for one's survival.

Indeed, recent research in social neurosciences suggests that empathy, and helping behaviour that is motivated by empathy, may be wired into our brains. Witnessing the pain of a stranger activates a similar 'pain network' in our brains, the so-called 'mirror neurons', although in contrast to women this empathy reaction almost disappears in men (society's designated 'punishers') if the stranger is perceived to be a 'bad' person.  To witness good deeds — altruistic behaviour — gives rise to feelings of elation (some call them religious feelings), that are physiologically related to the rewarding release of the hormone oxytocin.

In an ingenuous experiment, the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt gathered 45 nursing mothers with their infants in a psychological laboratory where half were shown videos depicting altruistic behaviour while the others watched comedy videos. Almost half the mothers who were shown the morally uplifting video showed increased milk flow, or nursed their babies after watching the video, while only a very few mothers did so after watching the comedians. The first group also turned towards their babies more, touching them and clasping them to their breasts. Haidt comments: "The effect was one of the biggest I ever saw."

Other experiments demonstrate the presence of altruistic behaviour in children as young as 18 months and even in two- to three-year-old chimpanzees that spontaneously help a familiar adult who appears in some distress.

In other words, acting on the Golden Rule, 'Do unto others what you would have them do unto you', present in various forms in all the world's religions, may not only be vital for an individual's spiritual progress but also for his physical health and psychological happiness. The Dalai Lama's remark, then, is not only a moral exhortation but an empirical truth, an evolutionary reality rather than a utopian dream.









Biennial elections for 55 Rajya Sabha seats from 13 states and the by-election for one seat from Rajasthan were fiercely contested. Compared with their colleagues in the Lok Sabha, those in the House of Elders are considered different in style and substance. But the manner in which political parties conducted themselves in the Rajya Sabha elections this time leaves much to be desired. According to the National Election Watch (NEW), despite most leaders' concern about the increasing influence of crime and money in the elections, the trend continued in the Rajya Sabha polls too. Even for this House, where elections are indirect and a candidate does not have to go to the public, political parties have nominated candidates with criminal antecedents and high asset value. In all, 15 elected MPs have criminal records and 80 per cent of the new members are crorepatis, according to a NEW survey.


The BJP has suspended three of its MLAs from Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar for cross-voting or abstention in the elections. In Rajasthan, it has urged the Election Commission to disqualify 17 Congress MLAs on the ground that they had defied their party whip and voted for BJP candidates. However, the BJP's own conduct in Rajasthan was questionable. As many as 79 of its MLAs were herded into a resort near Jaipur over fears that cross-voting could harm its candidate, Mr Ram Jethmalani's prospects. Hijacking of MLAs to prevent poaching, restricted so far during confidence vote in the states, has now been extended to the Rajya Sabha elections. Mr Jethmalani has won the election. Liquor baron Vijay Mallya from Karnataka entered the fray with the backing of 27 JD (S) MLAs and an Independent. He won after the BJP transferred all its 120 second preference votes. Similarly, Alchemist Chairman, K.D. Singh, who hails from Chandigarh, got elected from Jharkhand.


The Rajya Sabha is a legislative chamber of elders to examine and revise legislation; to project and safeguard the states' interests; and to deliberate on issues where greater and diverse experience is brought to bear. It can play its mandated role only if all members do their homework and participate in parliamentary work. Sadly, serious debate on burning issues has become a casualty in Parliament because of the members' excessive indulgence in politics. This kind of attitude will have to change for the better.








The more things change, the more they remain the same, it seems. In November last, Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee ordered the removal of the chiefs of all 20 railway recruitment boards following complaints that the tests had been rigged in favour of candidates belonging to a particular state. Yet, this Friday, the Railway Ministry had to suspend S.M.Sharma, the Mumbai Recruitment Board Chairman, after his son was arrested by the CBI in a recruitment scam whose very scale takes one's breath away. The kingpin of the scam was a former Additional Divisional Railway Manager of Raipur, A.K. Jagannatham, at present CEO of the Hassan-Mangalore Railway Development Corporation. The gang in connivance with officials of the Mumbai recruitment board charged Rs 3.5 lakh from each candidate for leaking out the paper of the examinations for posts of assistant loco pilot and assistant station master.


It was apparently a well-oiled operation, with agents all over the country. The aspirants were asked to pay huge amounts of money and deposit their original certificates with Jagannatham. Since 444 certificates have already been recovered, there are reasons to suspect that the scam may be worth more than Rs 20 crore. There is need to find out if equally fishy things were happening in other recruitment boards also.


It is not only a case of gross corruption but also of public safety. One can well imagine how dependable and professional the candidates who become assistant loco pilots and assistant station masters on the basis of rigged examinations would be. There is need for a thorough overhaul of the recruitment process in the railways. It has become imperative to put in place a mechanism for centralised monitoring of the process. Even that will help only if the central authorities themselves are strictly above board. There are allegations that there has been gross violation of rules in regularisation of the services of contract workers of the Metro Railway in Kolkata, with many of the recent posts having gone exclusively to supporters of the Trinamool Congress or the Congress.









ON the face of it, the Haryana government's move to appoint a one-man inquiry commission to look into the incident at Mirchpur is innocuous enough. But it would have carried far more conviction if the government had constituted it immediately after the carnage on April 21 and not waited two long months before doing so. During this period, after all, administrative inquiries have been done and several fact-finding missions have already submitted their reports. Even the Supreme Court of India has directed two lawyers to independently inquire into the sequence of events and report to the apex court. One more judicial inquiry, therefore, would either indicate that the state government itself is not satisfied with reports submitted by the district officials or it could be conscious of a deepening credibility gap, necessitating the appointment of a retired high court judge to go through the motions all over again.


What is also suspect are the terms of reference. The inquiry commission is entrusted with the task of going into the circumstances leading to the death of a polio-stricken girl and her father and identifying people responsible for the loss of life and property. Most importantly, the commission is also to consider the steps taken by the state government and the compensation paid to the affected families. If the terms of reference look comic, the state government has only itself to blame. It dragged its feet for 48 hours after 35 Dalit houses were torched and destroyed and 50 more houses ransacked. It was goaded into arresting 29 of the 43 named accused only after the victims refused to cremate the bodies of the father and daughter, who had been burnt alive. Action was taken against the SHO of Narnaund and a Naib-Tehsildar for dereliction of duty only after sustained public pressure. And it has taken no action against senior district officials even after it was pointed out that the FIRs had not properly mentioned the sub-sections of the SC & ST ( Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which might enable the accused to get away lightly.


What was needed far more urgently was a swift investigation by a Special Investigating Team because of the Dalits' lack of faith in the local police. What was also necessary is the constitution of a fast-track court to deal with the case on a day-to-day basis.

















The police today have to handle problems which are more complex than ever before. From the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack to the Maoist killings at Dantewada to the derailment of trains, the battlefield has not only expanded considerably but has also become multi-dimensional.


The world is constantly and rapidly changing, but the policeman is stuck in the first gear. Sucked into the unstable security environment, he is out of sync with the fast moving events. He makes mere noise, but no impact.  Increasing resentment among the people owing to his dissatisfactory performance, unimaginative and uninspiring leadership, clinging to outmoded views, lack of openness and low self-esteem make the Indian policeman a bad joke of society.


The Police Act of 1861 has remained unchanged. There is a crisis of leadership in the police. The situation has worsened with many senior police officers cooling their heels in jails. An IGP is undergoing life imprisonment in the Shivani murder case. In the Ruchika molestation case, a DGP is in jail. Another IGP is facing serious charges of molestation. Some time back a DGP-level officer was caught red-handed taking a bribe. Another DGP went to jail for a fake encounter.


Recently an STF chief and his team were caught on camera extorting money from a businessman. Mumbai encounter specialists are in jail for having links with the underworld. In Gujrat, senior IPS officers like Vanzara are facing trial for false encounters. The malady is getting widespread. The police is fast acquiring the dark hues of the underworld. How can the public and the juniors in the police department have respect for such police officers? The land mafia is finding in the police a valuable ally. 


The officers playing the leading role lack the ability to motivate and inspire the force. The result is a multiple-personality disorder. The psychosomatic manifestation is cynicism, diluted loyalty and total loss of respect for seniors. An ordinary cop in the street is adrift in the whirlpool of differing views. He ultimately finds succour in the arms of a small-time "neta", a goon or a local godfather. The leaders have a flat-footed approach and are hardly aware of the mood of the force and the ground reality. The police department in most states is fast becoming a malfunctioning machine for which there are no spare parts.


There is a big communication gap between the cop on the beat and his superiors. A similar situation exists between the police and society at large. What is missing in trust, which cannot be fabricated in an ad-hoc manner. Sincerity cannot be faked for long. Effective two-way communication demands that we easily understand what both sides intend to say. They must learn to speak the language of logic. Decisions are made with little awareness of the situation. The relationship in the police is not task-focused but personality-focused. Subordinates are not bound to perform but to please their superiors. Achievements are not measured by the criteria of contribution and performance. This leads to frustration and a listless approach to duty.


The police do not function in a political or social vacuum. Policing is a part of the national ethos. Honest and well-meaning people get an honest and well-meaning police.


Ben Whitaker remarked, "The public uses the police as a scapegoat for its neurotic attitude towards crime. Janus-like, we have always turned two faces towards a policeman. We expect him to be human and yet inhuman. We ask him to administer law and yet ask him to waive it. We resent him when he enforces a law in our own case, yet demand his dismissal when he does not elsewhere. We offer him bribe, yet denounce his corruption."


One of the hallmarks of effective police leadership is the translation of positive intentions into tangible results. The law of diminishing returns says that the longer you wait to implement a new idea or strategy, the less enthusiasm you will have for it. Leadership is not about popularity. It is about integrity. It is not about power. It is about purpose. Effective leadership is persuasion, not domination. A skilled leader creates a cohesive and mission-oriented team. Leadership is the recognition of spiritual maturity, proven character and the reputation you have developed.


There is a difference between a boss and a leader. A boss depends on authority, but a leader depends on goodwill. A boss inspires fear, but a leader inspires enthusiasm. A leader says "we", but a boss says "I". A boss fixes the blame, but a leader fixes the breakdown. The police have more bosses than leaders. There is no such thing as an unmotivated cop; it is only an unmotivated employee. Police bosses are the cause for more fury and frustration than productivity. They rarely inspire. For senior policemen, taking care of the interests of the politician in power is more important than anything else.


Drastic steps are called for to make the police deliver the goods. There should be a performance review after 20 or 25 years of service in the IPS. Those not up to the mark should not be given promotion. They should be retired. Around 90 per cent of the IPS officers do not go on Central deputation. They like to live in the comfort of their home cadre and cultivate politicians. Officers with flexible morals and scruples suit the politicians in power. The more flexible and spineless the officers are, the  better it is for the political bosses.


As long as we have the police as a state subject, the maladies of policing will continue. The best solution will be to make the police a Union subject. The police should be free from political shackles. There is too much government and too little governance; too much talk and too little action; too many laws and too little justice.


Those in the leadership role will have to straddle the extremes, incorporating the skills of a generalist and a specialist, a visionary and an operational man with a human touch. The changing scenario demands re-definition of old concepts.


The writer is a former Additional DGP, Haryana. He is currently training the Delhi police for the coming Commonwealth Games








ONE of my chums once asked for my objective opinion about a particular school before applying there for his son's admission. He maintained that he had carried out an elaborate survey about various boarding schools but found them all extremely average, with amazing dullness. His only choice ultimately zeroed down to this school, continued Markanday.


I was over-run by the linguistic paradox of the English language. It is perhaps the only language where two words even with contradictory meaning can be used concurrently — Oxymoron, to be precise.


The school management is very meticulous, admits only a small crowd in each class. According to his exact estimate, it was the least expensive public school in the region.


We decided to visit the campus one Sunday morning with families before dark sunshine. Having clearly misunderstood me, he invaded my residence in his Mercedes, which was fully empty. En route, to our utter dismay, we found the traffic on Pinjore-Parwanoo stretch pretty ugly, which appeared to be an organised mess created by traffic cops. They were behaving in a seriously funny manner. We tried to trace the officer, but he was found missing. Forced to act naturally, the only option was to fall in line, and keep crawling at a snail's pace.


Driving on serpentine hilly roads with sharp curves was a real test of dynamic equilibrium. I felt proud of my negotiating skills, not shying from forward retreats at times. I knew, even an ounce of negligence could turn simply awesome.


The headmaster emerged out of his busy leisure to satiate our queries. The students were rehearsing for the annual event. There was, nevertheless, deafening silence that ruled the environs. A few innocent truants who were regularly irregular had been lined up to uncurl their eccentricities.


The bursar confided an open secret that the students were kept engaged throughout the day. It was amazing to see the gleaming students wearing glossy smiles on their sleeves.


Luckily, my son and daughter and Markanday's son were among eight out of 50-odd aspirants from seven States, who cleared the written test. It was the parents' turn thereafter for an absorbing interview. Eventually the admission was confirmed. Original copies of certificates were deposited.


When we finally dropped our children in the hostel, the moment turned bitter sweet, bitter because of separation and sweet because of re-styling of their career in a reputed institute, in sharp contrast to my own alma mater, TCS Convent (Tappar Chakk School) in Bawal.


As we parted, we were falling like living dead. We were screaming silently, as we waded back. In our homes which used to bustle with noise, silence whistled. With lots of time at our disposal, we felt happily re-married, re-inventing our old matrimonial contours. You dare not challenge the statement as a true lie or false truth! ?









IT has been one globe economically, a global village, for decades now. The war among major economies is no longer fought on the seas, or on land with massive armies, but in boardrooms and markets. That China is a communist state politically is no longer a concern. The competition is economic, for instance, whether China's semi-capitalistic economy, having already surpassed the great France and Germany, will soon surpass the Japanese to become the second largest economy behind the United States of America.


The concern in the U.S. is not which country has the largest navy or nuclear arsenal, but whether China, Japan and the oil exporting nations will continue to buy U.S. treasuries, and hold the dollars in their central bank reserves, happy to be the largest foreign holders of U.S. debt issues. The global village aspect and their economic dependence on each other can be seen in the way global economies enter and exit recessions and depressions together, and see their stock markets enter and exit bull and bear markets together.


It is not shocking that the economic worries blowing over Europe this year have circled the globe, including the emerging markets. Chilly winds blowing in China haven't attracted as much attention yet, but may soon turn into unforgiving storms.



China's economy has been growing at an astounding pace for years, which has not escaped the attention of global investors. China's stock market gained 500% from its low in 2005 to its high in late 2007. It then plunged 74% in the global bear market of 2007-2009. And it subsequently surged up 109% in the new bull market (while the U.S. market gained 'only' 82% to its recent peak).


However, there hasn't been much recognition that the Chinese shares have declined around 28%, officially into another bear market, even as its economy remains one of the strongest. Stock markets typically look ahead six to eight months and react now to what they expect economies to be six to eight months in the future. Is China's stock market forecasting trouble ahead for the Chinese economic system?


That's a relevant question given how important China's booming economy has been to the still fragile global economic recoveries. Prosperous Chinese consumers are consuming in the exports of other countries at such a fast pace that China's imports at the end of March were 65% higher than a year ago (China's had the largest trade deficit in over six years.)


So, what seems to be the potential problem that has had the Chinese stocks unable to stand since July 2009, well before the debt crisis in Europe popped up?


It is probable that the real estate in China has developed a bubble, and the stock markets very well know what bursting real estate bubbles do to economies. Real estate prices in the Dragon's land have been rising sharply for several years and soared at a record pace in March, up an average of almost 12%, but more than 50% in some overheated cities, from a year earlier.


Their government is obviously worried, and trying to let the air out of the balloon in a very controlled manner. It has raised the amount of reserves its banking system must hold, thus discouraging excessive lending, raised mortgage rates and the size of required down-payments. Most dramatically it is now requiring 35-40% down payments on second homes in an effort to stop the rampant 'flipping' of realty for fast profits by speculators.


We have also seen lately that large global investors like BlackRock, the mammoth New York mutual fund group, and Boston's State Street Global Advisers, are among the sellers of Chinese stocks, BlackRock indicating it believes China's economic growth has peaked, that the efforts of the Chinese government to cool off its realty will have a negative effect on the overall Chinese economy.


The yield spread on $ 350 million of 13.5 per cent notes sold by Shenzhen-based Kaisa last month widened most of the nine issues, expanding to 16.52 percentage points from 11.07 percentage points. China property developers paid coupons as high as 14 per cent to issue dollar debt this year, compared with an average 9.2 per cent for other companies in Asia and 6.2 per cent for U.S. property companies. On average, Chinese property companies are paying a 10.875 per cent coupon.


A booming realty market has an amazing effect on economies, creating jobs and business for all manner of supporting industries across all spectrums like producers of construction, electrical, and plumbing materials, furniture and appliance manufacturers etc. Letting air out of the real estate bubble in China is definitely crucial, but it surely raises a lot of questions on China's overall economy, which is now more than important to fragile global economic recoveries.


China's situation at present quite resembles the Japanese situation in the late 1980s, when the authorities, reacting to the export slump due to the upward revaluation of the yen after the 1985 Plaza Accord, adopted a very low interest rate regime in order to boost domestic demand — and thereby created the conditions that led to an economic bubble. The question arises whether the Chinese economy, and its realty market in particular, is at risk for a similar asset bubble.


Additionally, over the last 14 years, China's economy has grown a whopping eight-fold, to $ 4.9 trillion, and it has quickly soared to become the world's third-largest economy. During the same period, the U.S. economy has only doubled in size. As far as currencies are concerned, the dramatic outperformance of the Chinese economy relative to the U.S. economy would normally be reflected in a much stronger Chinese currency.


But China controls the value of its currency. They allowed it to strengthen only 18 per cent during those 14 years — a mere drop in the bucket, keeping the advantage squarely in China's court. Moreover, since the financial crisis and global recession kicked in two years ago, China has returned to a peg against the dollar, artificially keeping its goods cheap for a weaker U.S. consumer and undercutting its export-centric competitors. Here's the problem: The global trade imbalance driven by China's cheap currency is a recipe for more frequent boom and bust cycles.


The economic tornados in the great Europe are more than enough potential problems to keep global investors busy, but the economic clouds potentially forming on the Great Wall of China also need to be carefully watched, which could ultimately slowdown the growth rate to 7-8 per cent.


Are the great bulls listening?

The writer is the CEO of India Forex Advisors








Whether the census operations for the year 2011 should reflect the caste of India's citizens is hotly debated. Political parties, NGOs, social organisations and professional experts are airing their respective viewpoints through all channels of the media. A complete mess has been created over the issue. At the same time Parliament has failed to give any direction over the issue.


Ultimately, the Union Cabinet has constituted a Group of Ministers to ascertain a way out and bring before Parliament the decision of the Government of India for an appropriate solution of the problem. The Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and the backward classes have been provided special rights, privileges and concessions in about a dozen Articles which are included in the Constitution of India.


The Preamble of the Indian Constitution describes the resolve of the people of India in bold letters to provide for and secure to all Indian citizens justice, liberty,equality and fraternity. It was with these high ideals of universal human society to be established in India that the Constitution was drafted by Dr Baba Saheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar and approved by the Constituent Assembly in 1950.


At the same time the framers of our Constitution realised that certain communities and castes were suffering from extreme social, educational and economic backwardness arising out of the age-old practice of untouchability and other factors such as primitive agricultural practices, lack of infrastructure facilities and geographical isolation. Hence, the need for special consideration and safeguarding their interests for the accelerated socio-economic development of these communities which were notified as the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes as per provisions contained in Clause I of Articles 341 and 342 of the Constitution, respectively.


With a view to providing safeguards against the exploitation of the SCs and the STs, as they were grossly handicapped in getting their reasonable share in elected offices, government jobs and educational institutions, it was considered necessary to follow a policy of reservations in their favour to ensure their equitable participation in governance.


For the effective implementation of various safeguards provided in the Constitution for the SCs and the STs, various other protective legislation and safeguards are provided under Article 46 which is meant for promoting the educational and economic interests of these castes and tribes with a view to ensuring social justice to them.


Article 17 of the Constitution of India is aimed at removing untouchability attached to the castes which are listed as the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes under the President of India's order, in the year 1955 its practice was made an offence punishable by law known as the Atrocities Act of 1989.


The said Act also provides for special courts at the district and state levels, including monitoring machinery, which were constituted by every state government.


Article 23 of the Constitution of India provides for a ban on trafficking in human beings, including beggars.


Article 25 (2) of the Constitution of India ensures that all Hindu religious institutions are thrown open to all people without the consideration of caste.

Articles 15(4), 16-4(i), 16-4(A), 330, 332, 334 and 335 of the Constitution of India provide that all these rights are to be implemented in India keeping in view the percentage of the population of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.


There is no way to find out the real percentage of their population without mentioning the caste in the census operation. The non-mention of caste in the national census will mean denying them their fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution. I, therefore, caution the Government of India against entertaining any suggestion made by the political parties against the inclusion of caste in the census operations of the year 2011. Only strict implementation of this provision will meet the ends of social justice.


The writer is a former Home Minister of India








The fashion frat is over the moon as the Mumbai High Court has ruled that designers are entitled to an income tax exemption given to other artists. Tarun Tahiliani was the most jubilant as he won his long-drawn battle against the Income Tax Department seeking relief.


Tarun is, of course, now a hero in the fashion industry. The designers feel that he has proved that designers have the same stature as artists. Rohit Bal, the king of fashion, has just got back from hospital after a heart attack. He hosted a party at his restaurant Veda in Connaught Place for his friends to appreciate Tarun's hard work and the tax gift to designers.


Tarun and Rohit Bal feel that showcasing their talent abroad is a legitimate means of carrying forward Indian culture and at the same time helps swell the foreign exchange coffers of the nation. Our designers are today appreciated in the West even as India is the flavour of the moment. A Rohit Bal ordinary T-shirt in Selfridges, London, can now cost you up to Rs 20,000 and wedding lehengas from our top designers can cost you up to Rs 10 lakh abroad. But all this has left most of the industry still in the cold.



Anderson, the Bhopal tragedy culprit, we all now know was flown in a government plane and set free immediately. Was this a responsible act? Personal friendships of businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats can go far above the law. Anderson's coffers at the time were open for politicians and the bureaucracy. His seven-star company guesthouse was often used by men in power. He funded charities run by politicians. Ruling politicians enjoyed his hospitality on holidays in America. So the use of official machinery to free a murderer was actually a return of past favours. Right after the tragedy, Rajiv Gandhi visited Bhopal and said in a speech that 'action' would be taken. Within five minutes Arjun Singh turned the word 'action' into 'compensation' and said that 'compensation' would be given. Unfortunately, the state government eventually made sure that there was neither 'action' nor 'compensation'.


Congressmen in Delhi carry cuttings of old newspapers where all this has been quoted. Everybody has come off badly in the aftermath of the tragedy; the government of the day, the investigating agencies and the judiciary. Will 93-year-old Anderson's extradition now heal the wounds of Bhopal? Why don't we concentrate on giving a larger compensation package for the remaining victims and ensure it is properly disbursed and then make tighter laws to prevent future Bhopals from happening.



Delhi-ites are cheering – cheers for the new licences to smaller eateries to serve beer and wine. Specialised eating places other than the five stars have always been a major draw for those celebrating high life. Today the true literate like to shun the more obvious five-star culture simply because it is so predictable. While hotels too have been forced to upgrade their dining facilities, the thrill of seeking the 'dice' is a gourmet's delight.


Now with the booze licences, 'sada Dilliwalas' will be able to indulge themselves fully. Will drunken driving and brawls explode as a result? Unlikely, say those who insist that Delhi must host Commonwealth Games like a global, grown-up city.









 What is wrong with Indian television? The day before the India-Pakistan game, one news channel ran a blaring day-long promo with the headline, 'Lanka mein Ravan vadh' with Dhoni being depicted as Ram and Shahid Afridi as a 10-headed Pakistani monster. All right, George Orwell once argued that sport is 'war minus the shooting' but really, is this kind of mythological imagery acceptable as serious news? In a week when the Foreign Secretary goes to Islamabad for talks and the Home Minister will follow for another meeting, the stereotyping is a reminder of how juvenile some of our television news coverage can be.

The late foreign secretary J N Dixit once argued that the vast gulf between India and Pakistan came home to him one day when at a Pakistani host's dinner table, the child of the house ran in shouting "Hindustani kutta, kutta, Hindustani kutta'. His hosts were terribly embarrassed but the child was only repeating what he had read in his school textbooks. On this side of the border, maybe we don't have such textbooks but we do have a television industry with few controls and the propensity to produce all kinds of mindless programming in pursuit of TRP ratings. The Afridi as Ravan imagery can be dismissed as a bad joke but imagine the message it leaves for any children watching.

There is a deeper structural problem here. Part of it is that any discussion of broadcast reform in India gets stuck between two poles: the controlling impulses of a state always looking to turn the clock back and take back lost control and the need to maintain the independence of news television. For all its flaws, the creation of the Indian satellite news industry has been a landmark struggle unparalleled in the history of global news and the fear has always been that any attempt at regulation risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Yet, some kind of a real watchdog there must be. In a different context, the untamed impulses of Wall Street's bankers that led to the global economic crisis are an example of what unbridled laissez faire can lead to.

Fifteen years after the landmark Supreme Court judgment that freed the airwaves, India remains the most unregulated television market in the world and while this suits the owners and the editors in their no-holds barred quest for revenues, the need for an unbiased oversight body comprising all stakeholders is being felt more than ever. What we have in the form of oversight today in news television is tall promises of selfregulation that are given with seeming sincerity but always fall prey to the weekly tyranny of ratings.
   Partly because of the unique manner in which the satellite television industry grew in its initial years as an illegal medium, there is still no overarching regulatory body to oversee broadcasting issues. There is no Indian equivalent of the American Federal Communication Commission and Indian broadcasting remains highly unregulated, stuck within a confusing maze of overlapping controls. For instance, India is one of the few developed TV markets with no cross-media ownership laws.

 In a sense, Indian television has continued to operate in a legal framework that is more akin to that utterly untranslatable North Indian word: jugaad. Jaipal Reddy's Broadcasting Bill of 1997 was based on British law after studying the broadcasting systems of six countries-USA, UK, France, Germany, Italy and Australia - and sought to create a new legal structure for broadcasting but disappeared into oblivion when the Gujral government fell. Priyaranjan Dasmunshi's draconian version of such a Bill is now on the backburner. Since the 1995 Cable Networks Regulation Act (which has limited uses), Parliament has only managed to pass one major broadcasting-related bill – the 2007 Act on mandatory sharing of sports feeds. And that only passed because of the immense drawing power of cricket.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has periodically tried to fill the regulatory vacuum with draft legislation and summary executive directives/notifications, most of these designed to assert its control. It has consistently tried to put the genie of broadcasting back into the bottle, even if the current dispensation in the Ministry appears relatively more benign.

War, they say should never be left to the generals alone. Television, similarly, is perhaps too pervasive an influence to be left entirely to the judgment of the industry alone. Otherwise Afridi will continue to turn into Ravan on TV.


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Reignited fraternal ties, it seems, form the basis of Mukesh Ambani's dream to build an "ignited corporation". This underlying fact comes through very clearly from the growth strategy spelt out by Mr Ambani at the annual general meeting (AGM) of Reliance Industries Limited (RIL). "Think Growth" and "Think Transformation" while thinking of Reliance, said the backdrop to the stage where Mr Ambani posed for photographs. The growth that the elder Mr Ambani seeks now comes at least in significant part from business areas that had been given away, through a non-compete agreement, to younger brother Anil Ambani. The recent rapprochement between the brothers will enable the cash-rich elder brother to seek growth through investment in areas like power and telecommunication. In both sectors, the synergies are significant. The win-win deal between the brothers is based on the acknowledgment of the fact that the elder's cash will now be available to the younger Mr Ambani's plans and possibilities. The latter needs liquidity, the former needs growth opportunity.


The potential for synergy and growth also exists in areas like retailing where the elder Mr Ambani did not do very well in the past but can now benefit from the experience of the younger Mr Ambani, who has a proven track record in the retail business. The bottom line, however, is that while Mukesh Ambani has plenty of investible resources and needs new avenues for growth to deploy these resources, Anil Ambani needs the cash to grow his businesses. This is the kind of portfolio rebalancing that the shareholders of both brothers will be happy about. Perhaps there is some nervousness among shareholders that the rapprochement is not yet complete and irreversible. Which is probably why the stock market reacted with some concern when the younger Mr Ambani failed to show up at the AGM.


Mukesh Ambani, however, had good reasons for offering an upbeat assessment of his company's future prospects. Both in power and telecom, RIL can find new growth opportunities. It remains to be seen if RIL is equally lucky in retail having so far failed to make an impact. The elder Mr Ambani's strengths thus far have been in manufacturing and infrastructure, not so in services. It is the younger Mr Ambani who has done well in the services sector. What is clear, however, is that the coming together of the two quarrelling brothers can help not just their respective families but also their shareholders and, it seems, all the stakeholders. While the new brotherly bonhomie and the optimism about new growth prospects for the family's businesses give a whole new meaning to the concept of "inclusive growth", the Ambani brothers must pay equal attention to the challenge of the other contemporary buzzword — good governance. More so because if the two companies truly join forces, there could be the risk of excessive concentration of market power within one family. Given the size of the family's businesses, and the share of their market capitalisation in national income, it is imperative for India's future development that RIL and ADAG also acquire a sterling reputation for good governance. Mukesh Ambani's decision to borrow a term from former President A P J Abdul Kalam (Ignited Minds) suggests that his growth strategy is based on "unleashing the power within" — the book's sub-title. The new unity within the family, it seems, is expected at least in part to unleash this internal power, to the benefit of the shareholder.










The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has been taking one step after another to protect the interest of the savings classes. Some weeks ago, it changed the formula for calculating the savings bank interest rate. Till March 31, 2010, the interest on savings bank accounts was paid on the minimum balance held between the 10th and 30th/31st of every month. With effect from April, 1, 2010, the effective rate of interest in savings bank accounts, under a new methodology, is calculated on a daily balance basis, instead of on the lowest available balance. Last week, RBI took yet another step by canvassing the idea that savings bank account interest rates be deregulated. The existing regime of a fixed rate for savings bank accounts, with the present rate being 3.5 per cent, has outlived its purpose. Indeed, the savings bank interest rate is the only rate in the banking system where an administered price still prevails. At a time when rates are likely to go north, there should be no concern that deregulation would drive down rates. Rather, there may be some concern in banks that competition will drive them up. The central bank should give flexibility to individual banks so that those that wish to adopt intermediate strategies of offering a minimum rate of interest up to a certain level of deposit and higher rates for larger deposits are allowed to do so. The existing system is based on discontinuity between current, savings and fixed deposits. This need not remain so. A current account can graduate into a savings account if account holders maintain some fixed minimum balance. That minimum deposit would earn a rate of interest that could rise as the fixed amount rises. Through such flexible methodologies banks can manage costs and make savings more or less attractive.


On the other hand, to deal with the problem of excessively low rates that might come to prevail when rates in general are on the decline, RBI can always specify a floor rate. This would protect small savers, senior citizens and other vulnerable sections from a precipitous fall in returns from a savings account. Indeed, as a transitional measure, deregulation can be accompanied by the specification of a minimum rate. India has a good story to tell on household savings and deregulation of rates can only further boost the overall savings rate. What deregulation will also do is to enable banks to come forward with new savings products meant for different segments of the household and micro enterprises savings market. Thus, rate deregulation can act as a spur to increased sophistication of personal banking.









I was on the last unaffected train out of Bhopal that night, or so I was told. It was the Dakshni Express from Hyderabad to Delhi. There was nothing unusual at the station and next day in Delhi, I went through an entire working day unaware of that night's news. It was not the age of 24x7 television or mobile phones. News came to most Indians through the 9 pm broadcast.


In the days and the weeks following, and for months, the gas leak tragedy at Union Carbide's Bhopal plant was among the most important news stories of the time. It is, therefore, not surprising that so many people remember so vividly the events of that time. Even 85-year-old retired civil servants seem to have fairly good memory of what happened.


Yet, one cannot depend on memory alone for facts. Any modern government in this information age and knowledge-based economy should be able to marshal facts, figures and a record of decision-making based on documents and documentation available to it.


It is, therefore, in the fitness of things that the Cabinet Secretariat, the Prime Minister's Office and other wings of the government have unlocked almirahs, opened files and looked through records to find out who said what to whom and when in that tragic winter of 1984.


This information should be in the public domain so that there is informed public discourse on the rights and wrongs of the actions and the decisions taken by various functionaries of government, at the state and central levels.


Why should public opinion today be based on hearsay or selective memory? There is no need for anyone to worry about someone being made a scapegoat. There is no need for anyone to blackmail another with unpublished information. India is a modern democracy, not a banana republic. Let facts speak for themselves. People have a right to information!


Indeed. One of the great pro-people achievements of the government of the United Progressive Alliance is the Right to Information Act. Of course it is understandable that access to contemporaneous data on decision-making within government is subject to some limitations under the Act. Of course it is understandable that one has to file a petition seeking specific information for such contemporaneous information.


But, why cannot citizens have freer, if not free, access to information from the past. Most modern democracies have a 30-year rule. At the end of 30 years, a large part of government files get declassified. Barring what is still regarded as "secret" in the interests of "national security", most government papers become available to the public.


Such access has not only spurred scholarship and good research but has also contributed to more informed public discourse on government policy and national affairs. An informed nation is an empowered nation. It is also a wiser nation.


George Santayana has often been quoted as saying something like this: "If we do not learn from the mistakes of history, we are doomed to repeat them." The idea perhaps draws on Hegel's less hopeful view: "What experience and history teach is this — that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it."


It is in acknowledgment of such wisdom, and in recognition of the limitations of memory recall of retired government officials, and appreciating the importance of an informed analysis of government policy and decision-making that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once observed, at a function where he released former Foreign Secretary Jagat Mehta's book Negotiating for India (Penguin, 2006):


"I am aware that serious scholarship in India on government policy is hampered by a lack of access to official documents. Several eminent scholars have mentioned this to me. In other democracies, after a specified period, scholars and researchers are given access to official papers. This has encouraged professional study of contemporary history and policy-making. In the absence of a policy on making government files publicly available, the best records we have of policy-making and thinking at the highest levels in government are to be found in personal memoirs of distinguished men and women in public life. I, therefore, welcome Jagat's contribution to our understanding of the major events in our recent history.


"However, I do hope that we do not have to depend only on memory and personal notes for a record of policy-making. I think the time has come for us to have at least a 50-year rule, if not a 30-year rule, that allows scholars and researchers free access to declassified official papers. I would like to have this issue examined so that we can take an early and informed decision. In the long run, this will make it possible for us to draw appropriate lessons from the past and make effective decisions for the future."(Available at


This was the prime minister in April 2006. The matter was examined in government. I have no idea what advice the prime minister was given by his officialdom and by his party, but no steps have been taken to make this prime ministerial wish come true. The time has come for the government to act on it.


The Bhopal gas tragedy was not the last industrial accident in India. India is a nation of death by accident — the country's roads, railways, fire accident-prone buildings, slums, public places and so on are all death traps. So, many from lowly municipal officials to larger-than-life politicians are culpable for this state of neglect.


Perhaps an honest and public review of how past accidents were handled will help handle future ones better.








Ever since the Bhopal court gave a two-year sentence to those involved in the Bhopal gas tragedy, there has been a quiet chorus of support built up for the then Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) Chairman Keshub Mahindra in the form of newspaper editorials/articles — the latest to join this is the highly-respected HDFC Chief Deepak Parekh ( The broad points made by him, as well as various others, are easily summarised: 


   Mr Mahindra was the non-executive chairman of Union Carbide India and so couldn't really be held responsible since he had no day-to-day dealings with the company. 

  If he was held responsible as a director, surely the same should have applied to various government nominees on the company's board. 

  If you hound independent directors, people will never want to become independent directors; you may even find it difficult to get a CEO or a factory manager for chemical companies manufacturing hazardous materials... "The CEO of UCIL at the time of the accident was less than one year old in the company. When the site was selected, when the plant was put up there, when the designs were made, when the start-up trials happened, he had nothing to do with it... But the CEO has been indicted." 

  The chairman and CEO of BP were not arrested, instead a $20 billion fund was set up to clean up the environmental damage. Why does India need to arrest Keshub Mahindra?


Mr Parekh's arguments sound logical, but a few important points need to be made, apart from the fact that Indian company law does not distinguish between executive and non-executive directors — that's something the courts have done from time to time, as in the case of not prosecuting independent directors for bounced cheques.


One, the sheer scale of the tragedy in Bhopal makes it clear the case is very different from the ones involving bounced cheques (Nimesh Kampani and Nagarjuna Finance) that Mr Parekh referred to or even corporate frauds (Satyam) where the highly qualified independent directors were caught napping.


Two, if you read Justice Ahmadi's amazing "even assuming that it was a defective plant..." judgment that dramatically reduced the charges under which Mr Mahindra could be prosecuted, you'll see the kind of things that were happening were something even a non-executive chairman should have known about. And if he didn't, he had no business being there. The gas was known to be dangerous, so very strict procedures were laid down for how it was to be stored — at what temperature, what pressure, and so on. None of this was being done, possibly since the plant was to be dismantled and shipped out — the tanks were not pressurised, the refrigeration was not working, and a whole lot more. There is little to suggest that either Mr Mahindra or his colleagues even asked about these basic issues of safety — if they had, the correspondence would have formed part of the Ahmadi judgment. And this despite the history of accidents in this very plant.


Three, and this is linked to the previous point, there is no evidence that, with a few exceptions, independent directors have fulfilled their primary task of protecting the public interest. So, why make it mandatory to have such directors on any company's board? The so-called independent directors who get fees, fame and favours surely cannot be allowed to wash their hand of anything wrong the company does. If these directors offer great advice to the company or help give it strategic direction, why not hire them as advisers? Hiring marquee directors gives the public the impression that they are supervising the company — that's how several NBFCs have in the past raised hundreds of crores of rupees on the strength of their independent directors who later claimed no responsibility when the NBFCs ran off — while they're doing nothing of the sort. As for Mr Parekh's point about the judgment being unfair to the CEO of UCIL since he had been hired long after the design of the plant had been finalised, the obvious question is: Who is then responsible for anything? The designers will say the problem lay in the storage tank not being pressurised and the gas not being stored at zero degree Celsius!


Finally, the comparison with BP is inappropriate for a variety of reasons. For starters, there has not been a single human death in the BP case versus 15,000 or so in Bhopal, and a lot more affected by the gas — if there were any human casualties due to the BP oil spill, the story would have been very different. Second, whatever you might say about BP, perhaps due to US President Barack Obama's kick-ass stance, it has said it will do the clean-up and will pay all legitimate claims for damages, hence the $20 billion fund. In contrast, Union Carbide Corporation to date accepts no responsibility (see on its website). Even 25 years after the tragedy, it insists that there were no design flaws or any problems in the way the plant was run, and that the tragedy was an act of sabotage and the government of India knew who the saboteur was but refused to take any action; it says it never owned the plant, and that this was owned by UCIL, which was an Indian company, in which it owned just over half the stock (much is made on the website of the fact that the Indian public and financial institutions owned the rest), and that this stock was sold off to McLeod Russell in 1994. Operation wash-hands-of complete!


If the Bhopal judgment, contrary to Mr Parekh's fears, results in independent directors and CEOs/plant managers waking up to their responsibilities, that can only be a good thing.








God must be idle these days as far as financial markets are concerned since there are so many people doing his work! Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, claimed recently that his firm is doing God's work — it is incidental that Goldman has been sued by US regulators for cheating his clients. (Goldman Sachs itself earns 80 per cent of its profit from trading — a euphemism for speculation.) This reminds me of the title of an article by Paul Murphy (Financial Times, March 13), "The truth about speculators: they are doing God's work". Clearly, the French president and the German chancellor were not only foolish, but anti-Christ, when they called on the European Commission to ban naked short-selling of sovereign bonds and trading in credit default swaps which curb speculation!

To be sure, speculators do play a role in creating liquid markets. Other players like hedgers, arbitrageurs and long-term investors are not enough to create continuous market liquidity and prices. Also, speculators sometimes play an important role in "arbitraging" away the difference between current prices and true values by selling or shorting an over-priced asset, or buying an undervalued one. This, obviously, does not happen always. Indeed, more often than not, they become trend followers rather than value players. One basic law of economics is: higher price of an asset — a share, or a dollar in currency market, etc. — should reduce its demand. This law holds good if the transaction is between the producer and the consumer: a rise in price of onions will surely reduce the demand for the vegetable from a housewife.

But this is rarely true in the case of a speculator as he looks upon onions as an "asset class", and is willing to buy them in the hope of a further increase in price. (In a more innocent age, such people were called hoarders). In their case, a price rise often increases demand, creating, for a time, a "virtuous" circle — higher price, higher demand, still higher price, still higher demand… virtuous of course for the speculator. The so-called "carry trade" is a good example of this. In any case, as Keynes said a long time ago, even otherwise it is better for one's reputation to be wrong in the company of others than be a contrarian! Therefore, to quote him again, "We devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be." As for buying undervalued assets and selling overpriced ones to arbitrage the difference between price and value, and between different but similar assets within the same class, hedge funds were originally doing this. But, as Keynes said, "Markets can be 'irrational' for a lot longer than you can be solvent." LTCM and Amaranth, the hedge funds, found this to their huge embarrassment. Therefore, such an activity requires a long time horizon and low leverage. It is more "investment" than it is "speculation". The basic difference is to buy an asset for long-term returns, or for selling it at a higher price as soon as possible with no value addition.

I have two basic objections to considering speculation as "God's work". For one thing, unlike every other wealthy person who contributes to society by creating employment and producing goods and services, the speculator's value to society is often negligible. Yes, sometimes their activities do correct asset prices, and they provide market liquidity which is presumably in the long-term interest of the economy. Too often, however, speculation is "rent seeking". The other impact of speculative profits is to make society believe that "the path to riches lies in buying and selling pieces of paper rather than in making things" (Vir Sanghvi, Hindustan Times, May 16). As Keynes argued, "Speculators… may do no harm as bubbles on a steady stream of enterprise. But the position is serious when enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation". Surely, not in the long-term societal interest, let alone being God's work!

Strikes in China

Is it a mere coincidence that a spate of strikes and hefty pay rises have been reported from China in the weeks preceding the G20 Summit? One doubts. In a way, this takes some pressure off China to raise the value of its currency — as does its rise against the euro in parallel with the dollar's as cost rises push up the value of the currency in "real" terms. That the wage rises were/are needed is another matter. The share of wages in China's GDP had not gone up despite very fast growth of the economy. The wage rises may also help increase domestic consumption and hence reduce current account surpluses. To be sure, the surplus as a percentage of GDP has halved over the last two years — during the global recession. But exports grew almost 50 per cent in May, and the politically sensitive US deficit has stopped falling and may well start growing again despite US exports to China recording 20 per cent growth. The softness in consumer spending in the US also has implications for growth and job creation; and creates political pressure to find somebody, preferably a foreigner, to blame! China is obviously a prime candidate.  







Why, you may well ask, do we need to define infrastructure at all? Well, a practical definition is required for the following seven reasons:

One, it is an umbrella word that is being loosely used to describe multifarious economic activities.

Two, serious financial interventions with public policy overtones are regularly being crafted. Examples include viability gap funding, easier norms for bank lending, insurance and pension funds being cajoled in this direction, infra-bonds, separate class of infra-NBFCs, and multi-billion dollar funds.

Three, taxation issues and tax breaks are designed to encourage activities.

Four, the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2009, provides for the sovereign acquiring 100 per cent land under "eminent domain" for the purpose of developing infrastructure.

Five, the nation measures its performance in terms of the GCFI (gross capital formation in infrastructure) as a per cent of GDP as well as in absolute numbers. We must know what it is that we are measuring.

Six, various bodies from the apex Prime Minister's Infrastructure Committee to state-level infrastructure boards must know their playing field.

Seven, the move towards a new legislative architecture to create truly independent regulatory authorities for infrastructure supposes that we know what we desire to regulate.(See table)

Attempts to define "infrastructure" use one or more combinations of the following characteristics:

(i)Essential inputs to the economic system

(ii)One-time lumpiness of investment; or high sunk cost

(iii)Natural monopoly

(iv)Non-tradability of output

(v)Economic versus financial return — the "externalities" argument

(vi)High asset specificity

(vii)Non-rivalry (up to congestion limits) in consumption

(viii)Network character

(ix)Content versus carriage

(x)Large land agglomeration projects with trunk-infra requirements

(xi)Public versus private goods

Pure economic theory has the ability to confuse and obfuscate, and practitioners will have to slice through the warm fuzz of theory to arrive at practical, workable definitions.

Here are some suggestions for our policymakers to think about.

A single unified definition of infrastructure should not be attempted. It is neither desirable, nor useful. Rather, the Indian reality suggests having five clusters as below:

Core infrastructure

This includes transportation (roads, railways, airports, sea-ports, inland waterways) and energy (generation, transmission, distribution).

Urban infrastructure

Water, sanitation, sewerage, urban-transport, city-energy distribution, transport terminals, warehousing and logistics parks fall under this category..

Rural infrastructure

This would include irrigation, roads, energy, cold chains, mandis and drinking water.

Special economic zones (SEZs), industrial parks, new townships, industrial cluster development, IT parks, domestic economic zones, logistics and warehouse parks, and industrial corridors are a part of this kind of infrastructure.

Social infrastructure

Healthcare, education, leisure and entertainment, retail, tourism, housing, exhibition and convention centres, hospitality, IT, and telecom would fall under this category.

Public policy may be designed in such a way that each cluster is addressed in a different manner for providing support in line with specific requirements. Performance-monitoring cluster by cluster would also be more revealing and relevant.

Three clarifications are also in order.

First is universal intermediates. There is a school of economic thinkers who argue that infrastructure should be defined broadly to include"'essential inputs to the economic system". This argument would see plants and installations that produce coal, steel, cement, fertiliser, petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, (with possibly other minerals) included as infrastructure. Such "universal intermediates" should be left out of any infrastructure definition.

Second is carriage versus content. Water is content. But a water pipeline is carriage. Oil is content but an oil pipeline is carriage. A port is carriage, but a ship is content. A road is carriage, but trucks are content. There are many representations to the government where "content" businesses want to be defined as infrastructure. Here again, attempts to define infrastructure should stop at carriage and not include elements clearly in the content domain.

Finally, operations & maintenance (O&Ms) along with asset creation. Currently, much of the nation's focus is on asset creation. But, infrastructure is as much about making assets work smoothly as it is about meeting expected service delivery standards. Making infrastructure assets 'work' is the responsibility of operations and maintenance (O&M) companies. Dredging regularly is as important as building a new port. Maintaining stretches of roads and highways as well as collecting toll are as important as building a road. Running the water supply system of a city is as important as laying the pipelines and pumping stations. Therefore, infrastructure O&M activities must also be added to the definition of infrastructure.

With the run-up to $1,000-billion investment in the 12th Plan, the defining moment is now!

The author is chairman of Feedback Ventures Views expressed are personal








THE most significant take away from the much-awaited Reliance Industries' (RIL) annual general meeting (AGM), the first since the Ambani brothers buried the hatchet, is chairman Mukesh Ambani's decision to participate in the whole value chain of the power business, spanning generation, transmission and distribution. 'Power is a natural and synergistic extension for RIL and it would be one of the growth engines for the company, the elder of the Ambani brothers told shareholders in Mumbai on Friday. Given that formerly estranged but now patched-up brother Anil Ambani is already in the power business, it might be tempting to read this a challenge to the latter. But that would be both hasty and incorrect. Our power deficit is so huge — estimated at 25,000 mw in 2008 — that there will be space for any number of new players. With energy a key input for India to make the leap from emerging to developed economy status, demand for power will long outstrip supply. And if RIL is able to bring its phenomenal execution capabilities to a sector that is 'crying out for transformational mega initiatives,' it could be a win-win for the company and the country. Much like General Motor's iconic head of yesteryears, Charlie Wilson's oft-quoted remark, 'For years I thought what was good for our country was good for GM and vice versa'. Energy shortfall has been our Achilles heel and there is no reason why we should not catch up with our Eastern neighbour to whom we have long played second-fiddle.
   No less significant is the commitment to spearhead the broadband revolution, another area where our market penetration (1%) compares poorly with most developed countries (60%). The asset-light, partnership-heavy approach in Infocomm services, following acquisition of a 95% stake in Infotel Broadband Services, should help the company create a nationwide network of next-generation wireless broadband services. Whether RIL will realise its vision of a much larger opportunity here than in voice telephony in 2001 remains to be seen. But if it does, it will once again be good news for the country. Either way, now that energy will not be frittered away in fraternal quarrels, shareholders can look forward to a more rosy future.








THE Swiss parliament has supported a tax treaty with the US to end a damaging tax case against UBS, the largest Swiss bank by assets. This is a prudent move as it paves the way for Swiss tax authorities to disclose details of 4,450 UBS clients suspected to have hidden money from the US Internal Revenue Service. The US is, however, not the first country to compel Switzerland to part with 'confidential' information. Germany and France had also earlier forced Berne to do so. India should also step up pressure on Switzerland to disclose details of Indians who have stashed away money in numbered accounts. It should get Switzerland to exchange information with alacrity, though Swiss authorities have not been forthcoming in this regard. Germany, for instance, has shared information on names of Indians with accounts in LGT, a bank in Liechtenstein. Income-tax authorities only had to support their notices with proof. For years, Switzerland has taken shelter behind banking secrecy laws, making it impossible for foreign governments to pursue suspected tax evaders. This cannot continue. Berne promised to end banking secrecy after the G-20 turned the heat on tax havens last year. The OECD too is keeping a close watch on non-compliant jurisdictions.

   India has done well to renegotiate its tax treaty with Switzerland. It should ensure that Switzerland adopts the OECD rules on exchange of information in the revised treaty, without a rider. This will enable India to make inquiries in individual cases if tax evasion is suspected. The undisclosed deposits of Indians are estimated at over $1.47 trillion in Swiss banks alone. This is not small change. It is roughly the size of our GDP. The government, unfortunately, has not been resolute in tracking and demanding more information on these accounts from the Swiss. Taxing a slice of the unaccounted money would bolster revenues to meet the government's expenditure. It will also send a strong signal that tax-dodgers cannot hide behind Swiss banking secrecy laws any longer.








THE vagaries and needs of Indian electoral politics, as we all know, can make the worst of bickering foes suddenly behave like polite characters. And, equally, allies might suddenly turn truant. Take the spat between Bihar CM Nitish Kumar and Gujarat CM Narendra Modi. Now, the Janata Dal United (JD-U) and the BJP have been partners for long. But the publication in Bihar's newspapers of a picture of the two together has been enough to turn the whole thing into a farce. Nitish Kumar's reasons for being so upset with the publication of the advertisement showing him holding hands with Narendra Modi is supposedly the concern that it would affect the voting patterns in the assembly elections due later this year. Never mind the fact that their dalliance was on even during times of acute communal polarisation and violence. A photo of the two CMS together apparently is much more inflammatory. Appearances, after all, matter quite a lot in our politics. It is not necessary whether one actually does a particular thing. One must simply not be seen to be doing it. Thus, there was brouhaha from the JD (U) over the issue of being seen in the company of a man often called the Hindutva posterboy. Modi too, while attending the BJP's national executive meet in Patna, took a few digs about having helped the local people during the Kosi floods. Which, in turn was enough to make the Nitish regime return the Rs 5-odd crore that had been sent from Gujarat as aid.

Moral standards suddenly seem to peak in such situations. Quite like the JD (U) talking about a breach of etiquette by the BJP. And members of the latter party speaking of showing the smaller ally its due place so that the saffron party's "self-respect" is not compromised. So, is all this mere posturing? Or is the JD (U) actually saying it will continue to keep company with the BJP while not agreeing to some of its core beliefs, and shunning one its star leaders? That's the subtlety. A new spin on the idea of a marriage of convenience. Some unions don't need consummation!




BEWARE, 2010 IS NOT 2004!



INDIA remains the best structural growth story in the region. The sharp pace of recovery reflects the strength of India's domestic demand-oriented model, which remains the best in the region. Low goods exports to GDP ratio of 15.5% (as of 2008) meant that the damage from global trade collapse was minimal in India. More importantly, for India, capital inflows linkages are more important than the goods exports. A quick turnaround in global risk appetite from April 2009 has played an important role in the pace of recovery. Growth momentum has remained strong beyond the initial period (F2009) of payback from weak growth during credit crisis

In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, it appears that unlike the developed world, India really did not need the kind of push to aggregate demand through loose fiscal and monetary policies. Preelection spending, wage hike for government employees and credit crisis related stimulus meant that consolidated national expenditure to GDP shot up by close to four percetage points between F2008 and F2010. In the context of actual trend in global growth and domestic demand in India having surprised on the upside, the withdrawal of stimulus has been very slow so far. After cutting repo rate by 425 basis points from the peak of 9% between September 2008 and April 2009, the RBI has lifted it up by only 50 basis points.

   Although, the central government will report a reduction in fiscal deficit in F2011, this has been largely supported by one-off receipt items like telecom license fees and divestments. The expenditure to GDP (including off-budget oil subsidy) will remain closer to the peak in F2011 and the aggregate demand push remains intact. Timely reversal in monetary and fiscal policies will not take away the momentum of private sector growth but a delayed exit will increase the risks of transient spike up in inflation rate and widen the current account deficit to vulnerable levels.

 A comparison to the 2004 rate hike cycle looks like the policymakers have been lifting policy rates at the same pace as they did in the initial phase of 2004 cycle. However, not only the growth acceleration has been at a much quicker pace this time but also the starting point of policy rates is much lower in the current cycle. Indeed, the fiscal policy exit was faster in 2004 cycle as the government was already cutting expenditure to GDP before the RBI started lifting policy rates. There are some key differences in this cycle versus 2004 cycle.

First, the capacity utilisation levels are different: Unlike in the previous cycle, when the recovery in growth gradually allowed adequate time for the private corporate sector to initiate capex plans, in the current cycle, the recovery in growth has been sharp and the business investment cycle was hit badly. Although, over the last few months investment has picked up, but for this work-inprogress to turn into commissioned capacity it could take about 12-15 months. As a result, the transition from low capacity to close to full capacity utilisation has occurred in a much shorter period.

Second, WPI inflation pressures may be similar but underlying consumer price pressures are different: The WPI inflation trend appears to be largely similar compared with that in 2004 cycle. Although, in this cycle the headline inflation has been higher than last cycle because of food, the fact that food prices have been persistently higher now for many months, the risk of this weighing on generalised inflation expectations is high as food forms a very large proportion of household consumption. Even food prices were to moderate, the high level of non-food WPI inflation (at 8.8% in May 2010) when capacity utilisation is becoming tight means that risk if generalised consumer price inflation pressures building up quickly is much higher in this cycle versus 2004.

THIRD, current account balance — deficit vs surplus: In 2004, when inflation had reached 8.5% y-o-y in August, IP growth had accelerated to 9% y-o-y during the quarter ended September 2004. The current account was in surplus of 2.9% of GDP (4-quarter trailing as of June-04) as a starting point. This large current account surplus is also an additional indicator reflecting that aggregate demand was low relative to capacity. During the 12-months, ending March 2010 the current account deficit has already widened to 3% of GDP as per our estimate.

Fourth, banking sector liquidity condition: Like in 2004 cycle, in the initial phase of recovery while bank loan growth is accelerating, deposit growth is indeed decelerating. However, the banking system loan-deposit ratio is already high at 71.1% as of May 2010. Considering that statutory liquidity ratio is 25% and cash reserve ratio is 6%, loan-deposit ratio is close to the levels where major rise in credit growth will result in significant tightening in interbank liquidity. In December 2004, the banking loan-deposit ratio was low at 62.5%. Over the next 3-4 months, bank credit growth can accelerate to 25% yo-y, while deposit growth will remain low in the range of 16-17% y-o-y, unless the RBI lifts policy rates at a faster pace.


 Fifth, asset prices: Another factor different from 2004 cycle is the trend in asset prices. Asset prices were subdued for a prolonged period of time until mid-2004. In this cycle, asset prices have remained closer to the peak after dip during the credit-crisis period.


 Bottom line: Considering that over the last few months the pace of policy support reversal has been slower than warranted, the upside risks to GDP growth and corporate earnings in the near-term has increased. However, at the same time the investors should watch out for rising inflation expectations and widening current account deficit in the near term. Any decline in capital inflows or a sharp rise in oil above $100/bbl would cause exchange rate depreciation — only adding to inflation pressure. Moreover, the size of the current account deficit will decide the shock to the domestic cost of capital in the event of the sudden stop in capital inflows. A big shock can hurt the domestic private investment cycle and corporate confidence, which the government appears to be aiming to boost right now.










WHEN he is not engrossed in strategising for his $ 4.8 billion company, Infosys CEO and MD Kris Gopalakrishnan keenly watches India's technology companies take centrestage in the global IT sweepstakes. And when he is doing neither, he ideates for improving the quality of university students or chalks out plans for the overall economic development of the South in his capacity as the chairman of CII's southern regional council. He holds forth on all these areas from his hometown, Thiruvananthapuram.

For all the noise that Indian technology companies have been making for well over a decade, the visibility and presence on the global stage are finally being acknowledged. "It's no more a case of Indian IT companies being seen as local companies with big turnovers, but global players in the true sense of the word", says Infy's CEO and MD. And that includes his company, for sure.

  "You can see a distinct trend of companies extending their footprints across the globe. And these are primarily because of two reasons: Firstly, there is the need to support clients and their businesses in languages other than English, for which a single-location operation will not suffice.

  "And secondly, there is the need to take advantage of time-zone differences. We are, after all, talking about 24X7 services and no company can afford to offer any less in a globally competitive arena".

 For Infosys, that global mantra is quite evident. "The company has full-fledged operations out of the Philippines, China, Poland, Czech Republic, Mexico and Brazil, and consultancy offices in 40 countries. It is all about multiple delivery capabilities in multiple locations", says Gopalakrishnan. A closer look at those locations reveals that it is a winning mix of locations that feature different languages and cost-effective operations.
   So then, why doesn't any major IT products evolve out of the Indian IT landscape, even as the industry thrives on the services conveyor belt? Being Indian IT sector's veritable spokesperson across the globe, Gopalakrishnan is well prepared to answer that one. "It is not that we are nowhere in the product sweepstakes. Look at two Kerala companies, IBS and SunTec, the former a global IT product brand in the transportation and logistics domain, and the latter a reputed name in the billing and payments area", says he, underlining his point about Indian tech companies, even those in the product domain, taking on a global stature in their outlook and being more than equal to their peers anywhere in the world.

 On the product front, he is bullish about Infosys' own banking product, Finacle. "It is one of the top three core banking solution products in Europe, and across developing countries and Asia-Pacific, and we have crossed $200 million in billings for Finacle in 2009-10. That is 3% of our business turnover and the products prospects are very good". There are also product solutions that are licensed to clients. "There are 'point solutions', for instance, that are a boon to many retailers. Often, there are operators who have multiple products and multiple vendors and they seldom have a comprehensive supply chain visibility. We see some of these clients becoming big over time, benefiting both of us".

 Gopalakrishnan knows only too well the difficult path for IT products to turn successful in the global arena. "Finacle is 23 years old", he says, making it almost as old as Infosys itself. What is imperative is that companies like SunTec, which operates in the billing solutions domain with an emphasis on the financial services sector, and Infosys itself, will have to keep pace with market and regulatory requirements, as they target to serve clients in different geographies.

 The exciting prospect of Indian IT turning a global brand has one serious flaw line, though: "A skill sets-gap is prevalent across the jobseeking spectrum in the country, that can be a drag on the industry itself. When poorlytrained students emerge from university, it puts additional cost on the IT sector by way of training, and thereby affects the industry's overall competency". The CII's southern region, headed by Gopalakrishnan himself, has commissioned studies on the issue, and made recommendations to state governments about the need to tackle the skills-gap dilemma. If that can be addressed, it should be sunshine times across international geographies for Indian IT companies, particularly in the backdrop of Nasscom projecting a 16% growth for the BPO sector this year. Infosys, too, will then be dishing out "flat world business secrets from a flat world company", as its home page suggests.








 NO, I am not thinking of raising interest rates now. There will be inflationary pressure till July, but this time I am not altering interest rates.' That the governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), D Subbarao, speaking? No! That was finance minister Pranab Mukherjee speaking in Patna after data showed wholesale price inflation clock a record 19-month high of 10.16% for May 2010.


 But what is the FM doing talking about interest rates? Isn't that the RBI's domain? That is how it is in all mature economies; the finance minister is responsible for the government's fiscal policy — read, taxation and spending public money — while the central bank is responsible for monetary policy — read, interest rates.
   In fact the unwritten rule that the FM does not voice an opinion on interest rates (or exchange rates) is so deeply ingrained in mature economies that few would dare ask the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer or the US Treasury Secretary about interest rates.


 Sure, we are not as yet a mature economy. But aren't we aspiring to join the club? So why is anyone asking the FM about interest rates. More importantly, why is he answering something that is technically out-ofbounds for him and would not have elicited a response from FMs elsewhere in the world?


There could be two explanations. One could say, 'Ah, this is India, where no one, least of all ministers, has the time (or the inclination) for niceties.' Recall how more than one minister has held forth on issues outside his domain. So we had Digvijay Singh pontificating on the home minister's handling of Naxals, Jairam Ramesh on government policy on Chinese companies and Shashi Tharoor on visa rules. So the FM does not lack company in speaking out of turn.


 But there is another explanation; one that is closer to the mark! This is that for all the talk about the RBI being the monetary policy authority and setting interest rates, in truth, it is pretty much the government that calls the shots. Unlike the Bank of Japan or the Bank of England the RBI has never been independent; not even on paper.

Sure, the crisis has destroyed some of the myth of 'independent' central banks; but at least they enjoy operational independence.

The RBI, in contrast, does not have operational independence. Governors can, at best, counsel the government. If the minister of the day does not like that counsel the governor can persist, but ultimately it is the minister who calls the shots. That is the ground reality so Mr Mukherjee, perhaps, saw no need to beat about the bush on interest rates.


Indeed the shadow of the fisc over monetary policy often creates dissonance in policy formulation; as was seen during the tenure of the previous RBI governor and the erstwhile FM. And though there is no obvious rift between the present governor and the FM, it is apparent to any one who cares to read between the lines that the central bank and the government do not quite see eye to eye on the pace and timing of the exit. The bank would like to move faster towards 'normalisation' while the government, wary of what a higher rate of interest might do to growth, would like the party to continue.


Yet there is no way real interest rates can remain negative (as at present) without causing the economy to over-heat and stoke inflation. Mathematical models may have lost their relevance (save as a rough guide) but a simple calculation of appropriate policy interest rate using the Taylor Rule shows interest rates are way below what they should be. And have been so for a while.


 Which is why last week's inflation number does not come as a surprise. It has been apparent for a while that the RBI is dangerously behind the curve. Part of the reason could be that it was not able to convince the government of the need to tighten earlier and faster. But as the officially designated monetary policy authority, the bank's first responsibility (despite its numerous objectives) is to ensure price stability, even if it means ruffling the government's feathers!


 Just as the bank's 'obduracy' in the days before the crisis stood the country in good stead, there are times when the bank needs to stand firm. It knows, better than most, that monetary policy is a notoriously imprecise tool. It acts with a long lag, especially in the Indian scenario where financial markets are fragmented; we still have administered interest rates in some sectors and interest rates on government debt, that sets the floor for all other borrowing, is not exactly freely-determined by market forces.


 Hence the bank has to be proactive rather than reactive. It has to go that extra length compared to central banks elsewhere because of the peculiarities of our situation. But it has failed to do so. The end result is higherthan-warranted inflation.


 As a result we now have the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of inflation, year-on-year, not only among the BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India and China) but also among all major emerging markets, baring Pakistan, Venezuela and Egypt. The bank must take the rap for that.


An unwritten rule in mature economies is that the FM does not voice an opinion on interest rates (or exchange rates)
In India, in contrast, the FM has no such compunctions as the government often interferes in the RBI's domain
In such a scenario the bank must stand its ground & oppose the government, especially if it is to ensure price stability








CECIL Frances Alexander's poem is a reminder to be open and receptive to blessings, which abound all over. Unwittingly or unknowingly though, one could easily be shut out from these, while with the needed receptivity and awareness, immense benefits could be had, as if for the asking.

 How then does one go about attaining this objective? Certain guidelines could be useful in this regard.
 Unwind and 'let go'. Comprehend the vastness and infinity of the cosmic creations. Feel thus the freedom from self-centredness. Regard for things and people around, the 'twice-blest' virtues of compassion (karuna, to use Patanjali's expression) and delight (mudita) in the sublime, which would naturally follow, would enable you to apply the spirit of the Biblical injunction (Philippians: 4, 6) commencing, "Be careful in nothing…" Experience thus release from grudges, withholds and needless anxieties, which verily are impediments to all progress.
   Obtain thus also that healthy imperviousness (upekshana) to all the "dreary intercourse of daily life", and get the needed 'space' for awareness, focus, receptivity and other supporting virtues to enter and take root. Instinctive awareness of even lack of awareness and feeling that joy in awareness of your own awareness would neutralise not only the recently inflicted stresses within, but also those accumulated over the years. Obtain thus the attendant benefits, leading to more and more rewards for life and light — a virtuous cycle.


In this new found state, be sensitised to soothing and healing vibrations which have always been there. The rivers would, as if, commence to run and birds to sing, with a lilting message. Even the act of taking a shower, feeling the waters washing down the stains without and those within too, would now be accompanied by delight and hilarity. Feel this in all activities — even those prosaic and routine ones, including even conjugal bliss and all healthful sensual involvements also.

Enhanced clarity, focus and intelligence, which would follow, would thus awaken the 'new you', marked by order, poise, effectiveness, creativity and capacity for sustained, useful and hard work. After all, this is the ultimate goal of all spirituality. Letting go, unwinding, opening up, being aware and attentive — these, thus, are the doorways to ultimate self-realisation!




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



The proceedings of the Empowered Group of Ministers do not inspire much confidence that the lakhs of victims of the catastrophic Bhopal gas leak will get justice. In fact, it almost seems as if a second betrayal is on the cards. There are reports that the EGoM wants the Madhya Pradesh government to bury and clean up the toxic waste. This is shocking at a time when, following a petition in the high court, a technical subcommittee of the task force for removal of toxic waste has placed the onus on Dow Chemicals USA, which bought Union Carbide in 2001. It said Dow should take the entire toxic waste to the US for remediation.
While compensation and the rehabilitation of victims are important, it is equally necessary that all those in Union Carbide India Ltd who were responsible for this outrage be brought to book. Warren Anderson is not the only culprit who has gone scot-free. It is important to bring Warren Womar, who was UCIL's works manager, as well as Robert Kennedy, who succeeded Mr Anderson as chairman of Union Carbide Corporation, to stand trial in India. Mr Womar had shut down the Bhopal plant's refrigeration system — used to cool the methyl isocyanate (MIC) — in 1982, two years before disaster struck. The only time he used to switch on the refrigeration was when this extremely volatile and noxious chemical MIC was being transferred into the scevin pot for preparing the pesticide. The operation manual, on the other hand, clearly mandates that MIC should be kept below freezing point at all times. When the disaster took place, there was no safety system in place. Mr Kennedy took key decisions on to the plant's design, and he was aware that its safety system was substandard.
The CBI, in a chargesheet filed in December 1987, had said it wanted to investigate the American officials involved as well as inspect UCC's pesticide plant at Institute in West Virgina. It wanted to demonstrate that UCC had used double standards: that the Bhopal plant had inferior safety systems. The CBI team, accompanied by a leading scientist, went to the US in November 1988, but was told by the US justice department to first obtain permission from West Virginia state.

The state authorities did not permit the visit. The justice department later granted permission, but it was too late. Coincidentally, on that day — February 14, 1989 — suddenly there was a Supreme Court-assisted $470 million compensation settlement between UCC and the Indian government. One of its conditions was quashing of all criminal cases, and due to this the inspection could not be carried out. The settlement — which incidentally was less than one-sixth of the $3 billion that the Indian government had initially demanded — was not the issue before the court. The issue was the Rs 350-crore interim relief granted by Bhopal's chief metropolitan magistrate, challenged by UCIL in the high court, which reduced it to Rs 250 crores, which in turn was challenged by both the Union of India and UCIL in the Supreme Court. This betrayal of Bhopal's victims by both the Indian government and the US multinational must now be undone by the EGoM.






The Eighth Review Conference (Revcon) of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at New York narrowly eked out a victory from the jaws of defeat before it closed recently. Cheerleaders have been busy extolling this success which, however, consisted of little more than producing a 28-page declaration which marked no real advance over past positions.

But it would not be fair to sniff at even this. It was felt that a show of unity would at least start the process of rehabilitating the NPT. The breakout of North Korea and the defiance of Iran were seen as demonstrations of the impotence of the NPT. The last Revcon in 2005 had collapsed without an agreed statement due to Egypt's outrage at the failure to move forward on its West Asia nuclear-arms-free zone proposal and developing nations' anger at the United States for refusing to reaffirm disarmament pledges made in 1995 and 2000.

A repeat of the 2005 collapse would simply not do. Neither the nuclear weapon states (NWS) nor non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS) were prepared to be held responsible for another breakdown.

Another factor working in favour of the 2010 Revcon was the considerable goodwill for US President Barack Obama on the nuclear issue, and the widespread feeling that he needed a successful NPT Review to encourage him to travel further along the road to the vision of a nuclear weapon free world that he had laid out in his Prague speech in April 2009.

Under the NPT transfers of nuclear materials and technologies to NNWS were to be confined solely to "peaceful purposes" under a system of agreed safeguards and inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In return, Article VI of the NPT requires that the five nuclear-weapon states should pursue nuclear disarmament negotiations in good faith with the ultimate goal of "general and complete disarmament". Dissatisfaction of NNWS at the persistent refusal of NWS to live up to their side of the nuclear bargain progressively sharpened acrimony.

An innovation of the 2010 Revcon was to separate the final declaration into two parts — the first a review of the operation of the NPT, which was merely noted, and the second, the conclusions and recommendations for follow-on action, which was adopted by consensus. While this made for a tedious document, it allowed steam to be let off by reflecting stronger positions in the preambular review, while more measured formulations which could command consensus were used in the operative part.

On nuclear disarmament, the NWS dug in their heels against any new commitments. Russia, France and Pakistan made clear that they saw a role for nuclear weapons well beyond deterrence.The NNWS were not able to extract a clear endorsement of working towards a nuclear weapons convention to outlaw nuclear weapons, as has been done for chemical and biological weapons. But the price the NWS had to pay for their hard-nosed attitude was inability to obtain endorsement of additional IAEA safeguards protocols, the crown jewels of the IAEA for targeting undeclared nuclear facilities, as the new minimum standard for nuclear trade.

There was also no agreement, as many NPT ideologues had hoped, on measures to hobble NPT members like North Korea from bolting from their NPT obligations under the withdrawal clause after benefiting from nuclear transfers as NNWS under the NPT. Instead of these central issues, the major focus of attention was on the concept of a nuclear weapons-free zone in West Asia, based on the unrealistic hope that this could constrain Israel to dismantle its nuclear arsenal and join the NPT as NNWS.

The idea had been proposed by Egypt in 1995 and became one of the essential parts of the deal to extend the NPT indefinitely. But the US has prevented any progress on this for the last 15 years. To its consternation this time, Israel found that the US did not block the proposal to hold a conference in 2012 on setting up the zone, and to appoint a facilitator. In addition, Israel was criticised by name for not being a party to the NPT, and for not placing its nuclear activities under international inspection. The US has since tried to placate Israel by pulling back from full endorsement of the conference proposal. So the Egyptian-led move may well turn out to be a pyrrhic victory.

Iran scored a diplomatic victory by getting off without being mentioned by name for non-compliance with IAEA safeguards. The reason was that Iran was prepared to wreck the conference on this issue, while the US and others were not. The Brazil-Turkey deal with Iran, which is attracting increasing support, has also blindsided the "Iran Six" and thrown the US off balance.

The importance of securing the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and starting negotiations on the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) was strongly emphasised at the Revcon. There was considerable frustration at Pakistan single-handedly holding up the start of negotiations on a FMCT in the Conference on Disarmament (CD).

Today only Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea are outside the NPT. Without being physically present, the shadow of these " outlier" countries hovered like Banco's ghost over the Revcon. NPT members are at their wit's end on how to deal with them. Israel was sought to be pressurised with the West Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. North Korea was roundly condemned and told it could never be designated a NWS. India and Pakistan are asked to join the NPT as NNWS in the preambular review but interestingly not mentioned in the operative conclusions and recommendations.

There have been periodic suggestions from international nuclear experts to recognise reality by co-opting non-NPT states with nuclear weapons through a separate protocol, with treatment akin to NWS without necessarily designating them as such. There is considerable resentment at the preferential treatment handed out to India, expressed most loudly by Iran.

The India-US civilian nuclear agreement and the endorsement of its provisions by the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the IAEA have brought India back into the international nuclear mainstream. Our civilian and strategic nuclear programme are now hardly affected by the NPT, with whose overall objectives India actually agrees. The regret is that the improved environment for nuclear disarmament was not utilised to make genuine progress at the Revcon.

- Dilip Lahiri is a former ambassador to France






This is with reference to the report Nitish snubs Modi, returns Rs 5cr aid, June 20. Mr Nitish Kumar's returning of the aid extended by the Gujarat Chief Minister smacks of arrogance. Leaders should not play politics with the lives of the needy. All well-meaning people in the country, including political parties, must not support such behaviour of Mr Kumar. It is not Mr Modi's money, it is the succour extended by the Gujarat people for their suffering Bihari brethren. Mr Kumar's ploy to gain the Muslim vote by snubbing Mr Modi, seems foolhardy.
S.S Ravi


Mr Nitish Kumar's gesture in returning the flood relief extended by Mr Modi gives an impression that political parties are gearing up for the forthcoming Assembly polls in Bihar. Mr Kumar has done the right thing to protect his secular credentials. He has timed his move well and should totally wean his JD (U) party away from the BJP and ally with a secular outfit like the Congress to fight the Assembly polls.

Sushil Pradhan


The cartoon by Sudhir Tailang exposes the real intentions of Mr Nitish Kumar in returning the Rs 5 crore cheque sent by Mr Modi. Mr Sudhir has proved that a talented cartoonist can expose the vote bank politics of politicians by drawing just a few lines.

Routu Jagadeeswararao



This has reference to the editorial Spare the rod and save the child, June 20. The old dictum, Spare the rod and spoil the child has outlived its utility. Thanks to the media, today's generation of children is extremely intelligent and sensitive to their surroundings. Insensitive teachers are responsible for the deaths of children who commit suicide unable to bear the insult inflicted by teachers.



This is with reference to the report Arjun puts Anderson issue in Centre court, June 20. Passing the buck is the favourite pastime of our politicians. Through its irresponsible behaviour, the Centre is rubbing salt into the sore wounds of the Bhopal gas victims. Our society has become so morally corrupt that politicians are raising an accusing finger at one another on the issue, relegating the grave tragedy into a blame game.

Shalini Sahay



This has reference to the report AP wakes up to save Gods' abodes after Srikalahasti, June 20. Following the recent collapse of the Rajagopuram at Srikalahasti, the poor structural stability of various temples has gained significance. The state should come up a with a public-private partnership (PPP) policy for maintenance of temples, old and new.

Laxman Rao



The Indian community has certainly come a long way in the last 50 years in the United States, Record number of Indians in US polls, June 20. It is nice to know that the Indian community has a voice in the US and, hopefully, the benefits of which will be felt in our country. India has certainly arrived and these new-age politicians could well be our strong common ground with America.







Has Mayawati's administration fallen 'sick'?

The Mayawati administration in Uttar Pradesh seems to be facing serious health problems if the findings of a group of NGOs are to be believed.

They recently organised a series of blood donation camps on the Blood Donors' Day in Lucknow and invited senior IAS and IPS officers to inaugurate them by donating blood themselves.

However, more than 20 officers claimed that they were suffering from diabetes and hence could not donate blood, and five excused themselves by saying that they had thyroid problems.

The rest said that they were under medical treatment for various ailments and not in a position to donate blood. Only two officers agreed to be a part of this noble drive. It is a wonder how the chief minister manages with such a "sick" bureaucracy.

Arjun's enigmatic silence

Only silence has emanated from the 17 Akbar Road residence of the veteran Congress leader, Mr Arjun Singh, who has come under direct attack from his partymen and the media for allowing Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson leave in 1984.

Though the electronic media has been camping outside his house after the verdict was delivered in the Bhopal gas tragedy case, Mr Singh has proved to be elusive.

But mediapersons are hopeful and OB vans of several channels have been parked permanently outside the residence of the former Union minister though he hasn't assured anyone of any soundbites on the issue.

The only result of the stakeout has been that the mediapersons have become friendly with the security guards at his residence. It does not look likely that it would yield anything else.

The show must go on

As the controversial screening of Prakash Jha's film Raajneeti showed, BJP leaders have a passion for Hindi films. During the earlier BJP government in Rajasthan, the then Chief Minister, Ms Vasundhara Raje, used to organise a film show with dinner on last day of the Assembly session for all MLAs. Not only MLAs and ministers, journalists also participated in such events.

This practice started a new tradition in Rajasthan politics of marking the end of every Assembly session with "entertainment".

A Muslim scholar recalls that Congress MLAs did not even bother to boycott the screening of Lakshya and dinner at the elite Entertainment Paradise in Jaipur in 2004 even when minorities were being attacked by the Hindutva brigade. The only person who is not amused with the practice is the present Chief Minister, Mr Ashok Gehlot, who says it gives the wrong message to the people. But a saffron leader quipped: "The show must go on".

Capitalism vs Socialism

With the JD(S) chief, Mr H.D. Deve Gowda, supporting the liquor baron, Mr Vijay Mallya, in the Rajya Sabha elections, old-time Gowda loyalist Mr Danish Ali, who was initially promised the seat, has reason to feel jilted.

Mr Gowda had even proposed Mr Ali's name to the Congress. But the Congress rejected the proposal, saying that the party had already fielded a minority candidate, Mr Oscar Fernandes.

Following this, Mr Gowda changed his mind and had decided to support Mr Mallya. This did not go down well with Mr Ali. When asked what went wrong, he quipped: "Capitalism has defeated socialism".

A raid in time

The recovery of Rs 14 crores allegedly belonging to R.H. Khan, a deputy director of the social welfare department, by the CBI has gladdened senior IAS officers of Assam.

Mr Khan, a junior officer (now languishing in jail), was a VIP. He was given six PSOs for his security and on many occasions when IAS officers were asked to travel by car, he got a place in helicopters with ministers and governors. He also used to decide the transfer and postings of senior officials.

Senior bureaucrats, mostly IAS and IPS officers, who felt slighted by all this and were biding their time, feel victorious after the raid.

They say privately that this was a lesson for the state government that was ignoring IAS and IPS officers and siding with junior officials to use them to siphon off public money.

Trouble seems eternal for Nityananda

Troubles seem to dog Nityananda, the Bengaluru-based godman, filmed inflagrante delicto with a Tamil actress and jailed for his antics.

Once out of the cooler, he decided to perform a Panchagni Tapasya Yagya to refurbish his image. The ritual is meant to wash off five sins, including visiting a prostitute, adultery and acts of perversion. But instead of using clarified butter aka ghee as is the custom, the swami chose kerosene, of all things.

His disciples sent off photographs of the swami performing the yagya to the media and they showed the sacrificial fire being kept up with kerosene! That too, blue kerosene, meant only for BPL ration card-holders.

The authorities immediately raided the ashram and confiscated the 180 litres of fuel. The ashram defended itself by saying that the kerosene had been donated by a loyal follower.

Mahabharat against Maoists

THE Chhattisgarh urban development minister, Mr Rajesh Munat has taken a leaf out of the Mahabharat to tackle the growing Maoist menace in the state.

Much in the same manner as the great warrior Arjun sought the help of Shikhandi (a eunuch) to vanquish the greatest warrior of Mahabharat — Bhisma — Mr Munat recently turned to the third sex for their blessings to crush the Maoist insurgency in Chhattisgarh.

Addressing the local Kinnar Samaj (eunuchs' society) at Raipur, the minister sought their blessings and good wishes in winning the war against the marauding Naxals. The minister also doled out largesse to them, including a housing complex for members of the society. Said one of Mr Munat's detractors sarcastically: "Finally the state government found a potent weapon to deal with the ultras".






In Gita, Sri Krishna explains to Arjuna two perspectives on his problem: the highest truth and that of relative experience. Lord Krishna repeatedly tells Arjuna to only be concerned with that which is the imperishable and true.

That alone by which all this is pervaded is imperishable, because no one can destroy that immutable reality (II:17).

The imperishable reality is the essence that supports the entire world. And this reality is pure existence; in fact it is our own existence. The Vedas proclaim Tat Tvam Asi "That thou Art!"

Therefore, do not grieve over anything perishable. Why cry over the inevitable? A wise parent said to a child who was crying over a burst balloon, "When we bought it for you we knew that it would burst". Similarly things like milk, medicines, and even machines have a limited life and become useless after that time. It is the same for this physical body, but the self is eternal.

The Sanskrit word deha (body) comes from the root dih meaning "that which is elastic, which is subject to expansion and contraction". Therefore, keep in mind that this body which may expand if you eat too much, or shrink if you fast, or even change size as you grow older does not belong to the self, which is beyond the modifications of the relative world.

Arjuna, the young prince, now begins to reason with Lord Krishna and he wants to know why he should become an agent of destruction if everything eventually perishes anyway. Surely he will incur sin by killing! Lord Krishna can see that Arjuna has not fully understood the teaching. Arjuna still considers himself to be the doer; the one acting in this world! Lord Krishna continues his teaching by saying: "There are those who consider this atman, the self, as the killer, or the doer of action; others think that it is killed. Neither knows the truth. For the self neither kills nor is killed" (II:19).

Arjuna felt he would be the cause of destruction, that he would incur sin. Thus, he was grieving over it. Lord Krishna says that this sense of "doership" that we all have is the product of ignorance. Doership superimposed on the real results in our identification with the body equipment. It is something like wanting to be the driver of a car. So in order to gain the status of a driver, there has to be the action of driving. We have to have a vehicle. First we have to sit in the vehicle and identify with it. We have to establish an association or relationship with the car. But that is not all. We may sit in the car as though posing for a photograph and never drive. To be a driver, we have to relate to the car and then act to move it in the direction that we want it to go.
Through this objective example we see that in order to have doership we must have the body (the sense organs and organs of action), the mind and intellect. Then we must identify with these and think: "I am this body", or "I am this mind and intellect". It is then that we will have the sense of doership.

— Swami Tejomayananda, head ofChinmaya Mission Worldwide, is an orator, poet, singer, composer and storyteller. To find out more about Chinmaya Mission and Swamiji, visit [1].
© Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.







Everything about the climax of the legal quest to overturn California's ban on gay marriage was appropriately cinematic — even the month best to imagine two men atop a wedding cake or two women walking down the aisle.

"It may be appropriate that the case is coming to closing argument now", Chief Judge Vaughn Walker said with a twinkle. "June is, after all, the month for weddings."

The Federal District Court trial that seems tailored for a made-for-TV movie features the remarkable odd-couple pairing of two lawyers who have already been depicted in a made-for-TV movie, Recount, about their rivalry in another historic trial, Bush vs Gore. The conservative Ted Olson now prides himself on being "an honorary lesbian", and the liberal David Boies now prides himself on upbraiding US President Barack Obama for not pushing to give gays the same shot at marital bliss — and misery — that people like the President's parents got when inter-racial marriage was legalised.

Officiating from on high was the dapper and quirky, silver-haired, silver-tongued, silver-goateed Judge Walker, who would have been played in a 40s movie by Clifton Webb. The anti-Ito, Judge Walker moved the trial along without preening for the media, asking thought-provoking and occasionally droll questions of lawyers for both sides. Walker is something of a character who invites magicians to perform at the annual court conference and who once made a mail thief wear a sign that said: "I have stolen mail. This is my punishment". Heightening the dramatic possibilities, he is also, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, gay himself, which might give Prop 8 proponents ammunition to claim bias if he rules against them.

Chad Griffin, the gay former Clinton aide who is the strategic mastermind of the legal battle against Prop 8, is handsome, boyish and clever, right out of central casting with hip glasses and sharp suits.

In his two-hours-plus closing argument Wednesday, Charles Cooper, the slim, white-haired lawyer arguing against same-sex marriage, evoked the Paul Newman character in The Verdict, a man who was out of his depth against a superior legal team.

But Paul Newman was able to lift it in time to save his case. Cooper appeared not to have his heart in his endgame. He didn't even stay for the Q. and A. part of the news conference after court on Wednesday. Like he had somewhere more important to be in the middle of the afternoon following arguments on a landmark case?

His close was so lame that if you didn't know better, you'd think he was trying to throw the case. Maybe he was shaken by the fact that some of the defence witnesses had bailed, intimidated by the Boies deposition process. Another defence witness, David Blankenhorn, the president of the Institute for American Values, a group that studies marriage and families, inexplicably ended up helping the plaintiffs when he said that heterosexual couples have been busy "deinstitutionalising" the institution of marriage, and that adoptive parents are as good as natural parents. He also said that "we will be more American on the day we permit same-sex marriage" and give gays human dignity.

Cooper failed to reflect the fervour of the anti-gay-marriage proponents who frothed in 2008, direly warning that marital parity would cause moral damage, hurting children, helping the devil and destroying civilisation.

He tepidly offered an apocalyptic warning: "Without the marital relationship, Your Honour, society would come to an end". He blamed "irresponsible procreation" — even though heterosexuals are the more likely perpetrators.

At one point, Cooper was pressed by the judge, who said, "I don't mean to be flip", but went on to ask the lawyer what testimony in the case supports the proposition that the object of marriage is procreation.

Cooper said he didn't need evidence of that point, surprising the judge, and argued that, even if that was wrong, Judge Walker should uphold the law because the people of California had voted for the same-sex-marriage ban.

Walker seemed bemused, as he did through much of Cooper's stumbling close. "But the state doesn't withhold the right to marriage to people who are unable to produce children of their own", the judge said. "Are you suggesting the state should?" Cooper said no, failing to offer any compelling argument for discriminating against same-sex couples.

Olson was at the top of his game as he concluded the case and got a standing ovation from those watching the proceedings onscreen in the overflow room.

"And I submit, at the end of the day", he said, "'I don't know' and 'I don't have to put any evidence', with all due respect to Mr Cooper, does not cut it. It does not cut it when you are taking away the constitutional rights, basic human rights, and human decency from a large group of individuals".








CHINA is one of the last two States in the world strictly adhering to the Marxist theory while engaged in a seemingly wild capitalist path ('with Chinese characteristics' of course). But for the past 60 years, the Communist Party of China continues to rule supreme over the Middle Kingdom.

From time to time, China watchers have predicted the ideological and economic collapse of the Chinese empire, but despite many prophesies, Beijing continues its 'peaceful rise' and will soon reach the Number 2 economic slot behind the United States of America.

Chinese rulers are, however, anguished about the future of the Communist Dynasty. They are aware that, in the past, Heaven has withdrawn its Mandate to many dynasties, bringing disasters, famines, floods or earthquakes to different parts of the Empire and dethronement for the Emperors. This is why the State Council ordered in June 2006 an eight-episode TV research entitled Preparing For Danger in Times of Safety ~ Historic Lessons Learned from the Demise of Soviet Communism. The project was given to no less than the Academy of Social Sciences, the prime government think-tank.

Later the party members were requested to watch the series and carefully study and 'discuss' the conclusions offered by the Chinese President himself. Hu Jintao affirmed: "There are multiple factors contributing to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, a very important one being Khrushchev throwing away Stalin's knife and Gorbachev's open betrayal of Marxism-Leninism."

Party & the Republic

IN China, the party is the foundation stone of the People's Republic; if one day the party collapses, the apparatchiks in Beijing believe that chaos can only prevail. Arthur Waldron in a paper entitled Chinese Analyses of Soviet Failure: The Party in the China Brief of the Jamestown Foundation quotes from the film: "The message is that the Soviet party failed because it gave up the dictatorship of the proletariat, ceased to practice democratic centralism, criticised Stalin, was beguiled by Western concepts such as democracy, and also tripped up by Western propaganda and other operations."

Indeed, the film praised Lenin's theory, i.e. the dictatorship of the proletariat led by a revolutionary vanguard party. "After the victory of the October Revolution, Lenin led the Bolshevik Party in implementing the War Communism and the New Economic Policy, and conducted a painstaking exploration on how to build socialism in under-developed countries such as Russia," but also Stalin's work.

Though acknowledging the 'excesses' of Stalin, it states that his realisations will remain in history: "As time goes by, when we brush off the dust of history, people feel more than ever that Stalin's errors should never tarnish his position as a great Marxist and a proletarian revolutionary in history."

But then came the destroyer of the party.

On 14 February 1956, the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU) was held in Moscow. At night, the delegates were suddenly summoned back to the Kremlin by Khrushchev, the first secretary of the Central Committee, who presented the famous 'secret' report entitled On Personal Worship and its Consequences. The Chinese film says: "In the secret report, Khrushchev exaggerated Stalin's errors and expressed sharp criticism of Stalin. After the 20th Congress of the CPSU, the Soviet Union launched a nationwide campaign criticising Stalin."

This was the beginning of the end. The party was condemned to death; as Mao Zedong said, "The CPSU had lost the knife of Stalin".

Without a knife, the Soviet Union could not survive. The script explains: "Young people in the CPSU grew up under Khrushchev's ideological influence [after the 20th Congress] …They were unfamiliar with the party's revolutionary tradition, and lacked firm beliefs in socialism. They were later known as the 'the babies born at the 20th Congress'. After the mid-80s of the 20th century, it was exactly these people who became the backbone that disintegrated the CPSU and buried the socialist system".

In the early 1990's, Gorbachev put the last nail in the coffin of the Soviet Union and the party. The film regretted: "A party that Lenin personally created; a party that led the Russian working class in overthrowing the reactionary rule of Tsarist Russia and successfully established the first socialist state under the dictatorship of the proletariat; a party that resisted the armed intervention of 14 countries and successfully defended the fruit of the revolution; a party that defeated Nazi Germany in the great patriotic war, and made great contributions to victory in World War II; a party that has made brilliant achievements in socialist development and was the first to send satellites into space; why, after 74 years in power, did it actually lose its ruling position?".

The lessons are crucial for China. Deng Xiaoping who wore the emperors' mantle after Mao's death knew it only too well. He set up an "open policy" at the end of 1978 as the only way to save the party. He knew that by opening the door to foreign businesses, he was offering the Chinese people the "glory of becoming rich". He could thus pacify the masses' frustrations after the Cultural Revolution and this, without encroaching on the supremacy of the party.

In the early 1980's, one leader could have been a Chinese Khrushchev; it was Hu Yaobang, the then Secretary-General of the CCP. When Deng realised the danger of democratic 'opening', Hu was quickly tackled from within the Politburo and sidelined.

Tiananmen Square

WHEN Hu died in April 1989, students gathered spontaneously at Tiananmen Square to mourn his demise. What started as an expression of grief, quickly turned into the massive pro-democracy demonstration. Tens of thousands occupied Tiananmen Square till the fateful night of June 3-4, 1989. The knife had to save the party. Deng decided to send in the tanks and massacre the students.

When one looks at the last 20 years of the history of the People's Republic of China, the 'knife'  has been the party's instrument for keeping its predominant position. Take the unrest in Tibet in March-April 2008. Beijing could have tried to understand the motivations behind the protests (it is what several Chinese think-tanks suggested), but the leadership decided to use disproportionate force and not take any chance.

The knife was again used in Xinjiang in July 2009 for the same reason; were the party to show weakness, it may have been wiped out   from "minorities' areas", so the leadership analyses. In the film, Gorbachev is criticised: "…to reform the party's guiding ideology according to the 'humane, democratic socialist' theory is to use the old theories of Western social democratic parties to replace the party's Marxist theoretical basis."
Beijing believes that this destroyed the Soviet Union. The present leadership does not want to fall in the same trap. It is the reason why the brutal regime of North Korea will continue to be supported, even at the cost of Beijing's image as a responsible world power. Today, Beijing confronts a serious dilemma: should it support the proletariat striking in several car factories in China or should the knife be used?

Without taking a clear position on the strike, The People's Daily recently stated: "The time has come to narrow the gulf between rich and poor which is stifling consumer demand". A few days earlier, Premier Wen Jiabao called on officials to take greater  care of migrant workers. The party has never walked on a tighter rope. The crucial question is, how long can the 'harmonious society' advocated by Hu Jintao, use a knife to survive? 







THIS is further confirmation of the existential dilemma. The government of West Bengal only deludes itself when it claims that the poor and the minorities are being provided with grossly "distorted" information about what it calls the "government's activities". The target group will firm up its impressions on the basis  of what has been achieved or empirical evidence, to borrow the terminology of social scientists. It isn't a matter of subjective reflection. In an exercise aimed at enlightening a critical segment of the populace, the state is set to go on a publicity overdrive. As reported in this newspaper, it will be launched  at a huge cost that has not been specified presumably because it is a non-budgetary expenditure. Misgivings that the "folders and booklets" ~ to be distributed free ~ might contain more fiction than fact are not wholly unfounded. And the PR blitz a year before the Assembly election is unlikely to help the government recover lost ground. It is scarcely a substitute for concrete action, of which there is little or nothing to boast of.  One facet of public policy that will be highlighted is the distribution of pattas that is said to have benefited 30 lakh people. That touching concern for ma-mati-manush was manifest largely in East Midnapore and Hooghly, and only after Nandigram and Singur imploded. The increase in the number of  madrasa students ~ from 3,000 in 1978 to 45 lakh in 2010 ~ is also being touted as an achievement. The short point is that this is only an index of the burgeoning  population and also, of course, the demographic change over the past three decades. Not that the course structure has changed; it remains fundamentalist despite the Chief Minister's repeated appeals for an updated syllabi.  

Above all, this belated anxiety to be forthcoming chimes oddly with the marked reluctance to disseminate and part with data under the Right To Information Act. Five years after the legislation was passed by Parliament, information on the perceived uplift will now readily be provided to suit the interests of the ruling party. And the task has been entrusted to the information department, under the Chief Minister's belt since 1977. The state information commission, formed under the Central legislation, gets further marginalised. This calculated trumpeting is unlikely to convince civil society, let alone the "poor and the minorities". It is the aam aadmi who is the best judge of what the government  perceives to be its "achievements". To fall back on folders and booklets only underscores the sense of desperation.



IT is an achievement of the Orissa government as much as of agitators and with a lesson to be derived by counterparts of both entities in West Bengal. Five years after the state signed the MoU with the South Korean steel giant, Posco, the stalemate has ended with last Thursday's survey of the project area. The site, at Dhinkia in Jagatsinghpur district, has been the nerve centre of the agitation over land acquisition. It redounds to the credit of the government, the political Opposition and the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) that they were able to reach a consensus on the survey as an essential prelude to the entry of the investor. Indeed, the ice was broken on 15 May when the Balitutha approach bridge was cleared of agitators. The concerted initiative, if delayed by five years, reaffirms that development cannot be stalled indefinitely by the Opposition and with destructive implications for the administration. Indeed, this is the first time in five years that the political initiative has been taken by the ruling BJD and the CPI, pre-eminently AB Bardhan, to break the deadlock. It is Bengal's misfortune that no such seriousness of purpose was manifest in 2007-08. Far from a palatable consensus on industrialisation, a bullheaded Chief Minister had to contend with a rampaging tigress. The experience in Orissa illustrates that political opposition to development is uniquely Bengal. Small wonder why the administration in Bhubaneswar has fared commendably in attracting investment.
The contours of Naveen Patnaik's agreement with the PPSS suggest that both sides were willing to reach a halfway house. The agitators acceded to the Chief Minister's request to allow district officials to conduct the survey. As a quid pro quo, Mr Patnaik has agreed to visit the site to acquaint himself with the ground reality that has provoked a five-year movement. The other concession is not to deploy the police during the survey. In contrast, one recalls how Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had stayed away from Singur and Nandigram for as long as he could; at any rate, till the worst was over. The indicators are now fairly positive. Hopefully, the agitators of Jagatsinghpur will call off their movement though the planned diversion of 3,000 acres of forest cover is likely to remain a thorny issue.



AFGHANISTAN has hit a pot of gold in a turbulent phase of its history. Such fortuitous developments shape the course of nations as do wars and militant strife. In a quirky reversal of roles, America, engaged in international policing for close to a decade, has discovered untapped mineral deposits worth $1 trillion in the volatile country that the Western world dismisses as a failed state. The surveys, conducted jointly by the Pentagon and the US Geological Survey, have yielded data that has been greeted with collective jaw-dropping by the rest of the world. What must remain an open question for sometime yet is whether the impoverished people ~ their patience sorely tried through years of turbulent strife ~ stand to benefit soon. Suffice it to hope that a country plagued by conflict and superpower intervention might yet emerge as one of the world's most thriving mining centres. And chiefly for lithium, an ingredient used for such totems of post-modern communication as laptops and Blackberries. Ghazni, for instance, is said to have the potential of Bolivia which boasts half of the world's lithium reserves. However "stunning the potential", as General David Petraeus, the US commander in overall charge of the Afghan war, described it, developing the mining sector will be no easy task. For one, the country's infrastructure has been shattered over the past decade, ever since George Bush resolved to "smoke out" Osama bin Laden from the caves. For another, its industrial potential has been undercut by the booming opium trade that generates billions of dollars. An intensive mining exercise is imperative if only to gauge the actual economic potential of the deposits. Till then the country may just be sitting on its treasures, as it did until the recent disclosure by the Pentagon. The battlefield scenario is doubtless another impediment.
The discovery will almost inevitably spur the "Great Game" for access to energy resources, with China as the key player. The unstated motive of the Anglo-American strategy may even be open to conjecture, and not wholly unfounded. Just as Iraq was invaded with an eye on oil reserves, so too might the average Afghan fear that Western powers are aiming at the underground treasures. That suspicion could be strengthened in view of the Pentagon's role in the discovery and the subsequent preparation of "mineral memos". In the net, the finding is bound to steel the Taliban resolve to protect the wealth of Afghanistan.








London, 20 JunE: An Australian scientist, who helped eradicate smallpox from the world, has created a new sensation by predicting that the human race will be extinct within the next 100 years.

Professor Frank Fenner, emeritus professor of microbiology at the Australian National University, has claimed that the human race will be unable to survive a population explosion and "unbridled consumption". "Homo sapiens will become extinct, perhaps within 100 years," Prof. Fenner said. "A lot of other animals will, too."
"It's an irreversible situation. I think it's too late. I try not to express that because people are trying to do something, but they keep putting it off." He said that since humans have entered an unofficial scientific period known as the Anthropocene ~ the time since industrialisation ~ we have had an effect on the planet that rivals any ice age or comet impact, the Daily Mail reported. Prof Fenner also blames the onset of climate change for the human race's imminent demise.

He said: "Climate change is just at the very beginning. But we're seeing remarkable changes in the weather already.

"We'll undergo the same fate as the people on Easter Island... The Aborigines showed that without science and the production of carbon dioxide and global warming, they could survive for 40,000 or 50,000 years. But the world can't. The human species is likely to go the same way as many of the species that we've seen disappear." Prof Fenner, 95, has won awards for his work in helping eradicate the variola virus that causes smallpox and has written or co-written 22 books.PTI







Soon after trading on stock markets ceased on June 4, the finance ministry made an announcement that public limited companies would have to raise the share of the public in their equity to 25 per cent over the next five years, at least five per cent each year. Translated into English, the reasons for the decision are three. First, the ministry thinks that greater dispersal of equity will lead to more stock market transactions; that will make the market more capable of absorbing large transactions and prices less volatile. Second, more trading will lead to "fairer" prices, meaning prices which are somehow more consistent with all available information. Finally, a larger number of shareholders will make price manipulation more difficult. The punishment for not complying with the ministry's diktat will be delisting.


As is usual with official commands, this one also has its escape clauses. Suppose that after a company has complied, it finds that its public holding has fallen below the floor. That is nothing to worry about; it can take a year to raise the holding to 25 per cent again. If, therefore, a crafty operator related to a promoter wants to manipulate prices, he should arrange to reduce the public float; he will then have a year to complete his manipulations. And companies whose initial public offer is over Rs 4,000 crore do not have to comply immediately. They can issue 10 per cent to the public, and then raise the public share by five per cent each year until it reaches 25 per cent. A third escape clause is unstated. If the share of the public falls below 25 per cent, nothing will happen immediately. Stock exchanges may write to the company asking for an explanation; the department of company affairs may issue a dire threat to the company. Then the company chairman can write an abject letter of apology giving plausible reasons for the default; when the manipulation is over, the company can comply with the rule again.


However, the biggest loophole in the rule is that public holding remains undefined. A negative definition is imaginable; for example, holdings of promoters or qualified institutional investors would not be deemed public holdings. If a promoter wants to increase public holding, all he will have to do is to find some friends and well-wishers whom the government considers public. So if the government is serious, it should manipulate the definition of the public. It should create a new genre of public mutual funds which cannot hold more than one per cent of a company's shares, invest more than one per cent of their assets in a company, or sell more than one per cent of their equity to a single investor. Alternatively, it should create a new genre of company in which promoters' and QIIs' holdings are always kept below 40 per cent.








The shift is imperceptible in terms of numbers, but so important that it should be celebrated every time. Shampa Bauri, a young teenager studying in the government school for rescued child labourers in Purulia, West Bengal, has said 'no' to marriage. In order to convince her parents, she had the support of her teachers, peers and the local labour officer. History is beginning to repeat itself in a surprisingly pleasant way. In Purulia alone, one girl after another has been refusing to get married before 18, insisting that they will complete their studies. Rebelling against their parents has taken courage and conviction. A little earlier, there was Ahalya Kumar, digging her heels in the way Shampa has done, although these girls come from the poorest of families and have to contribute to the family's sparse earnings. Their courage and confidence can be properly admired only with that background in mind.


Undoubtedly, the government's role in Purulia in educating the girls in the newly-established schools for child labourers has been remarkably positive. The government is also being helped in this sphere by the Unicef. This has given Purulia a head start, and girls like Rekha Kalindi and Afsana Khatun have become role models for other girls from similar backgrounds. Some of them, whether 12, or 13, or 14 years of age, have got together as child activists to encourage others like themselves to resist early marriage. But girls elsewhere are becoming vocal too. Padma Ruidas in Bankura, taken out of school to work as domestic help in a neighbour's house, calmly wiped the vermilion off her forehead as soon as the police arrived at her marriage venue following her call for help. Superstition is losing its hold over the girls of a new generation, whose earliest lessons in horror, as Padma, Ahalya or Rekha have said, come from the fate of their older sisters — married, miserable and sometimes producing "dead babies" long before they are 18.









The Japanese island of Okinawa was occupied by the United States of America's troops towards the tail end of World War II. The Americans set up a major marine base there. The marines, an integral element of the conquering power, romped all over the island. Apart from plundering prize fish hauled in from the East China Sea by hard-working fishing folk, their particular target was nubile girls, with whom they misbehaved with impunity. The Japanese authorities, defeated in war, shell-shocked by the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and with an economy struggling to get back on its feet, had to lump the indignities.


The US decided to transfer the sovereignty of Okinawa back to Japan in 1972, but with a catch: the marine base at Okinawa was to stay. The nightmarish days of the islanders therefore did not end. Young girls continued to be annoyed by the marines. Resentment against the marines built up; bit by bit; it turned into no less than a mass upsurge, initially centred in Okinawa but gradually sweeping across all of Japan. The Liberal Democratic Part of japan, which had ruled the country uninterruptedly since General MacArthur's departure, was however keen to play down the problem. Industrial oligarchs who dominated the party knew which side their bread was buttered; it would not do to pick a quarrel with the US on the skimpy issue of the occasional raping of fetching damsels by bored marines. The American's were, after all, Japan's most important trade partners.


The attitude of the national government added to the frustration of Okinawans even as it irked a wide cross section of democratic-minded people in mainland Japan. The frequency of incidents of skirmish between the marines and the local population kept multiplying. Several rape cases were filed in the civil courts against the American ratings, but dispute regarding the jurisdiction over inmates of a foreign military base proved intractable.


The long reign of the LDP came to an end last year in the country when the Democratic Party of Japan vanquished it in the polls. Two factors were at work to render possible what till then had been considered impossible: economic woes brought about by the global recession and, equally important, the DPJ's pledge to close the American naval base in Okinawa. This pledge touched an emotional chord in huge sections of the electorate. It was almost a vote for the liberation of Okinawa.


The DPJ has had limited success in its battle against recession; the unemployment rate is still disturbingly high, but exports have slowly picked up. Getting rid of the American base in Okinawa has turned out to be a different story. Japan is, if no longer the second, at least the third largest industrial economy in the world; it is a valued member of the elite G-8 group of nations, its clout in both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund is much greater than that of China or India, it has never strayed in international discourse away from toeing the American line. And yet, on the demand for removing the US naval base in Okinawa, neither its economic prowess nor its formal political sovereignty has been of any avail. At the height of the anti-draft agitation in the 1960s, American youth, reluctant to go to Vietnam, would rent the sky with the full-throated chant, "Hell, no,/ We won't go." The US response to the notice served on them by the new Japanese administration to quit Okinawa has been identical: no, the United States will not oblige; Okinawa may be Japanese territory, Japan may be a fully independent and an economically powerful nation, the Americans could not care less; never mind the electoral verdict of the Japanese people, Okinawa will remain an American naval base, maybe for eternity, just like the one at Guantanamo in communist Cuba.


It has been a terrible loss of face for the Japanese people. Their sovereignty, they have realized, is putty clay in the hands of the world's mightiest power. Yukio Hatoyama, leader of the DPJ and the prime minister who had entered office with such pride and confidence last year, has resigned, acknowledging failure to keep his pledge.


The Okinawa episode has obviously wider implications. Is a sovereign nation not entitled to have the fullest ambit of authority over its own territory, or is that too subject to American benediction? Globalized India has of late entered into a strategic alliance with the US. Indians, bathing in the luxury of a number of economic windfalls globalization and proximity to the US have gifted, are loving every moment of it. Are they, however, ready to admit that there could be issues in international involvement which go beyond crass economic gains? For instance, should not the Okinawa affair, leading to the fall of a country's prime minister and raising disturbing questions on the limits of sovereignty of a formally independent and economically advanced country be a matter of some concern for Indians too? The treatment meted out to Japan by the US ought to send a shiver down the spine of other countries which have agreed, or are being pressurized into agreeing, to the setting up of American military bases purportedly for fighting more effectively the war against 'global terror'. India, everybody knows, is in this context already on the American radar. Indian indifference to studying the implications of the Okinawa affair cannot, therefore, be alarmingly baffling. A small item tucked in an obscure corner of the newspaper, that is all. No ponderous editorial article, no agitated discussion on the television channels, silence on the part of politicians and political parties, the urban literati who get worked up on such themes as environmental pollution and animal rights are mum. The shape of the argument appears to be as follows: Okinawa does not directly — and immediately — concern us; we may be global citizens, we are however a choosy lot, we are global only to the extent our own economic interests — and that too, short-term interests — are involved; the philosophy that coming events cast their shadow before does not detain us.


The same attitude is revealed with regard to the Israeli attack on a Turkish flotilla carrying food and medicine for Palestinians blockaded in the Gaza strip for weeks on end. This atrocious act, causing an unknown number of deaths, has evoked anger across the continents. But apart from a small official press note issued in New Delhi regretting the excesses committed by the Israeli navy, there has been hardly a flutter in India. What Israel has done may be a heinous crime, but we better keep quiet, we have struck some profitable defence deals with Israel, why jeopardize those? The Indian media have by and large gone along with this official view. Some sections of the press have actually poked fun at the protest rallies the Left parties organized against the Israeli government.


Or consider the attitude of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. The Asiad is a miniature, Asian version of the Olympics, which is being held this year in Beijing; countries in the continent compete in various events. Cricket has been included for the first time; every other cricket-playing country in the continent is participating, but not India. The BCCI will instead send the Indian team elsewhere, pursuant to its commitments to the International Cricket Council. Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh too are members of the ICC, but they have no trouble accommodating participation in the Asiad in their schedule. India is different: for its cricket team and those who guide it Asiad has no attraction. Following Olympic rules, it offers only some junk medals, no hard cash in the manner of the bonanza of the ICC fixtures.


The Indian establishment —and its mainstay, the upper and upper middle classes — have globalized themselves, but only to the extent it helps them to gather pelf. And they know whom to pick as global friends. Multinational corporations with bases in the US — in the genre of the Union Carbide Corporation — are loaded with money, several windows of opportunity to amass extra wealth will open up if these corporations decide to invest in India. So go easy on the Bhopal calamity, no foolish talk of trying to extradite Warren Anderson; 15,000 and some more had perished at the altar of Union Carbide, but they were poor people, their deaths do not matter, the prospect of getting rich and still richer, in case foreign investors come gushing in, does. The nuclear liability bill, ruling out criminal liability of foreign suppliers and trivializing the extent of civil liability, is drafted with similar lofty thoughts in mind. Globalized India has its eye only on the main chance.








In the aftermath of the bloody events on the aid ship, Mavi Marmara, where nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed by Israeli commandos on May 31, Israel has set up a judicial inquiry into the affair. Since the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who chose the members of the inquiry, has already described the victims as "violent Turkish terror extremists" on a "ship of hate", some people doubt that the investigation will be impartial.


On June 15, the second inquiry into "Bloody Sunday" in the Northern Irish city of Derry, where 14 civil rights marchers were killed by British paratroops on January 30, 1972, delivered its report. The first people to see it were the relatives of the victims. On the whole, they seemed satisfied. The British inquiry was chaired by Lord Saville, a former high court judge. Since the inquiry involved the British army, the other two members were senior judges from New Zealand and Canada, not from Britain. And the Saville inquiry's report was utterly damning.


It said that none of the casualties had guns, and that the paratroops gave no warning before they started shooting, and a number of soldiers afterwards "knowingly put forward false accounts in order... to justify their firing". The report also said bluntly that the soldiers had lost their self-control, "forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training, and failing to satisfy themselves that they had identified targets posing a threat... There was a serious and widespread loss of fire discipline". Neither their commanders nor the British authorities wanted to kill innocent people, but they were to blame for it nevertheless.


Bitter truth


If a similarly impartial tribunal inquired into the events that occurred aboard the Gaza-bound aid ship last month, it would probably come to identical conclusions. We know enough about confrontations where none of the soldiers or police dies, but lots of the demonstrators/rioters do, to understand the psychology and the crowd dynamics of it. That impartial inquiry would probably conclude that there was a "loss of fire discipline" among the Israeli commandos. It would also probably find that few, if any, of the activists had weapons, or acted in ways that justified killing them.


All of this may come to pass in Israel — in 2048, 38 years from now. Because that is how long it took the British government to get from the Widgery report, which was produced only months after the "Bloody Sunday" massacre, to the Saville report. Lord Chief Justice Widgery's report in 1972 was a shameless cover-up that blamed the victims: "There is a strong suspicion that some (of the dead and wounded) had been firing weapons or handling bombs." And, of course, it exonerated the soldiers.


Those lies stood for 38 years, which is why the first people to be shown Saville's report this week were the victims' families. It won't bring the dead back to life, but it is a reckoning of sorts. The British government is a slow learner, but it does learn.


Israel has appointed ex-supreme court judge Yaakov Tirkel, retired Israeli army officer Amos Horev, and Shabtai Rosen, an Israeli professor of international law, to the current inquiry, but the only two foreign members are observers who have no vote, so this will probably be Israel's Widgery report. There may be an Israeli version of the Saville report eventually.


Who knows? By 2041, only 38 years late, the United States of America may even hold an inquiry into the "loss of fire discipline" by US paratroops in Falluja in 2003; the massacre of Sunni Arab youths sparked off the Iraqi resistance to the American occupation of Iraq. But not yet. Sovereignty means never having to say you're sorry. Or at least not for a long, long while.



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





A US state department ranking of countries' performance in addressing the problem of human trafficking has put India on a Tier Two Watch list. This means that India does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. It is the seventh year in a row that India figures in this list. India has been described as a source, destination and transit country for trafficking. Many in the country are likely to respond defensively to the poor ranking. They will argue that the ranking by the US government is motivated and aimed at embarrassing or pressuring India, that the US should not meddle on India's domestic issues, that human trafficking exists in the US too and so on. However, it is not the US alone that is pointing to the seriousness of India's trafficking problem. Last year a report brought out by the National Commission for Women (NCW) said that at least half of the 612 districts in the country are affected by trafficking of women and children for commercial sexual exploitation, with around 2.4 per cent of the total female population in the 15-35 age group in the country affected by commercial sexual exploitation. UN agencies have been routinely calling on India to act decisively on trafficking.

'Human trafficking' is slavery. It condemns its victims to extreme suffering and a lifetime of exploitation. A woman or child who is trafficked into the sex trade for instance is forced to pay a major part of her earnings to the brothel owner. Even if she is rescued, rarely is she accepted back into her family or society. Lacking the means of survival, she feels compelled to go back to the sex trade. Not acting to halt this exploitation is unconscionable.

India has anti-trafficking laws but rarely are these implemented. Children who are bonded labourers are rescued once in a while and brothels are raided sometimes. But convictions of those behind the trade are rare. It is well known that trafficking rackets are patronised by the rich and the powerful, including politicians and police. This is a multi-billion dollar global business — the third largest illicit industry in the world. It requires concerted effort by all countries to dismantle this industry.Instead of turning defensive over international censure of its enormous trafficking problem, India should act decisively to address the problem. Denying the severity of the problem will not make it go away.








One important fact about the inquiry by a retired Canadian Supreme Court judge John Major, into the explosion aboard the Air India Kanishka flight over the Irish Sea in June 1985, is that the report has come 25 years after the incident. As many as 329 Indians had died in the bombing, which was one of the major acts by Khalistani terrorists. A delay of 25 years in arriving at some conclusions about the tragic incident takes away something from the value of the report. It was an official Canadian investigation and the lesson perhaps is that official investigations, wherever they are held, are dilatory exercises. Justice M S Liberhan, who probed the demolition of the Babri Masjid, did a quicker job in India.

The findings of the commission also have a familiar ring. Major has indicted the Canadian government of the day and the country's security establishment for their many lapses and incompetence which led to the terrorist action. The failures are, in fact, universal. Both the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service had prior information about the conspiracy. Both failed to act because there was no co-ordination among them. The commission found that "a cascading series of errors contributed to our police and security forces failing to stop the bombing". It has also found that the country's security system had not learnt many lessons from the 'atrocity' and is perhaps as disorganised even now as it was then.

The Indian government had received some criticism after the Kanishka bombing. But to be fair to the government, it could not have done anything to prevent it. The bomb was made in Canada, and the bombers were based there. The onus was on the Canadian government to bring the culprits to justice. That has not been done. Only one person, a mechanic who assembled the bomb components in British Columbia, has been convicted for the conspiracy and the crime. Two others who were charged for murder and conspiracy were acquitted by the British Columbia Supreme Court for lack of evidence. That means that the crime still remains unsolved. The commission has called for the creation of an independent body to recommend appropriate ex-gratia payment to the bereaved families of the crash victims and for distribution of the relief amount. The moot question is whether that is any relief after 25 years. Bhopal has other names, though less toxic.








'Does the plan panel have a secret account for emergencies like a sudden outburst of public opinion?'


Here are answers to the questions you no longer have to ask. First: how long would deputy chairman of the planning commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia, protégé of the prime minister, ranking leader of the World Bank Alumni Association and senior advocate of multinational corporate interests, have taken to send Rs 983 crore to Union Carbide or Dow Chemicals if Bhopal's workers had killed the plant, rather than the other way around? My guess is 983 seconds. Ahluwalia would have probably sent the funds by wire.

The Madhya Pradesh government made a request for Rs 983 crore as additional compensation for the rehabilitation of gas victims. Ahluwalia could not find the money in 2008. When, in 2010, public anger at 26 years of injustice — not from Carbide, or Dow Chemical, but from Indian courts and brazenly insensitive Delhi governments — reached a crescendo, Ahluwalia discovered the money in 983 seconds, and released it quietly, a few hours before the first meeting of that desperate vote-saving device called the Group of Ministers.

Why was there no money two years ago and why is there money today?

Money was never the problem; Ahluwalia and his masters simply did not care for the gas victims. They were far more worried about the health of Dow Chemical, which was threatening to teach India a lesson for not eliminating any hope for liability payment from the company that had bought Carbide. Gas victims do not participate in discussions between India and American industry.  They can't speak English, and don't live in Lutyens bungalows, so how would they understand the exchange rate between Delhi and Wall Street?

Does the Union government have Rs 1,000 crore lying around in petty cash, which an upwardly mobile bureaucrat can pick up whenever he chooses to? Or does the Planning Commission have a secret account for emergencies like a sudden outburst of public opinion?

Officially, no: all expenditures must go through due process and find a claim on the national budget. But there is lots of moolah available from diversion; if you can't dip your hand into the holy Ganga, there is always a quiet tributary teeming with fish. Each year, many departments cannot actually spend their allocated money and therefore return unspent portions. The minorities ministry has been notorious for finding ways in which it can avoid expenditure. In any case, a Union government can always find money if it wants to.

Why did the Madhya Pradesh government wait 24 years before it asked for Rs 983 crore? Why not in the first 983 days? Or in the next thousand days? Why wait for over 8,000 days?

Primary motivation

The snail-pace of the system is the easy, but bogus, answer. Over the last quarter century, Congress and BJP have shared power in Madhya Pradesh for about an equal number of years. They have offered a range of chief ministers from the charismatic to the useful to the voluble to the forgettable. Irrespective of their comparative merits, each CM has  been motivated by one primary desire, re-election. That is the basic propulsion machine of our democracy, as indeed of any other democracy. The great tragedy of Bhopal is that it never became a game-changer in electoral politics, either in India or in the state, and so politicians simply did not care enough about the consequences of their indifference or malice.

A decisive general election was held within four weeks of Bhopal, but the mood of the voter in 1984 was shaped  by the martyrdom of Indira Gandhi and the youthful promise held out by Rajiv Gandhi. Congress won every seat in MP, and very nearly every seat in most of the country. Five years later, it was Bofors, to be followed by Mandal and Ram Mandir. Life moved on. Bhopal's dead, as happens so often, became a vague memory, a cause limited to activists rather than national purpose. It has taken 26 years for Bhopal to enter the political narrative, which is why Opposition parties are reactivating their comatose limbs, and government is discovering money that it could not find for a quarter century.

Will Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hold Ahluwalia, or anyone else, accountable?



The UPA government and its fulcrum, the Congress, believes that this is only another passing storm, albeit one of unsuspected turbulence. They can see the storm becoming a gale, with a couple of tornados hidden within the chaos. They have probably allotted private codenames: Tornado Digvijay, Gale Rasgotra, Storm Narasimha, and perhaps even Irritating Disturbance Singhvi. Hurricane Arjun (Force 4) is still to break, although, if it follows traditional patterns, it will veer and dissipate before hitting landfall. By the summer of 2011, Congress hopes, Bhopal will return to that old backburner, and a general election will still be a thousand days away.

It must be praying that Rs 983 crore will buy at least 983 days of peace.








People have unrealistic expectations. You don't erase the effects of a half-century of apart-heid in a generation.


When assessing nations, there are statistics and then there are the intangibles. Inflation and unemployment don't tell you much about patriotism, optimism and the sense of shared identity that make or break societies. South Africa is a case in point.

I spent part of my childhood in a South Africa that marked my imagination because it combined light and shadow as no other place: a succession of sunlit afternoons in gardens of avocado trees and jacaranda punctuated — as you drove from one barbecue ('braai') to the next — by glimpses of ragged blacks being herded into police vans.

"I supposed they don't have their passes," some relative would mutter and the mind of a London-born child of South African parents would wrestle with what that meant.

Gradually the white supremacist apartheid system came into focus. It was about denial — of skills to blacks, of mobility to blacks, of a living wage to blacks, of the very humanity of blacks. In the mind of the Afrikaner, with its Biblical justifications for oppression masquerading as separateness, the black majority was good only to be "hewers of wood and drawers of water" — if that.

This South Africa of my youth saw the world as 'anti-TWOL' — a silly acronym for a so-called traditional way of life. Among these 'traditions' was branding inter-racial sex a crime. Cataclysm always loomed. The imagined bloody end of an unsustainable system was not the subject of small talk but a lurking spectre.

Breaking away

And here we are, two decades after Nelson Mandela walked out of captivity, in a South Africa hosting the most-watched sporting event on earth, the World Cup, and doing so in a spirit of unity that has blacks and whites alike draped in flags, blaring on the plastic horns known as vuvuzelas, and rooting for the 'Bafana Bafana' — the boys.

The team is mediocre. South Africa will probably become the first host nation ever to fail to qualify for the second round. That would be sad but in the end immaterial. This particular World Cup is political. It is an affirmation of a nation's miraculous healing, of African dignity, and of a continent that deserves better than those tired images of violence and disease.

"The country is going to the dogs," — I still hear it as I heard it long ago in different guise. What did I say about statistics? There are plenty of them.

This is still a country where only 60 per cent of dwellings have flush toilets, where an estimated 6 million people are HIV positive, and where unemployment runs at 25 per cent. High walls — and 3,00,000 private security guards — testify to high murder rates.


To all of which I say: People have unrealistic expectations. They want to fast-forward life as if it were a gadget. You don't erase the effects of a half-century of apartheid in a generation. 'Non-racialism' — President Jacob Zuma's commitment — is not the state in which South Africa lives, any more than the US does.
Still, what I see is grandeur: a country of 49 million people, 38.7 million of them black, 4.5 million of them white, the rest mixed-race or Asian, that has held together and shunned Zimbabwean unraveling or Congolese implosion. Do not underestimate the South African achievement.

I sat in a packed stadium in the capital, Pretoria, as a vuvuzela crescendo greeted the Bafana and a white woman led 11 black kids onto the pitch. The horns fell silent for the Uruguayan national anthem. When South Africa lost 0-3, the response was dignified, peaceful: the intangibles of nationhood.

Let's talk vuvuzela for a moment. Players have complained. Facebook pages are dedicated to banning it. Ear plugs are selling briskly among European fans. Intolerable horns! This is actually Africa. The horn sounds to summon. From the kudu horn made from the spiral-horned antler to the plastic horn is not such a great distance.

The vuvuzela carries powerful symbolism. Rugby, the traditional sporting stronghold of the white Afrikaner, has shunned it. Soccer, dominated by blacks, has embraced it. Yet today Afrikaners flock into black Soweto to watch rugby and whites and blacks both carry their vuvuzelas into World Cup games. I'm sorry, French players will have to suffer their headaches: these are not minor political miracles.

The other day I was talking to a distant relative, an economist named Andrew Levy. He said: "I don't fear for my life, and that's the miracle of South Africa. I say hello to a black in the street and he'll say hello to me in a friendly way. I know I might get killed in the course of a robbery, not because I'm white, not because they hate me, but because there's poverty. I'm a patriot in the end. I love this country's beauty. And when I see the unity and good will the World Cup has created, I believe we can succeed."







Everybody in school wanted to do well for Miss June's sake.


Every June at the start of the new academic year, a mixed bag of children congregate at school. The confused, anxious and scared faces of some younger ones in new, oversized uniforms always remind me of my childhood new-school fears. As a five-year old I thought school was miles away from home, located in a different suburb of the Bombay of the 70s. The building was huge, classrooms packed with students from that neighbourhood.
The only attraction was our standard 2 class teacher, Miss June, who everybody thought was the most wonderful lady around. She wore a friendly smile, red lipstick, minis and high heels. When she had her shoulder-length hair fashionably permed, we simply gawked in admiration. I don't remember her ever raising her voice. She taught everything except art, music and PT and everybody wanted to do well for Miss June's sake.

In contrast, Miss Irene whose bark was supposedly worse than her bite, taught English in standard 5. Actually her gentle sarcasm served to correct silly mistakes. And our class of 60 talkative tweens sat in pin-drop silence when she read out the chapter on Nancy's death from 'Oliver Twist'. I simply had to excel for 'Miss Irene's sake'.

Sometime ago, nostalgia made me look up the school website. I couldn't find a list of teaching staff and presumed that such a huge school must have too high a turnover for the website to keep track. Then, out of curiosity I clicked on the link for photographs of the staff. And there they were, smiling at me... Miss June's hemline has come down to below her knee and Miss Irene looks a little thinner.

If they are still there after almost three and a half decades they couldn't have been more than 21 years old when they taught us. After graduation both must have walked into the closest neighbourhood school to teach. They probably acquired the mandatory BEd on the way. Or maybe they just learned on the job that, love of the subject and good teaching notwithstanding, children do best if they idolise their teacher.







Samar Alhaj, a Lebanese lawyer and female activist with ties to Hizbullah, proposes transforming women into "the new secret weapon" against Israel.

That's why, says Alhaj, the ship Mariam – named after the Virgin Mary – which is slated to set sail from Lebanon to challenge Israel's naval blockade on Gaza, is making room for ladies only.

"We are [all] women in order not to give the thieving enemy [Israel] an excuse to use arms against the ship," Alhaj told a local Israeli Arab-language radio station at the weekend. "The [Zionist] entity…will be defeated by women that will come on the boat…We don't have Scud missiles or any other missiles and you will see what they will do to us."

UNITED BY their hatred for Israel, Sunni, Shi'ite and Christian women from Lebanon, the US, France, Britain, Japan, Kuwait and Egypt hope to present a particularly thorny challenge to Israel's predominantly male naval force, who will have to contend with a boat full of "the gentler sex" on the open sea resolved to force their way into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Alhaj and her colleagues know that video footage of almost any rough physical contact between IDF forces and the women would cause further enormous damage to Israel's already much-battered image.

Though it has the trappings of a feminist endeavor, this new flotilla could not be farther removed from the egalitarian ideals of feminism. According to the Guardian, the organizers, which include Hizbullah, rejected a request by Haifa Wehbe, a Miss Lebanon runner- up and popular singer, to join. Wehbe's "nudity, degradation and immodest dress" would "damage the reputations of all Arab and European women on board," Hizbullah sources reportedly said.

For those uninitiated into a culture of honor killings and face veils, it is not immediately clear how Wehbe's participation could damage the reputations of her fellow sea-goers. But apparently, for Hizbullah, even Israelbashing takes a backseat to misogynistic religious extremism.

PERHAPS THE banning of Wehbe also has something to do with the cover song of her popular album Baddi Eesh [I want to Live], released after the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, which is about "freedom, considered to be the most basic of human rights," according to an explanation provided online.

Wehbe's song was a reflection of the hopes of the hundreds of thousands (perhaps over a million) of Lebanese who took to the streets in protest against Syria's stranglehold on Lebanon through its security forces and through Hizbullah, its Iranian-backed proxy.

Known as the Cedar Revolution, the spontaneous grassroots uprising led to the resignation of Omar Karami's pro-Syrian government and Syria's effective withdrawal from Lebanon in April 2005, just two months after Hariri's assassination, which, it was said, was perpetrated by Syria. It seemed for a short time that Lebanon would be the first Arab country in the Middle East to embrace a liberal democracy.

But the freedom from Syria's influence was short-lived.

In the wake of the Second Lebanon War, Hizbullah has reasserted its control. Wehbe, in Lebanon's best political tradition of knowing when to change sides, has publicly praised Hizbullah for protecting Lebanon from Israel's aggression.

It should come as no surprise that Alhaj, who is cynically exploiting female vulnerability to delegitimize Israel, has ties to Hizbullah. Her husband was one of four high-ranking military figures arrested under suspicion of involvement in the assassination of Hariri. After being jailed for four years, he was released due to a lack of evidence.

On May 22 the Alhajs – husband and wife – met with Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who has recently called on Lebanese to break Israel's blockade by sending flotillas to Gaza.

Lebanon might still prevent the Mariam from attempting to break the Gaza blockade. The Arab daily Al-Hayat quoted Lebanese sources at the weekend who said it was illegal for a vessel leaving Lebanon to dock in an Israelicontrolled port.

Hopefully, Lebanese officials will regain their senses and stop the ship. Then the very idea of dispatching the Mariam will merely remain another symptom of the tragic failure of Lebanon's Cedar Revolution.








In a cost-benefit analysis of the administration's apologetic foreign policy posture, the costs to the US far outweigh the expected benefits.

In critiquing the Obama administration, I don't mean to suggest that it has no reason for wanting to please Arabs and Muslims. It is, after all, one of its highest (sometimes seemingly the highest) priorities. Unfortunately, in practice, this approach has often meant flattering the more extremist forces in those groups and giving short shrift to the more moderate among them.

This strategy isn't a conspiracy; it just doesn't correspond with the realities of the region.

The main factors inspiring this effort in terms of foreign policy – in contrast to ideological premises about America itself – are as follows: 1. The hope that Arab governments will help the US extricate itself from Iraq and ensure there is a stable regime there that is friendly to America.

Leaving aside US efforts within Iraq, there is no visible payoff on this issue.

Even relatively moderate (Sunni-led) Arab states are keeping the (Shi'ite- and Kurdish- led) Iraqi regime at arms' length while still favoring Sunni rebels. Syria continues to back Sunni terrorists in every way and if their effectiveness is declining, that's not due to Syrian moderation but to US and Iraqi defensive efforts.

So there is no particular dividend that the Obama administration's policy has gained for the US in Iraq, or Afghanistan for that matter.

2. The hope that Arab governments will help the US against Iran, especially in trying to stop Teheran from getting nuclear weapons and, if that fails, containing Iran.

Clearly, some effort is needed here to assure basing rights. Yet here, too, the policy makes little difference. Arab regimes need US protection against Iran and want American weapons for themselves.

No matter what the US says or does, Arab state policies (except for pro-Iran Syria) remain the same: In private, they hope that Iran will somehow be prevented from getting nuclear weapons; in public, they say little and do less.

At the same time, though, Arab states are also intimidated by Iran (especially given their perception that the Obama administration is weak), and worried about internal subversive forces and their rivals portraying them as lapdogs of the West. They also know that nationalist and religious sentiments run high, in part because these same governments have long encouraged them.

Thus, their help will be limited no matter how much Obama tries to persuade them that he is a nice guy, sorry for the past and not too close to Israel.

3. The hope that if sufficiently soothed, flattered and appeased, Arabs and Muslims are less likely to join or support anti- American terrorist groups. Here, no doubt there is some limited success, very limited.

Al-Qaida has been weakened more by US offensive actions and, in some cases, regime repression than a pro-American shift by the population.

People join revolutionary Islamist groups for a variety of reasons but basically because they want the transformation of their own societies by an Islamist revolution. Anti-Americanism is a very secondary factor for the vast majority of these recruits. The key point is that they are against their own governments and accept an Islamist interpretation of the world.


4. The hope that the US can stay out of crises, including Israeli-Palestinian, the struggle over power in Lebanon, the intervention of Syria and Iran backing terrorists in Iraq, of Pakistan backing terrorists in India and others. Obama succeeds in avoiding such entanglement, but the cost is that there are victories for revolutionary Islamists (Hamas entrenches itself in the Gaza Strip; Syria recaptures control over Lebanon; Hizbullah becomes stronger; Iran and Syria can intervene in Iraq and kill Americans there without cost; moderate regimes lose faith in America; etc.). The failure to impose costs on radical states, the openness to engaging Islamists, the posture of weakness and apology makes the radicals more aggressive and confident.

5. There is also some domestic advantage for Obama, who can argue that he has made America (or at least himself) popular and reversed the armed engagements and anti-Americanism that developed during his predecessor's administration.

AND YET even here, the last fortress of the claim that current US policy makes sense is under assault. According to the latest Pew poll, Arab and Muslim positive views of the US are down. In Egypt, the numbers are even lower than during the administration of George W. Bush. The attitudes toward Obama himself are also extremely low.


This is true not only in the Arab world, but also in Pakistan, where the administration has poured in billions and given virtually uncritical support to a regime that is not all that helpful in fighting anti-American terrorists and eager to help anti-Indian ones. Just 17 percent have a positive view of the US, and only 8% of Obama himself. He's even less popular than is America as a whole.

And what effect has Obama had in trying to prove the US isn't really a leader but just one of the guys? The number of people in the world who think that the US is multilateral has gone up only six points, from 26% to 32%. Among those who support the administration, there is an assumption that the whole strategy of apology, empathy, the Cairo speech, the Istanbul speech, the distancing from Israel, the redefinition of the "war on terror" into a narrow "war on al-Qaida" has brought benefits. Yet it is rather difficult to define precisely what those benefits have been.

The costs of this policy are much easier to measure.

A key element in this strategy has been to distance the US from Israel and to bring it closer to Iran, Syria and Islamist groups. Ironically, this has also meant in practice a reduction of support for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, pro-Western forces in Lebanon and all the other Arabs who want US protection against the radicals. Perhaps, then, if even the popularity strategy has failed the US should think of a strategy based on such traditional diplomatic concepts as credibility through strength, support for allies, imposing prices on enemies and showing real leadership.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies. He blogs at







If the PM couldn't even issue a statement of support for the rule of law in the face of the petty Emmanuel standoff, the chances of his standing up to the haredi parties on issues that really affect their way of life are slim indeed.

Seeing the photograph of the haredi father from Emmanuel tenderly saying good-bye to his children before making his triumphant entry to prison last week didn't bring tears to my eyes. Having had to say good-bye to my children on a regular basis as I left for reserve duty for up to a month at a time, I don't regard a two-week stateenforced absence from the family home as an overwhelming tragedy on a par with czarist or Bolshevik persecution.

Who knows, just as I found my reserve army duty as a chance to mix with people outside my normal social circle, perhaps the 35 haredi men will find their incarceration in a low-level security prison an opportunity to expand their cultural horizons. But probably not, and that's a shame.


Very little good has come out of the High Court's decision to jail the men, and a little social mixing between these haredi fathers and the secular inmates would at least begin to open up lines of communication between two very different segments of the population.

It's important to remember that despite the mass demonstrations, minute-by-minute media coverage and front-page photographs, last week's jailing of the Emmanuel parents is not a watershed in Israeli democracy. It is more a classic example of two sides scampering up a tree without checking whether the ladder is still there when they need to climb down.

As the dust settles, the haredim have gained nothing except a certain amount of self-satisfaction by challenging the High Court, while the court needlessly allowed itself to be dragged into petty arm-twisting. It's a shame that on Sunday the High Court failed to revoke the mothers' prison sentences, postponing their decision for another couple of days and thereby allowing the issue to continue festering.

THE REALLY important court decision came a few days before the "martyrdom" of the Emmanuel parents: the High Court's ruling that the provision of state stipends to married yeshiva students – but not to university students – violates the principle of equality stipulated in the budget foundation law.

The ruling took a shocking a 10 years to deliver but clearly stated that the present economic discrimination in favor of married yeshiva students who receive income should be abolished in the name of equality. As Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch wrote: "The need for income support is identical whether the student is enrolled at an institution of higher education... or a married student at a kollel."

Given that the state decided to abolish these stipends 10 years ago for university students, there is no reason that married yeshiva students alone should continue to enjoy a state subsidy.

Not surprisingly, Shas leader Eli Yishai has vowed to use the Knesset to override the court, hyperbolically claiming "the High Court ruling is a blow to the spiritual status quo of the nation of Israel" rather seeing it for what it is: a blow to the pockets of family heads who prefer to live off charity and state handouts than dirty their hands with a day's honest work.

TAKING THE issue to the Knesset is no idle threat on Yishai's part. Like all bullies, he is scared of stronger partners, as seen by his failure to challenge the Ashkenazi haredi establishment over the anti-Sephardi discrimination (the very raison d'être of Shas' establishment!) in Emmanuel, but is quick to smell weakness in others.


And as we all know, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is good at talking tough before quickly capitulating. We've seen it in his relationship with US President Barack Obama, with the changes in the Gaza Strip blockade policy and, throughout his two terms as premier, in his relationship with the haredi parties.

Netanyahu the economist knows that Israel's survival is predicated on a healthy economy in which all sectors of the population contribute. A situation in which an increasingly large number of young men fail to join the labor force because they have neither the skills needed in a modern economy due to their "studying" in an educational system that places no value on secular knowledge, nor the incentive to work because of the easy availability of state handouts, is unsustainable.

But Bibi the politician has tied his mast to the whims of the haredi parties. There is no guarantee that he will put the greater good of the country before the narrow interests of Shas and United Torah Judaism when the Knesset votes on the next economic arrangements bill, the supplementary legislation that accompanies the state budget, and a way round is found to continue keeping married haredi men out of the labor market. For if the prime minister couldn't even find it within himself to issue a fulsome statement of support of the High Court and the rule of law in the face of the petty Emmanuel standoff, then the chances of his standing up to the haredi parties on an issue that really does affect their way of life are slim indeed. And the rest of the country will have to pay for Netanyahu's weakness.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.







To Iran, the Turkish flotilla was not an attack on the Israeli blockade of Gaza, but first and foremost an assault on its influence in the Strip. If you ask an Iranian to state the first thing that springs to mind on hearing the name Farid al-Din Hadad Adel, the likely reply will be (if the person has heard of him) that he's the son of former parliament speaker Gholam Ali Hadad Adel. And if you ask what else, then that he's the grandson of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. There's a good chance no one will describe him as one of Iran's best-known journalists, because, in reality, he's not.

So when Hadad Adel junior decided to write an op-ed for the Jahan News Web site (affiliated with Iran's main intelligence agency, VAVAK) in February, in which he predicted that another war may be about to be launched against Iran, not many people took notice. Nor did they pay much attention to his view on which country is most likely to be the perpetrator:


"If we view the option of war as a possibility, we have to pay attention to the conduit for the imposition of such a war. Where is the country which has the suitable human resources? Which country can hope for the entry of its European and American friends into the arena of war, if it enters into war against us? Will NATO be considered as the supporter of our future enemy or the Arab League? The answer is clear. Turkey is the only option for the advancement of the West's ambitions."

Iran's relations with Turkey were in fact improving greatly at the time the piece was published. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had visited Teheran on October 28, in what was a very successful visit during which he met Iran's supreme leader as well as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. These factors, plus Hadad Adel's reputation as someone who received his post as head of the political council of the popular Hamshahri Javan magazine (Hamshahri for Youth) because of his family connections and not his skill set, led many to dismiss Hadad Adel's controversial prognosis.

But actually, he may have had a point.

While some in the West are worried about a new Iran-Turkey alliance being formed, they should also be aware that despite the seemingly close relations between the two, there are people in Iran who view Turkey with suspicion. Turkey may be a friend of today, but to the Islamic Republic, it's the rival of tomorrow.

THE EVIDENCE is there for all to see.

The Iranian government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on support for Hamas. However, these days, the most popular foreign flag in Gaza is that of Turkey, not Iran. People are naming their children Erdogan (and no one seems to be calling their child Ahmadinejad).

To some Iranians, the Turkish flotilla shouldn't be interpreted as an attack on the Israeli blockade of Gaza, but first and foremost as an assault on their influence in Gaza. Iran's efforts to send its own flotilla are testimony to that. Its main goal is not to help Palestinians who are suffering the consequences of the blockade – that's maybe a second or third consideration.

Its number one goal is actually to save its standing and influence in Gaza vis-a-vis the Turks, and to improve its image in the Islamic world as the defender of the Islamic cause.

It's the same with Syria. For years, Iran has been trying to capture the Syrian market. Iranian officials have reportedly been greasing the palms of corrupt Syrian oligarchs such as Rami Makhlouf and the Assad family with bribes. They were also investing in the country when it was considered a pariah and no one else would invest there. This was especially true after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Now the Turks have arrived, and with their free trade agreement are penetrating the Syrian economy and grabbing market share from Iran. The fact that both countries share a land border (unlike with Iran) makes Turkey an even more attractive destination.

Erdogan's recent policies suggest that he's on the path toward making Turkey the leader of the Islamic world, especially in the Middle East – something Iran has been trying to do for the past 32 years. This reality is ultimately going to see the two countries compete and clash over spheres of influence.

Between them, Turkey has a bigger and more advanced economy. Its relations with the US and EU are far better than those of Iran. So are its relations with Sunni countries as well as Shi'ite ones. As a consequence, improving relations with Turkey offers much better prospects and returns for many Middle Eastern countries and groups.

And although they won't break off relations with Iran, the increasing presence of Turkey is likely to come at a high cost for Teheran.

Iranian leaders will soon be looking for some kind of competitive advantage.

With their economy in tatters and their country more isolated than before, becoming a nuclear-armed country is likely to be the most attractive and convenient means for Iran's supreme leader to gain an edge over the Turks.

The writer is an Iranian-Israeli Middle East analyst and the coauthor of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran. This article was first published on







I am no criminal, no infiltrator and no immigrant worker. The truth is that I am a refugee, escaping death in my country and looking for a safe place.

Talkbacks (7)


In writing this article, I am not using my real name because I live here in Israel as a refugee and revealing my identity may put my family and I at risk.

My family left behind in Darfur lives in refugee camps, and if it is known that I am here, the Janjaweed [a blanket term to describe armed men in Darfur and the rest of Sudan] and the Sudanese government will find them and they will be in grave danger.

Another reason for not using my real name is because it would risk my status here. I have a threemonth temporary visa, and my refugee status has not been determined yet. Since my status is unclear, I do not know what the implications of revealing my whereabouts would be and I can't afford to take the risks.

The authorities do not recognize me, as well as most others in similar situations in Israel as refugees. I was never questioned about the reasons I came here – I was never given the opportunity to prove who I am and get refugee status. Instead, I was given the temporary visa that allows me to stay three months at a time, but not a formal and clear status that would allow me to feel safe. The current situation, in which I need to repeatedly renew the visa that grants me nothing other than being able to stay here, is unsustainable: It does not allow me to have a stable job, no education prospects, no health care or any other rights granted to refugees. These opportunities would enable me to rebuild my life.

It is a very difficult, frustrating situation. Sometimes I am able to find a job, but most places don't allow people with this kind of visa to work. The authorities treat us not like refugees escaping danger and death, but like criminals and infiltrators or like people who came here for work. It seems that they could not care less about our welfare.

The local community, on the other hand, seems to understand that we are, indeed, refugees and accepts our situation. But, by labeling all foreigners as immigrant workers, I sense that the authorities are trying to set Israelis against us, as a threat to their work places and homes, and I deeply regret that. Without the ability to work steadily, many of my friends are at risk of becoming homeless, roaming the streets of southern Tel Aviv like criminals, becoming exactly what the local community members fear and being pushed there due to government negligence.

I am no criminal, no infiltrator and no immigrant worker. The truth is that I am a refugee, looking for a safe place. This situation was forced upon me, and I escaped Darfur because my life was in danger.

I still suffer from the genocide happening in Darfur. Back home, my family is always at risk and many people are dying. I will not die here, but I worry about the most basic needs like finding food and shelter.

At least in Darfur the UN provides the people with food. Here, we must fend for ourselves with whatever meager means we have.

I would like to be able to think of the future, to think of ways to help my community in Darfur. Not having formal refugee status puts me in a dangerous situation should I speak publicly about the horrors happening there.

I am a man seeking asylum here and should have all the rights that are accorded to people fleeing their countries for fear for their lives. Sunday was World Refugee Day and I'd like to take this opportunity to remind the authorities that being a refugee is not a choice. By next year, I hope to be able to go back home and not need to be called a refugee.

The writer has been in Israel since 2008.







In imprisoning dozens of parents, High Court justices have done nothing to improve Sephardi-Ashkenazi relations. Instead of promoting peace, they advanced acrimony.


Talkbacks (1)

As I observed the 20,000 haredim who demonstrated in Bnei Brak and 100,000 in Jerusalem on June 17 against the High Court ruling to send several parents of girls from a school in Emmanuel to jail for contempt of court, I ruminated on the Amish sect in Wisconsin and a ruling by the US Supreme Court in 1972.

That year, Jonas Yoder was fined $5 for not following Wisconsin's compulsory secondary education laws, but the US Supreme Court overturned the decision in Wisconsin vs. Yoder, finding that the benefits of universal education do not trump the First Amendment.

The court affirmed the parents' right to educate their children. But here the High Court did the opposite: The justices denied this right to parents in Emmanuel, fined them and on Thursday began to imprison them for a fortnight.

The court and the secular media have painted the new hassidic track in the Emmanuel school as the work of modern-day segregationists.

In reality, three of the men now imprisoned for contempt are themselves Sephardim. Advocate Mordechai Bass was commissioned to investigate by the Ministry of Education, and determined that no parent, Ashkenazi or Sephardi, who wanted to register for the hassidic track, and was willing to comply with its stricter religious standards, was turned down.

"If there is no refusal," he wrote, "where is the discrimination?" This is clearly not a case of racial or ethnic segregation. In a conversation I had with the principal of the Beit Ya'acov school, she explained that it had two tracks: the Slonim Hassidic track with a stringent religious code had roughly 30 percent Sephardi girls, and the more lenient track, which had one quarter Ashkenazim.

Her own son is imprisoned as her granddaughters chose the stricter hassidic track.

When the court intervened some months ago and meddled with the twotrack arrangement, the parents felt the level of religious observance had been compromised and sent their girls elsewhere.

The draconian long arm of the law then forbid them to send their daughters to any other school or even home school them, lest they be held in contempt of court.

LAST WEEK, as the demonstration in Bnei Brak got under way, a line of adorable girls clad in white Shabbat blouses, whose parents soon went to prison, stood next to me. I chatted with them, and observed the close camaraderie among the Sephardi and Ashkenazi girls in the hassidic track.

Their teacher held a collection of "letters to our parents" that the girls had written. They were soon invited to the porch of a first-floor apartment, "front row center" seats from which to watch the rally for their freedom of education.

Familiarity with the history of the small Slonim Hassidic court might have helped avoid this brouhaha.

It would have taken the justices five minutes of Internet browsing to learn that Slonimer Hassidim were among the first true Zionists. Their founding rebbe sent his grandsons to establish a presence in the Land of Israel in 1873 – a decade before what is officially called the First Aliya. A second group came with Rabbi Shalom Noah Barzovsky, the father of the current rebbe, in 1935. Thus Slonim was able to rebuild after most of its hassidim were slaughtered in the Holocaust – and it did so primarily through education.

Slonim educational institutions are open to all who agree to abide by their school by-laws. This information about Slonim Hassidut is accessible to all; it's not rocket science. With some research the justices could have avoided wielding a sledgehammer on a small and formerly fragile hassidic group. That may account for most of the sympathy other religious Jews felt for the beleaguered parents.

It is an injustice that the name of Slonimer Hassidim has been mistakenly associated with "segregation." On Thursday, the Sephardi leader Rabbi Moshe Ben-Moshe led a group from Netanya. In explaining to a nonreligious interviewer why he joined the rally, Rabbi Moshe said, "Today the court is interfering in haredi education, and forcing the Emmanuel parents to send their children to a school not of their liking. I am here so that tomorrow the court won't force you to send your children to a school not of your liking."

THERE IS no question that prejudice among Ashkenazim toward Sephardim is a problem in Israeli society.

But the severity of it is clearly decreasing and will continue to do so, usually not by government or court fiat. It is manifestly not the major problem in Emmanuel's small Beit Ya'acov elementary school. If the justices felt compelled to focus on this issue, perhaps they could have started closer to home. There is currently one justice who is identifiably of Middle Eastern descent, out of 17 on the Supreme Court. Since 1948, there have been dozens of Ashkenazi justices – and some four Sephardim.

The justices did not choose one of the many alternative ways to skin this delicate cat.

Rabbi Eliahu Biton, one of the several Sephardi fathers from Emmanuel, whose daughter Dassy was in the hassidic track of the school, addressed the demonstration in Bnei Brak before going to prison. He repeated what his young son had said accusingly to Dassy when he had complained to his sister, "It's all your fault, Dassy, that Daddy is going to prison."

Biton said that he smiled and corrected the boy. "It's not Dassy's fault.

It's her honor and privilege to be the reason I am going to prison."

The writer has engineering degrees from Stanford University and the Technion, and currently works as a translator of rabbinic Holocaust memoirs. Rabbi Ya'acov Menken, director of Project Genesis, contributed to this op-ed.








Chaos as World Zionist Congress passes settlement resolution.

This past World Zionist Congress, the 36th, honoring Theodor Herzl's 150th birthday, was the first we have ever attended. We both grew up in Zionist youth movements in Australia and developed strong Jewish and Zionist identities and passions for activism.

We went to Jewish day schools and learned about the Jewish people, its spirit and its mission, and understood our responsibilities as a people, and as individuals.

We spent time in Israel, far away from our families, and in a two-way process we both gained knowledge and experience from living here.

There are so many things that bring us together, no matter your flavor of Zionism; and the proof of this is the World Zionist Congress.

For the leadership of the Jewish world to come together to celebrate our efforts and reset our dreams for the next four years is a great display of our achievements.

For the young and old, religious and secular, Left and Right, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, to all sit in a giant hall and discuss the future of the Zionist movement should be a beautiful moment of Jewish harmony.

It is true that we discuss controversial matters – perhaps those that cause the greatest divides between factions – but on Thursday that discussion unnecessarily descended into anarchy.

Both sides of the aisle engaged in a style of debate that would have disappointed Herzl and the other great leaders of our movement.

After hours of debating and voting on Zionist education, aliya and youth leadership, the question of the US-Israel relationship was raised, and the possibility of the World Zionist Organization calling for a total freeze on construction in the territories. This controversial vote prompted the right-wing bloc to storm the stage and denounce the body as undemocratic.

It was unfortunate to see that the Left responded in kind, with dozens of people on stage yelling, screaming and name-calling. Microphones were snatched, the stage was exploited for partisan bickering, and it seemed as though the next step would involve punches being thrown. The entire plenary had descended into chaos; it was hardly what either of us had expected from our first congress.

IN AUSTRALIA we teach youth group members the value of vigorous debate and healthy disagreement.

Seminars bring all the youth movements together to exchange ideas on various matters and nothing could be more beneficial. It gets heated, sure, but never is a slur made or a member moved by anger to leave his chair.

The session before us was disastrous. We grew up discussing these issues, of settlements and conversions, and know that all the delegates would have too, but is this what the World Zionist Congress had come to? We decided we had to act. If the steering committees and presidents could not call for calm, perhaps the reasonable voices of two young Australians could take the stage and restore order. We came up, pleaded with our elders to let us speak for a minute, and finally took the stage.

We pleaded for calm and highlighted the similarities between us, that what unites us is greater than what divides us and that we require a balance between civility in discussions and fervid ideological debate. It is integral for our Zionist movement to come together and realize this behavior is not the way to continue our important work. Thankfully, we were met with voracious applause and then, mostly, calm.

The truth is the strength we gain from our unity is immeasurable. It was that impetus that led the two of us to make a stand and call for a pause in the proceedings to assess our behavior.

We both grew up on opposite sides of the coin – one a secular lefty from Habonim Dror, the other from Bnei Akiva and on the center- right – and it was exactly these differences that brought us together .

For us to be able to hold vastly different views on the settlements, on the role of religion in the Jewish state and on how to solve the Israeli-Palestinian question, but to still understand that we both seek the best for our people and for our state is a powerful statement on the strength of our movements.

Indeed, the impassioned debate within our communities and within the congress is one of the greatest assets we have. Certainly, those who seek to destroy us have nothing of the sort, but no debate should near violence.

We call on an increasingly divided Jewish world to continue debating and exchanging ideas, for that is essential. It is what makes our people, and our state, so resilient and so strong.

Most importantly perhaps, we implore leaders from around the world to reach out and expose more people of our generation to the possibilities of involvement and activism that so many of us are crying out for.

More than a hundred of the youth delegates met throughout the congress to discuss how we can take more responsibility for Zionism in Israel and throughout the Diaspora. It is essential that those calls are heeded and translated into seats at the table and a real voice in the Zionist movement.

Without understanding, and without the inclusion of the strong youth leadership already at its disposal, the Jewish people, and the State of Israel, will lose the next generation. We are ready to take the baton and start sprinting. In the world we live in, we don't believe we can afford not to.

Jacob Wytwornik is a new immigrant, originally from Melbourne, and represented Mizrahi at the World Zionist Congress. Liam Getreu, also from Melbourne, is chairman of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students, which he represented at the congress.











It is hard not to be impressed by the determination of the Knesset Education Committee's members. Last week, they focused on enemies of Zionism in academia and demanded that the education minister punish suspect lecturers. And this week, they deserve a grade of "excellent" for creativity: In a real stroke of genius, they drew a parallel between two principals, Ram Cohen and Ze'ev Dagani, and the Islamic Movement. And to top it off, they did so during a hasty discussion on "the limits of freedom of expression in the education system," with the minister present.


Strange. Last Wednesday, the committee announced only that it was calling Dagani and Cohen in for a meeting. Apparently, they are the only principals in the education system who have an opinion - or at least who express it. But then, on Thursday morning, urgent motions by four concerned MKs were suddenly added to the agenda. These motions argued that "the Islamic Movement is penetrating Arab schools and promoting hatred of Israel, and all this with state funding."


Committee chairman MK Zevulun Orlev and his friends would never dream of holding a similar investigation into the state religious schools. Yet there, too, far removed from state supervision, the system encourages an extremist religious ideology.


But even putting aside the debate over whether these educators stay within the reasonable bounds of freedom of expression, or verge on incitement (for instance, some heads of hesder yeshivas, which combine Torah study with army service, have urged their students to disobey orders from army officers ), one question still remains: Is the state supposed to finance semi-private schools that nurture such forms of education?


Orlev and his friends would certainly respond that "they are not against the state," but moderate rabbis and educators think differently. In their view, some of these schools are raising a new generation of "national religious non-Zionists," who reject the secular state and, until the Temple is rebuilt, are prepared to do anything to destroy it. The abuse of moderates and their children in the national religious camp's educational institutes is rarely noticed by the secular public, but it is becoming more and more aggressive.


And we have yet to say a word about the independent ultra-Orthodox schools, or about a deputy education minister who publicly comes out against the state's laws, or about the fact that the Islamic Movement's greatest opponents come from the Arab community itself. For years, they warned that the state's neglect was empowering the fanatic religious alternative. So who is Orlev, one of the leaders of the system that created this distortion, complaining about?









The Turkel Committee that is investigating the handling of last month's Gaza-bound flotilla - otherwise known as the "independent public committee" - convened last week for a preparatory meeting. The committee is a kind of Israeli council of sages whose purposes are to examine whether the naval blockade and the way it was enforced were compatible with international law, and to placate the world, especially the United States.


But the two foreign observers who will grace the made-in-Israel committee - who have no right to vote or to sign off on the report - will not be enough to convince anyone that the committee is of sufficient stature to obviate the need for an international commission of inquiry, or to ensure that the U.S. will oppose an international inquiry.


The government, according to its own press statement, established the committee "in consultation with the justice minister and the attorney general." The statement does not say their advice on how to proceed was accepted, but simply that they were consulted.


The prime minister, justice minister and their advisers carefully chose the committee's members, who for some reason do not include anyone with clear expertise in the specific relevant fields, such as international maritime law or the laws of war. Only one committee member, Prof. Shabtai Rosenne, has expertise in international law at all. The committee was intentionally chosen to conduct a quiet and not overly energetic investigation into the legality of the naval blockade and its enforcement, while being mindful of outward appearances.


The committee is "independent" in the sense that its members are not connected to the Prime Minister's Office or the defense establishment. But that is far from the true independence conferred by being able to use the full range of investigative powers provided for by law. In Israel, such authority is reserved for a state commission of inquiry operating under the Commissions of Inquiry Law. Such a commission has full investigative powers, and its members are appointed by the Supreme Court president, which underlines its absolute independence.


Nevertheless, a similar arrangement exists for governmental inquiry committees, whose members are appointed by a cabinet minister or ministers in accordance with the Government Law. That law allows the cabinet to give such a panel full investigative powers if it is headed by a retired judge. The cabinet indeed gave such powers to the Winograd Committee, which examined the Second Lebanon War, after then-prime minister Ehud Olmert carefully chose its members.


But this latest public committee is neither a state commission of inquiry nor a governmental inquiry committee. It is no more than a forum of people whose wings have been clipped, and it is entirely dependent on the goodwill of the prime minister, cabinet ministers and other officials who will be called to testify before it and submit documentation.


The cabinet's decision allowed the committee to decide whether its meetings will be open or closed to the public. However, the decision stated categorically that the committee may not hold open hearings on matters that could endanger Israel's security or foreign relations. Thus should the committee make the correct decision and open most of its sessions to the public, it might anger the government, which in turn might retaliate by reducing its level of cooperation with the inquiry.


The committee's chairman, retired Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel, distinguished himself in the past by rulings that supported almost total freedom of expression and viewed the press as the public's agent in procuring and disseminating information. Now, he will be expected to protect the public's right to know - a right without which the committee would be pointless.


The public committee was not given a mandate to investigate issues such as the nature of the government's preparations for a possible attempt to breach the naval blockade. On the other hand, several state commissions of inquiry, such as the Agranat Commission and the Kahan Commission, pushed the boundaries of their authority and examined whatever they thought was necessary to clarify the big picture. A public committee could do the same, and it is doubtful that the government would try to stop it.


Indeed, it is hard to see how the committee could examine the military circumstances that resulted in the naval blockade - which it has been charged to do - and issue a well-crafted, credible report on the subject without looking at the wider picture.


If the committee, as its chairman has promised, presents a sharp, clear picture in the reasonably near future as to what happened and what should have happened, it will turn the tables on its creators and become more than a council of sages. The public will then see that the panel's members are still vigorous, even if two of them are much older than the mandatory retirement age for judges, which is 70.









Though the ultra-Orthodox clash with the Supreme Court erupted over the Immanuel school segregation case, the court's really important ruling last week was its abolishment, as of the end of 2010, of welfare payments for married yeshiva students. As Haaretz reported back in 1998, these income maintenance payments constitute a key component of the benefits this community receives.


It is doubtful that there has ever been a worse investment in the Israeli economy than the NIS 135 million budgeted for this purpose. Not only did this money help 11,000 men study in yeshiva instead of going to work, but it also created a situation in which it was not worth it for either them or their wives to work, because that would entail the loss of the allowance. In other words, more than this money has boosted incomes, it has served to perpetuate poverty and sabotage Israel's gross national product.


Contrary to the bombast of Haredi propagandists, their "society of scholars" is not a historic Jewish tradition. All through history, Jewish society has been one in which a majority that worked and earned a living funded a minority of Torah scholars. Today's ultra-Orthodox society of scholars, which numbers 100,000 yeshiva students, could have evolved only in a modern welfare state that provides benefit payments. The more the Haredi community has grown, however, the more impossible it has become for taxpayers to bear the burden of supporting them.


The petition for abolishing the guaranteed income allowances - submitted in 2000 by the leader of Jerusalem's secular community, the late Ornan Yekutieli - made a clear statement: We can no longer fund the Haredim who shirk working for a living. The Supreme Court's decision to hand down its judgment only 10 years later, at the height of a public debate over the grave damage that the society of scholars is causing the Israeli economy, also sent a clear message to the Haredi leadership: This far and no further.


Members of the Haredi community like to boast of the social change it has undergone in recent years: Thousands, they say, are learning trades and going to work. Therefore, Haredi spokesmen argue, there is no need for pressure; it would even be counterproductive. But the truth is that all this is far from enough. According to even the most optimistic statistics, only 45 percent of Haredi men work, and most researchers put the figure at less than 40 percent. Furthermore, any such change is the result of the cuts in child allowances and yeshiva subsidies made by then-finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2003.


An insufficiently well-known fact is that two years after Netanyahu's cuts, the poverty rate in the Haredi community began to go down: When people go to work, whether they want to or are forced to, they become less poor. The abolitiont of guaranteed income allowances for Haredim at the end of this year can thus be expected to cause a rapid rise in the number of workers, and in its wake, a dramatic decrease in the community's poverty level - on condition, of course, that Netanyahu does not cave in and hock the economy's future in exchange for short-term coalition quiet.


But the money that is saved should not be taken from the Haredim. Instead, it should be invested in vocational training for yeshiva students, in job creation, in small-business loans, and in salaries for more Haredi soldiers, including in the career army. It should be invested in a Haredi national service program in emergency services like the fire department, the Magen David Adom ambulance service and the police. It should be invested in rescuing Haredi society from poverty and creating a situation in which many fewer Haredim will need guaranteed income allowances. It is doubtful that there could be a better investment than this for the Israeli economy.


The writer is vice president of research and information for Hiddush - For Religious Freedom and Equality.









At times, when I'm watching my little grandchildren, my thoughts turn to Grandpa Bibi. Doesn't Shmuel's grandfather also wonder what kind of country our generation will bequeath to theirs? Grandchildren turn the future from a mere political, social or economic concept into concrete reality, replete with responsibility. Doesn't Benjamin Netanyahu ask himself what he is doing to ensure that his grandson will raise his children in a Jewish and democratic state? Is it possible that this man, who has taken upon himself for the second time supreme responsibility for the fate of the Zionist dream, believes that time and his own inactivity are working for the good of future generations?


The dramatic speech Netanyahu delivered last July at Bar-Ilan University elicited hopes that he had begun to free himself of the shackles of the past and to overcome the fears of his revisionist father. He addressed the Palestinians as neighbors, not enemies, calling on them "to give our young generation a better place to live" and to act together to advance the two-state solution, each state with its own flag and government. He placed the partition of the land at the center of his political vision.


The leader of the right spoke of the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state as a Zionist interest, and not as a forced response to external pressure.


In the year that has passed since that "historic" speech, no Israeli or Palestinian child, including the infant Shmuel, has been born into a better world. Negotiations over the two-state solution have devolved into small-time haggling over neighborhoods in the West Bank and buildings in East Jerusalem.


Instead of discussing the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which is gradually fading away, the government occupies itself with shopping lists of Gazans. Most of the time and energy of the decision makers is devoted to putting out fires in international relations. Not only doesn't the government advance a solution to the conflict, it is not even managing it correctly and preserving the status quo.


Any child who has ever ridden a bicycle knows that if you stop pedaling you fall flat on your face. An Israeli leader who gives up on progress in the negotiations toward a two-state solution is dooming his grandchildren, and perhaps his children too, to a binational, one-state solution. This is no longer the nightmare scenario of lunatic-fringe leftists who have lost their faith in the god of the status quo. Moshe Arens, Netanyahu's first political patron, who appointed him deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C. in 1982, argues that the only realistic alternative to partition is extending Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank and giving Israeli citizenship to the Palestinian residents.


Although all of the official documents Israel has signed declare that the Gaza Strip and the West Bank form a single entity, Arens has unilaterally erased the 1.5 million Gazans from the demographic equation. But even if his forecast proves correct, when the time comes for Shmuel to enlist in the armed forces of "Isratine" (Muammar Gadhafi's term) most of his age group will be followers of Allah and Mohammed, his prophet, or believers in the supremacy of halakha over the law of the land, or supporters of an apartheid government of isolated pariahs.


He will live, along with the grandchildren of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, if they remain here, in a state torn between fanatical Muslims and fanatical religious Jews. Sooner, rather than later, they will be an absolute majority and no Supreme Court will be able to intervene in the education of future generations of the enemies of progress and democracy.


You don't believe me? In Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, Jews who believe in the sovereignty of the Knesset are already in the minority.


Since the Bar-Ilan speech, Shimon Peres has been telling all guests to the Presidential Residence, albeit a little more hesitantly recently, that Netanyahu understands the dimensions of the "historical responsibility" that he bears. This is no mere inflated cliche: His actions and derelictions in coming months will affect Israel beyond 2010. When Grandpa Bibi plays with little Shmuel, he should know that his survival games are an irresponsible gamble on the fate of today's grandchildren.









The state commission of inquiry that investigated the treatment of those uprooted from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank told us what we already knew: The evicted settlers were treated reprehensibly. The commission lambasted the governments led by Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. Citizens whom the commission's report described as "the salt of the earth" - who, through hard work, built model communities in which unemployment was almost nil; who created innovative and successful agricultural enterprises, most of whose products were for export; and whose sons joined elite army units - woke one day to a nightmare that has still not ended: expulsion, destruction, unemployment, refugeehood.


How much evil, and how much stupidity, it took to leave the refugees in their plight! Bureaucratic obstacles were piled up before them. Problems not of their making suddenly became theirs. Why?! Why not ease their way, remove every pebble from their path, so that they could emerge from the terrible trauma of being evicted by their own army? Why continue making things difficult for them? Had those governments wanted to, they could have taken care of every one of those refugees. This is the moral obligation of the evictor, assuming he still has any morality left: not to rest until there really is a solution for every settler.


My husband, Shlomo Bashan, spent most of his life in Gaza's Gush Katif settlements. He was expelled from his home at age 25. Since there was no solution for every settler - neither in the long term nor in the short term - my love, who a day earlier had lived in a house, surrounded by family, friends and memories, was forced to live for a month and a half in the lobby of a hotel. Because no one cared.


After a month and a half, he was thrown out of the hotel by an Armenian employee. When my husband asked him how he, who had suffered the worst of all - who has no country and is the quintessential refugee - could evict another person, the Armenian said: All this is true. But I have a home and a bed to sleep in. You, who have a country and an army, were expelled by them. Now go.


Most of those who supported the disengagement have already changed their minds. The majority of the public sees that the expulsion did not solve the security problem. The proofs are last year's war in Gaza and the missiles that fly over the fence. Nor did it improve our international position: The proofs are the Gaza-bound flotillas and the anti-Semitic media atmosphere that spurs them on. So why did they destroy 25 communities and turn their residents into refugees? Why did they humiliate them so? Could it simply be because they hate settlers?


I have an old phone book of the West Bank and Gaza. I still use it sometimes. At those times I try not to turn, accidentally, to the pages of Kfar Darom, Neveh Dekalim, Ganei Tal, Rafiah Yam, Morag, Netzer Hazani, Bedolah, Gadid, Homesh, Sa-Nur, Netzarim, Alei Sinai, or any of the communities that were wiped out, whose residents were scattered and are now "refugees in their own country," to quote Justice Eliyahu Mazza.


Each of those pages in the phone book is terrible evidence of a community that used to be a living community, with houses and gardens and playgrounds, where mothers would meet in the afternoons to chat, and where on Shabbat, everyone would dress up and go to synagogue. But that community is no longer. Twenty-five such communities are no longer. And if you dial one of those numbers, there will be no one there to answer.


But somewhere in Gaza, the telephone will ring. And that ringing is the memory that lives on in the wounded hearts of those 8,500 refugees who are living among us.









Why was Staff Sgt. S., out of all the Israel Defense Forces' soldiers and officers, chosen to stand trial for killing two women in the Gaza Strip on January 4, 2009, the first day of Israel's ground incursion there? The IDF killed 34 armed men that same day. Was S. chosen because he was the only one who killed civilians?


Should his lawyer argue that he is being scapegoated, he can safely rely on the following statistics: The IDF also killed 80 other civilians that day - by close-range shooting, artillery fire, aerial fire and naval fire. Among them were six women and 29 children under the age of 16. Just go to B'Tselem's website and read the list: a 7-year-old boy, a 1-year-old girl, another 1-year-old girl, a 3-year-old boy, a 13-year-old girl.


B'Tselem is careful to differentiate between Palestinians who "took part in the hostilities" and Palestinians who "did not take part in the hostilities." Its list of fatalities states: "Farah Amar Fuad al-Hilu, 1-year-old resident of Gaza City, killed on 04.01.2009 in Gaza City, by live ammunition. Did not participate in hostilities. Additional information: Killed while she fled from her house with her family after her grandfather (Fuad al-Hilu, 62 ) was shot by soldiers who entered the house." The grandfather also did not participate in hostilities.


Or perhaps S. was chosen because Riyeh Abu Hajaj, 64, and Majda Abu Hajaj, 37, a mother and daughter, were the only ones killed while carrying a white flag that January 4? No. Matar, 17, and Mohammed, 16, were also killed. They were shot from an IDF position in a nearby house as they pushed a cart carrying the wounded and dead of the Abu Halima family, who were hit by a white phosphorous bomb that penetrated their home in northern Beit Lahiya. Five members of the family were killed on the spot, including a 1-year-old girl. Another young woman would die of her injuries a few weeks later.


The news that Staff Sgt. S. would stand trial created something of a stir - for a day. The military advocate general was praised. So was B'Tselem, and rightly so, for giving the army testimony about the Abu Hajaj killings that its field investigators, Palestinian residents of Gaza, had gathered. Palestinian organizations gathered similar material, while Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both published detailed reports about slain civilians. Everything is accessible on their websites. But we in Israel do not believe the gentiles, so let us focus only on B'Tselem.


B'Tselem also gave the army dozens of statements about the killing of other civilians who "did not take part in the hostilities." So why was Staff Sgt. S. chosen, rather than any of the others? Did someone from his unit violate the code of solidarity among soldiers for the sake of a higher code? This is indeed most likely to happen in the ground forces: All the witnesses who spoke to Breaking the Silence activists - i.e., those who were shaken by something that happened - came from the ground troops; they were the ones who saw the destruction, and the human beings, with their own eyes.


"The amount of destruction there was incomprehensible," said one soldier. "You go through the neighborhoods there and you can't identify anything. No stone is left unturned. You see rows of fields, hothouses, orchards, and it's all in ruins. Everything is completely destroyed. You see a pink room with a poster of Barbie, and a shell that went through a meter and a half below it."


But the breakdown of casualties shows that those killed by direct fire - where the soldier who shoots sees those he is shooting with his own eyes - are a tiny minority. At the request of Haaretz, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza analyzed the breakdown of casualties according to the type of fire. It found that 80 were killed by rifle fire, 13 by machine guns and 134 by artillery fire. It is unclear whether the 11 killed by flechette shells (shells filled with metal darts ) are or are not included in the latter figure.


Undoubtedly, these are estimates, with margins of error. Around 1,400 Palestinians were killed in Operation Cast Lead; at least 1,000 - most of them civilians - were killed from the air, by bombs dropped from planes or missiles fired from other airborne vehicles. To the soldiers responsible for the launches, they looked like characters prancing around on a computer screen.


B'Tselem and Haaretz, as well as the gentile organizations that need not be considered, all documented incidents of aerial killing. The IDF acknowledged two errors (the killing of 22 members of the a-Diya family in Zeitun with a single bomb, and the killing of seven people who were removing oxygen tanks from a metalworking shop, which on the computer screens looked like Grad missiles ).


"One characteristic of the recent IDF attack on Gaza is the large number of families that lost many members at one stroke, most of them in their homes, during Israeli bombings: Ba'alousha, Bannar, Sultan, Abu Halima, Salha, Barbakh, Shurrab, Abu Eisha, Ghayan, al-Najjar, Abed-Rabo, Azzam, Jebara, El Astel, Haddad, Quran, Nasser, al-Alul, Dib, Samouni," Haaretz wrote in February 2009. Are there no sergeants involved in those cases who ought to be investigated? Or is it that in these cases, an investigation would have to target people of higher rank than a mere staff sergeant?


The disclosure that Staff Sgt. S. will be tried created something of a stir. The military advocate general won praise. But S.'s attorney will rightly ask: Out of all the testimonies and reports, he is the only one you found?


And what of the commanders' attitudes, as described by those interviewed by Breaking the Silence: "When the company commander and the battalion commander tell you 'yalla, shoot,' soldiers will not restrain themselves. They wait for this day - to have the fun of shooting and feeling the power in your hands." What of the battalion commander's speech "the night before the ground incursion": "He said that it's not going to be easy. He defined the goals of the operation: 2,000 dead terrorists."


And if this was the operation's objective, perhaps we should investigate the supreme commander - Defense Minister Ehud Barak - about the gap between the objective and the result?




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




Congress has vowed to get tough with financial companies. But not so tough that members won't eagerly solicit and accept their campaign contributions. While the House and Senate have been wrestling over financial reform legislation, members of the relevant committees have found time to conduct more than 800 fund-raising events.


The tawdry symbiosis is so routine that some members are crying foul about a preliminary investigation by the House's new independent ethics watchdog. The Office of Congressional Ethics has sent out letters seeking information from heavyweight financial industry and business lobbyists with V.I.P. ties to the Capitol to figure out who may have offered what to whom and got what in the pending financial reform legislation.


It is too early to tell what will come of it, but it is already enlightening that seven lawmakers who proclaim their innocence were blithe enough to hold fund-raisers within 48 hours of a big vote last year on reform, netting donations from finance-industry check writers.


Not all lawmakers are so dense about avoiding at least the appearance of quid pro quo. Representative Barney Frank, chairman of the Financial Services Committee, whose members excel at reaping donations, has canceled three fund-raisers as Congress considers final approval of Wall Street reforms. "I thought it was a mistake to have financial industry-related fund-raisers while this bill was being considered," he told The Hill, a newspaper that covers Congress.


Ethics rules allow lawmakers to raise money from industries they oversee in committee roles, yet blanch at embarrassing timing. Tom DeLay, when he was House majority leader, was admonished for being brazen enough to host a fund-raiser for energy lobbyists on the eve of a critical energy-bill vote. This "created the appearance that donors were being provided with special access," members of the House ethics committee declared.


Ah, the appearance of things in the Capitol: Take the money, but not too close to the vote. It's still the stuff of fantasy to imagine publicly financed election campaigns that keep politicians and moneyed interests apart.







To anyone watching the oil spew into the Gulf of Mexico, the argument for curbing this country's appetite for fossil fuels could not be clearer. President Obama was right last week when he called on America to unify behind a "national mission" to find alternative energy sources, sharply reduce its dependence on oil and cut its greenhouse gas emissions.


We were disappointed, however, that Mr. Obama's address failed to insist that the best way to do all of these things is to establish a broadly based, economywide cap-and-trade system that would put a price on carbon emissions. He opened the door far too wide to alternative policies that aren't real alternatives — and to more stalling.


A House bill approved last year would set up such a system. Action in the Senate has been delayed for months, as Republicans, and some Democrats, have argued without any real proof that capping and pricing carbon emissions would cripple the economy by driving up the cost of energy.


On Wednesday, Democratic leaders, who have promised to bring an energy bill to the Senate floor after the Fourth of July recess but are nowhere near agreement on what should be in it, will troop down to the White House. This time, Mr. Obama must stress, explicitly and emphatically, that a conventional energy bill will not do — and that attaching real costs to older, dirtier fuels now dumped free of charge into the atmosphere is the surest way to persuade American industry to develop cleaner fuels.


Mr. Obama also needs to push back a lot harder against critics who claim, wrongly, that such an approach will raise electricity and fuel prices to unacceptable levels.


A new analysis from the Environmental Protection Agency shows that the most ambitious bill before the Senate, sponsored by John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman, would cost American households at most an additional $150 a year. That does not seem too high a price to pay for helping to avoid dangerous climate change. A simpler if less ambitious carbon cap proposal offered by Senators Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, and Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat, is designed to cost consumers even less, and is worthy of attention.


There are other honorable bills out there that have much to recommend them but fall short because they do not include mandatory greenhouse gas reductions or a price signal. A measure sponsored by Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, would require utilities to generate 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2021.


A bill from Indiana's Richard Lugar (one of the few Republicans to have stepped forward with genuinely positive ideas) seeks tighter fuel economy standards for cars and stricter efficiency standards for buildings — two huge sources of carbon emissions.

Those are good ideas that should be part of a comprehensive bill. By themselves they are not enough to reduce the country's dependence on fossil fuels or combat the dangers of climate change.

The politics won't be easy. Some big oil and power companies will push back hard, as will nearly all Republicans and many Rust Belt Democrats. But Americans are rightly outraged by the spill in the gulf. This is clearly the moment for President Obama and Senate leaders to deliver a tough and ambitious energy bill capable of protecting the environment and the nation's security.







On June 26, 2000, two scientific teams announced at the White House that they had deciphered virtually the entire human genome, a prodigious feat that involved determining the exact sequence of chemical units in human genetic material. An enthusiastic President Clinton predicted a revolution in "the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of most, if not all, human diseases."


Now, 10 years later, a sobering realization has set in. Decoding the genome has led to stunning advances in scientific knowledge and DNA-processing technologies but it has done relatively little to improve medical treatments or human health.


To be fair, many scientists at the time were warning that it would be a long, slow slog to reap clinical benefits.


And there have been some important advances, such as powerful new drugs for a few cancers and genetic tests that can predict whether people with breast cancer need chemotherapy. But the original hope that close study of the genome would identify mutations or variants that cause diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's and heart ailments — and generate treatments for them — has given way to realization that the causes of most diseases are enormously complex and not easily traced to a simple mutation or two.


The difficulties were made clear in articles by Nicholas Wade and Andrew Pollack in The Times this month. One recent study found that some 100 genetic variants that had been statistically linked to heart disease had no value in predicting who would get the disease among 19,000 women who had been followed for 12 years. The old-fashioned method of taking a family history was a better guide. Meanwhile, the drug industry has yet to find the cornucopia of new drugs once predicted and is bogged down in a surfeit of information about potential targets for their medicines.


In the long run, it seems likely that the genomic revolution will pay off. But no one can be sure. Even if the genetic roots of some major diseases are identified, there is no guarantee that treatments can be found. The task facing science and industry in coming decades is as at least as challenging as the original deciphering of the human genome.











Between them, Michael Rothbard and Victor Skolnick gave Long Islanders 30 years of evenings out that did not involve the multiplex or mall. Mr. Rothbard (live music) and Mr. Skolnick (art-house movies) were founding fathers of independent suburban culture, providing the offbeat, international, avant-garde, funky, cult, vintage, classic or just old.


Mr. Rothbard, a co-founder of the Inter-Media Art Center, died last year at age 63. Mr. Skolnick, who ran the Cinema Arts Center, died this month at age 81. The men were not related or affiliated. But they had a lot in common: their enterprises were small, low-key, nonprofit, sometimes in the worst way. Theirs were family businesses. Mr. Rothbard and his partner, Kathie Bodily, collaborated on arts projects before becoming impresarios of a crumbling vaudeville house in Huntington. Mr. Skolnick ran his movie house, also in Huntington, with his partner, Charlotte Sky, and their son, Dylan.


Huntington is a village that is not too snooty, not too sprawling, not too small. It has street life, artists and musicians. But it doesn't have Mr. Rothbard's theater anymore, which closed a few months before he died. There are other live theaters on Long Island, but hardly any that book the kinds of acts he did: Al Di Meola, Richie Havens, Livingston Taylor, Phoebe Snow. You could draw paying audiences with names like these, but he and Ms. Bodily got tired of the constant struggle.


Mr. Skolnick had more luck with his still-thriving movie house. He packed the place on weekend nights, and roamed it like a party host — holding up the show until he finished telling you about the movie you were about to see, and whatever else flitted across his mind.


It's strange to think of a place as affluent and educated as Long Island, home to 2.9 million, more populous than Chicago, relying so heavily on a few dreamers to keep its independent cultural scene alive. It is sad to think that two of its best dreamers are now gone. LAWRENCE DOWNES









Between them, Michael Rothbard and Victor Skolnick gave Long Islanders 30 years of evenings out that did not involve the multiplex or mall. Mr. Rothbard (live music) and Mr. Skolnick (art-house movies) were founding fathers of independent suburban culture, providing the offbeat, international, avant-garde, funky, cult, vintage, classic or just old.


Mr. Rothbard, a co-founder of the Inter-Media Art Center, died last year at age 63. Mr. Skolnick, who ran the Cinema Arts Center, died this month at age 81. The men were not related or affiliated. But they had a lot in common: their enterprises were small, low-key, nonprofit, sometimes in the worst way. Theirs were family businesses. Mr. Rothbard and his partner, Kathie Bodily, collaborated on arts projects before becoming impresarios of a crumbling vaudeville house in Huntington. Mr. Skolnick ran his movie house, also in Huntington, with his partner, Charlotte Sky, and their son, Dylan.


Huntington is a village that is not too snooty, not too sprawling, not too small. It has street life, artists and musicians. But it doesn't have Mr. Rothbard's theater anymore, which closed a few months before he died. There are other live theaters on Long Island, but hardly any that book the kinds of acts he did: Al Di Meola, Richie Havens, Livingston Taylor, Phoebe Snow. You could draw paying audiences with names like these, but he and Ms. Bodily got tired of the constant struggle.


Mr. Skolnick had more luck with his still-thriving movie house. He packed the place on weekend nights, and roamed it like a party host — holding up the show until he finished telling you about the movie you were about to see, and whatever else flitted across his mind.


It's strange to think of a place as affluent and educated as Long Island, home to 2.9 million, more populous than Chicago, relying so heavily on a few dreamers to keep its independent cultural scene alive. It is sad to think that two of its best dreamers are now gone. LAWRENCE DOWNES








Spend now, while the economy remains depressed; save later, once it has recovered. How hard is that to understand?


Very hard, if the current state of political debate is any indication. All around the world, politicians seem determined to do the reverse. They're eager to shortchange the economy when it needs help, even as they balk at dealing with long-run budget problems.


But maybe a clear explanation of the issues can change some minds. So let's talk about the long and the short of budget deficits. I'll focus on the U.S. position, but a similar story can be told for other nations.


At the moment, as you may have noticed, the U.S. government is running a large budget deficit. Much of this deficit, however, is the result of the ongoing economic crisis, which has depressed revenues and required extraordinary expenditures to rescue the financial system. As the crisis abates, things will improve. The Congressional Budget Office, in its analysis of President Obama's budget proposals, predicts that economic recovery will reduce the annual budget deficit from about 10 percent of G.D.P. this year to about 4 percent of G.D.P. in 2014.


Unfortunately, that's not enough. Even if the government's annual borrowing were to stabilize at 4 percent of G.D.P., its total debt would continue to grow faster than its revenues. Furthermore, the budget office predicts that after bottoming out in 2014, the deficit will start rising again, largely because of rising health care costs.


So America has a long-run budget problem. Dealing with this problem will require, first and foremost, a real effort to bring health costs under control — without that, nothing will work. It will also require finding additional revenues and/or spending cuts. As an economic matter, this shouldn't be hard — in particular, a modest value-added tax, say at a 5 percent rate, would go a long way toward closing the gap, while leaving overall U.S. taxes among the lowest in the advanced world.


But if we need to raise taxes and cut spending eventually, shouldn't we start now? No, we shouldn't.


Right now, we have a severely depressed economy — and that depressed economy is inflicting long-run damage. Every year that goes by with extremely high unemployment increases the chance that many of the long-term unemployed will never come back to the work force, and become a permanent underclass. Every year that there are five times as many people seeking work as there are job openings means that hundreds of thousands of Americans graduating from school are denied the chance to get started on their working lives. And with each passing month we drift closer to a Japanese-style deflationary trap.


Penny-pinching at a time like this isn't just cruel; it endangers the nation's future. And it doesn't even do much to reduce our future debt burden, because stinting on spending now threatens the economic recovery, and with it the hope for rising revenues.


So now is not the time for fiscal austerity. How will we know when that time has come? The answer is that the budget deficit should become a priority when, and only when, the Federal Reserve has regained some traction over the economy, so that it can offset the negative effects of tax increases and spending cuts by reducing interest rates.

Currently, the Fed can't do that, because the interest rates it can control are near zero, and can't go any lower. Eventually, however, as unemployment falls — probably when it goes below 7 percent or less — the Fed will want to raise rates to head off possible inflation. At that point we can make a deal: the government starts cutting back, and the Fed holds off on rate hikes so that these cutbacks don't tip the economy back into a slump.


But the time for such a deal is a long way off — probably two years or more. The responsible thing, then, is to spend now, while planning to save later.


As I said, many politicians seem determined to do the reverse. Many members of Congress, in particular, oppose aid to the long-term unemployed, let alone to hard-pressed state and local governments, on the grounds that we can't afford it. In so doing, they are undermining spending at a time when we really need it, and endangering the recovery. Yet efforts to control health costs were met with cries of "death panels."


And some of the most vocal deficit scolds in Congress are working hard to reduce taxes for the handful of lucky Americans who are heirs to multimillion-dollar estates. This would do nothing for the economy now, but it would reduce revenues by billions of dollars a year, permanently.


But some politicians must be sincere about being fiscally responsible. And to them I say, please get your timing right. Yes, we need to fix our long-run budget problems — but not by refusing to help our economy in its hour of need.








They doubted him during the health care debate. They second-guessed his Afghanistan policy. They've fretted over his coziness with Wall Street and his comfort with executive power.


But now is the summer of their discontent. From MSNBC to "The Daily Show," from The Huffington Post to the halls of Congress, movement liberals have had just about enough of Barack Obama.


The catalyst was last week's lackluster Oval Office address, but the real complaints run deeper. Many liberals look at this White House and see a presidency adrift — unable to respond effectively to the crisis in the gulf, incapable of rallying the country to great tasks like the quest for clean energy, and unwilling to do what it takes to jump-start the economy.


American liberalism has always had a reputation for fractiousness and frantic self-critique. But even by those standards, the current bout of anguish over the Obama presidency seems bizarrely disproportionate.


This is the same Barack Obama, after all, who shepherded universal health care, the dream of liberals since the days of Harry Truman (if not Thomas Paine), through several near-death experiences and finally into law. It's the same Obama who staked the fate of the American economy on a $787 billion exercise in Keynesian pump-priming. It's the same Obama who has done more to advance liberal priorities than any president since Lyndon Johnson.


Yet many on the left are talking as if he's no better for liberalism than Bill Clinton circa 1996 — another compromiser, another triangulator and another disappointment.


At work in this liberal panic are two intellectual vices, and one legitimate fear. The first vice is the worship of presidential power: the belief that any problem, any crisis, can be swiftly solved by a strong government, and particularly a strong executive. A gushing oil well, a recalcitrant Congress, a public that's grown weary of grand ambitions — all of these challenges could be mastered, Obama's leftward critics seem to imagine, if only he were bolder or angrier, or maybe just more determined.


This vice isn't confined to liberals: you can see it at work when foreign policy hawks suggest that mere presidential "toughness" is the key to undoing Iran's clerical regime, or disarming North Korea. But it runs deepest among progressives. When Rachel Maddow fantasized last week about how Obama should simply dictate energy legislation to a submissive Congress, she was unconsciously echoing midcentury liberal theoreticians of the presidency like Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who often wrote as if a Franklin Roosevelt or a John F. Kennedy could run the country by fiat. (They couldn't.)


The second vice is an overweening faith in theory. It's now conventional wisdom among Obama's liberal critics that the White House has been insufficiently ambitious about deficit spending. The economy is stuck in neutral, they argue, because Obama didn't push last year's recovery act up over a trillion dollars, and hasn't pressed hard enough for a second major stimulus.


Technically, they could be right — but only in the same way that it's possible that the Iraq War would have been a ringing success if only we'd invaded with a million extra soldiers. The theory is unfalsifiable because the policy course is imaginary. Maybe in some parallel universe there's a Congress that would be willing to borrow and spend trillions in stimulus dollars, despite record deficits, if that's what liberal economists said the situation required. But not in this one.


Yet the liberal drumbeat continues. As Tyler Cowen wrote last week: "advocates of fiscal stimulus make it sound as simple as solving an undergraduate homework problem and ... sometimes genuinely do not realize how much the rest of the world, including politicians, views them as simply being very convinced by their own theory." Nor do they acknowledge how much risk those same politicians have already taken on (with the first stimulus, the health care bill, and much else besides) in the name of theoretical propositions, while reaping little for their efforts save an ever-grimmer fiscal picture.


But it's here, with the looming fiscal crisis, that the more legitimate liberal fear comes in. Liberals had hoped that Obama's election marked the beginning of a long progressive era — a new New Deal, a greater Great Society. Instead, from the West Coast to Western Europe, the welfare state is in crisis everywhere they look. The future suddenly seems to belong to austerity and retrenchment — and even, perhaps, to conservatism.


In this environment, the rage against Obama for not doing more, now, faster, becomes at least somewhat understandable. It's not that he hasn't done a great deal for liberals during his 18 months in office. It's that liberalism itself may be running out of time.









Leslie Cooper started down the road to addiction a decade ago, when doctors prescribed strong painkillers after a particularly tough surgery. More surgeries followed. And more prescription pain pills.

Cooper didn't have to ply dark alleys to feed her addiction. She just went to several doctors and ultimately to the "pain-management clinics" that dot southern Ohio around Portsmouth, where she grew up. Last Oct. 2, she traveled two hours to fill a prescription at a Columbus pharmacy, one that has since been raided by authorities. By the next morning, Cooper, 34, was dead.


In her system, the medical examiner found a lethal mix: the muscle relaxer Soma, the anti-depressant Xanax and two painkillers, oxycodone and oxymorphone, according to a Columbus Dispatch report about the growing abuse of prescription drugs and the clinics that feed it.


Abuse of such medications is the "nation's fastest-growing drug problem," says Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy — a fact that is measurable in both emergency rooms and morgues.


A federal report released last week found that ER visits for misused prescription and over-the-counter drugs are now as common as visits for the use of illegal drugs. In 2008, the misuse of pain relievers — including oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone — led to about 305,000 ER visits, more than double the number in 2004.


From 1997 to 2002, while deaths from heroin and morphine decreased, fatalities from certain painkillers nearly doubled in 28 metropolitan areas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.


The problem is not easily addressed, in part because the patients involved really need pain relief, at least initially. Because "prescriptions are written by physicians" people see the drugs as safe, even if misused, says Barbara Krantz, a physician and CEO of the Hanley Center, a drug treatment center in West Palm Beach. So ethical, upstanding doctors unwittingly contribute to the problem. They can caution their patients, but they generally don't know whether the patients are being supplied by multiple doctors.


Meanwhile, in less ethical corners of the profession, some doctors have become the equivalent of pushers, particularly at shady pain-management clinics. In Florida, which has become a magnet for pill mills, six people a day died from prescription drug overdoses in 2008.


Part of the solution lies in making it easier to shut down pain clinics that operate on the ethical fringes. A new law signed in Florida this month moves in that direction. Ohio is considering one.


But legitimate doctors have far more sway. On the simplest level, they can learn to recognize the signs of abuse. More important, they can make better use of prescription monitoring databases that operate in 34 states. Pharmacies are required to report every filled prescription to those databases, but no state requires doctors to check before writing prescriptions. In some states, fewer than a third of physicians bother, defeating the purpose.


Doctors argue that checking takes precious time away from patients or turns them into "pain police," as an ER physician argues below. Maybe so.


Nonetheless, there's more value to checking. At the very least, doctors won't end up contributing to the problem. And at best, they might persuade patients such as Leslie Cooper to seek treatment and in so doing save their lives.








Emergency physicians have a primary obligation to treat emergencies, including pain. In fact, the duty to treat pain is so important that regulatory agencies score hospitals on their treatment of painful conditions. Emergency physicians should not be forced to become the "pain police," mandated to search for a patient's prescription history.


The patient-physician relationship is sacrosanct, demanding candor and trust. In the emergency department, trust is built in nanoseconds because patients and doctors do not have prior relationships. Knowing that any pain prescription will be entered into a large, public database might prevent patients from being truthful, or in the worst case, from seeking needed care.


Additionally, mandating that a physician search a database before writing a prescription will add to an overload of tasks keeping us from our patients. Even a minute per patient adds up.


The extra burden of interacting with a database will only add to the delay most patients experience in our overburdened and overstressed emergency care system.


The Government Accountability Office reported last year that patients who need to be seen in one-to-14 minutes are now waiting an average of 37 minutes to be seen.


A 2008 study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine tried to determine whether a "formal departmental drug-seeker policy" and database would significantly decrease the number of prescription drugs given to patients deemed to be drug seekers.


The study concluded that "the development of a formal 'drug seeker' policy and a readily available secure drug-seeker database did not significantly decrease the dispensing of narcotics to drug-seeking patients."


As an emergency physician, I can assure you that the drug abusers who use the emergency room simply to get a prescription drug fix represent a micropopulation of the 120 million patients who seek emergency care every year in the USA.


With emergency departments continuing to close because of uncompensated care, legislation and funding would be better used to shore up the nation's safety net.


Put bluntly, if legislators have money to spend, they should spend it where it will do the most good for our patients, and that is not on drug databases.


Angela Gardner, an ER doctor in Dallas, is president of the American College of Emergency Physicians









Internet users are complaining that the privacy settings on Facebook are confusing, and lawmakers are questioning Google about its gathering of e-mail and other personal data from Wi-Fi residential networks. The boundary between private and public information is becoming murkier every day, a blurring that is perhaps inevitable in the world of online surfing and social networking.


But how about religious communities? The boundaries are shifting there as well, because of a growing emphasis in congregations on honest and open sharing in small groups.


Vibrant churches today have Bible studies and support groups for every demographic, and congregational vitality is found in the relationships that develop among people in these groups. I am pushing my own church in this direction, after spending a sabbatical studying Christian hospitality while visiting congregations that are skilled at welcoming and including people.


"In the search for personal spiritual fulfillment," says Eugene Taylor Sutton, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, "nothing can replace the joy and lasting value of sharing one's faith journey in person with another human being."


When's God time?


But I have to wonder: Is this trend a threat to privacy? Churches, synagogues, temples and mosques have long been places where people can escape from the world and have an encounter with God. They have literally been "sanctuaries," holy places — not centers for social life or group therapy. I had a member who expressed this desire to me by saying, "I come to church to commune with my God." If congregations become like Facebook, with little privacy or confidentiality, our culture is going to lose the sanctuaries that have been sacred escapes for thousands of years.


They are already disappearing. My Presbyterian colleague Adam McHugh, author of the book Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in An Extroverted Culture, describes the experience of walking into an average evangelical church as "walking into a non-alcoholic cocktail party." Quiet reverence is gone, and in its place is a chatty, mingling informality, "where words flow like wine."


McHugh admires the religious convictions of evangelical churches, and understands the value of sharing struggles and spiritual insights in small groups. But he considers himself to be an introvert and knows the difficulty that community life can pose. "Introverts are not necessarily shy or misanthropic," he says, "but we find our energy in solitude, often listen more than we speak, may prefer to observe more than we engage in the middle, and we may connect with God most deeply in silence."


Problems arise when open sharing and participation in small groups become badges of faithfulness. "If you are not comfortable with those things," says McHugh, "then you end up feeling spiritually inadequate or marginalized."


So where can a person go to connect with God in silence? Churches that practice contemplative prayer — which includes chanting, controlled breathing, or silent concentration — can help people to become centered on God in a private and personal way. "Deep personal relationships require something that we seldom acknowledge: time spent in the presence of the other doing nothing particularly useful," says Monsignor Bill Parent of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Waldorf, Md. "Contemplative prayer is ultimately time spent in the presence of God doing nothing useful, which is another way of saying that it is a necessary part of developing a deep personal relationship with God."


The inner peace that comes from prayer and meditation is one reason that Buddhism is growing in the United States. According to the 2008 Pew Forum's U.S Religious Landscape Survey, Buddhism has climbed to the third most practiced religion in America, right behind Christianity and Judaism. American Buddhism's growth is occurring predominantly through the conversion of native-born Americans, not Asians, with the largest group of Buddhists — 40% — being members of Generation X, ages 30 to 49.


Faith as trust


Religious vitality requires a balancing act between private contemplation and public conversation, and both practices require the establishment of trust. Without trust, there can be no deepening of a personal relationship with God, nor can there be an enrichment of relationships with other people. This is true regardless of whether the connections are made through Facebook or through a congregational small group. Once broken, trust is very difficult to regain — a lesson being learned now by Internet companies accused of misusing private information, and churches facing accusations of sexual abuse.


The Protestant Reformer Martin Luther defined faith as trust, not as assent to a particular set of doctrines or church practices, and his insight impacted Christianity throughout the world. It is time for us to rediscover this, and to recognize the danger of opening up our lives to people — or to a higher power — whom we don't know very well or haven't come to trust. Just as it is dangerous to reveal private information on the Internet, it is self-destructive to open up in congregational small groups that are not trustworthy. And while prayer is an activity that does not trigger privacy concerns, it will be of limited value without a personal willingness to put trust in God.


"Balance is key," says McHugh. "Open, honest relationships with people you trust are hugely significant, but so are opportunities to worship in quiet and to listen for God's voice. Churches that have structures and programs that support both values — since we all have both introverted and extroverted elements to our personalities — I think will be the most successful."


In order to continue to grow, Facebook and Google are going to have to show good faith to their members, and prove that they are trustworthy. And so will congregations that want to thrive in an increasingly networked world.


Henry G. Brinton is pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Virginia and author of an upcoming book on Christian hospitality.







The latest jobs data showed weak private-sector growth — only 41,000 in May, far below expectations and a plunge from March and April. Manufacturers added an encouraging 29,000 of those. But without a national strategy, many lost manufacturing jobs are gone for good.


To rejuvenate the economic base, allow industry to compete successfully again and re-grow jobs, the U.S. should launch an "advanced manufacturing plan."


Since 1990, the U.S. has lost 3 million manufacturing jobs — almost 20%. With these jobs went American leadership in many sectors, new research and development and too often, whole communities. These losses made America far more vulnerable to the current recession.


Manufacturing employs nearly 13 million people in the U.S. and 6 million in related fields. No other sector performs more R&D, drives more innovation, exports as much or contributes more to our nation's economy.


How do we launch a manufacturing renaissance in America that will create meaningful, well-paying jobs and win in global competition?


We should look beyond today's recession and recognize that stimulus should favor investment over transfer payments, and focus on:


•New infrastructure that leverages private investment in plant and equipment, and modernizes our nation's communication networks, electric grids and air, sea and land transportation systems. This will extend the lifespan of the nation's infrastructure, boost domestic manufacturing and improve the quality of life of every American.


•R&D that's cutting edge. The experiences of competing countries demonstrate that R&D investment leads to greater economic growth, worker productivity and higher standards of living. We have begun to make progress. At Dow, for example, we are stepping up our partnership with the government in this call to action.


With Vice President Biden on Monday, I am laying the cornerstone on a breakthrough lithium ion battery factory — Dow Kokam — supported by recent federal grants. To increase advanced manufacturing, the U.S. needs to reinforce R&D spending.


•Education that leads the world. The U.S. needs to enhance student skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, where we widely lag global competition. In the past, STEM education and workforce training was a key U.S. strength, underpinning its manufacturing leadership.


Dow and other major U.S. corporations must work with the administration to co-invest in American infrastructure, R&D and education. Beyond establishing areas for long-term investment, the Advanced Manufacturing Plan should also address some obstacles to growth:


•A "pro-trade" policy that creates a "level playing field" with limited tariffs and barriers to entry. The U.S. should adopt pending trade agreements such as Doha, which ensure that same treatment with key foreign partners — reciprocal market access to enable free and fair American participation. Competing countries are negotiating easier market access for their manufacturers, at the expense of American operations.


•An alternative energy strategy that will secure the abundant energy that industry needs to stay competitive. Energy is the lifeblood of U.S. manufacturing, but we have no comprehensive policy to support it. We should become far more efficient in its use, seek lower carbon alternatives and, with proper safeguards, expand traditional supply.


•Regulatory reform is required for U.S. manufacturing, especially as concerns the environment. Regulation is necessary, but smart regulation isn't always practiced. All too often, we see rules that bog down product innovation or that lack a solid scientific basis.


•U.S. tax policy should support manufacturing, not militate against it. Our corporate taxes rank second highest among countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and are only going up. The House's jobs bill will raise taxes $80 billion on U.S.-based corporations and small employers. Next year, taxes will rise on capital gains, dividends and small businesses. Also, the U.S., unlike every other major OECD economy, taxes on a worldwide, not territorial, basis. And our tax credits on R&D investment rank 23rd among the major OECD countries.


•Reform in civil justice is needed to support advanced manufacturing and end lawsuit abuse. In the U.S., unlike other OECD countries, plaintiffs' lawyers unduly burden corporations with demands for compensation disproportionate to their client's injuries, or even when there's no injury.


America needs an integrated and strategic approach that will incentivize manufacturers to create the jobs of the future. The patchwork of incentives launched to address the recession has not turbo-charged the private sector growth engine of the world's largest economy. Many more permanent private-sector jobs are needed quickly. We face deep-rooted economic and policy headwinds that discourage good private job formation. These can be addressed through an "advanced manufacturing plan," if the U.S. is ever to prevail in global competition. We are playing with our children's future because if America gives up on manufacturing, we are surrendering their future to others.


We can either have the future we choose, or settle for the future we allowed.










When the conservative Supreme Court majority delivered a bitterly contested 5-4 ruling in January that overturned long precedents and freed corporations and other large organizations to spend freely in candidate elections, Americans broadly -- and justifiably -- criticized the court for fully opening the floodgates of vested-interest spending in America's political process. It seemed then that both political parties would at least support legislation to require corporate and vested-interest sponsors of advertising, including unions and myriad advocacy groups, to disclose their financing of political ads.


Such thinking, alas, has been thoroughly punctured by the opposition in the House and Senate, where Republicans apparently smell rich opportunity for turning even more corporate and special-interest bucks to their campaign benefit.


Two chief opponents of a disclosure requirement -- the National Rifle Association and the United States Chamber of Commerce -- vehemently oppose the proposed, largely Democratic House bill, which has gained just two Republican supporters. The bill would require disclosure of the five top sponsors of any political-candidate ad financed by corporate or advocacy groups.


That's not an unreasonable or onerous requirement. Political parties and candidates already have to confirm their sponsorship of candidate ads. But just as expected, it is the deep-pocket organizations that Americans fear would corrupt democracy if given the right to spend freely on candidate elections that are now opposed to the disclosure requirement.


And just as predictably, their lackey lawmakers -- in this case, the Republican leadership in the House and Senate -- are carrying water for them, as usual. NRA opposition is so adamant that Democratic sponsors of what is called the DISCLOSE act agreed, in the search for bipartisan sponsors, to allow an exemption in the bill that would exclude groups that fit the NRA's profile. The exclusion would exempt nonprofit groups from compliance with the law if they have existed for more than 10 years, have more than 1 million members, with some in every state, and receive no more than 15 percent of their financing from corporations or unions.


Allowing that exclusion to the NRA, and presumably other groups, like AARP, has ignited opposition among Democratic members of Congress who want a clean bill that applies across the board. Ironically, it has also given Republican opponents, including House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, the opportunity to feign a higher reason for their criticism of the bill: the appearance of privileged exclusions.


Rep. Boehner, for example, said last week that the way Democrats "carved out some people and left others under the law again clearly violates the Constitution and violates what the court made clear that Congress should not do."


Indeed, there should be no exemptions, though Mr. Boehner and his GOP supporters of corporate spending would find other reasons to oppose the bill if the exemptions were eliminated. The fact that sponsors of the bill have allowed them in, however, has soured key Democrats to the current bill, as well.


As a result, Speaker Nancy Pelosi pulled the bill from a scheduled vote last Friday. With opposition in the Senate even if a clean bill could pass the House, its fate now appears uncertain. Competition to get other issues on the calendar for a floor vote, and Republican opposition in the S enate, may kill the opportunity to squeeze the bill through Congress in time to require dis-closure of special interest spending in the November elections.


That doesn't bode well for fair elections this fall. A public outcry might prompt passage of the bill, but there's no force to energize an effective outcry. And it's hard to imagine the bill's opponents giving space for a bill that would make behind-the-scenes lobbyists and big spenders disclose their connection to ads designed to sway voters to their interests.


If Democrats don't fight for passage of the DISCLOSE act, voters will not get the disclosure they deserve. We will instead get the full effect of the civic damage that our reactionary Supreme Court has wrongly shoved down the throat of our democracy. Rather like the Gulf oil spill, the question will become whether our political eco-system can survive the looming cash-spill damage.







According to the latest government estimates, BP may be spilling 60,000 barrels -- or 2.52 million gallons -- of oil every day in the Gulf, and possibly more. As Americans get their minds around that mind-boggling figure and the resulting damage, the more many are avoiding buying gas at stations under the BP banner.


The impulse to boycott BP stations is understandable. Some drivers feel that buying gasoline from a station with the BP logo supports the company, when they really want to send a message of condemnation for the spill and the reckless BP operations that caused it. So sales at BP stations are down 20 percent.


Ironically, such a boycott mainly hurts the thousands of business owners who have bought their stations from BP. In fact, BP decided several years ago to shed its stations and focus on drilling and refining. It now owns barely a handful of the 11,000 stations that operate under its logo. Most are owned by businesses -- some large, some family-owned.


Thus BP gains little, if anything, from most of these stations. Their owners may or may not carry gasoline that comes from BP wells, or that has been refined, stored or treated by BP. Most gasoline, for example, comes from refineries where gasoline is made from oil delivered to them by a range of oil companies. And BP may -- or may not -- add its brand of additives to the gasoline that is delivered to gasoline stations from massive refineries.


On the other hand, motorists who buy their oil at other independent or chain-store service stations, The New York Times business page has reported, may well be buying gasoline that comes directly from BP.


For that reason, there is divided opinion among environmental advocacy groups on the merit of supporting a boycott of BP. Public Citizen has urged a boycott, for example, and Greenpeace has not.


In reality, BP is probably no more responsible than other oil companies for flawed industry practices around the world. In African and South American nations that allow drilling, other big oil companies -- Exxon, Chevron, Shell, for example -- have all created spills and environmental damage somewhere.


The best retaliation against Big Oil may be simply to use less -- by driving more efficient cars, and by using carpools, public transportation, bicycles and walking. That would be healthier, cheaper and more constructive all around.








And if there are any people more excited about it than the students, they are the teachers.


But the local officials who must decide about taxes and appropriations for our schools have no vacation. They have the job of planning ahead for next year.


Aside from police and fire protection for the general safety of our people, there is no higher priority for most citizens than assuring good educational opportunities for our children.


That is very important. And it is very expensive. Schools require a big share of our local tax money.


While we have many student achievers, many able teachers, many supportive parents boosting their beloved children, and a desire on the part of all to have good school results, there is a nagging feeling that some children aren't getting as good results as we wish they would.


We live in an increasingly challenging, competitive, complex society. There is no substitute for a good education for each young person to "get ahead," to be self-supporting, to make progress, and to have a satisfying and rewarding way of life.


There is no easy way.


Intellectually energetic students, good and dedicated teachers, sound courses of essential studies, adequate funding and more are necessary parts of "the basics."


The only thing more expensive than assuring we have good school results is failure of some of our children.


Final report cards for this year have come. Some students have graduated into "real life." But for others, planning will continue, because summer will swiftly pass. And challenges will persist.


All Americans appreciate the "can-do" ideal. We all want "success." We want it especially for our children. But there is no "magic wand" for success. Many theories have been applied to education over the years. But "the basics" -- and hard work -- remain the key to real progress.


Yes, we need money. Yes, we need good teachers. Yes, we need student effort and parental support.


Not having a successful combination of all those things -- and more -- may be the most expensive waste of all.


Schools are out. But getting ready to make the most of future opportunities should never end.


There is no substitute for effort -- personal and financial. There is nothing more costly than failure.







A few years back, New York City started offering some students and their parents what amounted to bribes for doing things such as attending school regularly, passing exams or going to the dentist. The average family in the program got more than $3,000 a year. But the bribes did little to improve student performance. New York finally scrapped the program.


Alas, that expensive silliness was not confined to the Big Apple.


In Philadelphia, some patients participated in a "lottery" to encourage them to take their medication. They could win up to $100 per day just for being sure to take their medicine.


The theory was that the "winnings" would help patients avoid more serious medical problems resulting from the failure to take prescribed medicines. Not surprisingly, some patients did become more diligent about adhering to their prescription regimens during the six-month lottery -- and enjoyed the extra cash.


But we should be wary of offering such "benefits" for doing "the basics," because that can have unintended consequences. As one health expert told The New York Times, "Will others think, 'If I behave like a potential non-complier, I'll get money for taking medication'? And once you start paying people to take medication, when do you stop paying them?"


If you create an incentive for conscientious patients to stop taking their own medicines in order to qualify for a "bonus," how much "savings" will there really be?


Getting a handle on health care costs is a worthy goal -- but that goal should be pursued by sensible means, not by bribery.


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At the ugly heart of the ongoing economic crisis are government-created mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. So the fact that they are untouched in the financial overhaul Congress is considering suggests lawmakers are not very serious about "reforms" that supposedly will prevent a new meltdown.


When the housing market was booming, the mortgage giants relaxed standards for borrowers in the name of "affordable housing" and "fairness." Borrowers were given much larger mortgages, at adjustable rates, than they were likely to be able to repay. When rates started adjusting upward, many lost their homes. "Fairness" and "affordable housing" had led to "bankruptcy," and the people those relaxed lending standards were supposed to help were harmed the most.


But the country as a whole suffered, too, as the housing market collapsed. Many people who continued paying their mortgages found their houses were suddenly worth far less.


That certainly did not square with Democrats' insistence a few years earlier that there should be more federal efforts to promote "affordable housing." Back in 2003, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., declared, "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not in a crisis. ... The more people conjure up the possibility of serious financial losses to the Treasury, which I do not see -- I think we see entities that are fundamentally sound financially -- ... but the more pressure there is there, then the less I think we see in terms of affordable housing."


Yet now, even when it is clear that Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's policies were disastrous, Congress is going to reform many aspects of the financial system except Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Instead, they will continue getting taxpayer bailouts, which so far total $145 billion.


So, do you think Congress is serious about getting to the root of what caused the economic crisis? Or is it just expanding its power?


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Do you like the thought that abortion provider Planned Parenthood has spent nearly $700 million in federal tax dollars over the past eight years?


That was the finding in a recent report by Congress' Government Accountability Office. All told, so-called "family planning" organizations got nearly $1 billion from U.S. taxpayers in that period.


While it is illegal for Planned Parenthood and the other groups to use that money directly to kill babies through abortion, that is really just a technicality. When Congress sends tax dollars to Planned Parenthood to perform its other functions besides abortions, that automatically allows it to free up its other revenue sources to perform abortions. So the distinction between "abortion money" and "non-abortion money" is practically meaningless.


The GAO report "helps track the offsets that we know are taking place at these organizations," a staff member for one member of Congress who demanded the report told The Houston Chronicle.


American taxpayers should neither directly nor indirectly have to subsidize abortion, a procedure that many Americans consider to be the unjustified taking of an innocent unborn life.









Saturday was the bloodiest day in two years for the Turkish military, as an attack killing 11 troops came just 14 hours after the military said it was expecting more terrorist activities.


The outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, already declared the end of its unilateral ceasefire May 31. And existing political and military resources are unfortunately far from being able to protect the country's soldiers and citizens from terrorist attacks.


That is why we, at the Daily News, while sharing with all our hearts the pain felt by the victims' families and friends, and indeed by the entire country, call on all responsible civil, military and other related officials to initiate substantial talks on how to build a unified policy against terrorism.


It is time to analyze past mistakes without turning them into political quarrels, as our politicians are very much used to doing. It is time to forget our political differences and focus on creating synthesis in responding to the challenges.


It is not time to point the finger at some "unidentified" foreign circles that might be behind the PKK attacks. Instead it is time to seek more foreign cooperation in the fight against terrorism, through our foreign policy.


It is not time for the opposition to use these attacks and the public's emotional response as tools in its struggle against the government. It should rather help keep up the morale of society through responsible statements and offer its own contribution to the efforts to solve the problem.


It is not time for some circles in the media to hazily put the blame on what they call the "global Ergenekon" plot. It is no secret that the PKK has been backed by some countries in the past, but the situation today is different. It is time to orient all our energy toward producing a comprehensive strategy in the fight against terror.


Where to start?


We believe the ones who should take the lead are our current political leaders. The leaders of the political parties represented in Parliament should come together to discuss the terror in the country that threatens all of our lives. If they do not do this, we should expect President Abdullah Gül to take the initiative to organize a large-scale meeting, a meeting that should bring about a process whereby we can reach a common goal.


A recent survey on Turkish society strikingly showed that the nation is divided into two on almost all crucial issues. The Kurdish issue is no different. Politicians and officials should be aware that fueling this division will bring nothing but more fallen soldiers, more tears and more pain. It is time to move to change the fate of this country.







While chatting with a Serbian colleague before attending a press conference by the Gazprom CEO, I told her that I found many similarities between Serbs and Turks. We tend to avoid seeing the mistakes we commit and instead put the blame on the outside world. I was surprised when she told me that a Turkish TV series broadcasted by Fox TV in Serbia, which is owned by a Greek company, has become a big success in the country. "Serbs watch it and say 'look how Turks are like us," she said. At one stage another Turkish series was also a hit in Greece. Can you imagine? Turkish series, made specifically for Turkish audiences, can appeal both to those living in the Middle East and the Balkans. That in itself shows the cultural diversity of Turkey.


Yet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's vision seems to be limited solely to the Arab world. "A Turk cannot do without an Arab," Erdoğan said, adding that "We are like meat and bones with the Arabs." While talking about the improving relations with the Arab world, Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek asked, "Why should we not go back to our roots?" I did not know that Turks' roots lay in the Arab world.


I can understand up to a certain point criticisms voiced by the current Justice and Development Party, or AKP, of the previous government's indifference to the Arab world. Yes, at one stage we turned our back to the Middle East. But the examples given by the Prime Minister to show what he thinks of Turkish "disdain" of the Arabs goes beyond rational thinking. He criticized Turks for naming their dogs "Arab."


The dog in the garden owned by my neighbors in my previous house was named "Arab" for the simple reason that he was black. My uncle, who is in his mid 80's, and who has been living in the United States for more than half of his life, uses old Turkish. He used to call African-Americans "Arabs." That there is a misconception that equates "black" with "Arab" should change - and is in fact changing - can't be contested. I am not an expert on languages. But I do not believe that equating "Arab" with "black" stems from a negative connotation about Arabs in general.


My cat's name is Bekir. It's a common male name. According to the rationale of the prime minister, I must hate all people carrying the name Bekir. But most people have pets because they love animals. Why would someone name something it likes with a name that supposedly carries a negative connotation?


The only explanation I have for the Prime Minister's comment is that for certain sects in Islam, dogs are not liked. And this again proves that the prime minister's main reference in life is "religion."


The AKP circles' main explanation of its engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the human tragedy suffered by the Palestinian people. If it was the case, then the government would not have remained indifferent to human suffering in Kyrgyzstan. Is it because Uzbeks and Kyrgyz do not pray five times a day?


I believe Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu disclosed the real reason behind the government's policy by saying, "Jerusalem will one day become a capital, and we shall all one day pray in Mescid-i Aksa."


The AKP is no longer talking about the Palestinian problem, but about the problem in Gaza. While advocating the rights of Hamas, no one is talking about the Palestinian Authority, or PA. Is it due to the secular nature of the PA? Is Hamas' radicalism more appealing to the AKP?


If the main reference of the AKP is not religion, but a genuine desire to see the Palestinian suffering end, then it is high time to see Israel as not the sole cause of the problem. The government should tell the PA that the days when the actions of its leadership were not questioned are over. They should end the corruption that has cost them the trust of their people. The government should then turn to Hamas and say: "Look I have even dared to come to a point of breaking my ties with Israel. It is high time for you to curb your radicalism and accept the existence of Israel." And it should direct at least one-fifth of the criticisms that it voiced against Israel to the disunified Arab world. Even if it is the case that the AKP has lost all hope about the Arab world and the PA, it just can't solve the Palestinian problem with waging a war with Israel and supporting Hamas.


One last word on the Arab world. The reaction among the Arab societies towards the AKP should be carefully examined. If crowds are going to the streets to praise Turkey's stands, it is not so much they are thrilled with the idea that Turkey will lead the Arab world to solve the Palestinian problem. They are doing it to show their reaction to the hypocrisy of their government. They can't go to the streets of Cairo, chanting slogans against Mubarek. They know well that the answer will be violent oppression of protests. But they all know well that Mubarek can't order his security forces to act against those changing slogans for Erdoğan.


Some radicals within Arab society might genuinely applaud Erdoğan, as they might see in him a real brother in arms. But I believe there are others who do so because it is a way to show their reaction to their rulers. What makes me say that is the popularity of Turkish TV series in Arab societies. Those series are not reflecting Turkey dominated by radical tendencies. They reflect a society that has a lifestyle that keeps religion in the private domain and avoids putting religion as a main reference of life.








Ten days ago, national elections were held in the Netherlands. The result that got by far the most attention in Turkey and all over the world was the success of the extreme right Freedom Party, headed by populist politician Geert Wilders. Against the hopes and expectations of many observers, including your columnist, the party did better than the polls indicated and got 15 percent of the votes, more than doubling their result in the last elections.


Almost 1.5 million Dutch citizens felt attracted by a party that is known for its strong anti-Islamism, its nationalist and anti-European rhetoric and its populist opposition to all established parties. Since last week, the soul-searching in the Netherlands has moved to a higher gear. The key questions are: How is it possible that so many people voted for this party and how to deal now with this reality? Should they be given a chance in government or can the Netherlands, in the middle of an economic crisis, not afford to have a party in power that many consider to be undemocratic and that will damage the country's image abroad?


First a few remarks on the election results. Since the elections of 2002, we know that there is a part of the electorate of around 20 percent that is extremely unhappy with all the main parties and that is willing to vote for a populist party that positions itself outside the system. In 2002 it was the party of the charismatic Pim Fortuyn, killed just before the elections, that managed to attract these votes. Four years later, after the Fortuyn party made a mess out of it, most of these floating votes went to a left populist party and to the Wilders party that had just started.


This time around, the Freedom Party was the only alternative for those voters who wanted to cast a protest vote. In other words, we are confronted with a phenomenon that has been there for some time and that will, most probably, not disappear soon. These are citizens that are basically angry with the world. They do not feel represented by the political elite, they feel insecure amidst the global economic turmoil and they blame the presence of Muslim migrants for the changes in their neighborhood they do not like. They are afraid of what might happen next and long back for a past that was mono-cultural and that could be protected against outside forces by a strong national government. This is not a specific Dutch situation. We can see this combination of fear and anger being expressed at the ballot box in other parts of Western Europe as well. It happened in France with Le Pen, in Austria with Haider, in Belgium with the strong performance of Flemish nationalists and in Denmark where an anti-migration party has been supporting a minority government for years now.


How to deal with these parties? Many different strategies have been tried. In Belgium all other parties refused to cooperate in government with them and, looking at the election results of last weekend, this strategy was successful because the extremists lost out to a more moderate version of Flemish nationalism. In Austria they tried the opposite by taking them on board, hoping that would strongly diminish their populist appeal. It worked in the short run to get Haider out, but today we are faced with two extreme right parties that got almost 25 percent of the votes.


After one week of coalition negotiations in the Netherlands, it seems there is no big appetite to have the Wilders' party in power. Most probably we will have either a combination of the three classic center parties or a four party coalition including the progressive liberals and the Greens. Whatever the outcome, Mr. Wilders will remain a powerful reminder that Dutch society is confused and divided about its future.








Next week, the leaders of the world's largest economies will gather in Canada. Many of the questions on the summit table echo concerns around kitchen tables everywhere.


Will the troubles in the Eurozone plunge the world into a double-dip recession? Can the upswing in emerging markets offset the slide elsewhere?


Are we finally emerging, like survivors of a hurricane, to assess the extent of the damage and the needs of our neighbors? Or are we standing in the eye of the storm?


In a very real sense, the answers to all these questions depend on us – and how we manage the world economy over the coming period.


One encouraging sign is that there is a growing recognition among leaders of the need for increased



Now more than ever, we must be accountable to the most vulnerable.


The moral argument is clear. After all, those least responsible for the global economic meltdown have paid the highest price – in lost jobs, higher costs of living, growing community tensions as families struggle to make ends meet.


But the economic rationale is equally compelling. Like never before, global economic recovery depends on growth in developing countries. Those who have been hit the hardest are also our best hope for driving prosperity in the future.


Despite substantial stimulus efforts in many countries, the evidence shows that these have not always "trickled down" to meet the immediate needs of the poorest and most vulnerable.


We are seeing the greatest dynamism in the emerging economies, but also the greatest pain. Far too many are left on the sidelines.


In developing regions, many workers have been pushed into vulnerable employment. The ranks of the global unemployed have grown by 34 million, and another 215 million women and men have become working poor. And, for the first time in history, more than one billion people are going hungry worldwide.


A recovery is not meaningful if people only learn about it in the newspaper. Working women and men need to see it in their own lives and livelihoods.


Simply put: A real recovery must reach the real economy.


As we look ahead, what does accountability mean in practical terms for people?


First, we must be accountable on delivering quality jobs. The global jobs crisis is slowing the recovery as well as progress towards reducing poverty in developing countries. It is time to focus on human development and decent work, particularly common sense investments in green jobs. Quite simply, economic recovery can't be sustainable without job recovery.


Second, we must be accountable to those hardest hit by the crisis, especially women. Throughout the world, women are the social cement that holds families and communities together. One of the most effective investments we can make is maternal and child health. The leaders' meeting in Canada can support our global effort to adopt and resource a global action plan on women's and children's health.


Third, we must be accountable for our promises. The world's leading economies have committed to double development aid to Africa and boost progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. More resources can transform lives and whole societies.


We know what works: investing in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria; delivering on commitments made last year to guarantee food security and help small farmers increase productivity and access markets through supporting national plans; ensuring that every child has access to primary education.


I recently visited a Millennium Village Project in Malawi and saw for myself how targeted, integrated investments in health, education, and technology can spur dramatic growth. Just three years ago, many in the village were on the verge of starvation. Today, they are selling surplus grain in markets throughout the region.


Smart investments create jobs and opportunities that spread far and wide.


Economic uncertainty cannot be an excuse to slow down these efforts. It is a reason to speed them up.


In an era of austerity, we must be wise with limited resources. Accountability is not charity. It is central to a coordinated global recovery plan.


Focusing on the needs of the most vulnerable can spur economic growth today and lay the foundation for a more sustainable and prosperous tomorrow.


In our interconnected global economy, it turns out that being accountable around the world is also smart accounting back home.


* Ban Ki-moon is the Secretary-General of the United Nations








If it were not for the instrument from hell and a very disappointing World Cup, I might have never got to look into South Africa's economy and its currency, the rand.


Originally developed to kill time during boring spells and mentally shut off the vuvuzela noise in World Cup matches, my most recent pastime began to turn rather interesting when I discovered a fascinating relationship: Since the Lehman collapse, the lira-rand exchange rate has been correlated with the VIX index, a measure of the implied volatility of U.S. stock options, often touted as the markets' fear gauge. One of my favorite economics one-liners is correlation is not causation, but when you dig a little bit deeper (but not as deep as Bilica), even more interesting facts emerge about these two currencies and economies.


Most notable is the difference in trade structure between the two economies. South Africa is a major commodity exporter, with 60 percent of the country's exports (making up 12 percent of GDP) in commodities. Moreover, a significant part of its commodity exports, such as the platinum group and iron core, is used in industrial products and thus move in tandem with the global growth cycle. While the rising price of gold in bouts of risk aversion would somewhat counterbalance, it too is surprisingly cyclical.


Turkey, on the other hand, is a significant commodity importer, with oil accounting for more than 10 percent of the country's imports. According to a back-of-the-envelope calculation Turkey economists know by heart, a one-dollar fall in oil prices improves Turkey's current account by about $400 million. The different role of commodities in the two countries' trade bill means that any movement in commodity prices would push their balance of payments in exactly opposite directions. Given continuing fiscal worries and questions over a double dip recession, both of which could send commodity prices lower, the lira looks better-placed than the rand.


Foreign positioning seems to work in the lira's favor as well. For one thing, according to Emerging Portfolio Fund Research, or EPFR, a company that collects data on fund flows, real money investors are still overweight in emerging markets despite some selling during the past month. But both EPFR data and banks' recent polls with their real money clients show that such funds are underweight-Turkey, whereas they are in a more or less neutral position in South Africa.


The relative position of real money funds is reflected in bond markets. Whereas the South African market has seen significant inflows over the past year, inflows into Turkish bonds have been more muted. It is therefore natural to expect the lira to be more resilient in bouts of sell-off, and that is exactly what has happened recently. Despite the bleak global outlook, foreign investors bought net 1.5 billion liras of bonds in May, increasing their share in the total bond portfolio to 10.8 percent. Unsurprisingly, South Africa's balance of payments is more dependent on portfolio flows, making the rand vulnerable to outflows associated with global risk aversion and volatility.


This is not to say that the lira is shining. As I have argued many times, it seems to be overvalued in almost all measures such as the external financing outlook, internal and external equilibrium dynamics, its long-run real trend, or even the Economist's Big Mac index. But I have found at least one currency it is sure to pound, at least in times of risk aversion, as it manages to come on top in this tale of two currencies or two-country beauty contest.


By the way, according to the Hear the World Foundation, extended exposure to the vuvuzela can lead to permanent hearing loss.


Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at








One day at the end of October of 1989 - it must have been the 30th - I was standing inside one of the recording studios of the BBC, Bush House in London. In front of me a British studio manager was trying to control the sound coming out from a chaotic console. In front of him, behind the glass separation, two Turkish radio journalists from the BBC Turkish Section were broadcasting live. There was a lot of commotion in the room where I was standing. Two or three Turkish production assistants, all girls, were trying desperately to connect outside contributors to the studio via telephone lines. There was a lot of tension as it was the first mega-radio production of the Turks in the BBC.


Commentators from Turkey – I can remember Sami Kohen, even Cengiz Candar were kept on line from Turkey to be connected to the studio. Those were the days of lower technology but probably higher professional fervor. Benni Ammar, a brilliant Arab Jewish journalist, then heading one of the large departments of the BBC, who was there, suddenly turned to me and asked: "Do you know what Başbakan means in Turkish?" "No, I said." "Prime minister," he said, and explained that "baş" means 'head." And he went on to ask: "Do you know what Cumhurbaşkanı means?" "No," I replied. "President. Turgut Ozal is becoming Cumhurbaşkanı. Write it down. This is very important moment for the region."


My knowledge of Turkish was non-existent then, and I did not pay too much attention at Benny's prophetic speculation. During those days, I was more interested in the serious changes in the political scene in Greece after the dramatic fall of the Andreas Papandreou government, his near fatal illness and his stormy private life, which was feeding rich material for the British cartoonists. It was later on that I understood why I should have noted down that date. It was the 31st of October 1989. Turgut Ozal had just been elected as the prime minister of Turkey for the second time. A few days later, on the 9th of November, the Grand National Assembly had elected him as the eighth president of the Turkish republic.


That was a period when Turkey had entered or re-entered the world stage after the dark coup years of the 80s: the British media - as well as the world media - suddenly began to focus on this funny-looking, short, charming man who was talking about a "new era" in Turkish foreign policy. They were mesmerized with him rediscovering the roots of the Turks in the Turkic republics of Central Asia, who themselves had just entering the world stage after the end of their domination by the "evil empire." In that ever-smiling mustached bespectacled man the British media were analyzing the "new role" of an Islamic yet secular Turkey, which could fill in the political and cultural void left after the collapse of the Soviet doctrine. And they were debating about the extent of the potential expansionist policies by Turkey to the north and to the east. I remember that several Greek analysts pointing out of a possible "new Ottoman style expansionist policy that would pose a serious threat to Greece and Cyprus." It was in the period of Özal that the idea that a Turkey by enhancing its ties with its Turkic (Islamic) brothers to the East could be a stronger regional power and dictate its own terms to Europe. Furthermore, it could be a stronger partner with the U.S.


When I moved to Turkey at the end of the 90s, I realized that the policy of "looking to our brothers in the north and east" was never really absent from the political discourse in Turkey. It was used several times by subsequent prime ministers as Tansu Ciller, Mesut Yilmaz and Bulent Ecevit whenever Turkey was cornered by the West or wanted something from the East. If my memory is not failing, was it not Ecevit who had first called the treatment of Palestinians by the Israelis "genocide!" Resorting to our "Muslim brothers in the East and our Turkic brothers everywhere" and "develop our traditional regional power base" has been a diplomatic framework used at least in the last two decades in Turkey.


So I am perplexed when I watch the surprise or even fear with which today's commentators are seeing the foreign policy of the present Turkish government as a phenomenon of virginal generation perceived by the present Turkish foreign minister. Prof. Davutoglu's - another charming smiling bespectacled mustached Turkish politician - extensive treatise on "diplomatic depth" has puzzled the neighbors of Turkey, especially in the West. They are reading in the Turkish prime minister's recent tough talk against Israel, Davutoglu's strong theoretical influence.


I think the discussion that should take place at the moment is not whether Turkey is changing its political fabric - and foreign policy - under an Islamic rooted government. Speaking specifically about diplomacy, it may be more appropriate to look at what is happening in Turkey lately - including the ups and downs of its diplomatic projects - as an issue of management or mismanagement of a policy whose main framework has remained the same at least since the time of Özal. It is a policy based on keeping sensitive regional, cultural, economic, political balances, staying a bit on the East and a bit on the West, but trying not to tilt too much on any side. Because, as it happened in the case of Özal's "Turkic policies," Turkey failed to materialize its vision of the great power because it over-stretched itself and appeared "too eager."