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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

EDITORIAL 22.06.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month june 22, edition 000546 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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













































  4. TAX ON 'THEM' -- OR ON 'US'?







































Reports that India has sent a message to both China and the Nuclear Suppliers' Group and begun lobbying against the proposed sale of two Chinese nuclear reactors to Pakistan indicate a welcome hardening of positions in South Block. When China joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2004, it is believed to have grandfathered into its accession the sale of two civilian nuclear reactors to Pakistan. Eighteen years on, Beijing and Islamabad are hoping to execute that deal. Legalistically, they may be in the right. Nevertheless, the global context, the South Asian security situation and the international community's assessment of Pakistan's stability have undergone a massive change in the past two decades. As the full implications of AQ Khan's 'nuclear bazaar' have emerged, it has become obvious that the Pakistani nuclear programme diverted resources from civilian purposes towards a clandestine bombing mission. It exported nuclear technology to other rogue countries such as Iran, Libya and North Korea. On its part, China knew more about this arrangement than it let on and supplied, among other things, missile knowhow to Pakistan that it knew could only be used in case of a nuclear payload. That apart, nobody in Pakistan, or anywhere, can any more guarantee the safety of that country's nuclear installations and affirm they are forever secured and sequestered from Islamist elements in the Rawalpindi establishment and from Taliban and Al Qaeda sympathisers. The decade after 9/11 has made Pakistan simply the most turbulent geography on the planet, not one to take huge risks with. These factors make the Chinese decision to transfer two nuclear power plants to Pakistan extremely unsettling. Ostensibly, the transaction is designed to fill Pakistan's energy gap. Certainly, there is a demand-supply shortfall in Pakistan's power sector. Even so, authorities in Islamabad have not attempted to restructure transmission and pricing mechanisms, they have not announced an ambitious programme to build conventional (coal or other) power plants and have generally shown no urgency on the issue of energy security. Two nuclear plants will do little to solve Pakistan's power problems. Clearly, the intent is otherwise.


China will have to navigate Pakistan's nuclear deal through the NSG. This process will be a non-starter if the United States puts its diplomatic weight behind the opposition, leans on the Chinese and essentially vetoes the whole plan. India's role is limited. It is likely that New Delhi and Washington, DC, are working in conjunction, with India making the initial noise and mobilising opinion at its level, and the US stepping in at a later stage. This may seem a sensible and nuanced approach but, bluntly speaking, the Americans have to make their displeasure very clear very quickly. Subdued media leaks and suggestive phrases are one thing, tough talk is quite another. It is the latter that Beijing requires right now.

For Indian diplomacy, this is a crucial test. There is a growing impatience with China and its perceived attempts in the past few years to hold back India's rise by enmeshing it in regional crises. Pakistan is a useful tool. This time New Delhi has decided it will not look the other way but actually confront Beijing. In a wider framework, India needs to take steps to become a full-fledged member of the NSG. The NSG takes decisions by consensus. Once inside, India can block Pakistan for as long as may be necessary.







T he decision of British Home Secretary Theresa May not to let Islamist hate-monger Zakir Abdul Karim Naik alias Zakir Naik, owner-operator of the treacherously named Peace TV, enter her country should serve as an eye-opener for the Indian authorities. The decision has indeed disheartened certain small UK groups that have declared loyalty to the likes of Osama bin-Laden but Ms May has made it amply clear that entering the UK is not a right but a privilege. But the perspective of the Indian authorities with regard to this half-baked preacher, whom even Muslim scholars term as an ignoramus in religious matters, is disgustingly different. Zakir Naik, who wants every Muslim to be a terrorist, goes on with his sermons of hatred, lampooning all religions other than Islam, describing anyone and everyone outside his concept of Islam as a kafir fit to be "attacked with boiling water" and justifying terror acts like 9/11. He continues to pack his vile speeches into the programmes on his Peace TV and his Urdu version telecast 24x7 from Dubai and illegally downlinked to dens of active terror groups and potential extremists in the impregnable alleys of Kashmir, Mumbai, Delhi, Aligarh, etc, and even homes in the remote villages of peaceful Kerala from where all the new generation LeT operatives come and where his counterparts like Abdul Nasser Madani thrive.

It is not that India has no laws to end such anti-national activities of Zakir Naik and his evil terror brigade. The Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act and the related rules are in place but he is perpetually allowed to violate them. Peace TV campaigners are on the loose, distributing set-top boxes free of cost to receive DTH signals at homes and coercing or tempting cable TV service-providers to flow its unlicensed signals over their networks, spending money to buy them as well as law-enforcers. However, the 1.2 billion Indians will never even in their dreams hope that the UPA Government would put a block on the Dubai-originating signals. The Jammu Administration's decision in April last to ban 12 anti-Indian channels, including Peace TV, was met with immediate protests even from senior Ministers of the National Conference. That is how secularism works in this country where the Congress claims to have promoted a 'rich tradition' of religious tolerance. When this newspaper first reported the illegal beaming of Zakir Naik's Peace TV some months ago, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni wrote a letter to Home Minister P Chidambaram and that was the end of it. The UPA Government, which is destined to rely on the fragile support of small parties that thrive on community vote-banks, cannot be expected to act against Zakir Naik and his hate-mongering ilk. It requires courage and conviction to speak and act like Ms Theresa May.







This refers to Mr Debraj Mookherjee's article "Spare the rod and spoil the child" in Sunday Pioneer (June 20). It offers a sane view of a situation that has been spun out of proportion by a screeching media generating over-the-top reactions. We know, for example, that there are schools in the US that would not allow children to play the simple game of tag because a psychologist has said that this makes a child feel victimised. It is a matter of time before our own Westernised policy-makers come up with such simplistic solutions to what may be a deeper issue not as related to the education system as to the art of parenting.

The death of a child is the worst possible bereavement a parent could suffer and, therefore, Rouvanjit's father's search for an individual or institution that can be blamed for it should be seen as his way of coping with the tragedy. He is not entirely unjustified in accusing the school where his son was, apparently, tortured mentally and physically. The question is: Why did he not withdraw Rouvan from the school? Of course, La Martiniere is a top institution, but is it more important to showcase your child's stature by keeping him in a school which is harming him than protect his interests? Was the father raising him as — what is so common in these days of exhibitionism — a 'trophy child'?

The deeper issue is of modern age parenting, especially in urban India. We need to ask ourselves some questions. Are overworked parents who are almost absent from their child's life compensating by giving undue attention and validity to the smallest of emotions that the child expresses because it is undoubtedly easier to nod and show sympathy than to probe, discuss and explain things to a resisting child at the end of a long day's work? A few decades ago Parent Teacher Association meetings were occasions for teachers to draw parents' attention to their ward's conduct and performance. Nowadays we see parents yelling at teachers in defence of their children, refusing to accept that their little ones can be faulted. Are we raising kids who are so self-centred and so full of themselves that they magnify every event in their lives beyond reason and then take an extreme step? A debate is in order to settle this issue.







Congress president Sonia Gandhi's spin doctors should advise her that when things get tough, silence is perceived as fearful complicity. Once public outrage exploded over the niggardly sentences awarded to the Indian culprits of the Bhopal gas tragedy and it became known that Union Carbide's American CEO Warren Anderson was given free passage to India, it was simply gross to deflect responsibility from the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Modern India's worst human and environmental catastrophe was caused by sheer neglect of safety standards in a factory owned by the US-based Union Carbide, despite several warnings by journalist Raj Keswani (Jansatta). There were at least three mishaps in the plant before the main tragedy (a fire, two gas leaks), and two factory workers had died, a fact the American management would have known.

The anticipated accident occurred on the night of December 2, 1984, emitting toxic methyl isocyanate gas that instantly took nearly 5,000 lives; another 10,000 died subsequently; five lakh are affected to this day and several thousands are grievously ill and incapacitated; the ground water is poisoned with pesticides.

The famed indifference of the political elite to the lives of the poor and judicial determination not to surpass bullock cart speed kept justice at bay for 26 long years, until a desultory verdict on June 7 broke the dam of public patience. Now, the piteous cries of victims are drowned by an irate nation demanding explanation for the paltry $470 million (Rs 705 crore) deal that the Government of India negotiated with the US multinational in 1989, and with Supreme Court sanction, quashed criminal proceedings against UCC.

As for the cash-rich Bhopal hospital built with profits from the sale of the plant in 1992, its life chairman is then Chief Justice of India AM Ahmadi, who presided over a Supreme Court bench which diluted the charges against the Union Carbide executives in 1996 by converting the CBI charge under the stringent provisions of 304-II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) that provided for maximum imprisonment of 10 years, to Section 304 (a) (death due to negligence) with just two years maximum imprisonment. Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily said this was tantamount to turning a disaster into a car accident! Further, the judge personally dismissed a petition seeking review of this dilution of legal indemnity against Carbide, but when the controversy broke, tried to pin the blame on the Government.

Of course the larger issue of public accountability concerns the role of the Government of India and then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The then US deputy chief of mission, Mr Gordon Streeb, claimed that Warren Anderson flew to India only after receiving a specific assurance of "safe passage" and immunity from legal action during his stay. So when Anderson was arrested by Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Arjun Singh on December 7, 1984, possibly to earn brownie points with the electorate and unaware of the deal, the Americans cried foul and ensured his instant release; VIP passage to Delhi; and return to America. If we accept the American claim that Anderson wanted to come to India to show "concern for the victims", he certainly expressed no apology or regret. When charged with culpable homicide, he never returned to face Indian courts.

The Congress's and the Centre's woes began when senior Ministers rushed to rubbish the claims of Mr BR Lall, then investigating officer and former CBI joint director, that the Ministry of External Affairs had directed the CBI not to pursue the extradition case against Anderson. Subsequently, former Bhopal Collector Moti Singh said the then Chief Secretary Brahma Swaroop had asked him and Superintendent of Police Swaraj Puri to bail out Anderson and see him off at Bhopal airport; then Director of Madhya Pradesh Aviation RC Sondhi and pilot HS Ali, who flew Warren Anderson out of Bhopal, implicated Mr Arjun Singh for Anderson's release. The veteran Mr Singh merely hinted at the hand of the Centre…


Former close aide and Minister of State Arun Nehru asserted that Anderson had met then Home Minister PV Narasimha Rao and then President Zail Singh in New Delhi. The then Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr PC Alexander, hinted that his boss knew of the release.

The BJP's charge that the Congress is soft on foreigners (Ottavio Quattrocchi) and multinationals, and Anderson's escape was not possible without Rajiv Gandhi's consent, received a fillip from then Foreign Secretary MK Rasgotra, who initially denied Mr Streeb's claim that he was the key liaison in the deal.

Though Mr Rasgotra manfully tried to protect Rajiv Gandhi, one has only to read between the lines to glean the truth. Mr Rasgotra says the US Embassy requested him for safe passage for Anderson, and that he agreed to consult the concerned authorities. Thereupon, he got in touch with the Home Ministry and the Cabinet Secretary, and managed to get the desired amnesty on the "same day."

Sounds good, except that it is inexplicable that the Secretary of one Ministry (in this case External Affairs, headed by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi) would directly approach the Minister of another Ministry (in this case Home under PV Narasimha Rao), and arrange such a sensitive deal, and then merely convey the decision to the Prime Minister-cum-Foreign Minister. It is unbelievable, and Mr Rasgotra should not try to pull such a fast one.

His claim that the request for safe passage by Anderson was "understandable," that arrest was "wrong," and the release "in India's interest," is equally specious. So is the Congress claim of a 'law and order crisis,' a no-brainer of the kind used by Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit to stave off the hanging of Afzal Guru.

Ironically, matters have been brought into perspective by the late Narasimha Rao's son, Mr Ranga Rao, who has aptly stated that his father would never have taken such a critical decision as granting 'safe passage' to the Union Carbide chief just days after the Bhopal tragedy, on his own. It is certain that Narasimha Rao would consult the Prime Minister and other colleagues (was the Law Ministry consulted?), and that he was more likely to delay a decision of this kind rather than hasten it! The ball is back in Ms Gandhi's court; she would do well to acknowledge what the nation already believes.








In 2006, the Canadian Government had appointed a commission of inquiry headed by former Supreme Court Justice John Major to investigate the crash of Air India's Montreal-London-Delhi-Bombay Kanishka Flight 182, which was blown mid-air on June 23, 1985. The explosion was caused by a bomb planted in an unaccompanied suitcase in the hold of the plane. The bombing was masterminded by Khalistanis in Canada.

The Air India Flight 182 tragedy was the result of a cascading series of failures. The failures were widely distributed across the agencies and institutions whose mandate it was to protect the safety and security of Canadians. There were structural failures and operational failures; policy failures, communications failures and human error. Each contributed to, but none was the sole cause for Sikh terrorists being able to place a bomb in the checked baggage loaded aboard Flight 182 without being detected. Some failures came to light almost immediately, but a number have lain undetected, or at least unacknowledged, for decades and have only come to light during the currency of this Commission of Inquiry.

The first question posed by the Terms of Reference of this Inquiry is whether Canadian institutions adequately understood and assessed the threat posed by Sikh extremism. All of the institutions and agencies were theoretically aware of the potential threat to safety and security posed by terrorism in general. A few had some knowledge of the dangers of its Sikh extremism version in particular. Several were nominally aware of the threat of sabotage to passenger aircraft by means of timed explosive devices in checked baggage, and one agency was even aware of information indicating that Air India might be targeted by this method in June 1985. As a practical matter, however, none of the institutions or agencies was adequately prepared for the events of June 22/23, 1985. Indeed it is impossible to draw any conclusion other than that, almost without exception, the agencies and institutions did not take the threat seriously, and that the few individuals within these institutions who did, were faced with insurmountable obstacles in their efforts to deal with the threat.

There are a number of plausible ways to break down the failures that allowed the bombing of Flight 182 to occur. Each of the agencies and institutions that should have had a role in preventing terrorist attacks displayed structural flaws that impaired their performance.

The CSIS only came into being as an independent civilian agency in 1984. Before that, the national security intelligence was under the purview of the Security Service of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The circumstances surrounding the birth of the CSIS had a deep and detrimental impact on its ability to detect the particular security threat posed by Sikh extremism and on its ability to provide useful advice to the agencies and institutions charged with protecting Canadian lives and property.

Although the notion that intelligence should be handled by a civilian agency rather than the police had been widely discussed and debated in Canada for over a decade, the CSIS Act, which brought about this transformation, was passed hurriedly as the last legislative act of the outgoing Liberal Government in June of 1984. It was then left to be implemented in a very short time frame by a new Progressive Conservative administration with limited accumulated experience in the area of national security. The result was an uneven transition, marred by scarce resources and by bruised feelings: Both at the RCMP, which felt wronged by the removal of its intelligence mandate, and at CSIS, which felt poorly supported in its new role. While intelligence officers were aware of the existence of the phenomenon of Sikh extremism, the rise in the intensity, fervour and potential danger of this phenomenon was the result of events in the Indian sub-continent that took place in the same time frame as the transition from the Security Service to the CSIS.

These events included the occupation and fortification of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Sikhism's central shrine, by armed Sikh separatists, the subsequent bloody storming of the Golden Temple by the Indian Army, and the resulting massacres and intercommunal violence in the State of Punjab, all of which culminated in the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her own Sikh bodyguards. This chain of events led to a rise in anti-Indian sentiment within the Sikh diaspora, including the Sikh community in Canada.

Even in a relatively stable institutional environment, keeping up with the rapidly changing landscape of Sikh extremism in Canada would no doubt have proved challenging. The impact of the transition from the RCMP Security Service to the CSIS made a difficult situation that much worse.

Although CSIS personnel were dedicated and hardworking, the institutional context was poorly geared toward dealing with terrorism in general — and with a terrorist threat arising from Sikh extremism in particular. Canadian intelligence gathering was stuck in a Cold War paradigm in which the primary threat to national security was assessed as emanating from espionage by hostile foreign Governments. Most resources were allocated to counter-espionage, with comparatively few resources devoted to counter-terrorism.

Of the resources devoted to counter-terrorism, most were concentrated on the risks posed by Armenian terrorist attacks against Turkish interests in Canada. Even at the so-called 'Sikh Desk' at CSIS headquarters, (which was a sub-unit of the "Western Europe and Pacific Rim" unit of the counterterrorism unit) the arguably inadequate official complement, consisting of a unit head and four analyst positions, was in fact only partially staffed. Only the unit head and two analyst positions were actually filled, and that even smaller number was further reduced by the fact that, for the better part of the year leading up to the bombing of

Flight 182, one of the incumbents was away on French language training. In the Regions, staffing was equally thin. In BC Region, where the most militant and most obviously dangerous elements of Sikh extremism in Canada were to be found, two investigators were responsible for the entire investigation of Sikh terrorism. CSIS personnel assigned to this investigation received no additional training; investigators and analysts were expected to learn on the job. CSIS appears to have uncovered little, if any, information on its own, with most of its information coming from the Government of India through the Indian High Commission.

The full extent of CSIS's knowledge in the summer of 1984 was that Talwinder Singh Parmar had been released from prison in Germany following a failed extradition attempt on murder charges by the Government of India, and had returned to Canada, where he was launching a public campaign of fiery rhetoric and communal intimidation to radicalise gurdwaras (Sikh temples) and to take over their direction and their revenues. The CSIS was unable to provide confirmation of its existence in Canada, let alone the actual size of the extremist Babbar Khalsa movement that Parmar claimed to lead, and even referred to it as the "Barbara Khalsa group". By the fall of 1984, CSIS had pieced together enough information to be able to identify Parmar as the most dangerous Sikh in Canada and to opine that his associate Ajaib Singh Bagri could be manipulated to carry out a terrorist attack.

To be continued







With the increase in the supply of oxygen to the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha it is acquiring a fresh lease of vitality to move forward, perhaps even aggressively, on its demand for a division of the West Bengal State and the creation of a Gorkha homeland that includes the Dooars and the Terai. The revival has two parts, the last being the strongest boost, namely the return of Mr Jaswant Singh to the Bharatiya Janata Party fold and the first being the disinclination or disability of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in occupying the political vacuum that emerged after the audacious murder of Madan Tamang in the open in broad daylight and the revulsion in Darjeeling against the GJM and particularly its leadership.

Unsurprisingly therefore the reinstatement of Mr Singh has produced a change in mood — "boon for the Gorkhaland movement" — within the GJM. For it found to its cost that a Mr Singh de-linked from his party was not as effective, even though "free of party fetters" as a Mr Singh who has gone back to the BJP fold. It was Mr Singh's ringing declaration, despite his subsequent explanations, that he favoured the rights of the Gorkha to a separate homeland that made him enormously valuable to the GJM. That he won the Darjeeling parliamentary seat was but natural given that he received massive support from GJM.

The respectability that the GJM lost after the murder of Tamang evident in the slate of resignations of the leadership from the party and the response of the urban population is beginning to creep back. The return of some of the leaders who quit, including spokesperson Harka Bahadur Chhetri, the capacity of the GJM to call meetings in Darjeeling evident in the triumphant return of Mr Bimal Gurung to the town indicates that the demand for separation of the hill station from the State of West Bengal is as strident as it was before.

Because of the murder and the sudden dip in GJM's standing the possibility of a quick and early solution to the separation demand is now unlikely. Eleven leaders including the wife of GJM supremo Gurung were named in the First Information Report filed by Tamang's family after the murder. The connection of GJM to the heinous crime was apparent even if the evidence had not been established through a police and legal process.

Conspiracy or otherwise, the fact that Tamang was the sole voice of opposition to GJM's watered down plans for separation from West Bengal and his elimination has removed the only political obstacle, has affected the status of GJM vis-à-vis the demand and its solution. For its survival, GJM will have to restart from the point of appearing to be immovable on the demand for separation. It was Tamang's opposition to the diluted solution for an administratively autonomous Darjeeling as against the demand for a separate State and his insistence that the process by which this ought to be achieved be democratic that caused his clash with Mr Gurung and GJM.

To re-establish its credentials with the urban population in particular and the rural and tea garden population generally, GJM needs a third party agency to clear its name, that is, endorse that its leadership was in no way instrumental in provoking the murder of Tamang. Given that Tamang's wife, Ms Bharati Tamang who has taken over as the chief of the All India Gorkha League had accused the GJM leadership of being responsible for her husband's murder has added to Mr Gurung's problems of credibility.

The re-induction of Mr Singh, therefore, is a significant morale booster because it will ease the process of Mr Gurung's political rehabilitation in Darjeeling. Whereas no other political leader from any of the mainstream parties has so openly espoused the cause of Darjeeling's separation, how exactly Mr Singh proposes to do so now is a matter of speculation. The issue of Darjeeling's separation is emotionally explosive for three different sets of West Bengal's population. The first set includes obviously the "Gorkhas" and other hill people, including the tribal Lepchas, Bhotis and those who claim tribal status such as Gurungs, Nehars, etc. The second set includes the Adivasi populations in the Dooars and Terai, who have opposed the inclusion of their areas within the territory of a Darjeeling State. The third set includes the Bengali population both in the hills, Dooars, Terai and the plains, particularly Siliguri.

Darjeeling's separation has consequences for not only West Bengal and Sikkim, it would affect the access of Bhutan as well as the politics of southern Bhutan. The geo-political significance of Darjeeling, particularly Kalimpong and Kurseong, are the other factors that have to be weighed in terms of the separation demand. How Mr Singh plays his hand will affect the fortunes of the BJP in the rest of West Bengal that is no longer the CPI(M)'s impregnable fortress. The Trinamool Congress's success in opening up the political space has created opportunities for smaller parties, including the BJP. An enthusiastic Mr Singh could hamper the advantage that now exists, even though it would assure the BJP a permanent seat in the Lok Sabha from Darjeeling for as long as GJM and its separation demand determine the future of the hills.








You don't need to know anything about the Middle East to have a PLAN for solving all its problems. You only need to know something if you are going to produce a strategy that works.

Everyone has a solution for the Gaza Strip and, of course, for the Israel-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflict in general. I remember how at some distinguished panel in Europe an erstwhile British think-tanker had the brilliant idea of having Nato troops patrolling the West Bank and Gaza Strip, never engaging with the point that I made: What do they do when either dissatisfied or radical Palestinians started shooting at them for doing something (like stopping attacks on Israel?) they didn't like?

We have seen the dramatic failure — well, not dramatic since it is generally ignored outside of Israel — of the grand UN scheme of 2006 to keep Hizbullah from rearming and returning to south Lebanon. They fail, and fail, and don't keep their promises, then wonder why Israelis aren't willing to pin their survival on such gimmicks.

And you may have noticed my pointing out that the Obama Administration wrecked Israel-Palestinian talks for 15 months by unilaterally raising the idea that all Israeli construction on settlements stop. Now Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has explicitly confirmed how damaging the US policy was: Mr Abbas blamed the hold-up in talks on the White House, noting that they had raised the issue of settlements: "They are the ones who requested for the Israelis to stop settlements, what do you expect of me? Less than them?" he was quoted saying in paraphrase."

Note: Apparently the Obama Administration understandably — and correctly — has urged Mr Abbas to move up to direct talks with Israel. Let's see if Mr Abbas complies or ignores Mr Obama. And if he ignores Mr Obama, will the United States do or say anything to pressure him? I doubt it but let's watch and see.

If I were to design an ecumenical prayer for these circumstances it would go like this: "Oh, Lord, please keep the ignorant and arrogant from interfering with my life and foisting their schemes on me."

Anyway, here are two new ideas. First, for comic relief.

The British and Swiss have put forward proposals on how the Europeans can help maintain a focused embargo to keep arms out of Gaza while letting in other goods. Unfortunately, this is basically what they tried more than five years ago that failed miserably.

I will never forget a friend in the Israeli army stationed there describing humorously how this worked. A couple of European officers sat on the Egypt-Gaza border in total bewilderment, never intervening with anything coming across the border. Think of a spectator at a particularly one-sided tennis match who keeps turning his head from left to right as the game goes on. They were worthless and when violence erupted they ran away. End of European supervision.

Another item. There's an important clue to US and European thinking buried in a New York Times article on the Gaza Strip. Here's the relevant material:

"Mahmoud Daher of the World Health Organisation estimated that political loyalties in Gaza divided into equal (one-)thirds: Pro-Hamas, pro-Palestinian Authority and independent, many in the private sector. He has been telling foreign officials that if they helped foster businesses, there could eventually be a majority coalition of non-Hamas parties here."

So this is what lies behind President Obama's let-Gaza-prosper strategy, the belief that if there is a stronger middle class that just wants to do business, the pragmatic sector will grow and all the non-Hamas parties will become the majority and take over.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal.

To be continued







THE Group of Ministers set up by the Union government to study the different aspects of the Bhopal gas tragedy in the wake of a Bhopal court handing out paltry punishment to those charged for the accident should be commended for finalising its report in quick time.


On the issues of extradition of Union Carbide's then chairman Warren Anderson and higher punishment for those charged in the case the GoM's views are predictably in keeping with public sentiment. The stand that the government should file a curative petition in the Supreme Court against the 1996 judgment that diluted the charges against the accused suggests that more stringent punishment will be handed out to the guilty. Whether the government can actually successfully obtain Mr Anderson's extradition is another matter.


The GoM's recommendation that fresh and considerably higher compensation must be paid out for deaths and injuries should provide some solace to the families of the affected. As for clean- up of the plant site, the GoM has done well to recommend that the Centre finance the exercise that will be undertaken by the state government though this will need to be monitored given the Madhya Pradesh government's earlier reluctance in this regard. However, just why the taxpayer should pay for the follies of a rogue multinational company is not clear. The bill should be footed by Dow Chemicals which eventually acquired Union Carbide.


It was the government of India that let off Union Carbide with a measly compensation package of $ 470 million in 1989 and so it is its responsibility to ensure that the case against Dow in the Madhya Pradesh High Court is vigorously pursued. Above all, the Cabinet must lay down an efficient mechanism to ensure proper implementation on the ground when it takes up the GoM's report later this week.



CRIME has always been an intrinsic part of politics in Uttar Pradesh. That a former Samajwadi Party MLA's son is the kingpin of a gang of vehicle thieves should therefore come as no surprise. However, the sheer scale of his operations and his network extending even to southern India, is a revelation.


The stolen vehicles are said to have been used by many leaders of the SP in Ballia, the centre of the network. The gang specialised in stealing SUVs, which are obviously extremely useful for politicians.


The lines between crime and politics in Uttar Pradesh are rather blurred. Both have been means for upward mobility for various individuals and groups. The case in UP is not just that of politicians having links with criminals.


Rather a process of criminalisation of politics can be seen whereby politicians are involved in activities beyond the pale of the law and criminals join politics for greater mobility and protection. With figures like Raja Bhaiyya and the late Phoolan Devi among its past members, this trend has been most salient in the SP. The BJP and BSP haven't been far behind either.


Though Chief Minister Mayawati has taken action against individual criminals like Raja Bhaiyya and Ateeq Ahmad, she needs to do more and remove crime from the political culture of the state.




SAINA Nehwal's Singapore Super Series triumph will cheer all. While the country is focussed on the football

World Cup, the Hyderabadi girl is set to figure among the world's top five players when fresh rankings are released this week.


More than the rankings, perhaps, it is Saina's perseverance and dedication that deserve praise. After all, she, like most other Indian sportspersons, has had to work in an unsupportive system. From the sports federations to the infrastructure, everything is loaded against Indian athletes. But Saina has effectively overcome all the hurdles to make a mark at the world stage.


Saina may not be in the league of individual champions like Viswanathan Anand or Geet Sethi as yet, but she is not far behind either.


She has to use both her brains and brawn to excel further. Champion- starved Indians are now waiting for her to climb to the very top of the badminton summit.







THE debate on the Bhopal gas tragedy has tended to focus almost exclusively on Warren Anderson and who allowed him to get out of the country. A case could possibly be made out for such a narrow focus on the basis of the need to send out a clear signal to foreign companies that criminal negligence on safety related issues will no longer be tolerated in India. This is a message that is particularly important at a time when companies around the world, such as BP, are showing increasing insensitivity to the environmental and safety risks of their operations. But, perversely enough, reducing the debate to the actions of an individual, however guilty he may be, deflects attention away from a number of other critical questions including those related to the prevention of such accidents.


The low priority that is given to prevention is perhaps best reflected in the course the debate has taken when it has been able to pull itself away from Warren Anderson. On such occasions the emphasis has been predominantly on issues related to punishment after criminal negligence rather than the prevention of such disasters. Thus there has been some talk, though desperately little action, on the question of why the judiciary took 25 years to come out with its verdict.




There has also been some outrage over a verdict that gave the guilty sentences that were clearly unrelated to the lives lost or the other effects of the disaster.


But there has been little or no attention paid to the general failures in safety standards that caused the disaster in the first place. The possibility that the basic management failures that caused the Bhopal disaster could be relevant even today has not been provided a significant role in the debate.


Even when the debate has moved beyond Bhopal in search of the larger lessons to be learnt, the emphasis on punishment over prevention has remained.


This is perhaps best reflected in the course the debate on the nuclear liability Bill has taken. The main focus of that debate has been on the maximum amount that will have to be paid for criminal negligence after the event. There is very little discussion on the measures needed to prevent such a nuclear disaster.


Is it alright, for instance, to have a nuclear plant in the middle of Mumbai, our biggest city? One reason why punishment after the event has gained such precedence over prevention of disasters is that the debate has, almost inevitably, sunk deep into the emotive response to large foreign companies investing in India. There are a variety of sentiments that influence this response. There is national pride telling us that it is important to tell the big bad foreign companies that they cannot get away.


This pride is also stoked when the maximum financial liability fixed in the nuclear liability Bill is only a fraction of what would be payable for a similar disaster in the United States. And in calmer times there is a fall back to a version of the deterrence argument. The promise of strong action is expected to deter companies from taking environmental and safety risks.


There are bound to be questions about whether such deterrence can actually work. Within the large corporations the possible costs of a disaster have to compete with the overall emphasis on profit.


Since an individual is only at the helm for a limited period there is a temptation to go by the lower probability of a disaster occurring during that period. Combined with the pressure on generating growth and profits, the preference tends to be for glory- generating profitable growth rather than expensive safety precautions.


The preoccupation with Anderson and foreign companies converts the dilemma in this trade- off into one of foreign versus Indian capital. But the costs- of- prevention- versus- the- glory- of- rapid- growth dilemma is not confined to foreign companies.




There are now Indian multinationals that face the same challenges all over the world. Within India too Indian companies are not known to be generous in their spending on safety. Indeed, it is not even certain that the Indian public sector places the necessary emphasis on safety, even when they do not show any great profit.


In theory this choice can be tilted in favour of safety by raising the punishment to levels that no CEO can ignore even if she is at the helm for the shortest of periods. The price of a failure to maintain safety standards paid by the individual in charge can be made so high that even the most profit- oriented manager will be forced to adhere to these norms.


But in practice the need for investment usually tempers this urge to raise the cost of failure on the safety front.


Rajiv Gandhi, his party and his government were all clearly very sensitive to any adverse impact their treatment of Anderson would have on foreign investment. It is important to remember that at the time of the Bhopal gas tragedy the Indian economy was just beginning to take off.


While some Indian businesses like Reliance had made promising starts they were still far from the kind of prominence they have today.


The information technology services revolution too was in its infancy and it would be more than a decade before Wipro, Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services would make their presence felt. At a time when the economy looked set to take off and Indian capital was yet to demonstrate that it could play a prominent role in this process, there was a dominant belief that India had to rely on foreign capital to do the bulk of the job.


And attracting foreign capital would have been even more difficult than it proved to be if the head of a foreign company was serving time in Indian jails.




Twenty- six years after Bhopal, Indian capital may have the confidence to step into any place foreign firms vacate. But there is little guarantee that their choice between profit and safety would be better than that of a foreign firm. This is particularly true since the overall business and work environment in India does not place a premium on safety. Even industries like information technology that should normally be considered very safe are sometimes housed in buildings that do not have basic fire- escape infrastructure.


Indeed, with the current preoccupation with high growth rates, there is little time for debate on whether safety standards in India are at an appropriate level and whether these standards are implemented effectively. The felt need for a review of such standards, irrespective of whether a company is owned by foreign capital, Indian capital or the Indian state, has not emerged even after all the outrage the Bhopal verdict has generated.


The writer is professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore








THE UPA government under the guidance of Sonia Gandhi may have been gloating about the Right to Education Act, but how serious are its own state governmemnts? For over two weeks, Adishree Gopalkrishnan, a Class 9 student of a prestigious school in Mumbai, is struggling to enter her school, but the management cancelled her admission abruptly. Her ' crime' being that her mother Dr Avisha Kulkarni had led a fight of over 1000 parents with the school management in 2008 and had submitted a letter to the police last year that she apprehends threat to her own life.


Vibgyor School in Goregaon, where Adishree has been studying for over five years now, is known as one of the most elite schools in Mumbai. The students here include Oscar- winner Resool Pukutty's kids and those of celebrity drummer Sivamani.


The fees, naturally, are sky high and some of the parents think they are abnormal. As one parent pointed out, even Neeta Ambani's Kokilaben International School and the Poddar International School don't charge as much.


Trouble began in 2008 when the school hiked its fees from Rs 45000 to Rs 82000, without any consent from parents. Dr Kulkarni, who has been a social activist herself, led the struggle and filed petitions in the Bombay High Court and the state education department. Fees were reduced by a hefty Rs 25000, after the Education department calculated the fees on instructions from the High Court. Dr Kulkarni paid the revised fees, but her daughter Adishree started facing trouble.


Twice, her workbooks went missing in a mysterious manner, following which she had to write the assignments all over again.


When Dr Kulkarni wrote a stern letter holding the principal responsible for future incidents, they stopped immediately. In the meantime, Dr Kulkarni claims, she also received calls that threatened her, one of which she recorded and handed over the tape to the police. All of this took place in July 2009, and Dr Kulkarni thought the worst was over.


The school seemed to have fallen in line and Adishree's fees for the 2010- 11 academic year were accepted by the school; and books and uniforms were given to her. The twist was reserved for the eve of the school re- opening day. The school management, in its own capacity cancelled Adishree's admission and told her that she cannot attend the school. Dr Kulkarni went to the school to ask why they accepted the fees in the first place if they did not want the child. But the school spokesperson maintained the management had taken the dceision in its own capacity.


The issue became murkier after Raj Thackeray's MNS decided to join the issue with Dr Kulkarni and tried to resolve the problem in their usual violent manner . It did not help as the school now claims that Dr Kulkarni had instigated the attack, a claim vehemently denied by Dr Kulkarni.


Dr Kulkarni states that she has been patiently fighting the management since 2008 and she has been fighting a legal, democratic battle that had not turned violent at any stage. It is pertinent to mention here that Dr Kulkarni had upheld the cause of bargirls after they lost their jobs following the state government's decision to ban dance bars. She was also one of the founding members of the Women's Party of India, the first and only women's party in India, formed in early 2001. Her party contested a few seats in 2001 civic polls but lost miserably.

The school says that if Dr Kulkarni apprehends harm to her and her child, then why does she want to keep Adishree in the same school. According to a spokesperson of the school, the decision to keep Adishree was taken much earlier, but they decided to deny admission in June as they thought her mother may misuse the media to malign the school's name.


When asked why the decision was not conveyed to Dr Kulkarni in time so that she could seek admission for her child in some other school, the spokesperson says there was no right time or wrong time to do so. " She keeps filing false complaints; the other parents are opposed to keeping Adishree in the school; what could we do?" asks the spokesperson.


The point that should be noted here is that very few parents would show the courage to defy the management's wishes as they are concerned about their own children studying in the same school. Those who supported Dr Kulkarni were asked to take their children elsewhere and they did so as they did not want to continue the battle. Dr Kulkarni may be termed as eccentric for still keeping the child in the same school that she is fighting with, but she still holds the right to do so.




WHILE on the subject of schools, Pune's Rosary School had to face angry parents after it suddenly raised its fees from Rs 1300 to Rs 1800 per month. The incidents of parents raising their voice against fee hikes by private schools are on the rise and often the frustrated parents resort to taking the law into their own hands.


The state government appointed a committee for looking into the issue, but ended up allowing a fee hike of upto 50 percent. It is not surprising that the state is working in the interest of private educational institutes as over 70 percent of them are run by politicians. The education barons' list includes Sharad Pawar, Vilasrao Deshmukh and Gopinath Munde among others.



ON JUNE 19, 1966, when the Shiv Sena was born, the public meeting at Shivaji Park ended in the stoning of establishments run by the South Indian migrants. It was then that the Sena's ' rada culture' ( resorting to violence against those who disagree) came into being.


On June 19, 2010, history repeated itself as Sena councillors resorted to vandalism in the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation as the BJP's Raju Shinde did not allow debate on an octroi tender. The Sena- BJP alliance in Aurangabad has been on the brink ever since Shinde was elected chairman of the Standing Committee with the Congress' help. The violence was filmed by television channels and has evoked criticism from all and sundry. Sena, however, does not regret it one bit and has stated that this is the way it will continue to express its anger.


On the same day, Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray addressed his followers at the famous Shanmukhanand Hall ( incidentally, the hall is run by a Tamil society, the very people Sena accused of stealing the locals' jobs). The media boycotted the function after some journalists were manhandled. Uddhav's oratory skills have always been criticised as he tries in vain to ape his father, who is famous for his fiery speeches.


Uddhav gave yet another evidence on why his speeches fall flat. The issue is not only of delivery, but also lack of originality.


While criticising Sharad Pawar on the IPL issue, he resorted to a joke that has been circulating through SMS, " Pune that was known for famous Marathi writer PL Deshpande, is now known for IPL ( Aniruddha) Deshpande." While the joke may look good on a cellphone, when uttered in a public meeting three weeks after the issue came to light, it falls flat. But who will bell the cat?







HAVING served the country with sincerity may not really count if you happen to be a retired bureaucrat or diplomat. Being rewarded with a Padma Bhushan or heading Indian missions in England, France or Nepal also doesn't always help.

Ask M. K. Rasgotra, who was the foreign secretary when the 1984 Bhopal disaster happened. The Congress has now lost no time in trashing the diplomat's statement that Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson was, indeed, provided a " safe passage" as part of a deal with the then Union government headed by Rajiv Gandhi. The buzz in the corridors of power is that with his good record, Rasgotra has no reason to lie. " I am all important today, but I won't matter tomorrow for the opportunistic political class. This is India," a secretary said, calling a spade a spade. Quite a lesson for babus who look up to politicians as their saviours!



THERE was a time when a defence minister visiting the almost unreachable heights of Siachen would have a full media team in tow, all to show how alive he was to hazardous tasks armed forces undertake in their line of duty. But media- shy A. K. Antony doesn't like all the bells and whistles that accompany a ministerial visit to a frontline post. On Monday, Antony went to Ladakh en route to Siachen without much ado and without an attendant media party.


Sometimes the minister's self- effacing nature causes problem for even the resident media cynics in the defence ministry, especially when encountering the clashing cymbals from across the road of the South Block. Antony's stoic silence then becomes a mute acceptance of whatever is laid as the " party line" by the more vociferous compatriots.



THE Congress has demanded an unconditional apology from BJP national vice- president Vinay Katiyar for issuing " objectionable posters linking the Congress with terrorism", before his rally in UP's Ambedkar Nagar. The posters read: " Whose son- in- law is Afzal Guru, who had attacked Parliament?" The reply below reads: " The Congress Party." The posters also have anti- Congress slogans like " The five terrorist sons of the Congress — terrorism of Jammu and Kashmir, terrorism of Punjab, terrorism of LTTE, terrorism of Maoists and terrorism of ULFA." Congress spokesperson Akhilesh Pratap Singh said the language " was objectionable" and Katiyar must immediately apologise.



FINANCE minister Pranab Mukherjee, the UPA's main troubleshooter, is said to be annoyed over the reporting of the Bhopal gas tragedy case by some leading daily newspapers. Mukherjee is understood to be particularly peeved with reports that referred to his scheduled meetings with Dow Chemicals, the successor company of Union Carbide Corporation.


The minister is said to be questioning the basis of these reports. It is not often that Mukherjee expresses displeasure with reporting in the print media. One would recall the comments of a mediafriendly Mukherjee, after the Mumbai terror attacks, regularly making headlines.





AUTO ride in Delhi will become expensive from this week. The Delhi government confirmed this on Monday, ending nearly a fortnight of speculation.


But a new, cheap taxi service is also in the works to reduce the monopoly of the city's auto drivers, said transport officials.


The state cabinet approved in- principle a proposal to increase auto and taxi fares, chief minister Sheila Dikshit said.


" The revised prices will be announced in a day or two after the transport minister has a final meeting with the unions on the matter. There will be no increase in bus fares," Dikshit said.


Transport officials indicated that the existing base fare of Rs 10 for the first kilometre will be raised to Rs 20 for the first two kilometres, and the charge of Rs 4.5 for every subsequent kilometre will be increased to Rs 6.


Black- and- yellow coloured taxis that cost Rs 15 for the first kilometre now and Rs 8.5 for every subsequent kilometre will be raised to Rs 20 for the first kilometre and Rs 12 for every subsequent kilometre, a senior transport official said.


There will be no revision in the fare of radio taxis. They will continue to charge Rs 15 for each kilometre, sources said.


The government has also decided to introduce low fare, non- air conditioned taxis that will ferry passengers for as cheap as Rs 10 a kilometre.


" There is a need to have a private operated reliable taxi service just a phone call away.


A few companies have approached us in this regard.


We hope to start this service in a few days with about 1,000 taxis," a senior transport official said.


Auto and taxi operators say their business has become unviable after CNG prices were increased this month.


They have threatened to go on strike if fares are not increased.


CNG price was raised by Rs 5.60 a kilogram, from Rs 21.90 to Rs 27.50.


The state government had set- up a committee soon after the increase to work out a fare revision.


Auto drivers welcomed the government's announcement that it would increase fares.


" Passengers are oblivious to the price hike and expect us to go by the meter. If we try explaining our point or refuse to transport them, they complain to the police," said Raja, an auto- driver.


Commuters are already dreading the impending hike.

" I used to take the auto to college every day, but considering there is going to be a hike, I might have to travel in buses", said Apeksha Verma, who travels from Kalkaji to her college near the Siri Fort complex.








With just about four months to go for assembly elections in Bihar, the alliance between ruling coalition partners JD(U) and BJP appears to be unravelling. In the latest duel between the two partners, Bihar's deputy CM Sushil Modi boycotted chief minister Nitish Kumar's 'Vishwas Yatra' his planned cavalcade of rallies a day after the state government summarily returned Rs 5 crore in flood relief aid from the Gujarat government. Earlier, trouble had flared when Nitish had objected to an advertisement campaign which showed him holding hands with Gujarat CM Narendra Modi. Nitish may have been technically right in his objection, as the ads were released without his consent. But the decision to return flood relief funds in response is ungracious and over the top.

Nitish's aggressive posture to protect his secular credentials in a poll-bound state is comprehensible, but that doesn't allow him to play political football with much needed flood relief. Can Nitish afford to do a Naveen Patnaik by breaking with the BJP? A divorce will be a costly affair and the collateral damage may sink the electoral fortunes of both parties.

There is no doubt that Nitish speaks the language of governance and has been able to build an independent social base of sections of backward castes, Dalits and Muslims for the JD(U). Nonetheless, he cannot risk the wrath of the sizeable upper castes who played an important role in his victories in the assembly and Lok Sabha elections and who can desert him for jettisoning the BJP. Similarly, the 16 per cent pie of Muslim votes has many stakeholders including the RJD, LJP and the Congress party. The Congress could have benefited from the situation, but its weak party organisation is a major caveat to its revival in the state.

In all this, the BJP would be the biggest loser. A loss of alliance with the JD(U) could mean the de facto end of the NDA. The BJP will also lose many seats in Bihar that it can win only with the support of the JD(U). The party doesn't appear to be learning from its mistakes. It came on in a heavy-handed manner with Narendra Modi who's a liability outside Gujarat. Bihar's image has seen a massive turnaround since the change of guard in 2005. The voter's mandate was clearly in favour of development over caste-based identity politics. Any reversal of this process, accompanied by the return of political instability, will not only be to the state's but also the country's detriment.






It is welcome that the government is considering a law to regulate surrogacy that's in tune with contemporary realities. Apart from laying down surrogacy guidelines, the draft legislation the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) [Regulation] Bill also allows single people and unmarried couples to have children through surrogate mothers. This is a positive step in favour of choice and equality as it could open up a legal channel for anyone, irrespective of gender, sexual orientation or marital status, to start their own families. Presently there are no laws regulating surrogacy births, something that has resulted in complications. In several cases accusations of exploitation of surrogate mothers have been raised, while foreign couples and individuals have faced hurdles in taking their children born through surrogate Indian mothers back to their home country.

This is precisely the reason why it is important that the surrogacy Bill has a smooth passage through Parliament. According to a 2009 Law Commission report, the surrogacy and ART industry in India is worth as much as Rs 25,000 crore. Given the cost effectiveness of the procedure here, the industry is bound to grow further. Hence, in order to prevent exploitation of either party involved in the process, it is imperative for the government to monitor and streamline surrogacy services and ensure that everything is above board. However, along with attempts to make surrogacy more accessible, the government must also make adoption laws simpler for single people and unmarried couples. If surrogacy is an option for them, there is no reason why they cannot parent the thousands of orphans looking for a home.







School seems part of the stuff of our settled personal identity. In that sense it appears unrelated to everyday political or economic battles, which we project onto an external public sphere. Yet 13-year-old Rouvanjit Rawla's suicide after school principal Sunirmal Chakravarthy broke a cane upon his back raises uncomfortable questions. It holds up a mirror to society, in ways that are difficult to brush under the carpet.

I received my schooling at a place that was a competitor as well as close compatriot to Rouvanjit's institution, La Martiniere. It had, at the time, a reputation for corporal punishment that was even more ferocious than La Marts, with a martinet-like Jesuit priest enforcing discipline and teachers who were freely allowed to wield the cane. It was also a place which bred many members of Kolkata's patrician elite, including communist leaders such as Jyoti Basu. Perhaps the latter had their first inklings of rebellion from the suffocating discipline imposed by the school (my early identification with communism was largely because they spoke badly of it at my school). That's not to say that communists did much to break up old-boy networks or the patrician system when they came to power in West Bengal. Which is why principal Chakravarthy will probably go scot-free, despite having broken the law on corporal punishment.

During my schooling there was no law against corporal punishment. Neither was there much moral outrage around the issue. The mimicking of late 19th century English public schools seemed natural in a society founded on hierarchy, dominance and submission rather than voluntary contract and choice. There was a parallel with the pre-modern penal regimes depicted by French thinker Michel Foucault. Disobedience to the monarch would be punished with the spectacle of great violence visited on the body of the offender. But just as the punished body of the criminal often attracted the sympathy of the subaltern, those boys on whose backs canes would be broken became heroes in the eyes of the rest of us.

It's likely that none of them would have, in their day, considered suicide. Today's generation may lack coping strategies and interiorise the humiliation, leading to thoughts of suicide. That's because the principles of choice and consent have made their way into the rest of society much more, even though school and the education sector continue to resist it. The old patrician order is breaking down elsewhere, but remains intact in schools.

Limited choice remains the bane of the school system today. I cannot deny that despite all the disciplinarian mayhem my school inflicted it did stimulate interest in and give a certain rigorous grounding in science, math and languages, of a sort not widely available in Kolkata. Likewise, parents of students in La Marts face a dilemma if they want to shift their children elsewhere in response to successive scandals that have hit the school today. There's no guarantee that other schools offer much improvement. Better, then, to bring out the old school spirit and pretend that not much is wrong.


Neither is the situation better in other parts of the country. School admissions in Delhi, for example, have become a bureaucratic nightmare after the introduction of the points system. Those who have run the gauntlet can attest that getting a kid admitted into nursery in Delhi these days is almost as difficult as bagging a berth in the Indian Administrative Services.

That the school system is broken is attested by the remarkable suicide rate for students across the country, which beats the number of farmers' suicides even though (or perhaps precisely because) student suicides have less political salience. It's difficult to get accurate statistics on this itself an indication of how neglected the issue is but the health ministry documents 16,000 student suicides between 2004 and 2006. The real number is likely to be far higher. Police say thousands of suicides go unreported, because traumatised parents don't want to disclose the cause of death. But even going by the conservative health ministry number, that's already higher than the number of deaths (15,000) attributed to the Bhopal gas leak, the world's worst industrial disaster. In other words, we do a Bhopal once every three years with our student population, erring on the side of underestimation. Yet few take notice, perhaps because the villains in this case don't conform to type.

Student suicides also point to a larger problem: the lack of educational opportunity in the country, where demand far outstrips supply. And it's going to hobble Indian competitiveness turning its demographic dividend into a liability unless we're willing to radically reform the education sector. Corporal punishment by schools is inhumane, and ought to be abolished. But that's only a part of the bigger problem of student alienation. This won't be addressed unless we undertake supply-side reforms which expand both the quality and quantity of available education. HRD minister Kapil Sibal may have made a beginning after years of neglect. But it's going to remain an urgent issue for at least the next two decades. BLURB Corporal punishment ought to be abolished. But the bigger problem of student alienation won't be addressed unless we undertake supply-side reforms which expand quality and quantity of available education.







Angelina Jolie's a serious contender to play big screen Cleopatra. Film producer Scott Rudin thinks she'd be "perfect" for the role, and with reason. From Shakespearean drama to the 1963 mega-movie starring feisty Elizabeth Taylor, cultural representations have mostly projected the Egyptian queen as a woman of beauty and indomitable spirit. A superstar, Jolie lacks neither attribute. Yet a race row's erupted over her possible casting. Many ask why a "white woman" must play an African royal and not a "black actress". The question is, should skin colour, nationality and other identity markers guide movie casting?

If yes, where would the curbing of artistic freedom end? Absurdly, we'd have to object to a classic like Ten Commandments just because US stars Charlton Heston played Moses and Yul Brynner Rameses! Others may want nationality as a criterion. Then, we'd have to trash productions casting, say, Brad Pitt as Achilles (Troy) or Steve Martin as a French sleuth (Pink Panther). Recall the objections to Richard Attenborough's choice of a British and not Indian actor to play Gandhi. Ben Kingsley went on to do a superb job that was universally feted. That's because the essence of being a good actor is the ability to get out of one's skin or culture. Today, even Bollywood has foreigners essay Indian characters: think of Brazilian model Giselle Monteiro playing a Sikh woman in Love Aaj Kal.

Art aside, movie-making is also a business and A-listers like Jolie draw crowds. Thanks to her humanitarian work, multicultural family one of her adopted children is Ethiopian and her oft-quoted belief in a borderless world, Jolie's also something of a global brand. To say she should stick to playing white women in films is bad in form and ungenerous in spirit. Wrecking rather than erecting barriers, cinema can do without intolerance.







Another biopic, another sacrifice of historical accuracy on the altar of box office logic. But this time, those at the helm of the planned Cleopatra film have gone a step further; they plan to change something as intrinsic to the character as her ethnicity. Why? Because Angelina Jolie, she of the pouting lips, superstar husband and politically correct multi-ethnic brood, will look better on a magazine cover than some lesser known actress who might actually fit the role better. Arguments such as those made by the producer that she has the right 'look' for the role are laughable; being of the correct ethnicity should, one assumes, be a basic component of having that look.

Artistic licence is well and good, but when it happens for the fourth time, it becomes a little difficult to swallow. In the previous three celluloid versions of the Egyptian queen's life as well, she was portrayed by white actresses; Claudette Colbert, Vivien Leigh and, most famously, Elizabeth Taylor. Given the social and cultural imperatives of the time, it could at least have been argued that there were no suitable African American actresses for the role. To make a similar argument today would be insulting; an affront to the likes of Halle Berry and Thandie Newton.

Often, a simple way to understand the true context of such issues is to flip the situation around. Not a single major Hollywood production springs to mind in which a historical figure who was a white woman has been portrayed by an African-American. In short, while it is apparently perfectly acceptable to have Angelina Jolie play Cleopatra, no producer is likely to consider having a black actress play, say, Amelia Earhart or Marie Antoinette.







Those who plan to travel by train during this summer should be prepared for the 2010 waiting-room experience.

On a recent trip i found myself at the New Delhi station with time to spare, pleased at being in that situation, as opposed to running after a departing train, normally the case with me. On entering the waiting hall and walking in, i found that occupying the edge of one of the crowded benches was my only option, and i exercised it.

Looking around, i found that there were about 200 travellers in a room that was obviously meant to house just one-third of that number. I also realised that for some reason airport lounges are never as interesting as are waiting rooms at railway stations, of whatever class they may be. There were dozens of couples, old and young, numerous families with several children in tow, many young men and some single young women. All states of the country were represented in that one hall, it seemed. Some were chatting, others shouting and still others staring at neighbours. The number of dialects being used in the room at the same time was probably in excess of 20.

What distracted the people in the room from their respective pursuits was the advent of a gentleman wearing a formal suit who began to disrobe in full view. Having achieved a suitable state of undress, the man sat on the floor and adopted a meditative stance. He shut his eyes tightly and shortly proceeded to perform exaggerated versions of yogic exercises that were clearly the secret for his impressive fitness. The crowd around him could only gape. Once he was done, he slipped into his suit quickly, and walked out of the hall without any further ado.

A foreign looking young lady walked into the hall at that moment and made her way towards the waiting area's common restroom. Unfortunately for her, the facility was occupied by about a dozen men wrapped only in their towels, and she had to beat a hasty retreat.

The fact that the current era involves the use of technology at its most intrusive was also demonstrated in no uncertain terms that day. Desi-looking ladies in synthetic saris were yapping away into their designer cellphones. A few youngsters were engaged in a battle of wits with a swanky looking digital game-device that kept emanating fearful sounds.

As if all this was not enough, one was further treated to the spectacle of a trendy young man who seemed to be in the most tearing of hurries. He walked into the hall at a brisk pace with one cellphone glued to his right ear, the other bulging out of his rear pocket, and his laptop bag half-open, ready for action. Finding that there was no space for him to set up his temporary workstation; he sat on the floor and proceeded to type furiously into the machine while relaying instructions at the top of his voice into one of his mobiles. The sense of urgency that he displayed made it clear to us onlookers that he was engaged in something of do-or-die significance.

Unluckily for him, a toddler with a glass of mango juice in hand stumbled while running away from his mother, and spilled the liquid all over the man's keyboard, resulting in an abrupt end to his pursuit of whatever was so important. The argument that followed between him and the child's mother was really entertaining.
In fact it was so much fun that i missed the announcement of my train's departure. Before i knew it, there i was, engaged in the familiar act of sprinting after a train.








You could call it providence or coincidence, or a little bit of both, that two of the biggest cases of industrial disasters — the 1984 Bhopal gas catastrophe in India and the recent British Petroleum (BP) oil spill in the United States — have hit the headlines, albeit for different reasons, around the same time. However, the two cases have little in common. While 26 years after a gas leak from a factory owned by an American company Union Carbide India Limited (now Dow Chemicals), the victims are still fighting for justice, in the BP case, the US government has forced the oil giant to set up a $20-billion fund to pay claims and clean up the Gulf of Mexico.

We can go to town saying that these are double standards on the part of the US, but the truth is that our government failed us. Instead, 26 years later, we now have an Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM), formed under enormous public pressure after the June 7 court verdict, that is deliberating on what needs to be done next and who will pay how much for the clean-up. According to news reports, the EGoM has made several proposals which will be taken up by the Cabinet later this week: more money for the victims, clean up the polluted site, initiate a new curative petition and also make fresh efforts to extradite Anderson. The Centre will fund the compensation as well as pay for the toxic clean-up. However, it has stipulated that it will seek to hold Dow Chemicals legally accountable for compensation.

In other words, the Indian taxpayer will be left holding the can until the government gets the better of Dow. One of the reasons given out for releasing Anderson has been that India then did not have the financial clout and diplomatic muscle to take on American companies and Washington. But this does not hold true now. So even now, why are we taking the easy way out? Instead of clamouring for Anderson's extradition, we should put pressure on the US-based company to pay up the dues without wasting further time. If this needs to be done via the US government, so be it. In fact, by asking for it forcefully, the Indian government will not only redeem itself in the eyes of its own people but also set a precedent on industrial safety standards. It is said that there are many mini-Bhopals waiting to happen in India — a no-nonsense approach now can help avert similar disasters in the future and, if God forbid, one were to take place, we will at least have a necessary template to deal with the situation.






The Indian Army can always do with more brave men. But even as the issue of more brave women is yet to be resolved, another worthy lot has been identified as potential jawans — or jawanis. The idea is to set up a special army unit comprising hijras. The idea is an excellent one, a horde of eunuchs clapping the enemy to death and threatening to lift their petticoats if the adversary doesn't give ground.

One must commend Arunachal Pradesh Home Minister Tako Dabi for the plan. "Like Shikhandi [the gender-changing eunuch whose help came in handy when killing Bhishma at Kurukshetra], the almost invincible character in the Mahabharata, they can work as a shield, standing guard against the attack of preying Chinese on the eastern and Pakistanis on the northern frontier," said Mr Dabi. What was perhaps less helpful was the minister's reasons for utilising eunuchs in battle. "Most eunuchs don't have families and can be selfless... A military career will give them a respectable livelihood," he added. That sounds perilously like dipping into the country's estimated 27 lakh eunuch population as cannon fodder and channelising their 'aggression' to a wholesome social activity like fighting wars.

True, it's not as if there will be a conscription drive which will force eunuchs to face the enemy. But some supporters have spoken about the 'great tradition' of eunuchs kitting out for battle during Mughal times. It'd be wise to keep in mind that warriors who happened to be eunuchs played their parts — rather than eunuchs with automatic mettle. And the Union home minister, to whose desk

Mr Dabi has sent his plan stating that eunuchs "can be employed with minimum supportive amount in the form of salary", must remember that hijras have a way of getting more money for their services than planned.




You could call it providence or coincidence, or a little bit of both, that two of the biggest cases of industrial disasters — the 1984 Bhopal gas catastrophe in India and the recent British Petroleum (BP) oil spill in the United States — have hit the headlines, albeit for different reasons, around the same time. However, the two cases have little in common. While 26 years after a gas leak from a factory owned by an American company Union Carbide India Limited (now Dow Chemicals), the victims are still fighting for justice, in the BP case, the US government has forced the oil giant to set up a $20-billion fund to pay claims and clean up the Gulf of Mexico.

We can go to town saying that these are double standards on the part of the US, but the truth is that our government failed us. Instead, 26 years later, we now have an Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM), formed under enormous public pressure after the June 7 court verdict, that is deliberating on what needs to be done next and who will pay how much for the clean-up. According to news reports, the EGoM has made several proposals which will be taken up by the Cabinet later this week: more money for the victims, clean up the polluted site, initiate a new curative petition and also make fresh efforts to extradite Anderson. The Centre will fund the compensation as well as pay for the toxic clean-up. However, it has stipulated that it will seek to hold Dow Chemicals legally accountable for compensation.

In other words, the Indian taxpayer will be left holding the can until the government gets the better of Dow. One of the reasons given out for releasing Anderson has been that India then did not have the financial clout and diplomatic muscle to take on American companies and Washington. But this does not hold true now. So even now, why are we taking the easy way out? Instead of clamouring for Anderson's extradition, we should put pressure on the US-based company to pay up the dues without wasting further time. If this needs to be done via the US government, so be it. In fact, by asking for it forcefully, the Indian government will not only redeem itself in the eyes of its own people but also set a precedent on industrial safety standards. It is said that there are many mini-Bhopals waiting to happen in India — a no-nonsense approach now can help avert similar disasters in the future and, if God forbid, one were to take place, we will at least have a necessary template to deal with the situation.





The claim by some senior leaders that they are close to the Congress top leadership irks many in the party. A senior party functionary was heard saying that those who make such claims are actually miles away from it. To prove his point, he cited examples of how leaders like former External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh, who once claimed to be close to the top leadership, were cut down to size in due course of time. "The high command treats all partymen as equals... It's just that some have little bit more access than the others," he said. So near and yet so far it seems.


The caste mathematics of poll-bound Bihar seems to be getting curiouser. With the 'bhumihars' no longer being as supportive of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's pursuit of a second term as before, Kumar is said to be trying to win over another section of the upper castes: Maithil Brahmins. Taking people by surprise, the CM recently made a visit to the residence of Nitish Mishra, whom Kumar had dropped from his cabinet two years ago. Considerable political significance is being attached to the meeting, since Mishra is the son of Jagannath Mishra, who still commands influence over the Maithil Brahmin community.



In the spotlight for being absent from Parliament and Delhi, Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister M.K. Alagiri decided to take his role in the GoM on the Bhopal gas tragedy very seriously. He went through copious Tamil notes made by his aides even and held forth on his ministry's role at the GoM's first meeting before his secretary took over. Those surprised by the change in Alagiri's conduct were told that Parliament's monsoon session may see more of him than before. He is said to have spoken to the Lok Sabha Speaker about overcoming the language problem he faces while responding to members in the House.  Alagiri was ticked off by Papa Karunanidhi, saying he would have to take his work in Delhi seriously before he can hope for the chair in Chennai.



It's no secret that Nitin Gadkari loves his shirts and trousers more than kurta-pyjamas. So when the BJP president wondered aloud among his Bihar colleagues whether he could turn out in his trade white shirt and black trousers at a rally in Patna, he got a firm 'no'. Saffron leaders told him that no one takes a politician seriously in Bihar if he is not attired in a kurta, which even aspiring politicos in the state wear in the hope of building up their image. Finally, Gadkari relented and turned up in a kurta at the rally, which had a good turnout despite the Narendra Modi-Nitish Kumar spat.



There are plans to shift the Ministry of External Affairs to the new building of Jawaharlal Nehru Bhavan at 23-D, Janpath, by November 14, the birthday of the first prime minister after whom the building is named. But talk has started about which offices will be housed there. Not many want to leave South Block, despite the Ministry of Defence asking for more space there. Some officials are taking consolation in the fact that since interior decoration is yet to begin, no one will move in for quite a while.





Life, to inspirational writer Indu Mittal, is an autopilot with the process of living on its own momentum, and without one having any conscious control over it.

One may or may not agree with her, because it is just a point of view and there are many points of view. On my part, I would say life is as good or bad as you allow it to be. You are the pilot, and life is your vehicle.

Indu, in her book, Spirituality, a Way of Life, does agree that most people are victims of their past conditioning and false beliefs. Their beliefs can be overcome easily with a little conscious and determined effort.

That is the point most of us must realise. There is nothing predestined. One can change, shape and reshape one's life umpteen times, until the point comes for self-realisation.

Human beings are innately spiritual. Only that most of us are not aware of it and we never try to discover it. No doubt, it is not that easy to get self-realisation. Great determination and will power is needed to change certain mental and psychological perceptions. We are slaves to our habits and perceptions, and we prefer to live in the bliss of ignorance.

For one who has taken spiritualism as a way of life, the bondage of sufferings come out starkly clear as an obstacle that needs to be rooted out. Once this realisation takes place, half the job is done.

The complete liberation of consciousness then becomes quite obvious. Constant reflection and resorting to spiritual teachings make the task easier. The endless cycle of birth and death comes to a stop when one reaches the end of the spiritual path — to be one with one's own self.

God is only a concept that helps you find your way out. God is not a separate entity ruling the universe from up there.

He is your inner-self, that is pure and the ultimate truth. That is the stage one needs to realise to discover one's God. Only then you are one with him, in complete bliss. Free from all bondages and shackles.







A few years ago, I came across a true story about a great player of his time, namely Arthur Ashe. He was African-American and had millions of fans all over the world. He was not only a great player but also a thorough gentleman.

In 1975, Ashe won Wimbledon, unexpectedly defeating Jimmy Connors. In 1988, Ashe discovered he had contracted HIV during the blood transfusions he had received during one of his two heart surgeries. He and his wife kept his illness private until 1992, when the news leaked. Soon Ash started getting lots of mail.

Many asked him as to why did God choose him of all the people while he had not done anything wrong in his life? To this Ashe's reply was, "All over the world some million teenagers aspire to become tennis players. Out of these million may be a hundred thousand reach to some sort of proficiency. Of them only a few thousand play in some circuit and only a hundred or so play the grand slam. Finally only two reach the final of Wimbledon. When I was standing with the trophy of Wimbledon in my hand I never questioned God "Why Me?" And now what right do I have to ask God "Why Me?" Ashe died in 1993.

After going through this story, I thought I would never question God's plan and the sufferings he may have in store for me. But a human being is very weak in keeping his promise. "Why me" the question still torments my mind after the chemo while I search for an answer.

I find it very difficult to analyse my past Karmas. I have learnt that great people also had to suffer. For example, Raman Maharishi or Ramakrishna Paramhansa, had got throat cancer towards the end of his life. But he never asked Maa Kali "Why me?"

Is that not a good enough reason for me to endure my sufferings? But with a positive mind. One does not know what miracle might happen! Any way, hoping for the best is my habit.









The contrast cannot be more damning. After the recent court verdict on the world's worst industrial disaster in Bhopal, which was universally decried as both justice delayed and justice denied, the US official spokesman called for a "closure". Last week, President Obama in his first Oval office address to the nation in the US thundered: "We will fight this spill with everything we have got for as long as it takes. We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused." The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, has claimed 11 lives in the worst environ- mental disaster in America's history. The spill contin- ues with the flow of oil reaching 60,000 barrels a day, polluting the flora and fauna in the Gulf of Mexico and affecting millions of lives.


The last major oil spill causing environmental dev- astation was caused by a multinational Exxon Valdez in 1989. The current BP spill is expected to match the damage caused by Exxon every four days. The nation- ally-televised Oval Office addresses by US presidents have always signified crises. John F. Kennedy used the platform at the height of the Cuban missile crisis that threatened a nuclear confrontation with the erstwhile USSR. Richard Nixon announced his resignation over the Watergate scandal using this platform. George W.
Bush first used it after the 9/11 attacks and then again after the US invasion of Iraq. President Obama's invo- cation of this platform reflects the seriousness with which the US is grappling with this mess.


By all counts, BP must be brought to book for the damage it's caused. President Obama asserted that he would ensure that BP "set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of this reck- lessness". He has `ordered' BP to "set aside" at least US $20 billion to pay for the clean-up operations and damage. We wish he succeeds. Such merchants of death must be made to pay.


The principles of natural justice suggest that the same standards be applied universally. The world's worst ever industrial disaster took place on the night of December 2-3, 1984, when over 40,000 kg of toxic gas leaked from the fertiliser plant of Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL), killing over 4,000 people in a flash and injuring more than a lakh. While estimates vary, it is universally accepted that over 20,000 people have died so far and nearly six lakh people have contracted life-long infirmities. Investigations had established neg- ligence on the part of the UCIL management.


Though Warren Anderson, then CEO of Union Carbide (UC), was arrested when he arrived in Bhopal four days after the accident, for causing death by negli- gence, he was soon released, put on a state government plane to New Delhi and allowed to escape to the US.

He remains an absconder to date. While he promised, in his bond, to return to India to stand trial in the case when summoned, he never did so. The Government of India has so far failed to get him extradited for the trial.


Questions about complicity on the part of the gov- ernment and the Indian system of justice became loud- er when, mysteriously, all criminal charges against UCIL were dropped in 1989. It was only the widespread pub- lic uproar that led to the Supreme Court's reopening the cases in 1991. However, in 1996, again mysterious- ly, the apex court directed the charges to be convert- ed from culpable homicide (maximum sentence of ten years) to death due to negligence (maximum sentence of two years). It was under this latter charge that 15 years later, this unfair verdict's been delivered.


The government must seriously remedy this gross injustice, bring the guilty to book and deliver justice to the victims. The recently-constituted Group of Ministers, it is hoped, will rise to the occasion. The Centre must reconsider and withdraw the Civilian Nuclear Liability Bill (CNLB) that it had so hurriedly introduced in the House, again under pressure from the US. In the Bhopal gas tragedy, UCIL paid Rs 713 crore as compensation after prolonged legal wrangling. Under the CNLB, the maximum compensation required to be paid by the supplier is a mere Rs 500 crore. This could be increased to Rs 2,100 crore when the liability is transferred to the government. Now everybody knows that in the case of a nuclear accident, the number of casualties will go up majorly and the damage would be infinitely severe.


Yet, this Bill caps the liability to less than what even the UC was forced to pay for the Bhopal disaster. It is simply unacceptable that every victim of this ghastly disaster has received, on an average, a pittance of Rs 12,410. The overall compensation package agreed for UCIL was a mere US $450 million. Obama, today, is asking BP to shell out US $2 billion or Rs 9,000 crore as the initial requirement. Is it unfair to ask the US to accept uniform standards in dealing with humanity?

Perhaps it is, as the US's track record is nothing to write home about. The question is what are we doing about it, and how we value the lives of fellow Indians.


Importantly, if we in India aspire to sup with those at the high-table in the world, then the Indian govern- ment cannot be allowed to undervalue Indian lives so contemptuously. It is time to tell the US that such dou- ble standards are not acceptable. The UPA 2 must seek the extradition of Anderson to face trial in India. It must move the apex court to reopen the relevant cases and ensure that proper compensation and rehabilitation reaches all the victims, at least now, 25 years later. It is not enough to make symbolic noises. India must make Dow Chemicals, which acquired UCIL, foot the bill for cleaning up toxic wastes.


Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP The views expressed by the author are personal








It depends on your perspective, whether the glass is half full or half empty. Ten years after the first draft of the human genome was announced, the jury is now out on whether that achievement has truly delivered on its promise. Indeed, tall claims were made for the project, spearheaded by American geneticist Francis Collins. To hear it in those early days of the new decade, the feeling was that the Biotech Century would make its fruits available at the very outset. Timetables were bandied about with abandon as to how long it would be before we had treatments for Alzheimer's, different cancers, diabetes. Today, those treatments are still awaited.


On this anniversary, then, there has been widespread stocktaking of whether the human genome project has truly delivered on its widely publicised potential. After all, we appear to be not much nearer a disease-free future than we were then. In fact, the successes that have followed upon the sequencing of the human genome have detailed just how complex our genes are.


But did that summer of 2000 bring a false hope? You would have to be inordinately pessimistic to think so. Recall the mood that sequencing punctured. It was just about six months after fears of a meltdown on account of the Y2K bug came to naught (in fact, work to deal with it gave a fillip to the Indian software industry). That was also the time when doomsday scenarios were painted about genetic buccaneers cornering human knowledge by racing their way to patents, about genetics being the new divider between those who could afford its benefits and an underclass that could not. Sequencing of the genome, with information put in the public domain, changed the mood and grounded the terms of debate. Perhaps it was inevitable then that its significance would be overstated — but only in the calendar offered, not in its revolutionary potential.







After long delays and longer dilly-dallying, India — embarrassingly slow in embracing mobile banking — looks set to make a beginning. It's not that m-banking has been missing from here altogether, but the range of services, number of banks allowed to transact and transaction volumes have been negligible. So it's welcome news that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and the RBI have reached an understanding on regulating m-banking. At the heart of the problem so far has been the unwillingness of banks to allow telecom companies to venture any farther than providing the network. Yet the benefits of transacting through, say, merely a text message via a mobile phone in a country with half a billion mobile phone connections cannot be denied.


That granted, it is discomfiting that the model being opted for does not address the fundamental logic of m-banking in India, with its large rural population, wherein mobile connections outnumber bank accounts. The model envisioned for rural India will enable customers to use their mobile phones to deposit or draw cash from their mobile-linked bank accounts. That is the catch — without a bank account, it is of no use. How then will m-banking address the government's plans of financial inclusion? What the unbanked poor need is mobile money that would permit them to transact as per their needs, regardless of bank accounts. Doubtless, this would increase the risk of money laundering and pose security threats, but that's nothing that cannot be addressed through verification technology, regulation and limiting the quantum of transactions permitted.


The ideal for financial inclusion through m-banking is often seen to be along the lines of M-PESA in Kenya which, as a non-bank model, has demonstrated itself to be safe and also penetrated deep into the unbanked sector. Instead, the model envisioned here is more like an additional feature (like a debit or credit card) provided to those already with an account. Furthermore, it must be asked how m-banking will help India's vast migrant labour force. This model will not — unless it's broadened in the light of African models to ensure genuine financial inclusion. Till then, this start will merely be a halfway measure.







Despite his straight-arrow image, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has managed to make a big scene and heighten uncertainty about the future of coalition with the BJP, and by extension the alliance's in the forthcoming assembly election. First, he went apoplectic over the advertisement that yoked him together with Narendra Modi. It was, by the BJP, an inept attempt at making Nitish Kumar's shine rub off on Modi, on the occasion of the BJP national executive meet in Patna. But for Nitish Kumar, it was like foregrounding his biggest political liability — one that could potentially make all the difference to Muslim voters who shored him up in the last election. To emphasise his outrage, he has now returned the Rs 5 crore that the Gujarat government had given Bihar during the Kosi floods. After some embarrassed explaining and soothing, now the BJP seems to be giving it back, as deputy CM Sushil Modi cancelled a "vishwas yatra" with the CM, and the party is understood to have had strong words with JD(U) President Sharad Yadav.


However, to any observer of the state's politics, this is a transparent charade on both sides. For Nitish Kumar, it is a way of distancing himself from the possible political blowback of partnering with the BJP, and for Sushil Modi and the others in the BJP's state unit, this huffiness is a way of saving face in a potential parting of ways. Having weathered almost five years of alliance with the BJP in Bihar, and a longer one at the national level, the current pretence is obvious. The BJP-JD(U) alliance has been a tough, durable one because they fill obvious needs for each other. In a time when Bihar's old mobilisations look ever more malleable, every constituency matters. For Nitish Kumar, allying with the Congress makes little long-term sense given that the Congress is focused on recovering its past powers and would like to see the end of parties like the JD(U).


Given how firmly the BJP and JD(U) are hitched together, Nitish Kumar's sudden trouble with Modi is plain and simple spectacle. The alliance has carefully kept up appearances of ambivalence, in order to give each other electoral wiggle-room. After all, the JD(U) was a rock-solid part of the NDA in 2002, when Gujarat under Modi was inflamed with communal hate. And surely, it shouldn't take a photograph and advertisement to remind Nitish Kumar that Narendra Modi remains one of the strongest pillars of the BJP. The insincerity and cynicism behind this theatre could damage Nitish Kumar's image, whether or not it comes with political consequences.









How do you reconcile imperatives of national politics with those of multilateral governance objectives? This question will dog many G-20 nations as their leaders prepare to meet this week at Toronto to take stock of the global economic recovery and related issues of governance in the context of the financial crisis that shook the world in 2008. The problem the G-20 faces today is very simple — as the world economy is on a recovery path, particularly in the East, differences are beginning to appear among these nations with regard to the future agenda of the grouping. G-20 unity was more easily forged in 2008-end, when the global financial crisis seemed to take all nations into its fold. However, domestic political pressures are pulling some G-20 nations in different directions now.


India will have to be cautious in the way it deals with new tensions emerging in this expanded club of the developed and fast emerging economies which came together in the backdrop of the global financial crisis. The two most contentious issues are already on the table in the run-up to the G-20 meeting. One relates to the European Union's growing anxiety over how to address the severe sovereign debt problem across many smaller EU economies, which is threatening the very idea of nations surrendering a part of their sovereignty into a sort of political-economic union. The other is the role of the Chinese currency in addressing global economic imbalances.


Leading EU nations like Germany and France, on whom the burden of bailing out the smaller economies has fallen, say the EU's top priority should be addressing the problem of high budget deficits which have caused the sovereign debt problem. President Obama has a different take on this. In the run-up to the G-20 meeting, he has warned the EU it should not be excessively obsessed with the problem of high government debt. Instead it should remain focused on sustaining the global recovery as the highest priority. Budget deficits can be addressed once the world output growth returns to its long-term median growth path. On this issue India is closer to the Obama position.


Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had articulated a similar stance at a meeting of G-20 finance ministers in South Korea recently. India too, like the US, fears that Germany could usher in a double dip recession if it takes any drastic step resulting in the contraction of the EU economy.


However, India has differences with both the US and EU on some other critical matters relating to the governance of global financial institutions. There is a growing consensus in the EU and US that the financial sector, which received massive bailouts from taxpayers' money, must now start paying back the government in the form of a tax on all transactions executed by it. The exact form of this tax on the financial sector is not discussed yet. But this proposal, which has gained significant political support in Germany, France and the UK, also seems to have Obama's blessings.


With crucial elections to 36 out of 100 seats for the US Senate scheduled for early November, Obama too is believed to be under severe political pressure to demonstrate that he has the courage to make Wall Street pay for its sins, especially after bailing them out heavily with taxpayers' money in 2008-09. He has already come up with a tough plan to regulate the financial players on Wall Street. The problem is, if both America and the EU agree on some tax on the financial sector, then the G-20 will certainly insist the measure be adopted by all countries so that there is a level playing field for all economies trying to attract global capital. For instance, if some nations do not impose a financial transaction tax, they will naturally become more attractive destinations for global capital. So the EU and US will certainly insist India and China also agree to the principle of an overarching financial sector tax if there is some agreement among OECD nations.


India will have a difference of opinion on this. India can justifiably argue that its own financial sector was very well regulated before and after the global financial crisis. Since the government did not bail out the financial sector with taxpayers' money, a case cannot be made out for the financial sector paying back the government in the form of a special tax. In fact, if anything, India could argue that India's banks were part of the solution to help revive the domestic economy. Public sector banks have delivered bailouts in the form of Rs 60,000 crore of rescheduled loans to leading Indian companies that got into trouble after global credit froze in 2008-end. Similarly, China could also argue that the banking system there actually helped revive the economy through an extraordinary credit boom.


So the emerging economies within the G-20 will certainly have a different take on the issue of imposing a tax on the financial sector. The point is, emerging economies have a different set of problems, and therefore need a different set of solutions. G-20 will have to recognise this.


The other big issue on which major differences could crop up is America's penchant to blame all its problems on a "highly undervalued yuan". The joke in the West these days is, if you are generally depressed, you can blame the yuan! The Chinese are very sensitive about this and have already warned G-20 nations not to make the yuan a bone of contention. However, the Chinese too are very pragmatic and therefore have made a general declaration that they will make the yuan more flexible in the future. Western economists reckon it is about 40 per cent undervalued and is therefore the cause of the current imbalance in trade between the US and China. The Chinese, of course, retort by saying Americans need not indulge in over-consumption of Chinese goods just because they become very cheap on account of an undervalued yuan. Besides, they argue the Americans should not complain as they are consuming with money borrowed from China year after year!


This, in simple terms, is the crux of the ongoing global imbalance that the G-20 wants to address. However, too much consumption in the West and too much savings in the East must have deeper cultural/ behavioural roots which some 20 heads of state will certainly not be able to fathom and resolve in a jiffy.


India's position on the West forcing China to revalue its currency will have to be nuanced. Tomorrow the same pressure can come on India as the productivity of its economy grows much faster relative to the West and the rupee is suddenly perceived as highly undervalued. After all, the rupee moves on the basis of a "manage float".


Generally, the East-West divide within the G-20 is bound to increase in the future.


The writer is Managing Editor, 'The Financial Express'








What 9/11 was for the US and 26/11 for India, 6/23 should have been for Canada, except that it took them 25 years to realise it. But they have finally recognised it as such, with precious help from John Major, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, who headed the special inquiry commission on the terrorist bombing of Air India's flight 182 — the Emperor Kanishka — on June 23, 1985.


In his 3,200-page report, Justice Major was brutally candid, terming the bombing as "a Canadian atrocity". This tragedy, resulting in the killing of 331 people — 300 of whom were Canadian citizens — was seen more as a chapter in the Khalistanis' "war" against India than an episode in the contemporary history of mainstream Canada. Major stressed that "for too long" the bombing was somehow "relegated outside the Canadian consciousness".


Whatever may be those perceptions of the past, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who had appointed the Major Commission in 2006, has done a great service to Canada by bringing about an empathetic closure to the monumental tragedy. At a special event in Ottawa on June 17, he addressed a group of families of victims and others and, through them, the Canadian nation. Not mincing his words, he called the bombing "the worst act of terrorism in Canada's history".


More importantly, the prime minister assured Canadians that his government would "respond positively" to some of Major's recommendations, such as the need to render an official apology and to grant compensation to victims' families. He further promised that other recommendations would be accorded "additional study" and consideration. In a sincere gesture to reach out to the affected families, he called June 17, the day the report was released, as "the day of remembrance" and "a bitter-sweet day". Several families echoed this sentiment later even as they emphasised the need for speedy implementation of the recommendations.


The more difficult part of the report relates to systemic shortcomings of Canadian security agencies. Justice Major observed: "A cascading series of errors contributed to the failure of our police and security forces to prevent the tragedy." The Canadian government needs to review its security system and take necessary remedial measures, thereby overcoming what Major called "the culture of complacency".


The '80s perhaps represented an age of innocence for the Canadian polity when it came to international terrorism. The Sikh community, as part of the larger Indian diaspora, lived peacefully in Canada, making its manifold contribution to their adopted land. But the problems in Punjab, especially after 1984, had a direct impact on Sikh communities residing in several Western countries: for years thereafter, Canadian politicians and officials were inclined to view themselves as a detached, third party in a feud that unfolded between some elements of the Sikh community in Canada on the one hand, and India and its representatives on the other.


Extremist elements used and misused the Canadian system in order to push their own agenda. As the clock ticked away for the searing tragedy and when it actually took place on that fateful day in June 1985, security officials were found wanting and quite unprepared to handle its aftermath.


The scene had changed considerably by the time I had the opportunity to serve in Toronto. An increasing number of members of the Sikh community began to understand better the nature of terrorism in Punjab and the position of the Indian government. The iconic Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) did its own balancing act — by providing effective security to senior Indian diplomats but, at the same time, permitting demonstrations and agitational activities on our national days, that is, August 15 and January 26. What the RCMP was like in the '80s I do not know; but by the '90s, it came across as a professional, competent and citizen-friendly security force.


Justice John Major has not only presented a penetrating analysis of a highly complex subject, but he has also shown his creativity. While recommending that Canada should draw appropriate lessons from the tragedy, he has suggested that the government should set up a new academic research centre in memory of the Air India flight victims which should be named the "Kanishka Centre". Hopefully, it will focus on studying counter-terrorism, conflict resolution, the role of new immigrants in Canada and other aspects of growing India-Canada relations.


When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits Toronto in a few days, he should consider expressing appreciation for the Major report and Prime Minister's Harper's support for it. He could also express interest in the proposed Kanishka Centre. Many in India would be happy to join the Canadians in ensuring a lasting closure to this tragic episode and start focusing on significant stakes in the multi-dimensional relationship linking the two countries.


The writer served as India's consul general in Toronto in the 1990s.







A PWD engineer-turned-entrepreneur, GM Rao is the founder chairman of the GMR Group, the leading infrastructure giant behind Delhi airport's new integrated terminal—the fifth largest in the world—that opens next month. Rao spoke to The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV's Walk the Talk on the making of this world-class airport and overcoming challenges on the way.


Shekhar Gupta: It's my privilege today to present to you India's proudest new asset and my guest this week, its

very proud creator, GM Rao, chairman of the GMR Group. Tell us a bit about your terminal. This is among the largest in the world now.


GM Rao: I think this is the fifth largest terminal in the world. This main terminal that you see is its front that is 0.3 kilometres. It's a nine-storey building.


Shekhar Gupta: So the front is like three football grounds?


GM Rao: Yes, and the metro is coming under that. And you can see that there is a 100-room hotel in the middle of this and there are 78 aerobridges.


Shekhar Gupta: Seventy-eight aerobridges—that's almost more than all aerobridges in all of India right now.


GM Rao: Yes, 90 per cent of the passengers have to go through aerobridges. And this is international, domestic and also arrival. It's an integrated terminal.


Shekhar Gupta: Tell us a bit more about how this is different from terminals we may have seen elsewhere. You know, everybody's seen Terminal 5 at Heathrow, we've seen new airports at Bangalore and Hyderabad—the latter you built.


GM Rao: We've given the best infrastructure, best operational efficiency, best customer service and best IT system, best security. We have also brought in Indian culture to it. If you enter that space, you can feel India.


Shekhar Gupta: When you say a 100-room hotel, is it a hotel accessible by transiting passengers as well as domestic passengers?


GM Rao: Both. There are 60 rooms in the international side, 40 in the domestic.


Shekhar Gupta: Tell us a little bit about the degree of difficulty in doing this. Tell us something about the challenges you've faced. Because it's very difficult in India even to build a culvert, so to build a brownfield airport, to build a massive new airport while there is a functional airport in a city like Delhi...


GM Rao: It was a very big challenge. This project is very important to us, it's very important to the country. We want to show the world what a world-class airport we have. The other challenge was that while operating the airport, we had to modernise new terminals, meet the traffic growth and build the new terminal. The main thing is here, as I told you, 90 per cent of passengers have to go through the terminal. That was our agreement.


Shekhar Gupta: So 90 per cent have to go through aerobridges.


GM Rao: We have built 70 aerobridges in 5.2 million sq. ft. We had to build it in 40 months and that's difficult. Nowhere in the world has anybody done it. If you take any airport in the world, they have taken 70- 80 months. Another challenge was land. There were lots of encroachments.


Shekhar Gupta: So, what will happen to the new terminal you've just built? Terminal 1D?


GM Rao: That will be a low-cost terminal now. The challenges were huge but they were met only because of my team at GMR, and the deep commitment and support from the Government of India, the Minister for Civil Aviation. Everybody wanted to build a world-class airport.


Shekhar Gupta: Tell us about some specific challenges and how you tackled them.


GM Rao: It will take a day to recount them! One challenge is the court cases.


Shekhar Gupta: I believe there are more than 600 court cases?


GM Rao: There were so many challenges but it worked only because it's a real public-private partnership.


Shekhar Gupta: Because the Government of India also set up a group of secretaries, a high-level group.


GM Rao: There is the National Facilitation Committee, headed by the Cabinet Secretary. We used to meet every alternate month and they used to address all our problems.


Shekhar Gupta: In Delhi, you have to deal with DDA, MCD, Delhi government, urban development, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Defence, in this case maybe more than one wing...Air Force, the Army, unless the Navy also had something here.


GM Rao: Everybody supported us. They said this is a one-time opportunity to build this airport and it's a brand for the country. But a big challenge was regarding employees. When I had taken over, there were 3,000 airport authority employees. My obligation was to take 60 per cent of them. Alongside, I recruited people from different countries and trained them as well. The transition of the AA employees was the biggest challenge.


Shekhar Gupta: Tell us about yourself. For somebody who started as a PWD engineer, and got into all kinds of businesses including, I believe, making cotton earbuds, this is a long journey.


GM Rao: My journey can be seen in two parts: before and after the economic reforms. Before the economic reforms, that is after my graduation in engineering, I came to my village—I'm from a village called Rajam in the Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh. My father divided our properties. I got Rs 3 lakh, one truck and two acres of land. He also told me to get a job. Then I joined the PWD. But it was not an exciting job. I left it and joined my family business. Mine is a backward district, then it was licence raj. First I started a jute mill, rolling mill, rice mill, oil mill.


Shekhar Gupta: Whatever you could get a licence for.


GM Rao: Brewery, sugar factory. I started 28 industries.


Shekhar Gupta: And cotton earbuds.


GM Rao: Yes, I started 28 industries. In 1985, I had an opportunity to be a director in Vysya Bank. From '85 to '93, I became a major shareholder in Vysya Bank. Then when some executives moved to start a new bank, there was a big vacuum in Vysya Bank.


Shekhar Gupta: And you made your first bunch of money selling your shareholding in Vysya Bank.


GM Rao: It was not like that because I reconstructed the whole bank. I created value for shareholders, brought in the best technology. I cleaned up the whole thing, brought in good shareholders' value. Then we figured there was a huge opportunity in infrastructure, we figured that the growth was there. So, we decided to go for infrastructure.


Shekhar Gupta: So who first came up with the idea of infrastructure?


GM Rao: My family members.


Shekhar Gupta: After 28 other businesses, how did you find the 29th?


GM Rao: Since infrastructure was very important for the country, we joined infrastructure. Then I started selling. I sold the brewery to Vijay Mallya, the bank to ING, life insurance to Rajan Raheja. I disinvested.


Shekhar Gupta: Now you are selling sugar to Parry.


GM Rao: That is the last disinvestment. In infrastructure, we first went to the power plant, the Madras power plant. The second one was barge. When I started power, ours was the second IPP in India. And the barge plant is the world's largest. There are so many challenges in these technology projects. Finally, we entered into airports in '99. At that time, we had just two competitors. We built a world-class airport in Hyderabad and we got Delhi and Mumbai too. Only six people participated in the bidding for Delhi. We were the only ones to qualify for both the Delhi and Mumbai airports. Then the Government of India asked us which airport we wanted to choose. I thought Delhi was a huge opportunity, so I chose it.


Shekhar Gupta: So why Delhi over Mumbai? People would have thought Mumbai is much sexier as an airport.


GM Rao: Today, financially they (Mumbai) are getting more but in the long-term, there is huge opportunity in Delhi. Here I can build up to100 million passengers. Delhi is the capital of the country. Everybody has to come to Delhi. There is huge potential.


Shekhar Gupta: You've made all this in one lifetime. As you said, your father only gave you Rs 3 lakh and two acres of land. Do you sometimes think that you've done almost something of the nature that Dhirubhai Ambani achieved?


GM Rao: Dhirubhai Ambani is my guru. I feel God has given me the opportunity to build national assets. All these are national assets, roads and airports. I feel we are the trustees of these national assets.


Shekhar Gupta: You're one of the few business houses which even has friends among the Left. What is the secret?


GM Rao: That is our relationship, our values, our humility.


Shekhar Gupta: But the other thing you seem to have learnt from the Ambani experience is to try and make sure that trouble doesn't break out in your family. They had trouble between brothers.


GM Rao: What we did for instance in Vysya Bank was that we used non-performing assets. I used to sit at the other end of the table and people from industrial houses used to come for a settlement. Most of the disputes were family disputes. Non-performing assets come because of family disputes.


Shekhar Gupta: You mean borrowers become NPAs because families fight among themselves?


GM Rao: Yes. That was a good learning experience for me. I thought it's better that I avoid this. Then I kept on exploring what was happening in European countries, developed countries. There they have a very clear-cut family constitution on how to run a family business for generations. Also, I strongly believe that if there is good family governance, the result will be good corporate governance. Creating a good institution is a process. With that we created a family constitution, we spent good time, all the family members spent almost 600 hours on a good family constitution that spelt out succession, entry to the business for the next generation and so on.


Shekhar Gupta: Because almost all your male family members work in your company or companies now.


GM Rao: Yes, we have four business chairmen. I am the group chairman, we have one business chairman (airports), one business chairman (energy), one business chairman (urban infrastructure). Every three years, they change.


Shekhar Gupta: Tell us about your media and political policy. I know that nobody can give a media interview except you and that too, very rarely.


GM Rao: We decided on this together. It's not that I imposed this on them. I encourage discussion, transparent discussion, not only in my family but also in business. It's a combined decision. As for the political policy, there are rules that nobody can enter politics. If they do, they have to leave the business completely.


Shekhar Gupta: I see. But can they keep their shareholding?


GM Rao: No. They have to completely go out. That is the family constitution. Maybe later if they decide otherwise, that is a separate thing. As of today, that is the policy.


Shekhar Gupta: So, where do you go from here? The airport is done, you're building one in Turkey, you have one in Hyderabad.


GM Rao: Today, there is so much of opportunity globally to build infrastructure. But the ultimate challenge is to create a very good, value-based institution. That is my idea. I want to create an institution that will live longer.


Shekhar Gupta: You keep surprising people. First you surprised people by bidding for such a big asset, it was very audacious. Then building it on time, raising money. And then you start delivering other kinds of surprises like buying the Delhi IPL team.


GM Rao: There is a story there. My son, Kiran, is a fast bowler, he wanted to go for cricket training. So, ten years ago, we thought of doing something in cricket. What IPL thought of, Kiran had thought of ten years ago. We wanted to start indoor cricket because there was no family entertainment then. Somehow, we got busy with Hyderabad and we didn't do anything with cricket.


GM Rao: I maybe the owner of Delhi airport but emotionally it belongs to the people of Delhi. We want to connect with Delhi's people emotionally. Delhi loves cricket. I thought it was an easy way to connect to people in Delhi emotionally. Then we bid. God has given an opportunity to us, we won. Also, we thought that when the economy goes up, sports business will go up too.


Shekhar Gupta: So, were you worried when all those controversies broke out on IPL?


GM Rao: I was not worried about anything. We take it as a business model, it will sustain.


Shekhar Gupta: And brand IPL, you think, will survive.


GM Rao: It will survive. People love it, don't they?


Shekhar Gupta: I think it's a shrewd choice you made to try and connect with the people of Delhi emotionally, by buying a cricket team in Delhi. What are your own personal ideas of going ahead?


GM Rao: As I told you, we wanted to create the best institution. And if an opportunity comes, we want to create the best infrastructure facilities in the country.


Shekhar Gupta: What, ports, highways?


GM Rao: No. Power, airports and roads. We are into three sectors now. In power, we are operating 800 megawatts now. Another 4,000 megawatts is under construction while another 4,000 megawatts is under development. And then we have three airports. We've got aerospace park, a lot of developments in the airport itself.


Shekhar Gupta: I can suggest to you a new profession. You should become a professor of family business management. Because you've done such a wonderful job, you've created so many brands. May you create more...may these grow and may you keep adding to these. Many congratulations on building such a brilliant terminal in so short a time.


Thank you.


Transcribed by Rajkrishnan Menon







The government usually issues an ordinance only when there is an emergency that cannot wait until Parliament is in session to legislate. By those standards it is difficult to figure out what the emergency was in the dispute between the markets regulator, Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) and Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (Irda), that necessitated the promulgation of an ordinance that effectively settled the dispute in favour of Irda. The two regulators have, of course, been in conflict over who will have the right to control Ulips, the enormously popular investment-cum-insurance plans that insurance companies offer. The dispute broke out in April, was referred to the finance ministry and the finance minister, in his wisdom, had referred it to the Supreme Court for adjudication. No further developments have occurred since to make a case for the ordinance. Sure, life insurance companies have not introduced any new Ulips since then. But at the same time, mutual funds have also abstained. The reason for both has less to do with the dispute and more to do with the general trend of lower inflow into all new financial sector investments, like the tepid response to primary issues. In this context, the urgency of the government to issue an ordinance on Saturday on a sub judice matter is inexplicable.


More inexplicable is why the government has not bothered to inform the public about the reason for the decision, especially since it will impact investments to be made by the public. The changes to the four Acts will now have to be approved by Parliament within six months. This means there is no possibility of the amendments being debated in the standing committees, except in a perfunctory manner. This, too, is unfortunate, as these are typically the subjects where testimony by experts could have led to a far more informed decision making. This paper has earlier observed there is merit in the Sebi claim that stock market exposure by entities should be regulated by a single entity. The issue of differential commission being paid to mutual fund distributors, actually no commission and a 10% of the premium to the Ulip agents is incidental but not key to the entire episode. These can, of course, be debated and the court or the government can take a position. But by keeping, as has been reported, both RBI and Sebi out of the loop, the government seems to have erred.






The Chinese government may finally be coming around to letting the yuan appreciate. When it happens, the move will help other countries, especially those from the developing world, to garner a proportionately higher share of the gains of a global recovery in trade and will also end charges of currency manipulation by China to boost its own exports. Hopefully, this will also mark the end of an epoch for the Bretton Woods II strategy of governments trying to use a depreciated currency to facilitate export-led growth. But, as we have always argued in these columns, it is for China to decide on the timing and extent of the changes in the yuan exchange rate in tune with the needs of its domestic economy. Very rarely do external pressures force any country to match their macroeconomic policies to global priorities and China's case is no different. In fact, it is plausible to argue that the undervalued yuan had indeed for long helped the world, and especially the developed countries, to benefit from lower consumer prices. Perhaps what has finally persuaded China to change its mind now is the buoyant growth in trade in recent months, with both export and import growth surging up by almost 50% in May. A revaluation will also help China to reduce cost of imports and confer benefits on those groups whose consumption basket includes imports, which means most of the manufacturing units. Lower domestic prices and larger imports of cheaper consumer goods from abroad may also help offset the slowly growing clamour for higher wages by Chinese labour that can emerge as a greater threat to export competitiveness than an appreciated yuan—not to mention the political instability potential of worker unrest. Importantly, China will also gain from greater monetary policy autonomy, a major casualty of the pegged exchange rate regime, that could help bring under control the asset-price booms, especially in the housing sector.


The yuan appreciation will be of particular significance to India as it will help correct, at least partially, the growing trade deficit with merchandise imports bloating to at least three times that of exports. Indian manufacturing units in heavy engineering and other important sectors will become more competitive vis-à-vis Chinese imports. An appreciating yuan will also give a big boost to the Indian investments in China and possibly open up new markets for the services sector exports, especially in software and other information technology products.









Inflation as measured by the consumer price index for industrial workers has been in double digits since July 2009. It peaked in January at 16%, before declining to 13% in April. It is likely that the inflation in May and June will also be close to or a trifle higher than the 13% level of April. Wholesale prices available till May 2010 indicate that inflation in prices of all the major groups—primary articles, fuels and manufactured products—accelerated in May 2010 compared to April.


The sustained increase in inflation has raised arguments in favour of RBI hiking interest rates. The strongest argument in favour of RBI hiking interest rates is the rise in inflation in manufactured products. Inflation in prices of manufactured products was over 7% during January-March 2010. It declined to 6.7% in April and then to 6.4% in May. These rates are considered high and they reflect excess demand in the system. A hike in interest rates is one way of reining in demand. While there is some hope of the inflation in primary articles declining in response to a good monsoon and consequently a good crop this kharif season, there is no similar hope for manufactured goods. Inflation in manufactured products is driven on the one hand by domestic demand and, on the other, by global trends.


Domestic demand-driven inflation is best seen in the announcements by car and two-wheeler manufacturers raising their prices. This has been a frequent phenomenon and can be considered a good reflector of the trend in prices of other consumer durables. Inflation in machinery, in general, can be expected to be rising because of the boom in investments. Inflation in these items is driven by domestic demand. Separately, global trends in prices of commodities is leading to an increase in inflation in steel and other metals. These are also responsible for the rise in inflation in the textiles group.


However, within manufactured goods, inflation is higher in textiles and metals than in transport equipment and machinery items. In May 2010, inflation in wholesale prices of basic metals was 12% and that in textiles was 15% while in transport equipment it was less than 2%. In machinery it was less than 4%.


Thus, the overall inflation measure is driven more by global trends than by domestic demand increases. This makes inflation control through monetary interventions particularly difficult. A hike in interest rates can (at a stretch) reduce the demand for steel, but it cannot reduce the price of steel, if it is determined by global trends.


One reason why inflation has been high in the recent past is the extraordinarily sharp increase in imputed housing rent. Housing rent accounts for a substantial 15% of the weight in the consumer price index for industrial workers. In March 2010, inflation in housing was a whopping 33%. This is unrealistic on two counts.


First, households do not spend 15% of their budgets on rent. Most Indians live in their own houses and do not spend anything on rent. According to Consumer Pyramids, CMIE's survey of households, only 12.5% of urban households pay rent and only 2.7% of rural households pay rent. Rent accounts for only a little over 1% of the total budget of all urban households and only 0.06% of all rural households. It accounts for only 0.5% for all households. Thus, the 15% weight assigned to rent is unrealistic.


Second, housing rent has not increased by 33% over the past one year. This unusual increase is the result of "a revision of imputed rent for rent-free accommodation, reflecting the impact of the Sixth Pay Commission award on CPI inflation" according to RBI.


A hike in interest rates by RBI will not be able to make any correction to this "imputed rent for rent-free accommodation". On a y-o-y basis, the impact of this should get diluted substantially in July 2010 and then again in January 2011. Thus, independent of what RBI may do, inflation will decline a bit in July 2010 (we estimate by about 2-3 percentage points because of rent) and then again in January 2011. The kharif crop will further help reduce inflation, independent of RBI's actions.


A hike in interest rates may be in order so as to arrest a possible increase in leveraged spending. But, RBI's data available till February 2010 do not indicate any unusual increase in personal loans. Y-o-y, these were up by only 4.7%. Credit card and consumer durable loans outstanding had declined over the year and the highest increase was in educational and housing loans. This trend is quite agreeable with a conservative stand on lending and ensuring that easy money is not fuelling inflation.


The only, albeit poor, case for a hike in interest rates would be to signal to the financial markets that RBI is seriously concerned about inflation and is taking necessary steps to rein it in, although it really cannot do much about it without hurting growth itself. And, nobody wants to hurt growth now.


So, move on with a little tokenism.


The author heads the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy








Round two of the spat between Irda and Sebi has gone to the former. An ordinance passed late last week hands over the control of Ulips to Irda; jurisdiction over these hybrid products will now clearly lie with the insurance regulator. To remove any kind of ambiguity, the government is also understood to be amending portions of the Sebi Act, relating to collective schemes, such that these will not include Ulips or any other schemes that combine investment and insurance. This is not confirmed yet but that's clearly the way forward; dual reporting can be a terrible thing and the last thing we need is for mutual funds and insurance companies to be confused about who they're regulated by and investors getting jittery about their savings.


By amending the legislation, which needs to be ratified by Parliament, the government is putting an end to unseemly squabbles between financial regulators. Indeed, the manner in which Sebi passed an order, in April this year, asking 14 private-sector life insurers to take its permission before they launched any new schemes, was quite shocking. It's true that Ulips are nothing but mutual fund schemes with an added element of an insurance cover whose risk cover is limited to a minuscule share of the premium. But the capital market regulator could have called for a white paper on the subject or initiated some kind of discussion on who should be regulating Ulips.


While Sebi and Irda squabbled, the High Level Co-ordination Committee on financial markets (HLCC), chaired by the RBI governor, didn't really do much; watching helplessly since it doesn't have executive powers. The HLCC could have looked into the commission structures for Ulips in order to ensure a level-playing field for financial intermediaries but didn't really come up with any ideas. However, it seems unlikely now that this committee will get teeth since a high-level committee, to be headed by the finance minister, and comprising the RBI governor and heads of Sebi, Irda and PFRDA, is to be set up. That has been in the offing—the Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC) was announced some time back. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter which committee has the powers, as long as nothing falls between two stools. What the FSDC must ensure is a level-playing field across financial instruments; Irda has allowed agents to charge exorbitant commissions of anywhere between 20% and 40%, at the cost of investors. The mis-selling, too, needs to be stopped.


Irda has been talking of bringing down commissions on Ulips, but just bringing them down is not enough; they need to be brought down sharply, given that entry loads for mutual funds are now banned. Life insurers, too, need to bring down their expenses and this needs to be monitored the way costs and mutual funds are tracked. So far, it would seem that Irda has been a rather liberal regulator while Sebi has been a strict one. This is evident from the kind of money that life insurers have been able to pick up from investors; in 2009-10, they are estimated to have mopped up some Rs 2.6 lakh crore as insurance premium and four-fifths of this was accounted for by Ulips. In contrast, mutual funds have seen outflows from equity schemes in all but three in the last 10 months since entry loads were banned. In the last one year, barely Rs 3,000 crore have come into equity schemes; total


AUM in equity schemes is just over Rs 2 lakh crore.


This clearly has to change and while Irda has made the right noises ever since Sebi attacked its turf, it needs to do much more. It has already brought down surrender charges and upped the risk cover, and there is talk that life insurers will offer guaranteed returns so that those investors who are willing to settle for lower returns, have a choice. Pension funds have to be bundled with either a life cover, health cover or annuities. Also investors in Ulips need to have access to a variety of investment options; for instance, life insurers could offer them Index Funds. If commissions come down, then premium collections will also come down. However, since there will be some commission, Ulips will be pushed more than mutual funds. It's possible that because the government wants the state-owned life insurer not to lose out, too—it has yielded ground to private sector players. Had the jurisdiction of Ulips been handed over to Sebi, and commissions been done away with, LIC would have suffered. So, in that sense, it's fine that Irda will supervise Ulips. This is possibly the best solution. But the FSDC needs to keep an eagle eye on what is happening, otherwise investors will lose out.










Hundreds of Chinese braved the rain and jostled with each other to watch an Indian dance troupe shake to Bollywood numbers; a yoga demonstration, where one of the masters had a 'Govt of India' stamp on his T-shirt, also earned accolades. However, apart from showcasing two of India's most famous cultural exports, the India pavilion at the biggest fair of our times—the 6-month long Expo in Shanghai—has little to offer. The Expo began in London in 1851 to demonstrate industrial prowess. China may have spent up to $58 billion on this year's Expo, more than it did on Beijing Olympics, just to announce that it has arrived.


While other countries focused on urbanisation, technological development, communications and sustainability as key messages, the Indian pavilion failed to clearly articulate this year's driving idea—'Better city, better life'. The pavilion says little on how India is making life better for its citizens or how it intends to do so. There is, of course, a holographic projection show on India's progress, but for the most part the pavilion resembles nothing more than an Indian street—busy, chaotic and cluttered, where Tata's Nano coexists with handicrafts, musical instruments, sculptures of dancing girls, elephant models and photographs of Infosys Bhubaneswar, among others. The tilt is more towards the past than the future with handicrafts, jewellery and handlooms taking up much floor space. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't find a mention in the top popular pavilions listed by a local newspaper. Many countries, particularly Scandinavian, have aesthetically designed pavilions showcasing products they can sell to the Chinese in a sustainable manner in the future.


One gets a feeling that India hasn't taken the Expo too seriously and has treated it like an ordinary fair. Denmark, for instance, has shipped its Little Mermaid from Copenhagen; and Saudi Arabia spent as much as $146 million on their pavilions. When the Expo began in May, about 70 million visitors were expected until October when it closes. On a weekday, it is receiving 4,00,000 and the wait for entering popular stalls can be as long as nine hours.


India certainly could have done better to showcase itself.








President Barack Obama acted with determination and purpose in holding BP accountable in the ongoing Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster, forcing the petroleum company to commit $20 billion to an escrow account (with no cap) that would contribute toward meeting clean-up costs and providing compensation. His tough tackle against the U.K.-based global oil giant was a contrast to the general attitude of the United States to environment disasters caused by American companies outside the country. In fact, Mr. Obama unwittingly showed up the indifferent attitude of successive U.S. governments to the Bhopal gas calamity of December 2, 1984, which killed 4,000 people immediately and thousands more over the next few months and left many, many more dealing with the ill-effects of the poisonous fumes for the rest of their lives. Warren Anderson, chief executive of Union Carbide at the time of the catastrophe, resides in the U.S. in violation of bail conditions. He refused to face charges in India; and the U.S. baulked at official Indian efforts, however feeble, to get him extradited. Through his actions on the oil spill disaster, Mr. Obama wanted to send a clear message that his government would step in, in the larger public interest, to ensure that profit-seeking multi-national corporations operate with social responsibility. But surely, this intellectually accomplished President could not have missed the double standards involved in U.S. responses to Bhopal and the oil spill crisis.


The Gulf of Mexico "petroleum volcano," which erupted following an enormous blowout of BP's oil well, is a crisis without precedent. It continues to take an extensive life-sapping toll. But, fortunately, the death toll in this case was just 11. BP, despite its pre-disaster compromises on safety and post-disaster inefficiency in containing the oil slick, accepted full responsibility for the disaster. Union Carbide, on the other hand, tried to shift the entire responsibility in the Bhopal case to its Indian subsidiary. Instead of accepting responsibility for clean-up, relief, and just compensation, the American multinational began protracted negotiations with the Indian government — whose response, in successive stages, was nothing short of a sell-out of the interests of the hundreds of thousands of victims, of the environment, and of the elementary principles of justice. Twenty-six years after the Bhopal gas leak catastrophe, there has been no clean-up, no acceptance of executive accountability, only pathetic amounts of relief and compensation doled out to the families of the victims. A more cynical response to the world's worst industrial catastrophe cannot be imagined. The nation waits for the government to make amends.







The recent announcement of minimum support prices (MSP) for various Kharif crops has once again called into question certain aspects of the official policy towards agricultural pricing. True to pattern, it has come in late. The monsoon arrived at least a week before, and many farmers might have already chosen the crops to sow. The world over governments through their price support programmes, consisting of assured minimum prices and subsidies, encourage the cultivation of specific crops that are in short supply or are environment friendly. A well thought out programme should guarantee a minimum income for the farmers, and to a large extent, reduce the uncertainty inherent in the market mechanism. Apart from protecting livelihoods, the system has a direct bearing on the availability of food articles to consumers through the public distribution system. The government no doubt takes into account all these factors while framing its policies, but the MSP mechanism can be further refined to fulfil its objectives. Of specific interest is the large hike in the MSPs of the three main Kharif season pulses: urad, tur and mung. This is not surprising as these three have been in short supply for over a year. Their high retail prices have been a significant contributor to food inflation, which remains persistently high. What has pressured the government to act is the fact that these pulses are the main source of protein for a large segment of the population and the high prices are pushing them beyond the reach of the poor.


With large scale imports reportedly not practicable, the government has done the right thing in effecting substantial hikes in the support prices of these pulses. However, for a number of reasons the twin objectives of increasing domestic supply and making the commodities affordable to the consumers may not be achieved. As with practically all agricultural products, the supply chain linking the farmer to the consumer should be fine-tuned in the case of pulses too. The increase in the support price alone therefore cannot immediately enhance the supply of pulses at an affordable price. The support prices might well become a kind of benchmark for private trade to base their price on. In the case of wheat and rice the MSPs have effectively become the procurement prices. There is a strong case for the government agencies to enter the business of procuring pulses and delivering them to consumers through the PDS. If played efficiently, the government's role, both in the procurement and distribution stages, will significantly reinforce the benefits of its agricultural pricing policies.










"Now," wrote Salman Rushdie, "I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that's what." Flight 182, Air India's Boeing 747 service from Montréal through London to New Delhi, disappeared from the radar screen as it crossed the Irish Sea on June 23, 1985. Three hundred and twenty-nine people, 22 of them Indian nationals and the rest mainly of Indian descent, died as the plane blew apart at 9,400 metres above sea level.


Just under two decades after that horrific tragedy, a judicial investigation in Canada has exhumed the truth about just how terrorists of the Babbar Khalsa International succeeded in staging the most lethal attack ever on an Indian target — and, with one exception, got away with it. From the retired Supreme Court judge John Major's massive investigation, it has become clear that Canada's intelligence and police services had more than good reason to suspect that Khalistan groups were planning a major operation targeting Air India. A combination of incompetence, incomprehension and bias ensured that the plot succeeded.


Back in April 1985, Justice Major's report records, CSIS agents Ray Kobzey and David Ayre requested surveillance of Talwinder Singh Parmar — the key leader of the Babbar Khalsa International. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was scheduled to visit the United Nations in New York that June, and intelligence services in both India and the West were concerned that Khalistan terrorist groups would use the opportunity to stage an attack.


Late in the afternoon of June 4, 1985, CSIS surveillance teams followed Parmar's maroon car as he drove to pick up his friend Inderjit Singh Reyat from his home in Duncan. From Reyat's home, three men, one of whom has never been identified, drove to a clearing in the woods around the town. CSIS agents Larry Lowe and Lynne Jarrett soon heard a loud blast. Lowe jumped behind a tree, thinking he had been shot at; Jarrett, startled, jumped out of her seat. The agents, Justice Major says, "thought they heard a shotgun blast, when in fact they heard an explosion intended to test the detonation system for the bombs Parmar was building."


For reasons that have never become clear, the surveillance teams did not possess a camera. Nor did they receive permission to tail the unidentified young man who was with Parmar and Reyat. Kobzey meanwhile received information that a meeting had been held at the home of pro-Khalistan activist Sujan Singh Gill on June 3, 1985, where plans for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi were discussed. He concluded that Parmar had procured a weapon.


Incredibly, though, surveillance of Parmar was lifted on June 16, 1985 — the week the preparations for the bombing would have been at their peak. Incredible because the Duncan blast was far from the only sign of trouble. James Bartleman, then Director-General of the Intelligence and Security Bureau of the CSIS external affairs division, told the Air India commission that he had seen secret information which "indicated that Flight 182 would be targeted." "When he brought the information to the attention of an RCMP official who was attending a security meeting in the building," Mr. Bartleman testified, "he was met with a hostile reception."


Justice Major's findings make clear that India's own intelligence services also knew that Air India was being targeted. On June 1, 1985, Air India's Mumbai office sent a telex message to the airline's offices worldwide warning of "the likelihood of sabotage attempts being undertaken by Sikh extremists by placing time/delay devices, etc., in the aircraft or registered baggage." Air India's Montréal office passed on the information to the RCMP — which, however, chose not to forward the telex to the CSIS, or even the internal department responsible for preparing threat assessments.


The telex didn't tell the RCMP anything it didn't know. In September 1984, the commission records, the RCMP learned through an informant, identified only as "Person 1," that Khalistan terrorists were planning to bomb an Air India jet. Its staff, however, failed to share this information with their own headquarters, with the CSIS or with other agencies. "CSIS did not learn of the existence of this plot," the Air India commission states, "until late October 1984, when the Vancouver Police Department received essentially the same information from "Person 2," which it then shared with CSIS and with the RCMP." Notably, however, the RCMP omitted to mention that the information had been corroborated by information provided by another, independent source.


Thus it wasn't until March 1986 that an internal RCMP review revealed that "Person 1" had told the force about a Duncan resident who could provide explosives for blowing up the Air India jet.


How did things go so horribly wrong? Part of the reason, the Air India commission suggests, was that the RCMP and Canadian transport authorities had persuaded themselves that the June 1 telex was "provided by Air India solely as a means to obtain additional security for free."


"CSIS," Justice Major says, "had an abundance of threat information from the Indian government about the situation in India and about what was going on in the Sikh community in Canada, but it was unable to corroborate it. Without corroborating information, however, the large volume of information from the Government of India gave the impression that it was 'crying wolf'."


Put simply, the CSIS chose to close its eyes to evil.


"Time and again in the Air India investigation," Justice Major says in his assessment of what followed the bombing, "RCMP came down on the side of scepticism based on a superficial assessment of credibility, which led them to dismiss information long before its truth could reasonably be assessed". Evidence proved hard to come by: tapes of Parmar's pre-attack conversations had been destroyed, and critical pieces of evidence rendered inadmissible by procedural errors. "Person 1" cooperated with the investigators but his information was disbelieved on the grounds that it was provided only "to further his own personal interests." It was months before his claims were tested — and corroborated — by a polygraph test. Informants identified as Mr. A. and Mr. G. were also met with suspicion, and characterised as "opportunists."


"Whereas," Justice Major sardonically notes, "the RCMP often engages in negotiations with, and provides benefits to, informants involved in criminal activities, it seems that in the counter-terrorism context, the RCMP expected that sources with criminal information would act altruistically and freely disclose their information to police, without benefits to themselves and without regard to their personal safety."


Not surprisingly, perhaps, justice has eluded the families of those who died on Air India 182. Reyat pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge, and served five years for his role in the terrorist attack — along with a separate sentence he received for planting the second device which exploded at Tokyo's Narita Airport, while being transferred to a New Delhi-bound Air India flight. Vancouver businessman Ripudaman Singh Malik and Kamloops mill worker Ajaib Singh Bagri were cleared during their trials. International Sikh Youth Federation member Lakhbir Singh Brar — who the commission suspects may conceivably have been the third man seen with Parmar and Reyat by the CSIS agents in June 1985 — surfaced in Pakistan 10 years ago, asking for permission to immigrate to Canada. He was interviewed by the RCMP, but not extradited.

Key witnesses, by contrast, faced intimidation — and even death. Tara Singh Hayer, a dogged opponent of the Khalistan movement, was left in a wheelchair by a murderous attack on August 26, 1988. Little was done to investigate persuasive evidence that the assassination attempt was linked to the Air India bombing until well into the next decade — and a second assassination attempt, this time successful.


In 1992, Parmar was shot dead by the Punjab police near Amritsar. Police officials were decorated for their role in the shootout; critics, including several Canadian politicians, insist he was murdered in cold blood after having been held on the basis of intelligence provided by that country. In 2007, the former Punjab Police Deputy Superintendent, Harmail Singh Chandi, produced documents purporting to be a record of Parmar's confession, assigning principal responsibility for the attack to Brar. Pro-Khalistan groups claimed that the documents demonstrated that the attack was an Indian government operation, intended to discredit their movement. The police in Canada, however, told the Air India commission that the document contained several inconsistencies that cast doubt on its authenticity, notably details of Parmar's movements and information on the purchase of tickets by the terrorists who carried out the attack.


For the victims, that particular debate means little. Amarjit Bhinder was at her Mumbai home with her 10-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son, when the phone rang. Her husband, an Indian Air Force pilot who had seen combat in 1965 and 1971, was the co-pilot of Air India 182. The family's wounds have healed, at least as best they can: Ms Bhinder's son himself today flies Air India jets. "I applaud Justice John Major for giving us some of the truth," she says, "but all these 25 years, I have been waiting for justice. I still haven't got it." "Perhaps it would have been better had Parmar been caught and tried," she says, "but who knows what might have happened. In any case, I think of the killers who are living happily in Canada, and I think…" She does not end her sentence.











Not far from the manicured South African pitches where millionaire footballers are capturing the world's attention, Oxford academics are working with local researchers to investigate an African reality that will linger long after the World Cup circus has left. Interviewing more than 7,000 people in some of the country's poorest townships, they are studying the mental health and education of a generation of South African children who are growing up caring for relatives with HIV and Aids.



The project is spearheaded by Lucie Cluver, of Oxford's department of social policy and social work, whose inspiration was her PhD research — a study of 1,000 children who had been orphaned by Aids. She discovered that the children suffered higher levels of psychological distress than orphans whose parents had died of other causes, and were also more likely to contract HIV themselves. To raise awareness of the findings, Cluver sent her research to a South African professor, who introduced her to the government's then minister of social development, Zola Skweyiya. The next day he called her to a meeting and said her research "needed to become a national study", Cluver says.


Two years on, the Young Carers project now has teams in three South African provinces, interviewing 6,000 children and 1,500 of their parents or guardians about their access to social welfare grants, health visitors, and free school meals. With the help of local teenagers, they have made questionnaires that also ask about issues such as stigma and bullying, social support, parent-child relationships and carers' access to anti-retroviral medicine.


"We interview children face-to-face, somewhere private — at home, at school, sometimes in the yard," says Cluver, "even though some of the sites are only accessible by tiny 20-seater planes or 4x4 vehicles. The interviews are amazing — the kids are often so happy to have someone to talk to about the secret illness in their family. What's difficult is the circumstances in which they live. We've worked through taxi wars and riots in Cape Town, gangsters in Durban, and cholera outbreaks in Mpumalanga. Our researchers walk through open sewers and over rubbish heaps, into homes which desperately poor people keep spotlessly clean."


Shockingly, so far, the research suggests children who live with AIDS-sufferers have as much psychological distress as those who have been orphaned by AIDS. "It's because of the stigma that comes with having HIV in the family," Cluver says. "Kids report being gossiped about, and teased, and having people scared to touch them." The early findings show that about 40 per cent of kids in AIDS-sick homes are missing or have dropped out of school, compared to 22 per cent in homes affected by other illnesses, and 5 per cent in healthy homes. Almost a third of the young carers — sometimes as young as eight — report carrying out intimate care, such as washing sick people, helping them go to the toilet and cleaning their wounds.


"The kids aren't passive victims — they're kids just like all others, wanting to be Beyonce or Usher. They're so excited about the World Cup that when they chose pseudonyms for their stories to be reported in our research, half of them used football players' names," Cluver says.


"They worry about the same things as first-world kids — one 13-year-old girl cried throughout her interview because kids at school were calling her 'baboon face'" But when these children get home, "they wash blankets, feed younger siblings, rub the backs of people with tuberculosis, make sure their parents take their anti-retrovirals, miss school for hospital trips, and queue to get medication for their carers who are too sick to stand," Cluver reports. "When they get to school they're so worried about the sick person at home that they can't concentrate." More children will face this situation. In 2008, 1.4 million South African children had lost a parent to HIV/AIDS; that's expected to rise above two million by 2015. When I ask Cluver what she hopes to be the impact of her study, her response is passionate: "We don't hope — we'll make something happen: this study is science to serve policy." The researchers are already giving regular updates to the South African government as well as NGOs such as USAID, Unicef and Child Welfare South Africa. They hold community meetings, and speak to schools, social workers and hospital staff about the issues the kids are raising, and how best to support them. "We're also making two movies — directed, filmed and edited by the kids and their carers — to deal with the stigma surrounding Aids," says Cluver.


The study aims to reveal the scale of the difficulties faced by HIV/AIDS-affected families. "There has been no large-scale research in the developing world to understand how much work these kids are taking on in the home, and the effects," Cluver says. "We need to understand if these kids are more depressed, traumatised or anxious than other children, and whether they are struggling at school. We need to know if they're unable to access health services, or are catching illnesses like TB from people they're looking after. Then, we need to know what can help them." Both the South African government and NGOs are eager for the findings, Cluver says, in order to adapt their policies to help these children. She is hopeful about the study's impact, but admits that in the meantime, the researchers feel powerless.


One 13-year-old told of just folding his arms at lunchtime at school, "because we don't have money to buy food now that my mother cannot work". An 11-year-old girl described pushing her mum to the clinic in a wheelbarrow, and "bringing her a glass of water because she cannot get out of bed".


"The parents tell our researchers about horrific experiences and expect to receive help for their situation, but all we can do is give them a biscuit and a certificate. There's nothing we can do but research," says Cluver. "It's hard to face families who have shared their life stories and then have to walk out of the door." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010










In the weeks before her assassination, as she appeared set to return to power for a third time, Benazir Bhutto's supporters in America were trying to put together a team of lobbyists in anticipation of her victory. Mark Siege, a patrician Democrat with links to the party leadership and a close personal friend of Benazir's, was at the heart of this campaign and he had roped in another high-flying political consultant Duane Baughman who also runs a film production company.


But, on December 27, 2007, while they were still in the midst of gathering their team, Benazir was killed by a suicide bomber. Their task now, Mr. Baughman recalls, was to keep her "legacy alive" and they decided to do this by telling her "extraordinary" story through a film.


"A few months later, myself and a film crew would find ourselves sitting in Dubai in what had been Benazir's living room, listening to her three heartbroken children and her shaken widower, Asif Ali Zardari, explain why Benazir was compelled to leave her family and the safe confines of a cushy self-exile to march back into Pakistan to face death threats and a political hurricane," he says.


The result was Bhutto: You Can't Murder a Legacy, billed as the "first definitive documentary" on the world's first woman prime minister of a Muslim nation.


The two-hour television-style documentary, based on interviews mostly with Benazir's family members, fawning friends and admirers, created quite a buzz on the American festival circuit (it was the official entry at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and was awarded the special jury prize for outstanding historical documentary at Sonoma International Film Festival, California ) but has failed to evoke much interest in Pakistan or among the Asian community in Britain where it was released last week.


From a film, with a give-away title that leaves little to imagination, you don't expect great objectivity or debate. But what you do expect from a film that calls itself a "documentary," won a special prize for "outstanding historical documentary," and is claimed to be a "painstaking and methodological examination" of Pakistani politics is a semblance of credibility and a respect for an informed viewer's intelligence.


It is so crudely one-sided (one Pakistani critic called it a "product of Pakistan Peoples Party's PR machine'') that even Asif Ali Zardari comes out smelling of roses. Corruption charges? What corruption charge? He was a victim of conspiracies by his wife's political opponents, we are told simply on the basis of what he himself and his friends tell the film-maker.


The only critical voice is that of Fatima Bhutto, Benazir's estranged niece, but it is promptly countered by voices ranged against her. Benazir's younger sister, Sanam, accuses Fatima of trying to hijack the Bhutto legacy. Anyone who is not a Bhutto comes across as a conspirator, the biggest villain of the piece (after Zia-ul-Haq) being Pervez Musharraf who is virtually accused of ordering her assassination with one interviewee saying something along the lines that he didn't have to actually tell someone to "go and kill her"; it was enough for him to let it be known that he didn't care what happened to her — and someone would take the cue and do the needful.


Mr. Baughman, who has directed and produced the film with Mr. Siege, has claimed that the film's "narrative" has been vindicated by the U.N. inquiry report into Benazir's death.


"The film's narrative is unintentionally but strikingly similar to the courageous report of the United Nations released on April 15, 2010 which pointed directly to the actions of General Musharraf, his government, the police, the military and intelligence agency, and the all-powerful 'Establishment' in Pakistan that determines not only life, but apparently death as well," he has said.


Only genuine moments


The film's only genuine moments are when Benazir's two daughters talk about their mother. They break down as they recall their last meeting with her before she left them in Dubai to return to Pakistan. With tears in their eyes, they tell how she kept wishing them even though their birthdays were months away.


Indian viewers of a certain generation would be reminded of their own youth watching the grainy footage of a callow Benazir during her visit to India with her father in 1972. In a previously unheard tape she says she was thrilled to bits at the media attention she got; and how nervous she was when, for the first time, she wore a sari to meet Indira Gandhi.


But who was Benazir Bhutto? And how will history remember her? Was she really a martyr for democracy? A progressive political leader? A plucky feminist? A champion of "modern" Islam etc?


For anyone looking for something even approaching a clue to these questions this Bhutto is the wrong film. And that means for most of us.







Peng Yong, Yang Dingdu


The 1,000 Genomes Project, which aims to produce an extensive catalogue of human genetic variations, started to release data from a pilot phase Monday.


The project, a collaboration started in 2008 among research groups in the U.S., the United Kingdom, China and Germany, would support medical research and throw new light on human evolution, said Wang Jun, project coordinator of the Chinese party and also deputy head of the Shenzhen Branch of the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI). More than 50 trigabites of 8,000 billion base pairs of human DNA had been mapped and included in a public database, he said.


Researchers could gain free access to the data through three websites, including the 1,000 Genomes website (, Wang said.


When completed, the database would contain human genetic information from the genomes of 2,500 people from 27 populations around the world. BGI is responsible for mapping the genomes of 400 people of Mongoloid races and participants from the African populations.


The results helped to evaluate the efficiency and effect of different mapping strategies. They will also help researchers to look closer at the genomes associated with human diseases. — Xinhua








ngress general secretary Rahul Gandhi's reported idea of outsourcing implementation of pro-poor programmes to the private sector on a commission basis is novelty itself. If the levers can be turned right, 85 paise in every rupee meant for the poor can be flowed to the intended beneficiary, instead of the mere 15 paise that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had spoken of ruefully. In recent years, by virtue of being on the move all the time, the younger Mr Gandhi can be said to have acquired a fair amount of experience of the state of affairs in the countryside, and has had the chance to see at firsthand how our poor live. If it is insights gained from these forays into "Bharat" — the other India — that have impelled him to articulate his proposal, he possibly believes that the idea is workable and that the structural and institutional impediments that blight the way can be surmounted. Nevertheless, before plunging in with the proposal, it may not be a bad idea to pick one of the several schemes for the poor on a pilot basis in a restricted area, and see if the private sector bites. The outcome of such an experiment may have reality checks to offer.

Mr Gandhi's argument appears to be that if the public-private partnership model works for infrastructure-building, why can't it be given a shot for the social sector? The way the question is posed, it doesn't address the issue. Building infrastructure is, for the most part, an engineering problem, while anti-poverty programmes concern social engineering. The former deals with the inanimate, the latter with people and communities, with in-built social and political biases of one or another kind. For a start, it might be best to eschew comparisons with putting up physical infrastructure. At the conceptual level, one stands a better chance then.
But no matter what, if it works, it's worth trying. We can say this on the testimony of Deng Xiaoping, China's paramount leader in the post-Mao era, who famously proclaimed that it didn't matter whether the cat was black or white so long as it caught mice. The caveat worthy of consideration here is that Deng, while considered the principal architect of China's economic reforms and its chief moderniser, ultimately presided over a dictatorship where a political instruction could be made to travel down the line, for good or ill. In India, even politicians who radiate power cannot afford to harbour such an illusion. There is just no knowing when the popular backlash might come. Mr Gandhi's plan is as good an example as one might get of politics nouveaux. At the heart of it lies attainment of social goods through a business model. Can democracy be purchased through the agency of a private entrepreneur, or must people dirty their own hands in building it through struggle with unseen elements? Take the case of Afghanistan. Money from external sources is flowing in through contractors and NGOs to build roads, dams, schools, to sow crops, indeed anything one may think of. The good part of it is that some of the money has come good. Yet one thing that is not happening is nation-building, say experts with experience. For that to happen, they say, money must flow out to the people through government channels and with the exertion of political parties as intermediaries, not private contractors and do-gooder NGOs. The Afghan experience does not apply to India in toto. But it's worth a look-in. In India, a good deal of the corruption and associated ills can be dealt with if procedures are made more transparent and user-friendly, and if political parties are made to believe that they stand to gain if they attempt to become agents of positive change, rather than some oily contractor who is known to siphon off NREGS funds.








The visit of home minister P. Chidambaram to Pakistan on June 26, for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) home ministers' conference, will wrestle with the ghost of 26/11. The foreign secretary accompanies him to watchfully steer his bilateral interaction with his counterpart, Rahman Malik, indicted by a court, promptly pardoned by President Asif Ali Zardari and now bereft of credibility. More dossiers have been handed over, with material from Kasab's trial. Leaks are already aplenty about what Mr Chidambaram shall or shall not do. Asking for access to Lakhvi via a television channel will, however, only get Pakistan's tail up.

The Sharm el-Sheikh misstep raised questions about the wisdom of unilateral pacifism in dealing with Pakistan. Similar anxiety had followed the 2006 Mumbai train bombings. The Anti-Terror Mechanism was then devised to enable the resumption of dialogue. Since the 26/11 outrage the government's keenness to re-engage Pakistan has encountered the public's desire for tangible action by Pakistan on the India-specific terror network. Mr Chidambaram has positioned himself closer to the public mood rather than the peace constituency led by the Prime Minister. His visit thus would be closely watched. He has three obvious options: to express satisfaction at Pakistani action against 26/11 perpetrators; to hedge by recognising the action so far taken while asking Pakistan to cast the net wider; or simply regret the lackadaisical response, as he has in the past. Only a categorical good character certificate from him can enable external affairs minister S.M. Krishna, when he visits Pakistan in July, to flag off the composite dialogue.

The composite dialogue, divined on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in 1998 by Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Sharif, is an admixture of confidence-building measures and disputes. The dialogue has yielded mixed results. On the positive side, the ceasefire has held, differences have narrowed on Sir Creek and Siachen and new formulations attempted on Kashmir besides opening up cross-LoC trade and bus traffic. On the other hand, terror acts grew bolder and more sophisticated and Pakistan has been unwilling, when we dealt with a general, or unable, when we dealt with an elected government, to uproot the terror network. A complete rethink of our Pakistan strategy is thus called for.

First, the home minister's visit to Pakistan. Issues like access to Lakhvi etc are operational issues best dealt with at the official level. He should make concrete suggestions on the issue of terrorism. Firstly, he should seek the immediate negotiation of a Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Treaty so that evidence and witnesses from either side can be used by the other. If Pakistan prefers, a Saarc MLAT can be operationalised. Secondly, there should be a clear undertaking that no citizen of either country would be allowed to publicly abet the threat or use of violence against the other. Thirdly, the grant of visas to businessmen, students or group tours should be made easier and, in fact, encouraged. Why cannot there be day tours between Amritsar and Lahore? The home ministry is headed the other way mandating prior approval for all visas.

The 18th Amendment to the Pakistan Constitution, it is said, gives power back to the Parliament and the Cabinet in Pakistan. I was in Pakistan June 2-5 for a Pugwash-sponsored Track-II Indo-Pak meet. Islamabad is a fortress, Mr Zardari invisible, Gen. Kayani mulling his own extension, Mr Nawaz Sharif marking time in Raiwind hoping the Supreme Court ousts Mr Zardari and the US exits Afghanistan before he makes a bid and, surprisingly, his brother Shahbaz a failure as Punjab chief minister. There are power cuts, price rise and insecurity. The Economist this week quips: "Don't blame the Army for all Pakistan's problems. Just most of them." Pakistan is crying for leadership that can take on the militant's narrative, appear unbending before the US and solve the problems of illiteracy and joblessness. Complex bilateral disputes between nations need more than statesmanship for resolution. They need the polities in the two countries to be harmoniously centred around a national consensus which the peace constituencies can tap into. It is today not so in Pakistan; let the reader judge if it is so in India. Two leaders in West Asia defied this principle (President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and PM Yitzhak Rabin of Israel) and lost their lives without gaining peace.

India thus needs to rebalance the agenda which Mr Krishna can carry to Islamabad in July. While the CBMs can be aggressively pushed, the disputes need to be calibrated with Kashmir moved down the list. New issues seeking attention are water and Afghanistan. Pakistan's public discourse on water has been ill-informed and provocative. Even Hafiz Saeed has embraced it. A pro-active engagement to dispel disinformation is necessary.
Afghanistan has the potential for either Indo-Pak cooperative action or a clash of interests, leading to another civil war. At any rate these are today's issues. Therefore, the home minister's visit can either open the path to a serious re-engagement or regress us to the rhetoric of the last 12 years.

The author is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry








Ten years ago, when I reported the brutal murder of a pregnant 19-year-old for London's Guardian, there was the inevitable comparison with Pakistan. Across the border, such "honour killings", known locally as "karo-kari", were rampant. In my report, I pointed out that Punjab on both sides of the border shared the same feudal ethos. Prosperity had not had the slightest effect on patriarchy. Amnesty International routinely rapped our neighbour for explaining away women's deaths on "the flimsiest of grounds".

The Indian "honour killing" I wrote about caused a sensation because the mother, Bibi Jagir Kaur, was at the centre of the controversy. Kaur, then head of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, was the first woman to hold the post. She was charged with murder when her teenaged daughter Harpreet died mysteriously. The story had a familiar ring: the girl had fallen in love with a 21-year-old man who Kaur did not approve of. Harpreet was cremated and her ashes disposed of the same day, breaking Sikh tradition. Her family claimed there had been no marriage and Harpreet had died of food poisoning.

The chilling tale grabbed national and international attention because the accused was a well-known politician. But such crimes were not unusual, a Chandigarh-based lawyer told me. In rural Punjab, a girl wanting to marry a boy of her choice against parental wish was at risk of being killed, especially if the boy is from another caste, religion, income bracket or community. The lawyer had dealt with many such cases. None had led to convictions because such cases are almost impossible to prosecute, he said. Often all traces of the dead body were spirited away.

Ten years down the line, much remains the same. The case drags on. Kaur, out on anticipatory bail, continues to thrive in Akali politics. Pakistan is more of a troubled state while India is a rising economic power. The barbaric crime tagged "honour killing", where family or community elders kill a young boy or a girl, sometimes both, supposedly to save their "honour", continues on both sides of the border.

India does not have a separate law for "honour killing" and it is impossible to estimate the scale of the problem with any level of accuracy. But "honour killings" can no longer be dismissed as something that happens mostly across the border as more and more such gruesome deaths are reported from Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, even New Delhi... and every other place where communities soaked in feudal mores are fiercely resisting socio-economic transition. Sometimes, the victims and the culprits are educated as in the case of Nirupama Pathak, a young Delhi journalist whose sudden death in her parental home back in Jharkhand is still fresh in our memory. Sometimes, the sordid crimes happen in places and among communities which normally do not interest our media. A recent fiendish display of such "honour" took place in the bylanes of Swarup Nagar in north Delhi. Two 19-year-olds were beaten with metal rods and then electrocuted by the girl's family who disapproved of their relationship. The couple were tortured for hours by the family before being killed. The father and the uncle of the girl have been arrested. They remain unrepentant. The neighbours now say they tried to intervene but were curtly asked to mind their own business. But no one alerted the police even though they heard the couple screaming in pain. The police, supposedly in a state of "high alert" due to concerns about terrorism, arrived when the deed was done, and there was no one to save. Last Sunday in a village in Haryana's Bhiwani district — a three-hour drive from Delhi — two teenaged lovers were found hanging in yet another suspected case of "honour killing".

Such incidents have become sadly routine. The judiciary has been extremely critical of law enforcement agencies for conniving with the family in most such crimes. But conniving police personnel are not the only ones who should be in the line of fire. No major or minor politician who has to canvas for votes in the "honour killing" belt has condemned such murders or come out in support of young people who transgress the boundaries of caste, religion or clan in pursuit of love. Naveen Jindal, Page Three's vision of New India, dulcetly supports "khap panchayats", caste councils that often act as kangaroo courts, sanctioning the killing of young boys and girls who flout their diktat. All politicians, old or new, are so afraid to take them on because khaps can deliver bulk votes.

If the politicians and the police cannot be counted on to stem the wave of "honour killings", who can be the saver?

Once again, we are forced to turn to the judiciary for succour. As I write comes the news that the Supreme Court has issued notices to the Centre and nine states, including Delhi, where honour killings have been reported in recent times. This is in response to a petition filed by Shakti Vahini, a Delhi-based NGO seeking protection for couples facing threat from khap panchayats for marrying against prevailing social norms in all the states that are witnessing such crimes. Over the past year, the NGO has been researching "honour killings" in Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh on behalf of the National Commission for Women. "Now the pressure is on states where 'honour' crimes are taking place — they will have to submit detailed reports on police action in each and every such case", says Supreme Court advocate Ravi Kant, who heads Shakti Vahini. The NGO has also called for creation of a special cell in each district (in vulnerable states) which young couples at risk of "honour killings" can access.

Patriarchal societies use the fig leaf of culture and tradition to justify "honour" crimes. At the heart of the conflict, however, is economics. Elders feel threatened by rapidly changing mores, the increasing assertiveness of youth, especially women. "The primal fear is that if individual freedom is encouraged, the family as we know it will suffer and there will be turmoil. Deep down, there is fear of conflicts over land and property", points out Kant. The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act 2005, which came into effect on September 9, 2005, treats daughters on par with sons. Many elders fear that if girls are allowed to choose their own partners, they will next start demanding their property rights. What happens then? The state rumbles and threatens whenever terrorists strike. Can it afford not to show the same level of urgency when terror in the name of "honour" stalks such large parts of India?


n Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at








He wore his scholarship on his sleeve. He was unassuming and generous to a fault. He was a perfectionist personified — to the point that he would leave huge volumes of research unpublished because a few small details had remained unexplored. He moved from studying English literature to sociology and anthropology with consummate ease even as he deepened his knowledge of the political economy of India and the world. He researched topics as diverse as the role of rumours in communal riots in South Asia over the last half of the 20th century to the pattern of labour migration in the coal mining areas of Dhanbad district (now in Jharkhand).
He studied in St. Xavier's College, Calcutta, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi and the University of Michigan in the United States. He taught at some of the most prestigious educational institutions here and elsewhere — including the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, the Indian Institutes of Management at Kolkata and Ahmedabad, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, the University of Oregon and the Foundation for Research in Human and Social Sciences, Paris — besides being part of the faculty of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. Yet he was equally at home discussing the intricacies of cinema, theatre and street food.

Anjan Ghosh passed away on June 5. He was barely 59. His end came suddenly, unexpectedly, just about a month after he had been diagnosed with leukaemia. After initial rounds of chemotherapy, he developed a lung infection. Then came a cardiac arrest and he was no more, leaving behind his wife, daughter and elderly mother (one of the important reasons why he chose to be based out of Kolkata though he could well have been working out of just about any part of the planet). His friends and colleagues are finding it difficult to believe that his absence is permanent. Even those who had just a passing acquaintanceship with him could not have failed to have been charmed by his candour, won over by his wit and enthused by the energy he exuded.
One of the notable aspects of his personality was his phenomenal memory, his encyclopaedic ability to remember facts, names and details of situations gone by (even trivia). Above all, he had the amazing ability to link all these bits and pieces to a bigger and more holistic picture and to a theoretical framework of knowledge that was neither pedantic nor obtuse or high-sounding. He had a deep understanding of Marxism (and was often jocularly described as Kolkata's Lenin because of his bald pate and goatee) but was far from doctrinaire — in fact, many Communist academics till today patronisingly look down on sociology as an academic discipline in comparison to politics or economics.

Anjan had another significant quality. He was a teacher who let his students make up their mind without imposing his personal views on them. In that sense, he was a quintessential instructor who encouraged those he taught to broaden their horizons as wide as possible but never let go of his own ideological inclinations. Also, unlike armchair intellectuals, he was an activist who was closely associated with human rights organisations like the People's Union for Civil Liberties and the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights on the one hand, while, on the other, he helped run film societies and wrote for small publications like Frontier besides a host of scholarly journals.

Perhaps the most fulsome tribute to Anjan came from his Ph.D. adviser from the University of Michigan, Nicholas Dirks, who, on hearing about his sudden death, wrote to his colleagues stating that as a teacher, he had learnt much more from Anjan that what he had been able to teach him. His former colleague Partha Chatterjee has written about how he had chided him for travelling frequently, often to meet fellow sociologists and anthropologists in small district universities in Bengal, instead of concentrating on his own research. Chatterjee later realised that Anjan treated such meetings as an obligation to less fortunate members of his professional community.
Anjan was self-effacing to an extreme. Nearly three decades ago, when I was writing a long article on the underground coal fires in Jharia in Dhanbad, I was introduced to him by Ram Guha, a former student of his at the IIM in Kolkata who is today a well-known public intellectual. He recounted amazing facts about how the coal mines in eastern India used to operate during colonial rule, how the area was "colonised" by workers from different parts of eastern and central India, the impact the pattern of migration had on the working of the coal industry and on the infamous mafia bosses of the area, notable among whom were important trade union leaders belonging to the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) affiliated to the ruling Congress Party.
It was a paradox that the Congress leaders from Bihar — including former chief minister K.B. Sahay — had a reputation of being "progressive" socialists of their time although some of their confidantes came to be known as ruthless exploiters of the underprivileged. After my first interview with him, Anjan insisted that all his remarks be kept off-the-record ostensibly on the ground that his research was incomplete — he was at that time, enrolled for a Ph.D. programme in JNU, a programme he never completed. He was, however, ready and willing to be quoted on the Dhanbad mafia a quarter of a century later when I interviewed him for a documentary film series. His thesis on the subject, however, remains incomplete and unpublished.

Over the years, Anjan came far closer to my family than to me because my sister and he were colleagues in the same research institute and the two of them were collaborating on a project to study the annual Durga Puja festival that is held in Kolkata and Bengal. I bumped into Anjan purely by chance in the corridors of the IIM in Ahmedabad last year — we exchanged a few pleasantries and promised to connect later. Little did I realise then that that would be my last meeting with Anjan Ghosh.


Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator









The ordinance issued on Friday night placing unit-linked insurance products (ULIPs) under the purview of the Insurance Development and Regulatory Authority of India (Irda) shows that the government has made up its mind on the matter.


It did not in April this year when the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) banned 14 insurance companies from raising fresh funds until they registered with the market regulator. At the time, the government thought that the question of jurisdiction between the two authorities has to be decided in the courts. It seems that the government has felt the need to act decisively  and settle the matter.

It is true that the battle between the two watchdogs sent out a confusing signal in the market, and a legal contest would have aggravated the confusion because of the time it would have taken to settle the issue.

The ordinance raises eyebrows for two reasons. It appears this was not done in consultation with Sebi. The insurance watchdog was kept in the loop and it had prepared the first draft of the ordinance. While the government has the prerogative to put in place the policy framework, there was a need to do it on the basis of broader consultations, which in this case would have required that the government take Sebi into confidence as well.

The finance ministry cannot afford to be seen as supporting one against the other, even when there is a case for doing so. It would imply undermining the independence, which is of immense importance, of the watchdogs.

Secondly, the use of ordinances generally gives the impression of executive hauteur. The ordinance option has been provided in the Constitution to respond to an emergency. A question involving policy does not call for an emergency response. It should have first come up before Parliament. Of course, the UPA government has the numbers, and it will ring in the necessary law. But the debate would have taken place.

There is criticism among experts about the legitimacy of ULIPs because they are seen more as an investment rather than an insurance instrument. The government seems to have anticipated the objection. It has asked Irda to come up with guidelines to emphasise the insurance aspect.  But the ambiguity remains and that could spell trouble. The argument that ULIPs are long-term savings remains to be proved.






The government is planning to amend the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which has been a bone of contention since it was promulgated in 1958. It gives shoot-at-sight powers to the armed forces in "disturbed" areas and also practically gives immunity to army officers from prosecution.

The Act is largely used in Kashmir and in some parts of the Northeast. The thinking is that army personnel should be allowed to kill suspected terrorists or militants without fear of being prosecuted. The dangers inherent in such sweeping powers are obvious as is the possibility of misuse.

Recently, there have been several protests in Kashmir over "encounter" killings by the armed forces and J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah has been pushing for amendments to these absolute powers. However, the bigger impact may be felt in the Northeast. In Manipur, Irom Sharmila, for instance, has been on a hunger strike since the year 2000, protesting against the AFSPA and the way it has made life impossible for the people of the area and turned the army from a protector to a perpetrator in their eyes.

The act was first applied in the Naga insurgency in 1958 and has been a major source of anger for the people of the Northeast ever since.

The problem for the government here is clear — there is an enemy to be countered and the enemy lies within. Ordinary law and order rules have stopped working. What are the authorities to do? The first instinct is to restrict the freedom of the people and the second is to give more powers to law enforcers.

However, this may work in a war situation or on a short-term basis. Anything outside that and you are not just trampling on people's democratic rights, you are also weakening the foundation of jurisprudence. Both are, in the long run, very dangerous to the future of a nation which considers itself a democracy.

Just as people are subject to the laws of the land, so are law enforcers. No one can be allowed to have unlimited powers without accountability or responsibility. The proposed amendments to the AFSPA will limit those powers. The army, not surprisingly, is objecting to the amendments. But an organisation like the army, which marches on its discipline and regimentation, must understand that it too is subject to the laws of the land.

As the government considers the plan to counter the Maoists, it is heartening that it is realising that unfair laws do not help the situation — rather, they make it worse.








We are in India well used to blaming the government and politicians for our problems. And of course, they usually deserve it as well. But recently, for fear of being labelled a communist or a leftie or even, by a person of perhaps advancing years, a "pinko" — all these being deeply insulting terms in these times of liberalisation and economic well-being — we often refrain from taking on business and industry.

But what is one supposed to do when they hand you the chance to question them on a platter, as it were? Just like banks and bankers became the butt of our ire post-September 2008, two recent cases have turned the tables on big business — somewhat.


The first, of course, is the slender sentencing handed out to a few former employees of Union Carbide for the gas leak in Bhopal in 1984 and the other is the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico from an oil well that belongs to BP. As far as Union Carbide is concerned, it now appears that the company did everything it could to avoid accepting responsibility and this included paying out as little as possible to the victims.


Methyl isocyanate is a very poisonous substance and yet the company is known to have flirted with danger on a number of occasions. We already know that Union Carbide used its influence with the US government to pressure the Indian government to go easy on it. That allows us to target the government of the time and subsequent administrations for neglect, collusion and possible corruption.

But what about Union Carbide? Did it not even have a humanitarian responsibility to look out for and then look after those who were victims of its actions? Is it not to be held accountable for its doings? Or is it off the hook because it is a profit-making organisation which creates jobs and helps the economy? Do concepts like responsibility no longer apply in such cases?

For 26 years, Union Carbide has managed to get away with what, in any other situation, would be called murder, without fear of retribution. The deaths of at least 20,000 people and the suffering of hundreds of thousands have been dismissed by the government, the investigators, by the judiciary and by the culprits themselves. Yet we all know that while there are no foolproof safeguards for accidents, there are still safety protocols, antidotes and assignment of responsibility after the fact.

As for BP, it is now being made to pay for the damage which its property has caused to the United States and to wildlife and the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico. Here too there has been a political battle as the Democrats have been only too eager to point fingers at the Republicans and their connections with the oil industry. As it turns out, BP funds everyone in politics, so no one has their hands clean. But given the extent of the damage and the anger around it, it has been forced to cough up $20 billion, after months of fudging and running circles around the oil gushing out of the sea.

The concept of "corporate social responsibility" makes good newspaper copy as companies tell us about the trees they planted or the gardens they sponsored. But it turns out that we need a little more than that. We need guilt money in advance so that once the disaster happens — and they will — these corporations can't get away with the mess they have made quite so fast.

'The Giving Pledge' idea put forward by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett — two of the richest men in the world and conscientious philanthropists — makes more and more sense the more you think about it. Let's look at it as redemption money, for past and future sins. Let the wealthiest in the world share their money with those less fortunate and buy themselves a place in heaven.

Meanwhile, let profit-making enterprises be forced to realise that there is a human cost to their action which cannot be avoided. If the only language they understand is money, let's make them pay.








Recently I had occasion to address more than 500 post-graduate students from different institutions. When they were asked how many trusted the media — print and electronic — less than 10 hands went up. Similar questions in the eighties had evoked a much larger positive response. At that time, some newspapers used to proclaim readership figures that were six times as much as circulation. Today, one would not be surprised if circulation exceeded sales in some cases. Many people buy newspapers but do not always read them.

Two major reasons are private contracts with advertisers and paid news. The former is linked to business news and the latter to political news. A leading national daily brought in this "innovation" of private treaties. The idea is simple. The media house acquires stakes in companies which are listed or planning a listing. In return, the media house provides the company with favourable coverage. Negative coverage is avoided.

Private contracts distort the idea of an independent media since the separation between editorial and advertising is gone. News space is for sale. The Securities and Exchange Board of India had, as early as July 15, 2009, warned in a letter to the Press Council about this pernicious practice. But the Press Council is a toothless old cat and cannot even purr, leave alone roar.

Hundreds of companies with billings running into crores have become media-friendly and the latter is significantly compromised. About the electronic media, the less said the better. The term "anchor investor" is more applicable to this media. Advisers and experts are a dime a dozen, and they give advice to viewers on what to "buy" or "sell". There are apparently no conflicts, only interests.

At the ground level, the situation is obnoxious. Press conferences are nowadays called "envelope" conferences. Many companies give cash in envelopes to mediapersons for "positive" coverage.

While this is not true for all mediapersons, coverage will not happen without these "envelopes". When I expressed surprise to a senior executive in a company during one of these press meets, he said: "You are ivory tower academics and do not know the ground reality."

On the political side, it is called paid news. The recent Maharashtra elections revealed a sordid state of affairs. Due to sustained efforts by some reporters, the Press Council set up a two-man committee to study the issue and the draft report correctly observes that paid news undermines democracy. At the regional language level, it is embedded journalism, where every political leader worth his sugar has at least one media house under his control. Due to the actions of the supposed leader of the newspaper pack, independent media has become an oxymoron.

To be sure, it has been clear for some time that the media is often supine and subservient, but matters seem to be getting worse. Let us take some examples. The president of the oldest and largest party in the country, the Congress, has seldom given an interview to any media house. Nor has she addressed any open house. It can happen in Liberia or Somalia but should not happen in India. The media seems to have simply accepted the situation.

On the Bhopal tragedy, the media has rightly focused on the Anderson tales, namely his arrival, arrest and departure without any political leaders being involved! But what about Keshub Mahindra and the other executives? Mahindra has occupied important positions after the accident. No interviews with them. No talk about them. What about the factory inspectors of Bhopal?

What about the minister in charge and the secretary in charge of industry at that time? It seems Anderson single-handedly ran that factory from the US! The corrupt local bureaucracy and politicians should have been exposed, but the media has been silent.

Another extreme distortion is the recent floods and storms in West Bengal and Bihar which killed more than a hundred people. The electronic media was silent on the catastrophe since they were focused only on the IPL scandal. Some newspapers allotted little space for such a major calamity.

In the UK and the US, some print media companies did go upmarket in the last few years. It means covering more of art/theatre/opera/ music. In India, going upmarket means more of page 3 — skin and spin. The media do not consider India as a civilisation, but as a market. If so many million cars are sold in India and the figure is one car more than China then we have arrived. 

A good number of media (print and TV) persons are actually not citizens of India. Probity requires that foreign citizens with Indian names should make a disclaimer in that regard, particularly when they write/speak on India's security. But they don't do that. So much for transparency.









THE critics of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) must be feeling elated over the Union government's move to amend the controversial piece of law to make it humane. The AFSPA has been described as a draconian law as it gives the armed forces some special powers which can easily result in the violation of an individual's human rights or the security forces indulging in excesses. The law empowers Army personnel on duty in Jammu and Kashmir or in the Northeast to make arrests without any warrants, or search the premises of a person without following the established procedure. Prosecution can be launched against erring Army personnel but only after having the Central government's sanction which is not easy to get.


The armed forces have been opposed to any change in the law on the plea that they need the protection of special laws when their men are deployed for anti-terrorist or anti-insurgency operations. In their opinion, it is not easy to achieve success in the fight against an invisible enemy in difficult terrain without the protection of special laws. The nature of this special assignment is such that the security forces can make mistakes, but that is while pursuing the larger interests of the nation. Thus, the outright rejection by the Army of any amendment to the AFSPA is understandable.


It is true that nothing should be done that weakens the cause of the fight against terrorists. Even if infiltration from across the border has come down considerably, the security forces have to remain vigilant always and ready to take on the enemy whenever and wherever he raises his head. However, those opposed to any dilution of the AFSPA must not forget that even a small mistake leading to the death of an innocent person causes incalculable harm to the task of eliminating terrorism or insurgency. Many such cases have happened in the past. Whatever the compulsions, draconian laws cannot be justified in a democracy. This was the reason why Prime Minister Manmohan Singh some time ago assured the people of a thorough review of the AFSPA. Any step that is for the good of the country must be taken.








LOK Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar's announcement that Question Hour will be made more effective from the ensuing session of Parliament is welcome. Inaugurating the 75th All-India Presiding Officers' Conference in Srinagar on Sunday, she said that some decisions have been taken to make best use of Question Hour. Some of these include, a 15-day period to members for giving notices for questions; empowering the Speaker to direct answer to a starred question of a member who was absent in the House when he/she was called; limiting a member's number of notices of questions to 10 in a day for both oral and written answers; and enabling a member to make a statement in the House correcting the reply given by him/her earlier, irrespective of whether the reply given pertained to a starred, unstarred or a short notice question.


Mrs Kumar has rightly said that disruption of Question Hour by the Opposition is a big blow to the principle of accountability. Vice President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari has also said that members have no right to disrupt Question Hour. Surely, it blocks the flow of information from the executive to the legislature and from the legislature to the people. The people will find it difficult to obtain precious information on various aspects of the government's functioning if Parliament is not allowed to function. MPs have the right to raise issues of public interest in Parliament, but they cannot raise slogans, prevent ministers from speaking and force adjournments which lead to waste of crores of rupees and loss of precious time.


It is not clear whether the Question Hour will be shifted from the present 11 a.m. to the evening. Status quo ante may suit everyone — ministers, MPs and officers. While ministers in principle attend Parliament in the first half of the day, they schedule their non-parliamentary work for later in the day. It is felt that if they were summoned to Parliament in the evening, the working of their ministries would get affected. But then, it is also doubtful whether pushing Question Hour to evenings would guarantee uninterrupted proceedings. Basically, the problem lies with some troublemakers who will have to be dealt with firmly. An all-party consensus on this may help check disruptions and ensure smooth functioning of Parliament. Ultimately, the MPs need to change their mindset and make best use of Question Hour and Zero Hour.









EFFORTS to pass off the war of words in Bihar as nothing but a lovers' quarrel between alliance partners Janata Dal ( U) and the Bharatiya Janata Party are too simplistic. Indeed, the 'cooling period' signalled on Monday by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who advised the media to relax and not get worked up over the seemingly simmering political crisis, can scarcely gloss over the bitterness that has crept into the NDA coalition in the state. A section of BJP leaders led by Yashwant Sinha has publicly dared Nitish Kumar to break the alliance while BJP supporters in Patna hit the streets and burnt his effigies. His deputy Sushil Kumar Modi publicly complained about the CM's arbitrary functioning and the state BJP president, C.P. Thakur, declared that if push came to shove, party would be willing to contest the impending Assembly election in Bihar alone.


Publicly reacting to a newspaper advertisement, cancelling a dinner for BJP leaders at the eleventh hour and returning Rs 5 crore from the state's flood relief fund to the Gujarat government will continue to be seen as somewhat impulsive and politically immature acts of the Bihar CM. But then Nitish Kumar, who is an old hand in politics and was instrumental in catapulting the then relatively unknown Lalu Prasad Yadav as the Chief Minister, may well have been testing the water, deliberately provoking the BJP to break ranks so that JD(U) may contest the Assembly election alone. The BJP, however, is convinced that JD(U) cannot afford to do without the organisational muscle of the saffron party. Yet another dimension of the ugly spat is that both Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar are ambitious and seem to fancy their chances of becoming NDA's prime ministerial candidates in future. The competing game of political one-upmanship could, therefore, be designed merely to cut each other to size.


It could all turn out to be sound and fury signifying nothing. But the BJP is left with the thankless and unenviable task of doing a tight-rope walk between Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar. Fast running out of allies and with even the Shiv Sena taking pot-shots at the BJP in Maharashtra, the main opposition party is again at crossroads and needs to find the shortest way out of the jam.

















A five-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on May 7 registered its strong disapproval of regime change as a ground for the removal of Governors. The Attorney-General had contended earlier that if a party, which came to power with a particular social and economic agenda, found that a Governor was out of sync with its policies, then it should be able to remove him.


The apex court's ruling came after VHP leader BP Singhal filed a public interest litigation when the Governors of Gujarat, Goa, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh were replaced by the UPA government in June-July, 2004. This writer was one of the four new appointees and posted to Uttar Pradesh.


The removal of the four Governors in 2004, the case against it at the Supreme Court and its eventual disposal by the Constitution Bench need to be viewed in the context of events which happened 20 years earlier in 1990. After the Janata Dal government came to power in December 1989 all the Governors were asked to submit their resignation. This writer was the Governor of West Bengal at that time and was on a visit to Delhi on January 13-14, 1990. I called on President Venkataraman on January 14 afternoon, when he said that Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was with him an hour earlier and told him that the government would like to have the resignation of the Governors.


When I told the President that it was arbitrary and that he should consider advising the government suitably, Mr Venkataraman's reply was that it was their headache and he did not want to interfere. Later in the evening, the President issued letters under his signature to all the Governors which read as follows: "Dear Governor, I am advised that the Government desire to change the Governor of your state. You may, therefore, send your resignation letter at the earliest. With kind regards, yours sincerely, R. Venkataraman."


President Venkataraman's handling of the issue was puzzling. Giani Zail Singh, President Venkataraman's predecessor, who had retired and settled in Delhi, used to receive several visitors everyday. Gianiji had told many of them that "the learned Pandit from the South" in Rashtrapati Bhawan had made such a blunder in respect of the removal of Governors which even a "dehati like me" would never have made. "Ajeeb hai! Tajjub hai" were his incredulous remarks.


A senior Supreme Court advocate, whom I knew well, insisted at that time that he would challenge the Janata Dal government's order expressed through the President to the Governors. He referred to the apex court decision in the case of Har Gobind Pant v/s Dr Raghukul Tilak (1978), which said that it was impossible to hold that the Governor was under the control of the Government of India. He was not amenable to the directions of the Government of India, nor was he accountable for the manner he would carry out his functions and duties. It held that his was an independent constitutional office, which was not subject to the control of the Government of India. Theoretically, it sounded very well but it was entirely unenforceable.


During the first 20 years after Independence when the Congress party was in power practically in all the states, there was no problem between the states and the Centre or between the Governors and the Centre. But subsequently problems arose. The Sarkaria Commission, which went into the various aspects of the office of Governor in 1971, dealt with the issue of security of tenure. The commission said, "The question whether a special procedure should be provided in the Constitution for the removal of a Governor and, if so, what that procedure should be has to be examined by a comparison of the duties and functions of the Governor with those of other constitutional functionaries.


"The role and functions of the President, who is the constitutional head of the Union, are broadly similar to

those of the Governor insofar as the latter has to function as the constitutional head of the state. The functions of both are essentially political and governed by certain conventions of the parliamentary system of government. However, the similarity ends here.


"While it is not advisable to give the same security of tenure to a Governor as has been assured to a judge of the Supreme Court, some safeguard has to be devised against arbitrary withdrawal of President's pleasure, putting a premature end to the Governor's tenure. The intention of the Constitution makers in prescribing a five-year term for this office appears to be that the President's pleasure on which the Governor's tenure is dependent will not be withdrawn without cause shown. Any other inference would render Clause (3) of Article 156 largely otiose. It will be but fair that the Governor's removal is based on a procedure which affords him an opportunity of explaining his conduct in question and ensures fair consideration of his explanation, if any."


Save where the President is satisfied that in the interest of the security of the state, it is not expedient to do so, as a matter of healthy practice, whenever it is proposed to terminate the tenure of a Governor before the expiry of the normal term of five years, he should be informally apprised of the grounds of the proposed action and afforded a reasonable opportunity for showing cause against it. It is desirable that the President (which, in effect, means the Union Council of Ministers) should get the explanation, if any, submitted by the Governor against his proposed removal from office, examined by an advisory group consisting of the Vice-President of India and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha or a retired Chief Justice of India. After receiving the recommendations of this group, the President may pass such orders in case he may deem fit.


We recommend that when a Governor, before the expiry of the normal term of five years, resigns or is appointed Governor in another state or his tenure is terminated, the Union Government may lay a statement before both Houses of Parliament explaining the circumstances leading to the ending of his tenure. Where a Governor has been given an opportunity to show cause against the premature termination of his tenure, the statement may also include the explanation given by him in reply. This procedure would strengthen the control of Parliament and the Union executive's accountability to it. However, these recommendations remained mere suggestions and were not accepted.


The five-member Constitution Bench, headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and also comprising Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice R.V. Raveendran, Justice B. Sudershan Reddy and Justice P. Sathasivam, agreed on a crucial point made by the Attorney-General that no reasons need to be ascribed for the summary dismissal of Governors as they continue in their post as long as they enjoyed the pleasure of the President. Arguments can be put forth on numerous issues connected with the subject, but the opinion expressed by the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court clearly closes all arguments and the Governors should know where they stand.


The writer is a former Governor of UP and West Bengal.








THE columnist who writes without malice was being factually true when he noticed in one of the weekly writeups that the modern day lovers (with due regard to those who are not of that category and are a quality-class apart) have 'killed' the spirit of romance because they 'ride' to love instantaneously which leaves no scope for fantasising.


There indeed were times when the making of a proposal itself would be preceded by fairly longish, consensual though, mere eye-contact, not accompanied by any conversation. A letter, obviously meant for being forwarded to the quarters concerned, would stay put in the pocket for months altogether. The fear factor would not wane, impeding transfer of hand. It was, at times, a bone chilling experience to be told that a 'paper' in the trousers had got washed. The announcement by the domestic help would invite invocation to the Almighty wishing that it had not been read at all.


A classmate of mine had, in turn, a friend of his who fell for a pretty lass, progeny of an R.M.P. The periodic reports intimated the regular not very infrequent meetings (with complete adherence to 'untouchability') in a far uninhabited tract of land (towards Batala side of Gurdaspur where my father headed the District Magistracy). It was after almost one year of their togetherness that they were able to render 'lip service' to each other. The modern scenario (in prevalence for the last about one decade or so) reflects impatience in the members of the lip service community.


My recent (and first) overseas sojourn took me by surprise in many facets of the English societal scenario. The complete absence of beggars, the noticeable respect for age and other etiquettes, dignity of labour, disciplined traffic by patient motorists and clean streets cemented my feeling that all this can exist on earth and is applaudable. People intending a visit to Central London were patiently lined up for paying 'congestion tax'. Those not inclined to shed extra money were in smart air-conditioned public transport buses. The choice obviously was individual and was actuated by requirement and urgency of the itinerary.


At the same time, the situation on the London bridge made a very 'lovable' presentation. Attired in colourful 'economic' clothing, young guys and girls were walking to and fro at a brisk pace. Some of them would suddenly turn stationary and render 'lip service', without any provocation from those around or causing any consternation amongst them. A similar prevalence in India would have brought any number of 'senas' to the fore.


Food for thought for addition of a salvationary penal clause. The law makers would, I am sure, be free of the Kochi controversy by then.








WHILE launching the Second Generation Reforms in Legal Education in New Delhi recently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the current status of legal education as a "sea of institutionalised mediocrity with a few islands of excellence". An important reform in this direction is the "Bar Exam" or the all-India Bar examination for fresh lawyers from this December. However, the question remains: how will it help refurbish the image of the Bar?


In April, Solicitor-General of India Gopal Subramanium was elected new Chairman of the Bar Council of India (BCI). He accorded top priority to refurbishing the image of the Bar. The mandatory entrance test for entry into the Bar will be introduced with the help of a legal consultancy firm.


Predictably, this reform has evoked mixed reactions. Law students, especially those in the final year, are a worried lot. The BCI had informed the Supreme Court recently that it can hold the examination from December. The genesis of the move can be traced to Mr Subramaniam's submission in the apex court in December, 2009 in Bar Council of India vs Bonnie FOI Law College and Others wherein he asserted that the first Bar Exam shall be conducted in July-August 2010 by a specially constituted independent body consisting of experts of various disciplines.


The case though deals with affiliation and recognition of law colleges by the BCI. A three -member committee was set up by the apex court in 2009 for submitting a report on the future of legal profession in the country. This panel recommended that qualifying a Bar examination be made a requirement prior to enrolment in the Bar. The Directorate of Legal Education has been operationalised under the aegis of the BCI.


Recently, the BCI chief hinted in Bangalore that the exam ination would be an "Open-Book Test" involving a 60-40 split between knowledge-based and application-based questions and the pass mark would be pegged at around 40. The BCI is also considering online exams for those studying abroad. All those holding law degrees but who had never formally enrolled with Bar Councils in previous years might also have to pass the examination to practice in courts.


The idea as such is not new for India as the original Advocates Act, 1961, required law graduates desirous of joining the Bar to complete a course in practical training and also pass an examination. In 1973, this provision was deleted by an Amendment. Though the BCI attempted to introduce an apprenticeship training course during the late 90s, the apex court quashed it on grounds of the BCI's lack of competence. The BCI does not have the authority to prescribe such training (without amendment to the Advocates Act), the court held.


The authorities should aim at revamping the legal education. The Advocates' Act empowers the BCI to promote legal education and to lay down standards for entry into Bar. The National Knowledge Commission (2007) has made significant recommendations in this regard in its report on legal education.


True, in recent years we have got 14 well-equipped National Law Schools, but what about the plight of over 900 law colleges in the country? The education being imparted in these institutions depicts a sorry state of affairs. No, we can't afford so many law colleges without improving the quality of education.


In the present three-year and five-year law degree courses, the last one year and two years respectively should be devoted for learning and acquiring skills only in such areas in which the student wants to make a career. The proposal would result in availability of "Specialist Advocates'" rather than "Generalist Advocates".


Those interested to do litigation practice should be attached to a senior counsel during this period to get them acquainted with the court procedure, gain confidence and conduct oneself as an advocate. This would also warrant a service like the Indian Legal Service being contemplated on the lines of other all-India services. The BCI and State Bar Councils ought to set up national/ state legal academies to provide refresher courses for practicing advocates to train budding lawyers.


The vexed issue regarding allowing entry of foreign law firms in India also merits attention. The BCI has been opposing it vociferously. In December, 2009, it received a shot in its arm when the Bombay High Court ruled against the permission granted by the RBI in early 90s to certain foreign law firms for setting up their liaison offices in India.


The BCI should initiate a debate on the issue to dispel misgivings. Instead of asking the government to amend the Advocates' Act, the BCI has merely inserted this in its rules under the Chapter 'Conditions for Right to Practice'. Hitherto, the Supreme Court has either quashed or stayed all amendments to BCI rules with respect to legal education/ profession.


The writer is Advocate, Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh


A step forward

THE Bar Exam will make law students study well which will, in turn, improve the quality of the justice delivery system. There are three types of institutions imparting legal education. National Law School Universities, which are attracting young talented students at the national level after Plus Two and provide for the five-year integrated law degree. Most of them join corporate sector after completing their degree and only a miniscule of them join the profession. As most of them don't join the subordinate judiciary, young talent doesn't come to the Bar.

Law schools in traditional universities attract students from all walks of life. Most law graduates produced by such law schools are given theoretical knowledge, but hardly any practical insight. Those with legal family background survive whereas others struggle. As for mushrooming private law schools, if a student can't get admission in any course, he can join these schools. When these graduates join the Bar, they represent the poor quality before the Bench.

Prof P.S. Jaswal, Chairman,

Department of Laws, Panjab University

Make it fair, transparent


UNDOUBTEDLY, this stiffer qualifying exam will serve as a quality control measure, but certain questions remain unanswered. Can the BCI conduct such an examination without a constitutional amendment?

Is the examination really addressing the question of "quality of law practice"? What about those undeserving lawyers already enrolled? What will be the standard of question papers? What about those law students who have already received job offers after registration with the Bar?

The focus should be on a fair and transparent grading system during graduation for the students.

Rubal Gauba, Law Student,

Panjab University

Accent on quality


ONE step forward or two steps backward? Law students must be prepared for the life and struggles of a real world lawyer by taking the Bar Exam. It's a necessary hurdle. But if this has some positives, it should be done, say, after five years with clear guidelines in advance and not retrospectively for lawyers who have already passed.


Where does the solution lie? Is it in improving the quality of education by implementing long-term measures or Bar Exam? The focus should be on imparting quality legal education.


Vikram Jain, Advocate,

Punjab and Haryana High Court


Don't leave them in the lurch

THE degree of law is itself a certificate of a student's capability to join the Bar. Instead of the entrace examination, a degree holder can be asked to intern with a senior advocate for six months or so before he/she actually starts practicing on his own.


Usually, the graduates complete their law course after the age of 25. At this age, if they do not clear the entrance, it would leave them in the lurch. The number of seats can be reduced so that only the deserving candidates get through at the first stage.

Jassi Kaur,

Advocate-cum-television anchor

(As told to Saurabh Malik)








THE legal academia and scholars constitute a strong pillar of our polity. Their comments — appreciation or criticism — will strengthen our democratic fabric and make the decision-making process more sensitive to the changing needs.


The judiciary cannot perform its duty of administration of justice without the total commitment and participation of the Bar, its main component. Over the years, its role has increasingly focused on checking the abuse or arbitrary exercise of powers by the legislature and the executive, the other two organs of the government.


In all societies — primitive, medieval, traditional, conventional and modern — the judiciary has always, with some situational constraints, played its role in moderating the public demand and the system's capacity to bear such implications of its pronouncements. According to Richard A. Posner, legal machinery, in its ideal form, consists of competent, ethical and well paid judges, who are advised by competent, ethical and well paid lawyers. The judges are numerous enough to decide cases without delay. If judicial salaries are high enough and tenure secure, the judiciary of even a poor country will be able to attract competent and honest lawyers.


To implement the recommendations of the Bar Council of India and take into account the recommendations of the Law Commission on the legal profession and legal education, a comprehensive Advocates Bill was introduced in Parliament, which has resulted in the The Advocates Act, 1961, governs the twin areas of legal profession and legal education under which the self-regulatory statutory bodies, i.e. the states' and the all-India bar councils function. The Advocates Act, 1961 has been passed by Parliament by virtue of its powers under Entries 77 and 78 of List I of Schedule VII of the Constitution of India. Section 7(1) (h) of the Advocates Act, 1961 enables the BCI to lay down "standards of legal education". It envisages a single class of practitioners at Bar in all states called as advocates. Till 1976, the dual system prevailed in the Bombay and Calcutta High Courts on its original civil jurisdiction. During that period, like in England, a litigant could approach the court and file a suit only through a solicitor and the right of audience to the courts was granted only to a Barrister or an advocate duly instructed by that solicitor. There are certain professional norms in legal profession. An advocate shall, at all times, conduct him/herself in a manner befitting his/her status as an officer of the court, a privileged member of the community, and a gentleman, bearing in mind that what may be lawful and moral for a person who is not a member of the Bar, or for a member of the Bar in his non-professional capacity may still be improper for an advocate.


An advocate shall fearlessly uphold the interests of his client and in his conduct conform to the rules hereinafter mentioned both in letter and in spirit. He has duties towards the court, client, opponent and colleagues.


Professional values include "training in professional responsibilities". These values are the value of competent representation, analysing the ideals to which a lawyer should be committed as a member of a profession dedicated to the service of clients; the value of striving to promote justice, fairness and morality; the ideals to which a lawyer should be committed as a member of a profession that bears special responsibilities for the quality of justice; the value of striving to improve the profession; explore the ideals to which a lawyer should be committed as a member of a self-governing profession; the value of professional self-development, analysing the ideals to which the lawyer should be committed as a member of a learned profession. The emergence and consolidation of a successful legal and judicial system is a valuable part of the process of development itself.


Lawyers, judges and court personnel must maintain a professional environment to better serve the needs of citizens who rely on the court system to resolve disputes, to determine rights and responsibilities, and to punish and deter crime. As pointed by the World Bank, legal training ensures that legal and judicial reforms contribute to changing the attitudes and behaviour of lawyers and citizens. So we must adopt new and efficient methods of legal and judicial training.


The writer is associated with Research Foundation for Governance in India, Ahmedabad










 Seven minutes to go. Through ball to Chris Wood. Crowd rises to its feet. One touch, two touches. Bang. The 17-year-old striker's left-footer beat the goalkeeper, but caught a bad bounce and rolled inches past the far post, denying New Zealand a sensational victory.


 When the numbers came up, Italy had been ahead 57-43 in terms of possession, and had taken 23 shots to New Zealand's three. But their statistical superiority didn't matter. In the end, it was the inappropriately named All Whites who had missed the opportunity to paint the tournament red.

 It's been a rather strange World Cup so far: between Cacofonix's trumpet, a ball that wiggles and weaves mid-flight, and the sudden rise of football's outsiders. But while the first two – Vuvuzela and Jabulani – may be localised, temporary deviations in the fairly consistent world of international football, the emergence of smaller teams as well-oiled machines, rather than flash-in-the-pan spoilers, is a factor that could have a huge bearing on the sport in the coming years.


The degree of success of a sporting event is measured by two fairly straight-forward yardsticks: how many people turn up to watch, and how good the quality of the game is. Due to sheer popularity, the Olympics and the football World Cup always score highly on both counts – making them different from, say, Wimbledon or US Open golf or the cricket World Cup, where a low mark is not unheard of in at least one of these departments.
 Due to this fairly similar success story of each World Cup, football's changing global trends do not immediately register. For example, since none of the small teams will go on to win, or even make the semi-finals, their dramatic coming-out will end up as one of the forgotten stories of South Africa 2010.

 But if you look closely at the first few days of the tournament, there is clearly a change in how smaller teams have started approaching a football match as an immediate problem that can be tackled with the right strategy, rather than a natural, free-flowing slugfest in which the stronger team must always win.

 Perhaps Greece in Euro 2004, and Porto in the Champions League the same year, left pointers for the others on how good, solid, almost unbearably boring defence could be the key to success against pedigreed sides that are set in their ways, and are accustomed to the space that normal, attacking opponents offer.

 Apart from Portugal's systematic disintegration of North Korea yesterday, the two other also-rans who suffered heavy defeats were playing all-out attacking football – South Korea in the 4-1 thrashing by Argentina, and Ivory Coast in their 3-1 defeat against Brazil. Apart from that, the results were quite startling: France beaten 2-0 by Mexico, Spain defeated 1-0 by Switzerland, England held 1-1 by USA and 0-0 by Algeria, Italy denied wins by Paraguay and New Zealand, and the mother of all upsets, Germany handed a 1-0 loss by Serbia.

Along with this, several other games that did not end up in upsets haven't been the usual exercise in minnow-bashing. Lots of 1-0s and 2-1s, lots of near misses, lots of occasions when top teams have been so surprised by the resistance they have faced that they've been content with kicking the ball around near the half-line instead of exposing themselves to the dangers of a counter-attack.

 Some experts have attributed the new attitude to the fact that more and more players from different countries are now playing in Europe, but it's really a change in mind-set rather than skill-sets. What is different these days is that these club stars, who never became an integral part of their national teams in the past, are being managed in a way where they're no longer a oneman army. Now Switzerland can win even when Alexander Frei is injured, and USA are not only about Clint Dempsey.

The real effect of football's changing world map will perhaps be felt two or three World Cups down the line. But fittingly, the first signs are visible during the sport's first genuine foray into Africa.



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In the world of economic diplomacy where gestures often mean much more than concrete action, China's move to abandon its currency peg against the dollar is significant. It is, therefore, no coincidence that the move comes roughly a week before the G20 summit in Toronto where pressure on China to adopt a more flexible currency regime was expected to intensify. China has clearly pre-empted some of this by agreeing to more exchange flexibility. However, this move is unlikely to mean any dramatic change, at least in the near term. While China has committed to dropping its de facto dollar peg (6.83 yuan to the greenback) that it has maintained since mid-2008, it has not promised either a one-off revaluation against the dollar or a free-floating currency. It will continue to "manage" its currency through heavy intervention by its central bank. Thus, a sharp appreciation in the yuan against the dollar is unlikely. This is incidentally not the first time that China is relaxing its exchange rate regime. It had abandoned its dollar peg in 2005 and moved to a managed float against a basket that included the euro and the yen. In roughly the three years that this mechanism operated, the yuan appreciated by 21 per cent against the dollar. This might be some indication of how much appreciation is likely in the near to medium term.

Gestures are important to financial markets as well, and the implication of China's move is being analysed threadbare by financial analysts across the world. The immediate response has been to read the move to allow flexibility as proof of the Asian behemoth's confidence in its own economic recovery. China's stock market has risen, pulling other markets in the region up along with it. Asian currencies, including the rupee, have moved up. Once this initial euphoria abates, there are a couple of issues that markets are likely to grapple with. China's growth model has been dependent heavily on exports that, in turn, have fed off an undervalued exchange rate. Greater exchange rate flexibility could dent exports and the country's ability to sustain its scorching pace of growth is contingent on how much the economy has been able to and can exploit its domestic demand (particularly consumption) base. If growth shows signs of flagging, financial markets (particularly those for commodities where China is seen as the key demand driver) could sell off. It could also resurrect fears of another dip in growth. Besides, China is the principal creditor to the rest of the world, particularly the US and Europe where it deploys its one trillion dollars of foreign exchange reserves in government and quasi-government bonds. This stockpile of reserves is the result of its exchange rate policy. Its central bank has bought dollars and euros relentlessly to cap the yuan's exchange rate.

 A flexible exchange rate regime would reduce the Chinese central bank's need to intervene in the market and could thus reduce its stock of foreign exchange reserves, or at least slow down the pace of accretion. Its appetite for dollar and euro bonds will wane as a result. For western governments that are likely to see large budget deficits and consequently supply large quantities of bonds in the international markets, this could spell trouble unless the demand from their own households and companies compensates. The risk is that interest rates in the G7 countries will tend to rise sharply. That could keep markets and policy-makers on edge. All in all, the yuan flexibility story has to play itself out fully before markets can rush to judgment. While this weekend's news may win some comfort for Beijing, next weekend in Toronto the world will wait to see if China puts its money where its mouth is.








Last week's civil nuclear cooperation agreement between India and the Republic of Korea is a fitting culmination of the strategic engagement between the two countries that began close to two decades ago. While India and South Korea have both civilisational (ancient historical) links and more recent diplomatic links dating back to the partition of the Korean peninsula, the real meaningful contact between the two began with India opening itself up to Korean investments in the early 1990s. For a country that sent its economists in the early 1960s to India's Planning Commission for training in long-term planning, South Korea had developed an impressive capability in the manufacturing sector that Indian consumers only discovered after 1993, following the visit of former Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao to Seoul in that year. Within a decade, Korean brands like Hyundai, Samsung, LG and such like began to give well-established Japanese and western brands in the Indian market a run for their money. Today, few Indian consumers are unaware of Korean brand names. It was not, therefore, surprising that when India conducted nuclear tests in 1998, South Korea chose not to impose any economic sanctions on India, withstanding pressure from both the United States and Japan. India's decision to sign a free trade agreement followed by its invitation to the South Korean President to be chief guest at the annual Republic Day celebrations this year, further sealed the strategic partnership between the two democracies.


There is much more that India and South Korea can do to widen and deepen their bilateral economic and strategic partnership. It is, therefore, a pity that a major South Korean project, the $12-billion Posco steel plant in Orissa, has not yet taken off. The sooner Posco steel plant is completed the better for Orissa, for India and for India-Korea relations. The state government must get its act together, take the people of Orissa along and implement the project that has not only iconic significance for the bilateral relationship, but has also the potential to transform the industrial landscape of Orissa. Instead of exporting iron ore to a steel manufacturing giant like China, India has the capability of becoming a steel manufacturing giant by itself if it can build more such plants. Steel consumption in India is still very low and must be increased several fold. Implementing the Posco project will help increase India's steel production and add steel to the India-Korea relationship.








In 1954, Sir Arthur Lewis wrote a paper entitled "Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour", which has had a lasting influence on the way we understand economic development. He wrote this paper while he was at Manchester, but subsequently moved to the West Indies, where he was born, and was later awarded the Nobel Prize in 1979. The Lewis model of economic development postulates two sectors, the subsistence and the modern. This has often been interpreted as agriculture and industry, although Lewis himself meant a broader class of subsistence, which included agricultural labour, the urban poor, domestic servants and so on. This is the reservoir of surplus labour whose low wage prevails across the economy and in the industrial sector as well. The capitalist industrial sector develops rapidly by drawing on this infinite supply of very cheap labour. There is continuous labour migration from the traditional to the modern sector (read from "rural to urban"). Wages remain constant and low for long periods of time, and economic growth occurs as the rising share of profits gets reinvested. In the Lewis model, eventually the reservoir of cheap labour gets exhausted, capital accumulation slows down and wages get determined by marginal productivity as in standard economic textbooks.

The Lewis model is more than 50 years old, but it has been eminently validated by the experience of development of many countries in Asia and Africa. Even though abstract and skeletal, the model seems to be an accurate description of China's growth experience of the past two decades, including the last bit about eventually declining labour supply.

 In China's case, growth and development did not arise out of a mechanistic market process, but was aided by conscious government policy backed by a political and economic vision. Thus, it was not only the near-zero constant wage postulated by Lewis, but also cheap capital, cheap raw material, cheap energy and a cheap currency.

Industrial growth benefited from these artificially inexpensive inputs, supplemented by the setting up of special economic zones with completely flexible labour laws (which were the inverted form of labour laws outside the zones). Added to all these ingredients was a hefty dose of pragmatism, which constantly fine-tuned policies to adapt to changing global conditions.

As anticipated in the Lewis model, Chinese growth brought immense benefits to the "capitalists", i.e. the investors in industrialisation, but workers' share declined, in relative terms. Since the currency was also kept undervalued, the workers' quality of life could not benefit even from cheaper imports. Thus the improvement in living standards of workers is less spectacular than that implied by sustained double-digit growth of the economy. The zero population growth should have implied a much more rapid growth in per capita terms, which is not the case. This may be one reason why the share of domestic consumer spending in the Chinese economy is still quite low at around 38 per cent. Since the growth process employed hundreds of millions of workers, this sacrifice of each worker was small, mostly hidden and diffused. Besides, what the worker was getting in the industrial sector was above the subsistence wage anyway, so why should they complain?

China's destiny is determined by its demography, if not only by the Lewis model. The infinite reservoir of China's labour shows signs of running dry. Rural wages have risen, and standard of living in the hinterland has also improved, thanks to the spread of infrastructure, health and education facilities. The incremental wages of Shenzen or in the industrial clusters of the Pearl River Delta no longer seem attractive enough for rural folk to migrate. The rural folk themselves are ageing. The share of younger cohort of 15 to 24 years is declining, and will be just 12.6 per cent by 2020. It is the youngsters who tend to migrate, and their numbers are dwindling. The share of working age population itself will stabilise and start declining in the next decade.

Thus, the infinite supply of labour is now very much finite. That limited supply is beginning to pinch, and this partly explains the steep wage hikes announced recently by electronics and auto companies.

There are several signs of worker unrest caused by low wages and working conditions. There are signs that workers may assert their rights in collective bargaining as well. From emerging shortage comes their power.

Just like the end of cheap labour, there are signs of the end of cheap currency. Consistently large export surpluses have not managed to lift the renminbi. This was because of the infinite capacity of the Chinese central bank to buy dollars and prevent appreciation of their local currency. That infinite capacity (a la Lewis) is also ending. The central bank's determination to keep the yuan undervalued may be slackening due to domestic inflation pressures, and also due to international pressure to revalue. The Americans and Europeans have complained for long about the imbalance caused by Chinese surplus. An exchange rate reform announced this week by the Chinese central bank is nothing radical but takes some steam out of G20 pressure on China. And most of all, it smells of pragmatism. It is similar to the one announced in 2005 (itself in response to foreign pressure), and nothing much came out of that.

As China chugs into its demographically destined territory, its journey has implications for India's industrialisation policy. Over past 20 years, the share of India's industry has remained constant at around 20 per cent. Large growth in industrial output and employment is missing. It is not as if the Lewis model has bypassed India, but India's policy constantly seems to thwart Lewis. It could be labour laws which prevent large-scale flexible employment. It could be small scale reservation, which thankfully is reducing. It could be the fragmented fiscal federation which denies us a fully integrated common economic market. It could be inadequate financial inclusion which keeps many micro, small and medium enterprises excluded from finance. Or it could simply be due to the fact that our polity is very different from China's. But the fact is that the demographic window which is closing for China won't be open for India for too long. And we don't want to be the economy which disproved Arthur Lewis!

The author is chief economist, Aditya Birla Group. Views expressed are personal







With the appointment of T C A Anant as the new chief statistician, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government seems to have left no one in doubt about its liberal approach to filling key vacancies in areas of economic policy management. Economists from outside the government system, it would appear, are increasingly being favoured to head key positions in the government.

One might argue that this is not an entirely new development. As finance minister in the P V Narasimha Rao government, Manmohan Singh had appointed Ashok Desai as the chief consultant, who effectively functioned as the chief economic advisor. Later, Palaniappan Chidambaram had recruited Parthasarathi Shome as an advisor, who too functioned as the chief economic advisor. Then, Ashok Lahiri, who was with the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, was roped in as the chief economic advisor. However, one must point out that these were exceptions. Almost all other key positions in economic policy administration in the post-reforms era have invariably gone to economists from within the government system or civil servants.

For instance, in 2007, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh brought in Arvind Virmani, who occupied various positions in the government for several years, as the chief economic advisor. A year later, he had an opportunity of appointing a non-IAS officer as the Reserve Bank of India Governor at the end of Y Venugopal Reddy's tenure. Rakesh Mohan, who was then the deputy governor, was for some time in the reckoning for the top job at the central bank, but at the end of the day, the government's choice was Duvvuri Subbarao, who at that time was the finance secretary and an IAS officer. Similarly, when the government decided to create the much-needed post of a chief statistician, the choice was Pronab Sen, who was then with the Planning Commission and had been part of the government system for some years.

Now Virmani, Subbarao or Sen are all qualified economists and the fact of their being either part of the government system or civil servants should not have disqualified them for the job they finally got. Two factors helped their recruitment. One, they were part of the government system and, two, they were also qualified economists who could do justice to the job given to them. When the second term of the UPA began in 2009, the prime minister must have realised that the pool of qualified and senior economists with the government has dried up, thanks largely to years of neglect in recruiting economists in various central departments and economic ministries at the middle level.

The option for him in such a situation was to either deprive himself and the government of expert advice on economic policy matters from senior economists or induct some economists from outside the government system. What the country saw in the second term of the UPA is the latter. First, it was Kaushik Basu, the Cornell professor, who joined the finance ministry as the chief economic advisor. Then, it was Subir Gokarn from Standard & Poor's, who became deputy governor in RBI. And now T C A Anant, a professor from Delhi School of Economics, will guide the country's statistics department as the chief statistician.

Inducting economists from outside the government system may address Manmohan Singh's immediate concern, but this does not provide a long-term solution to the problem of feeding the government with quality, expert advice on the need for framing appropriate economic policies. The experiment of introducing the Indian Economic Service, launched several decades ago, has failed to produce the talent that can adequately face the challenges of formulating economic policies in today's complex economy and government system. Talented young scholars in economics are no longer willing to spend years in junior positions in the government under the Indian Economic Service, subjugating themselves to the whims and fancies of their more glamorous and powerful colleagues from the Indian Administrative Service. The market has also opened up to assign more value to these young economics scholars, who can now look forward to a much more rewarding career in the private sector, research bodies and think tanks.

So, what Manmohan Singh began in his second term as prime minister with the appointment of Basu, Gokarn and Anant may well need to be regularised and practised in all key appointments in ministries where economists can do a far better job than civil servants. If the Indian Economic Service has failed to throw up an adequate number of economists at the higher levels of the government for whatever reasons, it is time to appoint young, talented economists, at present working in the private sector, in key economic policy-making positions in the government.

Governance will certainly improve as a result and the quality of economic policy inputs to the government will see a major improvement. Indeed, the government should extend this principle to all its departments by recruiting experts and professionals from the private sector for senior jobs and assignments. The Industrial Management Pool, created in the 1960s to blood private sector professionals into government service, did help improve the talent pool in the government. It is now time to introduce something similar if the quality of governance has to be improved.






In 2008, a friend called, incoherent with excitement. "Jose Saramago has a blog!" It seemed ridiculous. Saramago, the Portuguese Nobel literature laureate who passed away this weekend, was then 85. Many writers avoided blogging, on the basis that it took away from the "real" writing, and Saramago's books were a monumental, Borgesian tower of high seriousness.

But it was true. Fascinated by what he called the "Infinite Page of the Internet", Saramago took to blogging with relish, unleashing rants against George Bush, Israel's policies in Palestine and literary agents. However, he was a writer to his bones, despite his late start — he began writing only in his 50s, in retirement from his civil servant's job — and the blog became a 21st century version of the 19th century writer's journal. It was a pastiche of quotes, observations on books read, the nature of the Internet ("are we more companionable on the Web?"): Saramago, unfiltered, and sometimes hard to understand because of the vagaries of Google's Translate button.

 It seemed typical that he would engage with such gusto and verve with a new medium, though. His greatest novels defeat many readers, who cannot follow him through the thickets of prose, those impressive, long, coiling sentences that he annexed for his own uses. In his Nobel lecture, Saramago paid homage to his grandfather, who influenced his own storytelling style: "With sleep delayed, night was peopled with the stories and the cases my grandfather told and told: legends, apparitions, terrors, unique episodes, old deaths, scuffles with sticks and stones, the words of our forefathers, an untiring rumour of memories that would keep me awake while at the same time gently lulling me."

You read Saramago to be allowed entry into the halls of soaring imagination. His first few novels were relatively conventional, though his pre-occupation with understanding and reimagining the history of Portugal showed up early. Then there came The Stone Raft (1986), where he imagines the severance of Portugal from Europe, as a chunk of the Iberian peninsula breaks off and sets sail, steered by strange forces. Perhaps his most famous work was Blindness (1995), where an unnamed city is overtaken by a plague of blindness, and the blind are feared, corralled and kept in isolation. In A History of the Siege of Lisbon, one of his later novels, a proofreader feels compelled to rewrite the story of the 1147 siege, and rewrites his own history in the process. To read Saramago was not always easy or immediately satisfying, but as with his blog, reading his books returned to the patient reader a sense of infinite possibility and deep engagement.

Earlier in the week, the passing away of Manohar Malgonkar at the age of 97 went almost unremarked. Malgonkar was an enthusiastically prolific writer, and his popular fiction was a cut above the pulp fiction produced these days. He led a rich life, transitioning from a big-game hunter — he was a formidable shikari — to the more sedate pastures of newspaper columnist. Many of his novels and writings dealt with contemporary Indian history, and four of the best-known remain delightfully baroque classics.

A Bend in the Ganges viewed Partition and its aftermath through the eyes of a Gandhian, a militant with idealistic views, and the militant's beautiful sister Sundari — exactly the kind of sprawling canvas Malgonkar loved. He believed in giving his readers blood, passion and violence, preferably all three in equal portions. Devil's Wind was set in the time of the 1857 Rebellion and told in the voice of a Nana Saheb who had "the vegetarian's instinctive squeamishness about shedding blood". The Princes drew on Malgonkar's background — he came from one of India's erstwhile royal families — and examined the shifting fortunes of a royal family.

Perhaps his best work was The Men Who Killed Gandhi, a journalistic recreation and examination of the events that led to Gandhi's evaluation. Published in 1978, during the Emergency, it still remains one of the most interesting records of the conspiracy between Godse, Apte, Karkare, Bagde and Pahwa.

Malgonkar chose to spend his last decades in quiet retirement, on his farm near Belgaum, very far from the politics and the pageantry of the contemporary Indian publishing scene. He remained relatively unfettered, unlike Saramago, and lacked the Nobel laureate's literary reputation. But he was one of the first Indian writers in English to write with a complete absence of self-consciousness, and his books often remind me of the best of Hindi and Bengali pulp historical fiction. New Saramagos emerge every so often — his mantle, for instance, passed to Roberto Bolano and a few others. But we could do with a few good Malgonkars in India.  







What is the point at which a director loses control over a film? And why does it happen? Does he get so taken up by the process and the logistics that the story falls apart? Or, does he become so enamoured of his own story that he cannot see flaws that even a popcorn vendor can spot? Rajneeti, produced by Walkwater Media and Prakash Jha Productions, is an upsettingly good example of that.

The film, a political family saga, pulls you into a vortex of greed and power from the word go. As events unfold, you marvel at how well the real and contrived complexities of politics have been meshed with the Mahabharata. The casting is a bit off and the make up is bad in patches, but these are minor flaws. By half-time you are into this story of two brothers, and their siblings, and their squabble for the chief minister's chair in an unnamed North Indian state.

After the interval, the whole thing falls apart. Some of the scenes and situations are embarrassingly contrived — like the one where the mother tells her illegitimate son, played by Ajay Devgan, to come home. Another example is the last half hour. For a film that spends so much effort establishing each character, the last half hour has a large number of twists, including the deaths of key characters none of which is explained. The hurry to wrap up the film is evident.

The second half lets the film down. This is very disappointing coming from the man, Prakash Jha, who has given Hindi cinema some really good films such as, Mrityudand, Gangaajal and Apharan, the last being a personal favourite.

This is not about the success or failure of a film. According to people in the trade, Rajneeti, in spite of its mammoth Rs 64 crore budget, will manage to make money for both producers and for the distributor, UTV Movies.

This is about losing creative control just when the audience trusts you to have it fully. This is about those rare treats, a good film in your own language and milieu that you are proud to say you watched — films such as Omkara, Kaminey, Apharan, A Wednesday to name a few. For each of them, there are an equal number of good films that simply lost direction — Rocket Singh-Salesman of the Year, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, Ghajni and (at the risk of getting hate mail) Aamir as some of the recent examples.

Why it happens is anybody's guess — compromises, budget constraints, release pressure or plain self-indulgence. What could film-makers do to avoid it?

My instinctive answer would be to point to ad film-making. It forces the discipline of crispness in storytelling. Watching an ad these days is as good as watching a film. Think of the ad films for Del Monte sauces, Idea Cellular and Tanishq Jewellery among dozens of others. All of them have a story to tell with songs, dances, music or anecdotes. None of them is selling a product. When was the last time you heard a jingle?

Many of the talented guys from advertising are now finding creative satisfaction and fame on a larger scale with films — Prasoon Joshi (lyricist), Balki (Cheeni Kum, Paa), Rakeysh Mehra (Aks, Rang De Basanti, Delhi 6), Jaideep Sahni (scriptwriter) and Rensil D'Silva (Kurbaan) among others.

But looking only at advertising is obviously not the answer to creative control. Because if that was so, the ad guys would be delivering some great films one after another. But Mehra, the guy who gave us Rang De Basanti also gave us the floundering Delhi 6 and the unfathomable Aks, both great ideas that just never took off. Jaideep Sahni wrote Company, Chak De India and Khosla Ka Ghosla but he also wrote Rocket Singh, which again starts off very well and then becomes increasingly self-indulgent and one-sided. So, ad guys are equally guilty of losing creative control over their products.

The answer to what happens probably lies only in the mind of the film-maker. All that disappointed viewers can do is discuss the film, like this column does.  








CHINA'S flip-flop on the exchange rate of the yuan — a day after the country's central bank said it would manage the currency more flexibly, it said it would maintain a stable exchange rate and did not anticipate any major change in its value — has set global currency and stock markets on edge. As always, the Chinese have outsmarted their critics. The timing of last Saturday's announcement, just a week before the G-20 summit in Toronto, has deflected criticism away from the country's deliberate policy of keeping its currency undervalued vis-a-vis the dollar in a bid to boost exports. It seemed to suggest a new and welcome willingness to give up the two-year old dollar peg that had kept the exchange rate of the yuan pegged at 6.83 to a dollar and a return to the managed float of 2005-2008. But whether the government will allow the value to correct fully remains to be seen. On Monday the People's Bank of China initially left the dollar-yuan-exchange rate unchanged from Friday's level before allowing it to appreciate a tad to 6.8010 to the dollar.

 Its reluctance to move faster is not surprising. The Chinese government has to balance domestic and international policy imperatives. An appreciation of the currency is bound to jeopardise its export-led model of growth that has seen the country clock double-digit growth for over a decade. Given recent reports of labour unrest, the government has reason to be wary about any potential slowdown in growth that could see disaffection spread, posing a threat to the Chinese model of economic liberation sans political liberation. At the same time, mounting international criticism of its exchange rate policy means there is a limit to how long it can persevere with a policy that is part of the problem of global imbalances. Opinion might differ on how much a revaluation of the yuan will contribute to the solution — it has been argued that it will merely shift US demand from Chinese goods to goods from other emerging markets — but at least it will end, even if only temporarily, bipartisan US attempts to put shackles on Chinese exports. With the countdown to Toronto having begun, Beijing's actions during the week have acquired a heightened import.








THE government's final verdict that the insurance regulator Irda, and not Sebi, will oversee unit-linked insurance plans (Ulips) is welcome. The clarity will boost policyholders' confidence, revive sales and spare life insurance companies, that have emerged as a formidable force in the stock markets, from dual-regulation. However, the government should not have taken recourse to an ordinance to clear the air over the regulation of Ulips. An ordinance gives legal sanction to an executive decision, for a limited period, without parliamentary oversight. It is a device that should only be used sparingly. Sebi and Irda had been at war over the regulation of Ulips for a year now and the high-level capital markets committee failed to resolve the dispute. The issue is pending before the Supreme Court, but there was no tearing hurry for an ordinance. This is not in keeping with the best parliamentary practices. A directive to the regulators would have served the purpose, followed by amendments to the relevant laws in Parliament. Ulips will henceforth be treated as insurance products, not as mutual funds or collective investment schemes. Irda should, therefore, tighten the norms on Ulips to raise the risk cover, enhance disclosures and prevent misselling by agents. True, in an underinsured country like India, there has to be an incentive to market insurance products. But a commission as high as 40% of the premium on insurance covers defies logic. Insurance companies should lower commissions and eventually transit to a fee-based model. Investors should be allowed to negotiate charges directly with the agents.


The government's decision to set up a panel chaired by the finance minister to resolve future disputes over the regulation of hybrid instruments also makes eminent sense. The Sebi-Irda spat clearly showed the failure of the high-level capital markets committee in dispute resolution. The new panel will function like a quasi-judicial body as its rulings will be binding on regulators. This is a much more robust mechanism.








 WOULDN'T it be nice if the world really took to heart the catchline of the newest little car in town and announced that 'curves are back'? Think of all the industries and businesses that would then automatically take a turn for the better too. More cloth for clothes, more metal for cars, more cement for buildings, can only mean more growth curves too — for balance sheets. For far too long the world has fashionably trod the straight and narrow, whether by design or coincidence. As a result, from roads and houses, couture and interior decoration, everything has been whittled down to the very barest of essentials and the sparest of lines. Even economies across the globe have shrunk, as if in consonance with the general squeeze on curves of any kind. So much so that by the end of the first decade of the 21st century, a marked departure from the grand domed edifices and grande dames of the 20th, is evident. Buildings and supermodels alike, increasingly resemble needles today. The silhouettes of socialites and their cars are symbiotically pared down, as are their aerodynamic pets and perfume bottles. The prevailing mantra is so severely 'linear', that the repercussions are even felt at the alimentary level, as square plates on square tables reduce wellrounded and expansive diets to spartanly insufficient square meals. No wonder the svelte model in the advertisement that announced that curves are back, vengefully and lustfully munches her way through an entire dining-table laden with victuals, solo.
   It must be added though, that heralding the return of curves to a car is an easier exercise than extending it to a vision for the coming decade. All that the former needs is an updated retro design and a clever ad campaign; for everything else, the road back to healthy curves means far more all-round effort!






IN THE past several weeks, Americans and Indians have witnessed the benefits of the improved USIndia strategic partnership that began with President Clinton and Prime Minister Vajpayee, continued with the Bush Administration and UPA I, and has soared to new heights under President Obama and Prime Minister Singh.
   This June began with secretary Clinton and minister of external affairs Krishna hosting the inaugural US-India Strategic Dialogue in Washington DC. The four days of meetings demonstrated the breadth and depth of our bilateral relationship as senior American and Indian government officials held productive discussions on regional stability, counterterrorism, defence cooperation, trade and economic relations, clean energy and climate change, scientific collaboration, agriculture and food security, women's empowerment, education, and health. Now that's a long list — it truly demonstrates that our bilateral relationship is no longer dominated by a single issue; rather, our governments collaborate on nearly any issue you can name in order to promote global peace, security, sustainable economic growth, and prosperity.

Indian officials' recent access to David Headley is another success story that serves as a concrete example of how our partnership is moving ahead in ways unimaginable even a few years ago. Access to Headley is symbolic of the unprecedented cooperation taking place between our two countries on security and defence matters and is a direct result of the excellent collaboration between our governments at the highest levels over the past 18 months. Providing access to Headley was not a one-off event but rather a continuation of ongoing cooperation on a range of security issues such as mega-city policing, transportation security, and cyber security.

Mirroring the overall bilateral relationship, US-India economic relations continue to flourish. Despite the global economic slowdown, India has moved up to become the 14th largest US trading partner. We hope to see India on our Top 10 list soon. The Economic and Financial Partnership, launched by finance minister Mukherjee and treasury secretary Geithner in April, is laying the groundwork for greater access to the capital markets and increased public-private partnership in infrastructure, enabling greater participation by American businesses in closing India's infrastructure gap. Our economic cooperation now covers energy, agriculture, information and communication technology, and aviation safety and security.

 This week's US-India CEO Forum in Washington and G-20 Summit in Toronto will be further examples of the benefits of improved relations between the United States and India due to our strategic partnership.

 The CEO Forum, comprised of the Who's Who of industry leaders from both our countries, was born from the idea that governments do not have all the answers, but rather need to harness the energy of the private sector to bring fresh ideas for difficult challenges. Taking advantage of the knowledge and initiative of both countries' dynamic private sectors, President Obama and Prime Minister Singh have tasked the CEO Forum to provide recommendations on how to enhance bilateral trade and investment in order to promote economic growth and jobs in both our countries.

IN FACT, expanding trade and investment are improving the quality of life and creating jobs for people in both our countries. India's military is benefiting from the opportunity to purchase proven state-of-the-art technology, such as the Boeing C-17 transport aircraft undergoing flight trials in India now, and the Lockheed F-16IN Super Viper and Boeing F/A-18IN Super Hornet competing for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contract. US companies like Azure Power are providing solar power in Punjab, while Indian companies like Tata and Essar Steel are investing and creating jobs in Ohio and Minnesota. Joint ventures like Bharti-Wal-Mart demonstrate how modern retail can improve India's supply chains and benefit India's farmers and consumers. Both US and Indian companies will benefit from opportunities to provide civilian nuclear technology and services as India expands its clean nuclear power capacity and increases its citizens' access to electricity. And now, Indians even have the opportunity to purchase iconic American products like Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

 Combating climate change and ensuring energy security, ramping up the deployment of infrastructure projects, enhancing the availability of affordable quality health care, and increasing opportunities for education at all levels, are key concerns of both of our countries that the CEO Forum will address. By leveraging the expertise and leadership of our corporate leaders, the Forum can help generate new and innovative solutions to meet the challenges facing us today and improve the daily lives of our citizens in the future.

 President Obama recently told a graduating class at the University of Michigan that government cannot guarantee results but it can guarantee opportunity for those willing to work hard. Similar thoughts could be said about the G-20, now the world's premier forum for discussing international economic affairs. The G-20 has played a pivotal role in restoring growth after the global financial crisis began in 2008. However, recent events in Europe have shown more must be done to safeguard the continuing recovery and strengthen prospects for growth and jobs.

 President Teddy Roosevelt once said that the object of government is the welfare of the people. In the month of June, the Americans and Indians have seen that the object of our strategic dialogue is the welfare of the citizens of our two countries. The upcoming CEO Forum and US-India cooperation at the G-20 Summit will demonstrate our continued commitment to working together to provide tangible benefits to Americans and Indians today and to future generations.

   (The author is US ambassador    to India)






SHARAD Yadav certainly has some compulsions to act amidst the BJP-JD(U) shadow-boxing. Being the JD(U) national president and NDA convener, Sharad is playing the role of the chief fire-fighter. But then, even political greenhorns know how little Sharad counts for in Nitish's decision-making, as was witnessed on the women's reservation issue. In fact, Sharad owes his presidentship to Nitish's tactical need to project a token Yadav in his battle against Lalu. He also owes his NDA post to Nitish's lack of interest in Delhi. Last year one got a demo of the Nitish-Sharad chemistry, or lack thereof, when the Bihar CM cold-shouldered his party president's wish to tour the flood-hit areas. Finally, Sharad had to seek the UPA regime's help in making him part of a central team that surveyed the flooded areas. Therefore, for all his 'peace efforts', both the BJP and JD(U) camps know too well that the future of mutual ties would be decided solely according to the ruthless political calculations Nitish is known for. But then again, Sharad knows even an ornamental leader has to put up a show.


THE revival ofthe Warren Anderson leaving episode has catapulted Congress veteran Arjun Singh to the centre of attention as the Congress leadership is banking on this sidelined loyalist's priceless silence. But some others in the party are using the tricky situation to broadcast their statements to the high command. Many party men had to suppress their laughter when R K Dhawan went berserk in defence of Rajiv Gandhi. While Dhawan did his act as an enduring Gandhi loyalist and an ex- official of Rajiv's PMO, the gossipy Congress camp linked his ferocity to the fact that Dhawan's Rajya Sabha term from Bihar has ended and he is desperately looking for a perch.

SHIV Sena leader Manohar Joshi has entered a saffron arena that was notably occupied only by Dr Murli Manohar Joshi. No sooner had Mumbai University conferred adoctorate on the ex-CM for his thesis on the Shiv Sena, he got his nameplate at his official residence amended to 'Dr Manohar Joshi'. Fans of the original saffron Dr — Murali Manohar Joshi — argue their leader's thesis on physics is superior and more credible. But neutral saffronites see more in common between the Joshi duo than their PhDs. Both are unhappy souls in their parties despite pretensions of being otherwise. For all his projected closeness to the RSS, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi remains a leader of arrested growth after the Vajpayee-Advani combine sabotaged a second presidential term for him. The RSS may have dwarfed Advani now, but that has not revived Joshi's standing. And while Manohar Joshi projects himself as Bal Thackeray's oldest loyalist, he has been quite the fish-out-of-the-water after Team Uddhav took charge. If the BJP's Dr prays to the RSS for delayed justice, the Sena's Dr confides in business partner' Raj about the pains of irrelevance.


HOW Ram Jethmalani bagged the BJP's Rajya Sabha ticket from Rajasthan has surprised many saffron aspirants. But then the man himself was preparing for the possibility of having to vacate his official bungalow in Lutyen's Delhi before he hit bull's eye. A little bird says the staff of the veteran lawyer had started shifting his household articles from his 2, Akbar Road to his family home when luck came calling in the Rajya Sabha poll race. Not just the left-out BJP aspirants like Najma Heptullah and Hema Malini, who are blaming L K Advani and Narendra Modi for bagging Ram a ticket, but even some sitting MPs who were eyeing his well-kept 2, Akbar Road bungalow, are now feeling equally let down.









THE G-20 meetings this month, first in Busan, South Korea, for FMs, and later this month in Toronto for heads of government, mark the moment when the major players in the world economy shift gear from budgetary stimulus to retrenchment. Not everyone is in agreement about this.

 Before the Busan meeting, US treasury secretary Tim Geithner warned against "a generalised, undifferentiated move to pull forward consolidation plans," and emphasised the need to "proceed in step with the strengthening of the private-sector recovery." But the other FMs did not echo Geithner's warnings. Instead, they emphasised the "importance of sustainable public finances" and the need for "measures to deliver fiscal sustainability." Gone is the stress on cautious, gradually phased-in exit strategies; the search for a rebalancing was almost unnoticeable in the meeting's communique.

This change affects Europe first and foremost. Shortly before the Busan meeting, the countries of southern Europe announced major consolidation efforts in the hope of soothing debt markets. Soon after this, British PM David Cameron announced "years of pain ahead," German Chancellor Angela Merkel outlined a $100-billion retrenchment plan, and French PM François Fillon a similar $80-billion plan.


The advanced countries face a dismal budgetary situation, with deficits averaging 9% of GDP in 2009 and the prospect of publicdebt ratios rising from roughly 70% of GDP prior to the crisis to more than 100% of GDP in 2015. According to IMF calculations, to reach a 60% debt ratio in 2030 would require a budgetary adjustment of almost nine percentage points of GDP on average between 2010 and 2020. While some countries in the past undertook adjustments of similar magnitude, a generalised consolidation of this sort is without precedent.
   How painful will the adjustment be? In the past, some countries have enjoyed tearless consolidation, because the launch of a retrenchment programme was accompanied by a drop in long-term interest rates, a decline in private savings, or a surge in exports thanks to exchange-rate depreciation (or all of these at the same time). But conditions today are characterised by low interest rates and high private debt, so none of these may help, except possibly for exchange-rate effects. Indeed, depreciation has already started for Europe, and many consider the euro's fall, from $1.5 in late 2009 to $1.2 in recent days, sufficient to offset in the short term the retrenchment's negative impact on growth.

 But this can work only as long as the US does not follow suit and continues to serve as consumer of last resort. This may not happen. More importantly, increasingly nervous bond markets will at some point start questioning the sustainability of US public finances. The US fiscal position is no better than that of major European countries like Germany, France, or the UK; in fact, it is worse. It is only because the EU is fragmented, so markets started off by questioning the solvency of the weakest countries within it, and because Europe does not benefit from a safe-haven effect that it was the first to suffer the pressure.

 Fortunately, the public-finance situation is entirely different in the developing world, which in some cases has been hit by capitalflow reversals stemming from the collapse of world trade, but does not face an internal adjustment challenge. Also, the fiscal challenge for them is of much lower magnitude than in the advanced world; in fact, it barely exists. So, what if Europe and the US both enter a phase of prolonged budgetary adjustment while the emerging world stays on course? What if the divergence between the North and South within the G-20 widens further?

 Four consequences are likely. First, there will be a significant drag on world growth. Whatever the emerging world does to sustain domestic demand and reorient exports from advanced countries to other emerging ones, the European and US elephants (not to mention Japan) are just too big for their illness to have no effect on world growth.

Second, the growth differential between emerging and advanced countries will widen, intensifying flows of capital and skilled labour towards the developing world. Third, the advanced countries will need monetary support, which implies low policy rates for years to come, while the monetary needs in the emerging and developing countries will be radically different. This will inevitably make fixed exchange-rate links crack under pressure as the same monetary policy cannot possibly be appropriate for both regions.

 Finally, instead of managing common challenges, as in 2009, the G-20 members will need to manage their divergence. This will be a major test of resilience for an institution that demonstrated effectiveness in the crisis but still has to pass the test posed by this new phase in the global economy.

The Toronto summit will provide a first opportunity to assess the G-20's ability to adapt to new conditions.
 (The author is a member of the French    Council of Economic Analysis)









THE reason technology can't keep up with art is because while technology keeps improving all the time, ideal art doesn't. It has no need to. Take photography. An entry level digital SLR today is as far removed from a 1950s rangefinder as that is from a turn of the century box camera. They're literally light years apart in performance. Yet when it comes to the value of the end result — the actual photograph in question — the aesthetic estimation remains at the same level. It's either good or not good. Or, take literature. How much better would Shakespeare have written if instead of a quill he had used a fountain pen, typewriter or word processor? His output may have increased but would the quality of King Lear also have improved?

And almost all of us would agree with this simple precept. The pyramids, Great Wall of China and Taj Mahal were built before the development of heavy earth-moving equipment and other sophisticated civil engineering tools, yet they remain equal marvels of architecture. Eleventh century Gregorian chants were monophonic whereas the Grateful Dead routinely used polyphony, a much later musical growth. If, however, the chanters were to be switched through centuries with the real deadheads the chances are that both would still be singers of great songs. But to be fair to technology, it's not in competition with anything except its own outdated avatars. It's the technologists who sometimes don't get it and get into the race.

Take religion. For thousands of years they've outdone one another trying to build bigger and better temple complexes, each grander and more ostentatious than the other, studded with precious gems and stones, carved in ivory and jade, embellished with gold and silver. Despite this monumental overkill, though, some of these structures do turn out to have great artistic merit even if, in the process, designing gets casually confused with worship which, like all artistry, has its fountainhead completely elsewhere and can hardly be affected by outward appearances.

Similarly idols and symbols for that matter which are also subjected to improved makeovers on a regular basis. What does the technical knowledge of building (or blasting) a 180 foot Bamiyan cliff carving have anything to do with the essence of Buddhism except to show that, once again, technology couldn't match the art of inner reverence?



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi's reported idea of outsourcing implementation of pro-poor programmes to the private sector on a commission basis is novelty itself. If the levers can be turned right, 85 paise in every rupee meant for the poor can be flowed to the intended beneficiary, instead of the mere 15 paise that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had spoken of ruefully. In recent years, by virtue of being on the move all the time, the younger Mr Gandhi can be said to have acquired a fair amount of experience of the state of affairs in the countryside, and has had the chance to see at firsthand how our poor live. If it is insights gained from these forays into "Bharat" — the other India — that have impelled him to articulate his proposal, he possibly believes that the idea is workable and that the structural and institutional impediments that blight the way can be surmounted. Nevertheless, before plunging in with the proposal, it may not be a bad idea to pick one of the several schemes for the poor on a pilot basis in a restricted area, and see if the private sector bites. The outcome of such an experiment may have reality checks to offer. Mr Gandhi's argument appears to be that if the public-private partnership model works for infrastructure-building, why can't it be given a shot for the social sector? The way the question is posed, it doesn't address the issue. Building infrastructure is mostly an engineering problem, while anti-poverty programmes concern social engineering. The former deals with the inanimate, the latter with people and communities, with in-built social and political biases of one or another kind. For a start, it might be best to eschew comparisons with putting up physical infrastructure. At the conceptual level, one stands a better chance then. But no matter what, if it works, it's worth trying. We can say this on the testimony of Deng Xiaoping, China's paramount leader in the post-Mao era, who famously proclaimed that it didn't matter whether the cat was black or white so long as it caught mice. The caveat worthy of consideration here is that Deng, while considered the principal architect of China's economic reforms and its chief moderniser, ultimately presided over a dictatorship where a political instruction could be made to travel down the line, for good or ill. In India, even politicians who radiate power cannot afford to harbour such an illusion. Mr Gandhi's plan is as good an example as one might get of politics nouveaux. At the heart of it lies attainment of social goods through a business model. Can democracy be purchased through the agency of a private entrepreneur, or must people dirty their own hands in building it through struggle with unseen elements? In India, a good deal of the corruption and associated ills can be dealt with if procedures are made more transparent and user-friendly, and if political parties are made to believe that they stand to gain if they attempt to become agents of positive change, rather than some oily contractor who is known to siphon off NREGS funds.






The visit of home minister P. Chidambaram to Pakistan on June 26, for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) home ministers' conference, will wrestle with the ghost of 26/11. The foreign secretary accompanies him to watchfully steer his bilateral interaction with his counterpart, Rahman Malik, indicted by a court, promptly pardoned by President Asif Ali Zardari and now bereft of credibility. More dossiers have been handed over, with material from Kasab's trial. Leaks are already aplenty about what Mr Chidambaram shall or shall not do. Asking for access to Lakhvi via a television channel will, however, only get Pakistan's tail up.

The Sharm el-Sheikh misstep raised questions about the wisdom of unilateral pacifism in dealing with Pakistan. Similar anxiety had followed the 2006 Mumbai train bombings. The Anti-Terror Mechanism was then devised to enable the resumption of dialogue. Since the 26/11 outrage the government's keenness to re-engage Pakistan has encountered the public's desire for tangible action by Pakistan on the India-specific terror network. Mr Chidambaram has positioned himself closer to the public mood rather than the peace constituency led by the Prime Minister. His visit thus would be closely watched. He has three obvious options: to express satisfaction at Pakistani action against 26/11 perpetrators; to hedge by recognising the action so far taken while asking Pakistan to cast the net wider; or simply regret the lackadaisical response, as he has in the past. Only a categorical good character certificate from him can enable external affairs minister S.M. Krishna, when he visits Pakistan in July, to flag off the composite dialogue.

The composite dialogue, divined on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in 1998 by Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Sharif, is an admixture of confidence-building measures and disputes. The dialogue has yielded mixed results. On the positive side, the ceasefire has held, differences have narrowed on Sir Creek and Siachen and new formulations attempted on Kashmir besides opening up cross-LoC trade and bus traffic. On the other hand, terror acts grew bolder and more sophisticated and Pakistan has been unwilling, when we dealt with a general, or unable, when we dealt with an elected government, to uproot the terror network. A complete rethink of our Pakistan strategy is thus called for.

First, the home minister's visit to Pakistan. Issues like access to Lakhvi etc are operational issues best dealt with at the official level. He should make concrete suggestions on the issue of terrorism. Firstly, he should seek the immediate negotiation of a Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Treaty so that evidence and witnesses from either side can be used by the other. If Pakistan prefers, a Saarc MLAT can be operationalised. Secondly, there should be a clear undertaking that no citizen of either country would be allowed to publicly abet the threat or use of violence against the other. Thirdly, the grant of visas to businessmen, students or group tours should be made easier and, in fact, encouraged. Why cannot there be day tours between Amritsar and Lahore? The home ministry is headed the other way mandating prior approval for all visas.

The 18th Amendment to the Pakistan Constitution, it is said, gives power back to the Parliament and the Cabinet in Pakistan. I was in Pakistan June 2-5 for a Pugwash-sponsored Track-II Indo-Pak meet. Islamabad is a fortress, Mr Zardari invisible, Gen. Kayani mulling his own extension, Mr Nawaz Sharif marking time in Raiwind hoping the Supreme Court ousts Mr Zardari and the US exits Afghanistan before he makes a bid and, surprisingly, his brother Shahbaz a failure as Punjab chief minister. There are power cuts, price rise and insecurity. The Economist this week quips: "Don't blame the Army for all Pakistan's problems. Just most of them." Pakistan is crying for leadership that can take on the militant's narrative, appear unbending before the US and solve the problems of illiteracy and joblessness. Complex bilateral disputes between nations need more than statesmanship for resolution. They need the polities in the two countries to be harmoniously centred around a national consensus which the peace constituencies can tap into. It is today not so in Pakistan; let the reader judge if it is so in India. Two leaders in West Asia defied this principle (President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and PM Yitzhak Rabin of Israel) and lost their lives without gaining peace.

India thus needs to rebalance the agenda which Mr Krishna can carry to Islamabad in July. While the CBMs can be aggressively pushed, the disputes need to be calibrated with Kashmir moved down the list. New issues seeking attention are water and Afghanistan. Pakistan's public discourse on water has been ill-informed and provocative. Even Hafiz Saeed has embraced it. A pro-active engagement to dispel disinformation is necessary.

Afghanistan has the potential for either Indo-Pak cooperative action or a clash of interests, leading to another civil war. At any rate these are today's issues. Therefore, the home minister's visit can either open the path to a serious re-engagement or regress us to the rhetoric of the last 12 years.

- The author is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry







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 US position, but a similar story can be told for other nations.

At the moment, as you may have noticed, the US 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 US President Barack Obama's budget proposals, predicts that economic recovery will reduce the annual budget deficit from about 10 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year to about four per cent of GDP in 2014.

Unfortunately, that's not enough. Even if the government's annual borrowing were to stabilise at four per cent of GDP, 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 healthcare 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 five per cent rate, would go a long way towards closing the gap, while leaving overall US 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 seven per cent 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.







Ten years ago, when I reported the brutal murder of a pregnant 19-year-old for London's Guardian, there was the inevitable comparison with Pakistan. Across the border, such "honour killings", known locally as "karo-kari", were rampant. In my report, I pointed out that Punjab on both sides of the border shared the same feudal ethos. Prosperity had not had the slightest effect on patriarchy. Amnesty International routinely rapped our neighbour for explaining away women's deaths on "the flimsiest of grounds".

The Indian "honour killing" I wrote about caused a sensation because the mother, Bibi Jagir Kaur, was at the centre of the controversy. Kaur, then head of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, was the first woman to hold the post. She was charged with murder when her teenaged daughter Harpreet died mysteriously. The story had a familiar ring: the girl had fallen in love with a 21-year-old man who Kaur did not approve of. Harpreet was cremated and her ashes disposed of the same day, breaking Sikh tradition. Her family claimed there had been no marriage and Harpreet had died of food poisoning.

The chilling tale grabbed national and international attention because the accused was a well-known politician. But such crimes were not unusual, a Chandigarh-based lawyer told me. In rural Punjab, a girl wanting to marry a boy of her choice against parental wish was at risk of being killed, especially if the boy is from another caste, religion, income bracket or community. The lawyer had dealt with many such cases. None had led to convictions because such cases are almost impossible to prosecute, he said. Often all traces of the dead body were spirited away.

Ten years down the line, much remains the same. The case drags on. Kaur, out on anticipatory bail, continues to thrive in Akali politics. Pakistan is more of a troubled state while India is a rising economic power. The barbaric crime tagged "honour killing", where family or community elders kill a young boy or a girl, sometimes both, supposedly to save their "honour", continues on both sides of the border.

India does not have a separate law for "honour killing" and it is impossible to estimate the scale of the problem with any level of accuracy. But "honour killings" can no longer be dismissed as something that happens mostly across the border as more and more such gruesome deaths are reported from Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, even New Delhi... and every other place where communities soaked in feudal mores are fiercely resisting socio-economic transition. Sometimes, the victims and the culprits are educated as in the case of Nirupama Pathak, a young Delhi journalist whose sudden death in her parental home back in Jharkhand is still fresh in our memory. Sometimes, the sordid crimes happen in places and among communities which normally do not interest our media. A recent fiendish display of such "honour" took place in the bylanes of Swarup Nagar in north Delhi. Two 19-year-olds were beaten with metal rods and then electrocuted by the girl's family who disapproved of their relationship. The couple were tortured for hours by the family before being killed. The father and the uncle of the girl have been arrested. They remain unrepentant. The neighbours now say they tried to intervene but were curtly asked to mind their own business. But no one alerted the police even though they heard the couple screaming in pain. The police, supposedly in a state of "high alert" due to concerns about terrorism, arrived when the deed was done, and there was no one to save. Last Sunday in a village in Haryana's Bhiwani district — a three-hour drive from Delhi — two teenaged lovers were found hanging in yet another suspected case of "honour killing".

Such incidents have become sadly routine. The judiciary has been extremely critical of law enforcement agencies for conniving with the family in most such crimes. But conniving police personnel are not the only ones who should be in the line of fire. No major or minor politician who has to canvas for votes in the "honour killing" belt has condemned such murders or come out in support of young people who transgress the boundaries of caste, religion or clan in pursuit of love. Naveen Jindal, Page Three's vision of New India, dulcetly supports "khap panchayats", caste councils that often act as kangaroo courts, sanctioning the killing of young boys and girls who flout their diktat. All politicians, old or new, are so afraid to take them on because khaps can deliver bulk votes.

If the politicians and the police cannot be counted on to stem the wave of "honour killings", who can be the saver?

Once again, we are forced to turn to the judiciary for succour. As I write comes the news that the Supreme Court has issued notices to the Centre and nine states, including Delhi, where honour killings have been reported in recent times. This is in response to a petition filed by Shakti Vahini, a Delhi-based NGO seeking protection for couples facing threat from khap panchayats for marrying against prevailing social norms in all the states that are witnessing such crimes. Over the past year, the NGO has been researching "honour killings" in Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh on behalf of the National Commission for Women. "Now the pressure is on states where 'honour' crimes are taking place — they will have to submit detailed reports on police action in each and every such case", says Supreme Court advocate Ravi Kant, who heads Shakti Vahini. The NGO has also called for creation of a special cell in each district (in vulnerable states) which young couples at risk of "honour killings" can access.

Patriarchal societies use the fig leaf of culture and tradition to justify "honour" crimes. At the heart of the conflict, however, is economics. Elders feel threatened by rapidly changing mores, the increasing assertiveness of youth, especially women. "The primal fear is that if individual freedom is encouraged, the family as we know it will suffer and there will be turmoil.

Deep down, there is fear of conflicts over land and property", points out Kant. The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act 2005, which came into effect on September 9, 2005, treats daughters on par with sons. Many elders fear that if girls are allowed to choose their own partners, they will next start demanding their property rights. What happens then? The state rumbles and threatens whenever terrorists strike. Can it afford not to show the same level of urgency when terror in the name of "honour" stalks such large parts of India?

- Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at [1]






 "Yoga chitta vritti nirodh" says Patanjali, the fountainhead of yoga, which means blocking the activities of the senses. Blocking the activities of the mind/senses definitely cannot be connoted as suppression of desires for one of the five yamas (principles) of ashtanga yoga is ahimsa/non-violence, which means prohibition of an action perforce. Suppression, therefore, is considered an act of violence. A normal human being has five basic senses, the satisfaction of which is a must. When a normal human being holds the hand of a Guru and is in yoga then s/he crosses the sansar sagar and gains complete control and mastery over the five senses. The sense of touch (sexual sense) is one of these senses.

Yoga is not suppression of these senses and abnormal behaviour just because you want to project yourself as a super being. Yoga is a mastery over the senses where if you choose to have sex then you will have, the difference being that the desire does not control you but you control the desire and you may indulge or may want to indulge for generating a specific kind of heat which is used to activate the higher senses (the orgasm has to be held back in this case and a yogi would maintain the sexual heat for long periods of time, like for two hours to 48 hours). Complete control and mastery is what is the subject of yoga.

The rishis of yesteryears were householders and missed no aspect of physical life. A modern day yogi and a master, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, was also a householder. Hence in yog one is asked not to leave anything forcefully. The purpose of yoga is evolution, and yoga sadhana is aimed at achieving this state where you rise over your desires, not by suppressing them but by experiencing them and rising over them. Like a charioteer who controls the reins, a yogi becomes the master of his senses and controls them at will. As one progresses in yog, anything, lifestyle, actions, thoughts etc that are gross, begin to leave the person automatically.

Brahmacharya is another yama practiced by the practitioner of yoga, which requires a person to be celibate during long periods of sadhana, for the potent energy which is lost during orgasm is conserved and utilised for higher purposes but it does not bar a person from having sex at all, for if that were the case the rishis of yesteryears would not have had many wives and children. One of the basic requirements of the body is sexual fulfillment, which would not let a person evolve if suppressed forcefully. Manusmriti gives four objectives of human life, dharma, artha, kama and moksha. Dharma is righteous behaviour following codes of conduct of a civilised society, ways to interact with gods and energies which run the creation, charity, service. Artha is attainment of material objectives, wealth, name, fame etc. Kama is satisfaction of senses and desires and only after attainment of these can one think of moksha, which is liberation.

Yoga is an individual's personal practice and it is for his/her Guru to judge or prescribe the do's and don'ts s/he has to follow. We as individuals are no one to judge another being. Unfortunately, in the present time pious sciences of Yoga and Tantra are being misrepresented and misused by unscrupulous people for their political and financial gains. In tantric culture certain techniques in Tantra and also yog, stimulation, as I have said earlier, also is essential but orgasm is not and as per the laws of our country consensual sex between two adults is not a crime. Any adult in the act of consensual sex is not sleaze and not against law, but yes videoing it and projecting the same as sleaze, by clever words is definitely sleazy and a crime.

Let's not waste our energy in ravaging and plundering our own inheritance. Open admission from certain spiritual people of the modern civilised society of exploiting young children is ample proof of the fact that sexual urge cannot be kept suppressed by donning garbs, whether white or saffron, which further proves the efficacy of the perfect and open yogic lifestyle.

Sadly however, we are busy pointing fingers at one another and indulging in acts of violence antagonistic to the very idea of a civilised society, leave alone an advanced civilisation like ours.

— Yogi Ashwini is an authority on yoga, tantra and the Vedic sciences. He is the guiding light of Dhyan Foundation. He has recently written a book, Sanatan Kriya: 51 Miracles... And a Haunting.
Contact him at [1]






He wore his scholarship on his sleeve. He was unassuming and generous to a fault. He was a perfectionist personified — to the point that he would leave huge volumes of research unpublished because a few small details had remained unexplored. He moved from studying English literature to sociology and anthropology with consummate ease even as he deepened his knowledge of the political economy of India and the world. He researched topics as diverse as the role of rumours in communal riots in South Asia over the last half of the 20th century to the pattern of labour migration in the coal mining areas of Dhanbad district (now in Jharkhand).

He studied in St. Xavier's College, Calcutta, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi and the University of Michigan in the United States. He taught at some of the most prestigious educational institutions here and elsewhere — including the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, the Indian Institutes of Management at Kolkata and Ahmedabad, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, the University of Oregon and the Foundation for Research in Human and Social Sciences, Paris — besides being part of the faculty of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. Yet he was equally at home discussing the intricacies of cinema, theatre and street food.

Anjan Ghosh passed away on June 5. He was barely 59. His end came suddenly, unexpectedly, just about a month after he had been diagnosed with leukaemia. After initial rounds of chemotherapy, he developed a lung infection. Then came a cardiac arrest and he was no more, leaving behind his wife, daughter and elderly mother (one of the important reasons why he chose to be based out of Kolkata though he could well have been working out of just about any part of the planet). His friends and colleagues are finding it difficult to believe that his absence is permanent. Even those who had just a passing acquaintanceship with him could not have failed to have been charmed by his candour, won over by his wit and enthused by the energy he exuded.

One of the notable aspects of his personality was his phenomenal memory, his encyclopaedic ability to remember facts, names and details of situations gone by (even trivia). Above all, he had the amazing ability to link all these bits and pieces to a bigger and more holistic picture and to a theoretical framework of knowledge that was neither pedantic nor obtuse or high-sounding. He had a deep understanding of Marxism (and was often jocularly described as Kolkata's Lenin because of his bald pate and goatee) but was far from doctrinaire — in fact, many Communist academics till today patronisingly look down on sociology as an academic discipline in comparison to politics or economics.

Anjan had another significant quality. He was a teacher who let his students make up their mind without imposing his personal views on them. In that sense, he was a quintessential instructor who encouraged those he taught to broaden their horizons as wide as possible but never let go of his own ideological inclinations. Also, unlike armchair intellectuals, he was an activist who was closely associated with human rights organisations like the People's Union for Civil Liberties and the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights on the one hand, while, on the other, he helped run film societies and wrote for small publications like Frontier besides a host of scholarly journals.

Perhaps the most fulsome tribute to Anjan came from his Ph.D. adviser from the University of Michigan, Mr Nicholas Dirks, who, on hearing about his sudden death, wrote to his colleagues stating that as a teacher, he had learnt much more from Anjan that what he had been able to teach him. His former colleague Mr Partha Chatterjee has written about how he had chided him for travelling frequently, often to meet fellow sociologists and anthropologists in small district universities in Bengal, instead of concentrating on his own research. Mr Chatterjee later realised that Anjan treated such meetings as an obligation to less fortunate members of his professional community.

Anjan was self-effacing to an extreme. Nearly three decades ago, when I was writing a long article on the underground coal fires in Jharia in Dhanbad, I was introduced to him by Mr Ram Guha, a former student of his at the IIM in Kolkata who is today a well-known public intellectual. He recounted amazing facts about how the coal mines in eastern India used to operate during colonial rule, how the area was "colonised" by workers from different parts of eastern and central India, the impact the pattern of migration had on the working of the coal industry and on the infamous mafia bosses of the area, notable among whom were important trade union leaders belonging to the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) affiliated to the ruling Congress Party.

It was a paradox that the Congress leaders from Bihar — including former Chief Minister Mr K.B. Sahay — had a reputation of being "progressive" socialists of their time although some of their confidantes came to be known as ruthless exploiters of the underprivileged. After my first interview with him, Anjan insisted that all his remarks be kept off-the-record ostensibly on the ground that his research was incomplete — he was at that time, enrolled for a Ph.D. programme in JNU, a programme he never completed. He was, however, ready and willing to be quoted on the Dhanbad mafia a quarter of a century later when I interviewed him for a documentary film series.

Over the years, Anjan came far closer to my family than to me because my sister and he were colleagues in the same research institute and the two of them were collaborating on a project to study the annual Durga Puja festival that is held in Kolkata and Bengal. I bumped into Anjan purely by chance in the corridors of the IIM in Ahmedabad last year — we exchanged a few pleasantries and promised to connect later. Little did I realise then that that would be my last meeting with Anjan Ghosh.

- Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator









AS an instance of political crudity this is difficult to beat. Nitish Kumar may have made headlines through his perceived rebuff of Narendra Modi. The intensely egocentric  gesture of returning Rs 5 crore, advanced by Gujarat to cope with the Kosi floods, has rattled the established certitudes of federalism, indeed the tenets that must guide inter-state discourse. Two years after the Kosi wrecked havoc in Bihar, its Chief Minister has in a way deepened the tragedy by allowing inter-party bickering to predominate... to the extent that the JD(U) and the BJP all but reached a parting of the ways on Sunday. Having ruled the state in league with the saffronite party for five years, the JD(U) Chief Minister has opted for a bizarre course of action to distance himself from the BJP four months before the Assembly election. The attitude is testament to the ephemeral nature of political flirtations, Mamata Banerjee's switchover from the NDA to the UPA being a glaring illustration. The unwarranted indignation over an advertisement, the cancellation of a dinner in honour of the BJP delegates to the national executive and the return of the relief cheque all form part of a calculated strategy. No, this isn't impulsive tokenism. It will be hard for Bihar's Chief Minister to dispel the dominant impression that he has politicised humanitarian aid. He has blurred the distinction between assistance and coalition tensions. 
Mr Kumar must now face up to the question whether along with the cheque he has also returned the feeling of empathy. There is no denying that the Rs 5-crore cheque was a token of Gujarat's empathy, solidarity and grief. Personal equations are hardly relevant to the context. The JD(U) leader, Sharad Yadav's description of the spat with the BJP as "a thing of the past" is a feeble attempt to bury the hatchet. He is merely trying to obfuscate matters.

The BJP's decision to pull out of Mr Kumar's Vishwas Yatra and the Chief Minister cancelling a rally in Patna, a BJP constituency, confirm the rift in the lute. Returning the cheque has been an act of calculated humiliation, directed at Mr Modi who a week ago was made to feel unwanted in Bihar. The Chief Minister has responded with far greater indignation than he is entitled to.








POLITICAL courage of a quality superior to what the Cabinet Committee on Security showed when it handled another vital issue (an upgraded Army role in countering Maoists) will be in demand when it processes proposed amendments to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act ~ aimed at more humane application of a necessary evil. At no cost must the issue again degenerate into a home ministry versus defence ministry spat, with the latter merely iterating the stand of the military: in this debate it is the "accused party". The Prime Minister has to take the call, what is in national interest must be the determining factor. Neither populist political demands from AFSPA-invoked regions nor the Army's constant desire to have things its own way should unduly influence the decision. Everybody accepts that the ultimate solution to problems in the North-east and J&K are political, ethnic and socio-economic: Army/police force can at best get the "rebels" to negotiate. Hence the question the CCS must address is whether amending/diluting the Act will help heal hearts and minds, or allow insurgents to regain the upper hand.

  Regardless of the conclusion, the CCS must speak in a single voice and the heads of ministries directed not only to silence disgruntled underlings (including the military brass), but to firmly remind them they are dutybound to implement Cabinet instructions. Unfortunately the way some senior army officers have been speaking on AFSPA and anti-Maoist operations creates an impression of pressure tactics at play. Would they have dared air such views publicly ~ surely unlike politicians they are capable of resisting television's temptations ~ if the defence minister had been more effective and assertive?

It was in recognition of the importance of facilitating the Army to deal with extreme situations (otherwise they are "police problems") that AFSPA was put in place ~ the Army does require "protection" of that sort. But that does not authorise it to function the way it has: few accept its in-house investigative conclusions that the majority of complaints of civil rights violations are false or exaggerated. Certainly not in these days of bounty-hunting majors and ketchup colonels. Nobody would have imagined horrors of that nature when AFSPA was formulated in 1958. That this debate is "on" points to decay in discipline, training, leadership, ethos: the Army has invited the flak.









Three weeks after the Israeli blitz on a Turkish flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, the world is unlikely to be impressed by the sop announced over the weekend.  Israel's seemingly saccharine assurance to "liberalise" the flow of goods  has been as selective as it could be. Crucially, it doesn't cover materials, so very essential to revive the infrastructure in a battered land,  notably the industrial sector. Of course it is a welcome gesture in as much as food and medical aid will be permitted. While the humanitarian aspect has on paper been protected, Israel must heed the warning that has been issued by the European Union and aid agencies. More substantive concessions are imperative if Gaza's shattered economy is to be revived and the post-war reconstruction initiated. Overall, the three-year-old embargo needs to be relaxed significantly and Israel will isolate itself further if it continues to ignore international pressure. The country has already made a travesty of international law with the fatal attack on the pro-Palestinian aid shipment.

In fairness, Israel may be justified in seeking security guarantees from the UN for Gaza's infrastructure projects. A built-in guarantee does exist as most of these projects will be internationally supervised. But the essential ingredient ~ cement ~ shall continue to be a thorny issue. And Israel is being somewhat presumptuous when it  fears that the cement will be used by Hamas to build up its "military machine". International supervision ought to take care of such deviation. Toys and stationery are no substitute for raw materials that are a pre-requisite for industrial production. This is the vital aspect on which the Israeli cabinet must take a call. The in-principle decision to expand the shipment of construction material will have to be followed up tangibly if the relaxation of the blockade has to go beyond window-dressing. The ferment in the Middle East will persist as long as the siege of  Gaza continues








ON 27 June Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is slated to meet Britain's new Prime Minister, David Cameron, in Toronto on the sidelines of the G-20 summit. That proposed meeting has been preceded by warm vibes. Mr Cameron has already announced his intention of visiting India later this year. His party's election manifesto stated that if elected Prime Minister Cameron would seek to build "a new special relationship" with India. If he does this he will get full support from the Opposition. Former Labour's foreign secretary and strong aspirant for Labour leadership, David Miliband, urged the new David Cameron-led government to further strengthen bilateral ties with India which "had never been better than under the Labour government". Mr Miliband said: "I want to see the links between Britain and India strengthened properly."

Ah, but what is "properly"? Are Britain's new young leaders simply playing with words or do they really mean business? In diplomatic parlance it suffices to speak of closer ties or strengthening ties. A special relationship? One rarely sees that. Britain and America had a special relationship once. I don't know how much of it survives. And thereby hangs a tale. It should be instructive for Cameron and company to recall the post World-War II British foreign policy. And there is nothing better to stimulate memories of that than what happened in London on 18 June.

On that day, Britain and France commemorated the seventieth anniversary of De Gaulle's Second World War speech made over radio from London announcing French resistance to Nazi Germany. To celebrate the event, President Sarkozy flew in from France. There were nostalgic articles in the media. An article in London's The Guardian recalled the very divergent legacies of Churchill and De Gaulle. The writer hoped that the differences now would be bridged. Fat chance! And that's what brings one to the nub of the problem. What follows is very much an Indian view of British foreign policy after World War II, and where it went horribly wrong.

Empire and America

After World War II, the Empire on which the sun never set was reduced to an impoverished nation playing second fiddle to America. In the pursuit of perceived national interest Britain performed hasty patchwork solutions before it departed from India. Undivided India had been considered as the jewel in the British crown. The need for economic revival after the war made corporate finance more than ever powerful. Its focus shifted from London to Wall Street. Corporate finance that created the current global economic crisis, dominates the world's mainstream media, subverts democracy, distorts globalization, and ruined the purpose of the European Union inevitably played the dominant role in Britain. It impelled wrong foreign policy choices in Whitehall.
Post-World War II, Britain held three cards in its hands. There was the special Anglo-American relationship, the emerging European Community, and the Commonwealth. Britain's special relationship with America and the Commonwealth were not only compatible but complementary. Britain's entry into EU was incompatible with both. The very inspiration of EU should have alerted Britain that joining it would be the wrong choice. De Gaulle is acknowledged as the political architect of EU. What motivated De Gaulle most to achieve diplomatically what Napoleon had failed to do militarily was the special Anglo-American relationship. He sought a European identity that could dictate affairs alongside America. Britain as middleman between Europe and America was not wanted. Moreover Britain was Anglican, Europe was Catholic. Religion may not denote religiosity among people. It does define identity. De Gaulle opposed Britain's entry into the EU in 1963 and then again in 1967. He retired in 1968. Britain entered the EU in 1973. The anti-British bias in France did not disappear with the exit of De Gaulle. Just six months ago France summoned a meeting of senior ministers from 22 European states to rethink EU's Common Agricultural Policy. However, Britain was not invited. This was done by the same President Sarkozy who made all the right noises on 18 June in London! 
Only people living in multi-lingual, multi-religious, multi-ethnic India can appreciate the importance of identity in politics. For people in the West the impulse of religious identity is submerged in the sub-conscious. But it is very much there. Otherwise how might one explain Catholic Ireland despite sharing language and literature with England remaining neutral during World War II even when Britain was mercilessly bombed? Or why Protestant Northern Ireland could not remain in Catholic Ireland?

In Europe, Britain will always remain a second class power. The concept of EU itself has been ruined by corporate finance. In search of expanding markets big business mindlessly enlarged the membership of EU far beyond the original first 15 nations that originally founded it. The original 15 nations had shared history and common culture. The creation of a cultural block of nations retaining separate sovereignties was a giant step towards creating a democratic federal new world order. Big business ruined that by sacrificing political cultural identity at the altar of corporate greed. It concentrated on expanding markets. That brought about over-centralization in the emerging global system. It diluted cultural identity to almost zero point. That is why EU is in crisis.

Britain & South Asia

The Commonwealth can achieve what EU did not. Britain's special relationship with America would flourish if London acted as the interlocutor between Washington and South Asia. Britain can do that by achieving the full potential of the Commonwealth on which it virtually turned its back. The shared history between Britain and all the South Asian nations is a foundation on which an economic and mutual defence community can be built. South Asia is bedeviled by problems that were created by the British. Whether it is the Durand Line or the Radcliffe Award, the resultant problems can best be addressed by Britain which created them. Afghanistan is the gateway to Central Asia. Britain is best suited to help establish a genuine consensus regime in Kabul that cooperates in giving access to Central Asian energy to all nations. The hamhanded US effort to install a puppet regime through military action will not succeed.

To attempt reviving the Commonwealth in a new avatar would be a huge paradigm shift for Britain. It would require a calibrated approach to disengage from Europe and fully involve in South Asia. Only by doing that would a genuine "new special relationship" with India be forged. But are the young leaders of Britain on the flying trapeze daring enough to swing that far?

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







Everyone believes that the sinking of the Navy patrol craft Cheonan late in March in a North Korean torpedo attack turned the clock of inter-Korean relations back to before the South-North summit talks on 15 June, 2000. Yet, on the 10th anniversary of the historic summit and joint declaration, it is worth examining what effect the event had on the confrontational situation on the Korean Peninsula and whether direct top-level dialogue would still have any value for the future of the two halves of Korea.

The summit in 2000 between President Kim Dae-jung of the South and the North's defence commission chairman Kim Jong-il had a sequel in October 2007 between President Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il. Seoul's Lee Myung-bak government was exploring the possibility of a third inter-Korean summit at the time of the Cheonan incident, one of the worst North Korean acts of provocation since the 1953 cease-fire.
Statistics on the economic cooperation and exchanges between the two Koreas over the years following the 2000 summit are impressive: Inter-Korean trade more than quadrupled from US$425 million in 2000 to $1,797 million in 2007; the number of visitors to the North increased to over 150,000 in 2007, excluding tourists to Mt. Geumgang, from several thousand before the summit; and the output from the Gaeseong Industrial Complex grew from $14 million in the first year of 2005 to $256 million last year. Nearly 15,000 members of divided families have had reunions in Seoul, Pyongyang and Mt. Geumgang since 2000.

The liberal school in the sharply divided assessments takes these figures as the indisputably positive outcome of the 2000 South-North summit in Pyongyang. They insist that conservative President Lee's hard-line policies on the North put all progress to a standstill. Some go so far as to ask about the responsibility of the Lee administration for having increased Northerners' belligerence which culminated in their attack on the Southern warship.

When Kim Dae-jung returned to Seoul from the Pyongyang summit, he declared that the danger of another war on the peninsula had disappeared. Only weeks after a tragic naval incident that raised tension on the peninsula to new heights, it is hard to credit the late president for having quashed the possibility of war through his conversations with the North's dictator. Equally, it is not reasonable to chide the present administration for having aggravated the inter-Korean ties on its own.

As we look back on the past 10 years, Pyongyang pursued a uranium enrichment programme, which was initially denied but admitted last year, tested plutonium-based atomic devices twice, and repeatedly conducted the test-firing of long- and short-range missiles while multilateral negotiations were underway to end its nuclear ambitions. As regards their impact on the security situation, the joint declarations of the 2000 and 2007 summit talks had little more worth than the first inter-Korean joint communiqué of 1972, in which the two sides pledged independent efforts for reunification rejecting foreign interference.

The 2000 document said the leaders of the two Koreas agreed to resolve the question of reunification "independently and through the joint efforts of the Korean people who are the masters of the country". In 2007, the two sides agreed to achieve unification "on their own initiative and according to the spirit of 'by-the-Korean-people-themselves'." The later declaration offered ministerial talks to discuss measures to avoid accidental clashes in the West Sea. These actions never materialized, as evidenced by the sinking of the Cheonan.

The naval incident now overshadows any serious review of the previous inter-Korean summit dialogues. But it is not fair to totally deny the practical significance of the summit talks, assessing them as ploys of the two previous presidents to raise their respective political prestige. The claim that Seoul bought only a delay in the North Korean provocations by pouring in cash and materials is a myopic view.

In 2000, North Korea was reeling from the "march in adversities" in the latter part of the 1990s under natural disasters and faulty economic policies. Kim Dae-jung's economic aid programmes following the summit talks increased the dependence of the North's economy on the South. Positive reviewers assert that the general attitude of the North Korean public has changed from broad antagonism to envy and yearning.
The contrasting arguments over the contribution, or damage, of the 2000 and 2007 summits to the development of inter-Korean relations and eventual reunification must each have some truth. What we need to do at this delicate point of time is try to explore new strategies by closely and correctly examining the positive and negative outcomes of the dialogue at the highest level.

A stalemate is in sight, with Seoul seeking international pressure to have Pyongyang admit its sneak attack, punish the responsible party and promise no recurrence of such provocation while the North is reacting with outright denial of involvement. Tension remains high, but neither side is ready or willing to go to war of any scale. The UN Security Council, with a president's statement at best, cannot provide any effective sanction beyond a verbal condemnation. China's ambivalence shows the limit of a third-party role.

Under these circumstances, direct dialogue seems the most plausible alternative. The experiences from the previous summit talks, with all their frustrating results, can help steer the process of dialogue to a more productive way. If Seoul approaches with sincerity as the victim of sinister provocation, it can win strong international support. If another summit is held, President Lee should bring all material evidence to the meeting but discussion should move beyond the Cheonan incident to all questions of inter-Korean relations. This is one way of rewarding the sacrifice of the 46 sailors who died in the attack.

The Korea Herald/ANN







Senior officials have urged the Security Council to take action, such as freezing assets and imposing arms embargoes and travel bans, against the leaders of rebel groups and military forces that recruit child soldiers or sexually abuse, maim or kill children during conflicts. The UN has identified combatants who are the most persistent violators of children in armed conflict. The Council heard calls to ensure that those violators are held fully accountable for their actions.

"The naming and shaming exercise, along with the possibility of sanctions against persistent violators, has persuaded parties to cease this reprehensible behaviour and should deter others from future offences," special representative Radhika Coomaraswamy told the Council in a day-long debate on children and armed conflict.
Ms Coomaraswamy noted that the majority of these parties were non-state actors "who need to enter into action plans with the United Nations to be de-listed." She urged governments "to endorse this process in the best interest of the children." She noted that action plan came too late for Manju Gurung, a Nepalese girl who was abducted by the Maoists at the age of 13.

Atul Khare, assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, told the Council that child protection advisers have been established in nine peace-keeping missions. A focal point has been named in the UNIFIL and the department was strengthening its child protection presence in Afghanistan at the UN mission.
Unicef deputy executive director Hilde Johnson noted that schools were increasingly being targeted by armed groups, an unfortunate reality as illustrated by her recent visit to Chad where she spoke with a group of boys. "I asked them about their hopes for the future. All then had one singular, uniform ambition: education."
Ms Johnson noted in her statement the need for better monitoring and reporting to gather the factual details that are required to hold violators accountable, bring them to justice and enforce measures through existing sanctions regimes.

Gaza conflict: Human rights chief Navi Pillay has announced the independent committee to monitor Israeli and Palestinian investigations into the deadly conflict in the Gaza Strip that ended last year. The Human Rights Council, echoing the General Assembly, called on the two sides to carry out probes into the serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law reported by a UN fact-finding mission into Operation Cast Lead.

The Goldstone Report, produced by the fact-finding mission, found that both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants were guilty of serious human rights violations and breaches of humanitarian law during the conflict. The Council decided to establish a panel of independent experts to monitor the independence, effective and genuineness of the investigations and their conformity with international standards.

"The committee will focus on the need to ensure accountability for all violations of international humanitarian and international human rights laws during the Gaza conflict, in order to prevent impunity, assure justice, deter further violations and promote peace," High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said.

Ethnic cleansing: UN special adviser for the prevention of genocide, Francis Deng, and his special adviser on the responsibility to protect, Edward Luck have expressed grave concern over the recent eruption of violence in Kyrgyzstan. "I encourage the Interim Government and international actors to do all in their power to stop the violence and ensure the protection of vulnerable minority communities," Mr. Deng said.

They have been monitoring the situation in Kyrgyzstan closely since April 2010, when the ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev brought ethnic tensions to the surface, particularly between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities in the south.

Special Advisers noted that the violence that started on 10 June appears to have targeted ethnic Uzbeks in particular.

"The pattern and scale of the violence, which has resulted in the mass displacement of Uzbeks from South Kyrgyzstan, could amount to ethnic cleansing," said Mr Luck. He reminded all parties that the 2005 World Summit banned either the commission or the incitement of ethnic cleansing, genocide, warm crimes, or crimes against humanity.

Unesco prize: Unesco announced that it is delaying the award of a controversial new prize while discussions on the issue continue between the agency's members. The Unesco-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences, named after the President of Equatorial Guinea, was established in 2008 to reward the projects and activities of individuals, institutions or other entities for research that improves the quality of human life.

The prize is designed to be given to three laureates chosen annually and granted $300,000 between them, and individual medals and diplomas.

Representatives of some countries including the US have accused the government of Mr Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been in power in Equatorial Guinea since 1979, of widespread human rights abuses and said Unesco should not agree to award such a prize.

The agency's Executive Board, met and endorsed a proposal from Director-General Irina Bokova to defer awarding the prize while consultations continue with all concerned parties.

Ms Bokova told the board that she had "heard the voices of the many intellectuals, scientists, journalists and of course governments and parliaments who have appealed to me to protect and preserve the prestige of the organization.

Food prices: The food and agricultural agency has stated in a report that global food prices could climb by 40 per cent in the coming decade, as the global population continues to surge. The Agriculture Outlook 2010-19 anticipated that wheat and coarse grain prices could jump to levels of between 15 and 40 per cent higher than they were between 1997 and 2006, while vegetable oil and dairy prices are also projected to rise by over 40 per cent.

The report indicated that the rise in livestock prices is not expected to be as marked, even in the face rising global demand for meat which is set to outpace demand for other commodities as some segments of the population in emerging economies alter their dietary habits due to increased wealth.

The report published with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development noted that global agricultural output will ease in the next decade, but food production will meet the demand generated by surging population growth by 2050. It stressed that even if enough food is produced to feed the world's people, recent price spikes and the economic crisis have resulted in stepped-up hunger and food insecurity, with some one billion people now believed to be undernourished.

Aung San Suu Kyi: UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana urged authorities in Myanmar to immediately release the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and other prisoners of conscience, and said this will help create the conditions for inclusive elections.
Quintana, said in a statement that the junta authorities should "heed the call" of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which reiterated earlier calls for Ms Suu Kyi's release. "The Working Group has found that the continuous deprivation of Aung San Suu Kyi's liberty is arbitrary," he said in the statement, issued.
Ms Suu Kyi, 65, is the leader of the National League for Democracy. She has been under house arrest for much of the past two decades.

Anjali Sharma








The Beliaghatta Police on Monday arrested five Mahomedans who are alleged to be implicated in a murderous assault with robbery upon a co-religionist named Abdul Rozakh of Kakurgachi. On Sunday evening the complainant was returning home with a bundle of clothes to Titaghur on the Eastern Bengal State Railway, after selling some of his goods. When he reached about a quarter of a mile distant from his home, he met a gang of persons among whom he recognised several. It is alleged that they were seated on the cemented platform of a house on the roadside, and that on seeing the complainant one of them cried out, "You won't get away this time ~ kill him." It is stated that immediately the gang fell upon the complainant and began brutally assaulting him with kicks and blows. They fled away on seeing the complainant's father and brother approach. The police, on receipt of information, went to the scene, and, finding the complainant seriously injured, and in an unconscious condition, removed him to the hospital where on regaining consciousness he made a statement which led to the arrest of five of the alleged assailants. The complainant also reported that he had been robbed of all his money besides some clothes, a portion of which was recovered from a neighbouring jungle, and a portion in the possession of one of the accused. Further enquiries are proceeding.










If old age is a problem in life, thirty-three years in government is equivalent to senility in politics. There is thus very little surprise in the fact that the Left Front finds itself lost and in steady decline after completing thirty-three years in office in West Bengal. The stridency of power has yielded to the quiet acceptance of losses in elections and erosion of its popularity. Arrogance has reconciled itself to the inevitability of defeat in the not-too-distant future. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), the driving force of the Left Front, can go on believing in the impersonal forces of history as its ideological touchstone but the fact of the matter is that the CPI(M) is the main reason behind the present plight of the left in West Bengal. The CPI(M) led the Left Front to victory in successive elections over three decades. These triumphs carried with them the mandate to bring about major changes and developments in the state. The CPI(M) squandered that mandate by nurturing its vested interests at the cost of developing West Bengal. It blurred the distinction between the party and the government; it destroyed work culture through irresponsible trade unionism; it promoted its own cadre and unions in hospitals and educational institutions; it strangled dissent by the widespread use of terror and violence. Its failure to carry out any economic development in the state is admitted by the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who in an open letter confessed that the "industrial sector... took a rear seat in the state." His efforts to assign it a seat in the front row now lie in tatters.


The mood in West Bengal, if the results of elections are any indication, is in favour of a change in the political dispensation. Whether this includes a desire for changes in the economy is something that the future will reveal. In the recent past, all political forces in West Bengal have shown a reluctance to support the creation of the conditions necessary for rapid industrialization — the transfer of land from agriculture to industry. Various forms of populism have scuppered this process. The Left Front may not be able to celebrate another anniversary of its term in office but this may not mean that West Bengal's tryst with economic development will become any less elusive. The defeat of the state of West Bengal could very well become permanent.








Politicians in new democracies take their time to learn the rules of the game. The current crisis in Nepal is, however, a result of its politicians' refusal to learn anything from the brief history of the country's parliamentary democracy. Last month, the country came close to a constitutional vacuum until the government and the Maoist opposition agreed to extend the tenure of the constituent assembly by another year. The two sides are on a collision course again over the Maoists' threat to not approve the annual budget unless the prime minister, Madhav Kumar Nepal, resigns. This is not the first time that the former rebels have indulged in such brinkmanship. Mr Nepal's government has not exactly covered itself in glory during its brief tenure. The unstable coalition he heads has spent its time and energy more on surviving than on governing. Many even in Mr Nepal's own party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), and in his biggest ally, the Nepali Congress, would like him to quit if his exit helps forge a national consensus. Given the current impasse, Mr Nepal's departure may be a necessary condition for saving the country from yet another spell of constitutional void.


But the Maoists too have to keep their side of the bargain. They cannot hope to be a party of the government and a militia at the same time. There is enough evidence to suggest that the Maoists continue to use their armed wings in their attempts to control Nepalese politics. Their refusal to come clean on the issue of "integration" of the former People's Liberation Army combatants in the Nepal Army suggests that they have a hidden, undemocratic agenda. Given the current state of political instability, the idea of a "national unity government" replacing the present one led by Mr Nepal has its merits. But such unity can only be built on mutual trust. As they form the largest group in the constituent assembly, the Maoists need to be taken into confidence in building a consensus. It may even be necessary to allow them to lead a consensus government. But before that is even attempted, the Maoists have to dismantle their armed wings and accept democratic norms unequivocally. After all, the most important question for the people of Nepal is not who runs the interim government but how the peace process can be saved. In or out of power, the Maoists pose the biggest challenge to peace in Nepal









India is approaching a steady State growth trajectory of 7-7.5 per cent of the gross domestic product per annum. In a 'good' year it may touch eight per cent, with manufacturing, services, agriculture and exports all performing well. Given the present state of Indian politics and administration both at the Centre and in the states, crossing the eight per cent barrier is a challenge. Credit must be given to the state sector with regard to the introduction of and some measure of success in various 'aam admi' schemes, such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, the Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana and so on, while the private sector has steadily improved productivity, quality and competitiveness, at the same time successfully acquiring global companies and running growing international businesses. Discovery of offshore gas has been encouraging and there is much wider consciousness of environmental issues, climate change and the emerging opportunities in clean technologies. The problems of food security, water security, skills development and rate of employment generation remain some of the major challenges. The slow pace of infrastructure maintenance and development has turned out to be the biggest growth limiter without a clear way forward. In other words, the state sector and the private sector are both performing well in India's growth story, but not up to the potential to jump to 9-10 per cent annual GDP growth, which is needed to match India's rate of population growth and demographic profile.


The growth challenge represents a tipping point on how India can raise the ante, and then cross the double-digit growth barrier. It is not as if the State is solely responsible for driving economic growth and the private sector plays a tag-along role, or vice versa; or that only private enterprise should be entrusted with the prime responsibility for economic growth, while the State restricts itself to providing essential and basic services to civil society. That both the State and the private sectors have vital roles in India's economic growth is now well entrenched and beyond doubt or debate. For example, the bulk of investments and capital formation continue to be that of the State, although private sector investment is growing rapidly. This trend of resource mobilization is likely to continue. The investment from the private sector, both Indian as well as foreign, will keep rising as a proportion of total capital investment. There are, however, areas of concern in terms of quality of capital investment and formation. While India's growth is being driven by both production and consumption, the overall quality of investments remains suboptimal for a rapidly developing country like India. Investments in research and development, leading-edge and capital-intensive technologies and breakthrough innovations are starkly inadequate in the public as well as the private sectors. Foreign investments, barring a few exceptions, are growing primarily in manufacturing goods and providing services catering to the durable and fast-moving consumer sector rather than adding to India's gross technology mass.


While there is rapid growth of visible wealth and conspicuous consumption among those at the tip of India's population pyramid, there is now also greater flow of economic benefits to the lower tiers of the pyramid. Some of this benefit of distribution is fuelling domestic consumption and helping to reduce the historic disparities of stark poverty and destitution. These developments, however, should not overshadow the growing concern regarding the fragility of India's technology and manufacturing which, if not attended to purposefully, will create an imbalance between high economic growth and a low technology base.


This imbalance is not because Indians are incapable of managing high-technology investments or that India is unattractive for high-technology investments and R&D by foreign investors. There are several reasons why India's technology base is not entering higher sophisticated orbits. Even in the liberalized regulatory environment, both Indian and foreign investors still find it difficult to commit large investments in long gestation projects. Second, high-technology projects, which are dependent on natural raw materials, not only face uncertain and under-defined environmental issues, but also face even more formidable barriers regarding issues such as land acquisition, rehabilitation and compensation for those who are potentially going to be displaced, as well as other ground-level social problems. The ability of the Central government and even more of the state governments to anticipate successfully and satisfactorily deal with such issues remains problematic. Finally, as far as R&D and innovation are concerned, in spite of years of fiscal and several other concessions provided by the government, Indian industry stands out for its lack of R&D and achievements in world-class discoveries and breakthrough innovations. The history of Indian industries' behaviour from the earlier era of restrictions and controls seems to have spilled into the age in which growth and competition are being encouraged, and that is the principal reason for India's low technology economic base.


The 9-10 per cent growth, which is needed to meet India's commitments to social and economic inclusiveness, will be severely tested unless India's technology base is rapidly upgraded.


Food security, water security, energy self-sufficiency, climate change and clean energy challenges provide the base for the Indian State and the private sectors to start aggressively investing in R&D and leading-edge technologies in the appropriate areas. If we are to prevent wealth generated in India from being exclusively used for visible consumption and heating up the equity markets, creating bubbles in sectors such as the real estate sector, the auto sector, the stock market, and so on, we must explore and define a new paradigm in public-private partnership to raise the quality and competitiveness of India's R&D and technology base. As illustrated earlier, the areas include acquiring, developing and applying genetic engineering and low-chemical, low-water farming technology to raise production and productivity of various crops, pulses, vegetables, fruits and so on. Similarly, investments in storage and cold chains in order to maximize returns to producers while reducing prices for the consumers will help create a network of production, storage, delivery grids across the country while upgrading India's agricultural technology and productivity base.


Conservation and management of water and delivery of affordable safe drinking water requires public-private partnership and investment for modernization and upgradation of technology with huge benefits, such as availability of potable water and thus improvement in human health, while reducing child mortality caused by water-borne diseases. Supplementing thermal and hydro power with nuclear power, while investing in R&D for clean energy technology, is one of the biggest and potentially the most rewarding high-technology challenges and a huge opportunity for India.


The challenges of developing clean technologies and tackling the problems of climate change have been described as the stuff of a second industrial revolution. Although the fruits of the first industrial revolution took a long time to arrive in India, the country is at the starting block alongside the rest of the world, with an opportunity to be amongst the leading discoverers and developers of the outputs from this second industrial revolution. Indian technologists, scientists and engineers have amply demonstrated their prowess around the world and in India, for example, in the information technology sector, starting from when Indians were hailed for their leading role in providing solutions for the so-called 'Millennium Bug'. Today, Indian IT companies are recognized internationally for their key role as technology solution providers and for their leading-edge IT innovations. Thus, the challenge and opportunities of the second industrial revolution are well within the grasp of Indian entrepreneurs, business leaders, scientists and engineers. There are lessons to be learnt from India's IT success. It almost happened outside the country's mainstream radar screen while triggering an explosive growth in India's largest service sector. The development of new, clean and environmentally friendly technologies must, by contrast, be made more purposeful and visible by a combination of ambitious investment targets and national mega goals. The massive investments in new IITs, the modernization of existing ones and the creation of new institutes of advanced scientific research, and their partnership with India's private and public sectors, provide a sound basis for India to embark upon a high-technology journey.


Trying to enter a high-technology orbit is both daunting and hugely challenging and can only be successfully undertaken by a combined formal commitment by both the government and the private sector in India. Just because such an experiment of public-private partnership has not been attempted before need not be the reason not to embark upon this new and exciting adventure. For example, the government's solar energy mission provides an ideal base for it to invite private sector participants as well as partners from research and academic institutions to signal a serious national interest. Similar partnerships can be forged, for example, for the drinking water mission. It is now time to start building the larger architecture of opportunities and challenges in public-private partnership to define India's technology ambitions required to raise the rate of economic growth.


Therefore, to break through the 9-10 per cent growth barrier, India must explore ways to pool public and private talent and resources for projects and schemes of national priority. The fruits of such novel national initiatives will also provide India with 21st-century technology security while boosting its economic growth and, in the process, raise the level of technological sophistication and the ability to transact international high and new technology business on equal terms.


Given the quality of our entrepreneurs, business leaders, scientists, engineers and the deep roots of India's democracy and strength of political leadership, the time has come for India to start changing the rules of engagement in order to achieve a higher and more sustainable as well as equitable economic society, by crossing the tipping point with a sense of purpose and determination.








If you have earned honestly and declared your income correctly, you will be summoned by an income tax officer for what chartered accountants refer to as "routine questioning", which usually ends up with you paying a baksheesh for having been honest, if you want your 'case' to be 'closed'. However, if you have illegally 'made' anything above one thousand crores, ingeniously using the loopholes our system provides for the innovative offender, you will either be honoured by the State, or be given a high office in government. Those who generate wealth are kicked about, and those who ruthlessly exploit the country are celebrated. That is the irony of India in 2010, and there is no one addressing this horrendous truth.


We are poised for a bloody revolution. The 'troubled' areas of India are volatile and determined to get their rights, even at gun-point, since no one paid any heed when they asked for their due in a peaceful and dignified manner. Sadly, governments turn the other way, realizing that they are incompetent and ill-equipped to rectify the situation. The ineffective, insular attitude to finding viable solutions has managed to destroy a great young nation state, and has left it mutilated and scarred. This has led to greater corrosion and corruption. Committees abound and sub-committees delay. This mechanism of passing the buck has disrupted the democratic processes of India, as the country waits for 'outcomes' from these isolated, disconnected committees. If the leaders got out of their fortresses and bulletproof cars, they may just connect, find alternatives and deliver the goods.


Miles ahead


Prices have risen to heights that are unimaginable to simple professionals and the neglected poor of this land. The rich are fine and kicking. The last thing India needs is an unabashed rich-poor divide. We need sensible policies that will reach out to all levels and classes, that will deliver the diverse


needs and requirements for growth in all strata of society. We do not need retired men sitting in committees — who faltered when they were in power — to determine the changes that are imperative at this moment. Sinecures have worsened an already disabled reality. New ideas come from new generations and not from old, failed moaners. We have been inflicted with more than our fair share of that variety of 'experts'.


Our national institutions are in the mire. Many are headless, even though we have some of the best and the brightest practitioners in almost all disciplines there. Simple remedies for creating the parameters of productive public-private partnerships have eluded such government operated institutions. The involvement of the citizens and private professionals in the building and administration of public institutions has been non-existent. The babu is much too comfortable to allow any disruption. Change, therefore, can only come with a strong political will.


Our foreign policy stances are unorganized, and appear ad hoc, depending on who is committed to doing what, and when. We are busy alienating Iran because that complements the American foreign policy. We want to bend over backwards to keep that 'peace' even if we dilute our own position in the region. We accept every ridiculous explanation the US presents to us for all the unspeakable acts Pakistan indulges in against India. Pakistan may be America's holy cow, but it most certainly does not serve the need of India.


And as a parting comment — friends visiting the Shanghai trade fair returned with the most appalling stories about how tacky the Indian pavilion was in comparison to all the others. We have to hide our faces in shame when confronted with substandard representations of our legacies, and skills. China, for sure, is miles ahead in effective growth.






Slavery to the cell phone — its missed call codes, its caller tunes, its triumph over the human will — leaves some people wondering about the force of user-friendly culture


In 2007, a group of language scholars, teachers and students in the Philippines voted the word "miskol" as the "Word of the Year" at a language conference. A professor at the conference said that a "miskol" is often used as "an alternative way to make someone's presence felt". No matter how alien the word may sound, what it refers to is something very common, and essential, for people across the world, especially Indians. "Miskol" is nothing but a missed call.


The phone rings just once and stops. Or it rings twice and stops. The call is not meant to be answered. It is, rather, meant to be 'missed'. This is not what the ring of a phone is traditionally supposed to be — a sound beckoning the intended recipient of the call to pick up the phone and talk. The signal a missed call conveys is of a different kind. Instead of merely being the prelude to a conversation, these spasmodic rings on the phone have become a means of communication that, in many cases, eliminates the need for spoken words. Not only do they make the caller's presence felt, but they are also short messages in themselves. Many of us are often notified by a missed call that a meeting has started, or that the driver is waiting with the car. This, of course, only works with mobile phones, which display the caller's name when the ring comes through.


Communication of this kind is in vogue among teenagers. They use missed calls in a fascinatingly innovative way: one ring could mean "I'm free", two — "I'm missing you", three —"I'm going to the canteen". By assigning pre-arranged meanings to the number of rings, they create a language of their own, one that speaks with ringtones, not words. But the semantics of missed calls is not universal. Different groups of friends have their respective sets of meanings for one, two or three rings. The messages conveyed also vary with the situation: whether the communication is between lovers, rivals, or friends. Communication through these coded messages requires an understanding between two people that is almost akin to telepathy.


Obviously, a lot of scheming and analysing go into the making of these codes. Why take so much pain to communicate when picking up the phone and talking could have been simpler? Is today's youth averse to speech? No, not really. They have just learnt to use technology to their advantage, and to beat cellular service providers at their own game. Cellular operators, who offer alluring 'special' schemes, do so with an eye on the teenagers' pocket money. The school and college-going lot, on the other hand, has limited budgets for mobile bills but a lot to say to one another. Sometimes, endless chit-chats burn holes in their pockets. When, one day, the balance in a teenager's mobile phone went down to a rupee and he still wanted to talk, from his potent desire for interaction ensued erratic rings on his friend's mobile. For the friend at the other end, it was simply a matter of figuring out what these rings wanted to say. Thus was a money-spinning technology effectively subverted to create an alternative language.


One wouldn't imagine that such child's play could become a serious headache for anybody. But it has, at least for cellular operators. Missed calls do not generate revenue but use the network capacity; they sometimes congest networks during peak hours. According to estimates made by the Cellular Operators Association of India, missed calls result in considerable losses for operators. This should not be surprising if these calls go back and forth in large numbers, as another study by the Learning Initiatives on Reforms for Network Economies suggests. According to this study, over 50 per cent of India's mobile subscribers make missed calls to convey pre-agreed messages. This is a problem difficult to tame; it is one of those loopholes in a system that the system itself cannot mend.


What, then, will happen to the human voice? If two rings on the mobile are sufficient to say "I miss you", what will become of the impassioned verses that poets have so far written to appease their beloved? I wonder how a dialogue will sound in a world where voices have become ringtones.







After thinking long and deep on the matter, I have come to the conclusion that if there is one thing in the world that I hate with the zeal of a fanatic then it's the cell phone. My actions in relation to this device may make the statement sound false. For in a startling reversal of roles, I follow my cell phone wherever it goes, like the oh-so-sweet pug dog from the advertisement. I hear it ringing for attention from my bedroom, and I rush semi-clothed from the bathroom to attend to its demands. I sleep at night but keep a part of my consciousness awake, ever at the cell phone's service. Once it rings, I must pick it up before the ringing reaches a crescendo rivalled only by the earth-shattering cry of Booth Saheb's talented child in Sukumar Ray's poem. If it is true that each man kills the thing he loves, then the reverse, I insist, is also correct. Each man pampers the object he hates, looking after it with a tenderness which can easily be mistaken for love but is actually its poisonous opposite.


But to be fair to the cell phone, I detest it not because it bawls when I am dangling from the front seat of the autorickshaw, or because it never lets me complete my bath, but because I dislike talking. That inherent aversion to straining my vocal chords naturally increases several times when I have to converse with an invisible person without a pause, frantically guessing what they might be feeling, and formulating my replies accordingly, not being able to make use of the rich repertoire of non-verbal communication comprising grimaces or smiles, which are my favourite short-cuts when talking face to face. As a result, each telephonic conversation leaves me utterly exhausted. My ears throb, my head burns, and after that tremendous attempt to concentrate all my mental energies on the conversation, my mind scatters all the more, the shards rushing pell-mell in every direction, leaving me with the unenviable task of gathering them one by one once again.


And then there are the 'customer care' calls, which so drip with care that they can make you quite murderous. I am at a loss each time some polite young man speaking a language that probably is English but can actually be Tulu or Kiswahili, asks me something to which I am simply incapable of formulating a reply. Against the steady barrage of unfamiliar sounds, I look here and there, bite my nails, stare at the mirror, and then say, "I'm sorry". To that, the young man says, "Okke-have-a-goodday-ma'am", immediately making me dizzy with guilt. He was such a nice man, perhaps a bit deficient in English, but what right did I have to be rude to him, I reason. It is like turning away that saleswoman in a synthetic sari who stands sweating at your doorstep, spectacles askew, pleading to let her show you a packet of Ariel. You have to close the door on her face, but at the same time, cannot but ask yourself whether she was actually god testing your charity.


Even in a world lorded over by the garrulous cell phone, you may evolve a telephonic code that is 'customized' to your needs, so to say. One of my friends, who is as deficient in conversation skills as I am, usually has a single word to say whenever I call her up. After the standard (that is, very short) question- and-answer session regarding depression or panic attacks, she says, "jaihok" ("whatever"), and sighs, to which I sigh, and after a meaningful pause, add my own "jaihok", and there the conversation ends. This pithy exchange signifies that all's right in our worlds in the sense that we are being our usual miserable selves. I congratulate myself on having discovered at least one means of challenging the tyranny of the cell phone. However shrilly it might make its presence felt, I can just say "whatever", and forget it.







There is no need to lose your nerve; they are all user-friendly. For all those who approach gadgets with fear and trembling, with the insane hope of escape gleaming in their eyes, this reassurance is, at best, dubious. 'User-friendly' is an expression oozing glibness, it does not inspire trust. But there is no choice; all these machines, gleaming, winking, cooing and clicking, surround the cowering user, forcing their services on him. Should he even dream of using the old machines, perhaps a fridge, or a telephone, or a flickering television without a remote, anything that does not beep or flash or croon the moment he comes close, he is reduced to looking for its outworn parts among heaps of scrap and for its workmen among those beyond earthly reach.


The friendliness of the mobile phone is overwhelming. All you need to do is to touch it at the right place, and it cascades into nerve-racking action. But I was pleasantly convinced of its user-friendliness when a busy woman I know learnt to use it through images and symbols because she is illiterate. Then, all of a sudden, her phone began to sing at me instead of ringing when I called. It appeared that she had no idea what her phone was doing; the company was simply charging her extra for a caller tune it had decided to give her.


Perhaps the company expected to get brownie points for its thoughtfulness. People love singing phones. They use their favourite tunes as caller tunes; it is a marker of identity, of mood — the most fervent adherents of this new culture choose a fresh tune for each frown and smile, even of politeness — the caller listens while he waits. It leaves me bewildered. Why should I be forced to listen to a song someone else likes? And what has someone else's mood got to do with mine? I might like a song, say, "Blowing in the wind", but I may not be thrilled to hear it when I am desperately trying to speak to the doctor because my mother-in-law has fallen and appears to have broken her leg. I am not soothed, I don't feel the least bit musical. Even if I ring someone with good news, I don't want to listen to their music. I don't want to hear "Ki ashay bandhi khelaghar" (I may adore Uttam Kumar, but there's a time and a place for everything), or "Tomar dekha nai" (that's why I'm calling) or "Yeh jo mohabbat hai (I never felt less like mohabbat in my life) or anything else. But what I want doesn't matter. Culture, as implacable as the machines it clings to, has defeated us, paralysing the unwilling user and drowning my feeble fury in its stiflingly friendly embrace.







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






The escalating tension between Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and the BJP holds bleak portends for the NDA government in the state. Notwithstanding the strenuous efforts of Janata Dal (U) president Sharad Yadav, the chasm appears to be widening. It is apparent that Yadav's writ does not run in his party. Relations have never been very warm between Yadav and Nitish who, being the only JD(U) chief minister in the country, can bend his party to his will. It is clear Nitish is intent on pushing the alliance over the cliff. His move in returning Rs 5 crore contributed by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi for flood relief in Bihar and his actions in distancing himself from the BJP by making Modi the bone of contention, are obviously premeditated. The BJP, after being conciliatory, may have reconciled to a cold cohabitation with the JD(U), if not outright severance of relationship.

Nitish's new-found dislike for the BJP is clearly a gambit well-planned. He is aware of the stakes in the state Assembly elections due in October. The non-Yadav backward castes, led by his own Kurmi community, are with him. If he needed to go with the BJP in the last elections, it was only because of the powerful Yadav-Muslim vote bank that Lalu Yadav commanded. With the erosion of Lalu Yadav's political power, Nitish may have decided that the BJP was an albatross round his neck. He may have decided there is no percentage in the alliance with the BJP. He may be even half-inclined to do business with the Congress. His assertiveness may have also been influenced by Naveen Patnaik's gamble of jettisoning the BJP that paid off so spectacularly in Orissa. If he can sway the Muslims to leave Lalu Yadav, Nitish may be inclined to face the October elections without the BJP. 

Where does all these leave the BJP? Since the 2004 electoral disaster, the BJP has been on a slippery slope. Its NDA partners such as Telugu Desam, Biju Janata Dal, PMK and Trinamool Congress have left the alliance. The Shiv Sena is more of a thorn in its side than an ally who could provide comfort. Barring the Shiromani Akali Dal, others like Ajit Singh's RLD, AGP, the Nagaland People's Front, and the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal are insignificant. The break-up with the JD(U) could be a blow that the BJP will find difficult to recover from








The latest round of Rajya Sabha elections has not brought any credit to the election system, the political parties and to the nature of the Upper House. The biennial elections were held for 55 seats from 13 states. A by-election was also held. The basic idea of the Upper House as the Council of States was violated in many states when candidates, who do not belong to a state, were fielded or supported from there by many parties. A Rajya Sabha member from a state should ideally be from that state and should represent that state in the House. The norm has long been violated with impunity by all parties. Venkaiah Naidu who was elected for the third time from Karnataka is a representative of the BJP in the House and not of Karnataka. An industrialist from Chandigarh, who has been under the shadow of economic offences, has been elected from Jharkhand.

Though most of the candidates were elected unopposed, the seats where elections were held saw the worst kind of evils that discredit the electoral system. Cross-voting, abstentions, horse-trading, defiance of party whips and hijacking of MLAs were all seen in states. The BJP had to keep 79 of its MLAs in safe custody in Rajasthan for fear of cross-voting. The party suspended three MLAs in other states for defiance of whip. It has also sought disqualification of some Congress MLAs in Rajasthan on the same ground. What emerges is that the elections in many states were a free-for-all, vitiated by money power or other considerations. This becomes clear from the report of National Election Watch which found that 15 of the newly elected MPs have criminal records and 80 per cent of them are crorepatis. Only less than 10 per cent of the winners are women, belying all claims of commitment to greater women's representation in parliament. This cannot be a coincidence and could only show the influence of money power and other considerations in the selection of candidates and in deciding the outcome of elections.

The Rajya Sabha is the House of Elders where members are known for their wisdom, maturity, experience in diverse fields and identification with the states which they represent. It has a role in guiding and counselling the Lok Sabha. But it is increasingly becoming a political parody of its place in the constitutional scheme and its membership a matter of favour, convenience or money power.







The reluctance to extradite Anderson simply betrays the hypocrisy of the United States, which is a signatory to the UDHR.



The first criminal conviction in the Bhopal gas tragedy case after over 25 years by the chief judicial magistrate (CJM) on June 7 has spawned international reactions, and the shameless blame game continues. Union Law Minister M Veerappa Moily has questioned the role of the judiciary in diluting the charges against the accused. However, the fact remains that till date the victims and their kin have got pittance and the accused have got away with light punishments which are subject to several layers of appeal.

The questionable role of the judiciary notwithstanding, the government cannot escape its responsibility. The accident took place on the night of Dec 2-3, 1984, when 40 tonnes of toxic Methyl Isocynate leaked from the Bhopal-based pesticide plant of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL). Then it was an Indian subsidiary of the US company Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) which is now a subsidiary of Dow Chemicals Company. Over 3,000 people died instantaneously, 15,000 died within a week and around 5.74 lakh got maimed. The Indian government filed a claim of $3.3 billion in the US court against UCC, but Judge Keenan directed transferring the litigation to India, and the government of India in 1989 settled for a paltry compensation of $470 million.

Contrast this with an accident involving Americans. When 11 American workers were killed in an oil rig blow up in the Gulf of Mexico, Washington demanded $1.5 billion from BP. Further, US President Barack Obama also promised to penalise BP by making it pay billions of dollars in compensation.

When Exxon was fined $5 billion for the Alaska oil spill, about $40,000 was spent on the rehabilitation of every affected otter. The victims of Bhopal are, so far, entitled to $200 each. Otters are more valued than Indians! The US refuses to extradite Warren Anderson, then chairman of UCC, though he has been declared a proclaimed offender, and the case was transferred to India on the order of the American court. The arrogant superpower refuses to bow down before the rule of law.

The reluctance to extradite Anderson simply betrays the hypocrisy of the US which is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that elucidates the concept of the rule of law which is based on three cardinal principles: no one is above the law (Article 7), all persons are entitled to equal protection of law (Article 7) and everyone has the right to an effective remedy for acts violating the fundamental rights granted by the constitution or by the law (Article 8).

These are high-sounding principles only to be violated in practice. The American War of Independence and the French Revolution ushered in the first written constitutions guaranteeing the right to equality. The American Declaration of Independence of 1776 reads: "…that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights… that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, drawing their just powers from the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it." The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen says that "Men are born free and equal in rights".

SC action

Decisions of the Indian courts did not redound to the glory of the legal system either. The incident occurred on Dec 2-3, 1984, and the station house officer (SHO) of the local police station filed an FIR under section 304-A of the IPC (causing death by negligence). Since it is a bailable offence, the police gave bail to Anderson immediately, and he was accorded VVIP treatment — not only was he provided a special aircraft, but then Bhopal SP Swaraj Puri drove him to the Bhopal airport. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a chargesheet on Dec 1, 1987, the court took cognisance on July 6, 1988, and Anderson was declared an absconder. Meanwhile, on Feb 14, 1989, the supreme court quashed all proceedings relating to and arising out of the disaster.

However, the court reviewed its order on a petition filed by the CBI and the case was committed for trial to the Bhopal sessions court on April 3, 1992. The court framed charges against all the nine accused, except Anderson, under section 304-II of the IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) for which the maximum punishment is 10 years' imprisonment, besides sections 324, 326 and 429. The CJM issued non-bailable warrants of arrest. The CBI moved an extradition request to the US on Sept 8, 1993, for the arrest and extradition of Anderson which was never acceded to.

However, it is also true that the government of India did not pursue it vigorously. The accused challenged the framing of charges in the Madhya Pradesh high court which dismissed the appeal. They then filed a special leave petition in the supreme court. Allowing the appeal, a division bench, comprising Chief Justice A M Ahmadi and Justice S B Majumdar, in its Sept 13, 1996, order, amended the charges to sections 304A, under which the maximum punishment is two years of jail, 336, 337 and 338 of the IPC with or without Section 35 of the IPC (Keshub Mahindra vs State of M P, (1996) 6 SCC 129).

The prosecution submitted to court the report of the Vardharajan Committee, which established that apart from the proximate reasons there were a number of design defects and other criminally negligent operational practices which resulted in the leakage of methyl isocynate and these were in the full knowledge of the management but were deliberately ignored for commercial reasons. According to Section 34 of the IPC, an act also covers an illegal omission.

Obviously, omission, which led to an accident of this magnitude, cannot be taken to be a case of mere negligence. Had the accused been punished under Section 304-II of the IPC, it would have sent a signal to the MNCs not to play with the lives of poor people. However, it is time the government considers implementing the recommendation of the 234th Report of the Law Commission that punishment under Section 304-A be enhanced to a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment. Had the law been amended the accused would have got harsher punishment.










Since Israel's deadly raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara last month, it's been assumed that Iran would be the major beneficiary of the wave of global anti-Israeli sentiment. But things seem to be playing out much differently: Iran paradoxically stands to lose much influence as Turkey assumes a surprising new role as the modern, democratic and internationally respected nation willing to take on Israel and oppose America.

While many Americans may feel betrayed by the behaviour of their longtime allies in Ankara, Washington actually stands to gain indirectly if a newly muscular Turkey can adopt a leadership role in the Sunni Arab world, which has been eagerly looking for a better advocate of its causes than Shiite, authoritarian Iran or the inept and flaccid Arab regimes of the Persian Gulf.

Turkey's Islamist government has distilled every last bit of political benefit from the flotilla crisis, domestically and internationally. And if the Gaza blockade is abandoned or loosened, it will be easily portrayed as a victory for Turkish engagement on behalf of the Palestinians. Thus the fiery rhetoric of Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, appeals not only to his domestic constituency, but also to the broader Islamic world. It is also an attempt to redress what many in the Arab and Muslim worlds see as a historic imbalance in Turkey's foreign policy in favour of Israel. Without having to match his words with action, Erdogan has amassed credentials to be the leading supporter of the Palestinian cause.

Flotilla diplomacy

While most in the West seem to have overlooked this dynamic, Tehran has not. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used a regional summit meeting in Istanbul this month to deliver an inflammatory anti-Israel speech, yet it went virtually unnoticed among the chorus of international condemnations of Israel's act. On June 12 Iran dispatched its own aid flotilla bound for Gaza, and offered to provide an escort by its Revolutionary Guards for other ships breaking the blockade.

Yet Hamas publicly rejected Iran's escort proposal, and a new poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research found that 43 per cent of Palestinians ranked Turkey as their No 1 foreign supporter, as opposed to just 6 per cent for Iran.

Turkey has a strong hand here. Many leading Arab intellectuals have fretted over being caught between Iran's revolutionary Shiism and Saudi Arabia's austere and politically ineffectual Wahhabism. They now hope that a more liberal and enlightened Turkish Sunni Islam — reminiscent of past Ottoman glory — can lead the Arab world out of its mire.


You can get a sense of just how attractive Turkey's leadership is among the Arab masses by reading the flood of recent negative articles about Ankara in the government-owned newspapers of the Arab states. This coverage impugns Erdogan's motives, claiming he is latching on to the Palestinian issue because he is weak domestically, and dismisses Turkey's ability to bring leadership to this quintessential 'Arab cause'. They reek of panic over a new rival.

Turkey also gained from its failed effort, alongside Brazil, to hammer out a new deal on Iran's nuclear programme. The Muslim world appreciated Turkey's standing up to the United States, and in the end Iran ended up with nothing but more United Nations sanctions.

In taking hold of the Palestinian card, Prime Minister Erdogan has potentially positioned Turkey as the central interlocutor between the Islamic/Arab world and Israel and the West, and been rewarded with tumultuous demonstrations lauding him in Ankara and Istanbul. Meanwhile, the streets of Tehran have been notably silent, with Ahmadinejad's regime worried about public unrest during the one-year anniversary of last summer's fraudulent elections.

Erdogan has many qualities that will help him gain the confidence of the Arab masses. A devout Sunni, he is also the democratically elected leader of a dynamic and modern Muslim country with membership in the G-20 and NATO. His nation is already a major tourist and investment destination for Arabs, and West Asia has long been flooded with Turkish products, from agriculture to TV programming.

With Turkey capturing the hearts, minds and wallets of Arabs, Iran will increasingly find it harder to carry out its agenda of destabilising the region and the globe. For Americans, it may be hard to see the blessings in a rift with a longtime ally. But even if Turkey's interests no longer fully align with ours, there is much to be gained from a westernised, prosperous and democratic nation becoming the standard-bearer of the Islamic world.






There was no question of feeling bored with bread and its variants.


Idli today, akki rotti tomorrow and dose the day after. The breakfast menu changes daily as the lady of the house (LoH) does not believe in repeating dishes. Each item has to wait for at least a week before it can reappear on our breakfast table. On days when the LoH is not ready to dish out the desi stuff we make do with continental breakfast — bread, butter and mint chutney with cucumber slices. We know it's a poor substitute.
When we were in Europe recently we were forced to have this continental stuff everyday for three full weeks. London, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, or Interlaken in Switzerland, wherever we went we trooped into the restaurant around 7 am to partake this (complimentary) breakfast thrust down on our gullets. Like beggars, we had no choice.

Sure there were varieties of bread, toast, butter, jam and cheese and it was unlimited too but how much of bread can you swallow everyday when 'dil maange dose, idli, roti'. Reluctantly, but generously, we smeared butter and cheese on the toasts and poured creamy milk on cornflakes and filled our bellies. Each morning our eager (or hungry) eyes looked forward to spotting something new on the breakfast table. The staff changed, the stuff remained the same. There was no question of feeling bored with bread because there was nothing else to fill the stomach with. With lunch some six hours away and a lot of walking involved in the chilly weather we had to fortify ourselves with some energy. Bread and butter served the purpose.

Eat breakfast like a king, dieticians advise us. If it's varied it can be relished but the same stuff daily? My venerable guru, Dr HN, did it for some four years when he survived on just upma for breakfast, lunch and dinner, when he was in the US doing his PhD.

Indian breakfast menu is varied and balanced and nutritious as long as you are touring south India. But once you cross the Vindhiyas you will have to make do with parathas or pooris. There are places where you get oily jalebis and samosas to break your overnight fast! Compare this to our heavenly idli or dose or pongal!

Talking of upma let me share my Paris experience. At lunch in an Indian restaurant our tour manager said a surprise item awaited us during dinner. The guessing game began. In fact it continued after dinner. What or where was the surprise item? we asked the tour manger. "Why? The upma you just had for dinner," he said. Upma in Paris as a surprise dish for a Bangalorean? How I wish to share this experience, if not upma, with HN!








Both the Methodist Church of Britain and the Presbyterian Church (USA) have issued slanted reports on the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Presbyterians' 172-page report, entitled "Breaking Down Walls" – apparently referring to the security barrier – will be discussed at that denomination's 219th General Assembly in Minneapolis, Minnesota on July 3-10.

Divestment is not on the agenda, as it was in 2004 when Presbyterians were the first Protestant church to brandish such economic pressure against Israel. In 2006, after a bitter struggle, the motion was rescinded. But at July's assembly, Presbyterians will consider putting pressure on the Obama administration to stop US aid to Israel until the Israeli government "ends the expansion of settlements in Palestinian territories," ceases its "occupation" of Gaza, and relocates "Israel's separation barrier" outside of Palestinian territories.

British Methodists, meanwhile, will be considering divestment. This after America's Northern Illinois Conference (NIC) of the United Methodist Church (UMC) voted on June 15 to divest all holdings in three international corporations – General Electric, Caterpillar and Terex – that "profit from the occupation of Palestine."

ALTHOUGH METHODISTS and Presbyterians are the most aggressively anti-Israel among liberal Protestant denominations, all five of the mainline denominations in the US – Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Evangelical Lutheran and United Church of Christ – have debated and in some cases adopted policies intended to bring direct or indirect economic pressure on Israel to compromise with the Palestinians.

These mainline denominations stand in stark contrast to the adamantly pro-Israel position adopted by evangelical Protestant sects.

Unlike American evangelical theology, liberal Christian denominations do not believe the Jewish people have a continuing role in God's plan. Nor do they see the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel as an inevitable step in the redemption process. As a result, liberal Christians supported Zionism in the same way that they have supported the national movements of other oppressed groups.

For the same reason, they have switched their support to the Palestinian national movement as Israel, in the wake of the two Lebanon wars, the two intifadas and the Gaza conflicts, has increasingly been portrayed in "progressive" circles as the aggressor. Contributing to this trend are the ties mainline denominations have with Palestinian Protestants such as Naim Ateek, head of Sabeel, whose liberation theology likens Palestinians to the persecuted Jesus and views Jews, not Muslims, as the persecutors.

Liberal Protestants are particularly susceptible to a leftwing agenda that is anti-globalization, anti-capitalist (though liberal Protestants are among America's most affluent) and rabidly anti-Zionist. Unlike more fundamentalist Protestants, mainline denominations tend to have a less literal reading of the Gospel. They are, as a result, more likely to contemporize the fight to establish the kingdom of God as a call to support progressive political causes. Theology is more malleable and, as Walter Russell Mead put it in a 2006 essay in Foreign Policy entitled "God's Country," liberal Protestants tend to "evanesce into secularism."

They may be environmentalists belonging to the Sierra Club and Greenpeace or human rights activists involved with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Their sincere desire to pursue justice might be motivated by faith, but implementation often puts them under the sway of organizations with rabidly anti-Zionist or even anti-American agendas.

One study by the Institute on Religion and Democracy found that 37 percent of the statements made by mainline Protestant churches on human rights abuses between 2000 and 2003 focused on Israel. No other country came in for such frequent criticism, though the US was a close second with 32%. China, North Korea

and Saudi Arabia were not critiqued at all.

Interestingly, the same amorphous theology that has blurred the boundaries between mainline Protestantism and left-wing secularism has also led to a steady decline in membership. As sociologists of religion have pointed out, the more demanding and unambiguous a religion's principles, the more respect and commitment it is likely to enjoy. Who can take seriously liberal Protestant denominations that consistently fail to make moral distinctions that set them apart from progressive secularism? For their own good, Presbyterians, Methodists and other mainline denominations would do well to reexamine their policy on Israel. Perhaps they will find their own distinctive voice resonating with a more balanced view of the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. They might even reach the conclusion that Israelis have the right to defend themselves.









'Easing' the Gaza blockade will create a revolutionary, Iran-backed, genocidal and anti-Semitic Islamist statelet on the Mediterranean.

Israel has looked for a Gaza policy that preserves its security, undermines Hamas and reduces international criticism – in that order of priority. Thus, the cabinet has approved an altered strategy on the Gaza Strip.

The main principle can be summarized as emphasizing anything that can be used for military purposes but easing up on the destabilizing effort. This makes sense, since the international community's protection of the Hamas regime – even though it is a revolutionary Islamist, terrorist, genocideintending, anti-Western client of Iran that will fight Israel and subvert Egypt – makes its overthrow impossible anyway.

The June 20 cabinet decision states: "Israel's policy is to protect its citizens against terror, rocket and other attacks from Gaza. In seeking to keep weapons and war materiel out of Gaza while liberalizing the system by which civilian goods enter Gaza..."

Thus, the first principle is: Publish a list of items not permitted into Gaza that is limited to weapons and war materiel, including problematic dual-use items. All items not on this list will be permitted to enter Gaza.

This is a great contraction of previous lists. A range of construction materials – cement, which can also be used for military bunkers; pipes that can be used for making rockets – must be watched closely.

Hence, point two: Enable and expand the inflow of dual-use construction materials for approved PA-authorized projects (schools, health facilities, water, sanitation, etc.) that are under international supervision, and for housing projects such as the UN housing development being completed at Khan Yunis. Israel intends to accelerate the approval of such projects.

The theory is that international agencies will make sure the material is used for building nice things, not pillboxes or reinforced bunkers. No doubt Israel will report on whether this promise is kept (though reports to the contrary will probably be ignored). The land crossings will be expanded to admit more materials at a faster rate, and procedures for letting people leave for medical treatment or other purposes will be streamlined.

WHAT DOES Israel get in exchange? The decision states: "The current security regime for Gaza will be maintained. Israel reiterates that along with the US, EU and others, it considers Hamas a terrorist organization.

The international community must insist on a strict adherence to the Quartet principles regarding Hamas."

In other words, there will be the continued political isolation of Hamas which, by the way, is still holding Gilad Schalit captive.

What does Israel give up? The entire strategy of trying to reduce Gaza's economy and the rewards that Hamas can give its supporters. In other words, while Hamas's military capacity is kept as low as possible, it can stay in power for decades. While this represents a considerable "retreat," it is not so meaningful in practice since – as noted above – nobody is going to allow Israel to overthrow the regime in Gaza.

So this is the future: A revolutionary Islamist statelet, a long-term outpost of Iran, a base for spreading terrorism and subversion, a source for genocidal anti-Semitic propaganda has been established on the shores of the Mediterranean. For all practical purposes, one could have made this declaration two or four years ago. Now it is clear.

Some people might find the above paragraph controversial. But it is all obvious.

Hamas will be in power in the Gaza Strip for a long time. Who is going to remove it? It is a client of Iran. Certainly it is under embargo for arms, but it functions a lot like an independent state for practical purposes. It will return to war against Israel at the first opportunity. It teaches its people to kill Jews and to be terrorists.

That doesn't mean all Gazans support it, but those who don't can do nothing about it.

Moreover, the Hamas regime receives indirect aid because the Palestinian Authority pays much of its civil service, and Western projects are designed to help its people.

Yes, of course there are limits on what it can do, given its size and the pressure still put on by Egypt and Israel. But this is an accurate description. Putting it bluntly sounds harsh, but the reality is harsh.

And what could be more ironic than the fact that Western governments, frantic for an Israeli-Palestinian peace, have just helped put one more gigantic roadblock in the way? Even without Hamas ruling almost half of those under Palestinian rule, the PA probably wouldn't be able to make peace. The consolidation of a Hamas state makes that inability a certainty.

While a change in Israeli policy can be said to mark this new era, the outcome should not be blamed on the government, since the situation was made inevitable by Western policy. The world has no idea what it has done, or how much blood will flow as a result of this failure. People will write about this being true in five or 10 years.

You are reading about it right now.

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







The proximity talks must include serious discussions on the core issues – borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees.

Under the public radar and due to extreme amounts of skepticism, George Mitchell's mediation efforts continue without public debate or concern. The silence is because almost no one believes they will be constructive, and the media blackout imposed by Mitchell.

Four rounds of talks have taken place. The parameters have been set, the process has begun, and now it is time to get serious.


The proximity talks can produce agreements; this is how I think they should proceed:

• Intensive negotiations: Talks conducted twice a month are not going to produce an agreement. The best model for proximity talks is Camp David I between Egypt and Israel. Convening intensive talks, even if not face-to-face, in an isolated location for at least five days at a time is the way to move. The initial talks will not involve the principals – Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas – but the lead negotiators and technical assistants. The process must now move into an intensive phase.

• The parameters: The goal of the proximity talks is to advance a permanent-status agreement which will put an end to the conflict. The core issues – borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees – are all on the table. Israel's preference is to deal with security prior to setting borders; the Palestinians' preference is to first deal with borders.

It is essential to deal with borders so that we can put the issue of settlements to rest. Once a border is agreed to, Israel can continue to build in all the settlements that will be incorporated into it.

All of the core issues are linked and cannot be dealt with apart from each other. Palestinian leaders have said they will accept any reasonable Israeli demands regarding security. Their two main reservations are predictability – security arrangements cannot be left to the discretion of the sergeant at the checkpoint – and no Israeli military presence within the Palestinian state.

A SENIOR White House official made an unreported 24- hour visit to Jerusalem two weeks ago to explore with Netanyahu his constraints on moving forward. The main issue raised by Netanyahu was his demand that the eastern border of the Palestinian state be sealed hermetically from smuggling of weapons, ammunition and terrorists so that the West Bank would not turn into the Gaza Strip – a front line of Islamic terrorism against Israel. Netanyahu's view is that only the IDF can ensure this but it is unacceptable to the Palestinians.

The paradigm of any security agreements must be that each side is responsible for its own security. In Oslo the paradigm was that the Palestinian Authority forces would prevent attacks against Israel, while Israel withdrew from territories that would come under PA control.

From the Palestinian point of view, Israel failed to withdraw from all the territories which they understood would be the basis for their state, and instead settlement building accelerated. In their eyes, the PA security apparatus became collaborators with the ongoing occupation, which explains the vigor with which those forces

joined the second intifada.

From Israel's point of view, the PA failed in its security mission by design and by ideology, and in response it withheld further redeployments. However you look at it, what happened must be avoided when reaching new agreements.

Palestinians must be held responsible for the security of their external borders. A multinational force led by the US must be responsible for monitoring the implementation of the security responsibilities of the parties. This force must also have the mandate and capacity to "do the job" if the parties fail to implement those obligations. A reasonable proposal, at least for the first few years, would be to integrate unarmed Israeli observers in specific positions along the eastern border of Palestine, under US command.


While dealing with security arrangements the discussion of borders must be advanced. Abbas has indicated to President Barack Obama that the Palestinians would be willing to consider enlarging the size of the territories Israel would annex to place the main settlement blocks under its sovereignty under the condition of territorial swaps on a 1:1 basis. So far Israel has agreed to the principle but not to the 1:1 formula. I have suggested to the Mitchell team that the talks delineating the border begin by Israel presenting a map of the "swap territories."

• Delineating the border brings us to Jerusalem. The talks on Jerusalem should be separated into three different issues – the territorial dimension of the city outside of the Old City, the Old City and the Temple Mount/Haram al- Sharif. It should be determined from the outset that Jerusalem will be an open city, not one divided by walls and fences. Outside of the Old City walls, political division of the city is necessary so that each people will live under its own sovereignty.

Regarding the Old City, there are a number of possibilities for dealing with the less than one square kilometer.

Talking about Jerusalem will automatically lead to the discussion of the refugee issue. It is understood that there are trade-offs on the various issues to reach a package deal. There is a trade-off between Jerusalem and refugees where Palestinians get sovereignty over Palestinian Jerusalem and control over the Haram al-Sharif, which they effectively already control, (Israel will retain control over the Western Wall) and the right of return of refugees is mainly to the Palestinian state. The Palestinians transform the concept of "return to home" into "return to homeland" meaning the Palestinian state.

All the above is possible, but predicated on three main elements – that the settlement freeze continues beyond September 26, that the security situation remains calm, and security cooperation and continued Palestinian deployment continues concurrent with Israeli redeployment out of Palestinian-controlled areas and that after the November elections in the US, President Obama takes control of the process.

The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (, and an elected member of the leadership of the Green Movement political party.







The main advocate for the latest capitulation was Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the serial bungler.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his colleagues are doing their best to put a pretty face on an ugly situation. After nearly three weeks of deliberations, Netanyahu and his government caved in to massive US pressure to ease, if not end, Israel's blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza.

On Sunday the government announced that all economic sanctions on Gaza will be immediately lifted. Henceforth, Hamas-controlled Gaza will have an effectively open economic border with Israel. Israel will only prohibit the transfer of military material. Even dual-use items, like cement, will be allowed in if international officials claim that they are to be used in their humanitarian projects.


Netanyahu and his colleagues argue that these new concessions have now given Israel the international legitimacy it needs to maintain its naval blockade of the Gaza coast. But this is untrue. Even as he welcomed Netanyahu's latest capitulation, US President Barack Obama made clear that he expects Israel to continue making unreciprocated concessions to Hamas.

Following the government's announcement, the White House declared, "We will work with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the Quartet and other international partners to ensure these arrangements are implemented as quickly and effectively as possible and to explore additional ways to improve the situation in Gaza, including greater freedom of movement and commerce between Gaza and the West Bank."

In plain English that means that the administration doesn't trust Israel. It will escalate its pressure on Israel by among other things, pressuring it to provide members of the illegal Hamas regime in Gaza greater access to Judea and Samaria.

AS IF anticipating its next capitulation, government spokesmen told the media that in addition to ending economic sanctions on Gaza, Israel is now considering permitting the EU to station inspectors at its land crossings into Gaza. That is, Israel is considering a move that will constitute a first step towards surrendering its sovereign control over its borders.

The economic sanctions the government is now cancelling were not simply legal, they were required by international law. Binding UN Security Council resolution 1373 requires states and non-state actors to deny support of any kind to terrorist organizations. And here, in a bid to win international "legitimacy" for its lawful blockade of Gaza, Israel has bowed to US pressure to unlawfully facilitate the economic prosperity of an area controlled by an illegal terrorist organization.

There is something pathetic about the Prime Minister's office's protestations that by bowing to White House pressure the nations of the world will now accept our right to defend ourselves from an Iranian-controlled terrorist organization committed to the genocide of the Jewish people. After all, we have heard these hollow words many times before.

This notion that unilateral Israeli capitulation to terrorists would bring Israel international "legitimacy" is of course how former prime minister Ariel Sharon justified his strategically indefensible decision to cede Gaza – and the international border between Gaza and Egypt – to Palestinian terrorists.

If they attack us after we leave, he claimed, we'll have all the international support in the world to really destroy them.

Today, the government argues, all we have to do is sell them spaghetti and cilantro and the international community will suddenly rally to our side.

According to sources close to the cabinet, the main advocate for the latest capitulation was Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Barak is the serial bungler. Ten years ago, he argued that his decision to relinquish Israel's security zone in south Lebanon to Hizbullah guaranteed that Israel would have international legitimacy to really take it to the Iranian proxy army if it dared to attack us after we left.

Barak is also the deep strategic thinker who brought us the Palestinian terror war.

Barak promised that if Yasser Arafat rejected his offer at Camp David and so demonstrated that his commitment to destroy the Jewish state trumped his interest in establishing a Palestinian state, that the international community would rally around Israel and we'd have all the international legitimacy we needed to defeat the PA.

And in the lead-up to the Mavi Marmara fiasco, it was reportedly Barak who decided it would be a terrific idea o outfit the naval commandos with paintball guns. Doing so, he promised would convince the Obama administration to support Israel against Hamas.

A key question that needs to be considered is what makes policymakers like Barak advance such colossally stupid and dangerous policies time after time. Israel's history since 1993, when then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and then foreign minister Shimon Peres opted to embrace Arafat and the PLO, bring thousands of PLO terrorists to the outskirts of Israel's major cities and give them weapons and international legitimacy indicates that three factors come into play.

First there is the fact that many of Israel's leading politicians are simply not that smart.

They are happy to be led by an ideologically radical media that have insisted since the 1980s that Israel must withdraw to the indefensible 1949 armistice lines.

Not only are they happy to be led by the media, they are loath to dispute its misrepresentation of reality. And so the second cause of serial bungling on the part of politicians like Barak is that they are, in the end, sheep, not leaders.

THE FINAL major cause of Israel's strategic idiocy is corruption. On Monday morning, the police announced that they recommend indicting Sharon's sons Omri and Gilad Sharon for soliciting bribes on behalf of their father.

After an eight-year investigation, the police said they believe that Sharon received $3 million in bribes from former Stasi-aligned Austrian banker Martin Schlaff.

Schlaff, whose former attorney Dov Weisglass served as Sharon's chief of staff, was the majority share owner in the Jericho casino. He also reportedly intended to build another casino on the ruins of the destroyed Israeli community Elei Sinai in the northern Gaza Strip if and when Israel expelled its residents.

There can be no doubt that Sharon's alleged corruption and his fear of the far-left legal fraternity that investigated his alleged corruption played a significant role in his decision to abandon his campaign pledge to voters, toss strategic sanity to the seven winds, expel ten thousand Israelis from their homes and transfer the

Gaza Strip lock, stock and barrel to Hamas and Fatah terrorists.

Like Sharon, Barak has been the subject of several corruption probes. Barak is also known to have had strong indirect connections to Schlaff. For instance, during his tenure as prime minister, Barak sent shock waves through the country when, with no prior warning, he announced that he was ceding Israel's rights to the natural gas deposits discovered off the Gaza shore. Barak's move precipitated a deal between the PA and British Gas to develop the gas deposits.

Media reports exposed that Schlaff and Arafat's economic bag man Muhammed Rashid were major shareholders in British Gas.

During his stint as a private citizen, in 2006 Barak sought to lobby Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin to permit Orascom, the Egyptian telecom provider, to expand its ten percent ownership share in Partner, Israel's second-largest cellular telephone company.

Israeli law prohibits foreign entities from owning more than a ten percent share in Israeli telecommunications firms. Diskin refused to meet with him and banned the deal. Rashid and other Schlaff associates are reportedly major shareholders in Orascom.

Barak and Sharon are only the tip of the iceberg.

Schlaff's connections to Israeli politicians run far and wide. Most of the leading founders of Kadima, including Ehud Olmert and Haim Ramon have personal ties to Schlaff. So too does former Shas leader Aryeh Deri. The ongoing criminal probes against Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman include, among other things, investigations into his allegedly prolific business ties to Schlaff.

REGARDLESS OF whether these ties to agents of corruption are criminal or not, it is obvious that they have influenced the policy preferences of more than one major politician in Israel. And regardless of what stands

ehind his poor judgment, the fact is that it is this judgment that is driving Israel's strategic direction.

It is also apparent, that Barak is being handsomely rewarded by the Obama administration for his actions.

Barak is currently on yet another junket to Washington where he is being given the red carpet treatment. While the premier is forced to conduct international diplomacy with Quartet chairman Tony Blair, Barak is feted by the White House, State Department and Pentagon on a regular basis. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Obama administration agreed to end its public campaign to overthrow the Netanyahu government in exchange for Netanyahu's effective concession of control over national policy to Barak.

Barak has used this control to force the government to accede to every American demand. So far, he has convinced Netanyahu to take a back seat to Obama on Iran; to end Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria at least until September; to effectively ban Jewish construction in northern, southern and eastern Jerusalem; to embrace the cause of Palestinian statehood; to accept US mediated indirect negotiations with Fatah; and to pretend that the Obama administration is a credible ally to Israel.

Before heading to Washington, Barak reportedly gave Netanyahu an ultimatum: Either make massive concessions to Fatah that will allow Obama to claim victory in the peace process, or Labor will bolt the coalition.

So too, Barak is reportedly behind Netanyahu's latest bid to bring Kadima, led by Tzipi Livni into his government.

Netanyahu and his spokesmen defend both Barak's primacy in the government, and their interest in bringing Kadima into the coalition by noting that the Left's partnership ensures political stability. If Labor were to bolt from the coalition, the government would be less likely to survive until the next scheduled election in 2013.

There is certainly truth to this assertion. With Labor inside the coalition, Kadima has no relevance.

So too, rightist parties are unable to bring down the coalition.

This would be a decisive argument if coalition stability enabled Netanyahu to govern more effectively. But the opposite is true.


Netanyahu knows the folly of his decisions.

He recognizes Obama's hostility to Israel. He also knows that the US president is not going to do a thing to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.


Stability should be a means to an end, not an end unto itself. Netanyahu did not seek the premiership to achieve the goal of overseeing a stable government. He sought to lead the country to secure and strengthen it. As his latest concession to Barak makes clear, the price of governing stability is the abandonment of his leadership goals.







Differences between Obama and Israel vis-a-vis Iran, will lead them in two different directions.

When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visits the White House in early July, the Iranian nuclear file is sure to be discussed.

And he is bound to be disappointed with what he hears from Barack Obama. That is because there are profound differences between the Obama administration and Israel when it comes to the perception of the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran, as well as their estimation of the consequences of preventative military action.
First, there are analytical problems stemming from the White House's belief that Iran would be willing to strike a "grand bargain" if an American president emerged who threw cold water on the US-Israeli relationship. Netanyahu suffers from no illusion that Iran would reorient itself toward the West. After all, one of the pillars of the Iranian revolution is to despise big and little Satan (America and Israel, respectively), and it has long been embodied in Iran's foreign-policy slogan: "Neither East nor West."


Then there is the problem of effective sanctions. Israel believes time is running out and sanctions will not alter the regime's behavior. But the Obama administration is proud of the new toothless sanctions passed by the UN Security Council. Indeed, Resolution 1929 fails to target Iran's energy sector and safeguards Russia and China's economic interests. Moreover, while the US Congress wants to punish companies that sell refined petroleum products to Iran, team Obama prefers a slower approach. This fourth round of sanctions is being billed as proof positive that American foreign policy toward Russia and China is a smashing success. Yet the Bush administration managed to gain their support for three separate rounds of sanctions from 2006-2008. It is difficult, then, to see how Obama's foreign policy outreach has paid dividends, and equally hard to conclude that the latest UN sanctions will affect Iranian behavior. For Netanyahu, the idea that working through the UN could effectively solve such a time-sensitive problem is absurd.

Yet the analytical problem goes even further when contemplating a preemptive strike and the resulting fallout. The Israeli view is that Israel would be hit with rockets from Hamas and Hizbullah, and Jewish sites around the globe would be attacked. There would probably be attacks against the US as well, and the global economy would take a dive. But in the end, Iran would be forced to face Israel's counterdeterrent.

The Iranian people may even turn against their leadership and say, "look at the mess you have brought upon us."

In the Israeli view, maybe their preemptive strike only sets the program back a year – but that is what Israel thought after bombing Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981 and today, some 30 years later, Iraq's nuclear program was never reconstituted. Accordingly, buying a year in the Middle East could actually be quite significant. In this view, the morning after does not look so bad for Israel; it is something the Jewish state can weather.

THE OBAMA administration's view is very different. The result of an Israeli raid would mean that American soldiers – 150,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan – would be more exposed than ever. The global war on terrorism would become even more difficult to prosecute. The regime in Teheran that today is weak and divided will grow united along with its people. It will redouble its efforts to get a nuclear weapon and there would be precious little international support to prevent that. Those weapons would be delivered to its terrorist proxies. In the White House's estimation, an Israeli preemptive strike would be catastrophic.

But the disparity between Israel and the US is more than analytical. There is a stark analogical difference as well.

Israel views Iran like Europe in the 1930s, with a country openly determined to eliminate all the Jews. It presents a very real existential threat.

On the other hand, Obama sees Russia and China during the Cold War where a combination of containment and deterrence prevented nuclear hostilities.

Yet given the ideological-messianic fervor of many in the Iranian leadership, Israelis rightfully question whether such a regime can be deterred.

Moreover, there is no hot line between Jerusalem and Teheran such as existed between Washington and Moscow during the Cold War. Any diplomatic incident would run the risk of snowballing toward a nuclear clash. Indeed, the possibilities for conflict are endless in a region that has long been a tinderbox.

These two strikingly different analytical and analogical frameworks are mutually exclusive and are bound to lead the US and Israel in very different directions. The past year and a half has been a story of missed American opportunities to pressure the Iranian regime.

Moreover, Obama's "charm offensive" in the Muslim world has displayed American weakness rather than strength.

Today, Iran can proudly add Turkey and Brazil to its resistance camp. By way of contrast, America's allies wonder if the Obama administration has the ability to bring about peace through strength. Given the current American trend, the answer firmly appears to be no, and Iran has certainly taken notice.

The writer is director of policy at the Jewish Policy Center in Washington, DC.









Dr. Immad Hammada and Dr. Murad Abu-Khalaf are both lecturers in electrical engineering born in East Jerusalem. Their families have lived in the city for generations. They both left years ago, each one separately, to study in the United States, and after graduating and consolidating their careers they want to return to live in their home town.

But their right to be reunified with their families is being denied by the Interior Ministry, as Amira Hass reported in Sunday's Haaretz. Hammada has been living in his city for some three years illegally, without any rights and under constant danger of being arrested and deported, while Abu-Khalaf is finding it difficult to return, even for a visit.


Judge Noam Sohlberg of Jerusalem District Court is hearing their cases against the ministry this week.


Interior Ministry regulations provide for the abrogation of the rights of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem who leave the city for a period of over seven years. Citizens of Israel can leave the country for any length of time, and their citizenship and all their rights are theirs in perpetuity. But when it comes to Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, Israel applies draconian regulations whose covert intent is to bring about the expulsion of as many Palestinians as possible from their home city.


This situation is intolerable: At a time when the prime minister speaks grandiloquently of the reunification of Jerusalem, Israel practices inequality and discriminates against the city's Arab residents. At a time when Benjamin Netanyahu speaks of the economic advancement of the territories, Israel prevents the Arab residents of East Jerusalem from advancing their careers abroad and returning afterward to their home city to contribute toward the development of its economy. The screws have been tightened in recent years: In 2008 the residents' rights of 4,557 Palestinian inhabitants of the city were abrogated, the highest number ever.


Waiting on Judge Sohlberg now is not only the fate of two electrical engineering lecturers, but a far weightier question: Will Israel continue treating the Palestinian inhabitants of its capital as if they were foreign migrants whose rights are conditional?


The rights of the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem must be equal to those of Jews. All Jerusalemites have the right to live in their city, to go abroad and return as they will, without any danger posed by the authorities lying in wait for them.








When Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister again after 10 years in exile, his foolish and diminishing group of followers presented him as an example of a righteous man who fell and rose again; a comeback. A year and a quarter went by and it turns out this is no comeback, but rather a talkback.


A one-man response team. The world acts, and Netanyahu mumbles. Zero initiatives, lots of desperate running to catch the tail of reality. Rather similar to Mehmet Tubal, the captain of the Mavi Marmara - theoretical master of his ship, practically speaking - a pawn.


That is true for the peace process, for the closure on Gaza and for the investigative panel into the flotilla affair, which Netanyahu was dragged into appointing. And it appears again in the Immanuel school segregation affair.


Common to all of these is the political desire to dodge responsibility. Ahead of the anticipated great tests against the settlers and their supporters, this is a recipe for anarchy and under extreme circumstances - if the government's leadership continues to be weak - for management of the country by a junta: Legal, democratic, obeying the court, not interfering in politics, but still, professional officers and not an elected leadership.


When the politicians were struck dumb by the Immanuel affair, the Israel police stepped in to enforce an order of the High Court of Justice with the approval of the attorney general; and it did well. Police Commissioner David Cohen himself commanded the operation (code-named "Final Verse" ), which crossed districts: Jerusalem, the West Bank, Tel Aviv, the traffic division, Border Police, the operations division, the intelligence branch - 10,000 police facing off against 100,000 or more protesters in more than one locale. The last time the police commissioner took direct command was the visit of Pope Benedict XVI last year.


Against a backdrop of ultra-Orthodox protests in Jaffa over supposed desecration of graves and the High Court ruling stopping subsidies to yeshiva students, the police swiftly organized throughout the country to handle disturbances of the peace by Haredim, who constitute nearly a tenth of Israel's population, more than half a million people. It is not only Immanuel; it is also the protective shell around the mother who allegedly starved her child and the father who allegedly killed his baby.


"Recent surveys by the Public Security Ministry and the police reveal a problem regarding the willingness of the Haredi sector to cooperate with the law enforcement authorities," in dealing with criminal acts within the sector, the police journal reported recently.


The journal also wrote on the results of "a study of the extent of crime in the Haredi sector," focusing on the Haredi city of Elad, in comparison to a non-Haredi community served by the same police station, Rosh Ha'ayin, which resembles Elad in size.


The research found that in the last decade Elad has seen "a marked rise in all crimes studied," particularly assault (11-fold ), spousal abuse (20-fold ), and crimes against children and so-called 'defenseless people' (18-fold ). Youth offenses have also increased (18-fold ) as have sexual crimes (8-fold ). In Rosh Ha'ayin, there has been a decline in most types of crime, with the result that the Haredi community now has by far the higher crime rate per 1,000 residents.


The community and its rabbis protect offenders. And why should they not, when Netanyahu and Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar are afraid to fire Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush, who protects those in contempt of court from Immanuel?


A similar message seeps down to soldiers: You are alone. Like on the Mavi Marmara, like on the self-destructing tape in "Mission Impossible," the ministers will disavow and deny. A study of the Altalena affair by officers of the Israel Defense Forces General Staff behavioral sciences department, published by the Defense Ministry's publishing house; the evacuation of Yamit in 1982 and the evacuation of Gaza and the northern West Bank in 2005, all reflect concern over the abandoning of junior officers and enlisted men.


The cumulative lesson indicates that in future evacuations of settlements it would be better for company and battalion commanders to reach unofficial arrangements to excuse soldiers who oppose the mission, so as to prevent mass refusal of orders and the collapse of units.


"Civil war is unacceptable, but the IDF might in the future find itself threatened by domestic factors and

respond accordingly. The responsibility for making the decision is at the political level," the behavioral science officers warned in their study.


Government in Israel is crumbling, and as long as its leaders are silent and paralyzed, the slide into chaos will never truly end.








In 1902, Theodor Herzl published "Altneuland," in which he expounded his socio-political vision for the Land of Israel after masses of Jews had settled there: an autonomous civil society made up of both the Jewish and the non-Jewish inhabitants of the country.


The coda of the book was "If you will it, it is no dream."


Recently, a pamphlet in Hebrew entitled "If You Will It: A Star from Israel, A Manifesto for Zionist Renewal" appeared. It was written by Ronen Shuval, the founder and chairman of an organization called Im Tirtzu ("If you will it" in Hebrew ), which defines itself as "acting for the renewal of thought, culture, and Zionist ideology in Israel."


The name of the pamphlet in English is "Herzl's Vision 2.0" implying that it is an updated version of that vision. However, if you search Shuval's list of recommended reading at the end for the work from which both the pamphlet and the movement took their name, you will not find it.


This is no coincidence, for this is what our new Herzlian writes, in a chapter entitled "The nation-state problem":


"Just as in the United States one may hear today terms such as 'Italian-American'... here we speak of 'Arab Israelis'. It is difficult to exaggerate the absurdity of this concept. Israel is the name of our patriarch Jacob, and 'Israel-ness' is the culture and the consciousness of Jacob ... and what does an Arab, even if he lives in the Galilee, have to do with all this?"


Could there be an opinion further from the worldview of the author of "Altneuland?" The fundamental political principle upon which the Herzlian community in that book is based is separation between ethnic-religious identity and civil-territorial partnership. This is reflected first and foremost in the choice of the ethnically neutral name for the land of that community - the Old-New Land.


The Jews are the majority of the citizens of the community, but because the concept Old-New Land is not exclusively identified with Jewish people, it is structured to encompass both Jews and non-Jews in one "Altneulandic" civil nation. That includes Rashid Bey, the Muslim politician from the Galilee, who has nothing to do with "the culture and the consciousness of Jacob."


The State of Israel is not Altneuland, for the term "Israeli" is far from being ethnically and religiously neutral. However, thanks to the territorial-civil element in it, it is a relatively flexible term, which can serve as a focus of identification also for those who are not numbered with "the seed of our patriarch Jacob."


In fact, a survey carried out this year by pollsters Maagar Mohot found that about half of the Arab youth in Israel feel that they are Israelis. This is one sign, still isolated and insufficient, of the fulfillment of Herzl's civil vision, a sign that Shuval would like to erase.


The intolerable ease with which an educated young person is capable of naming a blatantly anti-Herzlian pamphlet "a renewal of Herzl's vision" is powerful evidence of outrageous alienation from the history and the fundamentals of Zionist nationalism.


Modern Zionism was born out of the basic failure of European states to include Jews in their civic life. Out of a desire not to repeat such a failure, the founding fathers of Zionism created a variety of concepts of nationhood, with the inclusion of other cultures as something to be taken for granted.


These inclusive concepts of citizenship, with the Herzlian Altneuland vision the most clear-cut of all, were a cornerstone of Zionist ideology no less than the ethos of Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel and the principle of Jewish self-determination.


Those who today exclude this fundamental element from Zionism are left with a chauvinist and non-Zionist version of Jewish nationalism.


The writer lectures on Zionist history and modern nationalism at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.









Ehud Barak's demand that Benjamin Netanyahu put forth a political plan and include Tzipi Livni in the coalition is coming back like a boomerang. And it's happening on the eve of his trip to Washington, between the flotilla and the establishment of a committee of inquiry, among visits by George Mitchell and a meeting with Tony Blair, and between major events like the election of a new chairman for the Jewish National Fund and the selection of a new head for Labor's youth movement.


Late last week, the media reported that these demands were made again, this time in "close talks," but thanks to the speediness of Barak's people, the public already knew everything on Sunday: "In Barak's close circle there is talk of an immediate need for secret talks [Secret? More than the killing of Hamas' Mahmoud al-Mabhouh?] between Livni and Netanyahu."


Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer was also quick to sweeten the secret of "closed talks" (Another siege? Whom did they shut down this time and for how long? ): "Ehud has a magical influence on Netanyahu, they sit together all the time, but I expect more, more. more." Spin has replaced other spin that has expired: Stories about the deep talks in the forum of seven senior ministers are out, the close relations between Netanyahu and Barak are in - five or six hours of head-to-head talks per day. It has been a long time since there has been so much talk about nothing.


The new spin should be stalled even before it starts. The question is simple: If Barak's influence on Netanyahu is nearly magical, how is it that Barak, who claims that "only a determined political initiative will break the siege on Israel," is unable to move Netanyahu toward his stance? No one can suspect that Barak thinks that there is anything he can't do. So where is the determined political initiative of the Israeli government? When will it be put forth?


The actions of the Netanyahu-Barak government drown in the sea, and these two are drowning in intimacy. Spinmeister, I am talking to you. The proximity talks with the Palestinians are going nowhere, and they are talking about daring politics. The "civilian blockade" on the Gaza Strip has been lifted, but it is clear to everyone that our strength will dwindle from one flotilla to the next.


Meanwhile, their wisdom or capability to carry out political initiatives is not is being tested, but rather their ability to withstand pressure. And here, too, the results are pathetic. Governments do the right thing, said Abba Eban the aristocrat, "once they have exhausted all other alternatives." Moshe Dayan used more common language: "Only a donkey does not change his mind."


Well, on the issue of Gaza, the donkeys changed their mind. Do they realize how bad our situation is, there and elsewhere? Barak, no doubt, understands full well, but continues to play the role of the government's political commentator, not its engine.


Three World Cups in a row would not dull Israel's "sit down and do nothing." Also false is the assumption that there is plenty of time until the U.S. congressional elections in November. From now on only real negotiations with the Palestinians will work in our favor, not talk about it.


Barak and Netanyahu know this; they know they need to put on the table what Barak put there in the past. They also know two other things: Israel will not have better negotiating partners than the current Palestinian leadership, and the likelihood that U.S. President Barack Obama will submit to the two sides his own plan to solve the conflict before November.


Maybe this is what they are waiting for?









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?









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 NEW YORK TIMES




Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has made the right decision to significantly ease Israel's punishing and counterproductive blockade of Gaza. The move was clearly intended to mollify Washington and Europe in the wake of Israel's deadly raid this month on an aid flotilla trying to run the blockade.


If done right, and managed correctly, it should improve the lives of 1.5 million Palestinians trapped in the Gaza Strip without compromising Israel's security. It should also focus more international attention, criticism and pressure on Hamas, which continues to rocket Israeli cities and refuses to accept Israel's right to exist.


Israel has a responsibility to its citizens to stop the delivery of all weapons and rockets to Hamas. But the near-total blockade of Gaza — mattresses, many foods and even toys have been on the list of banned imports — has caused widespread suffering and given Hamas more excuses for its excesses and mismanagement.


The militant group also takes a large cut of the profits from the extensive networks that smuggle in everything from cars to missiles through tunnels underneath the border with Egypt. Mr. Netanyahu has rightly refused to abandon the sea blockade of Gaza. He cannot do that until Hamas stops rocketing Israeli cities and towns.


Mr. Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel "seeks to keep out of Gaza weapons and war-supporting matériel" but that "all other goods would be allowed into Gaza." Israeli officials, who need to translate that commitment into policy, should take their prime minister at his expansive word.


The best course, and one Israeli officials say they will now follow, is to create a short list of items banned for security reasons, and allow in everything else. Right now the list of banned goods is huge, constantly shifting, and often not even publicly available.


Israeli officials also promised to streamline the entry and exit of Palestinians for humanitarian and medical reasons and of international aid workers.


Gazans need everything including more food and medicine. They need construction materials to rebuild homes destroyed in the 2008-2009 Gaza war.


Israel had sharply curbed deliveries of cement and steel, arguing that Hamas would use them to build bunkers or weapons. Under the new plan, more construction supplies will be allowed in, but only for projects approved by the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority and under international supervision. That makes sense, but the bureaucratic process must not be allowed to stifle needed reconstruction.


Israel needs to implement the new policy quickly and make sure that, unlike now, all decisions and criteria are explained publicly. Unfortunately, some of the good will from the Sunday announcement was erased by Monday's news that Jerusalem plans to demolish more than 20 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem to clear the way for an archaeological park.







Forty-three years ago, when the nation lived in fear of Communist sympathizers and saboteurs, the Supreme Court said that even the need for national defense could not reduce the First Amendment rights of those associating with American Communists.


On Monday, in the first case since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to test free speech against the demands of national security in the age of terrorism, the ideals of an earlier time were eroded and free speech lost. By preserving an extremely vague prohibition on aiding and associating with terrorist groups, the court reduced the First Amendment rights of American citizens.


The case was not about sending money to terrorist organizations or serving as their liaison, activities that are clearly and properly illegal. And it did not stop people from simply saying they support the goals of groups like Hamas or Al Qaeda, as long as they are not actually working with those groups. But it could have a serious impact on lawyers, journalists or academics who represent or study terrorist groups.


The case arose after an American human rights group, the Humanitarian Law Project, challenged the law prohibiting "material support" to terror groups, which was defined in the 2001 Patriot Act to include "expert advice or assistance." The law project wanted to provide advice to two terrorist groups on how to peacefully resolve their disputes and work with the United Nations. The two groups — the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Kurdistan Workers' Party — have violent histories and their presence on the State Department's official list of terrorist groups is not in dispute.


But though the law project was actually trying to reduce the violence of the two groups, the court's opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. on behalf of five other justices, said that did not matter and ruled the project's efforts illegal. Even peaceful assistance to a terror group can further terrorism, the chief justice wrote, in part by lending them legitimacy and allowing them to pretend to be negotiating while plotting violence.


In a powerful dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer, also speaking for Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, swept away those arguments. If providing legitimacy to a terror group was really a crime, he wrote, then it should also be a crime to independently legitimize a terror group through speech, which it is not. Never before, he said, had the court criminalized a form of speech on these kinds of grounds, noting with particular derision the notion that peaceful assistance buys negotiating time for an opponent to achieve bad ends.


The court at least clarified that acts had to be coordinated with terror groups to be illegal, but many forms of assistance may still be a criminal act, including filing a brief against the government in a terror-group lawsuit. Academic researchers doing field work in conflict zones could be arrested for meeting with terror groups and discussing their research, as could journalists who write about the activities and motivations of these groups, or the journalists' sources. The F.B.I. has questioned people it suspected as being sources for a New York Times article about terrorism, and threatened to arrest them for providing material support.


There remains a reasonable way of resolving these disputes. Justice Breyer proposed a standard that would criminalize this kind of speech or association "only when the defendant knows or intends that those activities will assist the organization's unlawful terrorist actions." Because he was unable to persuade a majority on the court, Congress needs to enact this standard into law.







When it comes to America's immigration bureaucracy, there is one thing that newcomers to the United States can count on: the fees have a way of going up.


The Obama administration has announced plans to increase fees for immigration documents by about 10 percent. The director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Alejandro Mayorkas, says he needs to close a $200 million budget gap for the coming fiscal year. Because his agency is required by Congress to be almost entirely self-financed, the burden of raising the cash will be placed where it always is: on immigrant applicants.


Under the proposal, they would have to pay $985 to apply for a green card, up from $930. The application for employment authorization would rise to $380 from $340. A separate fee for collecting fingerprints and other biometric data would increase to $85 from $80.


At least the fee for the final step — becoming a citizen — won't go up. It remains $595. And other fees have actually gone down slightly. That flexibility is to the agency's credit, given its notorious reputation for presenting applicants a solid wall of bureaucratic hostility.


Mr. Mayorkas's agency should do more to make it easier for poor immigrants to have their fees waived. The agency allows waivers but lacks a clear system through which applicants can seek them. It is working on creating a standardized waiver application form, so it doesn't have to rely on the ad-hoc decisions of adjudicators who assess applicants' ability to pay.


Mr. Mayorkas says more people could qualify if the agency tried harder to help them — citing its success in helping Haitians apply for temporary protected status after January's devastating earthquake. We agree.


The country has spent billions on border and workplace enforcement designed to keep illegal immigrants out. Yet it continues to refuse to finance a better system for welcoming in legal immigrants.


Immigration has done so much to make the country thrive and prosper, yet the American people are unwilling to pay for it. Congress should be carrying more of the weight of financing the system.










Nearly 10 years after George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore and became president anyway, the New York State Legislature has a chance to withdraw from the archaic and unfair way this country picks its chief executives.


The State Senate has adopted, by a vote of 52 to 7, a measure requiring the state to assign all of its Electoral College delegates to the candidate who wins the national popular vote. In the Assembly, 79 of 150 members have signed on to the bill, but it remains stuck in committee. The Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, should bring it to the floor this week and press all members to vote for it.


The Electoral College was established by the nation's founders in part to appease slave-owning states. It is based indirectly on population, and slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person. Each state now gets as many electoral votes as it has representatives in Congress. New York, for example, has 31 electoral votes, and whoever wins the most votes in New York gets all 31.


The result can be what we all saw in 2000, where the votes of one state, Florida, decided the election despite the fact that Mr. Gore was the nation's choice by more than a half-million votes. Since then, an organization called the National Popular Vote came up with the end run around the Electoral College that is now before the New York Legislature.


Since it takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency, the National Popular Vote laws would go into effect only if states accounting for 270 or more electoral votes agree to the new system. So far, five states, with a total of 61 electoral votes, have done that. New York should become the sixth.








Cambridge, Mass.


LAST month, the 50th anniversary of the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the birth control pill was marked by a lot of discussion about the ways in which the pill has failed to deliver on its promises. It did not solve women's problems juggling work and family life — nor did it end gender discrimination or eliminate unintended pregnancies. Clearly, approving the use of the pill was only the beginning of the effort to meet women's contraception needs.


The pill remains part of the solution, but its usefulness has been limited because it's available only by prescription. As every woman who has run out of pills on a Sunday or forgotten to take them along on vacation knows, refills are not always easy to come by.


What's more, the difficulties involved in obtaining a pill prescription, especially for women without access to a doctor, can cause gaps in contraceptive use. And the birth control methods that are available without prescription — condoms, spermicide and the sponge — have higher failure rates than the pill.


But there is something we could do to help the pill live up to its potential: let women purchase it over the counter. A half-century of evidence shows us that it's safe to dispense the pill without a prescription.


The pill meets F.D.A. criteria for over-the-counter medications. Women don't need a doctor to tell them whether they need the pill — they know when they are sexually active and want to avoid pregnancy. Pill instructions are easy to follow: Take one each day. There's no chance of becoming addicted. Taking too many will make you nauseated, but won't endanger your life, in contrast to some over-the-counter drugs, like analgesics. (There are even side benefits to taking the pill, like reduced risks of ovarian and uterine cancer.)


It's true that the pill could be dangerous for women with certain conditions. Women who are 35 or older and smoke, and those with high blood pressure, are at greater risk of a heart attack or stroke if they take oral contraceptives that combine estrogen and progestin. But these are not complicated conditions to identify; women already have to tell their doctor about their health problems when they get a prescription, and research shows that women can screen themselves for contraindications almost as well as providers do.


Progestin-only pills, or minipills, might be an ideal option for an initial over-the-counter switch since they have fewer (and rarer) contraindications and potential complications. Along with the change, the pharmaceutical company, nonprofits and the government should collaborate on an educational campaign, including pamphlets packaged with the pills and public service announcements that would give women information about how to use the pill, deal with side effects, recognize serious complications and of course remind them to get regular checkups for preventative care like Pap smears.


The United States has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the developed world, and better access to the pill is part of the solution to this problem. During the debate leading up to F.D.A. approval of the emergency contraception pill called Plan B for over-the-counter sale, some people expressed concern about expanding access to contraception for young women without doctors' oversight, and they might say the same about the birth control pill. But there are no special health risks for younger women on the pill, and sexually active women, whatever their age, should have freer access to the full range of options to prevent pregnancy.


We also need to address the problem of pricing. Plan B became more expensive when it went over the counter. If that happened to the pill, it could be unaffordable for many women on Medicaid whose prescriptions are now covered. In some states Medicaid already covers over-the-counter contraception like condoms; Medicaid coverage in all states should be extended to all over-the-counter methods, including the pill.


Women don't need a doctor to tell them if they need cold medicine or condoms, and they shouldn't need a doctor's permission to take the pill. Over-the-counter sales would expand access to safe, effective contraception, and help women take control over their sexual and reproductive lives.


Kelly Blanchard is the president of Ibis Reproductive Health, a nonprofit research organization.








We've blown so many enormous opportunities over the past several years. In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, when most of the world had lined up in support of the United States, President George W. Bush had the chance to lead a vast cooperative, international effort to combat terrorism and lay the groundwork for a more peaceful, more secure world.


He blew it with the invasion of Iraq.


In the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we had not just the chance but an obligation to call on our best talent to creatively rebuild the historic city of New Orleans. That could have kick-started a major renovation of the nation's infrastructure and served as the incubator for a new and desperately needed urban policy. Despite President Bush's vow of "bold action" during a carefully staged, nationally televised appearance in the French Quarter, we did nothing of the kind.


The collapse of the economy in the Great Recession gave us the starkest, most painful evidence imaginable of the failure of laissez-faire economics and the destructive force of the alliance of big business and government against the interests of ordinary Americans. Radical change was called for. (One thinks of Franklin Roosevelt raging against the "economic royalists" and asserting that "we need to correct, by drastic means if necessary, the faults in our economic system from which we now suffer.")


But there has been no radical change, only caution and timidity and more of the same. The royalists remain triumphant and working people are absorbing blow after devastating blow. More than 1.2 million of the long-term jobless are due to lose their unemployment benefits this month.


The oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, as horrible as it has been, was yet another opportunity. In his address to the nation from the Oval Office last week, President Obama could have laid out a dramatic new energy policy for the U.S., calling on every American to do his or her part to help us escape the insidious, nonstop destruction that is the result of our obsessive reliance on fossil fuels.


He chose not to.


As a nation, we are becoming more and more accustomed to a sense of helplessness. We no longer rise to the great challenges before us. It's not just that we can't plug the oil leak, which is the perfect metaphor for what we've become. We can't seem to do much of anything.


The city of Detroit is using federal money to destroy thousands upon thousands of empty homes, giving in to a sense of desperation that says there is no way to rebuild the city so let's do the opposite: let's destroy even more of it. Lots more of it.


There are plans aplenty for demolishing large parts of what's left of Detroit, which in its heyday was the symbol of an America that was still a powerfully constructive force, a place that could produce things and improve the lives of its people and inspire the rest of the world.


Referring to an aspect of one of the plans, The Times's Susan Saulny wrote in an article in Monday's paper: "An urban homestead — one of the more popular parts of the plan — would be tantamount to country living in the city, the plan says, with homeowners enjoying an agricultural environment and lower taxes in exchange for disconnecting from some city services like water."


The June 28 cover story of Time magazine is headlined, "The Broken States of America." As I've mentioned

here several times, the states are facing a catastrophic fiscal situation that is short-circuiting essential services,

pushing even more people out of work, and undermining the feeble national economic recovery.


As Time reported: "Schools, health services, libraries — and the salaries that go with them — are all on the

chopping block as states and cities face their worst cash squeeze since the Great Depression."

We are submitting to this debacle with the same pathetic lack of creativity and helpless mind-set that now seems

to be the default position of Americans in the 21st century. We have become a nation that is good at destroying

things — with wars overseas and mind-bogglingly self-destructive policies here at home — but that has lost sight of how to build and maintain a flourishing society. We're dismantling our public school system and, incredibly, attacking our spectacularly successful system of higher education, which is the finest in the world.


How is it possible that we would let this happen?


We've got all kinds of sorry explanations for why we can't do any of the things we need to do. The Democrats can't get 60 votes in the Senate. Our budget deficits are too high. Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck might object.


Meanwhile, the greatness of the United States, which so many have taken for granted for so long, is steadily slipping away.








It was the winter of 2007. Dr. Faustus, the famous left-wing philologist, was sitting in a coffee shop in despair over the Bush-Cheney regime and the future of his country.


Suddenly, Mephistopheles, who happened to be the provost at his college, appeared, sipping a double mocha frappuccino. He sat down next to Dr. Faustus and casually asked him if he would like to be granted any five wishes in exchange for his immortal soul.


This was Dr. Faustus's chance to do something grand for his country. He would lose his soul, but if he chose wisely, he could make the United States a bastion of liberalism forevermore.


"I agree, Lord of Darkness, if you grant me the following wishes: First, I would like the nation to be hurled into an economic crisis caused by Wall Street greed and recklessness. This will discredit free-market fundamentalism once and for all."


"It will be done," Mephistopheles vowed.


"Then I would like you to find the smartest Democratic politician in the land and make him president."


"It will be done."


"Then I would like you to create a political climate so he can immediately enact an $800 billion spending package. This will avert economic collapse and show the American people how effective government can be."


"It will be done."


"Then I would like the Democrats to pass a universal health care law. This will show a grateful nation that government can provide basic security."


"It will be done."


"If you do all this, America will be transformed. Conservatism will be in retreat and liberalism will reign supreme! Just to be sure, I would like a multinational oil company to cause the biggest environmental disaster in American history. This will completely discredit corporate America and remind people why they need strong regulations and global warming legislation."


"It will be done."


And, indeed, everything Dr. Faustus wished for came to pass. Yet he watched events unfold with growing horror. Not in 70 years had there been a sequence of events so perfectly designed to fortify liberalism. Yet the country wasn't swinging to the left; it was swinging to the right!


Surveys showed public opinion drifting rightward on issue after issue: gun control, abortion, global warming and the role of government. Far from leading Americans, Democrats were repelling them. Between 2008 and 2010 the share of voters who considered the Democrats too liberal surged from 39 percent to 49 percent, according to Gallup surveys.


Prospects for the 2010 election are grim. Election guru Charlie Cook suspects the G.O.P. will retake the House. N.P.R. polled voters in the 60 most competitive House districts currently held by Democrats. Democrats trail Republicans in those districts, on average, by 5 percentage points. Independent voters in the districts favor Republicans by an average of 18 percentage points.


By 57 percent to 37 percent, voters in these districts embrace the proposition that "President Obama's economic policies have run up a record federal deficit while failing to end the recession or slow the record pace of job losses."


Instead of building faith in government, the events of 2009 and 2010 further undermined it. An absurdly low 6 percent of Americans acknowledge that the stimulus package created jobs, according to a New York Times/CBS survey.


Some Kool-Aid sippers on the left say the problem is that Republicans have better messaging (somehow John Boehner became magically charismatic to independents). Others say the shift to the right is a product of bad economic times. But Dr. Faustus saw a deeper truth. Moderate suburban voters do not see the world as liberals do, even in the most propitious circumstances, and never will.


Bitterly and too late, Dr. Faustus saw that liberals can't have their way and still win elections in places like North Carolina, Ohio and Missouri. Bitterly and too late, Dr. Faustus recognized that economic policies are about values. If your policies undermine personal responsibility by separating the link between effort and reward, voters will punish you for it.


Bitterly and too late, Dr. Faustus acknowledged that after a period of overconsumption, Americans now see debt as the primary threat to their well-being. Dr. Faust and his fellow liberals may see themselves as the champions of the little guy, but in the new age of austerity, many voters see them as protectors of the special interests, as the guardians of the unaffordable promises.


Republicans have their own problems. They've begun over-reading their ideological mandate without the usual intervening step of actually winning an election. But the big story is that liberals have failed to create a governing center-left majority. If they can't do it in circumstances like these, when will they ever?


Dr. Faustus fell back into despair. His soul will spend all eternity trapped in Glenn Beck's microphone.







TONY HAYWARD, the chief executive of BP, made an astounding admission before Congress last week: after nearly two months of failure, the company and the Coast Guard have no further plans to plug the Macondo oil well leaking into the Gulf. Instead, the goal is merely to contain the leak until a relief well comes online, a process that could take months.


With tens of thousands of barrels of oil leaking from the well each day, this absence of a backup plan highlights a lack of leadership, resources and expertise on the part of the Coast Guard, which from the beginning was compelled to give BP complete control over the leaking wellhead.


Instead, President Obama needs to create a new command structure that places responsibility for plugging the leak with the Navy, the only organization in the world that can muster the necessary team. Then the Navy needs to demolish the well.


The Coast Guard, of course, should continue to play a role. But it should focus on what it can do well, like containing the oil already in the Gulf and protecting the coast with oil booms and skimmers. It should also use this crisis to establish permanent collaborations with other maritime forces around the globe, particularly those that can get to a disaster area quickly.


But control of the well itself should fall to the Navy — it alone has the resources to stop the flow. For starters, the Office of Naval Research controls numerous vehicles like Alvin, the famed submersible used to locate the Titanic. Had such submersibles been deployed earlier, we could have gotten real-time information about the wellhead, instead of waiting for BP to release critical details.


The Navy also commands explosives experts who have vast knowledge of underwater demolitions. And it has some of the world's finest underwater engineers at Naval Reactors, the secretive program that is responsible for designing nuclear reactors for nuclear submarines. With the help of scientists in our national weapons laboratories and experts from private companies, these engineers can be let loose on the well.


To allay any concerns over militarizing the crisis, the Navy and Coast Guard should be placed in a task-force structure alongside a corps of experts, including independent oil engineers, drilling experts with dedicated equipment, geologists, energy analysts and environmentalists, who could provide pragmatic options for emergency action.


With this new structure in place, the Navy could focus on stopping the leak with a conventional demolition. This means more than simply "blowing it up": it means drilling a hole parallel to the leaking well and lowering charges to form an explosive column.


Upon detonating several tons of explosives, a pressure wave of hundreds of thousands of pounds per square inch would spread outward in the same way that light spreads from a tubular fluorescent bulb, evenly and far. Such a sidelong explosion would implode the oil well upstream of the leak by crushing it under a layer of impermeable rock, much as stepping on a garden hose stops the stream of water.


It's true that the primary blast of a conventional explosion is less effective underwater than on land because of the intense back-pressure that muffles the shock wave. But as a submariner who studied the detonation of torpedoes, I learned that an underwater explosion also creates rapid follow-on shockwaves. In this case, the expansion and collapse of explosive gases inside the hole would act like a hydraulic jackhammer, further pulverizing the rock.


The idea of detonating the well already has serious advocates. A few people have even called for using a nuclear device to plug the well, as the Soviet Union has done several times. But that would be overkill. Smartly placed conventional explosives could achieve the same results, and avoid setting an unacceptable international precedent for the "peaceful" use of nuclear weapons.


At best, a conventional demolition would seal the leaking well completely and permanently without damaging the oil reservoir. At worst, oil might seep through a tortuous flow-path that would complicate long-term cleanup efforts. But given the size and makeup of the geological structures between the seabed and the reservoir, it's virtually inconceivable that an explosive could blast a bigger hole than already exists and release even more oil.


The task force could prepare for demolition without forgoing the current efforts to drill relief wells. And even if the ongoing efforts succeed and a demolition proves unnecessary, the non-nuclear option would give President Obama an ace in the hole and a clear signal that he's in charge — not BP.


Christopher Brownfield is a former nuclear submarine officer and the author of the forthcoming memoir "My Nuclear Family."










If there are two things that middle-class taxpayers who behave responsibly don't like, they are (1) having their money go to irresponsible people, and (2) having their money go to richer people.


Federal housing policy manages to hit the daily double.


Start with President Obama's anti-foreclosure program, which gives homeowners who have taken on too much mortgage debt a chance at a federally subsidized refinancing deal. On Monday, his administration released a report saying that most borrowers who had entered the program have dropped out, often because they could not document their income. Last week, Fitch, one of the major credit rating agencies, predicted that most people who do get new loans will default within a year.


Chalk these up as more marks against the $50 billion program, which has been considered a disappointment even to some of its backers. But there is more here than another talking point for Obama's critics. The Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, is merely the latest in a multidecade series of misguided policies to promote homeownership. These policies have accomplished little but drive up home prices and promote irresponsible lending and borrowing.


They are major contributors to the federal deficit and often assist people who don't need help. Tax breaks to homeowners will cost the Treasury $212 billion per year by 2012, according to the Urban Institute. That's about four times what is spent on homeland security. More than half of the total comes from the deductibility of interest on mortgages. The program is wildly popular, of course, because everyone likes a tax break. But its absurdity is evident in the fact that it applies to mortgages of up to $1 million. So average Joes are helping the rich live better.


Then there are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the "government sponsored enterprises" that buy and guarantee mortgages. Now that they have collapsed, leaving a bill estimated at $381 billion, their repeated claims that they posed no risks to taxpayers have been exposed as falsehoods.


For all of this, what has the country gotten? Over the past half-century, the homeownership rate has risen only modestly, from 62% in 1960 to 68% at the height of the housing bubble. In Canada, which has no mortgage deduction or many of the other subsidies present here, the ownership rate is about the same.


Housing subsidies are like a narcotic. Once enacted, they quickly lose their potency. Buyers have more money to spend, so prices rise. Then, when a recession turns the high into a hangover, real-estate lobbyists and their allies clamor to up the dosage.


The HAMP program is a classic example. Helping borrowers who are in so much trouble that they will default even with much better terms is little but a gift to bankers, who will take less of a hit in foreclosure. It also raises questions of fairness about why taxpayer money is going to the most imprudent of mortgage holders.


Similar questions could be raised about why — after all that has been learned in the past five years about credit bubbles, and after many private lenders are now demanding down payments in the range of 20% — the Federal Housing Administration allows loans with down payments as little as 3.5%.


It's true that homeownership carries social benefits and that owners generally take better care of their properties than renters. But, as with candy and ice cream, there can be too much of a good thing. Any policy that simultaneously rewards irresponsible behavior, leads to huge government bailouts and subsidizes the rich needs to be rethought.







There's a reason homeownership is called the American Dream. U.S. history is replete with instances of government support of homeownership, from the Homestead Act during the Civil War to the G.I. Bill after World War II.


Today our country faces economic challenges not seen since the Great Depression. Questionable lending practices and excessive risk-taking in the mortgage-backed securities market certainly played a significant role, and subsequent declines in home prices and increases in foreclosure rates have led some to question the very value of homeownership itself.


There's no doubt we need to restructure entities such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and improve government regulation of the mortgage lending industry. However, owning a home has government support in this country because homeownership benefits individuals and families, strengthens our communities and is integral to our nation's economy.


The Federal Housing Administration, Federal Home Loan Banks, and Fannie Mae were all created during the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis our country ever faced. Lawmakers back then understood the value of homeownership in fostering communities, creating social stability and building wealth over the long term.


Academic studies have shown the positive social benefits of homeownership, including lower juvenile delinquency rates, lower teen pregnancy rates, and higher student achievement among children of homeowners versus that of non-owners of similar socioeconomic background.


And although some homeowners now owe more on their mortgages than they could sell them for in today's market, people who bought within their means with the intent to stay in their homes for more than a few years have the opportunity to build financial stability into the future. A fixed-rate mortgage might last 15 to 30 years; renting is forever.


FHA, the mortgage interest deduction, and Fannie's and Freddie's role in making long-term, fixed-rate mortgages available make homeownership more attainable for more Americans. Homeownership isn't for everyone. But anyone who is able and willing to assume the responsibilities of owning a home should have the opportunity to pursue that dream, as people in this country have been doing for over 200 years.


Vicki Cox Golder is president of the National Association of Realtors.









In 2000, the teenage landscape was a different place. Destiny's Child and 'N Sync topped the music charts, Survivor popularized the new "reality TV" genre and, most retro of all, employers were still hiring teens.


That's something the iPad generation can't relate to: About one in four teens will have a job this summer, down from more than half of teens just a decade ago, according to an April report from Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies.


"Kids got thrown out of the labor market in a big way," said professor Andrew Sum, co-author of the report.


Sum laid out the competition teens faced in the last decade for low-level jobs: Older workers (55-plus), young college graduates (25 and under), immigrants and, as the construction and manufacturing sectors weakened, blue-collar workers.


"Teen workers occupy the 'last hired, first fired' rung on the job ladder, and their employment is hit much harder during downturns than that of older workers," wrote Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, in a 2009 analysis. This has certainly been true this recession, when teens have been hurt more than any other age group.


"We're at risk of having a lost generation of teens who were excluded from that valuable first job experience," said Michael Saltsman, a research fellow at the Employment Policies Institute (EPI).


It's a risk Washington is working to alleviate: A bill that included $1 billion over 10 years for youth job creation and training was passed by the House last month and is awaiting a Senate vote. But if it does pass, that $1 billion won't buy a generation-wide rescue. Instead, the legislation aims to create 350,000 jobs, helping just a fraction of the estimated 2.4 million job-seeking teens.


An enduring crisis


Though a $1 billion subsidy isn't small change, the problem is even bigger: Teen employment has withered in the past decade, creating a teen jobs crisis that will persist well after the recession's end. Factor in the unsustainable national debt, and government subsidies are clearly not the elixir here.


Instead, it's a good time to try a budget-neutral idea: Set a separate, lower minimum wage for those ages 16-19. James Sherk, a labor policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, estimated that a shift back to $5.15 an hour for teens could create nearly 500,000 such jobs — at zero cost to taxpayers.


It's notable that the federal minimum wage has seen a swift and steep increase in the past few years. Since 2007, it has jumped 41%, growing to the current $7.25 an hour from $5.15. In that same time, the May teen unemployment rate has skyrocketed to 26% from 16%. A 10% increase in the minimum wage reduces teen employment by about 2%, Sherk figures. And while the recession clearly played a large role, the rapid minimum-wage hikes exacerbated the job losses. A March policy brief from Ball State University estimated that 310,000 teens were without part-time employment because of the increases. When the minimum wage rose, creation of part-time entry level jobs plummeted — disproportionately impacting teens.


Minority teens are especially hard hit. For every 10% increase in the minimum wage, there is a 7% decrease in employment for black and Hispanic teens, according to a 2007 study for EPI by David Neumark, a professor at the University of California-Irvine. Currently, black and Hispanic teen unemployment rates (38% and 29%, respectively) are significantly higher than that of white teens (25%). Why such a high disparity exists isn't clear, although higher high school dropout rates and less access to transportation and professional networks likely contribute. Even more worrisome is the potential long-term effect. The overall black and Hispanic unemployment rates are seven and three percentage points higher than the white unemployment rate — and if minority teens don't get those vital first jobs, these dismal disparities could grow.


Jobs vs. wages


Washington has shown little interest in passing a reduced minimum wage for teens. Labor unions and low-income advocacy groups — both of which vigorously supported the minimum-wage increases mandated in 2007 — are likely to be concerned that paying teens a lower wage will increase unemployment for older minimum-wage workers. Politicians might also fear touching a popular policy: A 2006 Gallup Poll showed that 83% of Americans supported raising the minimum wage.


But public opinion can shift, and when the choice is either jobs or higher wages, I suspect jobs wins hands-down. Many advocates of a higher minimum wage also talk of its importance for low-income workers and families. However, teens' first jobs usually aren't about earning money for food or housing. Instead, they're about paying for college or other necessities, "so that I can do stuff without making my parents pay for it," as 17-year-old Californian Sarah Bridges put it to me. In fact, for teens, the most valuable long-term benefit of that entry-level job might not be the paycheck but the skills learned along the way.


"There's an invisible curriculum from being employed, learning to work with co-workers, reporting to a supervisor, learning to deal with customers," said EPI's Saltsman.


Not to mention that these jobs have become crucial to creating in the USA one of the world's most productive

and competent workforces.


For too many teens now out of school and bombarding businesses with applications, the high minimum wage is keeping them from acquiring those skills. With no prospect of Washington setting a lower teen minimum wage, the only lesson many of them will be learning this summer is the one that's been reinforced over the past 10 years: Employers just aren't that into them.


Katrina Trinko, a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College, is an intern for USA TODAY's editorial page.








In a video flashed around the world, Seattle policeman Ian Walsh is seen punching Angel Rosenthal in the face after she pushed him while trying to keep a friend from being arrested. Five days later, the 17-year-old girl was charged with third-degree assault in the incident. Her friend, Marilyn Ellen Levias, had been stopped for jaywalking.


Walsh took Levias into custody when she refused to identify herself and tried to walk away to avoid getting a ticket. The clash between the white officer and the black women produced rare alignment between the inhabitants of distant ideological universes — and could offer an equally unique opportunity to solve a deeply rooted problem. The Rev. Al Sharpton, a liberal civil rights activist, said the blow Walsh struck was not justified, and conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly agreed that it wasn't a measured response to Rosenthal's provocation.


This agreement should be used to bolster the efforts to take on the behavior of bad cops and the warped thinking of those young blacks who flout authority.


An issue of trust


For far too many blacks, police are perceived as an army of occupation, not a force that protects and serves their community. This perception and the inexcusable behavior of Rosenthal and Levias — as well as the viral video — turned a jaywalking incident into a worldwide news story.


In using what was clearly excessive force to ward off Rosenthal's interference, Walsh showed a lack of training — or a lack of desire — to handle the situation better. Even so, he had good reason to believe he'd suffer no great penalty for what he did.


In the past, such misjudgments by cops have resulted in deaths — extrajudicial capital punishments — and sparked major race riots. Among them: the 1979 killing of Arthur McDuffie, a black insurance salesman who was beaten to death by five Miami cops after he was chased down for running a red light; the 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo, an African immigrant, by four New York cops who said they mistook him for a rape suspect; and the 2008 shooting of Robert Tolan in Bellaire, Texas, by a white cop who said he believed Tolan, the son of former pro baseball player Bobby Tolan, had just gotten out of a stolen car.


In all these cases, the officers were ultimately acquitted. This imbalance in the scales of justice, I suspect, causes some cops to think they can mistreat blacks and get away with it.


Enough already


Something has to be done about this.


And something has to be said about the bad attitude and misbehavior of people like Rosenthal and Levias, who think they can contemptuously challenge authority, even when they have committed a crime. This was not their first run-in with the law. In November, Rosenthal was charged with second-degree robbery when she allegedly punched a 15-year-old boy in the face. Two years ago, she was charged with stealing a minivan. In 2009, Levias was charged with third-degree assault for allegedly pushing a sheriff's deputy.


The tendency of cops to mistreat blacks and the alarming way some young blacks respond to authority is what should alarm us about the Seattle incident. These patterns of behavior must be addressed so that brush fires like this don't again spark deadly race riots.


DeWayne Wickham writes on Tuesdays for USA TODAY.










Among the world's most devastating, premeditated and ongoing environmental catastrophes, mountaintop removal coal mining has to rank near the top. Yet across the country, companies that use mountaintop removal mining have been given a blank check -- in the form of a fast-track, nationwide permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers since 1982 -- to dump the land, trees and boulders that they blow away into the surrounding streams and valleys. Under this open-ended permit, six southern Appalachian states, including Tennessee, have been grievously damaged by MTR mining.


The poster-child for this outrageous environmental sacrilege, to be sure, is West Virginia. There, literally hundreds of mountaintops have been blasted and scrapped away, and blown or pushed, into the land below, destroying both the mountains and the valleys, the watersheds and communities, beneath them.


It's long been painfully apparent, visible for the eye to see and the tongue to taste, that this ongoing destruction of the creation that sustains us is not just an environmental, moral and religious abomination. It also has constituted a prima facie violation of the nation's Clean Water Act, which was passed by Congress to protect all the nation's blue-water streams as well as the subsurface water aquifers that filter and sustain the nation's water supplies.


Finally last year, a federal court judge issued a ruling confirming the obvious: that mountaintop removal mining is in clear and illegal violation of the nation's Clean Water Act. Last Thursday, the Army Corps of Engineers, which has overseen and rubber-stamped the use of Permit 21, finally suspended that dread permit with respect to West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Maryland. In Tennessee, more than half our counties, including Hamilton, now fall under this permit suspension.


Though his order strangely allows Permit 21 to be used in other states -- where it is, in fact, seldom used -- suspending its application in the six Appalachian states is a welcome step toward environmental sanity on this issue. The suspension will remain in effect until the Corps takes further action, or until it expires on March 18, 2012.


The practice of MTR mining, as mountaintop removal mining is known, should be flatly banned across the board. That should be the thrust of the Corps' planned consultation over the next year with the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency. MTR has far too much negative impact, and nothing, really, to support it.


MTR mining is, in fact, mainly a way to avoid traditional open-shaft mining, and the high number of jobs that type of mining traditionally provided, in favor of using dynamite, huge land-moving machines and relatively few workers.


The Greater Cumberland Plateau region of Appalachia deserves a much higher level of protection. It is far too rich in natural resources to suffer the despoliation of MTR mining.


This region stretches from West Virginia and western Virginia's mountains south through eastern Kentucky and Tennessee into north Alabama. It supports a vast diversity of plants, trees, wildlife and indigenous species that are globally unique and internationally acclaimed. The National Resources Defense Council notes that this plateau region is home to more than 3,000 native plant species, including 165 trees, and nearly 1,000 animal species that are found nowhere else in the world.


The NRDC's latest assessment finds that MTR sites "can exceed 10 square miles and has already leveled more than 470 summits so far."


It's well past time for MTR mining to be banned entirely. That should be the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA's next goal.







One of the truisms of education policy is that an individual must learn to read before he or she can read to learn. If the former is not achieved, the latter is nearly impossible -- and success in school and in life is compromised. Any program, then, that promotes reading -- especially in the formative years -- is a community asset. That's certainly the case with the 24 neighborhood reading centers that now operate in Hamilton County.


Four of the centers -- at the Avondale Recreation Center, the Eastdale Recreation Center, the Harriet Tubman Development Site and the Washington Hills Recreation Center -- are new. If they operate with the same view of education and the same dedicated service as the other sites, they should prove immensely valuable to the residents of the localities where they operate.


It is difficult to say which of the several services provided by the centers is the most valuable. Certainly, the availability of a place where reading is respected and encouraged is a useful adjunct to the education process. So is the fact that the centers strive to make age-appropriate books and books on the Hamilton County Schools summer reading lists available at no charge. The latter can make a difference for parents and guardians who encourage their children to read but find the cost of books beyond their often limited means.


The centers also serve a broader educational purpose. Reading during the summer hiatus promotes retention of knowledge gained during the previous academic year, "The research is very profound, " says Lu Lewis, assistant director of the United Way of Greater Chattanooga's Project Ready for School. "It's universally accepted. If you do not read over the summer, you lose up to two months [of knowledge]. If you read, you maintain or exceed what you've learned."


Each of the neighborhood centers has programs tailored specifically to the needs of nearby residents. Some offer preschool and elementary programs. Others provide middle and high school programs as well. Each center establishes its own hours of operation and book lending terms. Such local control allows for efficient use of the facilities.


Commissioners Warren Mackey and Gregg Beck contributed $2,500 apiece from their Hamilton County discretionary funds to jump-start the new centers. The contributions are welcome, but should not obscure the fact that a consortium of public agencies, private groups, including churches and neighborhood associations, the United Way and the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library, play major roles in the creation and operation of the centers.


The neighborhood centers are the result of a collaborative civic effort. There are many examples here that prove such a formula is essential to community growth. The network of reading centers is among the most unsung of them.







While the United States is uncomfortably experiencing a general economic crisis, the good news in Chattanooga is that we are on the verge of an industrial boom.


Jobs are the key to local economic comfort for our people. And we are having more jobs coming to Chattanooga.


We are eagerly watching progress on the new Volkswagen plant that will bring a couple of thousand jobs directly, plus many more by suppliers and others serving the people who will be producing new Volkswagens here.


And not far from the heart of downtown Chattanooga, Alstom, the big France-based manufacturer of steam and gas turbines, is adding several hundred more people to the 600 it already employs in the city.


"These are very high-quality jobs," according to Stephane Cai, the managing director of the turbine facility. The average annual salary for the new jobs will be $75,000, officials say.


Good business invites more good business.


Chattanooga long has been economically successful because it has had a great variety of manufacturing, commerce and tourism, not being dependent upon just a single type of industry on which the local economy may rise or fall.


Chattanooga long has offered a congenial atmosphere for economic diversity -- and is on the brink of even more.


We want our community to be perceived as a friendly place, welcoming enterprise with a cooperative attitude, that produces good results for enterprising investors, and with good and productive workers who contribute to mutual success.


Chattanooga is "on the move" even in a slow economy. All of our people should do everything we can to make enterprisers successful, assuring economic advantages for everyone.


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It would be hard to find many people who don't think BP should be financially responsible for the cleanup of the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Even BP admits its responsibility.


But Congress is indulging in a little grandstanding to reassure us that it is "doing something." The trouble is, that grandstanding may wind up costing not just BP but the rest of us a lot of money.


Lawmakers want a fivefold increase in the tax that not only BP but all the oil companies pay into a fund for the

cleanup of spills.


We don't doubt that BP or any other oil company ought to pay for any mess it creates, and it may make us feel better to think of "Big Oil fat cats" paying higher taxes. But who do you think ultimately pays those taxes?


You do -- every time you fill up at the pump! A tax -- even a necessary tax -- is essentially one more cost of doing business. The oil companies, like any other company, are likely to roll part or all of the proposed big tax increase into their prices. That means consumers will eventually foot the bill by paying higher gasoline prices.


We're not saying the existing spill liability tax on oil companies is improper. There may even be some

justification for increasing it.


But we are fooling ourselves if we think that major tax increases on some companies or individuals do not have consequences for the rest of us as well.


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Academy alum raises the bar at Carson-Newman***************************************





The $862 billion "stimulus" that Democrats in Congress approved last year has been a huge, expensive failure. It has not kept unemployment at or below 8 percent, as President Barack Obama promised it would do. Joblessness today is nearly 10 percent. Our national debt is far larger because of the stimulus, too.


So wouldn't it make sense either to pull back some unspent stimulus funds altogether, or at least to spend them on something more productive?


That is what Republicans in Congress have tried to do again and again this year. They have proposed using unspent stimulus funds to extend unemployment benefits to the millions of laid-off American workers whom the "stimulus" obviously has not helped to find jobs.


But time and again, Democrats have refused to cut out the unproductive stimulus funds, preferring instead to pay for extended jobless benefits by adding to our devastating $13 trillion national debt. They even claim that Republicans are "mean" or "heartless" for opposing the Democrats' deficit spending on the unemployed. But Republicans are willing to help the unemployed. They just want to do it in a way that does not make our unsustainable debt even worse.


This little charade is playing out once again in Washington, with the GOP pleading with Democrats to cut wasteful stimulus spending and redirect the savings into jobless benefits. But Republicans' most recent attempt to do this "was easily killed on a mostly party-line vote," The Associated Press reported.


Isn't helping the unemployed without adding to our $13 trillion debt better than helping the unemployed while adding to our debt? Wouldn't that be kinder both to those who have no jobs and to taxpayers as a whole?


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When confronted by dangerous situations, the first impulse of many is to "get out of the way." But with some, there is an automatic desire to "help."


Joe Palmer and Hudson Smith were local "Good Samaritans" last week when they saw a wrecked Jeep on fire off Interstate 75 near Collegedale -- with unconscious and injured Clint Defur lying underneath the vehicle.


When Mr. Smith and Mr. Palmer realized it would be dangerous to move the injured Mr. Defur, they took swift action to move the Jeep. They obviously did "the right thing." Tri-Community Fire Department emergency aide Kayla Morrison and Southeast Ambulance emergency staffer Clifford Graham provided first aid.


Thus Good Samaritans kept a very bad situation from being much worse.


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Many teachers across the country are no doubt frustrated that the parents of some of their students have little contact with the teachers to determine how their children are doing.


After all, it is no mystery that children perform better in school when their parents are "looking over their shoulders" to make sure they are doing their homework and so forth. Being in touch with teachers is one important part of the effort to keep kids on track in school.


But a prosecutor up in Wayne County, Mich., has taken that worthy goal to an extreme. She says parents who fail to attend parent-teacher conferences ought to face jail time.


Prosecutor Kym Worthy correctly notes the benefits of parental involvement, but she does not seem to have thought about the ugly unintended effects of putting parents in jail for not showing up at a meeting with teachers.


"There's hardly any benefit from government coercion," one observer told The Detroit News. "Are kids going to be better off if they have a parent in jail?"


Mothers and fathers certainly ought to be urged to be involved in their children's education. But short of actual abuse or serious neglect, they ought not to face threats of jail time for being inadequately involved.


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Like most people familiar with the work of futurist George Friedman, we admire his ability to be thought provoking more than some of his thoughts. The Turkish-Japanese alliance that will come to blows with a U.S.-Polish alliance 30 or 40 years hence is one particular forecast we might use to support this thesis.


We think there were important insights in the thoughts on Turkish peacemaking that Friedman shared with our reporter Aras Coşkuntuncel, published in yesterday's Daily News. They are thoughts all the more critical as Turkey finds itself amid yet another round of terrorist attacks and a growing national debate over how to end the war with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.


To paraphrase Friedman, the European Union is growing weaker, the United States is growing tired and the region that is Turkey's home is growing more complicated by the day. Turkey's growing regional role is often attributed to Turkish assertiveness. But an equally compelling analysis is that Turkey is being sucked into a regional power vacuum. As such, it is right that Turkey step up to this responsibility of moderator and peacemaker, and Friedman argues that Turkey is uniquely able to do so within a Muslim world that is deeply divided against itself. "How can there be peace between the Arabs and the Israelis when there is not peace between the Arabs?" he reasonably asks.


As readers know, we have generally, if not unequivocally, supported the "strategic depth" doctrine of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, which articulates the policy of regional engagement. We have also consistently, if with periodic reservations, supported the "Kurdish opening" by which the government has sought in the past two years to acknowledge past injustice and create space for the flowering of Kurdish culture, art and intellectual endeavors.


But the potential of the first process is denied by the failure of the second. As Turkey yesterday finished burying its most recent dead, we think it fair to continue the reasoning: If Turkey cannot make peace with itself, how can it make peace abroad?


The all-too-apparent failure of the Kurdish initiative can be blamed on many factors. Among these is the spent nature of the PKK itself, as a coiled snake is most dangerous when wounded and cornered. But a government policy that has also sought to silence and marginalize any political voice on behalf of the Kurdish issue other than its own is also a policy without promise.


We support the need for a coordinated national strategy against terror, the topic of our front-page report today. But we also hope that a real Kurdish initiative might replace what we have today. Without both at home, Turkey's emerging new role on the international stage will be short-lived. "Strategic depth" will only be tactical simplicity.








Turkish politicians have finally compromised! They have failed coming to terms on a democratic solution, yet you see how easily they have met on grounds of "authoritarian politics and war."


Politicians in Turkey have failed to reconcile over democratic solutions because none believe in democracy. They didn't try to solve problems through democracy. They only believed in "getting things done" under the guise of democracy. They have never understood the fact that the essence is the key, not the form. They have squelched others within sight. But perhaps the best way is to show how they don't understand democracy.


You may ask now: "those who are involved in politics for Kurds… do they believe in democracy?" That's the problem. Yes, some Kurds don't believe it. In fact, if one doesn't believe in democracy, what on earth is he doing up in the mountain anyway. The question, at some point, is that some are getting into pro-Kurdish politics and are armed as well. What we call a "democratic solution" at this point is to convince those who believe in the armed struggle that "this is not the way."


It is difficult to convince a man to believe in democracy if it is a man who has a tendency for violence, who doesn't understand the cost of violence and who regards the lives of others as a price to be paid. Insisting on democratic politics means facing difficulties for the prosperity of mankind and for human life. If we seek an easy democratic solution, this is how far we can get!


On the other hand, claiming the government doesn't enjoy the authority or blaming everyone else means willingness to be held accountable if necessary! The rest is verbiage! If all these had been conceived well enough, we couldn't be at this poi