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Thursday, June 24, 2010

EDITORIAL 24.06.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month june 24, edition 000548 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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
















































































The Union Government's decision to issue an Ordinance, to be later converted into an Act of Parliament, to tackle the menace of khap panchayats, which have become a law unto themselves and have been terrorising the masses into accepting their outrageous decrees based on antediluvian social segregation of castes and communities, is a welcome move in the right direction. Any further delay in putting down the khap panchayats and punishing those guilty of trying to drag India back to the dark ages in the name of preserving the 'purity' of gene pools — which is pure bunkum and has no basis in science — would have only further emboldened malcontents of our society who derive sadistic pleasure in hounding young men and women to death for daring to defy bogus social norms that have no place in India of the 21st century. The spate of murders in recent times, in which the victims had married outside their castes and against the wishes of their families — and khap panchayats — is indicative of the sinister threat that we face both collectively and individually from murderous lunatics on the loose. Given the nature of the crime, existing laws were found to be inadequate to deal with it. Hence the proposal to treat it as a separate offence under Section 300 of the IPC, which deals with murder, so that khap panchayats can be treated as abettors and made liable for punishment. While the Government will no doubt claim that the Ordinance is its initiative in response to the increasing belligerence of khap panchayats and those who subscribe to their diktats, we cannot ignore the fact that the Supreme Court has taken a serious view of so-called 'honour killings' — there is nothing honourable about these ghastly murders; on the contrary, they heap dishonour on Hindus, denigrates their faith and fetch disrepute to the nation as a whole — and served notice on the Centre as well as eight State Governments that have till now failed to act against the crimianls and their collaborators. Be that as it may, a tough law should help curb the criminality of those who think nothing of killing their own children, sisters and brothers at the bidding — or under the evil influence — of khap panchayats. The lacuna in the existing law, which does not define abetment to murder and thus allows abettors to often, if not always, walk free, will be removed by the proposed amendment to the IPC.

However, it would be in order to point out that laws by themselves are not sufficient while dealing with the misdeeds of individuals and groups in any society. What is required is the implementation of laws in both letter and spirit and the successful prosecution of the guilty. If there is inadequate commitment on part of Government or the police adopt a lackadaisical attitude instead of zero tolerance towards the crimes of khap panchayats and those over whom it wields considerable influence, little or nothing shall be achieved, no matter how stringent the legal provision. Let us not forget that the Congress may have officially denounced 'honour killings' and castigated khap panchayats but there are many in its ranks, including MPs like Mr Navin Jindal, who boast of being well educated and claim to be politically aware and socially progressive but are openly partial towards regressive forces that indulge in rank casteism. Given this fact, it remains to be seen whether the UPA Government is able to bring about any substantive change through the proposed Ordinance or whether it will remain on paper, a law followed more in the breach than in practice.








With the monsoon playing hide-and-seek as it is maturing, people of the country, especially those in the north and the farmers, are beginning to question the forecasts. Weathermen now say that the rhythm of the rains has been disrupted and that the monsoon's active arrival in the north could get delayed further. The monsoon had touched Kerala's coast, its threshold to the sub-continent, a day ahead of the appointed date just as the Indian Meteorological Department had expected. The IMD predicted near-to-normal rains this year and said the monsoon might cover entire India as per the normal schedule. The optimism among the weathermen was not unfounded as the negative El Nino influence had weakened over the Pacific and there was a positive La Nina condition. The IMD predicted 98 per cent of the normal rainfall with a plus-or-minus two per cent error factor. But then, they had not expected Cyclone Phet to blow away the rain clouds to the coast of Oman just days after the destructive dance of Cyclone Laila over south and south-eastern India. The monsoon's journey was thrown off the track first by Cyclone Phet and then by the lack of a favourable low-pressure trough. The result is that people in the north, reeling under scorching heat, will have to wait longer for the rains.

As of now, the monsoon picture is not very comforting. Kerala, which used to get abundant showers in the first phase of the monsoon, is already showing a deficit, causing alarm to the State's power sector that depends exclusively on water for electricity generation. The weathermen say that the rains Kerala is getting at present are not part of the monsoon but summer showers. They say that a low-pressure trough is yet to form because the atmospheric winds are refusing to pick up velocity. Fresh monsoon pulses were expected by the middle of this week, but this has not happened. While the monsoon has touched the southern and north-eastern States almost as per normal schedule, the northern States are still waiting for the first shower of the season. Meanwhile, northern Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu, western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana are reeling under heat wave conditions. According to the IMD, a forecast on the nature of north-north-east progress of the monsoon from the coasts of Goa and Maharashtra will be possible only after favourable factors present themselves. Last year the IMD had predicted 94 per cent of the normal rainfall, but the country suffered a deficit of more than 20 per cent, which caused enormous distress to farmers and — to an extent — led to the spurt in the prices of essential commodities. Hopefully, it will be a different story this year.








The members of Saudi Arabia's royal family are legendary for their discretion and aversion to making strong statements. The monarch is, after all, not only the ruler of the kingdom but also bears the title and responsibility of being the Custodian of Islam's holiest sites. Within the closely knit royal family, Prince Turki Faisal can be regarded as a figure who enjoys respect because of his educational background, his diplomatic abilities and his stewardship of the kingdom's security services. As the youngest son of former King Faisal and nephew of king Abdullah, Prince Turki was head of the kingdom's Al Mukhbarat al-A'amah (General Intelligence Directorate) and has been Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to the UK, Ireland and also the US.

With his educational background of academic studies in Princeton and London universities and as a classmate of Mr Bill Clinton in Georgetown University, Prince Turki is regarded as a Saudi royal well disposed towards and well connected in the US. Moreover, as head of the Saudi Intelligence, Prince Turki realised that it was not in the kingdom's interest to patronise the recalcitrant Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who arbitrarily rebuffed his efforts to get him to expel Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan during a stormy meeting in 1998 which the Prince had with Mullah Omar in Kandahar.

Prince Turki, however, surprised an audience in Riyadh last month by characterising American policies in Afghan- istan as "inept", averring: "The way this (US) Administration has dealt with President Hamid Karzai beggars disbelief and amazement." He advised the US Administration to "hunt down terrorists on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and get out and let Afghan people deal with their problems".

Saudi Arabia is not alone getting exasperated by American flip-flops in Afghanistan. Like India and Afghan- istan's Central Asian neighbours — Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan — Russia is deeply concerned about any prospects of the Taliban returning to power in Afghanistan. Moreover, in recent years, as the Taliban expanded its control over territories in southern Afghanistan, drug smuggling across Afghanistan's borders with Iran and its Central Asian neighbours has shot up, with Russia emerging as the world's largest per capita consumer of heroin. Over 30,000 Russians die every year from heroin addiction and another 80,000 experiment with heroin for the first time.

Though Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev and Mr Obama agreed to closely cooperate last year, the Russians allege that they receive precious little by way of American cooperation in dealing with the drug menace. Iran, which faces an equally serious problem of heroin addiction, has lost hundreds of its law-enforcement personnel in shootouts with drug smugglers operating across its borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Obama Administration's National Security Doctrine speaks of building a "stable, multi-dimensional relationship with Russia, based on mutual interests". It also asserts: "We will seek greater partnership with Russia in confronting violent extremism, especially in Afghanistan." Sixty per cent of supplies for American forces in Afghanistan — comprising fuel, food and some equipment — are now routed through Pakistan, with around another 30 per cent coming by train through Russia and Afghanistan's neighbouring Central Asian republics. A wider US-Russian strategic dialogue could seek to increase American supplies for its forces in Afghanistan via Russia and Central Asia, thus reducing the strategic salience of the supply routes through Pakistan. One of the major reasons why Pakistan brazenly continues to support the Taliban is that it knows that American dependence on supply routes through its territory is so large, that there is precious little the US and its Nato allies will do to eliminate terrorist havens on its soil. Reduction of dependence on Pakistan for sustaining operations in Afghanistan is, therefore, crucial in coming years.

It is time India resorts to some innovative diplomacy to bring together regional and interested powers to enable Afghanistan to adopt a policy that King Nadir Shah advocated in 1931, when he proclaimed, "Afghanistan must maintain friendly relations with its neighbours as well as all friendly powers that are not opposed to its a national interest. Afghanistan must give its neighbours assurances of its friendly attitudes while safeguarding the right of reciprocity." During World War I, Amir Habibullah Khan steered a path of neutrality for Afghanistan, despite pressures to back Turkey. Afghanistan joined the League of Nations in 1934, waiting until the Soviet Union joined, so as not to appear to be taking sides in favour of the UK. In 1937, Kabul concluded the Saadabad pact, a non-aggression treaty with Iran, Iraq and Turkey. King Zahir Shah's Government proclaimed its official and legal neutrality during World War II.

Afghanistan's problems are, even today, exacerbated by developments and rivalries beyond its borders. Both Russia and China would welcome a return to stability and an end to Taliban-style extremism in the country. They are, however, holding back from providing whole-hearted support for the US-led Nato forces in Afghanistan, because of suspicions about a long-term American military presence in Afghanistan, undermining their interests in Central Asia. Iran, which has extended significant economic assistance to the Karzai Government and was in the forefront of opposition to the Taliban leadership, shares similar concerns about the US's presence in Afghanistan.


India and Pakistan 'likewise' share mutual suspicions about the role of each other in Afghanistan. The Bonn Conference saw a request from participants to the UN "to take measures to guarantee national sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Afghanistan, as well as the non-interference by countries in Afghanistan's internal affairs." This is possible only, if in the words of Indian diplomat C R Gharekhan and former US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Karl Inderfurth, the international community recognises that to attain "the long-term goal of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, it must have better and more reliable relations with its neighbours and near neighbours, including Pakistan, Iran, China, India and Russia".

India should supplement its economic assistance with a diplomatic effort that enables countries in Afghanistan's neighbourhood to ensure that Afghanistan's territory is not utilised to undermine the security of other countries, near and far, while guaranteeing observance of the principle of non-interference, in its internal affairs. One hopes that in the meantime, the Americans will get their act together in dealing with the threats Afghanistan faces from across its disputed border with Pakistan, the Durand Line. Virtually no Pashtun in either Afghanistan or Pakistan recognises the Durand Line as the international border.







The three articles, "Time for honest analysis" by Subhash Kashyap, "The legacy of the Emergency" by Subramanian Swamy and "How the media undermined itself" by Shyam Khosla, serve to remind us how the spirit of people of the country can be crushed under the jackboots of a dictator ruling in the guise of a democrat.

Mr Kashyap's praise of Mrs Gandhi that she did not "deviate from the letter and spirit of the Constitution" because she allowed both Houses of Parliament to remain functional throughout the 21 months of the Emergency may be technically correct but if what discourse took place in the hallowed precincts could not be published due to censorship, all the exercise in the closed confines of the Parliament was worthless. I, myself, saw from the officers' gallery Chaudhary Charan Singh delivering a scathing speech condemning Mrs Gandhi and the Emergency in the harshest of words. The next day, not a single sentence of that speech was published. Mr Swamy has compared the Opposition in Mrs Gandhi's Government with that in the present dispensation. Today the Opposition has been severely compromised. When push comes to shove, those affecting pretensions of opposing the Treasury benches invariably capitulate.

This situation is more dangerous since what we see today of parliamentary democracy looks more like a theatre of the absurd. In the period of Emergency, the whole nation was in a state of shock eventhough apparently everything worked like clockwork. The citizens got a chance to express their anger in 1977 when the general elections were called.

Throughout the period of Emergency, people were seething with anger. From my office window overlooking the road to jail, I would see truckloads of people shouting anti-Indira slogans being carted away to jail everyday. It seemed like every youth was on revolt. It was clear that the spirit of free India had not died, whatever may have been the official propaganda. But today that spirit is lacking and what we are experiencing is a poor caricature of democracy.







Multiple signals are emerging from the jihadi landscape in South Asia in the aftermath of a Mumbai court delivering its verdict in the November 26 attacks on Mumbai. These signals also come as India prepares to affect a shift in its Pakistan policy through what it calls an "exploratory mode". While the first four of these signals have been well reported and analysed quite extensively the last has received very little attention in India. As Home Minister P Chidambaram prepares to visit Pakistan it is imperative that these signals are paid attention to closely.

The first signal is the apparent splintering of jihadist groups inside Pakistan that manifested in the killing of a former ISI official with known jihadi sympathies Khaled Khawaja by a group known as the Asian Tigers. While Khaled Khawaja was killed back in early May, the fate of two others kidnapped by the Asian Tigers remains unknown. One of the hostages is a Colonel Tarar, also popularly known as Colonel Imam, who claims to have fathered the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The splintering within the jihadi outfits inside Pakistan has also spurred a low key factional war of targeted sectarian killings in the city of Karachi in recent weeks. These targeted sectarian killings follow an earlier sectarian attack in Lahore on two mosques of the Ahmediya sect. This string of sectarian jihadi attacks manifests in a second signal of political conflict within the Pakistani establishment with the ruling PPP taking on the PML(N) in Punjab for its overt and covert sympathies to jihadi outfits. While a Minister in the provincial Punjab Government has been accused of overt sympathies to an anti-Shia extremist outfit, evidence has also surfaced of the Punjab Government funding the Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h.

While the JuD continues to host anti-India political rallies in Pakistan, a third trend has emerged in recent weeks. It is the increased international focus on the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and the jihadist sympathies of sections within Pakistan's establishment. This trend started with a paper by Stephen Tankel on how the Lashkar had evolved into a gateway forjihadis facilitating funds and logistics. In recent times, The New York Times and other international publications have published extensive narratives on how the LeT has been working at the behest of Pakistani agencies to hurt Indian interests in Afghanistan. The Associated Press, too, carried a narrative of a retired Pakistan Major and his continued jihadist sympathies. This increased international focus was further magnified in a paper by Matt Waldman of the London School of Economics on how Pakistan continues to sponsor the Afghan Taliban. Most recently the RAND publication has a report cautioning the US Government over continued aid to Pakistan.

This increased international focus on continued jihadi sympathies within the Pakistani establishment comes in the aftermath of the failed attempt to set off a bomb in New York City by Pakistani American Faisal Shahzad. Shahzad who pledged guilty in a US court earlier this week went on record to admit that he was trained in bomb making by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. He also revealed he spent 40 days with the TTP while he spent five days in actual training. He also revealed receiving US $4,900 in cash to fund his failed attack. The court documents, however, have not revealed much about the investigations in Pakistan in relation to the Shahzad case.

When taken together, the failed Times Square bombing, the factional infighting and the increased international focus on the LeT put into perspective a recent video from Al Qaeda. In a major setback to Al Qaeda, Abu al-Yazid, considered the third highest ranking member after Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, was reported killed in a drone attack. In a video that appeared last week from the Al Qaeda's media communication channel, Yazid, who perhaps recorded his last message before his death, was seen appealing for funds, further underlining the weakening of Al Qaeda resources. The video was also significant for another reason.

For the first time, Yazid acknowledges that Ilyas Kashmiri's 313 Brigade had a role in the February 13 blast in Pune's German Bakery. Describing Kashmiri as leading the Al Qaeda in Jammu & Kashmir, this statement from Yazid has received very little attention in India.

The Yazid statement comes at the same time Pakistan seeks to deflect attention from the JuD's Hafiz Saeed. While one media statement by a Lashkar spokesman sought to put some distance between JuD and the 26/11-accused Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi who remains under trial in Pakistan, other media reports described Saeed as being under house arrest. This simultaneous shifting of spotlight to Kashmiri's 313 Brigade and deflection of attention from Saeed has some history as is evident from the David Headley chargesheets and in the timing of a previous anti-India Al Qaeda video, also issued by Yazid in March 2009.

While this double game between the 313 Brigade and LeT could have a benign explanation coming as it is in the week before Home Minister Chidambaram's visit to Pakistan, there is another unverified signal that must be paid attention to. In the first week of June, a new jihadist website was registered in the name of 313 Brigade. The website carries a eulogy to Yazid apparently mourning his death in a drone strike. At this time the website does not carry any explicit threats. However, the timing of its launch is ominous as Mr Chidambaram prepares to visit Pakistan on June 26, which also happens to be a Saturday.








I will begin with a straight-forward declaration. I am all for vuvuzela, the trumpet whose sound has become the signature tune of World Cup games in South Africa. Soccer, like cricket and hockey, is a spectator sport, where spectators are as much a part of the game as the players. Where would the players, with their huge earnings and the clubs they play for, be without the crowds and the proceeds from ticket sales and revenue for advertisements, on the hoardings on fields as well as on television? Would the morale of the players not be in their boots if there was not a single person on the field to applaud when one of them scored a splendid goal or planned a series of moves that left the defenders standing as the ball hit the net?

Spectators, who sustain a game or a sport, derive their own set of rights from this fact. The foremost of these is the one to enjoy the game and participate in the thrill and excitement of action, joy of victory and the sadness of defeat. One does this by identifying oneself with the players out there in the middle and the teams to which they belong, by reacting to their feats and gaffes and fluctuating fortunes of the game itself, unless, of course, the latter is thoroughly one-sided and, on that account, utterly boring. And what is the point of having a right if one cannot exercise it?

There is, course, the issue of limits to the exercise of one rights, one which no doubt be raised by those who regard the vuvuzela as an utter abomination that needs to be banished from the hallowed stadia where World Cup matches are played. While the French are leading the charge, one is told that other Europeans and North Americans are not far behind. The substance of their argument is that the sound of vuvuzela distracts spectators from concentrating on the finer points of the game and players from the business of scoring goals and winning matches.

But who has ever heard of high-profile soccer matches where spectators sit with their hands folded on their laps, which they lift only to clap gently when a remarkable feat is witnessed, or to wave their forefingers disapprovingly at players who, they think, have let them down! Soccer is a full-blooded outdoor game, involving much rough and tumble, and not a piano or sitar recital in which the cognoscenti listen in hushed silence, and break into genteel applause during intermissions. Many of those who witness soccer on the ground-as opposed to those who watch television — return with throats sore with high-decibel expulsion of epithets which would leave the squeamish blushing! Important soccer matches in Britain or the Continent is marked by loud-chanting and singing by supporters of rival teams, occasional fisticuff and, sometimes, rioting. British soccer fans were considered so prone to violence and destruction that several countries in Europe sought to restrict their arrival to watch important matches.

One would, therefore, have thought that the Brits and continental, if not North Americans as well, would be no stranger to noise and even to violence in the stands and rioting outside! Then why this fuss about vuvuzela, particularly when the atmosphere in the stands is unfailingly friendly and vibrant with joy and excitement?

There are three possible explanations. First, they and their societies are too set in their ways to cope with anything that affects them powerfully but is unfamiliar. It leaves them disoriented and with their nerves raw. Second, large sections in North America and Europe, particularly in the white-collar professions, have become increasingly used, with apologies to TS Eliot, to measuring their lives out in "coffee spoons". They generally do not watch soccer matches, which they dismiss with something akin to the disdain Rudyard Kipling displayed when he talked of the "muddied oafs at the goal". But then, the World Cup is a different thing. To come back to our point, incapable of spontaneous and boisterous enjoyment, they view with disapproval when they see others revelling in it.

Finally, there is downright racism which makes them forget the warts of the European soccer fans and rant over South Africa's multi-racial celebration of its hour in the Sun!








Did the Canadian authorities fail in keeping a watch on Khalistanis, especially the Babbar Khalsa headed by Talwinder Singh Parmar? If there was serious error in monitoring the activities of the Khalistani based at Vancouver in Canada then it would have served to help the plotters who planned and executed the mid-air bombing of Air India's Flight 182 Kanishka. Justice John Major in his report on the shocking act of terrorism on June 25, 1985, makes some revealing points:

The mobile surveillance of Parmar was carried out for 39 of the 72 days: Between April 6 and June 16, 1985, including continuously for the first two weeks of June 1985 — an exceptionally long period for what was seen as a very scarce resource.

Nevertheless, as has been widely reported, this surveillance was withdrawn on June 17, at precisely the most crucial time in terms of the terrorist preparations for the bombing. The stationary observation post (OP) near Parmar's residence was also withdrawn on the day of the bombing. The rumour that the OP withdrawal was to allow the investigators to participate in a social event appears to be based on a misunderstanding of the CSIS code name for the operation to which the surveillance team was reassigned. Nevertheless the fact that surveillance was redirected to shadow a counter-espionage target at the moment when the danger of an act of domestic terrorism was at its height is a telling illustration of how poorly understood the threat was.

No less telling is the way the surveillance was conducted, and especially how it was (or was not) used. The conduct of the surveillance was marked by numerous low lights, with the surveillants unable to keep track of their targets, and often mistaking one traditionally-attired Sikh for another. This apparent inability to tell one Sikh from another continued into the post-bombing era as well.

The nadir of ineffectiveness of CSIS pre-bombing surveillance is arguably the moment of what perhaps might have been its greatest success: The monitoring of the "Duncan Blast".

On June 4, 1985, a CSIS surveillance team followed Parmar as he traveled with a young man, misidentified by the surveillance team as Parmar's son Jaswinder, to the BC Ferry Docks. The lead surveillance car narrowly avoided missing the ferry, a fate the second car and its surveillance team was unable to avoid. The lead surveillance team followed Parmar's car to the Duncan, BC residence of Inderjit Singh Reyat, who would later be convicted of manslaughter for his role in the Narita, Japan, bombing, and would enter a guilty plea in connection with the terrorist attack on Flight 182.

The surveillants followed Parmar's car from Reyat's house to a clearing off the highway in the woods near Duncan and saw Reyat and Parmar walk into the woods. Shortly thereafter, they heard a loud explosive sound coming from the woods which they misidentified as a shotgun blast. The team observed Parmar and Reyat emerge from the woods and put something in the trunk of Parmar's car. They then followed the car to Reyat's residence where the young man got out of the car and accompanied Reyat into his house.

Although they were on a surveillance mission, the surveillants did not have a camera and so were unable to photograph the unknown young man, who would later be referred to as "Mr X". This individual was the subject of a long and unsuccessful search to discover his identity as one of the missing pieces in the Air India narrative. Although they remained on Vancouver Island for the night, the surveillants were, for unknown reasons, unable to secure permission to follow the young man the next day and thus lost a further chance to make the crucial identification.

Additional examples of such fumbling extended into the post-bombing investigation of the identity of Mr X. When the RCMP obtained school records placing Parmar's son Jaswinder in school on the day of the Duncan Blast and began to raise questions with CSIS, CSIS did nothing to verify whether its team had misidentified the person accompanying Parmar and Reyat. In fact, even when one of the CSIS surveillants who had followed Parmar and his associates to Duncan began to work for the RCMP and, having there the opportunity to view Jaswinder at close range, realised with certainty that he was not the person she had seen on June 4, the CSIS still stubbornly maintained that Mr X was Jaswinder.

The CSIS did not question the PSU team in light of the RCMP's expressed concerns. Even a cursory review of its surveillance records pertinent to this issue would have revealed that its surveillance team placed Jaswinder in two places at the same time: On Vancouver Island and at school in Vancouver on the day after the Duncan Blast.

In addition to the failure to identify Mr X, there were further investigative dead ends resulting from the mis-transmission in the CSIS report of the telephone number Parmar was seen to have dialed from the ferry.

To be concluded






The parents of an Israeli soldier whose kidnapping led to the Gaza blockade are accusing the Government of abandoning their son now that it has eased the closure. A primary goal of the blockade has been to put pressure on Gaza's Hamas rulers to free Sgt Gilad Schalit, who was captured by militants in 2006 in a raid that killed two other soldiers. Now, his parents, Noam and Aviva, are wondering how the nation's leaders plan on bringing him home. "We are asking where Gilad stands in this equation. We are asking where is Gilad, our son?" Mr Noam Schalit said this week in Parliament, where he launched a new lobby to push for his son's release.

The lobby is just one of the new steps the family is taking to keep their 23-year-old son on the radar after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eased the blockade following an international uproar over Israel's raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla. The Schalits will join thousands of supporters, including international super-model Bar Refaeli and dozens of other local celebrities, on a cross-country march next week. They have also pledged to camp outside the Prime Minister's home until they see their son again.

The saga has left Israelis torn between empathy for the anguished family and a realisation that four years of pressure on Hamas have failed. Mr Netanyahu also has lost some important leverage over Hamas. Israel began its blockade of Gaza immediately after militants captured Sgt Schalit, who is a dual citizen of Israel and France, in a cross-border raid into Israel on June 25, 2006. It tightened the closure even further after Hamas militants violently seized control of Gaza a year later.

But the outcry following the flotilla raid forced Mr Netanyahu to announce this week that Israel would allow most goods, except for weapons and weapons-related materials, into the coastal strip. Little is known about Sgt Schalit's condition. His captors have barred any access to him, even following repeated requests from the Red Cross, and have released only a brief videotaped statement last year to prove he was still alive.

Israeli security officials say Hamas often moves Sgt Schalit between locations, keeping his whereabouts tightly under wraps. Israel believes that the soldier is boobytrapped and any attempt to free him would result in his death and that of his potential rescuers. Mr Netanyahu has been careful to avoid any public conflict with Sgt Schalit's parents.

This week he said Israel is seeking ways to bring the soldier home and that the easing of the blockade actually "strengthens our moral demand that the international community doubles or triples its efforts to bring about the release of Gilad Schalit." Mr Netanyahu added:"We need to remember though, that my responsibility is both to return Gilad to his family and his nation, and also to take care of the safety and security of the people of Israel."

Mr Netanyahu's options appear limited. Military officials believe a rescue operation would be impossible, and German-mediated talks for a prisoner swap with Hamas have repeatedly stalled. Hamas wants the release of some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, including militants held for involvement in deadly attacks.

Israel's Shin Bet has warned that Palestinians convicted of killings would likely resume their attacks against Israelis if released. Such fears have deterred both Mr Netanyahu and his predecessor, Mr Ehud Olmert, from closing a deal that could be perceived as a major boost for Hamas.

The plight of the quiet, gangly soldier has touched the hearts of many in Israel, where military service is compulsory for Jews and most families have relatives who serve. Israeli newspapers have joined the family's campaign, endorsing the cross-country march, publishing the list of celebrities taking part and handing out yellow ribbons for readers to wear to support the Schalit cause.









THE government and the Securities and Exchange Board of India ( SEBI) need to act immediately to bring Ketan Parekh and his associates to book and put an end to their nefarious activities in the stock market. An Intelligence Bureau report says that he is back at his old game of getting insider knowledge about companies and thereafter manipulating the value of their stocks. This is despite the ban imposed on him after his conviction in the multi- crore scam that unfolded between 1991 and 2001.


Before he was busted in 2001, he had reportedly siphoned off Rs 2,900 crore from the stock market. His activities can have a seriously deleterious effect on the Indian capital market just when it has managed to recover from last year's slump. He has allegedly made a fast buck on the stocks of Piramal Health Labs in the run- up to the $ 3.6 billion takeover of the company by US- based Abbot. India is keen to attract foreign investment and rogue players like Parekh create needless volatility in the capital markets making investors chary of putting their money there.


The revelation also comes at a time when the government has drawn up a grand plan of offloading shares of public sector companies in the stock markets. It is essential to have stable market conditions so that these stocks fetch their true value and the government succeeds in raising sufficient resources.


Then there are small investors who put their hard earned money in the stock markets to get a fair return. They are often the big losers when such scamsters run riot. The authorities cannot afford to lose any more time. They must come down hard on Parekh and his ilk.



IF what the Central Bureau of Investigation officials interrogating Bapi Mahato, the main accused in the Jnaneswari Express derailment case, have told MAIL TODAY about his antecedents is true, then Trinamool Congress supremo and Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee has a lot to answer for. In the aftermath of the rail tragedy, Ms Banerjee had alleged a ' political conspiracy' by the ruling CPM in Bengal. But it has now come to light that Bapi Mahato was a member of her party before he joined the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities.


The revelation will buttress the view that the Trinamool has had strong links with the Maoists. Besides explaining Ms Banerjee's ambivalence on the Maoist issue it calls into question her success in recent elections.


Ms Banerjee has all along condemned the lumpenisation of politics under the Left regime. However, if associating with people who are waging a war against the Indian state is her alternative to this problem, she cannot be expected to usher in any change.


It's high time Ms Banerjee metamorphosed from an Opposition leader who is willing to use any means to put the ruling regime down, to a responsible politician. Otherwise we have a disaster in the making when, as expected, she becomes the chief minister of West Bengal next year.



JUST what could General Stanley McChrystal be thinking when he agreed to allow the maverick magazine Rolling Stones access to his headquarters for an article? He certainly did not appear to have been thinking about the forthcoming offensive in Kandahar.

Indeed he seemed to be focused on battles with the Obama Administration in faraway Washington DC. The article had him and his staff berating " the wimps in the White House" and calling the Afghanistan Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke " a wounded animal", and the National Security Advisor Jim Jones, " a clown stuck in 1985". The general's apology that the statements showed poor judgment is actually a miserable understatement.


General McChrystal's behaviour could still have been dismissed as a soldier's eccentricity had it not involved a direct criticism of civilian authority and its counter insurgency strategy as a whole. The Americans are walking a slippery slope in Afghanistan and they certainly could have done without self- inflicted wounds.


It will not be surprising if the general is sacked, though such an action, when the US forces are poised to begin a major offensive will hurt American interests most.







MIDSUMMER, the time of the summer solstice in European culture, has since antiquity been associated with frolic, spirits and madness. Shakespeare's popular play A Midsummer Night's Dream with its underlying theme of identity loss and other elements of the blurring of this world's boundaries with that of faire- land and the phrase " This is very midsummer madness" in Twelfth Night may be submitted as evidence.


So it should not be such a surprise that the governments of Europe, after having been rebuffed on their proposals about how everyone should levy a tax on banks to fund future bailouts in financial crises, have yet again brought the proposal to the G20 meeting of finance ministers and may do say at the heads of governments summit in Toronto.


If western countries whose banks got into a mess and cost their governments a packet want to tax the balance sheets of their banks, it is up to them. But surely, demanding that everyone ought to do so, including those who had kept the noses of their banks clean — India and other Asian countries or for that matter Canada and Australia — is absurd. It is like saying " Look, I had a bad accident and had to have steel pins put into my legs. It is therefore a great idea that all of us should get steel pins put in our legs". I had thought that it was such a bad idea, that once the leak came out of the IMF in April, it would rapidly die out. But it has not.




The Europeans are also pushing for fiscal consolidation: An eminently sensible proposal in a world where so many developed countries led by the USA are testing new records for fiscal deficit and sovereign indebtedness. The fear that developed country sovereigns may face a solvency crisis has become a gnawing uncertainty in financial markets and business in general. Before it becomes a cancer and eats these economies from the inside, urgent steps to remedy fiscal excess are called for. The new British government has sensibly joined their continental cousins in this endeavour — though a critical case may be made of the details.


Across the Atlantic, the Nobel laureate duo — Krugman and Stiglitz — are appalled at the prospect that governments are taking solvency issues seriously.


Paul Krugman, in his blog and columns in The New York Times , has in his now long- established polemical style lambasted it as " magical thinking", " fiscal fantasists", " magical foreigners; austerity edition" and those who make the case as " zombies". Stiglitz has a more conventional style of writing. In early March 2010, he wrote " A wave of fiscal austerity is rushing over Europe and America", following up in mid- June with a piece that read " Fiscal conservatism may be good for one nation, but threatens collective disaster… There is a risk that the European economy will go into a ' double- dip' recession." The angst of Messrs. Krugman and Stiglitz is not so much that Europe ( and for that matter Asia) is not captivated by their " spend now ( like mad), incomes will rise ( or drop like manna from the heavens) and deficits and debts will just go away" prescription. It is that it is not cutting much ice even at home any longer.


And just as Mr. Krugman got it wildly wrong when he wrote a few months ago, when advocating a trade war with China, that " America has China over a barrel", both of the learned gentlemen had it wrong when they surmised that post the crisis, they had America over a barrel when it came to macroeconomic policy.


US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and NEC Director at the White House, Lawrence Summers, have coauthored a piece entitled " Our Agenda for the G- 20" published in TheWall Street Journal on 23 June 2010. In it they write that as a first priority " the G- 20 must continue to work together to secure the global recovery", that there " is a broad consensus about the importance of fiscal sustainability, but the precise timing and sequencing of that consolidation should vary across countries" and finally that " countries must put in place credible plans to stabilise debt- to- GDP levels and set a pace of consolidation that reinforces the momentum of growth."




At one level especially for many of us in India, it is as yet another long- overdue acknowledgement of the error of the " one- size fits all" prescriptions that so characterised western views in decades gone by. However, more germane, the statement at best provides some wiggle room for the US to continue with expansionary fiscal policies for a little while longer. In any case given the humongous " stimulus" programme that the US initiated last year it will take some years to scale back. But it is certainly a break with the deficit and government expenditure enthusiasts, Nobel laureates Krugman and Stiglitz.


In a reference to the decision taken by the Chinese authorities to let the renminbi float a bit, Messrs. Geithner and Summers write: " Emerging economies can help strengthen the global recovery by strengthening domestic sources of growth and by allowing more flexibility in their exchange rates. We welcome China's recent decision to do so and look forward to its vigorous implementation." Vigorous? What is that supposed to mean? Mr. Krugman wanted a trade war on the renminbi. Perhaps he is deeply disappointed, may be not. On Saturday 19 June 2010, China's central bank announced that it was lifting its 23 month peg to the dollar. On Monday, world markets rose, as did forward rates, implying renminbi appreciation of 2.8 per cent over 12 months. Some saw this as a vindication of US policy pressure on China. The Financial Times in an editorial dated 20 June 2010 wrote that " The timing and manner of its announcement are astute, and the US president is right to welcome the change. Coming just a week before a G20 meeting in Toronto at which the Chinese currency was expected to draw criticism, the move should ease pressure on Beijing and lower the prospects of a trade war ( sic)".




It seems the FT editorial team shares some fantasies with Mr. Krugman. Other commentators echoed the triumphalism.


An opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal read " China's decision to abandon its currency peg is a victory of pragmatism…. Beijing also wanted to extract the maximum diplomatic reward from its move..". This measure of self- delusion is typical of the mid- summer madness, making Shakespeare not just a towering figure in literature but a contender to Nostradamus in prophecy. China was going to remove the peg anyway. The Governor of the Peoples Bank of China ( PBoC) had said as much in November 2009. The antics of Krugman and gotcha American politicians only served to delay matters, since China has a sense of face that the West has forgotten.


And yes, their sense of diplomatic timing is excellent. I would argue that far from acting ahead of " pressure" at the G20 summit, they threw a line to Mr. Obama. Okay so he could not cap the BP oil gusher, but he got the Chinese to back- off alright. Finally, in a conference call the PBoC made clear through their interlocutors that the renminbi was now tied to a basket of currencies and it could go down, as much as go up, against the US dollar — as indeed did happen on 22 June. We can learn something of benefit from this episode.


The author is Member, Planning Commission








THE Indian Council of Medical Research ( ICMR) has, at last, unveiled a draft of the much awaited law on Assisted Reproductive Technologies ( ARTs). It has taken more than a decade for the council to prepare this piece of legislation and perhaps it would take another few years for this draft Bill to become an Act.


Add some more years for the elaborate regulatory infrastructure— envisaged in the Bill— to be set up and associated rules to be notified.


Meanwhile, the technology sought to be regulated would have moved ahead, rendering the law outdated, as it has happened since the exercise to make this law began in late 1990s. The experience with some recent medical laws— the Pre- Natal Diagnostic Techniques ( Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act of 1994 enacted to check sex determination, and the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994 designed to curb kidney business— has not been encouraging.


The very intent of the new law is suspect. Instead of taking a rational and scientific approach to the problem of infertility, the draft Bill seeks to legalise— and actively promote— costly and hazardous technologies along with unethical practices going on in the field of ARTs in India.


It seems it has been written by providers of these reproductive technologies. It is the ICMR's gift to the multi- crore reproductive industry which is exploiting the problem of infertility and thriving on ' fertility tourism' which is growing at a scorching rate. I happened to cover the first consultation held by the ICMR in early 2000s, where leading doctors ( service providers of the fertility industry) were present.


On seeing the agenda for the meeting, these doctors walked out of the consultation. It would appear that the ICMR finally decided to join hands with the industry— which was adequately represented in the panel that has drafted the present Bill— and let them have their way.


For instance, take the issue of surrogacy. The Bill makes the surrogacy agreement legally enforceable and allows payment of ' monetary compensation' by the biological parents to the surrogate mother in addition to medical and insurance expenses. A woman can act surrogate for as many as five ' successful live births' in her life including her own children.


BUT she won't be able to donate her eggs. This would mean a reproductively healthy woman ( acting as surrogate) would have to undergo hazardous and costly procedures such as In Vitro Fertilisation rather than simpler ones like Intra Uterine Insemination.


The Bill seeks to create a new layer of middlemen or service providers called ART Banks who would be legally allowed to recruit surrogate mothers through advertising and supply them to infertility clinics. Similarly, clauses relating to foreigners seeking surrogates in India are extremely liberal.


Instead of addressing the problem of infertility through rationally devised health and medical interventions, the ICMR and the health ministry are solely responding to the diktats of the market. The Bill is full of business jargon such as banks, clients, monetary compensation, companies etc. A more appropriate title for this Bill would have been ' Regulation and Promotion of Human Womb and Related Industry Bill.'



THE tobacco control law that prohibits tobacco advertising in any form is being openly violated in many states. Such violations have been reported in this column before. The law has a loophole— it allows Point- of- Purchase advertising with certain restrictions on the size of boards that can be displayed.


Cigarette companies are exploiting this to the maximum.


As a result, every shop in rural areas— whether it stocks tobacco products or not— is being used to display oversized PoP advertisements.


Some shops, as noticed in certain hill stations of Himachal Pradesh, have multiple advertisement displays. The only way to curb this would be to amend the law and ban PoP advertisements as well.



SHOCKING stories of apathy, callousness and ignorance are tumbling out of the pandora's box called Bhopal these days. What takes the cake is the revelation that funds worth Rs 29 crore released in the years following the tragedy for environmental rehabilitation were actually used by the MP government for constructing roads, parapet walls for the lower lake, drains, sewage and even crematoria. And bulk of this ' environmental' rehabilitation was done in areas least affected by the tragedy.


Clearly, the state government did not consider provision of clean water in the affected areas as environmental rehabilitation. Stopping ongoing contamination of groundwater did not qualify to be part of environmental rehabilitation, but building roads and crematoria did. Ignoring the pathetic track record of the state government, the central government has now approved an action plan for rehabilitation worth Rs 982 crore proposed by the state.


This plan is said to include the purchase of non- existent equipment such as " Automatic Micro- organism Detection Instrument" and " Identification and Sensitivity of Micro- organism" instrument supposedly priced at Rs 23 lakh and Rs 14 lakhs respectively.


The MP government seems to have perfected the art of absurdity and has been using the gas tragedy as the proverbial hen that lays golden eggs








THE law of the land does not interfere with vote bank politics.


No one knows this better than Ram Kishun, the Samajwadi Party MP for Chandauli in eastern Uttar Pradesh.


Kishun has been organising mass marriages in his constituency for more than a decade now. This has made him popular among the people. But this year's ceremony could land him in trouble with allegations of child marriage doing the rounds.


According to sources, some couples who were married off in Monday's mass marriage ceremony were children between 10 and 16 years of age.


The event was held in Dihwan village under Niyamatabad block of Chandauli district.


Niyamatabad is the MP's native place. The district administration is collecting details about the alleged child marriage before ordering an inquiry.


A. L. Prajapati, the additional district magistrate, said: " Child marriage is a crime under the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929.


Action will be initiated against anyone found violating it." A two- time MLA and now an MP, Kishun's success in electoral politics depends on these mass marriages. He also gives the couples A young couple gets married at a mass wedding ceremony hosted by Samajwadi Party MP Ram Kishun ( below) at Chandauli in Uttar Pradesh.


beds, wardrobes and utensils as wedding gifts.


While 51 couples had tied the nuptial knot last year, this year, he had selected 101 couples for the ceremony.


But a few of the brides and grooms were allegedly below the legal wedding age.


Ram Bali, a student of Class IV in a local government school, was reportedly married off to a Class III student.


Bali is just 12.


Fourteenyear- old Govinda Kumar, a Class V student, refused to comment on his marriage. The shy youngster said: " I don't know.


Ask my father." His father Kanhayia Lal said most of the couples were from Niyamatabad area.


" We are poor people for whom a marriage ceremony is a luxury.


We barely have enough money for one square meal a day. The MP is doing great work.


He has been organising such mass marriages for the last 10 years and we have reciprocated by voting for him," he said.


" He is an economist of votes and these child marriages are an investment for him. He believes the couples will vote for him when they turn 18," said Kailash Nath Singh Yadav of the Bahujan Samaj Party ( BSP).


However, the MP denied the charges. " Most of the brides and grooms live in abject poverty. So they suffer from malnutrition. That is why they look like minors. All of them are above 18. Even I am against child marriage," Kishun said.



RASHTRIYA Janata Dal ( RJD) chief Lalu Prasad isn't amused these days. None of his children save one has shown an interest in politics. This is surprising for a politician such as Lalu, particularly because wife Rabri and her brothers — Sadhu and Subhash — do try to play their respective political innings.

The RJD boss is now pinning his hopes on youngest son Tejaswi Yadav, who is an IPL cricketer, too. With his elder son more inclined towards a spiritual way of life, Lalu, people close to him say, has high expectations from Tejaswi.


The million dollar question is: Will the young man assist his father during the upcoming Bihar polls, or, will he remain happy swinging his willow?



CBI OFFICIALS are enraged over comments made against the investigating agency by a prominent news anchor of a leading news channel. In the midst of an agitated TV studio debate, the anchor called the CBI as the " Cover- Up Bureau of Investigation". The usually soft- spoken CBI director, Ashwani Kumar, who was listening to the programme, is said to be extremely upset over such ' disparaging' comments against the agency. The CBI promptly shot off a letter to the channel asking for an explanation and the logic behind calling it names. The CBI also procured a CD of the programme's recording as proof. Last heard, the agency was still waiting for an apology from the anchor.



PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh decided not to attend the commemorative ceremony on the 25th anniversary of the bombing of Canada- bound Air India Kanishka flight. The memorial was organised jointly by the Irish and Canadian governments in Dublin.


About 329 people, most of them Indian citizens and people of Indian origin, died in the crash triggered allegedly by Sikh militants. The Prime Minister's Office ( PMO) had directed minority affairs minister Salman Khurshid to attend the event. He flew to Dublin and was present at the function.


Singh's decision is being interpreted as a subtle reminder to Canadians about India's unhappiness with the progress of the probe.



THE BJP has subtly countered Nitish Kumar's attack on its communal credentials by projecting its ' secular' face. Ever since Narendra Modi became the bone of contention between the JD- U and the BJP, Shahnawaz Hussain has become the voice of Bihar in the saffron party. He has been attending all crucial meetings between BJP president Nitin Gadkari and the Bihar state unit, besides holding official briefings on the subject.


The Bhagalpur MP, who had been sulking and boycotting all BJP programmes for not being included in the party president's new team of office- bearers, also finds space in the newly- announced central election committee. Clearly, it takes an ultrasecular ally for the BJP to change its colours.


BRITISH newspaper The Sunday Times has apologised to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC) for an article it had published in January asserting that the UN panel's assessment of climate change in the Amazon rainforest was bogus.


The newspaper has published a correction and apology for the article published on January 31 about the IPCC report published in 2007. The article titled ' UN climate panel shamed by bogus rainforest claim' had said the 2007 IPCC report was based on an unsubstantiated claim that about 40 per cent of the Amazon rainforest was sensitive to future changes in rainfall. The IPCC had referred the claim to a report prepared for the WWF by Andrew Rowell and Peter Moore, whom the article described as green campaigners with little scientific expertise.


Now the newspaper said: " The IPCC's Amazon statement is supported by peer- reviewed scientific evidence. In the case of the WWF report, the figure had, in error, not been referenced, but was based on research by the respected Amazon Environmental Research Institute which did relate to the impact of climate change. We also understand and accept that Rowell is an experienced environmental journalist and that Dr Moore is an expert in forest management, and apologise for any suggestion to the contrary."








Pessimism about the outcome of the talks between the foreign secretaries and home ministers of India and Pakistan, to be held in Islamabad this week, runs wide and deep in influential sections of their political, strategic and media establishments. Some of it is understandable. Each side is convinced that the other lacks the will to address its core concerns. For New Delhi, it is Pakistan's failure to book the perpetrators of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, dismantle the terror network on its soil, stop infiltration of militants across the LoC and rein in jihadi leaders who continue to indulge in inflammable rhetoric against India. Islamabad, on the other hand, suspects that India will not yield an inch on Kashmir, the river waters dispute or on its ambitions in Afghanistan.

Against this backdrop of mutual recrimination, the hardliners, in India as in Pakistan, can be trusted to dismiss the feeblest sign of flexibility or compromise at the forthcoming talks to be evidence of an abject surrender to the enemy. This reasoning, however, points only in one direction: an impasse which, if it is allowed to drag on, is bound to worsen the security environment in South Asia and set alarm bells ringing in the major chancelleries of the world. In particular, the Americans, who have their hands full on several fronts, would perforce bring intolerable pressure to bear on the two hostile neighbours to set their houses in order.

Odd though it might appear, the very fear of these potential dangers could have ^ to some extent at least ^ a salutary effect on the bilateral meetings. Over the past few days both New Delhi and Islamabad have sent out signals to suggest that they are prepared to think out of the box. Both will doubtless reiterate their core concerns. At the same time, however, they seem to have concluded that it would be counterproductive to insist on the resolution of the intractable issues before they proceed to address the less contentious ones. Sensitive matters are best discussed in the back channels where considerable progress has already been made. These need to be revived without delay.

On less complicated matters, it is imperative to devise mechanisms to ensure discussions on a frequent basis at various levels of decision-making, including, especially, the intelligence establishments of the two countries. Progress along these lines can alone lay a sound basis for the foreign ministers of the two countries to hold substantive parleys in July. That calls for a political push from the highest quarters in both countries where, one assumes, all the stakeholders are on the same page.







It has only been a few days since the Supreme Court issued notices to the Centre, Haryana and seven other states seeking clarification on what they have done thus far to protect couples from extra-constitutional justice meted out by khap panchayats. As if to underline its necessity, two more gruesome honour killings have recently taken place. In both cases young couples were brutally murdered, allegedly by relatives, for violating traditional norms related to caste and community in choosing their partners. That these murders have taken place in the country's capital underline just how vital it is to deal with the clash between the patriarchal and clan strictures that still dominate society and the increasing liberalisation that is taking root in urban areas and preading outwards.

That such a paradigm shift will bring about a certain underlying tension in a socio-cultural context is to be expected. It's inevitable that norms of marriage and interaction will change when women and youth are empowered. The government, however, has failed when it comes to managing the ugly backlash from patriarchal quarters that is undermining the liberal fabric of the country's constitution. It is up to the political leadership to provide clear direction. And here, judging by the likes of Naveen Jindal and Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, they have not just failed but on occasion supported the peddlers of caste and gotra in pursuit of vote banks. This must no longer be allowed to continue. It's up to the authorities to pursue and make examples of the murderers.








Irregular wars are becoming the preferred form of conflict in the troubled theatres of the world. There are the Maoists in India, the Tehrik-e-Taliban in Pakistan, Chechens in Russia, Uighurs in China and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The US, Russia, China and the two major South Asian countries have all been sucked into this kind of warfare.

An irregular war has been defined as "a violent struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant populations". It favours "indirect and asymmetric approaches, though it may employ the full range of military and other capabilities, in order to erode an adversary's power, influence and will".

The asymmetries between conventional and irregular wars need to be clearly understood. A conventional war is an organised affair, and it relies on advanced technology, depends on logistics and has a central direction. An irregular war is an informal conflict where the forces rely on locally available technology, are not dependent on logistics and take direction from regional leaders. Besides, in a modern conventional war, the commander is always aiming to win a decisive battle; in an irregular war, he is content with raids and ambushes.

Home minister P Chidambaram is to be credited with having understood the gravity of the Maoist problem. But his "clear-hold-develop" approach is somewhat Clausewitzian. Achieving territorial domination would require huge forces which, even if mobilised, the government may not be able to commit for two or three years, as is planned. Another spell of terrorist mayhem and there would be immense pressure to divert paramilitary forces to the areas affected. Besides, people and not territory should be our target. Winning their hearts and minds, addressing their problems and satisfying their development-related needs should get priority.

This is not to say that the threat posed by Maoist guerrillas is not to be tackled. If anything, we will have to start from the basics - deny water to the fish! The government will have to ensure that supplies of arms, ammunition and explosives to them are drastically cut down, if not altogether stopped. Recall how the Maoists decamped with 1,100 weapons from Nayagarh district in Orissa on February 15, 2008.

It is true that the Maoists have struck a nexus with north-eastern insurgents and the latter provide arms and ammunition to them on payment. But the police forces, because of their poor discipline, inadequate training and low morale, are the biggest providers of these items to the Maoists. Explosives are also pilfered or bought from contractors engaged in road-building activities in hilly areas. These leakages will have to be plugged. Extortion by the Maoists is on a massive scale. The civil administration will have to take the responsibility to choke off this source of funds.

Civil and police administration in the districts will have to be galvanised. Here, state governments' role is crucial. In Chhattisgarh, the bureaucracy is not playing its part, thinking that insurgency is a police problem. In corruption-hit Jharkhand, the Maoists have naturally found fertile ground. In these and other affected states, the capabilities of the police forces will have to be raised. Training should get high priority while vacancies must be filled up through a crash recruitment drive. It is about time politicians realised the price the country is paying for their using and abusing the police to further political agendas.

Armed action is unavoidable. The Maoists' recent acts of violence - including the killing of EFR personnel at Silda on February 15, the derailing of the Rajdhani Express on March 23, the massacre of CRPF personnel on April 6 and the blowing up of a bus on May 17 in Dantewada - have left the government with no other option. Any operations against them should, however, be intelligence-based and have a mix of state and central forces in the ratio of at least 1:3. The objective should be to "subvert, coerce, attrite and exhaust" the adversary rather than take him on in a direct confrontation - unless the Maoists throw down the gauntlet. An irregular war, let us remember, requires an unconventional response.

Development activities will have to go hand in hand, as in Jammu & Kashmir and the north-east. It will have to be what is called a "whole-of-government" approach, requiring action at the political, strategic, operational, tactical and publicity levels. It may take a couple of years but the security forces will, in the long run, be able to deliver. The most worrisome aspect, however, is whether the government can meanwhile develop remote and far-flung areas. What is the guarantee the administration will do in five years what it has not done for six decades? The poorest of the poor and the tribals in the hinterland have not had a fair deal so far. If they do not get economic justice, would they not revert to the path of armed insurrection?

If the government wants to avoid such a tragedy, there is only one option. It must accord the same treatment to corrupt officers and criminal politicians as it plans for Maoist leaders. One group is draining the life-blood of the country; the other is out to destroy the Indian state without any constructive agenda.

The writer is a retired police chief.







A bad decision by a referee, or a rare controversial goal during a season, and the perennial debate on the use of technologically aided referrals crops up again. But, do we really need referrals in a sport played with an extraordinary passion and tempo? They may help in getting some decisions right, but at what cost? In football, errors are part and parcel of the game. All teams may have been at the wrong end of a bad decision while also having their moments of luck. Referrals for every suspected foul would destroy football's fluidity and reduce it to a mechanical stop-start game, dissipating the excitement and losing much of the visual appeal that makes football unique. It would be tantamount to killing the game itself.

Referrals may have been incorporated into games like tennis and cricket, but these games have a natural stop-start rhythm which make them amenable to such changes. Even in cricket, it's at least a moot question whether frequent referrals to third umpires have enhanced the quality of the game. That question arises with greater force in football, where a flowing rather than stop-start rhythm is intrinsic to the nature of the game. Introducing referrals for football could, therefore, tamper with the game's fundamentals. Rugby has been cited as another quick game where referrals have been introduced, but rugby hardly has much mass appeal.

Although there will always remain a margin for error, the question of bad refereeing can be addressed by improving the quality of referees. And excessive foul play can be discouraged by FIFA stringently enforcing rules and evolving a code of conduct for players. It shouldn't hesitate to impose tough penalties ^ such as a few matches' ban or a fine ^ when the behaviour of players on the field calls for it.







There are no two ways about it. Some of the referee decisions at the ongoing World Cup have been absolute howlers. Worse still, they have come at critical junctures. For example, in the match between Ivory Coast and Brazil, Luis Fabiano's double handball that went unnoticed and led to the South Americans taking a 2-0 lead, virtually dashed the Ivorians' hope of a second round berth. Later in that game, the second yellow card to mid-fielder Kaka, resulting in his sending off, was equally inexplicable. The Americans too were given a raw deal when the referee adjudicating their match against Slovenia disallowed a late goal that robbed them of a crucial win. Given such shoddy standards of refereeing, it is high time FIFA considers incorporating video referrals as part of the game.

There are several good reasons for this. First, football is a fast game and by no means a zero contact sport. The referees have the unenviable task of minding 22 athletes on a pitch that is 105 metres long and 68 metres wide. Factor in the passionate crowds and each game is a pressure-cooker situation. Hence, human error is not unexpected. It is precisely for this reason that the referees could use technical assistance. Second, the nature of the sport is such that it can change within a second. Had Frenchman Thierry Henry not handled the ball in the qualifying game against Ireland, the French team might not have even made it to South Africa. Not to mention Diego Maradona's legendary 'Hand of God' in 1986.

In the interest of fair play, football must embrace technology. If fast games like rugby and hockey can have video referrals of close calls, there is no reason why football cannot. The beautiful game has been tarnished far too often by dubious decisions. This can't be allowed to go on.








Their names are separated by just a nudge of syllables, both are Hyderabadis and  both are India's s most famous women 'racketeers' of all time. This week put them galaxies apart. On Sunday, the low-key Saina Nehwal blazed higher into history by winning the Super Singapore Series just a week after her triumph at the Indian Open, a Grand Prix Gold event. This made her the first Indian woman ever to bag two Super Series. On Tuesday, superstar Sania Mirza crashed out of the first round of the women's singles at Wimbledon. Our baby had gone a long way down from her 2005 WTA tour when she sent our adrenalin racing with the way she smashed balls, records and stereotypes. 


No, I don't mean to hit a girl when she's down, more so when baggy-shorts badminton has cheekily cocked a snook at sexy tennis. Yet both our athletes need reminding that stardom is never an Open or shut case. Shuttlecock Saina appears to be a hardy glamour-resistant strain, to the point of being dowdy; Ballsy Sania made it clear that she was genetically wired for shimmy-shimmer right  from 2003, when she turned pro, heads, and headlines. But celebrity is a bitchier goddess than its predecessor, Success. For the last couple of years, Sania's tragedy has been that she's trying harder to be a star than to be a star player. To adapt Becket's line from TS Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, for her "The last temptation was the greatest treason, to be in the right places for the wrong reasons."


A pity. When Comet Sania swept across our media, we gazed in awe, wonder and sheer exhilaration at this spunky teen whose attitude  matched her prodigious talent. Her tees proclaimed that she wasn't going to mind her p's and q's  to oblige prim hypocrisies. So did her stylish shorts till the mullahs got to her to the point where it interfered with her concentration on what was most important, her game.  Sadly, OD-ing on celebrity a couple of years later, her own moves began to do much the same.  


You didn't have to know a forehand from a backhanded compliment to be wowed by the original Sania Mirza.  She went beyond tennis in a more positive way than Prince Saurabh and his boys were more than just cricket. She symbolized liberalized India, urbane, give-it-all it takes-and-take-all-it- gives -and-more. Wanting, flaunting, brand-worshipping, unabashedly self-adoring,  and to hell with those who cluck in disapproval. Preceding pink chaddis (but flashing them too), Sania set the pace for the young women who had Bangalored the past, and wiggled their haltered tops at those who shrieked, 'Halt, enough.' Way to go, girl, we had cheered as we preened by proxy over what this iconic kid was establishing with such class on and off the courts.


Then Sania fell into the trap. Suddenly she was everywhere except on the courts. Mostly in the ads and photo-shoots. And then the trans border marriage to Bad Boy Malik rather than Suitable Sohrab. Fine, celebs must feed the beast. But it's one thing to be beyond tennis, it's another to be no longer about tennis. In much the same way our rage over the T20 World Cup debacle in May served notice that hpwever much we clamour for cricket glamour, we won't allow it to smash the central deity.


 Ms  Nehwal is clearly quite another ball-game from Ms Mirza,  but it's still worth cautioning her 'Bachna ae hasaina'. The soaring eagles of fame can so easily turn into vultures.

Alec Smart said: "Hopefully, for Bhopal victims it won't now be a case of GoM with the Wind."







China is back to a managed float of its currency, the yuan, on the eve of a meeting of the world's 20 biggest economies that have been trying to wean Beijing off the dollar peg. The US, due for elections to its Congress later this year, faces politically ruinous unemployment rates and is leading the charge against trade distorting 'currency manipulation' that has created a Chinese foreign exchange reserve of $2.5 trillion — essentially the consumption the Chinese have forgone over decades in their effort to flood the world with cheap goods. China's export-led model, on the other hand, needs active currency support and its political bosses are unlikely to ease off because high growth rates are keeping unrest at bay in a nation without adequate social security. Besides, China and the rest of Asia are partly funding the West's recovery through their voracious appetite for US debt. A significant abatement here could raise global borrowing costs.

For the moment, the Chinese have blinked, but it is unlikely the yuan will rise to levels that can reverse the global trade imbalance. A return to managed float is by far a better alternative to the risk of a trade war. Beijing does seem to appreciate the responsibility thrust upon it in the new global order after the Crash of 2008. Its challenge is to devise a way to return to sustained, rapid growth in an environment of softer Western demand. The structural shift requires wider social security to discourage precautionary savings, more robust financial markets to lessen the dependence on foreign capital and flexible exchange rates to restore the global trade balance. China's, and by extension Asia's, longer-term growth prospects may be determined by its ability to recalibrate the drivers of growth to allow domestic sources to play a more dynamic role.

The immediate impact of a rising yuan on other Asian currencies, including the rupee, is the room it allows for them to appreciate without hurting competitiveness. Around two-thirds of Chinese exports are imported raw material or intermediate goods from Asia, which stands to gain from Beijing's currency reform. Chinese exports may become dearer in dollar terms but the decline in import prices ought to limit the price rise. Central bankers across Asia will be watching the yuan closely now to get a fix on the degree of forex market intervention required of them. Rising Asian currencies provide policy-makers in the continent an indirect tool to tighten the domestic economy without hiking interest rates aggressively.





It was perhaps a leap of fate, but poor Abhishek Bachchan decided to take the plunge anyway. We are talking about him bragging that the figure in Raavan soaring down 80 feet from a cliff into the swirling waters below was indeed little old baby B himself and not some stuntman. Before this hit the water, the real McCoy, the stuntman himself, spoilt it all by claiming how proud he was to have done the stunt for Abhi. Now before you rush to condemn the poor lad for this whopper, be honest. Wouldn't you have claimed this vertiginous dive as your own if you thought you'd get away with it? It would definitely make a splash at any party.

Abhishek has good reason for watering down the truth here. With pa Bachchan grabbing the headlines with his tweets about why his little boy didn't do well in the acting stakes and a wife whose unique ability to communicate in gigglespeak is the stuff of legends, anyone would want a bit of the limelight once in a while. So, the inverse Icarus figure was not him, but then it's not as though everyone in the movie industry has George Washington-like qualities. Sure, all the he-men and women of the industry would have us believe that it's really them jumping across 40-foot chasms and leaping off burning buildings while some poor sap who did all that is nursing his aches and pains.

Stars lie about their age, background and even the existence of children. Many tell us that they'll only do meaningful films when we know this means the producers are not burning up the wires. Do we question that? So, Abhi's claims should be treated as no more than a slip by one of his ten heads in Raavan. He's just keeping his heads above the water.






I ran into Karam Pal last week in the Haryana village of Khairla, as he tried to persuade me to drink hot tea under a blazing June sun. The hospitality offered by Pal, a chowkidar was unmistakably Indian. So, too, was his tragic story, a case study of how the poor in India slip in and out of poverty.

His face lined beyond his years, Pal (68) explained how his savings (around Rs 4 lakh) had been spent on medical care for his 25-year-old grandson, who fell from the roof of their home one hot summer night five years ago. That same day, the young man got into the Indian Army. It's been six years, but Pal's grandson is still bed-ridden. Pal's son, an army soldier, "died of shock and pain". At an age when Pal should have enjoyed some fruits of his life's labour, he supports a family of seven, struggling to balance their needs with an unceasing, expensive round of private doctors and hospitals in an attempt to heal his grandson.

Like millions of Indians, Pal pays what economists call a "poverty premium" to access basic services. The poverty premium is a cost the poor — realistically estimated at more than 500 million people — pay because India's well-meaning but deeply flawed social-security schemes don't do what they are supposed to. So, the government's move, announced on Tuesday, to give the poorest Indians more food will similarly prove costly without meticulous, urgent reform.

Much has been written about the massive leaks, widespread corruption and mismanagement that derail the government's attempts to ensure inclusive growth through subsidies and other social welfare spending. Here are three examples of what reaches beneficiaries from every rupee spent:

42 paise: food subsidies for the poorest

70 paise: the national rural jobs-for-work programme

52 paise: fertiliser subsidies for the poorest farmers.

Since so much spending is fictional, the benefits are marginal. At least 20 million ration cards for subsidised food are in the name of 'ghosts', people who don't exist. The colossal amounts wasted on such subsidies drain resources urgently required for real benefits like better hospitals, better schools, better transport and other infrastructure facilities for millions like chowkidar Pal.

Yet, the government has no choice but to spend more on social welfare because inclusiveness is the bedrock of its political foundations. Over the last decade, Indian spending on social welfare grew nearly five-fold, rising from $9 billion in 2000 to $42 billion in 2010. That's half the Plan outlay for 2010-11.

This high-cost, low-benefit model is worsening the poverty premium, notes a new study from CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets, a consultancy. "Between subsidy schemes for petroleum, food, fertilisers, employment and midday meals (for children), the Indian government will spend at least $250 billion on services for the poor in the next five years, but we estimate more than $100-110 billion of this will leak, either through rank corruption or via 'ghost recipients', whose identity is hard to prove or disprove." How much is $100 billion (Rs 4.6 trillion)? It's more than three times the national defence budget or enough to wipe out India's budget deficit, with change to spare.

Identity, or the lack of it, is at the heart of India's endemic poverty and the urgent need to reform its tottering welfare state. In Khairla, a relatively prosperous village of tiled roads and brick houses, every second person I spoke to had an identity problem. One odd-jobs worker supported his family of six and an abandoned aunt, whose village was acquired by the government and razed to build Delhi's new airport. For three years, he has tried and failed to get her ration card moved to Khairla, an hour's drive from her old home. Officially, the aunt exists in some government record. It is probable that someone else gets subsidised food in her name. Another narrated how last year the fingerprints of all villagers listed as officially poor were recorded for a national health insurance scheme. Only a handful received the cards, but the identities of 1,650 people exist in official records somewhere.

It is to address this mess in national identity that former Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani is working overtime to generate India's first national identification number by August. In his current avatar as head of the Unique Identification Authority of India, Nilekani's goal is to generate 12-digit identities for 600 million Indians in the first phase over the next five years.

So, last week, Nilekani was foremost among the experts Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia consulted before announcing the government's ambition to accelerate growth from 8.5 per cent to 10 per cent between 2012 and 2017. This growth, he emphasised, must be inclusive. "A large number of people think that we are spending money, but it is not reaching the beneficiary," said Ahluwalia.

This is the plan: the unique identification (UID) system will be the starting point of national social security reform — to remove ghosts, surrogates and other anomalies stopping money from reaching the bottom of the pyramid. The new, to-be-expanded subsidised food network will be linked to the UID.

None of this will be easy or quick. Success will depend on a level of coordination, cooperation and innovative government thinking that India has never demonstrated. But if the poorest Indians get a number that allows them to prove who they say they are, it is a battle well begun.  






The tragic suicide of La Martiniere student Rouvanjit Rawla has sparked off a nationwide debate on the supposed ills of our education system. Let me state at the very outset, that no case can be made out for corporal punishment. No matter what an individual's views on the subject, the fact remains that it is banned by law. To enter into a debate about it is as futile as entering into a debate on whether one should stop at a red light.

Having said that, one cannot help but feel that, largely, the media debate has missed out on some critical issues. First of all, the entire tenor of the debate seems to portray the Indian education system as being full of dark secrets, and being run by evil, fiendish administrators and teachers. This is perhaps because, to a great extent, the debate is being conducted by people who have no idea of what grassroots-level school teaching involves. There is a mistaken belief in this country that anyone who has had the benefit of a school education is, willy-nilly, also an expert on the subject.

Heads of schools will testify that every parent or alumnus is quick to offer unsolicited advice on how to run a school. This is sadly reflected in the quality of debate in the media, with TV anchors and page three columnists having a field day villifying schools and teachers. Various "experts" on education are pontificating and passing pompous judgements.

If this were indeed the case, why has there not been a public outcry so far? Does it take a tragedy for an entire system to be exposed? After all, the Indian Army, the judiciary and the medical profession all have their fair share of lapses. Do we, therefore, pillory the entire organisation? TV headlines such as "Is there something seriously wrong with our education system?" may be good for TRPs but have a negative impact on civil society. We must sit back and consider some issues. The Indian education system, despite its faults, is not a bad one. True, it is far from perfect, but then which system isn't? Ask any inner-city London teacher and he would probably love to swap jobs with an Indian. Or ask the teacher in the US into whose classroom a student walked in and shot seven of his classmates dead.

This doesn't mean that there's no room for improvement. But where does the improvement begin? It begins with societal attitudes, with the way we view the teaching profession. How many of our well-heeled parents would encourage their baba-log to become school teachers? In how many homes are teachers regularly made the butt of ridicule? Children,  very often, carry the same attitude with them into the classroom.

And what is the state of the average classroom? With 60 to 70 children packed in, is there any chance for the teacher to establish any kind of personal communication with a child? The miracle is that many do. With 60 or 70 homeworks to correct, tests to evaluate, projects to assess, reports to make, the teacher is also a parent with a home to look after. And I have not even touched upon the demands made by a boarding school where there are hundreds of children, with different hormonal levels, to be looked after 24x7.

It is also a given that in any modern-day society all professionals must be trained. But what about teachers? How many genuine teacher-training institutes are there in this country? How many principals receive any kind of training for the onerous responsibilities they take on? Still, we expect our teachers and principals to perform faultlessly at all times.

Look at the challenges of educating today's children. First, the school gives out one message to the child, the parent another. If a school bans mobiles, parents immediately plant one in the child's hands. The school insists on attendance. The parents promptly turn up with false medical certificates. Parents think nothing of allowing underage children to drive, often resulting in horrific accidents. Outside school, the child is subjected to a barrage of confusing messages — from porn, to glossy ads and 'god' channels. What message will the child internalise if the parents and the school speak in different languages? Add to this the pressure of getting into a decent college. So, spare a thought for the teacher who must churn out achievers, year after year.

If Rouvanjit's tragic demise is going to be a wake-up call, let's not waste time in shrill accusations and demonisation. Instead, let us, as a society, seriously introspect about how we can make a good education system the best. It won't be easy, as some of our fundamental values will be challenged. But we have to decide, as a nation, whether it will be worth our while.

Dev Lahiri is Principal of Welham Boys School, Dehradun

The views expressed by the author are personal






I quite like this Nitish Kumar fellow. At a time when everybody wants more money for their state coffers, the Bihar CM has returned the Rs 5 crore Kosi flood relief money given by the Gujarat BJP government.

Did he return it because he abhors money, that favourite object of his predecessor Lalu Prasad?

No. He's actually making the people of Bihar remember what it is to not funnel their money into the pockets of politicians, goons and officials. He's returned the Rs 5 crore because the state BJP had come out with newspaper ads claiming credit for the flood relief.

That was objectionable enough for Nitish to return the money?

Well, on top of that, the ads carried a photo of Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar raising their clasped hands on a podium.

Why, was the picture photoshopped? And aren't they both NDA allies?

The picture was genuine and taken at an NDA rally in Ludhiana last year. What bothers Nitish is that Modi is gripping his hand — not the other way round, or both gripping each other's.

Has this anything to do with the fact that there will be assembly elections in Bihar in October and November this year?

Hmm, you may be on to something there. Never thought of it like that.

I'm sure it'll make the Congress in Bihar pleased as punch if Nitish, with his positive image, breaks away from the NDA before the polls.

If he's as smart as he looks, he should take a call on that after the polls.

Do say: Nitish is an even straighter, more honest and canny version of Naveen Patnaikji in Orissa.
Don't say: Bihar needs to become the new Gujarat.







If you were a small boy in Kolkata in the 1970s, you supported only one international football team: Brazil. My father and uncles and all their friends supported Brazil; and all my friends did as indeed did their fathers and uncles. Sporting allegiance is often passed on from generation to generation.

Brazil, we knew, played beautiful football, and, in certain circles in Kolkata, you were brought up to believe that as a Bengali, you had no choice but to be an aesthete.

All that changed in 1982. In sport, it's rare for a fan to switch loyalties. It's rarer still for half the football fans in a city to switch loyalties at the same time. It's a oncein- a-lifetime phenomenon. But this was triggered by a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon: Diego Maradona.

For fans of my generation, Maradona — flawed, angry and more sinned against than sinning in that tournament, kicked and hacked by every defender he came up against, preternatural in his reflexes, superhuman in his skill, slaloming and leapfrogging across the pitch with his demeanour informed by a punk-rock swagger — became a mascot.

No, I won't get started on what he did in the 1986 World Cup.

So now I have passed on my allegiance to my daughter. A World Cup is always a good time for seeing how things have changed in the four years since the last one was held. As I see Oishi now, I feel a twinge of nostalgia for the four-year-old she had been in 2006.

She watched the game only fitfully in those days; she knew the terrace chant (Ar-gen-tina! Ar-gen-tina!), but would only occasionally cheer and shout along with me at Argentina games.

This time, she is deeply involved. She knows the players because she has followed them in European league football. She is busy plotting the progress of the side she supports; and she worries about whom Argentina will meet in the Round of 16.

Now, we chant in unison: Ar-gen-tina! Vamos, vamos!

It helps that Maradona is the manager of the current team. Days before the Cup began, she flicked through El Diego: The Autobiography of the World's Greatest Footballer, and asked me tell her again of the man's exploits and his operatic life.

We watched Argentina's first game against Nigeria together. And the second against South Korea together but apart, speaking on the phone at half-time and texting each other at critical moments.

There are few things like watching sport together. Because when it is sport, one isn't merely watching. It is a participatory exercise. It fosters a rare sense of togetherness, a rush of adrenaline and a glimpse of beauty and drama that transport us to a realm beyond our ordinary lives.

I'll make the most of this World Cup. When the next one comes around, and she is on the brink of becoming a teenager, who can tell how things will be?







As recently as a couple of centuries ago, a gang of dacoits would intimate the landlord by epistolary means as to their intention to rob the latter's home, mentioning the date and time. In the historical and literary annals of Bengal, such tales abound. Perhaps that fact alone might mitigate the tasteless irony of Maoists proclaiming — after the derailment of the Jnaneswari Express and the deaths thereby of 148 people in West Bengal on May 28 — that henceforth they will "sensitise" station managers if and when they choose to sabotage tracks. This, says Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao, is to ensure that passenger trains are stopped at a "safe distance". Is the nation, the Maoist-affected states, railway travellers, and the kin of those killed on May 28, supposed to thus acknowledge the "considerateness" of Maoists in the light of the motley band of "activists" who might insist on something like that, as they come round to condemning "civilian" deaths while still doggedly looking the other way for the police-paramilitary personnel killed?


No. For one, it doesn't make an inch of difference. Again, Maoists are and will remain murderous outlaws and criminal saboteurs till they lay down arms or the anti-Naxal operation reaches its logical conclusion. Till then, Maoists will lie beyond redemption. No matter how furiously Kishenji and his comrades dissociate themselves from the May 28 massacre, the Maoist-called (and likely to be Maoist-enforced) 48-hour bandh June 30 onwards across five states will be a criminal violation of the law, irrespective of the declaration to spare "essential services".


Regardless of what Jnaneswari-accused and recently arrested Bapi Mahato said earlier and what he tells investigators now — that is, whether or not the passenger train itself was targeted, whether or not death on the maximum scale was sought — the people of this nation will not take the Maoists' word for their designs. Even without the May 28 tragedy, Maoists' guns had long spoken. There cannot be any mistake about them.







Through large parts of north India, young people are being brutalised and killed by their own family in the name of an abstract "honour", directed by oppressive community elders through khap panchayats. Now, the government is finally demonstrating moral clarity and aggressive action, as it crafts a new law to break the khaps' hold.


Given the recent spike in such cases (or the sudden public spotlight on them), the Supreme Court stepped in, asking the Centre and eight states (Haryana, UP, Punjab, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh and MP) what protection they offer against the khap panchayat's predations. And now, the home ministry has finally stepped up its game, ordering a stricter, more punishing law for such violence. Now, khap panchayat members would have to prove their innocence in case of a death, and law enforcement agencies have the power to arrest and act against community leaders who may be spurring social boycotts. The proposed law will also factor in punishment for the intangibles of social humiliation — hurting, ostracising, denying water and rations or exiling those who defy the khaps.


So far legal solutions have tended to lag because of the social knottiness of the khap panchayat problem. It becomes difficult to affix direct blame on the panchayats who present the issue as one of collective stigma and spontaneous retaliation by the victims' families. What's more, the police and administration tend to follow the political lead — in Haryana especially there is a shameful political consensus on the electoral utility of khap panchayats and no leader has demonstrated the spine to denounce their oppressive sway. Given that impasse, it makes sense for the home ministry to bulldoze the law through, without waiting for intervention from the states. Apart from this measure, the home ministry also wants to amend the Indian Evidence Act and the Special Marriages Act and scrap the mandatory 30-day notice period for a marriage, thus closing the window during which couples are harassed and victimised by their relatives.







The Planning Commission is an institutional oddity in an economy that has moved decisively away from the government taking a lead role in the allocation of resources. The movement away from central planning of the kind envisaged by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first chairman of the Planning Commission, actually happened much before the economic liberalisation of 1991. But the Planning Commission as an institution has consistently failed to define a clear, new role for itself even as the structure of the economy has transformed from predominantly socialist to mostly capitalist. Now finally, as reported by this newspaper on Wednesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has cleared an ambitious revamp of the institution into a "systems reforms commission". The revamp is to be steered by Planning Commission member Arun Maira, a former management consultant. The new description is curiously exotic jargon but may actually free the commission from some of its historical baggage.


More substantively, the government intends to convert the Planning Commission into a think-tank to generate original ideas in the very broad domain of economic policy for the government to then act on. It will also be the government agency responsible for acting as an interface with other independent think-tanks and NGOs. The PM would like the commission to


engage more directly with the "polity", presumably with various ministries in the Central and state governments, and be able to persuade them to implement certain ideas or "plans" generated by the government's own think tank. That isn't radically different from its existing role — the Planning Commission has few direct powers of execution in any case and must rely on the power of persuasion to sell its ideas to the Centre and states.


Interestingly enough, the new role sought for the Planning Commission seems to be very similar to the role played by the National Advisory Council, which also generates ideas within, coordinates with NGOs and civil society and then tries to "persuade" the government to act. Of course, the NAC's focus so far has been social sectors whereas a systems reforms commission can take on a broader gambit of issues, including public finances, infrastructure and so on. It is surprising though that the government hasn't thought of the option of


reinventing the commission as an agency to monitor the effectiveness of its many spending programmes — a kind of independent evaluation office. That may be a yet more

relevant reinvention.








China claims it has moved to a more flexible exchange rate. The People's Bank of China announced its intention of moving towards a more flexible exchange rate regime by allowing the yuan to move within a band against a basket of currencies of its major trading partners. This week, the yuan has appreciated, sending a signal that China is serious about the announced change. The change in policy has come after mounting pressure from the US. It comes just before the G-20 Toronto weekend meeting. The move will not only reduce the political pressure on China, it will take away the G-7's bogeyman for the financial crisis. The G-20 meet will now have to focus on internal issues of fiscal stimulus, its withdrawal and public debt instead of the Chinese exchange rate regime.


India, which moved to a much more flexible exchange rate regime in 2007, has been looking good in this story. Now, if China does allow a significant appreciation, India also benefits from greater export competitiveness, the political pressure to peg the rupee reduces and the RBI can focus on controlling inflation.


While the Chinese revaluation may have come after pressure from the US, there are domestic reasons why it is in China's interest to do so. The growth of the internal market in China is constrained by, one, the low distribution of profit income to households as state owned enterprises do not distribute dividends; and, two, the low growth of real wages. The Chinese growth model depends largely on the reinvestment of profits, giving investment as an engine of growth, and high growth in exports, providing the second, and most important, engine of growth for the economy. The government has supported exports with good infrastructure and labour laws, as well as subsidised them through cheap credit, inputs and the exchange rate regime. By preventing yuan appreciation Chinese exports have remained cheap. This constituted a subsidy to exporters and domestic consumers paid more for all importables, than they would have done had the yuan been allowed to be market determined.


For India, this has led to a discussion on two questions. One is about the desirability of following such a growth strategy. The second is about the ability of the Indian government to do what it takes to implement this strategy. If you focus only on the high growth rate this strategy yielded for China, the strategy looks very attractive. Many commentators felt that India could grow much faster if, like China, we also kept our exports cheap and argued we were losing out on growth compared to our neighbours. However, if you focus on the growth in consumption by households in the country, the strategy looks pretty flawed. With households being paid low wages, and not being paid a serious share of profits, the growth in household consumer demand fell behind GDP growth and domestic consumption fell from 60 per cent to barely 40 per cent of GDP. (In India, domestic consumption is nearly 70 per cent of GDP). Not only does the Chinese path not appear desirable from a development perspective, it does not appear to be something the Indian government could have achieved in the Indian social and political setting.


The repression of consumption accompanying undervaluation of the exchange rate is implemented through a number of steps. The central bank intervenes in the foreign exchange market. This leads to an increase in the monetary base, and so the central bank then attempts to sterilise its intervention. This is done by selling government bonds. The banking system holds the bulk of government bonds in India and China. If banks do not want to hold these bonds, the central bank steps in to force them to do so. This "financial repression" under which banks are forced to hold low interest bearing government bonds, instead of lending to profitable businesses, was done through "targeted issues" by the People's Bank of China who would identify the banks that had witnessed the maximum growth in bank deposits as those who had to purchase these bonds. The interest rate on bank deposits was kept low so that banks don't make losses due to a large difference between the rates at which they borrow and the rates at which they lend.


In the coming days if China allows a significant appreciation of the yuan, it will be for domestic reasons. An important reason could be the rise in domestic inflation in China. Preventing appreciation is inflationary. First, because you would have got cheaper tradables if you had allowed it; and second, because when you buy dollars you pay for it with local currency, thus pushing up the domestic monetary base. Life for the central bank is much easier if the currency appreciates. It is able to lower inflation without having to raise interest rates or tighten credit. If the economy is overheating, appreciation helps by reducing export demand, and thus contracting aggregate demand, without hurting all domestic firms and households directly through interest rates as would happen when the central bank tightens monetary policy.


It remains to be seen how far the Chinese will go in allowing yuan flexibility. If the PBoC allows slow appreciation of the yuan, it may end up making the yuan a one-way bet and attracting greater inflows. It is aware of this and has indicated a two-way movement of the yuan. But how much the yuan appreciates will depend on the capacity of the Chinese economy to absorb the domestic rebalancing that it involves.


India and Brazil have supported the US stand for a more flexible yuan with the view that their exports will become more competitive. But even more than competitive exports, India's biggest advantage from a more flexible Chinese exchange rate regime and an appreciating yuan will be the reduced pressure on the RBI for fixing the exchange rate and preventing appreciation from old fashioned economists who advocate undervaluation of the exchange rate as a development strategy. Fortunately, the political difficulties associated with inflation have already pushed India away from going too far down that path. Financial repression of the kind that would have been required for following China would have been impossible for India.


The writer is professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi







The Uttar Pradesh cabinet has decided that elections to the third tier of government — urban local bodies (nagar palikas, nagar panchayats), and mayors — shall not be party based. That is, all candidates shall contest as independent candidates, and symbols of political parties may not be used. This decision raises a few issues.


There are three issues related to the validity of the rule and the procedure of notifying it. First, does this rule violate the Constitution? The Constitution does not have any mention of political parties except in the context of the Tenth Schedule's provisions (the anti-defection law). Political parties are recognised in the Representation of the People Act and the conduct of election rules; state acts and rules may overrule these acts and rules. Therefore, this rule does stand the scrutiny of constitutional validity.


Second, was there any flaw in the manner in which the rule was notified? The draft version was notified in the gazette, a month was given for objections to be raised, and these objections were reportedly scrutinised before the final rule was issued. It appears that all requirements were met, though the government can be faulted for not publicising the draft rule.


Third, can parties opposed to this rule demand that it be


revoked? Rules are part of the subordinate or delegated legislation. That is, the legislature delegates some details of law-making to the executive. However, the legislature retains the right to oversee this delegated power, and make amendments or repeal any rule. Any member of the UP legislative assembly or council may demand a discussion and vote on this rule. As the new rule comes into effect for elections in 2011, there is sufficient time to have a discussion on the floor of the House. (As an aside, note that this process is rarely


undertaken. In the five years of the 14th Lok Sabha, 2004-2009, not even one such item was raised by any member in either House of Parliament.)

A different question is how this rule will affect the election to and working of local bodies. The size of the electorate matters. The larger the electorate, the more difficult it is for individual candidates to credibly communicate policy plans and implementation capability. The last Lok Sabha elections saw several high-profile independent candidates lose their deposits; most independent candidates who won the election have


a long record as leaders in their erstwhile parties — such as Kalyan Singh in the BJP and Digvijay Singh in JD(U). However, when the electorate is small (such as a resident welfare association), most individual candidates are known to all voters who can judge their abilities.


In the case of local bodies, the size of the electorate is usually a few thousand persons. And there have been a few instances of


locally active citizens winning even against organised parties — for example, Adolf D'Souza, who won the Juhu seat in the last municipal elections in Mumbai.


A second factor is the role of the elected post. Political parties form the basic unit of mobilisation and collective action in most democracies. Any public official who needs to mobilise collective decision-making would find the job difficult in the absence of such a coalescing system. Any legislature composed mainly of independent members will find it difficult to formulate laws and policies that are acceptable to a majority.

However, some elected positions have a more executive, managerial or technical function.


Individuals who do not have party backing or affiliation may be able to function effectively in these roles. An example of a technical role is that of the chairperson and members of the bar council who are elected by members of the bar; there is no reason to believe that bringing political parties in the fray would improve the effectiveness of the council.


Thus, the question boils down to the role of local bodies. The constitutional provisions (as laid down by the 74th Amendment and the Twelfth Schedule) view the main function of urban local bodies as that of planning, implementation and oversight. These bodies do not have a legislative function. To the extent that the role is quasi-executive, there is no compelling reason why prohibiting party nominations would reduce effectiveness.


Several opposition parties have alleged that the rule was framed with a political intent as the ruling party was weak in urban areas. Notwithstanding that allegation, this move will provide a good experiment to see whether party-less elections work for elected posts with a small electorate and a largely executive role.


The writer works with PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi







The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has not only attracted widespread attention and created a major political fallout in the US, but has posed some major issues that impact the future of global energy policy and the international response to the growing challenge of climate change. Some general inferences can be drawn from this tragic occurrence, which has not only led to the loss of human life, but is continuing to threaten marine life and coastal areas in the Gulf.


The first major inference relates to the manner in which decisions are taken for deep sea exploration that were infeasible in the past. Today, deep sea drilling technology has been perfected to a level where going as deep as several kilometres has become routine. However, before a project is implemented for drilling at such depths, seldom is a proper analysis of possible scenarios carried for assessment of consequential risks.


It is obvious that there is a lag between the use of deep sea drilling technology and the development of solutions which could be implemented promptly and


effectively in the event of a major disaster taking place. Unfortunately, regulations that might ensure appropriate safety measures in the event of disasters (which may be low in probability but high in impact), have lagged behind. The US in particular is likely to put in place effective regulatory measures by which this gap hopefully will be filled with safeguards preceding offshore drilling in these high risk areas.


The second major inference from this disaster is the fact that there would be a timely reappraisal of how far our thirst for oil should take us to different regions of the globe. A recent article in Newsweek mentions that if the oil industry has its way, we may have more such unplanned experiments as we have seen with the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf. It is estimated that there are 30 billion barrels of crude oil equivalent beneath the Gulf of Mexico's ultra-deep waters, that is depths below 6000 feet. It is reported that in 2008, Shell finished drilling an oil well 9000 feet under the gulf and BP has another well 7000 feet below.


All of this raises a very fundamental question about energy policy. Former US president George W. Bush deprecated the fact that Americans are addicted to oil. Unfortunately, the rest of the world, and certainly countries like China and India, are blindly following the US example. The question is whether we can rely on the growing demand for oil being met at reasonable prices. This seems very unlikely given the fact that even the International Energy Agency (IEA) has revised its estimates of oil production downwards in recent years. One statement that has been made by the IEA is very pertinent in defining future global energy policy — "sustained investment is needed mainly to combat the decline in output at existing fields, which will drop by almost two-thirds by 2030". If the oil spill in the Gulf leads to stringent regulation and restriction on drilling in offshore and other difficult areas, clearly the decline in existing reserves is unlikely to be made good through new discoveries. At the same time, demand for oil is continuing to grow notwithstanding the slight pause due to the recent economic recession. However, even in North America, demand for automobiles has picked up again, assisted by government support for the automobile industry and programmes like "Cash for Clunkers". According to the IEA's reference scenario, non-OECD countries will account for 93 per cent of the increase in world primary energy demand and all the growth in oil demand, which will rise from 85 million barrels per day in 2008 to 105 million barrels per day in 2030.


All these facts also have to be seen in the context of the need to mitigate emissions of greenhouse gases. One of the major findings of the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) is the fact that mitigation of emissions is accompanied by large scale co-benefits such as reduced air pollution, higher energy security and greater employment (such as with a shift to renewable sources of energy). The Gulf oil spill also reminds us that another major co-benefit could be avoidance of marine pollution and damage to vulnerable coastal areas. In the case of India, a lack of coordinated attention to energy security issues is propelling the country towards crisis. TERI has carried out detailed analysis of future prospects using an extensive energy economy model, which reveals that on a business-as-usual basis, at the end of two decades from now India may be importing 750 million tonnes of oil and 1300 million tonnes of coal. Now that coal prices exhibit similar increases as the price of oil, it is obvious that with this level of import dependence on fossil fuels, India is certainly not moving towards an energy secure future. The answer lies in substantial improvements in energy efficiency and a shift to renewable sources of energy, all of which would require a major restructuring of the economy and changes in lifestyles. For instance, our growing dependence on private vehicular transport would only increase our vulnerability to substantially higher oil imports. Price increases in the global market could hit India's economy to a disastrous extent. It was only three years ago that global oil prices reached a level of $147 per barrel, and given current trends in the global market a similar level of global prices cannot be ruled out in the not too distant future.


The Gulf oil spill certainly has major lessons for the global community, but it is in India's interest to learn from it before developments force us into taking action that over time would become much more expensive. For instance, it is cheaper for us to improve the efficiency of our buildings, factories and commercial complexes right now than to have to retrofit them with efficiency enhancing measures in the future. Likewise, for us to enhance our public transport infrastructure and modernise the Indian Railways today is preferable to being forced into doing so in the wake of unacceptably high oil prices in the future. If we learn these lessons today, then perhaps the Gulf oil spill would leave us wiser.


The writer is director-general of The Energy & Resources Institute, and chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change






Irrespective of anything he said, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, committed a clear breach of traditional standards by even agreeing to give an interview to Rolling Stone magazine. Presidents and defence secretaries make policy decisions, and military officers, from the lowest to the highest ranks, are obliged to follow orders without public comment. To be sure, civilian authorities ask military chiefs for private counsel on the best means to fight a war, but final decisions on grand strategy are the responsibility of the president. If a top officer feels strongly that his commander in chief is mistaken, he can resign and take his case to the public as a private citizen.


The precedents are clear. During World War II, Gen. George C. Marshall, the country's highest-ranking officer, was so determined to stay out of politics that he made a point of refusing to laugh at President Franklin D. Roosevelt's jokes. It was Marshall's way of preventing his being co-opted by a president who might wish to use him for political purposes. And Marshall was of course discreet about what advice he gave the president.


In the fallout from General McChrystal's remarks, many have pointed out that when Gen. Douglas MacArthur publicly defied President Harry S. Truman over how to fight the Chinese in Korea, the president fired him. Indeed, MacArthur had crossed a line, and Truman knew he could not be allowed to set a precedent. "If there is one basic element in our constitution, it is civilian control of the military," Truman later wrote. "If I allowed him to defy the civil authorities in this manner, I myself would be violating my oath to uphold and defend the constitution."


General McChrystal, however, is not Douglas MacArthur. His misdeed was not an insubordinate demand for a change in grand strategy. Rather, it seems more like a few mindless expressions of irritation at higher authority in a magazine he probably never reads: snidely mocking Vice President Joe Biden with the comment "Biden ... Who's that?"; complaining about frequent email messages from the administration's special representative to the Afghan war area, Richard Holbrooke.


Couldn't one dismiss these remarks as relatively harmless examples of poor taste by a general burdened with a difficult, if not unwinnable, war? If so, the appropriate punishment might be a public slap on the hand. That would certainly insulate President Obama from accusations that he was overreacting to a misstep by a good soldier who has already apologised.


If only things were that simple. It is impossible to believe that General McChrystal didn't know exactly what he was doing. Surely he understood that an interview with a left-of-centre magazine would produce headlines across the country. He was reading the president the riot act.


So, while this was not the sort of overt defiance that MacArthur challenged Truman with, it was defiance nonetheless. And the only fitting punishment is dismissal.


There is, in fact, a better historical analogy than the MacArthur controversy: President Roosevelt's approach to Gen. Joseph Stilwell, the top American commander in East Asia during World War II. Stilwell never openly defied the president (except in the privacy of his diary, where he was scathing). He did, however, treat Chiang Kai-shek, China's Nationalist leader, disrespectfully, even calling the generalissimo "the Peanut."


Roosevelt, who believed it was essential to keep Chiang and his armies in the war against Japan, complained that Stilwell could not treat Chiang "the way we might ... the Sultan of Morocco." The president removed Stilwell from command — not because he had directly defied the White House's authority, but because he had lost his usefulness as an instrument of the president's policy.


The same now is the case in Afghanistan. The president will surely take heat if he replaces McChrystal, and critics are already claiming that any reshuffling at the top will make it impossible to begin drawing down American forces next July, as the president has promised. In fact, the opposite is the case: the best way to ensure that we keep to the timetable is to designate a top commander who will closely follow the lead of his commander in chief.








Despite the May 28 pledge that he would quit "without delay" to pave the way for a national unity government, Prime Minister Madhav Nepal continues as the country's chief executive. He may have asked major political parties to agree on his successor as a precondition, but he is using their inability to do so as an excuse to continue in the post, which further discredits the political process in public esteem.


Though he is apparently embarrassed to face the people, he has not been able to defy supporters and allies who insist on the succession issue and a common political agenda being settled.


The arithmetic of the hung parliament, and the reluctance of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) to cooperate with him, makes the situation difficult. Prime Minister Nepal has to pass a thanks motion to the president's address to the house (yet to take place), and the annual budget passed by July 16, but that cannot happen without the support of other big political parties, including the Maoists.


But the UCPN-M, which is the largest party in the house, will not transact any business until the PM resigns. Given Nepal's fractious politics of the past four years, it has been hard to keep the house peaceful and orderly and take important legislative decisions. To avoid budgetary business being stalled through disruptions and adjournments, the government is contemplating bringing it in through ordinance.


The constituent assembly, which functions as parliament, has come under severe attack from all sides (except political parties) for having extended its own life by a year after it failed to deliver the constitution. Its moral and political authority have been questioned. What's more, the cabinet recently put an additional Rs. 720 million at the disposal of house members ostensibly to carry out developmental projects, but also being seen as a crude and ineffectual move to buy support during the passage of the budget.


With the legitimacy of the house and the government under cloud, and the failure of political parties to forge a way out, the peace process is under severe strain. This has been exacerbated by the UCPN-M signalling that an armed movement remains an open option if leadership is not handed over to them.


UCPN-M chief Prachanda, who proved to be an astute manipulator during the past four years of open politics, managed to again defeat party rival Baburam Bhattarai. Bhattarai was forced to publicly state that he would not be a prime ministerial candidate, should the Maoists head the proposed national unity government. With Bhattarai's withdrawal, it falls on Prachanda to either head the new government, or have a decisive say in the choice of PM and composition of the government.


During the UCPN-M's recent politburo meeting, Bhattarai was projected as an "Indian stooge" and the majority of the 40-plus members felt that India was an "enemy" to be fought and exposed. Prachanda himself asked Bhattarai not to stake claim for the future leadership, because he remains under a cloud of suspicion, and Bhattarai complied. The Maoists have struck a stridently anti-Indian posture after May 2009, when Prachanda quit as prime minister and blamed India for behaving like a colonial power with Nepal. This perception has only deepened within the UCPN-M, which has larger implications in Nepal. The party presents other political forces as "anti-national" and, by extension, as "allies of India".


Based on those assumptions, the UCPN-M has managed to win over some European countries that seek greater play in Nepal. These countries view the Maoists as a key force for Nepal's stability, and a potential strategic partner in the future. Nepal's neighbours, China and India, pursue an approach marked mostly by competition and cooperation, but both resent the EU's enlarged interests. China is especially hostile, as it sees them as allies of the Free Tibet movement. The EU also acted as a pressure group to extend the constituent assembly's tenure.


And all these tensions are surfacing at a time when the house's legitimacy has never appeared more fragile, and it is unclear if Nepal's political actors have the ability to pull the country out of the crisis. The failure to justify the house's tenure extension, and making the government pass the budget by ordinance will further discredit political parties and the constitutional process. It will take Nepal to the pre-April 2006 confusion, a state without a king. But will the political leaders who defaulted in their promise to bring peace, consolidate democracy and steer the economy, pay the price for it? That remains to be assessed.









As reported in FE yesterday, the Prime Minister's Office has pushed for allowing foreign airlines to pick up stakes in Indian carriers along with a significant say in their management. The significance of this move lies in the fact that foreign airlines have hitherto been barred from such investments, and in the fact that the civil aviation ministry had earlier opposed any relaxation in FDI rules for foreign carriers. But the ministry has changed its tack lately. Praful Patel has begun pushing for allowing foreign airlines to invest in domestic ones. This has emerged as a perfectly doable policy reform given that a) it needs no legislation—a Cabinet decision would suffice and b) some domestic airline owners have been lobbying hard for a relaxation in FDI norms that would give them a much-needed cash injection. Opposition to such a reform also falls into two broad categories. First, that many countries across the globe have been just as wary as India of allowing entry to foreign airlines. Second, that allowing such entry brings the baggage of assorted security concerns along with it. On the first front, our simple rebuttal has always been that bad policies in other countries just don't bear emulating. However many nation states may have embraced restrictive policies to protect their national airlines and domestic carriers, there is overwhelming evidence that such protectionism has not done carriers and consumers much good. On the second front as well, it has become abundantly clear that protectionism is a false proxy for safety, which can be much better delivered by a strong, independent civil aviation regulator. The safety issue in India can be better addressed by divesting the civil aviation ministry of its many hats as operator, policymaker and regulator. These roles need to be vested in agencies that are separated, strong and committed to promoting competition rather than cartelisation.

After an annus horribilis, the aviation industry the world over has begun finding its wings again. Ditto for the the Indian enterprise. The International Air Transport Association expects airlines to post decent profits this year in contrast to last year's losses. Plus, it is projecting big jumps in both passenger and cargo traffic. India is echoing this fairy tale of a turnaround, reporting improvements in the balance sheets of everyone from Jet Airways to SpiceJet and Kingfisher. As airlines' operating margins rise, so does their role in driving economic growth. The government,...






The government's move to revamp and gradually transform the Planning Commission into a System Reforms Commission is a major step that can make the institution more relevant to a market economy. The idea to metamorphose the plan panel from a reactive agency into a strategic thinking group, which maps out risks and opportunities by focusing on issues, is very ambitious, given that the earlier efforts to restructure the Planning Commission since the early nineties have not made much headway. This is not very surprising, given that the pace of change in this expert body has been slow, even historically. It took more than two decades for the Planning Commission to drop the concept of physical planning, adopted in the Second Five-Year Plan, and use formal planning models based on input-output analysis in the Fifth Plan to ensure consistency in the sectoral growth targets. This scenario has largely continued even after the introduction of reforms at the start of the Eighth Plan and the significant increase in the role of private investments across almost all sectors of the economy—from agriculture to the consumer goods industry, from infrastructure and social sectors to defence, with PPPs emerging as the most viable vehicle for funding projects. But a changeover to a more reasonable indicative planning, which is a realistic option in a market economy, has proved elusive so far, with the changes mainly restricted to working out alternative growth scenarios. So, the shrinking role of the government in mobilising and controlling investments has pushed the Planning Commission to focus more on issues related to enforcing fiscal discipline in the central and state governments, including in the various ministries, departments and public sector enterprises. And even here, the disconnect between the plans and the government budgets has only grown with resource constraints forcing the Planning Commission to cut annual budget allocations much below the outlays envisaged in the plan.


So, the time is just right to opt out of the traditional planning model, which was the favoured strategy in the initial phases of industrialisation. There is no reason why the plan model cannot be jettisoned now, especially when even its original proponents emphasised the need for a flexible approach. In fact, they even opted to set up the Planning Commission under an executive order rather than through a constitutional statute so that it would be much easier to introduce changes and evolve the institution to the changing needs.









The People's Bank of China (PBC) announced on June 19 that it is prepared to allow the yuan—also called the renminbi—to float more freely against the dollar and other foreign currencies. President Barack Obama hailed the move and said, "China's decision to increase the flexibility of its exchange rate is a constructive step that can help safeguard the recovery and contribute to a more balanced global economy." Leaders from Europe, Japan and Russia also cheered this currency regime shift long-due from China.


Stock markets rose sharply on June 21 following the announcement. Globally, investors have welcomed the move because it lowers the risk of a future trade conflict that could hamper global growth. It has also strengthened investor confidence, which has been shaken by the debt problems in Europe and the gloomy economic data from the US. A flexible currency regime from the manufacturing powerhouse was what the rest of the world had wanted for a long time so that there could be an economic order, allowing global trade to grow steadily without artificial government stimulus.


Beijing has faced severe criticism in the last few years from the international community, especially the US, for holding the yuan artificially cheap. PBC's currency strategy has kept the country's export juggernaut rolling, which has severely impacted the manufacturing sector in many countries around the world. The central bank surprised everyone by saying that it would make the yuan more flexible. To put it in context, the statement comes before the G-20 meeting to be held in Toronto from June 26, where US and Chinese officials were in for a showdown on future prospects for the peg. The US has been arguing for long that China has held its currency severely undervalued. It alleged that undervaluation of the Chinese currency is a blatant form of protectionism and that it subsidises all Chinese exports by the amount of the undervaluation, which is estimated to be anywhere between 25% and 40%. The currency undervaluation also means that Chinese companies find it less economical to import because it costs them more in their local currency. It is similar to an import tariff of 25% to 40% being levied on all imports into China, thereby strongly discouraging purchases from other countries.


The strategy of the central bank seems to suggest that China doesn't want the G-20 meetings to focus on the currency peg. It would want the spotlight to be on issues such as the European debt crisis and rising budget deficits in Europe and the US. PBC holds foreign currency reserves in excess of $2.4 trillion. Widening fiscal deficits in developed economies due to reckless spending by their governments could cause the value of China's foreign currency holdings to decline sharply. With this announcement on the table, it enables China to press forth issues that are important on its agenda and at the same time eases pressure from the international community for meaningful currency reform.


The statement to revalue the yuan would seem innocuous, benign, apolitical and could have been taken at face value, if the euro-dollar exchange rate were at more favourable levels. The euro has been tumbling in value against the dollar this year. From a level of 1.514 in November 2009, the euro to dollar exchange went below 1.200 this month for the first time in four years. At the beginning of this month, $1.1917 fetched 1 euro. The value of the euro has declined more than 20% in less than seven months. This steep decrease in the euro's value has been due to problems in Greece, the massive relief package assembled by the European Economic Union to bail out the country and economic storm clouds hanging over Portugal and Spain, among others. Decline in the value of the euro against the dollar means that not only has the dollar appreciated in value against the euro, but so has the yuan. This appreciation of the yuan has made Chinese goods cost 20% more in Europe now than they did seven months back. Further declines in the euro due to the deterioration of the fiscal situation may cause Chinese goods to cost even more in Europe, apart from reducing the value of the PBC's forex reserves. A revaluation against the dollar, as the PBC announced on Saturday, could make the yuan appreciate even faster. Given the yuan's appreciation due to the euro weakening, China would be reluctant to allow for a sizeable move in its currency since the EU is the second largest trading partner for China. A decline in trade with the EU is something that China really would not want, given that the Chinese economy is growing at a marginally slower pace now, due to the not-so-robust global economic environment.


Not surprisingly, the central bank was rather vague as to the amount of appreciation it will allow. The details are yet to be revealed but if anything, we can expect a very small appreciation in the near future, which isn't exactly what the international community has been demanding. While the statement is a positive gesture, it is exactly that (i.e., it is nothing more than just a gesture). Expect the stock markets' euphoria to wane pretty quickly because what you hear isn't necessarily what you get.


The author, formerly with JPMorganChase, is CEO, Quantum Phinance








When I was a young boy, my parents took me to see the great magician, PC Sorcar, Sr. I remember the show as dazzling, with mystifying disappearances, appearances and other illusions. But the one illusion that has always remained in my mind was Water of India, where Sorcar seemed to fill large numbers of vessels with water from a tiny pitcher. India's water was abundant; it was mystical; it was the thread running through the show and the country.


Perhaps no more. A report, Charting Our Water Future, by the 2030 Water Resources Group (WRG), suggests that India is the most vulnerable country in the global future where water will be crushingly scarce—unless the right actions begin to be taken now. The report ranks alternative measures to close looming demand-supply gaps. If nothing is done, the potential global gap will be 40% of current projections of accessible, reliable and environmentally sustainable supply. India will have by far the worst shortage, with demand projected to be double the supply in 2030. This could be compounded if climate change accelerates the melting of Himalayan glaciers: the long-run flow decrease could be 30-50% of current levels of water flow.


One way to close the gaps is through rationing demand, which will affect both economic growth and well-being. Avoiding these costs makes sense if the costs of investment in water are lower. Interestingly, India has the greatest opportunities as well as the greatest threats. The largest increase in India's water demand will come from agriculture and the solutions will also have to be found in the minutiae of that sector's operations.


The WRG report develops the idea of a water-marginal cost curve, which orders different possible actions according to their incremental costs, as well as showing their potential impacts on closing the demand-supply gap. Not surprisingly, supply augmentation measures like desalination, the National River Linking Project and large dams are among the most costly. But so are rainwater harvesting and smaller dams. In fact, none of these costly measures are necessary in the next 20 years.


The most cost-effective actions for water availability include changing farming methods, reducing over-irrigation, balancing fertiliser and water use better, integrated plant stress management and using drip irrigation. Improvements in infrastructure (rehabilitation and extension) are most cost effective in the last mile. The lesson is clear: fix things at the farm level rather than embarking on large, grandiose projects.


But farm-level solutions require actions to be scaled in a different way, at the system level. Introducing new methods of farming may require changes in crop patterns, supply chains and distribution chains for farm produce. It will certainly require education and training, something India's moribund agricultural extension system is ill-equipped to provide. Unfortunately, the resources that should be available to state governments for providing complementary infrastructure and extension activities have been used to provide free water and electric power (the latter used to pump up groundwater from ever-increasing depths). Thus, India's agriculture is probably as inefficient as it could be in its use of water.


The irony is that farmers are not the main beneficiaries of the current political-economic equilibrium. Take the case of Punjab, the major growing region for water-intensive crops such as rice and sugarcane, where historically neither made economic sense (and still would not, were it not for insanely extreme subsidies of water and power). Sugarcane requires mills to be close by. It is the mill owners who are powerful and determine policy. The sellers of fertiliser and pesticides also wield political power. Punjab's farmers have only the illusion of political clout. They are not poor but neither are they getting richer. They are stuck in the 1970s.


The WRG report admits that it provides just a partial analysis. The complexities of a political economy and institutional reform are beyond its scope. But it shows what might be achieved with the right kind of investments, if political logjams and institutional inertia can somehow be overcome. Achieving this is not magic; it just requires attention to the details of specific agricultural systems, technologies and incentives.


If the political equilibrium in individual states prevents action, the central government can play a role, just as it has done for education and health. There is now a National Policy for Farmers, as well as a National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture. But like other national policy statements, every action is listed as a possibility, without cost-benefit analysis or prioritisation. This is where exercises such as the WRG report can play a crucial role, at least as a starting point. The water of India must not be allowed to become only an illusion.


The author is a professor of economics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Views are personal










State-owned BSNL might be following the recommendations of the Sam Pitroda committee to rope in an eminent person from the private sector as chairman. The need of the hour for the telecom provider, however, is not just a competent head but a change in its way of operating. BSNL lacks the power to make its own decisions. So, even if Arun Sarin, former CEO of the Vodafone Group, whose name has been doing the rounds as a prospective head of the ailing BSNL, takes over, it would be a challenging situation.


A recent conversation with one of the senior officials at BSNL revealed that the PSU has to go through long procedures of government approvals and tendering, unlike private operators that take decisions independently. This has put a number of projects and contracts that BSNL planned on hold. For example, the project of setting up the 93m line GSM-based network worth $10bn hit a bump with the home ministry raising concerns over security. The project was scrapped almost two years after it came into existence and finally BSNL came out with a short-term project of 5.5m lines in the North and East regions. This official also said the decision on further requirements is yet to be taken."What the government needs to do is provide authority to BSNL and empower the board. Plus, officials need to be accountable and should go through the auditing processes like other private players do," said Brijendra K Syngal, former BSNL CMD.


Low pay packages are also viewed as a hurdle to BSNL's competency. Arun Sarin has reportedly been offered a salary of Rs 10 crore pa, which is unprecedented in the public sector. Compare it to the current BSNL CMD Kuldeep Goyal's take-home package—a little over Rs 12 lakh a year. Considering the increasingly competitive market, the government should look at reducing the excess staff—around 1 lakh people—and compensate senior executives with better pay packages. Due to the high volume of employees, BSNL saw an increase of about Rs 1,400 crore in expenses, mostly salary compensations, this year. The PSU definitely needs a make-over but it remains to be seen how it survives the winds of change.








China's move to introduce flexibility in the exchange rate policy of its currency, the yuan, is good news for the world economy. While financial markets around the world moved up sharply on hopes of a more competitive trade, it would be premature to read too much into the unexpected announcement by the People's Bank of China that it would push for a reform of the renminbi exchange rate mechanism at a time when the world economy is recovering and the Chinese economy is on a sound footing. Neither a sharp one-time revaluation of the yuan nor a shift to a free floating exchange rate system is on the cards. China will continue to manage the exchange rate through the central bank. What is certain, however, is that the Chinese currency will move up in a regime of greater flexibility but the appreciation will not be sharp or immediate. The announcement by China, which came days ahead of the G20 Toronto summit, is significant in that it converts a contentious bilateral China-U.S matter into a multilateral one. It is almost certain that the G20 countries will shift their attention to the lingering global imbalances, where many countries blame the U.S. more than any other country. At the same time, China's effort at rebalancing the global economy through its new exchange rate policy will not go unnoticed.


China's new policy is guided by certain significant domestic factors as well. Its competitiveness is getting eroded, with domestic wages and prices rising faster than in partner countries. Also, in the context of its currency's peg to the dollar, the steep decline in the euro has caused a sharp rise in the renminbi on a trade-weighted basis. Currency appreciation can dampen domestic inflation as it makes foreign goods cheaper to buy. China's flexibility will help India in at least two ways: Exporters will get some relief in the battle with Chinese producers to win global business, and when they do, the Reserve Bank of India will have more leeway in dealing with inflationary pressures without worrying about the consequences of monetary tightening and rising interest rates. Way back in 2005, China abandoned its dollar peg and floated the yuan against a basket of currencies that included the euro and the yen. The yuan appreciated by 21 per cent in the almost three years that the system operated. However, the past need not be a guide to what is going to happen now especially because the global economy has changed so comprehensively. China's new approach to its exchange rate may not be the kind of reform some were hoping for, but the fact that even an announcement from Beijing can have such an impact all-round clearly underlines China's rise.







It is too early to say if the hanging of Abdolmalek Rigi by Iran spells the end of its troubles in the Sistan-Balochistan province. But it does offer Pakistan an opportunity to shut the door on at least one extremist outfit for good. Rigi led Jundallah, the group behind a low-level insurgency in the south-eastern Iranian province where the people are mostly of Baloch ethnicity and belong to the minority Sunni Muslim community. Last year, Jundallah — meaning 'Soldiers of God' — which claims to be fighting Iran for Baloch and Sunni Muslim rights, took responsibility for two major terrorist attacks in the province. One of these, a suicide bombing in October in Pishin near the Iran-Pakistan border, killed several top commanders of the Revolutionary Guards. Four months later, in February 2010, the 26-year-old Rigi was dramatically captured from a plane flying from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan. He was sentenced to death by the Tehran Revolutionary Court, which convicted him of several acts of violence. Iran blames the United States, Israel, and the United Kingdom for funding Jundallah, and Pakistan for collaborating with these countries, at the very least, to the extent of providing safe haven to the militant group. Islamabad has made a determined effort to strengthen ties with Tehran despite opposition from the U.S., but the Jundallah issue has been a thorn in their ties. It added to Iran's ire that the insurgents seemed to operate with great ease along the border with Pakistan — in 2008, the terrorist organisation abducted a group of 16 Iranian policemen from a checkpoint and reportedly transferred them across the border into Pakistan, later executing all of them.


Iran's success in tracking down the leadership of Jundallah owes a lot to cooperation from democratic Pakistan. In 2008, the newly elected Pakistan People's Party government captured and extradited to Iran the Jundallah leader's brother Abdolhamid Rigi, who was executed last month. It may have also facilitated the capture of the other Rigi from a commercial flight earlier this year. If Pakistan intends to go after any remnants of Jundallah operating from its territory is not clear. But with the group said to have built links with the Pakistani Taliban and perhaps even the al-Qaeda, Islamabad may have realised that the outfit was doing it more harm than good. Doubtless, this was encouraged by a mix of smooth diplomacy and warnings — mostly quiet — by Tehran. As India does not enjoy the same leverage with its neighbour, it can only be hoped that Pakistan will, on its own or goaded by others with influence over it, have a similar epiphany about militant outfits such as Laskhar-e-Taiba that carry out terrorist attacks on Indian soil.










How would Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary have reacted to the news that a 13-year-old boy recently scaled the same peak which they were the first to conquer in 1953? Would they feel a tinge of irritation at how 'easy' the summit has now become? Perhaps. But I am sure they would not feel their own accomplishment had in any way been diminished.


Having successfully broken the back of international sanctions on its civilian nuclear programme in September 2008, India needs to ask itself how it should look upon Pakistan's desire to follow in its footsteps and access civil nuclear technology for its energy needs. Should it stand in the way and try and block Islamabad from entering base camp as some panicky members of the Indian strategic community advocate? Or should it adopt a more mature attitude and work with its international partners to ensure the orderly incorporation of Pakistan into the global non-proliferation regime?


The question is relevant because China is likely to inform the Nuclear Suppliers Group of its decision to sell two pressurised water reactors (PWRs) for the Chashma-3 and 4 power stations in Pakistan. Virtually, every member of the 46-nation cartel believes this sale would be a violation of guidelines Beijing committed itself to follow when it joined the NSG in May 2004. China, of course, disagrees. India has so far wisely confined itself to asking the Chinese side for information about the proposed transfer. On June 22, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao fielded questions from reporters on the subject with a straight bat: "We are monitoring the debate and the developments in this regard as they relate to this subject of supply of nuclear reactors by China to Pakistan," she said, carefully choosing her words. She did not criticise the proposed transfer or object to it, nor could she have. Three months ago, when asked about the possibility of nuclear cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had made it clear India has no locus standi. "Who am I to interfere with what goes on between the United States and Pakistan?" he said. "That's a matter for these two countries to consider." The same logic should surely apply to what goes on in the civil nuclear field between Beijing and Islamabad.


NSG guidelines say members should sell nuclear equipment and material only to countries that are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or who accept full-scope safeguards — that is, who agree to place all their nuclear facilities under international inspection. There are only three countries which do not satisfy this criterion: India, Pakistan and Israel. Two years ago, the NSG voted unanimously to exempt India from this restriction. In exchange, India took on a number of commitments. These included separating its civilian and military nuclear facilities and placing the former under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. India also undertook to abide by its moratorium on nuclear testing, support international efforts to negotiate a verifiable Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), implement rigorous export control norms and not share enrichment and reprocessing technology with others. Prior to the NSG waiver, India finalised a safeguards agreement with the IAEA providing for indefinite IAEA supervision of its civilian nuclear sector.


Today, the NSG's restrictions no longer apply to India but they do still to Israel and Pakistan. When China became a member of the NSG six years ago, it made a "declaration of existing projects" in order to be able to fulfil supply obligations towards Pakistan that had been made prior to that. China and Pakistan signed agreements for civil nuclear cooperation in 1986 and 1991. The latter agreement has not been made public but two MoUs were signed in its wake for the construction of PWRs for the Chashma-1 and Chashma-2 power stations. China told the NSG that since these projects were ongoing, it would continue to supply fuel and equipment for them. Since it made no mention of Chashma-3 and 4 at the time, their inclusion is clearly an afterthought. If China persists with its export plan, this would arguably be the first time it openly flouts international rules it had voluntarily agreed to abide by. Chinese help for the Pakistani nuclear weapons programme is well known but virtually all of its proliferation activities occurred before it formally acceded to the NPT in 1992. Similarly, China has stuck to its NSG commitments since joining the cartel in 2004. Deviating from them now would raise questions about its willingness to play the role of a "responsible stakeholder" in the international system.


India is not a member of the NSG and will, therefore, not be in the room when the matter is discussed in Christ Church, New Zealand, this week. But it can respond to the new situation that is unfolding in one of three ways. First, it can go into overdrive to lobby NSG members to take on China and make sure there is no dilution of the group's rules prohibiting nuclear commerce with Islamabad. Second, it can remain quiet and do nothing. Third, it can make a virtue out of necessity and suggest the NSG start considering the need to bring Pakistan into the non-proliferation tent.


Of these, the first option is the worst from the strategic and diplomatic perspective. Trying to block something which India is in no position to prevent will exacerbate tensions with Pakistan and China and expose the weak hand the country has on this question. The only circumstance that would justify a blocking strategy is if the proposed Chinese transfer were to alter the strategic balance in the subcontinent. In fact, the supply of two safeguarded civilian power reactors will not make any difference, unlike say a transfer of unsafeguarded nuclear equipment or material or of new delivery systems for nuclear missiles. The binding constraints on the size of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal are the enrichment capacity of Kahuta, the small size (40 MW) of its heavy water reactor at Khushab and the amount of natural uranium it has access to. None of these constraints will be affected by the two new PWRs.Given the conservatism of Indian diplomacy, the second option of silence is the one most likely to be followed. But this option is also inferior. No country in the world, least of all Pakistan or China, will believe India has no views or concerns on the transfer. Its silence will, thus, likely be seen as an admission of impotence rather than as an expression of statesmanship and wisdom. This option is also inferior because it is not in India's interest that the international non-proliferation system be tinkered with on an ad-hoc basis. The Indian exemption at the NSG may have been pushed by the U.S. but it required the active concurrence of dozens of countries. What emerged from those bruising sessions in Vienna in August and September 2008 was a careful balance of rights and obligations which benefited both the international system and India. China today lacks Washington's hegemonic ability to change the global rules. If it breaks ranks with the NSG and acts unilaterally, the after-effects could be quite destabilising.


India should, therefore, consider the third option of encouraging the international community to discuss the contours of an agreement that would lead to the orderly induction of Pakistan into the global nuclear regime. Given its population and energy needs, Pakistan needs help in developing a diverse energy portfolio. In line with global trends, it is logical that its leaders should look favourably upon nuclear power. Thanks to its past record in proliferating weapons-related technologies, however, Pakistan will have to do much more to establish its credentials as a responsible partner in the field of nuclear commerce. Any exemption at the NSG would likely involve stricter parameters and wider commitments than were seen in the India case. And if the Indian exemption took three years and two months to fructify, it is reasonable to expect Pakistan's exemption to take twice as long. The benefits of immediate engagement are, nevertheless, overwhelming. Islamabad's opposition to the FMCT — partly triggered by irrational fears about the impact of the Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement on India's ability to produce fissile material — means the Conference on Disarmament has been unable to begin its work on the treaty. If Pakistan knows there is light at the end of the NSG tunnel, its attitude at the CD may change.








The legend that Sanskrit and Tamil emerged from the two sides of the damaru (drum) of Shiva says it all — the immemorial antiquity and the equal divine status accorded in our tradition to the two languages recognised as Classical. And yet, Western scholarship in the colonial period concentrated almost wholly on Sanskrit studies. It is only from the mid-20 {+t} {+h} century, when Burrow and Emeneau published the Dravidian Etymological Dictionary, that interest in the Dravidian languages, especially Tamil, gained momentum.


According to Thomas Trautman ( The Aryan Debate, 2005), the three "fundamental discoveries" in Indological studies are the discovery of the Indo-European language family (1786); the discovery of the Dravidian language family (1816), and the discovery of the Indus civilisation (1924). It is significant that two of the three "fundamental discoveries" relate to the Dravidian, though the latest one is still being "debated" for want of an acceptable decipherment of the Indus script.


Part of the problem in the delayed recognition accorded to Tamil in Indological studies was the non-availability of really old literary texts and archaeological evidence for the existence of Tamil civilisation in ancient times. The critical editions of the earliest Tamil literary works of the Sangam Age, especially by U.V. Swaminathaiyar from 1887, have led to a radical reassessment of the antiquity and historicity of Tamil civilisation.


What Swaminathaiyar did for Tamil literature, K.V. Subrahmanya Aiyer accomplished for Tamil epigraphy. He demonstrated (in 1924) that Tamil (and not Prakrit) was the language of the cave inscriptions of Tamil Nadu, written in a regional and linguistic variant of the Mauryan Brahmi script adapted to Tamil phonetics. His discovery has been amply confirmed by the increasing number of Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions on stone, coins, seals, rings and, last but not least, the humble pottery of common people. The following are a few select examples of the more recent discoveries.


Stone inscriptions: The most important historical inscriptions include those of Nedunchezhiyan at Mangulam near Madurai, the Cheral Irumporai dynasty at Pugalur near Karur and Athiyan Neduman Anji at Jambai near Tirukkoyilur, all assigned to the period from the 2 {+n} {+d} century BCE to 3 {+r} {+d} century CE, coinciding with the Sangam Age described in the earliest Tamil anthologies.


Equally important are very recent (2006) discoveries of a clutch of menhirs (memorial stones) found in megalithic urn-burial fields in the Upper Vaigai valley. They are in Tamil and inscribed in Tamil-Brahmi. They date from about the 2 {+n} {+d} century and first century BCE and are among the earliest herostone inscriptions found in India ( See Figure 1).


Coins: Among the most notable discoveries are the copper coins of Peruvazhudi, a Pandya king of the Sangam Age (2 {+n} {+d} century BCE) and the Cheral Irumporai-s of Karur (1 {+s} {+t} century CE), and the silver portrait coins of the Chera dynasty from the 3 {+r} {+d} century CE (See Figure 2). Interestingly, the Satavahanas from Andhra issued a series of silver portrait coins (1 {+s} {+t} century to 3 {+r} {+d} century CE) with bi-lingual legends, Prakrit in Southern Brahmi script on the obverse and Tamil in the Tamil-Brahmi script on the reverse . This indicates that only Prakrit and Tamil were the official languages of the regions where the coins circulated.


Pottery: Excavations undertaken at sites such as Uraiyur, Azhagankulam and Kodumanal, and surface explorations of many more sites, have yielded a growing number of pottery inscriptions in Tamil written in the Tamil-Brahmi script (dated between 2 {+n} {+d} century BCE and 3 {+r} {+d} century CE). It is significant that inscribed pottery is much more abundant in Tamil Nadu than elsewhere in India. The pottery inscriptions are also secular in content. The main reasons for such widespread and early literacy in Tamil Nadu are political independence and the use Tamil in administration and other spheres of public life.


Those scholars who were initially reluctant to admit that there could be early and widespread literacy in ancient Tamil society now accept the reality in the light of the sheer numbers and archaeologically established antiquity of Tamil-Brahmi pottery inscriptions from Tamil Nadu and elsewhere. The pottery is fragile, but the evidence is firm.


Tamil Nadu: A Tamil-Brahmi pottery inscription of about the 3 {+r} {+d} century CE from Andipatti in Vellore district reads naakan uRal 'Nakan's [pot with] toddy-sap' (See Figure 3). He has apparently inscribed his kalayam so that it is not taken away by other toddy-tappers. Here is a case of a toddy-tapper living in the countryside who is literate enough to write down his name and the purpose for which the pot is used. Surely he did not hire the services of a professional scribe. This illustrates the state of literacy in early Tamil society.


Sri Lanka: Tamils have been living in the northern and eastern parts of the island from time immemorial. Several small fragments of pottery with a few Tamil-Brahmi letters scratched on them have been found from the Jaffna region. However, a much more sensational discovery is a pottery inscription from an excavation conducted at Tissamaharama on the southeastern coast of Sri Lanka. A fragment of a high-quality black and red-ware flat dish inscribed in Tamil in the Tamil-Brahmi script was found in the earliest layer. It was provisionally dated to around 200 BCE by German scholars who undertook the excavation. The inscription reads tiraLi muRi, which means "written agreement of the assembly" (See Figure 4). The inscription bears testimony to the presence in southern Sri Lanka of a local Tamil mercantile community organised in a guild to conduct inland and maritime trade as early as at the close of the 3 {+r} {+d} century BCE.


Berenike, Egypt: The excavations of a Ptolemaic-Roman settlement at this ancient port on the Red Sea coast have yielded an inscribed amphora fragment. The inscription is in Tamil and written in the Tamil-Brahmi script, precisely dated by stratigraphy to 60-70 CE. The reading is ko(R)Ra-pumaan, the name of a chieftain . The pottery inscription bears evidence to the Western trade of the Tamils in the Sangam Age.

Thailand: A Thai-French team of archaeologists discovered a sherd of inscribed pottery during excavations at Phu Khao Thong in Thailand. The pottery inscription is in Tamil written in the Tamil-Brahmi script of about the 2 {+n} {+d} century CE. The fragmentary inscription reads tu Ra o…, part of the Tamil word meaning 'monk' . This is the earliest Tamil inscription found so far from South-East Asia and attests to the maritime contacts of the Tamils.


(The author, an epigraphist and Tamil scholar, is an authority on the Indus and Brahmi scripts.)










The name Guglielmo Libri will mean little to anyone outside the inner circles of academia. But a mere mention of the 19th-century Tuscan noble and polymath to European scholars still has the power to provoke hand-wringing and despair.


Count Guglielmo Libri Carucci dalla Sommaja was more than a respected scientist and a decorated professor of mathematics. He was also — and more notoriously — a book thief, guilty of intellectual larceny on an international scale.


In the mid-1800s, Libri pilfered tens of thousands of precious manuscripts, tomes and documents from Italian and French libraries, including 72 letters written by the great French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes. Now, in an emotional ceremony, one of the letters has been handed back to France after collecting dust in a library at a small American college since 1902.


The letter, described as "a wonderful discovery for science", is dated 27 May 1641 and concerns the publication of Descartes's treatise, Meditations on First Philosophy — subtitled In Which the Existence of God and the Immortality of the Soul Are Demonstrated — that year. It was written to Father Marin Mersenne, who was overseeing the book's publication.


Academics had known of the letter's existence for more than 300 years but not its contents as nobody, apart from a Haverford College undergraduate, had examined it. As scholars pore over the contents, its discovery has once more put Libri under the spotlight.


Born on January 1, 1803, in Florence, he was a precocious academic who, at the age of 20, was appointed professor of mathematical physics at Pisa, and had a fascination with ancient books and manuscripts. Threatened with arrest for his political activities, he fled to France, where he was elected to the French Academy of Sciences and awarded the Legion d'Honneur. His love and knowledge of books were recognised when he was appointed Inspector of Libraries, tasked with cataloguing valuable works. Instead of documenting them, however, he began stealing them.


Tipped off about his imminent arrest, Libri fled once more — to England, bringing with him around 30,000 books and manuscripts in 18 large trunks, including works by Galileo and Copernicus. Although found guilty of theft by a French court and sentenced in absentia to 10 years' in jail in 1850, Libri enjoyed the high life in London, funded by selling the stolen tomes.

He returned to Italy to die in 1868. Learning of his death, the French government requested the return of some of the manuscripts and offered to buy back those that had been sold. Some were returned, but tens of thousands of other precious stolen works simply disappeared.

The Descartes letter had been donated to Haverford, near Philadelphia, by the widow of an alumnus and remained in its library, unnoticed, until a philosophy scholar at Utrecht University in the Netherlands stumbled across a reference to it on the internet. He contacted the college, which immediately offered to return it to France. The French Institute plans to publish it in a collection later this year. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








Long before the world was digital and we realised that it was made of bytes and pixels, there was instant still photography.


Polaroids were the creation of an American engineer called Edwin Land, who is said to have invented the process after his daughter asked him why she couldn't see the holiday snapshots they took together as soon as they took them. Plenty of fathers of course would like to make that kind of wish come true, but Land's daughter was lucky. Her dad wasn't just an indulgent parent, he was an engineer and inventor of genius — a 20th-Century Edison.


Land was said to wrap himself so intently in his work that his staff erected a barrier outside the front door of his office to prevent him from walking straight out into the traffic. The world still lives with his inventions — polarising lenses that eliminate glare and the high-flying cameras in U2 planes and satellites that gave the United States the edge in the Cold War.


His first instant camera had to be manufactured with extraordinary precision so that a system of tiny rollers squeezed the developing chemicals out of the thick padded film at just the right rate. The science and the manufacturing processes were complex, but the vision behind them was simple: Land wanted to give families photographs that developed in their hands. He had an artistic vision too, based on giant studio cameras he designed — behemoths the size of bedroom closets that produced large format (20 x 24 inch) prints.


Land gave photographers free access to these cameras and in return kept some of the prints they produced. The result was the Polaroid Collection, which is being sold by auction at Sotheby's in New York this week.


Polaroid addiction


David Levinthal is one of the artists in the collection. His quirky, compelling pictures catch the eye. He tells American stories through elaborately staged pictures of toy figurines which trick the viewer's sense of scale and challenge our sense of what is real. His most immediately recognisable slices of Americana are his iconic shots of cowboys, but there are darker and more challenging aspects to his work too.


He has made studies of America's modern wars using model soldiers. His famous shots of scantily clad dancers have a disturbingly erotic aspect to them. Levinthal jokingly compares being given access to Polaroid's extraordinary studio camera with being given a sample of crack by a drug dealer. "I was hooked," he told me.


"One of the wonderful things about the camera is that you completely lose any sense of scale. It could be life-sized, it could be eighteen inches." The ordinary Polaroid camera did something equally remarkable for families all over the world. Until it came along in 1948, photography was a tiresome business. Unless you had your own darkroom, rolls of film had to be sent away to developers or left at pharmacies, then collected days or even weeks later.


Tiny laboratories


Land's invention transformed an industrial process into something that happened in your hand. The sheets of shiny card on which the instant photographs materialised were each in their own way tiny laboratories where 35 different components and chemicals combined to produce a minor miracle. Consumers loved them and they sold in millions all over the world — bringing competitors like Fuji into the market too.


On the face of it, that should be that. The Polaroid camera ought to be remembered as a powerful tool for photographic artists and an iconic consumer product of the past — as outdated as the hand-mangle or the hula hoop. In theory, digital photography has superseded the Polaroid camera as comprehensively as the CD eclipsed the wax cylinder. Except that Polaroid photography just refuses to die.


Uncertain and imperfect


Florian Kaps runs a business selling recovered and reconditioned Polaroid cameras. He even manufactures new film stock for them.


He is not in other ways a Luddite. As far as I know he doesn't have a valve radio or a black and white TV; he does use an iPhone and a laptop. But he sees in Polaroid photography an almost mystical point where science and art overlap. His customers are people who find the digital age just a little too digital.


The Polaroid process has a hint of uncertainty about it — the temperature at which the film develops can change the appearance of the finished shot for example. And unlike digital pictures which can endlessly be reproduced, every Polaroid is unique and unrepeatable.


Or, as Mr. Kaps more artistically puts it: "Sometimes the imperfections and the uncertainties can be fascinating."


Mr. Kaps points out that Polaroid, in its heyday, was a fascinating commercial company whose new product launches created the same kind of buzz which you would associate with a business like Apple in the modern world.


You can like digital cameras, appreciate their convenience and use them every day.


But they will never be something to love in the way that Polaroids became — and 50 years from now when they too have been superseded it is hard to see anyone sitting down to write this kind of romantic re-appraisal of their worth. — © BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate








It has been a week since the destabilsing differences between the NDA allies ruling Bihar came out into the open. Since then it has been evident that the BJP has been doing what it can to engage in damage control. A similar effort from the side of chief minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar has not been so forthcoming, although Sharad Yadav, who is officially JD(U) president and NDA convenor, has expressed his desire that the alliance not unravel, not least because the Assembly election is barely four months away. In the Bihar context, however, Mr Yadav's authority is visibly limited, and it is Mr Kumar who calls the shots. Unless truce-makers can be quickly organised to prevail on Mr Kumar to turn the page, and make a public declaration of his resolve to continue to lead the alliance in the state, the misgivings in the rank-and-file in the two parties about one another's intentions may prove hard to efface. If effective home remedies are not found quickly, the situation can only get worse with each passing week, as the polls are nearing.

Whatever the proximate causes of the trouble between the allies, it is hard to overlook the reality: the BJP's stock hit rock bottom following its defeat in last year's general election, and has not recovered since. The change of guard in the party's leadership structure is yet to leave an imprint. The NDA was the creature of a period when the BJP, under the astute leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee who commanded nationwide appeal, was the indubitable leader of the anti-Congress forces in the country and was in a strong enough position to ride to power at the Centre. Numerous regional parties gathered round this fulcrum to make up the NDA. One by one, the BJP's state allies have deserted it since, finding their own local and convenient reasons to do so. It appears to be the JD(U)'s turn now to have a rethink, whether or not this culminates in a rupture. It is no coincidence that questioning in the JD(U) of the continuing viability of an alliance with BJP occurs at a time when Mr Kumar's stature has risen way beyond anyone would have thought possible five years ago when the JD(U)-BJP alliance came to power in Bihar.

The logic is simple: can there be a NDA if there is no strong BJP to hold it together? N. Chandrababu Naidu, Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik jumped ship long ago. They had their compulsions in their respective states. It can always be argued, however, that Mr Kumar's compulsions are nowhere near as acute. Even while keeping company with the BJP, he has been able to draw on minority votes in substantial numbers. The perceived challenge to his standing among the minorities, and among Bihar's poor castes and classes, from Lalu Prasad Yadav's RJD and the Congress in the coming Assembly polls is at the moment not seen as being very strong. These are reasons for persevering with the NDA in Bihar, as seen from the perspective of poll arithmetic numbers available so far. But the real issue is politics, not mathematics. Mr Kumar may well contemplate going it alone and explore post-poll allies if he is unable to win the state polls hands down on his own. He is yet to reveal his mind. Since they still don't know their man, it is hard for the BJP to arrive at a working plan. Clearly, however, the party cannot wait indefinitely. Its position is rendered difficult since the BJP's poster boy, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, has been placed in the eye of the storm by the Bihar chief minister. For the BJP, the question is stark: ideology or alliance?








The Indian government is understandably perturbed at the prospect of a nuclear deal between Pakistan and China. The possibility of such an agreement has been bandied about ever since India and the Unites States concluded their agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation. Critics of the deal, both in India and abroad, had highlighted the dangers of some such move on the part of Beijing and Islamabad. These fears appeared to come true when the Pakistani President, Asif Ali Zardari, visited China in October 2008. During this visit, the Pakistani delegation managed to secure an agreement for the construction of two new nuclear-power plants in Pakistan by the Chinese. The request was packaged as an essential requirement for bridging the serious shortfalls in power generation in Pakistan. Even at that point, however, the Pakistani foreign minister suggested that such an arrangement would help restore the balance with India, which had been tilted in favour of India by the Indo-US nuclear deal.

Mr Zardari's pitch to the Chinese came at a time when Pakistan's efforts to secure from the Americans an agreement similar to India had run aground. The Bush administration made it clear that India and Pakistan had had very different nuclear histories; given Pakistan's record of involvement in shadowy nuclear transfers the question of an agreement simply did not arise. But to Pakistan's chagrin, the arrangement with China did not immediately take off. Beijing was aware that given Washington's stance securing the approval of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for the deal with Pakistan would be rather difficult. Hence, the matter was placed on the backburner.

In recent months, Pakistan yet again focused its efforts on securing an agreement from the US. Buoyed by the increasing importance attached to Pakistan for finding a way out of the Afghanistan war, Islamabad sought to make a strong bid for a nuclear deal during the recent strategic dialogue with Washington. They drew a blank. Consequently, the focus was shifted yet again to convincing the Chinese to deliver. The nuclear deal was high on the agenda of the Pakistan army Chief during his recent visit to China. Beijing, too, now seems more receptive to Pakistan's requests. This seems to be in keeping with their increasing confidence (visible since the economic downturn in the West) and willingness to confront the US on a series of international issues ranging from global economy to climate change.

India's concerns about the China-Pakistan nuclear deal stem from two sources. First, there is the history of China's active assistance to the Pakistani nuclear, including weapons, programme — undertaken with the explicit aim of cutting India to size. Nuclear cooperation between China and Pakistan dates back to the mid-1970s, when India's dominance in the subcontinent was clearly underlined by the 1971 war. The Chinese agreed to assist with the functioning of the nuclear reactor in Karachi built by the Canadians. China also supplied uranium hexafluoride without which the Pakistani nuclear programme would have juddered to a halt. Subsequently, they provided Pakistan with designs for a bomb, samples of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium and tritium booster, and apparently even tested a nuclear device for Pakistan in their test site at Lop Nor.

Following China's accession to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1992, Beijing declared that its nuclear exports would follow three criteria: the exports would only be for peaceful use; International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards would have to be accepted by the recipient; and there would be no transfers to third parties without Beijing's consent. Nonetheless, China's nuclear trade with Pakistan continued to generate concerns. In 1995, there were reports of the sale of 5000 specially-designed ring magnets to a non-safeguarded Pakistani nuclear laboratory. China initially denied the report; but subsequently claimed that the sale had been done by the China Nuclear Energy Corporation without informing the government, and that the rings were not magnetised in any case. In 1991, China had also supplied Pakistan with a 300 MWe nuclear reactor at Chashma. At the time of its entry into the NSG in 2004, it declared that had recently agreed to supply another 325 MWe reactor at Chashma. It is expected that the Chinese will wish to present the reactors under the latest agreement with Pakistan as part of the older commitment, and hence as not requiring a waiver from the NSG. Given the past record, New Delhi is concerned about the implications of this agreement.

The second source of discomfort is what these developments portend for Sino-Indian relations. In recent months, the relationship appeared to be recovering from a phase of intermittent tension, particularly over China's attempt to prevent the NSG waiver to India, its strident stance on Arunachal Pradesh, and the issuing of separate Chinese visas for Kashmiris. In the past year India and China had shown their willingness and ability to work together on major international issues, particularly climate change. If China decides to brazen its way through the nuclear deal with Pakistan, India is bound to wonder whether at all China appreciates India's legitimate interests and concerns.

And yet, New Delhi would do well at this point to avoid reading too much into these developments. For one thing, the details of the Sino-Pakistan agreement are hazy. For another, it is not fully clear just how China intends to proceed. In some ways, China's willingness to disregard international guidelines would sit oddly with its stance on other related issues. By going along with the sanctions on Iran and by chiding North Korea for its aggressive posture, Beijing has indicated that it wants to be a responsible global power. The Indian government has quite properly avoided over-reacting to the recent developments whilst simultaneously conveying its views to Beijing. New Delhi will have to gear up for some adroit diplomacy as the curtains go up on the China-Pakistan accord.


Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi







Qualifying for the Fifa World Cup is not easy. Fifa now has 208 member nations and only 32 get to qualify for the finals. The only time India qualified was in 1950. It also came a creditable fourth in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. But it was easier to qualify then because fewer teams were part of Fifa and the Asian Football Federation.

It is, however, not impossible for India even now. I think the 2022 World Cup is a realistic goal. For that to happen the football infrastructure needs a drastic makeover. One of the biggest concerns is that the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) doesn't own a single stadium. The Karnataka government for one has stepped in with a grant of Rs 5 crores to build a world-class stadium and AIFF have also decided to chip in.
In a couple of years we should have an international quality stadium with about 30,000 capacity, but we need at least four or five such stadiums which are owned by the AIFF and not some local body. The I-League has been struggling since most of the clubs don't have their own stadiums whereas top clubs around the world not only have this but also their own training facilities.

Development of infrastructure is essential as it will save the enormous expense we incur on sending the team to countries like Spain and Portugal for training. Good stadiums will also attract other nations to come and play in India, providing us with much needed international exposure.

Another aspect that needs improvement is the coaching provided at the grassroot level. There is no dearth of talent in India. It just needs proper nurturing. Under the Goal-II project of Fifa, training academies have already been planned in Bengaluru, Sikkim and Andaman. Boys from the age of 14 will be provided training at these centres for the next three or four years until they are ready for the senior teams.

The private sector is already chipping in with the Tata Academy at Jamshedpur going strong. But more such academies are needed in different parts of the country. AIFF is doing its best but needs help from the corporate sector.
Unlike cricket which is played in only 12 countries, football has universal appeal and corporates are realising the game's potential. With their support football is heading in the right direction.
Qualification for the World Cup is a realistic dream but it will take a lot of hard work to get there.
(As told toDevadyuti Das)

— A.R. Khaleel,vice-president, All-India Football Federationand president,Karnataka StateFootball Association

Football in India has a bleak future

India is languishing at 133 in the Fifa rankings, and I find this hard to digest. All the same, it should not dream of a World Cup berth even in the next 100 years unless there's a change in players' temperament. Today's footballers lack the discipline and dedication required to excel on a bigger stage. Also, special attention needs to be paid to the various age-group levels as well.

I don't say there is a lack of skill or talent. Otherwise, Dempo S.C. in the recent past would not have been so successful at the international level. But to be successful in the long run, you need devotion. Tell me, do you see today's footballers seriously at practice early in the morning the day after suffering a defeat? If a player doesn't have loyalty or devotion towards his club, I don't believe he can rise to the occasion for his country. We may not have scaled great heights in my playing days but India did manage to reach the quarter-finals of the 1982 Asian Games before being edged out by Saudi Arabia.

Today's youngsters are concerned mainly with quick bucks. If they impress while playing for a seemingly low-profile team, they catch the eye of officials of the top clubs, and sign for the latter on being offered a handsome amount. The tragedy is most of them then succumb to the pressure of donning the jersey of a high-profile club, and are left in the lurch after having gone through a torrid season. Many a talent is wasted due to frequent switchover that doesn't allow a player to settle down in one club.

Earlier, players from the districts and the smaller towns had an impact on the game. Nowadays, we hardly see players from those centres. The supply line is close to being non-existent. This is true for the whole country.
Add to this is the horrifying picture at the age-group levels. It was shocking to see teams conceding more than a dozen goals in a game in the ongoing Dr B.C. Roy Trophy. Such imbalances at the junior level were unimaginable in my era. It's high time the decision-makers address this aspect. The under-17s and the under-15s should be made to play more tournaments and provided greater exposure. The future of Indian football can be brighter only if junior footballers of every state are skilful.

Proper attention must be given to districts that used to be a supply line in the past. It's imperative the keepers assemble all the talented ones in the districts and bring them on to the mainstream.


— Aloke Mukherjee, India defender back in the 1980s, coach of East Bengal in 2007-08








The Central government is now planning a Rs3400 crore infrastructure upgrade for 34 of the worst Maoist-affected districts of the country. On the face of it, this sounds like good news.

Negligence and lack of development are the two prime reasons why the Maoists managed to gain control of a third of India's territory. The less the government did, the better the case which the Maoists could make. Access and awareness are essential if underprivileged and suppressed people are to attain progress.

The government has also realised that its strategies will not work if they are limited to containing Maoist violence without also concentrating on the core problem.

However, having discovered the importance of development to fight the Maoist menace, the government has a much larger task on hand. It has to ensure that the money actually reaches the projects it is meant for and that these projects actually take off. We are all too aware of the enormous gap between the cup and the lip when it comes to implementation in India.


The country's two biggest cities are still struggling to complete basic infrastructure projects. Building a single bridge or flyover can take anything from two to 15 years. If Delhi has the slight advantage because it is the national capital, the unnecessary delays in the work around the Commonwealth Games shows once again how difficult it is to get anything done, even when failure would be a matter of international shame. Mumbai's great new icon, the Bandra-Worli sea-link took over 10 years to get completed and is only the first of a four-leg project.

Along with this allocation of money, we need checks and balances to ensure that it does not get left behind in as many pockets as it usually does, and a definite time plan which is open to public scrutiny. Otherwise, the corruption carousel will benefit as it always does, the nation's treasury will have been emptied and the people suffering in Maoist areas will remain exactly where they are.

This plan to improve or more correctly provide infrastructure to the country's most deprived areas is definitely an excellent intention. But if it fails, it will set these areas back even further. If the only beneficiaries are panchayat heads, lowly government officials, local politicians, police officials, the local timber and poaching mafia, then we have lost one more battle to combat the Maoists before it has even begun.






It is clear that there is utter confusion in government about the ways and means adopted to deal with the high food prices that have been a source of discontent among ordinary people. Last year, it was said that the price rise was due to shortfall in monsoon and the consequent shortfall in production. Government now is of the view that it should sell five million tonnes of the cereals — 3.5 million tonnes of wheat and 1.5 million tonnes of rice — from its stocks in order to keep the prices down. And it wants to sell at the price it had paid to the farmers.

But while making bulk sales to biscuit manufacturers the price is to be higher than the procurement price paid to the farmers. That is, it is being sold in the open market though the general policy with regard to procured grain is to sell it through the public distribution system (PDS) to help people below-the-poverty-line (BPL). The price at which it is to be sold then cannot be at the market rate. Government's decision then seems to arise from other pressures and considerations.

A clue is provided by the statement of Roller Flour Millers' Federation president Vineeta Sharma that the mills need eight to nine million tonnes of wheat till March when the next crop arrives. There is no doubt that the supply-demand situation, which is the prime price determinant, changes constantly and governmental response is to ease the situation. It seems that government's decision to sell from its buffer stocks is an intervention to help the millers.


There is nothing inherently wrong if the government were to help out the millers at a time when grains in the state warehouses stood at comfortable levels, with a stock of 35.16 million tonnes of wheat and 25.3 million tonnes of rice as on June 1.

What needs to be considered is whether it is better if the scope for governmental intervention is restricted rather than expanded. There is, of course, the primary obligation to help the farmers with assured prices and procurement and the needy people with food at fair prices. The others will have to fend for themselves. There would of course be fluctuations and consequent uncertainties in a free market situation, but it would also be an incentive to the farmers and grain traders as well.

The only caveat is that it should follow the rules of fair competition. It would help in creating efficiencies which are crucial for growth in the agricultural sector. What is missing then is a clear policy that strengthens free and fair trade in food grains as in all other sectors.








Two countries — Britain and Canada — have banned Zakir Naik, boss of the Islamic Research Foundation and Peace TV, from entering their countries. Reason: his entry is "not conducive for public good."

There are several ironies to this ban. First, it seems that these two democracies are afraid of the impact Naik's speeches will have on their own Muslim populations. This implies that they are not confident of countering his views through direct engagement and rational argumentation. They have shot themselves in the foot and admitted defeat against radical Islamist rhetoric. If Britain and Canada believe in democracy, they should have allowed Naik to make his speeches, and challenged him on facts and/or sued him for preaching hate or making false statements. But they chickened out.

Second, democracies are tying themselves in knots when it comes to imposing bans. They won't ban Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses or the Danish cartoons or Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel, which have upset many Muslims. But they are ready to ban Naik's right to talk to Muslims in Britain and Canada. Even when banning things, one must be consistent.

On the other hand, it is difficult to hold any brief for Naik and his convoluted logic. Among other things, he has justified polygamy on the ground that men are by nature polygamous. But polyandry? No sir. He has ambiguous views on terrorism, to say the least, and he has gone on record to claim that 9/11 was George Bush's conspiracy.

On Tuesday, Naik clarified his remarks on terrorism and confused us more. He said every Muslim should be a terrorist with "anti-social elements". This is no way to clarify his views on terror.

When anti-social elements are not defined, it could mean anything. Some so-called secular faces, most notably film-maker Mahesh Bhatt, have not covered themselves with glory in standing by Naik. Without explaining, Bhatt said: "I salute his (Naik's) audacity in challenging their (the British government's) ignorance."

Bhatt should know that Naik's audacity is actually limited. He is philosophically on the same page as Britain when it comes to bans. Naik would be happy banning anti-Islam books. By the same logic, he shouldn't object to the British government's efforts to gag him by denying him an entry. He is opposing the ban because it restricts his freedom to preach dubious views, but he has no qualms about muffling the voices of those who disagree with him.

Naik has outrageous views on freedom. He is all for equal rights for Muslims in non-Islamic countries, but not the reverse. Reason: Because Islam is the right religion. Others are wrong, so how can they claim parity with Islam?

Naik's Peace TV is also a misnomer. It has little to do with peace, except as defined by the man himself. The channel is an Islamic supremacist forum whose central objective is to put the religion on a pedestal. Nothing wrong in that, for all religions innately believe they are better than the rest. But supremacist ideas sit poorly with democracy, harmony and inclusiveness. If Hitler sought racial supremacy for Aryans, and upper class Hindus sought supremacy based on caste, Naik's supremacist ideas are based on religious beliefs. By questioning the legitimacy of other religions he is not doing Islam any favour.

As an Indian he has not learnt the most important lesson his civilisation has to offer: that there can be different paths to the same objective, whether that objective is about finding god, or truth or peace or whatever. This is not the same as moral relativism, but the idea of different paths allows people from diverse cultures, races and belief systems to coexist peacefully.

Naik cannot be considered a votary of peace as long as his polemics focus on proving the superiority of his religion.

In a violent world that's armed to the teeth, where countries, communities and groups have written their own stories of victimhood and grievance, real or imagined, supremacist ideas are sure to lead us to Armageddon. We only have to look at such ideologies of the 20th century to realise why this is so.


Hitler's racist and anti-Semitic orientation brought us the Second World War. The Soviet Union and Communist China believed in the supremacy of the proletariat. These regimes ended up terrorising and killing millions of their own people in the process. In this century, unprincipled belief in capitalism's superiority has led to the collapse of the world economy in 2008.

The moral: when we start believing that only one book, or one ideology or one approach has all the answers, we are doomed. This is not to question the good in every holy book or ideological treatise, but human beings must have the humility to admit that no one can really have all the answers, and that too all the time. We can only get better and better approximations of the truth, but may never quite get there.









Reports that Maoists have established their base in Punjab come as little surprise. Ever since the Naxalbari insurrection, the northern state is known to have sheltered the extremists. Even when the state was more prosperous and peaceful, it provided sanctuaries and funds to the outlaws. The state itself has also faced the Naxal threat earlier, even before the Green Revolution. It is ironical but not surprising, therefore, that a similar threat should now confront the state after the Green Revolution has tapered off. It could indicate, at least superficially, that benefits of the Green Revolution were not distributed evenly. The widespread drug addiction among the youth and the scramble to go abroad and do manual work are also symptomatic of the unrest in society. It is also significant that posters sympathetic to the Maoists were sighted in the Malwa belt of the state, where the CPI ( Maoist) is reported to have established not one but two zonal committees to oversee its activities. Malwa is, of course, poorer in terms of development and infrastructure than Doaba and Majha, the two remaining belts of Punjab. Disparities and inequality are sharper in this region despite both the incumbent and previous Chief Ministers of the state hailing from the region.


Landless peasants, industrial workers, the jobless and the marginal farmers have traditionally complained of injustice and suffered the market economy, which promotes the survival of the fittest. But market economies require a level playing field and rule of law. However, in most parts of the country, the rich and the powerful have subverted the system to their own advantage and, in doing so, denied the disadvantaged even their due. It is this strong sense of being wronged that has strengthened the hands of the Maoists in states like Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Punjab, therefore, needs to draw lessons from these states and ensure both equality and justice for the people.


Popular unrest in the state is evident as farmers, workers and teachers, besides the jobless, have begun hitting the streets with monotonous regularity. It is important to ensure that the grievances of these sections are redressed quickly and the Maoists denied a chance to capitalise on the unrest. While the Maoists are unlikely to find the going easy in the border state, pro-active politics can help avoid a violent denouement.








GIVEN his age and experience, and having seen Punjab go through much turmoil over the river waters issue, one thought Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal would have learnt some lessons and would avoid playing petty and divisive politics. But that is not so. By demanding river waters royalty from Haryana, he is raking up a fresh controversy which may serve no purpose. People get easily carried away by an emotive issue like water without understanding the political game behind it.


Instead of burying the mischief with dignified silence, Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda too has chosen to play the game of one-up-manship. "Where is Punjab producing water? How can you stop (the water)?" he posed counter-questions. That's fair enough. But then he let made a thoughtless remark: "Can I stop vehicles going to Punjab?" The potential for mischief is obvious. Ideally, the leadership in both states should have refrained from raising a fresh controversy in public as the Supreme Court is expected to take up the inter-state dispute over river waters next month.


It is in courts that the two states should settle all contentious issues. If Mr Badal thinks there is merit in his argument, he should have filed a case for royalty in court. Talking casually over such sensitive matters at press conferences does not behove a leader of his stature. Capt Amarinder Singh, as Chief Minister, controversially terminated the inter-state agreements over river waters. Mr Badal's party supported the move and even went a step further by making a poll promise of abrogating Clause 5 of the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act which guaranteed that water would keep flowing to the neighbouring states. He has conveniently, and rightly, forgotten the promise. Scoring political points will not help. The two chief ministers should rather focus on conserving water and replenishing the fast-depleting water resources in their respective states.









WHEN five-year-old Prince fell in a borewell in the Shahabad area of Haryana in 2006, the collective conscience of the nation remained riveted on the massive operation till he was rescued. It was expected that a shame-faced India would do everything to make sure that no child ever faces a similar man-made ordeal. Yet, nothing much has changed on the ground, with the result that 20 children have died after falling into abandoned borewells in the last two years itself. The latest victim is three-year-old Dilnaz of Gurdaspur (Punjab). All this has happened despite the fact that in February this year, the Supreme Court had asked all the states to cap all discarded and abandoned borewells in their territories and to properly fence all working wells to prevent small children from falling into them. Even the Centre, in its affidavit, had said that the District Collector/ District Magistrate/ Sarpanch should take legal action by initiating criminal or civil proceedings against those responsible for any accident.


Apparently, all these well-meaning measures remained confined to official files only. Now that the issue is back in the news again, the Centre has shot off letters to the state Chief Ministers, asking them to frame guidelines for managing such structures. If all goes as routine, it will take months, if not years, for the guidelines to be formulated, which might again be forgotten. What needs to be done is obvious; what matters is the implementation of the guidelines.


The Supreme Court has already said that information on all open borewells would be maintained in the respective district collectorate and block development office of the state, and district commissioners would be held responsible if abandoned ditches are not suitably filled up. If only such instructions are strictly followed, hapless children like Dilnaz would not have to sacrifice their lives.

















BARELY a week before the departure of the Union Home Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, for Islamabad to attend a conference of SAARC Home Ministers, where he is also scheduled to have a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, Mr Rehman Malik, New Delhi presented the Pakistan High Commission yet another "dossier" on the 26/11 carnage in Mumbai by the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba. Even as the "dossier" was being handed over, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed convened a well- attended public meeting in Lahore, ostensibly to express solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza. The meeting was attended, among others, by senior functionaries of Islamic parties like the Jamat-e-Islami. The dignitaries on the dais were seated with their feet planted firmly on the national flags of India, the United States and Israel.


Not surprisingly, there was much raving and ranting about "Hindu-Jewish conspiracies" against Muslim nations, with Saeed proclaiming: "Mossad instructors are training Indian troops to crush the liberation movement in Kashmir". This was entirely in keeping with Saeed's constant homilies that "Hindus, Jews and Christians are enemies of Islam" and that it was his aim to "unfurl the green flag of Islam in New Delhi, Tel Aviv and Washington".


The Punjab provincial government in Pakistan is now known to have provided Rs 82 million as financial assistance to Hafiz Saeed's Jamat-ud-Dawa, an organisation banned by the UN Security Council, shortly after the 26/11 terrorist strike in Mumbai. This should not cause any surprise, as the Chief Minister of Punjab is none other than Shahbaz Sharif, the brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Nawaz and his father Mian Mohammed Sharif have been long-time patrons of the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba. Nawaz Sharif's party, the Pakistan Muslim league (N), was founded with the patronage of Gen Zia-ul-Haq and was funded by the ISI for its election campaign in 1991.


It was during the second tenure of Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister that the Lashkar emerged as the most formidable terrorist organisation in Pakistan, enjoying the patronage of both the ruling party and the ISI. It is well known that provincial minister Rana Sanaullah serves as the conduit between the PML (N) and militant groups in Pakistan's Punjab province. Benazir Bhutto once described this nexus as the "Military, mullah and madarsa complex"!


The U.N. Commission that investigated the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been scathing in its references to the ISI-militant nexus in Pakistan. The commission has noted: "Ms Bhutto faced threats from a number of sources; these included Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, local jihadi groups and potentially from elements in the Pakistan establishment (a euphemism for the Pakistan military establishment). The investigators have been hampered by intelligence agencies and other government officials."


The report also notes: "The Sunni groups are largely based in Punjab. Members of these groups aided the Taliban in Afghanistan at the behest of the ISI and later cultivated ties with Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban groups. The Pakistani military and the ISI also supported some of these groups in the Kashmir insurgency after 1989. The bulk of the anti-Indian activity remains the work of groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba (LeT), which has close ties with the ISI".


Given this nexus between the ISI and influential sections of the political establishment on the one hand, and the LeT on the other, it would be naive to assume that Mr Chidambaram's visit is going to lead to any progress on ending Pakistan's support for the Lashkar.


The LeT has not confined itself to terrorist attacks against targets in India. After the Mumbai carnage, it extended its activities to Afghanistan also. On June 15, the New York Times reported: "Officially, Pakistan says it no longer supports or finances the group. But the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba's expanded activities in Afghanistan, particularly against Indian targets, prompt suspicions that it has become one of Pakistan's proxies to counteract India's influence in the country."


The report adds: "They provide yet another indicator of the extent to which Pakistani militants are working to shape the outcome of the Afghan war as the July 2011 deadline approaches, to begin withdrawing American troops." In a recent testimony to the US Congress, the LeT is described as having ambitions "beyond India".


Harvard scholar Nick Waldman and a team from the London School of Economics (LSE) have published a damning report on the Pakistan military establishment's role in Afghanistan. The report states that a joint US, NATO and Afghan intelligence assessment in 2006 concluded that the ISI not only provided a vital sanctuary for the Taliban, but also paid and pressurised them to fight Americans in Pakistan. The ISI set up medical facilities for wounded Taliban cadres and even arranged for covering fire for infiltration across the Durand Line, separating Pakistan and Afghanistan. Moreover, the report outlines Pakistan's political rationale for backing the Afghan Taliban.


Ever since Afghanistan was founded in 1747 by Ahmed Shah Abdali, who was a Durrani Pashtun, members of the Durrani clan have constituted the leadership of the country. President Hamid Karzai is a Durrani Pashtun. The LSE report notes: "The Pakistan government is said to have a long-term bias against the Durrani tribes due to their record of support for the idea of Pashtunistan", thereby asserting their claims to traditional Afghan lands which were annexed by the British in 1893.


The LSE report thus explains why the ISI supports Mullah Omar, who is not a Durrani Pashtun, but is a Ghilzai from Kandahar. The report states that the ISI had infiltrated and controlled the ruling council of the Taliban, popularly known as the Quetta Shura. It also explains why the ISI recently arrested Mullah Omar's Deputy, Mullah Baradar, who is a Durrani Pashtun. Mullah Baradar was reportedly negotiating a deal with President Karzai without informing the ISI.


New Delhi would be well advised to focus attention on the fact that virtually no Pashtun, either in Pakistan or Afghanistan, recognises the Durand Line as the international border between the two neighbours. Pakistan should be made to realise that playing the "Pashtun card," as it is presently doing, can be a double-edged sword. There are some in the United States who recognise this. But there are also others like General Petraeus who rationalise the ISI's links with the Taliban by glibly claiming: "You have to have contact with the bad guys to get intelligence on the bad guys." Only God can help the US if its forces are fighting the Taliban on the basis of such convoluted logic of its Generals!








Paulo Coelho says "…… it is important to remind oneself of the forgotten word kindness". A village on the Rajasthan border wrote its own chapter of kindness. Its womenfolk changed the destiny of a small boy Mohan. His body, just a bundle of bones, covered in scanty flesh, had dim chances of growth. There was no hope for his survival.


Time ticked by. Devoutly religious, the boy's parents first rang the temples bells to invoke God's benediction, prayed at 'dargahs' and gurdwaras, and sought blessings of 'pirs' and sadhus.


Village life is generally driven by faith and tradition. Villagers seek relief for their maladies in the geographic bounds of their rural habitat. Rarely do their instincts impel them to reach out to the urban professionals.


In his childhood, my younger brother suffered a fracture in one of his arms from a fall from the roof while flying a kite. It was the 'village orthopaedician' of hereditary wisdom who was preferred and approached. He put two round pieces of baked mud tightly on the broken spot. Miraculously, the fracture healed, but it has left a scar forever.


Daily being lifted by his arms or carried on his father's shoulders, Mohan's sight tormented his loving parents no end. Faith healing failed. Allopathy was also of no avail. Mohan hardly registered any improvement, but remarkably his life and soul remained on his side.


This time the parents went beyond the environs of their own village to a 'vaid'. A wizened old person, highly endowed with native wisdom, gave one glance to the emaciated child, and pronounced his verdict, "Insufficient mothers' milk. If his mother does not have it, go to others."


His father told his peers about the vaid's prescription. In an instant and rare decision of collective kindness, the village elders ordained that the child would be fed by the village women who were feeding their own babes. Most willingly, the young mothers took Mohan as one of their own and gave him of their milk to his hearts' content. Slowly Mohan's physique started to bloom and his looks transformed. Close to his hundred years, the angelic 'vaid' has lived to see this miracle.


After completing his school education, Mohan moved to college and then to university and finally to occupying a prestigious post in the government. The person who was unable to walk to school jogs today as a robust youth. Handsome Mohan, humbled by the kindness of his village folks, proudly declares that the elixir they gave him runs through his veins and he belongs to all of them and not just to his parents.


Recalling Mohan's story, the following lines of Roseane Murray's poem aptly come to mind:


"The soul is invisible


The angel is invisible……


With kindness……..


You can guess where the angel is


You can change the world"


Truly, the story holds the truth: the milk of kindness is the mother of all mothers.









Youngsters often talk passionately about the political system and how it ought to be cleansed, but when it comes to taking the first baby step, they would rather like someone else to do the walking. And while youth may stand up as one when it really counts (Jessica Lall murder case or reservation for instance), the limited political exposure at the university level hardly measures up.


Campus politics is a caricature of the mainstream political process, with students veering away and national parties influencing the candidature.


Nonetheless, student leaders feel that greater participation of students in politics can be ensured by espousing issues close to their heart. Whenever relevant issues have been raised, the DU campus has witnessed an impressive turnout, notwithstanding the fact that most students come from non-political backgrounds and eschew university elections.


The Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) elections are by far the most exhausting and expensive student union elections in the country, but the elections have never attracted more than 50 per cent students for polling. University politics is considered to be a launching pad for entering the national political arena. The DUSU presidentship is a kind of ticket to enter Delhi politics.


Over the years, the NSUI (Congress) and the ABVP (BJP) have monopolised the DUSU and the campaigns are marked with visits of councillors, MLAs and MPs. The presence of the SFI (CPM) is not potent in Delhi University, but it has succeeded in inspiring an impressive number of students to participate in its marches and agitations.


"We have had some of our biggest marches on the north campus whenever fundamentalists have tried to attack individuals or departments," Robert Rehman Raman, state president of the SFI, says, adding that students' cynicism is only a reflection of the perception of broader politics where mainstream parties have failed to win the faith of the common man.


It has also been observed that while first year students participate in the elections with enthusiasm, by the time they graduate to the third year, they lose interest and withdraw from even the minimum engagement.


In a "highly politicised" campus like the JNU, which has produced some key Left leaders, students from non-political backgrounds aggressively stress their ideological preferences. "In the JNU, students from rural non-political backgrounds take part in political activity with more enthusiasm than those from cities," Shephalika Singh, vice-president of the JNU Students Union from AISA (CPI-ML), says.


The implementation of the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations has changed the face of campus politics in central universities.


While its enforcement has managed to "somewhat" curb the use of money and muscle power in the DU, it has put an indefinite ban on the JNU elections. For the last two years, no student elections have been held there.


"The Lyngdoh committee has identified the problems in student politics, but has not been able to give the right solutions," Robert Rehman Raman.


Ironically, Lyngdoh has put a ban on the JNU elections, which he appreciated in his observations as "fair and democratic", Sandeep Singh, president of the JNUSU, claims.


However, one thing that Lyngdoh has succeeded in doing is to keep "professional" politicians from enrolling in offbeat courses and devote themselves to student union activities, as the case had been in the past.








Sachin Pilot is among the young leaders who are well informed, articulate and inspire hope for India's future. At 33, he has been given the responsibility of IT and Communications as a Union Minister of State. He speaks on the emerging youth power in politics. Excerpts from an interview:


Q: You are one of the younger ministers of the UPA. What in your opinion is the youth's view of politics?


A: Historically, in the last two or three decades, the view the youth held about politics has not been positive. But I would say that this has not been a homogenous trend because various sections of society have viewed politics and politicians differently. Of late, there has been a positive change in the way younger people have started looking at politics and politicians and primarily that has happened because of infusion of younger people in leadership positions like those of chairmen, sarpanch, pradhan, corporator, MLA or an MP and also because of the way Rahul Gandhi championed the cause of the youth, inviting and infusing young blood into the party and giving it an opportunity to participate in the nation building process and doing it democratically on the basis of an individual's skills, capacity, diligence and interest in doing service.


He has changed the entire criteria of people being inducted on the basis of recommendations, nominations or connections. "I know so and so, you know me" – this mantra of joining politics doesn't work in the Congress anymore. There is a refreshing change in not just the Congress, but also to a large extent the preconceived notions of the youth have been positively influenced. This required tremendous courage.


Q: What do you think deters the youth so far from participating more actively in politics?


A: I think a lot of people were not very clear. They had a lot of ideas, lot of creativity, lot of imagination and they wanted to contribute in nation building, but didn't know how to do it. They didn't have the platform to do it. They would often asks us "how do we contribute to public life, how do we contribute to building our nation" and politics was seen as something that was difficult to enter, difficult to sustain and that's why people had an aversion to joining politics. But that's beginning to change. Rahul Gandhi has been interacting with young students and professionals, listening to them, making sure that their views and thoughts are inculcated into the thinking of the party. I think that gives a sense of relationship, a sense of belonging, a sense of participation to the youth. That is a new phenomenon that has been ushered in. There was also a problem of access. Today that is no longer an issue since you can communicate through an SMS or an email.


Q: You think young people could also look at politics as a career option?


A: Certainly, but politics is more than a profession. It is a way of life and I think not everybody should be or can be a politician. You have to be involved in the political process. You have to be sufficiently interested in your surroundings, in the local and national issues. Make your representatives accountable, ask them the right questions. Don't expect every young man or woman to be a 24-hour politician. But you can take keen interest, and can participate by way of voting. You can raise your voice, vouch for certain things and demand certain others. That keen interest is far more important than joining politics as a 24-hour politician. That's what makes our democracy more dynamic, more alive.


Q: Why do you think parents have consistently been opposed to their children joining politics at the university level?

A: The uncertainty of politics. It does pose many questions and as I said, the disenchantment with the political system has been high in our country and that's why this skepticism. I must say the apprehensions of parents are not completely misplaced, but now we are trying to initiate some reforms that will clean up our politics. The parents would much rather their children choose a more stable profession, but I think that mindset is slowly changing as they see more and more young professionals becoming MLAs, MPs and ministers. That would make them take a second look at the whole thing.










 In his Shakespeare (Harper Perennial 2008), Bill Bryson gives us a number of interesting facts. To indicate how English was still struggling to gain respectability, he tells us that in 1605 the Bodleian Library in Oxford possessed almost 6,000 books. Of these, just 36 were in English. "Attachment to Latin was such that in 1568, when one Thomas Smith produced the first textbook on the English language, he wrote it in Latin". But if Shakespeare's birth, as we are told, was recorded in Latin, his death was recorded in English. His work, and that of his contemporaries, certainly contributed to this change.


 No wonder then, as Peter Ackroyd points out in his recent book, "Every day, somewhere in the world, a book is published on the work and life of William Shakespeare (A Brief Guide to William Shakespeare – Constable and Robinson 2010)".


 Bryson is an American writer and humourist, Ackroyd a British poet, novelist, biographer. He has already published a full-length biography of Shakespeare. Taken together, the two books cover the basics, though in very different ways: the theatre of the time, the way plays were produced, what we know of Shakespeare, myths about him, theories about who he really was. Ackroyd's book (subtitled: without the boring bits) contains summaries of and comments on the plays, the complete text of the sonnets, and a 'wit and wisdom' chapter which quotes from the plays.


For Bryson, "a certain messy exuberance marked much of what he (Shakespeare) did." There are sometimes lines which defy interpretation no matter how hard one tries. He sometimes gets his geography wrong, especially in regard to Italy where many of his plays were set. "If he knew Venice had canals, he gave no hint of it in either of the plays he set there". But, "Shakespeare's genius was not really to do with facts, but with ambition, intrigue, love, suffering – things that aren't taught in school. He had a kind of assimilative intelligence, which allowed him to pull together lots of disparate fragments of knowledge…" In terms of language, "His real gift was as a phrasemaker…If we take the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations as our guide, then Shakespeare produced roughly one-tenth of all the most quotable utterances written or spoken in English since its inception – a clearly remarkable proportion."


 The first evidence we have of Shakespeare in London is the reference to him by the poet and playwright Robert Greene who called him "an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers." But Ackroyd tells us that Greene died before this pamphlet could be published. It was a friend of his, Henry Chettle, who prepared it for the press, but later regretted not leaving out certain bits. Chettle feels as guilty as if he had written the attack himself because "myself have seen his demeanour no less civil than he excellent in the quality he professes [i.e. his profession]. It was these qualities, Ackroyd says, that procured him a rich patron, the Earl of Southampton. It was important to have a patron because of the money, and the recurring plague epidemics when theatres had to be closed, and actors were forced to move to the countryside where they earned very little.


For Ackroyd, Shakespeare's retirement to Stratford is "the most extraordinary aspect of his career. No other writer or artist of comparable ability has simply decided to go home, put his feet up and enjoy his money. It is, above all, evidence that Shakespeare viewed writing as a jobone he did very well, but nonetheless, a means to an end".


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While the debate on whether or not the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) should hike interest rates immediately in response to still high inflation rages on, the short-term benchmark rate for banks has effectively moved up by a hefty one-and-half percentage point over the last three weeks. A severe liquidity squeeze in the banking system since the end of May has meant that banks are no longer parking with RBI huge surpluses that fetched a return of 3.75 per cent at the "reverse repo" window. They are, instead, borrowing massive amounts from RBI at the repo (repurchase) window, paying interest on these overnight loans equal to the repo rate of 5.25 per cent. Reverse repo and repo rates are the so-called "policy" rates that RBI sets periodically to influence all lending and borrowing rates in the economy. Which of these two policy rates is the effective short-term benchmark depends on whether banks on average are cash surplus or deficit. A shift from surplus to shortage for the banking system (as has happened from end May) means that the repo rate replaces the reverse repo as the effective policy rate. In short, it is a de facto increase in the policy rate by one-and-half percentage points. For those bewildered by RBI's apparent insensitivity to high inflation, this might explain why the central bank seems reluctant to hike the policy rate immediately. If the benchmark rate has indeed gone up by as much as one-and-half percentage points, it perhaps makes sense for RBI to wait for the shortage to dissipate before announcing a more explicit hike in rates.


This liquidity crunch for banks has emerged because the government, somewhat ironically, has an embarrassment of riches. The 3G spectrum auction fetched double of what was budgeted. Add to this another Rs 40,000 crore that is likely to come from wireless broadband auctions and the government is in a situation where it has more cash than it can hope to spend immediately. There lies the rub. When the government collects money from, say, taxes or spectrum auctions, the money leaves the banking system and moves to the government's account with RBI. This reduces the cash or the "liquidity" levels available with banks. Currently, the combination of advance tax outflows and the 3G outflows means that banks are short by roughly Rs 60,000 crore, and this is likely to get worse. Liquidity can be restored with banks only when the government spends the money it has collected and, in the process, funds get transferred back from the government's RBI account to the banks. Government spending follows a cycle set firmly in place with many layers of red tape. While its reputation for spending might be prodigious in the long term, its ability to step up spending quickly is limited. RBI is doing its best to offer short-term relief — it has increased the limit on banks' borrowing from the central bank. It has also persuaded the government to buy back some of its existing bonds, a simple transaction in which banks get ready cash by selling bonds to the government. While this could help at the margin, it is unlikely to plug the liquidity hole entirely and the cash crunch could persist until the end of July if market analysts are to be believed. How big a hole there is ultimately depends on the government's ability to step up spending. One option is to perhaps pay the oil companies their dues over the next few weeks by getting quick parliamentary approval. Finance ministry boffins need to think of other ways of replenishing liquidity quickly. Otherwise the government's windfall could, in a stroke of irony, push lending and borrowing rates up.








The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have warned that farm commodity prices, especially foodgrains, may rise by as much as 40 per cent by the end of this decade. This warning must be taken seriously given its implications for food insecurity. FAO's Agricultural Outlook 2010-2019 projects prices of wheat, coarse grains and dairy products rising by 15 to 40 per cent in real terms (after adjusting for inflation) in the coming decade. Though, at present, international food prices are ruling lower than their peaks in 2008, FAO expects them to begin picking up again due to a surge in consumer demand as well as demand from biofuel producers. The current concern over worsening food security can be traced to near stagnation in food productivity in most part of the world, shrinking public investment in technology generation and diversion of wheat, coarse grains, vegetable oils and sweeteners to biofuel production. Emerging economies like Brazil, India and China have been producing more food, and have the potential to step up production, but they have also rising consumers of food. Hence, their ability to meet the global demand gap is limited. While efforts must be made to step up food production, subsidies that favour biofuels or policies that promote biofuel consumption require immediate review and withdrawal. If policy-makers have to make a choice between food security and green energy for combating climate change, there is need to first address the challenge to food security before biofuels are encouraged in the battle against carbon emissions. Clean energy has many sources, including solar, wind and nuclear. Food has only one source — land. Policies that encourage diversion of land and other resources from food to biofuels must be ended immediately.


That said, the critical question today is whether in the short term reduced food supply is likely to drive food prices up. The answer lies in improving agricultural productivity. The so-called second green revolution is yet to take off, and the revitalisation of extension services remains a pious desire of national planners that few states have paid any attention to. The prime minister's recent visit to Pantnagar draws attention to the need for better publicly funded agricultural research, but official bodies are either resource-constrained or inert. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which runs over 15 global farm research institutes, is no longer receiving much funding from western countries. Such support actually began fading as soon as the developed countries realised that by helping the developing countries become self-sufficient in food and other farm goods, they were actually losing potential markets for exports. On the other hand, private sector agricultural research is as yet confined to commercial crops and development of hybrid seeds. Clearly, food security requires a comprehensive plan, not just more sops.








Few economists would question that John Maynard Keynes was the founding father of macroeconomics, with his hugely influential treatises in the 1930s. Yet, for perhaps four decades leading up to 2008, the influence of Keynes on macroeconomic theory and policy was in steady decline. Then came the Great Recession of 2008-09 and the main themes of the Keynesian approach were resurrected to centre stage of macroeconomic policy. Throughout the world, major economies resorted to large-scale fiscal stimuli and greatly loosened monetary policy. Fiscal deficits soared as governments ramped up public spending and cut taxes. These moves came on top of the "automatic stabilisers" of falling tax revenues and rising payments for unemployment and welfare. "Coordinated" fiscal and monetary stimulus became a dominant theme of successive G20 summit meetings. No wonder, a recent, and justly applauded, biographer of Keynes, Robert Skidelsky, came out with a new book entitled The Return of the Master.

 Most economists and policy-makers agree that the vigorous pursuit of expansionary fiscal and monetary policy in 2008 and 2009 were critical in warding off another Great Depression and limiting the recessionary damage wreaked by the global financial crisis (some call it the North Atlantic financial crisis). By the latter half of 2009, a global economic recovery seemed to be clearly under way and the early months of 2010 confirmed much global optimism. By late 2009 and early 2010, the issue of "exit" (from very expansionary fiscal and monetary policy) in major economies became increasingly pertinent, with the initial focus on withdrawing exceptional monetary stimulus. But then came the Greek fiscal crisis, which, over the spring of 2010, snowballed into a wider threat to sovereign debt in southern Europe (the PIGS), to the viability of the euro and to the durability of the global economic and financial recovery. Within a few short months, Keynesian fiscal stimuli went out of fashion and fiscal austerity became the new mantra across Europe, Japan and (to a lesser extent) the United States. The Master was in headlong retreat.

The astonishingly swift change in the prevailing macro-policy paradigm was both remarkable and unsettling. It also raised doubts about the foundations of macroeconomics. Actually, given the rapidity of deterioration in fiscal balances and government debt profiles between 2007 and 2009, the recent lurch towards fiscal austerity should not be all that surprising. According to IMF estimates, overall fiscal balances in the world went from near-balance to a deficit of nearly 7 per cent of GDP between 2007 and 2009 (Table 1). For "Advanced G20 economies", the turnaround in the fiscal position was particularly sharp, from a deficit of 1.7 per cent of GDP in 2007 to 9.4 per cent in 2009. Even allowing for recessionary conditions and netting out interest payments, the cyclically adjusted primary balance (CAPB) deteriorated from zero to a deficit of 4.4 per cent of GDP. Commentators like Krugman and Wolf have pointed out that this huge swing in fiscal positions of advanced economies was necessary to counteract the massive rise in their private sector surpluses after the financial crisis. That may well be. But one cannot fault the rising apprehension of government bond holders, especially after the Greek imbroglio.

The recent IMF Fiscal Monitor also explores the question of the scale of fiscal correction required in major economies between 2010 and 2020 to bring the currently bloated gross government debt-to-GDP ratios back down to the pre-financial-crisis median level of 60 per cent of GDP by 2030 (For emerging economies, the IMF analysts set the target ratio at 40 per cent because they believe fiscal risks arise at a lower threshold for such countries). The answers are revealing and would not assuage fiscal concerns of government bond holders (see Table 2). For "Advanced G20 economies" as a group, the CAPB would have to improve by a whopping 9.3 per cent of GDP in the coming decade, with predictably high numbers for southern Europe, Japan, the US and the UK. For "Emerging G20" nations, the required turnaround in the CAPB is a much more modest 2.6 per cent of GDP. These numbers highlight the point that just as the "global" financial crisis was located principally in advanced economies, so also the follow-on sovereign debt strains are concentrated in these nations.

Parenthetically, these fiscal projections do not provide much comfort to India, which is an unfortunate outlier among emerging G20 nations as far as fiscal health is concerned. As Table 2 shows, India's debt-to-GDP is the highest, as is its CAPB and also, therefore, the required fiscal adjustment between 2010 and 2020. Even though the numbers are more onerous (matching the tighter debt target), the broad prescription of medium-term fiscal consolidation is in line with that of the Thirteenth Finance Commission.

For the major advanced economies, substantial fiscal adjustment over the coming decade is unavoidable. The debates rage around timing, phasing and content of measures taken. In Europe, where the sovereign debt clouds over Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain are the darkest, fiscal adjustment is under way in most countries. Southern European countries have already taken serious measures. Corrective actions have also been launched in the bigger economies of Germany, France, Italy and, most recently, the UK. An important concern is whether so much simultaneous budget-cutting will deal a serious blow to global economic recovery. Last week's Economist presented estimates which suggest that outside southern Europe, the proximate levels of fiscal compression are modest (Table 3). For the euro area as a whole, it may amount to only 0.2 per cent of GDP in 2010 and 1 per cent in 2011. So, the alarm over fiscal adjustment leading to serious deflation may be overdone. But it remains a live issue for both the global economy and individual, fiscally-stressed economies.

One thing is sure. Rightly or wrongly, the Master's dominion over macroeconomic policy in rich countries proved short-lived.

The author is honorary professor at ICRIER and former chief economic adviser to the Government of India. Views expressed are personal







The current system of benchmark prime lending rate (BPLR) is all set to be replaced by base rate (BR) from July 1, 2010. BR is the minimum rate at which banks will be expected to lend once it is implemented. According to Reserve Bank of India (RBI) guidelines released in April 2010, BR will be calculated on the basis of cost of deposits, negative carry on cash reserve ratio (CRR) and statutory liquidity ratio (SLR), unallocable overhead cost and average return on net worth. However, banks will be given time till December 2010 to make the necessary adjustments and are free to use any other methodology as long as it is open to scrutiny.

BR has been introduced primarily to bring about transparency in the system and to overcome the defects in the current BPLR. BPLR is meant to be the rate at which banks lend to the most credit-worthy borrowers. It was introduced in 2003 as the rate below which no banker would lend. Given competition with international rates, RBI allowed banks to lend at sub-PLR rates. However, with this becoming the general practice, sub-PLR loans now account for approximately 70 per cent of the total loans extended by banks. Poor transmission of changes in the constituents of BPLR (cost of funds, asset strategy and market forces) is also largely responsible for keeping it artificially high.

 More importantly, the current system of BPLR is subject to what is called the problem of "downward rigidity", i.e. banks show reluctance in paring down their lending rates in times of loose monetary policy. Thus, it does not provide a good transmission mechanism as it tends to be out of sync with changes in policy rates. PLR changed by only 2-2.75 percentage points from October 2008 to January 2010, while repo rate was reduced by 5.75 percentage points in the same period.

According to the Annual Policy 2010-11 announced by RBI in April 2010, the BR system will facilitate better pricing of loans, enhance transparency and improve the channel of transmission of monetary policy. Though BR will make the system more transparent, it is not likely to ensure a smooth transmission mechanism of changes in key policy rates. Unless deposits are on a floating rate basis, any reference rate will continue to be downwardly rigid.

An argument that can arise in times of excess liquidity is that banks may prefer to push short-term loans at the doors of corporate houses as it is more viable in comparison to parking surplus funds with RBI at low reverse repo rates. The base rate for most banks is expected to be approximately 8-9 per cent, while the current reverse repo rate stands at 3.75 per cent. Hence, it will be profitable for banks to lend at sub-base rates of say, 5-6 per cent than to keep their funds with RBI at a much lower rate.

RBI could, therefore, consider permitting a sub-base rate lending in times of excess supply of liquidity. However, a ceiling on such lending can be stipulated. This way, banks can reduce erosion in their profit margins. Although liquidity has tightened of late owing to the demand for loans for the payment of 3G licence fees and advance tax payments, excess liquidity is a recurring phenomenon. Further, there is a possibility of the current euro turmoil spreading to the Asian continent, thereby affecting the liquidity situation.

Sub-base rate lending may also be desirable when there is competition from international rates. Low international rates tend to lead to a decline in the credit-deposit ratio of domestic banks and, consequently, squeeze their profit margins.

Another issue that needs to be kept in mind is that BR is not applicable to finance companies. This may result in banks losing on some of their business to finance companies. Even though the cost of funds is usually higher for finance companies, this is offset by the absence of negative cost of carry in their case as against commercial banks.

RBI perhaps needs to take a fresh look at the BR concept. Even though it is likely to make the system transparent, it may fail to ensure proper transmission of changes in key policy rates. Also, RBI should emphasise a proper alignment of deposit rates with lending rates given that floating rate deposits are a distant possibility as of now. Further, sub-base rate lending may be allowed in times of excess liquidity, even if not as a general practice, perhaps with a reasonable ceiling.

The writer is a researcher at Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations








For years now, at least since India passed amendments to the Patent Act to allow product patents in 2005, patents on drugs have coloured and overwhelmed the debate on health issues in the country. Now, the issue of patents on seeds and agriculture inputs promises to become the hot new topic. An indication is the response to a news report "Battle royal over Bt cotton royalty" (May 28, Business Standard) that revealed for the first time the full extent of royalties or trait fees collected by Monsanto and its Indian licencees on their genetically modified (GM) Bt cotton seeds. Agriculture scientists, farmers, lawyers and, of course, activists have written in to say they were taken aback by the huge royalties (Rs 1,580 crore between 2002 and 2008) that have been paid on this controversial genetically modified seed. Some of them have pointed out that the American biotech giant did not have a registered patent on the product, only a process patent that was granted in 2008.

 Is that the core issue here? I think not. Going by what happened in Argentina over the past decades, the lack of patent is irrelevant to the debate since Monsanto has its own way of collecting the royalty on its products — with some help from the government in question. Here's how it was done. In 1996 when the government of Argentina approved the commercial planting of Monsanto's GM Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans, the country did not recognise the seed giant's patent since Argentina's Seed Law permitted farmers to save seeds for their own use but not to sell them. However, as in most of the developing world farmers would save, multiply and sell the seeds to fellow farmers in an age old practice. But three years later as the area under RR soybeans grows substantially, it enforces a system of "extended royalties" under which farmers are required to pay a two-dollar tax on every 50-kg bag of seeds that they use even though it is saved from their harvests for their own use. Although this violates the Seed Law, the government goes along with it.

Monsanto justifies this as a way of recovering its investments in research and development and describes the tax as a minimal fee. The strategy changes in 2004 by which time the area under RR soybean has exponentially from less than a million hectares. It announces a suspension of its soybean business because it's not profitable for the company. As a consequence, the agriculture ministry says the government is studying a draft royalty law that would be based on a new "technology compensation fund". The fund, interestingly, is to be financed by a fee paid by farmers on the sale of their soybeans to grain elevators and exporters. Seed companies would be paid royalties from this fund.

Monsanto's explanation for all this is that "between 1995 and 2000 there was massive litigation in connection with revalidation of patent applications in Argentina". The point is that today 99 per cent of the soya planted on over 17 million hectares in the South American nation is RR soya!

What is interesting in the Indian context is how Monsanto calculates the royalty rate. In a discussion with this writer, a top representative of the company explained that the trait value charged is relative to the additional income that farmers earn from Bt seeds, a formula that includes the savings in pesticide usage. A host of questions have been raised in the wake of that report. One of these relates to the high fees charged in 2002 when Bollgard Bt cotton made its debut in India. It was Rs 1,200 on a packet of 450 gm, or as much as two-thirds of the seed cost.

The other problem is that estimates of the cost of inputs vary widely as a series of studies made by agriculture universities, research institutes and government have shown. So whose figures of cost savings are to be accepted? Trickier still is a question about the widely differing yields and incomes earned by farmers in different parts of the country. Ironically, farmers in Punjab where yields have dropped sharply are paying higher trait fees than in the main cotton-growing states where state governments have imposed a ceiling on the royalty that can be charged on Bt cotton. Can a uniform trait fee be fixed in the circumstances? And most critical of questions: what happens when the cotton crop fails?

We are on shifting sands here as G V Ramanjaneyulu, executive director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Hyderabad, points out. Productivity, he says, is not just a function of seeds but the combination of a lot of factors that include good agronomic practices. "The seed companies are saying success is ours but failures are those of the farmers." Or it is on account of the weather, or circumstances beyond their control.

The point is that the risk of crop failure has not changed as the grim numbers of farmer suicides remind us. Seeds are just a part of the imponderables, and the issue of royalty need to be re-examined.







In the days to come, the Standing Committee on Science and Technology will be hearing from experts in various fields about their views on the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill. No doubt a number of amendments/modifications to the Bill will be suggested by these experts. This article outlines the limits to the changes that can be made without having serious detrimental effects on the future of India's civil nuclear programme. It deals only with substantive elements that do not require a legal interpretation of the Constitution. These legal issues will be addressed by the courts later, if required.

Section 17 (b)

Section 17(b) is an almost verbatim copy of Article 4(1) of the Korean Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage. Article 4(2) of the Korean Act is a modified version of Article 17(a). Article 17(c) is the standard format in all international conventions. In reality, Article 17(b) and Article 17(c) are not much different. The addition of Article 17(b) does not add much to Article 17(c). It can be dropped without detracting from the force of Article 17. On the other hand, retention of Article 17(b) should have no influence on the behaviour of international suppliers. All major nuclear equipment suppliers — the US, France, Canada, Germany, etc. — have been supplying reactors and nuclear equipment to Korea without raising any objection to Article 4(1) of the Korean liability Bill. Hence they can have no objection to Article 17(b) either.

 Therefore, even though Article17(b) does not add much to Article 17(c), it can be retained in the Indian Bill without having any detrimental effect.

Operator liability

According to Section 6(2), the liability of the operator has been capped at Rs 500 crore. The Vienna Convention does not set any maximum limit to operator liability and India cannot sign the Paris Convention which is restricted to the members of Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development only. Hence the operator liability can be set at any level by India and still be in line with international conventions on nuclear liability.

Therefore, Section 6(2) can be modified, if so desired by the Committee, to include any finite level of liability or even unlimited liability.

Maximum liability

Maximum liability set in Article 6(1) will have to be adjusted according to the level set in Article 6(2), keeping in mind the following:

a)Maximum liability cannot be less than the operator liability.

b)In the case of unlimited operator liability, maximum liability should also be unlimited.

c)In particular, operator liability and maximum liability can be the same, without requiring any public subsidy except in extreme circumstances as explained in Section 4 of this Note.

Public subsidy

A liability Bill will have to take into account a situation where the total compensation exceeds the maximum liability defined in Section 6(2). There is no specific format on this issue in any of the international conventions. It is entirely up to the Indian legislature and the executive to decide on this matter. The longer report gives some examples of how other countries have tried to address this matter. The current version of the Bill is silent on this matter and this needs to be resolved.

The Committee, therefore, needs to examine this issue and make amendments to the Bill to reflect some consensus between the executive and the legislature on how compensation will be given in cases where the total compensation exceeds maximum liability or where the total resources available with the operator are insufficient to discharge compensation obligations, i.e. the operator becomes insolvent.

Financial security of the operator

While in principle, it is open to set the financial security to be provided by the operator under Section 8 to any amount, not more than the operator's liability, practical considerations, especially from the viewpoint of the insurer, have to be taken into account. Two options are available:

a) Private insurers, either individually or in a cooperative manner, as a consortium, are willing to issue insurance to the extent specified under Section 8. Views of the insurance companies need to be taken into consideration before deciding on the financial security limits.

b)If private insurers are not able, or willing, to insure up to the limit of financial security, the government may choose to underwrite the shortfall, charging the operator a premium for issuing such guarantees. This system is followed in some countries.

Insurance limitations

At present, international insurers, who perhaps asked for reinsurance by Indian insurance companies, are unwilling to underwrite insurance policies which have environmental liabilities. This may be cross-checked with the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority. In such a case, only Indian insurers will have to bear the full insurance liability or the government may have to give guarantees.

Time limitation

Section 18 of the Bill specifies a period of 10 years for extinction of the right to claim. This can be modified to extend the duration, again taking into account insurance companies' ability and willingness to extend the period. Generally, insurers are reluctant to insure for a very long claim period. This, too, can be discussed with the insurance industry. If insurers are willing to do so, a longer period of 20 to 30 years can be proposed. If they are unwilling, the government may have to guarantee financial security.

Operator cess

This is a suggestion that hasn't been considered in the Bill. A Re 0.05 cess per unit of electricity generation will net approximately Rs 360 crore per year from the operation of a 1,000 Mw plant. India will soon have a 10,000 Mw capacity which is expected to reach 20,000 Mw, if not more, by the end of this decade. The 10,000 Mw capacity will yield Rs 360 crore per year and 20,000 Mw will give Rs 720 crore per year. Such a move will build a nuclear liability reserve in excess of Rs 10,000 crore within a decade. And even much larger reserves can be expected if the plans to build nuclear capacities of 40,000-50,000 Mw are realised by the 2030s and 2040s.

Final cautionary note

If it is felt that India's long-term energy security will require substantial reliance on nuclear power, and that plans to have that will be realised in a shorter period with imports of reactors and equipment, then any Indian Bill that goes beyond the norms of international conventions in assigning supplier liability will result in denial of reactors and nuclear equipment by foreign suppliers, and hence will be counterproductive. This is an absolute bottom line condition as of today. As a major nuclear supplier in future, India will do well to influence changes in this. Today, however, it cannot do so. Therefore, changes in supplier liability need to be carefully drafted. The current Section 17 formulation is good and should be retained.

The author is visiting fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses











RELIANCE Industries Ltd has expertise in several fields, but most notably in its ability to influence government policies. This has given it a comparative advantage in India which it cannot hope to enjoy abroad. Hence, RIL has till now been less globalised than some competitors. Tata Steel bought Corus, six times its size, and Birla did something similar in acquiring Novellis. But Reliance always viewed foreign ventures in a more sombre light. A rule of thumb it has followed is that any venture in India should promise a return of at least 20%, while any foreign venture should promise at least 30%, to compensate for the higher political risk. Unsurprisingly, far more projects have met these benchmarks in India than abroad. RIL did indeed go abroad for some oil and gas exploration ventures, and also purchased Flag Telecom, but these were modest ventures. It acquired Hoechst's polyester business in Germany, but this went bust in 2009, confirming that profitability abroad couldn't match that in India.

Shale gas has finally changed RIL's mindset. It has just acquired a stake worth $1.3 billion in a shale gas field in Texas from Pioneer Natural Resources, on the heels of a stake worth $1.7 billion in the Marcellus shale from Atlas Energy. The earlier Flag and Hoechst acquisitions cost less than half a billion dollars taken together, and pale in comparison. Besides, the oil exploration and Flag ventures could be seen as adjuncts to the group's own Indian business: oil would feed the Jamnagar refinery and Flag provided infrastructure for its telecom business (later hived off to ADAG). The new shale gas acquisitions, however, will produce entirely for the US market. So, RIL has decided that the US is going to be a major profit centre in the years ahead. RIL waxes eloquent over shale gas prospects in the US, seeing them eclipsing conventional gas and oil. Where will this new mindset lead RIL? Well, BP is in trouble after its Gulf of Mexico blowout, and will soon be selling some assets (possibly at distress prices) to fund compensation to US victims. Reliance should surely be among the buyers.








 THE government should stop dithering and decontrol petrol and diesel prices, reserving the right to intervene if crude prices cross $100 a barrel. Ideally, it should get out of fixing the price of kerosene and cooking gas as well. But it might be politically expedient to end these subsidies that light up the hearth and home gradually, stepping up the availability of alternative sources, such as solar lanterns, rural electricity and piped natural gas. But it is no longer sustainable for the government to repress the retail prices of motor fuels. Sure, the Opposition would raise a furore over any rise in fuel prices when inflation remains untamed. But the government and the political leadership should find the courage to do what is right and explain the logic.


Holding retail prices down at a level lower than what global crude prices warrant does not do away with the higher cost burden, it just redistributes it in the economy in harmful ways. First and foremost, repressed fuel prices act against energy conservation, taking away any incentive to increase fuel efficiency or reduce fuel consumption. How low energy efficiency can eat into India's international competitiveness is not very hard to imagine. An enhanced carbon footprint arising from excessive energy consumption can be a positive embarrassment in climate change talks. Oil marketing companies that are forced to recover less than the cost of the fuels run short of capital, both for day-to-day operations and to make strategic acquisitions that enhance energy security. They borrow from the market, diverting scarce credit essentially to finance a consumption subsidy, jacking up interest rates, reducing investment and slowing growth. Any subsidy they get from the government would beef up the fiscal deficit, crowd out the private sector from access to credit, reduce investment and depress the rate of growth.

   The best course of action is to decontrol retail prices and allow free competition in fuel retailing. Not only the marketing arms of refining companies, but stand-alone retailers should be free to sell fuel to the consumer.








 IT IS entirely befitting that David Davidar, a man credited with launching many glittering literary careers in India, should also be the creator of a phrase that has potential applications in many other fora. 'Consensual flirtatious relationship' is the felicitous term that this acclaimed publisher and author has used to describe what could otherwise baldly be called an 'affair', 'infidelity', or an 'office romance'. There is an air of delicious playfulness about this characterisation; it bespeaks lightheartedness and banter, not clandestine hotel kisses, furtive emails and dates, and wilful over-stepping of boss-subordinate behavioural lakshman rekhas. Now that the phrase has been launched, how long before others take it up? The political arena should be the first one to embrace it. For the longest time, political parties have been searching for an expression to describe their many dalliances, all too often derided as cynical, opportunistic, exploitative, unethical, duplicitous and a plethora of other similarly disparaging words. In the past few years, whether it is the Congress and the Left parties, BJP and JMM, or a myriad of other alliances, fickleness has been common, and explaining it to supporters and voters has been difficult. The phrase they have tended to use so far to paper over their less-than-ethical decisions — coalition dharma — is too stodgy for our globalising polity.


 Now the political class has the perfect, elegant term, that too coined by a wordsmith of international repute, to explain impermanent partnerships, assiduous wooing spells followed by cooling-off phases, sudden breakups over misunderstood quid pro quo rules and acrimonious trading of charges after initial protestations that all was well and they were good friends. And they can always conclude by virtuously asserting that they are happily married (to their party objectives in this case, not wives) and apologise for any hurt or misunderstanding caused by such consensual flirtatious relationships.







IT IS time we stopped viewing Bhopal only as a site of pain and of shame. Enough of pusillanimity and looking westward and court-ward. Let us begin to handle Bhopal with a sense of pride in what India can do circa 2010 as against 1984. And what India will, when thrown achallenge.

This is not to say that we should not go after the people who erred or correct the decisions that were faulty. By all means these must be a priority and is currently engaging the highest management attention of the government. Experts have commented on what more could be done on rectifying current limitations imposed on the victims through interpretations of law, nature of distribution of compensation, medical care, and remediation of harmful wastes from the site and so on. The purpose of this article is not to do a postmortem on Bhopal but to think of new possibilities.


Bhopal has considerable global mindshare just as Hiroshima has. It may be negative at present but that opens up the possibility of inversion. This mindshare needs to be leveraged through a big idea. Can we not conceive the transformation of Bhopal where that big idea could be the repositioning of Bhopal as a global environment city? Can it not become a location for clean, green technologies? Can it become a location for research in biosciences? Can it become a symbol of harmonious development in a city that showcases some of India's finest heritage?


Bhopal starts with quite a few inherent advantages. It is a city built on the banks of two lakes, and one of them is covered under the Ramsar international convention on wetlands. It is the only city in India within 50 kms of two World Heritage Sites —Sanchi and Bhimbetka — one that represented the high point of Buddhist civilisation and the other the pinnacle of creative expression in prehistoric India. It houses India's finest ethnographic museum called the Museum of Man and its premier knowledge institution focusing on sustainable development, the Indian Institute of Forest Management. In a symbolic but nevertheless important gesture, the ministry of environment and forests has recently chosen Bhopal to locate the National Green Tribunal.

Positioning of Bhopal as a global environment city could begin by making it a location for clean technologies. There are three industrial estates in and around Bhopal of Govindpura, Mandideep and Chainpura all of which provide spaces in their locations and in one case could become an exclusive location for clean technologies. It should become a national effort to promote Bhopal as a location for clean and green technologies to prove a point to the world.


 In a world that has already moved into Biology 2.0, Bhopal could be positioned as a location for knowledge institutions in biosciences. The Regional Rural Laboratory of the CSIR system which now has a thematic focus on mineral sciences and which after the bifurcation of Madhya Pradesh, with much of the minerals having gone to Chhattisgarh, could perhaps reinvent thematically by focusing on life sciences. The Indian Institute of Science Education and Research opened recently at Bhopal could also have a thematic focus on life sciences.


This institutional infrastructure of academic institutions can promote Bhopal as a 'bio valley' of India and complement a new industrial base of clean and green technologies. Bhopal's repositioning as a global environment city could be driven by its inherent advantage as a centre of culture and heritage complemented by the location of clean and green industries and the academic infrastructure of life sciences research. The government of India and the state government could come together to develop a plan for such a repositioning.
   ONE way to locate the resources for such a repositioning would be to earmark the proceeds from disinvestment of a public sector industrial enterprise, ideally a petrochemical PSU if its disinvestment is in the front-burner, exclusively to address this along with paying additional compensation to those who have been underpaid. There have been two major failings of Bhopal in addition to many others. One has been the institutional failure of taking away the prime responsibility of the state government from managing the problem by evoking the parent patria provision and locating nodal responsibility for a multifaceted problem with the ministry of petrochemicals. The other has been in permitting the political class to enlarge the area declared as gas affected, thereby leading to thin-spreading of the already meagre compensation amount. Along with the repositioning these issues of the people need to be addressed.


 Additional compensation should ideally be targeted to those in the immediate vicinity and more intensely affected and those below the poverty line. It is also time that the government of MP considered pooling its available human resources in the medical profession to provide outreach servicers to complement the hospital infrastructure that has already come up. Kerala made it compulsory in the 1960s and '70s for every medical graduate to do an internship with tuberculosis sanatoriums to ensure that every doctor turned out by the medical college was made sensitive to the scourge of tuberculosis and advice for its cure. Similarly an internship programme could be developed for the Mahatma Gandhi Medical College in Bhopal to have compulsory internships in health outlets in gas-affected localities. New schemes of the government of India like Rajiv Awas Yojana, proposing infrastructure support to slum locations, open up possibilities for improving the physical quality of life in gas-affected slum colonies as Madhya Pradesh is one of the few states that have legislated for property rights to the slum dwellers, a likely conditionality of the scheme.


 The very site of the factory itself after remediation could also become a location for clean technologies. Ideally, a part of this could be converted into a natural urban forest, a smriti van to assert the victory of nature over unwarranted human transgression and the remaining area become a location for enterprises for green and clean technologies. If the central and state governments work together, Bhopal can be repositioned into a global environment city within the period of a decade.


 (The author is an IAS officer of the Madhya Pradesh cadre. Views are personal.)









 JOSE Saramago knew greed and grease well. Man's greed to acquire more and the grease he applies as an unguent on himself and others in pursuit of those acquisitions. Grease on which the oppressed slip and fall to their sudden and sad deaths. The poor who get destroyed when the rich and their governments chase the riches; self-interest the only dominant trait of an acquisitive society. Saramago, born in a village, excoriated the greed-and-grease worshippers in all his narratives, fictional and non-fictional. He always stood by the underdog and berated those who did vespers at the altar of unbridled consumption. He made god human and gave him all the foibles humans have; he severed and floated nations down the sea noticing their weaknesses and cataloguing their traumas; he remade history by just inserting a single word; he stopped death in its endless tracks for months and took account of its absence narrating the spiritual and political upheaval its absence brings and, in one of his last works, sent an Indian elephant Solomon from Lisbon to Vienna, journeying humorously and meditating on society's oddities.


 Along with Kenzaburo Oe and Garcia Marquez, Saramago was an oral traditionalist, calling his long and dense narratives "written orality." Unpunctuated blocks of text going hither and thither, drawing powerful skeins from rich threads of oral tradition, contained in them nuggets of wisdom easy to understand and easier to imbibe. Wisdom that flows unencumbered by commas and colons.


 In The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, Saramago celebrates the labyrinths of Lisbon while paying a glorious tribute to Fernando Pessoa, the famous Portuguese poet and writer of The Book of Disquiet. His Lisbon is an abject city, the streets of which are rich in the magical drama of the unknown. Streets where whispers punch above their weight. "People who speak little and feel much." Saramago continued to love Lisbon and its laconic people even after he exiled himself to Spain's Canary Islands. The exile was actuated by a run-in that his book on Christ started. The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, the book that imbued Jesus with human failings and an argosy of doubt, drew heavy fire from hardcore religionists and the Vatican. But the vicious attacks didn't faze the Nobel-winning writer. "If the Pope were on the jury, they wouldn't have given me anything," he famously reacted after getting the coveted prize.


 In another masterpiece, Blindness, everyone is rendered sightless after an epidemic invades an unnamed city. Mayhem ensues, exposing the evil workings of power and ripping apart the thin mask of civility that society wears for its selfish benefit. In all his works, Saramago, using stark allegory and writing in a lyrical fantastical vein, exposed the evilness that accrues from avarice. Uncovering the dark and disreputable secrets of society gone wrong, his fiction was punctuated with corrosive humour. In his public life, as in his books, Saramago never pulled his punches and strongly opposed globalisation and its attendant problems. George Bush and his shenanigans riled him so bad that he started calling him "liar emeritus." Saramago even broke with the Cuban jefe Fidel Castro when he didn't agree with his policies. Castro, of course, sent floral tributes at his funeral.
   "I need to ask myself what in the devil I am doing here, in life and in society, and in history," Saramago used to say when asked about his intense craving to write. His place in history is assured and it's up to us to ask ourselves — all the time — what in the devil are we doing here, in life and in society.








THE Indian economy grew at an average of 9% in 2004-08. This burst of growth surprised people since it had not been immediately preceded by any burst of 'reforms'. Some commentators now think that this burst is a something of fluke linked to the global economic bubble. The global bubble burst following the sub-prime crisis. So, these commentators believe that a return to the 9% trajectory is unlikely in the near future.

 They are likely to be proved wrong — and sooner than thought earlier. Until recently, it appeared that the Indian economy would grow at 8-8.5% in 2010-11. Only in 2011-12 would growth touch 9%. On present showing, there is every prospect of the Indian economy growing at 9% in 2010-11 itself.
   This optimism is based on the latest figures for growth in the recent past. In 2009-10, the Indian economy grew at 7.4% even as the world economy struggled to come out of the worst financial crisis in a century. Not many had expected such a strong recovery following the fall in the growth rate to 6.7% in 2008-09. The recovery in 2009-10 was strong despite agriculture doing badly on account of drought. Agriculture grew only by 0.2%.


 What conclusions can we draw from the recent growth experience? The first and, perhaps, most important conclusion is that growth of close to 9% in 2004-08 was not entirely the outcome of the global boom and cannot be construed as something of a bubble. If that were the case, the deceleration in growth rate in the Indian economy in 2009 and 2010 should have been as sharp as that of the global economy and the subsequent recovery as slow. Neither has happened.


Global economic growth (in PPP terms) declined from an average of 4.9% 2004-07 to 1.2% in 2008-09, a decline of 3.7 percentage points. India's growth declined in the same period from 8.9% to 6.5%, a decline of 2.4 percentage points. (These are calendar years). In 2010, the IMF expects world economic growth to rise to 4.2%, which is 0.7 percentage points away from its pre-crisis average. For India, growth is projected at 8.8%, almost the same as the pre-crisis average.


 The figures for world economic growth are exaggerated by the inclusion of numbers for India and China. Take away India and China from the world growth figures and the contrast between India's performance and that of the rest of the world after the crisis becomes even starker. The bottom line is clear: India's return to a 9% growth trajectory is not contingent on the world economy returning to its so-called bubble growth rate of the pre-crisis years.


This does not mean that Indian growth is de-coupled from the rest of the world. India's relatively low trade to GDP ratio (of 16%) does give it some insularity from the world economy. But, as we saw in the recent crisis, a more potent mechanism for transmission of contagion is capital flows. India's vulnerability to capital flows is on two counts.


 One is that investment exceeds saving. This gap was 1-1.5% in recent years. In 2008-09, it widened to over 2.4%. This is mainly because the savings rate fell more sharply than the investment rate as the government sought to contain the impact of the global slowdown on the Indian economy by boosting government expenditure. This caused the fiscal deficit — or government dissaving — to increase.


With the planned return to FRBM targets, the savings rate should go up but investment is likely to exceed savings in the near future. In the medium-term, we will continue to be dependent on foreign capital to support our growth.


We found during the recent crisis that the savings-investment gap understates our vulnerability to capital flows. Capital flows in 2007-08 amounted to 9% of GDP, vastly in excess of the current account deficit. A significant portion of the increase in corporate investment, which led to the increase in India's investment rate in 2003-08, came from external sources.


For a higher growth rate to be sustainable, the savings rate needs to go up so that it can substantially finance a higher investment rate. This will happen given the fiscal reforms under way. Secondly, corporate dependence on external funds must go down. This happened consequent to the crisis but companies must be careful not to revert to the earlier position.


Thirdly, the growth rate of 9% that many people forecast for 2010-11 assumes good monsoons and a sharp revival in the growth rate of agriculture. It is also based on significant investment in infrastructure. If we can move towards the target of 4% growth in agriculture through substantial investment in the sector, not only is 9% growth achievable but growth will be that much more sustainable. Similarly, growth driven by an expansion in infrastructure rather than exports will make for greater sustainability.


Getting back to a growth rate of 9% is not the issue. The issue is making economic growth relatively immune to the vagaries of the world economy. An increase in the savings rate and a focus on agriculture and infrastructure hold the key to sustainable growth.


Indian recovery in 2009-10 was strong despite agriculture growing only by 0.2% India's return to a 9% growth trajectory is not contingent on the world economy returning to its so-called bubble growth rate of the pre-crisis years An increase in the savings rate and a focus on agriculture and infrastructure hold the key to sustainable growth








NORMAN Macrae, former deputy editor of The Economist who died at 89, was one of post-War Britain's intellectual giants. Prophesying the future was his great gift. "Nobody listened then everybody did," he wrote in 1991 in a future history of privatisation. He also foresaw with chilling clarity how growing life-expectancy would become a curse and backed a 'system of planned death' to cope with it. But his timing was all wrong when he wrote (circa 1975) that euthanasia would become as acceptable as abortion in 15 years; the devil lay in the detail: as horribly skewed sex ratios show, in some countries killing of female foetuses flourishes surreptitiously while that of old codgers is nowhere near acceptance except in a few European ones that turn a blind eye to the upsurge of 'one-way tourism'.


 He was more spot on about big company capitalism as on biggovernment socialism. That also turned him into a technophile and an incurable optimist. Like Dr Pangloss from Voltaire's Candide he seemed to believe in the Leibnizian mantra that "all was for the best in the best possible of worlds" if only obdurate politicos could see it that way.


 His influence can be discerned in a wide variety of works including Matt Ridley's recent opus, The Rational Optimist. Ridley, however, is also the nonexecutive chairman of Northern Rock, the bank bailed out by government handouts during the credit crunch. So how would Norman have handled the paradox? "Take a lesson in how to run village businesses (like Grameen) and how not to handle bank crises (like Japan or USA)," he wrote after a lunch with the Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunus at the Royal Automobile Club in 2008.


"Learning from Dr Yunus and those who have exponentially sustained community raising microcredit seems to be the best way forward worldwide women and US Congressmen can get."


(Norman was no stranger to East Bengal, having studied economics there by an Indian correspondence course while waiting to be drafted by the RAF as a teenager and his wife was the daughter of the British judge who went on from jailing Gandhi to helping write India's Constitution in the 1940s).


 His favourite heroes were John von Neumann, the polymath who pioneered the modern computer, Game Theory and nuclear deterrence, and Albert Einstein who once said, constancy was the virtue of idiots. It's best therefore to embrace constant change.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



It has been a week since the destabilsing differences between the NDA allies ruling Bihar came out into the open. Since then it has been evident that the BJP has been doing what it can to engage in damage control. A similar effort from the side of the Chief Minister and JD(U) leader, Mr Nitish Kumar, has not been so forthcoming, although Mr Sharad Yadav, who is officially JD(U) president and NDA convenor, has expressed his desire that the alliance not unravel, not least because the Assembly election is barely four months away. In the Bihar context, however, Mr Yadav's authority is visibly limited, and it is Mr Kumar who calls the shots.
Whatever the proximate causes of the trouble between the allies, it is hard to overlook the reality: the BJP's stock hit rock bottom following its defeat in last year's general election, and has not recovered since. The change of guard in the party's leadership structure is yet to leave an imprint. The NDA was the creature of a period when the BJP, under the astute leadership of Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, who commanded nationwide appeal, was the indubitable leader of the anti-Congress forces in the country and was in a strong enough position to ride to power at the Centre. Numerous regional parties gathered round this fulcrum to make up the NDA. One by one, the BJP's state allies have deserted it since, finding their own local and convenient reasons to do so. It appears to be the JD(U)'s turn now to have a rethink, whether or not this culminates in a rupture. It is no coincidence that questioning in the JD(U) of the continuing viability of an alliance with BJP occurs at a time when Mr Kumar's stature has risen way beyond anyone would have thought possible five years ago when the JD(U)-BJP alliance came to power in Bihar. The logic is simple: can there be a NDA if there is no strong BJP to hold it together? Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu, Ms Mamata Banerjee and Mr Naveen Patnaik jumped ship long ago. They had their compulsions in their respective states. It can always be argued, however, that Mr Kumar's compulsions are nowhere near as acute. Even while keeping company with the BJP, he has been able to draw on minority votes in substantial numbers. The perceived challenge to his standing among the minorities, and among Bihar's poor castes and classes, from Lalu Prasad Yadav's RJD and the Congress in the coming Assembly polls is at the moment not seen as being very strong. These are reasons for persevering with the NDA in Bihar, as seen from the perspective of poll arithmetic numbers available so far. But the real issue is politics, not mathematics. Mr Kumar may well contemplate going it alone. He is yet to reveal his mind. Since they still don't know their man, it is hard for the BJP to arrive at a working plan. Clearly, however, the party cannot wait indefinitely. Its position is rendered difficult since the BJP's poster boy, the Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, has been placed in the eye of the storm by the Bihar chief minister. For the BJP, the question is stark: ideology or alliance?






The Indian government is understandably perturbed at the prospect of a nuclear deal between Pakistan and China. The possibility of such an agreement has been bandied about ever since India and the Unites States concluded their agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation. Critics of the deal, both in India and abroad, had highlighted the dangers of some such move on the part of Beijing and Islamabad. These fears appeared to come true when the Pakistani President, Asif Ali Zardari, visited China in October 2008. During this visit, the Pakistani delegation managed to secure an agreement for the construction of two new nuclear-power plants in Pakistan by the Chinese. The request was packaged as an essential requirement for bridging the serious shortfalls in power generation in Pakistan. Even at that point, however, the Pakistani foreign minister suggested that such an arrangement would help restore the balance with India, which had been tilted in favour of India by the Indo-US nuclear deal.

Mr Zardari's pitch to the Chinese came at a time when Pakistan's efforts to secure from the Americans an agreement similar to India had run aground. The Bush administration made it clear that India and Pakistan had had very different nuclear histories; given Pakistan's record of involvement in shadowy nuclear transfers the question of an agreement simply did not arise. But to Pakistan's chagrin, the arrangement with China did not immediately take off. Beijing was aware that given Washington's stance securing the approval of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for the deal with Pakistan would be rather difficult. Hence, the matter was placed on the backburner.

In recent months, Pakistan yet again focused its efforts on securing an agreement from the US. Buoyed by the increasing importance attached to Pakistan for finding a way out of the Afghanistan war, Islamabad sought to make a strong bid for a nuclear deal during the recent strategic dialogue with Washington. They drew a blank. Consequently, the focus was shifted yet again to convincing the Chinese to deliver. The nuclear deal was high on the agenda of the Pakistan army Chief during his recent visit to China. Beijing, too, now seems more receptive to Pakistan's requests. This seems to be in keeping with their increasing confidence (visible since the economic downturn in the West) and willingness to confront the US on a series of international issues ranging from global economy to climate change.

India's concerns about the China-Pakistan nuclear deal stem from two sources. First, there is the history of China's active assistance to the Pakistani nuclear, including weapons, programme — undertaken with the explicit aim of cutting India to size. Nuclear cooperation between China and Pakistan dates back to the mid-1970s, when India's dominance in the subcontinent was clearly underlined by the 1971 war. The Chinese agreed to assist with the functioning of the nuclear reactor in Karachi built by the Canadians. China also supplied uranium hexafluoride without which the Pakistani nuclear programme would have juddered to a halt. Subsequently, they provided Pakistan with designs for a bomb, samples of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium and tritium booster, and apparently even tested a nuclear device for Pakistan in their test site at Lop Nor.

Following China's accession to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1992, Beijing declared that its nuclear exports would follow three criteria: the exports would only be for peaceful use; International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards would have to be accepted by the recipient; and there would be no transfers to third parties without Beijing's consent. Nonetheless, China's nuclear trade with Pakistan continued to generate concerns. In 1995, there were reports of the sale of 5000 specially-designed ring magnets to a non-safeguarded Pakistani nuclear laboratory. China initially denied the report; but subsequently claimed that the sale had been done by the China Nuclear Energy Corporation without informing the government, and that the rings were not magnetised in any case. In 1991, China had also supplied Pakistan with a 300 MWe nuclear reactor at Chashma. At the time of its entry into the NSG in 2004, it declared that had recently agreed to supply another 325 MWe reactor at Chashma. It is expected that the Chinese will wish to present the reactors under the latest agreement with Pakistan as part of the older commitment, and hence as not requiring a waiver from the NSG. Given the past record, New Delhi is concerned about the implications of this agreement.

The second source of discomfort is what these developments portend for Sino-Indian relations. In recent months, the relationship appeared to be recovering from a phase of intermittent tension, particularly over China's attempt to prevent the NSG waiver to India, its strident stance on Arunachal Pradesh, and the issuing of separate Chinese visas for Kashmiris. In the past year India and China had shown their willingness and ability to work together on major international issues, particularly climate change. If China decides to brazen its way through the nuclear deal with Pakistan, India is bound to wonder whether at all China appreciates India's legitimate interests and concerns.

And yet, New Delhi would do well at this point to avoid reading too much into these developments. For one thing, the details of the Sino-Pakistan agreement are hazy. For another, it is not fully clear just how China intends to proceed. In some ways, China's willingness to disregard international guidelines would sit oddly with its stance on other related issues. By going along with the sanctions on Iran and by chiding North Korea for its aggressive posture, Beijing has indicated that it wants to be a responsible global power. The Indian government has quite properly avoided over-reacting to the recent developments whilst simultaneously conveying its views to Beijing. New Delhi will have to gear up for some adroit diplomacy as the curtains go up on the China-Pakistan accord.

 Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi







Gen. Stanley McChrystal's trashing of his civilian colleagues was unprofessional and may cost him his job. If so, it will be a sad end to a fine career. But no general is indispensable. What is indispensable is that when taking America surging deeper into war in Afghanistan, US President Barack Obama has to be able to answer the most simple questions at a gut level: Do our interests merit such an escalation and do I have the allies to achieve victory?

President Obama never had good answers for these questions, but he went ahead anyway. The ugly truth is that no one in the Obama White House wanted this Afghan surge. The only reason they proceeded was because no one knew how to get out of it — or had the courage to pull the plug.

That is not a sufficient reason to take the country deeper into war in the most inhospitable terrain in the world. You know you're in trouble when you're in a war in which the only party whose objectives are clear, whose rhetoric is consistent and whose will to fight never seems to diminish is your enemy: the Taliban.

President Obama is not an Afghan expert. Few people are. But that could have been his strength. The three questions he needed to ask about Afghanistan were almost childlike in their simplicity. Yet Obama either failed to ask them or went ahead, nevertheless, because he was afraid he would have been called a wimp by Republicans if he hadn't.

The first question was hiding in plain sight: Why do we have to recruit and train our allies, the Afghan Army, to fight? That is like someone coming to you with a plan to recruit and train Brazilian boys to play soccer.

If there is one thing Afghan males should not need to be trained to do, it's to engage in warfare. That may be the only thing they all know how to do after 30 years of civil war and centuries of resisting foreign powers. After all, who is training the Taliban? They've been fighting the US Army to a draw — and many of their commanders can't even read.

It is not about the way. It is about the will. I have said this before, and I will say it again: West Asia only puts a smile on your face when it starts with them. The Camp David peace treaty started with Israelis and Egyptians meeting in secret — without the us. The Oslo peace process started with Israelis and Palestinians meeting in secret — without us. The Sunni tribal awakening in Iraq against pro-Al Qaeda forces started with them — without us. When it starts with them, when they assume ownership, our military and diplomatic support can be a huge multiplier, as we've seen in Iraq and at Camp David.

Ownership is everything in business, war and diplomacy. People will fight with sticks and stones and no training at all for a government they feel ownership of. When they — Israelis, Palestinians, Afghans, Iraqis — assume ownership over a policy choice, everything is possible, particularly the most important thing of all: that what gets built becomes self-sustaining without us.

But when we want it more than they do, nothing is self-sustaining, and they milk us for all we're worth. I simply don't see an Afghan "awakening" in areas under Taliban control. And without that, at scale, nothing we build will be self-sustaining.

That leads to the second question: If our strategy is to use US forces to clear the Taliban and help the Afghans put in place a decent government so they can hold what is cleared, how can that be done when President Hamid Karzai, our principal ally, openly stole the election and we looked the other way? US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and others in the administration told us not to worry: Karzai would have won anyway; he's the best we've got; she knew how to deal with him and he would come around. Well, I hope that happens.

But my gut tells me that when you don't call things by their real name, you get in trouble. Karzai stole the election, and we said: No problem, we're going to build good governance on the back of the Kabul mafia.

Which brings up the third simple question, the one that made me most opposed to this surge: What do we win if we win? At least in Iraq, if we eventually produce a decent democratising government, we will, at enormous cost, have changed the politics in a great Arab capital in the heart of the Arab Muslim world. That can have wide resonance. Change Afghanistan at enormous cost and you've changed Afghanistan — period. Afghanistan does not resonate.

Moreover, Al Qaeda is in Pakistan today — or, worse, in the soul of thousands of Muslim youth from Bridgeport, Connecticut, to London, connected by "The Virtual Afghanistan": the Internet. If Al Qaeda cells returned to Afghanistan, they could be dealt with by drones, or special forces aligned with local tribes. It would not be perfect, but perfect is not on the menu in Afghanistan.

My bottom line: The President can bring Ulysses S. Grant back from the dead to run the Afghan war. But when you can't answer the simplest questions, it is a sign that you're somewhere you don't want to be and your only real choices are lose early, lose late, lose big or lose small.









Qualifying for the Fifa World Cup is not easy. Fifa now has 208 member nations and only 32 get to qualify for the finals. The only time India qualified was in 1950. It also came a creditable fourth in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. But it was easier to qualify then because fewer teams were part of Fifa and the Asian Football Federation.

It is, however, not impossible for India even now. I think the 2022 World Cup is a realistic goal. However, the football infrastructure needs a drastic makeover. One of the biggest concerns is that the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) doesn't own a single stadium. The Karnataka government for one has stepped in with a grant of Rs 5 crores to build a world-class stadium and AIFF have also decided to chip in.

In a couple of years we should have an international quality stadium with about 30,000 capacity, but we need at least four or five such stadiums which are owned by the AIFF and not some local body. The I-League has been struggling since most of the clubs don't have their own stadiums whereas top clubs around the world not only have this but also their own training facilities.

Development of infrastructure is essential as it will save the enormous expense we incur on sending the team to countries like Spain and Portugal for training. Good stadiums will also attract other nations to come and play in India, providing us with much needed international exposure.

Another aspect that needs improvement is the coaching at the grassroot level. Under the Goal-II project of Fifa, training academies have already been planned in Bengaluru, Sikkim and Andaman. Boys from the age of 14 will be provided training at these centres for the next three or four years until they are ready for the senior teams.
The private sector is already chipping in with the Tata Academy at Jamshedpur going strong. But more such academies are needed in different parts of the country. AIFF is doing its best but needs help from the corporate sector.

Unlike cricket which is played in only 12 countries, football has universal appeal and corporates are realising the game's potential. With their support football is heading in the right direction.

Qualification for the World Cup is a realistic dream but it will take a lot of hard work to get there.
(As told toDevadyuti Das)


— A.R. Khaleel, vice-president, All-India Football Federation and president, Karnataka State Football Association

Bleak future for football in India

Aloke Mukherjee


India is languishing at 133 in the Fifa rankings, and I find this hard to digest. All the same, it should not dream of a World Cup berth even in the next 100 years unless there's a change in players' temperament. Today's footballers lack the discipline and dedication required to excel on a bigger stage. Also, special attention needs to be paid to the various age-group levels.


I don't say there is a lack of skill or talent. Otherwise, Dempo S.C. in the recent past would not have been so successful at the international level. But to be successful in the long run, you need devotion. Tell me, do you see today's footballers seriously at practice early in the morning the day after suffering a defeat? If a player doesn't have loyalty or devotion towards his club, I don't believe he can rise to the occasion for his country. We may not have scaled great heights in my playing days but India did manage to reach the quarter-finals of the 1982 Asian Games before being edged out by Saudi Arabia.
Today's youngsters are concerned mainly with quick bucks. If they impress while playing for a seemingly low-profile team, they catch the eye of officials of the top clubs, and sign for the latter on being offered a handsome amount. The tragedy is most of them succumb to the pressure of donning the jersey of a high-profile club, and are left in the lurch after having gone through a torrid season. Many a talent is wasted due to frequent switchover that doesn't allow a player to settle down in one club.

Earlier, players from the districts and smaller towns had an impact on the game. Nowadays, we hardly see players from those centres. The supply line is close to being non-existent. This is true for the whole country.
Add to this is the horrifying picture at the age-group levels. It was shocking to see teams conceding more than a dozen goals in a game in the ongoing Dr B.C. Roy Trophy. Such imbalances at the junior level were unimaginable in my era. It's high time the decision-makers address this aspect. The under-17s and the under-15s should be made to play more tournaments and provided greater exposure. The future of Indian football can be brighter only if junior footballers of every state are skilful.

Proper attention must be given to districts that used to be a supply line in the past. It's imperative the keepers assemble all the talented ones in the districts and bring them on to the mainstream.


— Aloke Mukherjee, India defender back in the 1980s, coach of East Bengalin 2007-08







So this general with the background in intelligence who is supposed to conquer Afghanistan can't even figure out what Rolling Stone is? We're not talking Guns & Ammo here; we're talking the anti-war hippie magazine.

Military guys are rarely as smart as they think they are, and they've never gotten over the fact that civilians run the military.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his hard-bitten, smart-aleck aides nuked the President, vice-president and other top advisers as wimps, losers and clowns in a Rolling Stone profile meant to polish the general's image.

It was a product of the warrior-god culture, four-star generals with their own public-relations teams, that came from Gen. David Petraeus. And the towel-snapping was intensified by the fact that McChrystal used to be a tough special-ops, under-cover-of-the-night, rules-don't-apply-to-us military guy.

It was bad enough to infuriate even the placid President, who had already told McChrystal to keep his head down once after the infamous London speech, and who was left wondering where those military core values of loyalty, commitment and patriotism were. As he summoned his top commander in Afghanistan to explain himself, US President Barack Obama said that his general used "poor judgment" in the derisive way he spoke, and let his aides speak, to writer Michael Hastings. But aren't we relying on McChrystal's good judgment, putting more lives and billions on the line, to get us out of our ghost war?

It's just another sign of the complete incoherence of Afghan policy. The people in charge are divided against each other. And the policy is divided against itself. We're fighting a war against an enemy that we're desperately trying to co-opt and win over in a country where Al Qaeda, which was supposed to be the enemy, is no longer based.

Even our corrupt puppet doesn't think we can prevail. As Dexter Filkins recently reported in the Times, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told two former Afghan officials that he had lost faith in the Americans and was trying to strike his own deal with the Taliban and Pakistan.

Afghanistan is more than the "graveyard of empires". It's the mother of vicious circles.

McChrystal's defenders at the Pentagon were making the case Tuesday that the President and his men — (the McChrystal snipers spared Hillary) — must put aside their hurt feelings about being painted as weak sisters. Obama should not fire the serially insubordinate general, they reasoned, because that would undermine the mission in Afghanistan, and if that happens, then Obama would be further weakened.

So the commander-in-chief can be bad-mouthed as weak by the military but then he can't punish the military because that would make him weak? It's the same sort of pass-the-Advil vicious circle reasoning the military always uses.

McChrystal publicly pressured Obama to do the surge, warning that without it, Afghanistan would be "Chaos-istan." But the President did do the surge and Afghanistan is Chaos-istan.

The surge isn't working. But if it did start working, Hastings' article suggests, the military might ask for a new surge next summer.

McChrystal warns his troops about "insurgent maths" — for each innocent you kill, you make 10 enemies. Yet we keep killing and making more enemies.

The Taliban, McChrystal told Hastings, no longer has the initiative — "but I don't think we do, either".

After nine years, more than a thousand troops dead, and hundreds of billions spent that could have been put toward developing new forms of fuel so that all our miseries and all our fun doesn't derive from oil, we've fought our way to a stalemate.

McChrystal painted a vicious circle around his commander-in-chief. As Stars and Stripes summed it up: "Fire Gen. Stanley McChrystal and risk looking like he's lost control of the war in Afghanistan. Or keep him and risk looking like he's lost control of his generals".

The lean McChrystal, who was dubbed a Jedi warrior by Newsweek, prides himself on his Spartan style. He banned alcohol and Burger King from the Kabul headquarters compound and only eats one meal a day.

But he has met his match in Afghan warriors, who have clobbered every foreign invader since Alexander the Great. The average Afghan fighter lives on grain, a bowl of rice, a bottle of water. How much does it cost by comparison to have a foreign soldier in Afghanistan?

McChrystal never should have been hired for this job given the outrageous cover-up he participated in after the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman. He was lucky to keep the job after his "Seven Days in May" stunt in London last year when he openly lobbied and undercut the President on the surge.

But with the latest sassing, and the continued Sisyphean nature of the surge he urged, McChrystal should offer his resignation. He should try subordination for a change.






 "Meditation" or dhyana means going beyond the limitations of the physical body and the mind. Only when you transcend the limited perspective of the body and the mind, you have a complete dimension of life within you.

When you are identified as the body, your whole life is only about survival. Your whole perspective of life will be simply survival. When you are identified as the mind, your whole perspective is enslaved to the social perspective, to the religious perspective, to the family perspective. You can't look beyond that. Only when you become free from the modifications of your own mind will you know the dimension of the beyond. Can you see that this body and this mind are not yours? It is something that you have accumulated over a period of time. Your body is just a heap of food you have eaten; your mind is just a heap of impressions you have gathered from the outside.

What you accumulated you handled it well — your home, like the property that you own, your bank balance, your body and mind. You have a good bank balance, a good body and a good mind. Good! These are needed to live a good life. But it is not sufficient. It is not fulfilling. No human being will ever be fulfilled by these things. They will only make his life comfortable and conducive. Especially if you see the Western society, everything that you are dreaming of, every average citizen has. But do you think they are fulfilled, that they are blissful? Definitely not! Nowhere near bliss. So dhyana is to transcend the limitations of body and mind, and experience yourself in a much deeper dimension.

Your instruments, body and mind, are okay to live in this world for survival. But life will not be fulfilled with them. And if you don't know who you are, are you capable of knowing what the world is? Is it possible? If you do not know who you are, can you understand what the world is, what the person near you is? If you want to know the truth about who you are, only if you transcend the limitations of your body and mind can there be a possibility for you to experience it. Yoga and dhyana are scientific tools which help you transcend the limitations of your body and mind and experience the true quality of who you are. Without experiencing this, just eating, sleeping, reproducing and dying, your life will not be fulfilled.

All those things are needed in your life — this eating, sleeping and reproducing. But our life is not complete because of these. This is because the quality of a human being has crossed a certain boundary of awareness. Now it is not only physical fulfilment that is needed. It has to seek something more, otherwise it will never be satisfied. It has to become unlimited. So dhyana or meditation is a way of moving into the unlimited dimension of who you are.

— Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a yogi, is a visionary, humanitarian and a prominent spiritual leader. An author, poet, and internationally-renowned speaker, Sadhguru's wit and piercing logic provoke and widen our perception of life. He can be contacted at [1]









There may be hope yet with the judiciary's intervention in a sphere where the executive has never had the nerve to tread.  In the wake of the mortally distorted definition of a family's "honour", the Supreme Court (coram: RM Lodha and AK Patnaik, JJ) has placed the Centre and as many as eight states on notice. It isn't only the khap panchayats in Rajasthan and Haryana that have ordered "honour killings" against marriages within the same gotra. Monday's court order suggests that the canker of mortal conservatism is manifest predominantly in the cow belt. No less repugnant is the reality that this extreme form of mental aberration has extended to civil society and ominously enough in urban India as well. The staged electrocution by the woman's family recently killed a courting couple of two different castes in Delhi. In Kolkata, a doctor father's poisonous injection nearly killed his daughter at the marriage registrar's office. A more criminal objection to inter-community marriage is difficult to imagine. The Bench has sought a response from the Centre and the states on the steps taken to deal with this social scourge. Alas, whether it is in the backwaters of Rajasthan or Delhi or Kolkata, governments are scarcely in a position to submit a conscientious response. The states are likely to be out of their depth in firming up a reply.

Whether it is a calculated "honour killing" by the khap panchayats or isolated instances in the national Capital or Kolkata, the administrations have been remarkably impervious to the social crime. There isn't a single state that is in a position to advance an action-taken report. Though West Bengal has not been notified, there is an element of injured innocence in the DGP's claim that no such killing has been reported in the state. The fact that Calcutta High Court has ordered the CBI to probe the murder angle in the death of Rizwanur Rahman carries pregnant implications for the administration. And there have been quite a few in the rural areas since that tragedy. Governments, both at the Centre and the eight states, are answerable for this collectively contrived indifference to brutal expressions of ego-driven conservatism. Incredible India's time machine has been turned back by two centuries. The Supreme Court order illustrates that the underbelly of society stands unabashedly blighted.








PERSONALLY responsible for the attempt at a "puff" AK Antony might not have been, but his spin doctors have done his image little good by trying to project as a creditworthy "first" his taking a helicopter ride to an Advanced Landing Ground in Ladakh. Admittedly any flight in that mountainous sector is risky, but was the stress on the helipad's close proximity to the Line of Actual Control intended to impress that a possibility of drawing hostile fire was "live"? Will his publicists confirm the date on which the facility at Nyoma was activated? Was it operational before Antony moved to South Block and his predecessors chickened-out of a flight there? If not, the "first" that is being claimed may be technically correct, but all else is meaningless. Defence ministers are required to visit "difficult" areas, it is part of the job and earns them no brownie points. It would appear that Antony & Co. have been infected with the military's exaggerated competitiveness: trained as soldiers are to always win, even a game of musical chairs at a party is hotly contested. Ministers ought to be made of sterner stuff. Alas, at least one other "personal" incident concerning this minister would point in another direction.

The issue, however, is one that rises far above the personal. When VIPs visit troops in forward areas the purpose should be to boost the morale of soldiers serving "under the nose" of the adversary, braving inclement weather, devoid of creature comforts and distanced from their families. Unfortunately, and this charge is not levelled at Antony alone, attempts are made to boost the image of the VIP ~ recall George Fernandes making Siachen his holiday-home, each trip ensured some media attention. Yet to limited purpose. When Antony met soldiers in Siachen a couple of days ago they once again lamented having to pay international rates for telephone calls home. And the request for snow-scooters confirmed that Fernandes' ordering two babus there to see things for themselves had produced very little. Let's see if Antony can get a bit more for the soldier ~ even if not a "first" it will be of greater value than the column-centimetres Nyoma accorded him.









Mamata Banerjee's swipe at the CPI-M for the Jnaneswari disaster ~ shrewdly articulated on the day before the civic elections ~ might have been an expression of contrived absurdity. Yet close to a month after that horrendous tragedy, the West Bengal government will have to face the flak for being remarkably desultory in the follow-through. It is the sort of inertia that usually marks the final leg of a dispensation. The committee, that was formed to recommend measures to beef up security on the increasingly vulnerable Kharagpur-Tatanagar section, hasn't bothered to hold a single meeting since 28 May, the day of the accident. It is a testament to the dead hand of the administration that the committee will consciously miss the deadline of 25 June for submission of the report. Shocking indeed is the feet-dragging in the aftermath of an unprecedented accident. The fault is entirely bureaucratic, one that must reflect on the Home department under the Chief Minister. Not that the composition of worthies is yet to be finalised. There is no convincing explanation why a single meeting hasn't been convened. On the contrary, the panel would appear to have thrown in the towel when it pleads that it will be "tough" to submit the report by 25 June. As reported by this newspaper, the latest decision is to hold the first meeting of the committee on 29 June ~ four days after the deadline. This would have been laughable were it not for the dire implications.

Of course, the matter is ultimately within the ambit of the Railways; but a lot depends on West Bengal's committee which has been tasked to examine the law and order aspect. Chiefly, the restoration of normal train services to southern and western India will hinge on the recommendations on tighter security. In the net, the night operations of the Railways might remain suspended for sometime yet. In the interim, the track has become still more insecure since Jnaneswari went off the rails; two trains were terminated on the basis of Intelligence feedback on Maoist designs. The committee must act with greater seriousness of purpose.








THERE is a serious problem with our collective thinking. More often than not, it gets swayed by emotion, charged up by media hype at the wrong time. It is misdirected. The facts which are being dug out today with regard to the Bhopal gas tragedy carry nothing new to ruffle our collective conscience. There is not a single fact which was not known 26 years ago. We got disturbed only when a local court awarded a two-year jail term for the accused two weeks ago.  

The problem lies with the institutions that are responsible for operating the law, from regulatory agencies to the court, to the political class and to the powers-that-be. Warren Anderson, the then chief of Union Carbide, had expressed his desire to come to India and visit the disaster site. The US Government, through its embassy, forwarded the request to the Government of India. Realizing that such a gesture was well within corporate practice,  India allowed him to visit the country and the site. The question of ascertaining vicarious culpability was not the job of the political executive which assured him safe passage after formally arresting him and letting him get bail. Granting bail is a common practice anywhere in the world.

Case of negligence

THE culpability lies somewhere else. Although, the CBI had slapped Section 304 (Part-II) ~ that is culpable homicide not amounting to murder ~ on the culprits,  it was the then Chief Justice of India, Justice AM Ahmadi, who in response to a petition directed the lower court to convert it into Section 304A (negligence). The CBI did not go for a review petition which was filed by an NGO. The Supreme Court turned it down. Justice Ahmadi found it a case of negligence which carries a sentence of two years in jail. Obviously, the lower court has to try the case in terms of that section. 

But the moot questions were ignored. Did the company adopt sufficient and foolproof checks against such a mishap? Was the technology used up-to-date? Was Mythyl Isocynate (MIC) allowed to be stored in such a large quantity in the two tanks of the factory?

The technology used was outdated. And several other countries had refused to accord permission to the company. In Belgium and Germany, Union Carbide had given a written undertaking that it would not store in MIC beyond 17,000 litres, whereas in India it had given no such undertaking. On the fateful day, there was a stock of 1,14,240 litres of the deadly MIC in two tanks. Did the Indian authorities ever subject the firm to these legal rigours? 


The setting up of a plant so close to a city or allowing habitation to grow closer to the factory is not allowed anywhere in the world. The authorities had failed to guard against the violation of such norms. And the norms are violated even today.

True, Anderson just did lip service and went scot free. The compensation the company paid was a paltry Rs. 12,000 to the victims or their families.  

The fault also lies with the judicial perception of ascertaining culpability. It preferred to act according to the provisions of Section 304A of the IPC.       

Consider another example. In the past one month, there occurred three car accidents in Delhi. Drunken men and women, belonging to affluent society, mowed down more than a dozen people, mainly labourers. Section  304A does not provide for any strict punishment.

Be it an Anderson, the chief of Union Carbide, or an inebriated wife of an army officer or the son of a Congress leader, they all have the power to bend institutions. Anderson can bend the entire government; others can manage to ensure that the medical examination report, ascertaining alcohol in the blood, gets manipulated. Or if not caught on the spot, a poor driver replaces the actual culprit for a fair amount of  money. And finally, the judge is also a human being. He can take a lenient view under the doctrine of mens rea. 


A corrupt system

IN the context of India, the doctrine of mens rea (criminal mind) needs a re-look. The reason is we have a corrupt system through which the drunken son of a politician or an industrialist can manipulate the evidence. If an influential person is involved in a hit-and-run case, he can manipulate his alibi. He can present his driver as the guilty party after paying him some money. In case he is caught on the spot,  he can still manage to manipulate the blood report so as to claim that there was no trace of alcohol in his blood, or at worst it was within the prescribed limit.  

Sibu Soren was set free in all three murder charges after 36 years. In the intervening period, he held the post of Chief Minister and Union Minister. One can well imagine how the law operates on the basis of evidence and deposition of the witnesses.  

For the past 500 years ~ since the era of Henry I ~jurists have been divided over the question of mens rea and "absolute liability". The proponents of mens rea claim that actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea (the act does not make a man guilty unless his mind be guilty). Conversely, the advocates of "absolute liability" go by the maxim of ersanti in ra illicita imputantur omnia quae sequuntur ex delicto (a person engaged in an illegal activity is answerable for all its consequences). This was introduced in English law by Bracton. 

Under the maxim of absolute liability, Anderson, his culpable staff, as also the government officials who ignored the industrial safety rules or the politician who put pressure on them to accord permission without subjecting the company to the rigours of the law, should be hauled up under Section 304 (Part-II). The Law Commission had in its 234th report clearly recommended that punishment under Section 304A (negligence) should be raised to 10 years. 

With the poor flocking to urban concentrations, the growth of the middle class and the short shrift to values, the day is not far when people will stop using roads for fear that they will be at the mercy of the drunk and the influential. The loss of confidence in the rule of law will neutralize the GDP growth rate and the value-less development. We will also lose a large chunk of social capital.

The writer is a senior journalist and general secretary, Broadcast Editors' Association







The House of Windsor and the La Martiniere schools are perceived to have elitist leanings and both are trying to uphold values and codes of behaviour of a more gracious age in a rapidly changing world, says Ayan Ghosh
THE recent controversy that erupted at the La Martiniere School for Boys, Kolkata, over the death of a young pupil left me – and perhaps other readers of The Statesman – puzzled. Four months after the demise of the child, all of a sudden the tragedy hit the headlines again. The media believed that the father of the dead boy had "finally summoned up" the courage to publicly air his views. Other less charitable opinions on this delayed reaction also flew thick and fast. Under the fierce gaze of the media, the school authorities maintained a stony silence as waves of negative publicity swirled around the beleaguered institution.

Some of us may have wondered why the school chose to remain silent (and who did not remember that "silence means assent") when the picture that was being painted was unabashedly partisan. Before going any further, let me clarify that this article is not about getting to the truth of the matter. Hopefully that – and a more balanced, holistic picture of the circumstances surrounding the death of the boy – will emerge in due course.
Finally, on 11 June, the school issued a three-page press release. The secretary to the Board of Governors, in a carefully worded missive, had this to say about the prolonged silence on the part of the La Martiniere Schools, "All along we have maintained a dignified silence out of respect for the young boy, Rouvanjit Rawla, whom we have lost and for whom we continue to grieve." If anything, this was a period piece! "Dignified silence", "respect" was hardly evident in the behaviour that the unfortunate secretary was responding to!
All at once, my mind went back to September 2007 in Scotland where I was a post-graduate student. On 31 August 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales, had died in a motor accident in a Parisian tunnel. Still subscribing to a code of behaviour which abhors public displays of emotion, senior members of the Royal Family retired to the solitary fastness of their lair in Scotland to grieve in private. However, Tony Blair, being the adept politician that he was, sensed the public mood much better. His eulogy to the "People's Princess" caught the public imagination and, while the elderly were appalled to see what CS Forester called "lower deck sentimentality", most of the country of supposedly stiff upper lips traipsed to shops and waylaid any building with some association with the dead young woman, with flowers, cards and candles. Impromptu shrines sprang up and the hysteria that gripped the country made many an elderly Englishman wonder if this was his own country and these his own countrymen.

The poor old Queen bore the brunt of attacks. Public opinion of her family took such a battering for maintaining a "dignified silence" that Her Majesty's Prime Minister apparently felt it necessary to officially advise the Monarch to return to London. Bowing to public demand, the Queen had to forego all plans for a private funeral. Irrespective of the official title adopted, to all intents and purposes the late Princess received a "state funeral"; but despite all of that, the Royal Family was perceived to have given in with ill grace, and was considered to be "out of touch with the people in whose name it purported to rule". Such was the brouhaha that a film on the subject – misleadingly entitled The Queen – appeared, went on to do well at the box offices and gathered a handful of Academy and Bafta awards.

What do Rouvanjit Rawla's and Princess Diana's deaths have to do with each other, you may wonder. The link is the reaction of the two institutions. Both are relatively antique (the House of Windsor is approaching its century while the La Martiniere schools are celebrating the 175th year of their foundation), are perceived to have elitist leanings and both are trying to uphold values and codes of behaviour of a more gracious age in a rapidly changing world.

La Martiniere – and others of its ilk – was modelled on the great public schools of England to mass produce gentlemen often called "the Breed". Although the La Martiniere institutions may have been designed originally to produce "gentlemen" to run the empire – as opposed to building it – one can immediately identify with the following description: "They were all-male institutions and the world of the Breed remained male forever. The patina of the breed was English but it really belonged to the Empire rather than to England… you didn't have to be English to be 'English'… the actor James Stewart, for example, was American, but he had Englishness. He didn't brag about himself. He wasn't pushy. He had one wife all his life. You could trust him with your wallet… that's English. At least that is how the English like to think of themselves – gallant, upstanding, modest, absolutely trustworthy and with impeccable manners. It is the ideal of the English gentlemen."
The times may have changed but I am sure the gentlemen who "govern" the La Martiniere institutions (and many of the people who admit their children to the august institution) subscribe to these ideals. If the last Englishman standing is to be found in India (and I suspect he will be found in Kolkata), who can fault an attempt to preserve, practice and inculcate these values?

Let me end on a lighter – if related – note. Jeremy Paxman, writing in The English, commented on the schooling of the to-be gentleman, "Once away from home, a good thrashing was accepted as an essential part of the process of turning out a gentleman. The champion flogger was the Rev Dr John Keate, appointed Headmaster of Eton in 1809, who beat an average of 10 boys each day (excluding his day of rest on Sunday). On 30 June 1832 came his greatest achievement, the thrashing of over 80 of his pupils. At the end of this marathon, the boys stood and cheered him. When the time came for him to retire, the Eton pupils subscribed large amounts of money for his testimonial. In the circumstances, is it surprising that the products of these schools were skilled at hiding their emotions?"


The writer is a freelance contributor






Remember Ronen of the headless chicken fame? Let me jog your memory: it happened in 2007 when Ronen Sen, ambassador in the USA, compared the acts of Indian politicians who opposed the nuclear deal negotiation to that of a headless chicken. Politicians threatened to knock the head off Ronen's. Mercifully Ronen escaped the onslaught.

Few know the story of "Mike the Headless Chicken", so let me repeat. On 10 September, 1945, Lloyd Olsen of Fruita, Colorado, had his mother-in-law around for supper. Lloyd knew she was fond of chicken and would savour the neck. He positioned his axe precisely, estimating just the right tolerance, to leave a generous neck bone. Even then it was important for sons-out-laws to suck up to mothers-in-law.
The determined bird quickly shook off the traumatic event and telegraphed his intentions to live. Mike became a chicken again, started pecking for food and preening his feathers. Since a chicken's reflexes are controlled by the brain stem, Mike was able to remain quite healthy.

His crowing, though, was less impressive - just a gurgling sound made in his throat, unable to crow to announce dawn. Being headless did not keep Mike from putting on weight. Olsen said Mike was a robust chicken - a fine specimen of a chicken except for not having a head! His fame and fortune earned him recognition in Life and Time magazines. In March 1947, Miracle Mike valued (even insured) at $10,000 choked to death.
Readers may glean parallels from everyday life. I'm sorry I'm unable to expatiate more, thanks to the Conduct Rules I'm bound to. So please be imaginative. Do we need a head? More pertinently, do we have one? Well, the honest answer is - either we don't have one or have too much of it.

Lest readers think I say this tongue-in-cheek, let me elaborate. A few months ago, the ministry of finance issued an order on Expenditure Management - Economy Measures and Rationalisation of Expenditure that set the cat among the doves and pigeons.

You see doves and pigeons are essentially different, though smaller forms are usually called doves, larger forms pigeons. An exception is the white pigeon that stays at home, is harmless, and is known as the "dove of peace".


Here we're focusing on the putative pigeons. They are of varied kinds: homing, itinerant, and irreverent.
The order made everyone unhappy. Given the current fiscal situation and the consequent pressure on the government's resources, the order said, economy and rationalisation of expenditure was a necessity; the government mandated a ten per cent cut in expenditure under Domestic/Foreign Travel.
To rub salt into the wound, holding of exhibitions/seminars/conferences abroad was strongly discouraged along with a complete ban on conferences at five-star hotels. To cap it all, the order proscribed air travel by first class. You've to rob Peter to pay Paul!

I watch all discussions on television and read six newspapers to get to the heart of the matter. Yet the matter almost always eludes my mind. Every time I listen to the august pigeons parrot worldly wisdom of austerity like travelling cattle-class or in cargo-holds, I wonder if they would be charged per head or per kilogram for their air tickets. And which will be economical - given their girth, circumference, and shape, thanks to past seven-star free repasts, the gyms in five-star hotels and clubs notwithstanding.

Make no mistake. Their girth is not the outcome of my imagination. One of the newspapers carried a report that travelling economy is a strict no-no for pigeons because they need space for clearing files while airborne. Plus they need quietude not available in the economy section.

Worse, the complete ban on holding of meetings/conferences at five-star hotels was the proverbial last straw. You can't starve a pigeon. Which is why, I guess, pigeons of all shades united and spoke as one: the fact that they're beyond the pale of hideous diktats. Of course, pigeons have their own rules of the game. Of higher pedigree, they make their own rules. Abstinence and asceticism are not exactly terms of endearment for them.







A Nato commander in Afghanistan faces a meeting in Washington with Barack Obama that could end with him fired from his post. The extraordinary White House summons to General Stanley McChrystal was issued over a series of disrespectful remarks made by himself and his military staff to Rolling Stone magazine about the president and other senior figures.

General McChrystal was ordered back to explain himself to the President, who is said to be seething with anger at the article. Washington was buzzing with rumours that he would arrive at the White House with a letter of resignation or that he would be sacked.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that "the magnitude and the greatness of the mistakes here are profound". Of General McChrystal's future, he added: "We will have more to say after the meeting." One Pentagon official, speaking anonymously, said: "The President wants to have a conversation. We'll see where it goes from there," adding that it was a "significant move to pull a commander out of the field".
The controversy has sprung from an extraordinary Rolling Stone profile of General McChrystal. Called "Runaway General", it includes comments attributed to the general and his aides as they voiced doubts about national security figures in Washington, including the President and Vice-President Joe Biden.
While the profile does not suggest policy differences between General McChrystal and Mr Obama and his security team, it contains cheap pot-shots aimed at the politicians. Jim Jones, the National Security Advisor, is described as "stuck in 1985" by a McChrystal aide, who also calls him a "clown".

However, the most damaging passages in the eight-page profile by reporter Michael Hastings may be those describing McChrystal's feelings about his commander-in-chief. An aide is quoted as saying that the general found Mr Obama to be "uncomfortable and intimidated" before the country's top military brass at a meeting in the Pentagon early in his presidency.

An aide reportedly also spoke of the general's disappointment after having his first face-to-face meeting with Mr Obama shortly after taking the top military post in Afghanistan. "It was a 10-minute photo op," the aide is quoted as saying. "Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was. The Boss was pretty disappointed."

When the reporter asked General McChrystal about the well-known misgivings a year ago of Mr Biden's plan – eventually approved by Mr Obama – to begin a troop surge in Afghanistan, McChrystal is quoted as responding, "Are you asking about Vice-President Joe Biden? Who's that?" Elsewhere the article hints at the general complaining openly about the "wimps in the White House".

Before leaving Kabul, General McChrystal issued a statement apologising for the magazine article. He is also said to have telephoned all those on the receiving end of the disparaging comments, which also included the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, and the special envoy to the conflicts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke.

"I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgement and should never have happened," the statement said, which was issued as the top press relations officer in Kabul who set up the profile tendered his resignation. "Throughout my career," the general went on, "I have lived by the principles of personal honour and professional integrity. What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard. I have enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team, and for the civilian leaders and troops fighting this war and I remain committed to ensuring its successful outcome."

Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who has called General McChrystal for a separate meeting, issued a statement calling the comments "distractions" and "a significant mistake". He said that the general had shown "poor judgement".

General McChrystal had few defenders in Washington. Among them was John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who called for calm. He said: "My impression is that all of us would be best served by just backing off and staying cool and calm and not succumbing to the normal Washington twitter about this for the next 24 hours."

The controversy has exploded at a bad time. The President is facing a raft of domestic problems, not least the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, violence has flared again in Afghanistan.

Cutting General McChrystal loose would be no small decision. A breakdown of this magnitude at the top of the US command would spread alarm among their allies. On the other hand, this is not the first time the general has ruffled feathers. He was hauled over the coals last year after giving a speech in London about the Afghanistan troop surge that was viewed as being far too candid by the White House.

The Independent









Communists want workers to unite, except in their own backyards. But the recent strikes in Chinese factories seem to have been approved, at least partially, by the Communist party bosses. Conditions in Chinese factories are known to be among the worst in the world and the lives of Chinese factory workers, mostly migrants from the villages, are generally nasty and brutish. In their anxiety to attract foreign investment and ensure double-digit growth, China's communist rulers have long looked the other way. The latest strikes — in factories supplying parts to Japanese automobile giants such as Toyota and Honda — suggest that Beijing is now forced to face a new reality about the Chinese working class. The new generation of China's vast army of migrant labourers no longer accepts working conditions their parents were forced to tolerate. The earlier generation of workers would rather quit a job than strike work. And despite the official media blacking out such news, wage disputes and strikes have become common in China. What is more, strikes — and workers' suicides — have led to dramatic pay increases, most notably in a huge factory owned by Taiwan's Foxconn Technology Group.


However, the unending labour unrest raises larger questions about the social tensions in today's China and the government's attempts to come to terms with them. The more the Chinese society develops fissures, the more the leaders harp on the value of stability and "harmony". Many think that the present leadership's attempts to revive Confucian values of harmony and respect for authority are actually a desperate ploy to defuse the rising social tensions. No wonder Wen Jiabao, the premier, called for better treatment of migrant workers and expressed concern over the risks of social turmoil. Clearly, the leaders are worried that the labour unrest may spread to State-controlled and privately-owned Chinese factories where the workers get equally raw deals. And, if that happens, the communist bosses can easily take off the velvet gloves and show the iron fists yet again. It may be alarmist to see the strikes as posing an immediate threat to foreign investment in China. But if they do, it will mean that the days of cheap Chinese labour are over. It can also mean new challenges to China's rulers from its new working class.







Recent events often stir up old controversies. The use of corporal punishment in a very well known school in Calcutta and its tragic aftermath have reopened the debate about using the cane and perpetrating other forms of physical punishment on students. In one sense, the debate is irrelevant since corporal punishment in schools has been banned by a Supreme Court ruling, and therefore its use is illegal. The headmaster of the school, when he wielded the cane on a student, engaged in an illegal act, and the school authorities, by standing by him, are actually complicit in an illegal action. A school and its headmaster are supposed to set an example to the students and also to society. This simple principle is being violated in this case, which, for understandable reasons, has become a cause célèbre in Calcutta and even elsewhere. Ignorance of the law cannot be an alibi for violating the law. Too many codes and conventions of running a school and of proper behaviour in a civilized society have been breached somewhat shamelessly by persons who should have known better.


It is undeniable that in the past caning and other forms of corporal punishment were part of common practice in schools. It was assumed, especially in British public schools, that the use of the cane would make men out of the boys. Punish-and-discipline was the accepted norm among headmasters, teachers and school prefects. But notions of discipline and of helping children grow up are not static concepts. They change and evolve over time. There is a greater awareness today about the trauma that violence creates in the minds and upon the bodies of children. Modes of disciplining and modes of teaching have both changed since the days of Tom Brown and Mr Chips. It is also true that the best teachers in any school seldom resort to violence towards students. They command respect and attention rather than demanding them with a cane in hand. By his actions, the headmaster of the concerned school has demonstrated his cavalier attitude towards the laws of the land, and also his propensity to cling to outmoded and discredited forms of punishment. That the incident occurred in one of Calcutta's elite schools only underlines how backward the arena of education is in India. It is time educators began to educate themselves. Once they do this they will be surprised to discover how swiftly the cane is rendered superfluous.









Bombay and Hindi are curiously intertwined. A transactional form of Hindi acted as a lingua franca for the city's mixed population and supplied the city with a necessary ingredient for its cosmopolitanism. In turn the city helped sustain a Hindi film industry that shaped India's modern popular culture and made Bombay India's entertainment capital.


Besides Hindi films, the city and its lingua franca have also sustained more elaborate literary fictions. Paradoxically, some of the most vital fiction written by Indians in English has drawn upon this curious relationship between Bombay and its Hindi pidgin. Two novels that come to mind in this context are Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie and Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra.


It wouldn't be hard to show that Midnight's Children's Saleem Sinai and Sacred Games's Sartaj Singh (and even Ganesh Gaitonde) succeed as powerful protagonists because they're buoyed up by Bombay's Hindustani. Rushdie's novel and Chandra's are embedded in two different Bombays, the High Bombay of Midnight's Children made out of Warden Road, Breach Candy, the old Willingdon Club, Kemps Corner and Malabar Hill and the low Bombay of Sacred Games, made up of Kailashpadas and Gopalmaths, but the special big city frisson of both novels is underwritten by Bombay's Hindustani. Rushdie's success in claiming an Indian metropolis plausibly is connected to his ability to play with Hindustani (the Rani of Cooch Naheen, 'piece-of-the-moon' and so on) while Chandra routinely uses an untranslated, profane Hindustani to create gangland Bombay and achieve his violent effects. Even the Marathi-speaking characters in this novel, the mafioso, Ganesh Gaitonde, for example, or Katekar, the policeman, speak a patois made up of Hindustani obscenity and Hindi film songs.


Thus Katekar and his boss, Sartaj Singh, sitting in a car, consider the specialness of Bombay.


"It could happen. It did happen, and that's why people kept trying. It did happen. That was the dream, the big dream of Bombay. 'What was that song?' Sartaj said. 'You know the one that Shah Rukh sings, I can't remember the film….'


And they sang together: 'Sone ka mahal mile, barasne lagein heere moti…Bas itna sa khwaab hai.'


Katekar snorted and said, 'Correct, saab, but the big khwaab took his g**** finally.'" (p. 215)


Or on another occasion in the same novel, this is how Ganesh Gaitonde, gangland don, tells his story:


"'Get the money,' I said.


Two minutes later we were safely on S.V. Road. Inside the shopping bag there were three lakhs, and a new bottle of Halo anti-dandruff shampoo.


'Bhai, that's for me,' Chotta Badriya said. He was full of glee.


'Here,' I said, and tossed the bottle into his lap. 'You have dandruff?'


'No,' he said. 'And now I won't. I'll prevent it. You see?'


I had to laugh at that. 'You're one mad ch*****,' I said.


'I think I should grow my hair,' he said. 'I think long hair will look good on me.'


'Yes, yes, you'll look like bh****** Tarzan himself.'"


It's true that this particular literary trick can be overdone. From the interesting chutneyfication of Hindustani into English speech in Midnight's Children, Rushdie moves to self-parody in The Moor's Last Sigh. When Reverend Mother in Midnight's Children says, "Man without, whatsitsname, shame! What will you not do to bring disaster, whatsitsname, on our heads!" she's both in character and amusing. By The Moor's Last Sigh, though, Cochin's Jews and Christians are speaking the same dialect as Bombay's Parsis and Muslims. It's like watching Saleem Sinai grow up to become Hrundi V. Bakshi.


The reason Slumdog Millionaire isn't a good film about Bombay is because it mishandles Bombay's Hindi. Handling the language as an art director might, as authenticating décor, Danny Boyle makes the mistake of using Hindi to establish his realist credentials at the start of the film and then phases it out as his characters grow up. When you see Irrfan Khan, who plays a Bombay police inspector, interrogating Jamal in English, you know the film has broken down. A film about Bombay doesn't just need to look 'authentic'; it needs to sound plausible. To do a Bombay film without respecting the rules of its lingua franca, the contextual logic of its multilingualism, is to invite trouble.


But to return to Rushdie and Chandra: how does a colloquial Hindustani come to supply a desi vitality to these ambitious, pan-Indian English fictions? I think it's because the idea of Bombay (regardless of what its reality is, or has become) is the fantasy of radically different kinds of people rubbing along in a language made up for getting along in. Bambaiyya Hindi isn't simply a functional lingua franca, the act of speaking it a declaration of intent, a willingness to step back from the intimacy of a mother tongue to embrace the rough fellowship of a subliterate lingo.


The improvised oddness of Bombay's lingua franca is paralleled by the extemporized novelty of Indian nationalism. Both of these are responses to historical circumstances. Bombay's standing in India has something to do with the relative isolation of the city from its hinterland till the early 19th century. The fact that its indigenous commercial elites were more prosperous than their counterparts in Calcutta or Madras allowed them to play a dominant role in the life of the city. The fact that these elites came from outside the region in which the city was located meant that their cultural entrepreneurship was eclectic, shaped by the commercial considerations that needs must underwrite a pan-Indian popular theatre or cinema. The pidgin that became its language was a demotic medium which its linguistically mixed population could collectively breathe. An unlegislated lingo and a culturally uncommitted commercial elite drew a spectacular diversity of Indians to Bombay and together they created this protean city.


The Indian National Congress did something similar. Founded in 1885, at the height of the raj's power, it found a way of speaking for the nation despite the fact that it was, in its origins, a gathering of urban notables which met once a year and had no real claim to speak for the nation. The Congress got around its elitist, unrepresentative nature by claiming that it was a small menagerie that represented India's jungly diversity. It took the colonial census and said, look we have two of every kind on board: Muslims, Parsis, Hindus, Tamilians, Bengalis, even Englishmen. The nationalisms of Europe were founded on the assertion of homogeneity; but from its inception, the Congress's best leaders recognized that a subcontinent couldn't be contained within a homogenizing nationalism.

In their different ways, Bombay and the Congress accomplished similar things: they sidestepped the dangerous seduction of a single identity to create a culturally mongrel city and that unlikely thing, an ideologically pluralist nation. These weren't self-consciously theorized projects: they grew out of the ways in which Indians tried to turn colonial conjunctures to their own account. Neither achievement should be taken for granted and both could do with some celebration. Great colonial city though it was, in its canny cosmopolitanism, Bombay remains the republic's greatest metropolis. It isn't surprising that both filmi fictions and literary novels find in it a fertile field.








Want leave to watch the World Cup? No problem. There are doctors' prescriptions available for any kind of illness to enable you to take sick leave. A 'doctor' who posted an ad online told an interested customer that she could provide the diagnosis, medical reports from hospitals and discharge certificates, but the customer must have either a history or a symptom of some ailment such as backache, inflammation and so on. As a sample, she sent over diagnosis and sick-leave certificates from a Beijing hospital. She could not get these from hospitals of other cities, she said, but was confident that Beijing certificates would work everywhere!


The World Cup fever is on. Bars are vying with one another to lure viewers, specially among the high-spending expat community. Five-star hotels have 'guess the winner' competitions, lucky draws and free drinks equal to the number consumed. But most viewers flock to the 'Bar Streets', which don't need to offer any promotion. These open-air bars lining the entire street are always full, noisy and stay open till the wee hours.


China has a personal connection to the World Cup — those annoying vuvuzelas, which are blown all the time during the match, are almost all made in China. A handful of factories in two cities, flooded with orders since November, have just finished production. But though their production value increased by 50 per cent, they didn't make a killing — their profit margins are just 5 per cent with distributors getting most of the money. And, of course, most of the World Cup memorabilia have also been made here. Football jerseys are also selling like hot cakes here for 75 yuan a piece, accurate copies of the originals down to the last detail.


Favourite team


China qualified for the 2002 World Cup, but lost every match. Not surprisingly, the Chinese laugh derisively when they talk about their football team, in contrast to their pride in their country's performance in other sports. China failed to qualify for this World Cup, but 1,000 Chinese are in South Africa to cheer their old allies, the North Koreans, on tickets given by the North Korean Sports Committee in Beijing. These include Chinese actors, singers and sports officials who would otherwise have been there to cheer the Chinese team.


Chinese blogs are full of praise for the poorly-paid North Korean team, which looks under-nourished and which has to make do with just a few plain uniforms, neither from Nike nor from Adidas. So moved was one Chinese who lives in South Africa by the Koreans' grit that he rushed to Johannesburg, bought 10 cases of water, 20 Cokes, six boxes of chocolate, and two big boxes of Milo, and went to the hotel where the team was staying to give it to them. The team was said to be in a meeting and hence could not meet him; however, he left the stuff there.


What caught the Chinese viewers' fancy, apart from the Koreans' fighting spirit, was the image of the Korean star footballer, Jong Tae-Se, crying as the Korean national anthem was being played. Jong lives in Japan, yet chose to play for his own poorer country, said the Chinese bloggers. A few did speculate that Jong's patriotic tears could be ascribed to the fact that he didn't have to suffer in his own "inhuman" country, with its "empty belly revolution".

Wrote one: "I wish them the best, hope they won't be punished to coal mining if they play a bit better, that during their leisure time they can spend it with the colourful world and its colourful people, so that they will know that the people of other countries actually have good lives, and don't need their liberation, that they should be more concerned with their own country's suffering people.''







Delhi University has been in the news again, and not for the most glorious of reasons. In a dug-up, dust-choked, rubble-ravaged campus, what lies exposed is not merely poor sanitary infrastructure, but dangerous radioactive substances carelessly strewn around by DU's prestigious science departments. The university's most significant voice, its vice-chancellor (who is hell-bent on leaving his profile indelibly stamped on its history as he marks his last days in office), is carelessly dismissive about the terror of cobalt on campus — so what if it killed a man or two? — and far more intent, it appears, in crippling the university with academic structures and programmes that are untenable and unbelievably un-visionary. The Chain of Being is under attack at DU: while the science departments destroy humans who roam its spaces, our scientific-minded VC (proud that he last read a work of fiction in the 7th grade) is out to demolish the humanities.


In the current climate we are compelled to think about English studies anew — as a remarkable connection between bureaucratization of the university and a decided anti-humanities ideology begins to emerge from the various administrative bodies that dictate its present and future. Delhi University is poised to introduce a semester system in a hurried and ad hoc fashion across its 80-plus undergraduate colleges, and the question of the place of English in the curriculum catapults to the forefront: English has a peculiar position in the university because of its paradoxical status — utterly sexy, and yet increasingly devalued — through a desire to separate it from a larger vision of English studies, and to redraw it as a particular kind of language training. Communication skills become its raison d'être then, as if no other intellectual, political and emotional engagement with its literature is necessary.


Our challenge now is not to discount the market needs that may drive a discipline to reconceptualize itself, but to find a way in which that training can be imparted which inspires and elicits a total engagement with the subject, so that the skills acquired are far greater than communicative ones. The present strength of English studies is derived from the enlargement of this humanist ideal to ingest within it the complexities of other related disciplines — comparative literature, translation and culture studies, the conglomeration to be imbibed with a certain rigour that includes a combination of thinking and writing skills: imagination, creativity, emotional investment, analysis, clarity of thought and expression, poise, reflection.


Some of us in DU's department of English have been thinking seriously about these threats to the sinews of English studies and of ways to refashion ourselves so that, while we do not lose sight of the ground realities and demands upon the discipline, we always offer the student the possibility of getting something far more valuable than base competence out of English studies. He has the final choice of making of that training what he will. The strength of the discipline lies, after all, in its boundaries that are porous — but we need to take its benefits and not allow others to take advantage of this porosity.


Our university administration's assault on English studies has been carefully calibrated. In 2007, the current vice-chancellor set up the Institute of Life Long Learning in DU, primarily to integrate information and communication technologies with its educational system. Flush with governmental funds, the ILLL has faculty on deputation from various departments and colleges of DU. The initial mandate seemed to be capacity-building of ICT skills in teachers and conducting various faculty-development and student's-career-oriented programmes. It appeared to be staking a space in continuing education, as in any other university around the world.

What the university administration is doing instead is using this institute to peddle its own versions of dumbed-down and diluted courses in different subjects. There is a career to be made at ILLL, for it is institutes such as this one that are symptomatic of a much larger malaise: that of helping to shrink excellence in higher education by means of providing pragmatic, solution-based information nuggets in various disciplines. In English studies, the application of such crass utilitarian principles means a complete debunking of the literary component and a half-hearted ad hocism in language-learning.


The idea of reforming departments of English is not new; much of it comes from inside the whale, so to speak. As a reaction to new criticism, the foremost casualties were aesthetics, classics and philosophy: but surely one needs to continue to redefine politics, history and societal study in culture in tandem with texts and prints, narrations and motivations, ideas of lucidity and imagination? From our current location, therefore, can we define the idea of the literary from a fresh perspective? As scholars, pedagogues and lovers of art and literature, we owe this to ourselves. We need to conceptually and pragmatically reposition our trade if we are to stand up to this marauding band of mediocrity. Of course, to rethink the idea of the literary is to also invest seriously in the cultural and the interdisciplinary, rather than going back to any pristine and separate realm of literariness per se — and to forge a synthesis of the workable, practical demands of a job-market along with a sustained and engaged interest in the discipline of English studies in its complexity, its enabling and exciting confusions, and its acuity.


The first stop is to rework the whole notion of the aesthetic, keeping in mind our locational space in India — for there is a conservative attempt to revive certain old aesthetic ideals in order to bypass the gains of the last few decades. One way is to work on the idea of a modern aesthetic sensibility that is deeply conscious of expression, representation and the nature of art objects, and yet is severely referential and intellectual. It is by connecting the two that one can work with the materiality of artistic production, reception and dissemination. What is required is a serious engagement with aesthetic interestedness, in the materiality of the aesthetic craft and imagination. Each area of study, then, must be complemented by historical contextualization; a strong notion of transactional, dynamic exchange would be inbuilt in such historicizing. The literary also means a robust comprehension and engagement with the oral, visual and the performative along with an investment in print and textual cultures. The idea of competence in language ought to be seen as a vital part of this larger project of literary incisiveness and sensitivity.


There can be no denying that English studies is a vital component of the humanities. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the VC and his team have been especially gunning for it in their marketable makeover of DU. Larger directives from the ministry of human resource development and the University Grants Commission feed into an ideology that undermines the worth of the Arts in a mindless pursuit of academic training that will yield fat salaries and impressive corporate designations. As a Central university squirming constantly under the beady gaze of the education and culture ministry, subject to its whims as well as its fancies (we do not deny the benefits we derive from our positioning, in terms of pocket and prestige), DU is uniquely poised to lead the higher education system of the country into rapid-fire rise or ruin both in the short and long haul of academic reform. It is indeed unfortunate that the team at our helm is short-sighted enough to believe that a university can be impelled toward success by short-changing its greater humanitarian vision.


The authors teach in the department of English at Delhi University







Does English need a body to rule what is correct and what not, like the Académie française? I doubt it. But a group called the Queen's English Society thinks so, and has launched its "English Academy". A newspaper report of this moved readers to derision. Unjustly, I'd say. The idea may be wrong in principle, and anyway doomed to failure: even highly literate Frenchmen spatter their talk with 'Franglais', slang words and worse grammar. But it's not absurd. My own doubts, based on an accompanying article from the QES's acting chairman, were of a different sort.


She lamented, inter alia, that "people don't seem to know about tenses any more... We hear we was a lot." So we do, though not only recently: we wuz robbed entered print after a boxing match in 1932. But if the lady really thinks this error has anything to do with tenses, she am talking through her hat: we is would be just as wrong. The error is solely one of the misconjugation of the verb to be. Could she really think so? Had the paper maybe summarized a phone call and stuck her byline on its text? No, a QES spokesman told me sharply: "She's capable of writing", the views were indeed hers.


If so, I began to wonder, what qualifications has the QES to instruct the rest of us? Certainly not modesty. "The QES aims to establish itself as an authoritative regulator and reference for the English language," says its website. And already its Academy "constitutes a site that no-one can afford to ignore and which everyone needs to draw upon." Indeed? Roll over, you heirs of Shakespeare and Dickens, from now on you need help from a body that seemingly can't tell its tenses from its toenails.


OK, that's not fair: its website — almost all that its "academy" now amounts to — offers lots of sound advice. Sound, but always backward-looking. The QES thinks useful Ms a "fad" word. It ticks off the mother who tells the kid You can only eat three cakes. She must say You can eat only three cakes. True in pedantry, false of real English. There's worse than that. If a name ends in s, for of James (eg), should one write James' or James's? "It seems to be a matter of taste." Indeed if the next words are, say, serious suspicions, full of s-sounds, the QES thinks James' definitely right. Nonsense. Only the -s's form is correct, period (except in Jesus' and for some ancient names).


As for style, choose between Footballers make a lot of money, but the best-known ones make the most and Footballers are well remunerated, but especially so the better-known among them. The QES thinks the second version "so much more elegant". Remunerated? George Orwell must be turning in his grave.


And the QES is to teach us all English? Mind you, we need that, don't we? Without "specialist training in English", even highly educated folk may be brilliant in their own fields, "but heaven help them (or us) if they have to set their wisdom down in writing or deliver a speech... They frequently say what they do not mean..." etc. As a reporter, I read, heard or interviewed hundreds of such people. This tosh was true of maybe one in fifty.


And if English is not their country's native tongue, or at least an official or nationwide one, "they" — the QES plainly means a German — "will proudly tell you that 'I heff for six muns English in Bournmaous studied and vos topp off mine class. Don't vurry viz zee interpreter, mine English is poerfekt.'" And nothing will convince them otherwise. The QES Academy could certainly help them — "if only they were not so arrogant." Arrogant? Now who's talking? Many Germans in fact speak fluent English; I've never met one who thought his was perfect.


Does the QES even practise what it preaches? Study this. We are hoping to put the QES on the screens and in the minds of thousands, if not millions of people... "We really do have something to be proud of, in our Society and it's well worth shouting about" said the QES webmaster. Our 'subject' and indeed our stated aims, to halt the decline in standards in the use of English, is probably viewed by many if not most people, as being dry, academic... The knowledge that within these pages, is the first English Academy and that it is freely accessible to all, is quite astonishing, despite the fact that we are several centuries behind the Florentines, the Spanish and the French, in setting up such an entity."


That puff includes one typo (aims), one missing quote mark, three missing commas, five superfluous ones and a final sentence as muddled in sense as in verbiage and punctuation. And these folk aspire to regulate our language! It is indeed much misused. An academy might help, though god knows how it would handle American, Indian and other Englishes. But not, please, a self-appointed bunch of conceited, sneery nostalgics, ever ready to mock other people's errors, but quite capable of their own. As we are all — but not many of us claim to be an "academy".






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





It does seem that the international community will not meet its Millennium Development Goals of halving the number of hungry in the world by the 2015 deadline. According to a UN report assessing progress in tackling hunger and other problems over the past decade, it appears that the extent of hunger in South Asia is as serious as it was in 1990, which means that the array of programmes aimed at halving global hunger have failed to make a dent on, let alone halve the hunger problem. In fact the extent of hunger seems to have increased in recent years. The UN report observes that while global food availability was quite good in 2008, rising food prices alongside growing unemployment during the recession put food beyond the reach of millions across the world. In fact the number of hungry crossed a billion last year. The MDGs were jointly agreed to by 147 countries in 2000. The goals included halving poverty and hunger, reducing disease and maternal and child mortality, achieving universal primary education, improving access to clean water and sanitation and so on. But with five years to go for the deadline, it seems that several of these goals will not be met.  Progress over the past decade indicates that the world will not succeed in cutting under-5 mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-fourths by 2015.

The world's poor performance in reducing poverty and hunger while disappointing, should not lead to despair. It is not too late. We have a little over four years left to meet the MDG deadline. Accelerated efforts can still enable governments to fulfil the promises they made a decade ago. If the welfare of the masses, rather than growth rates and the health of the stock markets becomes the priority of governments, it is possible to make poverty and hunger history.

There is more that the world's rich can do. At its annual summit last year, the G8 pledged $20 billion over three years to help poor countries end hunger. This they said would be done by supporting agriculture. But a year on, it is unclear whether these promises have been fulfiled. It appears that money has gone to support bio fuel production and other non-food agricultural activity that does not result in putting food in the mouths of hungry children. At the upcoming G8 summit, leaders must go beyond making promises. They should clarify how their funding will reduce hunger.







A welcome feature of the minimum support prices of various kharif crops announced by the government is the big increase in the prices of pulses. While the Agricultural Costs and Prices Committee had recommended major increases in the prices of pulses, the government has gone beyond them and effected increases to the tune of 15-30 per cent. This might point to a conscious policy of encouraging pulses production through promise of high returns for farmers. It makes sense in the context of the prime minister's recent call to double farm growth from 2 per cent to 4 per cent to ensure more stable economic growth, increased food security and to serve the consumption needs of an increasing population.

Pulses form an important part of nutritional requirement and their consumption has been increasing with the growth of the middle class. India is the largest producer, consumer and importer of pulses. It is because of the steep rise in consumption that pulse prices have registered the maximum increase among food items and accounted for the high food inflation. The high MSP are intended to increase the acreage of pulse cultivation. Though prices have been steadily going up in the past the increase in acreage has not been substantial. The estimated production in the current season is at about 14.8 million tonnes, but 4 million tonnes have to be imported.  Production is not very elastic in India and therefore the support given to cultivation through higher prices can be expected to have only medium or long term impact.

The announcement has been delayed this year too and had it come before the onset of the monsoon and before the farmers started their farming operations, it might have had a better impact. Since the market prices of pulses are already higher than the announced prices they may not change the price situation immediately. Unlike food grains, pulses are not procured by government agencies. If the government starts procurement it can act as a buffer against runaway price increases. They should also be distributed through the public distribution system. Pulse cultivation should receive a boost with better research support, and more effective marketing arrangements. A higher MSP alone will not help. There is no major increase in the MSP of food grains and oils seeds. Oils seeds cultivation also deserves better encouragement.







Often derided as a 'failing state,' Pakistan presses ahead with a foreign policy agenda that meets the country's national priorities.


The Pakistani diplomacy has been presenting some stunning success stories. It is coolly cruising toward a 'nuclear deal' with China. The deal doesn't involve any Hyde Act prescribing the contours of Pakistan's Iran policy or a Nuclear Liability Bill freeing Beijing of culpability for faulty performance.

Nor has Pakistan agreed to have a 'minimum deterrent' or shown willingness to cap its inventory of nuclear weapons already exceeding India's. It seems no power on earth can stop Pakistan getting a 'waiver' from the Nuclear Supply Group (NSG). Not even the United States.

Compare it to how the UPA government tied itself in knots to conclude a nuclear deal with the US. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh staked the survival of his government and resorted to dubious methods to re-charter the course of coalition politics for reaching his destination. He is still to explain his failure to fulfil his assurances to parliament. Of course, the ENR technology will not flow to India.

Why is Pakistani diplomacy doing so well? The army chief Pervez Kayani has just concluded a 5-day visit to China, which raises Sino-Pak defence cooperation to new heights. Yet, Islamabad is preparing for the second round of the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue for which secretary of state Hillary Clinton is visiting Pakistan next month.

Hardly three months after the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue in Washington, the Obama administration is sitting down with the Pakistani leadership — civilian and military — for another round of high-voltage diplomacy. Against this backdrop, Kayani's visit to Beijing underscores that Islamabad is not lacking in foreign-policy options if the Obama administration resuscitates the Bush-era doctrine pampering India's regional vanities.

The self-assuredness of Pakistani diplomacy is such that on the eve of the strategic dialogue with the US, Islamabad ambled across the final lap of negotiations to sign an agreement with Tehran over a $7 billion gas pipeline from Iran. It was done with such manifestly cavalier abandon. The agreement came hot on the heels of the latest UN sanctions against Iran that the Obama administration robustly pushed through.

Why is it that Indian diplomacy chooses to settle for vacuous rhetoric and grandstanding in the ties with the US — a gala state dinner for Singh or an elegant pair of gold cuff links for external affairs minister S M Krishna? India lives in its region and can the US ensure its preeminence?

Our smaller western neighbour, which we often deride as a 'failing state,' presses ahead with a purposive foreign policy agenda that meets the country's national priorities of energy security. The Iran gas pipeline project throws into relief the dismal truth that India lacks a foreign policy that serves its national objectives of growth and development.

Spin masters

Every time the subject comes up, the spin masters serving the establishment come up with some lame excuse or the other. The latest thesis is that India could be 'floating on gas reserves' and might indeed be 'energy-secure.' True, Reliance is developing new gas fields under lucrative pricing conditions provided by the government and competing Iranian gas imports are, arguably, best avoided. But that has nothing to do with the country's energy security as such. An honest discussion about the cost of Iranian gas becomes practically impossible, given the opaqueness of the government's pricing policy.


Then, there is shale gas, which is lately touted by our spin masters as a promising energy source 'likely to overtake' — in the womb of time — both conventional gas as well as liquid fuels. Unsurprisingly, Reliance bets on shale gas. And needless to say, shale gas extraction, which involves tapping natural gas trapped between layers of shale rock, requires latest American technology and the Reliance is currently buying into it in a significant way.

Of course, Reliance's emergence as a 'diversified, vertically integrated player' in the energy sector could be a matter of national pride. But can national pride be equated with the government's energy security policy? The heart of the matter is that India needs both the Reliance fuelling wealth as well as Iran's fabulous South Pars gas fields feeding the gargantuan Indian economy for decades to come.

Quite obviously, the US disfavours Iranian gas feeding the Indian market on a long-term footing as it could deprive the Big Oil of lucrative business. Two, the US seeks to block Iranian energy exports until such time as US-Iran normalisation materialises. Three, the US is fundamentally opposed to the emergence of an Asian energy grid involving Iran, Pakistan, India and China, which would have potentially far-reaching strategic implications for American global strategy.

The Indian leadership has failed to show the transparency that a 'failing state' like Pakistan possesses in defining its hardcore national interests vis-à-vis Iran. Pakistan also has a political elite that is corrupt and which may harbour a sense of vulnerability to American pressure.

But what distinguishes its foreign-policy making is that the GHQ in Rawalpindi as the custodian of national interests, draws the bottom line. Which, in turn, enables Pakistani diplomacy to turn to its advantage the growing Sino-American rivalries in the central, south and west Asian regions.

Ironically, the Obama administration doesn't object to Pakistan's independent foreign policy. Nor does it seem to mind if Pakistan disagrees with its agenda towards the situation around Iran. The Indian leadership's fear psychosis is clearly unwarranted.

(The writer is a former diplomat)








Activists are deter-mined to carry on with their drive until Israel capitulates to their demand.


Two boats carrying women activists and humanitarian aid are poised to set sail from Lebanon for Gaza in spite of Israel's threats to forcibly prevent them from breaking through Israel's blockade of the besieged coastal enclave. Other ships have been bought and loaded with urgently needed supplies in Europe and elsewhere with the aim of challenging Israel's policy of isolating Gaza and depriving its 1.5 million people of a decent life.

These vessels are being prepared for the journey in spite of the fatal interdiction by the Israeli navy of a flotilla of six ships on May 31. When Israeli commandos boarded the ships at four in the morning, Turkish activists on an Istanbul cruise ship resisted the raiders. Nine were killed, 36 injured and nearly 700 detained and deported. There was a loud chorus of international disapproval of Israel's heavy-handed military response to the flotilla and Israel was compelled by pressure from the US and Europe to ease its blockade by allowing all foodstuff and a limited amount of construction materials into Gaza.

The Free Gaza movement which initiated the expanding blockade-busting campaign has denounced Israel's proposal. The UN and certain governments are also demanding the total lifting of the blockade and the free movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza. Free Gaza and its camp followers are determined to carry on with their drive to free Gaza until Israel capitulates.

Partial victory

Nevertheless, Israel's decision to ease its blockade is a partial victory for the Free Gaza movement, for concerned individuals and for civil society organisations round the world. A handful of peace activists in lifornia had the idea of sending boats to Gaza in 2006.

Their aim was to open the enclave to maritime trade and sea travel for its citizens. This group swelled through internet contacts with like-minded individuals elsewhere in the US, Palestine, Greece, Britain, Sweden, and Germany, transforming Free Gaza into an international human rights enterprise endorsed by Nobel Peace Prize laureates Desmond Tutu of South Africa and Mairead Maguire of Ireland. Mahathir Mohamad, former premier of Malaysia, sponsored three ships in the flotilla.

Free Gaza raised some $3,00,000 to purchase their first vessels, repair and equip them and to hire captains and seamen ready to make the risky voyage. Greta Berlin, one of the founders of Free Gaza, told Deccan Herald, "When we started we knew nothing about boats, about seafaring, regulations. We went in at the deep end. We made many mistakes and we are still learning."

Free Gaza lifted the spirits of Gazans and made media headlines round the globe on August 23, 2008, with its first successful voyage from Cyprus to Gaza in two fragile Greek fishing vessels. This venture was followed by four further blockade-busting sailings. But since Israel conducted its military offensive against Gaza in late 2008 early 2009, no Free Gaza boats have made it through the blockade. One was rammed and eventually sank in port, one turned back due to threats, and eight have been boarded at sea, commandeered, taken to Ashdod port, and held by Israel.

During this period, the Israeli siege and blockade not only continued but tightened. By the time the Free Gaza flotilla of six boats made its failed attempt to reach Gaza at the end of May, Israel was allowing only 17 per cent of the volume of goods into Gaza in comparison with the amount entering before the siege took hold in early 2006.  This siege was progressively imposed after Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian legislature in the election of January that year.

Israel's objective is to squeeze the people of Gaza economically so that they would deprive Hamas, the largest party in parliament, of its right to form a government and, ultimately, drive Hamas from power.

Hamas is unacceptable to Israel because it refuses to recognise its 'right to exist', a 'right' accorded to no other state in the world. But Israel seeks such recognition from Palestinians, the people whose land Israel occupies, because this would confer political and moral legitimacy on Israel and deprive the Palestinians of their right to resist occupation.

As long as Hamas and other Palestinian groups stand against such recognition, Israel feels its case for legitimacy is questioned.

Instead of bringing about its ouster, Israel's policy has strengthened Hamas as well as the will of Gazans to stand against the siege and blockade in spite of deprivation and despair over their lack of a future. Israel's policy has also been extremely counter-productive on the international level as it has alienated many people who were formerly supportive of Israel's stand on Gaza or activated people who were not interested in the issue. The attack on the Turkish ship has, in particular, planted the seeds of Free Gaza franchises the world over.






Call it by any name, it’s a nightmare for the common man.


It's that time of the year again in Bengalooru. The sun makes a brief appearance giving a semblance of a hesitant visitor. The wind and the rains engage in a merry dance playing havoc with the environment. On the streets in the morning, schoolchildren wait for their bus braving the cold while shivering in their cardigans and mufflers. Visiting rooms in hospitals are inundated with patients.

The onset of monsoon unearths every virus known to man. Fresh entrants on the bacterial scene are prodded and analysed in research laboratories. Call it dengue, chikungunya or just the plain old virus, it's still a nightmare for the common man.

When I go to the doctor sniffling and coughing, he writes down a prescription and mumbles something. "What's that?" I croak aloud unable to hear him as my ears are completely clogged up. "Take a weekend break to Mahabalipuram — clears up your sinuses in no time," he repeats without batting an eyelid. For a few seconds, I'm not sure whether he's joking. But he's dead serious.

Back home, I make a quick call to my cousin in Chennai. "This heat is unbearable. I'm coming there for the weekend!" she announces before I have a chance to explain the reason for my call. When I try to talk her out of it, she is adamant. "I'd prefer rains any day over this enervating heat. I sweat all day and am totally drained in a few hours after I wake up in the morning. You don't know how lucky you are!" I bite my tongue resisting the urge to take umbrage at her comment. When I feebly try to come up with a rejoinder, I end up in a paroxysm of coughing. "Oh, you have a nasty cough. What did the doctor say?" I am tempted to give a blow by blow description of my visit to the doctor but my cousin is already on travel mode.
In earlier trips to her house in Chennai in summer, I often ended up looking like a dried prune by the end of the day. When I bitterly complained about the weather, my cousin would look askance and say, "It's all in the mind, dear" as she sailed through her household chores. The cheerful smile on her face with the sweat glistening on her brow simply added to my ire. I could hardly wait to get on that train then to salubrious Bengalooru. The wheel had indeed come a full circle.








Any Knesset deliberation which somehow touches on the national budget offers a matchless occasion for shrill and showy free-for-alls. But, remarkably, there was little media resonance to the Knesset's decision this week that the country's next budget, for 2011-12, will also be a two-year one. The biennial budget bill passed by a hefty 63-32 majority.

To be sure, there was great sound and fury during the plenum debate. Former Finance Minister Ronnie Bar- On (Kadima) went as far as to brand the extended budget "sabotage against democracy." Labor's Shelly Yacimovich protested that "this government turns Israel into the world's guinea-pig only in order to prolong the coalition's lifespan."


Anti-extension MKs correctly note that Israel is the first country to opt for a longer-term budget and that the precedent – the 2009-2010 budget – was at the time hyped as an ad hoc emergency measure. The fact that the government chooses to go down the same path yet again, it is argued by these critics, is an abuse, demonstrating that in Israel there is nothing as permanent as something temporary.

The first two-year budget was instituted by the government when it took office in 2009, after inheriting a budgetless economy during the worst global economic crisis in decades. Yet that budget, under which we still operate, has indisputably served the country well, earning Israel numerous accolades, not least from the OECD. The latest kudos came from International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dr. Dominique Strauss- Kahn, who lauded "the original idea of a biennial budget.

These are exactly the kind of initiatives capable of improving the economic situation."

Strauss-Kahn advises the same for others as well, explaining that it "helps stability and long-term planning.

Since a transition to biennial budgets might help economic performance of other countries, we will recommend IMF members to adopt it."

Like Strauss-Khan, Peter Doyle, head of a recent IMF mission to Israel, considers the longer-duration budget to be "integral to the success of the new fiscal rule… It will avoid the burden of annual budget negotiations and thereby allow greater focus on efficient implementation of expenditure policies."

Significantly, both the IMF and OECD approve of the Israeli innovation despite the admitted inbuilt risk that the longer the budget's applicability, the lower its flexibility.

At times of drastic changes, it might conceivably prove more difficult to incorporate important adjustments. Yet such corrections would be equally vital in the event of crises triggered during a one-year budget. In any contingency, tools for modification always exist. Israel managed throughout most of 2009 on its 2008 budget configurations, devised long before the worldwide tumult.

THE MORE trenchant argument against biennial budgets is that they inherently strengthen the executive branch, weaken the legislative branch and hence upset the delicate political equilibrium. Extended budgets do theoretically rob parliamentary pressure groups of an entire year's worth of political capital, which they rake in as each budget- season reaches its springtime climax. In the Israeli context, however, this might not be a bad thing. In fact, it may be eminently desirable.

It is here, indeed, that the core cause for harsh criticism from certain, hardly disinterested, political quarters lies.

The two-year budget plainly deprives politicians of clout.

They lose half their ability to protest – instead of yearly critiques, they are reduced to a two-year cycle.

Budget-time offers an incomparable opportunity, bitter experience has shown, for unabashed political blackmail, predicated on the premise that no government can lift more than its political weight. A crazy-quilt coalition cannot dismiss the interests of its components. This year, too, when the new budget is put together and eventually submitted for parliamentary approval, we can expect the familiar pandemonium, the red-herrings, the outrageous extortion, the threats and the inevitable real and/or apparent compromises.

However, if the double-duration budget eventually passes, we will be spared similar hijinks the following year.

Industrial quiet will be assured and time will be secured for less jittery economic management.

Plainly put, political tugs-of-war are detrimental to the national economy. The less frequent the tussles, the better off we are. Economically speaking, greater coalition stability, regardless of whose coalition it is, is a good thing.








If we forcibly stop the ships, it'll be an even greater victory for the Islamists and an even worse humiliation for Israel.


The Iranians say the ship Infants of Gaza is due to sail on Sunday, carrying humanitarian aid and 10 pro- Palestinian activists to the Gazan shore.

The Lebanese say two more relief ships, one of them carrying just women passengers, will leave soon for Cyprus and go on from there to Gaza.

Israel has sworn to stop the ships, saying Gaza cannot become an "Iranian port."

Navy commandos are preparing to face suicide bombers.

I feel another fiasco in the making, only this time we're in much worse shape because we're still reeling from the one with the Mavi Marmara. So if these Iranian and Lebanese ships come sailing toward Gaza, I say we let them through.

It'll be a victory for Iran, Lebanon and Hamas and a humiliation for Israel, as well as for the moderate West Bank Palestinians. The problem is that if we forcibly stop the ships, especially if there's bloodshed, which there well may be, it'll be an even greater victory for the Islamists and an even worse humiliation for Israel and the West Bankers. There's a clear downside to ending the blockade, but there's no future at all in maintaining it.

THE FOLKS on the flotillas have discovered our weak spot. They're attacking us at our least defensible point – our control over the Palestinians and their coast in Gaza, which the world opposes. These flotillas are turning our own military power against us. There are more relief ships getting ready to go to Gaza than there are captains to steer them – and the passengers will be not only Islamists, but also many decent, reasonable people, including Jews, who believe they're doing what's best for Palestinians and Israelis both.

"The experience of the Free Gaza Movement over the past few years, which sent half a dozen boat expeditions to deliver humanitarian aid to Gazans, suggests to many that in-your-face confrontation is the most effective way to challenge Israel and force it to change its policies," Rami Khouri, the liberal editor-at-large of Lebanon's Daily Star, wrote on Wednesday. "I suspect that the Free Gaza Movement's siege-breaking ships will go down in modern history as critical elements in the struggle for justice in Palestine, aiming for conditions that allow Jews, Christians and Muslims... to live in this land with equal rights."

I seriously doubt that the Iranian and Lebanese ships will be carrying weapons of war to Gaza; their sponsors say they're sending humanitarian aid, and it would be a huge embarrassment for them to be caught red-handed by Israel, and they know there's a very good chance they'll be caught. So in all likelihood the ships' cargo will make life a little less harsh for Gazan civilians without making Hamas and the other terrorists there stronger militarily.

It's not worth stopping them, not at the price of another political debacle and another round of bloodshed. Wars have started over much less, and I don't think we want to go to war over our so-called right to blockade Gaza.

And if this means that future ships will be bringing weapons of war to Hamas? The terrorists are already bringing in thousands of long-range rockets through the tunnels. We have to face the fact that if we go on putting our knee in the Palestinians' spine, sooner or later we're going to face new wars in Gaza and the West Bank, and we will be fighting from an ever-declining political position. The only way to avoid such a future is by ending the occupation completely.

I wish it could be done in a way that didn't enhance Hamas's prestige, that instead strengthened West Bank leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, but the current Israeli government is too arrogant for that.

Still, Abbas's Fatah movement [to which Fayyad has never belonged] bears at least as much blame for Hamas's rise. If Fatah had run the West Bank and Gaza decently instead of like a trigger-happy mafia all those years, Hamas never could have become so popular.

Meanwhile, we're left trying to convince the world that the people behind these flotillas are Islamic terrorists who want to destroy Israel. Over and over, without end, we run the videos of the mob on the Mavi Marmara attacking our paint-gun-armed commandos with metal rods and knives.

The problem with Israel's case, though, is that in view of the balance of power, these Turkish IHH guys were David and the Israel Navy was Goliath. It's hard for people to side with Goliath, even if this particular David happens to be a jihadist. It's even harder when the IHH's David isn't flying the flag of jihad, but the flag of freedom for Gaza, which, after all, is unfree.

OUR NEW PR line is that since we now allow virtually unlimited civilian goods to pass into Gaza by land, we can convince the world of our right to go on blockading Gaza by sea.

"We have taken away from Hamas the ability to blame Israel for harming the civilian population, and have received international legitimacy for continuing the security blockade of Hamas," declared Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

First of all, Netanyahu can call it a blockade of Hamas, but it's also a blockade of the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million people. Second, the ships coming from Iran and Lebanon will almost certainly be carrying humanitarian aid alone. Third, Israelis may believe that everything's fine in Gaza now that coriander, pasta, etc. are coming in, but the rest of the world knows Gaza is still a horribly deprived, war-ravaged country that needs all the help it can get. Fourth, since Israelis don't put much faith in Netanyahu's word these days, nor in the word of anybody else in the government, why should foreigners believe Israel has stopped harming Gaza's civilian population? There's one more reason I want Israel to let the ships through: I'd feel safer if this government, as a matter of principle, tried to take as little action as possible. On everything, even the little things, but certainly on something with as much potential for catastrophe as a confrontation at sea with ships from Iran and Lebanon.

The idea of this government deciding matters of life and death, of war and peace – if that doesn't scare you, it should.








Netanyahu has a new opportunity when he comes to Washington: To take Ehud Barak's counsel to bring with him a 'daring and assertive political initiative.'


Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu bought his ticket to Washington next weekend with a revised Gaza blockade policy that won kudos from its coauthors, President Barack Obama and Quartet special Mideast envoy Tony Blair.

But before Netanyahu arrives, the king of Saudi Arabia will drop by the Oval Office to discuss the peace process almost exactly a year after he flatly rebuffed a request from Obama – who'd made a special trip to Riyadh – for steps to encourage Israeli flexibility in peace talks. King Abdullah said he'd done enough by publishing a Saudi peace plan he's done nothing to advance and instead demanded Obama pressure Israel to endorse it. This week he may tell Obama to lean harder on Israel or he'll withdraw the offer.

Let's hope that this time Obama reminds him that Saudi Arabia needs the American security umbrella (remember the first Gulf War?) a lot more than we need its oil. And that peace between Israel and its neighbors is vital to the security of Saudi Arabia, which faces the threat of a nuclear Iran across the Gulf.

IRAN TOPS Netanyahu's agenda as Israelis worry the West is spinning its wheels while the ayatollahs are spinning their centrifuges and turning out highly enriched uranium.

Sanctions are fine, but so far ineffective. After years of threats by the Bush and Obama administrations that we will not permit Iran to build nukes, the truth is Iran is closer than ever and no one has a peaceful way to stop it.

The peace process heads Obama's to-do list and he will be looking for Netanyahu to take the advice of his partner and defense minister, Ehud Barak, who urged him to take to Washington a "daring and assertive political initiative."

But that's not Bibi's style. In revising the Gaza blockade, as with endorsing the twostate solution and instituting a (partial) settlement freeze, he ultimately did the right thing but only after exhausting every alternative, and then he wonders why he didn't get the credit he felt he deserved.

A guy with an MBA from MIT should know better.

He has a new opportunity when he comes to Washington next month to take Ehud Barak's counsel. Israel's – and Netanyahu's – international stature is as low as it has been in many years; he has an chance to reverse the slide and become a historic peacemaker, not an epic obstructer.

A big advantage of an Israeli initiative is that it won't be written in the White House, at the UN, in Ramallah or in Riyadh. There's an axiom on Capitol Hill that the advantage goes to whoever writes the first draft.

After a year of trading sharp elbow jabs, Obama and Netanyahu figured out they could achieve more with a less confrontational approach and by working out their difference in private instead of the public arena.

Their July 6 meeting has been dubbed the kiss-and-make-up session, complete with photo-op and news conference.

NETANYAHU AND Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are both convinced the other one is not serious, but neither one has shown the courage to call the other's bluff.

The test will come in moving from indirect talks to face-to-face negotiations.

Both Obama and Netanyahu want that to happen quickly but Abbas, who makes no secret that he would prefer Obama do his negotiating for him, is holding out. He's dropped his original demand for a total settlement freeze and is insisting on "substantive progress" in the current phase, something he'll want Obama to certify to give him cover back home for dropping his old demands.

Obama has several reasons to want direct talks to begin by October. Abbas's mandate from his brethren for negotiations expires this fall at about the same time as Netanyahu's 10-month partial moratorium on settlement construction. Obama wants both to continue.

Much of the improvement in relations could vanish if Netanyahu allows the mayor of Jerusalem to go ahead with the demolition of 22 Arab homes to make way for a tourism center near the Old City.

US support for Israel is an issue in some House and Senate races this fall, and progress on the peace front could help Democrats in fund-raising and vote-getting, and allow Obama to show his policies are working and good for Israel.

Netanyahu is expected to invite Obama to visit, and the president is thinking of going in October, possibly to kick off the face-to-face talks, and to take his case for peace directly to the Israeli people. It is a trip long overdue.

Next month's Oval Office meeting will set the stage for what could be a more productive relationship between wary US and Israeli leaders; the earlier US-Saudi encounter will hopefully bolster a regional climate that, until now, has seen the Saudis contribute little more than pious lip service.







At the White House next month, the PM must inform the administration which areas are negotiable, while drawing red lines.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is likely to receive a red carpet reception from President Barack Obama at the White House combined with a reaffirmation about the "unshakeable US-Israel alliance." However we should not delude ourselves. It is clear that Obama's recent charm campaign was primarily in response to pressure from the American people and in particular from Jewish Democratic supporters shocked into action by the administration's increasingly negative approach toward Israel and the crass reception accorded to Netanyahu during his last visit.

The bonhomie was intended to assuage domestic anger to avert loss of votes and funding for the forthcoming congressional elections. Even though administration officials, including Rahm Emanuel, conceded that they "had screwed up the messaging" and are unlikely to repeat their previous boorish humiliation of Israel, there are no signs that the US administration is about to modify its policy.

TWO RECENT events reaffirm this. The greatest disappointment was the US betrayal at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference. Obama reneged on his promise to maintain the policy of former US administrations and continue to veto repeated Arab efforts to isolate Israel at these conferences. He endorsed a resolution which omitted any mention of Iran but specifically targeted Israel, demanding that it sign the NPT and submit to inspections of its facilities. While Obama subsequently disingenuously shed crocodile tears expressing disappointment that Israel had been singled out, his willingness to sacrifice the Jewish state on such a crucial security issue heightened concerns that the US is no longer a reliable ally.

In the aftermath of the vehement international condemnation following the Gaza flotilla interception, Obama made little effort to curb the anti-Israel hysteria.

Instead, he pressured Israel to co-opt international observers to its inquiry and failed to condemn the proposed United Nations Human Rights Council demand for an international inquiry which would unquestionably be a replay of the outrageous Goldstone Report. In this context, Vice President Joseph Biden's positive declaration endorsing Israel's right to blockade ships to prevent the smuggling of arms to Gaza sounded somewhat like a good cop, bad cop routine.

The perception of the US failing to support long-standing allies was highlighted by its tepid response to the unprovoked sinking of the South Korean naval corvette by a North Korean submarine. To Israelis, this conveyed a chilling interpretation of Obama's concept of an alliance.

His inability to retain the support of traditional US allies was also exemplified when Turkey and Brazil displayed their contempt by undermining the minimal Iran sanctions the US was finally able to impose with grudging approval from Russia and China.

US appeasement and renewal of diplomatic relations with Syria, Iran's surrogate state, only encouraged Damascus to strengthen its relations with Teheran, supply Hizbullah with Scuds and intensify its aggressive posturing.

ON A broader level, Obama has reiterated that the US could neither afford nor desired to remain the policeman of the world, preferring to delegate and conduct global affairs in conjunction with other countries and international organizations. To abdicate leadership of the free world during these perilous times is a bad omen, especially if it implies delegating more influence to Europe, Russia or worse to the dysfunctional UN, dominated by Islamic countries.

The most bizarre policy proclamation came from White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan. Following a National Security Council pronouncement stipulating that the term "extremist and militant Islam" should no longer be employed, he made the extraordinary assertion that Hizbullah was not "purely a terrorist body" and that he intended to cultivate the "moderate elements."

Subsequently in an address to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Brennan limited Islamic fundamentalism to al-Qaida and opined that the term "war on terror" should be excluded from the American political lexicon.

"Our enemy" he said "is not terrorism because terrorism is a tactic or a state of mind, and as Americans we refuse to live in fear."

He added, "Nor do we define our enemy as jihadists or Islamists because jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam to purify oneself or one's community."

Such remarks from a high-ranking US official are mind boggling.

IN RELATION to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the US had warned that it would confront any party indulging in provocative statements or acts. Yet while expressing concern regarding Israeli celebrations on Jerusalem Day, the administration remained silent as the PA lobbied the OECD to block Israel's affiliation. Nor did it respond when PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the most "moderate" Palestinian leader, personally participated in a burning ceremony to promote a campaign to boycott products manufactured over the Green Line, a direct violation of the Oslo Accords. They even failed to react when Fatah leaders reiterated their right to launch armed resistance unless their demands were fulfilled.

American friends of Israel should thus be aware that despite Obama's charm offensive, US policy is no less ominous now than it was during Netanyahu's previous visit to Washington. However public opinion is a factor that a Democratic administration does take into account and Israel can take comfort in the fact that support from the American people and both houses of Congress have strengthened considerably since the Gaza flotilla imbroglio.

In this context, Netanyahu must now clearly spell out his game plan and ensure that Israel is not again confronted by accusations of having misled the administration.

When he meets with Obama, he should assure him that short of endangering its security, the country will do all in its power to avoid embarrassing the US. But he must be definitive and inform the administration which areas are negotiable while simultaneously drawing red lines which his government cannot contemplate crossing.

He must emphatically reject returning to the 1949 armistice lines on the grounds that it would pose a longterm existential threat to the Jewish state.

He must reiterate that Israel will only extend concessions based on reciprocity and that the Palestinians must cease their provocations and incitement.

He must clearly elucidate building policies in Jerusalem and make it known that irrespective of what happens, the building freeze will not be renewed in the major settlement blocs that the Bush administration had agreed would remain within Israel.

If Netanyahu fails to reach a full understanding over Iran, he must request greater transparency in the relationship and be assured that Israel will be kept fully informed and able to provide input. He should also request unequivocal American support against global boycotts and pressures at the UN and other international organizations, including an assurance that in future the US will divert pressures against Israel's ambiguous nuclear deterrent.

Instead of whispering and making light of differences, Netanyahu must speak plainly and unequivocally to ensure that Israelis and our friends abroad understand our position.

Should he continue fudging the issues by basking in the superficial warmth of pleasantries, he will be setting us up for a second and possibly much more unpleasant confrontation with our only global ally.







Israel's foreign minister on what a two-state solution entails and where Israel draws the line.


The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results," Albert Einstein once said.

Since 1993, successive governments, supported by the international community, have tried to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict using the flawed paradigm of land for peace. Each time, the same formula was attempted, but failed every time because of Arab recalcitrance.

Increasingly, the international community has started to demand that Israel return to the pre-1967 armistice lines as the basis of any resolution to the conflict. This has largely happened because there is a misunderstanding that the dispute is territorial in nature and confusion on international law and precedent.

Most importantly, the Israeli leadership has historically provided no alternatives to this paradigm.

Those who claim that Israel must return to the socalled Green Line need to examine UN Security Council Resolution 242, the legal framework created following the 1967 war when the territories were conquered.

The resolution purposely never called for a full withdrawal from the West Bank. Lord Caradon, the main drafter of the resolution, called the pre-1967 lines "artificial and undesirable", another drafter, Eugene V. Rostow, US undersecretary of state for political affairs in 1967, said Israel needs to retreat only to "secure and recognized borders, which need not be the same as the armistice demarcation lines."

In fact, the Green Line was created as a line where the Israeli and Jordanian armies concluded their fighting when Israel's War of Independence ended. The Jordanian- Israeli Armistice Agreement specifically stated: "No provision of this agreement shall in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of either party hereto in the peaceful settlement of the Palestine questions, the provisions of this agreement being dictated exclusively by military considerations."

So there is no evidence that the Green Line, the demarcation that former dovish foreign minister Abba Eban described as the "Auschwitz lines," was ever considered a border of any kind.

While many claim that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is territorial, the facts suggest otherwise. Israel had no citizens, settlers or military in the West Bank until 1967, but did not enjoy one moment's peace from our neighbors and the terrorists that they supported.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization preceded that war and was created in 1964, specifically stating in its original constitution that it made no claims to the West Bank.

IF THE conflict returns to the pre-1967 lines, it will inevitably pass beyond those borders and into Israel. Most of the country's Arab population defines itself as Palestinian politically and culturally.

Many openly identify with the Palestinian national movement to the point where they openly act against the state which provides them with full civil rights. In 2006, the Arab leadership wrote a paper titled "The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel," which was deeply troubling as it questioned Israel's legitimacy and raison d'être as the realization of Jewish self-determination.

Even worse, some Arab leaders actively assist those who want to destroy the Jewish State. Former MK Azmi Bishara directed Hizbullah rocket attacks on Israel and Ahmed Tibi advised Yasser Arafat and current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, even though he is a member of the Knesset whose wages are paid by the taxpayers.

Large-scale demonstrations against Israel regularly appear in Arab cities all over the country, where it is not infrequent to hear the cries of "Death to the Jews" and where pictures of terrorist leaders from Hamas and Hizbullah are prominently displayed. These phenomena are a clear indication that a conflict between two peoples is the cause of friction.

The solution lies not in appeasing the maximalist territorial demands of the Palestinians, but in truly creating "two states for two peoples."


The current demands from some in the international community are to create a homogeneous pure Palestinian state and a binational state in Israel. This becomes the one-and-a-half to half state solution. For lasting peace and security we need to create true political division between Arabs and Jews, with each enjoying self-determination.

Therefore, for a lasting and fair solution, there needs to be an exchange of populated territories to create two largely homogeneous states, one Jewish Israeli and the other Arab Palestinian. Of course, this is not to preclude that minorities will remain in either state where they will receive full civil rights.

There will be no so-called Palestinian right of return.

Just as the Jewish refugees from Arab lands found a solution in Israel, so too Palestinian refugees will only be incorporated into a Palestinian state. This state needs to be demilitarized and Israel will need to retain a presence on its borders to ensure no smuggling of arms. In my opinion, these need to be our red lines.

We have seen that history is moving away from attempts to accommodate competing national aspirations in a single state. The former Yugoslavia was broken up into many separate states. Czechoslovakia was split into two, and even in Belgium there are strong voices who wish to see that nation broken into separate Walloon and Flemish territories. The precedent of creating new states based on ethnic, national and even religious boundaries has been established in the international community and is becoming the trend.

With all the difficulties involved, this is the only solution that ensures long-term stability in the region.

In most cases there is no physical population transfer or the demolition of houses, but creating a border where none existed, according to demographics.

Those Arabs who were in Israel will now receive Palestinian citizenship.

THERE ARE those who will claim that it is illegal to remove citizenship from individuals. However, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 55/153, written in 2001, explicitly states: "When part of the territory of a state is transferred by that state to another state, the successor state shall attribute its nationality to the persons concerned who have their habitual residence in the transferred territory and the predecessor state shall withdraw its nationality from such persons."

There are also those who claim that those Arabs who would become part of a future Palestinian state would reject this. Firstly, we need to beg the question: Why would Arabs who claim to support Palestinian national aspirations reject this plan? However, I believe that we can put this to a referendum to all of the citizens of Israel and let them decide.

I have no doubt that they, regardless of race or religion, will show political maturity to ensure a lasting peace which is in the best interests of all.

While many are growing impatient for a resolution, setting artificial time limits or pressure will not help.

Regardless of how long it takes, the resolution to this conflict can only be achieved through nonviolent means. There are currently more than 100 territorial and national disputes around the world where those involved do not resort to violence.

However, to build trust and a positive atmosphere between the parties the Palestinians cannot continue to incite against Israel, glorify murder, stigmatize Israel in international forums, boycott Israeli goods and mount legal offensives against Israeli officials.

While there will be many ups and downs during this arduous process the resolution can only arrive through direct negotiations.

This is the blueprint for a permanent resolution to our conflict. In the words of Theodor Herzl: "If you will it, it is no dream."

The writer is foreign minister and deputy prime minister








The key question on whether the US and Iran is yet to be answered.


Acataclysmic concern has been dominating both the minds of world leaders and media airtime in recent months. Politicians and pundits have bombarded us with assessments, statements and catchphrases.

But through all the rhetoric, a key question is yet to be answered: Is the US truly committed to preventing Iran from reaching nuclear weapon capabilities? The answer is unfortunately unclear, for we hear contradictory tones from Washington. On some days, officials defiantly state "no option is off the table" or call for sanctions, using words like "tougher" and "crippling" to emphasize their intent. On other days, we hear the Obama administration make reference to "containment," an alarming word that implies the US will not or cannot prevent Iran from its path to the bomb.

Through all this, one major element has been missing from President Barack Obama's personal rhetoric: a clear declaration that the US is determined to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The lingering question is whether the absence of such points is due to poor communication, or perhaps to a lack of American vision in solving the Iranian time bomb.

AFTER THE UN approved another round of sanctions against Iran last week, the Obama administration cried victory. However, we once again heard no clear announcement that the US is determined to keep Iran from going nuclear.

While sanctions are certainly important, we have yet to see whether the latest round is an isolated victory with no clear end goal, or whether it fits into a larger American strategy of determination in stopping Iran.

If the latter is true, then why did Obama not accompany the resolution with a strong statement declaring his intention to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear capabilities? We are left to wonder whether the recent US-led UN sanctions package is a hollow promise without real expectations of achieving this goal. Could it simply have been a method to better prepare for some future commission tasked with investigating why the US and the rest of the world failed to stop Iran and why a strike back against Teheran following an Iranian attack was legitimate? Iran is at a nuclear crossroads and the world absolutely cannot adopt a policy of containment. With apocalyptic leaders who have voiced clear deadly and vicious intentions against the West, Iran must be stopped. An evil regime with violent intentions must never gain access to such devastating weapons.

A radical anti-democratic regime that builds itself up on a megalomaniac vision at the cost of other nations arises once in a generation. Such was the case with the German Nazi regime during the 1930s.

Undoubtedly, the leadership in place to confront Nazi Europe in the 1930s and 1940s was quite unique. The fact that the United States, the United Kingdom and the former Soviet Union came together to fight the threat can be seen as a coincidence, or as divine intervention.

The challenge facing Barack Obama and other leaders of free nations is reminiscent of the challenge facing the world in the 1930s, a challenge with which then UK prime minister Neville Chamberlain and others failed to handle.

We need a leadership of the same caliber today, one that is smart and daring, to bring back sanity to our world Hence, when leaders failed at this task in the past, we found ourselves in the midst of bloody wars that lasted for years and changed the face of history. These brought forth the development and use of new weapons of mass destruction.

The opportunity, and challenge, has now been stowed upon US President Barak Obama to be on guard, and during his "shift," the "sane" world will have to decide on the destiny of the destructive nuclear weapon that a dangerous country that has the most lethal statements wants to acquire – Iran.

If Iran were to start producing a nuclear bomb, the result would end with environmental contamination and the death of hundreds of marine and wildlife creatures and habitats, like the outcome, so far, of an unprecedented, disastrous oil spill. It would end with the death of hundreds of thousands of human beings, in addition to a disastrous radioactive contamination.

The cement on the Iranian "oil well" must be in place before drilling and prior to that we all hope to hear the president say the inevitable statement: Iran will not acquire nuclear weapons! The road from here is clear: The US can either stop Iran through preventive measures or it can wait until the regime has passed the nuclear threshold.

At that point, the only protection against potential mass catastrophe would be a policy of containment, a clearly unacceptable policy. The best defense is always a proactive one, not reactive, or as the famous Arabic proverb says, "Before he has you for dinner, have him for lunch".

Fortunately, we know that the goal is achievable. Iran can still be stopped. It is not too late. It is time for Obama to step up and provide the strong leadership that is needed to stop Iran. The day has come for the leader of the free world to finally state unequivocally that he is determined and ready to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

The writer is a Kadima MK and a former head of the Shin Bet.







The Gaza blockade provided a potentially effective negotiating tool. But when was it used as serious leverage for the captured soldier's return? Oddly, never. By now you shouldn't be left wondering. When the Israeli media and politicians promise that Gilad Schalit will be freed "at any cost," it is crystal clear what they mean. They should not be taken literally.

Instead, they are asserting that the release of convicted murderers must not be allowed to impede Schalit's return home. Other safer, saner options for rescuing him are not even up for discussion.

The Gaza blockade, for example, provides a potentially effective negotiating tool. But when has it been used as serious leverage for Schalit's return? Oddly, never.

And why not? True, the blockade has brought censure and isolation in large doses. But all that pales beside the damage we will surely suffer if we release hordes of unrepentant imprisoned terrorists.

After the intense international outrage over the flotilla attack two weeks ago, the blockade is fast disintegrating.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, under pressure from our allies, has already decided to relaxed it and appears poised to open our land border with Gaza entirely.

The only halfhearted use that has been made of the blockade in relation to Schalit has been to request that most basic right due to captives but still withheld by Hamas: Red Cross visits.

Last week, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman assumed a tough tone on that point: "The minimal condition for lifting the blockade is for the Red Cross to be allowed to regularly visit Gilad Schalit," he stated. "As long as this condition is not fulfilled, there is no reason to change the situation."

But after four years of captivity, Red Cross visits are a pathetically mousy request. Freedom, and nothing less, is what we should be demanding.

THERE IS another tactic with a proven track record that seems to have been ignored. It has succeeded when European, Australian and American citizens were held hostage by Somali, Afghan and Iraqi kidnappers.

It is ransom.

In February 2009, following Operation Cast Lead, the US government pledged $900 million toward reconstruction in Gaza and the West Bank. However, as The Los Angeles Times reported last week, US officials "acknowledged the difficulty of distributing the funds, especially because Hamas controls Gaza and is considered a terrorist organization."

Earlier this month, when the subject of that pledge arose at a State Department press briefing, the assistant secretary's response was ambiguous. Given these facts, it is probably safe to infer that the money has not been transferred.

Subsequently, after meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas two weeks ago, US President Barack Obama committed to an additional infusion of $400 million in aid to Gaza. His stated aim is to subsidize housing, school construction and business development. To bypass Hamas, State Department officials explained that the funds may be distributed through relief organizations. But will that solve anything? It is no secret that Hamas maintains a network of tunnels which are being used for weapons smuggling.

And it is obvious that even if the specific dollar bills donated by the US do not reach Hamas hands, they are fungible.

Other Hamas funds will be freed up to enlarge its arsenal even more.

Israel can and must urge the US to link its pledges to Schalit's return.

ON THE day in 2004 that my daughter Malki's murderer, Ahlam Tamimi, a Hamas operative, was sentenced to 16 life sentences, I vowed to do everything in my power to keep her incarcerated until she draws her last breath.


She left 15 Israelis dead, eight of them children, in the terror attack she engineered at a Jerusalem restaurant. She was videotaped smiling with satisfaction on learning precisely how many victims were children. She has told reporters she expects to be freed soon. She has never expressed a shred of remorse.

We who believe that mass murderers like Tamimi must not walk free after six years – or ever – are duty bound to raise our voices. But we must act not only when we fear their release is imminent. We should compel our leaders to tackle this challenge by every available means and at every opportunity.

To mark the fourth anniversary of Gilad Schalit's captivity, on June 25, his tortured family has launched a fresh campaign to galvanize the public.

This is an appropriate time to eradicate the misconception with which Israelis have been indoctrinated: that Schalit will be freed only by the release of hundreds of terrorists.

Time is running out.

The writer is a Jerusalem-based freelancer. She cofounded the Malki Foundation ( in her daughter's memory. It provides support for Israeli families of all faiths who care at home for a special-needs child.







The fear of serious resistance to expulsion orders accounts for the renewed interest in a solution for settlers that would leave many Jewish communities within a Palestinian state.


It is perhaps somberly appropriate to address this issue of settlers remaining in a future Palestinian state one week after a state investigation committee made its final report on the failed resettlement of the Jewish expellees from the Gaza Strip. Five years from the announcement by Ariel Sharon's agitprop that there was a solution for every settler, most of the expellees are still in limbo.

If this was the best the government could do for the 9,000 former residents of Gaza and Northern Samaria, it is hard to expect a superior performance if such a tragedy is revisited on a population that is twentyfold larger. Once the Israeli peace camp could expect international largesse to resettle the expellees, but the current global financial crisis and the prevailing winds of austerity dash such optimism. The fear of serious resistance to expulsion orders also accounts for the renewed interest in a solution that leaves many Jewish communities within a Palestinian state. It will require the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria to make a Hobbesian choice between principle and peril.

The principled and patriotic decision would be for the communities to remain in place. Jewish "sumud" (steadfastness) will demonstrate to the Arabs that Jews are not latter day Crusaders – an alien entity – but are motivated by their religious and historical link to the land of their forefathers.

The sages in the Talmud, perhaps observing a similar predicament in their era, opined that it is preferable for a Jew to live in the land of Israel even in a city with a non-Jewish majority than to live outside it in an ancient version of Borough Park in Brooklyn.

It is also a matter of simple reciprocity. If an Israeli state can be expected to host an Arab minority approaching 20 percent, then a neighboring Palestinian state can be expected to do the same for Jewish communities rather than emptying its territory of Jews.

UNFORTUNATELY, THE issue of principle clashes seriously with the perilous reality on the ground.

There are no prospects whatsoever that would allow a Jewish minority in a Palestinian state to survive and prosper. Jews electing to remain will consign themselves to suffering and probably martyrdom.

And martyrdom in Judaism is a last resort, not the preferred option.

The benign treatment accorded British nationals in the Republic of Ireland once that country had attained its independence will not be revisited in a future Palestine. Observe the fate of Jewish communities throughout the Arab world, where even the minuscule remnants of the Yemenite Jewish community face persecution and mortal danger.

One can also extrapolate from the dwindling Arab Christian communities: persecution by the Muslim majority has made emigration the preferred option; Bethlehem, once a symbol of Arab Christianity, is effectively a Muslim town. If this is the treatment accorded people who share a similar culture and speak the same language, can Jews expect greater benevolence? A newly independent Palestine can be expected to honor Jewish minority rights at best on the level that newly independent Poland adhered to the provisions of the League of Nations minority treaty – i.e., it will ignore them totally. The Kingdom of Jordan imposes a death penalty on anyone convicted of selling land to Jews. In Israel, by contrast, when the chief Rabbi of Safed exhorted Jews not to sell houses to Arabs, the Israeli legal system came down upon him like a ton of bricks.

One may not even have to resort to pogroms.

Dominating the remaining Jewish communities will be mega-mosques with mammoth loudspeakers that will regale the Jews 24/7 with decibelsplitting calls to prayer. Perhaps the new neighbors will be toxic and noxious factories. If the Jews fail to get the message, we will move on to boycotts, violence against property escalating to violence against individuals, followed by abduction, detention and murder. For form's sake, a Palestinian leader may even issue an intermittent denunciation (preferably in English), but the perpetrators will receive an encouraging wink and a reward. The international community will not lift a finger for fear of endangering the "peace process." The voices of progressivism will intone that the settlers brought it on themselves.

Perhaps a Palestinian state may tolerate a supine Jewish minority that will dutifully appear at anti- Zionist demonstrations. The Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria however will not abjure their Zionist beliefs to make this scenario a reality, while the Arabs will not countenance the presence of a Jewish Ahmed Tibi assertive of Jewish minority rights.

This inevitable scenario could be deterred if the Palestinian state feared a crushing military reaction from Israel or violent retribution from the Jewish populace in Israel that would transpose the situation into the Greco-Turkish case of the 1920s or India and Pakistan in 1947, namely a mutual expulsion of minorities. But this eventuality would be thwarted by Israel's human rights cartel and legal establishment, while military conquest will only bring us back to square one in the conflict and perhaps exacerbate it further.

The writer is a foreign policy columnist and commentator for Makor Rishon newspaper and a contributing editor to The Jerusalem Report. This article was first published in and is reprinted with permission.









Plans to build private resorts on public beaches could damage both the beach's character as an open area and the public's ability to enjoy this resource freely.


Preserving the beaches for public benefit is an important goal in a small, densely populated country like Israel. It could be significantly bolstered by the proposed resolution drafted by Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan.


The proposal, due to be submitted Sunday for the cabinet's approval, calls on the planning institutions to redesignate Palmahim Beach, south of Rishon Letzion, from a tourist site to an open public area. This would in fact annul the plan, which has been actively campaigned against, to build a resort on an open, uniquely beautiful shore line.


Last week the attorney general, after having examined the State Comptroller's report on the procedures followed to approve the Palmahim resort, ascertained that no fundamental mistakes had been made in approving the plan or marketing the land. Erdan's proposal is not intended to bypass the attorney general's opinion, but to establish the important principle of ensuring the preservation of seashores and keeping them in the public domain.


Thus even plans that were legally approved many years ago, as in the case of Palmahim, should still be reexamined - something which is legally possible. Today the importance of preserving the seashore has become clearer to the planning institutions and last week a national planning committee rejected a blueprint to put up a tourist site on another beach, in the Nahsholim area.


The Palmahim resort is supposed to be built on a shore line, long stretches of which are closed for security reasons. Implementing the plan would irrevocably damage both the beach's character as an open area and the public's ability to enjoy this resource freely. Those residing in densely packed cities and towns along the shore should be able to enjoy the beach as part of their way of life.


Large-scale construction is being carried out on several additional stretches of beach, while others are closed off to the public due to infrastructure or security facilities.


Erdan's proposal also stipulates compensating the entrepreneurs for their expenses related to the resort project. This is another important principle - the state recognizes its error in renouncing public resources in the past and is willing to pay to return them to the public domain.


The proposal should be fully adopted and eventually become an overall policy. The policy will, of course, exercise judgment and take various factors into account, but will also allow for formerly approved plans that might severely harm the public beaches to be shelved.









Things have never been better: The number of millionaires in the country soared by 43 percent between 2008 and 2009, with 2,519 new ones joining the 5,900 we already had, for a total of 8,419 Israeli millionaires. Their total net assets rose by about 41 percent, from $30.1 billion at the end of 2008 to $42.4 billion at the end of 2009. No wonder it's impossible to find a luxury apartment to buy or to reserve a table at a top restaurant in Tel Aviv, or that tickets for "Nabucco" were so hard to get. Never was so much owned by so few Israelis. Never has life been so good here for so wealthy an elite, as the country is poised at the brink of the abyss.


Things have never been worse. The superpower under whose patronage we shelter is becoming increasingly weak and increasingly distant. As a result of these two mutually amplifying processes the Middle East is becoming unstable. There is no one to stop Iran's rise or Turkey's growing extremism, or to provide security for the moderates in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Palestine. The states to the east fear the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, while those to the north are building up their forces in anticipation of a nuclear Iran. And a firestorm of hatred for Israel raging throughout the world. Israel's legitimacy as well as its deterrence are eroding. It's no wonder that the national security adviser is nostalgic for the first term of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or that the army chief of staff pines for the days when Ehud Barak was chief of staff. The geostrategic situation is grave. And we are partying on the beach while ignoring the tsunami already visible on the horizon.


Never has the gap between our economic and international situations, or between the state of our consciousness and our security situation, been greater. Not even in the days leading up to the Yom Kippur War were we in such a deep state of denial. Everything's great: Inside Israel the economy is booming, there is general jubilation - la dolce vita at its sweetest. But all around, the siege is tightening. No reasonable remedy is in sight for the twin threats of missiles and of a nuclear Iran, nor does an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appear imminent.


While 8,419 millionaires increase their own capital using Israel's uniquely excellent human capital, millions of Arabs and Muslims wondering whether the Jewish state will last. They see a declining West that turns its back to Israel and a rising East that challenges Israel. They see an Israel that repeatedly demonstrates shortsightedness. Many of our neighbors are starting to have secret, dangerous thoughts.


Israel is not weak. If any of its neighbors makes a mistake, it will receive a knockout punch. But if there is a government in Jerusalem it must make every effort to stop the decline, to revive the peace with Egypt and with Jordan, to leave no stone unturned on the Syrian track, to expedite the territorial division, to create a common forum for cooperation with the United States and with the moderate Arab states, and to create a stabilizing process to counterbalance the destabilizing process that threatens the Middle East. The government understands everything but does nothing. Its inaction constitutes negligence, as does Kadima's unwillingness to let the government change its shape and its course. Netanyahu's foot-dragging on the one hand and Tzipi Livni's pettiness on the other perpetuate a catastrophic paralysis.


The Israeli public will not take to the streets. It is exhausted and confused and despairing. But the economic elite, the 8,419 Israelis who became so much richer last year, can bring about change. If they were to use their wealth and influence to demand that Netanyahu, Barak and Livni join hands, they would very likely succeed. It's time for those who have benefited greatly from living here to accept responsibility. Given the gravity of Israel's situation, wealth is not only privilege, but also obligation.









The "Arab peace initiative" (or, more accurately, "the Saudi initiative" ) was born shortly after the devastating 9/11 terror attacks, when the status of the Arab world - and especially of the terrorists' native countries, first and foremost Saudi Arabia - was at a nadir.


To anyone with eyes in his head, it was clear that the peace plan was a public relations exercise. To anyone, that is, except those Israelis who always leap, as if by conditioned reflex, to advance the interests of those who seek to lure their country into a trap.


Thus, for instance, they tried in various ways to whitewash the clause that demanded "a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194." In other words, they tried to blur a clear demand for a Palestinian right of return.


The right of return - with all its implications for Israel's demographic future - is also enshrined with a clause forbidding Arab states from granting citizenship to the Palestinians who fled there in 1948-'49, or to any of their descendants.


True, Israel was not exactly enthusiastic about recognizing a right of return. But the sponsors could have at least begun direct negotiations with Israel on the initiative. After all, it is inconceivable that Israel would have refused. And perhaps that is precisely why they declined to call for negotiations.


The Chaim Herzog Center at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev held an international conference on the initiative this week in the hope of returning it to center stage - if not the political stage, then at least the academic one.


And the concerted opinion of the academic speakers was, naturally, that Israel was to blame for the initiative's failure to take off. An original and interesting approach. After all, it has been the accepted wisdom since the dawn of diplomacy (or economics, or science ) that the one who proposes a plan bears no responsibility for advancing it thereafter.


If a just and comprehensive peace is, as the initiative says, the Arab states' "strategic choice," why, my learned friends, is Israel - rather than the Arab League, which adopted the document - the one at fault for not advancing it?


If the fires of peace are truly burning in the bones of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, the initiative's sponsor, then why does he not fly to Israel to discuss it directly with the Israelis, as Anwar Sadat did in 1977? Why not present the initiative on the floor of the Knesset, and then make a pilgrimage to the holy sites, to worship Allah at the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount )?


Why not discuss the initiative privately with the Israeli prime minister and meet with some of those who oppose it to convince them that the plan does not harbor any threat to Israel's future? After all, nothing could ensure Israel's survival better than peace.


And then Israelis and Arabs would dwell together in peace on the land where Isaac and Ishmael, the respective fathers of their nations, once trod.


"What would we say," my colleague Akiva Eldar wrote in these pages on Tuesday, "if the Arabs were to ignore an Israeli peace initiative for more than eight years?" An excellent question. But at least in this case, the question ought to be the opposite: What should Israel say - and what should the participants at that conference in Be'er Sheva (where Eldar featured prominently ) have said - about the fact that for more than eight years, the Arabs have abstained, and even fled, from doing anything to advance the peace initiative that they themselves proposed?


If they want to study the root causes of behavior, as academics are indeed supposed to do, the first thing they ought to be studying is the Arabs' behavior.


Saudi Arabia and the Arab League have been silent for fear that Israel actually does want to reach an agreement. And agreements are reached via negotiations.


In other words, they, too, would have to make concessions - on Resolution 194, for example. And also on turning East Jerusalem, including the Holy Basin, into the Arab world's exclusive property. And for this, the Arabs (including the Palestinians ) are not at all ready.


They are not even ready to recognize Israel's right to establish a national home for the Jewish people here. Thus they were satisfied with scoring a lasting public relations coup, which continues to yield benefits to this day - thanks, among other things, to that conference at Ben-Gurion University.


The Saudis' behavior since the initiative was published proves that they are truly frightened by the possibility that even a Likud-led government might begin negotiations (while rejecting its dictate on the right of return ).


After all, even Benjamin Netanyahu has adopted the formula of two states for two peoples. And that is something that the Saudis and the Palestinians do not really want.








Noam Shalit is correct, from his standpoint. The father of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was told that the blockade of Gaza was a critical tool in the negotiations over the release of his son. Now that blockade is being eased, leaving the Shalit family no choice but to oppose and assail Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's capitulation to international pressure.


The opposition to the partial lifting of the blockade that is being expressed by the advocates for Shalit's release presents an opportunity to re-examine the contradictory values at the heart of the struggle for his return. On the one hand, we obviously take great pride in the Jewish-Israeli principle of arevut hadadit, mutual responsibility. That is reflected in concepts like "Israel will do everything in its power to redeem a captive soldier," "Shalit is the child of us all," and "Every soldier sent to battle needs to know that the state stands behind him."


On the other hand, we cannot ignore the fact that many violent operations have been launched as a means to obtain Shalit's freedom. One could argue that Israeli society is paying the price in terms of its psychological fortitude, and it is legitimate to ask whether it would be dangerous to release certain Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad.


Aside from those on the right, it appears that many others live comfortably with these contradictions. What are the reasons that many who consider themselves "leftists" easily identify with the struggle for Shalit's release, even if this view entails the embrace of values that are contradictory to those of the left?


True, some of the parameters of a Shalit deal that have been mentioned thus far - like the release of a large number of prisoners - is acceptable in the leftist worldview. In addition, other actions that have been undertaken in the name of releasing Shalit, like tightening the blockade against Gaza, dovetailed with other beliefs cherished by the left - in that case, the assumption that the blockade would weaken Hamas and strengthen Mahmoud Abbas.


Yet perhaps the reason for ignoring the ideological challenges posed by the Shalit dilemma is the fact that the return of the captive soldier enables apolitical individuals to feel political, non-leftists to feel leftist, and leftists in general to feel as if they belong, for a change, to the mainstream. In other words, saying Israel should just free all the Palestinian prisoners allows the speakers to feel as if they made a political statement without bearing the risk inherent in uttering such a remark. Perhaps this also is part of the reason that some have assumed the blockade would indeed help topple Hamas and free Shalit.


It turns out, however, that the blockade did not weaken Hamas. To the contrary, it has provided Hamas with the moral upper hand against Israel. The debunking of this underlying assumption can be a good opportunity to determine how we let ourselves be sold the lie that the blockade will help bring Shalit back to Israel - as well as a chance for us to keep a more critical eye on the next batch of goods for sale. Now that the Shalit family is protesting the government's decision, the "leftists lite" will be relieved to have to contend with one less case of cognitive dissonance. In any event, the public discourse surrounding the Shalit affair looks like it's about to start revolving around the popular sentiment that we must agree to release all the prisoners Hamas wants.


Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat is seeking to enlist "Israel's most prominent artists" for a large-scale concert to be held near the Gaza border, with the aim of persuading Hamas to release Shalit. If the show is ever staged, it will certainly be a success - not because it will result in Shalit's freedom (if only it would ), but because the struggle for his release is the best opportunity for a nation that has surrendered its ideological fervor to the extreme right to fool itself into thinking that it has not yet lost all its zeal.









It may be that the whole world is dazzlingly two-faced, but we should nevertheless focus on the hypocrites in our own region, since after all, hypocrisy begins at home.


Some six months ago, while it was still licking the wounds caused by the barbs hurled at it from all sides because of the lead it cast in Gaza, Israel was given a chance to improve its image. It seized the opportunity presented by the horrendous earthquake that devastated Haiti and rapidly dispatched a relief delegation. Thus, while denying the children of Gaza pencils and notebooks, Israel poured aid into a country thousands of kilometers away.


Perhaps now, in the wake of the Turkish flotilla affair, there are specimens of the local breed of hypocrites who are silently praying for some natural disaster to strike somewhere in the world that will enable Israel to unsheathe this rusty propaganda weapon once again.


But hypocrisy is not confined to Israelis. It seems that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has learned a lesson from us: The Turkish flotilla to Gaza was in fact one big public relations exercise. Erdogan noticed that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was raking in the whole popular Arab jackpot called Palestine, and he also wanted to grab some of it. The Palestinian-Israeli jackpot is a photogenic one, and every home with a satellite dish on its roof watches what happens to it.


And now there's talk of another "humanitarian" flotilla in aid of Gaza. Another convoy of hypocrisy, well-covered by the media, is setting sail, this time from Lebanon, of all places. Now that the Lebanese have boosted their national pride by registering the world's biggest dish of hummus in the Guinness Book of Records, they are bidding for the record in hypocrisy, soon to be seen on television screens everywhere. For it is not humanitarian motives or concern for the Palestinians that are making all these hypocrites restless. All they want is spectacle, footage and headlines. Because as we have already said, the Israeli-Palestinian arena is the most photogenic arena in the world.


If they had any genuine humanitarian concern, the Lebanese would stage protests against the harsh blockade that has been imposed on the Palestinian refugee camps in their country for decades. You have to read Amnesty International's reports on the situation of the Palestinians in Lebanon to comprehend the humanitarian disaster there. This hypocrisy was best described by a European volunteer in those camps, who told the organizers of the new flotilla: "You love the Palestinians in Gaza and hate your own Palestinians."


Since 1948, the Palestinians have been a pawn in the hands of the Arab and Muslim regimes. The problem was exacerbated because the Palestinians themselves willingly accepted that role. And so we are witnessing a situation in which the Palestinian nation, even before it has taken on a coherent shape, has split into two: Gaza, backed by Iran and Syria, and the West Bank, backed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia. And then there are the "opsimists" (to use the oxymoron coined by the late Palestinian author Emil Habibi ) - the Israeli Palestinians sitting on the fence and trying to please everyone.


One reason for all this is the absence of a Palestinian leadership - political, social or cultural - worthy of the name. Six decades after the Nakba, the Palestinians have not even managed to turn themselves into a nation with a clear national agenda.


It looks as if this place, the cradle of monotheism, will continue to be a pawn in the hands of regional and international powers, a region so well covered by the media that all of the world's hypocrites rush over here to try to wipe away the moral stains that have tarnished them.




******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




There was no pique, and some apparent regret, as President Obama announced that he had fired his top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.


The president cast his decision as one of trust and military order. He rightly said that respect for civilian control and a strict military code of conduct must apply "equally to newly enlisted privates and to the general officer who commands them."


Mr. Obama also insisted that his Afghanistan policy will not change. What he didn't say is that the war is going badly. If there is any chance of beating back the Taliban and Al Qaeda, he needs a commander he can trust. His choice of Gen. David Petraeus — the only four star with a higher profile than General McChrystal — should provide some reassurance to allies and Americans. But their anxieties are not going away.


The war was going badly before General McChrystal and his aides made derisive remarks to Rolling Stone magazine about Vice President Joseph Biden and others. We hope this sorry incident will persuade Mr. Obama to end his administration's destructive infighting. More than six months after he committed an additional 30,000 troops, the president's aides (and his vice president) are still battling over how deeply to invest in the war.


Mr. Obama said on Wednesday that he welcomed debate among his top advisers, "but I won't tolerate division." We hope he is far tougher in private. He needs to think seriously about a wider housecleaning.


His ambassador in Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general, has made clear his lack of enthusiasm for the counterinsurgency strategy and is barely on speaking terms with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai — a deeply flawed leader who isn't going anywhere.


The president also should take a hard look at Richard Holbrooke, who is supposed to be overseeing the civilian and political aspects of Afghanistan's rebuilding. More advisers are in place, but plans to improve public services and build stronger government institutions — essential for winning popular support — have never had the same priority or coherence as war-fighting.


The often-overbearing Mr. Holbrooke has real trouble getting along with Mr. Karzai and Pakistani leaders. Those relationships have no chance of improving so long as there are constant reports that Mr. Holbrooke is on his way out. The president has a choice: replace his special envoy or give him a clear endorsement and more authority and hold him accountable for results.


Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General Petraeus urge patience, since all of the additional troops will not be in place until August. President Obama has promised a full review of the war come December. But the deteriorating situation demands a serious assessment now of the military and civilian strategies.


Four months after American troops drove fighters out of the center of Marja — General McChrystal's first major offensive — there is no functioning government, international aid programs lag and the Taliban are coming back. Americans need to hear what lessons were learned and how General Petraeus plans to apply them in Kandahar, a far more important target.

Mr. Obama and his advisers need to come up with a better plan for dealing with President Karzai — who spends much of his time undermining the Americans or scheming to cut his own deal with the Taliban. Until the insurgents are genuinely bloodied, they will keep insisting on a full restoration of their repressive power. Reports that some State Department officials are also advocating a swift deal with the Taliban are worrisome.


Americans are weary of this 9-year-old war. Mr. Obama needs to do a better job of explaining why it is so central to American security. More important, he and his aides have to do a better job managing it.







Financial reform enters a crucial phase on Thursday as House and Senate negotiators begin public debate on the regulation of derivatives, the complex instruments at the heart of the financial crisis.


This is arguably the most important issue for big banks because real reform will crimp their huge profits from derivatives deal-making. It also is arguably the most important one for the public. The largely unregulated, multitrillion-dollar market in derivatives fed the bubble, intensified the bust and led to the bailouts. Unreformed, it will do so again.


The final bill must ensure that derivatives are traded on transparent exchanges and processed through third-party clearinghouses to guarantee payment in case of default. That would end the opacity that masks the size and risk of derivatives deals, like those that caused the bailout of the American International Group. But to be effective, the new rules must be broadly applied.


Exceptions to the rules in the Senate bill are narrowly drawn. Painstakingly negotiated and uniquely customized contracts would not need to be publicly traded, nor would derivatives deals that commercial businesses use to hedge legitimate risks. Any attempt by negotiators to expand the exceptions would be moving in a dangerously wrong direction.


Lawmakers also have to keep the definition of an "exchange" narrow. A transparent exchange is a trading facility in which many participants make bids and offers and everyone can see what prices were offered and paid. Proposed language from the House for the final bill would allow telephone deals to qualify as a proper trade, which is seriously wrongheaded.


In addition to trading through clearinghouses and exchanges, the bill must establish legal tools to stop or undo deals that have not been properly cleared or traded. Banks have been pushing hard to handcuff regulators, demanding that only egregious and intentional violations be deemed out of bounds. The new rules will be meaningless unless regulators can quickly and efficiently enforce them.


Lawmakers also must resist banks that want federal financial backing for derivatives clearinghouses, like access to emergency loans from the Federal Reserve. That would be, in effect, license to take the same outsize risks that precipitated the crisis and the bailouts.


Finally, lawmakers must find a way to separate banks' derivatives dealing from federally insured deposits. Ideally, that would involve spinning off derivatives businesses into separate entities. A lite version of reform would involve setting up a separate derivatives affiliate within the bank holding company. What is crucial is that derivatives operations are supported by adequate capital of their own, and that there are no loopholes allowing federally backed banks to keep dealing in derivatives.


If done well, reform will create transparent and robustly regulated derivatives markets that can fail without taxpayers bearing the losses. Sadly, that is a big if.







The announcement by China's central bank that it would stop pegging its currency to the dollar could be a watershed moment for the global economy — if China really allows the value of the currency to rise.


China's cheap currency policy has not only built up enormous trade surpluses with the United States and Europe, it has become a drag on the economic recovery of other developing nations whose exports can't compete. The policy is skewing global economic management as other countries keep their exchange rates artificially low. It is building enormous financial imbalances by adding to China's huge pile of dollar reserves.


With international resentment growing, China's announcement on Saturday was clearly timed to pre-empt criticism at this weekend's summit of the world's 20 leading economies in Canada. Doubts about Beijing's sincerity were immediately raised when the central bank issued a second statement insisting a substantial appreciation of the currency, the renminbi, is "not in China's interest." Its rate policy since then suggests that any rise permitted will be very gradual.


The policy of deliberately undervaluing the renminbi has been central to China's economic success over the last two decades. But it is no longer tenable even for China's own economic health.


A substantial increase in the currency's value would help combat inflation by keeping import prices low. It would boost the buying power of Chinese workers and help ease the country to a new phase of development based on sharing more of the spoils with its workers and allowing their consumption to power further growth.


China knows how to do this. From 2005 to 2008, the central bank allowed the currency to appreciate gradually from 8.25 to about 6.83 to the dollar. That aided exporters everywhere, and China's growth did not suffer. With the global economic crisis, Beijing has slammed on the brakes and the renminbi has been stuck at about 6.83.


China is now well on the way to economic recovery. Other countries are not so fortunate. Unless China makes a firm commitment to let its currency rise, it will have a hard time managing inflationary pressures and international resentment.










House Republicans had their chance to do the right thing and remove Joe Barton as the ranking Republican on the energy committee. Instead, they applauded him. Mr. Barton, you will recall, apologized to BP — saying it was a victim of a "shakedown" — after President Obama pressed the company to ante up a $20 billion compensation fund for all the people who have lost their jobs and businesses because of the oil spill.


After Mr. Barton tried apologizing again before his party's private caucus, John Boehner, the Republican leader, said "the issue is closed." Mr. Boehner showed his clear loyalties — protecting party hacks and the oil industry — when he decided that Mr. Barton should keep his central role in the Republican Party's energy policy.


Mr. Boehner cited Mr. Barton's "poor choice of words," as if it were an oratorical gaffe and not a glimpse at deeper outrage that government dared to call Big Oil to account. Mr. Barton of Texas spoke a day after the Republican Study Committee caucus of House conservatives denounced Mr. Obama for applying "Chicago-style shakedown politics" against poor, defenseless BP.


Representative Jo Bonner, a Republican of Alabama whose Gulf Coast constituents are incensed, said it best last week when he called for Mr. Barton to lose his ranking position on the energy panel: "I believe the damage of his comments are beyond repair." After the party caucus ended with a forgiving round of applause, Mr. Barton's Twitter feed proclaimed: "Joe Barton Was Right." But wait, that message was soon deleted; it was a mistake, said the latest apology from Mr. Barton's office.








Get short, timely messages from Gen. Stanley McChrystal on Twitter:




In Paris with my Kabul posse — Bluto, Otter, Boon, Pinto, Flounder. Plus some newbie. Guys call him




Suite's getting pretty crowded. Good thing I sleep standing up.



Three hours of shuteye and back to work. Have to read every report — check the details! Like I told Scribbles. The little fellow's a fan. :)




Stuck going to dinner w/ some damned French minister. Gang riding me big. Bluto says they will make me eat snails. Hell of a funny guy, Bluto.



Restaurant — ultra-Gucci. No Bud Light Lime. Damn. Wish I was on foot patrol in Kandahar. :(



Minister yammering diplomatic bull. I'd rather have my ass kicked by a roomful of people. As if they could. LOL



Still talking. Better at this diplomatic stuff than I used to be. Learned a lot in last few years. Like, don't mention "mission failure."



Whoops. Mentioned "mission failure." Don't think the minister noticed.



Steak comes covered in some goop. Miss my gruel.



Dinner's over. Ran 12 miles.




Missus is here! Hell of a surprise. Turns out it's our 33rd wedding anniversary.



Wife wants the gang out of the hotel room. Women. Can't live with them, can't live without them for more than 11 months at a time.



Time for anniversary dinner. Does this country never stop eating?



Night starts on a bad note — McDonald's won't let Pinto and Otter bring in the Tequiza. Damn. Wanted to show Missus a good time. :(



Comeback kids found a bar next to the hotel. Wiped the Gucci drink specials off the chalkboard and we are diagramming up a storm. :)



Team America is partying! Bluto's doing his impression of Joe Biden. Scribbles taped whole thing — get ready for laughs when we get home.




Spent the morning e-mailing back and forth with Kabul. They can't get Karzai to come out of his room again.



Hanging out at a cafe. We're shooting the breeze about the dingbat diplomatic corps. Except Hillary.



Pinto reminds me how intimidated Obama looked around the generals. Yeah, but the guy really trusts my judgment. :)



Found Scribbles sitting in potted plant next to our table. Kid must like nature.




Said goodbye to the Missus. Great gal. Can't wait to see her again once the war is over.



Berlin's the next stop, but that damn Iceland volcano has everything grounded. Can't believe Europeans are afraid to fly in a little ash.



Got another e-mail from Holbrooke. :(



Bluto does his riff about Holbrooke as a crippled impala & I'm the lion. Scribbles really digging it.



Great news — we've got a bus to take us to Berlin. Nothing but Team America and a luggage rack crammed with Bud Light Lime.



Scribbles wants to come, too. Told him only if he buys the next two cases.










Sports stars often make headlines with spectacular misconduct, and they don't use their celebrity enough to make the world a better place. But every now and then, along comes a star as gifted ethically as athletically — and I'm thinking now of one of the greatest basketball players ever.


Certainly not one of the best shooters, for he averaged only 2.6 points a game. But Manute Bol, at more than 7 feet 6 inches tall, was a moral giant who was unsurpassed in leveraging his fame on behalf of the neediest people on earth.


Bol died on Saturday from a noxious mix of ailments, exacerbated by his insistence on working in Sudan to build schools and forestall a new civil war. Bol's great dream was to build 41 new schools across Sudan (he admired the first President Bush, hence the No. 41).


It's a lofty dream, particularly because he is no longer around to speak at fund-raisers. It's almost as inconceivable as the dream he had when he was an African cattle-herder aspiring to play in the N.B.A. — and this too can be a slam-dunk, posthumously, if his fans help out.


If each admirer chipped in the cost of a ticket to just one game, if each of his former teams agreed to match donations, if a few current and former N.B.A. stars agreed to stand in for Bol at fund-raisers, why then schools would sprout all across Sudan.


The first of Bol's 41 schools is now approaching completion in his childhood village, said Tom Prichard, executive director of Sudan Sunrise, the charity that Bol used to build his schools. Forty to go.


Bol grew up herding cattle. Twice he ran away in hopes of attending school, but he never got much formal education. He moved to the United States and played in the N.B.A. from 1985 to 1995, setting a rookie record for blocking shots. He was a curiosity, the tallest player in the league when he started.


As Bol began playing before large crowds in America, his homeland exploded in violence. Northern Sudan waged a savage war against the South, costing roughly two million lives. American officials and news organizations mostly looked the other way, but Bol worked passionately to ease the suffering.


One summer, Bol button-holed more than 45 members of Congress, trying to get them to pay attention to the slaughter. He donated most of his basketball wealth to help the people of southern Sudan, and he flew into war zones to highlight their suffering. Sudan bombed camps that he visited, perhaps in an effort to assassinate him.


Some 250 people in his extended family were killed in the war, Bol estimated, many of them by Sudanese soldiers from Darfur. Yet when the Sudanese Army turned on Darfur in 2003, he was one of the southern Sudanese who led the way in protesting the slaughter in Darfur.


Bol envisioned co-ed, multifaith schools in which Christians in southern Sudan studied alongside Muslims from northern Sudan. Darfuri Muslims have been helping to build the first school, in Bol's hometown of Turalei, a two-and-a-half day drive from the nearest paved road.


Robert McFarlane, a former national security adviser to former President Ronald Reagan, traveled late last year with Bol to Turalei and gushes about what a "giant heart of gold" Bol had. Mr. McFarlane told me: "The people of Turalei almost worshiped Manute for his commitment to make schools available for their kids."


Critics sometimes derided Bol's kooky publicity stunts, like participating in a celebrity boxing match or putting on ice skates to become the world's "tallest hockey player." Bol shrugged off the scorn because he seemed to care less about his dignity than he did about raising money for schools.


Bol made his American home in Olathe, Kan., and a local paper, The Kansas City Star, made a larger point a few weeks before he died:


"Bol symbolizes an unfortunate side of our sports obsession and how we measure the worth of those who play," The Star noted. "The best athletes get the love, most times regardless of what they do away from sport. Bol, doing the work of a saint, is largely ignored."


A new civil war may be brewing today in Sudan: The South is expected to secede early next year in accordance with an international treaty, and many fear that the North will unleash war rather than lose oil wells in the South. President Obama and his administration have been weak and ineffective toward Sudan in ways that make another horrific war there more likely. We can only hope that President Obama and his aides will be bolstered by Bol's gumption and moral compass.


Bol will never be able to cut the ribbon at the schools he dreamed of. But we can pick up where he left off. In a world with so much athletic narcissism, let's celebrate a Most Valuable Humanitarian by building schools through his charity,








FOR most of our nation's history, the armed services have had a strong and worthy tradition of firing generals who get out of line. So for most of our presidents there would have been no question about whether to oust Gen. Stanley McChrystal for making public his differences with the White House on policy in Afghanistan. If President Obama had not fired General McChrystal, it would have been like President Truman keeping on Douglas MacArthur after his insubordination during the Korean War.


Some analysts fret that losing General McChrystal will mean sacrificing the relationship he had developed with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. But the general's dysfunctional relationship with the other senior American officials in Kabul, painfully laid out this week in Rolling Stone, is more significant. If President Obama is to be faulted, it is for leaving that group in position after it became apparent last fall that the men could not work well together.


No policy can be successful if those sent to put it in place undermine one another with snide comments to reporters and leaked memorandums like the cable disparaging Mr. Karzai written by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry last year. For this reason, the president should finish cleaning house and fire Ambassador Eikenberry and the special envoy, Richard Holbrooke.


Mr. Obama should then replace them with a team that has a single person clearly in control, with the power to hire and fire the others. And he should send that new group to Kabul with clear orders that they should get along, or expect to be relieved.


In the longer term, the Army has to return to its tradition of getting rid of leaders who are failing. The Navy has shown more fortitude; in the first two months of this year alone it fired six commanders of ships and installations. On Tuesday, it fired the skipper of the frigate John L. Hall, two months after it collided with a pier at a Black Sea port in Georgia. The Navy stated simply, as it usually does in such cases, that the officer's superior had lost confidence in him. That is all that is needed.


The Marine Corps has also largely kept the tradition of relieving officers — most notably during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when its top ground officer, Maj. Gen. James Mattis, fired the commander of the First Marine Regiment. During his tenure, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has fired secretaries of the Army and the Air Force and an Air Force chief of staff.


Back in World War II, the Army had no qualms about letting officers go; at least 16 of the 155 generals who commanded divisions in combat during the war were relieved while in combat. George Marshall, the nation's top general, felt that a willingness to fire subordinates was a requirement of leadership. He once described Gen. Hap Arnold, chief of the Army Air Forces, as a fine man, but one who "didn't have the nerve to get rid of men not worth a damn."


Marshall had plenty of nerve: in 1940 and '41, as war loomed, he forced into retirement several hundred officers he deemed too old and slow to be effective. When the commandant at Leavenworth, Brig. Gen. Charles Bundel, told him that updating the complete set of Army training manuals would take 18 months, Marshall offered him three months, and then four months, to do the job. It can't be done, Bundel twice responded.


"You be very careful about that," Marshall told him in a telephone conversation.

"No, it can't be done," Bundel repeated.


"I'm sorry, then you are relieved," Marshall said.


We tend to remember those who were nearly relieved but ultimately weren't, most notably Gen. George Patton, who came closest to being fired during the war after slapping two American soldiers suffering from combat fatigue. But that sort of exception illustrates another aspect of the lost tradition of relieving commanders: the military had some flexibility in enforcing it. Patton was seen by his superiors as having unusual weaknesses but equally rare strengths, so he was kept on.


One advantage of having a more flexible attitude toward removal from combat command was that it did not necessarily mean the end of one's career. During World War II, three Army division commanders — Orlando Ward, Terry de la Mesa Allen and Leroy Watson — were relieved of command of divisions in combat but went on to lead different divisions later in the war.


The old system may seem harsh in today's light, and certainly some men were treated unfairly. But keep in mind that job losses were dwarfed by combat losses: In the summer of 1944, 15 of the 20 battalion and regimental commanders in the 82nd Airborne were either killed or wounded. In World War II, a front-line officer either succeeded, became a casualty or was relieved within a few months — or in some cases, within days.


The tradition of swift relief provided two benefits that we have lost in today's Army: It punished failure and it gave an opportunity to younger, more energetic officers who were better equipped to adapt to the quickening pace of the war. When George Marshall heard of a major who really was doing a general's work, he stepped in to make the man a brigadier general overnight. Under this audacious system, a generation of brilliant young commanders emerged, men like James Gavin, an innovator in airborne warfare who became the Army's youngest three-star general.


But that tradition was somehow lost in the Korean War and buried conclusively in Vietnam. Nowadays, dynamic young leaders can't emerge as quickly, because almost no one is fired. In a much-discussed 2007 article in Armed Forces Journal, Lt. Col. Paul Yingling wrote that "a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war."


In Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, most of our commanders have "rotated in" for a year, led their units and gone home. This skews incentives away from risk-taking and toward not making waves. Consequently, the only generals who are fired are those at the very top, who do not serve one-year tours of duty and so must be removed by firing or forced resignation.


Had Army officers been managed in the Afghan War as they were during World War II, we would be seeing a new generation of leaders emerge. Instead, a beleaguered president once again is sending David Petraeus to the rescue, making it appear as though he is the only competent general we have.


Thomas E. Ricks, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and the author of "The Gamble: General Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq," is writing a history of American generalship since World War II.








Franklin, Tenn.

THERE'S one moment in the Rolling Stone article that led to Gen. Stanley McChrystal's dismissal on Thursday that truly concerned me — and it's not one of the reproachful comments about administration officials that have been clucked over by pundits and politicians. No, what stood out for me was the scene in which General McChrystal points to the members of his staff and says: "All these men, I'd die for them. And they'd die for me."


General McChrystal got it entirely backward: generals definitely don't die for their soldiers, and soldiers don't die for generals. They die because generals order them into battle to accomplish a mission, and some are killed carrying out those orders. General McChrystal's statement is that of a man who is sentimental about his job, and who has confused sentimentality with command.


For too long, the Army has been led by sentimental men, by peacocks in starched fatigues and strutting ascetics surrounded by public relations teams. But the Army doesn't need sentimental generals; it needs generals who can give the kind of difficult and deadly orders that win wars.


I'll tell you how I know this. In 1967, when I was a cadet at West Point, I met entirely by chance the journalist

Will Lang, who had written a Life magazine cover story about my grandfather, Gen. Lucian K. Truscott Jr., during World War II. Grandpa didn't like having a gaggle of correspondents following him around, because you had to feed them and house them and otherwise take care of their needs, including giving them interviews, and that took away from the mission, which he described in his memoirs as killing German soldiers. But the Army wanted him on the cover of Life, so he allowed Will Lang to follow him around while he commanded the VI Corps in its invasion of southeastern France in 1944.


After more than a few drinks that night, Will Lang told me a story. Grandpa had once allowed him to attend his early morning meeting with his division commanders; Lang watched, a little bewildered, as Grandpa moved pins on a map and ordered his commanders to advance up this road or take this town or destroy that German brigade. When the commanders eventually left, Lang and Grandpa sat down to breakfast at a field table just outside his command trailer. Lang proceeded to ask Grandpa a series of questions about what, precisely, had gone on in that meeting.


Grandpa apparently grew frustrated with these questions, so he grabbed Lang by the arm and hauled him back into the trailer. He pointed to a pin on the map and asked Lang if he knew what it meant when he moved that pin an inch or two forward. Lang admitted that he didn't. "It means by nine o'clock, 25 of my men will be dead, and a few hours later, 25 more of them will die, and more of them will die until that unit accomplishes the mission I gave them," Grandpa said. "That's what it means."


Then Grandpa led Lang back to the table and they finished their breakfast.


After more than 30 years of nearly continuous war, every Afghan — whether Taliban or friendly — knows the lesson that Grandpa taught Lang that day. Unless we put generals in command who aren't sentimental, generals who are willing and able to give the deadly serious orders to accomplish the mission they are given, who know that men die for a cause and not for them, we will get no respect from friend or foe in Afghanistan, and we may as well pack up our stuff and go home.


Lucian K. Truscott IV, a journalist, is the author of "Dress Gray."








If ever a company deserved to be boycotted, BP is it. The oil giant has caused one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history, one that can no longer even be called an "accident." The April 20 rig explosion that killed 11 men was likely the result of corner-cutting and risk-taking ingrained in BP's culture. As if that weren't enough, top BP executives have responded to the crisis with an infuriating combination of cluelessness and condescension.


How could Americans not be eager to teach them and their company a lesson?


The only trouble is, the call to boycott BP gasoline stations that's gaining ground across the USA will barely cause the company a hiccup. What it will do is harm gas distributors and other small entrepreneurs who own service stations, as well as the people working for them — none of whom had anything to do with the spill.


BP owns fewer than 200 gas stations in the USA, and consumers would be hard-pressed to distinguish them from the nearly 9,800 others that are owned or leased by dealers. All have long-term contracts to sell BP gas — contracts not easily jettisoned without paying a hefty fee. While BP makes money from these sales, they are a minuscule portion of the company's worldwide revenue.


Even the process for supplying gas stations cushions BP from economic harm. Wholesale gasoline— whether it's destined for a BP station or some other brand's station — is a mixture of gasoline from different companies. The only thing that distinguishes one brand from another is the additives blended in before it's picked up by distributors. If BP can't sell its wholesale product to them, it sells the excess on the spot market. No harm done.


Meanwhile, some dealers and distributors are struggling because of scattered boycotts. Though the effects vary widely, on the Gulf Coast business is down at some stations by as much as 40%. Those losing money are often neighbors of the boycotters, who haven't a clue who their victims are.


Public Citizen, a liberal advocacy group that's championing the boycott, says it's seeking to hurt BP's carefully tended brand image. That brand is already in shreds. If being seen as the cause of tarred coastlines, oil-drenched birds and ruined livelihoods isn't enough, BP has CEO Tony Hayward (a walking, or should we say yachting, PR disaster) and Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg (who proclaimed that BP really cares about the "small people" of the Gulf Coast). Ultimately, BP might well have to overhaul upper management and rebrand itself, the way ValuJet, now AirTran, did after its disastrous 1996 crash in the Everglades.


Boycotts generally work best when they're aimed at pressuring the target into taking a particular action — as when civil rights groups threatened to boycott Coca-Cola for doing business in South Africa under the apartheid regime. Coke decided to pull out.


If Americans want to rally behind a cause that sends a message to Big Oil and helps the nation, they might drive less, walk or bike more, trade in a gas guzzler for a hybrid, or turn down the heat or air conditioning. Such actions take more effort than a feel-good boycott, but they'd go a lot further toward reducing the nation's energy consumption and its dependence on fossil fuels.








Hundreds of thousands of people have responded to the BP catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico by committing to boycott the oil giant. They are right.


BP could have — and should have — prevented the Deepwater Horizon explosion. It cut corners, putting workers and our environment at risk.


The well's blowout preventer had failed tests, but BP proceeded anyway.


It ignored contractor warnings about problems with the well's cement job. It decided to forgo safety tests that would have revealed impending disaster.


Had BP chosen in any of these and other instances to put safety over profits, it likely would have averted what could be the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.


A boycott sends a message to BP that its shoddy oversight of this project and its history of environmental and worker safety violations are unforgivable. Public Citizen is encouraging people to take the "BP Boycott Pledge" and commit not to buy gas from BP for at least three months.


It is true that a boycott, if it dents sales, will hurt BP distributors and dealers.


But any boycott inevitably hurts workers and those connected to the boycotted company. By itself, that can't be reason for consumers to forfeit their collective power to influence or punish bad-actor companies.


It is not true that BP is indifferent to a boycott. It benefits directly from sales to distributors of gasoline for BP stations. And, more than any other oil company, it cares desperately about its public image. This is the company that has sought to rebrand itself as "Beyond Petroleum."


Before the oil gusher, BusinessWeek estimated the BP brand as worth $3.9 billion — the highest among oil companies. A boycott will express the organized consumer anger that so worries BP.


The boycott also sends a message from consumers that goes beyond BP to the rest of Big Oil and to corporate America more generally. The boycott is our way of saying, if you behave as recklessly as BP has, we will make you pay in the way you most fear: with reduced sales.


Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen, a national non-profit public interest group







Last fall, when President Obama was putting the finishing touches on his plan for achieving quick success and an early exit from Afghanistan, he turned to Gen. David Petraeus and asked whether he could attain the president's goals in 18 months.


"Sir, I'm confident we can train and hand over to the ANA (Afghan National Army) in that time frame," replied Petraeus, as quoted by Jonathan Alter in a new book about Obama's first year in office.


The task looks tougher now than it did then, but it's notable that Petraeus is willing to stake his formidable reputation on his ability to deliver. With the firing Wednesday (both deft and deserved) of his subordinate, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Petraeus steps down a notch to take over the direction of the war.


Few would dispute the choice. Petraeus has McChrystal's skills in counterinsurgency. In fact, he wrote the Army's counterinsurgency manual, applied it successfully in Iraq and then helped develop the current strategy for Afghanistan. He also possesses the communications skills and collaborative leadership style that the combative McChrystal so plainly lacked.


But Petraeus' track record aside, he is not a wizard, and the task ahead is very tough.


Obama reiterated his goals Wednesday: Break the Taliban's momentum and build up the capacity of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to destroy al-Qaeda.


Even if Petraeus can train the Afghan army and hand off as promised next year, it's not clear that wider success at the ultimate goal — the demolition of al-Qaeda — will follow. The central government is despised and corrupt, Afghans have a centuries-long habit of resisting central control, and President Hamid Karzai shows neither the will nor the skill to alter history's course.


Neither can any general transform a society, a fact Petraeus no doubt recognizes. He has repeatedly said that counterinsurgency takes a decade and that changing Afghanistan — poor, tribal, undeveloped and uneducated — is a tougher task than the one in Iraq.


Success lies elsewhere — in finding the right set of pressure points to make the Taliban turn on al-Qaeda, much as Petraeus' vaunted surge and related tactics turned tribes against terrorists in Iraq.


That objective, not the future of Afghanistan, is what matters to the USA. And if it appears elusive, it's hard to argue that anyone else is better suited to the task.









On Monday, it will be Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's turn to raise her right hand and swear to tell the truth to a pack of senators who already know how they will vote. Barring the unforeseen and the unimaginable, at the end of the process Kagan almost certainly will be confirmed to be the next Supreme Court justice. At 50, she'll be the youngest justice, replacing John Paul Stevens, the oldest. (He's 90.)


Republicans who roughed up nominee Sonia Sotomayor last year seem resigned or distracted this year, not eager to take on the latest nominee, who seems more dedicated than Sotomayor was to pleasing everyone.


With all that certainty and tranquility, you might ask, why bother to tune in?


One answer to that question fits all Supreme Court confirmation hearings; it is worth paying attention to because this is the last chance for the public and its representatives to send a message to the court through its newest member. After she is sworn into her life-tenured position, Kagan could, if she wanted to, thumb her nose at every member of Congress who so much as asks her the time of day (not that she'll do that). For justices who spend most of their time handing down decisions from on high, a few days of listening at the beginning of their tenure can't hurt.


But the other answer is specific to Kagan: Unlike most of the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings, this one promises to get into substantive issues of importance to the public. It might even restore the pertinence of the confirmation process, which has not been a model of civic engagement in recent years.


The issues before her


There is a lot to talk about. Think about the crucible in which Kagan's nomination was born. In his State of the Union address in January, President Obama targeted the Supreme Court for its pro-business ruling in the Citizens United case, allowing unlimited corporate expenditures in political campaigns. The court, he suggested, was out of touch with average citizens whose voices will now be drowned out by a flood of campaign cash.


Kagan argued the losing side in the case, and when Obama nominated her for the Supreme Court, he singled out that representation as a symbol of her populist credentials. She is likely to be asked to square her position in the case with the First Amendment rights of corporations to participate in elections.


She'll also have to defend her position as Harvard Law School dean on barring military recruiters from using campus facilities to interview students because of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the armed forces. When she was nominated, Republicans tried to portray her as anti-military, a charge that has not seemed to stick.


Documents from Kagan's Clinton White House days as well as from her clerkship with the late Justice Thurgood Marshall are also sure to provoke discussion about issues ranging from abortion to the right to die. Do the documents confirm her profile as a committed liberal, or was she merely playing the role of echo chamber for her bosses' positions?


Recent nominees have spent most of their time at the witness table deflecting senators' questions about these and other issues, making the hearings almost pointless. But Kagan has a self-imposed burden to respond because of a 1995 law review article she wrote.


Frustrated by the unfulfilling hearings for Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, Kagan wrote that the nominees had "stonewalled" the Senate by refusing to discuss their views. Kagan went on to advocate "the essential rightness — the legitimacy and the desirability" of exploring nominees' views.


Those statements will make it hard for her to stonewall the Senate herself, though not impossible — if she quickly confesses that things look different to her now. Otherwise, there will be tense exchanges and charges of hypocrisy from the senators. As we speak, Kagan is probably trying out a half-dozen ways to say "no comment" without using those words.


Salutes and the general


She'll probably say it in a self-deprecating way. Kagan has an impish sense of humor, which she hopefully will bring with her to the hearings. Last year, soon after she became solicitor general — the government's top advocate before the Supreme Court — I asked her how she wanted to be addressed. Her predecessors had traditionally been called "general," even though that word in her job title was not meant as a military-style honorific. It's only a description of the broad scope of her workload. Think "general store," not "Gen. MacArthur."


Still, Kagan said that being called general was OK with her. "My thought basically was: The justices have been calling men SGs 'general' for years and years and years," she told me. "The first woman SG should be called the same thing."


Joking, Kagan also said, "A few more weeks, and I'll be expecting everyone to salute me."


At her hearing next week, it's unlikely anyone will be saluting Kagan. But with any luck, the senators' questions — and the nominee's answers — will make her hearings worthy of a salute by bringing the process back from the brink of irrelevancy.


Tony Mauro is Supreme Court correspondent for The National Law Journal and for its new newsletter, Supreme Court Insider, which focuses exclusively on the nation's highest court. He is also a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.








Applebee's, according to its corporate website, is all about good service: "We take pride in having a friendly, welcoming, neighborhood environment for both our staff and guests that makes everyone enjoy their Applebee's experience."


Apparently, not everyone was enjoying their dining experience at the Forestville, Md., location two weeks ago when a customer who had been tossed out the door in a dispute over the meal bill allegedly shot and killed an off-duty state trooper working security for the restaurant.


It is not clear what displeased the customer — be it the food, the service, the prices. Whatever his beef, the resulting violence fits an emerging pattern of recent years: Vengeance has increasingly led many unhappy customers/clients to kill.


Growing numbers


A Kentucky physician was slain last year by a patient over a dispute involving a prescription for pain killers. A California man, unhappy over his dealings with a San Francisco law firm, killed eight at the firm's offices. And a Prince George's County, Md., man attacked two furniture deliverymen for being late and damaging goods, killing one and injuring the other.


Though the problem of customers registering their complaints through violence is not of epidemic proportions, the number of killings committed by angry clientele now roughly equals those by disgruntled employees.


Twenty-five years ago, it was virtually unheard of for a dissatisfied customer to seek murderous revenge against a company or service provider. However, economic resentment is now felt not only by aggrieved employees, but also by unhappy clients and customers who seek to avenge perceived mistreatment by restaurants, stores, hotels, law firms and hospitals.


From 1997 through 2008, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of workplace killings committed by angry clientele has more than doubled, even while workplace homicides in general have declined.


Behind the trend


In 1997-98, 60 homicides were committed by disgruntled customers and clients; in 2007-08 the figure was as high as 133. Overall, 500 such cases occurred from 1997 through 2008, more than half of which took place in public buildings, such as restaurants, banks or retail stores. Of these homicides, 20% involved office workers or health care and social service employees. The alleged assailant at Applebee's had a criminal record, but so do millions of other Americans who regularly dine at restaurants and shop in stores. His past history of criminality is obviously not the only issue here.


The steady rise in customer/client violence appears to stem from a combination of factors, including worsening economic conditions and greater corporate depersonalization. In a complex, bureaucratic society, more and more citizens are feeling powerless against incessant phone recordings or red tape. Criminologists recognize that frustration increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior.

Unlike popular recommendations for reducing the threat of employee violence, a company can hardly profile or pre-screen its clientele or refer irate customers to an anger management program. Yet a solution to the problem of the vengeful customer is clear. Companies must enhance their customer relations efforts to deal with the growing alienation and cynicism among consumers. This is more than just a good business strategy; it could defuse volatile situations before they turn violent.


James Alan Fox and Jack Levin are criminologists at Northeastern University in Boston and co-authors of Extreme Killing.









It might seem surprising that a story in Rolling Stone magazine, the old antiwar hippie standard, could cause enough tumult in Washington to spur the rapid-fire termination of the leading American general in the war in Afghanistan. But after the article made public the contempt that Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and his aides expressed for other American generals, diplomats, members of the Obama administration and the president himself, President Obama promptly and correctly demanded the general's resignation Wednesday morning. In the nation's long tradition of ensuring loyalty and civilian control of a publicly nonpartisan military, the president could no less.


Mr. Obama wisely assigned Gen. David Petraeus, the deposed general's boss, to assume Gen. McChrystal's duties. The close involvement of Gen. Petraeus, the most renowned American commander in the Iraq war, should bolster the president's assurance to the nation, to our NATO allies and to the Afghan national government that America's effort in Afghanistan is in capable hands.


"This is a change in personnel," the president said, "not a change in policy."


Whether the latter is a good thing, however, has become an open question, which helps explain why the McChrystal affair suddenly dominated the national news media attention Wednesday.


At the least, the contretemps signaled that Gen. McChrystal and his top aides were contemptuous of their peers and their boss, if not recklessly arrogant. Publication of their remarks was bound to aggravate critical relationships with our NATO partners; with the American ambassador in Kabul, former general Karl Elkenberry; with the administration's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke; and with Gen. James Jones, the former Marine Corps commander and current national security adviser to the President. Other targets of derisive comments included Vice President Joe Biden and the president himself.


In showing Gen. McChrystal the door, President Obama professed his personal admiration of him as "one of the nation's finest soldiers" and rightly expressed his gratitude for the general's extraordinary record of service and devotion to the military. But as he correctly said, "war is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general or a president." The conduct of the general represented in the published article, the president continued, "does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general."


"It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system," he said. "And it erodes the trust that's necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan."


Though all of that is true and justifies the resignation of Gen. McChrystal, the refits underscored by the published remarks also illuminate larger issues with the war in Afghanistan. If the Obama/McChrystal strategy were working, the Taliban would not still be gaining ground, the insurgency would be weakening, and the American focus would be chiefly on the al-Qaida cells in neighboring Pakistan's uncontrolled frontier districts.


If the strategy was going well, the American victory in the battle for the southern town of Marja would not be slipping away again under Taliban control. The long-anticipated offensive to eject the Taliban in Kandahar, the capital of Afghanistan's Pashtun ethnic group, would not now be so off-track. Nor would America and our allies still be paying the corrupt government of President Karzai to keep training a national Afghan military and police force how to competently resist or fight the Taliban. Rather, the Afghan army and police long ago would have begun operating as effectively as the Taliban, but against them.


In short, if the Karzai government elicited broad respect and popular support from a majority of Afghans, the strategy for winning and leaving Afghanistan would seem clearly delineated and popularly supported not just by Afghans, but also by all the officials and national partners that Gen. McChrystal contemptuously ridiculed. They would not be taking shots at each other.


As it is, Afghanistan remains a failed state, and that is the core problem-- one which the McChrystal/Obama strategy has not yet changed. Changing generals is necessary, but the war policy merits more honest scrutiny







The area's rivers, lakes, bays, inlets, creeks, ponds and streams are beautiful and provide residents with recreational opportunities of the first order. They also can be deadly. Four deaths and several non-fatal accidents on local waterways in the last few days prove just how dangerous they can be.


The four deaths in just a few days is unusual. Several area public safety and law enforcement officials, in fact, say they couldn't recall such a toll in so short a span. The sad total, though, shouldn't come as a total surprise. It's the natural result of the increasing popularity of waterways here and across America -- and the rising number of people who regularly boat, fish and swim in them.


As the number of people on the water increases, so do the chances for accidents. The Boating Division of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, responsible for keeping the state's waterways safe, reported 19 fatal boating accidents that resulted in 22 deaths and 78 serious injuries in 2009. So far in 2010, the agency reports five deaths and 34 serious injuries. The latter numbers, unfortunately, likely will grow. Summer and early fall are the busiest time of the year on waterways. Consequently, they are the most dangerous.


The TWRA does not labor alone. Some sheriff's offices and city law enforcement agencies work closely with the agency and provide their own water patrols. Even with such assistance, the TWRA's 183 full-time and 49 part-time officers are hard-pressed to fulfill their mission. It's not for lack of effort.


In 2009, TWRA officers inspected 81,867 vessels and issued 2,350 written citations and 1,447 warnings for violations. They arrested 144 individuals for boating under the influence of alcohol. The officers also assisted in 15 search-and-rescue missions.


The number of those boating recklessly or violating water safety regulations remains unacceptably high despite efforts to reduce it. Strict but fair law enforcement, mandated boater education and safety instruction are components of a comprehensive state plan to reduce drownings and other water-related deaths and accidents in the state. Compliance, though, remains a problem.


There is no guarantee that higher compliance with regulations and commonsensical rules about water safety would reduce the toll of deaths and injuries. It is likely, though, that declines would be noted. The lessons learned by those concerned with highway safety suggest that would be the case.


Strict enforcement of drunken driving rules and stringent seat-belt regulations have made the nation's roads safer. A similar effort to enforce laws and promote safety on the water could be equally beneficial. If that proved to be the case, the beckoning rivers and lakes here and elsewhere in the state would be far safer than recent events suggest.







Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who has had the terribly difficult job of commanding our war in Afghanistan, unfortunately got into additional trouble when he unwisely said too much in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. That has resulted in the general's resignation from command.


(Chattanoogans may be particularly interested because Gen. McChrystal has several relatives who are good citizens of our community, and the general's late mother was a member of the editing staff of the Chattanooga Free Press when she was a student at the University of Chattanooga.)


Gen. McChrystal has had his hands more than full in trying to maintain stability for the government of Afghanistan while battling guerrillas and terrorists in that unfortunate country.


Then along came a magazine writer to interview the general. Gen. McChrystal was more forthcoming in some of his public expressions than he should have been. He did not criticize President Barack Obama directly but did make critical policy comments. For example, the general said it was "painful" deciding whether to call for more troops, that the president had an "unsellable" position, and that he felt "betrayed" by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. He also jokingly remarked that he didn't recognize Vice President Joe Biden's name.


You get the tone of the unfortunate comments. (Why didn't the general "know better," whatever his personal views?)


So the president, while generously praising the general for his good service, accepted Gen. McChrystal's resignation.


We have a long tradition of "civilian control" of the military. You may recall the regrettable situation in which President Harry Truman removed Gen. Douglas MacArthur from his Korean War command because of Gen. MacArthur's public comment that "In war, there is no substitute for victory." Mr. Truman was accepting stalemate instead of seeking victory.


We prefer peace with honor. We hate war. In war, we prefer victory. When war has to be conducted, we want the best and most effective military officers. We don't like to mix politics and the military.


The Obama-McChrystal incident is an unfortunate sidetrack in a very troubling war.

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There is really no time when taxpayers welcome a big property tax increase. But in our current economic crisis, there was shock when Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield proposed a city property tax increase of 64 cents per $100 of assessed property value.


That would raise the property tax rate from $1.94 to $2.58, to fund a $198.6 million budget for the coming fiscal year.


With City Council members very reluctant to approve such a large tax rise, the mayor then proposed a tax increase of "only" 39 cents per $100 of assessed property value — to $2.33.


Were taxpayers "relieved" because a huge tax increase would not be quite "so bad"?


Well, it hasn't worked that way.


And City Council members have shown no enthusiasm for either big tax increase.


The problem, of course, is that there are many things the city needs and that taxpayers want. But whatever is provided has to be paid for.


To avoid a 64-cent tax increase in favor of a 39-cent one, the mayor said there would have to be such things as cuts of benefits for city employees 65 or older, and those who retire before age 55; no employee raises except to fix unusual situations; not hiring more firefighters and closing the Eastdale fire hall or shifting firefighters to other stations; having only one police academy; cutting staffs in Public Works, Neighborhood Services and Parks and Recreation; having reduced hours in recreation centers, closing the Frances Wyatt Recreation Center in North Chattanooga and closing the Carver Recreation Center pool off North Orchard Knob Avenue.


åNo cuts are popular, but neither is a 64-cent or a 39-cent tax increase.


The mayor, council members and taxpayers have a tough situation to face. It will be painful, whatever cuts and compromises are made.


Providing desired city services and levying taxes at any level is challenging — to individual property owners, businesses and city officials who must make the eventual hard decisions.


Obviously, "something has to give" to "get" the best results that serve the best interests of all parties who are personally involved.


Everything the city government does that costs money needs a close re-examination and evaluation



Academy alum raises the bar at Carson-Newman***************************************





It was a scary thing when a husband recently had to rush his wife to a local hospital, fearing she was suffering a stroke and hoping to get medical care in time to avoid tragic results.


It was also a bad situation when the hospital-bound car was driven through red lights, with possible danger.


But when the bad situations coincided recently, common sense and good judgment should have prevailed. Unfortunately, however, they didn't.


Instead of speedily escorting the motorist and the patient to the hospital, a police officer pursued the car and confronted the driver at the hospital. A long list of charges was eventually filed against the driver.


Fortunately, though belatedly, good judgment has prevailed: Charges against the driver have been dropped by the Hamilton County district attorney's office, and a police spokeswoman has apologized.


The ticketing Chattanooga police officer has been placed on leave while administrative decisions about his actions are considered.


The distressed patient is being given medical attention.


Tennessee wisely has a "Necessity Law" designed to provide reasonable justice in such situations. It has been applied in this case.


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We can very well understand Mexico's opposition to Arizona's law concerning the invasion of the United States by millions of illegal immigrants. But on U.S. soil, U.S. interests surely must prevail over those of Mexico.


Mexico is allowing many of its citizens to invade the United States. Most of them are seeking better economic conditions. We feel sorry for them. But they impose many big problems. They take jobs Americans could fill. They call for many taxpayer-financed social service benefits. And many of them engage in crimes of violence and drug operations.


Arizona law provides for American police investigating any incident or crime to inquire whether those involved have legal citizenship or immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion" any subject is in the United States illegally.


All laws of our states and our nation must prevail over any foreign objections. But Mexico has sued in U.S. District Court, claiming the Arizona law would result in "racial profiling."


There is a tremendous cross-border invasion of the United States. It should be curbed. Surely, Arizona and our federal government have a legitimate interest in assuring that any people in our country in violation of our laws are identified and expelled.


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In recent days, we have run a number of commentaries reflecting diverse perspectives on "what next?" in Turkey's emerging strategy in the face of a new wave of terror attacks launched by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. Radikal and Hürriyet columnist Nuray Mert has warned that a consensus on military responses is always easier than one involving non-military steps. Cengiz Çandar, who writes for Radikal and Referans, has argued that there is still scope within the government's "Kurdish initiative" for steps to ease or end the terrorist threat. Most recently, Milliyet's Fiket Bila has warned all of us that this is no time for a "domestic fight" over strategy.


Few will agree with these views in their entirety. But no responsible participant in this urgent discussion in the wake of continued killings, most recently in Istanbul, can deny the insight offered by all. To paraphrase one of the sages: "All of us are smarter than any one of us."


And one among us seems insistent that the blame for the confluence of events that sparked the growing death count of recent days is with the news media. This contention of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan we reject.


Yes, journalists deal in the juxtaposition of symbols: the grief of a mother, the image of a prime minister and a general together scanning a field through binoculars, the contrast of a snapshot taken of a young private with his friends just days ago with that of photographs of his funeral. And yes, journalists must not be unwitting tools in the hands of terrorists and this is a concern shared in every news meeting to plan a front page or evening broadcast in the land.


But a blackout on the human tragedy unfolding before the nation accomplishes nothing. A ban on criticism of government policy robs us of the very democracy that terror seeks to destroy. We live in an age of instant communication, of mobile phone photos and Internet delivery. The news media has an obligation to be sensitive to the pain of families and loved ones and news policies to prevent the publishing of victim's identities until proper notification has been made reflect this. Reporting of military intelligence involving active battles or plans is irresponsible and is avoided by responsible news organizations.


But the news media is an all too easy target for politicians with nothing else to say. In the first Gulf War, calls were made to try Western reporters in Baghdad for treason. Israeli leaders have lashed out at their own media for coverage of the recent assault on a Gaza aid flotilla that left eight Turks dead. How many times has the television network Al Jazeera been condemned not just in Washington, but in Cairo, Riyadh and Damascus?


Erdoğan claims the "media need to know their place." He can rest assured. We certainly do.








The European Commission seems to be generally content with the constitutional amendment package the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, prepared. The commission, however, considers that the process should've been more inclusive.


Along with a couple of colleagues of mine yesterday I met the European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stephan Füle. The above is a summary of what we talked about.


'More could've been done'


The European Commission has adopted a balanced attitude from the beginning towards the constitutional amendment package of Turkey and described it in general as a "right step in the right direction," though they kept thoughts about the content to themselves.


The commission also expressed expectations "for an environment of dialogue and consensus among all political parties and civil society organizat