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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month june 25, edition 000549 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
- THIRTY-FIVE YEARS ON
- BATTLING RED TERROR
- INDIA-BAITING AS POLICY - PREMEN ADDY
- DEALING WITH SENIOR CITIZENS - SANJOG MAHESHWARI
- CONGRESS'S SUBVERSION OF THE CONSTITUTION - A SURYA PRAKASH
- JP, JUNE 25, AND A STATUE - SK SINHA
- AN UNDESIRABLE AFTEREFFECT - ARINDAM CHAUDHURI
- NATURAL HARVEST - ANURADHA DUTT
- A FINE WEB SPUN BY AMERICA - KALYANI SHANKAR
- SLEUTHS MISINTERPRETED TEST BOMBING - B RAMAN
- DON'T ALLOW CORRUPT COPS TO MILK 26/ 11 TRAGEDY
- TALL CLAIMS POOR DELIVERY
- INDISCRIMINATE ACTION
- WE NEED TO SAVOUR A CITY ON THE TEMPLATE OF ITS HISTORY - BY GAUTAM BHATIA
- DILEMMAS OF A FAILING PAKISTAN - BY NAJAM SETHI
- FOREIGN SECRETARIES TALK TO IMPROVE BILATERAL TIES - BY MAIL TODAY BUREAU IN NEW DELHI
- WEST BENGAL GUV VISITS MAOIST- HIT BANKURA - BY ANIRBAN ROY IN KOLKATA
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- DETERRING RIOTS
- LOSING AGAINST CORRUPTION
- FALLING ON HARD TIMES - RASHMEE ROSHAN LAL
- 'INDIA AND THE EU ARE BOTH COMMITTED TO UNIVERSAL VALUES'
- PINCH OF SALT - JUG SURAIYA
A NEW SENSE OF ENERGY
- A LABOUR OF LOB
- FIGHTING A LOAN BATTLE - LALITA PANICKER
- NO CONTROL FREAKS, PLEASE - KIRAN BEDI
- READJUST THE FOCUS - RAJDEEP SARDESAI
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- TWO WEEKS, TOO MUCH
- LANGUAGE & RHETORIC
- RUNAWAY CRISIS
- A PLAN FOR PLANNERS - MIHIR S. SHARMA
- POLITICAL Q, LEGAL A - ARUN MOHAN
- HOLDING THE CONVERSATION - PRANABDHALSAMANTA
- THE POLITICAL USES OF TAMIL - M.S.S PANDIAN
- WHEN STATES CONFRONT CORPORATIONS - LOSE A GENERAL, WIN A WAR
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- THE AGENDA IN TORONTO
- PUBLIC FLOAT NORMS STILL AT SEA
- ALL THE ACTION IN FINANCIAL REGULATION - SAUGATA BHATTACHARYA
- CRACKING THE CONTRACT CODE, IT CHEERS - DARLINGTON JOSE HECTOR
- FLY ME, I COMPENSATE - JAYA JUMRANI
- LEARNING FROM TRAGEDY
- BIZARRE INDICTMENT
- THE WINNERS AND LOSERS OF THE AFGHAN WAR - CHINMAYA R.GHAREKHAN
- G20 AND THE REAL ECONOMY: WHAT'S AT STAKE - JUAN SOMAVIA
- CRIME, NO PUNISHMENT - V.R. KRISHNA IYER
- OPTIMISTIC VIEW OF AFRICA'S ECONOMIES - CELIA W. DUGGER
- ENFORCING CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY - ZOE WILLIAMS
THE ASIAN AGE
- GENERAL'S EXIT WON'T CHANGE US STRATEGY
- A BIRD FOR A NATION - MAHESH RANGARAJAN
- PEOPLE'S POWER
- GENERAL STANLEY A MCCHRYSTAL'S FALL
- BEYOND BURKHA POLITICS - ARFA KHANUM SHERWANI
- THE NEW CUSTODIANS OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE - FARRUKH DHONDY
- REDUCING BACKLOG
- MISSED DEADLINES
- LOOK BEYOND BURNING BILLS
- DISEASE OF CORRUPTION - BY INDER MALHOTRA
- BORDERING ON WAR - BY AKANKSHA CHAUDHARY
- "BADAL'S WATER ROYALTY CLAIM IS A NON-ISSUE"- BHUPINDER SINGH HOODA - BY RAJ CHENGAPPA, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
- THE CASE OF A TALKATIVE JUDGE
- FAITH WITHOUT EXEMPTION
- THE OTHER JUSTICE HEGDE
- MICHAEL PINTO: PORT OF NO CALL
- DON'T CRY FOR ME, MARADONA - JAMAL MECKLAI
- PRIVATISE EMPLOYMENT EXCHANGES - SHYAMAL MAJUMDAR
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- NOT AN IMPERIAL RULE
- PREVENTING COMMUNAL CRIMES
- A SLIPPERY PATH
- GAS AS TRANSPORTATION FUEL
- THE FUTURE OF LIFE - EDWARD WILSON
- FRESH SURVEY OF BHOPAL VICTIMS? - N JAYARAMAN
- TOWARDS A GREENER, CLEANER WORLD - LUBNA KABLY
- ARE WE RUNNING OUT OF TIME? - MUKULSHARMA
- GENERAL'S EXIT WON'T CHANGE US STRATEGY
- THINGS CAN FALL APART - BY JAGMOHAN
- DEAR CAPITALISTS, CALL THE TELANGANA BLUFF - BY KANCHA ILAIAH
- A BIRD FOR A NATION - BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
- A REALISTIC GOAL?
- RECOGNISE, TRAIN, NURTURE PLAYERS
- BE FREE OF THE LOVE OF MONEY - BY DOMINIC EMMANUEL
- 'SIMPLE SOLDIER'
- JOBS FOR THE PARTY
- FORGOTTEN FIGHTERS
- NITISH-MODI WAR FALLOUT - BY RAJINDER PURI
- SYRIA'S 30 YEARS OF FEAR
- THE WEAKER SEX? - SUDHA PALIT
- DO THEY TEACH FROM THE HEART? - JAGMOHAN CHOPRA
- HARD CHEESE
- WILL POWER
- LAZY SUNDAYS - SWAPAN DASGUPTA
- BUCK THE TREND - MALVIKA SINGH
- KASHMIRIAT'S RETURN
- TEMPORARY TRUCE
- ADVANTAGE INDIA - BY ALOK RAY
- PM'S ATTEMPT TO RE-ENGAGE CANADA -BY RUP NARAYAN DAS
- SUNNY SIDE - BY J S RAGHAVAN
- REINING IN BARKAT
- THE PUBLIC IS DUMB AND THEREFORE THE PUBLIC PAYS - BY GIDEON LEVY
- YES, KAHANE LIVES - BY YITZHAK LAOR
- A HOLE IN THE SOUL - BY YOSSI SARID
- THE BALL IS IN FRANCE'S COURT - BY SEFY HENDLER
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- BALANCE OF PROSECUTORIAL POWER
- DO NO HARM
- WHO APPROVED THESE ADS?
- THE IMMIGRATION REFORM TEAM
- THE RENMINBI RUNAROUND - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- THE CULTURE OF EXPOSURE - BY DAVID BROOKS
- THE MEN I LOST - BY BERNARD E. TRAINOR
- MY AMERICAN PRISONER - BY ZHOU MING FU
- RACING FROM MAO'S BUGLES - BY KIE YOUNG-SHIM
- PINNED DOWN AT BUSAN - BY RALPH HOCKLEY
- OUR VIEW ON OPEN RECORDS: WHEN YOU SIGN A PETITION, YOU SHOULDN'T EXPECT PRIVACY
- OPPOSING VIEW ON OPEN RECORDS: PROTECT PETITION SIGNERS
- BY JAMES BOPP JR.
- WITH GENERAL FIRED, BRING TROOPS HOME - BY AL NEUHARTH
- MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL SHOULD BOYCOTT ARIZONA - COMMENTARY BY RAUL REYES
- DEMOGRAPHIC BOOM ABOUT TO BUST - BY CHUCK RAASCH
- WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT DRILLING MORATORIUM
TIMES FREE PRESS
- TUITION DISCOUNT APPROPRIATE
- ALSTOM'S 950 JOBS HERE!
- WE STILL HAVE THE AFGHAN WAR!
- HE SAID, HE SAID
- WAR -- 60 YEARS AGO TODAY
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
- FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - FAREWELL TO MCCHRYSTAL, GOOD LUCK TO PETRAEUS
- A NECESSARY REPRINT - BURAK BEKDIL
- PACKAGING THE PSYCHOLOGISTS - FATMANUR ERDOĞAN
- AN 'EASTERN PROBLEM' BY ANY OTHER NAME... - SEMIH IDIZ
- ISRAEL GOT THE MESSAGE, WHAT ABOUT US? - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
- WHY WAS ÖCALAN NOT HANGED? - TAHA AKYOL
- OPPORTUNISM - YUSUF KANLI
- INSTITUTIONS ABOVE INDIVIDUALS
- A NEW BROOM
- NOTHING IS REAL
- LENGTHENING SHADOWS IN AFGHANISTAN - AYAZ AMIR
- UK & PAKISTAN: SHARED HISTORY, DEEP PARTNERSHIP - WILLIAM HAGUE
- WHEN IT COMES TO 'SECURITY' - AHMAD RAFAY ALAM
- YOU CAN'T KILL YOUR WAY OUT OF HERE - MUZAFFAR IQBAL
- MCCHRYSTAL'S SACKING AND AFGHAN ENDGAME - SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
- SIDE-EFFECT - HARRIS KHALIQUE
- HAGUE OWES A LOT TO IHK AFFECTEES
- SAARC COULD HAVE BEEN EU OF ASIA
- POSSIBLE FALLOUT OF MCCHRYSTAL'S OUSTER
- NIRUPAMA RAO COMES CALLING IN PAKISTAN - M D NALAPAT
- MORE FAKE ENCOUNTERS IN INDIAN ARMY - SULTAN M HALI
- IMPORTANCE OF FRIDAY - ATIF NOOR KHAN
- GUARDING OUR NATIONAL INTEREST - ALI ASHRAF KHAN
- LOSE A GENERAL, WIN A WAR - THOMAS E RICKS
- UNEASY CALM
- CIRCULAR WATERWAY
- EQUALITY FORMULA..!
- ARSENIC IN WATER - SYLVIA MORTOZA
- UNRAVELLING THE ROOTS OF THE GENETIC TREE - JOHNJOE MCFADDEN
- FREEDOM OF PRESS IN DANGER - MOHAMMAD AMJAD HOSSAIN
- JULIA GILLARD'S JOB IS TO REBUILD LABOR
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- JULIA GILLARD GIVES LABOR A NEW START
- A FIRST FOR WOMEN, BUT NOT NECESSARILY AN END TO TURMOIL
- IN PRAISE OF UNDERSTATEMENT
- AUSTRALIA: RUDDERLESS
- PENSIONS: HELP THE AGED KEEP THEM WORKING
THE MOSCOW TIMES
- WHATEVER THE CASE - BY MICHELE A. BERDY
- MEDVEDEV SHOULD LOOK AT CHINA'S SILICON VALLEY - BY HARLEY BALZER
THE JAPAN TIMES
- RAMPAGE BY AN IRREGULAR WORKER
- PRIORITY TIME FOR PARTIES
- WESTERN MEDIA PLAY ALONG IN THE DISINFORMATION GAME - By GREGORY CLARK
- OBAMA TAKES THE BROAD APPROACH TO SECURITY - BY JAVIER SOLANA
THE JAKARTA POST
- BYE KEVIN. HELLO JULIA?
- BIG BANG POLICY WITH LITTLE IMPACT
- BYE KEVIN. HELLO JULIA?
- WHERE WE GO TO STUDY INDONESIAN ISLAM? - LUTHFI ASSYAUKANIE
- PROTECTING WATER AND ECOLOGY: ENGINEERING THE FOURTH EYE - AMREETA REGMI
- MYANMAR'S NUCLEAR AMBITION IS APPARENTLY REAL AND ALARMING - ROBERT KELLEY
- ONE LAW FOR ALL VERSUS SHARIA LAW
- BUILDING TRUST
- TIGHT AUDIT
- PROTECT WHISTLEBLOWERS
- ROAD TO BRAZIL 2014 BEGINS AT HOME - BY JOERGEN LINDGREN HANSEN (CHINA DAILY)
- TIME FOR G20 TO SEIZE ITS POTENTIAL - BY STEWART PATRICK (CHINA DAILY)
- CONSENSUS KEY TO G20 - BY DING YIFAN (CHINA DAILY)
- EU MAY FIND A WAY OUT EVEN THIS TIME - BY ZHENG XIWEN (CHINA DAILY)
- NO GLOW
- TOPIC: MT EVEREST AND MORE
- CHANDRA SAPKOTA
- THE MONSOON ARMOUR OF NEPALESE ECONOMY
- PROF DR BIDUR PD UPADHYAY
- CABINET IN CIRCUS, WHY NOT CHANGE ATTITUDE INSTEAD?
- WE DON'T SPEAK THE PEOPLE'S LANGUAGE; UNP FACING IDENTITY CRISIS- KABIR - BY DIANNE SILVA
- MCCHRYSTAL AND ROLLING STONE: IS OBAMA BUILDING ON SAND?
- MANNAR PUTTALAM ROAD THROUGH WILPATTU NATIONAL PARK
THIRTY-FIVE YEARS ON
EMERGENCY MINDSET STILL RULES CONGRESS
This day, 35 years ago, Emergency was imposed upon India. As is well-known, an Emergency dating back to the 1971 war against Pakistan was already in place, not having been removed despite the external hostilities having long ended. On June 25, 1975, this situation was complemented by an Emergency due to 'internal disturbances'. Political opponents of the then Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, and of the ruling Congress were imprisoned. They ranged from young college students to senior MPs and former Ministers, including stalwarts of the pre-1947 national movement. A cabal took charge of India, with the Prime Minister's younger son as an extra-constitutional authority. The Press was muzzled. The life of the Lok Sabha was extended by a largely captive House, with leading members of the Opposition behind bars. An in-house committee of the Congress announced amendments to the Constitution of India, without any public or parliamentary debate. Most egregiously, a programme of sterilisation was announced and hospitals and district magistrates given targets to meet. This resulted in young men, some of whom were not even married, being sterilised in a forced population control project. At one point, Sanjay Gandhi's zero-civilisation 'modernists' set about demolishing the structures on Varanasi's Vishwanath ki Gali in an attempt to build a new boulevard, unencumbered by the 'debris' of history. If these very different examples are being cited here, it is only to point out how damaging the Emergency was to not just the politics but to the very ethos of India. It all ended in March 1977. Mrs Gandhi called an election to validate her tyrannical rule and was convinced she was going to win. The people of India, with their sense of justice and good and evil, had other ideas. Democracy triumphed over despotism and the forbidding ghost of the Emergency was finally laid to rest.
Three-and-a-half decades have passed since then. Two generations have been born. In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, India voted in many MPs who were not even born when the Emergency occurred. Why then is the moment so important? Why should India never forget the Emergency? The answer lies, as it always has, with the Congress. Now, as then, the Congress rules India. Now, as then, the Congress thinks it is infallible, can do no wrong and will go to ridiculous lengths to defend its dynasty-based leadership. The attempt to sequester Rajiv Gandhi from the Bhopal debate and the escape of the Union Carbide chairman in 1984 is only the latest example. The Emergency is dead but the Emergency mindset which sees the Nehru-Gandhi family as above party and the Congress as above nation not only predated June 1975 but has long outlived it. It is still amongst us. As the Congress perceives itself as being more strongly placed in national politics than at any time since the 1980s, that mindset will only want to exhibit itself that much more.
Rajiv Gandhi once said he would rather make history than study it. Such irreverent and flippant one-liners mask the Congress's disregard for the lessons of 1977 and its absence of genuine regret for the Emergency. Time and again, the party has insisted that the suspension of democracy was needed in 1975 and was a responsible act, rather than a move to throttle liberty. This belief survives well into the 21st century. It makes the Emergency anniversary such a timely wake up call.
BATTLING RED TERROR
MAOISTS ARE BEGINNING TO FEEL THE HEAT
At last there appears to be some clarity in the Government's approach towards tackling the Maoist menace, and it is beginning to show results. In recent days security forces have over-run a Maoist camp in Jharkhand and eliminated a terror squad in the forests of West Bengal. Maoists operating under the cover of the PCPA, a front organisation of the Red terrorists, and wanted for their role in derailing Gyaneswari Express near Jhargram on May 28, resulting in the gruesome death of at least 148 innocent men, women and children, have been arrested; the police are on the lookout for their patrons. All this suggests that there is greater political determination at the Centre to take on the murderous thugs and put an end to their reign of terror in vast stretches of the country. This view is further confirmed by recent statements issued by Maoist leaders distancing themselves from mass-murder and atrocities that have shocked the nation. Obviously they are beginning to feel the heat of better-coordinated counter-insurgency measures and panic is setting in: They hope their pathetic denials and bogus refutations of horrendous crimes will ease the hunt for them. Hopefully that won't be the case. Getting hold of foot soldiers is fine; the security forces, in coordination with the local police, should now net the top bosses who direct their cadre to kill, loot, rape and burn, all in the name of upholding their blood-soaked ideology. For that to happen, pressure should be further mounted through increased deployment of Central paramilitary forces of course, after training them in jungle warfare and counter-insurgency operations and boosting the morale of the State police forces.
The decision to deploy Army officers to advice those leading and participating in the anti-Maoist operation should be seen in the context of the emerging strategy to fight Red terror. While it is true that the clamour for involving the Army and the Air Force in dealing with the Maoists has been increasing, and there is merit in the suggestion that the military should be involved in fighting the insurgents, perhaps caution would be in order. The Army is trained for fighting battles of a different nature. A fullscale involvement of the armed forces in eliminating Maoists at this stage may be pre-mature. On the other hand, the Army has expertise that can prove to be extremely helpful. For instance, in de-mining roads and planning strategy in treacherous terrain. The exact nature of the Army's involvement can evolve over a period of time. Meanwhile, the focus should be on inter-State and inter-forces coordination without which the war on Maoists cannot be won. This is where the role of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs and that of State Governments become important. Instead of talking at cross-purposes or blaming each other, they should get on with the job of defeating and eliminating the enemy.
INDIA-BAITING AS POLICY
It is a case surely of indecent exposure. Referring to the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, Mr Matt Waldman, a Harvard University researcher at the John F Kennedy School of Government, in a detailed report published by the London School of Economics, writes: "Pakistan appears to be playing a double-game of astonishing magnitude. The conflict has led to the deaths of over 1,000 American and 700 other foreign military personnel (300 British); thousands of Afghan soldiers, police, officials and civilians; and an unknown number of Afghan, Pakistani and other foreign insurgents. It has already cost America nearly $ 300 billion, and now costs over $ 70 billion a year. As a Haqqani commander put it: 'Of course Pakistan is the main cause of the problems (in Afghanistan) but America is behind Pakistan'."
The author continues: "According to both Taliban and Haqqani commanders (whom he interviewed), the ISI controls the most violent insurgent units, some of which appear to be based in Pakistan... Insurgent commanders confirmed that the ISI are even represented as participants or observers, in the supreme (Taliban) leadership council."
Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari apparently assured captive Taliban leaders that they "are our people" and had his backing. He authorised their subsequent release from prison. The ISI arrested, then freed Taliban leaders Qayyum Zakir, the movement's new commander, and Mullah Abdul Raouf Khadem, now head of the Quetta Shura, who belong to the top rank of the Taliban, below Mullah Omar. The plot thickens.
Mr Waldman moves on: "The Pakistan Government's apparent duplicity and awareness of it among the American public and political establishment could have enormous geo-political implications. It could jeopardise American financial support: Security-related assistance is conditional on Pakistan's cooperation on Afghanistan. Moreover, it could trigger punitive counter-measures by the US and its allies, or direct military action against the Afghan Taliban in Pakistani territory."
However, this would compound America's fraught dilemma by generating further instability in Pakistan and deepen corrosive jihadi hatred of the US in wide swathes of the country's population. Consulting a tattered and mouldering hymn-sheet, Mr Waldman sang out: "The priority must be to address the fundamental causes of Pakistan's security, in particular its latent and enduring conflict with India. This requires a regional peace process... American backing for moves towards a resolution of the Kashmir dispute...".
Surrendering Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler at Munich failed to protect the architects of that shameful settlement, Britain and France, from the onslaught of the Wehrmacht. Nor, methinks, would any reduction in rent by Jewish landlords in Berlin have saved their compatriots from their terrible fate in the Nazi gas chambers. Get real, gentlemen, and learn to think straight. Pakistani-incubated terrorist depredations on Indian soil occurred without let or hindrance, while the Anglo-American good and great wrung their hands and beat their breasts in loud and helpless lamentation.
The pro-Pakistan minstrels are in good voice. Mr Dennis MacShane, a Labour MP and former Foreign Office Minister in the Tony Blair Government, noted in a British broadsheet how "Pakistan has to put up with condescension and patronising sneers from a pro-Indian establishment in London... India's failure to create peace on its border with Kashmir rarely if ever gets mentioned". Offering more tripe for sale, he continued, "India should do more to bring stability to the region by seeking to become the part of the solution to Kashmir instead of remaining part of the problem." You don't say. Mr David Miliband, the egregious Foreign Secretary in the Gordon Brown Government, said much the same thing in his time. Significantly, Mr MacShane and Mr Miliband are tried and tested Russia-baiters, which perhaps explains the roots of their anti-Indian animus.
Old and New Labour have always had special pleaders for Pakistan. One recalls the antics of Philip Noel Baker, the Attlee Cabinet's UN representative who worked tirelessly and deviously to undermine India's postion on Jammu & Kashmir. It was only when Indian patience ran out, that the visiting Labour Minister Patrick Gordon Walker was told bluntly to rein in Noel Baker or else India's relationship with the UK would be put at risk. The warning worked, but the sniping at India has continued unabated down the years.
Truth is that the British Foreign Office is barnacled with Pakistan sympathisers. Harold Wilson, the Labour Prime Minister, discovered this when he was wrongly advised by his mandarins on the rights and wrongs of the India-Pakistan conflict of September 1965 over Pakistani sponsorship of a tribal invasion of Jammu & Kashmir.
The Zulfikar Ali Bhutto archive, as his American biographer Stanley Wolpert reveals with juicy extracts, calculated once more that the India-Pakistan war of December 1971would lead to a collapse of Indian authority in Jammu & Kashmir, and perhaps to the break-up of India itself. In both instances, Islamabad's strategy was predicated on elusive Chinese military support. Bhutto lost his gamble and eventually his head.
The Bhutto dynasty was recently compared by Irish pop star and human rights activist Bob Geldof to the infamous Borgias, yet its prime characters, Zulfikar Ali and his daughter Benazir, were fawned upon and wined and dined by Richard Nixon and Mr Henry Kissinger and their counterparts in London. Harold Macmillan, the Conservative British Prime Minister, as Chancellor of Oxford University, desperately worked his spells unsuccessfully as it happened to get Bhutto senior an honorary doctorate in 1974. As for Benazir Bhutto, her successful election campaign in 1976 for president of the Oxford Union was described by a contemporary as the "most ingeniously corrupt in memory". She lost her life as an Anglo-American pawn.
Escott Reid, a former Canadian High Commissioner, tells in his memoir, Envoy to Nehru, that, while the British Foreign Office was stocked with Pakistan partisans, the India locker was bare. It is possible that things have changed but by what measure is this to be weighed?
Mr Hilary Synott, a recent High Commissioner to Pakistan, in a short piece for The Daily Telegraph, argued vigorously for continued Western support to Islamabad. "If Pakistani loyalties are to change, the West must offer a far wider partnership that is focussed on trade and aid, not just the balance of power in Afghanistan," he wrote. There was no reference to Pakistan's war of terror against India, nor to any Indian concern over regional instability and the future contours of a general peace. India didn't exist.
However, for all Sir Hilary's pep talk, Britain is stuck with a war it cannot afford, and cannot win. That is the bottom line about which there is now declining media denial. With Gen Stanley McCrystal arriving at the White House for scourging, the Great Game in Afghanistan may end, not with the promised bang, but with a tremulous whimper.
DEALING WITH SENIOR CITIZENS
There should be a standard uniform definition of senior citizens across the board and throughout the country. There should also be a separate category for some citizens who are of advanced years. Men aged 75 years and above and women aged 70 and more expect a little bit more compassion and consideration from the State and society a few extra benefits, amenities and facilities, over and above other senior citizens, so that some sunshine can be added to the twilight years of their otherwise drab and cheerless life besieged, as it usually is, by ills, bills, pills and the empty nest syndrome.
The extra facilities and benefits to these citizens, who may be called 'super-senior citizens', are not going to cost much to the State. Those belonging to this category of citizens are after all not too many in number. Reasonably enough, among other things, they richly deserve priority in matters of healthcare and medical facilities, 50 per cent concession in travel charges by air, train, bus or any other mode of transport with priority in reservation of seat or berths therein, total exemption from payment of income tax, thereby relieving them of the worry of filing returns and priority in grant of accommodation in old age homes, guest houses, rest houses, clubs and hostels.
A token one or two per cent tax deducted at source, irrespective of the income earned by them, may be levied and recovered as their modest contribution or payback to the society, to be credited under a different revenue-head of account. Depending on their circumstance and other factors, they may be given the choice of volunteering for a higher percentage cut of TDS on income as a gesture of participation in a society that takes steps to provide adequate care to them.
Treating them thus won't hurt anybody; neither their pride nor the interests of other citizens and will not, for that matter, prove much costly to the Government. If the Government takes a quick and urgent initiative in this regard, private players owning hostels, dharamshala, guest-houses, buses and other conveyances will also pitch in with their support.
CONGRESS'S SUBVERSION OF THE CONSTITUTION
A SURYA PRAKASH
June 25, 2010 marks the 35th anniversary of the Emergency that was imposed on an unsuspecting nation by Mrs Indira Gandhi. The Emergency (a euphemism for dictatorship), which lasted 19 months, resulted in the incarceration of political opponents of the Congress, suspension of fundamental rights, censorship of the media and the complete eclipse of democracy. The reign of terror unleashed by that regime reduced parliament to a rubber stamp and even the judiciary failed to stand up to its tyranny.
The story of the Emergency is a long one that falls into distinct chapters dealing with each of the organs of state and cannot possibly be told in a single article. This article will therefore be limited to one aspect the mutilation of the Constitution by that regime. But, before we get to the fate that befell the Constitution, a quick re-cap of the events that led to the imposition of the Emergency.
The story begins with the judgement of Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court holding Mrs Indira Gandhi guilty of corrupt practices in the 1971 Lok Sabha election from Rae Bareli. He held that election to be void and also barred her from contesting elections for six years. The judge found that she had violated many provisions of the election law. Mrs Gandhi appealed against this order in the Supreme Court and managed to secure a "conditional stay". Justice VR Krishna Iyer, who heard the appeal, allowed her to continue in Parliament but barred her from participating in debates or voting and referred the matter to a larger Bench of the court.
These judicial pronouncements clearly reduced Mrs Gandhi to a lame duck Prime Minister and the right course for her would have been to step down until the larger Bench had disposed of her case. But, egged on by her family and the toadies she collected around her, she decided to challenge the judiciary and place herself above the law. Misusing an unused provision in the Constitution (Article 352) that permitted the imposition of Emergency to deal with "internal disturbance", she got the President to issue a proclamation suspending fundamental rights and giving the Union Government unbridled powers. Further, all this was done by stealth. The President passed the order after a late night meeting with the Prime Minister. The Cabinet was not consulted but only "informed" the next morning at 6 am in gross violation of the rules governing conduct of business in Government.
On June 27, 1975, the President issued an order suspending citizens' right to move the courts for enforcement of fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 14 (equality before law and equal protection of the law), Article 21 (no deprivation of life and liberty except by procedure established by law) and Article 22 (no detention without being informed of the grounds for it). With the passage of this order, citizens lost their fundamental right to life and liberty. Later, he passed yet another order suspending the right of citizens to move court for enforcement of freedoms under Article 19. This laid the infrastructure for dictatorship.
The assault on the Constitution began soon thereafter with the 38th Amendment, which barred judicial review of the presidential proclamation and the laws made by a discredited Government in contravention of the fundamental rights. Then came the 39th Amendment, which barred the Supreme Court from hearing the election petition against the Prime Minister.
This amendment, passed in gross violation of parliamentary rules, was hustled through at break-neck speed. It, therefore, enjoys the dubious distinction of being the fastest constitutional amendment in India's history. It was introduced in the Lok Sabha on August 7, 1975 and passed that very day after a two hour 'debate'. It was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on August 8, 1975 and again, passed that very day. On August 9, a Saturday, all State legislatures were summoned to ratify this amendment and on August 10, 1975 (a Sunday) it received the President's assent. The reason for this over-speeding was the Congress's desire to pre-empt the Supreme Court which was to begin hearing Mrs Gandhi's appeal on Monday, August 11, 1975. Alas, there was no Constitutional Policeman to challan this rash driver!
But such was the desperation within the Congress to place its leader above the law that it showed itself to be both ruthless and reckless. Although the 39th Amendment had been passed by the Rajya Sabha only the previous day, the Government introduced and ensured passage of the 41st Amendment in that House the very next day August 9, 1975. Parliament had become a captive legislative machine churning out constitutional amendments to suit the needs of an individual the Prime Minister.
This amendment took the concept of putting the Prime Minister above the law to a far more ridiculous level. It said no civil or criminal proceedings "whatsoever" could lie in court against a person who is or who had been Prime Minister for acts done by that person before entering office or during the term of office. This amendment shook the very foundation of our Constitution because equality before law and equal application of all laws is the basic premise of a democratic Constitution. Fortunately, though the Rajya Sabha passed this amendment with undue haste, there was some rethinking and the Bill was not brought before the lower House. Also rushed through around this time was the 40th Amendment that put an anti-media law in the 9th Schedule to bar judicial intervention.
The 42nd Amendment turned out to be the final nail in the coffin of a democratic Constitution. Its primary aim was to clip the wings of the judiciary. It said Parliament's power to amend the Constitution was unlimited "by way of addition, variation or repeal" and no amendment could be questioned "in any court on any ground". This meant that Parliament henceforth had the unfettered power to preserve or destroy the Constitution.
The 42nd Amendment had two other reprehensible components. One, it abolished the need for quorum in Parliament and State legislatures, thus making it possible for just a handful of Congress MPs to sit late in parliament and make laws for the country at will. Two, it gave the President the power to amend constitutional provisions through an Executive Order. It said if there were any difficulties in giving effect to the Constitution as amended, the President may, by order, for up to two years, "adapt or modify the provision to remove the difficulty". Through this provision, Parliament had bartered way its exclusive power to amend the Constitution.
History books tell us that Hitler and Mussolini were among those who acquired such special powers to 'amend' their Constitutions with the stroke of a pen. Taken together, these amendments robbed the Constitution of its soul and turned India into a dictatorship.
Fortunately the people voted out this regime in March 1977. The Janata Party, which came to power, quickly removed these fascist features and re-introduced democratic values in the Constitution. However, although it had turned a vibrant democracy into a dictatorship, the Congress has had no remorse over its conduct during 1975-77.
Worse, some of its members and many of its apologists argue that Mrs Gandhi had no option but to impose the Emergency. So, next time Congress spokespersons talk about the virtues of democracy, we need to ask them what they think of Amendments 38 to 42!
JP, JUNE 25, AND A STATUE
On June 25, 1975, I was serving as Director Military Intelligence at Army headquarters in Delhi. I was taken completely unawares when I heard that Emergency had been declared. I started getting daily reports from Intelligence Bureau of the situation in the country and arrests running into thousands being made every day. We recovered pamphlets surreptitiously circulated comparing Hitler's declaration of Emergency in 1933 with the Emergency now clamped on India. The German Army being apolitical had kept itself aloof. Had it intervened, Hitler could have been prevented from becoming a dictator and the liberal Constitution of the Weimar Republic could have been saved. There may not have been any Holocaust in Germany and mankind may have been spared the horror of World War II. I had to monitor reactions within the Army and found that the pamphlets had no impact and the Army remained steadfast to its apolitical culture.
At the personal level, I felt disturbed by the arrest of Jayaprakash Narayan, popularly knows as 'JP'. My father and he had been students together in Patna and my grandfather had known him from those days. In 1942 JP had escaped from Hazaribagh Central Jail scaling its high walls with the help of several dhotis tied together. I was then a student and JP had become our hero. One evening I went to the house of my father's cousin who was a few years older than me. I was surprised to accidentally meet JP at his house. He was in hiding, with the police on the lookout for him. The following day JP and my uncle disappeared and went underground. They moved to the foothills in Nepal.
JP had organised widespread destruction of communication facilities, both rail and telegraph, to paralyse the British Government. On release from jail, Mahatma Gandhi hailed JP as the hero of the Quit India movement. After Independence, JP left politics and joined Acharya Vinoba Bhave. Jawaharlal Nehru invited JP to join his Cabinet as Deputy Prime Minister after the death of Sardar Patel. This would have ensured his becoming Prime Minister after Nehru, but he declined. Similarly he declined to be President of India in late-1960s.
During the Bihar famine of 1965, JP set up the Bihar Relief Committee to provide succour to the people in famine-hit areas. My father, living in retirement, was invited by him to become the honorary director of this committee. Because of JP's name, funds poured in from abroad and also from Government of India. Hundreds of deep tubewells were dug and hundreds of free kitchens were run. After JP's death my father succeeded him as president of the committee.
In May 1974 I happened to travel in the same flight with JP. To my pleasant surprise I found JP sitting next to me. That was the time when differences had erupted between him and Mrs Indira Gandhi. JP was leading the students' movement in Bihar which had spread all over the country. We did not discuss a word of politics on the flight. JP was amused to learn that I was then the head of Military Intelligence. On reaching Delhi, I offered to carry his brief case. He said that I was now a General and Generals do not carry a brief case. I replied that I was also a nephew. What would people say if I allowed my old uncle to carry his brief case. He smiled and handed over his brief case to me.
A large crowd was waiting for him outside. I handed over his brief case to one of his aides. I saluted JP and departed. Next morning I was with Gen Raina, the Army Chief, in his office. Gen Raina smilingly remarked that I appeared to be close to JP. I immediately guessed that the Intelligence Bureau must have sent a report on me. I told Gen Raina of my old association with JP. He told me not to worry.
A few weeks later on June 25 when Emergency was declared, JP was arrested and kept in confinement at Chandigarh. Later he was sent to a hospital in Mumbai for treatment. I used to give intelligence briefing to the three Service Chiefs every week. I mentioned about JP's illness. The Air Chief interrupted, asking me, "Hasn't that old man died yet?" I looked at him and in a firm voice replied, "Sir, thank god, the greatest living Indian is alive." Gen Raina was the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. He changed the topic. Exaggerated versions of this exchange spread in South Block where people had begun to talk in whispers those days. Shortly after, I was posted to command a division in Kashmir. Gen Raina told me that he was sending me to command a division again in the interest of my career before I picked up the rank of Lt Gen. Notwith- standing this, the general feeling was that I was moved out for political reasons. Kuldip Nayyar's book on Emergency, Judgement, refers pointedly to Gen Kaul replacing me. In 1983 I was the senior Army Commander and was brought in as Vice Chief to Delhi. I was told that I would be taking over as Chief shortly. Suddenly, Mrs Gandhi decided to supersede me. This caused controversy in the Press and in Parliament. The newspapers reported that I had been superseded on account of my 'JP connection'. I decided to quit the Army and return to my home in Patna.
As I landed at Patna airport I was surprised to find a large crowd led by Karpoori Thakur to welcome me. He was the Leader of the Opposition and former Chief Minister of Bihar. There was resentment in Bihar at my supersession on account of my JP connection. I became friendly with Karpoori Thakur. He would often come to my house. I proposed that we should have a bronze statue of JP in Patna without seeking Government funds. He liked the idea and suggested that a committee be formed with me as its president and he along with the leaders of the State BJP and State Janta Party as vice- presidents. I said that he should be the president and I could be the vice- president but he would not agree.
We met Bindeshwari Dubey, the then Chief Minister of Bihar. He was an admirer of JP and readily agreed to allocate a prime location near Gandhi Maidan in Patna. I undertook a lecture tour all over the country. I received generous contributions and was was able to raise Rs 10 lakh. We started work on the statue in right earnest and completed the task in record time. The Chief Minister asked me to invite Rajiv Gandhi to unveil the statue. I told him that I had already invited President Zail Singh and he had accepted my invitation. That was the time when acute differences had erupted between Zail Singh and Rajiv Gandhi. The Chief Minister did not want Zail Singh to visit Bihar.
Zail Singh's tenure was to end soon. The Bihar Government started playing delaying tactics. It intimated the President's Secretariat that the statue was not ready and also expressed reservations about the President's security. I met the President and told him that the statue was ready. I showed him its photograph. I also told him that in case Bihar Government had problems in arranging his security, he as Supreme Commander, could get the Army to do so. The President sent for his secretary in my presence and told him to inform the State Government that he knew that the statue was ready and he would be arriving on Patna on 25 June to unveil it. The State Government need not worry about his security. He would be happy to meet his end at the feet of JP.
The President kept his promise and arrived in Patna to unveil JP's statue before a crowd of a few lakhs. This was the first time that a President had visited a State at the invitation of a private individual against the wishes of the State Government. I had the immense satisfaction at seeing the President paying the nation's tribute to JP on June 25, the date in 1975 on which that great national icon was incarcerated.
The writer, a former Lt General of the Indian Army, has served as Governor of Assam and Jammu & Kashmir.
AN UNDESIRABLE AFTEREFFECT
RECENT REPORTS SHOW THAT THERE HAS BEEN A SPURT IN CONSUMPTION OF LIQUOR IN AREAS WHERE PEOPLE HAVE BENEFITED FROM THE NREGS. THIS MEANS INCOME IS BEING DIVERTED TO LIQUOR INSTEAD OF BEING SPENT ON FOOD AND EDUCATION. GOVERNMENT MUST PUT AN END TO THIS
When the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme was launched in 2006, it was one of the biggest leaps taken by the UPA Government to productively engage the underprivileged rural folk and connect them to the mainstream, a move which was due for long. From Rs 11,000 crore as the initial outlay, the same NREGS has grown to Rs 40,100 crore in the current year, encompassing each and every district of the country.
Although a phenomenal initiative, from the very beginning, the NREGS has been marred with delivery bottlenecks. As in most other cases, this time too corruption at every stage has robbed the poor rural folk of their dues. The only consolation is that at least something is reaching them, compared to nothing in the past.
But then, I recently came across this disturbing news. It has been reported that Indian made foreign liquor sales have been going up as an aftereffect of the NREGS. In hindsight, this was clearly predictable, but it was something that should have never happened in the first place.
Predictable, because this is apparently a global phenomenon, that an immediate spurt in income disproportionately increases the propensity of consumption, and if it is backed with illiteracy and lack of awareness, the outcome is even more hazardous, like we are seeing in our case. What is most unfortunate is that a scheme which had the promise to transform the rural economy is actually pushing it into a bigger crisis. If corrective action is not taken immediately, we ourselves would be blamed for funding people into becoming alcoholics.
So when the Government was all set to distribute around Rs 40,000 crore through the NREGS, apart from ensuring that the money reaches the targeted population and does not get eaten up by the system, it should have also ensured that there was a serious cap on the supply of alcohol in these regions. What happened was just the reverse.
In fact, over the past few years, liquor outlets have on, an average, doubled in the rural areas. In Bihar, for example, the number of liquor outlets in the rural areas in 2006-07 was around 2,800, which has gone up by more than 6,000 currently. This is set to rise further as it is reported that the Excise and Prohibition Department is about to sanction one liquor vend for every three villages.
It's tragic that State Governments don't show a similar commitment for opening schools and health centres across each village. The bigger tragedy is that the per capita consumption of cereals is reducing every year, whereas that of liquor is increasing. The per capita consumption of cereals has fallen by almost two kg in the last decade. Bihar is not the only case in point, a similar growth in liquor supply and consumption is being observed across the country. At a recent auction of 6,500 liquor vends in Andhra Pradesh, bids for vends in rural areas were the highest.
Reports also state that liquor traders are very upbeat about the rural economy as various development schemes like the NREGS are enhancing the purchasing power of the rural populace, which has been driving up their sales. The Government has been extremely helpful towards liquor traders without any concern about the long-term impact of its action.
The Government should definitely put an immediate cap on the licensing of liquor outlets, particularly in the villages. This might lead to a spurt in the supply of illicit liquor and even create a black economy. The challenge for the Union Government and the State Governments lies in restricting the consumption of alcohol and diverting the new income towards consumption of cereals, savings, and social investments like education.
One way to meet this challenge is to issue NREGS cards to the female member of the targeted family rather than the male member. Globally, it has been observed that whenever income levels go up, women fare relatively better with respect to overall family welfare, as compared to their male counterparts. Even the famous Grameen Bank, which works on micro-finance and has been hugely successful in transforming lives in rural Bangladesh, operates on the premise that funding women with loans is any day a better bet than providing loans to men.
The NREGS is no doubt a great transformational initiative. But then, successfully implementing the scheme across the country is just half the job done. The Government needs to ensure that the additional income generated is mobilised for long-term productive benefits. That would be transformation in the real sense.
--The writer is a management guru and Editor, The Sunday Indian.
LET US LEARN LESSONS FROM BHOPAL TRAGEDY
It may seem futile to point out now that had India stuck to traditional organic farming methods, instead of embracing intensive chemicals-based agriculture as the fulcrum of the Green Revolution, the Bhopal disaster could have been averted. But there is an important lesson to be drawn from the December 1984 gas leak from the Union Carbide pesticides plant at Bhopal which killed 15,000 people and left over a lakh with various ailments. Even as the inheritors of faulty policy-making grapple with the long-term fallout of that catastrophe, policy-makers today would do well to rethink India's whole approach to agriculture. This is especially pertinent in light of growing evidence of lethal agro-chemicals poisoning the food chain, ground water and rivers/streams in Punjab, the Gangetic basin and other areas, given to extensive use of toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilisers.
To cite a horrific example, Punjab's Malwa district, most productive and prosperous, has shown increasing incidence of cases of cancer, cerebral palsy and neurological disorders. A study done by Germany's Microtrace Mineral Lab detected high uranium levels in hair samples of mentally retarded children. Adults too were found to have the toxin. Another study, done by ecology NGO Greenpeace, indicates that Punjab is suffering the ill-effects of chemical, radiation and biological toxicity. The study was conducted in 50 villages in Bhatinda, Ludhiana and Muktsar districts. Especially worrisome was the detection of nitrate pollution, linked with the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers, in many wells. Industrial effluent, flowing into water bodies, has added to the problem. Cases of pancreatic and other cancers are being reported from settlements along the Ganga, with residues of arsenic and other poisons having been found even in ground water.
The Green Revolution, launched in the 1960s, hinged on huge Government subsidies for agrochemicals and converting farmers to their use. While many, especially in tribal and poor areas, did not forsake traditional organic or natural farming methods because of financial constraints, many were impelled by Government advocacy to switch over to the use of chemicals-based pesticides and fertilisers by the promise of magnified farm yield. This was seen by policy-makers as the only way to produce enough to feed India's burgeoning population. But, as per a 2005 World Bank estimate, 42 per cent of our people were below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day, with not enough food to eat, presumably.
Four decades later, the outcome of the initiative suggests that the negative fallout far outweighs gains. Besides adverse effects on the health of people and animals and birds, toxins gradually degraded the soil, making it infertile; and to counter this, farmers increased use of fertilisers. Pests soon developed immunity to some common pesticides, which were then used in higher intensity. And hybrid seeds came to replace many robust native varieties, as for wheat.
Dependency on agrochemicals has made farming a costly proposition, hinging on loans. And inability to repay loans, when crops fail owing to the vagaries of climate, or inadequate payment for produce, especially cash crops such as cotton and exotic fruits, puts farmers in dire straits. Reverting to traditional organic farming would not only be much healthier and more economical as its cost inputs are comparatively low but help revive the use of plants and cow urine-based pesticides and cow dung manure that made India into a rich agrarian country in the past. This knowledge pool evolved over several millennia, its efficacy proved by historical accounts of the comfort and peace of Indian village life. The additional benefit would be the optimum use of cows and bullocks as farm animals, whether for preparing manure from dung, ploughing fields or for dairy-related purposes. It would be a return to roots, and save our cattle from slaughter houses.
Though Central policy-makers are still to reformulate the approach to agriculture in line with the growing awareness of the hazards posed by agrochemicals, some States have shown a shift away from prevalent methods. Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, at an agriculture workshop in Shimla last month, advocated a return to old farming practices, giving up the use of chemicals. Thousands of farmers in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and other parts are reported to be returning to native farming techniques after being singed by the high costs of agrochemicals-intensive farming. Advocacy groups and activists have helped them to make the transition.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr MS Swaminathan, who helped launch the Green Revolution, have spoken about the need for a second Green Revolution. One can only hope that it avoids the earlier mistakes.
A FINE WEB SPUN BY AMERICA
AHEAD OF THE SAARC HOME MINISTERS' CONFERENCE, NEW DELHI IS UNDER PRESSURE TO FALL IN LINE WITH WASHINGTON'S STRATEGY FOR PEACE IN THE REGION WHICH GIVES THE UPPER HAND TO ISLAMABAD
Are improved India-Pakistan relations key to American strategy in Afghanistan? Are India and Pakistan being nudged to remain engaged by the US Administra- tion? A Wall Street Journal story some time ago claimed that the Obama Administration had issued a secret directive to make efforts for easing tensions between India and Pakistan which may help the US gain the latter's support in Afghanistan. Indications are that both New Delhi and Islamabad are moving in that direction.
It is 18 months now since Mr Barack Obama took over as the US President. Afghanistan and Iraq continue to be problem areas and Mr Obama has assured that the US troops will be pulled out of Afghanistan starting July 2011. The choice for him is a hard one either slow the withdrawal or risk an Afghanistan where the Taliban still has a significant role.
Mr Obama badly needs his Af-Pak strategy to show results. His Nobel burdens him with that responsibility. The US Congress is not willing to spend more money on sending troops to Afghanistan. There are more US troops in Afghanistan (92,000) than in Iraq (85,000.) Last week's hearings on Capitol Hill revealed deep concerns and doubts over Pentagon assurances of progress. The operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are worth a whopping sum of $1 trillion. Americans are worried whether or not the nine-year-old war is worth fighting and whether or not it can be won. Support for the war is dropping gradually.
To add to the problems, despite more US troops being deployed in Afghanistan, there is not much improvement as crucial areas still remain under Taliban influence. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is upset with the Western pressure building on him to deliver good governance. He has become weaker after the elections which have isolated him.
At this juncture, Pakistan has the upper hand .The US has made it clear to India that it needs the full cooperation of Pakistan to succeed in Afghanistan. The US also needs Pakistan to fight Al Qaeda. Mr Obama has himself communicated this to both Indian and Pakistani leadership. The US is keen to have India and Pakistan resume dialogue interrupted by the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. Afghanistan was discussed during the Indo-US bilateral talks in November when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Washington as Mr Obama's first state guest. Since then, this policy has been stressed upon on various occasions by the US leaders. The US feels that if Pakistan has to fully concentrate upon dealing with militancy on its western borders, reduced tensions in Kashmir are a must.
It is in India's interests to have a peaceful Afghanistan. Pakistan also would like some peace in its neighbouring country. New Delhi has played the role of a soft power by helping in rebuilding Afghanistan. It has built schools, hospitals and provided various other infrastructure facilities. While the US has recognised India's contributions, Pakistan sees India as a meddler and wants India to be kept out. Islamabad feels that New Delhi had instigated problems in Balochistan.
New Delhi, on its part, would like its concerns be taken into account in framing of the Afghanistan strategy. It does not believe in the "good Taliban" and "bad Taliban" paradigm being floated by the US leadership. It fears that any Afghan plan to broker a deal with the Taliban could undermine India's security and give more influence to Pakistan. The Obama Administration is grappling with how to balance India's role in Afghanistan without annoying Pakistan.
Both India and Pakistan are moving towards engagement in the past few months following the collapse of peace talks after the Mumbai terror attack. The Foreign Ministers of the two countries and the Foreign Secretary-level dialogues had taken off. The next Foreign Ministers' meeting is scheduled in Islamabad next month. Before that there is a second round of Foreign Secretary-level talks scheduled this week. The Home Ministers of India and Pakistan are going to meet next month on the sidelines of SAARC. Both the countries are showing keenness to continue the dialogue and confidence building measures. However, it is not that easy to quicken the pace in view of the weak civilian Government in Pakistan and a coalition Government in India. The problem for Mr Singh is that there is no way he can be seen as ceding ground on Kashmir and also on the 26/11-accused. The huge arms package and economic package given to Pakistan during the Obama regime has also triggered apprehensions in New Delhi.
India is going into these talks with the confidence that all outstanding issues, including Jammu & Kashmir, will be discussed to reduce trust deficit between the two countries. For the moment, Pakistan has the upper hand and it is willing to play the broker provided it gets is price: More American aid and arms plus curtailing of India's role in Afghanistan.
The stakes in Afghanistan are enormous for the various players. These include prevention of another 9/11-type terrorist strike and conflict in South Asia, the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and the future of Nato. To succeed, Mr Obama will have to invest not just more troops but also his political acumen and savoir-faire.
SLEUTHS MISINTERPRETED TEST BOMBING
THE ONE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE SURVEILLANCE OPERATION WAS PUT DOWN BY THE CSIS AS A GUNSHOT
In 2006, the Canadian Government had appointed a commission of inquiry headed by former Supreme Court Justice John Major to investigate the crash of Air India's Montreal-London-Delhi-Bombay Kanishka Flight 182, which was blown mid-air on June 23, 1985. The bombing was masterminded by Khalistanis in Vancouver belonging to Babbar Khalsa headed by the late Talwinder Singh Parmar. The report of the commission was released on June 17, six days before the 25th anniversary of the crash. Following is the fourth instalment of relevant extracts from the report:
Even the most important achievement of the surveillance, hearing of the explosion in the woods, was marred by the misinterpretation by surveillants. The surveillants thought they heard a shotgun blast when in fact they heard an explosion intended to test the bombs Parmar was building. Instead of leading to a realisation that Parmar was planning to blow something up, the surveillants' belief that they heard a gunshot supported the mistaken conclusion by the CSIS (British Columbia) that the primary danger from Parmar and the Babbar Khalsa was a possible assassination attempt or armed assault.
But even this misinterpreted information, which at the very least appears to demonstrate that Parmar and his group posed a serious threat to commit a terrorist act, never made it into the formal CSIS threat assessment process. Likewise, other significant pieces of threat information in various hands were never reported.
The fate of the electronic surveillance on Parmar, finally approved in March 1985, was no less problematic, and arguably constituted an even more serious failure because of its consequences in the subsequent investigation of the bombing. In this case too, resource issues were important. While listening devices can record conversations, it takes human resources to transcribe, to translate, if necessary, and, ultimately, to analyse and interpret them. Each of these steps proved to have been problematic.
In order to safeguard security, the CSIS, like the Royal Canadian Mounted Police before it, adopted stringent security qualifications for its translators, including lengthy periods of Canadian residency as well as citizenship. As prudent as this may have seemed in the abstract, in practice it meant that there was only a very small pool of potential translators available for recruitment. In BC region, it meant that there were no Punjabi translators available at all.
To cope with this problem, the tapes of the Parmar intercepts were shipped to Ottawa, where they were added to the workload of the already overburdened Punjabi translator at CSIS headquarters. Delays were inevitable and a serious backlog ensued.
Shipping the tapes across the country meant that there was no meaningful possibility for the BC investigators to interact with the translator, who was essentially left to her own devices to extract, translate and summarise what was related on the tapes. Although a Punjabi translator for the BC region was eventually recruited and began work on June 8, 1985, a significant backlog of translation work in BC remained throughout the pre-bombing period. There still seems to have been little interaction with the investigators on the ground and there remains some doubt as to how many, if any, of the 'transcripts' that were produced were in fact reviewed by the investigators.
The transcripts were prepared by a transcriber who reviewed and summarised what she thought relevant in the English language content, adding material from the Punjabi content based on the translators' notes. The effectiveness of this disjointed process became further impaired by the vacation schedules of the transcriber and one of the investigators. One of the investigators was off-duty in the two weeks leading up to the bombing and the transcriber was away just prior to, and for a week after, the bombing. Because the intercept tapes were erased shortly after they were processed, there was no opportunity to go back to the actual tapes for further analysis or to remedy any deficiencies in the transcription and translation process. Whatever information was not recorded in the transcription notes was lost permanently.
As discussed elsewhere, disputes remain as to the actual content of the tapes that were reviewed and of those that were caught in the backlog, as well as about the adequacy and comprehensiveness of the review and analysis. What is beyond doubt is that no material from the Parmar intercepts made its way into the CSIS or any other threat assessment process between April and June of 1985.
DON'T ALLOW CORRUPT COPS TO MILK 26/ 11 TRAGEDY
THE shock of the Mumbai attacks in which officers like Hemant Karkare lost their lives to faulty bullet proof vests as much as to terrorists' bullets, should have led to transparency in the procurement of security- equipment.
But as the H EADLINES T ODAY sting operation on arms dealer Bimal Aggarwal has exposed, the nexus between such vendors and the police is very much intact. In fact, these elements have cynically used the panic created by the attacks to sabotage any form of transparency in the post- 26/ 11 procurement drive.
In any case the " drive" seems to have existed only on paper; it has essentially been a deal between arms dealers
like Aggarwal and corrupt cops. The quality and price of the equipment and its timely delivery were incidental to the process. The police have done little to hold Aggarwal to account for the delay in the procurement of bomb suits.
Imagine dealing with another serial bomb attack with just 14 suits in hand, instead of the 82 Aggarwal was supposed to supply by June 2009. The collusion between the police and Aggrawal is also evident in the supply of a Total Containment Vehicle which has come for Rs 2.5 crore more than what Delhi and Mumbai airports paid for their TCVs.
it is not just a matter of making money.
Morally compromised policemen are also easy targets for subversion. Corrupt customs officials enabled terrorists to smuggle in the RDX used for the Bombay blasts of 1993. Even the fate of the CRPF personnel in Dantewada may have been different had home ministry official Radhey Shyam Sharma not demanded a bribe on the procurement of bullet- proof jackets.
This is nothing short of subversion and murder, in addition to being criminal splurge of tax- payers' money.
TALL CLAIMS POOR DELIVERY
THE Delhi government's recent responses on power cuts are disturbingly confusing. We are not sure whether or not it wants to get a handle on the situation at all. Over the past few days, power outages of up to six hours have been reported from different corners of the city. This is a reneging of the state government's commitment to provide uninterrupted power supply in the city.
An advertisement put out by the Delhi government's power department exposes its muddled stand. Its claim on the one hand that Delhi is a power- surplus city and on the other that the power cuts are the result of " local faults" is at best intriguing and at worst, well, pathetic.
The state government seems to have forgotten that the responsibility for maintaining equipment generally and ensuring there are no " local faults" is either with the power distribution companies or Delhi Transco, the government- funded entity which supplies power to the discoms. Either way, the state government cannot walk away from its responsibility to get the companies to provide power 24x7.
The power department's effort to draw a distinction between surplus power supply and faulty power distribution is no comfort to those tortured by the prolonged power cuts.
THE Gujarat state government seems to have found a convenient way of locking up people it considers inconvenient brand them as Maoists. This is despite the fact that there is no real record of Maoist activity in the state.
As many as 14 people who happen to be trade unionists and human rights activists are under arrest on grave charges that include waging a war against the state.
This has become evident after the Delhi police in tandem with the Gujarat police arrested Abdul Shakeel Basha, an activist working for the homeless and street children in Delhi whose credentials are being vouched for by civil society groups.
The Narendra Modi government is known to be high- handed when it comes to dissent, particularly when the people in question happen to be Muslims. This is complemented by the Union government's message that anyone empathising with the Maoist movement is an anti- national deserving strict punishment.
Somebody needs to tell the authorities that this is a democratic country where the right to free speech and expression allows citizens to air their views within the bounds of the law.
WE NEED TO SAVOUR A CITY ON THE TEMPLATE OF ITS HISTORY
BY GAUTAM BHATIA
ONCE while ambling around Rome, in the unstructured way architects do in search of building snapshots, I chanced upon the ancient Baths of Caracalla. Having already seen many ruined monuments that day, I trudged in with low expectations, anticipating broken walls, overgrown shrubbery and a building state closer to geology than architecture.
I was surprised. Inside, the place was humming with modern activity. Electric equipment, sound amplifiers, focused stage lights were being set up. Wooden plank seats had been erected inside the ruined Roman enclosure, in an area, which presumably two centuries earlier served as a towel dispensing room for the emperor. Modern toilet fixtures had been temporarily retrofitted into a side chamber. The building, I learnt, was the setting for the opera Aida, courtesy of the Departments of Culture. In fact, every summer, seating stage sets and lights were erected inside the ancient shell, and the Roman bathhouse became a modern opera house. Two months later when the season was over, the modern intrusion was removed and the building reverted back to a ruin.
Traveling in Europe as a student of architecture, I realised the remarkable promise offered by a city's heritage in enlarging the visual possibilities for its residents. Cathedrals, aqueducts, archaeological remains, historic churches, even cemeteries, many were absorbed into the life of towns in an active productive way. As part of transport links, cycle paths, and pedestrian walks, they were deliberately placed in a visual collision course of its residents.
People were forced to walk past and engage in a way that instilled a sense of pride, and a feeling that they were part of a larger historic continuum of their surroundings.
The monument not only lent a different form of reference from the glass shopping mall, but enlarged ordinary activity into a realm of timelessness. A feeling that the momentary present would also one day be absorbed in the past.
How many Indian cities consider their history as a real appendage to the present? How many localised urban plans integrate monuments into the daily lives of their residents? Amongst the catalogue of urban desires, there are few that a place like Delhi leaves unfulfilled. Feel like a play reserve tickets, drive to a distant theatre; want history there is a tomb nearby.
Hungry? Try the new Thai restaurant in Defence Colony. Unfortunately, because the city treats every wish as a listing from a shoppers guide, it remains a dreary joyless place. The Thai restaurant will not be in an abandoned madrassa; the play will not be staged in the park, and the Humayun's Tomb will most certainly not serve as a temporary multiplex.
Some years ago, a fashion show was held in Lodi Gardens and the Old Fort was used as theatrical backdrop for a play.
The two events could hardly be considered controversial in a city where whole dynasties have been swallowed up in ramshackle modern buildings, where Mughal tombs are used as defecation grounds, and ancient city walls are constantly being felled to make room for roads. Yet these innocuous events raised the hackles of a city intent on the conventional view that history must lie undisturbed and no one must be allowed to use it for commercial purposes. History after all is served in monuments, like food in restaurants, and entertainment in multiplexes.
It must be preserved in neat enclaves, surrounded by walls and viewed across gravel paths and manicured lawns. That has always been the view of preservationists, and always will be. In an elephantine bureaucratic system that neatly separates all public works into different departments; the idea of creating overlapping subdivisions would be anathema.
Unfortunately the conservative and liberal views about building conservation are both rigid and divergent: one wishes to retain the Humayun's Tomb in a way that if Humayun were to ever wake up he would be in familiar surroundings; the other wishes to insert a revolving Plexiglas restaurant in the dome and a multistorey parking lot in the Char- bagh.
Between these two extremes lie a multitude of possibilities possibilities that can extract the visual and historic appeal of the place without physically damaging it. The risks of intervention far outweigh the enormous potential monuments hold as instruments to vitalise public life.
The last two decades have seen a revival of a Western style of historic preservation.
Landmarks are no longer just visible, but have a new- found purpose. Unable to pay for their upkeep, and at the same time fan the nostalgia of Princely India, forts and palaces have become grand hotels.
The Aga Khan Foundation has paid to revive the structure, garden and water channels of the Humayun's Tomb, and funded a study of the houses of the Bohra community in Gujarat. Business houses are considering adopting monuments.
Commendable though the thrust towards preservation, little of the revivalism is used to create an inventive connection between the landmark and its present setting.
Whether these safe and tested approaches are right or wrong it is difficult to say. ( Condemning the palaces of Rajasthan to a life in tourism is the same as using a camel for rides at an amusement park). But one thing is certain.
Except perhaps for Auschwitz, or the relief camps in Rwanda, the Indian city is such a masterstroke of visual, tactile and acoustic ugliness that monuments remain the only significant vanguards of design and quality. In fact in a country littered with mediocre buildings, the legacy of monuments stands in direct contrast to the shoddy ineptness of current architectural practice the weariness of design ideas, the utter lack of building standards, and the complete joylessness of the environment.
The obviously more skilled ideas still visible in historic landmarks is enough reason to preserve them.
Opposite my house in Delhi is a decrepit broken down mosque from the 15th century.
In the 25 years that I have lived there little has changed for this small structure. An arch may have collapsed; masonry may be a bit more eroded and vegetation quietly creeping in. Such benign neglect is obviously expected of a monument not in use. In the last few weeks the structure has however seen frantic activity. Its walls are today being plastered, fallen arches reshaped, and a fresh pigment coating being applied to the surface. What was once valuable centuries old rubble, now looks like an uncertain and temporary stage- set.
What the larger purpose of the restoration may be is difficult to say. Is the idea merely to ensure that a country with a modern outlook should also have modern looking monuments? Or is there a more serious archaeological intent behind the project? The reshaping of the mosque clearly raises as many questions about the reasons for restoration, as the methods employed.
To my mind there are only two ways to go: either let the structure happily decay with the forces of nature, or restore it to the exact specifications of the original using documentation for authentication, a physical recreation of the precise time it was built. There is no middle ground.
Just slapping up a little plaster and covering up the Pappu loves Babbli graffiti, does not amount to a serious policy on conservation. Unfortunately today, only conservation architects and agencies like INTACH can provide the professional and historic review necessary for serious work. And as a starting point there can be no better standard for restoration than the painstaking work carried out on the Humayun's Tomb in Delhi by the Aga Khan fund.
Of course, the chances of converting the Fatehpur- Sikri complex in Agra into a dental college, or the Delhi Red Fort into a riding academy, are for the time- being, thankfully remote. If at all the citizens are to benefit from these buildings, a more enlightened policy on their reuse needs careful consideration, something that takes into account local requirements and national ideals. Will the Colonial bungalows surrounding Connaught Place be demolished to make room for 20 storey high rises, or is it possible for both structures to coexist on the site? The truly innovative feature of future conservation will be to bring together the present city within the rarified frame of history. Like the Italians, we may find that an experience of origins is perhaps less important than the appreciation of an ongoing process.
The writer is an architect
THE LAHORE LOG
DILEMMAS OF A FAILING PAKISTAN
BY NAJAM SETHI
THREE recent global surveys are harbingers of bad news for Pakistan. They should compel us to think of what the future holds in store for us if we do not quickly set our qibla in the right direction.
Foreign Policy magazine's survey ranks Pakistan as the 10th most failed state among the 177 countries of the world, just behind the likes of Afghanistan, Sudan, Chad and Zimbabwe, but worse than Burma and Nepal. By contrast, India ( 87th) is happily placed in the midway house of " second world" states that are gearing up to challenge the " first world" in many ways.
The report notes Pakistan's description as the " most dangerous place in the world" and adds that " President Asif Ali Zardari's democratically elected government looks hapless unable to gain any measure of civilian control over a nuclear- armed military or an intelligence service that stands accused of abetting the Afghan Taliban". More ominously, the report concludes that " the indicator for external intervention has worsened since 2008" and America has become the largest donor of economic and military aid to the country even as its drones routinely attack Taliban- Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan's tribal areas.
A survey by the BBC in April lends support to some of these conclusions. 23 out of 27 countries surveyed gave Pakistan a negative ranking the anti- Pakistan average is 51 per cent in all the 27 countries.
Interestingly, Iran and Israel are in the same negative category as Pakistan.
But, significantly, only one third of the countries surveyed have a negative opinion about India! A third survey of 22 countries by Pew Research also arrives at disturbing conclusions about Pakistan. Despite being a major recipient of US aid, only 17 per cent Pakistanis had a favourable view of America. Indeed, 65 per cent think the US is a potential military threat to Pakistan! In sharp contrast, over 66 per cent of Indians, whose country trades with the US but receives no aid, had a favourable opinion of America! If the world is generally unhappy about Pakistan, it is also noticeable that Pakistanis are increasingly unhappy about their own state of affairs. In 2003, 67 per cent were dissatisfied by the direction their country was taking under President General Pervez Musharraf.
But after the economy picked up and prospects of peace with India brightened, only 39 per cent were still unhappy in 2005.
However, the subsequent economic and political crisis has put paid to that feel good factor. In 2010, nearly 84 per cent of Pakistanis were unhappy about the state of their country and nearly 90 per cent of these attributed its ill- fortune to the government of President Asif Ali Zardari. Worse, only a minority of 19 per cent think their economic situation will improve in the future. This is a telling sign. By contrast, over 64 per cent of all Indians have a rosy picture of their future and 85 per cent think their elected government is handling the economy fairly well.
PAKISTAN is also out of step with the world as far as perceptions of Iran are concerned.
Most countries, including Muslim- majority ones, disapprove of Iran's president, its regime and nuclear weapons programme and support sanctions to bring it into line. But 72 per cent of Pakistanis give a thumbs- up to Iran on all counts! The only good news to emerge from these surveys is that 80 per cent of Pakistanis disapprove of suicide bombings.
Support for Osama Bin Laden has, thankfully, dropped from 46 per cent in 2003 to only 18 per cent in 2010. But there is still not sufficient realisation of how extremism is hurting the country at home and abroad only 37 per cent are " very concerned" about extremism at home! The biggest delusion is that as many as 40 per cent still think that their country is " generally liked" abroad whereas the truth is quite the opposite as all the surveys demonstrate.
What lessons should Pakistan draw from these facts if it is to avoid being pushed over the edge as a failed state? First, religious extremism at home or in the neighbourhood must be resisted with the might of the state instead of being nurtured by it for whatever goals. We have seen the bloody consequences of believing that America's Taliban enemy is our friend our armed forces are now enmeshed in a guerilla war in the northwest and our mosques and bazaars and police stations are routinely bombed.
Second, we must build peace in the neighbourhood instead of fomenting trouble in it through non- state actors.
We have seen the consequences of it in the dismemberment of our country and the progressive impoverishment of Pakistanis at the altar of an arms race in the sub- continent.
Third, we must put our house in order on the basis of good governance law and order, accountability, economic policy continuity and quick justice for all whose dismal indices make us a failed state. Politicians, bureaucrats, journalists and judges must work in tandem for the public good instead of tearing one another apart for personal or even institutional gain.
Finally, civil society must tame the military and redefine " national interest" as being much more than the military's narrow institutional interest. The military should belong to Pakistan instead of Pakistan belonging to the military.
This is the way for a safe, successful and viable state of the modern world.
I AM stunted at troubles of country which are so wast and problems so deep, and haw Pakistan is being ruled by hippo crickets who say one thing and do the apposite.
Faujis have built weapons of mess destruction but their messes are still fine, hain ji. When poor nation paid through nose to build these weapons of mess destruction, I thought chalo some good will come of it if messes are destroyed. But no.
Faujis have built their power so that no one can take out eyes and show them. No civilian leader. No India.
No America. Every time someone tries, they take out our bum and show it to them. That look here, don't eat mistake. Ghalati na khaana. Then Faujis are telling us that Americans and Indians, they are also hippo crickets. They are not liking our bum but they are loving other people's bums, specially Israeli. Faujis are saying Americans are having the world's biggest bum.
Ask poor Japnese. In World War II they threw it on unfortunate cities Hirohito and Naganshahzadi.
Sbhaz Saab says bhaijan, why you have to say these naughty things, hain ji? He says haw many more shoes you want to eat from Faujis, hain ji? He says you want to hear again LAFT- RAT, LAFT- RAT, QUICK MARCH, hain ji? He says it is time to exercise distression. Distression is the batter part of Valium. Shbaz Saab is right. Beat bullet, ji. Goli maro. Think of batter things. As great poet of subcontinent the late Sharmila Tagore has written in collection of poetry called " Gitanjali": Ik husn ki devi say mujhe pyar hua thha, Dil uss ki muhabbat mein giriftar hua thha! But one last thing I will say to Faujis, that what you are doing to Pakistan is not patriotism. If this is patriotism then I am Madam Nurjehan. In fact, I love all singers and poets, specially poor Ghalib, who was of course mad. Every body is knowing about Diwanay Ghalib.
That reminds me of sad things. It was tragedy, the massacre of Ahmedis in Lahore. That is my honest opinion. I know it is Shbaz Saab's opinion too but he can have opportune moments. That's when he is opportunist. You saw meray aziz humwatno, haw I lamented and said they are our brothers and sisters. Shbaz Saab immediately objacted: " why you said that?" I told him it is my constitutional right, freedom of speech. " According to Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, it is my right to have freedom of speech, hain ji?" Bus, that saying was enough. Shbaz Saab started shotting, " YOUR FREEDOM OF SPEECH?! YOUR FREEDOM OF SPEECH?! THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF PAKISTAN HAS A CONSTITUTION THAT CAN STAND IT! MINE CAN'T!" What is meaning? Bum maro bummmmm NS
FOREIGN SECRETARIES TALK TO IMPROVE BILATERAL TIES
BY MAIL TODAY BUREAU IN NEW DELHI
INDIA and Pakistan exchanged proposals on Thursday on a variety of issues bedevilling bilateral ties, including terrorism, humanitarian matters and Jammu and Kashmir.
In a change from the acrimony that has marked their relations since 26/ 11, foreign secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir held cordial and constructive parleys in Islamabad.
Rao, the first senior Indian official to travel to Pakistan after the 26/ 11 attacks, said at a joint press briefing: " We discussed all issues, our core concerns on terrorism were also articulated." While India's focus was on humanitarian issues, Pakistani sources said they also discussed ideas relating to Kashmir.
These proposals will be taken back to the political leadership of the countries so that they can be firmed up and form the substantial part of the outcome of the meeting of the foreign ministers in Islamabad on July 15.
But they did not provide specifics of the proposals offered by both sides, only indicating that the talks had gone very well and that the Pakistani side listened to India's concerns without dismissing them.
The Rao- Bashir talks were also significant as they come two days before P. Chidambaram's meeting with Rehman Malik, where the home minister is expected to do tough talking on the pace of the 26/ 11 probe and trial.
During the talks, the Indian side raised the core concern of terrorism, including the activities of the Lashkar- e- Tayyeba By Mail Today Bureau in New Delhi Nirupama Rao and Salman Bashir in Islamabad on Thursday.
and Jamaat- ud- Dawa as well as the founder of both groups, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. Chidambaram is expected to deal with these issues.
India said Saeed's virulently anti- India rhetoric was not conducive to peace and that Pakistan needs to stop such propaganda.
Sources said India also made it clear that attacks on Indian assets in Afghanistan could not be allowed to continue as it adversely affected relations between New Delhi and Islamabad.
The sources said the ongoing re- engagement process could succeed if it started with the achievable, including release of prisoners, trade and cross- LoC confidencebuilding measures.
Rao asserted that the orientation of the re- engagement between the two countries was to look at the reasons why there was a trust deficit and how it could be bridged.
After his meeting with Rao to prepare the ground for the meeting of the foreign ministers in July, Bashir said he felt much more optimistic about a good outcome at the talks.
He said the two countries should work towards restoring confidence and building trust with a view to make it possible to have comprehensive, sustained and substantial dialogue.
" The meeting was marked with a great deal of cordiality, sincerity and earnestness.
The dialogue was constructive... We have been able to review the state of our bilateral relations," Bashir said.
With inputs from agencies
WEST BENGAL GUV VISITS MAOIST- HIT BANKURA
BY ANIRBAN ROY IN KOLKATA
WEST Bengal governor M. K. Narayanan on Thursday visited Bankura, a district affected by the Maoist insurgency.
The Kolkata Raj Bhawan described the visit as a " familiarisation trip". But the governor held closed- door meetings with police and CRPF officials there.
He appealed to the civil society to assist the joint- forces in fighting the Maoists.
The former National Security Adviser reached district headquarters Bankura by road from Durgapur. He took stock of the ongoing operations against the rebels. This was Narayanan's first visit to any insurgency- hit state district.
Eminent persons from the district met the governor at Bankura's Circuit House. He urged the civil society to create an environment for weaning away poor villagers from the Maoists' grip.
Narayanan also met district administration officials and reviewed the progress of development assisted by the state as well as the Centre.
Bankura police superintendent Vishal Garg made a presentation on the operations against the Maoists.
Southern Bankura has become a Maoist hot- bed. The police in Ranibandh, Barikul and Raipur districts often find it difficult to counter the insurgents.
Garg had requested Narayanan for more CRPF companies.
Hours before his visit, two landmines were found near a CRPF camp in Simlapal, south of Bankura. The Maoists also killed CPM worker Ranjit Dey in Goaltore.
THE RSS cadre believe in rising at the crack of dawn to indulge in odd drills in their shakhas . As a result, their ideological offspring in the BJP are mostly early risers. So predominant is this culture that some with pretentions of more contemporary lifestyles complain about being disturbed at unearthly hour telephone calls from RSS leaders. The arrival of Nitin Gadkari on the scene has reversed the tide. He is a late riser and believes in working late into the night. While the central BJP leaders are still getting used to receiving late night summons from the new president, the provincial lot were in for a culture shock. Most leaders from Bihar emerged bleary- eyed from the meetings Gadkari conducted recently to resolve their issues with the JD ( U). Almost all these meetings lasted till midnight. For a person picked by the RSS, Gadkari has displayed at least one non- ideological trait!
Listen to the public
ATTORNEY general G. E. Vahanvati, who prepared a note for the government suggesting a curative petition against Justice Ahmadi's judgment in the Bhopal gas leak case, seems to be relying more on public opinion than on legal arguments to sail through with the belated petition against the 1996 verdict.
Vahanvati, likely to be entrusted with the task of drafting the petition, said such a petition was justified because the verdict had caused grave injustice but had no explanation for the delay in challenging the verdict which had caused injustice. " You were also quiet all these years,'' he told a scribe.
ANTONY'S DAY OUT
THIS Tuesday was defence minister A. K. Antony's day out in the Himalayan wilderness.
The trip had begun at 4: 30 am from Leh. The party comprising Antony and his ministry officials and armed forces personnel took its first stop at the recently created advanced landing ground at Nyoma. The enormity of the task of creating a workable air strip at such heights and in such harsh terrain had a major impact on Antony. He wanted to spend a bit more time at the location. But he was to proceed to Siachen Base Camp. So he was advised to move on before the weather deteriorated too much for a chopper ride.
But before he could proceed, the soldiers accompanying him hooked some trouts from the Indus, fried them and served the team. Those who tasted the fare claim that fish was delicious and welcome because none of them had had breakfast.
WHO will the Centre pick to fill up the vacancy arising in the three- member Election Commission next month? There's no easy answer to the question, which is on everyone's lips in the Capital's corridors of power. In July, the term of CEC Navin Chawla comes to an end. The senior among the two election commissioners, S. Y. Qureshi, is set to succeed him. Though not much time is left, it is nearly certain the new incumbent would be from the IAS cadre. The crux of the guessing game is whether the government, in a break from the past, will adhere to its ongoing principle of gender justice at the top and appoint a woman officer to head the poll panel.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Communal violence has scarred our society multiple times. Targeted crimes against minorities and wanton destruction of property in the name of religion, caste or creed have posed a serious threat to national integrity and the secular fabric of the country. And it has happened because the state apparatus to deal with such barbaric criminality has been deficient. Given this scenario, the reworked Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill needs to be welcomed.
The Bill, which is likely to be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament, finally holds out hope for a strong legislation to deal with communal violence. It may be recalled that the draft legislation had first been considered in 2005. But after criticism from several quarters that the Bill was too weak, both in terms of content and deterrent value, it was retracted by the government. Since then, efforts have been on to engage various civil society groups to evolve a consensus. It is a culmination of those initiatives that has resulted in the present form of the draft legislation.
The fresh version of the Bill has several commendable provisions. The most praiseworthy among them is the one that puts the onus of setting up a unified command to deal with communal violence in the states on the Centre. There is no denying that the Centre has a critical interventionist role to play in clamping down on communal riots. This should not be seen as an unwarranted infringement on the jurisdiction of state governments but a move to harmonise coordination and resources, something that is vital to stubbing out communally volatile situations and providing speedy justice to the victims. Plus, by fixing culpability, the provision minimises the scope of the Centre and state governments passing the buck while innocent people suffer at the hands of mobs.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
LOSING AGAINST CORRUPTION
It's not an easy job to bring the conduct of our legislators under the scanner. That was demonstrated once again when N Santosh Hegde, Karnataka's popular lokayukta (or ombudsman), resigned from the post on Wednesday citing the state government's "non-cooperation" and indifference to the institution created to curb corruption in public office. Hegde attributed his decision to quit to a series of controversial decisions of the B S Yeddyurappa government. These include non-appointment of Upalokayukta (or super-ombudsman) with real powers of containing corruption, reinstatement of corrupt officials and harassment of honest officers. As he took on corrupt officers, conducted raids, booked even a ruling party BJP MLA for taking bribes and also took on the powerful Bellary mining lobby, his office was referred to as a rare success story in the country. His indictment of the BJP government should come as a major embarrassment on the eve of the latter's second anniversary celebrations.
Hegde's quitting after blaming the government brings the spotlight back on the efficacy of the institution of the lokayukta and lok pal. In India, there are as many as 17 states with the institution of lokayukta. But their power, function and jurisdiction are not uniform across the country. Often, legislators are deliberately kept out of the purview of lokayuktas, which is against the basic premise of having such an institution. The dependence of lokayuktas on other government agencies for investigation cripples and delays their functioning. The reluctance of our parliamentarians has never allowed the creation of the office of lok pal at the Centre. The Lok Pal Bill has failed as many as eight times in the Lok Sabha. If we can't give teeth to the ombudsman's office, the institution may as well be scrapped.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
FALLING ON HARD TIMES
The basic choice for the G20 'Recovery and New Beginnings' summit of major economies starting in Toronto tomorrow can abundantly be found in Charles Dickens. Back in the 19th century, when the idea of a European bloc was a beguiling fairytale, Dickens was writing about themes that would resonate with the grossly deficit-ridden, overly welfarist European Union of today. From Hard Times through to Little Dorrit, he wrote about debt, the hardships of the working class and the need to pay your way to prosper. "Minds, like bodies, will often fall into a pimpled, ill-conditioned state from mere excess of comfort," Dickens observed in Barnaby Rudge as far back as 1841.
Today's Europe is nothing if not "pimpled" and "ill-conditioned". It has itself to blame. It spent the years since the last great war luxuriating in its sense of self as a lifestyle superpower, defiantly distinct from that military superpower, the US, and the economic superpower, China. For nearly two generations, Europeans were brought up to regard early retirement, free public healthcare and generous unemployment benefits as fundamental rights. With this sense of entitlement came a comfortable lightness of being, something Dickens might almost have been categorising when he wrote: "Any man may be in good spirits and good temper when he's well dressed. There aint much credit in that." That was in Martin Chuzzlewit, a story about selfishness and greed.
Fifty years of post-war European "good spirits and good temper" were fuelled by public spending crazily high on steroids without heed to that big downer -- who pays the bills and how. The result is that Europe's big four -- Britain, France, Italy and Germany -- arrive at the G20 grotesquely "ill-conditioned", indeed positively liverish. Italy's public debt is about 115 per cent of gross domestic product. Britain is currently running a budget deficit of nearly 12 per cent of GDP, one of the largest in Europe. France has not produced a balanced budget for more than 30 years. And Germany is struggling to balance its books.
The challenge is immense -- and stark -- for a Europe so in love with its supremely comfortable life and style of charming cities, good food and wine, exquisitely preserved cultural history, politically correct employment regulations, generous welfare provisions and till-recently unconquerable football teams. Europe has to wean itself off addictive milk -- the belief that each has the right to excessive consumption irrespective of productive achievement.
In effect, this would mean that adolescent, school-dropout, out-of-work British mothers could no longer presume upon their right to have more children in the expectation that the state would pay to keep the entire family forever clothed, fed and housed. In the UK, housing and disability benefits have been rising year on year and Britain now spends more on housing subsidy than on police and universities combined.
Ballooning dole pay-outs across Europe have meant governments achieved no more in 50 years of welfarism than generously subsidising a disincentive to work rather than providing a safety net for those genuinely unable to work.
Rugby-tackling this mindset is Europe's greatest challenge. It was well said that the only European countries -- Latvia and Ireland -- to have accepted real cuts in wages and pensions had "experienced real poverty in living memory'' and knew that the last few years of massive and unsustainable booms were''a bit unreal".
Not so the rest of Europe, which has, for too long, put its metaphorical feet up on a hypothetically solid table fashioned out of the profits of industrialisation and a generous, if unsustainable social conscience.
Nearly half a century ago, Ayn Rand would rail about the promise of an impossible "right" to economic security for all. This Russian Jewess, who fiercely held to the individualist and laissez faire capitalist beliefs of her adopted American homeland, denounced the "right to economic security" as an infamous attempt to abrogate the concept of rights. She argued that it could mean only one thing: a promise to enslave the men who produce, for the benefit of those who don't. In Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, she wrote, "If some men are entitled by right to the products of the work of others, it means that those others are deprived of rights and condemned to slave labour."
Rand, controversial though she is, might be half the prophet Europe needs today. Her outright rejection of the philosophy that "needs, not achievement" dictate reward makes increasing sense in a continent living beyond its means as it struggles to provide the same living standards for all, irrespective of productivity. All these years, Europe has existed as a lifestyle superpower on an ample supply of credit. Hitting the financial wall would be ignominious, with all the attendant horrors of sovereign debt defaults, collapsing banks and shaky triple-A credit ratings.
But with every recent effort to chip away at government spending, European governments have run into the sort of trouble that would erupt in the developing world over contentious religious issues. Riots in Greece, unrest in Spain, Thursday's trade union resistance in France are harbingers of an "ill-conditioned" people fighting to retain a temporary bequest as an immutable inheritance. Perhaps for Europe, a comfortable lifestyle is a religious issue. Faith in a generous state is challenged at the state's peril. But Dickens may offer a solution: "There is nothing so strong or safe in an emergency of life as the simple truth." And that is the choice between unsustainable debt and a pay-as-you-go lifestyle.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'INDIA AND THE EU ARE BOTH COMMITTED TO UNIVERSAL VALUES'
The European Union high representative for foreign affairs and security policy and vice-president of the European Commission, Catherine Ashton, is currently visiting India to enhance Indo-EU ties. Ashish Ray asked her a few questions:
Is your visit linked to the proposed FTA between the EU and India? Are you going to visit any other country on the same tour?
I will meet (foreign) minister [S M] Krishna to discuss EU-India bilateral relations and where we can collaborate more on global issues, from counterterrorism and security to peacekeeping missions and counter-piracy, where the EU and India are working together in the Gulf of Aden. We will also discuss the future Free Trade Agreement between India and the EU. I am not going to visit any other country on this trip; i want to dedicate a full three days to my Indian counterparts.
It is said the EU and India focus more on each other's flaws than on establishing a partnership. If so, how can this be addressed?
We have had some issues on trade. Even if i believe they were sometimes exaggerated i take them very seriously: first, because in the conduct of our external relations with a country like India we have to address all problems systematically. Second, because i take these problems as a sign of the vast potential which exists in our bilateral trade and economic relations. We share with the government of India the will and determination to conclude the negotiations on a broad-based agreement on trade and investment. This will be very good news for us all.
The EU attention to human rights, child labour and non-trade aspects of free trade causes tension between Brussels and New Delhi. How can the EU handle India's sensitivities in these areas?
India and the EU are both committed to universal values such as respect for human rights and the rule of law. We have common responsibilities in shaping the global agenda as regards climate change or the economic and financial situation. We share the same objectives of expanding our bilateral relations for the mutual benefit of our people. This is why over the years we have managed to build a solid and stable relationship.
What are the EU's views on Kashmir?
The EU fully supports the ongoing dialogue between the different parties involved. Ultimately it is for Pakistan nd India to agree on the terms of their dialogue. The reassurances given by Prime Minister [Manmohan] Singh during his recent visit to Jammu and Kashmir, and the promise to talk to any political group that renounces violence in order to produce a lasting peace, are welcome in this context.
What is the EU's stance on India's nuclear status?
The EU is a strong supporter of the nuclear non-proliferation regime based on multilateral treaties. The EU is in favour of the universality of the NPT as well as of the treaty banning nuclear tests. We are also convinced that it is time now to start negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. We are of the opinion that India, as a responsible member of the international community, should find its natural place within the multilateral treaty system and the EU would like to cooperate with India in this context. As to the civilian nuclear programme, the EU and some of our EU members are already cooperating with India.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
PINCH OF SALT
(This is a humorous piece)
The other day I overheard an animated discussion taking place in a food court specialising in chatpata Indian street food. One of the group wanted bhel puri. Another was equally insistent on paapri chaat. A third was adamant about chhole-tikki. And a fourth voted in favour of golgappe. The discussion grew quite heated, with each one claiming that his or her choice was best. This set me wondering. How could they -- or anyone else, for that matter -- say which of these, and all other similar preparations, was best? They all taste great. In fact, they all taste the same. That's because all Indian street food -- or at least, all Indian street food based on recipes originally concocted north of the Vindhyas -- contains a common ingredient which imparts to it its unique flavour: kala namak, or black salt.
Everyone knows that the secret of the global popularity of Chinese food is MSG, or monosodium glutamate to give it its full name. MSG is what's known as a taste enhancer: it emphasises the flavour of whatever it is that you're eating. And it's thanks to MSG that Chinese food - or Chinees, as it's often spelt in Indian dhabas -- has fans all over the world.
But as good as MSG is in tickling the taste buds and making them turn cartwheels in enthusiastic approval, it's not in the same league as our own very kala namak, which is not just a taste enhancer but a taste entrancer: it entrances the taste buds so that they're conned into believing that everything that's got it as an ingredient -- from dahi chaat to raj kachoris -- tastes different, when in fact it all tastes exactly the same.
So while the MSG-using Chinese -- or Chinees, if you prefer -- have to invent a variety of different tastes to represent a variety of different dishes -- from veg Manchurian to sweet and sour chow-chow -- all that their Indian counterparts have to do is bung in the kala namak and -- bingo! - you've got a whole range of fast foods that are basically exactly the same but have got everyone convinced that they're different. Our fast foods are like us ourselves: in our diversity is our unity, the unity of kala namak.
There's another way that kala namak scores over MSG. MSG is a chemical, and can have adverse side effects, like increasing one's BP. (Notice how the Chinese economy is getting overheated, and they're beginning to have labour problems? All due to high BP, thanks to MSG.) Kala namak, on the other hand, is not a chemical. In fact, no one is quite sure as to exactly what it is, but it's generally believed to be an organic product. Those who have made a deep study of the subject say that the thing to watch out for is the fingernails -- or rather, what's beneath the fingernails -- of the person making the food in question. The darker and more ancient the accumulated guck beneath the nails -- the result of years of diligent digging of nostrils and scratching of armpits, and possibly other pits which have nothing to do with arms -- the more flavoursome the taste of the golgappe, or the bhel, or the whatever.
Kala namak -- whatever it is, and wherever it comes from, and will you please stop asking all these niggly-noo questions -- is known to have beneficial effects on the digestive system. Far from raising your BP -- as MSG is suspected to do -- kala namak, if taken in sufficient quantities, will raise all of you, literally. Research conducted under laboratory conditions suggests that subjects who have ingested a critical mass of kala namak tend to defy the law of gravity, and when seated appear to hover a few inches above their seats, like those chelas of the Maharishi Yogi who used to perform feats of levitation under the influence of Transcendental Meditation.
India should market kala namak as a form of transcendental medication to the western world, currently down in the dumps because of its recession. They need to add a bit of zing and zest to uplift their ailing economies. And what better prescription for this than a pinch of kala namak: the true salt of the arth?
A NEW SENSE OF ENERGY
The most striking transformation of India's energy sector is taking place not in nuclear or solar power, but in natural gas. The Krishna-Godavari offshore gas finds, the making of a national pipeline grid and, now, the first Indian venture into shale gas will dramatically change the energy profile of the country. Recent corporate moves in shale gas have been particularly dramatic. Reliance Industries has struck three multi-billion dollar deals with US shale gas firms this year alone. Even public sector oil firms have tied up with foreign firms in search of shale gas know-how.
hale is a common rock formation often impregnated with oil and gas that, in the past, have been commercially too expensive to extract. This has changed following technological advances in the 1990s. A shale gas revolution has converted the US from gas importer into a gas-surplus country. American gas prices have fallen so rapidly that in energy equivalent terms US gas is now as cheap as $12 barrel oil and about half the price that India has fixed for Krishna-Godavari gas. Shale gas is already shaking up the global system. Europeans see it as the means to break their dependence on Russian gas.
One reason India is rightly refusing Iran's pricing mechanism for its future pipeline is that Tehran's yet to understand that global gas prices are set to go southward for decades. Iran's insistence that its gas price should be pegged to that of oil's is patently absurd. The US, leaders in this technology, are cognisant that shale gas would reduce carbon emissions by pushing out dirty coal and potentially tame oil-rich irritants like Venezuela and Iran. In April, it offered to provide assistance to any country seeking to exploit its shale gas reserves.
Not unexpectedly, a hidebound New Delhi doesn't even have an estimate of our shale gas reserves. What is known is that there are enormous shale deposits across north India, from Rajasthan to Assam, and as far south as Andhra Pradesh. On the basis of these deposits, most geologists believe India may be among the five largest shale gas reserve-holders in the world. But New Delhi is an obstacle in another way. Present exploration policies separate bidding for normal oil and gas from bidding for non-conventional gas sources. This means that an energy firm looking for oil and gas that stumbles on shale gas has an incentive to ignore or even hide its discovery. India's private sector is nimbly jumping on to the shale gas bandwagon. India's government needs to wake up to an energy revolution. After all, this is a change that has been going on for 20 years.
A LABOUR OF LOB
Depending on your proclivity towards the sport, hell or heaven is an interminable tennis rally, the ball moving from one end of the court to the other end till hell freezes over or heaven takes on the heat of a Delhi summer. Wednesday's Wimbledon match between the American John Isner and France's Nicolas Mahut may not have been one never-ending tit-for-tat, but with the match spanning across 10 hours it started at 9 am, was halted at 9 pm due to fading light and spilling over to the next day, spectators were witness to a timescale more geological than human.
Let's put it in context. A day of Test match cricket usually lasts six hours, with three two-hour sessions with a 40-minute lunch break and a 20-minute tea break. In Wednesday's tennis match, the two players, having to expend significantly more energy and sweat than even the most restless cricketer, laboured on for a result with incremental breaks between each change of court ends as a 'break'. If Isner and Mahut wished to take a flight from Heathrow Airport, they could have reached New Delhi airport, inclusive of the time for check-in and other time-consuming niceties. They didn't. Instead, they played gruelling, gladiatorial tennis.
When the match did end on Thursday on Court No. 18, there was something end-of-an-era about it. Till now, the passage of time was measured either by planetary orbits or the lives of sub-atomic particles. After the two-day tennis match in Wimbledon, tennis also became a way of marking time. Who won the match, you ask? We ask you back: did the match really finish?
FIGHTING A LOAN BATTLE
For as long as I can remember, my father in his weekly sermon would tell me 'neither a lender nor a borrower be'. Well, it's easier said than done as I discovered when trying to pay back a bank loan well before time. No sooner did I announce my intention to the bank, two 'relationship' managers materialised in my office in the manner of Star Trek.
"You want to pay back the loan?" said one in tones of such shock that you'd have thought I'd told him that I'd just spotted Subhash Chandra Bose in Connaught Place.
"Yes," I bleated. "Most unwise, most unwise," intoned the more portly of the two. I would apparently lose a lot by tax savings. But what about the money I'll save on interest? A mere bagatelle, compared to tax savings, said the other. Suddenly, one asked, "How will you pay?" I have enough to settle the loan, I answered. They looked at each other with the expression of Dracula on spotting an inviting neck. "You have liquidity?" asked one making me sound as though I were incontinent.
"She must go in for bars," said portly. Oh, is this what liquidity is all about? I wondered. Madam, the gold market, is, well, shining, a few bars in your locker, which we will, of course, provide, is just right for someone your age. Age? No, I must pay the loan back, I said now feeling cornered. "She may not want gold, clearly, she wants to park her money in mutual funds," said the not-so-portly. "Don't worry, we will put together a portfolio," he added.
Please, I must pay back the loan, it is my money, after all, I whinnied. Yes, quite, said one, madam clearly wants to pay back the loan in order to take a much bigger loan, said one. Sensing a way out, I concurred. A bigger loan, that's it. "It's in your interest to keep this loan and at the same time take out another. We happen to have the appropriate papers where you could sign at the appropriate place for the appropriate amount." I was on my knees now. Please, please let me pay, penalty for early payment and all, I begged. "With variable interest rates, given the economic growth trajectory, it is in your interest (that word again) to not pay back loans," said one suddenly metamorphosing into the Alan Greenspan of cheques and imbalances.
I'll get back to you, I said. Take your time, take your time, your interest is our interest, they said. I'll show them I'm a person of some account, I thought. I'll give them another call next month after I've paid my next instalment on the loan.
NO CONTROL FREAKS, PLEASE
The World Cup football is causing a thunder in South Africa with fans celebrating every goal. Yet, the police are invisible, doing their job quietly and unobtrusively, which is what's required in major events.
Similar arrangements were made for the Winter Olympics held in Vancouver earlier this year. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were in charge of the security but 119 other police agencies were also involved. They demanded good working conditions for their personnel and received funds to hire three cruise ships to house the officers as hotels and dormitories were booked.
The police created a joint intelligence group that began its operations almost two years before the event. They verified all bidders of contracts to keep a check on corruption.
Every incident in the city was logged and put into a database. The police followed the situational crime prevention principles by focusing on radicalisation, motivation and interaction in local communities. Not only al-Qaeda and its affiliates but also people sympathetic to other terrorists groups were kept under strict watch. At all times, the RCMP worked closely with fire and ambulance services. Despite massive construction work in the city, no inconvenience was caused to the citizens. The police also hired criminologists to audit crime trends. An intelligence system monitored every incident in the city. Even if a person went to a hospital with chemical burn injuries, the police were alerted and the injury was investigated for possible connections to explosives. Success came from paying close attention to integrated planning, leadership, training and the involvement of citizens.
These measures hold major lessons for police in India. No effort can succeed if the police don't involve people. But this cannot happen until the people themselves trust the police. The Delhi Police (and Indian police) don't enjoy a good reputation among people. There are apprehensions over ad hoc and unpublicised traffic diversions, orders for the closure of shops and schools, and the shutting down of 'polluting' factories weeks before the Commonwealth Games. The perception is that while the common man will suffer from the chaos, the police will take care of VIPs. What's apparent, however, is that the police's daily work will be suspended for the duration of the Games and they will aggressively control crowds and protests, if any. All this is because nothing is known about the police's plans.
However, the Games provides the police an opportunity to win back trust. We demand the following from the Delhi (and the Indian) Police: seek public support to provide security for the games, inform people about the security steps, train its officers to interact politely with citizens, keep police deployment and presence in the background as much as possible and give no special treatment to either VIPs or officials in getting to the Games venues.
The RCMP adopted the motto 'Intelligence led safe and secure Games'. When asked by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on what will be the mark of failure of police preparations, the RCMP commissioner replied: "If people leave the venue remembering only the security then it will be a failure of policing." Let us ensure that nobody leaves the city on a bad note vis-à-vis security. Let Delhi, as a city, win a gold medal.
Kiran Bedi is a retired IPS officer The views expressed by the authors are personal
BEYOD THE BITE
READJUST THE FOCUS
Where were you in December 1984? It's a question raised with regularity across the media over the last fortnight as the verdict in the Bhopal gas tragedy was handed out by a lower court. Octogenarian politicians, diplomats and bureaucrats a majority of whom are well past their use-by date have been wheeled out to try and answer a single question: who let Union Carbide boss Warren Anderson out of India within a week of the disaster? The answer doesn't require a special investigation or a screaming headline.
The fact is that there's enough documented evidence to confirm that Anderson was given 'safe passage' by the Indian State. The 'State' at the time comprised the Arjun Singh-led Congress government in Bhopal and the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government in New Delhi. Unfortunately, instead of accepting this reality, we have had a daily exhibition of denials, contradictions and 'revelations' that would be almost farcical, if they didn't concern a tragic incident in which over 15,000 people died. While Singh has maintained a Buddha-like silence, the Congress has gone into overdrive defending Rajiv, even as the Opposition has bizarrely likened the handling of Bhopal to the imposition of Emergency. Frankly, neither silence nor hysteria is justified. For Arjun Singh to suggest that he has no 'locus standi' in the matter is laughable. He was the tallest leader of Madhya Pradesh at the time, Anderson was flown out in a state government plane and the charges under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) were 'deleted' in the trial court by the state police. Surely, the country has the right to know why, and on whose instructions, Singh took the decision.
But what about the hysteria within the Congress and the Opposition at the alleged involvement of Rajiv Gandhi in Anderson's 'escape'? For the Congress, umbilically tied to dynasty, the very mention of Rajiv can spark off an angry 'how dare you drag Rajiv's name into this' response. For the Opposition, which has survived on a hatred of the Nehru-Gandhi family for generations, the opportunity to embarrass the first family of Indian politics must not be squandered.
The irony is that there is nothing embarrassing about giving Anderson safe passage out of the country. If the decision was taken by Rajiv Gandhi and it's impossible to believe that a prime minister would be unaware of it then it was one of the wiser decisions he took. You can blame Rajiv for opening the Babri Masjid gates, for allegedly conniving in rigging elections in the Kashmir valley in 1987, for his handling of the LTTE problem all issues that had disastrous consequences. But on the Anderson question in Bhopal, he probably took the right option.
December 1984 is not June 2010. Indira Gandhi had been assassinated just weeks earlier, Sikh terrorism posed a serious security challenge, the national capital had been torn apart by a bloody genocide, the North-east was simmering, the economy was floundering and general elections were days away. We were a nation under siege.
Moreover, 1984 represented the high noon of American 'exceptionalism' the belief that the US alone has the right to bring civilisation or democracy to the rest of the world. With Ronald Reagan as president, the US military-industrial complex was dominant and on the verge of winning the Cold War. A country beset with internal strife and a Hindu rate of growth could scarcely have challenged a mighty superpower. If Reagan did ring up Rajiv, as has been suggested, and ask for Anderson's release, then letting him go was a pragmatic decision taken in the best national interest at the time.
The real scandal isn't what happened on December 7, 1984. when Anderson was allowed to leave the country, but what happened in the 26 years that followed. The fact is that the Supreme Court happily brokered a meagre $470 million settlement between the Indian State and Union Carbide in 1989 as compensation for a little over one lakh victims at the time. The fact is that the total number of people eventually affected are more than five times that number but were never fully compensated.
The Supreme Court in 1996 also wilfully diluted the charges against the Bhopal accused but the CBI didn't choose to challenge it. The fact is that former Chief Justice of India, Justice Ahmadi, who delivered the Bhopal judgement was later made head of the Bhopal Memorial Trust hospital, designed to benefit the gas affected. But, as recent news reports have exposed, it actually turned away some victims. The fact is that neither has the industrial site of the disaster been cleared of toxic waste nor has proper drinking water been provided to all those who live in the surrounding areas.
The fact also is that both the Congress and the BJP have ruled Madhya Pradesh since 1984, the Congress for a lengthy 19 years. If you travel through Bhopal's J.P. Nagar colony, where more than 300 people died and several more were affected by permanent limb and respiratory diseases, it's apparent that no government has made a serious effort to reach out to the victims. When two years ago some of them held a dharna outside the prime minister's residence, they were whisked away and made to spend a week in Tihar jail. Who let Anderson out is a red herring. The real question to ask is: why did it take 26 years for the Indian State to wake up to the plight of Bhopal?
Post-script: Watching the 1984 Anderson video with a single camera tracking him makes one wonder: in the age of manic 24-hour news channels, would it have been so easy to let the Carbide boss smilingly slip away with a 'Bye, bye India'?
Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief , IBN Network n firstname.lastname@example.org The views expressed by the author are personal
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
TWO WEEKS, TOO MUCH
India's largest single employer, the Indian Railways, have meant something to most Indians at some point in
their lives, dating back to their colonial beginnings. In a new era, the railways were meant to serve and symbolise a new India. The behemoth has grown bigger, but at a cost. When the incumbent railway minister, Mamata Banerjee, took charge, she promised a new direction. But her year-old tenure has plunged the railways into chaos, driven on the elusiveness of an absentee minister. Then, was the call for a new railway logo merely a ministerial whim, or an attempt at at least a symbolic reinvention, neatly tied in with the Commonwealth Games?
One might hesitate to dismiss the call itself as another Mamataism. And redesigning or discarding even a 60-year-old logo, despite its associations, needn't be a historical or
cultural crime. Yet, the manner in which designs were solicited, with a narrow deadline and a meagre Rs 5 lakh, raises questions about the railways' "logo sincerity". The public was given no notice either, who might have had opinions on something so obviously in the public domain for so long. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the railway board has cleared the new logo, but only for the duration of the Games.
However, that raises chances of waste, since repainting the existing logo on trains and at stations cannot pull a railways burdened by operating costs out of the financial pits. Incurring the expense for just two weeks, and then likely switching back, is even less justifiable. In fact, to Mamata Banerjee's regressive notion of the railways as a fiefdom or mini-state running hospitals, medical colleges and malls must be added the two-week logo.
LANGUAGE & RHETORIC
Tamil is not just a language, it is a jealously patrolled terrain. Arguments over its antiquity, celebration of its grandeur and the sense that it gets less than its due, have all directly fed into political mobilisations. And from the very first World Tamil Conference that it inaugurated, around the time it renamed Madras state "Tamil Nadu", the idea of an embattled Tamil has always been central to the DMK's positioning. Scholars and writers from Tamil speaking communities dispersed across the world (Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, etc) gather at these conferences, which are held at roughly three-year intervals. This year, Coimbatore hosts the five-day conference that aims to craft a sense of Tamil connectedness, with literary exchange, pageants, prizes, music and dance performances, even a marathon. And the conference's resounding anthem, Ulaga Tamizh Semmozhi Maanadu, has been written by its chief architect, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, and set to music by A.R. Rahman.
While opposition parties shrugged off the event and its literary value, Karunanidhi and his clan are trying their best to renew that old sense of ethnic pride and literary pedigree, and channel it towards political returns. The DMK is using this platform to mend its relationship with estranged ally PMK. And as it heads into the assembly election next year, the party is understandably nervous. Karunanidhi's sons Stalin and Alagiri are locked in competition, threatening to divide the cadre. Karunanidhi is also conscious that his claims of Tamil solidarity have been undercut by developments in Sri Lanka. Whether or not the linguistic cause can still be wrung for political gain remains to be tested after all, the Madras high court just permitted a lawyer to argue in Tamil alone.
Despite these narrow political calculations, literature and language do not submit to cordons. And in fact, as he received the Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award, Finnish scholar Asko Parpola pointed to the cross-pollination between Tamil and the Indus Valley Civilisation.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
After the disparaging comments against his political bosses that the US commander of the international forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, made in an interaction with Rolling Stone magazine, President Barack Obama perhaps had no choice but to sack him. McChrystal and his staff had described Obama as "disengaged and intimidated" in dealing with the military brass, were contemptuous of Vice President Joseph Biden who is calling for an early exit from Afghanistan, dismissed National Security Advisor Jim Jones as a "clown", and described US Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke as a "wounded animal". The McChrystal episode is only partly about civil-military relations, an issue that Obama underlined as he relieved the general of his command.
For Obama, dismissing McChrystal was probably the easier part as his Afghan strategy appears to unravel. Obama has drafted Gen David Petraeus, who has made himself a military hero by turning around a seemingly hopeless situation in Iraq a few years ago and has since been the commander in chief of the US Central Command that supervises the Afghan and Iraq theatres, to take charge in Afghanistan. By bringing in a reputed military leader already engaged with Afghanistan, Obama hopes to limit the possible disruption in the conduct of the current military campaign. Obama's real problem, however, is ending the deep divisions within his administration and the ruling
Democratic Party over Afghanistan. These differences range from identifying American political objectives, finding an appropriate military strategy to pursue them, and defining what might constitute success in Afghanistan.
In announcing a new policy last December, Obama did not resolve these differences. He merely papered them over with his "surge and exit" framework. He sought to please the national security establishment by agreeing to deploy more troops and appease the left liberal wing of his party by announcing plans to "start" withdrawing troops from July 2011. Meanwhile, the initial results from the military surge, which was to help shift American military strategy from counter-terrorism to counter-insurgency, have been mixed at best during the last six months. As Afghanistan turns out to be the longest war in American history, the current contradictions in Washington's Afghan strategy are bound to sharpen in the coming weeks. Despite Obama's talk of continuity, Delhi must be prepared for potentially radical shifts in America's Afghan policy and rapid adjustments in Kabul (the Hamid Karzai government), Rawalpindi (the Pakistan army and ISI), and Quetta (where much of the exiled Taliban leadership is said to reside). As India's dilemmas in Afghanistan come to a head sooner than expected, Delhi should take nothing for granted and begin a comprehensive review of its own options.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
A PLAN FOR PLANNERS
MIHIR S. SHARMA
When Nikolai Baibakov died, just over two years ago, nobody not Russian noticed. Yet he was the most powerful Soviet apparatchik you'd never heard of: the man who saved the USSR's oilfields in World War II, and for most of that country's postwar history, the head of Gosplan, the giant technocracy that churned out complex, interlocking, and increasingly fanciful Five Year Plans. A highlight of every Party Congress would be Baibakov telling the massive red-panelled room full of grey suits exactly how many radios had been produced the previous year.
What really should interest us, however, are three things that
happened to Baibakov and his ilk that followed the implosion of the Soviet Union.
First, his Gosplan was disbanded. And nothing and nobody in Yeltsin's haphazard Russia cared to do any part of their job, even basic blue-sky strategic thinking. Decision-making suddenly became entirely short-term and, indeed, as doctrinaire, and as imposed from above, as in the system it was replacing. Second, Baibakov and those he had supervised were too implicated in
old-style 50,000-shoes-from-Irkutsk thinking to be handed anything to do in the new dispensation which meant that a lot of big government decisions were made on the basis of back-of-the-envelope thinking by often dubious "outside advisers", with disastrous results that are still being paid for. Putin's Russia, thus, distrusts independent thinking about policy. The old structures have been dismantled, but few politically engaged centres for economic ideas have emerged outside the rulers' direct control and so the third fascinating fact: the old planner's last appearances were praising the new Leader's plans.
Vladimir Putin is what you get when you don't reform a Planning Commission properly.
All right, that's an exaggeration. But it points us to very real dangers. We don't recognise the degree to which we are so dependent on the Planning Commission still. And that, although we thankfully don't do traditional Plans any more, we need to keep doing some of the other stuff that has landed on Yojana Bhavan desks.
The UPA recognised enough of this to bring in Arun Maira, who headed the Boston Consulting Group in India, to rethink the Planning Commission's role. We now know some of what he wants to do: he told The Indian Express that it should "point out the risks and opportunities for the executive"; the prime minister apparently wants it to create plans that are "persuasive essays" in "strategic thinking". Keeping the emphasis on the long term does, indeed, avoid the first Baibakov bungle.
But the other two should worry us as much. Those go to the heart of what many of us believe is policy-making's central problem: how the machinery of administration has obsolescence built-in, how it is creakingly failing to adapt to a new and more complex era. Our government is run by generalists. And there's no chance of that changing any time soon. But now, each ministry and department, state or Central, is expected to try and frame policy with market-supporting, quick-reacting precision. Much blunter instruments licences, restrictions, diktats of one sort or another are out. The economy is an even denser tangle of connections than the one that planners in the '50s tried to reduce to a large matrix of inputs and outputs.
There's a lot of talent in government. But everybody knows they can't handle this transition alone. Nor should they, many would argue. Policy possibilities that aren't culled from a broad base of experiences will be too limited. And if you have just tenured employees analysing alternatives, you build in bias towards rigidity and conservatism.
But if you don't think hard about where your advice is coming from, you fall into the second trap. You usually can't afford the best private-sector consultants: so you rely for quick and dirty projections on industry associations, you repeat casual assertions about environmental impact from pressure groups. There is no way that will consistently produce good policy. Some who know this expect the Planning Commission to pick up some of the policy analysis slack. Hence the ideas that Maira, and others like him, have put forward in the past: pre-approved, floating groups of consultants, for example.
Any revamp of the Planning Commission that ignores such ideas and the problems they try to address will comprehensively miss the point. The problem is that when we worry about lateral entry into government, we're usually thinking about the wrong levels: either about people with just a few years of experience, or about those who've already accomplished a great deal. The big resource gap is actually in mid-career people, in industry specialists with specific skills on offer, people willing to work within a notoriously difficult system for a few years to usher through a particular project or reform. We can't give up on creating a node from which outside talent like that can be dispersed through the government system.
And finally, there's the third cautionary lesson from Baibakov's life: how, even in a 21st century country, the fact that too few non-state actors asking deep questions about the political economy meant a confirmed political and economic Stalinist could declare himself optimistic.
Yes, here as in its country of origin, the pure, technical, Soviet-style Plan is even more useless, whether as advice or as instruction, than it ever was. We don't need a statutory body wasting its time predicting how much steel we will need in five years. We do know what we need: an institution capable of providing genuinely independent, non-partisan ideas yet ones that engage with the human and political aspects of the economy, rather than sterile accounting aspects of it. The biggest barriers to increasing and deepening growth, and freedom, today are political. Advice that pretends they don't exist has little value.
Where would this advice come from? Our political parties don't
debate and develop policy ideas. We don't have a culture of think-tanks, nor does one look like developing. Universities have other reform priorities. Journalists can't do everything. No, government itself will need to nurture and grow independent and persuasive sources for policy prescriptions and recommendations.
Nehru's Planning Commission was supposed to help the state be the vanguard of the economy, to provide disinterested instructions to an activist government. Now, instead, a retreating government needs the Commission, or something very like it, to be the vanguard.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
POLITICAL Q, LEGAL A
The group of ministers' recommendation to submit a curative petition in the Union Carbide case is an attempt to force a political question down the throat of the Supreme Court, expecting it to yield a legal solution. If the recommendation is accepted, the government will ask the SC to "reconsider" its decision in the 1996 case, which diluted the liability of the accused from culpable homicide to criminal negligence. The move may galvanise favourable public opinion, but petitioning the court to lighten Bhopal's political baggage is unlikely to succeed.
What will the curative petition entail? Will the SC simply revisit its decision, look at the manifest injustice meted out to victims, weigh both, and decide to enhance culpability? Not quite.
The concept of a curative petition was introduced by the court as recently as 2002, in Rupa Ashok Hurra vs Ashok Hurra & Anr. When a decision of the SC resulted in the miscarriage of
justice, the person who was thus aggrieved could challenge the judgment before the court again. Behind this idea was a noble,
explicit admission of the SC's own fallibility. Erroneous decisions based on incomplete facts, or in the face of apparent bias, could
be rectified by the court through its inherent power to do
In order to prevent litigants from using curative petitions as a tool to seek a "second review" of decisions, the SC maintains a very high standard for admission. Only in exceptional cases will such a petition be entertained when there is a violation of the principles of natural justice, or lack of adequate notice to affected parties, or apprehension of bias. The court, by its own order of 2005, adheres to these criteria strictly and treats curative petitions as a "rarity". In the absence of these deficiencies, the court is not expected to reconsider its verdict.
In fact, only one curative petition filed before the SC has ever succeeded when a person convicted for murder was not even made party to the case. Even the inviolable right to life failed before a curative petition, as Afzal Guru found out.
The government will push for a reconsideration of the decision in Keshub Mahindra vs State of Madhya Pradesh on the same set of facts. This is problematic, since there is no match between the
political question the government wants to answer, and the legal
solution that the court has to offer. The verdict delivered by Justices A.M. Ahmadi and S. Majumdar in 1996 revolved primarily around the fact that there was no knowledge or intention on the part of the accused to cause death of human beings. While the accused could not be held liable for culpable homicide, their wilful refusal to act upon known defects meant they were criminally negligent.
Controversial as the decision was, it was based solely on an
interpretation of the law.
Does the government have a ground-breaking revelation, a smoking gun, to show the court? Whatever facts had to be considered were already taken on board by the SC, including the report of the Varadarajan Committee. There is nothing new to suggest that the disaster was planned or premeditated. In essence, the curative petition is analogous to double jeopardy, where the offender gets prosecuted for the same offence twice.
Even if one were to discount the facts, is there an error so apparent as to make the SC reconsider its application of the law? To impose criminal liability, the law says, intention is paramount. Penal provisions are meant to be interpreted strictly, and all the SC did was to go by the book.
Moreover, one cannot dismiss the proposed curative petition as a political gimmick and let it be, for it could have far-reaching and disastrous consequences. The way Justice Ahmadi has been heckled by the media, and ironically, by the Union law minister himself, sets a regrettable trend towards unhealthy criticism of the court. Now, as the government prepares to pass the buck, it could expose the SC to scathing attack if the petition were to be rejected even if such rejection is perfectly in line with the law. The Supreme Court of India must not be expected to work miracles.
The writer is a law clerk at the Supreme Court
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
HOLDING THE CONVERSATION
India is talking to Pakistan because resumption of dialogue is a leverage. Right? Wrong. India is talking to Pakistan because not talking is a worse outcome. This is the hard-headed, realist premise that is guiding India's current diplomatic efforts.
Over the past month as it prepared for talks, it also heard out other key interlocutors including Western powers with presence and influence in Islamabad. Three broad messages came through first, the Pakistan army is not prepared to shelve its anti-India agenda, rather one should expect just the opposite; second, the Mumbai attack trials are unlikely to yield any quick verdict given the high acquittal rate in all terror attack cases inside Pakistan; third, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed is far too important to the Pakistani security agencies at this stage for the civilian government in Islamabad to take any meaningful action that would please India.
Further, it is clear that New Delhi will end up having to show more generosity if this process has to move on because there are serious limitations to what the Yousaf Raza Gilani government can deliver. This sobering reality has made it difficult for Indian diplomats to frame what will constitute acceptable outcomes; except for signaling that Pakistan should, at least, reaffirm its commitment to not allow its territory to be used for terror attacks against India and that it is willing to accept the
substantive progress made through the back-channel between 2004 and 2008.
So it is clear that despite the lowered optimism on achieving any of the deliverables that New Delhi had set out as markers for resumption of the dialogue process after the Mumbai attacks, the government has realised that it has no choice but to continue with the engagement process. While it is still wary of the criticism it would invite in case it deepens the dialogue process without much result on the terror front, what is more important is to provide a sound strategic underpinning to this engagement effort.
One clear example of how India is still grappling with framing such a strategy is its stoic silence to ISI Chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha's proposal to meet his Indian counterpart in a third country. It is reliably confirmed that Lt. Gen Pasha made this proposal through the Indian defence attachés posted in Islamabad. This has been sounded out more than once but India is still to take a call. The first doubt, which could well be the case, is that this could just be all form and no substance and the second is, of course, about who will be the appropriate counterpart.
As it turns out, there have been instances of the RAW chief having met the ISI chief in the past so there should not be much difficulty in resolving the counterpart question though there is a strong case of nominating someone even more senior. As for the first predicament, there is no doubt that the conversation has little chance of success in terms of concrete outcomes but, on balance, it is a better idea to talk. In fact, setting the contradictions aside, there is no other viable choice but to continuously strive to broaden the engagement matrix with Pakistan in a rational and calculated way.
The starting point for this has to be a firm acknowledgement of the principle that engagement cannot be conceived as a leverage in itself. Rather, it is a process which can create leverage points. In other words, there is every merit in examining engagement as a security strategy than as an action predicated on what the other side, in this case Pakistan, does on terror. A flexible engagement strategy will ensure that the hard message on terror is, at least, delivered to those who have influence over it.
Take the case of Hafiz Saeed, which has perplexed India no end as he continues to spew hatred against India, openly on the streets of Lahore even after this was specifically raised at the crucial Thimphu meeting. Now it turns out, according to information available with India, that there is a tussle within the Lashkar-e-Toiba itself with the younger Lashkar members wanting to raise the group's profile by aligning its priorities to that of other international terror syndicates working against the West. On the other hand, Saeed wants to keep the outfit India-focused while there is a minority view inside LeT that the group should even participate in the terror uprising within Pakistan.
In other words, top Indian officials now have confirmation that there is growing difference of views within the rank and file of LeT over its future role. This has increased the challenge for Pakistani intelligence agencies if they have to keep LeT under control and that is where Saeed is vital to his handlers. This just illustrates the complexity of the situation and the dynamic nature of the terror problem in Pakistan, the epicentre of which is gradually shifting to southern Punjab. For India to keep pace with these developments and shield itself effectively, it needs to create multiple channels of
engagement and calibrate the process accordingly.
This is exactly what the problem has become with the composite dialogue. By stopping, pausing and sometimes incrementally starting the process, due to terror incidents, India has started to harm its own credibility. This cycle has played out so many times that neither does pausing the dialogue hold any punch as a hard diplomatic message nor does it help India garner international support against terrorist groups in Pakistan. On the contrary, it ends up giving Pakistan an opportunity to underline Indian recalcitrance and effectively argue against it as an unreasonable position.
It is, therefore, vital to have a broader and more realistic interpretation of what constitutes an engagement strategy. This is specifically applicable in Pakistan's case given the internal turmoil in that country. The army, the fundamentalist groups, the political parties and the Pakistani civil society are living in a universe of contradictions with no single entity fully in control of policy and direction. Much of the Western world, which too faces maximum risks from terrorists trained in Pakistan, has realised that the best chance is in engaging every segment of the complicated Pakistani system.
That is why it becomes hard to fathom as to why India has delayed its response to the ISI chief's offer. Or for that matter, why is there still no creative effort to reach out to the Pakistan army chief, except routine requests from the Indian High Commission? It is unfortunate that an engagement process be reduced to starting the composite dialogue or not. And Islamabad has been quick on its feet to tell New Delhi that it was India which coined this term in the 1990s and so, why would it want to change it?
And if so, what would it now like to call it?
With serious existential questions facing it, Pakistan will want to bring India back into its internal political theatre be it through the question of river water sharing, allegations of a dubious role in Balochistan and Afghanistan or for that matter taking the Kashmir issue to its very origins. The signs are already visible in the demands being made through bilateral channels.
It is now for India to face up to this reality and put in place a comprehensive engagement strategy that involves all the stakeholders in Pakistan, including external actors. To assume that peace deals can be struck with the civilian government while cleverly keeping the military and other related actors out of the picture is as simplistic and removed from reality as the notion that not talking at all will bring pressure on Pakistan to rein in on terror outfits like the LeT. Pakistan is changing by the day in unimaginable ways and any long-term strategy would, therefore, have to be centred around the implications those changes hold for India.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE POLITICAL USES OF TAMIL
The World Classical Tamil Conference, which is being held in Coimbatore by the DMK government at the cost of Rs. 400 crore, is born in anti-intellectualism and draws sustenance from the self-serving politics of M. Karunanidhi, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu. The Ninth World Tamil Conference which was planned to be organised by the International Association of Tamil Research (IATR), a well-known global body of eminent Tamil scholars, had been gracelessly usurped by Karunanidhi to showcase his supposed love for Tamil and Tamils.
In 1968, when the first DMK government headed by the late C.N. Annadurai made the Second International Tamil Conference a popular political event with a historical pageant and a cultural exhibition, there was indeed a reason for that. The DMK had just come to power following a highly charged agitation against Hindi as the national language of India an agitation which was suppressed by the Congress government using the notorious provisions of the Defence of India Rules. The popular participation in the conference was massive. And the academic sessions were exemplary. Thus, the conference was a reaffirmation of the DMK's commitment to Tamil.
Four decades later, Tamil language is no longer viewed by the Tamils as a beleaguered language in need of political defence. Instead, there is a deep sense of self-confidence which marks both the language and its users. The field of cultural production in Tamil Nadu has been bubbling with new energy during the past two decades. Avant garde magazines, the proliferation of publishing houses, an expanded reading public, globally informed debates, and books which both in their content and design can compete with the best in the world, are all hallmarks of the new self-confident Tamil cultural public. As much as other language writings are translated into Tamil, Tamil literary and other writings are translated into other languages and showcased nationally and internationally.
Along with that, the old perception that Hindi is a threat to Tamil has by and large vanished. Every Tamil knows that Hindi is a lost cause even in the Hindi heartland. Even the prophets of 'Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan' are vigorously courting Tamil in an effort to gain a foothold in the state.
In this changed context, the DMK's celebration of the so-called classical status conferred on Tamil by the Union government is somewhat ludicrous. The average Tamilian no longer seeks outside authorisation about his language or its antiquity. It is just taken for granted. In fact, Karunanidhi is belittling the self-confidence of the language by making a show of an inconsequential decision by the Union government.
Despite its irrelevance, the Classical Tamil Conference has its uses for Karunanidhi. His constant boast, that he is the leader of world Tamils, is in tatters after his dubious role in not stopping the massacre of the Sri Lankan Tamils last year. The DMK had, after passing three unanimous resolutions in the state assembly seeking the Union government to ensure a ceasefire in Sri Lanka, reversed its policy to please the Congress (I). Its decision to stick with the Congress was motivated by its sole desire to cling on to power in the state. Given this politics of rank opportunism, Karunanidhi's dominant image today among the international Tamil community is one of a self-serving traitor.
The World Classical Tamil Conference is a desperate attempt by Karunanidhi to reinvent himself once again as the guardian of Tamil and Tamils. His narcissism is writ all over the conference. Self-obsessed as he is, a substantial part of his inaugural speech to the conference was about himself and his so-called love for Tamil from his childhood. The flood of newspaper advertisements on the conference attempts to produce an equivalence between him and the ancient Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar. The academic sessions, which are going to be intellectually enervating, have no less than 20 papers on Karunanidhi and five on his daughter Kanimozhi. If Karunanidhi has claimed that about 5000 scholars from all over India are participating in the conference, he has his own standards of scholarship.
In choosing the well-known Sri Lankan Tamil scholar Kartigesu Sivathamby, with his open sympathies for the Sri Lankan Tamil cause as the intellectual mascot of the conference, Karunanidhi is making an attempt to mend his battered image among the Tamil diaspora. Importantly, Sivathamby, who came to attend the International Tamil Conference held in Thanajavur in 1995, was deported at the instruction of the then AIADMK government because of his sympathies for the Sri Lankan Tamil cause.
Sivathmby, given his scholarly standing and his politics, may offer a fig leaf of legitimacy to Karunanidhi. But if Karunanidhi hopes that the conference, with all its garishly designed floats which resemble film sets of the past, will produce an image of him as the guardian of international Tamil community, he is mistaken.
The writer is a professor of history at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
WHEN STATES CONFRONT CORPORATIONS
Once BP begins to get its crude oil out of the Gulf of Mexico and off the front pages, a new fight will begin, one that pits a heavyweight energy corporation against the US government in a battle over costs and blame. This is not Washington's first such recent confrontation.
Last year, the Treasury Department hired attorney Ken Feinberg to oversee executive compensation at companies that had received federal bailout funds. After receiving a government rescue package valued at more than $170 billion, AIG announced it would pay its executives more than $100 million in bonuses. President Obama expressed fury and vowed to intervene. Feinberg described AIG bonuses as "outrageous" but not illegal, and the president discovered that intervention would produce years of litigation. As a measure of his respect for Feinberg's judgment, the president has now tapped him to run the $20 billion escrow fund that BP has pledged to create.
This is what happens when states and corporations do battle in countries governed by rule of law. Greed and outrage will each have his say in court, and the best lawyers will usually carry the day. Goldman Sachs and AIG have every opportunity to make their case. But what happens when governments and corporations face off in countries where courts and journalists are much more vulnerable to state pressure and where political officials can more easily manipulate public opinion?
When corporations find themselves in direct conflict with authoritarian governments, they lose. We've had one such high profile defeat already this year when Google took on the Chinese government in a dispute over censorship and cyber-security. Or consider BP's recent history in Russia, where it has found itself in frequent combat with the state-owned gas monopoly Gazprom and where the government has used courts to grab greater control and more profits from the company's operations. To maintain its foothold in Russia, BP has had to learn to play by Moscow rules.
Several Republicans have accused President Obama of strong-arming companies like AIG and BP. But the fact is that the president doesn't have the power to simply order up the result he wants. There's a world of difference in the outcome of conflicts between states and corporations in free market democracies and those in authoritarian countries that practice state capitalism, a system in which governments use state-owned companies and investment funds to dominate markets for political gain. In America, corporations know they can win in court. In state capitalist countries, they tend to suffer what they must.
As Google and AIG illustrate, this isn't simply an oil story, but the state capitalist trend is most obvious in the energy industry. Some of us think of BP as "Big Oil." But the 13 largest oil companies in the world are owned by governments. National oil companies like Saudi Aramco, the National Iranian Oil Company, Petróleos de Venezuela, Brazil's Petrobras or Malaysia's Petronas now control more than 75 per cent of the world's reserves.
This raises an interesting question, one posed recently by Michael Hendrix of the Centre for International Private Enterprise: What if the oil company now under congressional scrutiny for fouling the Gulf of Mexico was not a British multinational but a state-owned Chinese or Russian company?
This is the new political and economic order, one in which tough financial times pit states and corporations in battles for control and responsibility. It's also one in which states intervene, for better and for worse, in market performance. If you're running a company, managing policy or simply trying to understand the dominant emerging trends in international politics and the global economy, these are the ones to watch.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
LOSE A GENERAL, WIN A WAR
For most of US 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. For this reason, the president should finish cleaning house and fire Ambassador Eikenberry and the special envoy, Richard Holbrooke.
In the longer term, the army has to return to its tradition of getting rid of leaders who are failing.
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."
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 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 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.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
THE AGENDA IN TORONTO
The fourth meeting of the G-20 heads of government since the beginning of the global economic crisis takes place in Toronto over the weekend. Amazingly enough, a year and a half after the first meeting in December 2008, the leaders will still be discussing crisis rather than recovery. In fact, the very medicine that the G-20 had readily agreed to administer in a coordinated fashion in 2008fiscal stimulusis now the major bone of contention. There is a group of countries led by the US, and India would broadly fall into this group, who believe that since recovery is still fragile, stimulus must continue for a while longer. Otherwise the world may be in danger of experiencing a double-dip recession. Barack Obama is already on record saying that reining in public finance should be a medium-term objective, not a short-term one. On the other side of the debate are the European countries that are reeling under massive fiscal deficits and huge debt burdens that have brought some of themthe infamous Pigsdangerously close to the prospect of sovereign debt defaults. But even traditional powerhouse economies like Germany and the UK are being forced into making drastic cuts in spending at this very moment. The problem is that it is difficult to tell which of the two alternative outcomes in Europe will be worse for the global economysovereign debt defaults by some or a tight fiscal squeeze by all that may in the short run take a toll on growth in Europe and hence, by transitivity, the rest of the world?
The major European economies seem determined to carry out serious cuts with the view that short-term pain will eventually yield to gain in the medium term. That is probably the sensible optionsovereign debt defaults could set off an uncontrollable contagion, like the collapse of Lehman did, sending the global economy into a deep double-dip recession. On the other hand, a prolonged period of slow growth in Europe as a result of spending cuts is unlikely to impact the rest of the world in the same way. Sure, those countries that export to European markets will suffer. But it may be worth paying that price to prevent another round of panic. Interestingly, China managed to deflect the attention from itself, ahead of the summit, by committing to a revaluation of the yuan. That leaves the focus on Europe and the US. And the debate on financial regulation may yet have to wait for another meeting.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
PUBLIC FLOAT NORMS STILL AT SEA
The finance ministry's decision, to put the 25% minimum public float norms for state-owned companies on hold, will clearly discriminate against private sector companies. The public sector companies have argued that they are in no position to raise more money, given the tepid response from retail investors to some of the recent public offerings. The government should now revisit the notification to raise the minimum threshold level of public holding at 25% for all listed companies and they must be given a longer time frame to meet the threshold. This would mitigate the supply issue of paper in the markets. The timing of dilution of stocks should be determined by the management of the company and its needs for funds, rather than forcing 5% dilution each year. This will also provide an opportunity to companies to get fair valuations and those floating initial public offering could see greater investor participation. As we have argued in the past, the well-intended move by the government has been incorrectly timed as the markets are seeing a lot of volatility. The total dilution is expected to be around Rs 1.5 lakh crore and the markets simply do not have the appetite to absorb so much paper in the near and medium term. Data on share holding patterns of companies filed till March 31, 2010 show that out of 3,467 listed companies in BSE, there were only 185 private sector companies and 36 public sector companies in which promoters hold more than 75% of the shares.
The 25% free float for public sector companies is more desirable, given the fact these companies have a weight of 15.7% in the Nifty index. The increased float will raise their weight in benchmark indices and will help them attract more money. But everything hinges on sound valuations and strong fundamentals of the companies. Now, public sector companies going for listing will sell their shares as per the earlier norms, before the amendment in the Securities Contract Regulations Act. Under the new public float norms, retail investors will have a wider choice and they might dilute their stake in one company and move towards others, which will affect the price-earnings multiple of the company. In fact, data shows that some 35 companies have received clearance from Sebi for IPOs but are not confident enough to hit the markets because of the volatility. The public float norms, aimed at large public participation in the markets, must ensure effective price discovery because effective price discovery is an equally important objective.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
ALL THE ACTION IN FINANCIAL REGULATION
Multiple financial sector reform measures are being debated and progressively implemented in various countries. Last week, in particular, saw a number of regulatory events and announcements, including the reconciliation process of the US Congress's House and Senate versions of a financial sector reform Bill, now down to the wire. Hard on its heels came the announcement by the UK chancellor of the exchequer of sweeping financial sector reforms. Probably the most startling of these, largely because of the growing body of favourable opinion over the past decade, was a proposal to dismantle the Financial Services Authority (FSA), the UK's financial super-regulator, and restructuring the resulting bits and pieces in new configurations.
Closer home, in India, an executive ordinance sought to provide resolution to the dispute between the capital markets and insurance regulators (which might dilute a proposal to bring all organised financial trading under one regulator).
A fair bit of column space has already been dedicated to these seemingly disparate developments; what does this column add? It seeks to emphasise one aspect of reformsthe regulatory oversight architecturethat would implement the broad principles of reforms. The proximate reason for this emphasis is the 'Squam Lake Report', unveiled at a conference last week to discuss the recommendations of an influential group of economists, who had got together in the Autumn of 2008 to deliberate on the future of the financial system.
The broad focus of the report is on the following aspects: a systemic financial markets regulator, a new financial markets information infrastructure, regulation of retirement savings, reform of capital requirements, regulation of executive compensation, an expedited mechanism to recapitalise distressed financial firms (regulatory hybrid securities, improved resolution options for systemically important financial institutions), credit default swaps, clearing houses and exchanges, prime brokers, derivatives dealers, and runs. The reason we take the report seriously is that it seeks to provide the intellectual moorings of the reform efforts. Moreover, since the reform legislation in the US Congress is broadly on similar lines, the outcome there is likely to influence thinking on reforms across the globe.
This column highlights the conclusions of the report related to the proposed regulatory and oversight architecture. Borrowing from Ben Bernanke, who addressed the conference, one of two the central principles that guided their recommendations was a need for regulators to focus on the soundness of the financial system as whole, and not merely on the soundness of individual financial institutions. In the jargon of economists and regulators, supervisors need a macro-prudential as well as a micro-prudential perspective. This is nothing new, but needs to be looked at afresh, in the light of the US and UK proposals, particularly the organisational architecture and mechanism of that oversight.
One broad trend is clear, i.e., a move towards a unified oversight mechanism, based on the key premise that "only independent central banks have the broad macroeconomic understanding, the authority and the knowledge required to make the kind of macro-prudential judgement that are required." The failure of large, complex and interconnected financial firms can disrupt the broader financial system and the overall economy, and such firms should be regulated with that fact in mind. Likewise, the costs of the failure of critical financial infrastructure, such as payments and settlements systems, are likely to be much greater and more widely felt than the costs imposed directly on the owners of and participants in those systems.
The obvious question would be which entity can best monitor this systemic soundness? The report considers the central bankin the US, the Federal Reserveas the entity best qualified to perform this super-regulatory function. This was, coincidentally, also the reconciled outcome of the US reform Bill, which provides for the creation of a Financial Stability Oversight Council, composed of all the existing regulatory bodies, but with the Federal Reserve seeming to play the lead role. In India, a similar oversight body is sought to be established: the Financial Stability and Development Council. What is different in this case is that the crafters of the requisite legislation probably do not see this body as a super-regulator, but primarily as a mechanism for regulatory coordination.
This structure is somewhat different from the scheme proposed in the UK, where the Bank of England is proposed to be made the super-regulator, with the micro- and macro-prudential oversight tasked to a Prudential Regulatory Authority and a Financial Policy Committee, respectively, within its ambit.
Broad principles are fine, the difficulty is in agreeing on the details, as is evident in the reconciliation process and lobbying currently taking place in the US. Understanding the operational implications of the new working arrangements, specifically the statutory powers of the super-regulator to demand detailed financial information from key, big, interconnected firms, will be a lengthy process.
The author is vice-president, business & economic research, Axis Bank. These are his personal views
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
CRACKING THE CONTRACT CODE, IT CHEERS
DARLINGTON JOSE HECTOR
The first quarter of this financial year has been a period of consolidation and revival in the Indian information technology (IT) sector. The deal taps have opened up and contracts have swollen in value. Bigger, sizeable deals are always a sign of well-being in any sector, and the software industry has had it good so far this fiscal.
The good news is that the large-scale deals have started to happen across every vertical, including automotive, aviation, telecom and insurance. The bigger deals started to kick in January and by the time April came, it was clear that this was becoming a pattern and not an exception.
Chief financial officers in large Indian IT corporations believe that there are bigger deals waiting to be cracked in the coming quarters, and that is a good indicator of the overall health of the sector. TCS, Infosys and Wiprothe top threealong with HCL and Patni have led the charge, and the mid-sized firms are also expected to join in shortly.
What may thrill the investors even more is the good news that some delayed contracts will also be cleared in the coming quarters. Also, some large deals valued at over $10 billion are reaching termination at the end of this year. These would then be up for renegotiations and Indian IT players are sure to be in the fray to get a slice of the pie. So one can expect a few more big IT deals to swing to Indian shores soon.
Customers, while still cautious about the overall macroeconomic environment, have started to loosen their purse strings a wee bit with an eye on cost optimisation. American clients have especially started to spend on software, with the banking and financial sectors exhibiting a marked improvement in performance. European clients, according to IT firms, are still a bit cautious but they too have noticed how the environment has started to change.
Transformational deals had created a big buzz a couple of years ago. Recession had swept them back a bit but now they are showing signs of coming in again. The April-June period has witnessed signs of recovery as companies started to look at new, cutting-edge business models. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, Indian IT vendors are competing with global players for the large contracts that are expected to be renewed.
In fact, the large deals that have come back to sit on the Indian IT tables have made recession look like a distant bad dream. Deal conversion rates have surged during the period between April and June, with greater client wins by TCS, Infosys and Wipro.
The Rs 4,200-crore UK pension deal cracked by TCS was what made analysts sit up and take note of the trend. All the global majors were apparently vying for the prestigious deal but TCS managed to win the bid quite comfortably. This deal came as a definitive indicator of India's return to the big stage. HCL's contract with pharma major Merck, worth Rs 2,350 crore, was another landmark deal.
What was satisfying for most was the continued support from the public sector. The Accelerated Power Development and Reform Programme of India (APDRP) is a case in point. The programme has given out IT contracts worth Rs 1,220 crore and companies like TCS, HCL and Infinity Computers all dived in to snatch the goodies. With Aadhaar continuing to make news, more deals like the one Mindtree got are also in the pipeline.
Having presented the pretty picture, it has to be said that any level of overconfidence would be misplaced at this point in time. Many companies still face immense pricing pressures out in the market and even the biggest of firms have acknowledged this. While customer 'walk-ins' have improved considerably, many are still adopting a cautious approach. Lessons from the recession are still fresh in the minds of many.
The coming months will continue to offer friction and deals are not likely to handed out on a platter all the time. A tremendous amount of work is still required for the sector to claim ascendancy. But Indian firms are known to chip away at work and have never been intimated by global IT services biggies. They had to fight with the likes of IBM, Oracle and HP but they have always held their own.
It is fair to say that it's a new start for the industry, a second coming so to say, and it is imperative for the health of the industry that more such deals come India's way. The world is watching.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
FLY ME, I COMPENSATE
Earlier this week, the Indian aviation watchdog DGCA rejuvenated its three-year-old proposal about the facilities airlines must provide to passengers in case of boarding denials, flight cancellations and delays without prior notice. The proposal had been in limbo due to stiff opposition from the airlines that cited poor finances as the major hiccup, but the industry is definitely coming out of the recession cloud now. As per the draft Civil Aviation Rule, monetary compensation will range between Rs 2,000 and Rs 4,000 or the ticket cost, whichever is less. This will not be valid for cases caused by extraordinary circumstances.
Passenger traffic for scheduled domestic airlines (SDA) registered a 21.95% y-o-y growth during Jan-May 2010 and overall on-time performance was 81.4% for May. Still, passenger complaints and flight cancellations remain key pressure points. Total passenger complaints received were an average 3.3 per 10,000 passengers with the overall cancellation rate for SDA at 1.9%. A majority of the reasons for cancellations (58.5%) fell under the 'miscellaneous' category. This makes it imperative to gain clarity on whether they come under the compensation ambit.
Analysts believe the industry won't be thrilled with this proposal and will probably not let it become a rule. But airlines should recognise that as the industry matures, frills will continue to become less important and it will be non-cost factors such as service quality and customer rights that will differentiate airlines from one another. To this effect, Greece went a step further and pledged to cover the costs of tourists who were either stranded by labour unrest or natural disaster ahead of a new travel strike on June 29. The move was aimed to repair the damage done to the tourism industry that generates about one-fifth of Greek GDP.
The implementation of DGCA's draft rule might appear to burn a hole in the airlines' pockets but it will ultimately result in the industry's long-term growth. This move will complement the PMO's proposal to dilute protectionism and allow foreign airlines to have stakes in domestic carriers. It will help align us with global best practices, such as those envisioned in the Montreal Convention, at least in terms of the airlines' liabilities towards passengers hassled by unscheduled cancellations and the like.
LEARNING FROM TRAGEDY
Twenty-five years ago, Air India flight 182 from Montréal to New Delhi exploded over the Irish sea, killing all 329 on board. Even though most of the victims were Indian nationals or of Indian origin, the tragedy disappeared from the foreground of public consciousness with a strange speed displaced perhaps by the succession of horrors that have scarred the country since then. In Canada, however, victims' rights groups and community campaigners mounted sustained pressure on the government. Earlier this month, their relentless work yielded results when a commission of inquiry led by a retired Canadian Supreme Court judge, John Major, published its findings. The report slammed Canada's security services for a series of staggering failures they committed in the months leading up to the bombing, and for the botched investigation that followed it. The commission's report will not set right wrongs. But Justice Major has brought out the truth or at least a great part of it. In the months to come, the commission's findings could conceivably help Indian diplomats persuade Pakistan to hand over key figures linked to the Flight 182 perpetrators, like the Babbar Khalsa International chief Wadhawa Singh Babbar and International Sikh Youth Federation leader Lakhbir Singh Brar.
India needs to learn lessons from the institutional processes that allowed Canada to engage in a thoroughgoing audit of the Flight 182 disaster, no matter how embarrassing it has proved to the country's intelligence and police services. No Indian government has seen it fit to engage in a rigorous, transparent audit of the multiple failures of administration, policing, and intelligence that allowed so many regional conflicts to develop into murderous insurgencies. Nor have the reasons why it took five years for India's police and intelligence services to unravel the operations of the jihadist networks we now know as the Indian Mujahideen been laid bare. Even the Ram Pradhan-V. Balachandran committee, which unearthed a mass of detail on intelligence and police failures before and during the November 26, 2008 Lashkar-e-Taiba assault on Mumbai, was not given the power to summon witnesses or demand classified central government documentation. India's experience with commissions of enquiry has not been brilliant. Justice M.C. Jain's quixotic report on the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and the less-than-optimal course of Justice M.S. Liberhan's investigation of the Babri Masjid demolition are cases in point. The failure over the long term to establish institutions that can explore the truth and present it boldly to the public has led to pervasive deficits of accountability.
In what may go down in history as one of the more bizarre indictments of modern times, six Italian scientists and one government official could face charges of manslaughter for a failure to do something that science has no answer for. The provocation: the Commission for High Risks, an expert Italian group that advises the Civil Protection Agency of Italy on the risks of natural disaster, failed to predict an earthquake! It had met just a few days before a quake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale struck L'Aquila in Abruzzo, on April 6, 2009. In Italy, indictment usually precedes a request for court trial, and this one was issued on June 3, 2010. The quake killed about 300 people, injured 1,600 more, and left close to 65,000 homeless. Predicting earthquakes with certainty is the holy grail of earthquake sciences. Despite decades of research, no reliable technique or method has yet been found. Although the causal factors, and even the rates at which tectonic plates move and stress builds up along certain faults, are known, scientists can forecast with some success only the long-term rates of quake occurrence. Prediction that can save lives is about providing reliable information of a quake of a certain magnitude striking a locality during a short window period. Even in the case of Parkfield in California, a major earthquake-prone area that is intensely monitored, the United States Geological Survey's 1983 forecast of a quake of magnitude 6 occurring between 1988 and 1993 went wrong. The quake struck in 2004.
Various phenomena such as radon levels, foreshocks, behaviour of animals, and the warping of the earth's crust have been investigated, but none can be used with a high level of confidence to predict the timing or magnitude of a quake. The prediction of a quake days before it struck by Giampaolo Giuliani, a technician at the Gran Sasso National laboratory in Abruzzi, based on abnormal radon gas concentrations in the air, was ignored. Abnormal radon level has been used as a precursor of earthquakes for some time, but there is no real evidence to use it as a predictor of quakes. In fact, rainfall and even atmospheric pressure changes can cause radon release. If quakes cannot be predicted with great accuracy, the only alternative to save lives is risk mitigation. Strict adherence to the code, retrofitting old buildings, and building public awareness are the only ways to save lives. Prosecuting scientists for failing to do something they are not equipped to do yet is both over the top and outrageously unjust.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
THE WINNERS AND LOSERS OF THE AFGHAN WAR
THE TALIBAN WINS NOT SIMPLY BY NOT LOSING BUT ALSO BECAUSE PRESIDENT KARZAI SEEMS TO HAVE MADE UP HIS MIND TO STRIKE A DEAL WITH IT THROUGH THE PROCESS OF RECONCILIATION.
It is abundantly clear, as of now, that there will be two winners and two losers in the Afghan war. The Taliban, and hence Pakistan, will emerge the gainer; The U.S., and hence India, will come out on the losing side. The Taliban wins not simply by not losing but also because President Karzai seems to have made up his mind to strike a deal with it through the process of reconciliation. Pakistan benefits by the Taliban remaining undefeated on the battlefield as well as through the Karzai-Taliban political deal, for which the Afghan President needs its good offices. This is true despite the fact that there is not much love lost between Pakistan and the Taliban. David Ibsy, an American strategic analyst, in his new book, Afghanistan: graveyard of empires, makes a pertinent observation. He says Pakistan wanted to create a 'strategic depth' for itself in Afghanistan, but has ended up conceding a 'strategic depth' to the Taliban, as well Al Qaeda, in Pakistan.
The Americans are losing by not winning. They are groping for a policy on Afghanistan that would enable Mr. Obama to keep to his pledge to begin withdrawing his troops by July next year with at least a semblance of success for the strategy which his commander on the spot Gen. McChrystal dragged him into. Nobody, not even the military, claims that the Marja operation a few months ago has been anywhere near success. Marja was supposed to be a forerunner to a bigger operation in Kandahar, a kind of appetiser before the main course. By now, Gen. McChrystal has admitted that the Kandahar operation would be delayed by several months. Democrats and Republicans alike are getting impatient with the steady and mounting American casualties and drain on the treasury. The review that Mr.Obama has scheduled for the end of the year might have to be brought forward; in any case, it will be the third such review. The military will predictably put the necessary gloss on its assessment. The American public will hope that the review does not result in another military surge. They must be dreading these reviews!
Mr. Karzai wants to survive, physically as well as politically; why should he not want what politicians want everywhere? He has apparently concluded that the U.S. and its reluctant coalition partners cannot win and might not stay engaged for long, certainly not in the present strength and not much beyond July 2011. From his perspective, it would make good political sense to come to an understanding with the Taliban, whose cadres are after all fellow Afghans and with whom he did work at one time. If, for this, he has to seek Pakistan's help, so be it. After all, he did refer to Pakistan as Afghanistan's conjoined twin brother! Thus, reconciliation trumps reintegration, the preferred option of the Americans. The peace Jirga has empowered him to move ahead with his strategy; he at least has one and a clear one at that. The only concession to the Americans Mr. Karzai made at the Jirga was to include a demand in the declaration that the Taliban cut ties with Al Qaeda.
The Taliban issued a statement about a year ago that it had no quarrel with the West. It might make a few more gestures of a cosmetic kind to make it easier for Mr. Karzai to come to an agreement with it on power sharing and would also help the U.S. and its coalition partners accept the deal, however reluctantly. No one should have any illusion, however, of the Taliban giving up its core ideology of Islamic fundamentalism. What about the Afghan people? From many accounts, they have no liking whatsoever for the ideology or methods of the Taliban. Its indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets, resulting in the deaths of mostly Muslims, have made it quite unpopular. The Taliban, unlike the Hamas or Hezbollah, does not engage in socially beneficial activities such as running clinics and schools. But the Afghan people are so disillusioned with the lack of governance and corruption of the present regime that they might just be willing to give the Taliban one more chance, especially if it was to be only a part of the governing coalition and not the sole party in the government. Hence, Mr. Karzai too will gain at the end.
(Incidentally, corruption is not only on the Afghan side; the scam involving American private security firms making tens of millions of dollars has compelled the U.S. government to set up a special task force to inquire into it.)
Where does that leave India? Not in a very comfortable position. Perhaps India will be worse off than the U.S., since the Americans are thousands of miles away and in any case they have no problem with the Taliban; their only concern is to degrade and defeat Al Qaeda. By repeatedly and publicly urging the U.S. and the coalition not to abandon Afghanistan and to remain engaged, we have not given ourselves much cushion to follow other options. True, our development effort has earned kudos from all quarters except from Gen. McChrystal, who went out of his way to implicitly sympathise with, if not condone, Pakistan's attacks on Indian targets in Afghanistan. Quoting Afghan and international intelligence officers and diplomats, a report in The New York Times of 16 June is unequivocal in asserting that the LeT continues to track Indian development workers and others for possible attacks. Describing the LeT as a creation of Pakistan's military and intelligence services as a proxy force to confront India decades ago, the report says the LeT is an instrument for Pakistan to counteract 'India's influence in the country'. Here is something Pakistan can do to reduce the trust deficit.
Proactive action needed
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, in an address to a think tank in Delhi on 13 June, mentioned two extremely important principles while talking about the future course of action. She said neighbours and regional countries must be consulted and included in the picture and that Afghanistan's neighbours must not interfere in its internal affairs. This is significant and needs to be followed up proactively. This writer and other more knowledgeable experts have called for returning Afghanistan to its traditional posture of neutrality which would include pledges of non-interference by all its neighbours through a declaration to be adopted at an international conference after due consultation and preparation. The final package would include regularisation of the status of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. President Karzai might not show too much enthusiasm for this approach because he might interpret it as a reflection on himself and also because at present he might rate his chances of remaining in power much better through the process of reconciliation. Nonetheless, there is enough congruence of interests between the U.S. and India, the two on the losing side, to propel them to explore the possibility of moving in this direction. One might expect the Russians, as well as other neighbours of Afghanistan, to be supportive of the idea of a compact of non-interference. Pakistan and the Taliban, on the other hand, would show the least enthusiasm for it. Those who believe that they are winning remain convinced they would continue to win and that their gain would be permanent; hence they disdain all talk of concessions and compromises.
There should be enough incentive for India to follow up on what the Foreign Secretary said on June 13. The Americans might not be in a mood to favour any initiative which would involve talking to Iran, and Iran will have to be part of any exercise touching on the future of Afghanistan; but the U.S. would, at least ought to, see merit in this proposal and be persuaded to take a slightly longer view. We should start the process with Russia, China, France, Central Asian states, and obviously Afghanistan. The safest thing, diplomatically, would be to ask the U.N. Secretary-General to consider appointing a special envoy for the purpose in carrying out consultations. It is precisely when the picture looks dark that some proactive action needs to be taken.
G20 AND THE REAL ECONOMY: WHAT'S AT STAKE
THE ONLY SUSTAINABLE WAY OUT OF THE CRISIS IS BY REACTIVATING THE REAL ECONOMY, CREATING MORE JOBS AND THUS INCREASING GOVERNMENT REVENUES.
On the eve of the G20 Leaders Summit in Toronto this weekend, we are again at a critical juncture.
Despite a fragile economic recovery, global unemployment is at its highest level ever, at more than 210 million, and we will need to create 470 million new jobs in the next 10 years to absorb new entrants into the labour markets. Youth unemployment has reached unacceptable levels. Gains in reducing the number of working poor living on less than $1.25 per person per day are being reversed. The informal economy and vulnerable work are swelling.
Perceptions of social injustice once seen as mainly a problem of the developing world are spreading fast in many developed countries. Tensions and social unrest are increasing in the form of public protests against austerity measures and for jobs.
There is still time to turn this situation around. But we must make the right choices. Up until eight weeks ago the "Pittsburgh Consensus" decisions taken by the G20 at their summit in that city last September was on track as the right approach to the crisis: putting quality jobs at the heart of the recovery and gradually withdrawing stimulus measures as the economic and jobs recovery took strong hold.
Suddenly, however, the agreement on this economic and social approach has come under pressure. Concerns over the sovereign debt crisis and growing deficits in Europe have prompted decisions to cut social spending, moves to raise taxes and the pursuit of significant austerity measures. History shows that doing this can jeopardise the very recovery we are trying to achieve. And we also know that such measures will certainly slow down jobs recovery in the short run.
These concerns dominated the discussions at the just-concluded International Labour Conference, the annual meeting of the ILO. The Conference is a unique gathering of more than 4,000 government, employer and worker representatives representatives of the "real economy." Their voices expressed concern, fear and frustration over the evolution of the crisis response, and the possibility that even meagre gains made so far in economic recovery may be lost in terms of creating jobs, sustaining enterprises and supporting the unemployed.
Their expectations can be summarised in the following points:
First, we need a balanced policy convergence strategy that protects and promotes productive investments and job-rich growth in a fiscally responsible manner.
Second, we need growth that generates decent jobs. That means building further on the Pittsburgh commitments to "put quality jobs at the heart of the recovery".
Third, we must make sure that people especially young workers have the necessary skills to fill the jobs that are created.
Fourth, job creation must be a targeted goal for governments alongside low inflation, sound fiscal policies and other macroeconomic objectives.
Fifth, and very importantly, we need a financial system that works for the real economy, not the other way around.
Global growth is expected to reach around 4 per cent this year, but what does that matter to a worker who cannot get a job or has weak social protection in times of crisis? And what about the small enterprises that have difficult access to credit and cannot benefit from the mild economic recovery that is underway? These are questions we should be answering.
The bottom line is that the only sustainable way out of the crisis is by reactivating the real economy, creating more jobs and thus increasing government revenues.
At the same time we certainly have to address the issue of fiscal deficits and sovereign debt which requires medium and long term sustainable solutions. But we must start now. Countries, according to their own circumstances, can formulate balanced, gradual and credible exit strategies from the stimulus measures that rescued the global economy from an ever deeper recession, and that have saved or created tens of millions of jobs since the start of the crisis.
I must express the strong support of ILO constituents for the responsibilities that the G20 have decided to take on and consequently the difficult tasks ahead. The message coming from them is the importance of political and social dialogue, nationally and internationally, to find the right balance of policies to deal with all these issues. What is at stake is the future of the real economy.
( Juan Somavia is Director-General of the International Labour Organisation in Geneva.)
CRIME, NO PUNISHMENT
THERE IS STILL NO BAR ON TRYING THE CORPORATE PERPETRATORS OF THE BHOPAL TRAGEDY, INCLUDING WARREN ANDERSON.
V.R. KRISHNA IYER
- When it comes to the U.S., international law is the vanishing point of punitive jurisprudence
- Crime statistics almost wholly ignore corporate or business crime
The Bhopal mega-crime trial is over. The barbarity has ended in a light sentence, although the victims are countless. Eight officials of the erstwhile Union Carbide India Limited have been convicted and sentenced to two years' rigorous imprisonment.
The judge has given the maximum possible punishment for the crimes as charged. The Supreme Court had pared down the charge: from homicide not amounting to murder to culpable negligence not amounting to murder.
The corporate culprit that was based in the United States, or its successor-entity, or its then Chairman, Warren Anderson, are not in the picture now. The poignant omission was set out thus: "Under the settlement, Union Carbide agreed to pay $470 million to the Indian Government on behalf of all the Bhopal victims in full and final settlement of all past, present and future claims arising from [the] Bhopal disaster. The entire amount has to be paid before 31st May, 1989. In addition, to facilitate the settlement the Supreme Court exercised its extraordinary jurisdiction and terminated all the civil, criminal and contempt of court proceedings that had arisen out of the Bhopal disaster and were pending in subordinate Indian courts."
The right to life is a fundamental right in India. So this macro-murder, the worst industrial carnage in history, is a huge blot. An untested facility was installed in India with no examination of the potential dangers, as if it were a mere soda factory. The act of installation in itself was a crime.
But India is just a brown colony for white Americans! When it comes to the U.S., international law is the vanishing point of punitive jurisprudence. The catastrophe occurred in December 1984. It was not too big for Indian courts to handle. But, shamefully a Chief Justice of India and a great lawyer gave the opinion that the Indian judicature would take several life-times to try such a mega-crime and that it had better be tried in U.S. courts.
A corporate Director usually does not personally commit crimes himself or herself. These are committed perhaps without their knowledge, but with their connivance and vicarious awareness. Nevertheless, culpability exists in a higher dimension of punitive jurisprudence.
This is the basis of culpability in corporate crimes and offences. To plead that Union Carbide or Anderson did not physically switch on equipment or were not responsible for the acts of commission or omission that caused the leakage is no argument of innocence. But for the installation of such a facility, the deaths would not have happened. If a nuclear plant were set up that exploded and wiped out thousands of lives, those who set up and operated it are vicariously guilty, not by mens rea but morally and legally. In this larger sense, Carbide and Anderson have much to explain. But they were in India, a dollar colony, and so no prosecution was not pursued; it remains to be launched.
The question is: will the Government of India dare demand the repatriation of Anderson and prosecute Carbide or its corporate successor-entity? Is there a bar on the score that a trial against lesser officials for a lesser offence that has gone on for 25 years? And that the government has received money by way of an amoral settlement? No principle of jurisprudence permits a huge crime to be settled by the government without the knowledge of the victims under the pretense of parens partriae. If the state can corruptly take cash and make up for the murder of its citizens, our jurisprudence deserves to be disobeyed. Such an act will go against ancient dharma and modern principles and values, which consider life to be beyond negotiation. Indian life is not so cheap as to be bartered away in deals.
The mega-criminals, namely, Union Carbide and Anderson, have not stood trial, charged with Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code that pertains to the real crime involved. There is much agitation over the fact that fiat justitia failed. When disasters of such dimensions occur as a result of the vicarious action of corporate persons and other individuals in power who have not faced trial, a disaster liability law exists. There is no room for immunity here, and no previous trial can exculpate the guilt. When small criminals go to work, a big noise is made to prosecute them. But when monstrous crimes are committed by mighty individuals through lethal instruments, should they be let off? That will make the law immoral, inhuman and violative of justice.
No human principle of law can empower a state except perhaps a Hitlerite dictatorship to write off the lives of its citizens after receiving money from the killer. Such an atrocious rule will warrant invasion, occupation and elimination of lives of citizens of another country.
Some such payment appears to have been made for Bhopal. No written text of the law exists in India or elsewhere under which if 'A' were murdered by 'B,' the state can compromise prosecution and claims by receiving a sum of money. In an overpopulated country such as India, whenever a murder takes place the state can make up for its deficit by receiving a sum to settle the claim? The Buddha and Gandhiji were born in vain if this were to be the law.
Over countless cadavers, a wicked principle of jurisprudence is being presented: of crime without punishment, however grave the crime. Meanwhile, the government, without any sense of humanism, settles the crime, guided by barbarity. Sans a trace of humanity it received money in a bloody bargain and used it to build a luxury hospital where the poor have no access.
Ralph Nader, in a powerful introduction to America Inc., wrote of the insensitivity and incompetence of jurisprudence when challenged by the corporate juggernaut: "In no clearer fashion has the corporation held the law at bay than in the latter's paralysis toward the corporate crime wave. Crime statistics almost wholly ignore corporate or business crime; there is no list of the ten most wanted corporations; the law affords no means of regularly collecting data on corporate crime; and much corporate criminal behaviour (such as pollution) has not been made a crime because of corporate opposition. For example, willful and knowing violations of auto, tire, radiation, and gas pipeline safety standards are not considered crimes under the relevant statutes even if lives are lost as a result."
The best that has been said on this is by Winston Churchill: "The Dark Ages may return the Stone Age may return on the gleaming wings of science; and what might now shower immeasurable material blessings upon mankind may even bring about its total destruction. Beware, I say! Time may be short."
This horror is becoming a reality in India. We must resist this new homicidal jurisprudence and try by a fresh prosecution Union Carbide and Anderson. The Union of India has much to answer for the slaughter. Fiat justitia ruat caelum. The law must have a conscience.
OPTIMISTIC VIEW OF AFRICA'S ECONOMIES
"GLOBAL BUSINESSES CANNOT AFFORD TO IGNORE THEIR POTENTIAL," SAYS REPORT.
CELIA W. DUGGER
Africa is often depicted as a place of war, disease and poverty, with a begging bowl extended to the world. A new report paints a much more optimistic portrait of a continent with growing national economies and an expanding consumer class that offers foreign investors the highest rates of return in the developing world.
In a report released Thursday, McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm, presented a bullish message to companies, arguing that "global businesses cannot afford to ignore the potential."
"The growth we've seen in Africa recently is much more widespread than is generally recognized," said Arend van Wamelen, an author of the report based in Johannesburg for McKinsey, which advises domestic and international companies investing in Africa. "There are a lot of underlying good things going on in the economies."
The report, titled "Lions on the Move," includes an array of arresting facts from the firm's business and economics research arm, the McKinsey Global Institute. Since 2000, 316 million people on the continent have signed up for cell phone service, more than the entire population of the United States; Africa's billion people spent $860 billion in 2008, more than India's population of 1.2 billion.
From 2000 to 2008, African economies grew at twice the pace they did in the 1980s and 1990s. Moreover, Africa was one of only two regions Asia was the other where the collective economy rose through the global recession of 2009, by 1.4 per cent.
In a clear sign of the reorientation of the economic landscape in Africa, China has provided more financing for roads, power, railways and other infrastructure in recent years than the World Bank. And in a sign of increasing security, the number of serious conflicts in which more than 1,000 people died annually declined to an average of 2.6 a year in the 2000s from 4.8 in the 1990s, the report said.
Many advocates for democracy, the poor and people with AIDS would probably offer a less rosy take on Africa's persistent struggles, but the authors of the McKinsey report contend that the continent as a whole has made solid progress on economic fundamentals.
Often, Africa's economic growth is seen as a result of the boom in prices for its wealth of natural resources oil, gold, platinum and diamonds, among others. As an example of that, the continent's three largest oil producers Algeria, Angola and Nigeria earned $1 trillion in oil exports from 2000 to 2008, compared with $300 billion in the 1990s, the report found.
But the McKinsey researchers also concluded that rising commodity prices directly accounted for only about a quarter of the increase in economic growth in the 2000s.
Economic growth accelerated in 27 of the continent's 30 largest economies, resource-rich and resource-poor alike, they found. Those with great natural wealth grew at about 5.4 per cent a year in the same period, while those not so well endowed grew at 4.6 per cent.
McKinsey attributed Africa's economic expansion to rising commodity prices, greater political stability aided by a reduction in violent conflicts, improved macroeconomic performance and market-friendly economic reforms.
Africa's collective inflation rate fell to 8 percent after 2000, from 22 per cent in the 1990s. Budget deficits declined to 1.8 per cent of gross domestic product from 4.6 per cent. A private sector emerged. Foreign direct investment surged to $62 billion in 2008 from $9 billion in 2000.
"Obviously, there are places in terrible shape," Wamelen said. "We're not insensitive to that. But on the whole, if you look at the number of people who are destitute, those numbers are falling pretty drastically. The economic trickle down is there.
Some of the demographic trends praised in the report could turn out to be double-edged swords. By 2040, McKinsey projects, Africa will have 1.1 billion working-age people, more than in China or India.
But even now, South Africa, one of the continent's most dynamic economies, is not growing fast enough to absorb all the young people entering the job market or providing them with educations that would equip them for the workplace. New York Times News Service
ENFORCING CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY
A U.S. consumer group is suing McDonald's over its Happy Meals. False advertising, you say? "These don't make me happy! They make me full but only for a short time, and full of self-hate!" No, it's for the toys they give away. California has already passed a law against offering free toys with any meal that doesn't reach a nutritional standard, in recognition of just how dense and suggestible is your average child diner.
It's interesting to look at the language used in this lawsuit, brought by the Center for Science in the Public Interest: "McDonald's is the stranger in the playground handing out candy to children. It's a creepy and predatory practice that warrants an injunction. McDonald's marketing has the effect of conscripting America's children into an unpaid drone army of wordofmouth marketers, causing them to nag their parents to bring them to McDonald's." What a subtle audacity, calling Ronald McDonald a paedophile. In a lawsuit. I thought you were only allowed to say that on Facebook.
More remarkable is the radicalism underpinning this: the idea that large corporations should approach customers in a responsible way, thinking not only of profit but of the nutritional needs of a family, as well as its budget and interior dynamics.
When we talk about the need for corporate responsibility here in the U.K., we are referring to major transgressions against humankind: toxic spillage, sweat shops in Bangladesh, carbon footprints. In America, there is provision under law for enforcing or at least demanding not just a duty of care not to kill anybody but the kind of responsibility you might ask from a reasonable adult. Please don't just profiteer. Also think of the tubby, plasticridden society you create.
This sounds like a good thing, doesn't it? And yet the landscape it creates is not necessarily one we'd emulate.
Take, as an example, the drinks industry's response to foetal alcohol syndrome. In the 1970s, when alcohol was first identified as a hazard to a foetus, the industry naturally rejected it wholesale (mainly on the basis that pregnant women had been drinking for centuries). By 1988 the industry had willingly submitted to warning signs on every bottle not "don't drink too much", but a red line through a pregnant woman, effectively "don't drink at all, you pregger".
The spur to this was a case brought against Jim Beam, on behalf of a child with foetal alcohol syndrome, the year before. (James A. Beam actually escaped liability, when the mood of the court turned against the mother, but it was a tense time for the drinks industry; the story is told in Janet Golden's book, Message in a Bottle [Harvard University Press]).
The warnings are basically there to protect the sellers of alcohol from litigation. This is great for the industry but bad for the consumer. In an effort to shut down any possibility of legal recourse it elevates into a medical truism the idea that any amount of alcohol, however small, could cause foetal damage (this is not true). In doing so, it creates the suspicion that the country is crawling with women seeking to carouse at the expense of their unborn child and this idea has spawned appalling legislation. Five states in the U.S. authorise the civil commitment of a woman who is suspected of using alcohol during her pregnancy: 33 states require the reporting of suspected alcohol use. Rates of foetal alcohol syndrome have, predictably, stayed pretty static throughout: in response to warnings, light drinkers stop drinking, and alcoholics remain alcoholic.
Never minding the gender politics of all this and Golden points to strongly racist imagery and rhetoric in the foetal alcohol syndrome debate just look at the route. That case against the industry was the hinge moment, just as it was in the smoking debate, which was bitterly fought in class actions against Big Tobacco first, then passed through state law like a slippery pig.
The timing isn't always exact. A class action might be inspired by one in a single state, as is apparently the case in the People v Badly Made Shrek Toy.
But there is certainly an alternative political landscape in America, where arguments are made that are much more radical than anything you hear from mainstream politicians. Barack Obama sounds great, but he does not sound like a Marxist. You cannot imagine him accusing a fastfood giant of "conscripting" a child. The narrative is rarely a straightforward David v Goliath, where a little guy sets his all against a huge company and wins. That does sometimes happen, but there's baggage: a trail of onthehop lawmaking that can make the individual weaker even though it was formulated in response to an individual's case against a faceless corporation.
This sheds light on so much that is peculiar to the U.S., not just Americans' famous litigiousness and riskaversion but their emotional relationship with the court process, the vexed attitude to lawyers, who are shysters one minute and crusaders the next. Courts do more than test the law. They provide a political platform, a sense of collective action, a pressure valve to let off some of the howling frustration of being a drone to Ronald McDonald's King Bee.
Having said all that, there is another reason why I can't see anyone bringing a case against McDonald's here in Britain: if you were going to bring a class action against plastic tat, you would definitely start with CBeebies magazine (BBC magazine for young children). © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
THE ASIAN AGE
GENERAL'S EXIT WON'T CHANGE US STRATEGY
The high-profile commander of American troops and of Nato's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has been sacked by US President Barack Obama for making disrespectful and sophomoric remarks about the President and his senior civilian colleagues to a journalist for insubordination and appearing to challenge civilian control over the military. (These had been the very reasons in 1951 why the famous US commander in Korea, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, had been dismissed by President Harry Truman.) The Afghans are sorry to see Gen. McChrystal go. The commander's fresh approach had won respect in Kabul as he sought to implement a counter-insurgency plan that envisaged winning hearts and minds, besides fighting a war. It needs to be emphasised, however, that his departure, and replacement on Wednesday by his senior, Gen. David Petraeus, who headed the US Central Command and was commander of US forces in West Asia, is unlikely to disturb America's current policy on Afghanistan. Mr Obama has clearly said the change is about personnel, not policy.
The US President sought to underline as he dismissed Gen. McChrystal that America was at war and was committed to win. Analysts haven't been entirely certain what it means for the American leader to "win". Does it mean a clear military victory over the Al Qaeda and its local associates, the Taliban disrupting, dismantling and defeating the extremist militants, to recall President Obama's mission as outlined in his March 27, 2009 strategy so that they never threaten America again? Or will it suffice to put in place a new political configuration in Afghanistan that might permit the US leader to declare a "win" so that America may withdraw its troops from the Afghan theatre in order to soothe nerves back home since many think Mr Obama will lose political capital if he remains militarily engaged in Afghanistan much longer?
We will know the answer as time unfolds. When he became President, Mr Obama had to override strong sentiments in his Democratic Party and order the enhancement of troop numbers in Afghanistan as it was evident to all that the Afghan war was under-resourced under President George W. Bush on account of the Iraq distraction, brought about on false pretences for wider strategic considerations. Nevertheless, possibly in response to demands of domestic politics, the President promised to review the war in December this year. This would imply assessing whether the surge of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan has arrested the momentum of the insurgents, the stated goal. It is clear as day that this has not been the case. Trying to clear Helmand of the Taliban through the Marjah operation has lasted some three months, and not produced the desired result. The military operation in Kandahar has been kept on hold due to opposition from the Afghans, who fear massive collateral damage might boost the Taliban further. The reality cannot escape the new commander, Gen. Petraeus, and the President at the yearend stocktaking. Perhaps, anticipating this, Gen. Petraeus has recently been openly saying that counter-insurgency was a "roller coaster" affair that did not lend itself to strict timelines. This possibly suggests beginning the process of troop withdrawal in July 2011, as spelt out by Mr Obama earlier, might be only a notional affair. The Afghans are unlikely to be unhappy about this. Their own army is not yet large enough, nor adequately trained and equipped, to do the job unaided. Sooner or later, though, the US will have to honestly answer the question why they have not been able to neutralise Al Qaeda and the Taliban despite the obvious superiority of their forces, and whether their approach to Pakistan has anything to do with this failure.
THE ASIAN AGE
A BIRD FOR A NATION
The recent announcement making the Gangetic dolphin or Susu as the national aquatic animal has been widely welcomed as sign of how seriously India will take the ecological restoration of its polluted rivers. The anointment of this riverine mammal comes nearly three decades after the tiger became India's national animal.
Yet, in newly Independent India, there was an active debate not so much on the animal but the birds that ought to best represent the new nation state. Salim Ali, ornithologist extraordinaire, the first Asian to be Fellow of the Royal Society, thought rarity ought to be the qualifier. A rare species would help sensitise people at large to conservation.
He picked the heaviest of Asia's land birds, the Great Indian Bustard. With a range in western and central India and extending southward into the Deccan, it was and is by any stretch an elegant creature. But few know about its existence let alone its habits.
The naturalist M. Krishnan mischievously added that the chances of a mis-spelling would lead to great embarrassment. He argued instead for a bird that would be common, easily seen and drawn by children: the common myna.
He was ahead of his time. The mynah is indeed the national bird but not of India, of Bangladesh. Indians settled for the peacock. Its cultural and religious associations were all too well known and it is at home in the big city as much as in village squares.
Why in any case should nations or peoples get fixated on birds or animals? England was a pioneer in this regard with swans, all of them being declared royal property by the time of Elizabeth. The ringing of the swans on the river Thames was and is a ritual well and extensively observed.
The keen reader of epics in India will know how central swans are to the story of Nala and Damayanti. Yet, swans are a freakish occurrence. The story's rajhansa was perhaps the bar-headed goose, a migrant in north India in the cold season.
More often than not, it was birds of prey that attracted royal attention. Sanskrit texts accurately described one of the early tool users, the bearded vulture or the lammergier. This vulture of the mountains drops bones from great heights on to rocks so it can get at the marrow when the impact shatters bones.
Only recently and after considerable work did Rishad Naoroji identify the lammergier for that most vital of characters in Sanskrit epics: Jatayu of the Ramayana. His book, Birds of Prey of the Indian Subcontinent (2006), shows via pictorial representations that it was the bearded vulture that was probably the inspiration.
Emblems are not about rarity or abundance alone. They signify the values a bird or animal holds for those who rally around it. The debate in the United States of the late 18th century brought this sharply into focus. The bald eagle eventually made it and is today the symbol of the most powerful nation on earth.
Yet, as Benjamin Franklin was quick to observe, it was a pirate of the air, a marauder and not an apt symbol at all. He opted for the uniquely American turkey, which was consigned to be a dish at the Christmas table rather than as national icon. Critics of empire might argue that the eagle anticipated the country's drive for power at first in the Americas and then the world at large.
Yet the eagle was not so bad a choice. It is large, elegant and has the habit of nesting on the same tree every year. By mid-twentieth century, the United States had enough bird watchers who would meticulously keep records of where they nested and how many eggs hatched. The case of Hawk Mountain turned out to be crucial.
Surveying decades of records, Rachel Carson, a keen biologist and nature writer whose prose matched her brilliance in research; put the pieces of the jigsaw together. The eagles were nesting but despite careful tending no eaglets emerged from the eggs. As Carson was to deduce in her book Silent Spring in 1962 this was due to the pesticides that accumulated in the environment.
As the chemicals worked their way up the food chain, the top predator of the skies was the most vulnerable. It was only after years of careful regulation that the amount of pesticide residue in fish declined and the bald eagle was taken off the list of endangered species.
The bald eagle, an icon of power, had become a symbol of vulnerability, leading to a huge surge of environmental consciousness. As its meaning and role changed, so too did human views of nature.
Will the Ganges dolphin do for India what the eagle unintentionally did for the US? Only time will tell.
A bird or animal as symbol for a nation may mean a lot more than we think. Icons do matter, for more than anything they reflect the changing value we place on the web of life of which we are but one strand.
n Mahesh Rangarajan is an environmental historian. He recently co-edited the book Environmental History: As If Nature Existed
June 25 marks 35 years of the imposition of the Emergency on India, by the then president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed on the advice of prime minister Indira Gandhi. This suspension of fundamental rights as assured under the Constitution was and remains the worst crisis faced by the Indian democracy which was just out of its infancy. It is for that reason that this day has to be remembered and marked.
The Emergency was the result of a period of civil unrest that had its origins in the wavering political fortunes of an autocratic Gandhi. That the system could be so easily manipulated is a constant reminder of the fragility of democracy. Until and unless we internalise our understanding of our fundamental rights, we will always fall prey to the outwardly attractive devices of an autocratic form of government.
We as a people have rights and these rights are paramount and must be safeguarded by the state at all times. This is a precious gift that we have given ourselves. It should not ever be threatened again. "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few," said Wendell Phillips, a 19th century American advocate for abolition of slavery and rights for Native Americans.
When these rights were suspended on the premise that India was going through grave danger, most people were quick to realise how distressing it is to live in a world where you could not speak your own mind for fear of retribution, where media was censored and political opponents put in prison. For those 18 months, until March 21 1977 when the Emergency was lifted, India became a totalitarian state ruled by a dictator.
Every time people in power express discomfort and dislike for dissenters and for the opposition unlike for instance China where the Party is paramount and brooks no opposition we have to remind ourselves the nightmare of the Emergency. Every time a law is proposed seeking to fight Maoists or terrorists where fundamental rights are to be curtailed, we are looking at a proposal which threatens democracy.
India is much stronger today than it was in 1975 and the benefits of democracy have trickled down much further with more people being aware of their rights. But we must not ever think we are immune to the totalitarian virus. Eternal vigilance is indeed the price of liberty.
GENERAL STANLEY A MCCHRYSTAL'S FALL
The Rolling Stone journalist must be chuckling to himself. He got Gen Stanley A McChrystal and his henchmen to speak loosely about president Barack Obama and his White House team in bar-room banter. Had it not been published in a magazine and made public, the remarks would have caused chuckles in the small circle and nothing more.
But published and read by thousands, and even millions, they undermine the trust of the people in the army as also the executive. People in positions of power cannot let their tongues wag is the moral of the episode. The American president did what he had to. McChrystal fell on the sword of indiscretion.
There are no larger questions at stake here. The surge in Afghanistan 30,000 additional American troops have been deployed that Obama had ordered showed that he did not have major differences with the army top brass. McChrystal's successor, Gen David H Petraeus, who is the original author of the surge idea in the war in Iraq, will continue with the American operations in Afghanistan.
But the question remains whether the Americans will be able to get out of the place and that is what they want to do after nine years of fruitless war holding their heads high, at least in a formal sense.
The Taliban, against whom the Americans launched the war in November 2001 in response to the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, remain a force to reckon with. They were driven out of Kabul within a month of the war but they retreated into the mountains only to hold out and gather their forces again.
The American and the NATO troops, which together form the international security force, have just failed to rid Afghanistan of the menace of fundamentalist Taliban. All that the American and western troops are thinking of is an exit strategy.
It does not matter for the war what the general and his cronies think of their political bosses. The failure of the international forces to defeat the Taliban reflects both a failure in military and political terms. When the war began it seemed that the Americans wanted to fight this war with the help of special forces and the regular army had no place in it. It has proved to be a miscalculation. There are no alternatives to dirtying your hands in a war. Soldiers have to be out there on the front. Technology can be a help but it will not help win the war. It is this basic lesson that Americans overlooked.
BEYOND BURKHA POLITICS
ARFA KHANUM SHERWANI
As soon as the Rajya Sabha passed women's reservation bill to ensure 33% reservation for women in Parliament and state legislative assemblies, the issue of backward and Muslim women jigged to the centre of the debate. At the heart of the argument both its supporters and critics were Muslim women.
Earlier, Muslim women were in the limelight because of the pathetic tales of the Imranas, Gudias and Shah Banos feeble women subject to outmoded conventions and customs and oppressed by the men in their own community.
In the wake of the women's reservation bill, the terms of the debate in the case of Muslim women have changed somewhat. Every one started searching for a leader among them, or of making one, if possible. Unlike the earlier approach of looking for enlightened people who would liberate them, Muslim women are now being asked to be leaders.
The sad fact is that there have been few women leaders from the community. And most of those in this minuscule group were from the influential upper crust. This was again a part of symbolic politics rather than genuine representation. It has been so with regard to women in politics in general, and it is more so in the case of Muslim women. It is because of this half-hearted tokenism that the community could not produce a Sushma Swaraj or a Mayawati in 60 years of independent India. More importantly, Muslim women are missing from the debate about themselves.
They are so disempowered that they need someone else to represent them even to voice their views in public and through the media.
A look at the number of women in Parliament since Independence tells a starker tale. In the 15 general elections held so far, a total 549 women have been elected to the Lok Sabha. Of them, only 18 were Muslims. At least six Lok Sabhas did not have a single Muslim woman as a member.
The people of India sent three Muslim women to Parliament in the 2009 election Mausam Benazir Noor, Tabassum Begum and Qaisar Jahan. Their backgrounds are revealing: Malda MP Mausam Benazir Noor is the niece of former Union minister ABA Ghani Khan Choudhury; Kairana MP Tabassum Begum is the widow of powerful BSP MP Munawar Hasan, and the parliamentarian from Sitapur, Qaisar Jahan, is the wife of Sitapur's sitting BSP MLA J Ansari. These women would not be there if they did not have the support of the male members of their families.
According to some social scientists, if and when the women's reservation bill becomes law, it will be the biggest socio-political event since Independence. They say it will not just change the picture of India's Parliament but the overall approach of Indian society towards women, and also how the rest of the world will look at India. The fallout will not be revolutionary or dramatic if one considers the hard facts of the case, especially with regard to Muslim women.
The Sachar committee set up by prime minister Manmohan Singh to analyse the social, economic and educational status of Indian Muslims noted that for every 100 Muslim women, only one was able to go to the university to get a graduation. Muslim women are then woefully lagging behind their counterparts in the other groups. The hijab and other regressive practices make it difficult for women to break the old shackles and come out into the open. Muslim society does not motivate its women to venture out of the home. With this kind of constricted social base, it will be difficult for Muslim women to make use of any legislation based on affirmative action.
A look at the figures of Muslim women in the 15 parliamentary elections held so far makes it clear that it is almost impossible for a Muslim candidate to get elected from an area which is not dominated by Muslims. We will be deluding ourselves if we were to believe that gender will transcend caste and religion; and that a non-Muslim majority will elect a Muslim woman. Gender is not strong enough to break caste and communal barriers.
According to the Sachar committee, the number of Muslim-majority areas reserved for Dalits is one of the reasons for the political under-representation of Muslims. This makes the issue of representation for Muslim women all the more difficult.
The status and representation of Muslims in general is crucially linked to the issue of representation of the women of the community. Without a bold initiative it will be difficult to get a fair representation for Muslim women.
THE NEW CUSTODIANS OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE
Two very elegant airhostesses, with whom I was passing the time challenged me to a game of Scrabble. The challenge appealed to me as though David, not knowing that Goliath had swallowed his sling while he was not looking, had boastfully asked the giant to engage in mortal combat.
Here was I, a writer of sorts, with some conceit of knowing his way around spellings and English vocabulary, being asked by mere air hostesses, creatures of charm and indefatigable dispensing energy though they were, to battle on my home ground.
The board was brought out, the counters distributed and, unexpectedly, a tome entitled The Scrabble Dictionary was placed menacingly next to me on the carpet where I sat cross-legged waiting to put David's pathetic armies to flight or, if the metaphor makes more sense, to snatch kulfi from these two lexical infants.
Scrabble is only partly a game of luck getting six 'X's on your rack would be a bummer. It became rapidly clear that it is also a game of skill, practice and the ability to remember words that don't exist outside the wretched Scrabble Dictionary.
Conceit comes before a fall. I was roundly thrashed. The two young ladies began doubling and tripling their word scores, surveying the board and measuring semantic possibilities as Bonaparte might have surveyed a battlefield. The score sheet was spattered with the blood of my ego. Was 'Xxilbzk' really a word? They frequently resorted to their bible to overrule my objections. They knew all the words in it.
Conceding defeat, I asked them how they got so good. The time between flying was devoted, owing to the lassitude that overcame them on the flights, to remaining in their flats or hotel rooms and playing this game.
One imagines, or at least I did, that air hostesses have a jolly old time, being invited by chancing or lonely millionaires onto their yachts or to casinos and the opera; that they see the sights of distant cities and become polyglot princesses, ordering caviar in Russian and knowledgeably perusing wine lists in mountain retreats on the Amalfi coast. No!
They become experts at Scrabble, biding their moment, waiting for the opportunity to humiliate the unsuspecting who fancy themselves as wordsmiths. It was a parable. Sex workers, for example, may not prove to be the best lovers.
The moot question is whether this expertise is particular to Indian air hostesses, which my opponents were, or whether it is a general accomplishment of all of them regardless of caste, creed or nationality. I suspect that a real prowess at exploiting this dictionary is restricted to the relatively senior air hostesses of the English speaking nations.
No doubt the swan-riding hostesses of Lufthansa are experts at the Deutsche version of the game, but what concerns me here is not a competitive assessment of their skills, but nothing less than the linguistic destiny of the world!
Allow me to explain. When in the nineteenth century Bismark, the unifier of German people was asked what the most important influence his century would exert on the next, he said "that fact that America speaks English".
And now Cambridge University linguists tell us that in a hundred years English will be even more widespread and its dominant world form will be Indian!
I am sure Indian English won't be represented by the sign-painters who get apostrophes wrong and torture spellings, or even by our journalists addicted to 'miscreants' and 'abscondings'. The group I would nominate as custodians of the verbal flame are of course... but you know the answer.
And if the Cambridge linguists prediction is true and retired air hostesses are recruited by New Delhi to the Super Commissariat for Reformation And Bequeathing of Babu Lexical English (SCRABBLE), we shall all be greeting each other not with "are you good?" but "Xxilbzk".
LITIGATION POLICY GOOD BUT NOT ENOUGH
The government as a 'responsible and efficient' litigant is an attractive proposition and the Union Law Minister's belated announcement of a national policy to reduce the number of pending cases to achieve that end is certainly welcome. While over two crore cases are said to be pending before various courts in the country, Law Minister Veerappa Moily acknowledged that 70 per cent of them involve the government as either the petitioner or the respondent. Government litigation, as the Prime Minister once admitted, crowds out the private citizen from the system. Dr Manmohan Singh had then cited a survey conducted in Karnataka, where 65 per cent of the civil cases involved the government as litigant, sometimes on both sides. Under the new policy, the government would cease to be a 'compulsive litigant' and, as far as possible, would refrain from filing appeals against orders, assured the minister. The move will save the government both time and money as surveys reveal that the government actually loses over 90 per cent of the appeals.
A close watch would be kept on the implementation of the policy, said the minister and indicated that empowered committees, to be chaired at the national level by the Attorney-General, would be set up to monitor the implementation and fix the accountability of different departments. Though the objective is laudable, the measure is simply not enough. The government officials who fail to apply their mind and squander public money in unnecessary litigation must receive deterrent penalties for the policy to become effective. Government officers, who force citizens into protracted litigation to secure their dues like PF, pension, insurance or compensation, must also be held accountable. The Law Commission has often cited instances of the government pursuing frivolous litigation or as a "matter of prestige". Often the officials are vindictive and vengeful, arrogant and determined to harass the citizens. For the policy to work, therefore, these busybodies must be made accountable for their action.
In its eagerness to reduce court cases, it is hoped, the government will not fall into the trap of letting off the big sharks. As it is, the Indian judiciary and the state are believed to be soft on the rich and the powerful. It would be tragic, therefore, if the really culpable, especially among the elite who bend the rules, are allowed to get away.
OUR POVERTY REFUSES TO GO AWAY
The disturbing gap between India and Bharat refuses to go away. While the former lives in a cocoon of relative prosperity, the latter still exists in a wretched condition. The talk about 8 per cent plus economic growth seems to have no relevance to the lives of those living in the underbelly of India. This ugly fact is put across forthrightly by the country's status on Millennium Development Goals. India was supposed to halve poverty and extreme hunger by 2015 but is unlikely to do so, with 70 per cent Indians still living below global poverty standards. What makes this failure all the more stark is the fact that neighbouring China is all set to reduce its poverty rate to 5 per cent by 2015, whereas the corresponding rate in India would be as high as 24 per cent. There is improvement no doubt, but it is nowhere near satisfactory.
The same story of missed targets is repeated in the cases of other parameters which measure the quality of life of a citizen. The situation is alarming, whether in terms of under-nutrition, child malnutrition, gender inequality, infant mortality and maternal mortality or combating malaria and TB. India is home to a fourth of the world's poor. The winds of change just do not seem to reach their hovels. It is a matter of shame for the country that Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat fall into the same category as Somalia and Congo in terms of hunger.
Official agencies would like everyone to believe that it is all because of over-population, but the reality is that the grim situation has much more to do with the failure of the government to deliver succour to those who need it the most. There is no sustained effort to make investment in basic infrastructure, be it hospitals or schools. Most of the schemes remain on paper. If only these are implemented with some degree of sincerity, results can be dramatic, as it happened in the case of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. But such success stories are an exception. In most other cases, the sarkari babus are happy to make the rich ones happy. The poor are left to fend for themselves.
LOOK BEYOND BURNING BILLS
POWER COMES AT A PRICE
By burning power bills, Punjab farmers have conveyed their resentment to the government. It is their democratic right to protest if government policies hurt their interests. But they should take informed decisions. They have to understand why it is necessary for them as also for every other consumer to pay for power. Agreed, agriculture is no longer a paying occupation. Free power was given to reduce farm production costs by well-meaning, but vote-conscious chief ministers in the past few years. However, this has made the state electricity board as well as the state government almost bankrupt. Lack of resources with the board and the government has hampered additional power generation and the demand-supply gap has widened with each passing year. That power is critical for development is well known.
If people in general and farmers in particular suffer power cuts, it is because the populist, extravagant and short-sighted ruling politicians have squandered limited resources on cultivating vote banks instead of building infrastructure to help the state grow. It was out of a desperate need for additional resources as well as to meet the requirements of power reforms and get cheap loans from Central and global agencies that the Badal government started charging farmers for power and irrigation water.
Farmers' protest makes no sense as their power bills, issued twice a year, are to be reimbursed by the government. Secondly, they are paying a fraction of the cost of power. Thirdly, free power leads to its misuse as well as the wastage of precious groundwater. Farmers cannot demand free as well as uninterrupted supply of power. There are many farmers who want to pay for the supply of quality power. Punjab politicians do not look beyond five years. For them winning an election is more important than mobilising resources for funding growth. It is in people's own interest that they pay for amenities and hold the ruling politicians accountable for every rupee they pay as tax.
DISEASE OF CORRUPTION
THE SCALE OF LOOT ENORMOUS
BY INDER MALHOTRA
EVEN in the midst of the current rage, recrimination, blame game and damage limitation over the "betrayal of Bhopal" there was at least one other news item that drew attention. The son of the chairman of the Bombay-based Railway Recruitment Board (RRB) and eight others from diverse places had been arrested for leaking the question paper for the all-India recruitment examination to rather petty posts of assistant locomotive pilots and assistant station masters. But such is the state of unemployment in rising India that for 20,000 posts on offer a lakh of aspirants were competing at the Bombay (sorry, Mumbai) centre alone. For the RRB chairman's son and cohorts this was literally a golden opportunity.
For, according to the Central Bureau of Investigation, they had sold the question paper to no fewer than 444 candidates at Rs 3.50 lakh each! But luck seems to have run out on these suckers because soon after the arrests the relevant examination was cancelled. The Bombay RRB chairman was suspended immediately. But by the time the authorities decided to arrest him, too, he had done the usual vanishing trick.
Only the most naïve would dismiss this as small beer, compared with the scale of loot in some other sectors. It is part and parcel of an established, and apparently ineradicable, pattern that extends far beyond Bombay or the railways alone. It afflicts all government agencies and organisations where mass recruitment takes place. A retired high railway officer with whom I discussed the scandal, retorted: "Why should the railways alone be honest," he asked me with mock sternness, "when every recruit to paramilitary forces and indeed to the police in every state has to buy his way in"?
This suddenly reminded me that in May last year a massive scam had exploded in the recruitment to the Central Reserve Police Force. The CBI had arrested and produced in a Patna court an inspector-general, two deputy inspector-generals and three battalion commanders of the paramilitary force. The charge against them was that they had extorted from the recruits to their ranks a sum of Rs. 225 crore over a few years.
Some time earlier a chairman of the Punjab Public Services Commission had also been apprehended after several crores of rupees in cash were recovered from his residence. His modus operandi allegedly was to collect from every police inspector desirous of becoming deputy superintendent of police Rs. 2.5 lakh. There was a similar tariff for all other recruitments and promotions. And, with regret and reluctance, I must record that, according to sources most sympathetic to the military, tragically the jobs-for-cash contagion has begun to spread to the army recruitment, too.
Two initial, if painful, questions arise at this stage. If cash is the only or the main key to recruitment, what happens to merit and suitability and, at one remove, the efficacy of vital national organisations? Secondly, and more importantly, whoever has to pay lakhs of rupees to secure a job, won't he use whatever opportunity that job offers him to amass at least 10 times that amount?
Since the problem is much wider than that of recruitment to the government's countless branches, let us look at the broader picture. Not long before the railway recruitment scam in Mumbai had come into the open, the startling news of the arrest of the president of the Medical Council of India, Ketan Desai, had burst. He had allegedly demanded a bribe of Rs 2 crore from a Punjab medical college to give it a year's extension to run a 100-seat MBBS course. The exact amount of Rs 2 crore, neatly packed in cardboard boxes, was seized when a professor of the college concerned was delivering it to a "middleman".
Dr Desai's angry and loud denials have yielded place to silence because far too many skeletons have tumbled out of the cupboards of the MCI, the sole controller of medical education until the other day. Alarmed by what had come to light, the government belatedly dissolved the MCI's executive committee and replaced it by a compact board of governors. Nobody is prepared to explain, however, as to how Dr Desai had been able to run the MCI as a virtual personal fiefdom for so long.
There has been a cascade of such cases of egregious corruption in recent times but they are only the proverbial visible tip not of the iceberg but of the glacier. For example, the Postmaster-General of Goa was arrested in Mumbai while allegedly accepting a bribe of Rs 20 crore. In Bhopal, two relatively junior IAS officers - constituting an enterprising husband-wife team - were also arrested. The cash recovered from their home amounted to Rs 3 crore, and the CBI estimated their total wealth to be Rs 40, an obvious case of assets disproportionate to known sources of income. In New Delhi, a mere police inspector owning assets worth Rs 12 crore was also arrested. But because no charge-sheet was filed against him in 60 days he is out on bail.
And this brings me to the incomparable case of Madhu Koda who is alleged to have amassed Rs 4,000 crore (not an amount to be sneezed at) during just two years when this lone independent MLA was the Chief Minister of Jharkhand, courtesy the Congress. Before that he was Mines Minister in the BJP-led ministry, which only proves that the gift of the grab cuts across party lines. If Mr Koda's case underscores the enormous dimension of amounts involved in alleged graft, it also shows that nothing happens to those in very high positions, no matter how grievous the charges against them. He and his henchmen were arrested more than a year ago. Has anyone heard a word about the progress of this case?
The perpetrators of the gargantuan Satyam scam in Andhra were arrested well before Mr Koda. Their prosecution hasn't begun, nor would it. All such cases routinely disappear in the impenetrable maze that is the politico-bureaucratic-judicial labyrinth. As for A. Raja, Union Minister for Communications, even the most preliminary investigations would not be held into the G-2 Spectrum mega-scam (an estimated loss of revenue Rs 60,000 crore), thanks to the "compulsions" of coalition politics.
Is it any surprise then that corruption in India has become a galloping cancer without cure, and that this deadly disease is steadily spreading to every vein and sinew of the nation?
BORDERING ON WAR
BY AKANKSHA CHAUDHARY
The Wagah Border retreat ceremony has changed from being a humble act of bringing the flag down respectfully to a ritual reeking of aggression and enmity. Loudspeakers, stall-keepers, and the ever-growing number of visitors make it seem like nothing short of a spectator sport.
The process includes soldiers on each side of the border trying to outdo the other side ferociously as they thump their steps staunchly and robustly. The more the sound made by their feet, the louder the rhythmic applause from the public which is larger in number on the Indian side.
While there's a heightened sense of excitement that one feels being an Indian when the ceremony is going on, there lies a visible veil of hostility when the loudspeaker man asks everybody to cheer and clap louder so as to drown out the other side. It seems like a competition of sorts where the aim doesn't seem to bring the flag down in earnest admiration but an act of aggressive patriotism.
Where does it lead to? And more than that, is it justified that Indians display their patriotism in exactly the Pakistani manner which is not helping in lowering the enmity? Can't the whole process be friendlier, especially when it provides a rare chance to see from so close the people from across the border who could have been on our side had the inevitable partition not happened years ago.
The soldiers performing the act might be friendly with one another, but the public that goes home after the ceremony is often filledn with negative feelings of patriotism and anger for the other side.
Why are we so keen on leaving a sense of opposition and aggression among the people witnessing the whole ceremony when we want to bridge the gap created several years ago by manipulated events?
The whole process makes one wonder what's the aim behind such an act when it could have been done in a more produtive and positive way.
How would the ideology of the two nations ever change if such a practice is being adopted?
It's often the history, geography, a sense of conditioning or the differences that create the tension and everlasting angst between nations but an act that can be controlled and done in a nicer and more humble manner can do a lot more good with a friendlier foresight than a soured hindsight.
"BADAL'S WATER ROYALTY CLAIM IS A NON-ISSUE"- BHUPINDER SINGH HOODA
BY RAJ CHENGAPPA, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
IN a state, where almost every election saw a change in political fortunes, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, 62, created a record of sorts when he became the Chief Minister of Haryana for the second consecutive time in October last year. With the Congress emerging as the single largest party, Hooda controversially cobbled together a majority by wooing Independents. The going has been rough for him since then but Hooda is as cool as ever confidently fielding questions in an interview with Editor-in-Chief Raj Chengappa at the Tribune headquarters in Chandigarh. Excerpts:
Q: You came to power for the second time using controversial means of getting independents to support you. Has that impacted governance?
No, that is not much of a problem because basically those who have supported me this time a majority of them are Congressmen. Out of seven Independents, six are basically Congressmen. They contested because they didn't get the party ticket. I don't find any difficulty in dealing with them and that is the plus point for the government. Of course, some differences were there. But I have a good majority with almost 53 MLAs now supporting me out of 90. So there is no problem.
Q: What are your priorities for the second term?
My priority will be inclusive development of the state with a focus on education and employment creation. In the last term my focus was on power because it was needed for development. Unless you have power, you can't go in for agricultural or industrial development or anything else. When I took over in 2005 the total power generation of Haryana was only 1,587 MW while our total requirement was around 4,200 MW. So we decided to increase the capacity to 5,000 MW more. In 40 years, barely one major plant came up but in the past four years we have set up four new plants. Out of these, four have already started generating 600 MW. The others will start generation soon. By the beginning of the next year, there won't be any shortage of power as we will be meeting the requirement of the state.
Q. So in this term what will be your focus?
Although inclusive development is there, my priority is also on water. Water is going to be the main problem in the coming years for us. So there is need for the conservation of water, better use of water. Every single drop of water should be utilized whether it is for irrigation purposes or any other purpose. That is why we are focussing on creating new water bodies so that the water level can come up and my focus is on water in this term.
Q: On water you seem to have joined issue with Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, who is demanding royalty for sharing river waters with Haryana?
I have no issues with him. He has raised some issues and wants to make a non-issue an issue because he is going to face elections. It always happens in Punjab. These issues crop up near elections. When Amarinder Singh was in power he abrogated the agreement just because of elections. After that four years passed and Badal said nothing. And now that elections are approaching, he is raising the issue. That is for public consumption only. Haryana is not getting its full share of water because of Punjab.
Q: You also mentioned about stopping trucks from Punjab which seemed like a provocative allusion.
No, that is being misinterpreted. Both Punjab and Haryana are part of the country. Water is flowing through Punjab and that is within one nation. Water is a national resource. I would even advocate nationalising every drop of water.
Q: Since we are on the subject of water, Sukhna lake is drying up. What is Haryana doing to save it?
On Sukhna, whatever is needed from Haryana, we will do it.
Q: With so many concessions announced before last year's elections, your state coffers must be empty?
Haryana is one of the best states in terms of its financial management. The single parameter for any state in terms of development is the planned budget. In the year 2005, when I took over in my first term the planned budget of Haryana was Rs 2,000 crore. No resources were mobilised for that amount by the previous government. This year I have presented a budget of Rs 18,260 crore. In five years, it is nine times more. In 2005, Punjab's planned budget was much more than Haryana's. Now Punjab is lagging behind and Haryana's planned budget is much more.
Q. Coming to the controversy over Khaps, your view seems to be different from that of the Congress high command. You seem to endorse the role of Khaps.
The Congress high command is of the same view on Khaps. As far as the Congress is concerned, the Haryana government and I consider a Khap as an informal social organisation just like an NGO. It consists of village elders who don't belong to any particular caste. Every caste group is represented. If any NGO does well, we welcome it. So the role of Khaps is a different thing from honour killings, which the media is highlighting. Khaps have nothing to do with that. We will follow the law strictly.
Q. Do you think there is need for a new law on honour killings?
There is a law already for murder. Murder is a murder, whether it is honour killing or anything else. And they are booked under that section. Nobody is allowed to take the law into his own hands.
Q: Your government's handling of the Mirchpur incident has come in for criticism with the situation seeming to have got out of hand.
Nothing there went out of hand. An unfortunate incident happened. But it was very well handled. I also went there and we have ensured that rehabilitation was done and compensation paid. Every step is being taken. The police has been posted there and they are satisfied. Normalcy has returned.
Q: So why did Rahul Gandhi visit Mirchpur?
Rahulji's visit infused confidence among the victims which was good.
Q: Your government is also being charged by the opposition with being corrupt. In fact, they say yours is a government of property dealers!
The opposition itself is headed by the biggest property dealer. So he thinks other persons are also the same. That is the problem. When I took over in 2005, so far as the per capita investment is concerned, my state was number 14 among the Indian states. But we are number one now. I don't claim that corruption has been rooted out but it has been minimised.
Q: You are accused of being biased in favour of your home district Rohtak when it comes to development.
There is no truth in it. My priority is the inclusive development of Haryana. The Metro has reached Gurgaon and it is going to be there in Faridabad soon. Haryana is going to become an education hub during the next five years. We will create standards equivalent to Oxford University. The YMCA College of Engineering in Faridabad has been upgraded as a University of Science and Technology. The first Defence University is coming up in Gurgaon, The first Central university is coming up in Mahendragarh, a sainik school is coming up in Rewari, an IIM is coming up in Rohtak, the Rajiv Gandhi Education City is coming up in Sonepat. So it is wrong to say that I favour only Rohtak.
Q: Gurgaon seems to be deteriorating and is growing haphazardly.
Just three days ago, I ordered that roads be handed over to the Municipal Corporation so that they are maintained well. The basic problem before our government is of infrastructure. If you go on to the Delhi-Mehrauli Road there are so many malls; licences were given before my time and now there is no place for parking. There are problems with roads also. So now the new master plan, which the government has passed, will make Gurgaon one of the best cities in the world.
Q: But industrially Haryana seems to be lagging.
The meltdown at the international level affected our growth but now things are looking up. Haryana has emerged as a favoured destination for industry and as far as per capita investment is concerned, as I said earlier, it is number one. Our industrial policy of 2005 has already made Haryana achieve in four years what it had achieved in the preceding 40 years. Now the HSIIDC has plans to invest over Rs 1,200 corre on land acquisitons and development of infrastructure. We are developing industrial estates at Hisar and Jagadhari. We are developing new IMTs at Faridabad, Rohtak, Kharkoda and Ambala.
Q: You are looked upon too much as a gentleman-politician and considered soft apart from allowing bureaucrats to rule.
No, this is wrong. I am soft as far as my tongue is concerned but very hard where affairs of the state are concerned. About bureaucrats everybody has his or her own role. Success never comes with an individual's effort; it is a team work with which we succeed. So, bureaucrats are also part of this team as are ministers and MLAs. Public cooperation is also a component of the team.
Watch a video recording of the interview on www.tribuneindia.com
THE CASE OF A TALKATIVE JUDGE
WHILE BLOGGER-JUDGE JUSTICE SHYLENDRA KUMAR'S POSTS ON INDIAN JUDICIARY ARE INDIVIDUALISTIC COMMENTS, THEY APPEAR UNCIVIL
For the most part, lawyers in the Karnataka High Court, a stately neo-classical structure in Bangalore's Cubbon Park, are a restrained and circumspect lot. So when Udaya Holla, a distinguished senior advocate, complains about a judge's conduct and language, you know something is seriously wrong.
The judge in question is, of course, Justice Shylendra Kumar, India's only blogger-judge. Using his website http://sites.google.com/site/justdvskumar/; yes, it uses his official title), the judge is on a crusade to bring sunlight ('the best disinfectant') into our judiciary.
In one corner of the present brouhaha stands Justice Kumar. In the other is Chief Justice P D Dinakaran, facing impeachment on charges of corruption. For some months now, the Chief Justice has done no judicial work but continues to head the court's administration. Justice Kumar insists that till he is fully cleared, the Chief Justice must stop all administrative work too. On his blog, Justice Kumar claims to harbour brotherly love (evidently unrequited) in his judicial bosom for the Chief Justice. He says he has no view on the charges against the CJ, but only demands probity.
Whether Justice Kumar is right or wrong is irrelevant. What matters is that Justice Kumar's judicial pronouncements overlap his personal blogging. Should judges moonlight as citizen journalists, however weighty the cause? If they do, what hope impartiality?
Writing in the purplest of prose with endless typos, suspect syntax, bizarre punctuation and the most egregious hyperbole, Justice Kumar puts it all on public display: his exhausting letter to the Chief Justice; a wholly pointless tale about the latter refusing to meet him and returning a gift of fruits (later accepted "gleefully" by another judge); Justice Kumar's repeated posting to the circuit benches; and more.
Anything that crosses Justice Kumar's radar is grist to his blogging mill. Sure enough, he soon has even the Supreme Court in his crosshairs. He 'apologises' to Arundhati Roy for the Supreme Court order holding her in contempt: "I, as a Judge, through this expression, offer my personal regret and apology to Ms Arundhati Roy for the judicial tyranny let loose on her by the most improper use of the power to punish a person for committing contempt of court."
It is unclear just who authorised Justice Kumar to apologise for the Supreme Court. But this is surely a novel idea: use personal apologies to reverse the Supreme Court.
This is one of the perils of the Internet. Anyone with connectivity is an immediately credible authority; more so if you're in a position of authority anyway. While the typically over-thetop comment by Alan Shore, played by James Spader in the TV series Boston Legal, that bloggers are entry-level life forms yet to emerge from the primordial ooze isn't entirely true, would Justice Kumar's blog ever have found its way into a reputed journal? A cause is not more credible for being self-published on the Internet.
Judges work within a system. A judge cannot be part of this system, work against it from the outside and still be impartial. Many judges write scholarly texts or memoirs. A few do more: Ian Callinan of the Australian High Court was a published novelist and playwright even while a judge. In England, Lord Denning commented widely on many issues. Though his tone and language were sober, even this was too much. A 1982 article in the London Times remarked that inappropriate tone and substance in personal comments by judges weakened public confidence in the judiciary.
Judges have wide powers but few options; we have choices judges do not. A jurist may question the Supreme Court's collegial system. Many have, and rightly, but in measured terms. A legislature may try to change it with a new law. But it is patently unjust for a judge to use his personal blog to describe the very system by which he was appointed as "self-serving", "secretive" and a "cover up". Worse, it is inexcusably uncivil. As one of our own judges in Bombay put it, "the discourse of law is the discourse of civility".
Justice Kumar says that his blog is an "unusual bold" step, "part of [his] duty and not beyond". This is a remarkably individualistic view. It is also wrong. No such duty exists. Nor do the ends justify the means.
Noble intentions pave the road we know so well. The journey is sooner completed when propelled by the injudicious conduct of those who should know better.
FAITH WITHOUT EXEMPTION
WHILE SERVING GOD, RENDER UNTO CAESAR HIS DUE
The idea goes all the way back to ancient Rome and the Bible, and the words are those of Jesus himself: "Render, therefore, to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Matthew 22: 21). India's Union finance ministry has done well to rediscover this secular principle of taxation. Why should a government forego its tax income if a citizen wishes to contribute part of his income to a religious institution/trust/fund as an act of faith? Money spent as a gesture to one's faith need not be tax exempt. It is money spent by an individual in pursuit of that individual's personal faith. It may or may not have positive social externalities, its welfare implications may be good or bad, but at the end of the day, it is money being spent by an individual in pursuit of that individual's personal faith, not social welfare even if it contributes to it indirectly. Hence, a clear distinction should be made between income spent on social welfare, on truly charitable activity that, in fact, does not yield any pecuniary or other benefits for the person spending that money but potentially has a positive impact on the welfare of the community or a section of citizenry, and income given away to religious institutions/trusts/funds. In fact, the provisions of 80(G) in the existing income tax Act are quite clear. Section 80G sub-section 5(iii) clearly denies the benefits of 80G to any contribution made to an "institution or fund" that is "for the benefit of any particular religious community or caste". In other words, while the income of religious institutions, trusts and funds are eligible for tax exemption, those who make contributions to such institutions cannot derive tax exemption benefits. However, it seems to have been the case that such exemptions have been given from time to time requiring the proposed amendment. Interestingly, while explanation 3 of 80G clearly states, "In this section, 'charitable purpose' does not include any purpose the whole or substantially the whole of which is of a religious nature", provisions in section 5(B) fudge the issue. Hence, a clear statement by an official of the finance ministry that "if the donation is for charity, it will get deduction. India is a secular country. No deductions will be allowed for making donations for religious purposes" is both correct and welcome.
In fact, section 80G deserves a thorough reconsideration. Why should those making contributions to some institutions, as listed in this section, derive the benefit of securing tax exemptions while others cannot? It is curious that the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust and the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation are all beneficiaries of 80G, along with various relief and welfare funds administered by the prime minister and various chief ministers. Along with debarring tax deduction benefits for donations made to religious institutions, the government should also debar such institutions, which seek to glorify individuals from tax deduction. Their's is not unselfish charitable activity. Charitable organisations that, in fact, transfer incomes from the wealthy to the poor, and are not self-seeking, as well as government funds that seek to do this during natural disasters and calamities should be the only beneficiaries of such tax exemptions. While some religious extremists and political sycophants may object to these suggestions, the truly devout, the truly socially concerned and the truly munificent and philanthropic will never object to Caesar taking his due, even as they give generously in the name of God or worthy causes.
THE OTHER JUSTICE HEGDE
KARNATAKA'S LOK AYUKTA HAS SPOKEN FOR MILLIONS
Justice N Santosh Hegde, till this week the lok ayukta of Karnataka, a former Supreme Court judge and the son of the famous late Justice K S Hegde, who resigned from the Supreme Court of India in protest against his supersession by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, contributing to events that culminated in her imposition of national Emergency, has spoken for millions of concerned citizens across the country by quitting his post. The immediate provocation for Justice Hegde's resignation was his grievance that the state government of Karnataka had devalued the institution of lok ayukta and was not cooperating with him and the institution in its work to root out corruption in the state. Media reports suggest that Justice Hegde was particularly concerned about the growing influence of what has been dubbed the "mining mafia" in the state. Neither is Karnataka unique in this regard nor are Justice Hegde's complaints unique to the mining sector alone. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has himself decried the growing power of what he has often called "crony capitalism" the nexus between business and politics. Politicians in office are powerful and businessmen with billions are powerful too. But when the two become one, as has happened with the mining mafia in many states, there is a dangerous compounding of power and a dangerous threat to democratic institutions and good governance. Justice Hedge's resignation is a wake-up call to all those honest officials and politicians in government who remain in seats of power and turn a blind eye to the mounting corruption of Himalayan proportions.
Justice Hegde's frustrations are understandable. Recall the tears of Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa when he was pushed to the corner by powerful mining interests? In almost every state involving almost all political parties, and even at the Centre, the politics-business nexus and the tentacles of crony capitalism are eating into the vitals of democratic governance. When honest officials seek redressal from the tyranny of one set of corrupt politicians, they often knock at the doors of another set of the corrupt and powerful. Justice Hegde may be in that situation reaching out to those who themselves have skeletons to hide. Yet, he must give voice to his woes. When his late father resigned from the bench, he told his fellow judges that it was better to go than be humiliated. The younger Mr Hedge was clearly inspired by the father. The irony is that while the late Justice K S Hedge was humiliated by a Congress party government, his son has been humiliated by a Bharatiya Janata Party government. India needs a national consensus at least among major national political parties on good governance and the fight against corruption.
MICHAEL PINTO: PORT OF NO CALL
THE UPA GOVERNMENT'S POLICY INITIATIVES FOR MARITIME PORT DEVELOPMENT HAVE BEEN A NON-STARTER
The promise with which the National Maritime Development Programnme commenced has started to wear a bit thin. When the Rs 55,803-crore programme was first announced by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2005, it expected no less than Rs 34,505 crore of this to come from private investment. In the event, in the UPA government's first term, major ports got less than Rs 3,500 crore of private investment. Even of this, a mere 10 per cent of the anticipated, a good deal came from projects already committed in the past.
The new government came in with a determination to reverse the trend and three projects were allotted to private players in the first 100 days. Unfortunately, that momentum has not been sustained. In fact, the news has got progressively worse. With a draft sufficient to accommodate next-generation vessels, the Ennore port is a natural for container-handling. Yet, out of six bidders short-listed for a prestigious Rs 1,407-crore container terminal project, the port received just one bid. Mangalore port fared even worse. Not a single bid was received for its Rs 400-crore container terminal.
Until July 2009, nearly Rs 11,000 crore of private investment had flowed into major ports. Container terminals in the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, Mumbai, Cochin, Chennai, Tuticorin and Vishakapatnam were established by private firms. If in spite of improvement in growth numbers after the recent slowdown investment in major ports has not picked up, the impediments to private investment must be identified.
Prominent among these is the upfront fixation of tariff. In the earlier system, after the project was completed, the Tariff Authority for Major Ports fixed tariffs on a cost-plus basis, allowing a return of 16 per cent on capital employed. In the new dispensation, a tariff is fixed upfront even before the project is bid for the full period of the concession (usually 30 years). Although adjustment for inflation is allowed each year, the operator effectively gets the same tariff for 30 years or more.
The logic of the new system is not easy to fathom. To begin with, if you fix tariff on a cost-plus basis, you must know what costs are. How is this possible before they have been incurred? Government gets around this by mandating normative costs. It fixes what it thinks should be the norm for capital and operating expenditure and then allows a 16 per cent return on it. Note that the return is the same but is given on what government in its wisdom thinks expenditure will be, not on what it actually is. All that an unscrupulous operator must do is to cut corners by reducing capital expenditure and his return automatically increases.
The worse part is that the tariff remains constant for the life of the concession. Even if a percentage is factored in for inflation, it is unwise to assume that nothing else will change in the 30 years or so of the concession. Investors are wary because they feel that there could be compelling reasons to increase tariff some time in the 30-year period. But there could also be reasons to reduce tariff. How is either possible when we are committed to one formula for the life of the project?
The main argument against the new formula is that it addresses no felt lacuna. The old pattern ensured significant private investment in ports. Tinkering with that formula by trying to fine-tune what was already performing well was entirely unnecessary. Policy-makers should have heeded the old American saying: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
And that brings us to the crux of the matter. To sustain increased growth in the economy, few things are as crucial as improved infrastructure in ports, especially those handling containers. Estimates vary, but there is broad agreement that by 2014, the country will have to handle about 21 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) up from the figure of approximately seven million last year. The shipping ministry estimates that major and non-major ports together must have the capacity to handle 1.5 billion tonnes of traffic by the end of the 11th Plan period. This will require capacity addition of about 800 million tonnes. Clearly, without policies that encourage private investment, none of this will be achieved.
Other than giving the operator a fixed tariff for the life of the project, upfront tariffs were meant to benefit Indian importers and exporters by reducing operational costs. We have seen that they actually inhibit private investment in the sector. What is ironic is that they will give no relief to users of Indian ports. When tariffs in container terminals are reduced, the only beneficiaries are shipping lines that pay cargo-related charges to ports. The tariffs charged by lines to shippers are a function of market forces and have nothing to do with what they pay to ports. Thus, if there is any reduction in cargo handling charges, the chances that these will be passed on to users are remote.
And which are the shipping lines that will benefit? More than 90 per cent of Indian container cargo is carried by foreign vessels. So, policies framed ostensibly to benefit Indian port users will not only inhibit the development of the port sector and threaten economic growth, but will benefit foreign lines rather than Indian users. Policy-makers wanting to rein in costs would be better advised to encourage greater competition through a facilitative environment for private investment.
The author is former secretary, shipping, Government of India
DON'T CRY FOR ME, MARADONA
MESSI WILL CONTINUE TO SCINTILLATE, ARGENTINA WILL BEAT BRAZIL IN THE FINALS 3-1 AND MARADONA WILL RUN THROUGH BUENOS AIRES NAKED, AS HE HAS PROMISED
On June 11, at the start of the World Cup, I had put out a note to clients warning that the World Cup may trigger a correction in the euro. While the title made good copy, the point I was really trying to make was that it is impossible to pinpoint turning points in markets even nominally unconnected events can appear to turn things around.
Of course, you could make a case that the World Cup is more than nominally connected. First of all, it is the most widely watched sporting event in the world, and there is no doubt that a significant number of market-makers and investors do get hooked to the extravaganza, resulting in less sleep and a diluted focus on real life. Again, with Europe being the key focus in the cup, it is possible indeed, likely that the performance of leading European teams could affect sentiment over the euro.
In my note, I had visualised that the European teams would perform well early, putting weight behind a euro correction, which, it had seemed, was overdue. The market was so long dollars against the euro (and other so-called risky assets) that it had even started bidding up gold, breaking its normal negative correlation with the dollar in the second half of May.
As things turned out, I was correct about the euro correction it has gained nearly 4 per cent in the week since the start of the World Cup. But I was wrong about the performance of the top European teams. Spain, Italy, France, even Germany, went down tamely in some of the qualifying games; and well-considered Portugal could only draw with the Ivory Coast. Only Greece, of all countries, has shown itself to be more than a deadbeat, taking three points off a strong Nigerian team.
Of course, the party isn't over. Some of the European majors notably, Spain and Germany will likely make it into the qualifying rounds. But the surge of newer Europe teams Slovenia and Serbia, among others and, of course, the resurgence of Latin America were the real stories of the early days of the World Cup.
Writing this a week before it is published, it is probably foolhardy to forecast the fortunes of the various teams (as foolhardy, indeed, as forecasting currencies). But it is part of the ticket, so I will barrel on with both sets of forecasts: football and markets.
Football is easy, of course. Messi will continue to scintillate and Argentina will beat Brazil in the finals: 3-1. Maradona will run through Buenos Aires naked, as he has promised to do. Andrew Lloyd Weber will write another musical I have already been offered a part and the tango will get bastardised on some US reality show.
Markets well, that's a trickier call. In my earlier note, I had expected the euro to correct till it crossed 1.25, which would trigger stop loss buying, building momentum till 1.30 came into sight. I thought there might be some football news keeping the run going, but clearly and importantly, it hasn't been needed so far. Perhaps the real impact of the World Cup has been to push other news off the front pages so we are spared the daily terror of Greece's near-certain restructuring; the potential trauma to European banks and its impact on their lending; and the increasing possibility of a double-dip recession as European demand thins further as a result of the various austerity programmes.
Come to think of it, this might be quite significant as a force to give the correction enough legs to where some people might start to call it a rally. Hmmm!
Of course, as the game wears on, these goodies could well come home to roost, as they always do. The Dow, which has been inching steadily higher (undaunted by America's surprisingly poor showing in the World Cup but then all of America was watching the NBA playoffs yeah Kobe!), seems to be forming a dangerous head-and-shoulders pattern and, unless it cracks through 11,200, could be setting itself, and other risky assets, up for another sharp fall. The key parameter to watch is the yen. If it strengthens definitively beyond 90 to the dollar, my sense is the jig is up, and we will return to risk-aversion-as-temporary-religion. Interestingly, Japan has been performing much better than expected at the World Cup.
And, what about the rupee?
Well, I understand the government is serious about trying to launch first a Commonwealth and then a World Cup for kho-kho. That's when you will see the rupee back to the good old days of unbridled appreciation. Allahoakbar!
PRIVATISE EMPLOYMENT EXCHANGES
THAT'S STILL WISHFUL THINKING EVEN THOUGH GUJARAT'S EXPERIENCE IN PUBLIC-PRIVATE INITIATIVES HAS BEEN ENCOURAGING
Is there a case for privatising India's employment exchanges? The answer should be obvious even though the government continues to be in a denial mode.
Take the Delhi Employment Exchange, one of the biggest exchanges in the country with a network of nine district exchanges and five zonal offices. But the success rate of the exchange is a low 0.5 per cent, compared to an average 15 per cent of even a mid-rung private placement agency.
It's difficult to get data on expenditure of employment exchanges, or on what it costs the budget to get people jobs, but back-of-the-envelope calculations with the state budget suggest that it costs the Delhi government (and, therefore, citizens) Rs 2.28 lakh for a single placement. But that's still better than another employment exchange at Chitradurga in Karnataka which has not provided a single job in the last four years. To be sure, Chitradurga is not an exception.
These calculations have been made by India's largest staffing solutions company, TeamLease, in its India Labour Report, 2009. The annual report, the fifth by the market leader in human capital, cites many other examples of such colossal wastage of public money.
So what do India's 968 employment exchanges do? On matching supply and demand and providing employment, as of December 31, 2007, 39.97 million people were registered with these exchanges to seek jobs. As far as their performance is concerned, in 2007, 263,540 people got jobs through these exchanges, although as many as 7.3 million people got themselves registered in the previous year alone. Most placements (according to a Rajya Sabha Question dated March 18, 2008) were in Gujarat (178,346), Tamil Nadu (23,757), Kerala (10,962), Maharashtra (8,207), West Bengal (5,304) and Rajasthan (4,544). If one leaves out Gujarat, the numbers are insignificant.
Apart from the typical problems associated with the work ethics of government babus, the TeamLease report gives many reasons why India's employment exchanges have proved to be defunct. The mandatory Employment Exchanges Act of 1959, applicable to public and private sector units (excluding agriculture) that employ more than 25 people, is not as compulsory as one may think. For the private sector, the mandatory requirement only applies below a threshold level of wages and these have not been revised for years. Whatever the law may say de jure, there is nothing mandatory about employment exchanges de facto.
For the public sector, a Supreme Court judgment in 1996 said that appointments no longer had to be from the pool that was registered with employment exchanges, as long as job vacancies were suitably publicised. PSUs also set up channels like Staff Selection Commission, Banking Service Commission and Railway Recruitment Board. The Directorate General of Employment and Training's website itself says, "Therefore, employment exchanges are left with only stray cases that too at lower levels of employment. On the placement side (regular wage employment), the role of employment exchanges is definitely going to be not very significant".
So far, no state has had the courage to go in for privatisation of employment exchanges despite an Administrative Reforms Commission recommendation in 2002 that employment exchanges be downsized. However, the encouraging sign is that some states have experimented with allowing private placement agencies to get into the picture.
For example, even a state like West Bengal has permitted private training organisations to offer training at employment exchanges. The Karnataka government plans to rope in private partners to run its employment exchanges. TeamLease, for example, will set up a centre in Bangalore as a common platform for job seekers. While the private company will set up the building and infrastructure to run the service, the state government will pay for the training costs. The training will be provided through Gurgaon-based Indian Institute of Job Training in which TeamLease acquired a majority stake earlier this year. The Karnataka government in fact plans to upgrade at least a third of the employment exchanges this year with private partners.
Predictably, the lead in this regard has been taken by the Gujarat government. A Gujarat government official says public-private partnerships are the best way forward as the state at one point had over 1.1 million registered job seekers with 42 employment exchanges. However, the exchanges could secure placements for only about 75,000 job seekers each year. The problem did not end there. Surveys found only 25 per cent of those who got employment were offered quality jobs while the rest had to be content with unskilled, low-paying jobs.
The state then thought of devising a system for efficient collection of the private sector's job vacancy data and offer placement on those vacancies to the job seekers on the live register of the exchanges in a decentralised manner. That's how the Rojgar Sahay Kendras were born as an additional facilitator between the employers and the job seekers, leading to decentralisation of placement services.
Going by the encouraging results of such initiatives, more states would do well to take the cue from Gujarat.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NOT AN IMPERIAL RULE
STAND FIRM AGAINST GLOBAL BANK TAX
INDIA has done well to reiterate its strong opposition to the idea of a global tax to create a corpus for future bailouts of banks. The idea is absurd. There is no reason why all banks guilty and innocent should be tarred with the same brush. It is rather like levying a tax on all corporates to create a fund to pay for the misdemeanours of a few. For example, given these days of heightened awareness of corporate culpability a la the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the Bhopal gas tragedy, it is like an environment tax levied on all business to pay for the sins of a BP or Union Carbide. No right-thinking person would argue in favour of such a levy, so why should anyone think there is a case for such a tax on banks? The only reason, but one that will not wash in a globalised world, is the need for cash-strapped governments to find resources to bridge their yawning budget deficits. Hence the unilateral move announced by the UK this week to levy a tax on banks in the UK and the prospect that Germany and France might follow suit. The prospect of additional revenue (estimated at $3.1 billion) was, no doubt, a factor that weighed with the UK. But measures like this are bound to hasten the demise of London as the world's leading financial centre.
'Banks started the crisis and they should pay,' said the UK's freshly-minted Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne. And while it might go down well with the public to hold banks responsible for the crisis (absolving central banks, especially the US Fed, for loose monetary policies that created the conditions that led to the crisis), he might like to do some homework and check out on the banks responsible for the crisis. A universal tax on banks is unfair to countries whose banks did not overstep the line, thanks largely to more effective regulation. If western banks are in a mess and needed huge taxpayer-funded bailouts, the blame rests squarely on them and their regulators. To the extent these are powerful banks, ripples from their near-collapse have already been felt globally and, in a way, the rest of the world has already paid for their sins. To levy tax on their banks would be to rub salt into their wounds. The forthcoming G-20 meet must express strong disapproval of the UK's ill-conceived measure.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
PREVENTING COMMUNAL CRIMES
STRICTER LAWS, YES; BUT ALSO CHANGE POLITICS
REPORTS suggest the redrafted Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2010 will be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament. With provisions ranging from empowering victims to stringent punishment for officials guilty of inaction or culpability in communal violence, the Bill, if it passes into law, will be a potent weapon against the scourge of communal violence. Such violence aims to destroy the lives and property of citizens. But it is also about creating ruptures within the nation, of notions of identity and otherness that attack the very idea of India. Fighting this scourge isn't solely about creating laws, it is, in good measure, about combating the sort of politics that engenders and deepens such ruptures. Somewhat akin to that is the phenomenon of rising cases of caste and sub-caste based violence against individuals declared to have infringed some notions of identity and tradition. On that front too, reports aver the ministry of home affairs has proposed changes in the law on honour killings in an effort to counter formations like the khap panchayats. The changes seek to protect targeted couples better, harsher punishment for social boycott or killings of individuals and collective responsibility for khaps if their actions lead to a death.
Clearly, stricter laws on both counts are needed. Yet, it could be argued the problem is also that relevant extant laws are not implemented fully. And that is because the wider problem is that, at root, Indian politics continues to be based on competitive identity management. Thus, parties create and use communal polarisation as an electoral tool and many sections of the political class try to legitimise retrograde formations like the khaps. Sure, stricter laws can be a deterrent, maybe even deliver faster justice in some cases. But in the absence of a wider social transformation, laws will also remain instrumentalities. And it is the political class, by envisaging a genuinely inclusive democratic project, which unravels and refashions notions of identity, nationhood, tradition and progress, that can effect such a transformation. That is the wider, bigger task.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A SLIPPERY PATH
TIME FOR AN IMAGE FLIP-FLOP?
RAILWAY minister Mamata Banerjee will certainly never do a flip-flop on her sole agenda of ousting the Left Front from Writers' Buildings, but she may want to do some soul-searching on her unchanging attire of Bengal cotton sarees and blue-and-white rubber slippers. With an enterprising Kolkata-based entrepreneur using part of her trademark garb as an endorsement of his brand of India's favourite all-weather footwear, Ms Banerjee has clearly been put on the back foot as critics now accuse her of making pecuniary gains from the advertisement. But it could have been worse. At least in this case, only a humble Made in India chappal was the impugned item; imagine if a multinational brand of what is now a hotselling fashion accessory worldwide, decided to step in too? There is historical evidence that such V-shaped thonged sandals were once the exclusive preserve of ancient nobility and the elites. Eventually, commoners also gained the privilege of such footwear. Thousands of years later, popstars and filmstars to fashionistas and gangstas, the rich and famous have once again succumbed to the jandal craze, uniting India's toiling masses' airy, cheap-and-cheerful footwear with the international zeitgeist. With the cult Brazilian label Havaianas leading the way, even couture brands have put their three-digit dollar tag on the humble hawai. That should make Ms Banerjee do a rethink if not a flip-flop on what message she is sending out to a globalising India by sporting what even trendy urban teenagers wear as a season must have.
This kerfuffle could not have come a moment too soon for the rest of the political class too. Hijacking of images can have serious results, as the BJP found out in the Narendra Modi-Nitish Kumar photo episode. With Mahatma Gandhi's image being used to hawk a luxury pen, political bigwigs should now be very conscious indeed about what they are photographed wearing!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
GAS AS TRANSPORTATION FUEL
TO ENSURE ENERGY SECURITY, WE NEED A TIME-BOUND ACTION PLAN TO SUBSTITUTE PETROL AND DIESEL WITH GAS AND THIS WILL HAVE A SALUTARY EFFECT ON GLOBAL CRUDE PRICES, SAYS R S PANDEY
SHOULD the prices of petrol and diesel be freed? This is a tough call for decision makers, though expert panels, including the Kirit Parekh committee, have voted for price decontrol. But not freeing the prices would mean losses to the three oil marketing companies, thereby weakening the pillars of energy security in India. The burden of under recovery on four administered products, petrol, diesel, LPG and kerosene oil is estimated at Rs 80,000 crore in 2010-11.
This can be partly bridged, at the expense of their own requirements of investment and growth, from the upstream PSU oil companies as has been the practice over the last few years. But, the government will have to issue either bonds or cash to protect the bottom-lines of OMCs. This will, however, lead to macroeconomic distortions at present or in future.
If prices are freed and aligned with the international prices, petrol and diesel would cost more by over Rs 3.50 per litre each immediately. This would further fuel inflationary pressures. So far, the government has been managing the situation, trying to balance the interest of consumers, the OMCs and the exchequer. Product prices are adjusted to some extent, the upstream PSUs and OMCs are asked to chip in and balance of the underrecovery is met by government subsidies through bonds and cash. This arrangement, though ad hoc, has worked for the past few years and may work this year too.
The government should re-structure the taxation of petro products. Replacing ad valorem by specific rate of duties will bring in relief to the customer, while reasonably protecting government revenues. The future is scary. A spurt in crude prices to $100 per barrel is imminent. It will be no surprise if the prices touch $120-150 in the next five years or so. If we find it difficult to free the prices at the current level of around $75 per barrel of crude oil, how are we going to manage in the years to come?
Based on current policies and projections, the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its report of 2009, has estimated India's crude oil requirements to grow at the highest rate, by 3.9% per annum. By 2030, India's import will go up to 92% of the country's consumption requirement, excluding the requirement of processing for exports.
India's import bill is bound to rise substantially and the balance of trade will become more adverse. The burden on consumers or the OMCs or both will be a matter of serious concern. Such a scenario has grave implications for energy security and calls for a strategic shift in our approach. We have to reduce our dependence on crude oil to the extent possible. This can be done through many ways, by involving measures to promote efficiency and conservation of fuel use and using substitutes. An important way is to use gas as transportation fuel instead of petrol or diesel.
This is feasible and happening in Delhi and Mumbai. Gas users pay less. In Delhi, the per km cost of running a car with gas is Rs 1.31 at present as against Rs 2.54 with diesel and Rs 3.20 with petrol. If all the three fuels are sold at market prices, the running cost with diesel and petrol will be even higher. This is because gas is cheaper than Oil. One barrel of crude produces the same energy as 6 mmbtu of gas. Therefore, at crude price of $ 80 per barrel, gas should be priced at approximately $13 per mmbtu. Happily, most of the gas in India is sold at $ 4.2 per mmbtu, and the imported gas is available at about $5 per mmbtu. So, there is a clear disconnect between the price of crude oil and gas.
UNFORTUNATELY, less than 6% of the vehicles in Delhi are on CNG. Imagine the savings to the economy and the consumers and the political dividend it will generate if all vehicles in Delhi and Mumbai, where gas supply infrastructure exists and also throughout India, run on gas at half the cost of diesel and further less of petrol.
The 21st century is said to be the century of gas as the 20th century was that of oil. Availability of gas within the country as well as globally is more than oil. As per IEA 2009 estimates, while domestic oil production will decline to less than half of its present level by 2030, gas production will double. If oil reserves globally are to last for 30 years, gas reserves are estimated to last for 60 years. Moreover, newer sources of gas, such as shale gas and coal bed methane gas will increasingly be available. Gas is also cleaner than oil. Tax rates on gas are lower than on petrol or diesel and as a tool to disincentivise pollution, are expected to remain lower even in future.
So, it makes sense to substitute oil by gas to the extent possible. Since about 40% of petroleum products are used for transportation and since much of the expected increase in petro consumption is for transportation, it is necessary to switch over to gas as transportation fuel as speedily as possible.
The present market mechanism will not be able to bring about this change fast. Besides a policy thrust, work needs to be done on promotional activities such as creating a road map for covering the country with a network of pipelines, devising fresh funding strategies, firming up availability and infrastructure for import of gas, coordinating with state governments, municipal authorities and the automotive industry, dealing with bottlenecks in replacing existing retail outlets with CNG stations and so on.
The regulatory regime also has to adopt imaginative approaches with a suitable organisational arrangement to bring this about. Energy security imperative would call for a time bound target to substitute petrol and diesel by gas as transportation fuel. This has to be implemented in a mission mode. It should be possible to substitute about half of transportation fuel by gas in the next ten years. And if this happens, it will also have a salutary effect on international prices of crude even in anticipation of its happening since India is amongst the largest consumers and importers of crude oil. Connectivity of habitations with gas will also connect kitchens with PNG instead of LPG thereby reducing imports and under recoveries of LPG.
India aspires to be in the top league along with China and the US in the next two to three decades, but India's vulnerability in matters of oil for energy is much more than that of China and the US. Energy security is as critical as national security.
(The author is a former petroleum secretary)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE FUTURE OF LIFE
HENRY! I am at the site of your cabin on the edge of Walden Pond. I came because of your stature in literature and the conservation movement... I am here for a purpose: to become more Thoreauvian, and with that perspective better to explain to you, and in reality to others and not least to myself, what has happened to the world we both have loved...
No one in your time could imagine a disaster of this magnitude. Little more than a billion people were alive in the 1840s. Now, more than six billion people fill the world. The great majority are very poor; nearly one billion exist on the edge of starvation. All are struggling to raise the quality of their lives any way they can. That unfortunately includes the conversion of the surviving remnants of the natural environment. Half of the great tropical forests have been cleared. The last frontiers of the world are effectively gone. Species of plants and animals are disappearing a hundred or more times faster than before the coming of humanity, and as many as half may be gone by the end of this century. An Armageddon is approaching at the beginning of the third millennium. But it is not the cosmic war and fiery collapse of mankind foretold in sacred scripture. It is the wreckage of the planet by an exuberantly plentiful and ingenious humanity.
The situation is desperate but there are encouraging signs that the race can be won. Population growth has slowed, and if the present trajectory holds, it is likely to peak between 8-10 billion people by century's end.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FAC E O F F
FRESH SURVEY OF BHOPAL VICTIMS?
Yes, claims must be re-examined
REPORTS about enhanced compensation for Bhopal survivors is malarkey. One cynical gas victim said: "I smelled a rat the minute I heard the GoM was going to dole out compensation. I knew it couldn't be right. Why would it be? Mr Chidambaram was a finance minister. He is a companywala. I knew there would be number juggling." Syed M Irfan should know. As a Carbide victim, he has heard the promises and lies of nine PMs.
Media hopefully cited a figure of Rs 1,500 crore as enhanced compensation. Reliable sources place the figure at Rs 700 crore. If it were divided equally among all eligible victims, the larger amount would divvy up to Rs 26,000 per victim. At Rs 700 crore, each victim will get about Rs 12,237. Go celebrate, you lucky Bhopalis, you!
Whatever the amount, the GoM intends to divide the pie only among about 45,000 people or 8% of the 572,000 people whose claims were settled. This curious situation arose because of the bad categorisation. A majority of victims were categorised as 'not injured' or 'temporarily injured.' Many have sunk into ill-health, and others have succumbed to various diseases. These 525,000 or more people will get nothing from Mr Chidambaram's smokescreen largesse.
As regards re-categorisation, the people are as hesitant as the government. Most of them no longer have papers to support their claims, and the bureaucratic run-around would be impossible for many. Better would be to offer a blanket compensation of at least Rs 60,000 crore covering roughly 600,000 victims at Rs 10 lakh each. The many wrongfully rejected death claims will have to be re-examined, and the death claims registration, stopped in 1997, renewed. Don't balk at Rs 60,000 crore. Look at it in context. In 2008-09 Mr Chidambaram was FM Rs 66,901 crore was just one year's corporate income tax foregone by the government. If we can subsidise fat cat corporates year after year, we can surely find the heart to extend one-time help to our kith in Bhopal.
(*Also a long-time volunteer with the Bhopal campaign)
N D JAYAPRAKASH
Valid grounds to doubt current data
AFTER a preliminary study immediately after the disaster, the ICMR had declared 36 of the 56 municipal wards of Bhopal, i.e, nearly 600,000 of the city's then population of 900,000, as gas-affected. A detailed house-to-house survey of the gas-exposed areas was attempted thereafter. That attempt was made at the beginning of January 1985, when, under the guidance of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), nearly 500 volunteers from several schools of social work across the country began collecting detailed data about gas victims. However, the state government abruptly wound up that exercise at the end of February 1985, when the volunteers had completed about 25,000 households, i.e., less than one-fourth of the target. Neither TISS nor any other agency got another opportunity to complete the survey. What was equally deplorable was that even TISS did not have access to the data that it had helped compile.
Subsequently, victims were asked to file individual claims under the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Registration & Processing of Claims) Scheme, 1985. By 1997, over 10,00,000 claims were filed, including by residents of unexposed wards and those who had come into the city after the disaster. Through the process of adjudication, which lasted from 1992 to 2006, the 36 claim courts that were constituted for the purpose awarded compensation in 574,367 death and injury cases.
While the scale of the disaster in terms of numbers has been, more or less, fairly assessed, there are valid grounds for seriously doubting the data regarding declared gas-related deaths and gravity of injuries of victims and their progenies. These doubts can be cast aside only by reviving medical research, medical surveys and re-examination of medical records. Sadly, medical histories of most of the victims have not been properly maintained. Hence, fresh surveys are a must for filling this gap. The crude morbidity data generated by the Centre for Rehabilitation Studies, Bhopal, through six-monthly epidemiological surveys from 1985 onwards in the gas-exposed areas would become invaluable as supplementary data.
(*Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
TOWARDS A GREENER, CLEANER WORLD
WE CELEBRATED Environment Week this month. Various organisations as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives got their act together, conducted workshops to sensitise their employees, planted trees, et al. A few friends participated in 'cycle to work' initiatives which were understandably short lived.
Short spurts of efforts, while they do contribute in a way, are not adequate to save the planet. We need long-term efforts which provide lasting results and it is here that the government can really help. Zenobia Aunty has been reading a lot about green investments. She says: "A recent international survey undertaken by Regus states that governments worldwide must introduce new tax breaks to increase the uptake of green investment."
Eco-friendly measures seem attractive on paper, but they do entail a higher cost, at least initially. No wonder then that 46% of companies surveyed have declared that they will only invest in low-carbon equipment if the running costs are the same or lower than those of conventional equipment. A mere 40% have invested in lowcarbon equipment and only 38% have a company policy to do so.
Governments world over have down the years, devised various forms of green taxes to save the environment. Such taxes have been as varied as a 'plastic tax' on use of plastic bags in Ireland, to a 'flight tax' in the UK which airlines had to cough up if they did not fly at full capacity.
While Zenobia Aunty was in Bangalore (Bengaluru) there were talks of permitting cars with odd numbered licence plates to drive on one day and those with even numbers on another day. Would this have helped in reducing carbon emission? "Not really, with an inefficient public transport mechanism, families were really thinking of buying yet another car, as car pooling was not always an option," explains Zenobia Aunty.
If spreading the tax net wide, pays dividends, so does spreading of tax sops. Perhaps, it would make better sense to provide sops for green investments at the consumer level. It would help spread the movement make the world greener.
United States for instance, with its green tax sops covers the consumers. Tax credits as distinct from tax deductions are available for purchase of hybrid cars or battery, electrical or alternate fuel vehicles; heating and air conditioning systems that are 'energy star rated'; renewable energy systems; solar and wind energy systems and even something as simple as insulation such as new doors, windows or roofing that meet set criteria and help save on electricity bills.
How is a tax credit different from a tax deduction? A tax credit is a 'rupee-for-rupee' reduction in your total tax bill. For instance, your tax bill works out to Rs 2.50 lakh. Let us assume that a tax provision states that for each solar panel that you install in your house you get a deduction of 20% of the purchase price subject to a cap of Rs 50,000 per solar panel. Assuming you purchase three solar panels and can claim Rs 1.5 lakh through such purchase. Your tax bill will then be just Rs 1.00 lakh.
On the other hand, a tax deduction is expenditure or a prescribed amount (such as depreciation) which is allowed as a deduction from your total income to arrive at the net taxable income, which is then subject to tax at the applicable rate. While both reduce your tax bill, in pure monetary terms a tax credit is more beneficial.
It is the consumer who can propel a demand for environment-friendly products. With prices for such products being higher, tax sops alone can provide the much-needed spending boost in the right direction.
In India we have seen a few sporadic attempts such as wind farms being eligible for 100% depreciation or higher depreciation rates for pollution control equipment. However, till date attempts have not been made to start at the consumer level.
Imagine the potential that we have to use solar energy, especially in the rural areas of India, which are prone to power cuts, or for that matter, even small-scale industries in urban areas. To boost demand for use of solar energy, start at the consumer level, enabling him to get a tax credit. This would mean that the manufacturer of solar panels does not have to face hardships to convert people towards a more friendly power source and can make fair profits. After all, even a green manufacturer needs to survive. Moreover, provision of softer loans for purchase of green products by households, farmers, smallscale enterprises and certain other segments would be an added advantage.
It is true that the government is considering abolition of tax holidays, however, tax credits to the individual for purchase of green products, is something which needs to be seriously contemplated. Drat, the power just went off, now where is that candle?
It would make better sense to provide tax sops for green investments at the consumer level
With prices for environ-friendly products being higher, tax sops alone can provide the much-needed spending boost Provision of softer loans for purchase of green products by households, farmers, SSIs, would be an added advantage
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CO S M I C U P LI N K
ARE WE RUNNING OUT OF TIME?
ACCORDING to the Bhagavad Gita the universe is said to exist during the course of Brahma's lifetime whose one day comprises 1,000 maha-yugas or great ages. Each maha-yuga consists of four yugas (ages), each of which gets shorter and more degraded. We've only just begun the last age and when it ends the whole cycle will begin anew. Similarly, Bramha's night follows the same pattern, the difference being existence manifests during day and remains unmanifest at night. While this has given rise to the belief that time is ultimately cyclical, it also shows that there's a flow from past into the future even though it may be limited in duration.
At the same time, however, a possibly deeper truth is also touched upon in the Gita and this is only revealed when Krishna reveals his cosmic form to Arjun and says, "Here today behold the whole universe, moving and unmoving and whatever else you desire to see, all unified in my body." It is the vision of the all in the One. And that when we develop our full capacity of apprehension we see that all past, present and future is essentially the present. There is no flow. In essence, such a view would mean that time doesn't exist.
Interestingly, the latest issue of Scientific American carries an article, Is Time an Illusion?' where the editors comment: "Some physicists argue that there is no such thing as time. Others think time ought to be promoted rather than demoted. In between these two positions is the fascinating idea that time exists but is not fundamental. A static world somehow gives rise to the time we perceive." But a timeless theory faces the challenge of explaining how we see change all around us if the world is not really changing; if there is no flow.
Earlier Einstein had already demoted time. In his theories it plays a much marginalised and relative role that depends entirely on the observer. In quantum mechanics too, time can flow in any direction. And when physicists attempted to merge the two to get a unified theory they found to their amazement that in such equations the symbol 't' for time disappeared completely. But it could be that time is an emergent phenomenon like solidity is. After all, we and other things appear solid even though we're made of atoms which are composed mostly of empty space. So time also could be something that arises out of fundamental timelessness. Another illusion to live with!
GENERAL'S EXIT WON'T CHANGE US STRATEGY
The high-profile commander of American troops and of Nato's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has been sacked by the US President, Mr Barack Obama, for making disrespectful and sophomoric remarks about the President and his senior civilian colleagues to a journalist for insubordination and appearing to challenge civilian control over the military. (These had been the very reasons in 1951 why the famous US commander in Korea, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, had been dismissed by President Harry Truman.) The Afghans are sorry to see Gen. McChrystal go. The commander's fresh approach had won respect in Kabul as he sought to implement a counter-insurgency plan that envisaged winning hearts and minds, besides fighting a war. It needs to be emphasised, however, that his departure, and replacement on Wednesday by his senior, Gen. David Petraeus, who headed the US Central Command and was commander of US forces in West Asia, is unlikely to disturb America's current policy on Afghanistan. Mr Obama has clearly said the change is about personnel, not policy. The US President sought to underline as he dismissed Gen. McChrystal that America was at war and was committed to win. Analysts haven't been entirely certain what it means for the American leader to "win". Does it mean a clear military victory over the Al Qaeda and its local associates, the Taliban disrupting, dismantling and defeating the extremist militants, to recall President Obama's mission as outlined in his March 27, 2009 strategy so that they never threaten America again? Or will it suffice to put in place a new political configuration in Afghanistan that might permit the US leader to declare a "win" so that America may withdraw its troops from the Afghan theatre in order to soothe nerves back home since many think Mr Obama will lose political capital if he remains militarily engaged in Afghanistan much longer? In response to demands of domestic politics, the President promised to review the war in December this year. This would imply assessing whether the surge of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan has arrested the momentum of the insurgents, the stated goal. It is clear as day that this has not been the case. Trying to clear Helmand of the Taliban through the Marjah operation has lasted some three months, and not produced the desired result. The reality cannot escape the new commander, Gen. Petraeus, and the President at the year-end stocktaking. Perhaps, anticipating this, Gen. Petraeus has recently been openly saying that counter-insurgency was a "roller coaster" affair that did not lend itself to strict timelines. This possibly suggests beginning the process of troop withdrawal in July 2011, as spelt out by Mr Obama earlier, might be only a notional affair. The Afghans are unlikely to be unhappy about this. Their own army is not yet large enough, nor adequately trained and equipped, to do the job unaided. Sooner or later, though, the US will have to honestly answer the question why they have not been able to neutralise Al Qaeda and the Taliban despite the obvious superiority of their forces, and whether their approach to Pakistan has anything to do with this failure.
THINGS CAN FALL APART
Those who are optimists about the future of India see the glass of its economic advancement since Independence as half full, while those who are pessimists see the same glass as half empty. Both, in my view, miss a more basic point. And this point pertains to the table on which the glass is kept. If the table gets weaker by the day, on account of its wood being eaten by termites, it would soon crumble and the glass itself would fall to the ground and break. The key question for the future of India is the foundational strength of its system and not of its high or low rate of economic growth.
Most of us do not seem to realise that the negative forces are acting as termites and daily eating away its unifying threads, thereby exposing the country to graver and graver risks of instability. I have little doubt that if the present trends of sacrificing fundamental interests of the nation to the narrow and short-term interests of selfish and myopic politicians continue, things would fall apart, sooner rather than later. "History", it has been rightly said, "is no blind goddess and does not excuse in blindness in others". Let us not remain under any delusion that it would make any exception in our case.
The latest manifestation of the destructive course to which the nation is being blindly set is the proposed enumeration of castes in the census. It is bound to cause extensive eruption of the old infection. This, coupled with the issue of reservations, would render our social and political structures unstable. A number of new claims on castes and sub-castes would be made and there would be a mad rush for going down the ladder. Even the "high" and "middle-level" castes would endeavour, by way of fair or foul means, to get into the list of "backward classes". Violent and aggressive agitations would crop up in a sizeable part of the country. Caste jealousies and social tensions would even infiltrate the machinery of governance itself and undermine its cohesion and efficacy. The development work would suffer and the goal of removing poverty, ignorance and disease would recede further.
It would be a grave tragedy, indeed, if some vested interests in our politics are allowed to push the country into deeper layers of backwardness and also expose it to several other risks, having bearing on its very nationhood. Such a tragedy would be compounded by the fact that the caste system, as it has operated on the ground for centuries, is against the basic structure of Hinduism.
This "basic structure" lies embedded in the Upanishadic thought. Its central message is that all life in this universe is divine and individuals are "divine specks" of the same Supreme Divinity, which permeates the inextricably enmeshed cosmic web of human existence. In this metaphysical principle, the notion of equality is in-built.
If the same divinity is embodied in different individuals, they cannot but be equal. The Bhavishya Purana says: "Since members of all the four castes are children of God, they all belong to the same caste. All human beings have the same father and children of the same father cannot have different castes".
Because of widespread ignorance about Hinduism and the extensive interpolations and manipulations which it has undergone over the ages, few in India today understand its fundamental principles and propositions. The very soul of Hinduism debunks the caste system.
The only source to which the origin of this system could be attributed is the second portion of Purusha-sakta hymn of the Rig Veda, wherein it is stated that the purusha was cut into four parts, the first pertaining to his mouth, the second to his arms, the third to his thighs and the fourth to his feet. An interpretation of this statement was drawn to lay down that the brahmin came from the highest portion of the Supreme Self and shudra from the lowest. In between came the kshatriyas, the warrior class, and the vaishyas, the traders, agriculturists etc. This interpretation is, clearly, arbitrary and untenable.
Nor is there any scriptural authority on the basis of which the caste system could be made either hereditary or water-tight. In his remarkable write-up, titled Un-Hindu Spirit of Caste-Rigidity, Sri Aurobindo has pertinently observed: "The baser ideas underlying the degenerate perversions of the caste system, the mental attitude which bases them on a superiority, depending on the accident of birth of a fixed and intolerant inequality, are inconsistent with the supreme teaching, the basic spirit of Hinduism which sees the one invariable and indivisible Divinity in every individual being".
It was the utter selfishness of the vested interests that hid the true spirit of Hinduism and created a discriminatory and inflexible social system. The society was so structured that the caste of brahmins acted like "a sun around which all other castes revolved like satellites". The treatment accorded to the shudra was extremely harsh. But it was the untouchables amongst them who received the unkindest cut of all. The basic tenet of Hindu thought, which looked at the whole human race as one family was sidetracked and what has been called as "one of the most disastrous and blighting of all human institutions" was brought into being. Apart from causing horrible inequities, it divided the people in various water-tight compartments. Al Beruni, the famous traveller, who visited India in early 11th century, noted with surprise that the people were being fed with poison "in land where nectar-stream of an ancient and life-giving religion flowed perennially".
The British colonial interests found it expedient to further deepen the division amongst the people. In 1901, Census Commissioner, Herbert Risley, introduced the element of "social-precedence" in the caste classification. It resulted in an extraordinary revival of the "caste spirit" and numerous "caste sabhas" sprung up.
The British regime even attempted to cause a permanent schism among the Hindus by taking a tentative decision to provide separate electorates for the depressed classes. This decision was abandoned only when Mahatma Gandhi undertook a fast unto death and arrived at an understanding with Dr Ambedkar by way of what is known as the Poona Pact.
This is first of a two-part series.
* Jagmohan is a former governor of J&K and a former Union minister
DEAR CAPITALISTS, CALL THE TELANGANA BLUFF
BY KANCHA ILAIAH
Dear Hyderabad capitalists,
The city is as much your home as it is mine. I have been living here ever since I came to write my MA entrance examination in 1974 with a broken suitcase, bought from a local Sunday market of Narsampet by my late mother. Now I am a professor with status and salary.
Some of you came to this city much earlier than me and some later than me, but by all means you are far richer than me or any average employee, doctor or engineer.
You have made your money on the labour power of your employees and also from the profits you accrued in the market. You have accumulated your wealth by combining labour and capital. Yet that wealth is yours, no doubt.
Now the movement for separate Telangana state is threatening your very survival in Hyderabad. Your response has been to pump money to the leaders of the Telangana agitation since they have been issuing threats to your economic interests.
"We will not allow your business in Hyderabad", they say. "We will not allow your cinema industry to run; we will not allow even your cricket match to take place".
You have pacified them by bribing them. Of course, you have also aided and abetted a united Andhra movement alongside.
What worries me most is the way the leaders growing around such movements have become richer day by day.
Thanks to this, your economic activity has been going on without hurdles. After each such threat, it is the threat giver's wealth and health that is increasing. But the general health of Telangana the economic health of its aam aadmi has been deteriorating.
In the late 60s and early 70s the Telangana movement was conducted mostly on legs and bicycles. The bigger leaders of the movement were moving in jeeps, and even the biggest ones could only boast Ambassador cars.
Yet they conducted agitations that shook the Centre, inspired the youth to brave bullets and also won elections 11 out of 14 parliamentary seats were in the pocket of Praja Samithi.
Of course, that movement also caused loss of lives and disrupted education. Lot of public property that Telangana people would have used for their advancement was damaged. The agitations also pushed the region backwards in the field of education. And no great moral leader or intellectual emerged from the movement. And most importantly, Telangana did not become a separate state.
But the fact remains that no leader made money out of that movement. Only Mr Chenna Reddy made political capital.
Now look at the present Telangana movement and its drivers. All you see is money, money and more money. Where is it coming from? Obviously much of it is coming from you. You see this movement as an inevitable evil and want to handle it as carefully as possible.
There is a saying that Capitalists like corrupt Communists. Not only can the corrupt Communist be bribed, his presence also gives a bigger moral licence to the capitalist to exploit workers more and more.
Similarly you capitalists do not like the Telangana movement. But since it is a reality, you would rather deal with a corrupt leader, who asks money for everything.
Whatever money you pay him you get from the sweat of the aam aadmi of the region. And as the wealth of the leader grows the resources of the aam aadmi dwindles in the same proportion. This is bad capitalist morality, to say the least.
Now you have a Telangana tiger that needs red blood every day and a group of paper tigers who need some "white water" every day. The relationship is perfect.
But where does that leave the ordinary people of Telangana? They are not given drought relief and their children do not get English education. For all the demands there is one answer wait till Telangana comes.
Meanwhile, Telangana's brand ambassadors are moving around in brand new Innovas and Maruti Swifts. Should this be the quality of the movement? We are scratching our heads for an answer.
Assume that you had spent the same kind of money to give English education to the children of the poor people of Telangana after the 1969 movement, perhaps by forming charity trusts or by establishing at least 10 schools in the villages.
Do you know what would have happened? You would have produced a world class intellectual from this region. The whole region would have appreciated your culture of charity. Many of you praise Mahatma Gandhi but hate his trusteeship theory. Where did we get this capitalist culture from?
That is the difference between Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and you. So long as you do not change your culture, any number of leaders and professional agitators will be squeezing money out of you. India cannot survive with this culture of capitalism and politics. It is time to start thinking.
A BIRD FOR A NATION
BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
The recent announcement making the Gangetic dolphin or Susu as the national aquatic animal has been widely welcomed as sign of how seriously India will take the ecological restoration of its polluted rivers. The anointment of this riverine mammal comes nearly three decades after the tiger became India's national animal.
Yet, in newly Independent India, there was an active debate not so much on the animal but the birds that ought to best represent the new nation state. Salim Ali, ornithologist extraordinaire, the first Asian to be Fellow of the Royal Society, thought rarity ought to be the qualifier. A rare species would help sensitise people at large to conservation.
He picked the heaviest of Asia's land birds, the Great Indian Bustard. With a range in western and central India and extending southward into the Deccan, it was and is by any stretch an elegant creature. But few know about its existence let alone its habits.
The naturalist M. Krishnan mischievously added that the chances of a mis-spelling would lead to great embarrassment. He argued instead for a bird that would be common, easily seen and drawn by children: the common myna.
He was ahead of his time. The mynah is indeed the national bird but not of India, of Bangladesh. Indians settled for the peacock. Its cultural and religious associations were all too well known and it is at home in the big city as much as in village squares.
Why in any case should nations or peoples get fixated on birds or animals? England was a pioneer in this regard with swans, all of them being declared royal property by the time of Elizabeth. The ringing of the swans on the river Thames was and is a ritual well and extensively observed.
The keen reader of epics in India will know how central swans are to the story of Nala and Damayanti. Yet, swans are a freakish occurrence. The story's rajhansa was perhaps the bar-headed goose, a migrant in north India in the cold season.
More often than not, it was birds of prey that attracted royal attention. Sanskrit texts accurately described one of the early tool users, the bearded vulture or the lammergier. This vulture of the mountains drops bones from great heights on to rocks so it can get at the marrow when the impact shatters bones.
Only recently and after considerable work did Rishad Naoroji identify the lammergier for that most vital of characters in Sanskrit epics: Jatayu of the Ramayana. His book, Birds of Prey of the Indian Subcontinent (2006), shows via pictorial representations that it was the bearded vulture that was probably the inspiration.
Emblems are not about rarity or abundance alone. They signify the values a bird or animal holds for those who rally around it. The bald eagle eventually made it and is today the symbol of the most powerful nation on earth.
Yet, as Benjamin Franklin was quick to observe, it was a pirate of the air, a marauder and not an apt symbol at all. He opted for the uniquely American turkey, which was consigned to be a dish at the Christmas table rather than as national icon. Critics of empire might argue that the eagle anticipated the country's drive for power at first in the Americas and then the world at large.
Yet the eagle was not so bad a choice. The bird is majestic, large, elegant and has the habit of nesting on the same tree every year. By mid-twentieth century, the United States had enough bird watchers who would meticulously keep records of where they nested and how many eggs hatched. The case of Hawk Mountain turned out to be crucial.
Surveying decades of records, Rachel Carson, a keen biologist and nature writer whose prose matched her brilliance in research; put the pieces of the jigsaw together. The eagles were nesting but despite careful tending no eaglets emerged from the eggs. As Carson was to deduce in her book Silent Spring in 1962 this was due to the pesticides that accumulated in the environment.
As the chemicals worked their way up the food chain, the top predator of the skies was the most vulnerable. It was only after years of careful regulation that the amount of pesticide residue in fish declined and the bald eagle was taken off the list of endangered species.
Will the Ganges dolphin do for India what the eagle unintentionally did for the US? Only time will tell.
Icons do matter, for more than anything they reflect the changing value we place on the web of life of which we are but one strand.
* Mahesh Rangarajan is an environmental historian. He co-edited the book Environmental History: As If Nature Existed
A REALISTIC GOAL?
RECOGNISE, TRAIN, NURTURE PLAYERS
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
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
BE FREE OF THE LOVE OF MONEY
BY DOMINIC EMMANUEL
America is slowly coming out of one of the worst economic recessions which affected the rest of the world too. Now it is the turn of Euro which is losing its sheen caused by the Greek debt crisis. The debate whether the Euro will come out unscathed is still raging. The economic crises in the United States and in Europe are not natural disasters but are totally man-made. Due to unquenchable human greed for money.
A couple of years ago I was invited by a TV channel to explain the "new" list of seven deadly sins that the Vatican had freshly issued. Curiously, at the time of that declaration the economic meltdown had not hit the world. Yet, one of the sins common to the two lists, intriguingly, was "greed" (old) and "being obscenely rich" (new).
No one disputes the fact that the way the world is currently structured, money is a necessity without which all life could come to a standstill.
What the Bible, however, constantly warns against is when people replace God and His presence in other human beings with money. That is why Jesus said quite plainly: "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matt. 6:24).
Despite the oft-repeated catchphrase, "Saath kya laya tha, aur saath kya le jayega" (What did you bring with you and what will you take back with you), the insecurities of life often make us rush to take shelter in the deceptive security of money. In this process, God is sometimes left behind.
And despite knowing that money cannot buy us happiness, health, peace of mind or restore our broken relationships, when faced with hard cash in bulk, our knowledge and convictions disappear. The Bible also states, "Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf" (Proverbs 11:28).
Once a young man approached Jesus and asked him as to what he must do to get eternal life. When Jesus told him a few things that he should do, the youth responded saying that he had been doing them since childhood. Jesus then told him lovingly, "One thing you still lack; go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have your treasure in heaven, and come follow me". Hearing this, the young man went away sad, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God" (Mark 10: 21-25).
Had those who caused the great depression starting in the US paid a little attention to the wonderful teachings of the Bible, the world would have been spared the immense pain and suffering, including many suicides and crimes that followed.
Father Dominic Emmanuel, is currently the director ofcommunication of the Delhi Catholic Church. He was awarded the National CommunalHarmony Award 2008 by the Government of India.
THAT ALIBI JUST GOT 'BUSTED'
UNIVERSALLY, or at least in democratic societies, must register the signal from the sacking ~ for irresponsible talk ~ of General Stanley McChrystal who had been selected by President Obama to lead the operations in Afghanistan. For far too long have indiscreet comments from military leaders been explained away as utterances of "simple soldiers"; presumably (but not really) unaware of political, diplomatic and even social implications. It is true that the days of "theirs' not to reason why" are long over, but there are limits crossed only at some peril. That the offensive comments from McChrystal and his staff came not during regular interviews but in a series of semi-formal interactions (including those after sundowners) was never deemed an alibi: the General must be appreciated for not taking the standard line that he had been misquoted. Still, there would be need for the uniformed community to give careful thought to Obama's assertion that comment of that nature "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 the democratic system. And it erodes the trust that's necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives". McChrystal did not question the Afghan policy as MacArthur did over Korea, but met the same fate.
The Indian forces have recently had one genuinely serious case of a General shooting his mouth off ~ in the early 1990s the Defence minister told Parliament he had asked the army chief to be "more careful" after the latter had spoken of "bandicoots" in the region, and in the context of internal security declared that "good governance has become our (the army's) business". But that solo "uproar" is no cause for comfort. In recent months senior officers have been using the media to articulate their views on issues like anti-Maoist strategy and amending the AFSPA ~ when it is for the government to take the decision. Sure some of that is conveniently off the record but nobody is fooled. Nor are those in authority unaware of the tactic to use retired officers to do the shooting. It might be an exaggeration to say that such airing of views "undermines the civilian control of the military" but it certainly does "erode the trust that's necessary to achieve our objectives."
JOBS FOR THE PARTY
DOUBTS ON LEFT'S RECRUITMENT DRIVE
IN normal circumstances, it may have been appropriate to link the creation of 17,000 new posts in the state government to the Chief Minister's instructions to cabinet colleagues, to tone up their respective departments. But these are times when political survival is the primary concern. If the order to produce a roadmap for development in six months is clouded by the virtual revolt by some Left partners (the latest being the Forward Bloc which declared that the government couldn't be run from Alimuddin Street or Writers' Buildings), there are similar doubts about the basis for creating so many jobs in the last three months. The state finance minister expected his announcement to be greeted with a chorus of approval, but the Left Front may actually be seen as bending over backwards to meet the challenge of the Assembly election in less than a year. The posts, largely in the education sector, have been vacant for years ostensibly on account of severe financial constraints. The question is whether the government has suddenly found resources or, as in the case of the outgoing Left board in the KMC, will leave behind a burden to be borne by the successor dispensation. Nor does Asim Dasgupta declare whether infrastructure in thousands of primary, secondary and higher secondary schools has been upgraded sufficiently to justify the appointment of 17,000 teachers and whether district hospitals are now adequately equipped to accommodate nearly 200 more medical and non-medical staff. If all this is seen as a gift to sections that need to be wooed back, there are questions on whether the recruitment can be completed and results obtained by the time elections are held.
A more logical conclusion would be a last-ditch effort to stem the anti-incumbency wave with a measure aimed at lifting sagging spirits of disillusioned sympathisers. Even more sensitive is the Chief Minister's promise that a blueprint is ready on a ten per cent reservation in government jobs for backward Muslims. If there is no indication that the current recruitment drive will help fulfil that pledge, it is because there are perhaps more complications in the reservation proposal than the Left can cope with immediately. The final question is whether more staff brings an assurance of more work. The popular perception would be that if it at all it means more work it would likely be in aid of the party.
THE NEGLECTED ASPECT OF INDIAN HISTORY
IT called for an anniversary to recall a rather neglected aspect of Indian history. Three years after the 150th anniversary of the Revolt of 1857, the union culture ministry intends to fund ten Chairs in central universities to commemorate the contribution of as many freedom-fighters who have rarely been the subject of historical discourse. Theoretically, the idea is good and ought to facilitate a comprehensive, rather than a selective, grasp over the discipline. It is an open question whether the objective will be attained ~ to stimulate research on topics and personalities who have traditionally been accorded footnote treatment at best or have been totally ignored at worst. There is no indication yet whether historians, let alone the Indian Council for Historical Research, have been taken into confidence. The fault lies primarily in the structure of the syllabus at both under-graduate and post-graduate levels. The government appears to be proceeding from conclusion to premise; a doctoral dissertation can be attempted only after the basics are mastered. Five of the ten forgotten heroes have been identified ~ Tantia Tope and Kunwar Singh (1857), Kartar Singh Sarabha of the Ghadar movement (early 20th century), General Shah Nawaz Khan of the Indian National Army and Saifuddin Kitchlew of the Congress. Implicit in the culture ministry's move is the admission that students and faculties are relatively ignorant of certain aspects of history, once again a testimony to the loopholes in the syllabi.
To begin with, the ICHR must come up with authoritative texts on the ten forgotten heroes. It is all very well to expect the special Chairs to guide research, but the foundation has to be built up at the under-graduate level. The HRD ministry is scheduled to take a call on the proposal at a meeting on 29 June. This must go beyond an inter-ministerial interaction, followed by a stroke of the bureaucratic pen. The academic circuit will have to be involved. It would be instructive to know why post-independence historians have largely ignored some of the freedom-fighters. Any social science discipline is open to subjective interpretation. And this might explain the prominence accorded to Jawaharlal Nehru instead of Kitchlew, and Netaji instead of Shah Nawaz Khan. The proposed research will be meaningful only if the basics are drilled at the Honours level. Otherwise, the Chairs will symbolise a lucrative campus pursuit in the name of advanced studies. And delightfully unaccountable to the students. EH Carr's famous query ~ What is History? ~ may yet remain unanswered.
NITISH-MODI WAR FALLOUT
BETTER TO SPLIT THAN TO ACHIEVE PATCHWORK UNITY
BY RAJINDER PURI
THE late Ram Manohar Lohia had hung a framed inscription in his party office that said: Sudhro ya tooto! Meaning, reform or split. He did this perhaps to justify to his followers his propensity to split parties. But there is merit in the advice that for any committed ideologue it is better to split than to achieve patchwork unity through compromise on fundamental policy. The resultant loss in cohesion and credibility is incalculable. Today the BJP and JD-U are attempting a patchwork unity. The danger of a split has arisen from some cheap shots and posturing by both parties during the recent BJP national executive meeting held in Patna. It would be a mistake to confuse dinner cancellations or tactless posters for causes rather than symptoms of the discord. The cause of the rift is a fundamental divergence of policy. Both parties should either reform their relationship or split.
Preventing Narendra Modi or Varun Gandhi from campaigning in Bihar would provide no solution. For the JD-U to pretend that the BJP can own a different policy in Bihar than in Gujarat or elsewhere in the county is hypocrisy too transparent for voters to swallow. And for the BJP to pretend that it is acceptable for its core beliefs to remain untouchable to their ally in Bihar is equally hypocritical. Either one or the other party must revise basic policy if it seeks a meaningful alliance to endure. Neither party gives indication of doing that. A split, therefore, would advance the long-term interests of both parties. Persistence with a transparently unprincipled alliance for short-term gains will serve neither party.
THE BJP's dilemma is perennial. It has a committed vote-bank that relies on the party's promotion of Hindutva. This vote-bank is limited. It cannot by itself help the party to achieve power. To advance in elections the BJP must ally with other parties. Other parties cannot endorse the BJP approach without harming their own vote-banks. The result is patchwork unity, unstable alliance and lack of cohesive approach. The JD-U dilemma arises from the need today for regional parties to give promise of a voice in the Centre to augment the support of their followers. Therefore, a tie-up with either the Congress or the BJP has become an imperative for regional parties.
Can the BJP change its approach? It seems unlikely. Recently the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, seemed to be making an attempt when he started espousing the cause of Hindustanis rather than Hindus as evidence of Hindutva. But Bhagwat and his protégé, Nitin Gadkari, appear to be fast losing grip on the affairs of the BJP. They could not muster sufficient political expertise to prevail over the savvier entrenched establishment of the party.
The BJP, therefore, seems condemned to swing opportunistically from Ayodhya to Jinnah as events dictate. This is fatally detrimental to its credibility. The party's strategy, therefore, falls back on the old expedience of stridently garnering committed votes before the polls and diluting policy with its partners after the polls. That was how the Akalis and the BJP functioned in the early years of their alliance. The only time when the party overcame its untouchability was in the 1977 elections after the Emergency. All the Opposition parties rose above narrow parochial interests to fight for a higher principle. They failed to stay together because they had not willed the change to happen. Indira Gandhi had gifted them an opportunity which they failed to exploit. Therefore as things stand, the BJP would lose more heavily if a split with Nitish Kumar occurs to further weaken an already depleted NDA.
The Muslim vote
Nitish Kumar's immediate prospects in the event of a split would depend on whether he can wean the Muslim vote away from Lalu Prasad's RJD to join up with the extreme backward Dalits he has been assiduously wooing. The prospect of this happening cannot be ruled out. The long-term prospects for Nitish Kumar going it alone might be even better. Both the NDA and the UPA alliances have never appeared more vulnerable. And the faint outline of a future new front minus both Congress and BJP is beginning to emerge.
Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik, Om Prakash Chautala, Prakash Singh Badal, Chandrababu Naidu, Jayalalithaa, Mulayam Singh Yadav and others are leaders divided only by state boundaries, not by policy. In the event that some, if not all, come together minus the Congress, BJP and the Left, it could impact even the state level leadership of NDA, UPA, the Congress and the BJP. Mamata Banerjee and Jaganmohan Reddy are weak links in the UPA. The recent spate of sulks, walkouts and re-entry by BJP leaders like Jaswant Singh, Uma Bharati, Madan Lal Khurana and Vasundhara Raje indicates that no political commitment is any more sacrosanct.
However, for a credible new front to emerge before the next general election there would have to be an election issue capable of creating a nationwide wave. There would also have to be an election campaign that could exploit that issue to create a wave. That calls for leaders with vision. There are none visible on the horizon. But sometimes when leaders fail a nation, events take the lead. Then events create the required change.
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist
SYRIA'S 30 YEARS OF FEAR
Not long before Hafez el-Assad died in 2000, Ahmed Hariri predicted what would happen when the official news announced the death of the president. Hariri, an old friend in the Syrian ministry of information, came from the city of Tadmor, east of Damascus. The city, known as Palmyra to Romans and tourists alike, was home to one of the regime's fearsome jails, which stood behind trees not far from the desert road to Baghdad. This was the site of a massacre of Islamist prisoners perhaps a thousand in all by Assad's brother Rifaat after an assassination attempt on Hafez. The corpses were rumoured to have been tossed by night into a secret mass grave near a local hill, and have lain unmarked ever since.
Hariri he died some years ago, which is why I can name him drew heavily on a cigarette in the back of my car as we sped towards Tadmor. "When our beloved president dies," he said, "all the people of Tadmor will go to the hill. They know where the dead are more than just those killed by Rifaat. And when they are sure that the president has gone, they will all throw roses on the gravesite in memory of those who lie beneath."
But when Assad died of a heart attack, and a smooth Baathist succession installed his son Bashar as the president, not a soul walked from Tadmor to the mass graves. There were no mourners, no roses, no recognition of the violence that had stained this terrible prison under Assad's 30-year rule.
The eventual relief of Syrians that the young English-trained optometrist Bashar a gentler figure than his ferocious father had taken over was so great that no one wished to recall the past. Why dig up a mass grave unless you intend to pour more blood into it?
The subsequent rule of Bashar has not produced the democratic "spring" in Syria which many Arab intellectuals had hoped for, a fact made all too clear in a report published in Washington this month by the Transitional Justice in the Arab World Project, supported by Freedom House. According to the report, Years of Fear, as many as 17,000 Syrians may have "disappeared" during Hafez el-Assad's rule; the 117-page document contains heart-breaking accounts of disappearances and extra-judicial executions, and descriptions of the apparently vain 30-year wait of sons, wives and parents for the return of men who were almost certainly killed in the early 1980s.
But all such reports should carry a red flag. Freedom House, which last year labelled Israel as the only "free" country in the Middle East (Lebanon got a "partly free" coding), receives around 66 per cent of its funding from the US government, including the State Department and USAID. Its roots go back to 1941 Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the first sponsors when Freedom House was pointing up the evils of Nazi Germany. In the past it has been accused of supporting only pro-Western opposition movements, but its Middle East targets have largely been Arab. Freedom House was also previously led by James Woolsey, a former director of the CIA.
Radwan Ziadeh, who compiled the report, is a long-time US resident exiled from Syria for many years. He runs the Damascus Centre for Human Rights Studies. This does not disqualify his report, but he warns readers in his preface that "for security reasons, we withheld the names of those interviewed and have changed some facts to disguise their identities. Similarly, we have scrambled (sic) the details of many human rights activists and former detainees whom we interviewed." This does not, to put it mildly, bestow total confidence on the report. The Syrian authorities will no doubt seize upon this to debunk its contents.
Years of Fear covers the three-decade rule of Hafez el-Assad, Syria's former air force commander whose long battle to maintain his Alawi rule and whose ferocious struggle against violent Islamist enemies clogged the fetid prisons of Syria with thousands of political prisoners. Using security forces who were often corrupt, he confronted an ever more violent sectarian guerrilla movement whose first major assault came on 16 June 1979 when an army captain, Ibrahim al-Yusuf, led the massacre of Alawi students at the Aleppo artillery school.
A subsequent assassination attempt on the president prompted Rifaat's Defence Brigades' assault at Tadmor in which up to a thousand Muslim Brotherhood prisoners were machine-gunned to death in their cells. By 1980, there was open war between the regime and its opponents. Law 49, of 7 July 1980, mandated capital punishment for those who did not renounce their Brotherhood membership in writing, and a Ghadaffi-style assassination campaign against overseas opponents was ordered.
The Hama uprising in February 1982, in which the old, rebel-held city was virtually destroyed by tank and shell-fire, caused up to 15,000 deaths, according to Ziadeh's report some put the figure at 20,000. What Ziadeh oddly fails to mention is the underground fighting in Hama in which girl suicide bombers hurled themselves against Syrian troops, and previous violence in the city in which Islamists slaughtered entire families of Baath party officials. There was nothing exclusive about Syria's mass-murderers.
Ziadeh believes that in the early Eighties and later, up to 25,000 men went missing, swallowed into interrogation centres and prisons. "Most such cases occurred before 2000," the report says. "Many detainees have been released during the past few years." A credit to Bashar al-Assad, no doubt.
But in the years before, there was no such compassion. The report quotes a former detainee at Tadmor. "They called on groups of brothers every Monday and Thursday, and executed them by hanging in the courts of Palmyra Prison..." It is a sign of the Middle East's endemic cruelty that Saddam Hussein's regime was infinitely worse than Assad's.
Ziadeh is at his strongest when he lists the vast legislative shield which is supposed to protect Syrian citizens from arbitrary arrest, torture or execution. Section 3 of Article 28 of Syria's constitution, for example, states that "no one may be tortured physically or mentally or be treated in a humiliating manner." A double irony one which, again, Ziadeh fails to mention is that the American government, which supports Freedom House, happily renditioned prisoners to Damascus in the sure knowledge that the Syrians would ignore their constitution and torture the suspects to their heart's content. Another Syrian law says that the state must "take the necessary legislative, administrative, and judicial measures to prevent and terminate acts of enforced disappearance."
The report suggests that these disappearances indirectly affect up to a million Syrians five per cent of the population. Amer, who was eight when his father was arrested, recalled: "I cannot speak with anyone about the issue of my father, because this induces fear and makes people suspicious... I have lived as a half orphan, although my father is not officially dead."
A human rights activist told Ziadeh that in some cases buildings were erected over secret cemeteries. In Aleppo, a large mosque has allegedly been built over a mass grave.
Must the sins of the father whatever those "sins" may be always be visited upon the sons? Perhaps a president also sometimes asks himself why his father's sins should be visited upon him. But it will surely be a long time before the people of Tadmor scatter roses on those graves.
THE WEAKER SEX?
Women are generally portrayed as being victims of all kinds of ill-treatment and exploitation by men. This is easy to believe because they are smaller in size than males. But size can be a deceptive measure by which to judge a woman's overall power.
Medical statistics show that most of the deaths of new-born babies are among males. So, by and large, females seem to have a stronger constitution at birth. Also, women in general have a longer life span than men, as they are less likely to succumb to fatal diseases like heart attacks, except at a ripe old age. Even so, during their prime years, men are known to be physically stronger than women. And unleashed physical strength can cause a lot of damage.
For many years, women have been depicted as the victimised species because of their dominance by males. "Wife battering" and similar terms have been widely used in cases relating to domestic violence. Women who have been subjected to this kind of treatment evoke much sympathy, and special courts are set up to deal with cases like theirs. Movies inspired by such real- life cases have also been made.
But another kind of picture is now emerging. Husbands are not always the offending parties. More and more cases are now coming to light where men are at the receiving end of the persecutory tactics used by their domineering wives. Misogynists might like to give credence to the saying that "marriage is a contract where a man loses his bachelor's degree and a woman gains her master's". Quite recently a case was reported in the newspapers of a man committing suicide because of the constant bickering in his marriage, caused by a nagging and tyrannical wife. When he could not stand the stress any longer, he decided to end it all. Harassed husbands feel it is high time to do something to alleviate the distress that they have been silently suffering at the hands of their marriage partners.
Organisations are now being formed to address such issues, in Jamshedpur (Jharkhand) a full-fledged organisation called Meri biwi se bachao (save me from my wife) has been formed. The organisation was founded in this steel city five years ago and also has branches in nearby areas. Here husbands come to air their marital grievances, and attempts are made to find solutions to their grievances.
It has been found that when a man is the main earning member of the family, the wife sometimes tries to get hold of the property that he has acquired through hard work. In the last few years, there have been quite a few cases of men opting for voluntary retirement under the voluntary retirement scheme. Some wives feel aggrieved that they have not had a say in the amount of their husbands' gratuity and provident fund, and they create no end of trouble for their partners in this context. The men prefer to keep quiet about such matters as they feel that their ego is threatened.
If the money from the VRS is put into a joint account, some wives feel free to draw out what they need for their personal use without informing their husbands. Women sometimes even use their children to emotionally blackmail their husbands so that they give in to their demands. In divorce cases, men are often at their ex-wives' mercy when it comes to parting with property or money in a divorce settlement. Some women have no compunction in bleeding their husbands white.
But female expertise is not confined to material gains. Even physically they can cause damage to their husbands where it really matters. Some years ago, a woman by the name of Lorena Bobbit made headlines when she castrated her husband with a sharp knife. She even had a couple of imitators who tried the same kind of amputation on their errant husbands, and the phrase, "So and so did a Bobbit on her husband," came into usage.
Since women have been clamouring for equality with men, cases of marital injustice should be treated on an equal par for both men and women. The fair sex cannot expect to get away lightly in cases where they are clearly the offending party.
DO THEY TEACH FROM THE HEART?
"Do ekam do-o-o-o" (Two ones are two) said Master Hukam Chand in a mixture of Hindi and Punjabi, making the second "do'' (two) last as long as possible. "Do ekam do-o-o-o" repeated the children in chorus. "Do duni cha-a-a-a-r" (Two twos are four) said Master Hukam Chand, again stretching the second "char'' (four) as much as he could. "Do duni cha-a-a-a-r" followed the children in unison. This was how Masterji or Massab, as Master Hukam Chand was popularly known, taught "pahadas'' (multiplication tables) to children in his school, the children's voice reverberating in streets outside the school. Louder you recite the pahadas, sooner you will learn them, Masterji used to say.
Short, chubby and with a slight limp in the right leg, Masterji was a household name in Agra as far as education for the poor was concerned. Born in a lower middle class family in Qila Gujjar Singh in Lahore, he shifted to Agra at the time of partition. Seeing the plight of refugee children in the camps, he persuaded the local authorities to let him run a school for children within the precincts of an old church near Pratap Pura crossing. The school had four rooms, a verandah and open space with plenty of trees, the shade of which came in handy for holding additional classes. The class rooms didn't have any furniture except a rickety table, chair and a worn-out blackboard for the teacher. The children always sat on a durree. Known for his benevolence, Masterji charged the children a fee that was close to nothing. Though kind at heart, he was a hard taskmaster and a strict disciplinarian. Anybody coming late to his class or without doing the work allotted to him, was made to cool his heels out in the sun before being permitted to enter the class. And for the chronic delinquents, there was his trademark "danda'' or baton which he always carried with him, using it whenever the situation demanded. The fear of Masterji among children was so rampant that parents often used to tell their children that if they did not behave themselves, they would be packed off for a stint at Masterji's school.
Masterji had all that was required of a teacher simplicity, dedication and a missionary attitude. He laid stress on three things: the importance of speaking the truth, the need for having a good handwriting and the criticality of knowing tables till 16 by heart. It wouldn't surprise anyone if a class four child in his school would tell you that 16 x 16 made 256 with as much ease as 6 x 6 made 36. It was common for the rich to send their wayward wards to Masterji's school if found wanting in any of the things Masterji stood for. In his school, use of copies or any kind of paper was discouraged. Writing, be it Hindi or English, was done with a thin bamboo "kalam'' dipped in ink between lines drawn on a wooden rectangular board called "phatti''. And sums were done on a small slate with hardened chalk called "saleti''. Once the phatti or slate was full, it was wiped clean with a moistened cloth to make it fit for more writing.
Masterji's mastery over arithmetic was known all over the city. With clear concepts and easy communication skills, he made arithmetic look like child's play. And with examples of squares, rectangles and triangles drawn from everyday life, he made geometry seem like a cake walk. His favourite saying "Agar woh aise pooche, tum aise kar dena" (if the examiner asks like this, you do like this) was repeated by everyone after school hours. With extreme dedication to his profession and towards his students, Masterji ensured his students were a cut above the rest, giving more established schools a run for their money. Individual tuitions were unheard of in the 50's and 60's. If a student had a problem, he was welcome to consult Masterji at home in the evening at no cost to him. However, unlike today's teachers, Masterji encouraged his students to study in groups and come to him only if necessary.
Today Masterji is nearing 90. His health is failing. Much as he would like to, it is difficult for him to carry on working the way he used to. He would like someone to take his mission forward. Unfortunately, there is no one willing to do so. Teachers like Masterji are few and far between. Teachers are not benevolent anymore. They don't tell you the secret of solving tricky problems in school. They do so during the evening tuitions at home. They spend their time building their own brand image rather than the image of the school they draw their salary from. Rightly or wrongly, the teaching profession, which was once in the dumps as far as money is concerned, is on the upswing with teachers making as much or more money than doctors or engineers, the tuition fee from students far outstripping the salaries they get from school. I am told that teaching today is a Rs 1,000 crore industry, thanks to the coaching institutes that have sprung up all over the country. I also believe that the economy of certain cities in India depends on coaching institutes located there. Will the days of dedicated teachers be back? Will we ever get teachers who teach from the heart rather than with an eye on your pocket? Will teachers tell you the secret of solving a problem in school? Will the days of self-study in peer groups return? I am not sure, but it's time someone did something to improve the quality of teaching in schools and put an end to the coaching hysteria that has come to grip our country. I hope Mr. Sibal is listening.
The writer is a freelance contributor
Timing is of essence in politics. The best time to announce hard policy decisions is when the government is enjoying some goodwill. This is what Britain's chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne the youngest person to hold this high office in over a hundred years proceeded to do in his first budget, which lays down the economic policy framework of the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government. No one will deny that Mr Osborne was faced with an unenviable task. He had to ensure that Britain did not continue to spend at a level it can hardly afford. This meant an austerity drive, cuts in government spending, as well as a hike in taxes. The figures speak for themselves: the fiscal belt will be tightened by £113 billion in five years; taxes will rise by £29 billion; spending cuts will bring in £83 billion. The aim is to bring down the structural deficit from 10 per cent of the gross domestic product "to be in balance'' over the next five years, by 2014-15. The last time such an ambitious project was undertaken in the British economy was in the late 1990s when the deficit reduction was 6.6 per cent over seven years. The pain of that process will be aggravated many times over by the current tightening of the fiscal position, which aims at a higher reduction in five years. One important fallout of this will be a restriction on economic activity and a decline in GDP growth.
Details of cuts in spending are yet to be announced. They will be known only in the autumn. On the tax side there are very few surprises: an increase in value-added tax from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent starting from January 2011, increased capital gains tax and a new banking tax. It is worth noting that both parties that now form the government had assured voters during the election campaign that VAT would not be increased. The budget raises the spectre of unemployment in the public sector; and this loss will not be offset by any gain in the private sector. The fear is that the poor would be the worst hit by the cuts and middle classes will complain about higher taxes. Most people will look back in anger at Mr Osborne. But to be fair to him, his options were severely limited. Very hard decisions had to be taken and he chose, with good political reason, to strike with the hammer while the iron of the coalition government was hot after an election victory.
The sudden resignation of the lokayukta of Karnataka, N. Santosh Hegde, reaffirms what repeated international surveys, murders in cold blood and suicides in desperation have proved corruption in India has become endemic. That in itself may not be news, particularly to Mr Hegde who has so long been almost a one-man army against corrupt public servants in his state and has believed that corruption may not be eradicated but be controlled. The fact that Mr Hegde has decided to hang up his boots perhaps suggests a defeat of that belief too. As reason for his resignation, the Karnataka lokayukta has pointed to the consistent non-cooperation of the government and even hinted at its negative role in protecting and furthering the interests of the corrupt. His dependence on the executive for the performance of his duties is a condition made unavoidable by the legislation governing his post. It restricts the role of the lokayukta in the states (and of the lok pal at the Centre) to the conducting of inquiries and making of recommendations to the respective governments for action. In other words, without the munificence of the executive, the lokayukta is a toothless tiger. And that is what the intricate network of the corrupt in Karnataka linked through extensive ties of patronage, loyalty and kinship that control the institutions through which governance is dispensed and political power exercised has made sure Mr Hegde turned out to be.
One would have thought that the lawmakers of today would be able to see this reality more clearly than those of the 1960s, when the administrative reforms commission pushed for the creation of the role of the ombudsmen. Unfortunately, vested interests have made this impossible. This is perhaps why Parliament is yet to pass the lok pal bill more than 40 years after it was formulated. There is no doubt that laws alone cannot be the cure for all maladies. India already has a Prevention of Corruption Act and is even thinking of a public interest disclosure and protection of informers bill. What is required is political will and, perhaps more importantly, the empowerment of the public to secure that. An amended Right to Information Act may go a long way in making this happen. So may empowered lokayuktas in states who enable the people to keep a tab on the public representatives they choose to serve them.
LIKE ITS FOOTBALL TEAM, MUCH OF ENGLAND IS UNDERPERFORMING
Every beleaguered country could do with a little respite. On Wednesday afternoon, at 3.25 pm to be precise, England breathed a collective sigh of relief as Jermain Defoe smashed the ball into the Slovenia goal and ensured a place for the Three Lions in the last 16 of the World Cup. The alternative, which most England fans were mentally prepared for, was a disgraceful return of the team to Heathrow perhaps, like the mutinous French side, flying economy class.
The relief may yet turn out to be woefully short-lived. The tragedy of English footballers, who play in the extremely competitive English Premier League, underperforming in their first two matches in South Africa, has become the subject of some wonderful black humour. My personal favourite: "What's the difference between the England team and a tea bag? The tea bag stays in the cup longer."
Confronting adversity with a sense of humour is, of course, laudable. To those familiar with history, it may even remind us of the grin-and-bear-it attitude of the country's "finest hour". But there's a crucial difference. In 1940, a lone Britain was well and truly punching above its weight. Today, the sense of underperformance is so all-pervasive that it is seen as the natural state of being.
It is sometimes difficult for a Briton to appreciate what seems so plainly apparent to a visiting foreigner. Last Sunday, I was on a driving holiday along the Pembrokeshire coast in Wales, spending a couple of nights in a remote Bed and Breakfast off the small seaside town of Fishguard. The town was the site of the last invasion of Britain by a rag-tag French force in 1797. The invasion failed miserably and the surrender was negotiated within a day at the Royal Oak pub opposite the Town Hall.
Pembrokeshire, as the entrepreneurial couple who run the Cefn-y-Dre (which means Back of Town) hostelry in a house that once belonged to the Lloyd George family informed me, has two major sources of livelihood: farming and tourism. Farming isn't in the pink of health, thanks to cumbersome European Union regulations, but the area is absolutely cut out for tourism. It draws visitors from the 'ethical' British (those who hate adding to carbon emission by taking cheap flights to Europe) and expatriate Welsh from the US and Australia. Yet, on one of the most tourist-friendly days of June, the shopkeepers of Fishguard had downed their shutters rather than take advantage of the market opportunity.
This example of underperformance, I must say, is not universal. The market town of Ludlow in Shropshire, a gateway to Wales, has successfully reinvented itself as a haven for foodies. It has more Michelin star restaurants in a five-mile radius than any other place in Britain, apart from Central London. Likewise, the idyllic village of Hay-on-Wye, on the Welsh border, has emerged as a centre of the second-hand book trade, boasting as many as 25 bookshops in a square mile.
The emergence of Hay-on-Wye as a pilgrimage centre for bibliophiles was, however, an incidental consequence of the prohibitive costs of enterprise in Britain's bigger cities. Even a decade or so ago, cities such as London and Oxford boasted umpteen second-hand and antiquarian bookshops. High rents and high municipal taxes have made small single-unit shops catering to the select few unviable. The charity-owned shops that have emerged in all the high streets have compounded the problem because they too sell used books donated by philanthropists with a space crunch.
The dislocation of Britain and the growing difficulties encountered by entrepreneurs are very apparent to the outsider. To them, Britain appears grossly overpriced and overtaxed some recent advantages are due to the falling exchange rate of sterling. Unfortunately, the inability of the country to exploit its potential fully doesn't appear to have been fully grasped by the natives themselves. There is still a smug belief that the country is plodding along in the right direction and that some economists and an ideologically-driven Conservative Party are exaggerating the dangers to the economy. The idea that macroeconomic mismanagement could propel Britain in the same direction as Greece hasn't sunk into the public consciousness.
This is why the wave of panic that preceded the "emergency budget" of the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, last Tuesday had a salutary purpose. The budget, which some people have described as a landmark event, was aimed at rolling back a fiscal deficit that had touched nearly 11 per cent of the gross domestic product. Part of the problem was, no doubt, caused by the expansionary stimulus package that the former Labour government felt was the Keynesian alternative to global recessionary currents. But at the core of the problem was the reckless expansion of state expenditure they use the term "public services" in Britain which had touched nearly 48 per cent of the GDP. To fund this statism, Britain had borrowed wildly, taxed unreasonably and now found itself in a spiral of indebtedness.
The problem that most complacent Britons failed to appreciate was that the country was living well beyond its means, on borrowed capital. The entitlement culture that Margaret Thatcher had done her best to demolish in the 1980s now referred to, for inexplicable reasons, as the "ugly '80s" returned with a vengeance with New Labour. What this meant was that Britain's slow return to competitiveness was simultaneously eroded by a welfare cushioning that crossed the bounds of normal compassion.
Predictably, this tangled web of welfare and public services led to macroeconomic distortions. More
insidiously, it undermined the work ethic and led to over-dependence on migrant labour, mainly from the East European countries of the EU, for unskilled jobs. In a situation where the state guaranteed a basic standard of living for everyone, it made little sense for many people to enter the labour market. This week, for example, it was revealed that an Afghan woman with seven children received the equivalent of £150,000 as housing benefits, without having to do a thing.
Osborne's budget has raised personal taxes and the value-added tax. But tax rises have been complemented by the assurance that government spending will be reduced by at least 25 per cent. These are savage cuts which may even lead to a wave of public sector strikes against job losses. There may also be a voter backlash against the loss of unaffordable entitlements.
If the David Cameron government can withstand this political onslaught, it may be able to steer Britain in a new direction. The budget scare has at least jolted Britons into realizing that their complacency is unwarranted. A greater appreciation of market realities may yet compel the shopkeepers of Fishguard to keep their shops open on the Sundays of the tourist season. An overweight Britain needs to shed a lot of fat.
BUCK THE TREND
BONA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH
I am beginning to sound like a record stuck in a deep groove when I rave and rant about the unforgivable state of our heritage and many legacies. However, it is a crying shame that as an emerging economic power if that is to be believed we continue to run our institutions into the ground, leaving them at the mercy of bureaucrats who have neither the sense of nor concern about conservation, preservation and dissemination. To watch a perfectly intelligent leadership preside over this daily destruction is unacceptable. Nowhere in the world is 'legacy' mutilated and dishonoured as it is in India.
Our fake nationalism compels us to scream loudly when Indian artefacts are auctioned elsewhere in the world, and the authorities concerned demand that they be returned to the home country. I always wonder about the reasons behind this demand since everything we have from art in our museums to standing structures as well as our natural environment have been successfully defaced, encroached upon, and destroyed by us. Why have we not been able to conserve the Taj Mahal and its environs according to international standards? One great national monument, superbly conserved and protected, is the Mehrangarh Fort, run by a trust that is chaired by the former maharaja of Jodhpur.
Whichever way you look, there is degradation and decay. The babu feels hugely threatened by any voluntary intervention from experts and professionals from the civil society who want to participate in the larger management in order to contribute to a national cause. Stumbling blocks, delays and non-cooperation are the tools the babus employ to prevent and change what may improve India. Political leaders watch silently, thereby endorsing the degradation. The status quo continues unabated. This terrible truth has taken the spirit out of India. It has made us a dead, dull nation state where 'pride' has no place.
Why are we not ashamed about the state of the repository of our heritage? What will it require to overhaul and brighten the museums and archives of India? Why are these domains neglected? Why are these government-run places invariably akin to a snakepit with everyone working against the other, trying to curry favour or attempting to stall development? There is no reason for this abject failure. Someone up there needs to give us an explanation for this carelessness in managing national public institutions that live on public money.
It is most embarrassing to watch visitors enter the National Museum. Their expression is one of utter disbelief that India could have such an uninviting, unkempt and tardy national institution. There are strange shades of paint on the walls of the galleries, dirty pedestals on which sit elaborately carved gods and goddesses, plywood cut-outs of arches pretending to be Mughal, fused bulbs in the painting gallery, unwashed curtains, faulty, ugly signage and more. There is no excuse whatsoever for this state of affairs. India has changed. India has a new vibrancy and energy. Even small towns in India are changing rapidly. Shop fronts have become conscious of 'design'. The contrast between entrepreneurship and the attempt to reach a higher scale in the ladder of excellence that is evident in the marketplace, and the complete lack of standards in government-run operations is stark and dramatic. They are like chalk and cheese, oil and water.
The world has moved on, India is moving too, but the government of India and its bureaucracy are being left behind. An ingenious people are being insulted by this complete lack of commitment. We have shown ourselves up in 2010 as an anarchic and disconnected emerging 'power'. Who will buck the trend?
'THE J&K GOVT HAS CALLED UPON PUNDITS TO RETURN.'
The congregation of over 50,000 migrant Kashmiri pandits at the annual Kheer Bhavani festival near Srinagar may be a sign of hope among the community about returning after years of exile. The festival, held in the Kashmiri pandits' most important shrine, had not seen such high attendance of pilgrims after their exodus started in the 90s, triggered by increasing militant violence. The religious gathering at the temple became an occasion for social bonding as Muslims welcomed their friends back and the pandits rejoiced in their brief homecoming. Kashmir has always been known for its composite culture, Kashmiriat, in which the Muslims and the pandits co-existed for centuries without friction. Though the overwhelming majority of the people are Muslims, the pandits enjoyed full freedom and even privileges.
When militancy gained strength about 2,50,000 pandits left the Valley for safer places and most them have been settled in camps in Jammu. Only a few thousands are left in Kashmir now. Like all exiles they want to return to their homeland and the ordinary Kashmiri Muslim would also like to have them back as friends and neighbours. Even separatist leaders have said they would welcome the pandits home. But the violence and the continuing sense of insecurity made return difficult. But the Kheer Bhavani festival crowd may be a sign of the easing of the situation. Incidents of militant violence have been fewer this year than in previous years. There is better hope for peace after the resumption of talks between India and Pakistan. A pandit said that he could feel peace in the air and that the time may now have come to return home.
The Jammu and Kashmir government has called upon the pandits to return. Chief minister Omar Abdullah was at the temple to welcome them to the festival and to invite them again. The government has a scheme to resettle returning migrants with a cash assistance of Rs 7.5 lakh from the Centre and other facilities from the state. According to reports over 4,000 pandits have sent their applications. But it may be too early to say that the pandits would return and the applications mark a definite trend. Some migrant organisations, obviously for political reasons, debunk all talk of return. But the optimism, however feeble, needs to be encouraged and supported. The excitement the pandits felt under the giant chinar trees in splendid bloom should be made real and lasting.
'THE DECISION THROUGH AN ORDINANCE WAS SURPRISING.'
The forced resolution of the dispute between the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) over ULIPs (unit-linked insurance plans) has raised some questions. While an end to the public spat between two regulatory bodies is welcome, the first question is why this could not have been done two months ago when the controversy erupted. About Rs 2 lakh crore of investors' wealth is involved in ULIPs and the uncertainty created in the market and the tension and confusion among investors could well have been avoided. It is the government which has settled the dispute through an executive fiat. The same government had told both SEBI and IRDA to go to court for a settlement. The matter is pending in the supreme court. A judicial decision would have taken a long of time but why did the government suggest it then?
The government's decision coming through an ordinance was surprising. Ordinances are meant for an emergency and and it gave an impression that the issue could not wait for the next parliament session. The matter which touched upon regulatory policy and involved large public funds deserved to be debated in parliament. The culture of ordinances is anathema to democracy. More importantly, the government did not consult SEBI before its decision while it held talks with the IRDA on the matter. Why was SEBI not involved in the matter when it was a party to the dispute? It was not only unfair but amounted to lack of respect for a regulatory authority.
While these pertain to the procedure of the government decision, it is doubtful whether it is correct in substance also. ULIPs has very little insurance element in them and are primarily instruments of investment. So SEBI perhaps has a better claim of jurisdiction over them. But now that the dispute has been rightly or wrongly settled in favour of IRDA, there is the need to make the ULIPs more investor-friendly. They have been criticised for lack of transparency, inadequate risk cover and a commission-oriented marketing system. The government has advised IRDA to frame fresh guidelines and norms for ULIPs, in order to remove the structural and other deficiencies in the product. This should be done at the earliest.
BY ALOK RAY
Clearly, India will not face a labour shortage for at least the next two decades while China is already facing a labour constraint.
In the early 1990s there was an international trade policy conference held in Delhi. Participants came from many countries, including a large contingent from China, led by their trade minister. I asked the Chinese trade minister what interests them in India. He replied: "We have come to India to see what China would become after 10-15 years."
Asked to elaborate, he explained that they wanted to see what kind of 'chaos' China would face in future. The single-party state had a total control over labour and trade unions. But eventually things would change and they would have to go for labour legislation. The one model that they would like to consider would be the Indian model, given that it is also a very large populous Asian country with similar problems.
There are some indications that some kind of 'chaos' has finally arrived on the Chinese economic landscape. For instance, after a strike in China's Honda Motors an unprecedented incident in a big foreign firm in China the company has been forced to offer a 24 per cent pay hike for its workers.
There has also been a furore over the reported suicide of at least 10 workers so far this year in Foxconn Technology Group. This is a Taiwanese company in China which is the world's largest contract manufacturer of electronics components supplying to global giants like Apple and Hewlett-Packard. It is alleged by social activists in China that these suicides were primarily due to very stressful working conditions including long hours of compulsory overtime and low wages. After this bad publicity, Foxconn has granted a 30 per cent increase in wages.
Such labour conditions prevail in many factories in China owned by MNCs which contribute significantly to China's miraculous export-driven growth story. Increasingly, the labour practices of such companies are coming under the scanner in China. The advantage that these companies (both domestic and foreign) in China had so far derived from the availability of a huge army of a surplus, disciplined labour at low wages seems to be coming to an end.
The effects of the one-child policy of the Chinese government pursued ruthlessly over a prolonged period, together with double-digit growth over nearly three decades and a greater influence of social activists, the western media and internet over public opinion are finally showing in the form of labour shortage, labour trouble, demand for better wages-cum-working conditions and more independent trade unions. Factories are going for relocation to other regions with lower wages like Vietnam, Indonesia and Central Asia.
Does India stand to gain from these developments? UN estimates indicate that between 2010 and 2020, India will add about 120 million to the working age population as against China's addition of only 19 million. The difference is even more dramatic if we consider 2020-2030 period. Whereas India will add about 100 million to the working age group, China's working age population will decline by about 62 million people.
Safe for two more decades
Clearly, India will not face a labour shortage for at least the next two decades while China is already facing a labour constraint which will only become more acute over time. This implies that India has the potential to partially replace China as the 'factory of the world' over the coming decades.
The problem is that the potential to be realised requires several other things. First, these additions to the labour force need to be endowed with the required education and skills. Raw labour has no use in modern factories. Without a vast improvement in the functioning of the education system, India too, will face the problem of rapidly rising wages for skilled workers, despite the huge addition to working age population.
Second, in the absence of a social safety net which provides adequate benefits to the people losing jobs in the declining industries while new jobs may be created elsewhere, it would be politically difficulty to sustain manufacture-led growth in a parliamentary democracy like India.
The only social security that exists here is what is provided by the employer. Naturally, any job loss would be fought tooth and nail by strong trade unions which are extensions of major political parties. Consequently, we urgently need to have a social security system (which will take care of the people losing jobs) financed by contributions from the employer, the employee and the government. A part of the bonanza to be obtained by the government through 3G auctions and PSU sales may be earmarked to finance such a social safety net.
Pessimists would, however, point to the much bigger chaos that is Indian democracy. For example, some coalition partners at the Centre are holding up for years an eminently sensible land acquisition bill. The proposed legislation provides that if 75 per cent of landowners agree to voluntarily sell land for a project, the state will have the right to acquire the remaining land.
This would avoid the allegation of forced land acquisition as well as the 'hold-up' problem posed by a few strategically located landowners. In addition, the sellers of land can be made stakeholders in development by giving them (or their communities) a substantial share of the future profits of the projects coming up on their lands. Removing hurdles on land acquisition is a must for development of industries. But the politics of obstructionist populism is standing in the way.
(The writer is a former professor of economics at IIM, Calcutta)
PM'S ATTEMPT TO RE-ENGAGE CANADA
BY RUP NARAYAN DAS
Canadian PM Jean Chretien's visit in 2003 was a landmark event in bilateral relationship.
The forthcoming visit of prime minister Manmohan Singh to Canada on June 26 and 27 to participate in the G-20 summit and to hold bilateral discussions with his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper signifies India's re-engagement with Canada. The most significant aspect of the visit as far as bilateral relationship is concerned will be signing of the nuclear deal with Canada. Besides, there is a possibility that the two prime ministers may sign more agreements. Canada is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
Although both Canada and India are two of the world's largest and oldest democracies that share values of federalism and multiculturalism, the relationship between the two countries in the past has suffered benign neglect and its potential has not been fully realised.
There is great scope and prospect for the bilateral relationship between Ottawa and New Delhi at a time when India has entered into strategic partnership with USA, a close ally of Canada.
Notwithstanding their physical distance, the two countries which have federal systems and coalition politics, historically had a convergence of approach and outlook to many international issues. It is worth recalling that in the first decades after Independence in 1947, under the leadership of prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Lester Pearson of Canada, the two countries had a 'special relationship.'
Much in common
Although Canada is a liberal democracy and India opted for a socialistic pattern of society in the nascent years of Independence, the liberalism of the two countries, have much in common. Canada was not averse to Nehru's socialism. In fact there was a perceptible resonance between India's formulation of non-alignment and Canada's commitment to neutrality in international relations inspite of its membership to NATO.
According to Arthur Rubinoff, an authority on Indo-Canadian relations, University of Toronto, in the early years after Indian independence, there was a fundamental convergence in the approach to world affairs between New Delhi and Ottawa on such issues as Commonwealth, the UN and the situation in Asia. The Commonwealth provided and continues to provide an ideal forum to Canada and India to work in creating, what Rubinoff calls, an international grouping that served as a bridge between the established western democracies and the new multiracial successor states of the British empire.
In the 1950s, Canada was an important development partner for India even in sensitive areas like nuclear energy. The Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS) I & II depended to a large extent on supply of uranium from Canada. However, estrangement in the bilateral relationship developed later, first after India's peaceful nuclear explosion of 1974, and then again after the Indian nuclear tests of May 1998 which impelled Ottawa to suspend the supply of uranium to RAPS.
The visit of Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien, to India in October 2003 was a landmark event in the bilateral relationship. In their joint statement they announced an India-Canada partnership for the 21st century at the government, business and civil society levels, spelling out the road-map for future relations.
The rediscovery of India by Canada was the result of the economic reform and liberation process initiated by India in July 1991, the end of the cold war, the realisation dawning on Canada that it should expand its economic engagement in markets other than USA.
As a consequence, Canadian companies are now enjoying increasing success in India in traditional areas of their expertise such as power, communications and transportation and new areas like environmental technology and agro-processing items. With the signing of the nuclear deal, it is possible to explore further nuclear cooperation between the two countries.
India's inclusive global engagement provides enough space for an engagement with Canada. The two countries being leading members of the Commonwealth and of the Colombo Plan, they can utilise these fora to forge a bonding with the Afro-Asian countries. Leaders of the two countries should also utilise the Commonwealth platform for exchange of views on regional and international issues. Besides, the political spectrum, in today's Canada, a number of Indians have distinguished themselves in fields as diverse as academics and agriculture. There are quite a few Indians who have occupied high positions both in the government and the academia, whose services need to leveraged for better bonding between the two countries.
(The writer is senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi)
RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE
BY J S RAGHAVAN
It was odd to see him on a hospital bed in a faded skimpy gown.
From the hospital bed Badri smiled sunnily at me, a feat not many people can work up after a beating-heart five block bypass surgery. It was odd to see him on a hospital bed in faded skimpy gown lacking sartorial grace. A snazzy dresser he was always well turned-out in terry wool pants with sharp crease, freshly laundered formal full shirts with shiny cuff links or in dark track suits, bright coloured T shirts, white socks and upscale walking gear during his pre-dawn constitutionals.
Before I could comment on the sudden turn around from the picture of health to the supine position of a post-op patient, a nurse came in with a gleaming tray. She checked his pressure. "120/80?" he asked. She nodded. Held his wrist for pulse rate. "78?" he asked. She smiled. And pricked his finger to check blood sugar. "145?" he asked. The trim nurse patted him for guessing right. And left.
"Can't imagine you had coronary blocks," I said. "Walking everyday for an hour. Monitoring BP, sugar, lipid profile every third month. Avoiding forbidden deep fried eats. And this happens to you. You don't deserve it."
He smiled wryly. "It is irony. Going back in time machine to school days, I can recall one incident. Our maths teacher having taken off for a pinch of snuff, the whole class made a racket less than what our hon'ble members do in parliament. The headmaster who dropped in drawn by the noise chose me sitting quietly and slapped as my right cheek was the nearest and convenient target. Inexplicable. The whole class sat transfixed.
Badri sighed. "There is a parallel now. Among our close circle, I am the only guy who goes for regular check-ups while many sneeringly give the labs a wide berth, ridiculing the fixation for such monitoring. But god, with his inscrutable ways had slapped me, like our headmaster did. But, mark my words, Raghavan, I don't treat it as an unjust punishment but a proxy warning to others that if this can happen to the most careful, heavens forbid, more terrible things may be in store for the careless. I take this as the flip side of the noisy slap." Badri was lying down. Yet he seemed to stand towering over with no mental blocks.
REINING IN BARKAT
JERUSALEM MAYOR NIR BARKAT IS ONCE AGAIN PROVING THAT HE REMAINS FAITHFUL TO THE VIEWS OF THE EXTREME RIGHT ON ALL ISSUES RELATED TO THE CAPITAL.
At the same time that the government is easing the blockade on Gaza to mitigate international criticism toward Israel, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has pushed the country back into the eye of the storm. While U.S. President Barack Obama tries to salvage the Middle East peace process, the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee this week approved Barkat's initiative to create a recreational park in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.
The plan calls for razing 22 of the 88 homes built without permits in the neighborhood known as Al-Bustan
(Gan Hamelech ), with its residents transferred to a nearby area. Jerusalem city hall refuses to hold talks with the neighborhood's Palestinian residents over alternative plans they have proposed, and even ousted the Meretz faction from the city's coalition along with its head, former deputy mayor Yosef Alalu.
This is not the first time Barkat has proven to his electorate - many of them from the political center or left - that he in fact remains faithful to the views of the extreme right on all things related to the capital. Under the pretext of "developing East Jerusalem," Barkat is promoting a plan to bolster Jewish presence in Arab neighborhoods. Under the pretext of "law and order," he is pushing out Palestinians from areas Israel annexed unilaterally in June 1967.
Barkat is conducting himself like a bull in the china shop of his putatively undivided city, defiantly ignoring Israel's pledge to include East Jerusalem in negotiations on a final-status agreement. This demonstrates a pointed lack of interest in the international ramifications (particularly in the Arab world ) of violating the status quo in neighborhoods east of the Green Line, where fully a third of the city's residents live.
In March 2009, after Barkat dismissed U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's censure of home demolitions in Silwan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised Washington he would move to freeze demolitions. Four months ago, Netanyahu instructed Barkat to defer the demolition of homes in Silwan and the creation of a tourist park there. Shortly after, Netanyahu also asked Interior Minister Eli Yishai not to push forward measures to build 1,600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo, which had been authorized by the Jerusalem district committee of the Interior Ministry. In each of these instances, the prime minister exerted his influence and authority over both the municipal and national governments, but only after Israel suffered international condemnation and an upbraiding from the White House.
Protecting Jerusalem's fragile coexistence is a foremost Israeli interest, and responsibility for maintaining it lies with the prime minister. Netanyahu must put Barkat in his place now, instead of waiting for the next phone call from Washington or another disparaging statement from the United Nations. Jerusalem is too volatile for Netanyahu to leave it in the hands of reckless politicians.
THE PUBLIC IS DUMB AND THEREFORE THE PUBLIC PAYS
HAVING LOST HOPE DUE TO PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU'S DECEIT AND TRICKERY, PERHAPS THE ISRAELI PUBLIC WILL FINALLY START TO ASK: WHERE TO? AND WHY?
At least one Israeli - other than Shalom Hanoch whose signature is affixed to the title of this article (taken from his song "Waiting for the Messiah" ) - has reached the conclusion that Israeli public opinion is dumb. That person is the prime minister, and he is correct.
If Benjamin Netanyahu believes he can tell Israelis for years that the blockade of the Gaza Strip is a security need, an Israeli interest, and then on one ordinary day he can simply claim the exact, but the exact, opposite - that lifting the blockade is in Israel's interest, a means of weakening Hamas and a recipe for securing the release of Gilad Shalit - then he clearly thinks the public is dumb. (Even if his bureau now contends he had spoken out against the blockade, he of course never did a thing to lift it. )
If the Israeli public accepts all of Netanyahu's initial claims with alarming apathy and blind obedience and then hastens to automatically adopt the exact opposite, then the prime minister is correct in his conclusion. And if the public is not even insulted by its prime minister's humiliating, disparaging and arrogant treatment of it, then indeed this is "an accident for the country" as the unfortunate policeman says to Artzieli the son, in the abovementioned song.
Take a look at what one rickety Turkish ship can do. A partial suspension of the blockade on Gaza - partial, because the gates remain closed to exports and one and a half million people continue to be imprisoned - in one fell swoop revealed to us a series of depressing conclusions about ourselves. The most depressing of all is that there is no public opinion and there is no government in Israel; it is a state in receivership whose political decisions are taken from the outside.
Starting with the speech at Bar-Ilan University, and continuing on to the freezing of construction in the territories, the establishment of a committee of inquiry into the flotilla incident (and even its composition ), up to the easing of the blockade - all of these are imported decisions, made in America. They are not blue and white. Even the fate of King's Garden (Al-Bustan ) in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem will be decided in the U.S. State Department.
Therefore those who complain about people who turn to parties abroad and try to shake Israel up via international elements, who are labeled as "traitors," would do well to remember that there is no where else to turn - Israel proves by its very own deeds that its fate will be decided from outside its borders.
Israel has also proven once again this week that "only by force" is its only language. The blockade should have been lifted a long time ago and its lifting could have been presented as a daring Israeli initiative, as a humanitarian response to the needs of Gazans, as a positive declaration of intentions. In this way, it would also have been possible to gain some credit among world and Palestinian public opinion.
But no, we will not ease the blockade unless they force us to do so. And when the United States forced our hand, once again our decision could be seen as nothing else but an embarrassing Israeli capitulation. So here we transmit the same message yet again, both to our friends and to our enemies: Only by force. Send yet another semi-violent flotilla, and the alleviation of the sanctions will be extended even further. As chilling as it may sound, even just a few Qassam rockets could help us remember Gaza's existence.
Above all: The day the president of the United States decides to put an end to the Israeli occupation, the occupation will cease.
The public also accepts without question that it has a prime minister who never ever tells it the truth. We've never had a prime minister like Netanyahu, who never reveals what he's thinking.
How does he really feel about the blockade? What he told us yesterday? What he is saying today? That is was not actually essential? That it was helpful? That it was harmful? Nor is anyone demanding of him that he express anything other than the spin intended to placate Washington.
The public is dumb, forgive me for the expression, because it accepts everything. Blockade? Let there be a blockade. No blockade? So there won't be one. Until yesterday, we were told there was no blockade, today they tell the public that the blockade has been lifted - anything goes. Anything goes in a society that has sunk to the depths of apathy, as if it were in a coma.
Could it be worse? Certainly. There is still a generation here that remembers other periods in which there was leadership and an opposition and clear alternatives; not like today. There were days when ideological arguments took place, not like today; days when civilian protests were staged, not like today. The next generation will not know any of that. For a generation fed by newspapers on trains and stupefying television, demanding that the leaders lead and the politicians speak the truth will soon sound like something out of musty history books.
But perhaps there is nothing bad without good. Particularly as the trucks filled with Israeli goods pass through the crossing points, perhaps the blockade of our thoughts - which we brought upon ourselves - will also open up. Having lost hope thanks to Netanyahu's deceit and trickery, perhaps we will finally start to ask: Where to? And why?
YES, KAHANE LIVES
KAHANISM IS FLOURISHING IN ISRAEL'S UNIVERSITIES.
BY YITZHAK LAOR
On July 29, 1986, extreme right-wing MK Meir Kahane submitted another no-confidence proposal: "The government's refusal to discuss the disintegration of Zionist ideology, which endangers the existence of the Jewish state." According to Kahane: "Since the beginning of political Zionism, the movement's thinkers have ignored and avoided the terrible and frightening truth of the basic contradiction between Zionism and enlightened Western democracy, to which all the Zionist leaders were indentured servants. Herzl, Nordau, Sokolow, Weizmann, Ben-Gurion - all of them, right and left, with their heads in the sand, one big ostrich. Not one of the progressives, the liberals, the enlightened waved a banner or blew a large shofar to warn of the terrible danger of the contradiction between the Zionist concept of a Jewish state and the democratic foundation of majority rule."
He added: "How long will you skip between the two opinions? If [you want] Zionism and a Jewish state, say so and put an end to the insanity of political democracy for the Arabs, which will lead us to a war between the nations and suicide. And if democracy is God - follow it, but stop chattering about Zionism and a Jewish state."
That was Kahane's hobbyhorse. The contradiction. How did the Knesset deal with it? With a boycott. Every time he spoke the MKs left the hall, with the exception of a few nationalist Haredim. Shevach Weiss of the Labor Party responded to the proposal as follows: "We suggest that the no-confidence proposal be removed from the agenda." That's all. The parliamentary correspondents also took part in the impotent boycott. It was convenient to be disgusted by Kahane. He screamed, threatened, waved his fist, spoke in a foreign accent, but politically there was no difference between him and general and cabinet member Rechavam Ze'evi, though the latter had bridges and streets named after him because he was "one of ours" and Palestinians killed him.
It would be demagogic to take the speeches of Kahane - whose party was outlawed after two years due to its racism - to count the Kahanist MKs today and use their increasing numbers to explain the state's attitude toward the Arab minority; for example, the attack on Arab MK Hanin Zuabi. The issue is almost the opposite. The racists' broad representation in the Knesset is nothing more than a long-standing conclusion of an official policy whose language is the only thing about it that is not Kahanist.
From time to time, mainly during election campaigns, politicians speak in the future tense about overturning "past" discrimination, but the present is the real breeding ground of racism, because it is carried out by state institutions. That is the real common denominator of the parties in the governing coalition: They talk about equality and wink, and use up most of the pie for the Jews. The campaign against the racism of Hasidic settlers in Immanuel almost succeeded in camouflaging the real, profound and institutional racism against the Arab minority.
For example, Highway 6, the Trans-Israel Highway - you can't get to the Arab town of Taibeh from it; the city has no exit of its own. For example, infant mortality in the Arab community and road accidents due to infrastructure. In every area where the national pie has to be shared the Arabs are discriminated against. Computers and air-conditioning for school children? Positions in the civil service? Community centers?
The battle in Europe for an academic boycott against Israel is missing out on a good excuse: Israel's universities are leaders of the camp that discriminates against Arabs. Arabs make up 20 percent of the population, but less than 0.5 percent of university faculty members. The situation at the University of Haifa is a scandal: 20 percent of the students are Arabs, but not even 1 percent are faculty members. Here merit is usually cited as the reason, which is clearly racist: They aren't good enough. That's how big the appetite of the Jewish faculty is. (And in the universities' administrative and technical staff? Not even 0.5 percent are Arabs ).
That is where Kahanism is flourishing. Not in the synagogues, but where the establishment's future employees are trained. The education minister and MK Zevulun Orlev of the Knesset Education Committee can stand at the head of the right-wing Zionist student group Im Tirtzu, which objects to freedom of research. Their work is done mainly by Sadducees and Pharisees, left or right, Mizrahim or women - they won't share the pie and the curriculum with the Arab minority.
Incidentally, discrimination at our universities as a reason for an academic boycott doesn't apply in Europe for the simple reason that the universities there are no better in that sense. This reason will apply some day in the United States, and not only at the universities. It is very doubtful whether the most passionate defenders of Israel there could live under the unwritten Israeli constitution.
A HOLE IN THE SOUL
IS THERE ANY SECULAR PERSON LEFT IN THIS COUNTRY WHOSE LIFE IS FILLED WITH SECULAR MATTERS AND WHO DOES NOT HAVE A LARGE HOLE IN HIS SOUL AND A GAP IN HIS EDUCATION?
BY YOSSI SARID
I don't open a newspaper without putting a bedpan next to me, to be on the safe and clean side. What could be more revolting than all this disgusting nonsense - the racism of the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox, the submission of the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox or the boorishness of the celebrities from Ramat Aviv who visit the so-called X-Ray rabbi?
Baruch Mimagentza was a famous Jewish martyr, but today's Baruch leaves a message on the answering machine: "I have gone out to sanctify the name of the Lord; for the next two weeks I'll be in prison." That is his way of validating things; the settlement of Immanuel has become Magentza - the German town of Mainz whose sons were put to the test 10 times.
Then the Lord opened the learned rabbi's mouth and he spoke: "Even the Nazis didn't separate children from their parents." That cannot be unless God has stopped taking care of naive people. And these people have pretensions of embodying the Jewish memory over the generations, the traditions of grandfather Israel. I apologize, grandpa, for them turning you over in your grave, which you dug with your own hands in the forest, next to the hamlet, in front of the execution squad.
All in all, it was fun on the holy Sabbath, and not one of the Prisoners of Zion has yet joined the minyan of the Ten Martyrs, Jewish sages killed by the Romans. A good study group, good food and a pleasant atmosphere broaden a person's horizons when he is in distress. The ultra-Orthodox have not seen such good days since some of them returned from the ashram and their vipassana meditation. After their minds weakened there, they are now growing stronger here.
Even Ms. Hannah - a mother of seven - did not have to work hard on the eve of the Sabbath because she was fed by a catering service from Bnei Brak on Shabbat, with the rest of her colleagues. This is self-sacrifice, and the payment for it is $500 in an envelope for every family and all the cholent you can eat.
The detainees only had one complaint: "A few cockroaches were crawling around the room." But they were easily exterminated. So perish all Thine enemies, O Lord, first and foremost the drugged judges of the High Court of Justice. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef will be sure to take care of them. True, he does not have a clue what is happening in this world and in the hell of his family and party, but he, the genius, is well-versed in the rules of heaven and the next world.
The past few days have revealed the thoughts of Shas' leaders, which during the rest of the year are hidden under the brims of their hats. Eli Yishai wants Agudat Yisrael's institutes of learning to make the Sephardi children as pale as Ashkenazim. And Ovadia wants to be really big, like a Lithuanian rabbi. And what's left of the former glory? The embroidered robe of our master, though the soul has departed.
The ultra-Orthodox people of the community of Slonim keep to themselves, the people of Shas are self-deprecating and those from Chabad go everywhere to spread their faith. We must explain to our children that they should keep away from adult strangers who accost them in the street. Are their souls less vulnerable than their bodies? Can indecent acts not be committed against their souls, too?
First they spread to Ramat Aviv and now they are in our neighborhood too, hunting for lost souls and tying them to the tefillin. Chabad is the most nationalist cult, the most messianic, the most missionary.
But traditionalist celebrities who recite the Kiddush and kiss the mezuzah open the door to it. Had the mezuzah not been affixed to the top right-hand side of the door, the model might have mistakenly thought it was a makeup vial, and the football coach might have blown into it, thinking it was a whistle. That is - until their children fall into the pit of "a little bit of Yiddishkeit."
Is there any secular person left in this country whose life is filled with secular matters and who does not have a large hole in his soul and a gap in his education? Are there still responsible adults here who do not act infantile?
THE BALL IS IN FRANCE'S COURT
THE FRENCH SOCCER TEAM IS A SYMBOL OF A CONFUSED, DIVIDED COUNTRY THAT HAS LOST ITS DIRECTION.
BY SEFY HENDLER
CAPE TOWN - In certain respects, South Africa of 2010 is France of 1998. Today as then, the host country of the soccer World Cup is being swept up in a wave of optimism, which covers over profound problems that a month of games won't solve. The comparison stops of course at the level of soccer: The "Bafana Bafana" ("The Boys," the nickname of the local team ) are not "Les Bleus" ("The Blues," the nickname of the French team ) who charmed the world 12 years ago when they won the World Cup. But the devotion with which the South Africans are accompanying their team is exceptional, even by the standards of the passion for soccer, which is often compared, rightfully, to religious fervor.
The South African Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu (who has been wearing the yellow and green team shirt during the entire tourney ) sees the boys on the field as a national symbol of unparalleled importance. "They have reminded all of us who we are, that we can touch the stars. [Thanks to the team] something extraordinary is happening to our country. It's more than what happened to us with the release of Nelson Mandela from prison," he declared festively.
The dancing in the streets, the incessant whines of the vuvuzelas, the embraces between blacks and whites, guests and locals, all these make the visitor think that Tutu is not really exaggerating. And with perfect timing the draw scheduled an encounter between France and South Africa - two nations in which soccer is far more than a game. The African hosts convincingly trounced the French, but that was not enough. At the end of the game, because of a previous results from the start of the competition, both teams were eliminated.
On the face of it these were two bitter disappointments. But whereas the South Africans left the competition with heads held high and continued to rejoice in the streets, France was kicked out in disgrace.
It was not just another defeat to a team that on paper is weaker - after all, it's just for such sensational upsets that the ball is round. The French team did much more than lose on the field, it disgraced an entire country that considered soccer one of the last remaining symbols of solidarity and national pride. The disgrace began during the games, when the curses hurled in the dressing room by striker Nicolas Anelka against the team's coach Raymond Domenech were leaked. It was gutter language that required a red card. The heads of the French Football Federation had no choice, and expelled Anelka from the team overnight. In response, the players announced that they were boycotting training and threatened to settle accounts with the "traitor" who dared to leak the story. On the way the captain of the team, Patrice Evra, managed to come to blows with the fitness coach.
All of France looked on with disbelief at the men who until a few years ago were national heroes, models for millions of boys and teenagers. A team composed mainly of immigrants and children of immigrants from the Maghreb and Black Africa, who represented with honor the new, multicultural France, the France that is able to overcome divisive elements and win together. President Nicolas Sarkozy understood the magnitude of the drama and sent his sports minister for a personal discussion with the players. But in vain. The fire that was ignited could not be extinguished at the end of 90 minutes.
Philosopher Alain Finkielkraut warned against an ethnic and religious divide within the team and summed up: "We dreamed with the team of Zidane and the members of his generation. Today we want to vomit with the generation of street criminals."
The French team has, unfortunately, remained a symbol. But after the journey to South Africa it represents a confused, divided country that has lost direction. A country that finds it difficult to accept authority from its leaders and yearns for heroes who no longer exist. The greatest star of French soccer, Zinedine Zidane, ended his career four years ago with a headbutt to the stomach of an Italian rival at the end of the World Cup final. France lost the cup and wanted to believe that the worst was behind it. Now it turns out that the terrible days are continuing both on and off the field. Without an orderly game plan, Sarkozy, or any coach who follows him, will find it very difficult to lend meaning to the national team uniform that once represented liberty, equality and fraternity.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
BALANCE OF PROSECUTORIAL POWER
Prosecutors and lawmakers will have to work harder now that the Supreme Court has narrowed the excessively broad federal "honest services" law. Any benefit the ruling gives to public and private miscreants including Joseph Bruno, Rod Blagojevich and Jeffrey Skilling, who have been charged with or convicted of violating the law should quickly inspire more thorough investigations and sharper new laws to combat corruption.
Passed in 1988, the law made it a federal crime, under the mail-fraud statute, "to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services." Intangible was right; almost no one knew what the phrase actually meant. Prosecutors most often used it when they suspected that a politician had done something wrong but were not sure they could prove outright bribery or corruption.
In the dubious 2007 prosecution, for example, of Don Siegelman, a former governor of Alabama, the Justice Department claimed that a political contribution to a campaign to adopt a state lottery was actually a bribe to get Mr. Siegelman to appoint the contributor to a hospital board.
Since Mr. Siegelman, a Democrat, never actually received any money, the bribery case was hard to make. Instead, he was convicted of five counts of honest services fraud, one of bribery and one of obstruction. (The case had strong political overtones, and Mr. Siegelman's appeal may be bolstered by Thursday's ruling.)
Six justices on the Supreme Court, led by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said the law should be limited to clear cases of bribery and kickbacks; three other justices, led by Antonin Scalia, would have thrown out the entire law. All agreed that in its current form, it was far too vague.
Mr. Skilling, the former chief executive of Enron, who brought one of the cases on which the court ruled, was convicted of several charges involving Enron's collapse, including honest services fraud. A lower court will have to reconsider his conviction.
Justice Ginsburg practically invited Congress to speak more clearly and find new ways to criminalize self-dealing. But she made it clear, in a footnote, that it would have to do so with real specificity. It is not enough, she wrote, to say that an employee cannot further his own undisclosed financial interest while purporting to act in the interest of others. Any new law also would have to make clear how significant the conflict of interest has to be before it amounts to fraud, she said, and would have to specify how these disclosures should be made.
The ruling should probably not affect the overall prosecution of Mr. Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois who is now on trial for a host of crimes. But it may well reverse the conviction of Mr. Bruno, the former majority leader of the New York Senate who was sentenced last month to two years in federal prison after being convicted of two counts of honest services fraud. Using his official position, he earned millions off companies and unions trying to do business with the state.
If Albany and Washington had stronger and clearer laws prohibiting conflicts of interest and self-dealing, prosecutors would have better tools than the "honest services" law. The Supreme Court's unanimity sends a message to state and federal lawmakers to act now.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
DO NO HARM
Health professionals who facilitate torture are violating the most fundamental medical ethics and ought to be punished. Unfortunately, neither Congress nor the Obama administration has shown any appetite for confronting the problem. The New York State Legislature is considering a state law that would bar such misbehavior and provide grounds for revoking the license of any health professional who participates.
The International Committee of the Red Cross and Physicians for Human Rights have presented persuasive evidence that the Bush administration used medical personnel to help shape and justify the Central Intelligence Agency's "enhanced interrogation" techniques. There is no evidence, so far, that medical personnel conducted the torture. Doctors, psychologists and physicians' assistants helped determine how far a harsh technique waterboarding, prolonged sleep deprivation, shackling in stressful positions could go without killing or inflicting extreme pain.
They helped plan how various methods could be used in combination, calibrated the levels of pain and monitored the proceedings. Their involvement was apparently intended to provide legal cover for interrogators who, if they were ever prosecuted, could always argue that medical professionals monitored and judged their techniques as safe. The notion of doctors and other health professionals using their knowledge in any way to abuse prisoners is horrifying.
Bills to hold health professionals accountable have been introduced in both houses of the Legislature.
The Assembly's bill, which has 45 co-sponsors and could be voted on as soon as Friday, would bar all health professionals licensed in New York from participating, directly or indirectly, in torture or other abuses no matter where they happen. They would have a duty to refuse to participate in torture and also to report abusive practices to appropriate authorities. Violators could be convicted of misdemeanors and subjected to professional misconduct proceedings that could lead to censure and suspension or revocation of a license.
We recognize that, if interrogation materials are kept classified, it could be difficult for state licensing boards to ascertain what role health professionals might have played and for accused professionals to defend themselves. It would be far better to conduct investigations and mete out punishments at the national level.
There is no sign of that happening any time soon. The New York State Legislature should approve the bill. It could deter some unethical conduct, give health professionals added reasons to reject and report abusive interrogations, and exert pressure on the federal government to declassify more material. It would also serve as a model for other states to fill the void until Congress and the Obama administration step up to their responsibilities.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
WHO APPROVED THESE ADS?
When the Supreme Court cavalierly threw aside decades of controls to let corporations and unions flood federal elections with unlimited campaign funds, the alternative the court suggested was a mandatory dose of transparency. Let voters know who is really behind the new wave of spending was the court's prescription.
The House took the court at its word Thursday and approved disclosure requirements to have deep-pocket spenders identify themselves on their ads, the same as candidates do, and not hide behind propaganda front groups. It is absolutely essential that the Senate quickly follow suit and vote final approval of the House's Disclose reform act in time for the November elections.
The measure would hardly cure all the damage of the court decision, and it is flawed with exemptions for major special interest groups. But it is the best that voters can hope for to help them fathom a likely boom in attack ads and campaign propaganda.
The measure, sponsored by Representative Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat of Maryland, also would put restrictions on campaign spending by major government contractors and foreign controlled companies. Ideally, it should not have been freighted with exceptions for the National Rifle Association and other large nonprofit groups that exercised last-minute arm-twisting. But the disclosure provisions remain strong and have the blessing of good-government watchdogs like the League of Women Voters.
The pity is that very few Republicans are backing disclosure despite their past years of insistence that transparency, not spending limitations, was the right path to campaign fairness. They may be betting that the Republican Party has the most to gain from the court's decision to unfetter corporate campaign spending. What's clear is that the public has the least to gain from heightened attack ads floated by phantom check writers.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE IMMIGRATION REFORM TEAM
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, making good on an inaugural pledge, has stepped up to help lead the national battle for immigration reform. On Thursday, he announced a partnership of mayors and business leaders to make the economic case for reform, including mayors of Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Phoenix, and top executives of companies like Walt Disney, Hewlett-Packard, Boeing and the New York Mets.
Rupert Murdoch chairman of the News Corporation, naturalized citizen and member of the coalition stated its views succinctly: "This country can and must enact new immigration policies that fulfill our employment needs, provide a careful pathway to legal status for undocumented residents, and end illegal immigration."
Mr. Bloomberg was even blunter in making the case for reforming immigration policy, in which restrictive laws, stifling bureaucracy and aggressive enforcement have closed the path to green cards or citizenship for millions of hopeful entrepreneurs, workers and other would-be Americans. He called it "national suicide."
Theirs is the capsule version of the argument for comprehensive legislation that the country has needed for years but that has failed in Congress for years.
Hopes for passage this year are quite dim, but the argument still needs to be made. If anyone can make it, it's the mayor of New York City, which is at the heart of America's immigrant story.
Mr. Bloomberg and his partners recognize that people who are dynamic, hard-working, entrepreneurial, innovative and creative are the kinds of people any city, or country, should want. More green cards mean more start-up companies and jobs.
(The mayor's strong case would be even stronger if he weren't trying to eliminate some legal services and English classes for immigrants. A tiny city program, Immigrant Opportunities Initiative, saw its budget halved to $5 million in fiscal 2010, and then zeroed out in the mayor's 2011 budget. He should find the money.)
The unfortunate side of Mr. Bloomberg's welcome entry into the immigration debate is that it is necessary at all. The White House and Congress should be stepping up to the issue.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE RENMINBI RUNAROUND
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
Last weekend China announced a change in its currency policy, a move clearly intended to head off pressure from the United States and other countries at this weekend's G-20 summit meeting. Unfortunately, the new policy doesn't address the real issue, which is that China has been promoting its exports at the rest of the world's expense.
In fact, far from representing a step in the right direction, the Chinese announcement was an exercise in bad faith an attempt to exploit U.S. restraint. To keep the rhetorical temperature down, the Obama administration has used diplomatic language in its efforts to persuade the Chinese government to end its bad behavior. Now the Chinese have responded by seizing on the form of American language to avoid dealing with the substance of American complaints. In short, they're playing games.
To understand what's going on, we need to get back to the basics of the situation.
China's exchange-rate policy is neither complicated nor unprecedented, except for its sheer scale. It's a classic example of a government keeping the foreign-currency value of its money artificially low by selling its own currency and buying foreign currency. This policy is especially effective in China's case because there are legal restrictions on the movement of funds both into and out of the country, allowing government intervention to dominate the currency market.
And the proof that China is, in fact, keeping the value of its currency, the renminbi, artificially low is precisely the fact that the central bank is accumulating so many dollars, euros and other foreign assets more than $2 trillion worth so far. There have been all sorts of calculations purporting to show that the renminbi isn't really undervalued, or at least not by much. But if the renminbi isn't deeply undervalued, why has China had to buy around $1 billion a day of foreign currency to keep it from rising?
The effect of this currency undervaluation is twofold: it makes Chinese goods artificially cheap to foreigners, while making foreign goods artificially expensive to the Chinese. That is, it's as if China were simultaneously subsidizing its exports and placing a protective tariff on its imports.
This policy is very damaging at a time when much of the world economy remains deeply depressed. In normal times, you could argue that Chinese purchases of U.S. bonds, while distorting trade, were at least supplying us with cheap credit and you could argue that it wasn't China's fault that we used that credit to inflate a vast, destructive housing bubble. But right now we're awash in cheap credit; what's lacking is sufficient demand for goods and services to generate the jobs we need. And China, by running an artificial trade surplus, is aggravating that problem.
This does not, by the way, mean that China gains from its currency policy. The undervalued renminbi is good for politically influential export companies. But these companies hoard cash rather than passing on the benefits to their workers, hence the recent wave of strikes. Meanwhile, the weak renminbi creates inflationary pressures and diverts a huge fraction of China's national income into the purchase of foreign assets with a very low rate of return.
So where does last week's policy announcement fit into all this? Well, China has allowed the renminbi to rise but barely. As of Thursday, the currency was only about half a percent higher than its typical level before the announcement. And all indications are that watching the future movement of the renminbi will be like watching paint dry: Chinese officials are still making statements denying that a rise in their currency will do anything to reduce trade imbalances, and prices in the forward market, in which traders agree to exchange currencies at various points in the future, suggest a rise of only about 2 percent in the renminbi by the end of this year. This is basically a joke.
What the Chinese have done, they claim, to increase the "flexibility" of their exchange rate: it's moving around more from day to day than it did in the past, sometimes up, sometimes down.
Of course, Chinese policy makers know perfectly well that although U.S. officials have indeed called for more currency flexibility, that was just a diplomatic euphemism for what America, and the world, wants (and has the right to demand): a much stronger renminbi. Having the currency bob up or down slightly makes no difference to the fundamentals.
So what comes next? China's government is clearly trying to string the rest of us along, putting off action until something it's hard to say what comes up.
That's not acceptable. China needs to stop giving us the runaround and deliver real change. And if it refuses, it's time to talk about trade sanctions.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE CULTURE OF EXPOSURE
BY DAVID BROOKS
The most interesting part of my job is that I get to observe powerful people at close quarters. Most people in government, I find, are there because they sincerely want to do good. But they're also exhausted and frustrated much of the time. And at these moments they can't help letting you know that things would be much better if only there weren't so many morons all around.
So every few weeks I find myself on the receiving end of little burst of off-the-record trash talk. Senators privately moan about other senators. Administration officials gripe about other administration officials. People in the White House complain about the idiots in Congress, and the idiots in Congress complain about the idiots in the White House especially if they're in the same party. Washington floats on a river of aspersion.
The system is basically set up to maximize kvetching. Government is filled with superconfident, highly competitive people who are grouped into small bands. These bands usually have one queen bee at the center a president, senator, cabinet secretary or general and a squad of advisers all around. These bands are perpetually jostling, elbowing and shoving each other to get control over policy.
Amid all this friction, the members of each band develop their own private language. These people often spend 16 hours a day together, and they bond by moaning and about the idiots on the outside.
It feels good to vent in this way. You demonstrate your own importance by showing your buddies that you are un-awed by the majority leader, the vice president or some other big name. You get to take a break from the formal pressures of the job by playing the blasphemous bad-boy rebel over a beer at night.
Military people are especially prone to these sorts of outbursts. In public, they pay lavish deference to civilian masters who issue orders from the comfort of home. Among themselves, they blow off steam, sometimes in the crudest possible terms.
Those of us in the press corps have to figure out how to treat this torrent of private kvetching. During World War II and the years just after, a culture of reticence prevailed. The basic view was that human beings are sinful, flawed and fallen. What mattered most was whether people could overcome their flaws and do their duty as soldiers, politicians and public servants. Reporters suppressed private information and reported mostly and maybe too gently on public duties.
Then, in 1961, Theodore H. White began his "The Making of the President" book series. This series treated the people who worked inside the boiler rooms of government as the star players. It put the inner dramas at center stage.
Then, after Vietnam, an ethos of exposure swept the culture. The assumption among many journalists was that the establishment may seem upstanding, but there is a secret corruption deep down. It became the task of journalism to expose the underbelly of public life, to hunt for impurity, assuming that the dark hidden lives of public officials were more important than the official performances.
Then came cable, the Internet, and the profusion of media sources. Now you have outlets, shows and Web sites whose only real interest is the kvetching and inside baseball.
In other words, over the course of 50 years, what had once been considered the least important part of government became the most important. These days, the inner soap opera is the most discussed and the most fraught arena of political life.
And into this world walks Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
General McChrystal was excellent at his job. He had outstanding relations with the White House and entirely proper relationships with his various civilian partners in the State Department and beyond. He set up a superb decision-making apparatus that deftly used military and civilian expertise.
But McChrystal, like everyone else, kvetched. And having apparently missed the last 50 years of cultural history, he did so on the record, in front of a reporter. And this reporter, being a product of the culture of exposure, made the kvetching the center of his magazine profile.
By putting the kvetching in the magazine, the reporter essentially took run-of-the-mill complaining and turned it into a direct challenge to presidential authority. He took a successful general and made it impossible for President Obama to retain him.
The reticent ethos had its flaws. But the exposure ethos, with its relentless emphasis on destroying privacy and exposing impurities, has chased good people from public life, undermined public faith in institutions and elevated the trivial over the important.
Another scalp is on the wall. Government officials will erect even higher walls between themselves and the outside world. The honest and freewheeling will continue to flee public life, and the cautious and calculating will remain.
The culture of exposure has triumphed, with results for all to see.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE MEN I LOST
BY BERNARD E. TRAINOR
By 1952 both sides had been dug in for months along the 38th Parallel. As peace talks began in Panmunjom, a village along what became the border between North and South Korea, they jockeyed for the smallest terrain advantage in anticipation of a cease-fire. The result was an endless series of seesaw battles for outposts in front of mainline positions, similar to the trench warfare of World War I.
I was a Marine infantry platoon leader on the front line, not far from Panmunjom. One warm spring night a patrol from my unit was heading out when the Chinese ambushed them right in front of our platoon's trench line.
Apparently the enemy had been watching how our patrols left the trenches: we had a camouflaged opening in the barbed wire and a narrow foot path that skirted the mines dotting the hillside. The Chinese ambushers had silently made their way to the base of the hill, unseen and unheard by the Marines in the trench just above. The Chinese caught my men as they passed single-file through the wire. Our guys never had a chance.
The burst of burp-gun fire took me by surprise. Standing outside the trench, I went into a defensive crouch. My heart raced as the adrenaline kicked in. They can't be this close, I thought.
We fired blindly into the darkness and called for mortar illumination. But it was too late; the fight was over in a few minutes. The Chinese had come and gone and left four of my Marines dead.
We pulled their bodies back through the wire and into the trench line. I had violated a prime law of combat avoid predictability and these men had paid for my stupidity.
One of them was my platoon sergeant, Harold Wagner, a West Virginian who was leading the patrol. He had taken three rounds to the belly. We had become very close and I had let him down. The memory of his death still haunts me. Before his body was hauled to the rear, I at least had the privilege of closing the lids over his sightless eyes.
Bernard E. Trainor is a retired Marine infantry officer and former correspondent for The Times.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
MY AMERICAN PRISONER
BY ZHOU MING FU
On March 18, 1951, my infantry unit crossed the Yalu River toward a Korean city that had been destroyed by bombs. We each carried 65-pound packs. We would not see China again for almost three years.
I had been one of the first university students in Communist China. I studied English, but when the government called me up for service, I threw away my pen and donned a uniform. Without any training, I joined millions of other soldiers.
To avoid detection, we slept during the day and marched all night. Even so, American planes hounded us; when we were out in the open, we were easy to spot. On the way to the front we saw the bodies of old people and children who had been shot by the planes. Before we even met the enemy, we learned to hate the American troops.
Because I knew English, I taught the other soldiers useful battlefield phrases, like "Stop," "Hands up," "Don't move," "Lay down your arms" and "We are kind to P.O.W.'s."
I was also a translator for prisoners. Not long after I arrived, during a horrible storm, we captured three black American soldiers. They were huddled together near a fire. They looked at me with dull eyes, then looked away, as if afraid to provoke me. I told them they had nothing to fear and promised to find a truck to send them to the rear.
At the end of July 1951, I was told about an American pilot who had been shot down and captured five miles from my unit. Many of the newly arrived soldiers had never seen a person like him, with his pale skin and round eyes, and they crowded around him. When I spoke to him in English, he complained about the attention. "I have two arms and two legs, just like them," he said.
I told him it was our policy not to kill or insult him; the men were just curious. He eventually relaxed. I gave him a pencil and paper to keep a diary. My superior criticized me for doing so, but it was the right thing to do. Like he said, he was just like us, and who wouldn't want to record his thoughts as a prisoner?
The war ended a little after 10 a.m. on July 27, 1953. We were several miles behind the front. I lay on the ground, using several raincoats as a partial tent. I looked up at the faint moon in the sky. Finally, everything was quiet.
Zhou Ming Fu is veteran of the People's Liberation Army of China and co-author of "Two Walk the Golden Road."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
RACING FROM MAO'S BUGLES
BY KIE YOUNG-SHIM
The North Korean Army invaded on a Sunday, when most of the young South Korean soldiers had gone home to their family farms to help with the rice planting and many officers were still waking up from a night of dancing and drinking with their American compatriots.
I was a high school senior in Seoul, and when the city fell three days later, I blindly followed the retreating soldiers south. I volunteered for the infantry. Because I had participated in the reserve officers program in high school, I received only five days of training before being put in charge of a 210-man unit.
A freight train took us to the front, at the Nakdong River, where we were attached to the newly arrived American 65th Infantry Regimental Combat Team. We were told to hold a section of the river bank. The air smelled of rotting corpses.
In September, Gen. Douglas MacArthur accomplished his historic landing at Inchon, nearly cutting the North Korean forces in two. We were reassigned to a follow-up landing at Wonsan, on the eastern coast. The tide had turned; we performed mop-up operations, following the main force as it pushed the North Koreans toward China.
But the course of the war reversed again when the Chinese entered. We provided cover for units of the fast-retreating American First Marine Division, then retreated ourselves, covering several miles a day. Mao's soldiers attacked in wave after wave, even as we practically destroyed each attack with our heavy weapons. They often struck at night, their bugles signaling an advance and sending fear through our lines.
After a few weeks we held the line at Hungnam. As other units fought the enemy, my unit helped evacuate the tens of thousands of North Korean refugees who had followed the retreat. We may not have won a complete victory in the war, but I am glad to have aided so many in their flight from Kim Il-sung.
Kie Young-Shim is a veteran of the South Korean Army and lawyer in Northbrook, Ill.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
PINNED DOWN AT BUSAN
BY RALPH HOCKLEY
I landed in Busan, South Korea, on Aug. 4, 1950. Busan is near the southern tip of the peninsula, and at the time the area around it was all that was left of the country; the rest had been overrun by the North Koreans. The valley we were in, just north of Daegu, later became known as the "Bowling Alley."
I was a second lieutenant in a field artillery unit of the Second Infantry Division and a forward observer, watching for enemy movement and calling in artillery fire.
On my second day of combat, the battery commander ordered me to climb a hill above his location. With me
was my sergeant, Warren Truitt, a fine, older non-commissioned officer; my radio operator; and me. At dusk we were joined by four infantrymen.
Around midnight it began to rain, and we were soon drenched. I stayed awake, peering into the night. Around 4 a.m., I heard a bugle in the valley below. We were about to be attacked. But I could not call in fire because we had no idea where friendly or enemy troops were.
Suddenly, I saw a crouching enemy soldier moving up toward us, holding an enormous rifle with a fixed bayonet. He was no more than 25 feet away. I grabbed my carbine, aimed and pulled the trigger.
Nothing happened. My weapon was too wet to function a surprise, given that our training instructions said that carbines always worked. I then grabbed my .45 automatic from its holster inside my field jacket and aimed it at the advancing enemy.
The enemy soldier had raised his rifle and was about to shoot when my bullet stopped him cold. As he fell, I saw enough of him to remember the look on his face and recognize his rifle as an old Soviet model.
By now, my companions, fully alert, were firing at other targets down the slope. One infantryman had a rifle with a scope and could pick off enemy soldiers at quite a distance. Our skirmish went on for 20 minutes; finally an infantry platoon came up behind us and chased the North Koreans into the valley.
We made it through without a single casualty. Hand-to-hand combat certainly wasn't part of a forward observer's normal duties. But duty means doing what the moment calls for, whether it's in your assignment or not. During those first, desperate weeks of the war, with the United Nations troops pinned into a corner of the peninsula, very little of what we did was routine.
Ralph Hockley is a retired Army officer.
OUR VIEW ON OPEN RECORDS: WHEN YOU SIGN A PETITION, YOU SHOULDN'T EXPECT PRIVACY
The Internet can compromise your privacy in endless ways, some self-inflicted posting Facebook photos of yourself playing beer pong, for example and some you might not think much about, such as signing a petition.
Two dozen states allow citizens to put measures on the ballot if they gather enough signatures, and all but California allow those signatures to be made public. You might not give that a second thought if your name were associated with a measure to raise a sales tax or allow a state lottery. But some issues arouse more passion.
Conservative organizers of a 2009 Washington state referendum to curb the rights of same-sex couples worried that if supporters' names were posted on the Web, as permitted under the state's disclosure law, they'd be subject to harassment. Opponents had demanded the names be made public so they could have "uncomfortable conversations" with the signers. So the signers went to court to shield their names and argue that all petition signers should have the right to remain anonymous, asserting that the First Amendment guarantees their right to speech free from intimidation and reprisals.
On Thursday the Supreme Court correctly shot down the broad claim, holding, in effect, that it's silly to suppose that people would be targeted for harassment just because they signed a petition to limit motor vehicle charges, for example. Every signer of every petition does not have an expectation of privacy, the court held.
The justices, in their 8-1 ruling, further said that publicly disclosing names serves a useful purpose by allowing public vetting of the petitions for fraud and errors that state authorities often can't and don't catch.
Troublingly, though, the court left a large loophole in cases where petition signers claim that they could be harassed if their names were made public. The justices said that in these cases, the signers would have a strong constitutional claim to keep their names secret.
It's a sad fact that the Internet has fostered a sort of Wild West that allows vigilantes to identify and target people whose opinions they don't like. The worst of these operate in anonymity themselves and employ violence, such as animal rights extremists who firebomb the homes of laboratory scientists.
But there's a serious question as to whether the Constitution should shield citizens from any unpleasant effect of expressing their views on contentious public issues.
"Democracy takes a certain amount of civic courage," Justice Antonin Scalia said when the court heard arguments in this case in April. "The First Amendment does not protect you from criticism or even nasty phone calls when you exercise your political rights."
Scalia has it about right. Transparency and accountability are the fundamentals of democracy, and it's better for democracy when society leans toward more openness, not less. Granting anonymity runs counter to the American grain. Campaign donations, real estate transactions and an array of other data are routinely disclosed. Perhaps the most extreme example is witnesses at criminal trials, who must testify in open court despite the risk of severe reprisals.
If people are harassed for signing a petition, there's already a remedy for that. It's called enforcement of anti-harassment laws.
OPPOSING VIEW ON OPEN RECORDS: PROTECT PETITION SIGNERS
BY JAMES BOPP JR.
In 2008, the citizens of California voted to amend their Constitution to define marriage as a being between one man and one woman. In the days leading up to and after this vote, people in California who were identified as supporters of traditional marriage were subject to death threats, vandalism and physical violence, and some lost their jobs.
A year later in Washington state, nearly 140,000 people signed a petition to place a marriage issue on their ballot. Despite the problems in California, Washington's secretary of state intended to release these names to a group that had publicly stated it was going to post the names and addresses on the Internet and encourage people to have "uncomfortable conversations" with them.
Having seen what had happened in California when supporters of traditional marriage were publicly identified,
Protect Marriage sued in federal court, arguing that public disclosure of petition signers violated their First
Amendment rights and subjected them to harassment. The federal court enjoined the secretary of state from releasing the names of any petition signers for all such referendum efforts.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court struck down the injunction that protected all persons who signed referendum
petitions, regardless of subject. While the court agreed that signing a petition is protected by the First Amendment and that public disclosure could infringe on that right, the justices decided that all petition signers should not be protected, but only groups that show they are specific targets of harassment.
No American citizen should worry that his participation in our political system will subject him or his family to threats or physical harm.
This decision allows supporters of traditional marriage to seek protection from those who wish to harass or intimidate them, and the evidence of targeted harassment of supporters of traditional marriage is overwhelming.
It is unfortunate, however, that the Supreme Court has refused to protect everyone's First Amendment rights.
James Bopp Jr. is the lead attorney for the plaintiffs challenging Washington state's public records disclosure law. He argued the case at the Supreme Court.
WITH GENERAL FIRED, BRING TROOPS HOME
BY AL NEUHARTH
President Obama has made one right decision on Afghanistan. This week, he fired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, whose own frustrations about the likelihood of losing the war caused him to sound off sarcastically about the top civilian advisers or decision-makers.
Now Obama has a chance to make a second sound call: Bring all our troops home from Afghanistan sooner rather than later.
Most of us across the USA agree that the Afghanistan war was necessary when President George W. Bush went after Osama bin Laden and his gang following 9/11. But most of us now think Afghanistan has been an unnecessary war since that gang escaped to Pakistan. Obama inherited the Afghanistan war. But he made the mistake of escalating it rather than ending it. His goal is not to catch bin Laden or his gang. It is to try to make Afghanistan a new nation. If he were a student of history, he would know better. Past efforts:
Great Britain tried to help govern Afghanistan with three wars between 1839 and 1919. It failed each time and lost more than 28,000 lives.
Russia (then the USSR) left after nine unsuccessful years in Afghanistan in the 1980s, with approximately 14,000 Soviet soldiers killed.
We've been there nearly nine years and have lost the lives of 1,039 servicemen and women.
Obama didn't recognize that Gen. McChrystal's crusty comments were based on his frustrations of the hopeless nation-building effort.
He has a chance to recover by admitting that our presence in Afghanistan is a shameful waste of lives and money.
If Obama doesn't get it and get us out, he'll likely lose his 2012 re-election bid. Too bad for a guy with so much promise.
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL SHOULD BOYCOTT ARIZONA
COMMENTARY BY RAUL REYES
Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig announced last week that Kansas City will be the site of the 2012 All-Star Game. Folks there will no doubt applaud. After all, The Kansas City (Mo.) Star estimates that the game will bring in $70 million for the city. However, Selig could have made a much more significant announcement: that he is moving the 2011 All-Star Game out of Phoenix.
Since Arizona passed its restrictive immigration law, Latinos have been outraged by what many of us see as an
attack on our civil rights. After all, it seems that racial profiling will be inevitable. So we're reacting with our wallets, and a boycott is under way. Yet though The Arizona Republic estimates that the state could lose as much as $90 million in canceled conventions, the boycott lacks momentum.
If baseball were to move its All-Star Game, the message would be loud and clear: This law can't stand. Unfortunately, Selig is resisting calls to do so, and told the Associated Press as much: "Apparently, all of the people around and in minority communities think we're doing OK. That's the issue."
He has it wrong. Just ask San Diego Padres All-Star Adrian Gonzalez, who said he won't attend the game if it's in Arizona. Last month, the NBA's Phoenix Suns wore "Los Suns" jerseys in a playoff game to show solidarity with Arizona's Latino community. What's more, a long list of Latino advocacy groups wrote to Selig, imploring him to move the game. He can no longer pretend that Hispanics, among the sport's most passionate fans, are happy with baseball's inaction.
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport says Latinos make up 27% of Major League players. Think these guys are eager to take their chances in Arizona?
Politics and sports have long been intertwined. For years, South Africa was banned from the Olympics because of apartheid. In 1991, the NFL pulled the 1993 Super Bowl out of Phoenix after Arizona refused to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Once voters approved the holiday, Tempe got the big game.
Baseball, too, has a proud history of leading the USA in social change. In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Players as diverse as Satchel Paige, Sandy Koufax and Roberto Clemente have left an indelible mark on the game.
Selig has stated that he will be stepping down in 2012. If he wants to cement his legacy in America's pastime, he'll take a stand against a law that feels yes, I'm going to say it un-American.
Raul Reyes is an attorney in New York and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors
DEMOGRAPHIC BOOM ABOUT TO BUST
BY CHUCK RAASCH
WASHINGTON That ticking generational time bomb that politicians have been warning and arguing about for 30 years is about to explode on Jan. 1.
That's the day when the first of roughly 80 million Baby Boomers turn 65. The Boomer generation was the largest in American history until the Millennial Generation, those under 30, came along.
Whether you are a Boomer or not, demographic trends will affect everything from taxes to immigration.
In the midst of one of the most transformative demographic shifts ever, the United States is rapidly becoming grayer and browner.
Eighty percent of those over 65 are white, compared with 56% of those younger than 15 with Hispanics accounting for almost all the minority growth among children. By 2030, according to the Brookings Institution's chief demographer, William Frey, 71% of the older-than-65 population and 46% of children under 15 will be white. Over the next decade, he predicts, the working-age population will include 5 million fewer whites and 15 million more minorities, with 90% of the latter growth coming from Hispanics.
"This is a country that is really changing in a dramatic way, but it is moving from the bottom up, and I think these generation gaps are going to be important," Frey said at a National Journal forum this month.
Demographics have been destiny in America.
Immigrant groups, some violently opposed, settled the great cities of the Northeast. Slavery and its legacy have overshadowed blacks' migration for centuries. Europeans led the push westward. The immigration debates of this decade center on a migratory influx legal and illegal from the south.
In coming decades, the working-age population's growth will be among demographic groups with the least education and work skills. The high school dropout rate for Hispanics, for instance, is about twice the national average, Frey said.
At the same time, the huge generation of Boomers is about to cash in on unsustainable entitlement promises.
Former Virginia congressman Tom Davis, a demographic expert, said more than half of non-defense spending goes to the elderly via Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other entitlements. It was no coincidence that President Obama included Medicare spending cuts in the massive health-reform package he signed into law.
"You have an older, whiter generation that is really going to be sucking up all the money in the future (through) Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and interest on the debt that they have run up during their tenure of running things, versus a poorer, more minority generation that is not getting the money," Davis said.
He added: "We are investing in the past, basically, and not in the future, which is education, (research and development), infrastructure. We are General Motors when you take a look at where investments in this country are today. And how do you compete globally with that? That is the ultimate question."
The question makes Amy Wilkins shudder. She is principal partner in the Education Trust, a non-profit advocacy group dedicated to K-12 education reform.
"At a time when the premium on college education is higher than it has ever been, at a time when our country is getting to be majority minority, we have to really focus on getting these kids to and through college," she said.
What does this mean for you?
If you are a senior or approaching retirement with adequate savings and a pension, not much beyond a generational urge to make your grandchildren's' country as strong and as prosperous as it has been for you.
But some seniors may work longer, due to a lack of savings or because they work in professions such as the sciences, where a dearth of qualified young workers may result in incentives to Boomers to postpone retirement.
But if you are younger, higher taxes or serious adjustments to expectations appear inevitable. It is very difficult to see how the United States solves its long-term debt and entitlement promises without higher taxes for the middle class and the rich, or by cutting retirement-focused entitlement programs.
Tax-and-spend tensions are already emerging, with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer saying this week that a serious discussion needs to take place before Congress permanently extends middle-class tax cuts passed in the early months of Obama's administration.
These are the hard truths that Americans say they want to hear from their politicians, but rarely do. Such positions often turn into political death sentences at the next election.
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT DRILLING MORATORIUM
Yobie Benjamin, blogger, on San Francisco Chronicle: "U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman issued a preliminary injunction (Tuesday) barring the enforcement of the president's proposed six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling, arguing that the ban is too broad. If there was ever a classic example of conflict of interest, Feldman's picture would be right next to it. In the latest available financial disclosure forms, Feldman owned stock in Transocean and five other companies that are either directly or indirectly involved in the offshore drilling business. It looks like Feldman is invested in the offshore drilling business ... big time."
The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune, in an editorial: "Judge Feldman's ruling validates what Louisianans have been arguing for weeks: that the administration's broad drilling ban isn't justified and stands to cause even greater economic harm to this state than the devastating oil spill itself. The preliminary injunction doesn't erase the likelihood that oil rigs will pick up and move to other countries. Companies are unlikely to gamble that the plaintiffs will prevail. The Obama administration was quick to say that it will appeal the ruling ... (which) is disappointing. Judge Feldman's ruling offered an opportunity for the White House to reconsider its action and take a more targeted approach to ensuring safety on deepwater rigs. Instead officials are digging in their heels, and while they might ultimately lose this legal battle, thousands of Louisianans could still be left without jobs."
Cynthia Tucker, columnist, on The Atlanta Journal-Constitution website: "Joined by the Sierra Club, the Obama administration will appeal a decision by a New Orleans judge blocking the moratorium on oil drilling. While the original legal brief may have been hastily put together, the Interior Department has more than enough reasons to justify its decision to suspend all deep-water drilling for six months, including this: In recent congressional testimony, the executives of several major oil companies admitted that all of them had used the same consultant to assemble disaster plans just like BPs, which listed a dead scientist as an emergency contact. If BP's emergency response plan didn't work ... "
Los Angeles Times, in an editorial: "When President Obama imposed a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling, his primary concern was safety. When a U.S. District judge in Louisiana overturned that ban Tuesday, his chief concern was jobs, and a failure by the government to prove that shutting down the floating rigs would protect workers or the environment. So who was right? To some extent, both. But the president is more right. His focus on preventing another devastating accident is appropriate, and his administration's decisions should not be second-guessed by the federal judiciary at least when the facts are as uncertain as they are in this case "
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., on The Hill's Congress Blog: "Feldman wrote ... it did not appear that (Interior Secretary Ken) Salazar considered alternatives to a moratorium ... (or) the impact this moratorium would have on the nation's economy and the hardworking families of the Gulf region. Offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico provides 30% of U.S. oil production. The oil-and-gas industry is the second largest source of revenue to the federal government at $13 billion annually and employs nearly 9.2 million people nationally and around 200,000 individuals in the Gulf of Mexico alone. We must not turn a disastrous environmental situation into an even greater economic disaster."
TIMES FREE PRESS
TUITION DISCOUNT APPROPRIATE
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is identified by both state and city in its name, but its influence should and does extend across state and municipal borders. That is entirely appropriate. The school should serve all in its reach without concern for geography. That is the proper role of a regional rather than a parochial institution.
Regional certainly is the correct appellation for UTC. The university plays an increasingly important role in the economic, cultural and civic life of the tri-state area. Its tuition policy should reflect that truth.
For the moment it properly does so. UT board members agreed this week to extend UTC's regional tuition discount to students from seven nearby counties in Georgia and Alabama for another year. That is a welcome course of action. A wiser one would be to expand the program and make it permanent. That would cement UTC's commitment to students across the region.
Currently, the program gives a 75 percent discount on out-of-state tuition to students from Catoosa, Dade, Fannin, Murray, Walker and Whitfield counties in Georgia and from Jackson County in Alabama. The students still pay a premium to attend UTC, but is an equitable one -- less than that students from afar but more than that paid by in-state students. The arrangement, though, is beneficial to all involved.
It allows students to save money by living at home, though not all elect to do so. UTC officials report that several dozen out-of-state students choose to live on campus. Benefits accrue to the university, as well.
The tuition waiver is limited to students with at least 60 hours of college credits -- juniors and seniors for the most part. On the whole, those students have admirable academic records -- a 2.98 grade-point average. Such high-achieving students bolster the overall academic climate on campus. That's not the only contribution the students make. The waiver program increases UTC's bottom line by as much as $200,000 a semester. That is an important consideration in difficult economic times.
That's not lost on board members or UTC officials. The former properly worry that the program might subsidize out-of-state students at the expense of state residents, or that an influx of cross-border enrollees could make it more difficult for state residents to find space on campus. Those are sensible topics for debate at a school funded by the state, but neither is germane at the moment.
If a time comes when the reduced tuition program creates undue financial impact or disruptions of academic life on campus, then the topic should be revisited. Until then, a waiver program -- employed at various times by other state universities -- is a valuable asset that allows UTC to participate in widespread public and private campaigns to promote the entire region.
Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama residents and governments now work cooperatively to attract new business and industry -- think Volkswagen, Alstom and Wacker -- to the region and to improve educational opportunities and the area's quality of life. UTC is ideally suited to play a major role in that on-going campaign. Its ability to provide reduced tuition to regional students enhances that effort and the school's mission.
TIMES FREE PRESS
ALSTOM'S 950 JOBS HERE!
Thousands of Chattanoogans drive daily on South Broad Street between downtown and Lookout Mountain, passing the France-based Alstom Power Services plant on the Tennessee River, without realizing how important Alstom's operations are here.
Now we have new reasons to notice!
Alstom long had provided about 600 good local jobs. It currently is in the process of adding about 350 more!
What does Alstom do?
It makes steam turbines, gas turbines, big turbo-generators and related equipment for fossil-fuel and nuclear power generation.
Alstom Power President Philippe Joubert said: "Our new Chattanooga factory dramatically enhances Alstom's ability to build and retrofit power generation equipment for customers in North America and beyond.
"Coupled with Alstom's recent investments in carbon capture and sequestration and wind turbine production in the U.S., this unit represents another important step in executing our clean power strategy."
Alstom's Senior Vice President Guy Chardon and Senior Vice President Anne Guerin-Moens visited the Times Free Press yesterday to explain how Alstom is working toward Alstom's big expansion of its Chattanooga facilities.
"Chattanooga is an ideal place for the manufacture of large power equipment because of its central location in the country and its excellent access to road, rail and waterways," the Alstom people say. "The facility features an on-site barge dock with a lifting capacity of up to 1,000 tons."
Chattanooga is very fortunate to be a large part of Alstom's facilities in 47 states and the District of Columbia. The company has 6,000 permanent employees worldwide, with 2008-9 sales over $4 billion. Alstom's plant sites include France, Germany, Switzerland and China
Half of the power plants in the United States have Alstom equipment -- with much of it made -- and more to be made -- in Chattanooga.
Alstom and Chattanooga long have been "good neighbors" with mutual benefits, making important products for service throughout the world.
Alstom's good news of the Chattanooga expansion here is certainly welcomed.
TIMES FREE PRESS
WE STILL HAVE THE AFGHAN WAR!
President Barack Obama has "accepted the resignation" (fired) Gen. Stanley McChrystal as U.S. commander in the Afghanistan War. He has called upon Gen. David Petraeus to take over a very difficult and challenging war. There is no immediate prospect of victory, pacification or solution.
Afghanistan is a mess. It is a backward country in a strategic geographic position, where varied guerilla and terrorist groups cause continuing trouble with no "front lines." Troublesome Afghanistan is alongside troublesome Iran.
Gen. Petraeus' assignment actually is an unintended "demotion." The general has been head of the United States Central Command, which coordinates U.S. military efforts not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan, parts of Asia and parts of Africa.
Gen. Petraeus is 57, a West Point graduate and former paratrooper who served at Fort Campbell, Ky., along the Kentucky-Tennessee border. He was shot in the chest in 1991 during an exercise when a soldier tripped and his rifle fired by accident. Gen. Petraeus was taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville -- where he was successfully operated on by Dr. Bill Frist, who later became a distinguished United States senator. Just a few days after he was wounded, Gen. Petraeus was doing pushups.
He was promoted to four-star general in 2007. Now Gen. Petraeus surely will receive easy confirmation of President Obama's nomination of him for this new challenge in Afghanistan.
What will he do? What can he do under the current circumstances? He has no easy or even clear options for a "solution" in Afghanistan as he assumes the most difficult challenge of his career -- so far.
Here comes the bride in 'Wedding Belles' at Colonnade
TIMES FREE PRESS
HE SAID, HE SAID
The debate over illegal immigration recently took an especially alarming turn.
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said President Barack Obama had told him privately he would not secure the border with Mexico unless Congress goes along with the so-called "comprehensive immigration reform" that Mr. Obama wants.
"Comprehensive immigration reform" is coded language for granting amnesty and a "path to citizenship" to millions of illegal aliens.
According to Sen. Kyl, this is what President Obama told him: " 'The problem is,' he said, 'if we secure the border, then you all won't have any reason to support comprehensive immigration reform.' "
Sen. Kyl said that remark shows the administration is holding border security hostage to politics.
"They don't want to secure the border unless and until it is combined with comprehensive immigration reform ...," Sen. Kyl said. "That's why it isn't being done. They frankly don't want to do it. They want to get something in return for doing their duty."
The Obama administration denies saying any such thing to Sen. Kyl, and no one else was at their meeting in the Oval Office. But if Sen. Kyl's version of events is true -- and he is standing by it -- then the Obama administration's priorities on immigration are disturbing.
There is disagreement on how to confront the issue of illegal aliens. But the securing of our border with Mexico, which so many illegals have crossed, should not be delayed to force Republicans to go along with an amnesty scheme.
Academy alum raises the bar at Carson-Newman***************************************
TIMES FREE PRESS
WAR -- 60 YEARS AGO TODAY
World War II had ended just five years before. Peace had been brief when Communist North Korea, a client state of the aggressive Soviet Union, invaded U.S.-supported South Korea on June 25, 1950.
President Harry Truman responded immediately, ordering American military forces to defend South Korea, thrusting the United States into the Korean War.
The North Korean Communists were surprised. U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson previously had unwisely declared that South Korea was not within the U.S. Pacific defense perimeter, emboldening the Korean Communists.
The U.S. defense was nominally a U.N. action, but Americans bore the brunt of the conflict as Communist forces were quickly successful in seizing nearly all of South Korea. American forces were able to stabilize a small foothold at the extreme southern end of the Korean Peninsula.
The tide turned only when U.S. commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur ordered a brilliant invasion of Communist-held territory far to the north, at Inchon, forcing a rapid Communist retreat.
But Chinese Communist forces intervened, stabilizing the Communist forces near the 38th parallel border of North Korea and South Korea. The Korean War stalemated from 1951 until an armistice was agreed in 1953.
Today, Korea remains divided, with Communist North Korea still threatening -- and believed to have developed nuclear weapons.
Real peace has not come -- 60 years later.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - FAREWELL TO MCCHRYSTAL, GOOD LUCK TO PETRAEUS
First, we'd like to say "geçmiş olsun," roughly "condolences" to Gen. Stanley McChrystal for his sudden dismissal as NATO's top commander in Afghanistan. We've had our concerns and voiced our criticisms of the nine-year-old war. And a general's departure because of excessively casual comments made to a music magazine is, well, another irony in the many that have defined this conflict. But now we move on.
Secondly, we say "welcome back to the neighborhood" to his successor, Gen. David Petraeus, the top general in Iraq from early 2007 to late 2008. We note that Petraeus has been a controversial figure not only in Turkey but in our newsroom for his involvement in the "çuval olayı," or "hood incident" of 2003. Subsequently made famous by the movie, "Valley of the Wolves," the detention in northern Iraq, "hooding" and interrogation of a group of Turkish military personnel on duty remains a sore point. But we see no need to dwell on that now-ancient tension.
With that said, we think Patraeus is a good choice. The final verdict is hardly in on the surge and subsequent troop withdrawal strategy that he engineered in Iraq. But handed the nastiest of jobs, his work is the source of such hopes as we can muster for an Iraq that will someday at peace with its neighbors and itself. In our view, Gen. Petraeus showed an understanding of the complexity of a foreign military operation in our part of the world that has not always been a hallmark of American military strategy in the region. We remain impressed by some of his comments.
In September 2008, Petraeus gave an interview to the BBC in which he said that he did not think using the term "victory" appropriate to his job in Iraq: "This is not the sort of struggle where you take a hill, plant the flag and go home to a victory parade... it's not war with a simple slogan." No one could put it better.
He has described himself not as an "optimist but as a realist." And while "optimism" is not an adjective we would use in describing the prospects of a peaceful and democratic Afghanistan, we are encouraged. For one of the problems we have noted is the tendency of Americans to analogize between very different theaters of war. If the old adage that, "a general always fights the last war," has a true ring, it might as well be said that Americans tend to move strategies like plug and play electronic games. And Afghanistan is not Iraq. We are hopeful that Petraeus will add to any troop reduction/withdrawal doctrine he may design for Afghanistan the civilian elements that have so far been lacking.
Communications infrastructure. Basic education. Agricultural reform. Economic development that may include the exploitation of new mineral finds in Afghanistan. These are just some of the elements that must be effectively added to arsenal. We hope Petraeus succeeds. We wish him luck
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
A NECESSARY REPRINT
Ostensibly, Turkey is an "ooooo-but-everything-changes-so-fast" kind of country. Not everything. Sometimes, Turkey looks like Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's "Il Gattopardo" (The Leopard), whose famous line is a quote from Prince Don Fabrizio Salina: "If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change."
In the realm of journalism, we may have to scrap an article only half an hour after we wrote it because things change. In the most unfortunate cases, we may have to ring the editors, praying it's not too late, to "kill" an article because its validity had disappeared between when it was filed and when it almost went to print.
But sometimes the opposite may happen. The following is what appeared in this column three years ago, and it shows that everything on the chaotic Turkish-Kurdish street has changed so that things remained the same.
15 June 2007
Tayyip Erdoğan is trying to tell us something
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the first Turkish prime minister to speak about the "Kurdish problem." He is the first Turkish prime minister who granted cultural and political rights to Kurds none of his predecessors had dared to grant rights with an EU seal, i.e. rights that qualified Turkey to open membership talks with the EU. It's bizarre; Mr. Erdoğan's name is associated with other "first times" in Turkish politics.
For example, anti-Americanism in Turkey has reached a dangerous peak for the first time under U.S.-friendly Erdoğan's rule (according to pollsters Infacto Research Workshop, Turks see the U.S. as the top security threat). Of course, the major reason for the anti-American sentiment is the Iraq war rather than Mr. Erdoğan's governance. All the same, Mr. Erdoğan's to put it mildly lenience vis-à-vis what the Turks perceive as their top security threat must have added to that sentiment.
First bigwigs who need heavy security at funeral rites
Mr. Erdoğan is also the first prime minister who has good reasons to avert funeral rites for victims of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. Pity, his Cabinet ministers and parliament speaker, Bülent Arınç, are the first bigwigs who need heavy guarding at the funeral rites for soldiers. For the first time since 1984, the beginning of PKK terror, the widow of an officer refused condolences from government ministers.
Mr. Erdoğan is the first Turkish prime minister who has ordered prosecution against protesters at funeral rites because they had booed (and he claims insulted) his ministers. He is the first prime minister, millions of Turks think, right or wrong, who collaborates with foreign powers hostile to Turkey.
More ironically, he is the most reforming, most pro-EU Turkish prime minister under whose rule Turks' support for EU membership has declined from around 75 percent to less than 50 percent. And of course he is the liberal freedom fighter who has sued a record number of writers, cartoonists and journalists the same liberal freedom fighter whose government produced the famous Article 301 under which Hrant Dink had been prosecuted.
In 2002, three years after the capture of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, Turks were almost forgetting about Kurdish terrorism. In 2007, as Mr. Erdoğan's government neared the end of its fifth year in power, funerals for terror victims were almost a daily ritual. All that makes quite a discrepancy between what we are being told Mr. Erdoğan is and what he probably is somewhere there is a missing link.
Right about incursion, wrong about motives
Most recently, Mr. Erdoğan ruled out a military incursion into Iraq, saying that the heart of the (PKK) matter was inside Turkey, not in Iraqi territory. I fully agree with Mr. Erdoğan's judgment. I don't, however, agree with what are probably the true reasons that eventually forced him to reveal this unpopular fact. Nor do I agree with the way he justified his argument.
According to Mr. Erdoğan, "if there are 500 terrorists in Iraq, there are 5,000 in Turkey." He said that the numbers only represented an order of magnitude. That means the prime minister of Turkey was saying that there were 10 times more PKK terrorists in Turkish territory than in Iraqi territory.
We could have respected that if Mr. Erdoğan had to correct himself within a few hours that there were 1,500 terrorists in Turkey and 3,500 in Iraq. So, the first ratio he used to justify his retreat from a failed bluff that his government would order an incursion if the military placed a written request was 1/10 in favor of Turkish territory, whereas the second ratio was 1/2.3 in favor of Iraqi territory. That makes an arithmetical difference of 23 times in the words of a prime minister, and within a few hours.
Mr. Erdoğan has another explanation as to why he ruled out an incursion: A military intervention would trouble the election process! Is Mr. Erdoğan trying to sabotage himself, or is he just being the same-tempered man he has always been? That sentence, for the average voter, would only read as "I care more about my party's election fortunes than about the PKK terror." Too sad, Mr. Erdoğan could have cited a hundred very good reasons why the Turkish military should not cross the Iraqi border.
Mr. Erdoğan should ask himself tough questions. For example, if the "heart of the matter" was inside Turkey rather than in Iraqi territory, why has his government asked for U.S. assistance against the PKK? Why the thousands of "classified" meetings between Turkish and American officials? Why the setting up of a mechanism of special envoys to fight PKK terrorism? Why was the trilateral mechanism created?
What made Mr. Erdoğan think there were 10 times more PKK terrorists in Turkey than in Iraq, although he later had to admit that there are 2.3 times more PKK terrorists in Iraq than in Turkey? What possibly explains the huge discrepancy?
What does Mr. Erdoğan think the public will think when under his orders protesters at funeral rites are prosecuted, whereas pro-PKK demonstrators are not prosecuted in most of their demonstrations?
Mr. Erdoğan may be a true fighter, a genuine survivor, but he is certainly not a good chess player, probably because of his temper. Every move he makes, every word he speaks these days causes shy smiles, if not loud laughter, at enemy HQ.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
PACKAGING THE PSYCHOLOGISTS
When you hear the phrase the first time, "cognitive behavioral therapy" is pretty intimidating. It's made up of
two words very few people understand and one word that almost everyone is afraid of. And to make it worse, the phrase is pretty hard to pronounce, too. Unless you know what it means, it's easy to think the problem it addresses must be pretty severe. When a doctor recommends cognitive behavioral therapy to a patient, the patient quite understandably wonders, "Does this mean I'm mentally ill?"
It doesn't help that psychologists themselves can be a little intimidating, too. Their walls are filled with diplomas and certificates, and they toss big words around like candy. Patients wait for appointments in uncomfortable waiting rooms, nervously tapping their feet and imagining the receptionist is secretly judging them. When they are summoned into the psychologist's office, they feel like they are being scrutinized under a microscope, with every "umm" and "ahh" and nervous gesture being recorded and analyzed.
Once you strip away the intimidating packaging, though, cognitive behavioral therapy is actually quite straightforward. Basically, it's just learning new ways to respond to the world around us, so we feel better about our interactions with it. You probably already use a lightweight version of it yourself in your daily life. Have you ever said to someone, or to yourself, "Look at it this way instead, it's not as bad as you think?" That's an amateur, everyday-use version of cognitive behavioral therapy.
Of course, the kind of therapy psychologists conduct with their patients goes deeper and is more complex than that. By the time someone goes to a psychologist, they are usually feeling more than just your everyday anxiety, stress, and low moods. In clinical depression, for example, there are complicated biological, psychosocial, cultural and environmental factors at play. What's more, a depressed person's thoughts and feelings tend to be very persistent, so a turnaround is almost impossible to do without outside
help. Since depressed patients require more intervention than a simple pep talk can provide, the psychologist's therapy techniques can be quite involved.
These days, seeing a counselor for cognitive behavioral therapy still carries some social stigma, but it really doesn't need to. After all, we all suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression at some point in our lives. And we all could use some cognitive behavioral therapy, couldn't we? Who doesn't want to gain more control over their thoughts and feelings?
Dealing with the threat of layoffs, balancing family responsibilities, and getting through the general challenges of life create a very high level of stress. That level is only expected to grow in the future, so much so that experts say that in the years to come, it will take its toll and depression will become one of the most common illnesses around. When people are so desperate for relief, happiness and relaxation, it's no wonder that we're seeing an
explosion in the variety of alternative therapies, things like NLP, reiki, yoga, rebirthing, and tai chi.
Which is why psychologists need to change their image. Most of the alternative medicines use the same theories and methods used in counseling, yet people choose the alternative methods over psychological counseling. Why? Because the alternative methods are easier to relate to, more accessible, and above all, less associated with mental illness.
Psychology and counseling are not just about mental illness. In fact, they are about health, every bit as much, if not more so, than they are about illness.
But the field of psychology has been ineffective at reaching out to healthy individuals and showing them what the field has to offer in terms of teaching the skills to live a better life.
As a result, the professionals who are uniquely qualified to deal with the growing mental health challenge are, unfortunately, the last people an Average Joe wants to call on for help. Psychology needs to be better at articulating its benefits to society, or it will see an even bigger stampede towards unqualified, untrained practitioners of alternative therapies.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
AN 'EASTERN PROBLEM' BY ANY OTHER NAME...
Historically speaking, Europe has always had a "Turkish problem." In the 19th century this was referred to as the "Eastern Problem." The core issue then concerned the division of the spoils of the Ottoman Empire once its inevitable fall came.
The inevitable happened and the "Eastern Problem" was effectively solved after a long and costly period for Turks, with the eventual emergence of modern Turkey in 1923 as an accepted member of the international community.
Today we find the West has another version of the "Eastern Problem." But the core of the argument this time is not the spoils from a Turkey on the verge of collapse. The issue rather is where to place a Turkey that is ascendant politically and economically.
Previously the argument was a simple one: Turkey, a weak country, was in the Western orbit and would remain so albeit at a comfortable distance for Europeans for its own sake because it knows what is good for itself.
This argument has lost its currency now and the proof is the curious dialogue between the U.S. and Europe about "Who lost Turkey?" For U.S. Secretary for Defense, Robert Gates, and Europe is the culprit. He says that Turkey was pushed away from the West by unwelcoming countries and groups in Europe in terms of Ankara's EU bid. There is some truth in this, but it is not the whole truth.
Responding to Gates, President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso was quick to blame the U.S., in turn, as the culprit. Mr. Barroso feels that Ankara started drifting away from its Western allies with the American invasion of Iraq. There some truth in this also, even though it is not the whole truth either.
The negative attitude to Turkey in Europe has indeed led Turks across the board to feel that Europeans will always find some excuse or another to block Turkey's path. Today the excuse is Cyprus, tomorrow it will be the Armenian question, the next day it will be something else, as far as the average Turk is concerned.
It is no surprise, therefore, that there is a growing tendency in Turkish streets to say, "Let's call the whole thing off," as far as EU membership is concerned.
From the American perspective, questions about Turkey started surfacing in Washington after the rude awakening that the Turkish Parliament dished out in March 2003 when it refused to allow U.S. Marines on Turkish soil to invade Iraq from the north. These questions have now reached a climax with Ankara's position on Hamas and Iran.
The bottom line here brings us to what we said above. Previously it was presumed that Turkey would behave in a certain manner because the assumption was that Ankara was beholden to Washington and Europe no matter what. But once Ankara started acting independently, such assumptions were shattered and this has resulted in the debate about where Turkey is going, and who forced it to change course.
But this debate not withstanding the elements of truth in it is not going deep enough to explain the emerging situation. The "situation" that is "emerging," on the other hand, is not something that is effecting Turkey only but also the U.S. and Europe. Herman van Rompuy, the EU's new "prime minister," who was known in the past for his opposition to Turkey in the EU, appears to have understood this well.
He was quoted this week indicating that the global economic, demographic and political strength of the EU and the U.S. would be declining in a stable manner over the next 20-30 years, as new centers of power, including countries like Brazil and Turkey, emerge during the same period.
Much the same has been said by many influential Europeans over the past 10 years. It is just that the reality of this basic fact is coming to bear on the public in Europe now, especially after the current economic crisis unfolded.
The global equation is also changing for Washington. For one thing America was forced to go to Iraq alone and illegally at that, as far as the international community was concerned. This was a major blow to Washington as a global power.
Secondly, for all the boasting and bragging about "shock and awe" at the time, the military dimension of the invasion turned into a fiasco, and Americans are now clamoring for their government to get their boys back home as soon as possible. This showed that military might alone does necessarily bring about desired results.
As for America's economic might, well even that has proved to be not as "mighty" given the economic crisis that resulted in turmoil across the country and highlighted, among other things, just how dependent the Americans have become on "rising powers," the main one being China, of course.
It is clear that in such a world it is not just Turkey, but also Europe and the U.S. that are trying to find a new sense of direction. How to adjust to the post-colonial and post-Cold War world of new centers of economic and political power? This is the question that has to be answered today in Washington and European capitals, and not just in Turkey.
The U.S. and Turkey clearly have an interest, no matter what the serious problems they are facing today may be, in maintaining their ties. We will most probably see this happening despite the current coolness in ties.
The EU perspective will also continue to be important for Turkey in terms of being a driving force with regards to reforms and infrastructural modernization. The importance of the economic dimension cannot be overlooked here, either. But the ties between Europe and Turkey are nevertheless more tenuous than Turkish-U.S. ties, and carry less strategic value for Ankara in today's global equation, than ties with Washington do.
Economically speaking, on the other hand, Turkey has always looked to the IMF for salvation, and not the EU, during times of economic crisis, and if it is on a better ground today economically than some in Europe, this is because it followed IMF instructions.
If we reverse the coin then, one has to wonder whether Turkey's drifting away from Europe, though not necessarily from the West given its ties with the U.S. and individual European countries, will make the EU stronger or weaker in the long run?
This question is even more valid now that minds in Europe are back to thinking about the economy, and how to get it right this time, rather than going on flights of fancy about some kind of a "United States of Europe."
The answer may very well be that Europe can make up for what it loses if Turkey drifts away from the continent.
There are those who say it can. But there are others who argue that a Europe without Turkey could never become a strategic global power that rivals the U.S., Russia or China.
History is always the best judge in such debates, of course, and we clearly have to prepare ourselves for new surprises over the next decade, if the past decade is anything to go by. Some, for example, are already claiming today, and George Soros is one of them, that the euro crisis in the EU may even bring down the union itself.
Whether people like Soros are trying to create a favorable environment for their own financial speculation is not clear, of course, when they say such things. But if someone like Soros is saying so, whatever his reasons, these remarks inevitably attract attention.
To cut it short then, the debate about Turkey today is a new version of the old "Eastern Question," with the one very important exception that today's Turkey is in this debate from a position of relative strength and not one of total weakness, as was the case a century ago. As for the debate itself, it is as much a debate about where Europe and the U.S. are going, as it is about Turkey
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
ISRAEL GOT THE MESSAGE, WHAT ABOUT US?
MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
PKK terror occupied us so much that we are at a point where we can't see what's going on around us. Only last week we were talking about a shift in Turkey's axis and monitoring tensions in the relationship between Israel and the United States.
There were important developments in Israel's attitude while they were not seen on our radars. To tell the truth, these were developments that Ankara should have happily followed and be proud of itself. But nobody cared.
Regarding Gaza, Israel read very well developments in the international public.
The Mavi Marmara aid ship, departing from Turkey, woke a sleeping giant. Turkey woke people up as the embargo on Gaza was about to be forgotten. Israel all of a sudden experienced great pressure. There has been a giant criticism-campaign reaching from the European Parliament to the United Nations.
And Israel, contrary to expectations, did not even rebel.
It took notice. Starting in Ankara it visited all capitals of the world and got the message delivered to Tel Aviv.
It started to take steps in succession.
And in the end it lifted the Gaza embargo to a certain extent.
Whereas formerly it was not allowed to get basic necessities into Gaza, now everything is allowed, except parts used in the construction of weapons.
Honestly, Turkey needs to cry out sounds of victory and be proud. But instead no one cares. What a pity that the PKK terror has drawn our attention elsewhere.
Erdoğan has obtained what he wanted.
But what a pity we could not enjoy.
Turkey also received messages but were they delivered to the right places?
By the way, Turkey has received messages as well.
The briskest message of all was sent by the U.S. Congress.
Especially because of brisk statements toward Israeli congress members for the first time declared war with a brisk and long letter addressed to Turkey. They signaled that in case Ankara continues this approach they are ready to burn bridges.
American congress members are preparing to teach Ankara a lesson and say, "Egypt closes tunnels that lead to
Gaza, and it struggles against Hamas. What's wrong with Turkey? Why does it not learn from Egypt?"
One message came from Europe, foremost from France, Germany and England. They are emphasizing Iran.
A no-vote in the United Nations Security Council has turned the entire West against us. They think Turkey has betrayed them.
The words are also harsh.
Especially changing Brazil's attitude and stating it would behave the same way with Europe, turned all eyes to Ankara.
Everybody is curious how Erdoğan will behave from now on.
The number of those who say," Will Turkey continue watching out for Iran?" is quite significant.
Nowadays there is only mention of the PKK terror. That is why we don't know what the prime minister will say.
Will he say, "Israel has eased the embargo on Gaza but I will continue objecting until it is completely lifted, only I will not pressure Tel Aviv anymore," or will he continue his path full-force.
Will he change his attitude in respect to Iran like he did with Brazil or will he continue his support.
We'll see about that.
TSK's message to the US and Israel
The sudden increase in PKK terror is, according to some, coming from Israel and the United States trying to teach Turkey a lesson. Even if there is no such proof they ignorantly insist on thinking, "It must be that."
I wrote about it several times and will continue to do so stating that such attitude is wrong.
We may come across the presence of Israeli and American intelligence organizations in various activities of the PKK. You may even come across fingerprints of secret services of German, French or other allies you considered friends. But don't forget that this is the world of intelligence agencies. As a matter of fact, our fingerprint may be present in our neighbor's monkey business.
The TSK seriously negated allegations of the United States punishing Turkey for its attitude toward Iran and preventing PKK intelligence flow regarding northern Iraqi border or Israel having anything to do with terror events. It stressed this point twice.
The TSK doesn't repeat it for nothing. It sends a message. With this message, which reads, "Don't do this, don't put a distance between you, Israel and the United Stated," it targets politicians as well as some block-headed people in the media.
And it does the right thing
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
WHY WAS ÖCALAN NOT HANGED?
I think it is wrong for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, leader Devlet Bahçeli to engage in a dead-cycle of polemics such as "Why didn't you hang Abdullah Öcalan?" or "You go ahead and hang him now, why don't you?" In similar debates, it is wrong to focus on "brute force" in the issue of ethnic nationalist terror.
Could it be possible to apply brute force more than what the Sept. 12 military coup did? The Sept. 12 coup, however, helped nothing but to reinforce separatist elements although the aim was to eliminate factions in the first place.
The outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which dates back to the pre-Sept. 12 period, has gained more ground with the practices of the Sept. 12!
Today, suggestions like "let's declare state of emergency, let's re-enforce capital punishment" may give similar results I am afraid.
That's why even the General Staff doesn't offer any of these.
I don't understand why Prime Minister Erdoğan brawls like "Why didn't you hang him?" instead of explaining the issue as we do here. Besides, saying "To end to the initiative means giving-up," and then asking the MHP "Why didn't you hang Öcalan?" is a contradiction. Is it not?
The Bülent Ecevit government did not hang Öcalan, yet they were having a pattern of thought similar to that of today's democratic initiative.
Likewise, the military had similar thoughts but didn't hang Öcalan. "We are a party here, so we will not make any comment," the military defended back then.
The National Intelligence Dept., or MIT, held a briefing on negative impacts of hanging Öcalan in that period.
Yesterday, I talked to Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Türk of the time. He said:
"Öcalan was not definitely returned to us on condition of 'don't hang him'. Besides, what the United States did back then was only to inform us about his location being Nairobi. Following that our security team caught and brought him in "
There were legitimate reasons why he was not hanged. The European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, had a decision of temporary injunction. Political and sociological reasons there were, too
In the Democratic Left party, or DSP, the MHP, and the Motherland Party, or ANAP, coalition, the MHP insisted that Öcalan should be hanged, but in the face of these legitimate and political reasons the MHP had to sign the "decision of reprieve" to stop sending the file to Parliament. Afterwards, Parliament had endorsed a bill to abolish capital punishment anyway despite the MHP's objections.
Not even a single member of the AKP today had then said "Let's hang him" while delivering parliamentary speeches!
Bahçeli, who wanted to hang Öcalan, and the late Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, who let the abolishment of capital punishment, are both good fellow patriots. The only difference between them is a difference of political opinion about which decision harms the country the most or the least, not a difference at the level of their patriotism.
And it is valid today. Erdoğan and supporters of the initiative believing that in the long-run this could narrow the ground of terror are acting on patriotism and such political view.
Öcalan, on the other hand, has sabotaged the initiative by blood and death in order to have more ground for the PKK and to turn his ground into more of a strong militant-manner.
It is inevitable to have different opinions and views in very complex processes such as ethnic nationalism. Plus,
none of these views has arithmetic perfect precision!
The biggest problem is this: If differences of opinion deepen in a way to obstruct the production of "common mind," Turkey will lose the ability to make a decision! Battle of words between the government and the opposition weakens the decision-making and implementation process in the country.
An example is that the fierce criticism of the opposition has weakened the government's policy of democratic initiative.
For this reason, Prime Minister Erdoğan should exert efforts to normalize his relations with the CHP in particular and social groups. He should abandon the language of bickering. Why am saying "with the CHP in particular"? Because it is both the main opposition party and the new chairman of the CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, seems in favor of dialogue.
Bahçeli met with President Abdullah Gül for 50 minutes. It was 75 minutes for the Kılıçdaroğlu-Gül meeting.
I want to remind Mr. Erdoğan his historic responsibility and make a suggestion: Let's have an opinion poll and check to see if it were not "moderate attitude" of the opposition in Britain, the Tony Blair government had been able to manage the initiative that helped the Irish Republican Army, or IRA, to lay down arms.
Big troubles are yet to come. The AKP-CHP relations must be normalized to be able to have talks, if needed
* Taha Akyol is a columnist for the daily Milliyet in which this piece appeared Thursday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government of Turkey will perhaps be remembered as the worst and most opportunist government this country has ever had in its republican history.
This is not necessarily because of bad policies or approaches the AKP government has developed over the past eight years or because of its a resolutions in various problem areas. It is instead because of the cheeky attitude of the AKP, its monkey business tactics a result perhaps of its overwhelming parliamentary strength that has buried it deep in a majoritarian obsession and the AKP's tendancy to give prominence to Islamist solidarity, allied solidarity and respect to obligations or, as is said in diplomacy, to pacta sunt servanda. These leanings should be blamed for the current fiasco that is Turkish policy from relations with Europe to ties with the United States, our Middle East policies, the struggle against separatist terrorism or domestic issues such as rampant unemployment, poverty, nepotism, narcissism and corruption of all kinds.
If a government pledges to the European Union to open up ports and airports to the Greek Cypriot government in exchange for a date for starting accession talks while being aware it cannot deliver such a promise at least until after Greek Cypriots agree to lift the isolation measures they have been inposing on Turkish Cypriots can that government be considered an "honest player?"
If a government is warned many times by Israel that it cannot allow a rupture of its blockade of Gaza and that, if needed, it would use force to maintain the blockade it considered vital for its national security, and if that government not only fails to adequately warn its citizens participating in a Turkish-led international humanitarian aid flotilla that making such a trip would place their security under serious risk, can it wash off its responsibility for the brutal murder of nine Turkish citizens onboard a Turkish humanitarian flotilla and place the entire responsibility on the Israeli state?
In the Cyprus example, the AKP was just trying to save the day in an opportunist manner, assuming they would "think of the need to comply with our pledge when the day comes " Regarding the Armenian protocols, obviously the AKP government was banking on the idea that Yerevan would not be able to get the protocols endorsed by its parliament and thus would find itself in a difficult position in the eyes of the international community. In the Gaza sham, partly because of domestic political reasons the Turkish foundation leading the international humanitarian aid flotilla was supportive of the Felicity or Saadet Party, the chief Islamist-conservative contender of the AKP but mostly because of Islamist solidarity feelings and the neo-Ottomanist regional hegemony aspirations, the AKP turned a blind eye to the imminent threat and thus to the murder of nine Turkish nationals, one of them a Turkish-American.
The "opening" the AKP government started two years ago as a "Kurdish opening," which gradually evolved into a shy "democratic opening" and then into a "Peace and Brotherhood Project," was perhaps the wisest move ever taken by a Turkish government to bring an end to the 25-year-old separatist violence in this country. The project was launched as an ambiguous but indeed empty one, and it was said at the time that it would be filled through contributions from all segments of Turkish politics as well as NGOs and civil society establishments. But the government did not even engage in discussions with the main opposition party over what it aims to achieve with the opening.
The project, which was launched ambiguously, remained ambiguous throughout the past two years, and even the government and the die-hard supporters of the project could not come up with an explanation as to what it included. With the tent-court created at the Habur border gate area and a heroic welcome ceremony extended to the returning "not so criminal" members of the separatist gang, the "opening" became a real "closure." Yet even today, after the surge of separatist terrorism, the prime minister continues its lofty rhetoric saying the government is determined to continue the opening, which unfortunately has served no other purpose but further widening polarization of the Turkish society.
Remember what Abraham Lincoln said, "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." Perhaps someone should remind the AKP of this famous Lincoln quotation.
I. THE NEWS
INSTITUTIONS ABOVE INDIVIDUALS
The dismissal of a top-ranking general by the US president may be an unusual event, but, as President Obama has said, the tough decision, taken at a vital point in the nine-year war in Afghanistan, drives home the importance of institutions and the fact that they are more important than individuals. There are important messages here for Pakistan, which we hope will be picked up on. For many years, indeed for decades, the tendency of individuals to elevate themselves above institutions has done immense harm. Indeed it has played a key part in creating the kind of discord between institutions that today plagues our system. Too many decisions are taken on the basis of personality; on the other hand the mechanisms set out to keep a balance among institutions are periodically ignored, creating the upheavals that have till now been a part of our history.
Will this change? Can we in time develop stronger institutions able to rise above issues of the person who heads them? Much depends on the sagacity of our leaders. The US military, despite its strength and size, has through time developed sufficient maturity to keep itself aloof from affairs of government and to accept decisions made by presidents. This has a long background of institution-building, with the dismissal of General Douglas McArthur in the 1950s too resulting in no disruption in US affairs; there was no coup d'etat, no warning statements from the men in uniform. The tradition of civilian authority held firm. The absence of this tradition is one reason why Pakistan struggles to build institutions and why these have so often clashed within the country. The wider impact of the change in command in Afghanistan is yet not known. Pakistan will be watching events to its west attentively, given that developments in Afghanistan have a direct impact on the war against militancy at home. Only time will tell if there is to be any change and the nature of this if one does indeed occur.
I. THE NEWS
A NEW BROOM
The new British foreign secretary, William Hague, has been paying us a visit for the last three days. There were the usual photocalls and press conferences and meetings with senior figures in our government, and a nod to modernity with a Facebook posting of pictures of the visit. Mr Hague is no longer the Young Turk of the Conservative Party and is edging towards statesmanhood, with his visit here a first run around one of the rockier tracks in South Asia. He succeeds David Milliband, who was a frequent visitor and appears no less able than his predecessor at turning out a well-honed platitude. Platitudes are the bread and butter of public diplomacy and designed to yield few clues as to what went on out of sight of the cameras and reporters, but we may be able to decode some of them.
Perhaps the first thing to note is that Mr Hague does not appear to be slavishly following an American line, this being most obvious in his remarks about the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. He said that it was up to us to decide on our commitment to the project despite the threat of UN sanctions against Iran which may be read as a nod in the direction of the respecting-of-sovereignty debate. He also made reference to the cooperation between Pakistan and China in the field of nuclear power, saying that he trusted we would both respect international regulations relative to civilian nuclear cooperation. Nuanced platitudes aside, we have a powerful and enduring historical link with the UK, where people of Pakistani origin make up one per cent of the population today. We need the help and support of the UK in loosening trade barriers into the EU and elsewhere and we are grateful for the financial assistance we get from it. But we would remind Mr Hague that we also need to see the substance beneath the diplomatic gloss. Welcome aboard, Mr Hague, come and see us again, and by your next visit we hope that the innumerable visa issues will have been resolved, not sunk in a sea of platitudes.
I. THE NEWS
NOTHING IS REAL